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Home / Sports / Jim Thome: Making a Cleveland Indian Hall of Fame – Terry Pluto

Jim Thome: Making a Cleveland Indian Hall of Fame – Terry Pluto


"Do not look at me."

Jim Thome heard these words and wondered what they meant.

"You keep looking at the field," said the man. "Do not look at me."

The man said his name is Tom Couston, a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

Thome was 18 years old and played for the Illinois Central Junior College.

"I was still living with my parents in Peoria," Thome said. "No one had pulled me out of high school, I had a good summer American Legion Tournament, and then I was recruited for junior college."

Couston had no idea that he was just a future member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, selected in the first ballot.

Not even Thome would dare to guess that he would finish his career with 61

2 home runs or that one day his statue would stand in front of Progressive Field.

That was because that was 1989 and there was no Progressive field. The Indians were still playing in the old stadium.

"It was not like this when there are all these detailed scouting reports on players," Dan O & Dowd said. "As far as I know, Tom Couston was the only scout who thought Jimmy had great potential."

O & D Dowd was the director of Tribe Player Development in 1989. Couston was an Indian-based scout based in Chicago.

I saw Jimmy for the first time in high school, "said Couston," he was a tall (6-foot-4), thin shortstop. He had a fast bat. I made a note of it. "

I interviewed Couston for a story in 1996. I kept the story because I loved the sheer Scout element.

Couston went to another player in But then he saw Thome, who had gained some weight, the bat stayed faster than the tongue of a snake, Couston noticed that there were a few other scouts from other teams.

He did not want them to realize he was talking to Thome after the first match of a double point.

"That's why we had our backs to each other," Thome said when I spoke to him last week.

The conversation was brief, just a few minutes.

"If we design you, will you sign?" Couston asked.

Thome was stunned and did not say a word for a very long moment.

"I always wanted to play professional baseball," Thome finally said.

"You will hear from me" Couston


There is a reason why the Indians designed Thome – the word of Tom Couston.

The scout began pushing on Thome who in the 10th round

O & D Dowd was in draft room. He said as the design progresses, more and more teams are counting on their most reliable scouts.

Couston kept pressing on the trunk to design Thome.

In the 13th round … with the 333rd choice in the 1989 draft. .. The Indians chose James Howard Thome.

The tribe's first choice was Calvin Murray, an outfielder who never signed with the tribe.

In the third round they chose a pitcher named Jerry DiPoto. He has had such a long career as a helper, a 27-24 record and a 4.05 ERA. He was a very successful baseball manager and is the general manager of the Seattle Mariners.

Finding Thome in the 13th round was remarkable. Less than one percent of the players selected after the 10th round have notable careers in the big league.

But in the 17th round, the tribe chose an outfielder named Brian Giles. He was the 435th pick in this design.

Giles played 15 seasons and beat 287 major league homers.

Regarding Thome, the Indians originally offered him a $ 10,000 bonus. He had the option to return to junior college. But he wanted to sign.

Thome's family and tribe approved a signing bonus of $ 15,000


Peoria, Illinois, is located about 170 miles south of Chicago. When Thome grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, Peoria had about 100,000 inhabitants.

Thome's picture is a big farmchild on a tractor. Think cows and crops and crows fly over.

But Thome was raised in the city. He started playing baseball on a tennis court. His father would join him, the fence served as a backstop.

Then Big Chuck Thome hit his young son with ground balls – in the concrete tennis courts. Big Chuck was a star softball player and foreman at the local Caterpillar factory.

Thomes aunt Carolyn is an outsider in the National Softball Hall of Fame. His grandfather, Chuck Thome Sr., played 91 games in the underage minor, according to BaseballReference.com in the early 1930s.

Thome was a star basketball player at Limestone High. Thome used to pick pick-up games downtown, "where I was usually the only white kid in the square."

Thome had athletic DNA and powered athletes in his family.

"He does not" I look like this, "said O" Dowd. "But Jimmy is an explosive athlete. I once saw him darken a basketball with his right hand … and then with his left hand. "


O & D, Dowd said it was on an outdoor area next to the Tribe clubhouse in their old one Jump training headquarters in Winter Haven.

I have my own Thome basketball story.

Several Tribe writers and front men shot at an old metal outer rim, the wind whipped around, a college three-point line was roughly drawn on the concrete

Thome came out of the locker room and asked if he could shoot.

