Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Jim Thome.
In 1989, the Indians used a 13th round pick in the Major League Baseball draft to take a chance on a Peoria, Ill., native.
And James Howard Thome turned out to be the best draft pick the Tribe ever made, and the living embodiment of the sports cliché. He really was Number 25 on the scorecard and Number One in Indians fans’ hearts.
Thome came up as a skinny third baseman, but blossomed into a power hitter in the Indians’ mighty offenses of the 1990s. After the Indians acquired third baseman Matt Williams in 1997, Thome made the switch from third to first base, but has served almost exclusively as a designated hitter since 2006.
During his time with the Indians from 1991 to 2002, Thome went from becoming one of the prospects that made the bottom end of the Indians lineup as feared as the 3-4-5 spots, to the team’s star player and slugger. In 2002, Thome set a team record with 52 home runs. He also set the team mark for career home runs.
Thome engendered some bitterness when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after the 2002 season, and then played for the Indians’ Central Division rivals the White Sox and Twins, but came back to Cleveland in August 2011, shortly after he slammed his 600th home run, with the Twins against the Tigers, making him the eighth player to reach that milestone.
He did a victory lap in Cleveland, and will get a statue at Progressive Field when he retires – and five years later, will likely get a plaque in Cooperstown.
He holds the record for longest home runs at Jacobs (now Progressive) Field and Target Field in Minneapolis. And he’s a fan favorite wherever he goes. In 2001, he was voted to the all-time Indians team and as a starter. A recent Sports Illustrated player poll identified him as the nicest player in baseball.
Until you’re staring him down at the plate – or watching him come to bat with a man on while your team is clinging to a one-run lead.
Photo: Mark Livy/Cleveland Plain Dealer