Yes, he does. Few have ever been better at drawing a walk. Thome has walked 90 or more times in 12 seasons. Only four pretty good hitters named Bonds, Williams, Gehrig and Ruth have done it more. Through Sunday, Thome had walked 57 times, or in 17.4% of his plate appearances. No one who had gone to the plate at least 300 times had walked more frequently.
Thome is the ultimate example of what the baseball stats community calls a "three-true-outcome" player—the true outcomes being walks, strikeouts and home runs. Those outcomes make up 47.6% of Thome's plate appearances, by far the most of any player ever with 8,000 plate appearances. (Jose Canseco is second at 40.7%, then Mickey Mantle at 40.2%.)
"I really do try hard to be a good teammate," Thome says. "I can't run very fast, but I try to always run hard. I may strike out a lot, but I try to walk to set up the guys who are hitting after me. The other day I didn't score from first on a double. I cost my guy an RBI. I felt terrible about that. I told him, 'Look, I really tried, but I'm old and I'm slow. I hope I can make it up to you in another way.'"
Teammates know he is sincere, and they love him for it. No, he can't run. He has played all of eight innings in the field (at first base) since 2007. His defense was the main reason the White Sox decided not to re-sign him. "[Manager] Ozzie [Guillen] wanted flexibility in his lineup," general manager Kenny Williams says. Guillen himself says, "Go ahead, blame me... . But I'll tell you I love Jim Thome. I wish I didn't. I wish I f------ hated the guy. But I can't hate him. Nobody can hate him."
Ex-teammates still talk about Thome lovingly in Cleveland (he does get booed a bit by Indians fans, but that's for leaving in the first place) and in Philadelphia and Chicago. He is relentlessly positive. Perkins remembers his first or second day back with the Twins this year after a long stretch in the minors. He was walking by Thome, who was taking his slow, methodical phantom batting practice. "And suddenly, he just stops," Perkins says, "and he smiles and gives me a fist. I mean, it's not like I'm Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau. He barely knows who I am. But that's the kind of guy he is. He's the best teammate I've ever had... . I think everybody thinks that."
Thome smiles in his sheepish way when the story is recounted to him. "I think you just want to be a good person," he says. "I'm getting to do what I've wanted to do my whole life. I'm getting to do what millions and millions of people would like to do."
Thome steps out of the box and adjusts his gloves. He touches the fat part of the bat. He knocks the dirt off his cleats. What is he thinking? "Nothing," he will say. This is the key. He watches very little video of pitchers—he's seen these guys enough. He watches very little video of himself—he has seen himself enough too.
Mostly, he wants the mind blank. He wants the background black. He wants the ball to glow in his vision. He's not a guess hitter. He does not sit on the fastball and adjust to the curve. "It's still just playing baseball for me," he says. "I want to go out there and play some baseball, just like I did when I was a kid."
Thornton looks in for the sign, but there's really only one sign. He has not thrown a changeup in 2010, and he's not about to get beat on his so-so slider. On a YouTube video of the moment, you can hear a man in the crowd say, "Double play or home run."
The fastball is 93 mph and right over the heart of the plate. Jim Thome knows what to do with 93-mph fastballs over the middle. He turns on it. And, in the words of Guillen, "he [hits] it 200,000 feet."