My blue hat’s off to Jim Thome

This won’t be a pleasant topic to address. There isn’t any physical pain or suffering involved, only mental anguish on my part. And of course it has to do with being a Cubs fan. What a great life I might have if baseball didn’t matter to me, or I was a fan of a team that actually won on occasion. But that’s not the world I live in.

First off, hitting 600 home runs in the major leagues is an awesome achievement. It’s averaging 30 home runs over a 20 season period, which is almost impossible to wrap one’s mind around. A few have done it before, but you could count them on both hands. And that by itself says a lot.

I’ve seen Jim Thome play in person, and I’ve seen him hit home runs. The ones I saw, like most of the ones he hit, didn’t just barely clear the fence. Rather, they seemed to disappear from sight. I saw him hit a homer (on TV) that went all the way out of Jacobs Field in Cleveland. So the total distance on all those home runs would be a staggering number, if anyone has bothered to calculate it.

A long career like his should be celebrated, especially in this terrible era of steroids in the majors. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmiero, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and so many other “sluggers” have been revealed as frauds and cheaters. If Thome went anywhere near PEDs or HGH or any of the stuff that helped those other guys, I haven’t heard about it. Today, as I write this, Thome is known to be clean. And that’s worth noting.

After Thome’s talents had outgrown Cleveland’s ability to pay him, Thome was a free agent back in late 2002 and early 2003. I made the case, as emphatically as I could on the Cubs.com bulletin boards, that he should be signed by the Cubs. Whatever the contract terms might be, it would be worth it because of what he would bring. Home runs, yes, but also clubhouse leadership. A counterweight against the player that was being referred to as SamMee. And having a Thome jersey in blue would have been completely badass.

But the Cubs were sold on a young (read: cheap) prospect named Hee Seop Choi. They thought he might blossom into the kind of power hitter that Thome already was. So they stood pat and told Thome to look elsewhere. So he signed with Philadelphia and hit 47 home runs in 2003. I will always think of that year as the year that might have been it, not because of Steve Bartman, but because of Jim Thome.

Hee Seop Choi fizzled out, and the Cubs had other players taking turns at first base throughout the playoffs. But with a rock like Thome in the lineup everyday, they could have gone places where they didn’t end up going. It’s all hindsight now, but I look at Thome and can’t help thinking about what could have been with him in blue.

Instead, I have him shown here in black. White Sox wear. Completely unacceptable, in my eyes. He hit his 500th homer in a Sox uniform, and I’m sure he’ll have fond memories of playing in Chicago. It’s just on the wrong side of town, from my perspective.

All that aside, I congratulate him for having a brilliant career, and doing it in a way that has restored my faith in baseball and its superstar players.

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