Thome Hits 600

It’s about time Jim Thome finally got the recognition he deserved. Though his chase toward history wasn’t as publicized as Derek Jeter‘s, Thome’s relatively quiet run to 600 career home runs seems fitting, in retrospect. Thome — regarded as one of the nicest guys in the game — never seemed to care whether the baseball world was paying attention; he just continued to destroy baseballs. Now that Thome has reached the elite 600 club, thousands of words will be spilled about whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. While this milestone generally guaranteed ticket to Cooperstown, the specter of performance enhancing drugs has altered the way a generation of power hitters have been perceived. Based on the stats, Thome deserves to get the call. Unfortunately for him, it might not be on the first ballot.

A quick look at Thome’s counting stats reveals one of the most dangerous hitters of the 1990s. Thome might have been a powerful hitter, but he was patient as well, compiling a career .407 on-base percentage. As Joe Posnanski already noted, Thome never met a fastball he couldn’t handle. Since 1994, Thome ranks ninth among all players in wRC+, eighth in wOBA and ninth in WAR. During his peak — from 1995 to 1997 — Thome compiled 19.5 WAR, which is better than Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez over the same period. When he was in his prime, Thome could really hit a baseball.

So, what’s the problem? Every voter should look at those career numbers and say “yup, looks like a Hall-of-Famer to me.” But there are aspects of Thome’s game that are going to be picked apart by skeptics.

The biggest complaint could come down to how he accumulated his stats. Some voters might view Thome as a “compiler” — or a player who accumulated numbers over a long period of time (see Mike Mussina). While it’s unfair to criticize Thome for being so good for so long, voters will harp on the fact that Thome only had one season where he finished in the top five in MVP voting. Voters will probably bring up the “consistently great, but never elite” argument as well.

Thome will also be hurt by the fact that he spent the final chunk of his career as a DH. We don’t know exactly how voters will view this yet, though voters denied Edgar Martinez on his first shot. Certainly Frank Thomas will have a much better argument for election when his vote comes, which could have major implications on whether Thome makes it in on the first ballot.

While they likely won’t play a huge role in Thome’s candidacy, PEDs will come up in the debate. Due to his personality — and the general praise he’s received from everyone around baseball — it would truly be a shock if Thome took steroids. People just seem to assume that Thome is clean, so this issue might not affect him as much as some of the other power hitters from his era. Still, some writer/voter will bring them up.

Add all that together, and you still have a lot of uncertainty. Thome deserves to be elected to the Hall based on his hitting statistics — a fact few would argue. Yet voters will likely deny Thome from being a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer because of the issues outlined above. Unless things radically change in the next couple seasons, Thome’s “nice guys finish last” act might extend a few years longer. Then again, he never needed — or wanted  — the publicity anyway.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


69 Responses to “Thome Hits 600”

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  1. NEPP says:

    Jim Thome wasn’t “mostly a DH”. He started 1,557 games at 1B & 3B combined…that’s out of 2,310 total starts. So, for more than 2/3 of his career, he played the field.

    Far more than Molitor for example who started just 56% of his games in the field or Edgar who started just 27% of his total games in the field.

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    • Santos says:

      I don’t know if Chris changed it after seeing your comment, but he doesn’t say mostly… he says “he spent the final chunk of his career as a DH”. Again, don’t know if it’s been corrected or not.

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  2. Joe says:

    Haters can also point to the .217 BA and .320 OBP in 251 postseason PA and the lack of a World Series title for additional reasons not to vote for him.

    For what it’s worth, I’d have him in.

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  3. Ben Miller says:

    Shouldn’t the fact that Thome is perceived as not taking PED’s help him? He was an elite (oops, “consistently great”) hitter during an era when supposedly everyone else was getting their performance enhanced. Maybe that is too optimistic of a view of the voters, but it seems like he should get some extra points for most likely having to perform against a stacked deck.

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  4. NEPP says:

    He’s a 1st ballot guy in my book.

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  5. Eminor3rd says:

    Unless some PED evidence pops up, he’s in on the first ballot. Voters love homeruns and everyone in the league loves the guy.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Yeah, I think this one is obvious to voters. Despite the fact he doesn’t have the MVP’s or the rings, he’s got the traditional back-of-the-card stats. It’s not like you need to delve into arguments about park adjustments, playing in a pitcher’s era, the value of defense, or positional arguments.

