"I got a call from someone with Philadelphia, telling me what a great guy we were getting -- a good person," Smith recalled. "And then I got calls from the White Sox. And the Dodgers, even though he hadn't been there a long time. And from Cleveland. They'd all say the same thing, about what a good guy he is."
After Thome arrived in spring training, he pulled Smith aside and mentioned to him that if the general manager ever thought it would be useful for Thome to talk to a young player in the organization, he'd be happy to do that."
Thome will soon hit the 600th homer of his career, and he will someday be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But he already is part of an elite circle of ballplayers that includes Brooks Robinson, Dale Murphy, Harmon Killebrew, CC Sabathia, Adrian Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson. They're players deeply admired for who they are, as people.
I asked some folks who have dealt with Thome off the field to send along their memories of the longtime slugger.
Mark Shapiro, the former GM and current president of the Cleveland Indians: "I have thought some about this and I know how important it is to come up with anecdotal stories. While I can think of hundreds of small ones, when I consider your question my overriding thoughts are that Jim is just one of those rare players that makes our jobs more meaningful. He is also a person whose innate characteristics, professionalism, genuineness and kindness impress more over time.
"The longer I work in this game, the more I appreciate who he is, what he is accomplishing and what he means to so many inside the game. I have always believed that you can judge a person's character by how they treat all people, especially those that have no bearing on them. Jim takes this standard to new levels. It does not matter whether it is a clubhouse kid or the team owner, Jim treats them the same -- with respect, sincerity and positively. The game is lucky to have a player of his skill, consistency and character. When -- not if -- he goes in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, I will be there to join others in celebrating him, not only his elite accomplishments but also because his is a person worthy of celebration.
"Last October, my 8-year-old son and I finished reading the Sports Illustrated article on Jim as his bedtime story. Caden has known Jim his entire life and periodically visits him when he comes into town with the visiting team. Jim treats Caden (like all others) with such sincerity and enthusiasm that Caden feels connected to him and pulls for him regardless of his uniform. Rare props for a Tribe loyalist reserved for Jim and Victor Martinez.
"He wanted to call Jim to wish him luck in the playoffs when we finished the article. I dissuaded him but agreed to send him a good luck text from both of us. I then explained to Caden that Jim was busy preparing for the playoffs and not to expect anything back but before I could finish explaining, I received a text back from him telling Caden he looked forward to seeing him the next time he is in town and thanking him for his wishes. Just a small but consistent reflection that JT is a player that does not take the accolades, accomplishments, relationships, or game for granted. His first license plate, I remember in the mid-90s, said DBTH (don't believe the hype) and he never has."
Dustin Morse, on behalf of himself and Mike Herman, in the Twins' media relations department:
"Here's a memory from this past January. Jim just re-signed with the Twins. I am responsible for inviting all the players to TwinsFest (not an easy task -- trying to get all guys back to Minnesota in the dead of winter). I called Jim and he asked if he could come -- not only to TwinsFest, but to our awards dinner, too. On top of that, he wanted to fly in a day early to take Mike Herman and I out for dinner, to thank us for our work the previous year, a classy move. We had a great dinner, telling story after story. We told him how mad we were at him when he hit that home run against us in the 2008 tiebreaker game. He chuckled and said, 'Yeah, I got that one.'
"During the dinner, I started telling him a story of how a friend of mine caught his first playoff home run ball back in 1995 -- and before I could finish the story he goes "Fenway, Cold Night, Wakefield." He was spot on -- I checked the box score and found 56 degrees, Cleveland vs. Boston at Fenway. My buddy gave him the ball back and Jim still has it.
"Right after TwinsFest, Jim called Mike and me and thanked us for inviting him to TwinsFest -- the only player ever to do that.
"During spring training this year, Jim was asked to shoot the Pepsi Max commercial. (It's the commercial with the Field of Dreams feel, with Rollie Fingers, Evan Longoria, Sabathia, Ozzie Smith and others.) He agreed and I was asked to go along with him. We went and did the commercial late into the night with several other baseball greats. He and I were on the drive home -- just the two of us on a two-hour ride across Florida -- pretty cool for me because he was telling great stories. But at one point he said, 'How cool was that, hanging with Rickey Henderson, Carlton Fisk and Randy Johnson?'
"I said, 'Jim, I think they thought it was pretty cool to hang with you.'"
Dan O'Dowd, the general manager of the Rockies and former GM of the Cleveland Indians: "The first time I met him was right after we signed him and he reported to our extended program in Florida; he was the biggest shortstop I had ever seen!
