How Jim Thome got his batting stance thanks to Charlie Manuel and 'The Natural'

How Jim Thome got his batting stance thanks to Charlie Manuel and 'The Natural'

If there's anyone in the world I could sit next to for hours and listen to talk about baseball it would be former Phillies manager and World Champion of baseball Charlie Manuel.

Charlie is still very involved in the Phillies organization to this day and we're lucky enough to have 45 minutes of his time talking ball with longtime Phillies scribe Jim Salisbury.

Those two know the Phillies just about as well as anybody, so there's plenty of meat on the bone to chew on. The duo chatted for a recent episode of Sully's "At The Yard" podcast.

The story that caught my ear the most was Charlie's telling of how Jim Thome came to have that somewhat-goofy stance before he hits. It was a timing mechanism that Manuel stumbled upon in the strangest of ways.

This was when both Charlie and Jim were working for a Cleveland Indians' affiliate in the minors. 

"We were playing in Scranton and it was a Phillies triple-A team at the time. I kept thinking of a timing mechanism of some kind, a waggle or something, what Thome could do with his bat where he wouldn't tense up, where it would help him to relax and everything."

"I came into our locker room early," Manuel said. "I didn't let my players turn the TV on after a certain time. I came through the clubhouse that day, they had 'The Natural' on. I told 'em to turn it off. Some of the players said, 'Hey, Charlie, we're watching The Natural can we watch the end of The Natural? I said, 'Not really, what's the rule?'

"I saw Robert Redford standing there pointing the bat with one hand, bringing it back. I looked over at Thome, I said, 'you can finish watching the movie. From now on that's going to be your load.' I took him down in the cage and worked with him. The game started and the Phillies had a left-handed pitcher named [Kyle] Abbott. He was pitching that day. I told Jimmy, 'From now on that's your stance.' He gets up there the first time up, Abbott throws him a breaking ball away and he hit a home run to left center... I mean a longways. He come up the next time he hit another one to right center. I think he had three hits that day."

"That's a true story," Manuel added.

It sounds to good to be true. So we did a little research and Thome has told the same tale on a television special out in Chicago last summer.

"We were in Scranton and I was a guy who held the bat still and would go from a standstill and swing," Thome explained. "(Charlie) was watching The Natural and he saw that (Hobbs) kind of had this little wiggle to his stance, and I remember the day. We went out the next day, we worked early and he said 'Do me a favor and try holding the bat out there (pointing towards the pitcher) and get a little rhythm with your swing.' And from that day I never looked back. The following day we played a doubleheader and I hit two home runs."

You can listen to the whole podcast with Jim Salisbury and Charlie Manuel right here.

Chase Utley poses with statue of childhood hero Jim Thome in Cleveland

Chase Utley poses with statue of childhood hero Jim Thome in Cleveland

Jim Thome was a fan favorite in Philadelphia for many years. He also had a big fan next to him in the clubhouse in Chase Utley.

Thome ushered in a new era of Phillies baseball at Citizens Bank Park and Chase Utley flourished into one of the best players this city has ever seen alongside him.

The influence of Thome is not lost on Utley who shared a photo on Tuesday posing with the Thome statue outside of Progressive Field in Cleveland where the Dodgers are playing this week. 

"Couldn't resist the picture opportunity. Thanks big Jim for being an inspiration to me. #jimthome," Utley wrote on his Instagram.

Thome was inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame last summer and gave a lovely speech. During that ceremony, a video message from Utley described what an honor it was for Chase to play alongside his childhood hero.

Now Chase has another photo to go into his collection.

Couldn't resist the picture opportunity. Thanks big Jim for being an inspiration to me. #jimthome

A post shared by @therealchaseutley on

Rockies' Mark Reynolds remembers playing with 'legend of the game' Jim Thome

Rockies' Mark Reynolds remembers playing with 'legend of the game' Jim Thome

On the night Jim Thome was inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame (see story), some of the best stories came not from the Phils alumni, but from the visiting clubhouse, where Rockies corner infielder Mark Reynolds reminisced about his days with Thome in 2012.

Reynolds, placed on the 15-day DL prior to Friday's game, was a teammate of Thome's on the 2012 Orioles. Reynolds took away a lot from playing with Thome, even if it was only for a brief period of time.

"It was neat. He's just one of those guys who's like a legend of the game," Reynolds said pregame. "He's like a big, soft teddy bear. He's always open to talking to anybody, helping anybody out any way he can. 

"One thing I learned from him is when you burn cork, you can use it as eye black. So I took that from him, it's kind of old school."

Thome opened the 2012 season, his last in the majors, with the Phillies. Then 41 years old, Thome hit five home runs in 30 games with the Phillies before being traded to Baltimore at the end of June.

It was during the Orioles' postseason run that year when Reynolds, then 28, had the chance to play alongside the future Hall of Famer.

"It's always funny when you're growing up and you're watching these guys on TV, and then you're actually in the same clubhouse as them and playing with them," Reynolds said. "It's just something that you always try to remember and [take away] as much as you can from [them].

"When he walks in the clubhouse, you're automatically drawn to him. You try to talk to him as much as you can, you know, he tells some great stories about playing so many years."

Thome played in just 28 games with the Orioles after the trade in 2012. A herniated disk in his back forced him to miss all of August and most of September, before he returned from the DL on Sept. 21. But it was Thome's presence on the team and in the clubhouse, not his production, that had the biggest impact on Reynolds. Talk to any teammate of Thome's and you'll inevitably hear about that clubhouse presence.

"He was just one of those good veteran guys to have around that [keeps] everything in perspective and riding that roller coaster that baseball players ride, he tried to keep us kind of level-headed, not worried about tomorrow, not worried about yesterday, just worrying about what he had to do that day," Reynolds said. "It's always good to have someone like that around."