      For ten years (1995-2004), Thome had an OPS over 1.000 and averaged 40 HR’s, 100 RBI’s, and 100 runs a season. And he’s got 600 homers. Boom, end of conversation for most voters.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      I don’t know. There was never any PED evidence against Bagwell, just suspicion, and he didn’t come close. As good as Thome has been, Bagwell was better: http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?playerid2=409&playerid3=547&playerid4=&playerid5=

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      • philosofool says:

        Meritwise, you’re right about Bagwell and Thome, but voters are going to see 600+ HR very differently from 449.

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  6. Jamie says:

    “Due to his personality — and the general praise he’s received from everyone around baseball — it would truly be a shock if Thome took steroids.”

    I’m not sure what this means. He’s too nice to take PEDs? “Only meanies take drugs” seems like a sentiment from a 1980s after-school special rather than reality-based analysis. I remember Mark McGwire being a pretty well-liked fellow. Jason Giambi is a beloved character in every clubhouse he’s been in.

    I’d certainly be surprised if Thome took steroids, since he was always a huge guy, but it shouldn’t be a “shock” to find out any player from the ’90s-’00s era took steroids.

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  7. Ray says:

    I know he played in a different era and position, but I’ve always thought of Thome as the modern day Eddie Mathews:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/matheed01.shtml
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/thomeji01.shtml

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  8. Wet Socks says:

    Just because Thome isn’t linked to steroids doesn’t mean he didn’t take them. He rides the “nice guy” perception and he’s a big, burly guy anyway so people tend to not even raise the question. Is that fair that the subject is not even brought up about a hitter who played through the steroid era? Steroids weren’t banned until the start of 2005, and while I don’t think his integrity would allow him to cheat the rules, he could well have taken them prior to Bud Selig getting his head out of the sand. For what it’s worth, I’m of the ilk that says, ‘vote all the deserving players in, steroids/scandals or not.’ All I’m saying is we shouldn’t let the perception that he is clean give him a relative boost to other sluggers of the generation. That he’s a nice guy is great, but Pete Rose and Ty Cobb weren’t great guys and in my book, both belong in the hall.

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    • Santos says:

      Ty Cobb belongs in the hall of fame in the official book as well as your own.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ty_Cobb_HOF_plaque.jpg

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    • GMH says:

      Steroids weren’t banned until 2005? Steroids have been explicitly banned in MLB since June 1991 when Commissioner Faye Vincent added steroids to the banned substances list. The owners and the players just never got around to adding a provision for testing under their CBA, thus implicitly encouraging the use of steroids in their sport. Testing for steroids for Major League players actually began in 2004, but players were tested only once during the season and they were given advanced notice of the test. Unannounced testing wasn’t instituted until 2005, and off-season testing didn’t begin until the end of the 2005 season.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Saying steroids weren’t banned until 2005 is like saying shooting other players still isn’t banned. You don’t need a rule about doing something illegal.

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    • Cidron says:

      and THAT is why this whole era is fubarred.. The presumed GUILT even without a hint of ped taint. If you have good numbers, its ped enhanced. Why cant we have a .. good or great player this era, merely on talent. It happens in other eras. Nooo, we have to assume peds are involved.

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    • Joe P. says:

      It’s fair not to bring up PEDs re: Thome when there’s not an iota of evidence to suggest he took them. I’d apply that standard to the nicest guy or the biggest jerk. When you start doing that, you might as well conjecture over whether he ever shot a guy because he played in an era when the national crime rate rose.

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  9. Bronnt says:

    Thome is a no-brainer. What’s surprising to me is that he only reached 7 WAR two times, and one of those was just barely there. I just remember him from his Cleveland days being such a force, I expected the look back and realize a Pujols-ian level of dominance, and it turns out he wasn’t quite on that level. He’s still an easy Hall of Famers.

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  10. hillman says:

    i tend to think he didn’t take PEDs, but i’ve never really understood the “nice guys don’t roid” argument.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      have you ever heard of roid rage?

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    • philosofool says:

      I don’t think this was meant to be an argument, just a comment about the general perception of steroids in baseball. If you’re a jerk publicly, people will tend to think you do things (they think) jerks do. If you’re not a jerk, they will think you don’t do things (they think) only jerks do.

      Like it or not, reputation has a big influence on how people perceive you. It’s not necessarily a rational way to gauge people, but it makes a difference.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    While they likely won’t play a huge role in Thome’s candidacy, PEDs will come up in the debate. Due to his personality — and the general praise he’s received from everyone around baseball — it would truly be a shock if Thome took steroids. People just seem to assume that Thome is clean, so this issue might not affect him as much as some of the other power hitters from his era. Still, some writer/voter will bring them up.

    IMO, more writers will bring up his “non-PED use” and it will actually work in his favor.

