By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — Standing tall in the batter’s box and pointing his bat straightaway to center field, Jim Thome always seemed larger than life. That perception differed from reality with a man as down to earth as they came.
This summer, Thome will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after being selected on the first ballot. Despite a complex process, there was little doubt to Thome’s candidacy. He slugged 612 home runs, which ranks eighth all time, and was a prolific power hitter in a storied 22-year career.
Playing through baseball’s steroid era, Thome takes pride that his Hall of Fame honor was earned by doing it the right way, because he was representing something much more.
“It comes through hard work, longevity and a long process,” Thome said at Guaranteed Rate Field on Thursday. “It reflects kids, it reflects moms and dads, it reflects wives, it reflects brothers and sisters, friends, organizational friends.
“Yes, I’m very, very proud to be a Hall of Famer. But the best part is how you get to enjoy all of this with those close ones and loved ones.”
Thome’s career spanned stops in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Baltimore. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with the Indians’ block “C” logo on his cap after playing 13 seasons and slugging 337 homers with them.
These days, Thome is a key figure with the White Sox, working as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn. He recently spent time at the team’s hitting camp in Arizona working with the young White Sox prospects.
“If I can have a little bit of knowledge or give Jake Burger something that makes him successful, to me, that’s what giving back to the game means,” Thome said. “I love this job.”
The story of Thome is quite special. It was one that didn’t seem destined for Cooperstown during his upbringing in Peoria.
Thome grew up playing baseball with his father on a tennis court in his hometown, dreaming that he could some day make the big leagues. He wasn’t heralded coming out of Limestone High School, so he spent a year at Illinois Central College and worked toward his ultimate goal there.
In the 1989 MLB Draft that featured Frank Thomas drafted seventh overall by the White Sox, Thome was selected 333rd overall in the 13th round. He arrived with the Indians two years later as a raw 20-year-old third baseman and in time became one of the game’s greatest sluggers of all time.
Thome’s plaque in the Hall of Fame will speak to the home runs, the heroics and so much more. Cleveland will remember a star of a great era in its baseball history. Chicago will recall the Game 163 home run that put the White Sox into the playoffs in 2008.
For Thome, being immortalized represents the values he carried as a player: hard work, respect and accountability.
“I did everything I could from the minute I woke up to the time that I went to bed preparing to be the best player I could, for the organization and for my teammates,” Thome said. “That’s what it’s about.”
During those 22 years in the majors, Thome was considered the ultimate teammate. Few players have resonated in a clubhouse quite like Thome, who made a career trying to be the best person he could be each day. Ultimately, that’s what Thome is most proud of.
Cooperstown will be filled with family, friends, former teammates and so many fans who appreciated Thome as a Hall of Fame player and person.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “when baseball’s done, you look back and that’s what you have.”