History

Roundtable: Favorite Jim Thome Memory

Jim Thome at Spring Training in 2012. Photo Courtesy: Brian Michael (Phillies Nation)

Jim Thome at Spring Training in 2012. Photo Courtesy: Brian Michael (Phillies Nation)

Jim Thome’s plaque will forever hang in Ashburn Alley, as he will be inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame this weekend.  Thome, a fan-favorite,  had two seperate stints with the Philadelphia Phillies.  His stellar career earned him a spot in the Phillies Wall of Fame, and a spot in Cooperstown may not be too far away.

Jim Thome had an All Star career with the Cleveland Indians in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  When he became a free agent after the 2002 season, the Phillies signed him to a 6-year, $85 million contract.  With a new ballpark set to open in 2004, Thome was deemed to be the face of the franchise.

In 2005, Thome suffered an elbow injury that caused him to miss most of the season.  This gave rookie Ryan Howard a chance to prove himself in the Major Leagues.  Because Howard was entering his prime after winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 2005, the Phillies traded Thome to the Chicago White Sox.

Thome found his way back to Philadelphia in 2012 for a half season.  Tables turned, as Thome filled in for the injured Howard.

During his 4 seasons with the Phillies, Thome batted .260 with 101 home runs.  He had a .925 OPS and 281 RBI with Philadelphia.  It wasn’t just his play on the field that made Thome a fan-favorite. His humble attitude, community involvement, and nice-guy personality made him beloved by both players and fans.

With Thome being recognized this weekend, the Phillies Nation crew shared some of their most favorite Jim Thome memories.

Tim Malcolm: Back in June 2004, after I returned home to Philadelphia from my sophomore year at Boston University, I was eager to visit the new Citizens Bank Park for the first time. I circled the first home game available after the Phils’ long early June road trip.

I grew up in the yellow and orange seats of Veterans Stadium, gazing awestruck at the Liberty Bell way out on the roof in center field, always surrounded by two scoreboards that advertised Bell Atlantic, PECO or Coca-Cola.

My favorite quirk was the yellow star symbolizing Willie Stargell’s titanic home run, recorded as the longest in the stadium’s history (in its third month of existence, by the way). Growing up a Phillies fan in the late 1980s and 1990s, I didn’t have a timber-wielding slugger like “Pops.” Mike Schmidt had faded away. Guys like Pete Incaviglia and Darren Daulton, Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu flashed power, but never at the prodigious rate of a Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa or Ken Griffey Jr. The concept of an automatic home run threat seemed so distant, part of a mythical galaxy I couldn’t ever understand. It was so foreign that I followed every Benito Santiago at bat in 1996, rooting him on as he touched 30 home runs. A 30-home-run hitter. That’s what the Phillies had.

That changed on December 6, 2002, when Jim Thome signed with the Phillies. Thome was coming off a 52-homer season in 2002. He was 32, completely matured as an automatic home run threat and one of the biggest sluggers in baseball. And in 2003 he proved just that, leading the majors with 47 dingers and pushing the Phils into the wild card race into the final week of the season. He was also closing in on 400 career home runs, the kind of milestone that back in 2004 held a fantastical weight. Thome was among giants, surely to reach the Hall of Fame one day, and he was ours.

He was sitting on No. 399 as the Phillies came home from their road trip on June 14, 2004. That was the game I circled. Standing-room ticket in hand, I rode the train down to Citizens Bank Park.

The stadium buzzed before the game. I walked around the new park for an hour before first pitch, finally settling at a table in the left-center field area. The Reds jumped on Eric Milton early, posting two runs thanks to a Sean Casey home run. Then, in the bottom of the first, Thome got his shot.

Jimmy Rollins singled. After Placido Polanco and Bobby Abreu made outs, Thome walked up to a standing ovation. After seven pitches, Jose Acevedo fed Thome a breaking ball. He jumped on it.

Thome rounded the bases and took a curtain call, and Pat Burrell quickly deposited an Acevedo pitch over the fence for back-to-back jacks. It was the first great moment in the new ballpark’s history, and confirmation that the Citizens Bank Park Phillies weren’t your father’s Phils. But for me, Thome’s 400th blast was the feeling of a little hole closing up. My team finally had a timber-wielding slugger. And he was one of the all-time greats.

Amanda Orr: My favorite Jim Thome memory may be an obvious choice, but it was probably the happiest I’ve ever been for a baseball player and his family.  I can still replay Jim Thome’s 400th career home run perfelctly in my head: the stance, the swing, the opposite field smash into the first row of the left-center field seats. I can still hear the legendary Harry Kalas’ narration, “Number 400… for Jim Thome! Take a bow big man!”

