Another Mark McGwire?

Before I start, does anybody do losing like the Raiders? The A’s had a terrific weekend against Texas (the Giants had a lousy one in San Diego), and I submit that the Raiders losing yet again the way they did was far more interesting than the A’s victories. I rooted for the Raiders as a kid, and still follow them, and I gotta tell you, I think the Curse of Gruden has the potential to be every bit as powerful as the Curse of the Bambino. Brutal rule, by the way.

And Sebastian Janikowski? The guy has one job in life. Kick it through the uprights!

Anyway, onto ball. And this question:

Is Jim Thome another Mark McGwire?

This is NOT a reference to steroids. But Thome inspired that question by hitting his 500th career home run Sunday, because he could be yet another example of how steroids have changed the game.

Until McGwire, every member of the 500-home run club had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. I look at the names on that list that preceded McGwire, and it’s ovbvious why they went. They were easily the greatest players of their generation, guys you never even had to debate.

The fact that Jim Thome doesn’t jump out at me tells me he is not one of the dominant players of his generation. You know what I see when I watch Jim Thome? I see a present-day Dale Murphy.

Thome’s homer totals easily were inflated by the harder balls-smaller parks-more teams-less pitching dynamics that didn’t exist when Murphy played (though I’ll give you this: Murphy did play in a launching pad). I will not cast any steroid aspersions at Thome, because it’s not fair. His name has never been linked. But there’s not a single player who, if someday revealed to have used, would shock me or even change my opinion any more.

And — steroids disclaimer here — the benchmark that is 500 home runs has been altered forever.

Anyway, I could be dead wrong on this issue, and am open to being convinced. But what I see when I see Jim Thome is a guy who swung from his rear end, hit the ball a mile and saw tons of fastballs because he always had a great hitter such as Manny Ramirez or Albert Belle around him. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is a stud. I just don’t know that he was the among his era’s best (plus he DH’d most of his career, and I’d take Edgar Martinez over Thome).

Longtime Bay Area columnist Bruce Jenkins is a man who I admire and respect, and he’s taught me a ton about baseball through his writing and a ton more about covering baseball through his words. He told me one time that if you have to think about it, then there’s your answer.