Thome broke in with the Indians as a third baseman, but moved to first in 1997 when the team traded for Matt Williams and turned in the first 40-homer season of his career. He topped that mark four years later, eclipsing Hal Trosky’s 1936 club record for homers by a lefty and passing Albert Belle as the Tribe’s all-time home run leader in the process.
Thome feasted on low fastballs, and was known for his breathtaking blasts. One Jacobs Field shot traveled 511 feet — the longest homer ever recorded in a Cleveland ballpark. Like most sluggers, he struck out often (setting a new club record with 171 in 1999) but was also patient enough to lead the AL walks in 1997 and 1999. In fact, he was sometimes criticized for passing on too many hittable pitches.
Moving across the diamond from the hot corner was a boon for Thome, who needed intense tutoring from former Gold Glover Buddy Bell to persevere when he first reached the majors. Nevertheless, Thome offered to move back in 1999 when regular third baseman Travis Fryman was placed on the disabled list.
Thome, who wears his socks high to honor his late grandfather, grew up a Cubs fan in Peoria, Illinois. At the age of ten, he jumped onto the Wrigley Field turf to get Dave Kingman’s autograph, only to be hoisted back into his seat by Chicago backstop Barry Foote.