Role as elder statesman suits Thome fine

Role as elder statesman suits Thome fine

CLEVELAND -- Jim Thome was quick to correct himself.

"They've got some kids -- we've got some kids -- that can pitch," Thome said about his new teammates, first referring to the Indians' pitching staff as opponents.

It's certainly an excusable gaffe, considering his lengthy absence from the Cleveland clubhouse.

Since he last donned the Chief Wahoo emblem, Thome has stepped foot on the diamond 1,086 times. He's dug into the batter's box on 4,322 occasions. He's gifted an unexpecting fan with a long ball 267 times.

Now, nine long years and five jersey switches later, Jim Thome's career has come full circle, as he rejoins the Indians franchise that drafted him as a gangly third baseman in 1989.

"You look at the Indians right now, they're in a pennant race," Thome said. "You look at the history of my career -- sure, you always think about one day returning, and when you're given the opportunity, it was really a no-brainer for me -- and exciting."

Thome waived his no-trade clause on Thursday, and the Twins dealt him to the Tribe for a player to be named later.

"Jim had choices. That's something that we appreciate," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He had choices, and he chose to come over here. A lot had to do with the love that he has for this franchise and the fan base of the Cleveland Indians. It's just great for everybody."

Acta could hardly contain his excitement when he learned of the club's acquisition on Thursday night.

"When we finally found out last night, it was just a moment of joy," Acta said. "We had to keep our mouths shut, but we really just wanted to walk out on the street and yell out to everyone in Cleveland that we got him, and he's coming back."

Thome called Cleveland his home for 12 Major League seasons, as he slugged a franchise-record 334 home runs, played a part in six postseason appearances and turned his high-sock look into a fashion statement.

Following the 2002 campaign, however, he took the bait of a six-year, $85 million contract with the Phillies.

The designated hitter said on Friday he doesn't regret leaving, but wishes he'd had a smoother departure. Some Clevelanders took offense to Thome prioritizing his heightened salary above the city he cherished, after the slugger said they would have to "rip the jersey" off his back for him to leave.

"I always envisioned that I was going to remain an Indian," Thome said. "When you make decisions, you move forward. But maybe some choice of words you do regret a little bit. ... Maybe I was put in this position to be here today to say, 'Hey, maybe I didn't do the right thing, but I do apologize for that and you move on and go forward.'"

Thome will turn 41 on Saturday, and appreciates the bill of health that has followed him most of his career. At this point, with limited mobility restricting him to DH duties and a troublesome lower back preventing him from earning a daily spot in the lineup, he'll likely play four to five times a week.

"He would like to play every day, and we would like him to, but it's going to be counter-productive for his body," Acta said. "He probably won't play more than three games in a row. Sometimes day after night games he won't play. We're just going to have to be smart about it."

Thome's achy body certainly doesn't make him a threat on the basepaths, making the job easier for first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., Thome's longtime teammate and roommate.

"It'll be easy because we know he can't steal a base," Alomar said. "Hopefully, I don't have to see him at first base; I'll just see him rounding the bases."

Though he isn't helping the team as a fielder, Thome could contribute in a major way in the clubhouse, especially given the Indians' crowded disabled list -- which has claimed Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis, to name a few. Thome can spread knowledge to the Tribe's inexperienced players.

"He'll be able to help our young guys," manager Manny Acta said. "He's so open to sharing information and knowledge. These guys, a lot of them were not even in high school when Jim was in the prime of his career here, but they have heard so much about him from our clubhouse people, our front office, Sandy Alomar. They idolize him, too, and respect him like if they knew him."

Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall turned three years old the day Thome hit his first big league homer in 1991. Now, Thome's gear sits just two lockers away from the rookie's.

"He's an awesome guy," Chisenhall said. "It means a lot to our team to have him here. He's been hitting home runs for a long time, and hopefully, he'll hit some more this year."

Chisenhall, who was the team's most highly regarded prospect before earning a promotion to the big league club in June, represents the promising talent Thome saw when deciding whether to accept the trade. Thome developed with other up-and-coming stars, such as Manny Ramirez and Omar Vizquel, at the start of his first tour in Cleveland in the '90s.

Now, he's a part of it all again, though this time as the team's elder statesman.

"It's a lot similar to what we had in the '90s," Thome said. "They're energetic. You can see that playing against them. That's what intrigued me about coming here. You roll the dice; you go out and have a fun September, and anything can happen."

Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.