"He had tremendous strength, and hit everything the other way -- he never turned on anything. But what stood out the most was that he was the most polite, well-mannered and respectful young man we had in our system. And the beauty of Jim is that he is the same person today. Without a doubt one of the finest people that I have ever met in my career, and hopefully, a first-ballot Hall of Famer."
Greg Casterioto, director of baseball communications for the Phillies: "So, you're asking me about my all-time favorite guy. Big Jim was with us for three years -- rejuvenating baseball in Philadelphia in the process -- and provided many, many memorable moments.
"One of the funniest moments, though, came early on a Sunday morning one year. We were at Citizens Bank Park and the clubhouse was open early for the media and little by little reporters trickled in. There were very few players in the clubhouse, but Jim was one of them. The TV was tuned to a hunting show on ESPN and a goose was walking around with an arrow through its head. Nobody could believe that this goose had been shot through the head with an arrow by a hunter and was still walking around as if nothing was wrong. Jimmy was watching and turned to some us, wide-eyed, and said, simply, 'That goose is a gamer.'
"And that is Jim Thome. He genuinely looks for the good in everything and is the finest human being I've ever encountered in major league baseball. And he's a gamer."
Ned Colletti, Dodgers GM: "He was only a Dodger for six weeks, and yet will always be one of my favorites. A team-first personality.
"He needed to approve the deal (to the Dodgers) and we were coming down to the final minutes of the Aug. 31 deadline. He called me and said he wanted me to know he couldn't play first base anymore and that he could only pinch hit. I said, we need the veteran bat off the bench and just as importantly we need who you are. He said, 'If that's good enough for you, it's good enough for me. I will be there tomorrow.'
"When Jim walks into a clubhouse, everyone knows who he is and what he's about. A special man, with a special presence and a Hall of Fame career. And I do have one regret: that he was only here six weeks and not his entire career."
• The Tigers announced a four-year extension for GM Dave Dombrowski, and a one-year extension for manager Jim Leyland. It's the right decision, writes Drew Sharp.
• Some leftover thoughts from the Boston-Yankees series:
1. The Yankees could really use a second left-hander in their bullpen in October, as they face Boston (or maybe Philadelphia or Atlanta) in the postseason -- especially because most of their starters behind CC Sabathia generally last five or six innings. On Sunday night, Joe Girardi summoned lefty Boone Logan to face the left-handed hitting David Ortiz in a big spot, and subsequently, when Jacoby Ellsbury came to the plate in a big spot, another lefty would have fit the situation. (For the record: Right-hander Cory Wade pitched to Ellsbury and got out of the jam.)
2. Dan Wheeler threw the hell out of the ball on Saturday and Sunday, with his fastball crackling; it might've been his best outing of the year. Maybe Wheeler, at this stage in his career, is like Arthur Rhodes has been -- he needs some rest built into his schedule. Wheeler pitched July 30 but then didn't have an appearance for the next five days -- and he seems to have bounced back.
Opposing hitters' OPS against Wheeler this season, based on days of rest:
Zero days' rest: .756 OPS
One day of rest: .720
Two days of rest: .413
Three-plus days of rest: .683
3. Jorge Posada's days as a regular are almost certainly over, and he probably has two choices:
A. He can make peace with his situation and just go about the day-to-day preparation to be ready in case he gets an unexpected opportunity to play in the last weeks of the regular season or in the postseason -- as Edgar Renteria did with the Giants last year.
B. He can ask for his release. Because the Yankees, now 22 days away from the expanded rosters of September, are not going to cut him.
From ESPN Stats & Info: The Red Sox have won each of the last four games after playing in a four-hour game in their previous contest. They played a four-hour, 15-minute game Sunday but won a three-hour game Monday on the road.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Shane Victorino was suspended; a lot of other people weren't. The umpires' report typically plays a major role in the determination of penalties, and it must be that the umps didn't feel that Ramon Ramirez threw at Victorino on purpose. It's hard to understand why Ramirez wasn't sanctioned in any way.
2. It's unlikely the Rays will make any moves this month. Closer Kyle Farnsworth is someone other teams would like to have, but given the waiver process, it's hard to imagine any claiming team would surrender an aggressive trade package now.
Dings and dents
Braves' longest hit streaks since moving to Atlanta in 1966
Rico Carty -- 31 (1970)
Dan Uggla -- 29 (2011)
Rowland Office -- 29 (1976)
Marquis Grissom -- 28 (1996)
• Bruce Bochy and other Giants were helped by a hypnotist, as Janie McCauley writes.
• The Dodgers think they can make a run; T.J. Simers disagrees.
• Under the weather today, so this will be a shorter column. We'll be back at it Wednesday.
And today will be better than yesterday.