The Indians lost the final game of the year with the White Sox 7-4. They end the season series up 11-7 against the pale hose. In fact the Indians won each of the series in this rivalry save for one in mid-July. And though we gave away 3 runs in the 5th, I’m really not that upset with the loss. We finished this road trip 7-3, which was a game better than I asked for at the time. We also lost only a half game to the Tigers in that time period (assuming the Tigers finish off the Rangers tonight) and come home with a 5.5 game lead, and a magic number of 11. If the Indians simply play .500 ball the Tigers would need to go 14-1 for 1st.
I prefer to talk about Jim Thome’s place in history. In the fourth inning, Thome hit career home run number 499 off former teammate Jake Westbrook. Obviously this leaves him 1 away from a very special club. Much has been made lately about who is hall of fame worthy, and whether 500 homers or 3000 hits is an automatic pass to Cooperstown. Many say that with the expanded league, quality of starting pitching, and sheer number of players from this era surpassing the 500 homer level that it should not be a bench mark anymore. Others say that with the possibility of so many ‘juiced’ athletes it is impossible to tell whether or not the home runs have been achieved on the up and up.
I can’t say what effect expansion has had on Jim’s dinger total. But I can say that of all the athletes who have surpassed the 500 home run level recently, Jim Thome is possibly the least likely to have obtained any steroid advantage. We had the privilege of seeing Thome come up through the minors, and cut his teeth on major league fastballs hitting behind Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, and a young Manny Ramirez. True, Jim was significantly slimmer when he first made the bigs. His growth and strength came along slowly, and his Illinois farm boy upbringing endeared him to many Midwestern Tribe fans, including me.
Looking at Thome’s home run totals reveals a quite natural increase from his first full season as a starter in ’94 (20 home runs in 98 games) to his peak year in 2002 when he hit 52 home runs, his most ever in a season, and coincidentally his last in a Cleveland uniform. That year Thome was 31 and in his prime. Back trouble slowed his home run totals in Philly and Chicago. Many thought Jim might be finished after an injury filled 2005 campaign limited him to 59 games and only 7 homers, his lowest since his rookie year. But Jim rebounded in 2006 to win the Comeback player of the year award for the White Sox, hitting 42 homers. Which was the exact total he had before his injury season.
Hopefully when Jim’s name surfaces for the hall there will not be debate as to whether he was a steroid user. He never won an MVP award. He wasn’t a fixture on the all-star team. He does have more homers than anyone else in an Indians uniform. His home run to at bat ratio is 1 homer per every 14 at bats (roughly). If you are wondering who has a better ratio the list is short. Bonds, Ruth, and McGuire. That is all.
Regardless of whether Thome makes the Hall, he will always be remembered as one of the best hitters in Tribe history. But I hope he makes it in. He would certainly go in as an Indian. It took me a little time to get over the fact that he left town for the Phillies. But he certainly was trying to win a title, and he wouldn’t have won one here. Good luck Jim. Now that we are finished playing the Sox, I’m rooting for you every at bat.