DETROIT — He didn’t brag. He didn’t praise himself as being the best of all-time. He didn’t cheat. Instead Jim Thome quietly blasted 600 home runs in his long baseball career; the 599th and 600th of which came last night in Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers.
Thome became just the 8th player in Major League Baseball history to achieve the goal of 600 home runs in a career and, much to the satisfaction of hardcore and old-time baseball fans, he did it clean, innocently and politely. Thome has never been linked to PEDs, HGH, or any other kind of performance enhancing poison that has plagued baseball’s record books for the past twenty-odd years.
Long been considered the ‘Nicest Guy in Baseball’, Jim Thome had just about everyone in the baseball world rooting for him to get to that almighty, and iconic number. Thome has touched just about everyone in baseball from former teammates, to coaches and fans alike. One story of Thome’s nice0guy attitude touching a fan occured a few years back. One fan asked Jim Thome for his autograph and Thome gave him the typical ballplayer response of ‘I’ll get back to you later”. The only thing was, Jim actually did get back to that fan later, seeking him out in the crowd and signing his ball. These kinds of stories evoke the memories of being told the exact same story by our grandafther’s about meeting their favorite baseball hero in some magical moment of bliss and honesty.
He started his journey to 600 in 1991, debuting for the Cleveland Indians where he quickly became a staple. Thome went to 3 All-Star games in an Indian’s uniform in 1997, ’98 and ’99. He won a Silver Slugger award in 1996 as a member of the club and was also on their World Series roster against the Marlins. When Thome departed to Philadelphia after the ’02 season, he continued to make his mark in baseball with his powerful swing and even more powerfully positive attitude. He hit career homerun No. 400 in a Phillies uniform as well as wearing it to the 2004 All-Star team. He led the National League in homeruns in 2003 hitting 47, one shy of the Phillies franchise record of 48 hit by Mike Schmidt in 1980.
It wasn’t until Thome’s return to the American League did he begin to catch fire again. Not only was he fresh off of recovering from an injury plagued final season with the Phillies, but he was returning home to Illinois where he was born. On August 27, 1970 Jim Thome was born in Peoria, Illinois. He gained the nickname of ‘The Pride of Peoria” amongst his hometown kin when he exploded into a baseball phenom. That nickname, The Pride of Peoria, again akins back to the epic nicknames that iconic ball players have been given over the years. As a member of the Chicago White Sox, Thome continued to amass home runs and awards. In his first season with the White Sox, he attended his third All-Star game in a different uniform and the fifth of his career. But his crowning moment as a White Sox came on September 16, 2007 when Jim hit his 500th career home run.
In true, mythical Jim Thome fashion, the day he hit his 500th home run was jim Thome bobblehead day at U.S. Cellular Field.
Thome played three more years with the Sox before being traded back to the NL when Chicago traded the slugger to Los Angeles. Appearing to be in the twilight year of his career, Jim Thome entered free agency and was scooped up by a team that prides themselves in positive, hard-working ballplayer: the Minnesota Twins.
Thome again engraved his name in another ballclub’s history and lore by amassing classic moments in Twins history while each time, making history himself. Each monster bomb Thome blasted at Target Field not only left fans in sheer awe, but inched Thome closer to the immortal number of 600. Perhaps his most classic home run in a Twins uniform came on August 17, 2010 against his former team the Chicago White Sox. In the bottom of the tenth inning Thome hit a 442-ft walk off to beat the Sox. It was Thome’s 12th career walk-off tying him for the most all-time with the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Babe Ruth. On September 3, Thome hit home runs number 573 and 574 which moved him past former Twin legend Harmon Killebrew for the most home runs by a Twins player in franchise history. Thome moved past Mark McGwire for most all-time home runs the very next day and exactly one week later he blasted past Frank Robinson when he hit home run No. 587.
Almost an entire year later, Jim Thome faced down his ultimate goal of 600 homers in Detroit. Once again, in mythical Jim Thome fashion, the slugger blasted home runs No. 599 and 600 in back-to-back at bats. When he rounded the bases, he didn’t hoot and holler. He didn’t glorify himself in his biggest moment. He didn’t take to a podium and weep for effect.
In perhaps the truest of true mythical moments of Jim Thome, all he did was hug his family.