ryan howard

Cooperstown calls Jim Thome

Cooperstown calls Jim Thome

Charlie Manuel likes to tell the story of how the Cleveland Indians brass asked him to peek in on some of the club's top young prospects during the instructional league in the fall of 1989.

After a few days, Manuel, then the Indians' big-league hitting coach, called back to Cleveland.

"There's this kid down here from Illinois that can really hit," Manuel said.

That kid was Jim Thome and on Wednesday night a spectacular baseball journey that started with his being an unheralded 13th-round draft pick of the Indians in 1989 took him to the Hall of Fame.

A friendly giant of a man — literally and figuratively — Thome slugged 612 home runs, eighth most all-time, and made five All-Star teams. Those credentials helped fuel a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Though Thome spent the majority of his career with the Indians, his selection was felt profoundly in Philadelphia, where he is a member of the Phillies' Wall of Fame. Thome played four seasons with the Phils and clubbed 101 home runs — including the milestone 400th of his career — with the club. He came to the Phillies as a free agent before the 2003 season, the team's last in Veterans Stadium. He finished fourth in the National League MVP balloting that year.

Though Thome was gone — traded to the Chicago White Sox to clear a spot for a kid named Ryan Howard — by the time the Phillies broke a 14-year postseason drought in 2007 and won the World Series in 2008, his signing marked a reawakening for an organization that had slumbered in the years following its winning the NL pennant in 1993.

Thome, who now works in the White Sox front office, was always a gentleman and a first-class teammate — "the best I ever had," said Dan Plesac, who pitched for 18 seasons in the majors — during his playing days. It seemed as if the entire baseball world was happy for him Wednesday night as he received 89.8 percent of a necessary 75 percent (of 422 ballots) for election.

No one was happier for Thome than Manuel, his mentor and former manager in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

“I couldn’t be happier for Jim, who is like a son to me," Manuel said. "This is totally deserving and, for me, ranks up there with anything I’ve ever seen happen in the game of baseball.

"For someone that I met as a 19-year-old and saw improve as much as anyone over time, it makes me smile to think that all that hard work, all those swings in the batting cage, paid off for him. 

"I started thinking this was possible after he hit his 500th home run and for the day to finally be here — it’s like winning the World Series all over again."

Phillies management, from the ownership level to then-general manager Ed Wade, targeted Thome after the 2002 season to help build some electricity around an improving club as it prepared to move into a new stadium, Citizens Bank Park, in 2004.

"A transformative moment for our organization," David Montgomery, the Phillies chairman, said of Thome's decision to accept the team's six-year, $85 million contract offer.

"Jim’s signing with the Phillies accomplished a great many things for the organization," Wade said. "First, he made us a better team. He gave us the opportunity to develop Ryan Howard at the proper pace. His clubhouse presence among a lot of outstanding young players allowed them to learn how to handle the pressures of the game. 

"In a global sense, his signing validated and reinforced the promises we made to our fans about being fully committed to use the resources of a new ballpark to build a championship-caliber organization. And, he just happened to open the door for us to hire the winningest manager in Phillies history: Charlie Manuel. Baseball, the Phillies, Philadelphia and many of us individually owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Thome.”

In addition to Thome, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman were elected by the writers. Jones, like Thome, made it in his first year of eligibility.

Thome, 47, ranks 23rd all-time with a .5541 career slugging percentage. The Peoria, Illinois, native hit 40 or more homers six times.

And while he impacted baseballs with his powerful left-handed stroke, his impact on his teammates was also profound.

"I want to say congrats to one of the most deserving, and one of the most genuine, people I’ve ever met in my entire life," Howard said.

"He was an unbelievable hitter but somehow an even better person," Chase Utley said.

“They didn’t call him ‘Gentleman Jim’ for nothing," Brett Myers said. "A great family man and that’s exactly how he treated his teammates — as family. He greeted everyone with a smile no matter who you were and made sure he spoke to all his teammates no matter what kind of day he was having.”

