HOUSTON - JULY 23: Houston Astros hitting coach Jeff Bagwell looks on during batting practice before the Houston Astros play the Cincinnati Reds at Minute Maid Park on July 23 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Jim Thome hit his 600th home run. Absolutely fantastic.
I don't have any grudges against Jim Thome. If anything, I like the guy. He seems well liked, he's on my second-favorite team (the Twins) and he just achieved a pretty special milestone. He's only the eighth player to enter the 600 club, following in the footsteps of Ken Griffey Jr. and the controversial Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. Reading a couple tweets and a couple articles, the name "Jim Thome" was typically followed by the words "Hall of Famer." Even though none specified what type of Hall of Famer (first ballot or not), a thought quickly jumped in my head.
If Jeff Bagwell had to wait a year, so should Jim Thome.
The two slugger share more than just home runs. Both are well liked in baseball. Both came up through the Minor Leagues as third basemen, eventually switching to first base at the Major League level. They both made their debuts in 1991, Bagwell at 23 and Thome at 20. Thome was a September call-up while Bagwell played essentially from day one of that season. Thome wouldn't see regular playing time until 1994 in his age 23 season. Both collected almost identical All-Star selections and MVP votes; Thome collected 5 All-Star appearances and 9 years of MVP consideration, Bagwell had 4 All-Star appearances and 10 years of MVP consideration. Yes, All-Star appearances and MVP consideration aren't the best way to measure a players worth but it is something the voters of the Hall of Fame take into consideration.
Statistically, they're not all that different. Thome has managed to play longer but he carries a 147 OPS+ which is almost identical to Bagwell's 149 OPS+. If WAR is your statistic, Bagwell actually leads Thome 83.9 to 70.7, which can be explained by Bagwell's superior defense and base running ability. Thome actually hasn't played first base since 2007 when he played all of one game at the position. In fact, between 2006 and 2007, he played a total of four games at first base. In 2005, he played 52 games at first base with the Phillies which coincidentally coincides with Bagwell's last year playing.
Had Bagwell decided to switch to the AL like Thome did, he would have certainly reached the 500 home run mark, since fielding was the problem for Bagwell because of his bum shoulder, not hitting. Getting to 600 home runs would have certainly been out of reach but 500 is still a pretty exclusive club even if it has been tarnished by the steroid era.
Both played in the steroid era and both profile as the muscle bound sluggers typical of that time. While the cynical side of me wants Thome to wait a year like Bagwell did, I'd rather see Thome go in on the first ballot as Bagwell should have. My hope is that through Thome, voters will re-think their stance on Bagwell, but if nothing else that the voters learn through Bagwell not to deny another great baseball player his time.
I honestly believe that if Bagwell is not voted in on this next round of voting he'll be voted in with Biggio and while that's a nice thought Jeff Bagwell really deserves his own day.