Jim Thome hasn’t seen live pitching since October 2012…and hasn’t talked about retirement in even longer.
Until Saturday night.
“I had always hoped I could do it as a Cleveland Indian and, this afternoon, I signed an honorary one-day contract so that I could make a dream come true,” the five-time All-Star told the crowd at Progressive Field. “I am humbled and grateful, after a 25-year career, I am officially retiring as a member of the Cleveland Indians.”
And to mark the occasion, the Tribe unveiled a statue of the team’s all-time home run leader near the very spot where Thome, on July 3, 1999, hit a 511-foot home run…still the longest in the ballpark’s 20-year history.
“I want people to walk by the statue 50 years from now and go, ‘Those Cleveland Indians teams of the ’90s were really, really good,'” Thome said.
“It’s thrilling, surreal, amazing,” Thome’s wife Andrea added. “I think if he had a quiet moment to stand up there by himself and look at it, he’d probably lose it.”
Thome joins Indians legend Bob Feller as the only two players honored with their own statues. Currently, there aren’t any plans for more, but never say never.
The Paul Bunyan-esque slugger ended his seventh all-time with 612, but will that be enough to get him into Cooperstown in 2018 on his first try when he becomes Hall-eligible alongside Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel and Johnny Damon? Now, I’m not saying all three of those guys are Hall of Famers and milestones are still milestones, but let me ask this…is the 500 home run mark watered down? I’m not convinced it isn’t.
Thome is a guy who hit a bunch of bombs in an era when everyone did. Confused by that statement? Let me put it in perspective. The former first sacker led the league in home runs once…the same amount of time Troy Glaus, Adrian Beltre and Carlos Pena did in the same stretch of time. If anything, Thome is the Webster’s Dictionary definition of “consistent”…not dominant.
Never once, during Thome’s career have I thought of dominant first basemen and come up with his name. Jeff Bagwell? Sure. Albert Pujols? Most definitely. Frank Thomas? Without a doubt.
The case for Thome reads like this, and, yes…it is a good one.
Thome is a prolific power hitter that currently sits between Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa on the all-time home run list. He had six seasons with 40-plus home runs and nine seasons with 100 (or more) RBI seasons. And his career .402 on base percentage and 147 OPS (tied with Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell)? Not too shabby.
But here’s the case against.
Thome’s 2328 hits isn’t all that overwhelming when you take into account Edgar Renteria finished his career at 2327. The slugger won no MVP awards, and, yes, I know he played in at a time when guys like Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were monopolizing the votes, but only one top five finish (fourth in 2003), is inexcusable. I can’t fault Thome for going ringless in two World Series appearances, but his career .211 postseason batting average isn’t anything to write home about.
Heck…he wasn’t even the best player on the Indians during his days in Cleveland.
Was Thome a great player? Yes. Is he a Hall of Famer? Probably…but not on the first couple of ballots. Basically, you’ve got a guy who smacked the Hell out of the ball, but was never the most dominant, player of his era. And because of that, I predict, he’ll get lost in the mix. Also, nearly two-fifths of his games played were as a DH…and ask Harold Baines how that has helped his case to get into Cooperstown without having to open up his wallet.