Jimmy Rollins said sharing a clubhouse with Thome was an honor.

"His infectious smile, gentle nature, and the extra-large and tight hugs he’d give his friends because he was genuinely excited to see you were things I looked forward to every day," Rollins said. "I congratulate him on a well-deserved Hall of Fame selection."

A celebration of life: Thank you, Roy Halladay

A celebration of life: Thank you, Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jimmy Rollins called it a reunion of the most unfortunate kind.

On the very field where he made his memorable Phillies debut in March 2010, Roy Halladay, the pitcher, the man, the teammate, the husband and the father, was remembered Tuesday evening in a moving celebration of life at Spectrum Field a week after he died in a plane crash just a few miles away in the Gulf of Mexico.

Family, friends, fans, former teammates and the young players he coached on two travel teams and down the street at Calvary Christian High School sat in the stands from dugout to dugout — the turnout was estimated at 2,000 — and listened to emotional and heartfelt remembrances from those who knew Halladay best.

Nine people spoke and that was fitting.

Doc always wanted to go the distance.

Chase Utley, a teammate who won Halladay's respect because the two men shared an intense work ethic and competitive spirit, was one of the speakers. He told the story about showing up the first day of spring training at 5:45 a.m., wanting to be the first one through the door so he could send the right message to his teammates, and much to his surprise finding a sweat-soaked Halladay eating breakfast. Halladay had already completed a pre-dawn workout, which, of course, would be followed by the regular team workout a few hours later.

"I knew then and there, this guy was the real deal," Utley said.

Utley spoke from a stage just behind the pitcher's mound. The stage was adorned with flowered numbers — a red 34 for Halladay's time in Philadelphia, a blue 32 for his time in Toronto — and pictures of the future Hall of Famer in both teams' uniforms. Utley closed his remarks by looking out in front of the stage, where Halladay's wife, Brandy, and the couple's two sons, Braden, 17, and Ryan, 13, sat.

"Your dad ...," Utley said.

The stoic second baseman paused and became emotional.

"... was the best teammate I ever played with and the most fierce competitor I've ever seen. I'm sure all your lives you've heard people praise your dad and tell you how proud they were of him. But in the conversations I've had with him, he was more proud of what you guys have accomplished than what he ever accomplished on the field.

"Brandy, Braden and Ryan, thank you for sharing him with us."

Later, after the tribute, Utley talked about speaking directly to the two Halladay boys.

"That was probably the hardest part," he said. "I have two boys myself. It really hit home.

"Roy meant so much to me. He affected me. He made me better as I have evolved as a player and a person."

Braden and Ryan are both young baseball talents. Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was one of the speakers and he, too, spoke directly to the boys, promising to peek in on their games.

Manuel also recalled managing the National League All-Star team in 2009 and meeting Halladay, the American League All-Star starter that summer. By that time, the Phillies had already had their eyes on Halladay, hoping to swing a trade with the Blue Jays for him.

"You’d look good in a Phillies uniform," Manuel told Halladay that day.

Halladay was in a Phillies uniform the following spring. He made his spring training debut on March 4, 2010, and pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts against the New York Yankees. Just three of the 24 pitches he threw that day were balls.


Halladay went on to pitch a perfect game, a playoff no-hitter and win the NL Cy Young award that season. He finished second in the Cy Young race the following season and helped the Phillies win 102 games. His final two seasons with the club were marred by back and shoulder injuries that ended his career.

Halladay pitched his heart out in an excruciating 1-0 playoff loss against St. Louis that ended the Phillies' 102-win season in 2011. He pitched that game against another big, right-hander, Chris Carpenter. The two were former teammates with the Blue Jays, best friends and fishing buddies. Carpenter was one of the speakers Tuesday and he made you laugh and cry.

"Doc texted me after Game 5," Carpenter said. "I was on the bus. He was in front of his locker. There he was, he'd just pitched his heart out and he wanted to congratulate me and wish me luck the rest of the way. He also said, 'I'm looking forward to our fishing trip in Brazil.'"

