Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 29: Catching Up With Andre Thornton
Steve Eby | On 06, Mar 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the greats who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 29 days
Sometimes you can take a ballplayer out of Cleveland, but you can’t take the Cleveland out of the ballplayer. For former Tribe slugger Andre Thornton, it turns out that he’s still got a whole lot of Cleveland left in him and he has no intention of changing that.
“It’s a wonderful place to live and I think it’s a wonderful city,” Thornton said. “My family was raised here—in terms of our sons. We live in the area now and Northeast Ohio has a lot to offer.”
Over a quarter century has passed since Thornton wore his famous #29 on the field as a member of the Indians, but the former DH and first baseman is still a strong contributor to the place that he calls home.
“You always want to be able to give back to an area that you live in,” Thornton added.
At the time of this interview, Thornton sits on the Board for the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, The Cleveland Zoological Society and the Cuyahoga Community College Fund. He is involved with The First Tee of Cleveland Program and Leadership Cleveland while also serving on the Board of Trustees for Nyack College. In addition to giving back, Thornton also works as the president and CEO of ASW Global, a supply chain company located in Mogadore.
Even with so much going on in his life right now, Thornton still looks back fondly on his memories of his playing days—specifically his time with the Indians. It was a playing career that spanned 14 seasons, the final ten of which came on the shores of Lake Erie. A 27-year-old Thornton was traded to the Indians from the Montreal Expos after the 1976 season.
“I can hardly remember now because it’s been so long,” Thornton said of being traded, “but I knew that it was a good opportunity. Getting out of Montreal was not a bad idea.”
Thornton played less than 70 games with the Expos as he had spent most of his previous time playing with the Chicago Cubs. Although he was always a productive player beforehand, Thornton really flexed his muscles upon his arrival in Cleveland. Thornton showed the baseball world that his nickname of “Thunder” was more than just something that sounded good.
“My brother had the name Thunder,” Thornton said of his nickname. “I think it just traveled down through the family, but originally it was with my older brother.”
Thornton’s debut in Cleveland was fantastic, as his first two seasons were the two finest of his career to date. He blasted 61 home runs and drove home 175 during his first two seasons with the Tribe, but while Thunder Thornton’s thunderous bat held up its end of the bargain, his teammates did not.
“I think it was frustrating for all of us that we didn’t play better or have the ability to compete at the level that we wanted to,” Thornton said of the Indians teams that finished over .500 just three times during his time spent in Cleveland. “I think that we were all a little disappointed in that. But you play where you’re given the opportunity to play and you do the best that you can.”
Thunder manned first base during the late 70’s for the Tribe but switched to become the regular DH by 1982. Coincidence or not, the ’82 season was perhaps the finest of Thornton’s career and would send him to his first of two All-Star Games.
“It certainly was a tremendous honor,” Thornton said of his experiences in the Midsummer Classics, “but the biggest thing was that I got a hit in one of them. That was exciting!”
Being a regular in the designated hitter not only saves wear and tear on a players body, but also allowed Thornton to hone the finest point of his game.
“Certainly, if you’re a full-time DH, your focus is going to be centralized on hitting and focusing on what you need to do from that position,” Thornton said. “You have to look at it just like any other position on the field. Everybody has a responsibility. Your responsibility as a DH is to try to drive in runs.”
And did he ever.
Thornton drove in a career-high 116 runs in 1982 and continued to drive them in over the following three years. Injuries started to take their toll on the slugger in 1986 and eventually ended his career in 1987. Thunder finished his ten-year stretch with the Indians with over 1,000 hits, 214 home runs and 749 RBI. The home run and RBI totals placed Thornton fourth and eighth on the Indians all-time list, respectively, but he has since been pushed down three spots on both lists by Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez.
A patient hitter, Thornton finished his 14-year playing career with 876 walks compared to just 851 strikeouts. A sharp contrast to today’s free-swinging sluggers, Thunder took pride in limiting his strikeouts as he never struck out more than 93 times in a season.
“I believe that when I came up the culture of the game was different,” Thornton said. “A strikeout was considered to be something unproductive. If you were a young player trying to come up in the late 60’s or early 70’s and you struck out a lot you probably were not going to be on a Major League team.”
For his thunderous career in Cleveland, Thornton was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame in the summer of 2007.
“It was a huge honor,” Thornton said. “You’re always appreciative of those kinds of awards and I certainly was.”
Now, Thornton can be a part of Cleveland forever.
Photo: Rich Pilling/Getty Images