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Why is Jim Thome so beloved? It's not entirely what you might think

Minnesota's Jim Thome rounds the bases on his

Minnesota's Jim Thome rounds the bases on his 600th career home run during the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers. The home run was a three-run shot and his second of the game. (Aug. 15, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

As luck had it, I was in Detroit last night - working on a separate project - when Jim Thome went deep twice, joining the 600 home run club. 

And it was a very special thing to witness. I was in the respective house for Barry Bonds' record-breaking homer and Alex Rodriguez's 600th, and both were very cool. But this was different, because of the warmth surrounding Thome and what he did.

The Tigers fans, who have seen Thome beat their brains in while wearing the uniforms of division rivals Cleveland, the White Sox and now Minnesota, offered the slugger a hearty standing ovation, even though the Tigers are barely hanging onto their AL Central lead and Thome's homer put them in a 9-5 hole.

As the contest concluded and the teams returned to their respective dugouts, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera - who made the last out of the game - seeked out Thome and gave him a handshake and back slap.

I stood in the Twins' clubhouse following the game, waiting for Thome to report to his news conference, and you could hear the other Twins players applauding Thome. Then, when the 40-year-old reported to his news conference, his teammates Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer stood in the back of the interview room, just to offer Thome even more support.

So what's the deal? Are all the salutes due to the widely held belief that Thome didn't use illegal performance-enhancing drugs, unlike his fellow 600 club members Bonds, A-Rod and the widely suspected Sammy Sosa?

I don't think that's it. I think the explanation is even more simple.

It's because of the way Thome treats the people in the game. He's friendly, respectful, hard-working and humble.

That, your basic personality, serves as the ultimate measure in baseball's popularity contest. It trumps even the "cheating" issue.

It's why Mark McGwire is held in such high regard by so many, even though he now has confessed to using illegal PEDs; McGwire is viewed as a friendly, down-to-earth guy, and people supported him even when he lied, spun and obfuscated about his past.

And it's why the standoffish Frank Thomas, whom virtually no one suspects of illegal PED usage, is not very popular. 

You'll see a lot of odes to Thome, because he did it "the right way" in regards to the drugs, and while I tend to believe he didn't use that stuff, I certainly don't know for sure. I'm never comfortable with that approach.

What I do know for sure is that Thome is a good dude. I met him back in his Indians days, through Yankees executive Arthur Richman, who passed away in 2009. Before and after Arthur's passing, whenever I saw Thome, I would bring up Arthur's name, and Thome always smiled and professed his affection for Arthur.

Last night, as the news conference wrapped up, I made sure to get Thome's attention (it wasn't that packed a news conference. It was a Twins-Tigers game, for crying out loud).

"I'm here as Arthur Richman's representative," I told Thome.

"Oh, man, I loved Arthur!" Thome said, smiling and tapping my shoulder. "What a great guy." Then he went back to his teammates to celebrate some more.

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