CLEVELAND — Saturday was the type of the day you dreamed about during the height of the love affair between Cleveland and Jim Thome.
Mike Hargrove and Charlie Manuel exchanging stories, John Hart looking on fondly and Thome’s family beaming proudly when the cover was taken off his statue. It was a night everyone could dream of back in 2001 and ’02, before Thome signed with the Phillies.
On Saturday though, after Thome’s statue was unveiled, the franchise’s leader in home runs tried to make things right to those still angry about him leaving the Indians after the 2002 season. Thome announced at the end of his speech that he had signed a one-day honorary contract with the Indians and was retiring.
Thome signed his contract before the game against Texas. After Thome threw out the first pitch to Sandy Alomar, Jason Gimabi said he was changing his number for the remainder of the season to honor Thome. The No. 25 wasn’t officially retired, but it is going to be a very long time before it is given out again.
"The timing was right. The hardest thing is to pick a time when you are ready to walk away," Thome said. "It feels good to come back and do it. The Dolans made this a big thing for me where I wanted to retire as an Indian. It’s special."
Thome said he had talks during the winter with team president Mark Shapiro about retiring and that it was finalized about six weeks ago.
The jersey Jason Giambi presented to Jim Thome on Saturday.
The center field statue, designed by Lakewood’s David Deming, features Thome in his signature pose with him pointing to center field. The Indians also placed a marker in center field at the spot where his 511-foot homer landed during a July 3, 1999, game against the Royals. That remains the longest home run in the ballpark’s 20-year history.
Thome said he had a chance to see it molded but not the final product until Saturday.
"I absolutely love it. Pointing the bat, wrapping the bat with the tape, the pine tar on the helmet. All the unique things when I played," Thome said. "I hope he can do more of future Cleveland Indians who deserve it. If they do we’ll be right here to celebrate it with them."
The statue hasn’t come without its share of controversy. It is only the second one at Progressive Field and many have wondered why Larry Doby or Omar Vizquel didn’t get it before Thome.
With the room in Heritage Park, it is likely to imagine a statue of Doby, who broke the color barrier in the American League, could happen. As for Thome over Vizquel, Thome was drafted and developed by the Indians. While Vizquel, Alomar, Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton would arrive via trades, Thome was home grown. Hargrove and Manuel managed Thome in the minors and later with the Indians.
The statue is of Thome, but it also represents the glory teams of the 1990’s, not only for what they did on the field but what they stood for.
"It is not just about the individual but everyone involved. Those teams of the 90s were really good," he said. "It is a reflection of the group — front office, coaches, manager, the people that work here. You walk through the door and you have a relationship."
Thome spent more than half of his career with the Indians. In his 12 years with the franchise, his 337 home runs are the most in franchise history, including three times when he hit 40 or more and seven years when he hit 30 or more.
Thome is also the franchise leader in walks (1,008) is second in RBI (937), third in on-base percentage (.414), slugging percentage (.566), OPS (.980), fifth in runs (928) and 10th in doubles (263).
While with the Indians, Thome made the AL All-Star team three times. He returned to the club in 2011 at the age of 40, and memorably hit a three-run homer on Jim Thome Appreciation Night on Sept. 23.
During his major league career, Thome’s 612 homers are seventh all-time.