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Jim Thome went from loads of potential to one of the best hitters in baseball

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He'd already shown his power, but Jim Thome showed a whole lot more than just that in 1995, and became one of the very best hitters in all of baseball.

Al Bello/Getty Images


The 1995 Cleveland Indians were an incredible team. They are rightfully famed for their other-worldly offense, but their pitching was excellent as well. As we all know, they fell in the World Series that October, making them arguably the best team ever among those that didn't win the Fall Classic.

It's been 20 years since that team brought the city of Cleveland to its feet and ended decades of frustration with an AL Pennant. Throughout this anniversary year we'll be celebrating them, as the current version of the Tribe hopefully makes its own run to the postseason. Each week I'll look back at one of the key players from that season, counting down to the very best of them.

Previous entries:

#2: Jim Thome

Jim Thome was drafted by the Indians in the 13th round of the 1989 draft. He was moved quickly through the system, making his MLB debut in September of 1991. Though spent most of the next two years in Triple-A, but was up for good by late in 1993. He did well the next season, and by the time Opening Day in 1995 rolled around, he looked like a solid source of power. He would quickly turn that assessment into a dramatic understatement.

(It is also worth remembering that at this stage in his career, Thome was a third baseman, and not a bad one either.)

Thome appeared in 24 games during the first month of the season, and reached base safely in 23 of them, and reached more than once in 12 of them. By that point he had an on-base percentage of .408, and things were only going to get better.

On June 7 Thome hit a 10-inning walk-off blast deep into the seats to beat the Tigers. The very next night in Milwaukee, he put the Tribe ahead with a two-run blast in the top of the 9th. That victory improved the Tribe's record to 28-10, and gave Thome his 20th extra-base hit in just 127 at bats. By the time the All-Star break rolled around, he was hitting.330/.445/.618. The only explanation for Thome not being named to the All-Star team is that there wasn't any room left on the plane from Cleveland.

On September 18 in Chicago (with a 15-year-old me sitting in the left-field seats at Comiskey), Thome hit not one, but two triples in an 11-1 romp over the White Sox. He played another 17 seasons, but never duplicated that feat, making it one of the more remarkable things I've ever witnessed in person.

Thome finished the regular season with a line of .314/.438/.558. He was among the top ten in the American League in all three of those categories, and his wRC+ of 158 ranked 5th. There are few teams in history that had two players post numbers that good. That Thome ranks only second on this list speaks to just how good the one player still to come was. Thome collected 97 walks, and might have set a new franchise record if the season had been 162 games instead of only 144. (Instead he would break the record a year later.) Thome's .438 OBP was the highest by an Indians hitter since Larry Doby in 1950.

Thome homered in Game 3 of the ALDS against Boston, and in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS against Seattle. The Game 5 home run was critical, as it took the Indians from behind to ahead. Thome's last great performance of the season came in Game 5 of the World Series. With the game tied in the 6th inning, Thome drove in a run with a single off the best pitcher on the planet at that time, Greg Maddux. In the 8th inning Thome homered, providing what would prove to be the game-winning run, as the Tribe lived to fight another day.

Thome certainly didn't come from nowhere in 1995, but he outdid even the optimistic expectations that may have been placed upon him. It was a year in which he became one of the very best hitters in baseball, one who should find his way into the Hall of Fame (and do it wearing an Indians cap) before too long.