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Is 600 home runs “magical?”

Jan 14, 2011, 3:38 PM EST

Jim Thome AP

Danny Knobler asks that question in light of Jim Thome’s signing and his inevitable 600th home run:

Thome is entirely likeable, by teammates, fans and writers alike. A whole bunch of people will be happy for him when he gets to 600. But will it feel magic?

I’m not so sure it will.

This just isn’t the same as when 600 belonged only to Aaron, Ruth and Mays. Thome has been a fine player, but he’s not Aaron and he’s not Ruth and he’s not Mays — and I imagine he would happily admit that. That’s not to say 600 is now meaningless, not at all. It’s a great accomplishment, and even after the steroid era, it’s not a common accomplishment … That’s a good thing. If 600 home runs is going to be special, we can’t be having a run at 600 every year … Now, is it still special? Is there any magic left in it? Jim Thome will tell us.

I don’t think anyone would ever claim that Jim Thome was as good as Ruth, Aaron or Mays, and if they did they’d need to get their head examined.  But why do we insist that numbers are somehow “magical?”

If Jim Thome hit 600 home runs, it means that in the home run department he did exactly what the other 600 home run hitters did.  Don’t we diminish Thome if, the second he hits 600, we declare the feat to be no longer “magical?”  Kind of insulting, ain’t it?

How about this: it always was just a number. It always will be just a number.  There’s nothing magical about it. Indeed, there’s nothing that the number 600 tells us beyond the fact that 600 home runs have been hit.  We can assess Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and yes, even Jim Thome just fine without wondering if one of their achievements is merely special, extra special or — gasp! — magical.

  1. BC - Jan 14, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    None of the BALCO or steroids stuff had come out when Bonds hit his 600th, and that was a huge deal. Given that no one has even hinted that Thome isn’t clean, why wouldn’t this be a big deal?

  2. BC - Jan 14, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    If he plays two more years, he has an outside shot at setting the career strikeout record. He’s 200 behind Reggie Jackson.

    • Utley's Hair - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:22 PM

      Will Jackson start trash talking Thome, too?

  3. hackerjay - Jan 14, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    “If Jim Thome hit 600 home runs, it means that in the home run department he did exactly what the other 600 home run hitters did.”
    Actually, in the home run department, Thome outdid Mays and Aaron. They both averaged one home run about every 18-19 plate appearances, whereas thome averaged about one every 16.6 PAs.

    Ruth blew them all away at 11.7.

    This has nothing to do with anything, but I spent the time to look up the stats, so I wanted to share.

    • paperlions - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:08 PM

      If you normalized those comparisons for era, I doubt Thome outdid anyone.

  4. Jonny 5 - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    What about hitting 666? Now that’ll be magic…..

    • Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:18 PM

      I just hope I will be able to listen to my favorite Venom album when it happens.

    • Utley's Hair - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:24 PM

      Will his head start spinning around the bases?

    • kinggeorge96 - Jan 14, 2011 at 5:14 PM

      black magic..

  5. dodger88 - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    While no fault of Thome, his 600th will lack some of the significance of the past because of the fact that several players joined the 600 HR club in a relatively short period of time and some of them have been tained by steroids. It may take someone seemingly clean and having their 600th HR come a few years down the road (i.e. Pujols, Howard, Fielder) for the moment to regain some if it lost lustre. That being said, the number 600 will never be as revered as it once was.

  6. Brian Murphy - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    Like the post said, it’s a tremendous number.
    I have no idea if anything is ever “magical”, but I think it’s impossible to be left amazed with Thome reaching such an accomplishment now as opposed to 15 years ago or so because:
    1. Three players have hit the 600 mark in the past four seasons. Something “magical” has to be a bit more rare, you know? And …
    2. Thome doesn’t inspire awe like Ruth, Aaron, Griffey, Bonds, etc. He’s not an all-time special player who defined a period of time in baseball. He’s just a good home run hitter who did it for a long time. I know that’s a watered-down description of him, but no one will put Thome into the pantheon of great baseball players of the past 20 years.
    I guess the question to be asked when he hits 600 is: Despite 600 home runs and no substantial steroid allegations, why don’t we consider Thome to be an all-time great? Is it because he solely played DH at the end of his career, wasn’t an especially good hitter, struck out too much, didn’t do enough self-promotion?
    Et cetera, et cetera …

    • hackerjay - Jan 14, 2011 at 5:00 PM

      How could you say Thome “wasn’t an especially good hitter”?

