Minnesota Twins designated hitter Jim Thome joined the 600 home run club by homering against the Detroit Tigers on Monday August 15. He became the eighth man in the history of major league baseball to do so. In the past this would have been more than enough to guarantee him a place in baseball's hall of fame. With developments in recent years this is no longer the case for Thome accomplished his feat during what has been labeled the 'steroids era' of baseball.
Thome began his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1991. Before the 1991 season there were a grand total of three players in the 600 home run club. They were Henry Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). The top five home run hitters of all-time going into the 1990 season were Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Frank Robinson (586) and Harmon Killebrew (573). All of them had been retired for at least 13 years. 15 players who began their careers before 1980 finished their careers with over 500 home runs.
Since 1990, 10 players who played the bulk of their careers after 1990 have hit over 500 home runs. Five of them have hit over 600. They are Barry Bonds (762), Alex Rodriguez (626), Sammy Sosa (609), Ken Griffey, Jr. (606), and Thome. That's five in the last 20 years after only three men did it in the first 120 years of baseball. Of the five, three have been linked to alleged steroid use or admitted using steroids. They are Bonds, Sosa and Rodriguez. Griffey, Jr. and Thome have not. Of the 10 men who have hit over 500 home runs since 1990 seven have been linked to steroids in some way. The three players mentioned earlier plus Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero and Manny Ramirez.
These allegations have diminished the value of the home run during this period and hurt men like Thome who have never been accused of doing anything illegal. Because of the number of players who used steroids to inflate their numbers everyone who played in this era is under suspension. They are guilty by association.
Thome and Griffey, Jr. may never get their just due, because of what other members of the 600 home run club did. Neither man has ever been suspected of taking steroids and are believed to have done it all on natural ability. But there will always be a bit of suspicion.
If there is never anything proven that Thome or Griffey, Jr. took steroids than their accomplishments will be looked at in a different light. They will both be held high in the eyes of those who are baseball historians and vote for the hall of fame. They will have proven that they belong with Aaron, Ruth and Mays in the 600 home run club. Maybe not in the same breath as them as legends, but as home run hitters.
Hopefully, the steroids era will not come into play when voting for Thome as a hall of famer comes up. Hopefully he will be judged by what he did and not linked with his contemporaries who cheated. This is how he should be judged.
But if he is linked to the others it will not be as big a shame as people will make it. Thome may not have used, but he benefitted just as every other person who was involved in baseball at that time did. He played with teammates who used and helped him get to the World Series. He played with players who put up numbers that earned them more money and Thome as well, because ballplayer's agents use statistics of other players to state their clients case.
And he could have spoken out on steroid use at any time, but did not.
Jim Thome deserves to be in the 600 home run club, because he earned it. He doesn't deserve to be judged a steroid user, because there is no proof.
But his accomplishments will be judged against those of his era. If this devalues what he did then it is because by not speaking out he was just as much a part of the problem as everyone else.