Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 25
Bob Toth | On 04, Mar 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 25 days
On July 29, Jim Thome will take his place among the other baseball immortals in Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame. Three weeks later, Thome will return home to Cleveland for part of the club’s Hall of Fame celebration in his honor on August 18. On that date, fans in attendance will receive a Thome giveaway jersey in a gesture that would seem to be linked to the likely retirement of his number 25 that evening.
While the Cleveland Indians have not formally announced that Thome’s jersey retirement will be part of the weekend ceremony honoring the club’s first Hall of Famer since Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven gained entrance in 2011, it seems a forgone conclusion that the Tribe will take the opportunity with the slugger in town to place his number among other Indians legends honored in such a way.
The Indians have a history of not retiring numbers of players unless they have become members of the Hall of Fame. With that obstacle out of the way, Thome’s number seems destined to join Earl Averill (3), Lou Boudreau (5), Larry Doby (14), Mel Harder (18), Bob Feller (19), Frank Robinson (20), and Bob Lemon (21) in digits out of circulation. Harder is the only one of this group who is not in the Hall, a well-debated point of contention over decades. Robinson’s 20 was retired last season during his statue ceremony.
The team has also retired the number 42 in the league-wide homage to Jackie Robinson and the number 455 in honor of the one-time record for consecutive sellouts set by Indians fans.
When the Indians erected Thome’s statue in 2014, Jason Giambi was wearing the number 25. In a classy gesture, Giambi switched to the number 72, saying at the time that he wanted Thome to have his old number back on the day that he signed a one-day contract with the Indians to retire as a member of the club that drafted and developed him.
“When he announced that he was retiring today, I said, “Well, the universe has spoken to me,” shared Giambi after the statue unveiling. “That’s the way it’s supposed to go down. I thought no one should ever wear that jersey again.”
Tony Amato, the Indians’ equipment manager who also is in charge of assigning numbers to players, spoke at the time and made his feelings on the matter very clear.
“The jersey will not be re-issued to another Cleveland Indians player because of what Jim Thome meant to this franchise.”
Three and a half years later, the number has not returned to the diamond for the Indians, but the number is not hanging on the walls at Progressive Field with the other numbers formally retired by the club.
Thome made his way into the Hall of Fame this winter by getting votes on 379 of 422 ballots (89.8%) in his first year of eligibility. He will enter with Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman, who were all voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The group is also joined by Jack Morris (a former teammate of Thome’s in Cleveland in 1994) and Alan Trammell, who were voted in as part of the Modern Baseball Era committee in December.
Thome’s deserving resume included 22 big league seasons spread across six different cities. Thirteen of those years were spent in Cleveland, where Thome amassed 337 career home runs, a franchise record. He also spent parts of four seasons in Philadelphia and Chicago with the White Sox, portions of two years with the Minnesota Twins, and several months each with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles.
Thome finished with a career slash of .276/.402/.554 with 612 homers, seventh-most in Major League history at the time of his retirement (and eighth now, behind Albert Pujols).
Thome is one of 29 men to wear the 25 in Indians history. Fay Thomas and Sarge Connally were the first to wear it in 1931. Several bigger names wore it in the years to follow, including Hal Trosky and Odell Hale in 1933, Ken Keltner from 1938 to 1941, Steve Gromek from 1943 to 1947, and Mike Garcia for a long run from 1949 to 1959. It continued to be used throughout the ‘60s, with names like Don Newcombe (1960), Doc Edwards (1962), Vic Davalillo (1963-68), and Russ Nagelson (1968-70) taking it for their own. Several big names of the ‘70s, including Kurt Bevacqua (1971-72), Buddy Bell (1973-78), and Bobby Bonds (1979) made it theirs that decade.
After Thome left the club in free agency for the Phillies following the 2002 season, the number went unused a few years before Ryan Garko brought it back to first base from 2005 to 2009. The late Andy Marte, who was acquired by the Indians to be a power hitting third baseman for the club like Thome was in the early days of his playing career, spent parts of the 2009 and 2010 seasons wearing it before Thome returned to the Tribe in 2011. Vinny Rottino also wore it briefly for the Tribe in 2012 before Giambi took it for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Photo: Ron Vesely/Getty Images