Late last week I touched on how I thought it was time that we gave Ken Griffey Jr. more respect than we have of late given the latest performance enhancing drug scandal surrounding Sammy Sosa (you can read all of my thoughts in Death of the Hero?). In that piece I also mentioned, briefly, the name of today’s discussion and that is Jim Thome, who, remarkably unnoticed, has gone about producing one of the most impressive power hitting careers in the history of baseball.
That last statement isn’t hyperbolic in nature by the way. Consider the following data points with Thome.
(1) In his last 12 seasons of at least 400 at-bats, he had only 193 in an injury plagued 2005 campaign, Thome has hit at least 30 home runs.
(2) In those 12 seasons, Thome has knocked in at least 85 runs, and 11 times he has posted at least 90 RBI.
Let’s put those numbers in context.
Thome has 12 seasons of 30 home runs and 85 RBI. That just so happens to be the third most such seasons in baseball history behind only Hank Aaron (14), Mike Schmidt (13) and Babe Ruth (13). Moreover, his total of twelve 30-HR seasons is tied for the fourth most in history (Aaron leads the way here as well with 15).
(3) Thome has averaged, per 162 games in his career, a .278-40-112-107 line. Think about it this way – do you know how many seasons matching all four of those numbers that Albert Pujols has produced in his astounding career? Four. And remember, that is Thome’s average over his career per 162 games.
(4) Thome has always been a remarkable on base machine with a .406 career OBP. Amongst hitters who have accrued at least 3,000 plate appearances in their career that number places Thome in 46th place all-time. By the by, his OBP has been at least .385 in 12 of the past 14 seasons. Ryan Howard has only two seasons above .360 in his career.
(5) Thome is the proud owner of a .559 SLG in his career. Amongst hitters who have accrued at least 3,000 plate appearances in their career that number places Thome in 19th place all-time. Justin Morneau has only one season that high, and it was exactly .559 in 2006.
(6) Thome’s career OPS is a superlative .965, the 18th best mark in league annals for a batter with at least 3,000 plate appearances. Fellow teammate and slugger Jermaine Dye has only one full season where his mark has bettered that when it was 1.006 in 2006.
So when we add that all up, here is what we come up with.
Thome is eighth on my all-time “clean” home run list (you can find the list at the link at the start of the piece), 46th in OBP, 19th in SLG and 18th in OPS. Toss in his 1,459 runs scored that are 73rd all-time and his 1,527 RBI that are 46th all-time, and this is what we have.
Thome is one of just 11 players in baseball history to hit 400 home runs, knock in 1,500 runs, score 1,400 times and post an OPS of at least .950.
Given all that, does Thome deserve to make the Hall of Fame? Being that his power seems nothing more than corn-fed from growing up in the heartland of American (he was born in Illinois), you seriously have to consider the man for enshrinement in the Hall. The biggest negative is the fact that he has functioned as a DH late in his career though in 2,216 career games he has appeared at first base 1,101 times and third base 492 times, so it’s not like he has been a DH only weapon for the majority of his career (to compare Reggie Jackson, who cannot match Thome’s lifetime numbers, is in the Hall despite 630 games at DH versus Thome’s total of 633). If the voters can look past his merely average batting average of .278, and consider that his name has never been linked to performance enhancing drugs, then I think this lefty swinging slugger has a great shot at having a plaque one day in Cooperstown.
By Ray Flowers