    The overall perception will be while Sammy, McGwire, and Bonds roided their way to the record books and milestones (my opinion of what the perception will be, not necessarily my opinion), Thome and Thomas did it “the right way”.

    Thome has earned his “good guy image” and it’s based more on his charitable service to his community and his hometown than his “aw shucks” demeanor and tone. Jim Thome is simply a very humble and nice guy. However, Mark McGwire was the same way, often being praised for his admittance of being an abused child and helping other abused children. Being nice doesn’t exclude one from being a PED user.

    When I see “images” of Thome in my mind, it’s always when he was part of that MONSTER Indians lineup. Seriously Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome … with Lofton and Omar playing all the defense.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Oh yeah, Thome gets into the HoF 1st ballot.

      600 HRs, without PED admissions and/or strong suspicions, is still hall-worthy (traditionally).

      Or his 71 WAR puts in him 1st ballot as well.

      However you look at it, Thome is a HoF … unless you think he did PED and wnat to use that against him.

      I didn;t remeber him playing 3B, but its listed as his position for some years.

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      • GMH says:

        Thome was Cleveland’s third baseman until the Indians traded a package of players including some guy named Jeff Kent in exchange for Matt Williams after the 1996 season. Williams was traded to the D-Backs after one season with the Indians.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      I agree with you, the far that he is generally viewed as PED free will play to his favor. “making an example” works in both ways. They have five or six years from now for accusations, but I can’t imagine there will be any.

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    • AA says:

      Belle was a decent defender in LF and Manny was generally thought of as a decent fielder with a very strong arm in RF.

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  12. Misfit says:

    I’ve given up on trying to predict how the writers will vote. Bagwell was never implicated in any PED scandals but he didn’t come close on his first attempt. He was guilty of being a guy who hit a lot of homeruns in the steroid era and apparently the writers held that against him. Some will probably remind us how Thome was a much leaner looking player when he came up and use circumstantial evidence to speculate on what he did or did not do. It does seem like some writers are already championing him as “the clean slugger” (along with Thomas) so maybe he’ll escape a lot of the scrutiny Bagwell has had to endure.

    It’s all an exercise in futility. He should get in, and it should be an easy call. He probably will but, in the end, who really knows?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      There’s more to it than that. It wasn’t just that Bags hit home runs. It has more to do with him transforming from a scrawny minor leaguer with average power to a big dude that started hitting lots of homers.

      Bagwell doubled his seasonal HR output. That it coincided with both [1] a very noticeable change in musculature and [2] the steroid era, may just be coincidental. If he is clean, it’s an unfortunate situation for him. But the suspicion is ~valid.

      I think the perception of Thome is that he was a big strong guy that hit long homers with great plate discipline from beginning to end. His power and value didn’t “come out of nowhere”. He is who we thought he was, so to speak.

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      • Misfit says:

        The suspicion for Bagwell is valid in the same way that it is for anyone who played in that era. To play devil’s advocate, Thome wasn’t a real big guy when he came up and a lot of the arguments for him as a clean guy were the same as what was being utterred about David Ortiz until it was revealed he flunked the ’03 test. If a writer wishes to cast suspicion on Thome, he or she could do so easily since apparently enough voters are willing to go off of flimsy circumstantial evidence.

        My personal stance is that anyone who played during that period could have been on the juice and the fact that anyone is championed as being a clean player is amusing. Thome, Jeter, and all of the other so-called clean players are just as clean as anyone else who didn’t get caught and trying to determine who is and isn’t an abuser of steroids is silly. And with no standard set forth by the BBWAA on how to approach the voting process it becomes difficult to project who gets in and who doesn’t.

        If I had a vote I’d treat everyone the same and vote based on merit, and based on that merit, Thome is an easy choice to go to Cooperstown.

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      • James says:

        And also, open Nandro usage.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        @ Misfit

        Fair points.

        Rookie Jim Thome
        http://www.halloffamememorabilia.com/images/products/p-535943-jim-thome-baseball-card-1992-score-rookie-4-cleveland-indians-rookie-card-aw-47333.jpg

        http://25yearsofbaseball.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/603_jim_thome-217×300.jpg

        Rookie Jeff Bagwell
        http://searchwithtpain.swagbucks.com/content/uploads/prizes-4/image20928.jpg

        http://www.halloffamememorabilia.com/images/products/p-501373-jeff-bagwell-baseball-card-1991-score-traded-96t-houston-astros-rookie-card-aw-40429.jpg

        Prime Thome
        http://7is.neswblogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Thome.jpg

        Prime Bagwell
        http://hewittgallery.com/ball26.jpg

        ——————————–

        Wow, Thome doesn’t appear to be “as big” in his prime as I thought he would be.

