The Cleveland Indians are set to honor former slugger Jim Thome. Not everybody is pleased about it.
Thome, the franchise leader in home runs hit, was a pivotal part in the Indians stepping out of the shadows of mediocrity in the 1990s. He played in a total of 13 seasons as a member of the club, hitting 337 of 612 career homers with the Tribe. The Indians announced this past weekend that a statue in Thome's honor will be unveiled at Progressive Field on August 2.
It's difficult to put into words what players like Thome, Manny Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and so many others meant to the Indians and to the city of Cleveland two decades ago. The club had a shiny new ballpark downtown in Jacobs Field, arguably the nicest baseball venue in the United States in 1994. Cleveland then experienced that ultimate heartbreak when Art Modell announced that he was moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore following the 1995 NFL regular season.
While Cleveland was and remains to this day a football town, those in and around the city had a real love affair with the Indians in the middle of that decade. The Tribe won a pennant in '95, their first since 1954, but they were ultimately downed in the World Series by an Atlanta Braves team that was, truth be told, better. Cleveland lost the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins despite the fact that many analysts around the country believed that the Indians were the more-talented side.
Of all the players to wear the colors of the Indians during those magical seasons, none was more beloved than was Thome. Everything from his larger-than-life stature to his pointing the bat toward the opposing pitcher to home runs that seemed to soar forever into night skies made him an ideal Cleveland baseball icon.
So what's the problem with his getting a statue?
Well, for starters, he never won anything of merit while with the Indians. The World Series is the main objective for every Major League Baseball player and team, and Cleveland still hasn't won one since 1948. A statue for a player who never had a hand in a parade gliding past what is now Progressive Field does seem to be a bit much.
There is also the unavoidable PEDs issue. Thome has never once been connected to steroids or any other PEDs, but his significant and noticeable size increase during the prime years of his MLB career have left some unconvinced regarding his innocence. Fair or not (it's not), there will always be those out there who are sure that at least a portion of Thome's stats are tainted.
It also has to be mentioned that Thome left Cleveland after the 2002 season for a massive increase in pay that was offered by the Philadelphia Phillies. That the Indians never matched Philadelphia's offer matters little to the Cleveland diehards who viewed Thome as a local hero. Those left with a bad taste in their mouths over something that happened over ten years ago won't easily have their minds changed about this topic.
The fact of the matter is that Cleveland has not seen a lot of professional sports icons come and go over the past 50 years. Assuming that Thome is one day called to join the Hall of Fame, he should absolutely be inducted in an Indians cap. That said, I'm not sold on Thome deserving the same honor given to all-time great Bob Feller, at least not yet.
The Indians waiting on Cooperstown to first come calling before putting up any such monument wouldn't have hurt Thome or the club.