DETROIT -- While Jim Thome's 600th home run Monday night has sparked debate about his inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame, there's no doubt the much-celebrated slugger has already established himself as a Hall of Fame person and teammate.
Perhaps no player in recent baseball history has been as well-regarded among his contemporaries as Gentleman Jim, whose warm personality has earned him honors such as the Clemente Award, the Gehrig Award, as well as being voted as the nicest player in baseball several times by his peers.
And it's not simply an act from the country-strong slugger from Peoria, Ill., as he's as down to earth as any player in the game despite his superstar career numbers.
"He's just a genuine person," Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. "He cares about his teammates. None of it's for show. There's none of that. He's just a genuinely good person who wishes good for other people. So it's nice to see good things happen to good people. He deserves it."
Morneau is certainly not alone in how he feels about Thome, as countless Twins teammates couldn't help but gush about what kind of teammate Thome is.
"Baseball history is a major reason, but really it's more because of the person he is and the teammate he is is why we're so happy," added Twins veteran Michael Cuddyer. "He cares so much about his teammates, and that's why we care so much about him. This moment, and this achievement, deserves to be talked about for a long time."
"It's amazing, especially a guy like him because he's a great person," left-hander Francisco Liriano added. "To be a part of it was a great experience and was a cool moment too. So I was very happy to be a part of it, and see him to get to his goal."
Thome's historic achievement came Monday night, when he hit two home runs to lead the Twins to a 9-6 victory at Comerica Park, reaching the milestone on a three-run homer off Tigers left-hander Daniel Schlereth in the seventh inning.
Even Schlereth, who served up No. 600, basked in the moment, as he said he is simply in awe of Thome's amazing career.
"You know, there hasn't been a lot of talk about his 600 home runs, and there should be more talk, because that guy is an outstanding player and he's been great for a very long time," Schlereth said. "That guy is awesome, one of the best ever. There's eight players that have hit 600 homers and he's one of them. That's an outstanding accomplishment, and being a baseball fan, you know what? I'm proud of what he stands for in this game. He's an excellent player and I've heard he's an even better guy, so hats off to Jim Thome."
Thome became just the eighth player to reach the historic 600 home run plateau, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa as the only players with the distinction.
"It's hard to imagine" Thome said of joining the elite club. "When you come into the big leagues, you just want to survive and play and fit in. So to have the opportunity to be blessed and play a long time, I don't think I could ever have imagined that, and to live that dream and be part of that group of guys that is so elite is just hard to imagine and explain."
Griffey, who finished his career with 630 homers, was one of the first to offer his congratulations to Thome, as they were teammates in 2008 with the White Sox.
"It is an honor and a privilege to welcome another member to the 600 home run club, especially someone like Jim Thome, who is not just a great baseball player, but a great person as well," Griffey said. "While it was only for a short period of time, I was glad to have the honor of being his teammate. I offer Jim my heartfelt congratulations."
Rodriguez, who joined the 600 home run club last season, also joined the chorus of current players who congratulated Thome for his momentous achievement.
"Jim is one of the easiest players of our generation to root for," said Rodriguez. "It's hard to overshadow 600 home runs, because it is a tremendous accomplishment and an exclamation point on a career bound for the Hall of Fame. But to me, the way he has treated the game -- and the people in and around it -- will always be the first thing that I think of when I think of Jim Thome. In so many ways, he is a legend of our game."
Rodriguez isn't alone in his belief that Thome is headed to Cooperstown, as Tigers manager Jim Leyland was one of many to offer his support for his inclusion into the Hall of Fame.
"Certainly that's a Hall of Fame achievement, Hall of Fame from the get-go," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's just a Hall of Fame guy and a Hall of Fame player."
Thome has done more than just hit 600 homers over his 21-year career, as he's a career .277 hitter with a .403 on-base percentage and a .558 slugging percentage with 2,263 hits, 1,710 walks and 1,662 RBIs in 2,456 games.
Thome, who re-signed with the Twins this offseason on a one-year deal worth $3 million after hitting 25 homers last season, has played with five different clubs, previously playing for the Indians, White Sox, Phillies and Dodgers.
He's also topped 30 homers in 12 different seasons, including a career-best 52 homers in 2002 and hitting 40 homers or more in six different seasons.
His longevity is also no fluke, as he's one of the hardest working players in baseball, and regularly shows up an hour earlier than anyone else.
"You look at how long he's played in the game and when you're able to do something like that, it's preparation, taking care of yourself," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If you watch him come to the ballpark very early every day and prepare himself to get his body motivated, which we all know as you get a little older, it's not that easy. But to watch him get himself motivated and get himself up to be able to do these things, hopefully a lot of our guys can learn a lot."
His teammates lean on him for advice, as the sage 40-year-old knows his fair share about hitting a baseball.
"He's the nicest guy I know and the best teammate," said Twins outfielder Jason Kubel. "He's been around for quite a while now. So I'm always trying to pick his brain and figure things out like what to expect on certain pitchers or situations to see what he'd do. So these two years have been a lot of fun with him on our team."
It's been nothing short of a remarkable career for Thome, and the next stop could very well be Cooperstown, but the ever-humble slugger is doing his best to downplay his chances of becoming one of baseball's immortals in the Hall of Fame.
"I don't know. That's not for me to decide," Thome said. "That would be a dream. It's pretty special. I don't think it's really hit home. To be mentioned and have the Hall of Fame mentioned, that's just very, very special. That's just really cool."