CLEVELAND — In what is a mere formality, Indians home run king Jim Thome will enter the team’s Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
He will be inducted along with former teammate Albert Belle (1989-96), former player and manager Frank Robinson (1974-77) and former player Charles Jamieson (1919-32).
The Indians erected a statue for Thome two years ago, so it was a matter of time and eligibility before the latest honor arrived.
“(It’s) a similar kind of feeling when we sat here a couple years ago with the statue,” said Thome, who played for the Indians from 1991-2002, then again in 2011 — a year prior to the final season of his 22-year big-league career. “To get an honor and to go in like this is ... I think it’s everybody’s dream that plays the game.
“You get drafted by an organization and then they kind of bring you up. You get to play with all these great players and then after your career is done, two-three years retired, you get to go in and get an award like this. It’s just very special.”
Thome, 45, is expected to be accompanied by former teammates Kenny Lofton (inducted into the Indians HOF in 2010) and Carlos Baerga (HOF in 2013) during the pregame ceremony, but not Belle, who lives in Arizona and has attended the team’s training camp in Goodyear, but declined the invitation to return to Cleveland.
“For me, personally, I was really looking forward to him being here and I’m sure Cleveland as well,” Thome said of Belle. “I know the fans, they always loved the way he played. Every day, he came and had an intensity about him and it would have been nice to see him with Baerga and Lofton and kind of mess around and have fun. I’m definitely a little disappointed, for sure.”
Thome is in his fourth year as a special assistant to the general manager for the Chicago White Sox, one of six teams he played for in his career. As a Central Division rival, he’s kept tabs on the first-place Indians.
“I think going into this year everybody knew they were going to have great pitching, and you know what pitching does,” Thome said. “You get into this time of year and health is important. Offensively, they’re scoring runs.
“I haven’t really followed them very closely, but when I have seen them, their pitching stands out ... incredible. You look at that starting staff, they’ve got a very good, talented, young, good group of kids that throw very hard.”
Included among the Indians’ highlights Thome has seen is Mike Napoli’s 462-foot homer that landed just under the scoreboard in the left-center bleachers. Thome owns three of the five longest homers ever at Jacobs/Progressive Field, including No. 1 — a 511-foot blast against the Royals on July 3, 1999.
“I remember that day. It was against Don Wengert,” Thome said. “It was a really hot, humid day. And (former hitting coach and manager) Charlie (Manuel), I think I remember him saying, ‘Son, if you hit one, they might talk about it forever.’ And it happened.”
Thome met with reporters prior to Friday’s game wearing a Cavaliers shirt. He said he watched the NBA Finals with his 8-year-old son and saw some of the celebration parade in Cleveland.
“You look on TV and the (number of) people was incredible,” Thome said. “I saw some pictures of the overhead view of the city and it was just amazing. Being a Cavs fan, my son loves LeBron (James), so we obviously root for him and then the team and it was a special time for the city. I think it showed what a class group of fans Cleveland was during that celebration. It was pretty special.”
Thome will take his rightful spot in Indians lore today. The next step is likely a trip to Cooperstown and MLB’s Hall of Fame. The five-time All-Star is one of only eight players with 600 homers (612 with 337 for Cleveland) and is eligible for HOF induction in 2018.
“In watching (Ken) Griffey (Jr.) and (Mike) Piazza (get inducted this year), which both I thought gave great speeches and very heartwarming. You think about it, but, no, that has not been on my mind,” Thome said. “With this (Indians HOF) weekend, that has been the main focus. Maybe in due time.”
The Indians placed right-hander Jeff Manship on the disabled list with right wrist tendinitis, activating righty Zach McAllister to take his place on the roster.
Manager Terry Francona said the issue has been an extended problem for Manship, who has posted a 3.38 ERA over 37 games after a sparkling 0.92 ERA in 32 games last year.
“When he tries to get extension, he just can’t quite get to where he wants it,” Francona said. “We haven’t pitched him in three days, so we’ll DL him and 12 days from now he’s got a chance to come back and be the Manship who’s getting the righties out and things like that.”
McAllister returns after a stint on the injured list with a hip ailment. He entered Friday with a 2-2 record and 5.40 ERA over 30 appearances.
Just say no?
It was reported Friday that Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, the subject of trade talks with the Indians and multiple other teams, has Cleveland on his no-trade list. Lucroy could waive the clause and still join the Indians, who have been considered one of his strongest suitors.
Numerous reports had Lucroy talks intensifying with a number of clubs, including Cleveland, the Tigers and New York Mets.
Advanced Class A catcher Francisco Mejia extended his hitting streak to 41 games.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at firstname.lastname@example.org.