Humble good guy Jim Thome credits his parents (and everyone else) for his Hall of Fame success: Michael K. McIntyre
COOPERSTOWN, New York – Chuck Thome pushed his wheeled walker through the throngs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum gift shop, looking for his son’s gear. Sure, he has plenty. But this was the eve of his son’s induction into the Hall of Fame. Everybody in Cooperstown was in a shopping, celebrating mood.
The glint in the 83-year-old’s eye glistened with the near tears of a proud papa.
“Just like any other weekend,” he said, lying through his teeth.
Every other weekend doesn’t include your son’s induction into the pantheon of professional baseball. It doesn’t include tons of fawning fans who love his son even as they pledge allegiance to different teams: The Cleveland Indians, of course, where Jim Thome got his start. But also the Philadelphia Phillies, the Minnesota Twins, the Chicago White Sox, even the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers.
This was unlike any other weekend.
I reminded Chuck Thome about an an evening in Fenway Park in October 1995, when his son, then a 220-pound third baseman for the Tribe, pounded a Tim Wakefield floater over the right field fence for a two-run homer en route to an Indians win, and a sweep of the vaunted Red Sox, in the American League Division Series.
At that moment in raucous Fenway, I watched from a few seats away as dad discovered the sound of one man clapping. He rose, teary-eyed (it’s a theme) amid the Boston faithful, and celebrated his son’s home run. His son bashed many more (it’s a theme), totaling 612 in his career.
But it was not the immense power they talked about as his fans celebrated Hall of Fame Weekend. It was not his longevity, nor his stellar on-base percentage.
It was simply that the first ballot Hall of Famer, one of Chuck Thome’s kids, is a great guy.
Some examples from around Cooperstown Saturday:
Phil Plumlee of Canal Fulton: “He did things the right way.”
Scott Aldrich of Fremont: “All the values the we hold dear to our heart, it just seems like Jim represents all of that.”
Lynn Arnold of Chagrin Falls: “I met him at his wife’s book signing. He’s very nice.”
Oscar Garcia, a youth league umpire from Maple Heights: “He was never accused of any drugs, alcohol or any misconduct. He always approached the game the way it was supposed to be approached. Great manners.”
Arlene Rosen with the Cleveland Wahoo Club: “He’s just an incredible person, all around. Just an incredible guy.”
Chuck Thome smiled at these kind words about his boy.
“His dad did a great job with him!” Chuck said, smirking at his faux self- congratulation. “No. Don’t say that! Say his mom.”
I asked Jim Thome about that a few hours later.
“I’d say both of them did, absolutely,” he said.
Thome’s mom, Joyce, died in 2005. The Thome family decorated her grave when his induction was announced. A “That’s my son!” pennant next to the stone.
Thome stood with his own son, 10-year-old Landon, as he fielded questions from the media Saturday. He praised both of his children, including daughter Lila, 15, who will sing the national anthem at the induction ceremony Sunday.
He managed to spread his love to Cleveland and Philadelphia, to Minnesota and Chicago and his hometown, Peoria, Illinois. He praised his mother and father, brothers and sisters, his wife, Andrea, the kids, the media, teammates, coaches, other inductees, legends of the game and opposing players.
If he missed anyone, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
He has a special place in his heart for the Indians of the ’90s and the Cleveland fans who sold out the Jake for a record six years and 455 games. Like fans, he most remembers the World Series years of ‘95 and ’97.
“We had such a wonderful team in the ’90s. There could be a lot of Hall of Famers on that team that will either potentially be here or should be here, and I feel so honored and blessed that I called those guys teammates,” he said. “I would not have rather been born and brought up in another organization.”
When he got the call that he would join the ranks of baseball’s greatest, he didn’t even consider another jersey.
“Cleveland was always my choice,” he said “From day one, I didn’t even think about it.”
Jim Thome, forever a Cleveland Indian now, emerged from a steroid-soaked era of baseball with 612 home runs and a clean reputation. How?
“I focused and I looked in the mirror and was darn proud of the way I did it. At the end of the day, the mirror doesn’t lie,” he said.
Yep. His parents, both of them, did a pretty good job.