The Hall's doors are open
Though merely a crack
For Thome, not Izzy
Who suffers from lack
Six hundred home runs
Put him on the brink
But before I cast mine
I do need to think
I can't say why
I've dabbled in rhyme
But I can say this:
Give me more time
And sufficient time will be available, at least five-plus years if Jim Thome says "no mas" next month. Every hour will be needed to reach a comfortable and justifiable conclusion about his Cooperstown candidacy. I'm nearly there with Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and the others. And no reason exists to use the same brush to apply a layer of taint to his candidacy.
Thome has more home runs than Killer, Schmidt, McCovey and Mick, more runs batted in than Stargell, Mathews, Joe D. and Brett. And their HOF qualifications are unquestioned. Yet I can't see myself checking his name when the ballot arrives in 20-something. Even now, after he has put himself above all but seven sluggers and 26 run producers, it's premature and unnecessary to weigh his resumé. I don't know why I moved to poetry any more than I can specify why I sense Jim Thome falls short.
If this sense holds, and my vote from the game's Paul Bunyon is withheld, some specific, quantitative and reasoned justification will be in place. Obviously, I am heading in that direction now. A detour is possible, though.
Two considerations come to mind in this process. Round numbers are distinctions, not complementary passes to the Hall. Blyleven and Sutton never were checked on my ballots despite 3,000 strikeouts and, in Sutton's case, 300 victories. Gibson, Palmer, Catfish and Mr. Ford didn't reach 300, and they were automatic in my view. I hesitated on Yount despite his 3,000 hits and Dawson despite all those cockamamie, combined round-number things -- 400 home runs, 500 doubles and 300 stolen bases -- that set him apart from others. If he had driven in 1,600 runs -- he needed nine more RBIs -- I wasn't going to change my vote. Nice distinctions, but no. He was just short.
This obsession with distinction warps the process. It's reminiscent of the wow that resulted in 1978 when Gaylord Perry completed his Cy Young Award double play. Drum roll, please; he became the first to win the award in both leagues. Was that important or merely distinctive? Was his accomplishment any greater than Bob Gibson's twice winning the award in the same league?
Second consideration: Jack O'Connell, the man who oversees the annual Hall of Fame election for the Baseball Writers' Association of America, said 25 years ago "You just know when a guy's a Hall of Famer." It's not quite that simple, but it almost is. I never considered Blyleven or Sutton Hall of Fame-worthy when they were active. Five years and a place on the ballot didn't enhance their candidacy.
A gaggle of us, BBWAA voters, chatted about just that, the "you just know" phenomenon, on Induction Day last month. Jeter: Of course. Mariano: "You just knew" five years ago. Bernie Williams: "Just don't know." Biggio: Maybe, yeah, probably, maybe. Vizquel: "I don't have to decide yet."
Damon: "Are you serious?"
Thome: "Give me more time."
When the name appears on the ballot, the voter isn't obligated to find a way to justify a check, but rather to find whether a check is warranted. But that sense seems to fade. Some credentials seem to improve only because of ballot inclusion.
Johnny Damon isn't a Hall of Famer, not now. Sould he reach 3,000, his candidacy will be more of a round-number debate than Thome's. Chances are he would arrive at that number with one season of 200 or more hits, with five seasons of .300-or-better hitting, 10 or 12 seasons of at least 100 runs and limited bold-face type in his statistical resumé. Can a player attain Hall of Fame status without ever having been the best at what he did for an extended period?
Was Thome ever that?
Numbers go only so far. Impact is subjective but critical in the equation. I watched Keith Hernandez every day during his 6 1/2 seasons with the Mets and was familiar with his impact with the Cardinals. No player I've covered did more to help his team win each day than he. I voted -- even campaigned in writing -- for him. I was in the minority. Hernandez had to be seen regularly to be properly valued.
Thome has hit 600 home runs. If I had seen 400 of them, perhaps I would think differently. But that's why the HOF electorate represents all big league cities. Two writers in Cleveland, Paul Hoynes and Sheldon Ocker, may have witnessed 300 of the 334 home runs Thome hit for the Indians. I have at least five years to pick their brains and some brains in Chicago and in dugouts around both leagues. It will be time well-spent.
* * * *
Few forces in the game challenge the objectivity of a reporter more than getting to know him as a prospect, witnessing his big league debut and a few dozen baby steps, keeping in touch and kibitzing over the years and then covering him again in his victory lap. In such rare circumstances, familiarity breeds ... appreciation.
And so, I hail Jason Isringhausen. Three hundred saves are a distinction and, given the oft-interrupted course of his career, quite an achievement. If only his elbow and shoulder had been as strong as his backbone. He was fun to watch in '95 when he was a Mets rookie and not so much in '96 when he began to break down. I enjoyed watching him succeed with the A's and the Cardinals. I salute his perseverance and lack of pretenses. I appreciate the endorsements he shared with teammates to whom he introduced me.
Players and writers can develop mutual trust. It's a smooth two-way street, comfortable to drive.
I wonder whether his arm will just go limp one of these days. I like that his locker at Citi Field is decorated with photos of his children. I enjoying sharing laughs about '95 and 2011 and days in between. I'd like nothing more to cover his Hall of Fame induction. But objectivity lives. I can't vote for him.