Jim Thome didn't spend enough time in red pinstripes to legitimately be considered one of the greatest players in Phillies' franchise history, but he did spend just enough time in Philadelphia to leave to leave an indelible mark on a fan-base rabid for blue collar tenacity and passion.
For his fan-loving efforts over 3 1/2 seasons, Thome was enshrined on the Phillies' Wall of Fame on Friday night.
"Over night he changed the way people looked at the Phillies," said former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in his induction speech. "All of the sudden the Phillies were on magazine covers and national TV. Everything changed that year. He took a city hungry for a winner and did everything in his power to take it where they wanted to go."
Thome's arrival in Philadelphia prior to the 2003 season signified a change in culture for the organization. A prized free agent, he came to Philadelphia and in endearing fashion shook hands with construction workers building Citizens Bank Park. He was the torch that brought down the walls of Veterans Stadium and built the beauty of Ashburn Alley.
"I don't think one guy changes things, but what happens is one guy signs and other guys follow," said Thome. "Even though you don't see a world championship at that moment, eventually you are working towards that.
"(Former GM and assistant GM) Ed Wade and Ruben (Amaro), (President Dave) Montgomery told us what the plan was moving into the park, to put us in position for what Philadelphia could be. There's always an unknown, but for me I felt the love not only from the organization but the contractors, the electricians, the city. You could see there was something special here about to occur."
Thome performed as billed during his first two seasons with the Phillies, crushing 89 homers and driving in 236 runs. However, injuries plagued the slugger in 2005 and ultimately Ryan Howard emerged as a younger and similarly strong option at first base. Howard went on to win Rookie of the Year honors in 2006.
Thome was traded to the Chicago White Sox for a package that included Aaron Rowand, another player that helped push the Phillies to a title but wasn't here to enjoy it.
"Jim Thome, Ed Wade and Aaron Rowand all impacted that team that won," said Manuel. "I remember thinking that when we won it."
With Howard at first, the Phillies triumphed to five straight division titles, two National League crowns and the World Series title.
“I wouldn’t call it a disappointment,” Thome said of moving on before the Phillies began their run of success. “The business of the game happens. Look, Ryan Howard was emerging into a monster. Unfortunately (the National League) didn’t have a (designated hitter). It would have been great to have him and I in the middle of the lineup. I get it. Trust me, at that point in my career, I didn’t look at it as being bitter and look at it as coulda, woulda, shoulda – things happen."
Thome returned to Philadelphia in 2012, but he played in just 30 games before being traded to Baltimore.
"I was so happy they were able to accomplish that," said Thome "I wasn't bitter. You generally have to root for people you care about. I was generally happy for the city and organization. "They told me they would build a winner. And they did."
Thome never won a World Series, but he was a five-time All-Star and finished his 22-year career with 612 home runs - seventh most in baseball history. He is a near certain lock for enshrinement in Cooperstown when he becomes eligible in 2018.
“It’s really cool, it’s really a special thing to be honored like that by an organization,” he continued. “Baseball Hall of Fames- they just don’t give people that honor. … I just feel so honored that they would think of me to put me in.”