Daily Herald
Has Thome punched his ticket to Hall?
By Scot Gregor | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 9/18/2007 1:06 AM

Jim Thome still has a year to go on his contract with the White Sox, and the 37-year-old designated hitter also has a club option for 2009.

Assuming he is able to keep his bothersome back spasms under control, Thome could play for another four or five seasons, either with the Sox or somewhere else.

But even before Thome hit the 500th home run of his career Sunday -- a memorable 2-run shot in the ninth inning that lifted the White Sox to a 9-7 victory at U.S. Cellular Field -- the debate already had begun.

Is Thome a Hall of Famer?

That will be up to qualified members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America to decide after Thome has been retired for five years.

Were it up to his peers in uniform, Thome could begin practicing his induction speech.

"That's a magic number right there,'' Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said of Thome's 500 home runs. "You have to be a great offensive player to get to that level. I think in Jim's case, with everything else he brings, he's been on winning clubs, he has a high on-base percentage, he's a guy that has to be in that Hall.''

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen agrees.

"Of course, there's no doubt,'' Guillen said. "One thing about Thome, he's one guy that's easy to manage. You can ask any manager he played for and he will say the same stuff. I like him because he grew up the right way.

"He plays the game right, he plays the game hard, he respects baseball, and he respects the fans. I told a couple of the kids: 'If you want to look up to somebody, that's the guy you look up to.' On the field, off the field, anywhere, I don't think any human being can say anything bad about Jim Thome.''

When asked about hitting his 500th home run and what it means in terms of his place in history, Thome said it's still too early to say.

"I really don't think it will sink in until I'm home this winter and you reflect on things,'' he said. "Looking back, you've got to commend all of the great teammates I played with. (Hitting coaches) Charlie Manuel, Greg Walker, Milt Thompson, all those guys have played a big part, especially Charlie.

"Charlie has been like a father to me in the game and I know this is a big moment for him. I know he will cherish this as much as I have, because we've been through this grind together a long, long time.''

Thome broke into the big leagues with Cleveland in 1992 and exited in 2003 as the Indians' all-time leader with 334 home runs.

When Thome was in the minor leagues with Cleveland, he said Manuel taught him how to pull the ball.

Thome said he called Manuel, who is now managing the Philadelphia Phillies, last Thursday.

"There are so many things Charlie and I have done together and have worked on through this process,'' Thome said. "Opening up, squaring back up to stay on the ball, they are countless. Same thing with Walk (the White Sox' hitting coach). We work and Walk reminds me a lot of Charlie in that way. Very, very extremely positive.''

On personality alone, Thome is Hall of Fame caliber. But Sox teammate A.J. Pierzynski said the left-handed slugger's performance on the field also is worthy of Cooperstown.

"To me, it is still a magic number,'' Pierzynski said of 500 home runs. "People are trying to diminish the accomplishment, but to me, if you hit 500 homers you should be an automatic Hall of Famer.

"Especially someone like Jim, that has had the career and off-the-field reputation and the teammate reputation that he has. He should be a first-ballot guy.''