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It was a feel-good moment, a warm scene for Middle America. The guy from Peoria joins Hank Aaron, the Babe, Willie, and Junior as the beacons in a club that includes Bonds, Sosa, and A-Rod, a trio who may never see Cooperstown.
As Jim Thome trotted around the bases at Comerica Park last week, the 600th time he had done so in a Major League game, the Detroit crowd rose and paid homage. His dad, wife, and kids - they accompanied the team on its road trip so as not to miss this magic moment - jogged toward home plate to embrace him, as did his Minnesota teammates.
"Anybody that's ever played with Jim is happy for him, " Paul Konerko told reporters after the game.
"Five hundred is one thing but 600, I mean, it's amazing." A.J. Pierzynski chimed in. "I wish he would have done it against us. It would have been cool to congratulate him in person."
"When I see his wife and his dad on the field, I almost cracked," Ozzie added.
Sure wouldn't want that to happen, Oz, but Thome's dad Chuck, decked out in a baseball hat, cargo pants, golf shirt and Nikes, said as much about Thome as his former manager and teammates.
He looks like one of us. Much larger for sure. He even towers over his son, and the big guy hasn't missed too many meals recently. But Chuck Thome simply wanted to hug his boy, share the moment, and then return to his seat to enjoy the rest of the game.
Missing from the celebration was any mention of what made this all possible. Thome, you see, has appeared with a baseball glove on his hand in just four games the last six seasons and not once since 2007. So thank you, Mr. Designated Hitter, for keeping guys like Jim Thome in the game.
Without the DH - it's been with us since 1973 - Thome, at age 40, probably would have been retired long before he had a chance to hit No. 600.
Ninety-six of Thome's homers came during the three seasons he played in the National League with the Phillies.
However, Thome's body said, "No way, man, I can't do both." In his final injury-plagued year in Philadelphia, Jim hit just seven round-trippers before coming over to the White Sox in 2006 in the Aaron Rowand deal.
Talk about an elixir! Freed from the strains of playing the field, Thome had home-run years with the Sox of 43, 35, and 34.
Now consider poor Babe Ruth, who played until he was 40. He led the American League in home runs for 12 years and managed to hit 34 at age 38 in 1933. Think the Bambino could have eclipsed his final figure of 714 if he didn't have to play the field?
Harold Baines, the quintessential DH along with Edgar Martinez, used a glove for a grand total of two games during the last nine years of his career. His knees wouldn't let him run after fly balls, but they didn't hamper him at the plate.
Once Harold was relieved of his defensive responsibilities in 1993, he hit another 143 home runs and drove in 562.
Frank Thomas, the greatest hitter in Sox history, played once in the field his last five years. His body was crying for retirement when the Big Hurt was in his mid-30s. But at age 36, playing for Oakland, Thomas had a huge year, slamming 39 homers and driving in 114 runs. He got a bunch of votes for MVP. Again, it wouldn't have happened without the DH.
Today, David Ortiz seems headed for a similar destiny. He's been in the field twice this season for the Red Sox, necessitated by interleague play. At age 35, Big Papi can keep on going thanks to the DH. He's hitting right around .300 and will hit 30 dingers and drive in 100 before the season ends.
Not only has Papi taken full advantage of the DH rule, but breaking the PED rule didn't hurt either if you look at his 2006 season: 54/137/.287. He may not make it to Cooperstown, but Big Papi figures to be a Fenway fixture for a few more years.
* * *
Needless to say, the Sox thought they were getting the next awesome DH when they signed Adam Dunn last winter. Instead he's produced like a good-hitting pitcher. Okay an average-hitting pitcher. It really is not healthy thinking where the Sox would be if Dunn was putting up DH numbers like Thome, Baines, Thomas, and Ortiz.
Yet our guys, despite another .500 week, remain in the race, five games behind Detroit. The likes of Lillibridge, De Aza, and Flowers - not the kind of guys who strike fear into the opposition - all had good weeks while Pierzynski's wrist heals, Quentin tries to escape the DL, and Dunn sits as much as possible.
The Sox looked like they have most of the season, losing twice to the Indians and the series opener to Texas. But once again they bounced back with gusto, edging the Rangers 3-2 on Saturday behind - of all people! - Alex Rios' eighth inning run-scoring double and John Danks' strong pitching. Then they thumped Texas 10-0 on Sunday. C'mon, these Rangers are the defending American League champions, and they're headed to the postseason again this October. Impressive!
The Sox are pretenders, teasers, and sirens. Just when you think it's okay to turn away and wait until next year, they do something like slaughter Texas, and the game remains on.
While the Tigers travel to Tampa Bay and Minnesota this week, the Sox play two at Anaheim sandwiched around a couple of days off before traveling to lowly Seattle for the weekend.
Detroit has easily handled both the Rays and Twins this season, winning 12 of 15 games. But the Tigers are a .500 team on the road, while our guys are 34-27 away from the Cell. No way the Sox should be five back this time next week.
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