Along with the distinction of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Jim Thome can spend the next six months celebrating as one of Cleveland's toasts of the town, the human embodiment of a sports role model and one of the more beloved figures in the city's sports pantheon.
Thome was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, joining Chipper Jones (also a first-ballot entry), Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman in the Class of 2018. The induction ceremony will take place July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Until that time, everywhere he goes in which he's surrounded by Indians fans, he can be sure to receive a warm welcome, if not a standing ovation. Thome is one of the strongest ties to the high-powered Indians teams of the mid-90s and one who already has a statue outside of Progressive Field. He also carries the distinction of being widely thought of as one of the nicest human beings to ever hit a home run, let alone 612. Thome has been serenaded by Indians fans countless times, though he also remembers a few jeers from a mostly-empty Cleveland Municipal Stadium during his tough-luck days at third base, which came with some errant throws.
Speaking to Tom Hamilton in front of a group of season ticket holders for an interview to be aired on a future date on SportsTime Ohio, Thome discussed a wide range of topics, including the phone call telling him he was a Hall of Famer, the 1995 and 1997 World Series, the logo as it relates to his plaque and leaving Cleveland for Philadelphia. It also included the one occasion in which Thome wasn't sure what kind of reception he was going to receive as a member of the Indians.
That was in 2011, when Thome returned to Cleveland in a trade from the Minnesota Twins. It was his first time back in that uniform, and while Thome had a large fan base leftover from his first stint, he also knew that he had chosen to leave Cleveland in favor of the Phillies following the 2002 season.
It wasn't until he received his positive ovation that Aug. 26 night that he could calm himself.
"I'll be honest, I was very nervous coming back," Thome told Hamilton on Friday. "I loved it here, but I also left here. I just always have wanted people to know that Cleveland has always been my home. I've always loved it. And to get a chance to come back, that night there was a lot of anxiety. The reception I got I think released a lot of that anxiety.
"I thank everybody for the reception and everything they did for me when I came back. It meant so much. I don't think they know how much that meant."
Thome called it a "no-brainer" that he'd go into the Hall of Fame as an Indian. He's the 13th to do so and only the second to go in on the first ballot, joining Bob Feller in 1962. One decision he still has to make is what will be on his hat on the plaque.
The timing of Thome's Hall-of-Fame candidacy has pushed him into controversial waters surrounding the decision to remove Chief Wahoo from the Indians' uniforms after the 2018 season. Thome can choose from Chief Wahoo and the block "C" insignia. He said on Friday that he's leaning toward the latter, and that he agrees with the Indians' handling of Chief Wahoo.
"I think we're going to have some thoughtful conversation once we go there," Thome said. "I know my decision would be to wear the 'C,' because I think it's the right thing to do and I fully support the way the Indians, through this week, have done the decision that they've done. That's what I support. But, to be thoughtful, I think I need to have a conversation with the Hall of Fame, because of all the history and everything involved. I just think that's the right thing to do."
Thome called it "so special" to receive a text message from Albert Belle after the announcement, one of the several hundred messages he received. Thome couldn't contain his excitement Thursday night as he was speaking on the phone with Sandy Alomar while texting with Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and Belle, all trying to coordinate a dinner during spring training.
Certainly, seeing Thome inducted into the Hall of Fame could transport some fans back to the summers of 1995 and 1997, two seasons that changed the outlook on a franchise that had been long downtrodden. Those memories and connections are what matter to Thome, as well.
"My wife was sleeping, I was in the other room trying to be quiet, and here my excitement level is through the roof, and it's bringing back all these old memories," Thome said. "That was truly what the game is about."
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