Thome, Contreras = Pure Class
With the late-arriving news of Jim Thome’s trade to the Dodgers on Monday night, I was reminded of a moment involving the White Sox designated hitter from about two years ago. It’s a story I’ve told over and over again because it really defines the nature of one of the game’s most prodigious sluggers. And his ability on the field was surpassed by the great individual he was off the field.
It was a random three-game series at U.S. Cellular against some team I don’t remember. What I do remember is standing near the back of the clubhouse, where the media often gathers just to the left of where Thome’s locker was located, and having him walking by and stopping to say hi and chat with a handful of media members before going off for batting practice.
Two days later, on the morning before a day game, I was standing in the same spot, when Thome one again walked back toward his locker. He stopped, put his hand on my shoulder as sort of a pat on the back and said:
“It’s good to see you.”
Thome was just that sort of guy. He was such a good person, so upbeat and good-natured, that you often wondered if he really was that good of a person, that upbeat and that good-natured. Once you met Thome for about two minutes, the answer was a resounding ‘Yes.’
I had a chance to get to know Thome a little bit beyond baseball. I went to a Target in Chicago last offseason, when Jim, and his wife Andrea, every bit as nice and altruistic as her husband, were buying winter coats for kids through their charitable involvement with Children Home + Aid of Illinois, a program they got into in conjunction with Paul and Jennifer Konerko. I remember talking with Thome about the Hot Stove rumors, and he was as interested in the offseason maneuvers as if he was covering a team.
There also were a couple of opportunities for me to attend the Joyce Thome Benefit dinner in honor of Jim’s late mother, benefitting Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria. It was amazing to watch Thome treat everyone in attendance, and I mean everyone, like family members. It’s understandable why he is the favorite son of Peoria.
Actually, the move by the White Sox to send Thome to Los Angeles really is doing a favor for one of the game’s true good guys. The only spot left open on his Hall of Fame resume is winning a World Series title, and as a pinch-hitter or possibly spot starter at first base, he should be a valuable asset to the Dodgers. He also has been reunited with one-time Cleveland teammate Manny Ramirez, and there would be nothing more fitting than a championship and 600 home runs to close out Thome’s career.
In order to finish this trade, Thome had to waive his no-trade clause. He probably understood that the White Sox weren’t going to win a title in 2009 and that he probably wasn’t part of their plans for 2010 and beyond. With Tyler Flowers coming up Tuesday, don’t be surprised if the rookie catcher of the future gets his fair share of chances to serve as designated hitter over the final 30 games.
As for pitcher Jose Contreras, he was every bit as solid of a person as Thome. The quick comeback he made from a ruptured left Achilles suffered last August was nothing short of miraculous, and while he struggled mightily of late, people shouldn’t forget what he meant to the organization. There is no World Series title without Contreras.
If the White Sox don’t pick up the pace considerably in the next month, more good guys and one-time key contributors will be playing at new addresses next season.