I'd never heard more fans complain than the day we traded Aaron Rowand, Gio Gonzalez, and Daniel Haigwood (the two later being minor leaguers) to Philadelphia. When we found out who we'd got in return, I also can't remember hearing more fans as elated: Jim Thome. Mister power house. Mister home-run hitter. Past the heyday of his career, Jim was still a monster at the plate, and as a home town boy, a hero to all of us respectively. We all loved Jim. There wasn't a fan in the greater Peoria area, or anywhere else in the state that didn't know and adore him.
I'd been a fan of his for years. I'd grown up watching him hit bombs with the Tribe, followed him in Philly, and though I was upset to see Aaron Rowand leave, I couldn't have been happier to get Thome on our team.
It's safe to say that Big Jim had his first career home run on October 4th 1991, and never stopped hitting them.
I don't think I have to go through all of Mr. Incredible's career highlights including a career high 52 home runs in his 2002 season with Cleavland (steroid-free, mind you), his 564 career home runs, his 5 all-star selections, his silver slugger award in 1996, his American League comeback player of the year award with the White Sox in 2006, and his ability to be an insane power-hitter while exhibiting intense control at the plate while leading the AL in walks in 1997, 1999, and 2002.
Beyond what he does on the field, Jim has been nick named the "classiest guy in baseball" by all who have played with him, and most all who have played against him. There is not a nicer, more passionate, respectful man in baseball. All who meet Jim Thome come away from the experience saying that you never expect him to be as nice as he is- but he really is just that nice of a guy.
What other man in baseball hosts a charity even in his home town every year since 1995 and has members of his former team and former manager of the Phillies come to speak on his behalf as a surprise? Jim Thome- that's who. Charlie Manuel and Paul Konerko couldn't have had better things to say about him at the Children's Hospital of Illinois benefit just a week and a half ago.
What Jim does off the field is as amazing as what he does on the field. He has hosted the Children's Hospital Benefit for 15 years and has helped raise over 1.7 million dollars, all of which has been directly contributed to helping provide care to the families at the Children's Hospital of Peoria. The benefit which was originally started by Joyce Thome, Jim's mother, has always had a special place in Jim's heart. He has renamed it and dedicated it to her every year since she passed away in January of 2005.
In addition to the Children's Hospital, Thome (and his wife, Andrea) have been working together with the Konerkos to help with the Children's Home + Aid Society to help with foster children in Illinois. They head up the White Sox Bring Me Home campaign (original post of the campaign and ways that you can donate can be found by clicking this link). Both Konerko and Thome have wrote letters to the Chicago Sun-Times asking lawmakers not to let there be cuts to foster-care services. There is truly no better example of a good, hard working, charitable man as Jim Thome.
Durring the benefit, Paul Konerko told stories about how the team would joke around with Thome just to see if they could get him to act the wrong way just once. They would mess with his key card at hotels, or his food and pull pranks on him, but Jim always stayed composed and classy. That's just the kind of man he is.
"I would be in the dugout after Jim had struck out during a game and he'd come back in and I'd think 'Man, this guy's gonna be mad as can be!' and he'd look at me and say 'Man! I really missed that one...'
Along with being one of the classiest men in baseball, Jim also has been a role model for hundreds of young players who have had the pleasure of playing with and against him. Just recently this year, White Sox rookie Gordon Beckham had an amazing first season in the bigs and attributes a lot of his success to the mentoring given to him by Thome. Jim's teammates said that his approach every day in baseball is as if he had done nothing in this league, and he had everything to prove. What a guy to look up to when you make your big league debut. I couldn't think of anyone better I'd rather be on the field with.
In 2007 Jim was named the friendlies player in baseball by a pool of 464 major leaguers. Jim has always had the up most respect from his team. Konerko would say "When I thought I was good and thought I was something special, I'd look down at Jim and think 'That's good. That's what good is right there."
Even eccentric manager Ozzie Guillen came to his rescue when Texas Rangers reliever CJ Wilson entered a game where his team was up 12-7 in the 9th. After nearly blowing the lead and giving up 4 runs, he struck out Jim Thome and went wild on the mound. Ozzie flew off the handle (anyone surprised is ordered to raise their hand...... now.) and started screaming at Wilson.
Ozzie addressed this issue on Saturday at the town hall meeting at SoxFest. "Jim Thome is the classiest guy in baseball. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame. You don't show up a guy like that. You just don't do it. I don't care who you are." Ozzie expressed shaking his head and making a disgusted motor sound with his mouth at the mention of Wilson's name.
The sheer thought that after 3 years, Ozzie still has such disdain for a player because of the way he treated Thome is a testament right there to Thome's popularity and persona. There will never be another player to play this game that is so well liked and appreciated as Jim Thome is.
Jim will always be one of my personal heroes. No matter where he goes or who he's with I will always cheer him on. Unfortunately he will not be returning with the White Sox this year (which was a mutual agreement for those of you harping on Ozzie. Guillen and Williams want a DH-by-committee during the 2010, and while they offered Thome a chance to sign with the team, while most likely sending Vizquel down to make room for him on the 40-man, Thome declined. You can't blame either party. KW has already spent the money on Kotsay, Jones, and Nix, and Thome wants more at-bats that a DH spot with the Sox could offer him this year). The Twins, Tampa Bay, and Detroit are all interested in him, and where ever he goes I hope he knocks those final 36 home runs out of the park to reach the 600 club. There is no man in active baseball who deserves it more, and I look forward to seeing Jim in Cooperstown one day.
I will never forget watching him hit his 500th home run, or his blast during the Black Out Game against the Twins in 08. He has provided some great memories for me as a Sox fan, but mostly as a baseball fan. Good luck Jim, in everything you do!
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