When Jim Thome returned to the Indians late in the 2011 season, there was a bit of magic in the air. His first game back was in front of a sold-out (or nearly sold-out) Progressive Field, full of exuberant fans waving “Welcome THome” signs. Even though he was never my favorite player, I liked Thome and had to admit there was something a bit special about his return that night.
The Indians fell out of contention down the home stretch that season, meaning that Thome would not get one final playoff appearance in an Indians uniform (at least as a player). Toward the end of September there was a night to honor Thome. The festivities were delayed by a pouring rain, and a sopping wet crowd waited to pay their respects to Thome. I figured there would be a brief pregame ceremony, something to thank Thome for his years with the Indians. Walking around during the delay, I noticed a tarp covering a portion of the wall behind Heritage Park – I figured that maybe they decided to install a plaque to honor him. When the tarp finally dropped, it revealed a “coming soon” type of painting on the wall announcing a Thome statue. I was surprised. Other fans around me were surprised. I later heard that Thome himself was surprised.
I don’t say this to take anything away from Thome, someone who had great contributions to those 1990s era teams and who was very generous in the community. But in the over 100 years your franchise has existed, you had just one statue – the legendary Bob Feller. When it came time to announce statue number two, there are at least a half dozen…maybe even a dozen…players I would enshrine in statue form before Jim Thome. I’m not even sure if someone said “pick someone from the 1990s for a statue” that I’d immediately go to Thome. And when you think of the pre-1990s, what about the first African American player in the American League, Larry Doby? What about Lou Boudreau, a Hall of Famer that led your team to its last World Series win as a player/manager? I know that there’s probably a push right now to involve the players from the 1990s for marketing purposes. I still just can’t wrap my head around the concept of the Thome statue.
There are a few scenarios that I think could have helped this situation. Perhaps a 1990s era statue, something that incorporated a few players like Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, and Sandy Alomar (for example). Or introduce a few new statues to Progressive Field, where Thome is one of several new additions. This is something that the Baltimore Orioles did at Camden Yards a few years back. In 2012, they announced the addition of six new statues – Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken, Jr. When each new statue was unveiled, all of the other statue recipients would attend the pregame ceremony and unveiling (if possible). The Orioles also made commemorative replicas of the statues that were handed out to all fans on the day of the unveiling. I traveled to Baltimore to see the Indians at the end of June, and I ended up with an Earl Weaver statue and I got to see him speak before the game. In fact, the Orioles even sold “six-packs” for the statue games; there were a lot of collectors that bought the tickets just to collect all of the mini statues. The Indians could have done something similar and sold extra tickets for all of the statue games.
Even though the Thome statue was announced at the end of 2011, it had yet to be unveiled. My husband sarcastically commented once last season, “Is this statue on some kind of five-year plan?” I always figured they were waiting to make sure that he was definitely retired before they installed it. Since that time has arrived, it was announced this past weekend at Tribe Fest that the statue will finally be unveiled on August 2. They are giving mini statues out to fans (in limited numbers) so it is somewhat similar to Baltimore’s promotion from two years ago.
There are some teams that just happen to have a lot of statues representing former players around their ballpark. Take the Pittsburgh Pirates, for example – they have statues of Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and 1960 World Series hero Bill Mazeroski (the newest, unveiled in 2010). PNC Park also has an area just inside the gate where they honor Negro League players with ties to Pittsburgh. There are seven different statues – Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Satchel Paige, and Smokey Joe Williams. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teams that don’t take the numerous statue route; not every ballpark needs a half dozen to a dozen different statues. I just think if your team has been so picky, that in 113 years of the franchise you have just one statue, you should really think carefully about statue number two (if you plan to have just two). Bob Feller is a no-brainer. Not to take anything away from Thome, he is much less of an obvious choice, in my opinion. Several new statues, or no new statues, would have been almost better in my mind.