December 22, 2014

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Chris Assenheimer: Get over it, Jim Thome deserves a statue

Former Cleveland Indian Jim Thome stands with a statue dedicated to him inside Progressive Field before an Indians baseball game against the Texas Rangers Saturday. (AP Photo/Aaron Josefczyk)

Former Cleveland Indian Jim Thome stands with a statue dedicated to him inside Progressive Field before an Indians baseball game against the Texas Rangers Saturday. (AP Photo/Aaron Josefczyk)

CLEVELAND — Not sure I understand all the grousing from fans and the majority of my fellow comrades in the media over erecting a statue for longtime slugger Jim Thome, one of the greatest and most beloved players in Indians history.

The guy was drafted by the team, spent the first 11½ seasons of his 22-year major league career in Cleveland, ranks seventh on baseball’s all-time home run list, owns more homers than any other first baseman in big league history, is the Indians’ home run king and will more than likely enter the Hall of Fame wearing a Chief Wahoo logo on his cap.

Oh, and he has never been linked to PEDs.

That’s good enough for me.

Sure, there are other Indians greats who probably deserve statues as well — Larry Doby, Lou Boudreau and Omar Vizquel are a few who come to mind — and here’s hoping the statue committee (if there is such a thing) has those plans for the future. Team president Mark Shapiro said during the unveiling ceremonies prior to Saturday’s game that there would be more statues.

Even so, Thome seems like a fine choice to join Bob Feller as the first two Tribe players enshrined in bronze. Are we really going to squabble over what statue came first, second or third?

The loudest argument against the Thome statue — mostly from Tribe fans — appears to be entrenched in the belief that Thome turned his back on the Indians, their fans and the city of Cleveland when he agreed to a free-agent contract with the Phillies following the 2002 season.

After all, “Rapid Robert” never did that.

Mind you, Philadelphia’s deal was a year longer than the one the Indians offered, and paid Thome $25 million more, but Thome had always said he wanted to remain in Cleveland his whole career, so he should have just passed on the extra cash — just as all of those criticizing him would have, right?

There is also that little thing called the players’ union, which frowns on hometown discounts, something you rarely see from anyone in the majors — not to mention, Thome was born and raised in Illinois.

If you’re holding Thome accountable for leaving town, answer this: Which one of your favorite Indians players over the years hasn’t done the same thing for one reason or another?

Besides, it’s not like Thome held a special ESPN event and announced that he was taking his talents to Philly. Oh, but we’re cool with that now that LeBron has brought his talents back to Cleveland — just like Thome did in 2011.

Not putting the two on the same level here, but pretty sure people wouldn’t be up in arms if a statue of King James was erected outside of Quicken Loans Arena before he plays his first game back in Cleveland.

If your requirement for a statue is a world championship, you’re going to have to go back a long time for that. Who knows if statues will even exist the next time Cleveland celebrates another? Thome was a member of six Central Division and two American League title teams during his tenure with the Indians.

No world championships, but pretty close.

If you wanted Thome to show loyalty to the Indians when he signed on with the Phillies, where was theirs for him? They weren’t willing to go the extra mile for a guy that had become the face of their franchise and was still highly productive — a guy that with a competitive offer from the Indians most likely would have stuck around despite the lack of talent on the 2003 team?

You can question Thome’s loyalty to Cleveland all you want, but he seemed pretty sincere when he began to choke up during his final thank you — reserved for the fans.

“You guys deserve a championship,” Thome told the crowd surrounding Heritage Park. “And on that cold October night, when you guys finally get that championship, you can bet I’m gonna be celebrating right there with you.”

That was before Thome announced that he had signed a one-day contract with the Indians that afternoon so he could officially retire from the game as an Indian.

Seems like a pretty good candidate for a statue to me.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

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