[The Players’ Tribune] I Deserve to be in Baseball Hall of Fame | By Jim Thome
Me and the Hall of Fame.
If you think the two don't go together, you're not alone.
But you're also wrong.
Not that I would hold that against you because I — with apologies to the Angels' Torii Hunter — am perhaps the nicest and most sincere man in baseball.
And have been for 21 seasons.
Walk through a ballpark with me before the gates open and you'll see me greet the security guards and ushers by name. Sit near the dugout during games and you'll hear me call out to the season-ticket holders. Watch me afterward and you'll find me standing patiently by my locker, respectfully answering the lamest questions from reporters representing the smallest hometown newspapers.
That wasn't something you would see with Barry Bonds.
Bonds would question your parentage; I will ask about your kids, then listen intently to the answer.
When the Minnesota Twins held a memorial service for Harmon Killebrew in May, I flew to Illinois to see my family, then flew right back to take part in the service. Never mind that it was the Twins' only day off in a month.
"It's just respect," I said.
Yet a player who shows respect to everyone doesn't always see it in return. When I hit my 600th home run last week, just the eighth player in history to do so, the milestone was greeted with a wide yawn and far less fanfare than Derek Jeter received for my 3,000th hit.
Jeter, after all, is the toast of New York, lives in a Florida mansion and dates celebrities. I comes from Peoria, Ill. — where else could I come from? — and all but carry a lunch bucket to work.
While Alex Rodriguez faces allegations that he has been spending part of my Yankees contract on high-stakes poker games, I reportedly am putting my nieces and nephews through college.
Clearly I lack the glitz and glamour, the flamboyance and the egotism to stand out in a tabloid world. Which is why I’m thought of primarily as a nice guy and not a great player.
Truth is, I’m both.
I’m also crew cuts and blue collars. I’m Middle America, right down to the "please" and "thank you." In my world, guns are for hunting, not for carrying into night clubs.
No wonder the license plate on my pickup truck — what else would I drive? — once read DBTH, shorthand for Don't Believe the Hype.
But you can believe the numbers, which make a strong case that I should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible.
I hit 40 or more home runs in a season six times, more than Mike Schmidt or Ernie Banks. I have a higher career on-base percentage than Joe DiMaggio or Rickey Henderson. I’ve scored 100 runs in a season eight times, more than Lou Brock or Cal Ripken Jr. And I’ve driven in at least 102 runs nine times, more than Frank Robinson or Reggie Jackson. Those players all are in the Hall of Fame.
And though I, who will turn 41 this week, am the oldest player to reach 600 home runs, only Babe Ruth got there in fewer at-bats. My average of a homer every 13.6 at-bats is fifth-best in history. I have a better career slugging percentage than Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, three of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game.
That's certainly a track record my peers have noticed. In a poll of major league players, I was once named best teammate, earning three times as many votes as the second-place finisher.
Detracting from all that is that I won only one home-run title, finished as high as fourth in the most-valuable-player voting just once and haven't played more than 20 innings in the field since 2005. I’ve also made just five All-Star teams in 21 seasons and have bounced between five teams in the last 10 years.
I’m also a slugger in an era when all sluggers are viewed with suspicion. Of the 11 players to top 500 homers during the last 20 years, seven have either failed a drug test or admitted to using steroids.
I’m among the exceptions, but that doesn't change the perception.
"You're kind of guilty by association in an era, in a time, when guys did it," I recently told radio host Dan Patrick.
When and where I come from, though, drugs were for curing colds, not hitting fastballs. The Hall of Fame was made for guys like me.
In my case, a nice guy should finish first.