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Jim Thome's first challenge

Updated: February 20, 2012, 10:02 AM ET
By Buster Olney

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Hunter Pence was among the first Phillies to hit on Sunday morning, swinging at the very first batting practice pitches with all the ferocity of someone fending off an intruder, grunting with every swing.

Jim Thome watched from outside the cage, standing next to old friend Charlie Manuel, listening to Pence swing the bat, and by the time he stepped into the cage to follow Pence, Thome bore a huge grin and chuckled. These Philadelphia Phillies are serious folks.

"I love that," Thome said of Pence's max-effort batting practice.

There is almost nothing that Thome needs in his baseball career. He's not chasing any numbers, having hit his 600th homer last year. He's not demanding any specific amount of playing time. Relative to the rest of his baseball career, he's not making much money. According to baseball-reference.com, Thome has made close to $142 million in salary in his career, and this season he's in line to get paid $1.25 million.

The only thing that Thome really wants to draw now out of his career -- something that he came close to accomplishing in 1995 and 1997 -- is a championship. Thome hit 15 homers in 277 at-bats last year, but he went into the offseason fully prepared for the possibility that he would retire if nobody called him with an opportunity that appealed to him.

But the Phillies had called early and often in the offseason, and Thome talked at length about his possible role with Phillies manager Manuel, who is Thome's patron saint in baseball, having instilled a belief in him so many years ago when he first met Thome in the Cleveland organization.

"I would've been open-minded if somebody else called, but this was great because I felt like they have a legitimate chance to win," said Thome. "That was big for me. I'm not going to sit here and say that I wouldn't have entertained an offer from another team, but when they were the team that called, and called early, you look at the position they've put themselves in, it made it very easy.

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