Twenty years ago, the Yankees and Indians endured miserable seasons that ranked among the worst in each franchise’s respective history (sixth lowest winning percentage for New York and second lowest for Cleveland). However, on October 4, three games before the merciful end of a forgettable season, the two teams participated in a memorable moment that launched a Hall of Fame career.
Jim Thome broke into the majors as a skinny, 20-year old, third baseman. Despite being selected in the 13th round of the 1989 draft, he quickly emerged as a top prospect by posting prolific numbers in ever level of the minors. Finally, in 1991, Thome was rewarded with a September call up, but in his first 20 games, the lefty showed few signs of his reported potential. In the final week of the season, however, the Indians’ heralded rookie finally began to give a glimpse of what the future had in store. Over those final seven games, Thome posted a line of .481/.500/.741.
Included among Thome’s last season surge was his first major league home run, a two run blast hit against Yankees’ closer Steve Farr in the top of the ninth. The homer, which gave the Indians a 3-2 victory, sailed into the empty wings of the right field upper deck. Although a sparse crowd witnessed James (as the New York Times called him the next day) Thome’s first blast, the lefty slugger would provide plenty of encores over the next 20 seasons.
The Road to 600
With two home runs against the Tigers on Monday night, Thome became only the eighth member of the 600 home run club. However, despite being a truly remarkable achievement, it almost seems as if he snuck up on the milestone. Always a prolific hitter, the lefty slugger never really garnered the level of attention his performance suggested. Some of that’s because of the time in which he played, but Thome probably would have been underappreciated in just about any era. Known for being a soft spoken, modest man, Thome was never much for making headlines. Instead, he simply hit home runs. Now that he has reached 600, it’s finally time for everyone to take notice.
Yeah, I’d like to follow in his footsteps. He always just went about his business quietly, went out and did his job and won the respect from his teammates and the fans.” – Jim Thome, talking about Ryne Sandberg, quoted by AP, March 5, 1992
Throughout his career, Jim Thome has always been described as the perfect teammate. Like his hero Ryne Sanberg, Thome has won the respect of everyone in and around the game of baseball. Soon, he’ll also join Sandberg as a member of the Hall of Fame. Hopefully, there is a generation of baseball players looking at Thome as their inspiration because not too many have done it better.