With the Twins and Indians discussing a Jim Thome swap, the big slugger could join some elite company. Thome's 601 home runs would be the fourth-largest total ever traded. And the pattern of a successful home run hitter returning to the team of his roots certainly applies to Thome – he hit his first 334 home runs in a Cleveland uniform. Let's take a closer look at what kind of return similar sluggers provided for their new teams.
Unsurprisingly, Hank Aaron ranks atop the list of most career home runs when traded. Hammerin' Hank had 733 round-trippers when the Atlanta Braves traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers – the town where he hit his first 398 home runs – for outfielder Dave May and minor league pitcher Roger Alexander. May, a year removed from a 25-home run season himself, never recovered his All-Star form. Aaron did make the All-Star team in 1975, but that had more to do with reputation than performance. In 851 plate appearances over two seasons in Milwaukee, Aaron hit just 22 home runs.
Next on the list is Willie Mays, who hit 646 home runs for the Giants of New York and San Francisco before executing a similar return to Aaron's. The Giants traded Mays to the New York Mets on May 11, 1972 for Charlie Williams and $50K. Williams became a valuable swingman for the Giants over seven seasons, including three with an ERA+ of 110 or better. Mays, meanwhile, hit 14 home runs over 481 plate appearances with the Mets in 1972 and 1973. The first, and most dramatic, of these home runs came in his very first game with the Mets against the Giants. Naturally, Mays didn't come close to the level he reached in his first stint in New York – a 157 OPS+ and 187 home runs from 1951-1957. Rumor has it his defense in center field was pretty good, too.
The only other slugger with more home runs than Thome at the time of a trade is Ken Griffey Jr., who tallied 609 long balls by the time the Cincinnati Reds traded him at the 2008 non-waiver deadline to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Nick Masset and infielder Danny Richar. Masset has become a bullpen mainstay for Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Griffey hit only three home runs down the stretch for Chicago, though he played well enough overall to help the White Sox reach the postseason. His final 11 playoff at bats came for the Sox in their AL Division Series loss to Tampa Bay.
The clearest comparable to Thome among these sluggers is a man Thome passed on the all-time home run list last year: Frank Robinson. With 586 career home runs, Robinson had already slugged 572 of them late in the 1974 season when the California Angels traded him to Cleveland for catcher Ken Suarez, outfielder Rusty Torres and cash. Neither Suarez nor Torres did much after the trade – Torres never appeared in a Major League game for the Angels – but Torres did out-homer Robinson post-deal, hitting 20 home runs in parts of five seasons with three teams.
Robinson, however, was extremely productive in a part-time role from 1974-76. Those 14 home runs came in just 289 plate appearances, with his OPS+ checking in at a robust 129. He managed the team as well, something Thome would not be asked to do in Cleveland. But if Thome emulates Robinson at the plate, the Indians will be happy to have him and Thome's 132 OPS+ this season suggests such hopes are realistic.
Whether that means a pennant or not, a deal would certainly guarantee that Indians fans can reminisce at the ballpark – and maybe even get an old jersey out of storage.