Jim Thome isn’t sure about his future plans.
The slugger hasn’t officially retired, though he loves spending time with his family.
Currently a coach for his son’s T-ball team, he isn’t sure he wants to become a full-time professional coach.
What he does know is that he wants to stay involved with baseball.
So instead of making a full-fledged commitment to a particular direction now, Thome instead will “get his feet wet,” he said, when he accepted a role Tuesday to be a special assistant to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.
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Thome, who lives in Burr Ridge, sees his new job as a chance to figure out how he’d like to continue his involvement with a sport he played from 1989 through last season.
“You look back and you go, 'OK, what did this guy help you out with it? What did this coach help you out with? What were some of the pointers this guy gave you?’ ” Thome said. “Playing 20 some odd years, you look back and you take a little bit of everything. Obviously, I don't know much about pitching, but I know how to watch pitchers. Obviously, I think I know a little bit about hitting from the hitting end. I think it'll be fun to go down, see our young players, evaluate them and where they're at. Buddy Bell, I've been with Buddy a long time in Cleveland so being with him a little bit and kind of watching baseball with him and learning that aspect of it ... it'll be exciting to kind of get my feet wet as I go through this process.”
The process of bringing Thome, who has 612 home runs and played here from 2006-09, back lasted only a few weeks. Thome said Bell called to ask if he’d like to rejoin the franchise. Given the history there and between Thome and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who often asked Thome if he wanted to come back after his career, the choice was easy.
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Reinsdorf said he didn’t hire Thome to be a figurehead. He believes Thome has a bright future no matter what directions he chooses.
“You can't get enough quality people, but I don't want to bring guys back just to bring guys back,” Reinsdorf said. “We want to bring guys back who can make a contribution. … I think Jim Thome someday will manage a major league team. He has that ability. He can be a batting coach, he'd be a great batting coach. But someday he'll be a manager. Right now he's going to be helping us out, evaluating the farm system, evaluating the younger players, he'll be here and be a presence in our clubhouse, come to spring training and be a presence. I think it'll be a real plus. And someday he'll manage a major league team.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura sees similarities between his previous role and the one held by Thome. He likes the idea of having Thome around.
“It’s good for him to be able to float around and be here, be in the minor leagues,” Ventura said. “He can do a lot of different things. It’s just lucky for us he lives in the area and he can be here in doing things at the major league level and if he wants to do something else he can go out to the minor leagues and help too. I don’t think anybody questions him. It’s a positive for us.”
Thome admits his new role is sort of his acceptance he is taking the next step in his career. He he had some difficulty watching games at the beginning of the season, the first since 1994 that didn’t begin in the majors.
The competitive drive is still there, too, as Thome can’t but help to pick up a bat once in a while. Even though he said he hasn’t retired, Thome talked several times about leaving the game and how he’ll address his status at some point.
As for his immediate future and what he’ll do with the White Sox?
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“I'm sure they’re going to have some ideas and plans for me,” Thome said. “Whatever they want me to do, I'll do it. … I think the stepping stone is just to kind of stay in the game. Ultimately, I think you always have aspirations of doing other things. Whatever that is, I think the process will play that part. I think learning, being around great baseball guys like Robin and learning stuff from Rick Hahn, obviously Kenny Williams has been very successful; these guys have won a World Series. If they can help me and teach me a little bit as well, I'll take everything in.”