Glory Days in Tribe Town is a recently published book on the Indians, focusing on the mid to late 90s, when the team rose to its greatest heights in decades. This is not the first book to tackle that subject, but this one was written by Terry Pluto and Tom Hamilton, each of whom was deeply involved with the team in those years, and the book feels more polished than others I've read.
Pluto has won numerous awards for his writing (Loose Balls, his retrospective of the ABA, is the definitive text on the subject and one of the most enjoyable sports books I've ever read), and so while some of the events covered in Glory Days are very familiar to serious Tribe fans by now, they're given a better presentation here. The access Pluto and Hamilton have also means there are stories you've probably never heard before.
I know there's a segment of Indians fans that's sick of hearing about the 90s, and I get that, but if you're looking for something on that time period, or you're trying to find a gift for someone who know enjoys reminiscing on that era, Glory Days in Tribe Town seems a good choice.
Here is an exclusive excerpt:
It still seems strange that of all the players from the 1990s, Jim Thome is the one who received a statue at Progressive Field.
Thome is the Tribe's all-time home-run hitter with 337. His 612 total home runs should be a ticket to a first-ballot entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But as Thome said, "There were so many great players on those teams."
Thome stayed longer than most-parts of 13 seasons. He didn't have the flair of Omar Vizquel, or the powerful rage of Albert Belle. Kenny Lofton was far more athletic and electric. Manny Ramirez was a prodigy with the bat.
That's why Thome said this about the statue: "I'm not sure how to feel about it. You never start playing baseball thinking about a statue . . . I feel overwhelmed and incredibly thankful."
Thome knows he's only the second Tribe player honored with a statue. The first is Hall of Famer Bob Feller. The third will soon be Larry Doby, who broke the American League color line in 1947.
"It's just surreal," said Thome. "I'm kind of uncomfortable because there were so many great players when I was with the Indians. It's a great gesture."
Thome was the strongest player on the Tribe of the 1990s. His home runs were space shots.
He also was one of the most humble.
"You look back, you feel proud," he said. "But where I come from, you don't brag on yourself."
Feller grew up in Van Meter, Iowa. It really was a farm, and his father built a small baseball diamond for Feller and his friends.
Thome's story is a bit different He grew up in Peoria, Ill. "My friend and I would find a wall, paint a strike zone on it," he said. "Then we'd play baseball with a tennis ball-pitching to a batter who stood in front of the wall. You just play because you love it."
He has no Feller-like stories of playing catch with his father in a barn when snow was piling up during a Midwestern blizzard.
"My father was a foreman at the Caterpillar plant," he said. "My older brother worked construction. About a mile from our house was the inner city. It was where the best basketball games were played. I'd go over there all the time. I usually was the only white kid in the games, and they respected me because I kept coming back."
And it was his father who started him with hitting tennis balls while his father pitched to a wall.
"I began playing at the old tennis court in the city," Thome said. "He'd pitch to me, and I remember thinking that I'd never be strong enough to hit the ball over that big fence, the fence that was around the tennis court. Then he'd hit me ground balls."
On the concrete?
"Sure enough," Thome said. "He'd hit me those regular baseballs on the cement. We sure wore out a lot of balls that way."
Thome's father was a star softball player. His aunt, Carolyn Thome Hart, is in the Women's Softball Hall of Fame. "When I grew up, my brother was my hero," Thome said. "My dad would compare me to him all the time. My father was tough on me, pushing me. I remember when I scored 36 points in a state tournament basketball game. It was one point off a school record. I thought my dad would be happy, but that night he talked about the mistakes I made on defense and in rebounding.
"I didn't like it back then. I appreciate it now."