Thome missed, well respected by White Sox
Former teammates recall slugger's kindness, friendship
CHICAGO -- The Minnesota Twins jersey on his back this weekend automatically makes Jim Thome an enemy of the White Sox when he arrives on the South Side.
Take away that representative piece of clothing for the arch-rivals in the American League Central, though, and Thome clearly is as beloved in the home clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field as he was during his 3 ½ years as the White Sox designated hitter.
"You're talking about one of the most special people I ever managed," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Thome.
"He was one in a million. He is a true icon of the game," said White Sox closer Bobby Jenks of his former teammate. "Not just on the field, but all the stuff off the field."
Thome came to the White Sox in a trade with Philadelphia prior to the 2006 season and served as a prime power threat until he was traded to the Dodgers on the last day of August in 2009. Thome wanted to come back to the White Sox, even if it was in a platoon role, and his addition became a hot topic of conversation at SoxFest, '10.
Despite the White Sox being without a true left-handed power bat, Guillen made the decision to not bring back the popular slugger, primarily because he couldn't get Thome enough at-bats in his envisioned DH-by-committee situation. It was a move made out of respect by Guillen, who didn't want to put Thome in an uncomfortable situation to be questioned by the media if he was out of the lineup for a number of consecutive days.
In Thursday's pregame media session, Guillen admitted he still receives e-mails blaming the manager for letting Thome go.
"People think I made that decision about Jimmy, and yes, I did. I take the full responsibility," Guillen said. "I talked to Jimmy about why he can't be here, I don't have that many at-bats for him. He understood. At least I was honest with him. I said what I was thinking about the ballclub and Jimmy truly understands what my idea, and you can put it that way, my idea, about not bringing him back, and I respect that."
John Danks and Mark Buehrle get the starts for the White Sox on Friday and Sunday, respectively, meaning the left-handed-hitting Thome might only start Saturday against right-hander Freddy Garcia. Those matchups could lead to Thome coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter late against right-hander relievers such as J.J. Putz or closer Bobby Jenks.
During Thome's annual January charity event in Peoria for Children's Hospital of Illinois, in honor of his late mother, Joyce, White Sox captain Paul Konerko took the stage and paid special tribute to his friend in an informative and humorous speech. Part of this tribute involved e-mails from other White Sox teammates concerning Thome's virtues.
They all extolled Thome as a great person, a humble leader and someone who exuded pure class. Then, Konerko came to Jenks' e-mail. And his response?
"Jim who?" read Konerko, drawing a huge round of laughter from the huge crowd in attendance.
Jenks was being completely sarcastic, and now looks forward to facing his friend this weekend.
"I'll give him a head nod before the at-bat starts," Jenks said. "But once he gets in the box, it's game on.
"He's just one of those guys where he doesn't care how much [big league] time you have. He gives you the same respect as he would to anyone on the team. You see a guy with his stature treat everyone that way, and there's just something special about him."
Those words from Jenks were echoed across the clubhouse. Let's just say Thome stands out as one of the few visiting players welcome any time to visit his old haunts on the other side of U.S. Cellular Field.
"Hey, man. This guy is more than welcome in my house," Guillen said. "There aren't too many people that can walk through our clubhouse, but this man can. He deserves any respect we've got for that man."
"Since I've been in the big leagues, I've said there are three guys that stick out as the nicest guys in baseball," Buehrle said. "They are Thome, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Cal Eldred. They were nice to me, nice to guys who are five months in the big leagues or 10 years, they didn't care. They treated you all the same."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.