You can go Thome again

September 1, 2009

Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome are reunited, and it doesn’t feel so good for Tribe fans.

Just before the stroke of midnight Monday, the Chicago White Sox raised the white flag, shipping Jose Contreras to the Colorado Rockies and Thome to the Los Angeles Dodgers. That means that after nearly a decade apart, Ramirez and Thome are together again.

Ramirez had good things to say about Thome:

“He’s one of the best guys I ever played with in my entire career. He’s a great guy in the clubhouse. I’m happy to see him. He’s one of the best hitters, too. I’m just glad he’s on my team.”

So were we, way back when.

You remember way back when, right? The cornerstones, along with Albert Belle, of an Indians offense that dominated the American League in the 1990s? Thome crushed 334 home runs with the Indians while Ramirez smacked 236. That’s 570 just for the Tribe; since leaving they’ve hit 536 more homers. The next handful will come as teammates on the Los Angeles Dodgers. And don’t forget, Casey Blake’s there, too. That’s three players who hit 686 home runs while playing 2,154 games for the Tribe, all playing for another team. A first-place team.

Now all we have to look forward to is picking which new team to root for in the playoffs? Will you pull for the Dodgers or the Phillies when Ramirez is hitting against Cliff Lee? The Dodgers might have more ex-Indians with Thome, Blake, recently acquired Ronnie Belliard, and Guillermo Mota on the roster, but the Phillies also have Ben Francisco (you forgot that the Indians threw him in in the Cliff Lee deal, didn’t you?) and manager Charlie Manuel. Or maybe you’d prefer the Yankees because you want to see CC Sabathia do well — unless you’re pulling for the Red Sox because you want to see Victor Martinez take Sabathia deep to give Paul Byrd a win.

Let’s face it, when the Indians traded Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez earlier this summer they weren’t exactly breaking up the ’27 Yankees, or even the ’95 Indians. Sure, both were part of a team that came a win away from the World Series just two seasons ago. The trades did signal the end of an era, just not the current era. It actually signaled the end of the Jacobs Field era. Yes, all those players are long gone from the Tribe — Belle, Thome, Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar, Kenny Lofton, Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershisher, Jose Mesa, Carlos Baerga — but they’re not long gone. Consider:

  • At age 42, Vizquel is hitting .305 for the wild-card contending Texas Rangers.
  • Alomar visited Progressive Field this summer for induction into the Indians Hall of Fame the day after Victor Martinez was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
  • Lofton rejoined the Indians just two seasons ago for the ill-fated run at the World Series.
  • Brian Giles and Julian Tavarez, 19 and 22 years old respectively while playing for the ’95 Indians, are still bouncing around the majors, though nearing the end of the line. Giles is a year removed from hitting .300 with the San Diego Padres while Tavarez posted a 4.89 ERA for the Washington Nationals before being released a few weeks ago.
  • Bartolo Colon, who became a big part of the Indians starting in 1998, posted a 4.19 ERA for the White Sox this year.
  • Hershiser and Baerga appear as ESPN baseball commentators, with Hershiser recently doing color commentary at the Little League World Series.
  • And of course Ramirez and Thome keep chugging along toward the Hall of Fame.

That era’s gone, and it’s never coming back. No matter how the Indians want to spin it these days, the team that won 90-plus games in 2005 and 2007 was to the 1990s Indians like Lindsay Lohan is to Marilyn Monroe. A fleeting copy. The 1990s Indians were built on the backs of several future Hall of Famers (Vizquel, Ramirez, Thome, Eddie Murray) and a couple of near-miss HOFers (Belle, Lofton). The 2005-07 Tribe were built on the backs of some good players, but the chances are slim to none that we’ll be seeing Lee, Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, or Jhonny Peralta in the Hall of Fame without a ticket stub in their pocket.

Similarly, the Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane have been billed as the “Moneyball” team, when the reality is that the team was built on the backs of underpriced topnotch pitching. Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder kept the early 2000s Athletics rolling. Oakland has tried to replicate that success by signing and flipping cheap talent for the past several years. But it’s that once-in-a-generation pitching (only the Braves with John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine throughout the 1990s) have employed a young triumvirate such as the A’s for any length of time.

Those Indians teams of the early Jacobs Field era were built not on locking up young talent for the long-term, but by locking up young Hall of Fame talent for the long-term. Lee and Martinez reached the end of the line here in Cleveland and were sent off. But let’s face it. Neither is a young Hall of Fame talent. Heck, Lee went 22-3, won the Cy Young, and the Indians still won only 81 games in 2008. Fans were up in arms because Lee and Martinez were traded away, yes. But really it signaled that 1995 is gone and is never coming back, no matter how many more albums Night Ranger puts out or new 90210 episodes are aired.

Let’s just hope we don’t see a quote similar to Ramirez’s from Cliff Lee in a couple years about Grady Sizemore.