Wisch: As Thome Nears 600, Home Runs Have Struck Out

By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) On Sunday afternoon, grizzled slugger Jim Thome picked up his bat, turned back the clock, and swung a mighty swing that launched a home run 490 feet into the stands above the right-center field scoreboard at Target Field.

And nobody cared.

Well, not nobody. Thome’s teammates certainly cared, as the home run proved to be the difference maker in Minnesota’s 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals that day.

And the Twins fans in attendance no doubt cared too, as they got a chance to see the 40-year-old Thome hit not only hit the longest home run in baseball this season (toping Prince Fielder’s 486-foot blast against Houston on April 29), but also inch closer to inclusion in the 600 home run club with career dinger No. 596.

But the nation yawned.

And that’s a sad, sad thing.

Earlier this month, America was gripped by Yankees captain Derek Jeter’s pursuit of career hit 3,000. And we should have been. Only 28 men in the history of baseball have reached that elite plateau and, before Jeter, quite remarkably, none of them had worn Yankees pinstripes.

But only seven men – Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa – have reached the level that Thome is almost certain to join some day soon.
And we don’t seem to care.

Back when I was a kid – heck, when I was an adult – there were only three guys in the 600 home run club: Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). I was able to easily write those career home run totals I put in parentheses from memory.

Just like I can tell you how many career homers Frank Robinson (586), Harmon Killebrew (573), Mickey Mantle (536) and Ernie Banks (512) hit without having to look it up. But to tell you how many homers Griffey (630) and Rodriguez (613) have, I had to use Google. And I even had to think a bit to recall Bonds’ (762) and Sosa’s (609) career numbers.

The point I’m trying to make is that home runs used to matter. Really, really matter. Now, they just don’t. And I’m not sure I could write a sadder sentence about sports.

Think about that for a second: Home runs – for eons, the gold standard of all individual sporting feats – have become almost irrelevant. Irrelevant to the point where we don’t even care that a guy like Thome – who’s never once in his career been linked to any performance-enhancing drug investigations or rumors – is closing in on his 600th.

Now, some people argue that if Thome was playing in New York – like Jeter – that his pursuit of 600 would be a bigger deal. But I’m not so sure. After all, a few years from now, when Alex Rodriguez might be closing in on not career home run No. 600, but No. 762 – Bonds’ tainted all-time mark – I have my doubts that the nation will care all that much, even then.

Sure, people will pay attention. But will they really care?

Such is the true long-term impact of steroid use on baseball: Apathy.

Atop its list of the all-time career home run leaders, the website baseballalmanac.com quotes Hank Aaron as having once said, “Seven-hundred and fourteen, seven-hundred and fifteen, I’ve forgotten them already.”

Well, we haven’t, Hank.

But we’re seemingly forgetting about all the rest.

davewisch Wisch: As Thome Nears 600, Home Runs Have Struck Out

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I hope he makes it…he only has 7 Homers so far this year.
    Totally agree with you……if he had played for the Yankees the publicity for him nearing 600 would be astonishing.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Hey Arse, had a version of my blog posted earlier that was missing the last few grafs — my fault on that! — but I’m not so sure that the publicity surrounding Thome would be that enormous, even if he was a Yankee. Sadly, I just think that people have lost their fascination with home run milestones. Or at least their trust in them.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        Thankls Dave.
        I just re-read the piece with the added material.

        I think that if Thome had played for the Yankees for 15 years, or whatever it has been for Jeter, he is such a nice guy that the NY media (and Booyah in CT) would love him and would pump-up the 600.

        I agree that, generally, ‘roids have taken the bloom off the rose of HR numbers. Yet I was aware of Thome’s mark because I root for the guy.
        Peoria? Thome seems like a Minnesotan through and through. They have an expression up here “Minnesota nice” and that defines Jim Thome.

        Dr. Arse did well with her surgery, was released to come back to the hotel yesterday afternoon. She has two “drains” to collect dripping blood…those come out tomorrow. The surgeon is from rural Western Canada, the nurses all from Minnesota….so she was given the total “nice” treatment”.
        Given that Dr. Arse is so sweet herself, she deserved it.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Good to hear about the surgery! And as for Thome, I’m sure there would be plenty more hype surrounding Thome’s climb (crawl?) to 600 if he had been a longtime Yankee or Red Sox, no doubt about that. But, at the same time, it just seems that home runs have lost much of their romance thanks to steroids.

