The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: ‘Elections make us free, but we all must do a better job of voting…right?’ By Brad Eastland

August 21, 2011
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     Jim Thome hit his 600th home run the other day.   Amazing.   I say, good for him.

     Only eight guys have ever done that.   Unbelievable.   I say, good for him.

     Upon reaching the 600-homer milestone, there immediately commenced a tremendous outpouring of affection for the gentle giant Thome, from teammates, managers, opposing players, sportscasters and sportswriters alike.   Everyone likes this guy.   Everyone.   Y’know what?   Good for him.

     And because he did indeed somehow make it to 600 home runs, virtually every sportswriter, every current and former teammate, and every former manager of Thome’s has agreed, verbally, for the record, on camera, that Thome is virtually assured of being voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible for election several years after he retires.image0011

     As a baseball historian and self-appointed guardian of the game….

    the Sports Philosopher says….

     ….wait a minute.   Just wait a minute.   Stop!   Just stop!   Stop the madness!

     We have a real problem here.   The problem is Jim Thome’s likeability.   By all accounts, Thome isn’t just the nicest guy in baseball, he’s pretty much the nicest guy on planet Earth.   It’s no wonder everyone wants him in the Hall of Fame some day.   Stories and anecdotes of Jim’s saintly behavior are legion.   This guy makes Gandhi look like a bicycle thief.   Should we put Thome on the 5-dollar bill in place of Lincoln?   Compared to Thome, Honest Abe might as well be a compulsive liar and drug dealer who’d cheat on his wife just to see if he could get away with it….  

     Having said all that, there’s no other way of saying this: Jim Thome is not, and never was, a Hall of Fame baseball player.   Period.

     That’s the problem with longevity.   If a guy plays long enough, he’s bound to reach some sort of “milestone”, and then everybody just assumes he deserves to go into the Hall.   Some sportscasters I saw even went so far as to say that it was the 600th homer which “punched his ticket” into the Hall, like if he had wound up with only, say, 582 or 591 or 597 round-trippers he wouldn’t have qualified.   Is that how moronic we have become?   Can a guy be a non-Hall-of-Famer his whole career but then sneak up on a milestone and thus gain admission through the back door?   Should we put every pitcher with 300 wins or 3,000 strike-outs and every player with 3,000 hits or 600 home runs into the Hall of Fame automatically?   If so, what’s the point of voting?   What’s the point of thinking?

     Don’t get me wrong.   Thome is a good baseball player.   A very good baseball player.   Okay okay, a very very good baseball player.   No argument.   In addition to all the home runs he also drew a lot of walks over the years, over 1,700 bases on balls, which is important.   And he lasted over 20 years in this game.   That’s not nuthin’.   But Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, Jim Kaat, Smoky Joe Wood, Jack Morris, Ron Santo, and Roger Maris were all better players and all more qualified for the Hall of Fame than Thome, and none of them are in.   And most of them shouldn’t be.   Very good players like Jim Thome have to be kept out of the Hall of Fame for it to mean anything, in my opinion.

     Another problem with Thome’s Hall candidacy is that he did things “the right way”.   That’s what everybody says.   “The right way”, of course, is code for “no Steroids” or other performance-enhancing drugs.   Fans and sportswriters are so desperate to canonize “clean” ballplayers at the expense of far better ballplayers who juiced up that they are willing, in fact eager, to anoint the less deserving.   “The right way” is also code for “we like this guy and want to reward him, as opposed to a lot of the other star players who are just big fat jerks and we want to punish them”.   That’s the other problem with sportswriters who are Hall of Fame voters.   In a pinch, they generally vote to elect a guy they like personally, and come up with whatever rationalization they need to in order to justify that “yes” vote, whereas if they don’t like a guy personally, or that player was rude to them at some point during his career, they simply vote against him; and come up with whatever sanctimonious, holier-than-thou rationalization they need to (i.e.  gambling, Steroids, rudeness) to keep the deserving candidate out.   It’s nothing new.   It’s the same reason a fervent female democrat, back in the day, would vote for an always-grinning lowlife like John Edwards over a more qualified republican, because he’s so handsome with such a nice smile and he’s so smooth and sure of himself and of course he’s a “good democrat”, and it’s also why a rugged manly republican would vote for a lightweight, barely literate, pop culture opportunist like Sarah Palin over a more qualified democrat, just because she’s kinda cute and curvy and someone a loyal male ‘member’ (double-entendre alert!) of the republican party can actually imagine himself sleeping with other than his wife without any guilt feelings.   And I suppose it’s the same reason all those people voted to elect George W. Bush, twice, because Bush, uh….well, uh….um….well, you got me there.   That one’s a puzzler.   Anyway, you get the idea.

