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BASEBALL Thome: I didn't leave Tribe for loot



Published: Sat, February 22, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



He said he went to the Phillies for a longer contract and a chance to win.

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Jim Thome wanted to set the record straight for Cleveland fans who felt betrayed because the star first baseman now is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I know there were some people who thought Jim Thome went to Philly for the money," Thome said Tuesday during a news conference. "For me, that was not true."

The No. 1 free agent on the market this winter, Thome chose the Phillies in December, opting for a six-year, $85 million deal instead of Cleveland's five-year, $60 million offer.

Thome was asked why $60 million wasn't enough to stay in Cleveland, where he spent 12 seasons.

"[The Indians] let it be known they were going to rebuild and do some things," said Thome, who was grilled by Cleveland media members during much of the 20-minute session. "I told them I would like to be a part of that. A year ago, they told us they were going to give us a contract during spring training. We were hoping for that.

"I imagined being an Indian forever. Then, when I did get to the free agent market, I still wanted an opportunity to finish there. But if that wasn't going to happen, I wanted an opportunity to win in a short period of time."

Biggest factors

Thome said the two biggest factors in his decision to leave Cleveland were getting a sixth season on his contract and having an opportunity to win.

"I don't want to get into a lot of things that happened," Thome said. "I made it very clear that I would have taken less money to stay there. They did what they had to do as far as the rebuilding process. I just wanted a chance there and if I didn't get that opportunity, I had to look [elsewhere]. That's where Philly came in because they had an opportunity to win."

The Phillies finished 80-81 in 2001, but dramatically improved during an off-season spending spree that brought Thome, third baseman David Bell and pitcher Kevin Millwood to Philadelphia.

"Guys have really embraced me," Thome said. "I'm very happy with the decision I made."

His only goal for the season: "Win a championship," he said.

Drawing attention

Thome has practiced with the Phillies just four times, but already his batting practices are drawing attention. On Monday, Thome hit an estimated 500-foot-plus blast to right-center field that deflected off the top of a steep hill way behind the outfield fence and bounced onto a nearby highway.

"I've never seen a ball hit that far," manager Larry Bowa said. "It landed on a street. I know the wind was blowing out, but that went a long way. That's the furthest ball I've ever seen hit."

Thome shrugged off the feat.

"That was wind-aided," he said. "I didn't even see it. That's the truth. Bowa kind of quick-pitches you, so you can't watch them."

During his days with the Indians, Thome hit a 511-foot homer in 1999 that is the longest ever at Cleveland's Jacobs Field. Last year, he hit 52 for the season, an Indians record.

Back in Cleveland, many of Thome's once-loyal fans are hurt. He's been criticized in the media for leaving town. Thome said he understands fans are upset, but that he will love them no matter what.

"I have never, ever been a guy to hold grudges," he said.

"To be honest, there were some things in Cleveland that I never thought would happen. I made it clear that I wanted to be an Indian forever and finish my career there. I understand the way that the Indians are going with the youth movement. But there are no grudges. I still will always cherish those times."




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