CHICAGO -- When Jim Thome was with the White Sox from 2006-09, he and owner Jerry Reinsdorf had conversations -- Reinsdorf calls them a "handshake" agreement -- about Thome someday returning to the White Sox in another capacity.
That became the case Tuesday, when the White Sox hired Thome to be a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn. The 42-year-old former slugger and five-time All-Star, likely bound for the Hall of Fame, will have responsibilities that include consulting with Hahn and assistant general manager Buddy Bell, working with Major League staff and players, and evaluating and visiting White Sox Minor League affiliates through the summer.
"I think Jim Thome someday will manage a Major League team," Reinsdorf said. "I think he has that ability. He can be a batting coach, he'd be a great batting coach, but someday he'll be a manager. That's what he'll be. Right now, he's going to be helping us out, evaluating the farm system, evaluating the younger players, he'll be here and be a presence in our clubhouse, come to Spring Training and be a presence. I think it'll be a real plus. And someday he'll manage a Major League team."
Thome lives with his family in Chicago, which he said played a significant part in the decision, which came to fruition in the the last 2 1/2 weeks or so.
"The No. 1 thing in this whole thing is I get to kind of be at home," Thome said. "Being at home, and getting that opportunity to be around my kid, I coach my son in T-ball, and my daughter, she's 10 years old, going to be 11, it's going very quick. So getting this opportunity to stay at home was really, really good, no doubt."
Thome ranks among baseball's all-time leaders in home run ratio (4th, 13.76), home runs (7th, 612), walks (7th, 1,747), OPS (20th, .956) and RBI (24th, 1,699). He appeared in in 529 games over four seasons with Chicago, batting .265 with 134 home runs and 369 RBIs. Some of his memorable moments in a White Sox uniform include his 500th career home run on Sept. 16, 2007, against the Angels, and his game-winning solo homer off Nick Blackburn on Sept. 30, 2008, which gave the White Sox a 1-0 victory over the Twins in a one-game playoff at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's given me everything," Thome said of his career in baseball. "It's given me people that I've met, it's given me friendships, it's given me great cities I've played in, relationships. And ultimately, if you treat people well and vice versa and you have those relationships, you sit here in situations like this and get opportunities. This is my home, this is where we live. This means a lot, to be able to come back and be a part of a great organization that has won and wants to win. I think to be a part of it is great."
Thome never "officially" retired after finishing his season last year with the Orioles. But he figures to spend time in the front office alongside Bell and Hahn, as well as in the clubhouse alongside veterans like Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, as well as helping players all the way down to the Minor Leagues.
"The thing about Jim is he has put in a career being respected by his peers and being an honest and up-front guy," Konerko said. "When you talk to Jim, you're talking the truth. Jim is one of a kind. There are a lot of guys like Jim in baseball who are good people but can't match the career he's had, what he's done on the field to go with the person he is. To have one of those in the organization, that's very rare."
Thome says he does still occasionally pick up a bat, but this opportunity with the White Sox may give him a renewed opportunity to be close to the competition that still calls to him.
"If you can give a kid a piece of advice or be around here and somebody asks you a question about hitting or about the game in general and you see them have success, ultimately, that's the biggest accomplishment of all, is giving back to the game and giving back to young players that want that input and want that advice," Thome said.