Carpenter told of how, as young, aspiring players, he and Halladay would fish late at night during spring training and fantasize about one day being as good as Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen. He talked about fishing trips to South America, how Halladay would bring his glove so he could get his offseason throwing in, and how, on a 100-degree day, Halladay took a dip in the piranha-infested Amazon River.

"Dude, get back in the boat, you’re going to get eaten by something," Carpenter recalled telling a backstroking Halladay.

Carpenter also got to the core of Halladay — the determination, the drive, the persistence — when he talked of his friend's early-career struggles and the demotion from the majors all the way to Single A. That event was the watershed moment in Halladay's career. He changed his pitching mechanics and found a new mindset thanks to his work with sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.

"When he came back, you could see it in his face and his body language that he was going to dominate," Carpenter said. "He said he would never be that bad again and he became the best of our generation."

Phillies owner John Middleton spoke and said that Halladay transcended sports.

"Knowing Roy is one of the great privileges in my life," Middleton said. "The man made the ballplayer, not the other way around. We all wanted to win for Doc. No one wanted to let him down because we always knew Doc would never let us down."

Dozens of former teammates and officials from two teams were on hand for the tribute. Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Ruben Amaro, Rich Dubee, Pat Gillick, David Montgomery, Jose Bautista, Cito Gaston, Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez were there. Scott Rolen, a Phillie who became a teammate of Halladay's in Toronto, was there. Carlos Ruiz, Halladay's beloved catcher was there. He cried as he spoke about learning of his friend's death.

"Doc will always be in my heart," Ruiz said after the tribute.

George Poulis, the legendary Blue Jays athletic trainer who stretched Halladay's arm before starts, told of a pre-start routine the two shared.

"Before he'd head out to warm up, I'd say, 'Doc, have a good one,'" Poulis said. "If I got distracted working on another player, he would stand there until I said those words."

Poulis paused, fighting back emotion.

"Doc, have a good one," he said. "I will miss you from the bottom of my heart."

Halladay's dad, Roy, spoke beautifully about his son. Brandy spoke for 18 heartbreaking minutes about her husband and how she beat him in billiards on their first date and ping-pong on their second.

"Roy Halladay does not like to lose," she said, a hint of a smile breaking through the tears.

Brandy Halladay urged the mourners to take nothing for granted and to hug their family members tightly. A few minutes later, she looked down at her two sons and spoke of their dad.

"I still get to see him every day because I look at you," she said.

Vince Nauss of Baseball Chapel concluded the tribute with some beautiful words. He also spoke at the celebration of Dallas Green's life back in March. He's one of the best.

Rollins was right, with so many former teammates, coaches and officials from the Phillies on hand, it was like a reunion, albeit a very sad one.

Moments after the tribute concluded, Rollins spoke of learning of Halladay's death in a text message from Ryan Howard, who was also on hand for the service. Rollins grieved and tried to come to terms with the news until finally going to bed at about 1 o'clock that night. His said his wife, Johari, was a little too far over on his side of the bed and gave him a little kick as if to say, "Move over." Jimmy said he wasn't going to move over, not on that night. He felt compelled to move closer to his wife and give her a hug.

"Like Brandy said, hug your family a little tighter," Rollins said.

Howard, Rollins, Utley, Manuel connected again in fun way


Howard, Rollins, Utley, Manuel connected again in fun way

This was pretty darn cool.

The core members from the greatest run in Phillies franchise history were all connected in a way on Wednesday night.

Jimmy Rollins, who has been performing in-studio analysis for TBS during the MLB postseason, was joined by special guest Ryan Howard.

The ballgame they watched and analyzed? Game 4 of the Dodgers-Cubs NLCS, featuring old friend and teammate Chase Utley.

And then beloved former manager Charlie Manuel joined the fun. Let's just say he was a fan of the TBS crew.

Next season marks the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 world champion club.

Let's hope all four can reunite at Citizens Bank Park for the festivities.

That'll be special.