Ah, what a tangled web we weave. The Cleveland Indians first base situation has been about as diluted as the nation’s quest for a health plan. How diluted? Well, if you can make it through the Earl Snyder, Jeff Liefer or Lou Merloni eras, you end up with two of the top three dogs at the position being Ben Broussard (380 games) and Ryan Garko (334 games). Both had their moments with the Tribe, but neither set the world on fire.
The All-Aught Indians first baseman is Jim Thome.
Jim Thome was Victor Martinez, before Victor Martinez ever wore the Tribe jersey. He was the Indian that bled team colors, and more than anything else, wanted that World Series ring. I remember listening to Thome interviews prior to every season after 1995, and they all revolved around doing what he could to bring a championship to Cleveland. I know, all players say that, but when Thome said it, you could see the fire burning in his eyes.
When Thome left after the 2002 season, it set off a wave of anger unlike anything I’ve ever seen. More than Albert Belle, and more than Manny Ramirez. Jim Thome’s departure left several fans angry and bitter. Why? People cared about Paul Bunyan-esque first baseman. Fans wanted Thome to retire an Indian, with a belief that as long as Thome toiled at the Jake, there was a chance for something big to happen.
We all know the story. Jim Thome said he would stay in Cleveland. Thome said he wanted to stay with the Indians for the rest of his career. Thome eventually signed a mega-deal with the Phillies that left Tribe fans in disbelief. More on that in a bit. Whether you sided with the Indians management, or sided with Thome, chances are pretty good you were just plain upset to see the heart and soul of the Indians’ teams of the 90’s leave the north coast after, arguably, his three finest years as a player. There were good reasons to be upset.