White Sox

Ten years before he was elected to Hall of Fame, Jim Thome took a special trip to Cooperstown

Ten years before he was elected to Hall of Fame, Jim Thome took a special trip to Cooperstown

There are Hall of Fame players, and there are Hall of Fame people.

Jim Thome represents the rarest of breeds as someone who is actually both.

He's a man who brought the best of himself to the clubhouse and the baseball field every single day he wore a uniform.

He didn't know any other way to be, any other way to play.

This is only part of what made Thome so special. Of course, he was also supremely talented at hitting a baseball.

His power, swing and dedication (let's call it "obsession") to hitting helped produce those 612 home runs (eighth most all-time) as well as his 13 walk-off home runs, which remain a major league record.

White Sox fans will always remember the day Thome hit his 500th career homer in 2007. It was one of those 13 walk-offs, a towering blast against the Los Angeles Angels at U.S. Cellular Field, a moment cemented by Hawk Harrelson famously shouting into the microphone, "You're awesome big man!"

The fan who caught Thome's 500th home run ball, a man named Will Stewart who was visiting from Texas, gave the ball back to Thome in exchange for a few pieces of signed memorabilia and two season tickets the following year. Since Stewart couldn't use the tickets, he asked Thome to donate them to his favorite charity.

Fitting that the fan who caught Thome's 500th ball did the kind of thing Thome would do.

"I feel it is a part of Chicago baseball history," Stewart said.

As for Thome, he felt that baseball was bigger than Chicago history and bigger than him.

Almost immediately after getting the baseball in his possession, Thome decided that it didn't belong to him. It was meant to be somewhere else, a place where baseball history lives and now where Jim will be inducted in July: the Hall of Fame.

That following summer on a White Sox off day, Jim flew his dad and the baseball to Cooperstown to present that 500th home run ball to the Hall of Fame — and I tagged along with them.

"The baseball fans of America get to come here and experience all the great memorabilia and all the things that have happened during baseball, the pastime," Thome said that day. "That's why I thought it was important to bring it here, with Dad especially."

It was the first time Thome had ever set foot in the Hall of Fame. 

He received a tour of the shrine, stood in amazement looking at Babe Ruth's locker and carefully envisioned a day when he would become a Hall of Famer himself.

"I do dream about it," Thome said. "I guess that will all be answered later on. I try not to get ahead of myself with that, to be respectful to the game."

Good luck finding a baseball player respected more than Jim Thome. His time has come.

Watch Chuck Garfien's story from 2008 on Thome's visit to Cooperstown in the video above.

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

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Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast on The Three Amigos: Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo

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On this edition of the podcast, Micker Adolfo tells Chuck Garfien about a conversation they all had about one day becoming the starting outfield for the White Sox. Adolfo talks about his longtime friendship with Eloy Jimenez, his impressions of Luis Robert, Luis Basabe and the White Sox future.

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Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.