Jim Thome And Other Friends

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – He has checked out and gone home so the statute of respect towards fellow hotel guests has expired, I guess.

I arrive at my hotel here the other night and the place is spread out enough that they recommend that you let them throw on to a golf cart for transport to your room, not just your bags – but you. And we go about 20 yards in the darkness when a big, broad guy with short hair sort of steps in front of the cart and the bellman/driver says “excuse me” and the fellow turns around and sort of stares for a moment before saying “Oh! I’m sorry. I kinda froze there for a moment,” and with a genuine laugh, hops out of the way. And he looks really familiar and while I’m staring at him I realize he’s staring at me and our light bulbs go off simultaneously and as I say “stop the cart for a second,” he smiles.

Jim Thome.

“This is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” he says with another patented Jim Lunchpail Thome laugh. I say back to him “this is where I’m staying while I’m unsigned,” and we trade career anecdotes and I ask about the Yankees and he says “I doubt it.” And we try to figure out if we first met in 1993 or 1994 and he says he’s working out but otherwise he’s pretty much by the pool each day and I should try to find him when I get back from the ballpark each afternoon. And I joke about how I nearly made his latest free agency academic by running him over with a golf cart and we say good night.

And Thome, who is easily the most universally respected player in the game, is still unsigned despite Twins rumors and Yankees rumors and the reality that somebody should sign him with an idea of convincing him to manage them in a year’s time because the other players think he’s pretty much the epitome of professionalism and knowledge. I think he knows he can’t play in the field any more but that would still let him fit in at Yankee Stadium because lord knows almost none of them can field any more either.

Thome was how my Cactus League jaunt began but the amount of additional quality human beings whom I’ve known forever that I’ve again been able to spend time with exceeds all my previous spring training trips. In the Angels’ camp it was Mike Scioscia (28 years) and executive Tim Mead (28 more), and from their opponents the Reds, writer Hal McCoy (about 10). At the Mariners’ facility it was consultant – and should-be Hall of Famer Ted Simmons (33 years), and manager Eric Wedge (20 years) and our traditional greeting of “Happy Birthday” (we share one; he’s much younger), and the announcers Dave Sims (32 years; we both worked for Charley Steiner in the 1981-82 timeframe) and Rick Rizzs (12). Rick was nice enough to ask me to come on his broadcast for an inning. Then I found out it was after Bob Uecker of the Brewers (36 years) was going to come on for an inning and as I said to Rick on the air: “I thought you liked me.”

At Wednesday night’s Team USA exhibition I got to visit with manager Joe Torre (32 years) and first base coach – and another guy who is a no-brainer Cooperstown pick – Dale Murphy (30). And today in Glendale it was the Texas staff: manager Ron Washington (10), coach Dave Magadan (11) and coach Dave Anderson (30 years ago this month I interviewed him at Vero Beach when we thought he might be the next Dodger rookie-of-the-year – “boy were you wrong,” he said, again). Upstairs I had a great chat with Rick Monday, who I’ve known for 33 years as everything from a player to a World Series star to a rival sportscaster when he was on Channel 11 every night in LA at exactly the same time I was on Channel 5.

To top it off, of course, was my annual visit with Vin Scully. I readily admit that it took me nearly three years to screw up the courage to introduce myself to him – and I was on local tv in LA during all that time – and when I finally did he said he was relieved, because he thought I’d done something to offend him. I’m sure Vin is not the saint we all portray him as, but that’s really just a hunch because nothing I’ve ever seen him do suggests otherwise. The self-deprecation never ends; even today his first words after hello were “thank you.” I said you’re welcome and then asked him what I’d done. He said “thank you for writing that excellent and kind blog about the Piazza interview.”

Ohhh, yeah. That was nearly a month ago and that was what he wanted to talk about. We batted back and forth the singular personality that is Mike Piazza, but mostly he was talking about friendship and support, and I mentioned that this was the kind of loyalty his kindness and patience engendered, and that I knew I spoke for many when I said I felt like it was our job to fire the arrows when he was attacked – especially when it was as unjustified and as inexplicable as it was in poor Piazza’s self-destructive book. And then there were the usual friendship questions that I invariably suddenly realize are being asked and answered by the Babe Ruth or William Shakespeare of his field and I remember why it took me three years to stop shaking long enough to say hello back in 1988.