I remember watching players swarm him outside the dugout while his wife danced in circles with their daughter.  I remember being filled with such elation and happiness. It was truly a great moment for Thome, and the fans of Philadelphia.

Jay Floyd:  My favorite Jim Thome memory is one that took place months before the Hall of Famer ever put on a Phillies jersey. The last game of the 2002 home schedule for the Phillies was rained out. I drove to The Vet with a friend, unaware of the impact the weather had, with a decision being made early to call off the contest. Arriving to an empty parking lot, we decided to park and head down to the players’ entrance to try and meet some people. Jimmy Rollins and Jose Mesa are among the individuals I recall talking to that evening. Another member of Phillies personnel that I interacted with was general manager Ed Wade. While exiting the wooden barricades meant to keep fans at an acceptable distance from the doors, my friend or I jokingly said to Wade, “Gotta sign Jim Thome this winter!”, or something along those lines.

Bringing the American League’s OPS leader over to a club that had losing records in eight of the previous nine seasons seemed like fantasy. A far-out, impossible feat that was simply something Phillies fans could cross their fingers for, knowing they’d be disappointed later.

Wade’s response to the jestful remark was a chuckle and a “Yeah. You know it!”

That off-season, the Phils signed Thome. Wade courted the slugger and a new era was born. Suddenly, the message was sent that Philadelphia was a destination for big names in baseball. Things had changed for the Phillies. It was likely a precursor to Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee arriving in the City of Brotherly Love.

Thome wasn’t part of the years and teams that will become known as a dynasty, when the Phils won five consecutive division titles beginning in 2007 (he was traded following the 2005 season), but his arrival in the city was the dawn of that era as Thome became a mentor for the Phillies stars that would lead that eventual playoff powerhouse.

Brian Michael: My favorite Jim Thome moment was seeing him at Spring Training in 2012 during his second stint with the Phillies. The big league club team had a game, but Jim was practicing first base with the minor leaguers. He knew that if he wanted playing time in the National League that he had to work on his fielding. It was amazing to see how humble he was, playing on a small field and sitting in a chain-link dugout. It was especially noticeable while he was giving hitting advice to his teammates who were two decades his younger. I’m sure they appreciated the advice. Phillies fans definitely appreciated Jim.

Corey Sharp: I don’t remember too much about Jim Thome in his first go-around with the team at the end of the Vet and the opening of Citizens Bank era. I was very young, but I remember that he was signed as the face of the franchise as the new ballpark was arriving in 2004. The fondest memory I have of Thome was in his second stint with the Phils in 2012. In a game in late June, I went to a restaurant/sports bar and the Phils happened to be playing the Tampa Bay Rays late in the afternoon. Thome went deep for a walk off home run. As the the ball the was traveling, the restaurant was was silent. When the ball cleared the fence, the place erupted with a loud roar. For whatever reason, that’s something I’ll always remember. Much of Thome’s role in the 2012 season came in the form of pinch hitting, something he wasn’t used to. However, Thome embraced it, didn’t complain, and went about with class.

Ryan Gerstel: While my Phillies fan career started a little too late to truly appreciate Jim Thome’s time in Philadelphia, I’ve recognized his Hall of Fame career and what his presence on the Phillies’ roster meant to the future of the franchise. My fondest memory of Thome was during his second stint with the Phils back in 2012. Tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth with the Tampa Bay Rays, Thome delivered a walk-off pinch hit HR to seal the victory, which just so happened to be Charlie Manuel’s 900th career managerial win. It was one of the few moments during the 2012 season that gave me goosebumps.

Mike Murphy: I was fairly young when Jim Thome was a Phillie for the first time, but I cannot tell you how excited I was when I heard he was coming back. I remember watching him with the White Sox after he was traded there and just wishing the Phillies were an American League team with a DH so both Thome and Ryan Howard could play in the same lineup. Imagine the power the Phillies would have had on top of Howard, Chase, Utley, Jimmy Rollins and company.

When Thome came back, I remember hoping that he would somehow provide a spark for that team to make a run at the playoffs again. Just one more shot. Obviously it didn’t happen as a rebuild was imminent. For those who didn’t get a chance to see Thome’s first stint in Philadelphia, his return gave a glimpse into the past and a sample of what he used to do when he first came to the City of Brotherly Love.

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