Nice Guys Finish in the Top 8
When I came home the other night to witness the back-to-back home runs by Jim Thome to net him his 599th and 600th of his career, I was delighted.
Fifteen years ago when I was coaching my sons Little League team, we were in a tournament in Seattle in which we were afforded a trip to the major league ballpark. The Seattle Mariners were hosting the Cleveland Indians. It was a terrific game that ended 7-6 in 14 innings. However, the real show was put on by Thome in batting practice when he hit about a half-dozen balls into the upper deck nearly 500 feet away. It was at that moment that he became my son’s favorite player.
What I found strange about Thome's enormous accomplishment is how little publicity it engendered. Derek Jeter, on the other hand, received constant attention for his pursuit of 3,000 hits, from Spring Training until he was within ten hits and then everyday until the task was completed. Then recently, he received a major accolade more than twenty hits after the fact and that too accrued national scrutiny. No one is debating that this is not a significant career attainment but certainly being in New York and a part of the most famous of sports franchises created more buzz than Thome, who spent the bulk of his career in Cleveland.
That said, numbers are the lifeblood of baseball. Derek Jeter is the 28th member of this elite fraternity to garner 3,000 base hits. Jim Thome, on the other hand, is only the eighth player in the history of baseball to have clubbed 600 home runs. As Bum Phillips once said about Earl Campbell, "He may not be in a class by himself but whatever class he’s in, it doesn’t take long to call roll!" Being in the same conversation with Ruth, Mays and Aaron is overwhelming but maybe just as important is that he has been divorced from Bonds, Sosa and Rodriguez, three other players who achieved the magic number but carry the taint of performance-enhancing drugs.
There’s something to be said of the athlete who goes about his work, influences his teammates positively, socializes with fans and eschews the need for self-promotion. It seems to have some symmetry that in the year that such a man as the great Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew passes away that another Twins masher would step up and take his place on the front page, if only briefly.
And he, too, is a very nice man.