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Aw, shucks ... Next stop Cooperstown

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There will be those who will question whether Jim Thome, who hit his 600th career home run on Monday, should be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame since he was almost strictly a designated hitter the last several years.

Now I don't get a vote, of course, but if I did it would be a resounding yes. That's not simply because Thome is from the Peoria area or even just because he is only the eighth player in baseball's glorious history to reach 600 career home runs. It's also because of who he is and has always been – a good guy.

I have never met Thome, but a good friend of mine played ball with him at Limestone High School and still occasionally touches base with the all-star. That friend has told me and anybody else who asks that the 'aw, shucks' image big Jim portrays in public is not an act.

"That's just the way he is. He's been that kind of unassuming guy as long as I've known him," the friend said.

Also genuine, he noted, is Thome's concern for others. He has long given of himself, of his time and his money to causes in which he believes, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs. His annual visits to the Children's Hospital of Illinois usually get press, but my friend said Thome does not do it for publicity. "He would do it if there was never a reporter or photographer around," he said.

Thome has always been regarded highly by his peers, not only for his skills as a player but for his sportsmanship, his clubhouse leadership and his community involvement. He has won several awards that are based on humanitarian acts off the field. Twice he was named winner of the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, in 2001 and 2004. He won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2002. He was named winner of the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 2004. His first professional team, the Cleveland Indians, gave him its own Man of the Year Award in 2001 and its Good Guy Award in 1995.

Thome also has never played with suspicion hanging around him that his size and production were chemically enhanced. "He never did anything like that," my friend said. "If you want to know about his size, just look at his dad and his brothers. They're all bigger than he is."

My friend is a baseball purist, one of the biggest I've ever known. If he suspected Thome was a cheater, I don't think he would support him for the Hall of Fame regardless of their friendship.

All of this – Thome's reputation, humanitarian acts and cleanliness – should carry a lot of weight with the Hall of Fame voters, at least in my opinion. I would hope they'd look at all of it and, five years after Thome decides to hang it up, invite one of the game's true good guys to Cooperstown.

 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).