09/28/2003 5:13 PM ET
Phillies end with final celebration
Thome wins NL home run derby
By Mike Gennaria / Special to MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- As the last baseball game ever played at Veterans Stadium
wound down, the Philadelphia fans got a chance to embrace one of the
ballpark's newest residents.
"Thome -- Thome -- Thome," rang out from the sellout crowd of 58,594 as the
city's newest superstar took his final at-bat of the season.
When Jim Thome signed with the Phillies this past offseason, manager Larry
Bowa advised fans not to expect too much. After all, Thome is a perennially
slow starter and he was changing leagues. Bowa also didn't expect the team's
new first baseman to match the 52 home runs he clobbered for the Indians a
While Thome didn't hit 52 homers in his first season as a Phillie, he did
manage to send 47 balls out of the park in 2003.
The 47 home runs tied Alex Rodriguez for the most in the Major Leagues this
season and led the National League. Thome edged Barry Bonds and Richie
Sexson, who each finished with 45.
Thome also finished in the top five in the league in RBIs (131), walks
(111) and runs scored (111).
In the final season at the Vet, Thome acclimated himself quite well. He
collected 28 (or 59.6 percent) of his dingers at the Vet, the most homers at
home by any player in the NL.
Thome quickly littered the Phillies record book with his name as well.
The homer total fell one shy of the team record, held by Mike Schmidt, who
hit 48 in 1980. The 131 RBIs were a career high for Thome and placed him
fifth on the Phillies' single-season list. It is the most RBIs by a Phillie
But it wasn't just Thome's power at that plate that almost instantaneously
endeared him to the Philadelphia fans. He gained their respect and
admiration through his hustle and clutch hitting on the field and his
kindness and team-first approach off it.
Some of the long balls being of the mammoth variety also helped.
The fans got another chance to show their appreciation for Thome in the
ninth inning. When the Braves' first batter walked to the plate to start the
top of the ninth, Bowa removed him from the game. After a hug from Tomas
Perez, who took over at first base, Thome trotted to the dugout as the crowd
rose to its feet.
Thome then obliged the fans and came out for one final curtain call of the
This all came after the slugger was greeted with a standing ovation from
the crowd upon his first trip to the plate on Sunday.
"It was great, words can't describe it," Thome said of how he has been
received in Philadelphia. "I feel honored."
The fact that Thome went 0-4 on Sunday seemed insignificant. As did the
fact that the Phillies lost the game, 5-2, to the Braves.
Thome, who was with the Indians when Cleveland's Municipal Stadium closed
in 1993, soaked in the finale at the Vet.
"To play here the last game and see the people, it was awesome," he said.
Bowa was pleasantly surprised that Thome became part of Vet history in just
"Very seldom do you see a guy play one year and put a mark on a stadium,"
Bowa said. "That's what he's done. That's hard to do."
"For him to make a mark this quick is pretty impressive," the manager
Bowa also got a chance to recognize 41-year-old reliever Dan Plesac on
Sunday. With Plesac's retirement a possibility, the manager brought in the
left-hander with two outs in the ninth inning. Plesac struck out Ryan
Langerhans to close out the frame. Plesac struck out the first
batter he faced when he began his career in 1986.
Plesac said it was an emotional moment for him and he credited Bowa with
giving him the opportunity.
"I saw all 18 years flashing in front of me," Plesac said.
"It was a [heck] of a gesture from Larry Bowa," he added. "I appreciate
The last game at Veterans Stadium brought out a softer side of the usually
stern Bowa. The manager played 12 seasons with the Phillies. Included in
that time was a World Series win on the Vet turf in 1980.
Fighting fairly unsuccessfully to hold back tears, Bowa tried to explain
what the day meant to him.
"I guess it was just playing here, defying the odds, winning a world
championship, playing with Hall of Famers," Bowa said, his voice trailing
With a loss in the final game, the Phillies moved to 1,415-1,199 in 33
seasons at the Vet.
Mike Gennaria is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not
subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.