Tim Wakefield has 199 career wins. Jim Thome has 598 career homers. The two will face off tonight in Minnesota when the Red Sox take on the Twins, and it's fitting that this game will be ESPN's Monday Night Baseball contest.
While Wakefield winning his 200th game or Thome hitting his 600th homer won't magically make their careers significantly better by any means, both are impressive round number thresholds that help remind us of how long the pair has been around. Wakefield has been in the majors since 1992, and with Boston since 1995, and while it would have taken him 19 seasons to reach the 200 win mark, the fact he has been around for 19 years -- and generally pitched well, with a career ERA+ of 106 -- says a lot about his durability and the value he has had in his career.
Thome has been around even longer -- he is in the midst of his 21st season, one in which he has hit .277/.403/.557 -- and even though offensive numbers during much of his career were inflated, contextually, he remains impressive: his career wRC+ and OPS+, which compare Thome's numbers to the average, are 145 and 147, respectively.
Like Wakefield -- a former infielder turned knuckleballer who was out of the majors for the entire 1994 season and was subsequently released -- Thome's career has gone on longer than expected. The twice-anointed top 100 prospect was a third baseman who couldn't field, and he couldn't put up anything offensively in his first two seasons as a 20- and 21-year-old with the Cleveland Indians. His bat took off in 1993, though, and he eventually moved to first base and DH. Red Sox fans know him well from his time with the then-rival Indians, as Thome slugged .515 with 24 homers in just 363 career at-bats against the Sox in a Cleveland uni, and that doesn't include the seven playoff homers against Boston in three playoff series.
Thome didn't slow down until 2005 with the Phillies, when it looked like the then 34-year-old's best days were behind him. In the six years since Thome's "decline" in Philadelphia, he has hit .266/.390/.545 with 162 homers and a 142 OPS+ that isn't far off from the 149 career OPS+ he had prior to that six-year stretch. The Twins have used him as a part-time player since signing him in 2010, and in what is essentially a season's worth of games (166), Thome is at .270/.391/.569 with 34 homers. Not bad for a 39- and 40-year-old that was supposedly cooked back in 2005.
Wakefield has had a noteworthy career, as all but the start has come with one team, and he has stuck in the majors for nearly 20 seasons. Thome has bounced around much more, especially in recent years, but has put up numbers at DH that no one save maybe Edgar Martinez can touch. Both are underappreciated in their own ways, but tonight, just maybe, the two can make some personal history together.