Thome Returns to the House He Helped Build
Bob Toth | On 18, Aug 2018
Longtime Cleveland Indians slugger Jim Thome and five other legends of Major League Baseball’s storied history took their places in the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29 as their successful careers earned them a place among the immortals of the game.
On Saturday, August 18, Thome returned home to Cleveland as the Indians organization honored him in a ceremony prior to the team’s game against one of his other former clubs, the Baltimore Orioles.
During the ceremony, the team announced the formal retirement of Thome’s jersey number 25, which has been in unofficial retirement since Jason Giambi last wore the number in 2014.
Thome, now 47, spent 22 years working towards that bronze plaque, and by most accounts, was a worthy pick of induction on his first year of eligibility on the ballot after receiving 379 of 422 votes (89.8%). His time on the diamond included 2,543 games, trips through six different cities, and ten stints playing under the spotlight of meaningful October baseball. He was a five-time All-Star, he hit 30 or more homers in a season a dozen different times, and he had nine different campaigns with 100 RBI or more. He had just as many seasons with more than 100 walks, and when he retired from the game in 2012, he had amassed the sixth-most home runs (612) in Major League history (since surpassed by Alex Rodriguez with 696 and Albert Pujols with 632 and counting). Thome is the Indians’ all-time leader in homers (337) as well as walks (1,008) and intentional walks (87).
In honor of the Indians’ newest Hall of Famer (the 13th to go into Cooperstown representing Cleveland), here is a look back on some of Thome’s accomplishments from the early days of his 22-year career.
LOTS OF FIRSTS
DATE: Wednesday, September 4, 1991
LOCATION: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
SITUATION: Thome was a September call-up for the Indians in just his third professional season after being selected in the 13th round of the 1989 June amateur draft out of Illinois Central College, not far from his Peoria, Illinois, hometown. He hit seventh in manager Mike Hargrove’s lineup and started at third base in the number 59, just eight days after his 21st birthday. He made four total trips to the plate on the day as the Indians earned an 8-4 win on the road against the Minnesota Twins.
The Indians were already trailing 3-0 when he made his first career MLB plate appearance in the top of the second, striking out swinging on the eighth pitch of his at bat against right-hander David West. He would notch his first big league hit, a single to third, against Tom Edens in the fourth with the Indians on top, 4-3, and came around to score his first MLB run on a two-out single to right by Alex Cole. His third at bat came against current Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, who induced a fly ball to left to end the fifth, and in his final at bat of the day, he earned his first career RBI with a single through the hole on the left side of the infield off of Terry Leach to drive in Carlos Martinez with the eighth and final run of the game.
“I’d like to have a lot more games like that,” said Thome after the game in a quote from the September 5, 1991, edition of The Plain Dealer. “After the first hit, I relaxed. Then I knew everything would fall into place.”
YOU’LL GO PLACES
DATE: Friday, October 4, 1991
LOCATION: Yankee Stadium II
SITUATION: Thome came to the plate in a big moment with the Indians trailing the New York Yankees by a 2-1 score in the top of the ninth. With a 1-for-3 day to his credit with a single against Alan Mills, Thome was the last hope for the Tribe. Mark Whiten began the inning with a strikeout looking against Lee Guetterman before Reggie Jefferson reached with a single. Former (and future) Cleveland right-hander Steve Farr was summoned from the bullpen for the Yankees and he retired Jerry Browne on a first pitch fly ball to center for the second out. In stepped Thome, with what would be an unfamiliar number six on his back. He took ball one out of the zone, then belted an upper deck moonshot to the third deck in right to put the Indians on top, 3-2, with a memorable first Major League home run. Steve Olin retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth to secure his 17th save.
“The last eight times Greg Swindell has touched my bat, I’ve gotten a hit,” Thome was quoted by Paul Hoynes in the October 5, 1991, edition of The Plain Dealer. “Before I hit in the ninth, I went running up the tunnel and into the clubhouse and had Swindell touch my bat again. After the game, Greg said, “Stick with me kid and you’ll go places.”
A WALK-OFF WINNER
DATE: Wednesday, June 15, 1994
LOCATION: Jacobs Field
SITUATION: As The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes announced after the Indians’ 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays this night, the Indians were “hotter than the Cleveland weather, a bowl full of jalapeno peppers and Satan’s pitchfork”. It was the handiwork of Thome who extended the team’s home winning streak to 14 straight games with a walk-off home run in the 13th inning as Cleveland completed a rally from down three runs in the first three innings.
Facing right-hander Scott Brow, Thome drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in dead center, one inning after the Indians left the bases loaded in the 12th with one out. Thome went 3-for-6 on the night, adding a hustle bloop double to his offensive contribution out of the eight-hole.
Thome’s recent adjustment at the plate, which involved wrapping the bat around his head, had a lot to do with improved play at the time. “Jimmy had the bat wrapped around his head and his swing was long to the ball,” said then-hitting instructor Charlie Manuel in a June 15, 1994, story in The Plain Dealer. “We’ve gotten him to bring the bat out more and to open up his hips.”
“By wrapping the bat, it was causing me to not get to the inside pitches very well,” said Thome in the same story. “A lot of the credit goes to Charlie. His job is to find things that you’re doing wrong, and he did that.
