You have your opinions on the subject, I have mine. Legendary Tribe first/third baseman Jim Thome was honored with a statue bearing his signature “point the bat” move inside Heritage Park at Progressive Field on Saturday. Jimmy was joined by his wife, two children, and a host of ex-teammates that shared in this special ceremony. Ever the class act and never one to want the spotlight to himself, Thome admitted feeling very uncomfortable with the statue itself.
“I think that was a reflection not on the individual but more on the group,” Thome said. “The front office, the coaches, the manager, the players and the people that come through the door. … I want people to walk by (the statue) in 50 years and say, ‘Those Cleveland Indians teams in the mid-90s were really, really good.'”
It wasn’t just the statue on Saturday night, Thome surprised everyone by signing a one-day contract with the Indians and officially announcing his retirement from Baseball, something he hadn’t done as of yet. It was only fitting for the Tribe’s all-time home run king. He grew from a boy to a man in Cleveland and made his one mistake along the way, but his return in 2011 washed away all of that and brought back some of the goodwill that was lost when Thome left for Philadelphia in 2003.
“There was a lot of anxiety and a lot of anxiousness,” Thome said of his 2011 return. “That first night when I got introduced and the crowd cheered me, that’s something I won’t forget. You leave a place and ultimately you want to be accepted back. They still showed their love and excitement for what we did for a long time here.”
The capper of the evening was when Big Jim came to throw out the first pitch to his old teammate Sandy Alomar Jr. Just beforehand, injured designated hitter Jason Giambi came out and handed Thome his No. 25 jersey and it was announced that the number will no longer be given out. The Indians have a long standing tradition of only retiring a jersey number once a player goes into the Hall of Fame, something that Thome will assuredly do.
Said Giambi: “When he announced that he was retiring today, I said, ‘Well, the universe has spoken to me.’ That’s the way it’s supposed to go down. I thought no one should ever wear that jersey again.”
It was a beautiful gesture on a perfect night for baseball. The Indians went on to win 2-0 behind lefty T.J. House and the bullpen. After the win, the fans were treated to a postgame fireworks show to the sounds of Tom Hamilton calling Jim Thome home runs.
I have made it no secret that Jim Thome is my all-time favorite Indian. I am on the record by saying I don’t care that he left when he did and I supported him doing so. For the 10,000th time: he didn’t owe us anything. The Indians went into full rebuild mode and while the Indians gave Thome a five-year contract offer, it was severely backloaded. The Phillies were desperate to make a big splash as they moved into their new ballpark and were not going to be outbid, they went to six years and a higher average annual value. Spare me the “he wasn’t loyal” routine. In the prime of his career, was he supposed to waste years playing for a team that had zero chance to contend for less money just to appease the fans?
“Oh, but he lied to us when he said they would have to rip the jersey off his back.” I’m sure at the time he said it, it was true. But things changed. Ownership changed. The payroll was being gutted. I’d like to see any of you turn down an extra $24 million and a chance to actually win instead of toiling in last place. Think about what he did when he was here. He was the all time home run king. Every single year he was a rock in the middle of the lineup and played the game the right way. To a man, I defy you to find a teammate who didn’t love playing with Thome. Back in 2011, before his return to the Indians, I wrote a piece describing why I will always love Big Jim. This part bears repeating:
Good friends of ours lost a daughter 13 years ago to Cystic Fibrosis at age 17. She struggled with her illness for years and was in and out of the hospital. Now I didn’t know them at that time. So one day I’m telling them a story about when my late father threw out the first pitch on his 60th birthday at Jacobs Field and how Thome was so nice to him talking before the game. They began to tell me how big Jim used to show up unannounced regularly to come and visit their daughter at the hospital and she didn’t even know who he was when he first arrived. They said he would sit with her for an hour or more, just talking. Never with reporters, never with cameras, he would just show up on his own accord.
He did this all summer long. My friends to this day say they have the utmost respect for him because he didn’t need to go to the hospital to visit her, he did because he wanted to. He’d come in quietly and leave quietly.
All class. That is what Gentleman Jim is all about.
With all of that said, with all that he did as a member of the Indians, it doesn’t mean he deserves the statue. Again, the guy is my all time favorite player, but a statue should be reserved for the likes of Bob Feller and Larry Doby—transcendent players who were more than the game of baseball. A statue of the core group of the mid 90’s group—say Sandy Alomar Jr., Kenny Lofton, Thome, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, and Charles Nagy—would have been a perfect idea. Thome essentially is now representing them, which isn’t so bad, but it just leaves too much room for discussion and debate. It seems as though the trade for Thome in 2011 and the statue announcement just came so quickly and wasn’t really thought through.
But now it really doesn’t matter. The very cool looking statue is there and I for one and proud to have been there to see the entire evening go down. I give our own Jon Steiner credit for nailing the entire statue situation perfectly:
A day removed, I’d describe the Thome thing as “well done, but horribly conceived.” Which is not a bad metaphor for Indians last decade.
— Jon (@WFNYJon) August 3, 2014
(photo via Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)