        If A-Rod hadn’t been connected to PEDs, I think his assault on Bonds’ record would be widely anticipated and enjoyed, but now it just won’t be nearly as big a deal (nor should it be). And it just stinks that the 600- and 500-home run clubs just don’t capture the imagination like they used to. I can’t imagine that they ever will again.

        And that is truly a shame.


    Good to hear it sounds like all is well L.H.A.

    And, in my baseball math world Dave, one World Series Ring equals 100 home runs in terms of status. Generally, you’d have to have, at least, 300 real home runs.
    If you’re using them as HofF credentials.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      In that case, Jeter is one heckuva slugger :)

  • Jake from da burbs


    You are right. Thome’s soon-to-be accomplishment has been underpublicized. But I think there are a couple of reasons as to why this is the case:

    1. Steriod Era. This has been stated already. The steriod era did two things. First, it tarnished the glamour and the accomplishment of the homerun itself. Secondly, it cast a cloud of doubt over anyone hitting homeruns from the era as well as whose primary claim to fame is homeruns.

    2. A small-market team like the Twins are not a great setting for a guy like Thome to garner much attention.

    3. Being a part-time DH player, we really dont know when he’ll actually hit 600. He could potentially go the rest of the year without gettin to 600. I think you’ll see more attention paid when he gets to 599. To do a Thome-watch now, we could be watching till 2012.

    4. Thome doesn’t have any real connection to Minnesota, I dont think. He’s a Chicago guy who made his fame in Cleveland. If this was happening in those two markets, you might see more fanfare but Twins fans dont have a real connection to Thome. They haven’t seen him launch HR after HR year after year, so maybe the appreciation of the Thome’s pending accomplishment is tempered because it has to do with a numerical milestone and not the journey to reach the milestone as well.

    Going back to a previous point, I do believe that what is primarily hurting Thome is the view that any player’s only claim to fame being HR’s is just not as glamarous and as valued due to steriods. Take this in contrast to, for example, Derek Jeter’s 3000 hits which would seem to defy and be above the taint of steriods, and thus it is more celebrated.

    Thome seems to be a guy who isn’t associated with steriods but its just the era he played in and he’s an unfortunate victim.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      All excellent points, Jake. And I don’t disagree with you on any of them. It’ll be interesting once Thome does reach 599 — and, like you pointed out, who really knows when that will be — to see how much of a spotlight is put on his chase.

      I hope he gets the attention he deserves, but it could also be interesting. I mean, will ESPN cut in live to every at-bat at that point or anything like that? After all, as already discussed, it could take who knows how many at-bats for him to homer again after he reaches 599. They could be cutting in for at-bats for a month :)

      I particularly agree that Thome not currently playing in a city where he really made a name for himself or has strong local connections — Cleveland, Philly or Chicago — has an impact, too. While the fans no doubt are enjoying his chase of 600 up in Minnesota, they can’t be terribly emotionally invested in it. Thome just isn’t enough of a true “Twin.” In fact, they’re much more used to him being an enemy (Indian, White Sox).

  • Jake from da burbs

    I would also bring up one additional point. I believe the era of statistical analysis has also brought into light a more diminished value of a Homerun. I’m not saying Homeruns are useless but I think part of the reason the “gold standard” of statistical feats offensively in baseball has been lessened because of the rise of other baseball statistics.

    I would also go onto argue that mabye the general baseball fan has gotten smarter in not believing that homeruns is tied to winning. I think baseball fans would rather see their team win than have one guy on their team hit 70 homeruns and their team lose. Maybe I’m a jaded Cubs fan but certainly as a Cubs fan, I’d certainly root for a playoff contender over another Sosa-like player to come onto the Cubs and we keep losing.

    There are other statistics like WAR, OBP, BABIP, RISP that may be truer indicators of whether a player is truly valuable and a great baseball rather than just a hollow homerun hitter.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Having experienced Sammy Sosa and having experienced the playoffs, I too will take the playoffs every time. That said, the summer of 1998 — which did result in a playoff berth, too — was one of the most enjoyable of my life because of Sammy’s and McGwire’s home run race. It’s just too bad that I look back on it now as a complete farce. At the time, though, I’d never had more fun watching baseball.

  • sox n cycling fan

    I soooo hope Thome reaches 600 this year. Seemed so do-able, but he gets limited play. Very sad how ‘roids have tarnished such an awesome feat as this. He is the salt of the earth and I would be shocked to hear his name associated with “cheating.” I am a cycling fan too (one of the two) and it saddens me that such a grueling feat as winning the Tour de France (riding thousands of miles thru mountains at high speeds over a three week period) is not taken seriously by the media, but I understand PART of the “why” being PED usage.

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