Friday, August 26, 2011

Welcome back

It is so good to have Jim Thome back where he belongs. Where he never should have left. Where it all began for him.

Coming back to Cleveland means he probably never again will have the chance to play in a World Series and be fitted for a championship ring. But the future Hall of Famer – and there is no question Thome will be inducted five years after he retires – will have plenty of company in that regard.

The following Hall of Famers never won a World Series: Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Carl Yastrzemski, Harmon Killebrew, Andre Dawson, Ken Griffey Jr. (when he gets in), Billy Williams, Hack Wilson, Richie Allen, Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn Willie McCovey and Ty Cobb.

If that’s the only jewel missing from Thome’s crown, he has nothing of which to be ashamed. He has carved out his Hall of Fame career in a fashion that befits the title Hall of Famer.

From his humble pro baseball beginnings as a 13th-round selection of the Indians in the 1989 amateur draft to the day he waived a no-trade clause in his contract with the Minnesota Twins to come back home to Cleveland, Thome has distinguished himself as a pro’s pro.

He began as a rail-thin third baseman in 1991, bounced back and forth between the parent club and Class AAA for a few years and finally figured it out by 1994. Three productive years later, the Indians traded for Matt Williams and moved Thome permanently to first base.

The rest, as they say, is history. With the help of hitting coach Charlie Manuel, he became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball and put together six straight remarkable seasons: 241 home runs and 687 runs batted in.

Then he did the unconscionable as far as Indians fans were concerned. He turned his back on them after proclaiming they – not certain who they were – would have to rip the Indians uniform off his back before he’d leave.

The Indians made several generous offers, but refused to guarantee a sixth year because of Thome’s recurring back issues, and he tore the uniform off his own back, fleeing to Philadelphia, where the Phillies were more than happy to guarantee that sixth year.

Admittedly, I railed at Thome at the time. I had a radio microphone then and let him have it, calling him greedy, selfish and a liar. The Indians’ offer was more than fair as to market value back then. I maintained my disgust for the move for many years as he became a baseball vagabond.

Normally, I’m not one to forgive athletes (and owners) who turn their back on Cleveland. But I must be getting sentimental because I find myself feeling good about Thome’s return.

There’s something poetic, for lack of a better word, about a man completing a journey by coming full circle. Thome’s nice-guy persona undoubtedly has been a major factor in softening my stance.

And now that he’s back, it would behoove the Indians to not make this a symbolic move. They should hold on to Thome until that day when he decides to retire. And when that day comes, it would also behoove them to do the right thing and name him the new hitting coach.

He’d be the perfect guy for the role, giving back to the game what the game brought him. A Hall of Fame career.

As for forgiving others who abandoned Cleveland, forget it. That’ll never happen. Jim Thome is the lone exception.

Welcome back.

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