Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Quiet Joy Of A Midwestern Clear 600

Tonight in Detroit, Jim Thome completed the quietest run to a major milestone in recent MLB history, getting to a level that only eight men have ever reached... and he's really the only recent member to the 600 Club to get there without needles in the ass. If you want to disqualify the cheaters, Big Jim slots at #5 all time, behind just Griffey Jr., Mays, Ruth and Aaron, and the first to ever get 599 and 600 in consecutive at bats. Nice trick, and for the true crunchers, he's also the second fastest to the level if you are counting just ABs, rather than age. (By the calendar, he's also the oldest.)

With the landmark and his needle-free reality, Thome is going to be a lock pipe cinch for Cooperstown five years after he hangs it up, but I'm kind of hoping he doesn't for a while. It's just nice to have him around, even if he seems near the end this year; a .254 BA and 11 HRs for the year certainly seem like limping to the finish. But that's not the case, since the man still takes his walks and goes long; his OPS this year may be his lowest since an injury-racked 2005 in Philly when he finally gave up the job to Ryan Howard, but .811 is still pretty damned good, especially considering that his home park is doing him no favors. DH isn't really a position where you are blocking anyone young, and you don't play for three teams in the last two years without just loving the game a whole lot. Especially when you've made over $138 million and counting, just $4.5 million of that in the past two years in Minny.

And sure, he was injury prone, something of a platoon guy in later yearrs, a natural DH, a guy that couldn't carry the Tribe to the World Series, and left Philly before they went there as well... but his average year included 39 HRs and a .960 OPS. That's kind of great. He's basically the best of his kind to ever play the game, and a guy that's hung around a long time without making an idiot of himself.

No wonder the media more or less ignored his run to 600, there will be little if any merch moved from this, and the fans that might have cared hardest about this gave him up in Cleveland a long time ago (2002, actually) as sort of the Proto LeBron. Philly Fan loved him, of course, as the original free agent who chose the town over others, then moved him out when they could deny Howard no longer, getting back Aaron Rowand in the deal.

Would this have been different had Thome simply stayed in Cleveland for all of these years, and gotten his 600 in the same place? Probably, but it's asking a lot from a guy to leave tens of millions of dollars on the table just to make his plaque in Cooperstown a little cleaner. The Tribe has been up and down since he's left, and so has Thome's teams, but it's not as if he bad-mouthed any of the towns he's left behind.

Instead, he's just gone out as often as his body and manager would let him, crushed his way to the three true outcomes of walk, whiff or yard, and became the 4th best guy to ever go yard in American ball without chemical cheating. Not such a bad legacy, really.

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