Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jim Thome and 600 home runs

It is no secret that I am a New York Yankees fan. But that doesn’t mean that I do not watch other baseball teams. I used to watch games by the Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s, and the Cleveland Indians. I can go on talk about the Mariners that you’d wonder if I actually rooted for them. Maybe if there was one club I’d cheer for – that would have been the 1990s Indians team.

They were a tough team for the Yankees to beat then. I thought that they matched up well and had some pretty good talent on those squads.

Here’s the 1997 roster of the Indians that went 86-75 for first place in the AL Central Division and beat the Yankees in that year’s playoffs 3-2.

C – Sandy Alomar
1B – Jim Thome
2B – Tony Fernandez
3B – Matt Williams
SS – Omar Vizquel
LF – Bip Roberts
CF – Marquis Grissom
RF – Manny Ramirez
DH – David Justice

For pitching, they were led by Charles Nagy, Orel Hershiser, Chad Ogea, Bartolo Colon (who is pitching for New York today and 14 years later), and Jaret Wright. For relief pitching, they had Eric Plunk and Paul Assenmacher while Jose Mesa, in his best Goose Gossage impersonation, was the closer.

Fernandez came from the Yankees where he was a part of the team that made the playoffs for the first time (as a wild card entry in 1995). He was playing shortstop then but he was moved  from New York to make way for a rookie named Derek Jeter.

With the Indians, Fernandez had to switch to 2B because Omar Vizquel was the incumbent. I always though of this 90s era as a golden age for shortstops. Seattle had Alex Rodriguez. Boston had Nomar Garciaparra. New York had Jeter and Cleveland had Vizquel.

But I feared this Cleveland team because of their hitting -- Ramirez, Alomar, Williams, Justice, and Thome. They were a good hitting team but their defense wasn’t great. The Indians thought that their offense would smother foes.

Their batting order usually went like this:
Grissom (lead off)
Ramirez (batted third, fourth or sixth)

I was terrified of Thome who hit 40 home runs that year. His BA was .286 yet had an OBP of .423!

Those Indians lost to the Florida Marlins 4-3 in the World Series that year and although they were good enough they never got past New York in the years after.

Thome played 12 years for the Indians before he joined the Philadelphia Phillies then the Chisox, LA Dodgers, and now, the Minnesota Twins.

Vizquel played 10 years with Cleveland before he joined the San Francisco Giants. Alomar played for 10 years.

But who stayed? No one on that team? Justice, Enrique Wilson, and Chad Curtis would join New York and help them to a couple of titles.

Maybe I am too old school when I think that a player should stay with a franchise for life.

The Yankees team that Thome faced during the 90s has some Yankee lifers – Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano River, Jorge Posada, and maybe Andy Pettitte (he did play for a few years with Houston).

Who do the Indians have? When Thome goes to Cooperstown, is it as an Indian or a Phillie? He played for five teams. Again, 12 years with Cleveland and 9 with other teams. You might say that it’s a no brainer but stranger things have happened.

Anyways, that's for Thome to decide. But I am proud to see him get 600 home runs (in an injury plagued and uncertain season) and not be tainted by the steroid scandal. He is genuinely one of the good guys in the sport. Never gets in trouble and just plays the game.

Baseball should have more players like Jim Thome. But I wish he stayed with Cleveland though. That 600th round tripper would give the people something to cheer about.


Additional reading from ESPN.

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