Like the last shred of a nightmare from long ago, the thought dances around in the recesses of our minds. And it’s a shame. Like a parasite, whose teeth have long since settled into our skin, the thought flows through our body whether we know it or not. And it’s a shame. Like the broken trust that we once put all our faith in, the thought hurts. And it is an absolute shame.
Tonight, Jim Thome hit his 600th career home run. This is a milestone that should be celebrated world-wide. Only seven players before him have climbed the ladder of power. And three of those players are so clearly linked to steroids, can their numbers truly count? Can they be included in the club and poison the whole bunch?
The fact is, they already have. Jim Thome is one of baseball’s good guys. He has always been one of the players long-considered to have “done it right.” And to put the cherry on top, he is one of the friendliest players in the game. Joe Nathan had high praise for Thome in an ESPN.com article tonight:
He is the world’s nicest man. He’s one of those guys that the hype is so great before you meet him, then he lives up to the hype, and more. When you see him from across the field, you think, ‘He can’t be that nice,’ but he is. He is so genuine. There are other players that will be forgotten when they leave, but he will not be. We will be talking about him for years to come. To me, he’s like [Hall of Famer] Harmon Killebrew. They are one in the same. When you meet both of those guys for the first time, you think, ‘Wow, this is someone that I will be wanting to talk to on a daily basis.’
Yet, behind the compliments, beyond the praise, the cloud (which has dispersed quite a a bit around the league) follows all those who achieve great success. There is no doubt in my mind that Thome has always been clean. However, the word steroids has passed through my brain on more than one occasion when thinking about Thome’s success. It fills me with shame and guilt, but I’m not the one to blame. The world of baseball has been painted with a brush of skepticism. And for good reason. Heroes were turned to villains, and milestones were reduced to ash. So as I celebrate Thome’s 600th career home run, it saddens me that I must fight the urge to think about steroids.
In a career filled with long home runs and All-Star appearances, it would be easy to write Thome off as a power-hitter with little more to bring to the game. But he has been so much more. In 21 seasons, he has collected 2,260 hits. He has plated 1,657 runs. All while compiling a .403 career OBP, .960 OPS, and 147 OPS+. Interestingly, Thome was top-15 in MVP voting six times, but only made 5 All-Star Games. He is the guy who is putting all 10 of his nieces and nephews through college. He was the 2005 Lou Gehrig award-winner (given by the Phi Delta Theta fraternity to the player who best exemplify his character and integrity both on and off the field), and is constantly involved in the community. Jim Thome is so much more than a power-hitting DH. He is testament to everything good in the game.
Let’s forget about Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, an Alex Rodriguez. At least for a night, Thome can be the fifth player to reach 600 home runs, rather than the eighth. We can celebrate him like the great player he is, free of tainted whisperings. We can put the steroid era on the shelf, forget the shame of questioning innocent players, and take joy in a milestone that we all can only dream of.