Monday night in Detroit, the Minnesota Twins' Jim Thome stepped to the plate in the seventh inning against the Tigers, having already homered in the previous frame. With the count 2-and-1, Thome launched a Daniel Schlereth pitch into the left-field bullpen at Comerica Park for his 600th career home run, becoming the eighth player in major league history to reach that milestone.
Thome's Twins teammates met him at the plate for hugs; several of his family members, including his father, wife and kids, came on to the field to celebrate, and Thome acknowledged the Detroit crowd's warm ovation.
And then the game continued.
Thome has played most of his career in relative obscurity; he was in six postseasons with the Indians, but they are, after all, from Cleveland; his years in Philadelphia were before the Phillies became a perennial playoff team; he reached the postseason with the White Sox and Dodgers, both big-market teams, but hardly anyone noticed, and he now toils in Minnesota.
Let us posit an alternate universe, though. One in which Thome spent most or all of his career playing for the Yankees ...
Ah, New York. Center of the baseball universe. Nay - center of the entire known universe, right?
So what would have happened if Jim Thome had been in a Yankee uniform on this August night when he accomplished a feat that only seven others in major league history had done? We can guess:
- Not only would MLB Network and ESPN have broken into coverage, but seven New York local stations and at least three national non-sports TV networks would have given it live coverage.
- A street adjoining Yankee Stadium would be renamed "Jim Thome Way".
- Christian Lopez, the man who caught the home run Derek Jeter smacked for his 3000th hit, would be hustled in front of microphones for interviews, and a tag-team wrestling match would be scheduled between Lopez and whoever caught Thome's 600th home run.
- Every major national sportswriter and columnist would wax poetic about Thome's career and call for him to be immediately elected to the Hall of Fame, with the waiting period waived. Thome's "All-American" upbringing in central Illinois would be romanticized. HBO would release a two-hour documentary on Thome's life within 24 hours of the event.
- Thome would ring the opening bell Tuesday morning at the New York Stock Exchange.
- A ticker-tape parade for Thome and every member of his family would be held in midtown Manhattan.
- Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York would issue proclamations and give Thome awards befitting his position as the "Derek Jeter of home runs".
But since Thome plays for the Minnesota Twins, none of that happened, or will. My colleague Rob Neyer wrote that Thome might not make it into the Hall of Fame right away; I disagree. Even though he doesn't play for the Yankees, most serious followers of baseball know how great a home-run hitter he has been. He's also an on-base machine; Thome is eighth all-time in walks, too, and could pass Mickey Mantle for seventh before this year is over.
In my view, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Perhaps then he'll get the recognition he's missed from never having had "NY" on his home uniform.