Prior to last Thursday afternoon's win over the Colorado Rockies, the Philadelphia Phillies honored Jim Thome. Thome, a 2016 inductee to the organization's Wall of Fame, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next month as part of the Class of 2018.
Thome, of course, will enter the Hall of Fame as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Just one of nine players in MLB history to hit 600 or more home runs, Thome hit 337 of his 612 career home runs with the Indians. He actually hit more home runs as a member of the Chicago White Sox (134) than he did during his two stints with the Phillies (101). Still, Thome is credited by many as having helped to usher in the greatest era in franchise history. He signed a then-lucrative six-year/$85 million free-agent contract with the Phillies prior to the 2003 season. Thome was traded after the 2005 season, but gave the Phillies a superstar as they moved into Citizens Bank Park in 2004 and played with many players who became key cogs for the 2008 World Series title team early in their careers.
Now 47, Thome joined Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia to revisit his time with the Phillies, particularly his first stint. When asked about whether he thought the young Phillies were capable of special things during his first stint with the team, Thome spoke about the positive culture that began to develop during his time with the club:
"I did [think the Phillies were capable of special things]. You know, those great teams I was on in Cleveland in the 90's, it reminded me of the process that we went through in Cleveland. You know, it was an organization that was hungry, that was passionate, that wanted to do it - they wanted to make sure the city knew that they were trying to win."
Though the 1990s Indians never won a World Series title, being compared to them is a very flattering compliment. Between 1995 and 1997, Thome, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, Charles Nagy, Albert Belle, Orel Hershiser, Eddie Murray, Matt Williams, Jose Mesa and David Justice were among the stars who played with the Indians. The Indians won two American League pennants during that span, losing in six games to the Atlanta Braves ("the team of the 90's," as Bob Costas called them) in 1995 and seven games to the Florida Marlins in 1997.
The Indians also moved into Progressive Field - then referred to as Jacobs Field - in 1992, Thome's second major league season. Though the park has failed to keep up with stadiums built post-2000, Jacobs Field was the place to be in the 1990s, much like Citizens Bank Park became from 2007-2011.
Of course, like the Indians teams of the 1990s, the late 2000s in Philadelphia were so special because of the wealth of talented players that the Phillies employed. Though Thome didn't reach the postseason with the Phillies, he says he was happy to see a trio of his former teammates at the forefront of the team's 2008 title:
"And the players, going to the players, [they were] young, really good...Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, you know Ryan Howard emerged. Eventually, I was traded, because let's be honest, I mean Ryan emerged into a superstar, MVP player. Unfortunately, there was no DH in the National League, so it gave me an opportunity to go home. I mean, the Phillies were great about that, I got to go play in Chicago. But I'll be honest, watching those guys win a World Series was like your brothers winning it. And you support that. Charlie Manuel - who everybody knows my relationship with Charlie and what he's meant to me - think about it, he got a chance to win a World Series and that's what it is about."
Thome isn't the first to say something like this. Billy Wagner, who has a Hall of Fame case himself, joined me last year and said that he wasn't at all surprised by the success of the Phillies in the late-2000s. Wagner, of course, had an upfront view, as after spending 2004 and 2005 with the Phillies, he signed with the division rival New York Mets. But like Thome, he said that he sensed something special was building with the Phillies during his brief time with the club, citing the upside of Utley and Rollins, just as Thome did.
In the end, Thome, who never won a World Series, says he wishes he could have been part of a championship-winning team in Philadelphia. But he also understands why he wasn't able to see his full contract through with the Phillies, and was happy for the success the team had after he left:
"In the long haul, the goal was to win a World Series. Now the business side of the game had me go to Chicago. I understand, I get it. Was there a part of me that wanted to win here? Yes. But I was so happy in watching these guys, who were like my family, do it."
On July 29, Thome will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, an honor that perhaps no one from the 2008 team will receive. He'll join Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman in the Class of 2018.