August 17, 2011
On Monday, Jim Thome entered one of the most exclusive clubs in sports. Thome has joined Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa as the only professional baseball players to hit 600 home runs (and surprisingly, the only full-time 1B/DH). Logically, the next question on the minds of MLB fans, is whether or not Thome is worthy of a MLB Hall of Fame induction.
The so-called “steroid era” has placed a dark shadow on baseball over the past 20 years, especially power hitters like Thome. Hall of Fame voters are especially critical when it comes to looking past the indecencies of the recent era. Unlike others members of the 600 home run club, he has never been directly accused or exposed as a user of performance enhancing drugs. Will Hall voters make an exception? Here’s why they should.
High At Bats/Home Run Ratio
Thome has one of the lowest AB/Home Run Ratios in Major League Baseball history. The only players ahead of him are Mark McGwire, Babe Ruth, Ryan Howard, and Barry Bonds. The MLB players directly behind him include Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and fellow former Philadelphia Phillies Mike Schmidt. Excluding McGwire and Howard, all are current Hall of Famers. Very esteemed company if you ask me.
As most power hitters achieve, Thome has a high career slugging percentage of .588. Not only does Thome hit a lot of dingers, but he also gets on base a lot, with a .400 career on base percentage. That’s a 147 OPS+, i.e. slugging percentage + on base percentage adjusted for league and park factors, ranked 41st in history.
Thome also gets a lot of free passes. He’s gained more than 1,700 walks in his career, good enough for 8th all time, and makes up for his tendency to strike out (Believe me, I know. When he was still in Cleveland, it always felt like he was either hitting a home run, walking, or striking out).
Personally I don’t think this should be factored in. The Hall of Fame is about your on field performance, not your actions and/or attitude off the field. Having said that, I get a sense the voters – a bunch of old school writers – place more importance on this than they should, based on their reaction to the “steroid era.”
If that’s the case, it will only help Thome. He’s the youngest of four brothers, grew up competing heavily with them, drinking a lot of milk, still lives in his hometown, and generally regarded as one of the nicest players in baseball – he makes a point to learn as many MLB stadium workers’ names as he can. All of this may not matter, and doesn’t have much to do with this article, but these are many of the reasons I’ve always liked him as a player and a person, even after he ditched my beloved Indians for Philadelphia. Thome is as classy as they get. He deserves the Hall nod.
If Thome doesn’t make it in, it’s likely due to one thing. During the latter part of his career, he’s been relegated to mostly DH duties due to various injuries – he was actually an above average first basemen during his early days in Cleveland. It’s unclear how voters perceive designated hitters, but if Edgar Martinez is an indication, it serves as a negative for the player.
May 9, 2011
At least once every few years, we see MLB Players make a run at Joe DiMaggio’s historic 56-game hitting streak. The most recent contestant in ‘Attempting to Break Unbreakable Records’ was Dodgers’ star, Andre Ethier. Ethier’s streak ended at 30 games this past weekend in a game against the New York Mets. In recent years, several other players including Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Moises Alou, and Willy Taveras all reached 30. Chase Utley and Luis Castillo were so bold to make it to 35 and Jimmy Rollins and Paul Molitor even put together streaks of 38 and 39 respectively. But after that point, there have been considerably fewer players to challenge DiMaggio’s record.
The insurmountable evidence that exists as to why the record will not be broken is that it’s never even really approached. The last time someone even reached 40 was Pete Rose’s 44 in 1978 – and he’s the all-time career leader in hits, after all. As for 50? A grand total of zero players other than DiMaggio have eclipsed that mark.
Cero. Nada. None.
Next in line after Mr. Marilyn Monroe? Willie Keeler had 45 in the 1896 and 1897 seasons. To give you an idea of how long ago that was, Keeler’s Baltimore team was in the National League, some guy named William McKinley was President, and Babe Ruth was two years old.
So why would it be so difficult to break? Well, in addition to it being an absolutely incredible feat, there is a laundry list of reasons why today’s players have it tougher than DiMaggio did back in 1941. Cross-country flights, specialty relievers, improved pitching with the integration of baseball, more media – they all add up to the record being unapproachable.
Then, there’s the ‘invisible barrier of 30.’ For some reason, players fall apart once they reach that number. That’s when the media attention really starts to kick in and every at bat is scrutinized. There have been a total of 54 hit streaks of at least 30 games or more. In 20 of those times, nearly 40%, the streak has ended precisely at 30. In addition, ten more players only made it to 31. So, in actuality, DiMaggio’s record can be broken down into two parts: The first 30 games and the remaining 26. Hitting in the first 30 is difficult enough, but then, there’s the constant attention of each game and a player comes to realize … he’s only about halfway there.
In addition, one thing constantly gets overlooked when discussing the record: No one really gets a second crack at it. Ty Cobb, George Sisler, and Sam Rice are the only players to put together more than one streak of at least 30 games or more. All three played nearly 100 years ago and Rice (1930) was the last player to do it. This record isn’t similar to Maris’ home run record where we saw players make multiple runs at it. It’s basically a one-and-done situation.
Also, there’s the fact that hitting in that many consecutive games is somewhat a fluke by nature. Ted Williams, the last player to bat .400 and perhaps baseball’s greatest hitter of all-time, never even reached 30. Some of the best hitters in history have joined Williams in not even coming close – Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lou Gehrig, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, and Ichiroall failed to reach that mark. On the flipside, mediocre major leaguers such as Jerome Walton, Benito Santiago, and Sandy Alomar, Jr. did. You need the right combination of skill, luck, and even help from the game’s official scorer.
Baseball is a game where batting .300 (essentially, succeeding 30% of the time) is seen as a great accomplishment – which, by the way, is why hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. There aren’t many guarantees in life, but it’s almost a lock that ‘56’ will stand forever.