CLEARWATER, Fla. -- All-time good guy Jim Thome and the Phillies made a deal that made both sides happy.
Thome was home pondering retirement when in a quick switch he became the first free agent to sign this winter, taking the Phillies' fair $1.25 million, one-year offer a scant three days after the free-agent period began. It's far from a windfall for the player who signed what was once the richest deal in Phillies history ($85 million, six years before the 2003 season), but it surely doesn't look like a terrible monetary arrangement for him now, not with several DH types still looking for work. No matter, Thome isn't here to enhance his bank account.
"I told my wife I was content to go home and retire, but when they called and made an offer as early as they did, they made the decision easy to play for one more year,'' Thome said. "If it is going to be my last year, what a way to go out.''
When Thome says it wasn't about the money, you believe him. It's also not about the stats. He has his 600 home runs now (604, to be exact) but it is easy to believe it was never about that for him, either. For all he has accomplished, Thome has never been part of a World Series winner -- he came the closest with the 1997 Indians -- and he sees an excellent chance here with the team that has to be considered the prohibitive favorite in the National League, especially with the nemesis Cardinals having lost the great Albert Pujols.
And despite no DH with Philly, Thome has a decent chance to play, at least early. Indications are that the team enters camp with a decent chance for Thome and Ty Wigginton to platoon at first base until star first baseman Ryan Howard returns from his Achilles injury.
"It's not about the at-bats, it's not about the home runs. I want to win,'' Thome said. "If I get 10 at-bats or 100 at-bats, it doesn't matter if we win. That's what it's all about.''
He's going to get a lot more than 10 at-bats, at least early when he has a chance to man the majority of games at first base before Howard gets back, probably sometime in May. Thome admitted he had "to get through the ups and downs of not playing (first base) in six or seven years.''
Thome isn't expected to win any Gold Glove awards out there now, but he still provides quite a bit, namely power and personality in abundance. He hit 15 home runs in just 324 at-bats with the Twins and Indians last year while batting .256. But he is more to a team than that. He brings a rare vitality for someone who at 41 is one of the oldest players in baseball. Beyond that, he is also that rare human reminder of someone who has his priorities straight.