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.”