The two have been exceptionally close, dating back to their time spent in the Cleveland Indians organization, so naturally, Manuel was kicking back in his living room waiting for Big Jim to make his mark on history.
Yeah I cheered, Manuel said. I jumped up.
Call it intuition, or call it just knowing a guy for a long time, but after Thome slugged his 599th homer in Monday nights game, Manuel had a sneaking suspicion another one was on the way.
After he hit 599, I saw that, Manuel said. I wanted to make sure I watched it. I felt like he was going to hit another one.
So naturally, just the day after Thome made yet another imprint in baseball history, Manuel shared plenty of old stories about the slugger in the dugout before the Phillies took on the Diamondbacks Tuesday night.
The first one dated all the way back to when the two first got acquainted.
Manuel remembers working with a big blonde-headed kid named Mike Davis. Davis was a big left-handed hitter and Thome always followed him around. Every day, Manuel worked with Davis and every day, Thome watched.
I used to work with Mike Davis every day and Jimmy would always hang out with him, the Phils skipper said. Really, I just kind of wondered, because I didnt think Jimmy was real good at that time. Then, all of a sudden I was talking to Mike Davis, then there was Jimmy, he had parralled up his stance and he was doing everything I was telling Davis to do.
I thought, Hey man, Ive been working with the wrong guy. Thats a true story.
Another story that had Manuel chuckling in the dugout was the first time he saw Thome get a hit in spring training. He sat next to Buddy Bell watching Big Jim step into the batters box.
The ball went over the third base line, just over the bag and he came back after he got forced out at second and sat beside us, Manuel said. Hey, nice hit kid. He got a smile. I can remember that just like it was yesterday.
As much as Manuel worked with Thome throughout the years on his swing he helped him open up his stance and move closer to the plate Thome helped Manuel, too.
Once the sluggers numbers started to pick up, Manuel can remember other players taking notice. They started to listen to him just a little more.
And sure, Manuel had a great influence on Thomes success, but so too did Robert Redford. Yes, actor Robert Redford.
We were in Scranton and I wouldnt allow them to watch TV before the game. I came walking through and they were watching The Natural, Manuel said. I looked at Thome and I said, Thats for you right there. Thats you right there. We went down to the cages and started working out right then.
Manuel still says he lucked out when Thome joined the Phillies in 2003 and said one of the hardest things as a manager was when Thome left town. Back then, the Phillies had a young talented first baseman waiting in the wings named Ryan Howard.
I actually always kind of thought about Thome and Howard in the same lineup, Manuel said.
Where else would they play?
Well, thats the thing.
So, Thome moved on. He ended up hitting career homer No. 500 with the White Sox four years ago and then hit No. 600 with the Twins on Monday. Manuel, of course, has watched his friend and former player every step of the way.
I think that he should get whats coming to him, Manuel said. I think hes had the career and I definitely think he deserves the Hall of Fame.
If he wasnt in the Hall of Fame conversation before, Thome took away all doubt when he slugged his 600th homer. After he did, he was humble, gracious and kind, the way most people think of Jim Thome. And, of course, he thanked the one coach that helped him the most.
Manuel heard about Thomes thanks and responded softly, sincerely.
Well, Manuel said. That was very nice of him.
E-mail Dave Zangaro email@example.com.