      Thome: .278/.404/.559 147 OPS+ (169 OPS+ in his 7 peak years)
      Griffey Jr: .284/.370/.538 135 OPS+ (159 OPS+ in his 7 peak years)

      I mean, Griffey was a better all around ballplayer, but Thome has been the better hitter.

    • Lukehart80 - Jan 14, 2011 at 6:21 PM

      You can’t make a good argument against Thome being one of the 10 best hitters of the last 20 years, so what’s your standard for “especially good?”

  7. icanspeel - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    Why wouldn’t it be? When A-Rod hit his 600th homer it was a big deal and in fact MLB network would turn off a game I was watching just to show A-Rod try to hit is 600th. Was it only because he is A-rod and on the Yankees?

    • Utley's Hair - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:25 PM

      “Was it only because he is A-rod and on the Yankees?”

      Yes.

      • RickyB - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:35 PM

        They did the same thing for Griffey when he was going for 600. It has nothing to do with the fact that it was A-Rod or that he was on the Yankees. The same thing will happen when Thome is sitting on 599.

      • Utley's Hair - Jan 14, 2011 at 4:56 PM

        I was being spiteful due to an overexposure to all things Yankees and Red Sox. I hope they do the same for Thome. He seems like a class act and I enjoyed his time here in Philly. We even got to hear Harry the K announce his 400th.

      • Richard In Big D - Jan 14, 2011 at 6:44 PM

        HELL Yes! Do you think they would have done that if he were still a Ranger? Did they do it when Sosa was a Ranger and hit 600?

  8. scatterbrian - Jan 14, 2011 at 5:10 PM

    Seems to me Thome is vastly underrated. Of course he’s not Ruth/Mays/Aaron, who are perhaps three of the top six or seven offensive players ever. But that’s a pretty unfair standard for comparison. Sure, among the 600 Homer Club members, Thome’s probably the last guy you’d pick. However, Thome’s 70.3 WAR is currently 53rd in history right between Johnnys Bench and Mize. Not to pick on the above poster specifically, but Thome absolutely belongs in the conversation of greatest hitters over the last 20 years. Career .278/.404/.559 hitter over 20 seasons, and he’s also 9th in career walks. Whatever your opinion of slash stats is, that’s pretty awesome.

  9. dluxxx - Jan 14, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    The guy is a shoe-in as a Hall of Famer. Of course he’s one of the greatest hitters in the last 20 years.

  10. midwestbig10 - Jan 14, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    Is it magical? How could it not be? He is the 5th player in history to hit 600. Yes, I know that there are 3 more, but why even pretend to give credit to Bonds, Sosa, and ARod? To be in the elite group of 5, yes, is special.

  11. xmatt0926x - Jan 14, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    Its still an incredible number, even if guys like Sosa, etc have ruined it to an extent. 600 is still a crazy number.

  12. uncommon1 - Jan 15, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    I think we can realistically expect to see Thome at the #7 spont on the All-Time Hr list. I think it’s fair to say that he was a special ball player. He didn’t define the last 20 years of baseball. The likes of McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, A-Rod, & Clemens did. Guys like Thome just played everyday, and played the right way. If Jeter wasn’t a Yankee, he would be in the same light as Thome. But he’s a Yankee so he obviously got a lot more attention. They’re the same type of people though

  13. metalhead65 - Jan 15, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    why must you try and put a damper on every ‘special” moment that happens in baseball? the fact that thome has not been implicated at all in steroids and can still be a productive hitter at his age means that yes this is special. if it were so common a thing and you had a list of a 100 or so players who had done it then yea maybe not that special but still a big deal. there isn’t so it is special that he is doing something very few men out of the thousands who have played the game have done. just because he is doing something that ruth,mantle and arron has done does not mean he is the same or better just means he has joined some elite company. let him and baseball enjoy it!

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