Jim Thome

by Clark Groome

For Philadelphia sports fans, the week past was a cause for celebration.

The Eagles, freshly freed from the constraints of the lockout, traded quarterback Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals and received cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in return. They snagged former Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young as Michael Vick’s backup.

Then, in a deal that stunned the league, the Birds signed cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, this year’s premier free agent, giving them the three best corners in the league.

They also picked up defensive end Jason Babin from Tennessee and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins from Green Bay.

Meanwhile, the Phillies traded some highly touted prospects to Houston for right fielder Hunter Pence, giving the team the right-handed bat that manager Charlie Manuel and the vociferous talk-radio voices (as well as some voices who are sane) have been calling for.

Philly fans aren’t the only ones impressed. During last Saturday’s Fox coverage of the baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were talking about the baseball trades that had taken place as Sunday’s 4 p.m. deadline approached.

At that point Buck said that it had been a great week for Philadelphia. He then went on to note that the classiest organizations in MLB and the NFL play a across the street from each other in South Philadelphia. McCarver, no stranger to these parts, agreed wholeheartedly, and the love fest was on.

It was nice to hear two respected sports voices talking about the hometown teams in such a positive way.

The Phillies had been a very successful team in the 1970s and early 1980s, going to the post season regularly and winning the World Series in 1980 for their first-ever world championship. They returned to the Series in 1983 but lost to Baltimore.

For the next two decades, with the exception of that surprising and delightful 1993 team that almost won it all again, the Phils were – how to say this? – awful. Management tried to turn things around, but the impression was that while they remained in Veterans Stadium there wasn’t going to be the money to put the team on a winning track.

When the decision was made to build two new stadiums for the teams, hope for the Phils future began to be felt at Broad and Pattison and around the city.

In 2003 the Phillies signed the great Cleveland Indians first baseman Jim Thome. People began to believe – as they had in 1979 when Pete Rose was lured away from Cincinnati – that the team was serious about winning.

Thome’s signing was just the first significant change for the franchise. The second was Citizens Bank Park. The new facility, and the team Thome led into it, was a major source of revenue. As a result the suits were able to invest in what is currently thought to be the best team in baseball.

Part of the growth necessitated trading Thome to the Chicago White Sox after the 2005 season. This was done to give Ryan Howard, who had proved he was ready for prime time as a replacement for an injured Thome much of that year, the first baseman’s job full-time.

He, and the other home-grown players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, would lead the team to their first playoffs in 14 years in 2007. They would win it all the following year.

That squad – with the addition pitching aces Roy Halliday, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt – turned the team into perhaps the most feared team in the National League.

Hunter Pence’s addition last Friday is just another example of the team’s commitment to winning.

As the trade talks were floating around last week, there was some talk the Phils might go after Jim Thome as a bat off the bench. He and Manuel are like father and son – he’s almost 41 and having a disappointing season due to what he calls “aches and pains” – and he’s only three home runs away from becoming the eighth player to reach 600 home runs.

In discussing the possibility of Thome returning to Philadelphia to end his career with his mentor Charlie Manuel, the smart guys who cover the team every day say that what might happen is this: Thome will remain in Minneapolis through the end of August, likely getting the three homers needed to reach 600 with the Twins. When the rosters expand Sept. 1, Thome – one of the classiest, best liked and most respected players in the sport – would then end his career either by coming to Philadelphia or going to Cleveland where he spent his first 12 major league years.

Let’s hope he comes to Philadelphia. It would add more proof, as if more proof is needed, that the Phils are what Buck and McCarver said they are: the classiest organization in baseball.

But, as KYW’s Jack O’Rourke said over brunch in the press dining room on Sunday, if Thome does return, where are they going to put all the people who would want to see him play? The Phils just had their 182nd consecutive sellout.

I dunno, Jack, but I’d sure as hell like to find out.