He was standing behind the 3-point line near the top of the key.

Swish. Swish. Swish

He made something like 4-out-5s out of a 3-point range.

The next day I asked Thome if he was a good basketball player and you could tell he had a good jump shot. [19659003] "I was fine," he said.

Later I found He was honored to be All-State honors in high school, averaging 20 points per game.

Most people who met Thome eventually describe him as "humble."

That's the way you should be, according to Thome.

"Where you grew up who you are," he said. PART FOUR: WAYS OF THE GAMES

The Indians sent Thome to their rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League. Every day, the temperature was about 92 degrees Celsius and thus the humidity, the crew in Sarasota, Florida exercised.

"It was the first time I was away from home," Thome said. "I was only 19. It was really different."

It was a long, hot, sweaty, often frustrating summer for Thome. He only struck .237 and did not hit a homer in bats.

Then the entire TEAM had only two homers in 2,456 plate representations.

He played 40 games at Shortstop and made 14 mistakes. Towards the end of the season, he was relocated to third base, where he made seven mistakes in 17 games.

I visited the list of Gulf Coast Indians of 1989.

I counted 34 names. Only five ever played in the majors: Turner Ward, Ken Ramos, Willie Canate, Bill Wertz and Thome.

Only Thome would have a significant major league career.

"Jimmy was a Northern player," said Mark Shapiro. "If you draw a player from the North – especially the young – you have to be patient, you can not play as much as kids from the South, Texas and California."

Now the president of the Toronto Blue Jays, Shapiro has known Thome since 1992.

In 1990, Thome opened the season in Burlington, North Carolina. That was another rookie league team. He hit 373 in 34 games, then became class A Kinston. He hit .308 in the Carolina League.

Suddenly, at the age of 20, Thome was a hot prospect for the tribe.

"We loved Jimmy's bat," said John Hart, deputy general director of the tribe in 1990, "But he had some problems with third parties."

That could be said. He made 19 mistakes in 66 games in third place.


In 1989, President Hank Peters brought in John Hart and Dan O'Dowd to help revitalize the tribe's main office and franchise.

Veterans were unloaded. The payroll has been cut.

And sometimes they were rushed into the big leagues.

Thome was promoted to Cleveland on September 4, 1991. He was 21 years old and had only played 257 games the minors. Only 41 of them were in the AAA class, which is considered the last league for young players.

Thome was named Baseball Player's Best Player by Baseball America. The scouting services that had never heard of him now raved about Thome.

Thome was 2-for-4 in his first major league game. On October 4, 1991 Thome launched a nine-thousand-leg home stretch in the right upper field of Yankee Stadium.

"I remember that," Hart said. Jimmy's parents were there. It was Steve Farr.

I found a Youtube video of that.A big, thin Thome tied him deep into the New York night.The entire upper deck was empty, all blue seats.Thome trotted around the bases, head down – not real Emotion.

To give him a High-5 at home was a young tribesman named Reggie Jefferson, the only Homer Thome would beat for the Tribe in 1991. He hit bats in 1998.255 He did also eight mistakes in 27 games.

These 1991 Indians had a 57-105 record, which is true, they have lost 105 games!

In 1992, Thome had some minor injuries in the season, playing 78 games in the minors was then promoted to Cleveland, beating 205 with two homers in 40 games.

So Thome had at this point in his career two major league homers in 215 bats.

Even in minors, Thome had only 26 homers in 289 games … not a real one he hint at what would come.


"Then everything changed," Thome said. "It's because of Charlie."

Charlie is Charlie Manuel, probably the best coach in Tribe history.

But in 1993 Manuel was a failed punch coach. He had worked in 1988 and 1989 with the Indians as a punch coach. It did not go well. Manuel then went to the farm system and led the tribe's AAA teams.

"I saw Jimmy for the first time in the spring of 1990," said Manuel. "They let me work with a couple of a real young man, one was this Davis boy, the other was Jimmy At this point, I think some in the organization liked Davis better."

"After a few days, said me you were Jimmy was the player … the ball came from his bat … he smoked the ball, mostly to the opposite field. "

It took a while to figure out who" this Davis boy "was." At first I thought Manuel confused Davis with someone else. "No. In 1991, Mike Davis hit .274 with six homers in Class A He played just one more season of minor league baseball.

"Jimmy was so green you could plant him in the ground and watch him grow," Manuel laughed.