        I’m also not certain you can tell much from Bagwell and Thome’s pictures, especially with baggy jerseys on. I won’t draw any conclusions from the pictures.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        And also, open Nandro usage.

        Androsteinedione (Andro) was an OTC pro-hormone at the time. You or I (or McGwire) could have purchased it from GNC and used it in most professional and amatuer events at that time. I don;t think you can penalize athletes for using legal supplements, even if they become illegal later. For years, athletes used clenbuterol (a diuretic), and it was included in “fat burning” supplements, and now it’s a banned substance in almost every organization.

        Obviously, at this time, McGwire wasn’t solely using Andro (if he was using it at all). I know myself and buddies were all thinking “nice diversion” when McGwire left the Andro container sitting in his locker for all to see.

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      • razor says:

        This is just wrong. Some of the minor league ballparks Bagwell played in depressed offense a ton. New Britain in particular was notorious for being among the worst hitting parks in the minor leagues. Winter Haven wasn’t much better.

        In addition, when Bagwell first came up the run scoring environment was different. It wasn’t until 1993/94, after Florida and Colorado joined up, that the offensive explosion began in full force. In Bagwell’s first three seasons it was well known he had considerable power. In fact, during his rookie year Bagwell hit a ball into the upper deck at the old Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, that still stands today as the longest HR ever hit to LF there.

        All Bagwell really did in later years was he started to turn some of his doubles into HR’s…and he’s hardly the first good young hitter to ever accomplish that as he entered his prime years.

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  13. Mike B. says:

    It’s pretty astounding that in 2010, his age 40 season, Thome compiled 3.2 WAR in only 340 PAs as a DH.

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  14. TomG says:

    HE’S DEFINITELY A HA

    HALL OF FAMER

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  15. Daern says:

    If the Hall committee insists on using the character clause to keep people out, it’s only fair to give Thome credit for his character.

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    • Derek says:

      It’s not fair. Their shouldn’t be a character clause. Someone responded to my earlier post, and yes I’m aware Ty Cobb is in the Hall of Fame. He was a Grade-A jerk and a bigot and a racist and yet his performance warranted induction. That’s all we should be looking at and being a “hall of fame person” shouldn’t make someone any more worthy of Cooperstown than their on-field performance.

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  16. jkafka says:

    Rafael Palmerio was another one of those character guys who wasn’t suspected at first, if I remember correctly. The PED issue should just be dropped. Baseball has a long, long history of cheaters. If I was a voter, I would vote for Thome, but it sure wouldn’t be because I thought he was clean.

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  17. TheGrandslamwich says:

    Seems like the only argument against Thome is “guilty until proven innocent”.

    He deserves The Hall, as do the likes of Bagwell and Thomas. The BBWAA needs to get their act together instead of drawing on rumors and guesswork.

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  18. Robbie G. says:

    Jim Thome is a big old farm boy. Have some people never been around big old farm boys? That dude never struck me as someone who was likely using steroids.

    Also: Now that Thome has hit #600, shouldn’t some contender want to trade for this guy? Seems like an upgrade over Ross Gload (LH pinch hitter) in Philly to me, and he’d certainly be a great fit in that Philly clubhouse…

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      I think the Twins management is on “don’t mess with a good thing” mode. They are (very obviously) not going to make the post season but they have attendance that remains at sellout levels. Thome is a huge part of that draw; the farm boy attitude plays well in Minnesota (see Prairie Home Companion).

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    • NEPP says:

      There is ZERO chance of him clearing waivers to the Phillies (last in priority).

      Low contract, good production…someone will claim him first.

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    • Joe says:

      I always thought the “big old farm boy” and “country strong” memes are a bit jingoistic if not outright racist. You only hear that reference for strong white players when there are plenty of farms in Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, etc. whereas the Latin players get the assumed PED whispers if they weigh over 230.

      Jason Heyward grew up in a rural Georgia town and goes 6’5 240 (bigger than Thome even) but you’ll never hear anyone call him a big old farm boy.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I hear “country strong” and “big country” said about black football players now and again (particularly in college). I also don’t hear white kids described as “street smart” very often. It could be that broadcasters are hesitant to do so about a black player from a rural southern state because of historical context reasons.

        Steve McNair referred to himself as “country strong”, and I just watched a special on a black NFL lineman that referred to himself as a “dark redneck” and “good ol country boy” as he was working his farm during the lockout.

        It happens, but it’s not often for obvious reasons.

        Jim Thome grew up in Peoria, IL … not exactly rural, but indeed in the Cornbelt.

