Jim Thome

Jerry Reinsdorf: 'It would be a joke' if Jim Thome's not a first-ballot Hall of Famer

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AP

Jerry Reinsdorf: 'It would be a joke' if Jim Thome's not a first-ballot Hall of Famer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Former White Sox slugger Jim Thome is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the very first time. Ask him about his chances of getting into Cooperstown when the announcement is made next month, and the man who crushed 612 career home runs, eighth most all-time, won’t go near it.

He, like many players before him, believe there is a baseball God hovering over him and his candidacy. Simply uttering sentences like “I think I’ve got a chance” or “I hope I get in” could spell doom to his potential induction.

So mum is the word from Thome.

But ask Jerry Reinsdorf about Thome getting enshrined, and the White Sox chairman is much more forthcoming.

His reaction if Thome doesn’t get in on the first attempt?

“It would be a joke. It would be a total miscarriage of justice,” Reinsdorf said to NBCSportsChicago.com at the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort. “How many non-steroid users have hit 600 home runs? Not many with steroids have hit 600 home runs.”

Baseball’s top-10 home run list has been hit by an earthquake in the last 20 years, with a steroid fault line buried underneath it. Barry Bonds is at the top. Alex Rodriguez is in the middle. Sammy Sosa is near the caboose, one place behind Thome. While Thome was never linked to performance-enhancing drugs during his playing days, Bonds, Rodriguez and Sosa symbolize the Steroid Era, making Thome’s case for first-time induction even greater.

“(Thome) was a great player,” Reinsdorf said. “I always hated to see him come up in the eighth and ninth innings against us. And he’s a great human being. He epitomizes everything about the game that’s good.”

Beyond Thome’s power and his reputation for being one of the best teammates and nicest human beings alive, he had an exceptional batting eye. He posted 12 seasons with at least 90 walks, and he's seventh on the all-time walk list. And, like Reinsdorf mentioned, he was clutch in the late-innings. His 13 career walk-off home runs are the most in major league history. White Sox fans fondly remember one of them: his 500th career homer to beat the Los Angeles Angels in the bottom of the ninth in September 2007.

Joining Thome on the ballot is his former Cleveland Indians teammate Omar Vizquel, who also played for the White Sox (in 2010 and 2011), and was recently named manager of the Winston-Salem Dash, the White Sox Class-A affiliate. Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves, played more games at shortstop (2,709) than anyone in history and has the highest ever fielding percentage (.985) at the position.

But his road to Cooperstown could see some bumps along the way. He’s got competition not only from Thome, but from fellow first-timers Chipper Jones and Johan Santana.

“I think he should be a first-ballot guy, too, but that’s going to be closer,” Reinsdorf said about Vizquel. “Omar might be the best shortstop I’ve ever seen. He certainly had the best hands I’ve ever seen. It would be great if they both got in. Thome for sure. He’s got to get in. I can’t even conceive that he doesn’t get in on the first ballot.”

Potential first-ballot guy and Blackout Game hero Jim Thome headlines group of former White Sox on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

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AP

Potential first-ballot guy and Blackout Game hero Jim Thome headlines group of former White Sox on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

White Sox fans have seen a couple of their team's all-time greats go into the Hall of Fame in recent years, with Frank Thomas inducted in 2014 and Tim Raines inducted earlier this year.

Seven former White Sox are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, even if only a couple of them made a big impact on the South Side.

Jim Thome is on the ballot for the first time. While more famously a member of those great Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990s, Thome spent four seasons in a White Sox uniform, playing in 529 games and belting 134 of his 612 career home runs with the South Siders.

A Peoria native currently working as a member of the organization, Thome was a beloved part of four White Sox teams, including the last one to reach the postseason in 2008. He smacked a solo homer to drive in the lone run in the legendary Blackout Game, a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins that gave the White Sox the American League Central crown in the 163rd game of the 2008 regular season.

Thome ranks second in White Sox history in slugging percentage and OPS, trailing only Thomas in both categories. He's No. 7 on the franchise leaderboard in on-base percentage and No. 13 on the home run list.

Given that he ranks eighth on baseball's all-time home run list, Thome could very well be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Also on this year's ballot is Carlos Lee, a power-hitting outfielder who spent the first six seasons of his major league career with the White Sox. El Caballo hit 152 homers and drove in 552 runs in 880 games with the White Sox, finishing 18th in AL MVP voting in 2003 after he slashed .291/.331/.499 with 31 homers. His numbers were even better in 2004, his final season with the White Sox.

