Jim Thome, the nicest man in baseball, probably didn’t envision his 22-year Major League career coming to an end this way, with his back aching all of the time and his free-agent team of choice the Philadelphia Phillies teetering on the edge of .500 instead of making a run for the National League pennant. But it has been that kind of year in Philadelphia.
This is almost surely Thome’s last stop on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he signed with Philadelphia after passing 600 home runs last season in order to take one last stab at winning a World Series, the only hole on his resume. Instead, the Phillies, who have been without slugger Ryan Howard all season, and who now have ace Roy Halladay on the disabled list, are struggling to stay afloat when it seemed quite likely they would have been able to cruise into the playoffs.
And poor Thome, who Wednesday came off the disabled list himself and got into a game for the first time since April 29. His aged back won’t let Thome play first base anymore, but it also messed with his powerful left-handed swing enough so that he couldn’t play at all. Even on a rehab assignment to Clearwater, Thome couldn’t bend over to take ground balls. He did show that when close enough to feeling right he can still powder the ball, going five-for-1o in his at-bats there.
So far this has been a lost season for the Phils, the team I expected to be the best in baseball in 2012, and for Thome, who is hitting .105. Since he is playing with a National League team that outside of interleague play has no place for a designated hitter and since he can’t play the field, Thome’s opportunities for appearances the rest of this year seem numbered.
Except for Philadelphia’s interleague games (a group of which approach this weekend), Thome may be stuck in the role of full-time pinch-hitter, which as everyone knows is a part-time job. When he was activated by the Phils Wednesday, Thome talked about what a challenging job that can be. “You really tip your hat to guys that can pinch-hit full-time,” he said.
That almost made it sound as if he feels he cannot. Surely, that’s what manager Charlie Manuel has planned for Thome, however. With this stretch of interleague games it would be nice to see Thome get full-time work in the batting order and to see him unleash his old self. Thome ranks eighth on the all-time Major League home run list. Sammy Sosa, with 609 dingers, has just five more than Thome. It would be nice to see the big guy put together a little streak and pass Sammy.
Certainly that would be a neat last hurrah for Thome, who turns 42 in August, a fitting cap to a superb career.