Another chase for 600 homers almost took place at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this season.
Jim Thome said he was that close to signing with the Rangers in the off-season. They treated him with class and offered more money, but loyalty pulled Thome back to Minnesota.
"That was a very, very difficult decision for me," he said. "You had two really good teams that have proven that they're going to win. That's ultimately what it's about."
So, Thome is chasing 600 this year at Target Field, which is fine. His path to history, though, is generating about as much buzz as the WNBA Draft.
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Maybe there would be more attention if Thome was playing every day. He's also been hurt twice this season, which hasn't helped pique interest levels.
But that shouldn't matter. He's four homers shy of 600, a plateau that only seven players have reached.
"Ridiculous," teammate Michael Cuddyer said. "It's unfathomable to me."
Three of the past four to eclipse the mark were Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa, who got No. 600 in a Rangers uniform in 2007. Not far behind Thome are Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez.
Now, that could be part of the problem.
The power of the huge homer total has been diluted because of the players who have been linked to steroids and other banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Some continue to deny ever using. Others have come clean. Their final baseball judgment will come on Hall of Fame ballots cast the next several years.
None of them is helping Thome -- one of the most respected players in the game because of the way he has handled himself and because of what he hasn't injected into himself during his 21-year career.
"I'm very proud of that," he said. "Let's face it: Not every guy in that era did it. Unfortunately, it happened. You can't punish every guy."
To Thome's credit, the silent treatment doesn't seem to bother him one bit. Humble and generous, Thome doesn't want his chase to distract the Twins as they try to finish the season strong.
The number, though, means something to him. It's the culmination of what he calls a "journey" that has been filled with great successes and some tough times.
But he stops short of heaping praise upon himself, even though he can still pop a ball 500 feet only four weeks shy of turning 41. To play so long, he says, is a blessing, and the players who have surrounded him in lineups in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago and Minnesota have a stake in the 596 homers he has hit so far.
"It's historical," Thome said. "The journey along the way, to get to this point at almost 41 years old, would be very special. And, to be honest, I don't take anything for granted. I don't sit here and say, 'It's going to happen.' Something could happen tomorrow. But I feel very proud of how it's happened and how I went about it."
Yet, Thome understands if the cynical crowd lumps him in with the players frequently linked to banned substances. But he sleeps well at night because he knows what he did and didn't put in his 250-plus-pound body on his way to 600 home runs.
"In life you can't worry about what the perception is," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and know what you've done."
Pence gone to Philly
Jim Crane could be approved as the Astros' owner during the next round of owners meetings in August. His first priority, apparently, is to slash payroll and stock up on young talent.
So, right fielder Hunter Pence has been dealt by Houston, even though the price for the two-time All-Star from Arlington was pretty steep.
Philadelphia pulled it off, though, without including outfielder Domonic Brown. Pence came at a high price because of his abilities and because he can't be a free agent until after next season.
A trade to the Phillies gives Pence a serious shot at the World Series, but his wish was to stay in Houston and help build a winner there. That's the type of player -- talented and dedicated -- the Astros need.
Crane would have been better served to try to find an American League team to take on Carlos Lee and some of his monster salary ($18.5 million next year) to be a full-time designated hitter. Wandy Rodriguez ($25.5 million through 2013) and Brett Myers ($14 million through 2012) aren't exactly payroll-friendly either.
Let him have it
Michael Cuddyer was still beaming about his major league pitching debut Wednesday, two days after the outfielder/first baseman pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Twins in their 20-6 loss to the Rangers.
Using a position player to pitch is raising the white flag, but the opposing team isn't expected to just surrender.
Rangers manager Ron Washington told his hitters they had a chance to pad their stats. When he was playing, Washington wanted to make sure no position player got him out.
"I want to kick his butt," Washington said. "He's a position player. He's got no business being on that mound. I certainly don't want him going back in the dugout talking about how he got me out."
The Rangers were up at one point 18-1 after becoming the third team since 1900 to score at least three runs in the first five innings of a game. Players and third-base coach Dave Anderson had to walk the fine line of being respectful of the game and of an opponent who can't get any outs.
"If they can make a play, you don't push it," Washington said. "I'm going to stop stealing. We're not going to swing 3-0 in the count. But we're not going to stop playing the game."
The runaway front-runner for worst call of the season was made Tuesday night, when plate umpire Jerry Meals somehow completely blew a critical call in the 19th inning of the Pittsburgh-Atlanta game.
Julio Lugo, who was running for the Braves from third, knew he had been tagged out. Pirates catcher Mike McKenry knew he had tagged Lugo about six feet in front of home plate.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also knew what he had seen. The former Rangers hitting coach's face turned purple as he berated Meals.
"I know he can get mad," said Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who played under Hurdle in Colorado. "I've seen him a few times really ticked off. Usually, he's able to calm himself down when's mad at umpires."
Lugo's run was the game-winner. Meals later learned via instant replay that he had missed the call, and admitted his mistake. The call was so blatantly wrong that Major League Baseball felt compelled to issue a statement from their shiny new executive VP of baseball operations.
"Most in the game recognize that the human element always will be part of baseball and instant replay can never replace all judgment calls by umpires," Joe Torre said. "Obviously, a play like this is going to spark a lot of conversation, and we will continue to consider all viewpoints in our ongoing discussions regarding officiating in baseball."
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760