     Having already stated the few worthy Hall of Fame-ish aspects of Thome’s baseball resume (home runs, walks, longevity), let me now take a moment to list some of the many reasons he does NOT belong:

·             Thome’s lifetime batting average is only .277 — not bad, but not Hall caliber either…

·             Thome is a slow runner allergic to speed and of no real value on the basepaths…

·             Regarding the above slowness, Thome has only 26 triples and 19 stolen bases in his 20 long years in baseball.   That’s about one per year of each…

·             Thome has been a below average fielder his entire career, average at best, masquerading as a part-time first baseman and third baseman while waiting for his next at-bat.   He has never won a “Gold Glove” for fielding excellence, and never came close…

·              I say “part-time” because Thome often does not take the field at all.   Spending 17 of his 20 seasons in the American League, Thome has been a huge beneficiary of the American League’s historically comical Designated Hitter rule.   He has played over 800 games as a “DH”, relaxing on the bench between at-bats and conserving energy while the other nine starters toil in the field.   If he had to play a position every day, Thome would not have lasted 20 years as a defensive liability, would not have been able to keep his job for 20 years, would have also worn down physically while waiting for younger men to take his job in the field, and therefore would not have gotten those extra three or four thousand at-bats he needed to even be able to put up the robust home run numbers which have made this column necessary…

·              Thome made five all-star teams in 20 years.   Good, but not Hall worthy…

·              Thome never finished in the top-three in the voting for Most Valuable Player of his league, and finished in the top-five just once.   In the top ten only four times.   In 20 years.   The explanation is easy: Thome was never considered one of the top players of his league during even his best years, any more than he should be considered one of the all-time greats worthy of the Hall of Fame now…

·              And finally, Thome has struck out almost 2,500 times, by far the most times anybody has ever struck out in baseball history who was not named Reggie Jackson…


     I think my point is made, don’t you?   Thome was never a Hall of Fame player at any point during his career, and should not be judged as such now, just because he has survived 20 productive years with the benefit of the DH.   And he should not be given “extra credit” just because he is so well-liked.

     Compare the one-dimensional Thome to a few of the folks I mentioned earlier who are not in the Hall of Fame.   You’ve probably never heard of Jim Kaat, but he won 283 games as a left-handed pitcher, and was also the best fielding pitcher of his time; maybe ever.   He won 16 Gold Gloves for fielding excellence.   Ron Santo was not only an excellent hitter with power, but also the best fielding 3rd baseman in the National League in the 60s, with five Gold Gloves to his credit.   Both of those guys were better than Thome; and both of those guys should be kept out of the Hall too.  

     Perhaps the one guy on that earlier list who truly does belong in the Hall of Fame is Roger Maris.   Whereas Thome never won an MVP award or came close to winning one, and whereas Thome was a slow-footed chap and defensive liability and thus a truly one-dimensional player, and whereas Thome never played on a pennant winner or a World Series champion, Mr. Maris, conversely, won not one but TWO most valuable player awards in the 60s (beating out the great Mickey Mantle both times), was a fine all-around performer who played a great right field and had a cannon for an arm, and played on several pennant winners and World Series winners for both the Yankees and Cardinals….not to mention he broke Babe Ruth’s storied single-season home run record in 1961, while heroically enduring more constant, suffocating, ruthless day-to-day pressure than any athlete has ever endured in the history of American sports.   Any sportswriter who would vote for Thome for the Hall of Fame while voting against Maris should be ashamed of himself….

     But my favorite litmus test for Thome is Pete Rose.   Because of Rose’s scummy persona.

     Pete Rose got more hits (4,256) than any ballplayer ever.   He won three batting titles, won the 1963 Rookie of the Year Award, won the 1973 MVP award, won the 1975 World Series MVP Award, played on several pennant and World Series champs, and played on 17 all-star teams.   He also excelled defensively (two Gold Gloves) at several different defensive positions, and being a National Leaguer his whole 24-year career he never took the day off in the field, ‘never played a single game as merely a “Designated Hitter”.   He is everything baseball-wise Thome is not.

     He is also everything as a man Thome is not.   For my money, Pete Rose is among the most vile men to ever play major league baseball.   He has been, at various times, boorish, selfish, smug, inconsiderate, mean, a bad husband, a bad father, a marital cheat, tax cheat, felon, jailbird, braggart, a brazen self-promoting jerk, a proven and admitted liar, and in the end the gambling on baseball games he brazenly lied about and then admitted lying about 15 years later, during which time he consistently lambasted the press for “wrongly” labeling him the liar he was all along, got him banned permanently from both baseball and its Hall of Fame.   Not to mention he had the worst baseball haircut ever, if you don’t count Bud Selig.   And yet, all that said, I’d vote for Rose in a second for the Hall of Fame.   The Hall of Fame is about achievement, not popularity….or at least that’s the way it should be.   It’s not the Hall of Good Works or the Hall of Virtue, or even the Hall of Heartwarming Compulsive Niceness.

     Conversely, if this sportswriter were one of the sportswriters charged with deciding all-time-nice-guy Jim Thome’s Hall of Fame fate, he would not get my vote.   Not now.   Not ever.

     But I’d sure like to meet him some day and shake his hand….

meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0021

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and ruthless critic of both MLB and NFL hall-of-fame electors.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written 4 novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on,, or…it’s easy!  (You do wanna read it, don’t you???)




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