Monday, August 22, 2011

Jim Thome's 600th HR Causes Ripples of Stupidity

It’s nice when good things happen to good people.  It reinforces our faith in humanity.  As such, I’m not surprised about the outpouring of adulation for Twins Designated Hitter, Jim Thome.  Thome, a former Phillies first baseman, hit his 600th career home run on Monday.  His career accomplishments will likely land him in the Hall of Fame one day.  After playing 11 seasons in Cleveland for the Indians, Thome signed a monster free agent contract with the Phillies before the 2003 season.  It was a move 1 part baseball, 2 parts public relations and marketing.  Sure, the Phillies were a reasonably competitive team at the time, but Thome’s signing was ownership’s chief “Hey, come to the new stadium we tricked you into paying for!” plea. 

Thome with Chase Utley.
In 2004, when Citizens Bank Park opened, Thome was already the face of an awkward franchise.  A 24 year old Jimmy Rollins and a 26 year old Pat Burrell hadn’t yet grabbed hold of the reigns in the clubhouse from the likes of Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal.  The on field play of Burrell, Rollins, Lieberthal, David Bell and Marlon Byrd was frustratingly erratic and Abreu (one of the greatest Phillies ever) was totally unlikeable despite his excellence.  The pitchers were all awful.  Combining the 2003 and 2004 seasons, only Randy Wolf in 2003 had a sub-4 ERA.  Thome had to step in and immediately be the Phillies bell cow, producing on the field and shining behind the microphones.  He did.  He played two full, terrific seasons for the Phillies before getting hurt in his third year (like 34 year old players often do).  The player who replaced him during his injury? Ryan Howard.  The Phillies realized they had a cheaper, younger alternative to Thome and so he was traded during the following offseason.  In just two and a half years, Thome managed to make a lasting mark upon our fair city.  He gets a standing ovation every time he comes back.  His name graces the short list of ex-Philadelphia athletes that the town still loves.  A number of specific criteria must be met to get on that list and the All Time Ex-Philadelphia Athlete Roster deserves its own column one day, but for now Thome deserves a column all to himself.

He is the 8th major leaguer to hit 600 home runs.  Eight.  That’s how many people have done what Jim Thome has done.  It’s a remarkable accomplishment that was reported lightly in comparison to Alex Rodriguez’s track toward 600 homers and Derek Jeter’s corpse’s march to 3000 hits.  I’m sure Thome, whose personality is almost universally lauded in the media, wouldn’t have had it any other way.  After Thome homers he circles the bases with swiftness and humility.  It’s as if he wants to get back into the dugout as quickly as possible because it makes him uncomfortable that everyone in the stadium is looking at him.  He is 80th all time in Career Wins Above Replacement, ranking ahead of Brooks Robinson, Derek Jeter, Tony Gwynn and Barry Larkin.  He’s had an incredible career. 

That was it.  That was supposed to be the extent of this column. “Jim Thome is really good and more people should notice.”  Unfortunately, I ran into something dumb that needs addressing.

“@DailyHombre:   Hate to say it, but just because J. Thome is a nice guy doesn't mean we can accept his 600 HR without question. He's tainted like everyone.”

“Daily Hombre” is the Twitter handle for Philadelphia based sports writer, Michael Bradley.  Bradley’s career has been impressive especially when you consider the journalistic climate he’s had to deal with over the past decade and a half.  He’s broken a number of big stories (Rich Rodriguez’s hiring at Michigan comes to mind), written pieces for Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News and even makes cameos on the radio for 97.5 The Fanatic every now and then.  He’s mostly a college sports guy.  The 140 character comment of his you see above is insipid and irresponsible.  It is totally inappropriate for Bradley to offer up speculation like that.  It was irresponsible when Colin Cowherd made similar comments after Raul Ibanez had a hot month two years ago and again when several mainstream media outlets whispered about Blue Jays slugger, Jose Bautista, after he exploded into an MVP candidate last year.  Some industries never learn.

You might argue that, due to the dark cloud of Performance Enhancing Drugs that hovers over the era in which Thome left his mark, it is okay to question the legitimacy of Thome’s accomplishments.  You’d be wrong.  If you know anything about the science of PEDs, you know there isn’t a lot of science to it.  Studies on the effects of HGH and Steroids on baseball players don’t exist, because you’d have to have Major League players taking steroids to do the tests.  It’s impossible to say what any known steroid user would have done had he not taken the drugs, since we can’t quantify the aid the drugs provided.
Secondly, Thome has never tested positive for anything.  Bradley’s tweet about Thome being tainted is unfounded speculation and nothing more.  Bradley might hide behind the guise of journalism and claim it is okay to ask questions Thome’s HR total, but this claim is entirely semantic.  Which is why I sent Bradley the following tweet immediately after reading his drivel:

“Aren’t you an Anti-Semite?”

Do you see how ridiculous that is? Let me be clear, Michael Bradley is not an anti-Semite.  But for me to say such things and claim I’m just asking questions about him is a dangerous game to play.  I had exactly as much evidence about Bradley’s anti-Semitism as he does for Thome’s steroid use.  The problem is that when public figures like Bradley plant seeds like that in the public consciousness they can be very difficult to uproot. 
Michael Bradley is a great guy who made a mistake. I'm calling him on it

Why have I deviated from what started as a puffy little diddy about Jim Thome? What about Bradley’s comment got to me?  Why do I hold such high journalistic standards? Because Michael Bradley taught them to me.  Bradley was my Sports Journalism professor at Saint Joseph’s University (I took it as an elective, I was a Business Administration Major).  He was a brilliant teacher and even offered to be a reference on my resume or call in a favor should I need it (I have not, as of yet).  He violated the rules he so passionately preached from 6-9pm on Tuesday nights on Hawk Hill.  Old school, hardcore, journalistic standards thrown aside for a split second, but thrown away nonetheless. 

Jim Thome hit 600 home runs.  He can go to Cooperstown to pick up his Hall of Fame plaque.  Where can he go to get his reputation back?

Note: I approached Michael Bradley via email for comment before sending this to editing.  He threatened to sue for libel.  I’m not sure if he was serious or not.  I guess I’ll find out.

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