A few hours after Jim Thome hit his 499th home run, I happened to find myself sitting at a table with seven serious (or semi-serious) baseball fans. So I asked each of them, "Is Thome a Hall of Famer?"
Five said yes, two said no. Five out of seven is 71 percent; if this had been an official Hall vote, Thome would have fallen just 4 percent short. Now, you might think this means nothing, because of course my "voters" didn't have any evidence at hand, and in fact I asked them to respond without thinking about it.
But it does mean something, because some significant percentage of the real voters evaluate Hall of Fame candidates exactly that way. No, I don't mean to suggest that the voters don't think about each player. They do. By the time a player has reached Thome's age -- he turned 37 a few weeks ago -- most of the voters have done a lot of thinking over the years, and they've come to a conclusion. Which isn't to say they don't change their minds. Sometimes they do. We're talking about now, though. Realistically.