In 1998, I was too young to really notice that Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were three times the size of a normal adult male. Still wrapped in the secure blanket of awe, I remember precisely where I was when McGuire hit number 62; one of, if not the singular moment in my life I with which I have prefect recall.
If you were wondering, I was in fifth grade, and at the time I was working on a project my teacher had called the “me-mobile”, wherein I was to construct a balsa wood and fishing line structure which truly encapsulated the essence of “me”. Ironically, I was painting red stitches on a small Styrofoam ball to mimic a baseball. True story.
So it was a crushing but not entirely unexpected plummet to reality when, in late 2007, a Senator from Maine released the self-titled “Mitchell Report”, naming names and officially bringing into question the past 15 years of Major League Baseball accolades. Most of my conscious, poignant memories of America”s Game suddenly seemed cheapened and obsolete; sure, Roger Clemens struck out 20 in a game, and did it twice, but he (“allegedly”) took injections of Vitamin-HGH and Steroidocine between starts.
Not that the writing wasn’t on the wall. It wasn’t the technological improvements in super-aerodynamic wooden bat technology that caused an embarrassment of riches across all offensive categories; ballplayers were taking Greenies, Red-Tops, Lemonheads and Mike-and-Ikes if if meant an extra 20 points on their batting average and two home runs.
Oh, that and horse steroids. Those helped too.
In all seriousness, though, how can we evaluate baseball over the last two decades? SABRE-ologists have indeed made viable inroads in the field of player evaluation, leveling the playing field between monster stats in one area and overwhelmingly more complete players in another. But there are certain benchmarks which are going to present a difficult problem to Hall of Fame voters in the near future.
My whole internal debate was piqued tonight after I accidentally surfed onto ESPN2 just as Jim Thome launched the 600th home run of his career, and 2nd of the night. Kudos to Thome who, by all reports, is as Gomer-Pyle nice as he seems. 600 home runs is 596 more than I hit in my life, so if I had a vote to cast he’d be a first-ballot Hall of Famer without much debate. 600 home runs should seem an automatic entry, but a closer look at the eight-man club serves to highlight how pervasive an issue steroids have been over the past 20 years.
In order, the 600 home run club is the following;
- Bonds — 762 HR, can flex his forehead
- Aaron — 755 HR, still doesn’t know the name of the fan who accosted him after 715
- Ruth — 714 HR, quite possibly the least healthy human being, ever
- Mays — 660 HR, Say Hey! Maybe the best player ever with Cobb, Williams, Mantle, etc
- Griffey — 630 HR, revolutionized wearing a hat backwards.
- A-Rod — 626 HR, dated Madonna and Cameron Diaz, who overnight took on physiques of MMA fighters. Can ‘roids have a contact-high effect?
- Sosa — 609 HR, the man corked his bat. Does that even work?
- Thome — 600 HR, most applicable adjective is “Galoomph” when describing him.
Of that list, Ruth, Aaron, and Mays are already in Cooperstown, with Griffey’s stats indicating he’ll follow whenever he’s eligible. Bonds, A-Rod and Sosa all have had ties to performance-enhancing drugs (or corks), and as such will have their credentials called into question. So, of the five players who reached the 600 HR plateau post-2007, three are anything but locks for the Hall.
To put things in perspective, there are 24 players in MLB history who have hit 500 home runs.
28 players have amassed 3000 hits, which is seen as a threshold for enshrinement.
So, the question I pose now is this; is Jim Thome bound for a bronzed plaque in baseball’s Valhalla?
Thome: .277/.403/.557, 600 HR, 1657 RBI, 2260 hits
Griffey: .284/.370/.538, 630 HR, 1836 RBI, 2781 hits
Just as another means for comparison, Thome’s career WAR is 70.8, while KG JR’s was 78.5 (WAR is a measure of the number of wins a player added as compared to a distinctly average player at the same position).
My prediction? Thome’s likeness will find immortality in an Indians cap the first year he’s eligible. While the 600 home-run club comes along with an hefty dose of skepticism following the indelible mark that was the steroid era, Thome has never been implicated in any wrongdoing. While he might not have accumulated the hit totals present with the majority of candidates (Andre Dawson, a borderline HOF’er, had 500 more hits than Thome), MLB needs a clean, controversy-free player to follow Griffey into the hall, if only to re-affirm the integrity of the game.
Plus, he’s just such a galoomph.