It’s not Jim Thome’s style to make headlines, but last week at Comerica Park in Detroit, he did just that when he rocked his 600th career homer, and joined an exclusive club that includes seven other players.
“It’s an unbelievable night, obviously,’’ said Thome, the Minnesota Twins’ designated hitter, who unloaded the homer in the seventh inning of Monday’s 9-6 win over the Tigers. “It’s something you never dream of doing. You dream about it, but when it finally happens it’s kind of surreal.”
The other members are Barry Bonds (762), Henry Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Alex Rodriguez (626) still active, and Sammy Sosa (609).
Bonds and the latter two have long-been suspected of using illegal drugs, while Aaron, Ruth, Mays and Griffey Jr. are thought to be clean, and so is the 40-year-old Thome, who has toiled for five teams since he broke into the majors in 1991 with Cleveland.
In an interview last Sunday with Seth Everett, the Fox Sports Radio baseball analyst, he was asked whether Thome delivered the goods without assistance.
“He’s never been attached to it [steroids],’’ Everett said. “I’ve never heard about it. I’m as skeptical as the next guy, but I’ve never asked him if he was on steroids. I’m not saying that he wasn’t on steroids, but I don’t think so.”
Despite having blasted 40 homers or more six times with a high of 52 in 2002, there has been little evidence to suspect Thome was aided by drugs.
Thome is an Illinois country boy who came by his power naturally. It doesn’t hurt that he weighs 250 pounds and stands 6-feet, 3-inches tall.
Thome said current Philadelphia Phillies’ Manager Charlie Manuel, a long-time hitting coach in the minors and majors, deserves much of the credit for his success.
“Charlie has been very, very special to me throughout my career,’’ said Thome, who has driven in 100 runs or better nine times, after hitting his milestone homer. “I dedicate a lot of those home runs to him because he’s been there with a lot of confidence. And in times of struggle, he built us up and pep-talked us.”
Manuel’s hitting philosophy is simple: adopt a stance where the back foot is closer to the plate than the front foot because it allows a batter to keep both eyes on the pitcher. In this way he can pull the ball or drive it the opposite way, which results in full plate coverage.
Manuel indicated that he isn’t surprised Thome has clobbered so many long balls. “I know him just like my son, really,’’ he said. “I spent that much time with him. He’s very dedicated. Everything he’s done, he’s a credit to the game. His attitude is off the charts. He’s totally genuine and totally legit.”
It’s a good bet Thome’s been steroid-free, unlike other sluggers such as Mark McGwire, who once held the single-season home run record of 70.
A baseball coming off Thome’s bat is like a weapon that gets out of the ballpark in a hurry. There are other times when the sphere is a majestic arching rocket that lands in the seats more than 400 feet from home plate.
The Steroid Age is long gone, and while there have been ugly clouds of distrust surrounding some of the biggest names in baseball, let us hope Thome came by his homers clean.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.