There's something I've been dabbling with over the past few years -- it's sort of like a "bucket list" for athletes: The ones I really want to see in person before they retire.
It started a couple years ago when I was in Denver and had the chance to see Allen Iverson play in person for the first time.
Now, AI was at the tail end of his career -- it didn't matter, he was still mesmerizing in person. The Nuggets were playing the Cavs and even LeBron didn't captivate me like watching Iverson.
Jim Thome is one of those legendary players -- and whose legend will only increase with time, as fewer and fewer players join the "600 HR Club" -- I didn't appreciate until recently. I certainly appreciate it even more now that he has hit that 600th.
I just tweeted out a link to an SI cover story by Posnanski from last September about Thome (here it is). That helped, as great sportswriting often does.
I didn't come to appreciate Thome until far too late in his career - a career that might be over relatively soon. I'd like to see him play in person.
There is a list of baseball players I'd like to see play in person. Many/most are (or could be) eventual Hall of Famers. Some I have already seen -- Jeter, Chipper, Papi, Tulo.
Other players who make the list:
I think there are some -- like Pujols, possibly Berkman, probably Lincecum and Verlander -- that we can all agree on. Otherwise, lists like this get very personalized. You want to see Chase Utley and couldn't care less about Justin Upton -- more power to you.
I'd love to see them -- particularly the pitchers -- at the height of their powers, rather than the downside. For some, that's a multi-year window; for others, it's closing. And for others, like Berkman, I just want to see before my opportunity to do so evaporates with their retirement.
But for now, I am thinking about Jim Thome, the gigantic number that is "600" and how I wish I had caught him in person along the way.
PS: Scanning the list of potential "600" club members in the future, Pujols obviously could make it (437 career HR). Adam Dunn looked like he might have had a shot (365), but not after this season. Mark Teixeira is over 300 and is "only" 31 -- that means he has to hit as many HR between age 31 and 40 as he did between age 22 and 31... yikes. Ryan Howard is only at 279 and is already 31. Miguel Cabrera is at 270 and is only 28 -- he has a shot. Prince Fielder has 219 and is 27; it is crazy to think that if he hits 35 HR a year for the next TEN years, he still falls 30 short. Ryan Braun is 27, too, and has "only" 150 career HR. Matt Kemp is 26 and has 117. Jay Bruce has 94 and is 24; let's see if he can put up 30 a year for the next three years and put himself around 200 by age 27. For half these guys, they'll be impossibly lucky to hit *500.*
The lesson is clear: You need to start your career early, hit home runs often and have a career that lasts until you are 40. You need longevity just as much as you need power: 30 home runs a year for 20 years. Absurdly, beyond Pujols and Cabrera, the most "realistic" candidate is Bryce Harper, who has 30-HR-a-year power and could make the majors at age 19. All the others simply fall off the pace too quickly, either from their age or lack of production or both.
It's when you look at the current prospects that you gain an even greater appreciation for Thome entering that "600" club (or even guys in the 500 Club, like Frank Thomas and Gary Sheffield, or not-quite-500 Club, like Fred McGriff, who had 493, or Carlos Delgado, who had 473. And it makes Pujols' 437 that much more awe-inspiring. Might have to go see Pujols play a few times.