There are few times that growing up playing a sport coincides with a hometown professional sports team’s greatest run.
The Boston Celtics in the 60s
The Pittsburgh Steelers in the 70s
The San Francisco 49ers in the 80s
The Cleveland Indians in the 90s
Sure, the latter didn’t win a championship, but man, it was such a fun time to start playing a sport. Everybody on my tee ball team had their player, and it happened to match the position they played. Naturally, as our team’s first baseman, my guy was Jim Thome. It worked out well that he was already my favorite player.
For those who are living under a rock — Jim Thome was recently elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first attempt. Because of that, I felt compelled to reminisce about him as a player and a person in addition to where he stands among baseball’s greatest players.
I think I remember Jim’s swing most of all. I think everyone who watched the Indians does. He would step into the box and set his feet while the catcher was giving the pitcher the sign. As he was digging his feet in, he would reach out with his bat in his right hand, not calling his shot, just pointing it to ready himself (fun fact: that didn’t start until 1993 and it was because of Roy Hobbs in The Natural believe it or not). His stance was slightly open, and he would twirl the bat back into his left hand where he would tuck his head into his left shoulder. When he got a pitch he liked, his swing was a thing of beauty, and the ball would go a long way.
I have never seen another human hit the ball as effortlessly and as far as Jim Thome. The man was 6’3” and 240 pounds of pure power. No juice, no substances. Just pure, corn-fed, Peoria, IL power. And maybe that’s why I hold him in high regard. All the media members that talk about Jim say how kind he was. All the players that played with him say the same thing. In fact, he was voted nicest player by his colleagues and the fans in independent votes.
He’s 53rd all-time on the career WAR list (72.3) and 8th all-time in career homeruns (612). He had 20+ homeruns in 18/20 seasons at one point (he’s also 2nd all-time in strikeouts, but we’ll let that slide). During the mid-90s, he was one of the most feared power hitters in all of baseball.
The fact that he’s made it into the Hall of Fame means that I don’t need to get into his stats – they speak for themselves. I don’t know what else I can say about Jim. He was my favorite player growing up, he went on to do great things for other teams, got a statue outside Progressive Field, and now, will enter the Hall of Fame as an Indian. Life seems to have come full circle from a baseball perspective for me.