I realize I’m a little late to this party seeing as Jim Thome hit his 600th homer last week, but the amount of argument that I’ve witnessed and read about his Hall of Fame credentials strikes me as absurd. In my mind, he’s a no doubt about it, sure fire Hall of Famer. From what I’ve gathered the main arguments against his candidacy are rather frivolous. People question his authenticity due to the fact that he played during the steroid era. Others question his value claiming that he built his career on nothing but homers and walks. Perhaps most bizarre of all is that some people view him as a mere DH, and thus unworthy of enshrinement.
Before I get to refuting those arguments, let’s take a quick look at his resume. For his career he has put up a line of .277/.403/.558 good for an OPS+ of 147. That OPS+ figure puts him 40th on the all time list tied with the likes Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell (amongst others). For a further frame of reference, it puts him one point behind Miguel Cabrera, who I might add is amidst his peak and therefore hasn’t gone through any decline years. His 600 homers puts him 8th overall, just 8 homers behind Sammy Sosa. He has been a dominant offensive force in baseball, with a peak that matches some of the all time greats. I would think that this paragraph by itself should be all the evidence needed for Thome, but for whatever reason, it isn’t.
Thome is, unfortunately, painted with the broad brush of the Steroid Era. I can see where the pundits are coming from, I really can. It’s tough to know whom to trust now. A-Rod was supposed to be the great clean hope to erase Bonds’ numbers, and even he turned out to be tainted. The thing, though, about Thome is that he’s always been a big, country-strong guy. I realize that’s not a defense, but it’s not as though he went through a sudden Bondsian growth spurt halfway through his career. Plus, there hasn’t been the slightest whiff of an allegation drawn against him. If I had to wager money on stars who were clean, I would go with Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Jim Thome, Cal Ripken, in that order. I think it’s idiotic to punish every single player that played in the last 20 years due to the transgressions of a sizable subset of players. The way some writers discuss it, makes it seem like the only power-hitting representative of the steroid era will be Ken Griffey Jr. Whether steroid users should be in the Hall or not is a discussion for another day, but it’s unfair to charge Thome with guilt by the mere association of being in the same league as other steroid users.
Besides having to worry about a steroid taint, Thome also has his OBP working against him. I think certain writers have a misplaced revulsion for walks and OBP due to a more general dislike of sabermetrics. They refuse to acknowledge the value of a walk and reduce Thome to a 3-true outcomes type of player. It’s true, that these last few years, his game has revolved more strongly around walks, homers, and strike outs, but for the bulk of his career, it hasn’t been that way. Yes, he did strike out and homer and walk a lot, but he also hit the crap out of the ball on a consistent basis. In his first five, full seasons, he hit .299. Unless he was hitting an extraordinary number of homers, that means he was putting a lot of balls into play. For his career, he’s a .277 hitter. For a 21 season career, that’s pretty awesome. It’s better than the likes of Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken, Reggie Jackson and many other sure-fire hall of famers. I don’t believe their batting averages were held against them, so I question why a large amount of walks (seen as a perceived lack of hits) should hurt Big Jim.
Finally, we have the DH issue. Ask Edgar Martinez how that’s going for him. Despite the fact that the DH has been a part of the game for a long time, people still have a hard time acknowledging that a DH can offer a ton of value to his team. I’m not even going to debate that fact, because Thome, for the greater part of his career played in the field. It wasn’t until 2006, his 16th year in the league that Thome played more games at DH than in the field in a single season. Over the span of his career, he’s played 1954 games in the field; that’s more games than Joe Dimaggio played in his career. He’s been at 1B or 3B for 80% of his career. It’s only now, that he has aged, that he’s been playing DH consistently, something that didn’t hurt Paul Molitor, despite DHing for nearly half his career. The funny thing, too, is that Thome wasn’t even that bad in the field. As far as advanced defensive stats can tell he was pretty much average, which when coupled with his offense is actually very, very valuable.
I’m not sure what it is that people have against Jim Thome. He’s excelled throughout his career and has been by all accounts a very easy-going and upstanding individual. He’s built a tremendous resume on the field, which I think should be unassailable. Hopefully with 5 years of breathing room after he retires, people will be able to come to the realization that he is indeed a no doubt Hall of Famer. The only question that should be raised, it what hat is he going to wear?