Only once before have two former Twins been inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame during the same ceremony. It will happen again in July.
Jim Thome, whose 22-year major league career included 179 games in a Twins uniform, was voted into the Hall’s Class of 2018 on Wednesday. Thome, who received the votes of 89.8 percent of ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America, will join St. Paul native Jack Morris, who was elected by a veterans’ committee in December, for induction in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 29. Only in 2001, when Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield were elected, have two former Twins gone in together.
Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman also were elected Wednesday
While neither Thome nor Morris spent more than a fraction of their careers in Minnesota, each made baseball history here.
On Aug. 15, 2011, Thome became the eighth player in major league history to reach 600 homers when, one inning after collecting No. 599, he clobbered a 2-1 curveball from lefthanded reliever Daniel Schlereth into the Tigers’ bullpen in Detroit. It didn’t deliver a World Series championship the way Morris’ memorable 10-inning, Game 7 shutout of the Braves had capped his single season with the Twins in 1991, but it marked the signature moment of Thome’s successful two-year stint in Minnesota.
“It’s a big number, a special, special number,” Thome told the Star Tribune at the time. “But I don’t want to make it about a number — I play to win games.”
Two days later, Thome hit No. 601 — but it turned out to be the last of his 37 homers with the Twins, who traded him to Cleveland the following week in hopes of allowing the veteran slugger to take part in another pennant race.
Thome’s career began as a third baseman in Cleveland in 1991 and lasted 22 seasons with six different teams. He hit a home run every 13.76 at-bats during his career — more than every player except Mark McGwire, Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds — and he was the second fastest, behind Ruth, to reach 600 home runs. Thirteen of those home runs were walk-offs, the most in major league history.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, hitting a home run, it’s really not,” Thome explained while with the Twins. “You go through countless hours of work, trying to find your swing and be consistent. Not a home-run swing, because if you try to hit one, you won’t. And when you find it and hit one, it’s a special thing, because it’s not something you can do at will.”
His career bears that out, too: Thome struck out 2,548 times, more than anyone but Reggie Jackson (2,597). But he also walked 1,747 times, seventh most ever.
Thome signed with the Twins before the 2010 season, and his time in Minnesota coincided with the opening of Target Field, where he quickly became one of the most popular players on the team.
“We just signed a guy that’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, and it doesn’t get much better than that,” former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said at the time. “He swings like Babe Ruth. We’ve seen too many fly against us. Now let’s see some fly for us.”
They did. Signed primarily as a bench player, Thome unexpectedly led the Twins with 25 home runs, and hit a walk-off, 10th-inning blast against the White Sox amid an August hot streak that helped the Twins pull away to the AL Central Division championship. That home run was captured in a photo of his ecstatic teammates greeting him at home plate, an image that has become iconic in franchise history.
But it says something about Thome’s friendly personality that he remains so popular in the Twin Cities, because his Hall of Fame credentials were burnished by numerous moments victimizing the Twins. Thome hit 61 of his 612 career home runs against them, more than any opposing player in franchise history, and 22 of them either tied the score or gave Thome’s team the lead.
Most painful of them all: His seventh-inning missile launch over the center field fence in the one-game tiebreaker to decide the 2008 AL Central Division championship. Thome’s blast off Twins starter Nick Blackburn stood up as the only run of the game, and ended the Twins’ season in disappointment.
“Gardy and I agreed not to talk about that one,” Thome joked upon signing with the Twins. “That was some guy with the White Sox. I’m a Twin.”