It was the end of the 2002 season. Jim Thome was finally a free agent after years of torturing the Twins. (And particularly, torturing Rick Reed. Good lord, did Big Jim take it to Reed. Thome hit more home runs (9) off of Reed than any other pitcher, even though he only had 27 at-bats against him. Think about that. He hit .333 JUST IN HOME RUNS against Rick Reed. Lordy.)
Anyway, Thome was a free agent. As a blogger who is asked these sort of things all the time, I must have received the question "Will the Twins sign Jim Thome?" roughly a dozen times per week. Never mind that the Twins had made absolutely zero intimations that they intended to pursue Jim Thome. Or that the Twins had a left-handed DH at the time named David Ortiz. Or that the Twins still had no hint of a stadium. Hell, they had just barely survived contraction. And yet EVERYONE wanted me to tell them the Twins might chase Jim Thome, the biggest free agent on the market.
It speaks to how Jim Thome always SEEMED like a fit for the Twins, even when there was no practical way in which he was a fit for the Twins. He publicly heaped praise on how the Twins played the game. He hit the snot out of our ballpark. He looked adorable wearing flannel next to a blue ox. He was a perfect fit, except that he was just too damn good.
He signed that year with the Phillies for $85 million dollars. It locked him up for six years…during which time he still managed to end another Twins season with a game winning home run in game 163 for the arch-rival White Sox. Of course.
But when the contract ended, the 39-year-old was looking to reestablish his career. Spurned by the White Sox, quarantined from the National League, he finally found his way to the Twins. (By the way, well played Bill Smith.) Not only did his career get taken off of life support, it produced a number of memorable moments: Thome passing Harmon Killebrew on the all-time list, his blast off the flagpole on Labor Day, his 600th
home run and best of all….
The home run off Matt Thornton that served as the dagger for the White Sox 2010 season. Hell, I would have raised Thome’s $1.6M salary just to hear Hawk Harrelson be rendered that utterly speechless in disgust. Some treasures cannot be bought.
In a golden season for the Twins in so many ways, Thome added his own luster. And the next year, even in a season in decline, he served as a reminder of the dignity of the game. He’ll return to the Twin Cities tomorrow with his old/new team the Philadelphia Philles, giving us one more chance to reminisce about our favorite (and most painful) Thome moments.
But don’t feel like you have to wait. That’s what the comments are for….