No. 500 doesn't define Thome
Slugger's illustrious career goes beyond playing field
There are those who say that 500 home runs has lost some of its cachet in recent years as more players have reached the milestone. But now that Jim Thome has hit his 500th career homer, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone in the game who doesn't believe Thome is a very special player.
The 37-year-old White Sox slugger is in his 17th season in the Major Leagues, and as impressive as his prodigious career numbers are (.281 career average, 1,300-plus RBIs, 1,300-plus runs, almost 900 extra-base hits, 1,892 total hits and more than 1,400 walks), talk to people about Thome, and the man gets as much praise for his character as for his baseball skills.
"Just a great guy, and of course, a great player," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who managed Thome for a year in Philadelphia and two-plus years in Cleveland. "He's a star player, but he's still the same guy he was as a rookie. Some guys let [stardom] change them. Not him."
In an era where the famous often make headlines, Thome is an anachronism, a humble superstar who treats everyone with respect. He's never been ejected from a game. And as far as it can be determined, he's had nothing but cordial dealings with the fans, media, teammates and managers.
"Literally, he's one of the best guys I've ever met," White Sox rookie starter John Danks said. "He's right up there with the [Mark] Buehrles and [Jon] Garlands, who have made me feel very comfortable, taken me under their wing. He's awesome.
"If you didn't know who he was, you would just think he's another guy. It's like, 'You are about to hit 500 home runs. You can tell me to go jump in the lake.' But when we get to a city early, he'll be one of the first guys to come up to me and say, 'You are coming to eat with me.' He's done it all, but he still has all the time for you."
White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker echoed those sentiments.
"First of all, he was raised by great parents, obviously," Walker said. "But when he got into baseball, he was around classy veterans who taught him how to go about his business, and he's very appreciative of that fact. He passes it down the line and shows young guys. He's a credit to the profession, and it's an honor to be in the clubhouse with the guy."
Thome provides a positive impact on those around him, on any lineup he's been in, whether it's been with the White Sox, Phillies or Indians.
Probably the only negative anyone came up with on Thome is that he strikes out a lot, more than 2,000 times so far. But he's also walked 1,451 times, which ranks 21st on the all-time list and the third most among active players, trailing only San Francisco's Barry Bonds and Toronto's Frank Thomas.
"He doesn't chase [bad pitches]," former Houston manager Phil Garner said. "He has very good plate discipline, especially for someone who swings so hard."
The years have taken their toll on Thome, who has battled hamstring, rib cage and back problems in recent seasons. Yet even those frustrating injuries didn't change Thome's attitude or approach to those around him.
You still see him helping his teammates, pressing the flesh with fans and politely doing interviews just as he did when he first came up.
Society may have changed. But Thome is still a class act and remains a great ambassador for the game, even when things aren't going well.
The White Sox designated hitter realizes setbacks are part of the game, part of life. Thome learned from this and used that knowledge to his advantage. That wisdom helped make him become a great player, and it has him on the verge of 500 home runs.
Five hundred may not be as special as it used to be, but Thome is one of kind.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.