Is Jim Thome an All-Time Great?

August 16, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

Congrats to Jim Thome on his historic achievement in reaching 600 career homeruns on Monday night. That said it sure seems like a milestone of this magnitude should have been met with a great deal more fanfare than it is seemingly getting. Maybe it’s evidence that baseball fans, largely joining the masses and embracing the football mentality may to some degree be abandoning the numbers that have defined baseball’s most historic achievements. As those numbers have been rendered all but meaningless in recent years.

Surely it’s a byproduct of the steroid era. Fans have been fooled far too often from Sosa and McGwire to Bonds and A-Rod to wholeheartedly buy into anyone’s entrance into the hallowed grounds occupied by the likes of Ruth and Mays and Aaron. While Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. both seem to have emerged from the steroid era with a plethora of homeruns and an unblemished reputation, given what we’ve seen in the recent annals of baseball, I doubt there are many who’d stake anything of considerable importance on being sure of their “cleanliness”.


Beyond that though, even if we are to concede that Thome’s achievements were “all-natural”, because of the backdrop of steroid induced sluggers that surrounded Thome’s career, his achievements while Hall of Fame caliber in their totality simply weren’t that remarkable through the prism of his contemporaries.


History will show that Thome’s numbers rank with the highest and most esteemed baseball achievers of all time yet in a 21 year career, he was named an All-Star just 5 times, finished in the top 5 in the MVP ballot just once, and was little more than an afterthought on most of the teams that he played for. How do we quantify someone as deserving of mentions amongst the greats of all time when he was never (even for a moment) seen as the best in the game or the best at his position or even the best on his own team?


Surely we should appreciate and celebrate the achievements of Thome as with or without the accompaniment of performance enhancers, the list of sluggers to hit 600 is a short one; shorter still when the court of public opinion excludes Bonds and Sosa and Rodriguez as we have seemingly done. Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Griffey, Thome.


Surely the reception has not been commensurate with the achievement. The steroid era is not yet done claiming victims. Our reluctance to celebrate Thome, and our outright failure to understand or appreciate his historic achievements as they were unfolding are both unfortunate byproducts of baseball’s last 20 years or so. It’s unfair to Thome, and equally unfair to the fans that missed out (so to speak).