“Charlie and I have a real good relationship. I’m very grateful for the things he’s done to help me. I’m glad he’s here.”
THRICE AS NICE
DATE: Friday, July 22, 1994
LOCATION: Jacobs Field
SITUATION: On June 22, Thome hit a pair of solo home runs in a 9-6 win in Detroit over the Tigers. A month later, he would do one better.
Hitting in the third spot in the order for the injured Carlos Baerga, Thome launched three blasts over the Jacobs Field walls during a hitting tear in the top third of the order while facing the Chicago White Sox to help earn fellow 2018 Hall of Famer Jack Morris earn his ninth win of the season. Morris allowed six runs on eleven hits in five innings that day, but he had a big early lead off of the Sox to protect him.
Thome started his day with a solo bomb in the first off of future Tribe coach Jason Bere, the first half of back-to-back shots with Albert Belle and one of three homers in the inning. The next inning, he hit the team’s second homer of the frame, this one off of Scott Sanderson. He made it an incredible three straight at bats with a homer by leading off the fifth with his third solo homer of the game, taking Sanderson deep again. He grounded into a double play in his final chance to match the MLB’s single-game homer record.
“It’s something you dream about doing,” said Thome in the July 23, 1994, edition of The Plain Dealer. “My teammates couldn’t believe it, like me. I don’t think I’ve never hit three home runs before. Maybe in Pee-Wee league off a tee or something.”
Unfortunately for Thome and the surging Tribe, the season would end in three weeks due to the players’ strike.
GOING TO EUCLID
DATE: Wednesday, June 7, 1995
LOCATION: Jacobs Field
SITUATION: Thome was 0-for-3 on the day through nine innings, but one bonus at bat in extra innings gave Thome another chance to celebrate in walk-off fashion. Detroit right-hander Brian Maxcy, facing Thome to lead off the tenth, pitched himself into a mess by throwing the slugger three straight balls. The next offering was a fastball down the middle and Thome did not miss. The screamer to right walked the Indians off with a 3-2 win and a sweep of the Motor City Kitties. It was the club’s tenth win in their last at bat in 1995 and the 19th walk-off since Cleveland’s gem opened the season before.
“Charlie [Manuel] taught me to try to hit the ball onto Euclid Avenue when you have the count 2-0 or 3-0 in your favor,” Thome was quoted in the June 8, 1995, Plain Dealer. “I didn’t quite make it.
“I got the go-ahead on 3-0 from Grover [manager Mike Hargrove]. I was looking for a pitch out in front of the plate. One I could hit into the upper deck and I got one. I knew it when I hit it.”
Walk-off celebrations would be a staple to the exciting 1995 season for the Tribe.
DATE: Friday, September 8, 1995
LOCATION: Jacobs Field
SITUATION: The night before, the Indians secured a Wild Card berth in the new playoff format when they improved to 85-37 behind a 4-1 win over Seattle. They punched the ticket to a full postseason entry the next night, and Thome was in the center of things.
After the Wild Card lock, Thome shared with The Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manoloff in a September 8, 1995, story regarding clinching the American League Central Division that “We definitely want to do it in front of our fans. That would be something special. They deserve it as much as we do.”
In front of 41,656 fans at Jacobs Field, the Indians took a three-run lead in the third on a sacrifice fly and a two-run single. Thome was 0-for-4 hitting in the sixth spot, but he made the biggest contribution that night to end 41 years of suffering in the city of Cleveland. With closer Jose Mesa on looking for his 40th save of the year, he got the first two outs before walking Chris Hoiles to put the tying run on base. Two pitches later, Jeff Huson popped up softly towards Thome at third. A step to the left of the bag, Thome closed his leathered left hand around the fresh baseball, left his arm momentarily raised in celebration, and then sprinted towards his mobbing teammates in the center of the diamond as the Indians were AL Central Division champions and guaranteed a playoff series for the first time since 1954, ending a 41-year drought.
“To catch the last out in a game like that is a thrill,” said Thome that night, according to The Plain Dealer’s Hoynes on September 9, 1995.
THE BAT FLIP
DATE: Sunday, October 15, 1995
LOCATION: Jacobs Field
SITUATION: The 100-win Indians knocked off the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, ending their playoff win drought at 47 years. But they had to fight with the 79-66 Seattle Mariners in the American League Championship Series. The Indians had fallen behind the Mariners, two games to one, before Thome helped the club with a homer in a 7-0 win in Game 4. He was right back at it in Game 5, and his hit would prove to be the difference.
The Tribe was trailing 2-1 as Seattle’s Chris Bosio and Cleveland’s Orel Hershiser were locked in a pitchers’ duel. Through the first five innings, the Indians had mustered just four hits, but Eddie Murray got things going with a line drive double to right. Thome took two balls from the M’s right-hander. The third offering was thigh high and in Thome’s wheelhouse that night, as he launched the ball to the second deck in right and his bat with an emphatic flip towards the Seattle dugout, giving the Indians a 3-2 lead.
They held on to win by that final and took a 3-2 lead in the series. They finished off the Mariners on the 17th to return to the World Series for the first time since 1954.
Photo: AP Photo/Mark Duncan
Video: MLB.com via YouTube