For Cleveland Indians fans of a certain age, today meant something to you.
James Howard Thome is heading to Cooperstown as part of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2018.
Jim Thome's statistics during his 22-year major league career were staggering:
- 612 home runs (8th on the all-time list, 4th all-time among left-handed hitters)
- 337 homers as an Indian (tops in franchise history)
- He is only one of five players in history with at least 500 home runs, 1,500 runs scored, 1,600 RBI and 1,700 walks.
- 17 homers in the postseason
- 13 walk-off homers in his career (an all-time record)
But for me, so much of my appreciation for 'The Thomeinator' came from what he did off-the-field.
He was never caught or accused of using performance enhancing drugs like many other of his contemporaries in the 'steroid era.'
Every Indians player I ever talked to about Thome always began by saying what a great teammate he was. Jimmy always made time to talk to fans, give back to charity, and be accommodating to the media.
Jim Donovan put it best when he referred to Thome as a "great caretaker of the game, a gentleman, and a great Indian."
There was little doubt that on this Wednesday, the call would come from Cooperstown to send the kid from Peoria, Illinois into baseball immortality.
He shared the emotional moment with his wife Andrea and children Lila Grace and Landon. He then sat down for an interview that the Indians shared with us this evening.
Exactly :42 seconds into the interview, Thome did what he always has done, humbly credit others for his success. "You don't do it alone. There are so many teammates, coaches, instructors, everyone who has played a big part of this. You don't do it alone and I'm so honored."
He was asked about being a part of the Jacobs Field-era Indians, who made this city fall in love with baseball during an amazing stretch of success from 1994-2001. "The thing that drove us most is that when it was flowing, we wanted to get better every day. It was a situation where I had so many great players around me that you could go either one way, or the other."
Thome went the right way. He did things the right way.
There are many fans here in Cleveland who refuse to forgive the slugger for walking away from the Tribe in free agency in 2002, taking big bucks to go play for the Philadelphia Phillies.
A friend of mine texted me tonight that Thome "LeBroned us before LeBron."
For me, as disappointing as it was to say good-bye to Thome, I also understood why he bolted. The era of winning was over in Cleveland. Prospects had been dealt away to help keep the run of success going and by 2002, there just wasn't enough talent in the organization anymore.
It was an amazing time, but it was over. And all of the statues in the world couldn't rebuild the Indians overnight.
I hope all is forgiven now. Thome came back to the Tribe for a curtain call in 2011 towards the end of his career. He is going to enter the Hall of Fame as an Indian, the first player to do so since Larry Doby in 1998.
Hopefully will have some more company from his days as an Indian in Cooperstown soon. Thome made sure to mention Omar Vizquel, who received only 37% of the necessary 75% of the vote to get in this year. "He's going to go in. No doubt. He's a Hall of Famer and everyone knows that. How can you not root for a guy like Omar that has played as long as he has that and put up the numbers that he did," Thome said.
Always the great teammate.
Watch Jim Thome's interview courtesy of the Chicago White Sox in the player above