Genuine joy for Thome all across baseball

Genuine joy for Thome all across baseball

Jim Thome sat behind a microphone, shining in the light of his 600th career home run, but still managing to save his last words for the people closest to him in the interview room, and in life.

"That's what this moment is all about," the 40-year-old Twins designated hitter said Monday night while basking in the afterglow of his 599th and 600th homers against the Tigers in Comerica Park in Detroit.

"Sharing it with teammates, with family, and with good people."

In one of the least surprising developments of the night, players and managers throughout the other stadiums of the American and National Leagues reacted with unanimous happiness to Thome's two-homer hop to history by focusing on that very quality about Thome: he's a good person.

Take Ken Griffey Jr., with 630 career homers on his resume. Griffey, who retired last year and became a special consultant to the Seattle Mariners, issued this statement to welcome Thome to this rare air:

"It is an honor and a privilege to welcome another member to the 600 home run club, especially someone like Jim Thome, who is not just a great baseball player, but a great person as well," Griffey said.

"While it was only for a short period of time, I was glad to have the honor of being his teammate. I offer Jim my heartfelt congratulations."

Griffey played with Thome in Chicago in 2008, and he wasn't the only former teammate to send over congratulations and thoughts on this momentous achievement.


John Hart might not have played with Thome, but he was the Cleveland general manager when Thome's great career began in 1991. Hart, now an analyst with MLB Network, was flooded with memories on Monday night.

"When he first came up, he was an opposite-field hitter and hardly ever hit home runs," Hart said. "But it was fun to watch him progress, get stronger and learn to hit the ball out front.

"We signed him to a couple of deals in Cleveland. At one point we had Manny Ramirez hitting seventh and Jim Thome eighth. Pretty good, huh? About the fifth or sixth year he was starting to hit 40 regularly and we were talking. I said, 'Jimmy, if you keep yourself in shape and play another 10 years, you could hit 500 home runs. He laughed and said, 'I can't believe that.' To reach 600 is pretty special."

Special. That was a key word when it came to Jim Thome on Monday.

"Jim is one of the easiest players of our generation to root for," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who hit his 600th homer last August. "It's hard to overshadow 600 home runs, because it is a tremendous accomplishment and an exclamation point on a career bound for the Hall of Fame. But to me, the way he has treated the game -- and the people in and around it -- will always be the first thing that I think of when I think of Jim Thome. In so many ways, he is a legend of our game."

Brewers starter Randy Wolf, who was Thome's teammate in Philadelphia, said Thome was one of the easiest players to root for that he'd ever played with ... or against.

"Even when you're on the other team, you obviously don't want him to beat you, but it, like, hurts a little bit when he gets out," Wolf said. "He's such an awesome guy. Great teammate. And it's all genuine. He's not doing it to be a nice guy, he's just genuinely a nice guy.

"I'm really happy for him. That's a great milestone. When I saw him in Minnesota, I told him he was going to do it and congratulated him on the great career he's had. It's good seeing things like that happen to outstanding people."

Brewers outfielder Mark Kotsay, who played with Thome briefly in Chicago, echoed that line of thinking.

"Everybody in the game is excited for Jim," Kotsay said. "There is nothing fake about him at all. He's got the spirit and the personality that you want to be around. He's grinded through the ups and downs. He's had all of the success, and experienced the failure as well. For him to continue to grind to this, and accomplish it, it says a lot about him as a man."

Royals second baseman Chris Getz, like a lot of young players in the Majors today, couldn't help but comment about how lucky he was to have been around Thome for part of his career. Getz and Thome were White Sox teammates for part of 2008 and all of 2009.

"One of my favorite human beings in general, baseball aside," Getz said. "One of the kindest, best people I've ever met. Then you've got the baseball aspect of it, how professional he is, how great his attitude is each day.

"One of the best teammates I've ever played with, and you're not going to find a person in baseball -- coach, player, whoever -- who'll ever say a bad thing about him. If there's a guy that deserves it, it's that guy."

Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook, who played with Thome in Cleveland, agreed.

"I've played with him, I've played against him," Westbrook said. "He's a great, great teammate. Great man."

Now that Thome has achieved one of the game's great marks, the Cooperstown questions will begin to fly around American water coolers. Back in Minnesota, however, Thome's Twins teammates know he's a Hall of Fame person first.

So Monday night was all about celebration. And appreciation.

"It was awesome," Michael Cuddyer said. "It was absolutely incredible. You're just happy for him and his family, his wife and his dad, everybody. Just everybody who makes Jim Thome who he is. So it's a very special day for him.

"Baseball history is a major reason, but really it's more because of the person he is and the teammate he is is why we're so happy. He cares so much about his teammates, and that's why we care so much about him.

"This moment, and this achievement, deserves to be talked about for a long time."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB and read his MLBlog, Youneverknow. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.