Why White Sox slugger Jim Thome deserves to be a first ballot Hall of Famer

When it comes to Hall of Fame candidates, Jim Thome is the total package.

Eligible to be inducted for the first time this year, Thome checks all the boxes as a player, and the left-handed slugger ranks eighth all-time with 612 home runs.

Thome hit 134 homers with the White Sox from 2006-09.

There is also the “character clause” that Baseball Writers Association of America voters are strongly advised to consider before casting their ballots.

Here is what it says: “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Playing ability clearly indicates Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro rate as some of the greatest the game has seen, but how much did performance-enhancing drug usage boost their numbers?

Quite a bit, in the view of many BBWAA voters, and that's where the character and sportsmanship issues come into play.

In his 22 seasons with the Indians, Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles, Thome's only possible character flaw was this — he was too nice.

That was always the running joke, but the truth is Thome was, and still remains, one of baseball's really good guys. Since midway through the 2013 season, the Peoria native has worked as special assistant to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

“Leo Durocher said nice guys finish last, but I don't think that's necessarily true,” White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said after adding Thome to the front office. “He's a presence. He's a Hall of Famer. He's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he knows the game. He's not a guy who just went up there and succeeded because he had talent.

“When you sit and talk to Jim Thome, he understands the game. He understands how the game's supposed to be played, and I think that's something he can pass on to young players.”

Thome has been a great influence on young Sox players such as Matt Davidson, and it all goes back to the character aspect.

Two quick personal stories:

• Thome hit his 500th career home run in a White Sox uniform, a 2-run walkoff shot against the Angels on Sept. 16, 2007.

Before the season ended, Thome distributed autographed photos of the milestone homer to employees throughout the organization, and he also included beat writers.

Initially, I didn't get a photo. That was fine since it was not expected.

But a few days later, there is was.

Apparently, Thome noticed the original photograph had a bent corner and he didn't want to sign it. A new batch was printed, and the Thome photo I wound up receiving was free of flaws.

• After the White Sox played the Rays in Tampa Bay during the 2006 season, I was talking to Thome at the hotel bar.

An unnamed teammate (OK, it was backup catcher Chris Widger) kept sending shots to Thome and other players huddled around the bar.

Like a good teammate, Thome toasted Widger each time before covertly dumping the shot into the bar drain by the beer taps.

That's a good teammate.

And Thome is a great bet to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

• Twitter: @scotgregor

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Former White Sox teammates Manny Ramirez (99) and Omar Vizquel are on the BBWAA ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Associated Press/2010 file
Former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones could be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in January. Associated Press/2012 file
Top row from left are San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds in 2017, Boston Red Sox' Roger Clemens in 1987, Los Angeles Angels' Vladimir Guerrero in 2009, and San Diego Padres' Trevor Hoffman in 2008. Bottom row from left are Seattle Mariners' Edgar Martinez in 2017, New York Yankees' Mike Mussina in 2008, and Boston Red Sox' Curt Schilling in 2008. Trevor Hoffman, who fell five votes short last year on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for baseball's Hall of Fame, heads holdovers that include Vladimir Guerrero, Edgar Martinez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. Associated Press/file
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