Jim Thome isn’t our guy.
You know how teams have their guy? Some of them are easy to pick out. Frank Thomas is obviously our guy. Paul Konerko? Mark Buehrle? Maybe shy of Hall of Fame standards, but they’re our guys. Derek Jeter is a Yankee. The newly-elected Trevor Hoffman is a Padre. He’s their guy, even if he bounced around toward the end of his career. Sammy Sosa is a Cub (even if the Cubs don’t want to admit it).
No, Thome, part of the four-player 2018 Hall of Fame class revealed Wednesday, won’t don a White Sox cap on his plaque this July in Cooperstown. That makes sense. Thome spent only 3 1/2 years with the White Sox. Just 20 percent of his career plate appearances came while wearing a White Sox uniform.
Thome isn’t our guy in the same way as Thomas or Buehrle or Konerko. Thome is Cleveland’s guy. A franchise legend. 13 of his 22 seasons were spent in Cleveland. He spent his prime mashing dingers alongside fellow Hall of Fame-caliber players Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, and prime talents like Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar Jr., David Justice, Matt Williams, and Albert Belle on teams that somehow never won a World Series. He has a statue at Progressive Field, is in their Hall of Fame, and his number will almost undoubtedly one day be retired by the team.
Thome is a Cleveland Indian before he’s a Chicago White Sox. He may even be a Philadelphia Phillie before he’s a White Sox. And yet, when his name was announced as part of this year’s class, it still felt like something worth celebrating. And not just in a sense of “he’s a guy who played for the White Sox so yay because of that.” Thome has always kind of felt a little bit like our guy, too, despite the brevity of his time with the White Sox.
It’s easy to understand why. Thome, a Peoria, Ill., native, embraced Chicago immediately, calling the trade “a blessing” before even suiting up for a game.
“For Jim to be able to tell his dad on the phone that he had been traded to Chicago–Chicago!–that might have been the most special thing about this.” —Andrea Thome to the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 29, 2005
Thome’s 2005 season in Philadelphia was injury-plagued and unproductive. He was an aging slugger, 34 years old, and it wouldn’t have shocked anyone if that year was the beginning of the end in terms of Thome being an asset on the field. After the trade, he rebounded to the tune of .288/.416/.598 with 42 home runs. He made the last of his five All-Star appearances that year and finished seventh in AL MVP voting.
He remained productive throughout his tenure in Chicago, and provided the most recent famous White Sox postseason moment almost 10 years ago.
Moments like this, as well as his walk-off 500th career home run make it easy to understand why Thome is so beloved despite the briefness of his tenure. He’s stayed around the team since retiring and currently serves as special assistant to the VP/general manager. During my brief time around the team in Glendale, Ariz., last spring it was easy to sense the aura of his presence. This was JIM THOME spending time around the next bunch of players hoping to carve out careers even half as successful as his.
One of the greatest players of all time. Not only a great player, but a great guy off the field too! Not a more deserving person out there! Incredibly blessed to have gotten to know him over the last year! #HOFhttps://t.co/5gMYvHJs8m
— Jake Burger (@Burgatron13) January 25, 2018
The appreciation for Thome extended beyond the field, as well. The aforementioned article from 2005 is ripe with vivacity over the opportunity to play for what’s practically his hometown team, with Peoria just a short 2 1/2 hour drive away. He and his wife regularly hosted benefits for the Children’s Hospital of Illinois, and his general warmness that’s been talked about across baseball throughout his career and well into retirement was and continues to be felt throughout the White Sox community.
So when Jim Thome walks across the stage and gives his induction speech this July in Cooperstown, fans in Cleveland will celebrate the inclusion of one of their heroes receiving baseball’s ultimate honor. Fans in Philadelphia and Minnesota will undoubtedly cheer and remember the good moments he spent with their teams. White Sox fans will join in the celebration, because while Jim Thome might not really be our guy, it kind of feels like he is.
Lead Photo Credit: Ron Vesely/Chicago White Sox