Jim Thome (photo: UCinternational)
When Jim Thome hit his first major league home run in his 25th career game for the Cleveland Indians in 1991, there were three players who had hit 600 or more career homers. At that time, I’m sure Thome never imagined that 20 years later he would join Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays - and several other contemporary players - in reaching that lofty milestone.
Thome, now playing for the Minnesota Twins, hit his 600th career home run last Monday night against in Detroit against the Tigers. In the process, he became the eighth player to get to that level. In addition to the aforementioned Hall of Famers, Thome joined Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa.
When it comes to the other seven members, even casual baseball fans would have to live under a rock to not recognize the names. Thome, however, is a different breed. He has come to the ballpark every day for 20 years and has done his job and done it very well, albeit very quietly. However, his name doesn’t automatically register when talking about the game’s current or all-time greats and he can probably walk down the street in most big-league cities without being recognized.
It’s really kind of unfortunate. Of the eight men with 600 or more homers, Thome got to the figure in the second fewest at-bats. Thome hit #600 on his 8,167th, while Ruth did it in 6,920.
As of Sunday, Thome had the third-highest career on-base percentage of the eight (.403, behind only Ruth’s .474 and Bonds’ .444) and the fourth-highest slugging percentage (.558, behind Ruth’s .690, Bonds’ .607, and Rodriguez’ .569).
All of those numbers support the idea that Thome should be a household name instead of a relative unknown who has played in only five All-Star Games (and was elected as a starter only twice). Stranger still, Thome was never implicated in an era where nearly every power hitter was viewed with skepticism because of rampant use of performance-enhancing substances (where Bonds and Sosa shared top billing and Rodriguez had a supporting role).
Perhaps as years go by, Thome will earn his rightful place as one of the legends of the game. I’ve always maintained that if someone has to think whether a player belongs in the Hall of Fame, that player probably doesn’t really belong. I don’t think Thome’s candidacy needs to be debated.
Ricky Romero emerged as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays’ rotation last season. Any doubt about his qualifications should be silenced after looking at his last five starts.
Romero, a 26-year old lefthander, is 5-0 in those starts and has limited opponents to a .107 batting average in that time. Since July 27, he has worked 40 1/3 innings and allowed just 14 hits and 11 walks while striking out 30 batters. He’s allowed only four runs in those five games for an earned run average of 0.89.
His last start, a complete-game three-hit shutout at Oakland, was his second shutout of the season. Romero’s other blanking came back in June during interleague competition at St. Louis, making Romero the first Blue Jay with two road shutouts in one season since David Cone in 1995.
The hot streak may help Romero earn some consideration for the Cy Young Award this year, but he realistically will have to settle for some token lower-level votes. However, don’t be surprised if this third-year player becomes one of the pre-eminent pitchers in the game in the near future.
It makes me wonder if the Blue Jays could have contended in the rough-and-tumble American League East if they somehow kept Roy Halladay in the fold these last couple of years.