On Monday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame officially distributed its annual ballot to voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. For the first time, two Cleveland Indians legends find themselves up for induction: first baseman Jim Thome and shortstop Omar VIzquel.
Among old and new-school thinkers in the sport, there is some debate as to whether Vizquel is worthy of induction into Cooperstown. When it comes to Thome, however, most observers agree the Tribe's all-time home run leader is assured to end up in the Hall of Fame.
PHOTOS | Jim Thome through the years
Let's take a closer look at Thome's career and why his numbers place him among baseball's all-time greats.
Over his 22-year career, Thome established himself as one of the most consistent power hitters in the gams: His 612 home runs are good for eighth all-time in MLB history and second only to Albert Pujols among those who played the majority of their games at first base. From 1996-2009, Thome also hit at least 30 homers in every season except 2005, when he missed 103 games due to injuries.
Thome not only hit a lot of home runs, but many of them were majestic blasts, the longest being a 511-foot bomb against Kansas City in 1999.
Of the thousands who have played Major League Baseball, only 27 have hit at least 500 home runs. Other than those who have ties to performance-enhancing drug use, all are either in the Hall of Fame or will be once they become eligible. Only two (Harmon Killebrew and Eddie Mathews) did not make it in on their first try.
Not only did Thome hit more home runs than both of those players, but throughout his career, there has never been a single speck of credible evidence to suggest he took PEDs. The power of the Peoria, Illinois-native can be summed up in two simple words: "Country Strong."
Thome certainly meets the Cooperstown criteria based on his home run totals, but his sabermetric numbers also put him in worthy company.
Three times leading the American League in walks, Thome made up for a solid but uninspiring lifetime batting average of .276 with an impressive .402 on-base percentage, one of only 61 players to reach base 40 percent of the time. His slugging percentage of .554 is even better: 23rd all-time, giving him a .956 OPS that is 18th best in the game's history.
Even when those numbers are adjusted for are and ballpark factors with OPS+, Thome's number sits at 147, tied for 42nd-best with fellow Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt and Willie McCovey. By looking at these advanced stats, people can truly understand how good an all-around hitter Thome was.
In the all-important metric of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Thome's career number sits at 72.9. That doesn't crack the top 80, but it's still good for an average of 5.1 WAR per 650 plate appearances, better than several Hall of Famers. Additionally, his all-time WAR ranks more than favorably with other first basemen.
- Lou Gehrig - 112.4
- Albert Pujols - 99.4
- Jimmie Foxx - 97.4
- Roger Connor - 84.1
- Rod Carew - 81.1
- Jeff Bagwell - 79.6
- Frank Thomas - 73.7
- Jim Thome - 72.9
- Rafael Palmeiro - 71.6
- Johnny Mize - 71.0
Of the eligible players on this list, only suspected PED user Palmeiro is not in Cooperstown. Several Hall of Fame first basemen (Eddie Murray, Willie Stargell, Tony Perez, etc.) don't even crack the top 10.
One of baseball's good guys
In an era were it seems like so many current and former athletes do things to make people angry (see Curt Schilling), there is still no denying Jim Thome's reputation as one of the nicest people in baseball, perhaps in all of sports. He was famously known for being kind and patient with autograph seekers both in Cleveland and later in his career, and he and his wife even dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus for kids at Christmas time. In a 2007 poll of Major League Baseball players, Thome tied with Sean Casey for the second-nicest player in the league.
There have been many arguments made as to whether a player's personality or off-field activities should even influence a Hall of Fame ballot, but Thome's universally kind demeanor will only help his chances.
Unless their name is Babe Ruth or Willie Mays, no Hall of Famer is perfect, and neither was Jim Thome: He was never a good defensive player, even after moving from third to first base, with a lifetime zone rating of -31. He also spent the last seven years of his career almost strictly as a designated hitter due to back problems. Additionally, Thome won just one home run crown and never finished higher than fourth in the MVP voting, often overshadowed by bigger names like Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr., or even Manny Ramirez on his own team.
On a more personal note, a small but vocal number of Indians fans still haven't forgiven Thome for leaving Cleveland as a free agent after the 2002 season (He had previously said they would have to "rip the jersey off [his] back" for him to go elsewhere). These fans also don't believe Thome deserves a statue at Progressive Field, despite being the franchise's all-time leader in home runs.
However, none of these negatives greatly hamper Thome's Hall of Fame candidacy: He would be far from the worst defensive player in Cooperstown, and Frank Thomas was elected on the first ballot with similar numbers despite DH-ing more times than he played first. The steroid era also played a roll in him being overlooked, and several of the players who put up bigger numbers than him were later found to have juiced.
As for leaving Cleveland, most Tribe fans have long forgiven Thome, realizing the team was probably going to be bad with or without him during a rebuild. The Thome family also continued to have positive words about the city even when the slugger played elsewhere, and he has come back to the stadium several times, including to throw out the first pitch prior to game seven of last year's World Series.
Will he get in this year?
The question for Jim Thome really isn't if he will get it to the Hall of Fame, but when.
Thome is one of 19 players to appear on the ballot for the first time in 2018. Of those names, former Braves star Chipper Jones looks to be a lock to make it this year, and others like Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen, and Johan Santana are sure to get some attention. Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero are also returning to the ballot and are expected to be inducted, with Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and a slew of others right on the cusp.
What could hurt Thome this year more than anything is the Hall of Fame's rule limiting 10 players per ballot, and some writers may not vote for him not because they don't want to, but because there are other names they would rather put on first. This is believed to have hurt Vlad Guerrero last year, as a few voters left his name off to get other guys in, with the intention of voting for him in 2018.
Among writers, though, the consensus is that Jim Thome will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first try. When he does finally get that call from Cooperstown, it will be a culmination of an amazing career that was put together the right way. He has been on record as saying his plaque will feature an Indians hat, and Clevelanders will undoubtedly celebrate when the time comes.