Lee ranks ninth on the team's all-time home run list and 11th on the franchise leaderboard in slugging percentage.

Lee did an awful lot of damage in six seasons with the Houston Astros, as well, and earned three All-Star nods in his post-Sox career.

Five others to play for the White Sox are on this year's ballot. Sammy Sosa, more noteworthy for what he did with the Cubs, spent parts of three seasons on the South Side. Omar Vizquel, another Indians great like Thome, played for the White Sox in 2010 and 2011. Andruw Jones, better known for his defensive highlights with the Atlanta Braves, played 107 games with the White Sox in 2010. Orlando Hudson played in 51 games for the White Sox in 2012. And Manny Ramirez, the legendary Indians and Red Sox slugger, played 24 games with the White Sox in 2010.

In order to qualify for election into the Hall of Fame, a player must appear on 75 of ballots submitted by voters.

Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle describes the 'amazing feeling' of having jersey number retired by White Sox

Mark Buehrle might need time to process everything that took place Saturday afternoon when he was surrounded by friends, family, teammates and fans, showered with gifts and overwhelmed by emotion.

The White Sox officially retired the number of one of the most popular players in team history in front of 38,618 at Guaranteed Rate Field. A banner covering Buehrle’s No. 56 was unfurled during an afternoon ceremony that makes the left-hander one of 11 players in club history whose number has been retired. Surrounded by fellow honoree Frank Thomas among many others, the always humble Buehrle -- who won 161 games in 12 seasons with the White Sox -- said afterward he’s not sure he belongs in the club.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Buehrle said. “It’s going to take time. I don’t know if it’s ever going to sink in and realize there it is.

“Amazing feeling. Can’t really put it into words how you feel. I wasn’t actually as nervous as I thought I would be once I was up there. But obviously glad it’s over with and it’s a special day.”

Buehrle’s list of dignitaries included Thomas, managers Ozzie Guillen and Jerry Manuel, Cliff Polite, Scott Podsednik, Jim Thome, Joe Crede, Jon Garland, John Danks and hitting coach Greg Walker.

White Sox play by play man Hawk Harrelson emceed a ceremony that lasted 30 minutes. Included were speeches by Thomas and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper as well as an unveiling of a series of gifts. The team presented Buehrle with a new truck, a baseball collage put together by Ron Kittle, a four-seat All-Terrain Vehicle -- much to the enjoyment of his duck hunting club seated on the 400 level -- as well as the flip-through-the-legs ball from Opening Day 2010. Club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also spoke during the ceremony, dropping in a series of one-liners.

“I’ve never seen him upset,” Guillen said. “I’ve never seen him overreact. Day in and day out he was the same guy. That’s what makes him so special. His teammates loved him.

“Buehrle did something: outsmart people. People don’t have stuff like him they think I’m smart, I can do this and fake it. Buehrle just grabbed the ball and threw it.

“To survive for so many years and have your number retired, there’s not that many people up there.

“It’s amazing with the stuff he had. I’ve seen a lot of better pitchers with better stuff. You don’t see too many guys with the same heart.”

Buehrle said Friday that he anticipated he’d be an emotional wreck for the event. The man beloved by the public isn’t much for public speaking. Throw in all of his friends and family present and Buehrle just hoped to get through his own speech. He said the sight of seeing his number unfurled almost put him over the edge.

“Emotions and trying to breathe deep and don’t start crying, tearing up,” Buehrle said. “I was trying to hold my emotions together. But just looking up there and seeing that. I can’t put it into words.”

When it was his turn to say the words, Buehrle spoke the way he pitched: tidy and efficient. Wearing a suit and sunglasses in case he teared up, Buehrle spoke with his wife and children at his side. Aside from his family, Buehrle said he avoided naming names during the 4-minute, 19-second speech because he had too many people to thank for the journey from 38th-round draft pick to all-time great.

Buehrle said he wouldn’t be able to pick out his favorite part until he watches the ceremony again later. After the ceremony, Buehrle's son sang the National Anthem and his daughter threw out the first pitch.

“When I watch it back in a couple hours and realize what happened and what really went on,” Buehrle said. “It’s kind of hard to hear out there, but it’s just everything. I had Frank Thomas and Jim Thome behind me. They’re here for my day. It doesn’t make sense to me.”