Griffey, Thome relishing playoff chance
Veteran sluggers searching for first World Series rings
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jim Thome clearly was out of breath.
He was standing in the White Sox clubhouse following Tuesday night's thrilling 1-0 victory over Minnesota, talking to a small group of media about the home run that gave his team the win in the tiebreaker to decide the American League Central title. Yet, he looked to be having more trouble taking in oxygen than composing his thoughts.
"I've been running around out there," said Thome, with a laugh, as he explained his sudden fatigue in between questions.
Truth be told, Thome, at 38, possesses as much energy as players in their early 20s. And there might have been nobody in the organization, including general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen, who enjoyed Tuesday night's celebration more than the affable designated hitter.
Actually, that particular distinction might rank as a tie between Ken Griffey Jr. and Thome. Griffey, who turns 39 in November, and Thome have individual statistics pushing them toward Hall of Fame induction five years after they retire. Yet, this season has precious little to do with individual accolades for either.
With the years left in their careers dwindling, the '08 campaign might be one of the last opportunities to pick up the World Series title that has eluded them both. It has been seven years since Thome last played postseason baseball and 11 years for Griffey.
"When you don't go back for eight or nine years, it makes you appreciate it that much more," said Thome of reaching the playoffs again, holding court with the media during Wednesday's workout day. "It was almost like, 'Where was this at?' It's almost surreal."
"This is one of the main reasons you play," Griffey added. "You always think about hitting that home run to win the World Series, the Joe Carter walk-off shot. I still have that dream."
Both Griffey and Thome remain productive, players able to make important contributions on a regular basis. They aren't the same superstars they were in their respective hey days -- Thome with the Indians and Griffey with the Mariners. But they make up through hard work what they might have lost in pure skill.
Thirty-eight combined seasons (20 for Griffey) haven't jaded them. They are paid well to play baseball, but they haven't lost their love of the game.
"You play this game as a kid, and I've been lucky to keep playing," Thome said. "That's how I've always looked at it."
The game also has become more of a multi-generational experience for the duo. Thome talked about a call he placed to his young daughter, Lila, before Tuesday's historic contest. He explained how all of her classmates knew about the importance of the game to be played by the White Sox that night.
"It's that much better when your daughter says, 'Good luck, win,'" said Thome with a big smile.
If you want to get Griffey talking, just ask him about his sons' youth football prowess. Videos of them in action, courtesy of Griffey's computer, are soon to follow.
Ken Griffey Sr. played 19 years before calling it a career, forming one of the more famous father-son tandems in Major League Baseball history. The elder Griffey has two World Series titles, though, and Griffey hopes the '08 White Sox will bring him No. 1.
His teammates would like to facilitate a title run for these accomplished individuals.
"Definitely, especially those two," White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye said. "They are two good guys who are going to be in the Hall of Fame. Good people, who come from good families. You want something like that for them."
Thome knows about getting close to a World Series title. In 1997, Thome's Indians were one out away from defeating the Marlins for the championship, only to have Florida rally to tie Game 7 and then win it in extra innings. Thome spoke Wednesday as to how the World Series trophy actually was in the Indians' clubhouse but taken away.
It's the kind of near-miss that eats at Thome, who rarely lets anything negative cross his path. It's also the sort of brush with a championship that has Thome enjoying every moment of the current White Sox run.
He might have been short of breath late Tuesday night. If the White Sox keep winning, though, Thome will keep running and keep celebrating.
"Let's face it. In the '90s, I was very fortunate to go to the postseason a lot of years," Thome said. "Not that you take it for granted, but when you go like that, it takes away the specialness of when you have been gone and come back.
"To watch the crowd last night and look at fans all in black and waving towels, and then to celebrate with teammates and the fans, that might have been one of the best celebrations I ever had. It was that special."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.