Philly fan-favorite Jim Thome elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

Jim Thome knew the phone call was coming Wednesday night, but that knowledge didn't diminish his joy once he heard it ring.

Thome, listed on the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility, will be enshrined in July in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He received 89.8 percent of the votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, easily surpassing the 75-percent required to earn a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Thome was one of the premier sluggers of his generation. In a time where other power hitters sought performance enhancers and steroids, he was clean and excelled without suspicion. He is one of just nine players to hit 600 home runs and one of five to hit 500 home runs, drive in 1,600 runs, score 1,500 runs, and walk 1,700 times.

"Watching him hit was something I looked forward to on a daily basis," said former teammate Chase Utley. "He was clearly an unbelievable hitter but somehow an even better person. Jim is a once-in-a-lifetime player and person and I’m honored to have witnessed part of his career firsthand."

The Phillies inked Thome to a six-year, $85 million deal before the 2003 season. The signing signified a change in culture for an organization looking to achieve success while moving from Veterans Stadium to Citizens Bank Park; the Phillies were a big-market team now ready to spend and win.

"Jim's signing was a transformative moment for our organization," Phillies chairman David Montgomery said.

The love affair between Thome and Philadelphia sparked instantly. His hardhat-lunchpail approach to his craft mirrored the mentality of the average Philadelphia fan. An infectious smile coupled with a likable personality, he quickly became a fan-favorite.



“Philadelphia made an impact on me,” Thome said. “When I went there, I only knew one thing, and that was Cleveland. I love Philadelphia to this day. It’s something I embrace. The fans treated me so great there, and I truly, truly loved every moment. The fans motivated me. They push you, and they can be really tough, but as a player, I have to tell you, that’s what drove me to try and be better.

“The one thing I love about playing in Philadelphia is that it’s about going out every day and giving everything you have and hustling to the degree that you’re just there every day in that moment. That’s what I love the most about Philly. It was intense every day, and I loved it so much.”

Thome spent three seasons in Philadelphia before being dealt following the rise of Ryan Howard. He returned in 2012 for a final season to finish a 22-year big league career.

"Jim and I enjoyed many memorable moments together, not the least of which was when I ‘passed the torch’ to him when we closed the Vet," said Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. "That was a moment I won’t soon forget. When Jim came to the plate, nobody went to the concession stand. Behind the scenes, Jim has an upbeat personality and what I always admired about him was that he was always willing to listen and wanted to learn from others despite how much he had accomplished.

"He would always pick my brain and loved to talk hitting, which was a byproduct of his unique relationship with Charlie Manuel. Jim will go down as one of the greatest hitters of all time. Baseball in his blood and I can’t wait to sit behind him when he is making his speech. I’ll be the first one to shake his hand and say, ‘Welcome to the club’ as he deserves this honor as much as anyone."

The relationship between Thome and Manuel is well documented and spans more than 25 years. The two met in Cleveland and were reunited in Philadelphia.

“I couldn’t be happier for Jim, who is like a son to me,” Manuel said. “This is totally deserving, and, for me, ranks up there with anything I’ve ever seen happen in the game of baseball. For someone that I met as a 19-year-old and saw improve as much as anyone over time, it makes me smile to think that all that hard work, all those swings in the batting cage, is now paying off for him."
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BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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