Talkin' baseball: A rising star and a veteran slugger share thoughts
Jim Thome says baseball training methods have changed since he was a rookie
Evan Longoria and Thome compare the young Rays to Thome's Indians in the '90s
Longoria and Thome agree that Manny Ramirez is a fun, hard-working teammate
LARGO, Fla. -- Two hours after Twins designated hitter Jim Thome missed homering off Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels by a foot on Thursday afternoon, Thome was back in uniform, only this time he wasn't at the ballpark. Instead, Thome was in anonymous Largo, reclining on a sofa in windowless industrial warehouse in which he and Rays third baseman Evan Longoria were among the past and present major leaguers who had gathered to shoot the latest Pepsi Max commercial.
In between takes Longoria and Thome, two of the game's more insightful and articulate stars, spoke with SI.com off-set about their perspectives -- one already a star at age 25; the other a 40-year-old veteran slugger just 11 home runs away from becoming the eighth player in history with 600 -- on such subjects as hitting, competing for traditionally small- or mid-market division-championship teams and playing alongside a certain shared teammate (hint: think dreadlocks).
Here's our give-and-take, edited only for length and clarity.
SI.com: Many have taken to calling last season the Year of the Pitcher for the decreased number of home runs and inordinate number of no-hitters. Now that you've had an offseason to digest it, any theories as to why it happened?
Longoria: You could point to a number of different things, I guess, but I think it was just a down year for the hitter. Guys didn't hit as many home runs. I feel like there was just as much production; if you look at the RBIs and other numbers like that, it's probably about the same. There just weren't as many home runs hit. Jim would probably be able to answer it better because he's seen a lot more years of hitting and pitching.
Thome: The one thing I've seen is that I think young pitching today, these guys have tremendous arms. It seems to me you'll see an organization that's gone out and drafted really well and they've drafted pitching. They're getting those good young arms and giving them an opportunity within two to three years of being drafted of getting to the major-league level. Confidence is a big thing too. A lot of the pitching today has confidence -- as much as the hitting does.
I don't think hitting has suffered because you've got a new wave of young players coming up that are tremendous players like Evan, like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, [Ryan] Braun. To say that pitching had a great year, yes, but also did the everyday players.
SI.com: Has the increased prevalence of the cutter played a role?
Longoria: Pitchers figure out which guys have a hard time hitting, and obviously the cutter right now is hard. It's not an easy pitch to hit. A straight fastball is a lot easier to hit than a cut fastball. I think pitchers have gone to movement. There are not many guys that throw straight fastballs any more.
Thome: In the mid '90s you'd face [pitchers] that come out basically with sinker-changeup. Now you're seeing that hard 92-to-94 mile-an-hour cutter whether it's to a right-hander or a left-hander. What I see is more late movement than there was in the early '90s to the mid '90s.
Longoria: The other [change in the game] you could really point to is the way that guys train.
Thome: No question.
Longoria: From the time that you came up to now, guys that are breaking into the big leagues now, their training methods are a lot different. The philosophies are a lot different.
Thome: And the technologies. Yes.
Longoria: That has a lot to do with it also.
Thome: I agree with Evan. Training has changed. Guys are going home and they're training year-round. Honestly I've pretty stayed with the old cliché of what got me here. I take three weeks to a month off and then get into it. I've changed my routine a little bit just from my back history. I've had history now with my lower back. Randy Johnson and I were talking about it -- as you get older, you have to train smarter. I don't mean harder, but you train smarter and do things that your body needs if, say, it's had an injury.
SI.com: Both of you play for small- or medium-market franchises, yet you both won your division last year. Is there an extra pride that comes along with that and to what do you attribute much of your clubs' success?
Thome: I think so. In our case, the organization, it's great how fundamentally sound the guys play. Over the years when I was in Cleveland and Chicago playing against the Twins, you look at their guys, and they just don't beat themselves from the fundamental side of the game. They've got that attitude and work ethic. You see them out there early doing the little things. Not only do you see that in spring training, but it goes on through the year. It doesn't stop. It's a fun thing to watch.
It's an organization where fundamentals are No. 1. They want to win a game 2-1 doing things the right way rather than banging a team out 10-9. Our teams in Cleveland in the '90s, we scored a lot of runs. It's not that our teams weren't fundamentally sound, it was just a different style.
Longoria: It's definitely been a pretty sweet ride for me, Tampa being what they were before before I was there. For the three years of me being there, it's been pretty fun to be part of an organization that has obviously built from within. They haven't really gone out and spent a whole lot of money on free agents. Most of the players that are in the big leagues now or have been in the three years that I've been there are pretty much all homegrown products with a mix of some great additions of free agents who have been quality players for us. There's a pride and a sense to want to repeat that.
SI.com: With Boston and New York in the AL East and Chicago and Detroit in the AL Central, you've had to watch your division rivals make splashy additions this offseason -- what's it like watching that happen?
Longoria: It's kind of an understood thing for us to watch the Yankees and the Red Sox [make offseason additions]. They have always been two organizations that have competed every year. It hasn't been much of a surprise, but it's definitely hard to compete at the top of the division with two teams who do things like they do. You can't help but respect what their organizations are trying to do -- that they're trying to win championships. That's really what it comes down to.
Thome: The Central has always been very competitive, my being with the White Sox, now with the Twins and Cleveland in the '90s. It's always been a very, very competitive division. Look at the last four years -- there have been two Game 163s. Anything can happen.
SI.com: Evan, have you ever seen Jim play third base? (Thome was a third baseman in Cleveland from 1991 to 1996; during those seasons Longoria was between the ages of five and 10.)
Longoria: No, I haven't. [laughs] I had heard he was a third baseman. But you hit [home run No.] 600 against us?
Thome: No, I tied [Harmon] Killebrew.
Longoria: Tied him? Didn't you go ahead?
Thome: The next at bat, yes.