Jim Thome learns of 'dream' of going to Baseball Hall of Fame
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He molded the devastating left-handed swing with the Indians, and he hit the first 334 of his career 612 home runs in a Cleveland uniform.
Jim Thome was elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, garnering 89.8 percent of the vote cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on his first ballot.
When he is officially inducted into Cooperstown in July, Thome will represent the Indians.
But his roots have always been firmly planted in the Midwest, in Illinois. And Thome really branched out with the Chicago White Sox.
"The message I would send would be every Midwest kid can dream of a day like this, and I'm living it today," Thome said.
The Peoria native joined the Sox shortly after they won the World Series in 2005. He came over in a trade from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for popular center fielder Aaron Rowand and starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who helped get the Washington Nationals into the playoffs four times in the last six seasons.
Thome helped get the White Sox into the 2008 playoffs. In the division tiebreaker game against the Twins that season, his home run was the difference in a 1-0 win before a raucous crowd at U.S. Cellular Field.
In 529 games with the Sox, Thome slashed .265/.391/.542 with 134 home runs and 369 RBI.
On Sept. 16, 2007, he hit his 500th career home run off the Angels' Dustin Moseley at the Cell.
After playing 22 major-leagues seasons with the Indians, Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles, Thome joined the Sox's front office and he still works as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn.
"Very special," Thome said of playing for the White Sox. "I think at that point in my career, when I left Philadelphia and I came home here, when mom (Joyce) passed away (on Jan. 5, 2005), it brought a lot of happiness to my family, obviously being so close. It was a fun, fun four years of just excitement and they got to come up, which I think eased the pain of mom's passing, and I think that's the great thing baseball does; it has ways of doing that in life.
"But also I think now, reflecting and looking where I'm at, moving forward, I work for the White Sox. I love Jerry Reinsdorf, I love Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams. They have taught me so much in the areas of the game that I basically didn't know as a player. Now being on the other side, I see both sides of it, and I love the fans.
"I love the White Sox. I love the White Sox organization, and they've always treated me with the utmost respect. I think that starts at the top with Jerry Reinsdorf. He's one of the true gentlemen, good men in the game that loves the game."
The feeling is mutual for Thome.
"I am honored to offer my congratulations to Jim Thome on his first-ballot election today into baseball's Hall of Fame," Reinsdorf said in a statement. "We are so happy for Jim, his wife, Andrea, their children, and Jim's family in the Peoria area. One of the most feared left-handed power hitters in the history of the game, Jim remains one of the most respected players of his era and one of the most generous people you could ever meet.
"He epitomizes what it means to be a professional athlete, from his positive attitude to his Midwestern work ethic, from his good works in the community to his honest concern for others. The adjectives come easily when describing Jim Thome … class, strength, honesty, integrity, character, Hall of Famer."
Thome credits Charlie Manuel, his hitting coach with the Indians and manager with the Phillies, for developing his Hall of Fame swing.
Manuel got Thome to point the bat like he was calling a home run to help him calm down in the batter's box. He also got Thome to spread out at the plate, which helped him climb all the way to No. 8 on baseball's all-time home run list.