The numbers jump off the page when it comes to Jim Thome, even in an era where power reigned supreme.
His 612 home runs rank eighth on Major League Baseball’s all-time list, and his 1,747 walks rank seventh.
Only six players have totaled at least 1,700 walks and 1,699 RBI: Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Barry Bonds and Thome.
And yet Thome, the blue-collar boy from Peoria, Ill., always seemed to work hardest at something that could never be quantified: His character.
“It’s awesome and humbling to be mentioned with some of the biggest names who ever played,” Thome said. “When I got to the big leagues, all I wanted to do was survive.”
Born Aug. 27, 1970, Thome came from a family steeped in softball tradition and excelled as a high school athlete in basketball and baseball. Undrafted out of high school, Thome enrolled at Illinois Central College in Peoria and was taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 13th round of the 1989 MLB Draft.
After struggling in his pro debut in 1989, Thome worked with former Indians hitting coach – and future Indians manager – Charlie Manuel in extended Spring Training in 1990. Quickly, Thome established himself as a legitimate hitting prospect with a smooth left-handed swing that produced both power and average.
By 1992, Thome had made it to the big leagues. Two years later, he was Cleveland’s every day third baseman.
Thome was part of a loaded Indians lineup that featured young stars like Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez. He hit .314 in 1995 with 25 homers and 73 RBI, helping the Indians reach their first World Series in 41 years. Over the next four seasons, the World Series title remained elusive for Cleveland, but Thome blossomed into one of the game’s best power/on-base threats.
In both the 1998 ALCS vs. New York and the 1999 ALDS vs. Boston, Thome crushed four home runs.
Moving to first base following the 1996 season after the Indians traded for Matt Williams, Thome continues his assault on American League pitching. From 1996 through 2002, Thome drove in at least 100 runs in six of seven seasons and led the league in walks three times.
And in 2002, Thome’s work on and off the field was recognized when he was named the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, reflecting his community involvement, sportsmanship and play between the lines.
“He’s the nicest, gentlest, kindest guy you will ever meet,” said former teammate Michael Cuddyer, “to everything except the baseball.”
Following a 52-home run campaign in 2002 that saw him lead the AL in slugging percentage with a mark of .677, Thome signed a six-year free agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit 47 home runs in 2003 and 42 more in 2004, but missed most of the 2005 season with an elbow injury.
With Ryan Howard primed to take over first base, the Phillies traded Thome to the White Sox following the 2005 season. In Chicago, Thome hit 134 home runs over four seasons, then became a “hired bat” during his final years – playing for the Dodgers, Twins and Orioles as well as second stints with the Indians and Phillies.
And as he moved up the all-time lists, Thome savored the journey. He visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with his father, Chuck, in August of 2008 to donate the ball he hit for his 500th career home run on Sept. 16, 2007.
When he retired, Thome had totaled 1,583 runs scored, 612 home runs and 1,699 RBI. Only seven other players in big league history – Bonds, Ruth, Williams, Manny Ramirez, Mickey Mantle, Frank Thomas and Jimmie Foxx – have at least 500 home runs, a .400 on-base percentage and a .550 slugging average. He was named to five All-Star Games and finished in the Top 10 of his league’s Most Valuable Player balloting four times.
His 13 walk-off home runs are the most in history.
Thome was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018.