White Sox’ Jim Thome wants to manage in future
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter February 23, 2014 9:43PM
Updated: February 23, 2014 9:43PM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jim Thome will be here next week for his first spring training as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn. The sounds of baseball will be music to his ears, and the smell of grass on the back fields at Camelback Ranch will invigorate him.
Thome, 43, who hasn’t officially retired but will address that soon, wants to get back in uniform in some capacity. Managing has a nice ring to the future Hall of Famer who hit 612 home runs in 2,543 games over a 22-year career with the Indians, Phillies, White Sox (2006 to ’09), Dodgers, Twins and Orioles.
“Ultimately, I would love to get back on the field,’’ Thome said. “Last year was so nice to be at home [in suburban Chicago] with my kids, watching my son play T-ball and taking my daughter to school every morning, and I love it. But I will say I do miss the game because I am a competitor. You can’t play forever, but the love of the game never leaves your soul.’’
In his role as special assistant, Thome has watched, instructed and talked to minor-league players. When he comes to spring training, he wants to help everyone from players to chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to executive vice president Ken Williams to Hahn to manager Robin Ventura.
“I won’t be there just to be around,’’ he said. “I’m coming there to work.
“And this is the thing in this job I’m in now — I want to look at what the next phase is for me getting back on the field, competing at a high level. There is a side to me that wants to manage someday and prepare myself for it if that opportunity came calling. I’d want to be ready.’’
There is mutual love and respect between Thome, long considered one of baseball’s great character guys, and Reinsdorf. When Reinsdorf hired Thome last July, he offered up his belief that Thome would be a manager.
“I think he has that ability,’’ Reinsdorf said. “He can be a batting coach. He’d be a great batting coach, but someday he’ll be a manager. That’s what he’ll be.’’
Of course, Reinsdorf has a manager and one he likes. Ventura signed a multiyear extension on his three-year deal that would have expired at the end of this season, so there might not be room on the South Side if and when Thome is ready.
Ventura and Mike Matheny were hired without managing experience, which Thome said “is a testament to their character. Those guys are few and far between.
“Robin is a wonderful man, and I will learn from him,’’ Thome said. “He has such great baseball knowledge. He’s a good guy to talk baseball to. He had a wonderful career and is very well respected. That’s why he got this opportunity.’’
Paul Konerko, a teammate and friend, can see it working for Thome because managers are blessed with more support staff, front-office help and information than ever before.
“Now it’s how guys handle players and communicate,’’ Konerko said Sunday. “Robin can handle people. Jim is probably the most positive guy I’ve been around. Whether it’s a person in baseball or on the street, he handles people right. That’s more of the bulk of the work now because you have a lot of people helping you make decisions.’’
It’s a job Konerko, by the way, has no interest in when he retires after the season.
“The dedication of time, to say you’re on the same schedule as a player is a lie,’’ he said. “It’s worse. You’re here earlier, and there’s travel. In my mind, I can’t possibly fathom getting on this schedule.’’