Jim Thome was a Hall of Famer for about 10 minutes on Wednesday night when he heard a familiar voice.
“Hey, I want to tell you something,” Charlie Manuel said in his familiar drawl as he crashed Thome’s live TV interview on MLB Network. “I love you. It’s one of the biggest days of my life, really.”
It will be Thome who will be enshrined in July in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it is Manuel who got him there, Thome said. The slugging first baseman will be forever linked with Manuel, who guided him in the minor leagues before managing him with the Cleveland Indians and the Phillies.
Thome, listed on the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility, received 89.8 percent of the votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, well north of the 75-percent a player needs to earn a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y. Thome will be joined at the ceremony by closer Trevor Hoffman, outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, and Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones. Pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell were elected last month by the Golden Era committee.
Former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling, in his sixth year of eligibility, was on 51.2 percent of the ballots, a slight increase over last year’s showing.
“He’s a father figure. This is a guy that was my guy,” Thome said of Manuel. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for Charlie. I trusted him like a father. It was more than just the coach, hitting instructor, manager. We had this bond together. It was very special. I feel like I’m the lucky one, because I embraced it and ran with what he gave me. He gave his time. He gave his passion. He gave his life to the game of baseball. And I was the one that reaped the rewards for many years.”
Thome, 47, is one of just nine players to hit 600 home runs and one of five to hit 500 home runs, drive in 1,600 runs, score 1,500 runs, and walk 1,700 times. His .925 OPS with the Phillies is the third-highest for a Phillies hitter with at least 1,500 plate appearances. He will likely go into Cooperstown wearing a Cleveland cap, since he played 13 of his 22 seasons and hit 337 of his 612 homers with the Indians.
Thome was one of the greatest power hitters of his generation, and he steered clear of any suspicions of performance-enhancing drugs in an era filled with juiced sluggers.
The Phillies signed Thome to a six-year, $85 million contract before the 2003 season. It was a megadeal, a move that revived baseball in Philadelphia and made the Phillies immediate contenders. Thome’s arrival was a signal that the Phillies would no longer act like a small-market team in a big city. Thome led the National League in homers in his first season and pushed the Phillies to the brink of a postseason before they faded in the final week. He helped change the culture of a team that had reached the playoffs just twice in the previous 20 seasons. And he helped groom the cast of the 2008 World Champions, many of whom were getting their first taste of the big leagues when Thome arrived.
He played just three seasons with the Phillies before being traded after Ryan Howard emerged in 2005. Thome would return for a brief stint in 2012, his final season in the big leagues.
“Philadelphia made an impact on me,” Thome said. “When I went there, I only knew one thing, and that was Cleveland. I love Philadelphia to this day. It’s something I embrace. The fans treated me so great there, and I truly, truly loved every moment. The fans motivated me. They push you, and they can be really tough, but as a player, I have to tell you, that’s what drove me to try and be better.
“The one thing I love about playing in Philadelphia is that it’s about going out every day and giving everything you have and hustling to the degree that you’re just there everyday in that moment. That’s what I love the most about Philly. It was intense everyday, and I loved it so much.”
David Montgomery, the Phillies president when Thome was signed, said the move was “a transformative moment.”
Larry Bowa, Thome’s first Phillies manager, said the move made the Phillies a “perennial contender,” and Ed Wade, the general manager who signed Thome, noted that Thome’s arrival helped bring Manuel to Philadelphia. The manager who guided the Phillies to their first World Series title in 28 years was hired as an assistant to Wade shortly after Thome joined the club. The father-son bond that started in Cleveland’s minor-league system would carry to Philadelphia.
“I couldn’t be happier for Jim, who is like a son to me,” Manuel said. “This is totally deserving, and, for me, ranks up there with anything I’ve ever seen happen in the game of baseball. For someone that I met as a 19-year-old and saw improve as much as anyone over time, it makes me smile to think that all that hard work, all those swings in the batting cage, is now paying off for him.
“I started thinking this was possible after he hit his 500th home run, and for the day to finally be here, it’s like winning the World Series all over again.”