It’s official: “Gentleman Jim” is heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 2018 Hall class was announced Wednesday evening, with former Phil Jim Thome appearing on 89.8% of Baseball Writers Association of America ballots. He will be joined by Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman this summer in Cooperstown, New York.
The voting process has become less cloaked in recent years, with many voters releasing ballots weeks or months in advance, so there was a strong feeling heading into the day that Thome would be inducted.
While there’s little doubt Thome will head into the Hall with a Cleveland Indians cap on, he was an integral part of the Phillies organization just about midway through his 22-year career in the Major Leagues. The six-year deal Thome signed back in 2002 came with a pretty obvious caveat: He was 32 years old when he joined the organization, and he likely wasn’t going to see the end of that deal in this city.
But what the Phillies sold Thome on back in 2002 was clear: We have a new ballpark coming. You’ll play one year in Veterans Stadium before heading to Citizens Bank Park. You’ll lead us into a new era. You’ll be the face of the franchise.
It was an offer that was hard to turn down. Plenty of fans will always remember the day Thome came to the city and toured the site of the new ballpark with some of the construction workers, hard hat and all. Despite the fact that Thome was a Midwesterner at heart, you had the feeling he’d fit in just fine in Philadelphia. And he did.
Thome hit .290/.371/.576 in 2003-2004, with 89 home runs and 236 RBI over those two seasons. He was the power hitter Phillies fans hadn’t seen since Michael Jack Schmidt. Alas, his stint with the Phillies would be short; that pitch the Phillies made to him in 2002 certainly didn’t include the words “Ryan Howard,” who was a virtual unknown at the time. Thome battled injury troubles during the 2005 season, and the Phillies dealt him to the White Sox in November of 2005, an arrangement that worked well for all sides, seeing that Thome wanted to be closer to family following the passing of his mother, while the Phillies had a young stud in Howard who was named the Rookie of the Year and would be their next star at first base.
But Thome went on to accomplish plenty more after leaving the Phillies. He ended up hitting 182 more homers from 2006-2012, giving him 612 for his career. He even came back to the Phillies in 2012 as a bench bat, and slugged .516 in 62-at bats before the Phillies traded him to the Orioles, where his career came to an end.
It is hard to look past the era Thome played in without thinking of that “s” word that clouds numerous players on the current ballot. But stances on those players, as time has gone on, have shifted. For what it’s worth, any mere mention of “steroids” and “Jim Thome” in the same sentence was typically laughed off immediately, any rumor or whisper unsubstantiated. As it turns out, he just happened to be a very strong man.
Thome wasn’t here long. But he believed in the Phillies when he signed here. He believed in the city, the team’s vision, and the new ballpark the team would play in. And at a time when it wasn’t popular to do it, Thome told fans to support and be patient with mentor, father figure and manager Charlie Manuel. The patience paid off a few years later, even though Thome wasn’t here to see it.
This summer, Jim Thome will walk across the stage in upstate New York and be remembered for the work he did with the Cleveland Indians. But he was the player and the man, on and off the field, that the Phillies and the city of Philadelphia needed a decade and a half ago. Gentleman Jim, welcome to Cooperstown.