Jim Thome joins Dodgers after trade from Chicago

Sep 3, 2009 - 1:42 AM By BETH HARRIS AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES(AP) -- Jim Thome made his way over to Andre Ethier, telling the young outfielder, "It's good to be your teammate." Then he crossed the clubhouse to greet pitcher Chad Billingsley before catching up with Manny Ramirez.

The sluggers exchanged hellos and embraced, reunited in Dodger blue nine years after they played together in Cleveland for eight seasons.

"Good to see you, man," Ramirez told the five-time All-Star.

Thome arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday, three days after a late-night trade from the Chicago White Sox that caught him by surprise. He had a half-hour to decide whether to waive his no-trade clause and join the NL West leaders.

"I just had no idea it was going to happen," he said. "They've got one of the best teams in the National League, if not the best. You look at the organization, the history of the Dodgers, to be a part of that is also a great thrill as well."

Thome hitting .252 with 23 home runs and 74 RBI in 106 games this season. He is owed $2,415,301 from his $13 million salary.

He found his locker, situated between Ethier and Casey Blake, with three cardboard boxes stacked in front, topped by a shiny blue No. 25 batting helmet. Thome had already stopped by manager Joe Torre's office and he was eager to chat up hitting coach Don Mattingly, whom the 39-year-old slugger referred to as Mister.

Thome will strictly pinch-hit with his new team, a role he has rarely filled. First baseman James Loney shouldn't feel threatened since Thome's days playing that position are over.

Thome called Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti before the trade and explained he isn't physically able to play first anymore but that he would love to join the team and help any way he can.

"I needed to talk to him about that and be honest," Thome said. "James Loney is a great player and I didn't want to step on anyone's toes either."

Thome's 564 home runs rank him third among active players, trailing Ken Griffey Jr. (625) and Alex Rodriguez (576).

In leaving his designated hitter role in the American League, which he said improved his health, Thome goes from about four at-bats per game to one every couple days. Ultimately, the trade will cost him about 90 at-bats in pursuit of his 600th homer.

"I can't sit here and say I haven't thought about it. It's a historical thing in the game," he said about the milestone. "Winning a world championship is even a greater level. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get that yet."

Leaving Chicago, where the Peoria, Ill., native realized his goal of playing and he was one of the White Sox's most popular players, came down to having a chance at winning this season.

"That's ultimately why you play the game," Thome said. "I never would have been able to live it down if these guys celebrate in October and I wasn't a part of it with the opportunity."

Thome plans to stay loose during games, hitting in the batting cage.

"Even though you are on the bench you can learn a lot by watching," he said. "Will it be a little different? Sure, but I don't ever go up and hit and have negatives in my mind."

Thome becomes a free agent after the World Series, and he said retirement would be a consideration if the Dodgers were to win their first championship since 1988.

For now, though, Thome and Ramirez are back to sharing laughs again. The biggest one might come when Thome points out that his homers are 22 more than Ramirez's 542.

"I will," Thome said, "Very respectfully though."

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