Talking with Thome, and it’s real neat.
On Twitter: @Castrovince
Just shy of 600 home runs, Thome is due to join Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in one of Major League Baseball’s more select and storied clubs. Of course, the steroid era’s influence on the influx of members to that club has caused it to lose some of its luster in the public eye. You can read my thoughts on how that applies to Thome.
As far as what Thome feels about the impending achievement, well, you can read that below.
Do you get reflective at all when you approach a milestone like this?
You do, you do. In a good way, of course. Any time you reach a milestone, it’s a journey. It’s a long process. You think back to your time here in Cleveland, in Philly, in Chicago. You look at all the good times and the good people and the great teammates you were able to be with. Like Sandy [Alomar], you know, coming here and seeing him. If it was to happen here, to be able to share that moment with my teammates but also with him would be special. Each stop brings back good memories all the way through, for sure.
Your accomplishments get overlooked, in some ways, by the era in which you played. Does that disappoint you at all?
I think everyone knows that [performance-enhancing drugs] was in our era. It was a part of it. And I’ve said this — I’ve been very open about this — not everybody in that era did it. You can’t punish everybody. I think there are still people that are hurt that guys did that. It’s not about me paying the price or anybody else paying the price. It’s just that people have the right to choose what they want to say or do. I think that’s basically how it is.
Four guys have joined the 600 Club in the last decade, but there are still only eight guys who have done it, overall. Beyond Albert Pujols, it’s hard to pinpoint anybody active who has a good shot to do it. Does that make it more special for you?
It does, it does. And you know, like we talked about earlier, it’s a journey. I mean, how do you ever imagine 600 home runs? When I signed here in Cleveland, you wanted to get to the big leagues, you wanted to stay in the big leagues. Then once you see success, you want to obviously be healthy enough to continue that for a long time. And you have to be blessed. Playing with guys like Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield and getting that opportunity to watch them go through their career and see as they got through the latter stages of it, watching them work, watching them prepare and wondering if that could ever be you. Then you get to live the reality of it, and it’s pretty special. It really is. If you’d ever asked me if I’d be sitting where I am at 40 and still playing, you’d have to be pinched. It’s really neat. It’s cool. And being a fan of the history of the game, I’ve tried not to think about it, because the task at hand is to perform and go out and do the best you can. But you can get caught up in the history of it very easy. Very easy.
First of all, you want to be a good teammate. Having guys come up to you and approach you and ask you questions as a veteran, you want that. I always say I wish I would have asked this or I wish I would have asked that when I was younger. But I was fortunate to have that here. We had Eddie Murray, we had Dave Winfield, Orel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez. I think I’ve learned from a lot of good players in the past. Hopefully guys feel comfortable that they can come up to me and ask me anything about the game.
Does it feel like you’ve been in the big leagues for 20 years?
It does. It does. But it’s gone by so quick. I think the physical end of it has taken its toll at times. Learning, as you get into your 40s, you’re not the same player you were at 25 or 30 — physically, I mean. It doesn’t mean you can’t do the things, but day in and day out, it’s tougher.
Every time you come back here, there are a decent number of people who still boo you for leaving as a free agent. That has to hurt on some level, doesn’t it?
It does, it does. I think the tough part is I just want people to know how much I do care about Cleveland. To watch them as an organization today and see the success they’re having is great. Obviously, as an opponent, we want to win the division. But to watch them doing what they’re doing, there’s a part of me that’s genuinely happy for the fans here. I’ve always said that as a free agent, when you leave, you have to understand that there may be people who boo you. That’s part of what we do as professional athletes. But it doesn’t erase the memories, it doesn’t erase the special times and obviously the respect towards them. It is tough, because, again, that’s part of the business. You understand it. Sometimes it can be hurtful. But as an athlete, you have to respect and look at the big picture of why it’s happening.
No, to be honest. I try not to get ahead of where I’m at right now. And I said that a year ago. And I feel that if I’m healthy, I can still play. I can still perform and do some things. Maybe not what I could at 25 or 30, but I can still do some things to help a ballclub win. What I’ll do at the end of the year is sit back and see where I’m at physically, see where you’re at just from the whole perspective of your career and see where we’re at. I do love the game. I do still love to play the game. But there is a day that I do look forward to going home and being with my kids. As much as this has given me so much, it’s also very important to know when the time is right to go home to your kids and your family, you know? And they’re getting to that age where it’s getting close. It’s getting close.
Last offseason, how long did it take you to make the decision to come back this year?
It took me about a month. I think a lot of the big decision for me was that I was healthy. I left [the 2010 season] pretty healthy. I think the role the Twins have put me in has been great. Gardy [Ron Gardenhire] has done a good job about communicating to me and asking when I want a day off. I was able to show I could still do this at the age I’m at. And that felt good.