CLEVELAND -- Upon hearing of his selection for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, former Cleveland Indians infielder/designated hitter Jim Thome thanked family members, friends and teammates, but above all else, there was a longtime coach he expressed gratitude toward after the announcement became public.
When Thome returned to Cleveland last week for the filming of a one-hour career retrospective television special, he spoke with the media and talked in-depth about the importance of former manager/batting coach Charlie Manuel on his career.
“I spoke to Charlie that morning of what might be or could be, and then, I did the interview with MLB Network, and then, he got on the phone, which was so special,” Thome said. “We talked the other day for, I’m exaggerating, but five hours. It seemed like five hours because we were just going on and on about stories and how to work hard and what I did.
“Charlie was telling me stories about me hitting a one-two count in this place. I tell my wife all the time, ‘if Charlie rings, I need to give him an hour of my time because it’s just how things flow between him and I.’”
PHOTOS: Cleveland Indians great Jim Thome elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame
Thome feels it was a couple changes with his batting stance which Manuel made that led to selection into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“It was around ’93, I believe,” Thome recalled. “We were in Scranton. That’s where the whole Roy Hobbs, Robert Redford. He called me in and said, ‘Hey, I see you’re doing this. Now, would you mind trying to point the bat?’ We went out and tried it.
“There were a couple phases. We did that, but then, he also opened me up and got my back foot closer to home plate to get plate coverage to cut the area the pitcher could throw strikes, which think about it, the ball away was now in the middle for me, and I think that’s when the transformation happened. Then, the work had to begin. Once you make that transformation, then the work actually begins and you go through this rollercoaster ride.”
A 13th-round pick out of the Illinois Central College who became a three-time American League All-Star, Thome belted 337 home runs and drew 1,008 walks with the Indians, both of which remain franchise records. Additionally, Thome is second in Indians history with 937 RBI and third in on-base (.414), slugging (.592) and on-base-plus-slugging percentages (.980), as well as 10th with 263 doubles.
Thome led the American League in walks three times in his Indians career, and hit 20 or more home runs in each of his last nine full seasons with the Tribe (1994-2002), including a personal best, and team-record, 52 round-trippers in 2002.
During his 22-year MLB career, Thome collected 2,328 hits in 8,422 at-bats (.276 batting average) with 451 doubles, 26 triples and 612 home runs. Thome had 1,699 RBI, scored 1,583 runs, earned 1,747 bases on balls and drew 173 intentional walks.
Also, Thome had .402 on-base, .554 slugging and .956 on-base-plus-slugging percentages over a career that spanned parts of three decades and included 2,543 games played.
“Charlie’s greatest gift is he could build anybody up to be great, at least make them think they could be great, and that’s what I love about him,” Thome said. “He loved his players, and I think his players ultimately loved him back, and that was so great.”