So I know Vin for 25 years now – and remember that this represents only about 40 percent of the time he’s been bringing you Dahhh-ger base-ball. And if you wonder how much of a self-starter you can be as you begin your 64th year at one job, Vin and I visited for maybe ten or fifteen minutes and then he had to pre-record something for his broadcast and when I looked back in his booth after that he had begun his daily ritual of scribbling and reviewing notes for the game ahead. The exhibition game. The exhibition game on a drowsy Thursday afternoon. The exhibition game three weeks before the season begins. And he would continue to do so for at least an hour.

Talk about a role model.

Later in the week here I’m going to formalize what shallow insights I’ve been able to glean from the games I’ve seen (hint: Billy Hamilton) but for now I’m thinking of everybody that Spring Training provides me the opportunity to see again, from Thome to Scully.

That’s fifteen men who I’ve known for a total of 390 years. And every moment of that time, with every one of them, has been a privilege.

It’s been a pretty good trip, huh?

 

30 Comments

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Gave me a warm feeling just reading it. I’m glad you’re doing something that makes you happy!

Keith, sounds like a GREAT TRIP! you had me tearing up at the end, especially the Vin Scully part. Thanks for the background stuff. And any thoughts on the SF GIANTS?

Hey Emerson — if you ever hop on Twitter during the season there’s great discussion on the #SFGiants hashtag. :-)

Keith,
For a moment there, as I was reading your opening, I thought YOU were driving the golf cart and I thought …Oh My Lord! Thank goodness you cleared that up. My heart rate has now normalized and I can just breathe.
I was very touched to read you have such strong ties to not only press people but actual players and managers, most everyone in the sport you love most. This shows me how strong your passion for the game really is and I appreciate you sharing these moments. The accumulation of the years of knowing these individuals is impressive from someone so “young”. And you are young …at heart and because of that, these connections are the most precious jewel of your legacy.
It sounds like an absolutely fabulous trip. Bet you’re really glad you went for Cactus and not Grapefruits! LyK

Very interesting, as usual; thanks for sharing.

What is it about baseball that brings out the inner ten year old in all of us? Had my first taste of Spring Training last year, and was as awed by glimpsing stars from the ’70s in the charity booths as going through a line for a Buster Posey autograph. I’ll get one more short taste of AZ next week, and doubt I’ll be any more jaded.

“The inner 10 year old in all of us?” Thank you, that describes baseball in a nutshell.

Ironically, I was 10 years old when I was first introduced to the game, courtesy of my 5th grade teacher who was a Mets fan but moved from NYC to California to teach at a suburban Bay Area school. He procured a TV from the A/V department, hooked up the rabbit ears and we watched the World Series during class time (ah, the days of daytime baseball…). Thanks, Mr. Aquilina, wherever you are… :-)

What a great piece, Keith. Lots of memories had to flood your mind as you were writing this, I’m sure. You need to put all of your wonderful memories of these amazing people in a memoir & get it published. All of your fans would love it. And imagine how much enjoyment you would have writing it & reminiscing at the same time. In this article, however, I especially liked the encounter involving two of my favorite people: you & Jim Thome. Two great guys. It saddens me to think that Jimmy has left Arizona unsigned. I wish Cleveland would sign him again just as they did a couple of seasons ago. I would love to see him finish his career with the Indians. I have such wonderful memories of him from the 90’s. Lots of home runs! I also enjoyed your story of your first meeting with Vin Scully 25 yrs. ago. I can understand your fear in wanting to introduce yourself to him. Most of us out here (the FOK) would feel exactly the same way in building up the courage to introduce ourselves to you. If you don’t know it already, you’re an icon to us. Whatever you choose to do in the future, we’re behind you 100%. There is still a void that can never be filled until we get you back in some capacity, be it sports or politics. I KNOW I’m safe in stating that I speak for all your fans when I say…we admire you, we respect you, we support you, we miss you and your eloquent voice of truth, and look forward to your triumphant return one day soon. WE…ARE…FOK !! Again, great blog and as always, well done.

