Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thome Appreciation Post

This is the first of about three "Appreciation Posts" I will be writing between now and this fall's conclusion of the How Youz Doin Baseball experiment.  This comes shortly after Monday's Jim Thome milestone, as he hit his 600th home run.  As Jason said in a comment the other night, does anyone care that the guy hit 600 home runs?  The answer is largely a "no."  But I care.

Most people don't care because 600 home runs isn't special anymore.  Apparently 3,000 hits, as long as it's accomplished by Derek Jeter, is special despite the fact that it's been accomplished nearly thirty times in baseball history.  Six hundred home runs is something that has been accomplished eight times.  Three of the seven hitters in front of Thome have had their legacies tarnished by performance-enhancing drugs, and due to the fact that these three guys, as well as one seemingly-legitimate guy (Griffey) have crossed the 600 mark in the past fiveish years, the meaning of the milestone has been watered down considerably.

You can thank Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, and their complicit attitude toward the performance-enhancing drug trade that is ongoing for the fact that 3,000 hits now gets you the Sports Illustrated cover and 600 home runs gets you a minor comment at the end of an unrelated blog post.  But this is not where I want to go with this.  I want to go in the following two directions with this post:  1) Thome's legacy in my eyes and where it should be in yours and 2) Whether you can "believe in" the legitimacy of Thome's 600 home runs as ones hit without the use of anabolic substances.  Why not go backwards?

2.  You can believe in Thome's legitimacy.  First of all, 600 home runs over the course of 21 years in the big leagues is conceivable, especially if you escape injuries (which Thome has largely done) and are built to be a power hitter (46 and Brady Anderson do not count).  It's thirty home runs a year, which is not really eye-popping.  Thome has never hit 60 home runs in a year (his career high is 52 at the age of 31, which makes sense if you're the size of a house), which I guess was the retrospective gold standard of "are you an obvious drug user."  Also, in times of expansion, you get a lot of pitchers who would otherwise be minor league pitchers - you know, guys like John Wasdin.  Thome played through two expansion periods in 1993 and in 1998, where there was a watered-down quality of pitching.  (You can see the same with the elite pitchers, and you'd probably see that happen even without steroids.)  Thome also played when a bunch of new ballparks made the home run cool again, including his own brand new ballpark in Cleveland.  He also got to enjoy a couple of seasons in Philadelphia's new joke ballpark where Coco Crisp can homer twice in one game.  Bottom line is, people can hit 600 home runs, and even if you weren't on steroids, 1992-2010 were prime years to do so for the two aforementioned reasons.  I believe in Jim Thome.

1.  Jim Thome's legacy for a lot of us, especially the ones reading from New England, is the legacy of someone who you shouldn't F with.  He is a guy who could hit a lot of home runs, deserved to get pitched around, and hit a lot of those home runs at opportune times for his team.  There was a weekend series when he was with Philadelphia and I was going to about fifteen graduation parties.  I'm pretty sure he hit more home runs than I attended parties (a moderate exaggeration), and he probably was responsible for six of the eight (only a slight exaggeration) blown saves the Red Sox had that weekend.  He did pretty much the same thing as a Cleveland Indian, and it never really changed from the point that I was nine years old and Cleveland was making a serious run for the best record in baseball, through the point that I was graduating high school and he was hitting fifteen home runs in a weekend, all the way through now where we're getting post cards reminding us of our first college reunion year.

It's easy for those of you in Boston to appreciate Tim Wakefield, because his longevity has been thrown in your face for about five years.  Same with New York and the Five Rings crew.  But there's been another constant over all of that time, and that's Jim Thome knocking balls 500 feet.  It's something that deserves an appreciation post.

2 comments:

ZWeiss said...

Beautiful post GM. Thome definately deserves more attention than he's been getting. Like you (and everyone) is saying, only eight people have hit 600 home runs, while twenty-eight have gotten 3000 hits.

I think that steroids have really watered down his accomplishment, as you said (even though he appears to be clean). I think that the fact that he played for many different organizations also affects the attention he's getting. There's no real single fan base that I think remembers him, unlike someone like Jeter who has spent their entire career in one uniform.

The GM said...

ZWeiss,

I'm not trying to downplay any of the Jeter stuff; I'm just trying to put into perspective the special-ness of what Thome's done. I was late to the party, as I still wanted him to get drilled up until about 2005 or 2006, but I'm drinking the Jeter Kool-Aid as much as most.

Steroids absolutely watered down his accomplishment. If he was clean (and the fact that we're speculating it is another disservice to him), the fact that he reached this milestone that should mean something and nobody gives an F is a tremendous disservice.