PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Slugger Jim Thome began the second leg of his career with an emotional news conference Tuesday in which he fondly remembered Cleveland and became choked up when talking about his wife.
The all-time home run leader for the Cleveland Indians, Thome donned a Philadelphia Phillies jersey for the first time Tuesday, wearing a No. 25 jersey as he met the media.
"This was a very difficult decision," Thome said. "(It is) a challenge to win. We all strive ourselves to get the opportunity to win. They (the Indians) treated me with the utmost respect."
Phillies General Manager Ed Wade announced that Thome received a six-year, $85 million contract that includes a team option for a seventh year at $13 million or a $3 million buyout.
Thome, 32, received a $10 million signing bonus and will receive $9.5 million in 2003, $10.5 million in 2004, $11.5 million in 2005, $12.5 million in 2006 and $14 million in both 2007 and 2008, plus award bonuses.
"We want to continue to do some things to make this a championship ballclub," Wade said. "We've taken a huge step forward."
The Phillies also are taking steps forward at the box office. The signings of free agents Thome and infielder David Bell have generated an increase in season ticket sales for a team that moves into a new ballpark in 2004.
Wade said an agreement was reached after several meetings with Thome and his wife, Andrea. When asked about his wife, Thome began to speak, then stepped away from the podium and rubbed tears away from his eyes before saying, "My wife is my rock."
Phillies Manager Larry Bowa carried the remainder of the news conference.
"This guy is a super individual," said Bowa, who has spent the majority of his career with the Phillies. "This is the most excitement here since Pete Rose came here."
The most coveted slugger on the free agent market, Thome had been courted by both the Phillies and the Indians, with whom he had spent his entire career.
The Indians, who have made some considerable cost-cutting moves over the last two years, offered Thome $60 million over five years, then sweetened the deal with a sixth year at a vested option. Thome pondered his decision over the Thanksgiving weekend at his home in Aurora, Ohio, before opting to become the highest-paid player in Phillies history.
Thome is a career .287 hitter with 334 home runs and 927 RBI. He made his debut with Cleveland in 1991 and helped the Indians reach World Series in 1995 and 1997.
Thome hit a career-high and club-record 52 homers and drove in 119 runs last season.