Jim Thome, born in Peoria, IL, is on the cusp of joining the 600 home run club. He's sitting at 596 right now. Thome might not be the player he used to be, but surely he's got four more big flies in him this year.
Before the steroid era (and presumably will be again down the road a bit), 500 home runs was the threshold of greatness. That was diluted quite a bit, though. 600, though, is still a definite bar to reach. Currently, there are seven people in the club*: Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez. And, obviously, soon to be Jim Thome.
*Presented here in chronological order.
Now, you might pick something up here. For a long time, Babe Ruth stood alone at 600. He reached the milestone in 1931. 38 years later, Willie Mays made the journey. Hank Aaron got there two years later. And these men are usually in the conversation of greatest player of all time (moreso Ruth and Mays, but Aaron would probably crack the top five or ten). Then, 31 years later, the fruits of steroids really started to ripen. Barry Bonds reached in 2002. Sosa in 2007. Griffey in 2008. A-Rod in 2010. And now Thome in 2011.
A-Rod is an admitted steroid user. Bonds and Sosa are almost certain to have used steroids. To the best of my knowledge, Thome and Griffey are considered to be clean. Griffey's body broke down in a natural way, so I definitely believe it. And I don't have any real evidence, but I do believe Thome is clean as well. Maybe it has to do with being the nicest guy in baseball. He's been voted as such by players in a Sports Illustrated poll, and I don't think any fans were surprised. But in my heart of hearts, I believe he's clean. Which probably also colors my view of who will get into the Hall of Fame.
Sosa I do not believe will make the Hall when all is said and done. His 600 are too tainted. I don't think many people believe he would have made it to 600 (or anywhere near it, really) without medical help. I have to think all the others will make it, though. There's a good argument that Bonds was an MVP before steroids came into the picture, and he may well have hit 600 without the help.* That said, he is the poster child (along with McGwire and Sosa) for the steroid era. The voters may surprise me. A-Rod is. . .well, interesting to me. On the one hand, he was (and is) a very good hitter, but I'm not sure if he would have gotten to 600 without help. He probably would have gotten to 500, though, which, absent steroids, would still be the line for HOF. He also was an elite gloveman, both at shortstop and at third when he went to the Yankees. He's an HOF'er in my mind, but we'll see. He doesn't seem particularly liked by the writers, though, who have his fate in their hands.
*Would he have hit 762, though? Probably not. Would he have hit 72 in a season? Probably not. Would he have hit at least 62? Maybe. Remember, Barry Bonds was no slouch before he left Pittsburgh.
Griffey, as I said before, had his body break down like you would expect it to, which leads me to believe he is clean. He was also a power hitter from the moment he slipped into a big league uniform at 20 years old. He had the stroke and he had the time to get to 600 on his own. If he hadn't spent almost his entire tenure in Cincinnati hurt, he might have ended up at 800 legit home runs. Thome hasn't had his body break down, but he also spent most of his career being a professional hitter, which doesn't take the same sort of toll on your body as, say, center field. He also clearly isn't the athlete he was when he was younger.
And to finish, here we are on July 19th, and the Pirates have just recaptured first place in the division. I'm on that bandwagon so hard it hurts.