Indians fete former Cleveland star Thome
Slugger hit 334 of historic 600 home runs as member of Tribe
CHICAGO -- Sandy Alomar Jr. roomed with Jim Thome during Spring Training back in 1993. Both were young players trying to establish themselves with the Indians, and sharing a place saved some some house-hunting hassle.
"We've been good friends since," Alomar said on Tuesday.
Needless to say, a wide grin crept across Alomar's face when the topic of Thome's latest feat was brought up. On Monday in Detroit, Thome launched a pair of home runs for the Twins to become the eighth player in baseball history to reach 600 career home runs.
Back when Thome was Alomar's roomate 18 years ago, he had just three big league blasts to his credit.
"I'm very, very proud of him," said Alomar, who is now a first-base coach for the Indians. "To put him in the same class as Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and all those guys, you can't believe things like that happen in your era, and for a player who I know very well."
Thome -- a 13th-round selection by the Indians in the 1989 First-Year Player Draft -- launched more than half of his 600 homers as a member of the Indians. The 40-year-old slugger from Peoria, Ill., boasts Cleveland's club record for long balls, belting 334 for the Tribe over the course of a dozen years with the ballclub.
Since leaving via free agency after the 2002 season, when Thome clubbed a franchise-record 52 homers, he has had stints with the Phillies, White Sox, Dodgers and Twins. Thome left Cleveland when Philadelphia came calling with a six-year, $85 million offer, but he will always have a place in Tribe lore.
"Congrats to Jim Thome on his incredible milestone," Indians president Mark Shapiro wrote on his Twitter account on Tuesday morning. "His sincerity and generosity match his prolific power. One of baseball's good guys."
With his two home runs against the Tigers, Thome joined an exclusive class of sluggers that includes Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Alex Rodriguez (626) and Sammy Sosa (609).
Thome's first career blast came on Oct. 4, 1991, at old Yankee Stadium off Steve Farr.
Indians rookie third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was celebrating his third birthday that day.
Chisenhall laughed when told of that factoid.
"What do I have? Three [home runs]?" Chisenhall said. "And he has 600. When you think about the number like that, or a number like 3,000 hits, it's hard to grasp. You have to play for a long time and be really good for a long time.
"I don't think people realize what an accomplishment it is."
Indians manager Manny Acta had one way to sum it up.
"Let's put it this way," Acta said. "Do you know how many people have played in the big leagues in way over 100 years? And only eight have been able to accomplish what he has? That's greatness. That's greatness.
"Just knowing him a little bit, and knowing a lot of people that have known him for years, from everything I've heard, he's a better person than player. That's pretty tough to beat when only eight guys have hit 600 home runs."
Indians veteran designated hitter Travis Hafner broke into the big leagues in 2002 -- Thome's last season with the Tribe. Throughout his time in Cleveland's Minor League system, Hafner looked up to Thome as a hitter and as a teammate.
Hafner was thrilled to see Thome reach 600 home runs.
"It's an unbelievable accomplishment," Hafner said. "You've got to be so consistent at hitting home runs for a number of years, which is really tough to do. He's done a great job of keeping himself in great shape and being consistent and hitting home runs. I'm really happy for him.
"I got to know him while I was in the Minor Leagues. He was my favorite player to watch and was kind of a role model for me. So I was excited to see him get 600 homers. He deserves it."
Roberto Alomar, who made a recent stop in Cleveland, echoed that sentiment.
"It can't happen to a better man," said Alomar, who was a teammate of Thome's with the Indians from 1999-2001. "Jim Thome is a class act. He's a professional. As a teammate, I appreciate everything he did for me and for the team. It couldn't happen to a better man."
Sandy Alomar said his only regret was that Thome's accomplishment did not seem to garner much attention on the national stage in recent weeks.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "I can't believe that even Stephen Strasburg got more attention than Jim Thome. That is insane. This is the eighth player in the history of the game to hit 600 home runs. I just couldn't believe it. I'm reading in the morning paper more about Strasburg coming back from Tommy John surgery than Thome getting 600 home runs.
"It should've gotten more attention. He deserved more attention."
Sandy Alomar then stopped and smiled.
"Maybe he likes it that way," Alomar said. "He's that kind of guy. The only thing that probably mattered to him was having his friends and family watching."