Everything about Jim Thome is supersized: his moon-shot homers, his Pop-eye arms and his enormous appetite. The Phillies first baseman always has a large plate of eggs and bacon for breakfast. "I'm a Midwestern boy," the 6'4", 244-pound Peoria, Ill., native said last week. "I'm going to eat my bacon and eggs every day. Always have, always will." A few hours later, just before heading to the ballpark, Thome devoured an overstuffed turkey hoagie.
That high-cholesterol diet combined with his lifelong distaste for lifting weights may sound like a recipe for disaster, but Thome, 33 and in his 14th major league season, is baseball's most feared power hitter this side of Barry Bonds. At week's end, with Philadelphia (43-37) leading the National League East by two games over the Marlins and the Mets, Thome was hitting .299 with a major-league-leading 27 home runs, a .679 slugging percentage and 58 RBIs. Thome's 74 homers over the last season and a half were the most in the majors. (Bonds was second with 67.)
With that kind of success Thome doesn't have to change his eating habits, but at least he has seen the benefit of an improved workout regimen. "I've come to realize that the older you get, the more you have to pay attention to your daily training routine," he says. Thome suffered recurring back pain during his 12 seasons with the Indians, which was one reason they were reluctant to offer him a guaranteed six-year contract following the 2002 season. After signing a six-year, $85 million free-agent deal with Philadelphia, Thome took up yoga and plyometrics and hasn't had any further problems with his back. "I stretch at least three or four times a day," says Thome, who hit his 400th career homer on June 14. "I feel great, maybe as good or better than ever."
And he may be swinging the bat better than ever. Last year Thome, coming off seven straight seasons with at least 30 homers (including a career-high 52 in '02), had little trouble adjusting to National League pitching, crushing a league-leading 47 homers to go with a career-best 131 RBIs. "[ Thome's quick adjustment] is pretty unusual," says Brewers manager Ned Yost. "It usually takes a while to get to know new pitchers. He didn't even blink."
The one wart on his 2003 season was his .266 average, Thome's lowest since 1993. "Last year Jim was swinging at bad pitches earlier in the count and was pressing a bit," says Phillies hitting coach Greg Gross. "This year he's more relaxed, and his average is way up. There's no reason he can't hit .300 and still have his big home run numbers."
Thome has also had an extra-large impact behind the scenes in Philly. Despite his laid-back demeanor, he has established himself as a clubhouse leader—"He relaxes us but also keeps us in line," says rightfielder Bobby Abreu—and the face of a franchise that is trying to win its first World Series since 1980. "Ever since [catcher] Darren Daulton left [in 1997], we've been searching for a team leader," says general manager Ed Wade. "We've found that guy. This is Jim's team, there's no question. He's been everything we hoped for, and more."