Manuel grew up in Buena Vista It is a small town not far from Roanoke on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the Appalachian Trail running nearby. Its voice oozes over the hills, its accent distinct, and its phrases can have more turns and side trips than the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Like T's home, Manuel is a big man – about 6 feet-4, 220 pounds. "They immediately developed a strong relationship." Manuel was a left-handed swinging power hitter who played primarily in the minor and Japan. 1 9659003] He wanted to turn Thome into a Home Run Hitter.

"He had a lot of balls left and left thrown field," said Manuel. I knew when he started to pull the ball, watch out.

Thome opened the 1993 season with Manuel in Charlotte.

"The first thing Charlie did was open my mind and let me stand closer to the home plate," Thome said. Then he let me raise my hands … they did not have a start angle at the time, but I think we did.

Thome was a relentless worker According to Hart, Manuel and Thome were in the batting cage for hours, progress was made, but something was missing. [19659003Theclubhouseand"TheNatural"wereontelevision"Manuelsaid"IdidnotthinktherewasanythinglikeplayingTVwatchingbuttheboyswouldtellyouwhatagreatmoviewasabaseballmovie"

Manuel started to do it with Thome see. They saw actor Robert Redford at home, and he made a practice swing. He stopped in the middle

"Jimmy, you should do that," said Manuel.

They went to the impact cage, Thome tried it out, Manuel said it was a way to "develop rhythm" (19659003) Put the bat on the pitcher. Bring the bat back. Swing.

"Jimmy did not want to do it in the game," Manuel said. "He was afraid it would make him look cocky, I told him to try it, and that day he smoked a homer to the left field, he pulled a homer to the right field."

The characteristic bat point for Thome was born when Thome slammed a total of 32 homers between Class AAA and Cleveland in the 1993 season.


Prior to the 1994 season, Hart Thome signed to a 4-year, $ 10 million contract. At that time, Hart and O'Dowd signed many young regulars who extended early in their careers and tried to keep them in Cleveland for a few extra seasons before becoming freelance agents.

A bright, sunny spring training morning under a cloudless winter haven sky, Hart sat in the stands with Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden.

"Jimmy took infield practice at third," Hart said. He threw the ball everywhere and the ball flew into the stands, hopping in front of first base.

Hart said Bowden leaned forward and said, "John, you just made your first mistake."

He meant the long-term contract with Thome, whose trust in Third vanished. Thome had made 25 mistakes in his first 115 league games.

Manager Mike Hargrove and Hart commissioned Tribe coach Buddy Bell to work with Thome in third place.

Thome and Bell would take over the field early in the morning before the regular round The training sessions began.

Slowly Thome started to get more precise with his throwing.

I saw one of these spring sessions of 1994 and then talked to Thome and Bell. Thome said Bell changed his throwing motion and that helped.

Bell said it was a "very minor adjustment".

Then Bell asked me not to write that part: Thome's problem was trust. But if you tell the player "you need more self-confidence," it just creates another crisis of confidence.

Bell explained that it was easier to tell Thome, "You just did this little thing wrong, we'll fix it and you'll be fine."

Thome would never be a gold glove third Be Buddy Bell. But his field work improved at least to the point where Hart could relax – Thome would treat the glove well enough to stay in the majors.

"Buddy has done so much work with me," Thome said. "I was blessed."

In the meantime, he continued beating and striking.

Give Hargrove and Manuel a loan for Thome's adaptation to the majors.

"In this (1994) season, I had Jimmy and Manny (Ramirez)," Hargrove said, "I still have some old setup cards, in which Jimmy took eighth and Manny ninth. Then Jimmy hit the ninth and Manny the eighth. "

Why that?

" They were young players, "he said." I wanted to keep the pressure off them. "


Prior to the 1997 season, Hart made a huge trade and shipped Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez and Jose Vizcaino to San Francisco for the powerful third baseman Matt Williams.

Williams arrived in Cleveland with three gold gloves third with the Giants.

Before the deal was completed, Hart approached Thome with the idea of ​​going to first base-making place for Williams in third place.

"Whatever you think of the team 'Best of all,' said Thome to Hart.

Some people would say that's empty words, but Thome is not wired.

"Jimmy was so concerned about the team that I could tell him Must stand on his head for 90 minutes before a match, and he would do it, "Hargrove said.

Hargrove, a former first baseman, worked with Thome at the first base. Not only in the field, but also in the office.

