It has been over six years since Jim Thome contributed a hit, a run, a RBI, a walk, or a homer for the Phillies. But, even today, the former first baseman can be credited for taking one of the most consistently mediocre teams in baseball and turning it into a competitor.
In December of 2002, when the Phillies signed Thome, the best hitter on the market, to a 6-year, $85 million contract, it was a clear sign that the owners and management were hoping for a new beginning to go along with their new ballpark.
Finally, there was someone on the roster who could energize, not only a lineup, but an entire city.
He was nothing short of spectacular in his first two seasons with the Fightins. Thome hit a combined 89 home runs and 236 RBIs—numbers the Phillies hadn't seen in years. He subsequently led the Phillies to their best record since the team's 1993 pennant season.
His third year was shortened due to injury, which also ended his Phillies career because of the emergence of another power-hitting lefty.
Maybe Thome did, as some critics argue, block then minor leaguer Ryan Howard from an earlier start in the Majors. Thome, however, gave the Philadelphia fans something that a prospect could not provide. The fans, after a decade of losing, finally believed in the organization's efforts to win a championship. Along with the ballpark, would come a new era, and it all started with Thome.
Thome went on to continued success with the Chicago White Sox and his current team, the Minnesota Twins. Howard went on to become one of the best young talents in baseball for the Phillies. It all worked out in the end, for both sides. Except for the one thing Thome continues to lack on his finger: a ring.
He probably will never win the title he so vehemently deserves. But on a night where Thome is the center of the baseball world, Phillies fans should be very proud to say that he played in our city, wore our uniform, and helped bring our baseball team back from the abyss.
Congratulations to the newest member of the 600 club—Jim Thome; who will always be, in my mind, a Phillie.