Omar Vizquel

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.”

White Sox officially name Omar Vizquel manager at Class A Winston-Salem

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AP

White Sox officially name Omar Vizquel manager at Class A Winston-Salem

Officially announcing what had been reported last month, the White Sox welcomed Omar Vizquel back to the organization Monday as the new manager at Class A Winston-Salem.

Vizquel spent two seasons of his 24-season major league career on the South Side, where he appeared in 166 games during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns.

Considered one of baseball's all-time great defenders — he won 11 Gold Gloves at shortstop — Vizquel spent the past five seasons as a major league coach. He was an infield coach with the Los Angeles Angels in 2013, and he was a common sight for White Sox fans during his four-year stint as the Detroit Tigers' first-base coach. He also managed the Venezuelan team in this year's World Baseball Classic.

Vizquel — one of seven former White Sox players on this year's Hall of Fame ballot — also interviewed this offseason for the Tigers' open managerial position that eventually went to former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

“We are excited for Omar to rejoin the White Sox organization as our Winston-Salem manager,” Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, said in the announcement. “He has a wealth of experience and knowledge gained through an impressively lengthy baseball career. Omar is passionate about teaching the game, and we look forward to having him help with the development of the next generation of White Sox players.”

Vizquel replaces another former White Sox infielder, Willie Harris, as the manager at Winston-Salem. His role as skipper will be important as the White Sox highly touted prospects continue to filter their way through the system.

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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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.