The Story: Jim Thome’s 600th Home Run On August 15th, Jim Thome hit two homers, robbing baseball of covering every at-bat for a few days, as he smashed his 599th and 600th homers in consecutive at-bats as the Twins defeated the Tigers in Detroit, 9-6.
My Two Cents:
Jim Thome is one of the good guys in baseball, every bit as much as Derek Jeter, who hit a career milestone this year as well with his 3,000th hit. Thome has been every bit as quiet and every bit as gentlemanly. And, with all of the whispers of steroids around baseball for the better part of the past two decades, Thome and Jeter had one more thing in common: they reportedly did it clean.
A look at Thome's career statistics shows the five teams on which he played. He played on two World Series teams, but his Indians lost in 1995 to the Braves and in 1997 to the Marlins. He rose to prominence with Cleveland and his latest feat was in Minnesota. For all of the highlights I have seen of Jim Thome's career since last night, I have not seen any highlight of Thome in a Phillies uniform. If you overlook Jim Thome in a Phillies uniform, you are overlooking the start of an unparallel Phillies run, the likes of which the franchise has never seen.
I remember the 2002-03 offseason when Thome was a free agent. He took a meeting with the Phillies' front office and it was a joke. I mean, Thome signing with the Phillies? It was a pipe dream. Yes, the Phillies overpaid on a huge 6-year, $85 million deal, but the fact that any top free agent was willing to sign with Philadelphia was news. This is not the 4-time defending National League East Champion Phillies, not the 2008 World Series Champion Phillies. These were the Scott Rolen, Mike Lieberthal, Doug Glanville, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, and Bobby Abreu Phillies. Travis Lee was the incumbent first baseman. When he was traded to Chicago after the 2005 season, in which he sustained a season-ending elbow injury, Ryan Howard took over. He was also the bridge between Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel, Marlon Anderson and Chase Utley, and Jose Mesa and Ryan Madson.
But, he was more than a bridge. Much like what he helped accomplished in Cleveland, he was part of a rebirth of a franchise. The sad-sack Indians turned into perennial playoff entrants. The Phillies won 86 games in his first season in South Philly (2003), 86 the next year, and 88 the final year, of which he did not have that much to contribute because of his injury. But, by then, the Phillies were a different team.
You can, and should, give a lot of credit to Bowa, Rolen, Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell. The Phillies were far from baseball royalty when Thome signed his big deal with Philadelphia. He provided the big piece to give the Phillies league-wide credibility from other teams and other free agents. Would recent free agents like Cliff Lee sign with the Phillies? Maybe not, and the Phillies may not be the current team you see running away with the National League East, playing to packed houses on a nightly basis.