In case you missed it, Jim Thome stopped by the City Club of Cleveland Monday afternoon, becoming the first active baseball player to make an appearance there since Babe Ruth in 1927. His talk was streamed live on WCPN, and you can listen to the whole event on the Ideastream website.
For the first half-hour, Tom Hamilton interviewed Thome in a wide-ranging conversation, asking questions about his return to Cleveland, his 600th homer, and his experiences with the pennant-winning Indians teams of the 1990’s. He then spent about 20 minutes taking questions from the City club audience, and during that segment he announced that he has no intention of retiring yet. The whole program is well worth a listen, but here are some of the highlights:
Thome started out the interview by saying he “had always dreamed” of coming back to Cleveland. He had thought about a homecoming every winter, he said, and his return gave him some closure:
“It was really a dream. I remember the first day I walked in, I’m getting goosebumps now…I remember the first day walking into the clubhouse, I didn’t know what to expect, and…that night, when I walked to the plate, and got that ovation was just, it was incredible. It was truly incredible for me.”
Thome’s trademark humility was on full display during the interview. “I don’t think anybody should be in awe of anybody,” he said when asked the younger Indians players’ reverence for him. “I’m just a baseball player.” He also said it was gratifying to be able to help out his new teammates, who frequently sought him out for advice.
Some of the best moments of the interview came when Hamilton asked Thome about some of his former teammates. On Omar Vizquel:
“Maybe one of the best every at his position, really, really. And to do what he’s doing at his age says a lot about him…Him and I would say Robbie Alomar are two of the most fundamentally best players I ever played with because they knew how to beat you, they knew how to beat you with what they had. When Omar made an error, you thought the world was coming to an end. That’s how good he was.”
On one of his best friends, Sandy Alomar:
“He took me in…he cooked me scrambled eggs one morning and I think I hit a home run, you know, and I told him, ‘You gotta keep cooking me scrambled eggs.’ (…)
No question I think he’s going to be a great manager someday because of his presence. He’s got great presence about himself.”
And, my personal favorite part of the interview, his recollections of Manny Ramirez:
“He was a guy that, you know…’where’s your underwear today,’ or ‘where’s your socks,’ or ‘where’s your stirrups,’ and Manny would have them on…you always looked over your shoulder because you never knew if was he wearing your BP top, was he wearing your helmet, you know, he might have grabbed your bat, I mean he was just very carefree. But what a talent.”
During the Q&A session, Thome made it clear that he plans to play in 2012. “I want to keep playing, and I’ll keep playing,” he said. He acknowledged that he is too old to be an everyday player, but that has not diminished his enthusiasm. “My passion is, I want to continue to play.”
The most touching moment of the event came when a man in the audience stepped to the microphone to relate a story about Thome: In 1999, he said, Thome was in the middle of an autograph session when he left to visit with the man’s dying mother-in-law. After signing all of her Thome paraphernalia he took the time to pray with the speaker’s wife.
Finally, Thome took the time to give the Indians a vote of confidence for the years ahead:
“In a year or two, [they] could do really, really special things. And I believe that, I do. I think, one thing, being around the game, you know when a team is good for a month and then you know when a team has a chance to be good over six months. And that was us.”
Thome is a legendary Cleveland sports figure and one of the nicest guys in all of professional sports. I strongly recommend checking out the full recording.