As announced almost three years ago, when Jim Thome made a brief return to the Cleveland Indians, this weekend will serve as the official unveiling of the Jim Thome statue in center field at Progressive Field.
Although Thome is certainly both an Indians-great and likely MLB Hall of Famer, the statue has brought controversy, with many fans still upset over Thome’s decision to bolt town for the Philadelphia Phillies following the 2002 season. For some, many of whom are already having to comprehend another former hero-turned-enemy returning home, the idea of honoring Thome, a guy who chased the dollars (after saying he wasn’t gonna chase the dollars), is a bit much to stomach.
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince outlines other issues with the statue in an excellent post on his Castrovince blog. Castrovince is both from the area and covered the Indians for a few years, so it’s fairly safe to say he’s got a good grasp on both the pulse of the city and the team’s likely reasonings, which he lays out (after a thoughtful mention of what Larry Doby has meant to the franchise and sport):
The entire post is really great, touching on what Thome meant to the Indians, but more importantly, what that era of Indians teams meant to Cleveland and its residents. Castrovince nails a central issue regarding the statue, one not often brought up in sports talk radio rants:
The Indians had long thought Thome to be a suitable point of emphasis. When they tried to woo him in that aforementioned winter of ’02, they could no longer sell themselves as the AL Central standard-bearers (his contract alone would have made it tough to maintain a consistent winner) but they could sell him on the allure of legacy. They promised him a statue. They harped on the benefits of continuity, of representing something bigger than yourself, of forever being remembered as the face of a franchise. These were things Feller himself capitalized on from the day he hung ‘em up in 1956 until the day he died in 2010, and Feller could attest that, yes, there was, indeed, monetary value in this association. It wasn’t nearly enough to bridge the financial gap between the Indians’ $62 million offer to Thome and Philadelphia’s $87 million guarantee, but it was real (LeBron James, who I’m sure will have a statue of his own here someday, will discover this, too).
I think, in an honest moment, Thome would tell you that he wishes he would have stayed, but that’s only easy to state in the retrospect of a career that never again reached the World Series stage after he left Cleveland. And by 2011, when the Indians did bring him back as August waiver wire fodder, Mark Shapiro was already waxing poetic about the value of 12 mostly standout seasons in an Indians uniform in today’s transient times. Certainly, it’s easy to understand the significance of being the franchise home run king and a homegrown product who, much like Feller, arrived like a gift from the Midwest corn fields and turned his country strength into Cooperstown-worthy production. Over time, the free-agent defection simply ceased to be all that big a deal to the Indians’ higher-ups.
But here’s the problem with the Thome statue: It honors Thome and Thome alone.
I know that sounds ludicrous, because that is, unmistakably, the goal of most statues, isn’t it? But I think the Indians could have honored both the man and his time in a way that satisfies all sides.
Think about those teams, those runs to five straight AL Central titles (with a sixth title tacked on in ’01) and, most meaningfully, two AL pennants in ’95 and ’97. What is the first memory that comes to mind?
Thome is an almost-surefire Hall of Famer, the franchise’s home run king, and from all reports, a genuinely good human being. But personally speaking, he’s not the first thing to come to mind when I think of that era.
But the statue is made and going up this weekend. And while there will still be some with issues regarding the statue, I’d prefer to simply have fun with it.
— Kevin Kaduk (@KevinKaduk) August 1, 2014
As in, former Indians LOOGY Paul Assenmacher.