Two days ago, Jim Thome received a call that only a select few receive. The call to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He, along with Chipper Jones, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero were elected to be immortalized in the Hall and join the most elite fraternity in baseball. But even though he was recognized as one of baseball’s best, is Jim Thome underrated?
If I asked you to name me the top 10 home run hitters of all time, would you be able to? Everyone would get Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth. After that, I’m sure a lot of baseball people would be able to rattle off A-Rod, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr.. Sammy Sosa would probably be on a lot of people’s radars, and many people would incorrectly name other steroid-era guys like Mark McGwire. But how many would know that Jim Thome is 8th on the all time home runs list? My guess is not many.
But why is that? We’re talking about a guy who hit home runs at a historic clip. In baseball history, only 4 batters have fewer ABs/HR. First is McGwire, followed by Ruth, Bonds and Giancarlo Stanton. After that, it’s the big lefty Jim Thome. We’re talking about a guy who had a career OBP of .402 and a slugging percentage of .554. A guy who holds the record for the most walk-off home runs of all time (13). By every measure, Thome is one of the greatest power hitters of all time. Yet he goes overlooked.
My theory is that Thome was such a kind, genuine guy, that he never stood out. Of course, his statistics jump off the page, but I’m talking about personality. We’ll call it the Trout Phenomenon. Mike Trout is universally agreed upon as the best all-around player in the bigs, but how often do you hear about him? Sure, you’ll see a highlight every once in a while, but otherwise he stays under the radar. Sometimes, I forget about Trout until I look at the leaderboards and say “holy shit, Mike Trout is hitting .332 with 27 bombs” and it’s only August.
For Trout, everyone blames the Los Angeles market. Sure, they drop the ball on selling Trout as the superstar that he is, but in my opinion it’s more an issue of his marketability. When you think about the faces of baseball you think about Bryce Harper. Aaron Judge. Jose Altuve. These guys all have a standout characteristic. Harper lets you know he’s on the field with his fiery bad-boy personality. Aaron Judge probably obstructs your view if you’re sitting in the right field bleachers. Altuve is tiny, and everyone is amazed at what he can do despite his size. Whatever it is, these players have traits that draw eyes to them.
So when you look at a player like a Mike Trout or a Jim Thome, there’s nothing that stands out. Real baseball fans appreciate greatness, but common fans wants action. They want showmanship and drama. If Thome got hit by a pitch, he would drop his bat and jog it down to first base. When Harper gets hit, there’s a chance he charges the mound. Neither way is right or wrong, but one is definitely more exciting than the other.
I’m not here to criticize anyone, I’m just questioning why certain players go overlooked and others are under a microscope. A player like Rougned Odor is on everybody’s radar because he delivered a right hook to Jose Bautista’s mug, meanwhile he’s struggling to stay over the Mendoza line. On the flip side, Khris Davis hit 43 home runs last season and is barely getting any attention. It’s just funny how it works out.
The MLB season is like a long story, and the players who perform consistetly happen to be boring characters. When they’re on every page, you get numb to their presence. But when an exciting new character enters the scene for a few pages, he leaves a lasting impression. Remember Trevor Story? You definitely do. Meanwhile, Mike Trout is leading the league in OPS and people can’t remember whether or not he’s injured. It’s really a strange phenomenon.
So that’s my reasoning behind why Jim Thome flies under the radar, despite being one of the greatest power hitters in the history of baseball. He was just too nice and never at the center of controversy. And you know what? That’s the most respectable career of all. If you asked him, I bet he’d reply that he wouldn’t change a thing. Congratulations, Mr. Thome. You outperformed 99% of your peers and earned yourself a place in baseball’s most elite club. Oh, and you did it without an asterisk or a bad word to your name. What a career.