White Sox

White Sox

To become one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, you don't reach this legendary status by yourself. You need some help along the way.

For Jim Thome, it came in 1993 and from quite an unlikely source.

Robert Redford.

Roy Hobbs, to be exact.

Thome revealed this little nugget in the upcoming "Inside Look: Jim Thome," which premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.

At the time, the former White Sox slugger was a struggling minor leaguer with the Charlotte Knights, then the AAA-affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. His manager at the time was Charlie Manuel, who was watching The Natural when something clicked in his head and he immediately thought of Thome.

"We were in Scranton and I was a guy who held the bat still and would go from a standstill and swing," Thome explained. "(Charlie) was watching The Natural and he saw that (Hobbs) kind of had this little wiggle to his stance, and I remember the day. We went out the next day, we worked early and he said 'Do me a favor and try holding the bat out there (pointing towards the pitcher) and get a little rhythm with your swing.' And from that day I never looked back.  The following day we played a doubleheader and I hit two home runs."

So you owe your baseball career not just to Charlie Manuel, but to Roy Hobbs?

"Yes," Thome answered. "To Roy Hobbs, which is cool."

 

We taped the half-hour episode with Thome on a baseball field in Peoria, his hometown. It's the same field that his grandfather once famously hit a home run on top of a hill in left field--around 500 feet from home plate.

Thome reflected back on his baseball career with some incredible stories. Some of the highlights:

-- How he jumped out of the stands at Wrigley Field as an 8-year-old to get an autograph from his hero, Dave Kingman. Cubs catcher Barry Foote picked up the young Thome and placed him back in the stands.

-- Why he broke down and cried at the press conference when he signed with the Phillies in 2002. "I think at that moment in time it hit me that I wasn't coming back (to Cleveland)."

-- Why on the morning of his 500th home run his wife, Andrea, pleaded with him to hit it that day, and how his late mom was with him when he rounded the bases.

-- He describes the "The Blackout Game," which the White Sox won 1-0 on a majestic Thome home run: "There was not a game that I played that was more intense and with more emotion.  It was out of a movie script."

Just like his batting stance.