Jim Thome has 596 Home Runs. That’s 8th All-Time. As you can see by Delmon Young’s reaction to Thome’s latest blast, he’s still got plenty of power. Thome was never one to hit a cheapy in what has become a long career. If Thome was creeping up on 500 homers, instead of 600, it could perhaps be written off as a tribute to his longevity, but only seven players have ever hit 600 homers, and two of them are tainted by the steroid era. I remember when Thome hit his 400th home run in a Phillies uniform. It wasn’t a huge deal, but the Phillies made an event out of it. I guess we still had some of our innocence at that point. Thome’s quest for 600 seems to be getting some fanfare in Minnesota, but it feels like an afterthought to me, especially for a number that has been reached so infrequently.
Quick reasons why no one cares about Thome’s 600th home run: He’s in Minnesota. He’s well past the prime of his career. He was always just a slugger. The steroid era desensitized us to certain numbers. Those all likely play a factor, and despite being one the best liked guys in the sport, Thome has his detractors. All you have to do is glimpse a shot of Thome as a rookie in Cleveland and you will at least wonder, but even if Thome was still 185 pounds, I’m not sure anyone would be paying close attention to his pursuit of 600 home runs. The magic of the milestone is gone.
Five Hundred Home Runs. Three Thousand Hits. Three Hundred Wins. Those were the magic numbers. They guaranteed you entrance into the Hall of Fame and if you were approaching any of them, it was a very big deal. I remember bits and pieces of Mike Schmidt chasing 500 Home Runs. It was a huge. Of course, at that time only about a dozen guys had gotten to that plateau. Still, it was the only thing that mattered for the Phillies that season, and somewhere there is an awful video floating around offering proof of that fact. Derek Jeter passed 3,000 hits a little over a week ago, and people certainly noticed, but there was more attention on the fan who caught the ball than the actual achievement. This should have been as big a 3000th hit as we’ve ever seen, but I think it’s forgotten already. And, I can’t remember who the last pitcher was to win 300 games (Tom Glavine?), and I couldn’t tell you if anyone else is really close.
Baseball has spent the last several years breaking down what used to be one of the foundations of the game, the traditional counting stats. Steroids ruined the home run totals. The thought of someone hitting 70 home runs right now is once again just as ridiculous as it would have been in 1985. As soon as A-Rod finishes breaking down, the chances of getting to 760 homers will be minuscule for any player. For a player starting their career now, 500 home runs would probably be a hell of an achievement, but we no longer know how to receive it.
The win has been almost completely invalidated by recent trends in statistics. Some people think no pitcher will ever win 300 games again. Others think we’re just in a barren cycle, but if the win keeps losing its significance I imagine guys will no longer hang on to get there. If an entire generation of pitchers gets into the Hall of Fame without 300 wins, won’t that invalidate the standard? And, should we be making a bigger deal out of 200 or 250 wins, or do they just not matter at all?
Hits are in the same category. It’s a nice longevity statistic, but no one is in the Hall of Fame solely because they have 3,000 hits. If Jeter had spontaneously retired on 2,999, he still would have been a shoe-in Hall of Famer, just like about everyone else on the 3,000 hits list. As people are less impressed by the number, though, you wonder how Craig Biggio will fare in his Hall of Fame quest. Ten, fifteen years ago, Biggio would have been ushered in on the first ballot based solely on that stat, but now I have a feeling the voters will be digging deeper into his resume. Biggio’s Hall of Fame cause might end up being better supported by his 1,800 runs than his 3,000 hits.
I think fantasy sports might have a bit to do with all this as well. I imagine very few people have Jim Thome on their fantasy team. He’s not real valuable in that sense, and fantasy sports are all about big years, not big careers. And, maybe in a more general sense we’ve just lost some of our ability to appreciate the totality of a career.
When I started to write this I thought I would come around at the end and say that I still cared about Jim Thome hitting 600 home runs, but I guess I really don’t care that much. I’ll probably watch a highlight of it and then file it away. I’m not sure baseball fans have in them the capacity to get behind any pursuit that isn’t truly historic. An all-time record will have to have to fall for anyone to pay attention. I’m trying to think how I might feel if Ryan Howard eventually approaches 500 home runs. I can’t muster much excitement. All the focus is on wins and losses and what is he doing for the team right at this moment.
So, for my money the milestone has lost all its luster. And, perhaps just in time. I’d hate to see a big deal made out of Jamie Moyer when he’s chasing down 300 wins in 2016.