Playoff Power Makes Thome Tribe’s All-Time First Baseman
By Ronnie Tellalian
Jim Thome is the Indians All-Time leader in home runs and walks, and he’s second All-Time in RBI and fifth in runs scored. He was a role model on and off the field, having never been connected to any negative press; he contributed to charities and the community. Jim Thome was truly and Indians All-Time great.
First base: Jim Thome
Thome was drafted by the Indians in the 13th round in 1989. He quickly worked his way through the minor league system to make his Major League debut in September of 1991. The 1992 season saw Thome’s progress halted by injury; he played only 52 games between Triple-A and MLB. In 1993, playing nearly the full season at Triple-A, Thome hit .332 with 25 home runs and 102 RBI before getting a call up to the majors at the end of the season.
He earned his first starting MLB job in 1994 at third base for the Indians. Thome hit 20 home runs in just 98 games to help lead the Indians to a winning season, and just one game shy of the Central Division lead when the strike began.
With 25 home runs and a .314 average in 1995, Thome helped lead the Tribe to a Division Championship and a World Series appearance. In 1996, he improved to 38 home runs and 116 RBI with a .311 batting average and earned his first award as he won the Silver Slugger for American League third basemen.
Thome hit 30+ home runs for seven straight seasons with the Indians, logging three 40+ home run season. His 52 home runs in 2002 are a personal best, and the highest total in Cleveland Indians history. For his career in Cleveland, Thome hit 337 home runs, 928 runs scores, 937 RBI and 1008 walks, he batted .287/414/.566 in 13 seasons as an Indian. He made three All-Star games in the offensive heavy AL positions of first base and designated hitter and earned MVP votes in five season.
For all his home runs, some of his most memorable moments came in the playoffs of the 1990’s. Thome played in 55 post season games with the Indians. In those games, he came through time and time again in the clutch.
In game five of the 1995 American League Championship Series, the Indians faced the Mariners in Cleveland with the series tied 2-2. Thome came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Tribe down 2-1 and Eddie Murray on second base. Hitting against Chris Bosio, Thome took a 2-0 pitch deep down the line in right field for a two-run home run. The blast gave the Indians a 3-2 lead, and they would go on to win by the same score.
The Indians would get past the Mariners to play the Braves in the World Series. In game five, down three games to one in the series, the Tribe was tied 2-2 in the sixth inning. With Baerga on third and Belle on second, Thome scorched a grounder up the middle to score both men and give the Indians a 4-2 lead. He added some insurance two innings later with solo home run to help Cleveland win the game 5-2.
Against the Boston Red Sox in the 1998 ALDS, Thome faced former Cy Young and MVP Brett Saberhagen in the 5th inning of a 1-1 tie. He lined the second pitch he saw over the fence for a home run. The solo shot gave the Indians the lead, and they would go on to win the game 4-3.
In the ALCS of the same season, the Indians matched up with the Yankees in game two. The game was tied 1-1 in the top of the twelfth inning. Thome led off with a single to left center. The base hit led to a Tribe rally and they scored three runs in the innings to win the game 4-1.
The next game, with the Indians down 1-0 in the second, Thome crushed a 3-1 pitch from Andy Pettitte into left center to tie the game. In the 5th inning, Thome took the first pitch he saw from Pettitte deep into right field for another home run. The Indians went on to win the game 6-1. Total for the 1998 ALCS, Thome hit four home runs and batted .304.
In the 1999 ALDS against the Red Sox, Thome came to bat against Derek Lowe with the Indians trailing 2-0. Ramirez reached on an error by third baseman John Valentin to get on base before Thome with two outs. Thome smashed a home run to tie it at 2. The Tribe rolled to a 3-2 victory.
The very next day, Thome’s fourth inning grand slam helped the Indians defeat the Red Sox 11-1. In all for that series, Thome hit four home runs and batted .353.
Thome’s efforts never led to a World Series victory, but they helped create some great moments in the hearts and minds of Tribe fans. He was a true role model to the young fans of the Indians, winning the Roberto Clemente Award. This award given to the player that “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Thome is a true Indians legend and deserving of his place as the Tribes All-Time starting first baseman.
Photo: Getty Images