Longtime mentor Manuel thrilled for Thome
Phillies manager worked with 600-home run slugger with Indians
PHILADELPHIA -- Charlie Manuel shot up from the chair in his living room when Jim Thome hit his 600th home run Monday.
"I got a kick out of it," he said.
He got more than just a kick out of it. Manuel takes personal pride in Thome's accomplishments because they have known each other since Thome signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1989. Manuel was a major influence in Thome becoming a Hall of Fame-caliber home run hitter.
"I was with him for so long," Manuel said before Tuesday's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I met him when he was 19. He was kind of shy. Kind of naïve. He wasn't very confident at that time. But he was strong."
Manuel shared several Thome stories Tuesday, including the the first time he saw Thome get a hit. It was in Spring Training in Tucson, and Manuel was sitting on a bench next to Buddy Bell. Thome got jammed but singled down the third-base line. After the inning, Thome returned to the bench and took a seat between the two, expecting a compliment.
Manuel and Bell offered nothing.
Thome didn't know what to think. But finally when Thome was ready to take the field, Manuel and Bell told him he did a good job. Thome smiled.
Manuel remembers working with a first baseman in the Indians system named Mike Davis. Thome followed Davis everywhere, which meant Manuel had to throw batting practice to both of them.
"I really didn't want to because I didn't think Jimmy was real good at the time," Manuel said, laughing.
Manuel was trying to help Davis' swing when he noticed Thome doing everything he was trying to get Davis to do.
"Hey man, I'm working with the wrong guy," Manuel realized.
Still, Manuel could not have known just how good Thome would be. He could not have imagined him hitting 600 home runs.
"It seems like it hasn't been that long," Manuel said. "It seems like it was yesterday."
Said Thome on Monday: "Charlie's been my guy. He's been my guy a long time. He believed in me. I'm truly wishing him success and happiness. I know he's ecstatic tonight. He really believed in the fact that I could be a good player. He really taught us how to practice and how to try to hit home runs. He's like a dad, like my dad. He's very, very special."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.