The Jim Thome Era
By Matt Veasey
It was on this date in 2002 that the Jim Thome Era in Philadelphia Phillies baseball officially began when the club announced they had signed the free agent slugger to a 6-year, $85+ million contract.
It was the culmination of a month-long courtship which had included a very public tour at the construction site of the team’s new ballpark, scheduled for completion in time for the 2004 season.
The contract was the most lucrative in Phillies franchise history at the time. The 6-year deal was worth a guaranteed $85 million, with a $3 million buyout, or a $12 million option on a 7th year that would bump up the overall value.
Thome had spent the Thanksgiving holiday and weekend talking with his family, deciding between the Phillies offer and a $60 million offer for 5 years which was on the table from his longtime previous employer, the Cleveland Indians.
The Thome signing is the watershed moment in the franchise emerging from years of what was seen as penny-pinching by both players and fans, and was made possible in no small part by the looming new ballpark. The club expects significant revenue increases, and desperately wanted to increase the talent level and marketability of the team in advance.
While many fans recognize this signing of Thome, and to a somewhat lesser extent the signing of free agent David Bell a couple of weeks earlier to a three-year deal, as the beginning of the Phils building into a consistent contender, what many may forget is that it was hoped he would not be the final signing.
At the same time that Thome made his decision, another big name free agent was mulling a Phillies offer. Unfortunately, future Hall of Fame starting pitcher Tom Glavine would choose the New York Mets over both the Phils and his longtime Atlanta Braves team.
But it was on this date a dozen years ago that the real path towards a world championship, and towards a decade of excellence, would actually begin with the biggest free agent signing since Pete Rose almost a quarter-century earlier.