Phillies

Phillies

On Friday night, Jim Thome became the 38th member of the Phillies Wall of Fame.
 
Thome joined the likes of so many other Phillies greats on the wall, including his former managers Charlie Manuel (2015 inductee) and Larry Bowa (1991), and teammates Pat Burrell (2014) and Mike Lieberthal (2012), all of whom attended Thome’s induction ceremony.
 
“What a great day to come back and get to see a lot of old friends,” Thome said. “Tremendous players. Going into that fraternity is just so great. I use the word a lot: humbled. It’s really cool, it’s really a special thing to be honored like that by an organization.”
 
Thome will undoubtedly find himself at the center of another ceremony making another speech some day, in Cooperstown no less, maybe even during the summer of 2018 when he’s first eligible to be elected to the Hall of Fame. But what stands out about Thome is that during his 22-year major-league career, he spent less than four full seasons — and less than three as an everyday player — as a Phillie.
 
So how did Thome make his way onto the Wall of Fame if he didn’t even play half a decade in Philadelphia?
 
Well, it’s simple, really.
 
When the Phillies signed Thome prior to the 2003 season, they made a statement. Signing a power-hitting, proven All-Star meant the Phillies, who at the time hadn’t made the playoffs since 1993, were on a mission to flip the script on their growing trend of losing seasons. Thome was truly the first big-name player the Phillies had brought to town in a while, and he made them relevant again.
 
Manuel, who managed Thome in Cleveland from 2000-2002 and Philadelphia in 2005, knows that as well as anyone.
 
“Jim Thome signed the biggest free-agent contract in Phillies history, and overnight changed the way that people look at the Phillies," Manuel said when he introduced Thome on the field Friday night (watch the full ceremony here). "Not just people in Philadelphia, but all over the country. All the sudden, the Phillies were on magazine covers and also broadcast on national TV."
 
Thome played 391 of his 2,543 career games and hit 101 of his 612 home runs in a Phillies uniform, yet he is loved by the city and its fans as if he played here for a majority of his career. He wasn’t on the 2008 World Series team, nor was he here in 2007 when the Phillies began their reign of winning five consecutive NL East crowns, but Thome’s role in building a winning culture didn’t go unnoticed.
 
That’s the main reason Thome is so appreciative of his Wall of Fame recognition.
 
“I’ll say it again, you are humbled that [the Phillies] would think that highly of you to put you in a great fraternity, I call it. Baseball Hall of Fames — they just don’t give people that honor,” Thome said. “I know that I didn’t play here long and I know there are so many guys that are going to be in [the Wall of Fame] that are deserving. I just feel so honored that they would think of me to put me in.”
 
Thome helped close out Veterans Stadium and open Citizens Bank Park. In 2003, Thome’s first season as a Phillie and the team’s last at The Vet, he led the majors with 47 homers and finished fourth in the NL MVP vote. On June 15, 2004, he hit his 400th career home run, a feat that will remain one of the most iconic moments in Phillies history.
 
“You see the excitement and the energy of what it does for the city," Thome said. "So not only did this organization get great players and keep great players, they did a great job of building a ballpark where fans could relate and wanted to be around."
 
Thome took a chance on the Phillies when he didn’t have to. He played the first 12 years of his career with the Indians and went to two World Series. Meanwhile, the Phillies had put together just two winning seasons in that span.
 
But Thome bought in.
 
“When I came here and Ed [Wade] and Ruben [Amaro Jr.] and [Bill] Giles and [Dave] Montgomery, all those guys kind of told us what the plan was, moving into the park, it put us in a position where we felt really good about what Philadelphia could be,” Thome said.
 
“I mean, yes, there was a little of the unknown. There’s always that. There’s that risk in life any day. But I felt the love in a lot of areas, not only in the organization, but the contractors, the electricians, the fans, the city, you could see there was something special here that was about to emerge.”
 
When the Phillies won it all in 2008, Thome attended one of the home games to support his former organization. After the series-clinching victory in Game 5, Manuel said he thought about three people. Wade and Aaron Rowand were two of them. The other? Thome, of course.
 
So, no, Thome didn’t wear the red pinstripes as long as any of the other 37 members on the Wall of Fame. But before Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard became MVPs, before Chase Utley became “The Man” and before the Phillies became a postseason fixture in the late 2000s, Philadelphia had Thome, laying the foundation for a promising future.
 
You can’t put a number on that.
 
“Baseball has given me so much, but what I treasure most is the friends that I made in this game," Thome said. "Many of them are from my time here in Philadelphia. I’m always happy to come back to this incredible city and I will continue to do it as long as I’m alive.
 
“My time here as a Phillie was short, but I loved every minute of it. Trust me, I truly loved every moment.”