FOK indeed Sandy! Thanks for a great end of day note on a sunny Florida Friday ;-) Bet many would “second that emotion” Heading to Dunedin this weekend – ’tis the season ;-)

Great article, and as a Dodger fan, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Vin Scully part was my favorite.

“There will never be another one like him” is an overused phrase in sports, but it is so true when speaking about Vin. I can’t imagine anyone will ever broadcast 64, 65….heck, maybe 70 years for only one team ever again.

My prized possession and memory is a picture Vin took with my two young sons a couple of years ago in San Diego. He not only was kind enough to pose for probably the 100,000th photo of his life but chatted with both of my boys for a few moments and encouraged them to do well in school and to “not forget him” when they made it to the big leagues.

What a man.

Hey History,
How great is it to see all these comments that are on topic? Think the Trolls have been chained up?

Yes, what a man indeed. After you tweeted so kindly about Vin, I tweeted him a few words myself. To my utter surprise and delight, Vin favorited my tweet! I sat there with a big smile until my boss shattered the happy mood I was in when he walked into my office needing to discuss business. Ah well, it was wonderful while it lasted.

Vin will never know how much his simple gesture of pressing a button on Twitter to acknowledge a few words of respect meant to me. We West Coasters are truly blessed to be able to count him as a fellow Californian.

Vin, if you happen to read this, THANK YOU! :)

Good for you, Shoe! xo

42 years ago the dodgers were playing in san diego and my 8 year old daughter and I were waiting by the team bus to get some autographs. When I saw vin scully I sent her over and he said “I am not a ballplayer” and I blurted out but you are vin scully. He laughed and she got the autograph which I treasure to this day.

Why are we worried about a washed up baseball player??? I thought better of you until I read this….

A few moments ago I had the privilege of adding “Olbermann’s” to my Outlook dictionary. That’s because I typed the sentence, “You should read Keith Olbermann’s blog today.” I’m sure my spellcheck will thank me in the future, as it need never again stumble over that particular possessive. What a great post. Keep them coming!

Great piece! Wondering who your “All Stars” of broadcasting would be…there is something truly magical about baseball on the radio – brings many of us back to a time of childhood and “Sandlot” life – Thanks KO – I grew up listening to Bob Uecker when the “Brew Crew” was AL…awesome stuff thanks for the smile and proof that friendship endures :-)

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Beautiful testimony on friendship tied to the love of the bat’s crack! It’s a damn shame you’re not married, Mr. Olbermann. You are probably the only man on the planet who would never forget the anniversary date! ;)

As someone who grew up listening to Vin Scully on my radio all through the 70s and into the 80s while I still lived in range of his voice – oh man do I understand why you were shaking when you met him!!

As someone who originally also adored Piazza – oh, did his book ever shatter some images!! I still think he should be in the Hall, but damn am I disappointed in his Poor Me personality.

Thank you so much for sharing your baseball travels and encounters with legends on the field and in the broadcast booth.

Keith, I’m sure you have been approached frequently to lead a baseball podcast. Is this something you have considered?

Michael 310-770-4310

I knew you were on the Murphy for Cooperstown train but I can’t remember you mentioning Simba before (although I’m sure you have.)

You’re absolutely right about them. They’re both clearly deserving of election.

Any chance to knock the Yankees, eh, KO? Pathetic.

What a joy to read this baseball blog. So many of the players, managers and announcers I admired brought to life and memories again in a personal, human context. From Chris Speier to Terry Francona to Vin Scully-wow! Mr. Olbermann is not so much today’s Murrow as he is Dick Schaap or Roger Angell.

SIGH!!! Oh history; remember “keep it short”…

What an amazing trip. I went to the WBC and a few sprint training games. I love AZ this time of year.

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Sarah,
I say if it makes you feel like a ten year old; Go for it. My youngest Grandson turned 10 on the 28th of Feb. 10 year old’s Rock!

Thanks for clearing that up. I had wondered, previously, why the same icon appeared with both History and Sarah. I will try to stay unconfused.

… @STEVE:

FROM YOUR LIPS (KEYBOARD) TO THE EARS OF GOD, BROTHER! FINALLY.

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