Thome overwhelmed by first visit to Cooperstown as Hall of Famer

Part of the HOFVISITS series
Written by: Bill Francis

His emotions on full display, tears of joy rolling down his cheeks, Jim Thome saw the Hall of Fame as a Hall of Famer for the first time on Tuesday.

“It’s hard to explain the emotions that go through you,” said Thome, six weeks after earning election to the Hall of Fame. “How do you ever dream of this happening, walking through and having all those great players stare at you? It was just a special feeling. Really, really special. It’s something I’ll never forget. As much as the call meant (when he learned of his Hall of Fame election on Jan. 24), this was right there with it, to come here and share it with Andrea (Thome’s wife) and everybody here today. Just so, so great.”

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After two hours of touring the exhibits and collections of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum during his Orientation Visit, a short trip to the Plaque Gallery, where the bronze visages of more than 300 fellow inductees now reside, is where the reality of the situation began to take hold. It was possibly put in perspective best when Thome, looking as if he could still sock a ball out of any big league ballpark, was told his plaque would soon be on a wall roughly 20 feet from the spot where Babe Ruth’s is now adorning the wall.

Minutes later, after autographing the spot where his plaque will reside come this summer, a composed but still overwhelmed Thome, sitting in a director’s chair and dressed in a dark V-neck sweater and black slacks, shared with the assembled media in the Plaque Gallery rotunda why he was momentarily overcome.

“To come through here and soon to be on the wall with them is beyond special,” Thome said. “You don’t ever envision an opportunity to walk down this hall and have all this staring at you. And to share this moment with everybody here. I just feel so honored to be here.”

Thome will be inducted July 29 with fellow Class of 2018 members Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.

Jim Thome holds a Babe Ruth bat during his Orientation Visit to the Hall of Fame. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“To come through here and soon to be on the wall with them is beyond special,” Thome said. “You don’t ever envision an opportunity to walk down this hall and have all this staring at you. And to share this moment with everybody here. I just feel so honored to be here.”

Thome will be inducted July 29 with fellow Class of 2018 members Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.

Power personified, Thome’s impressive left-handed swing struck fear in pitchers and fielders for almost two dozen big league seasons. The slugger, who entered the majors at the hot corner before shifting to first base and designated hitter, spent 13 of his 22 years in the middle of often very successful Indians lineups before later tours with the Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles. One of nine members of the 600-home run club, his 612 long balls places him eighth all time while his 1,747 walks ranks seventh. The five-time All-Star, who clubbed 40-or-more homers 12 times and had nine seasons of at least 100 RBI, ended his career with 17 postseason round-trippers.

Jim Thome poses next to the baseball he hit for his 500th home run, on display in the Museum. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Thome, 47, was in Cooperstown, along with his wife Andrea, and received a tour of the baseball institution from Hall of Fame Vice President of Exhibitions and Collections Erik Strohl as part of a visit all new electees are offered in order to prepare them for their Induction Weekend.

“All the years, all the history, where baseball started, there it’s evolved, where it’s gone to, the great players that have played in it, just all the artifacts, all the things that you can’t imagine that’s out there,” is how Thome explained his tour. “Getting an opportunity to hold Lou Gehrig’s bat or Babe Ruth’s bat or to see the Cy Young display or to see Bob Gibson, Mickey Mantle, to see a picture of where he grew up, it’s a dream.

“As a baseball player you’re blessed as a kid to just play, you keep going and you get drafted and you get the opportunity to play in the major leagues, then when it’s all done you get this gift granted to come here and to go through all of this is just so special.”

Hall of Famer Jim Thome signs his plaque backer during his Orientation Visit in Cooperstown on Feb. 27, 2018. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Throughout the tour, Thome would sometimes ask his wife to take a photo of him, whether it be a with an image of the inaugural Hall of Fame electees from 1939, next to Lou Gehrig’s locker or in front of Mickey Mantle’s jersey.

At a press conference after the tour, Thome talked about why he was so generous with donations to the Hall of Fame throughout his career. These artifacts included baseballs hit for his 500th and 600th career homers, the bat he used to club his 587th career homer to pass Frank Robinson for eighth place on the all-time list, and his Phillies jersey from when he recorded his 400th career homer.

“All those items should be here,” Thome said. “I would much rather have them here so fans can see them. When you take the tour, as we did today, you really learn the thoughtful process that they have. I’ve been lucky to have played a long time, so I’ve got a lot of stuff from over the years, but all those important items I think should be here so everybody that loves baseball can see them.”

Jim Thome motions toward Babe Ruth's jersey on exhibit in the Museum during his Orientation Visit. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

In preparing for the Induction Ceremony in July, Thome told of his progress on his induction speech.

“I am in the process now of jotting things down, putting that together,” Thome said. “My wife is an author so that’ll help, to be honest, having somebody that has been around that. For many years I’ve been lucky to have her to run things off of. That’s the great thing about marrying somebody that was in the media. I know I look forward to it and I know she’s excited to sit down and work on it.”


Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the HOFVISITS series