"We would be on the white board," Hargrove said. "I would design where he should go on throw-offs from the outfield … Colorful plays … stuff like that – we've done that quite a few times."

Thome has become a respectable first baseman, and he gives Hargrove the credit.

"Even when Jimmy was a young player, I thought that would be his best position," Hargrove said.

Thome never played after the 1996 season on third base.

For his career he played 1,090 games first, 493 in third and 818 as designated hitter.


Thome became a free agent after the 2002 season. He often said he wanted to spend the rest of his career in Cleveland.

But the Indians of 2002 were 74-88 years old and in the midst of a massive cost-cutting and rebuilding project with young players.

"That was the most painful part of Jimmy's career," Hart said. "I had left the Indians and was with Texas (as general manager) until then, but we talked several times if he was a freelance agent on his decision, but the economy was too much, he had to leave."

The Indians offered Thome a six-year contract with a guaranteed $ 62 million. There were another $ 15 million that were not guaranteed.

Philadelphia's contract was $ 85 million for six years, all guaranteed.

Many tribal fans were outraged when Thome left. When Thome had his press conference in Philadelphia, his voice often broke into sadness as he spoke of leaving the Indians.

When Thome returned to Jacobs Field with other teams for the first time, he was booed in the first few years. That made me sick, "Shapiro said." That's why we wanted to bring him back. "

That happened in 2011, when the Indians bartered in mid-season, with General Manager Chris Antonetti doing a little deal with Minnesota, Thomes

His first game back was a celebration, with the fans giving him standing ovations.

"It was such a cool moment, such a special night," Thome said, "I understand why booed me when I left. It was hard for everyone. But they were so great when I came back. Our fans care so much about us. They are so much a part of what we did in the 1990s. "


Thome played only 22 games with the Indians in 2011. He split the 2012 season between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

He retired in his old age of 41 with 612 homers, he has been with the Tribe for 13 years playing 1399 games and 337 homers.

Thome lives in Chicago, where he works as a special assistant to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and also works for MLB television.

Thome and the former Andrea Pacione have been married for 20 years and she has written three novels in the Smoky Mountains, with two children – Landon (11 years old) and Lila (16 years old).

"Jim personifies all that is good about baseball and what we want to represent as an organization, "said Tribe President Chris Antonetti," Not only did he work tirelessly in his career to become one of the best players in baseball history, he was an extraordinary and selfless ma nnschaftskamerad. "

The Indians built a statue of Thome in front of the Progressive Field in 2014.

" It was more than the 600 Homer's, "said Shapiro." Jimmy is a rare one Person and he was a rare player. The statue is a testimony to what he accomplished in the field and how he treated people. There was no shooting with Jimmy, it all came from the heart. "

When I interviewed Thome last week, he mentioned the names of so many people, some of his early careers: John Goryl, Brian Graham, David Keller, Buddy Bell and Manuel.

"The statue is incredible," said Thome. "Nobody ever imagines they have a statue when they retire. It's a great honor. But it's a tribute to all the people who helped me. "

What made Thome a hall of fame?

" The player must remain present-focused, "said O & D Dowd.

It is the classic day, an at-bat approaching at the moment, but in a game where players are constantly reminded of what they have done – their stats are always on the scoreboard when they come to the bat – it's hard not worrying about the past, or it's hard not to be over-consumed by the next contract … the future.

"Jimmy never worried about what writers or broadcasters were saying about him," said O & M. # 39; Dowd. "He had the uncanny ability to care only about what he could control … and he understood what he could and could not control."

According to Manuel, Thome had "tremendous" self-confidence. 19659003] "Jimmy could use these 0-for-15 or Avoid 0-for-20 burglaries, "added Manuel. "He had 3-4 of them a year, he did not get caught by them."

Shapiro remembers Thome with the DBTH 25 badge: his number was 25. DBTH stood for Do not Believe The Hype.

"That was one of those things Jimmy believed in," Shapiro said. "He is now the same modest, selfless man as he is as a beginner."


I started writing about Jim Thome in 1994 when I was at the Akron Beacon Journal. Part of the material for this story comes from stories I wrote in the 1990s. Also from my books "Dealing" and "Glory Days" (with Tom Hamilton) about the tribe. I've added new material thanks to recent interviews with John Hart, Mike Harlowve, Mark Shapiro, Charlie Manuel, Chris Antonetti and Jim Thome in recent weeks.

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