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Jim Thome Joins Elite Home Run Club

Posted on August 16, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Jim Thome is the fifth player to reach 600 home runs in the last decade and eighth all-time.

In baseball the number of career home runs needed to reach baseball immortality used to be 500. Thanks to baseball’s “Steroid Era” and the sudden rise of sluggers eclipsing that mark, that magic number now appears to be 600 career homers. That club just got a little larger on Monday night as Jim Thome became the eighth player in baseball history to reach 600 career home runs.

Since becoming a full-time starter for the Cleveland Indians in 1994, Jim Thome has been one of the most prolific and consistent sluggers in baseball while leaving the headlines and accolades to others.

He eclipsed the 40 home run plateau six times and hit 52 in 2002, but never finished higher than fourth in the MVP balloting and earned only five trips to the All-Star game.

Because his greatest talent was hitting home runs during a time when that skill was no longer unique, Thome has often been pushed aside as a product of his time.

However, unlike many of the other sluggers of his era, even though his career started right about the time that performance enhancing drugs began to engulf baseball, there has never been any evidence or accusations linking Thome’s home run proficiency to use of a synthetic product.

Yet, it has taken him nearing the 600 home run plateau for many baseball fans to even acknowledge that Thome belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

How Should Jim Thome Be Remembered?

  • One of baseball's all-time great sluggers (55%, 18 Votes)
  • One of the best sluggers of his era (27%, 9 Votes)
  • A product of the steroid era (18%, 6 Votes)
  • A great player who struggled in the playoffs (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 33

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One of the most difficult legacies of the Steroid Era is the struggle to identify what home run statistics actually mean something.

It is very likely that two of the other seven men in the 600 home run club (Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa) may never get into the Hall of Fame or at the very least could have a long wait because they have been associated with PEDs. A third, Alex Rodriguez, will likely eventually reach the HOF, but his stature as an all-time great has been diminished by his admittance to using PEDs during his career.

For Thome, emerging from the shadow of the era in which he has played has been a very difficult challenge. Because he was never a great fielder or base stealer, his success has been tied directly to his power production.

Though the Hall of Fame includes a number of players known primarily for their slugging ability (Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Hack Wilson, Johnny Mize, etc.) in today’s era it is harder to give just due to a player simply because he can hit the long ball and drive in runs. Too many players have taken a shortcut to achieve that talent for it to be an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame.

For Thome, the journey to 600 home runs and a rightful place among the all-time greats has been a long and challenging one. Despite all his success, he has never been able to lead a team to ultimate greatness.

In Cleveland, the Indians twice reached the World Series, but fell short both times. In those two Fall Classics, Thome was okay (.255 average, three home runs, 6 RBI), but not spectacular.

His timing has also not been great as he left the Philadelphia Phillies before they became a perennial playoff team and joined the Chicago White Sox the year after they won the World Series. Thome reached the playoffs with Chicago in 2008, the Dodgers in 2009 and the Twins in 2010, but was a non-factor in all three trips going a combined 4 for 29 (.138) with no home runs and one RBI.

For his career, Thome’s postseason numbers are rather underwhelming, as he has an average of .217 with 17 home runs and 37 RBI in 15 series.

But ultimately, Thome will be remembered for his prowess in the regular season. Though his name may never be at the tip of the tongue when the great sluggers of all-time are discussed, he at the very least has now ensured that his name will always be on the list.

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