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  19. Barkey Walker says:

    Thome is #5 on the all time non-asteresked (in the court of public opinion) home run list. No counting stat trumps that. There is no way he doesn’t get on in the first ballot. The issues you named above might put him in the low 90s for the vote instead of high 90s.

    I really doubt there will be questions about his PED use now either. all of the known PED users are either slowing down substantially (A Rod’s AB/HR is now even out of the elite power hitter range at 25 and 17.4 in 2010. while Thome is at 16.8 in 2011 and 11.0 in 2010. BTW, what did Thome hit when he was A Rod’s age? 11.0 AB/HR.

    If a guy can hit a home run in every 11 at bats at least five years after his last juice, why would he juice in the first place?

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  20. MauerPower says:

    That was awesome to see. Easily a hall of famer.

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  21. Devon Young says:

    Thome was so overlooked and unappreciated. 2002 is one great example of this. He came in a mere 8th in the MVP voting, yet he was leading the world in OPS+ at nearly 200. He also had 8.1 WAR, which was better than any of the top 7 vote getters except A-Rod who had 8.2. I remember Tejada had a huge part in leading the A’s to the playoffs that season and got all the press, but really… Thome’s numbers were as solid or stronger than Tejada’s that year. I won’t get into every season, but you guys can delve in and see how underappreciated he’s been during his career.

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  22. TK says:

    What’s shocking to me is with all that has come out about roiders, guys like Thome aren’t above suspicion while guys like Derek Jeter are. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t suspect either of them or anyone else based on conjecture, but why is the focus always on big homerun hitters when dozens of non-mashers where in the Mitchell Report? Why do people think they can come up with accurate criteria for what a roider is absent a scintilla of evidence?

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    • TheGrandslamwich says:

      Roids are directly related to developing raw strength. As such, players that present a specific skill exceptionally, especially HR’s, are usually more likely to have used illegal substances.

      I don’t think Thome used them (and I certainly hope to never hear about him using PEDs), but there certainly will be rumors fluttering about before his first HoF vote.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        I’ve always heard that the biggest advantage of steroids was stamina and the ability to recover from injury.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        When you exercise you damage your muscles and when they rebuild (read, recover) they recover stronger. Roids help you with recovery from workouts very well, and make you big and strong.

        If that is what you mean by recovery, then, yes, they help you with recovery.

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      • TK says:

        Yes, opinions like yours are shocking to me,in a communitiy that is supposed to be thoughtful. Look at the 103 names in the Mitchell report and count up their homers. Then come back and apoligize to Jim Thome.

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  23. Jay Levin says:

    There is not one single player from the ’90s for whom it “truly would be a shock” to find out that he had used some kind of PED at one time or another, at least briefly. Not Thome, not Maddux, not Jeter — nobody. Has the author learned nothing from the last five years of revelations?

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    • Cidron says:

      Juan Pierre? Scott Podsednik? Ichiro? any of them taking wouldnt shock you? not exactly what i would call candidates for ped suspicion.

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      • jkafka says:

        Ever heard of former Tiger Roger Cedeno? I’m actually pretty sure sprinters benefit more from PEDs than home run hitters.

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  24. dan says:

    Labeling him a “compiler”, insinuating that it he got his stats through longevity, is a distortion of the facts and an insult to a great player. Only Babe Ruth reached 600 HR in less AB.

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  25. CKrome says:

    Re: Ty Cobb

    Check this out … and be sure to click through to the link at the end. It’s a long piece, but apparently there’s reason to believe Cobb wasn’t quite as jerky as people now think.

    http://haulsofshame.com/blog/?p=874

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  26. Cidron says:

    Compiler = Someone who has A) the talent to fit a teams needs, B) generally excellent health, C) is a good character guy, D) no serious erosion of skills over a long duration of time. In short, someone who STILL has something to contribute over time. Why is that a bad thing again? Sure, it is the anti-Koufax, but, If Hank Aaron can “compile” a ton of homers and get in, with nobody nitpicking it, why cant anybody else get in by compiling? I thought longevity, talent, and health were good things.

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  27. CircleChange11 says:

    Is it just me or does the sentiment of “good for him, he’s a nice guy” outnumber the ” holy crap Thome hit 600 homers” like 10 to 1?

    He’s 8th on the All-Time HR list. Isn’t that damn impressive?

    This has to be the most uncelebrated major milestone in memory.

    As for the “compiler” label, how many of the major milestones were attained by guys that were still very productive?

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      He plays for the Twins and MLB doesn’t like the Twins and won’t promote for them, see “if they were contracted, the revenue would go to Milwaukee.”

      Once Thome hit 598, the “one night only” feature on FG should have been tracking him, but didn’t.

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