The Baseball Hall of Fame is a silly thing. Really, any Hall of Fame is a silly thing if you think about it to much. If we wanted to get even more abstract and nihilistic, no honoring body has any reason to exist. Nothing matters anyway. We should just appreciate the players in our own hearts or whatever. But against all odds and arguments for its validity, the place in Cooperstown done did it again, announcing their 2018 ballot for induction. Jim Thome is on it. Jim Thome is one of the few things that does matter. Jim Thome is the best. Jim Thome should be a unanimous pick for the Hall of Fame.
Thome is everything a baseball player is supposed to be. He's Roy Hobbs made manifest. Him and (the admittedly much greater and just as gigantic) Frank Thomas encapsulated the "massive slugger" archetype, carrying the banner for the naturally powerful superman in an age of artifice and lies. Maybe Thome never had the athleticism to make leaping catches, maybe the last time he saw the middle infield was high school. He's not exactly Trout-ian or young Bonds-esque, but dammit, he was marvelous to watch for a long, long time. He hit 612 home runs. That’s got to count for something still. It’s 612 freaking home runs! Yeah, everyone hits a lot of home runs all the time now. Five hundred homers in a career as a milestone has been a bit watered down. But 612? that's immense, as immense as Thome himself. Sure arbitrary marks are exactly that. If he'd hit 599 we might feel a bit different. But he didn't. That's a 6 in the hundreds column according to my kindergarten teacher. That alone... man. That’s cool.
Then there's the OBP that’s higher than Tony Gwynn’s, and the truly excellent years for several different teams, and the generally being an awesome guy. If you're extremely baseball online enough, or at least on Reddit constantly, you're quite familiar with the Thome copypasta. I think it’s from an LA Times article. It's inane, and having read it about 500 times I'm pretty inured to it. But it’s all true. He's almost too saccharine, too much a nice guy. Half of you expects the other shoe to drop. And it has if you think about it. Thome's dread secret is that he's not as good at softball as the rest of his family. According to Sam Miller of ESPN's notes, and lacking a source except an uncited line on Wikipedia, Thome's grandmother was hired by the construction equipment company Caterpillar to be a ringer for their softball team. His aunt is in the softball Hall of Fame. It explains everything about Thome's swing. He just couldn't cut it, and had to play lame old baseball instead. I assume anyway.
Thome was never the best player in baseball. He led in home runs once, walks a bunch of times, he's 10th all time in first baseman WAR, and he has a really good OBP. But he was never a true superstar Whether because of where he played - Philly was his foray into big market baseball - who else played when he did - Pujols, for instance - or just his personality, he just never was that singular figure. This is all pretty damning for his chances to be a unanimous Hall of Famer, huh. And that would be pretty insulting to someone like, say, Ken Griffey Jr., who was also an incredibly sweet guy, hit more homers than Thome, was way better in general, was also a paragon of natural might in a land of liars, and way more iconic. But Griffey suffered from the same problems Thome will, too. That damn 10 person ballot.
There is no good reason why voters can only vote for 10 people. It doesn't make any real sense, any more than our being captivated by 3000 hits or a .300 hitter. It's just a number. Having a15 year limit ofbeing on the ballot? That's fine with me. Same thing with needing to have at least a minimum to stay on the ballot. Players don't just "become" hall of famers over time. But the limit is foolish, and forces voters to be strategic, or stupid, with their votes. If there's really a voter in the world who doesn't think Thome is a Hall of Famer, they have some sort of bizzare brain worm that only allows them to see the stupid and ignorant. They shouldn't be voting for Hall of Fame, they should be in the hospital.
Maybe I'm wrong about how people feel about Thome. I've always found him to be a perfect slice of baseball come to life. No matter the team he was on, he was always a favorite. He should walk into Cooperstown with no objection. But I feel that way about Omar Vizquel too, who will struggle because of various statistical lags, and because people have to cut their votes off at 10. Same thing happened with Kenny Lofton — he fell off theballot because people "needed" to pick more deserving candidates and one year everyone got sanctimonious. Killing the limit would see Lofton in the Hall long ago, where he belongs, and maybe Vizquel too. He was really, really good after all, and a major part of one of the greatest teams in baseball history. If that '95 or '97 team doesn't end up having like seven or eight Hall of Famers on it, there's something wrong with the Hall, not the team.
Thome will get in. Vizquel might not, but that's the way it goes. With Thome the only thing people can do is nitpick around the edges. The arguments for his induction are iron-clad. If that's the case though, there's no reason he shouldn't be unanimously selected. But instead little dumb rules and standards made up for no good reason get in the way and ruin it again for everyone. Oh well.