08/06/09 3:41 PM ET
Thome doesn't succumb to pressure
Sox slugger sails along, despite claims he's past his prime
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
While Thome's immense strength and unique skill set have helped him produce 561 career home runs, 1,554 RBIs, 1,480 runs scored and 1,613 walks, it's his fortitude above the neck that truly makes Thome a surefire Hall of Famer.
"When everyone else panics, Jimmy doesn't panic," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker of his designated hitter. "That's why he's able to play the game he plays."
As manager Ozzie Guillen pointed out during Thursday's pregame chat with the media, it was just a few weeks ago when Thome was deemed by skeptics as too old to contribute at 38 (turning 39 on Aug. 27), or was "breaking down" because of a recurring back issue that kept him out of the lineup for the three-game set at the Metrodome. Thome's two home runs and four RBIs in Wednesday's victory over the Angels, giving him 20 and 66, respectively, would seem to indicate to the contrary.
"At 38 years old, he's still better than I was at 23 on my best day," Walker said.
Thome's hot streaks can carry a team for a week or two. It's the sort of 10 home runs in 21 games run that he has not really hit on yet this year. Those nagging injuries or Interleague road play seemed to have interrupted any sort of built-up flow.
Wednesday's blasts stood as an encouraging sign of things to come, more so than the support Thome provided for Gavin Floyd. The left-handed-hitting slugger hit both home runs to left-center, which he has classified as an example of when his swing is at its best.
"Yeah, I'm not pulling off, staying on the ball a little longer," said Thome of going the opposite way. "Once you get in a groove, you want it to last as long as it can. But I really just try to maintain my work and do what I can every day to put myself in a situation to succeed in this game."
Walker believes Thome has another two or three years left of 30-home run, 100-RBI production, as long as his back allows him to get on the field. Thome believes the same, and it's that thought process setting Thome apart from other talented players, in Walker's estimation.
"Physically, he's still an absolute monster. Just a genetically gifted guy," Walker said. "But the biggest thing that makes him special is his ability to believe in himself and his mental strength. He has strengths and weaknesses, and there are going to be times when he strikes out. But he doesn't give into it or panic. He stays the course. He's a very unique Hall of Fame player."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.