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.


  • Swift says:

    “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.”

    I can’t say I’m surprised, but I think you are right and it is marketing as much as anything else. Well that and an obvious pose. And maybe the one of Omar in mid-flight was just too technically difficult.

  • Swift says:

    One other thought…

    I wonder if the Indians are guessing that Thome will be the next Indian to go to the Hall of Fame, particularly as an Indian (assuming he goes as an Indian) and thus is the obvious choice for a statue.

  • Sean Porter says:

    That’s a good point Swift, hadn’t thought of that.

    I agree with Stephanie, something about the Thome statue feels, I don’t know, almost “forced”… He had a helluva career, but he hit nearly half of his homeruns with other teams.

    To me, Larry Doby was the obvious choice. Hell, I could even make an argument for Ray Chapman – he was the Omar of his day (great shortstop, beloved by teammates and the Cleveland fans) who literally died in an Indians uniform. To me, it would be an incredibly respectful move by the Tribe to honor either Doby or Chapman.

  • Pat says:

    I like Thome and all, but if there a statue to be built it should be Andre Thornton (ok and maybe Mel Harder).

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    The guessing on the Hall of Fame point is a good one – perhaps that’s part of it. He did spend almost half of his career with other teams though.

    I really like Thornton too – at least he has that cool vintage shirt with his picture that’s floating around.

  • D.P. Roberts says:

    Or maybe they’re trying to convince Thome to go into the Hall as an Indian. “Hey, dude, we put up a statue for you – did the White Sox or Phillies put up a statue for you? No? Then you go in as an Indian.”

  • Ryan McCrystal says:

    Interesting take on the statue. I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum from you. I can’t think of a better player to build a statue of. Not only is he a very likely first ballot Hall of Famer (I believe Feller is the only other first ballot player to go in as an Indian), but he’s arguably the most beloved Indian of all time from the fans perspective.

    A case could be made for Boudreau, but the reason you build a statue is to honor the player and for the fans enjoyment. Boudreau is dead and his career in Cleveland ended before my dad was even born. It wouldn’t generate much excitement.

    Same can be said for Doby, who is only a Hall of Famer because he was the AL’s Jackie Robinson. Not to take anything away from that accomplishment, but a statue would feel like overkill to me on top of the fact that his jersey is already retired. Based purely on his playing career, he’s one of the worst players in the Hall of Fame already. He was basically the 1950s David Justice.

    Thome has everything going for him. He was elite at his peak and his longevity puts his overall stats among the all-time greats, he’s sure-fire Hall of Famer, holds multiple franchise records, and is loved by the fans. On top of that, he is going to be the only 1990s Indian to enter the Hall of Fame as an Indian (and yes, there is no debate as to which hat he will wear, he played 3 times longer in Cleveland than anywhere else).

    • Ryan McCrystal says:

      On second thought, Vizquel might have a shot at being the second HOFer to enter as an Indian, but he’s not going in on the first ballot like Thome probably will.

      • Swift says:

        Yes and yes. Actually, I will be very upset if Omar doesn’t make The Hall, but I doubt he will go on the first ballot.

    • medfest says:

      Loved by the fans?

      I must have been hearing things when he was soundly booed every time he came to the plate at Progressive Field as a non-Indian.

      He’s as much a carpetbagger as the rest of the money chasing players out there,he’s just always been able to say the right thing with that “aw shucks” shtick, no doubt polished up by his TV personality wife.

      I appreciate what he did when he was here and admire him as a ballplayer,but hero worship is not my thing.

      When they place the statue,they should make sure the bat points at Philadelphia since that was Thome’s baseball Mecca.

      • JimM. says:

        get off your high horse medfest, thome was awesome. I don’t blame him at all for going elsewhere for an opportunity to win. i think you forget the shit show that was the indians from 03-06. Would you want to waste part of your prime on those teams? carpetbagger? have you been following any professional league during the past 30 years?

  • Alex says:

    I think erecting a statue of Larry Doby, Boudreau, etc now makes little sense. Who actually remembers the ’48 World Series? How many casual fans know about the ’48 and ’20 championship teams? Before Feller the two best players were Nap Lajoie (they named the TEAM after him for cryin’ out loud) and Tris Speaker (player manager, top 5 center fielder all time). Both are long dead. Doby? Dead. Boudreau? Dead. I know one person who recalls Feller and the ’48 World Series, my grandfather, and he is a Cardinals, not Indians, fan. The ’90s, however, are close in mind and Thome is probably the best player from that era (with Lofton on his heels). I don’t understand the confusion, Thome is going to the Hall of Fame AS AN INDIAN! We should celebrate him instead of quibbling over whether or not other players got screwed.