Throw WAR out the door for this one. There was no move that got me more excited for the 2012 season than the signing of the 41-year-old slugger Peoria, IL slugger. Thome’s return to Philadelphia was about a lot more than bench help to many fans: Big Jim wasn’t the man who built the Bank, but he was certainly the man who filled it. Thome was the first star signing in what would become, nearly a decade later, a trend for the normally tight-walleted Phils. When Thome rejoined the team seven years after he last played in Philly, it was a feel-good-story that propagated big “What-If”s.
What if Thome could platoon with Ty Wigginton or John Mayberry? What if Thome still had the power and bat speed he showed just a season before in Minnesota? What if Thome’s body held up to play defense – would he become more than just a part-time player? Phillies’ fans, myself included, had a big wishlish for Big Jim. Unfortunately, Big Jim didn’t have a whole lot of time on the field to check things off that list. Competing in just 30 games for the Phils, seeing the plate only 71 times, Thome battled age and injury to get into the line-up. Along the way, he did provide some memorable moments.
Because Thome’s second trip with the Phillies was so short, it’s almost possible to give an at-bat-by-at-bat synopsis of each. Thome’s playing time was limited early, seeing just 21 trips to the plate in April and hitting .111/.238/.111. Thome looked like he often struggled to catch up to fastballs early on. Thome went on the DL after the April 28 game against the Cubs with a lower back strain that kept him away from the Phils until June 6 against the Dodgers. With the tying run on second in the ninth against one of Thome’s other former teams, Citizen’s Bank Park rose to its feet to welcome Big Jim back. Thome struck out looking with Wigginton on second and the Phillies lost.
Thome would end his time with the Phils, however, with one of the most memorable moments of the 2012 season. Thome hit .295/.380/.682 with 5 HRs, mostly in an Interleague DH role, for the Fightins in June and bailed Jonathan Papelbon out of a blown save against the Rays on June 23 with a walk-off against Jake McGee. Less than a week later, Thome was gone, traded to the Orioles, where he played in 28 games, seeing 115 PA before a herniated disc slowed Thome down. Thome was activated for the surprising Orioles’ playoff appearance, where he went 2 for 15 in the playoffs.
Grade C: It is very hard, for both sentimental and practical sample-size reasons, to give Thome a fair, accurate or honest assessment. Those who expected more were living off of yesterday’s memories, those who expected less were pleasantly surprised. To not cheap out and pick “Incomplete”, I think Thome performed nearly as expected, considering age and health.