Guilt by association


New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit on July 9. Although 27 other players in major league baseball history had gone before Jeter in reaching that milestone, he was the first Yankee to do so.

Jeter's career received much attention in the lead up to the historic hit. Even Yankee-bashers (i.e., the rest of America and Marvin Olasky) found joy in the accomplishment.

So why is it so quiet for Jim Thome? The Minnesota Twins slugger hit his 598th career home run Thursday night, making it possible for him to break the 600 homer mark as early as this weekend. But in sharp contrast to the media and fan fascination with Jeter's 3,000 hits, Thome's feat is failing to capture interest or reporting.

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Certainly, a good case could be made that Jeter's presence in a big-market city has given him greater exposure throughout his career. And though Thome has smashed a lot of balls into the stratosphere, he also has swung and missed a lot too-leading all active players in strikeouts with 2,446.

But consider that whereas Jeter joined a crowd of 27 other players with 3,000 hits, Thome will only be the eighth player to reach 600 home runs. Unfortunately for Thome, the same career leaderboard that causes fans to recognize his place among the greats also places him in the company of known steroid users.

Take a look at the list of everyone who has hit at least 550 home runs. I've placed an asterisk next to the players who are linked to performance-enhancing drugs:

  1. Barry Bonds 762*
  2. Hank Aaron 755
  3. Babe Ruth 714
  4. Willie Mays 660
  5. Ken Griffey Jr. 630
  6. Alex Rodriguez 626*
  7. Sammy Sosa 609*
  8. Jim Thome 597
  9. Frank Robinson 586
  10. Mark McGwire 583*
  11. Harmon Killebrew 573
  12. Rafael Palmeiro 569*
  13. Reggie Jackson 563
  14. Manny Ramirez 555*

Of the eight players on this list who are from the current generation, six of them are linked to performance-enhancing drug use. From our generation, only Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome made this list cleanly.

So I understand the "guilt by association" that leads to the media and fans being tempted to fall asleep right through Thome's next two moon shots. But please, reconsider. The 600 home run level is a rare accomplishment in baseball. If you don't include the steroid users, only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr. have hit more home runs than Jim Thome.

As Thome hits number 600, let's celebrate with him.


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