HOF inductees Jones, Thome share a history
Mutual respect started when both were in the Minor Leagues
NEW YORK -- Chipper Jones and Jim Thome tussled during a benches-clearing brawl during their Minor League days, competed against each other during the 1995 World Series and spent some time as National League East rivals. But the two are now close friends, who will spend the next few months replacing some of their normal hunting tales with talk about their upcoming induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
After being elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday night, Jones and Thome traveled to Manhattan to join fellow electees Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero for an afternoon news conference. Jones and Thome reminisced and praised the separate paths each took after arriving at the Major League level as third basemen.
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"When I first heard of Chipper, I think the thing you instantly think of is the name," Thome said. "You think about name like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Chipper will go down as one of those iconic names in the game."
As Jones was establishing himself as one of the greatest switch-hitters and third basemen in baseball history, playing his entire career for the Braves, Thome was compiling 612 career home runs while primarily serving as a first baseman or designated hitter for six teams.
Most of Thome's matchups against the Braves came when he played for the Phillies from 2003-05, which were also the final three seasons of Atlanta's streak of 14 consecutive division titles.
"[Thome] was just donkey strong," Jones said. "It was impressive to see what he did to some baseballs."
Jones was first introduced to Thome's brute strength in 1993 when he and his Richmond Braves teammates found themselves in the midst of a benches-clearing incident after a Charlotte pitcher threw a pitch behind Ryan Klesko's head.
As the opposing players converged neared the plate, Thome pinned Jones up against the backstop until cooler heads prevailed. The incident certainly hasn't damaged their friendship, as the two exchanged phone calls and texts on a regular basis leading up to the Hall of Fame election.
"Watching him, he had this way about him and this aura about him," Thome said. "It wasn't arrogant. It was very confident. Getting to know him and getting to speak to him, then you see the sincerity and think, 'This guy is a good guy.'"
"We've got a lot in common," Jones said. "We're kind of in the hunting industry on the side. We've been talking over the past few weeks and months, saying how cool it would be if we both went in together."
Thome has great admiration for how durable and productive Jones remained while playing the physically taxing position. Thome struggled defensively as he spent the first few seasons of his career at the hot corner and was just starting to get more comfortable at the position when the Indians transitioned him to first base in 1997.
"It was a very demanding position and the respect I have for a guy like Chipper to do it [for so long] was just incredible," Thome said. "Personally, I think the best move for me was to move off third base and go to first base, with the history of my back that I fought later in my career. I think the amazing thing about [Jones] going in is it's an iconic position with an iconic player that did wonderful things throughout his whole career, from day one when I saw him [playing for Triple-A Richmond] and when I saw him play for Atlanta."
When a reporter asked Thome, Hoffman and Guerrero if they would trade their election to the Hall of Fame for a World Series ring, Jones laughed and said, "I'm glad I don't have to answer that one."
Thome chuckled and said, "Yeah, that's because you beat us."
While they might not spend a significant amount of time reminiscing about the Braves beating Thome's Indians in the 1995 World Series, the two certainly found plenty to talk about and in the process, it appears they are, in a way, are still competing.
"He works for the Braves and I work for the White Sox," said Thome, who like Jones serves as a special assistant . "You don't give a lot of information. But you always ask how you're doing. I know they have some great players in the Minor Leagues. We do as well. There's always that cat-and-mouse game you have to play."