Jim Thome plays third base for first time since 1996

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For one pitch anyway.

Jim Thome, perhaps appearing in his final game in Cleveland for the Indians, took to his old position for one pitch in the ninth inning Sunday, playing third base for the first time since Sept. 29, 1996.

Thome had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.  He left to a standing ovation after the one pitch.

It was the first time Thome had appeared anywhere in the field since he played one game at first base for the White Sox in 2007.  He was last a regular first baseman in 2005.  Thome played 492 games at third base in his first six seasons in the majors, but none sense.

Thome hasn’t announced whether he’ll return for a 22nd big-league season in 2012.  He became just the eighth player to reach 600 career homers earlier this year.

A-Rod to join ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth

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Alex Rodriguez’s post-retirement renaissance continues apace. After starring as a studio host for Fox’s playoff coverage over the past couple of years, A-Rod is about to be named to, arguably, televised baseball’s top job: color commentary in ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball booth.

Michael McCarthy of The Sporting News is hearing that ESPN is going to give the gig, vacated by Aaron Boone by virtue of his hiring by the Yankees, to Rodriguez. There he’ll join Jessica Mendoza and whoever they get to replace play-by-play man Dan Shulman, who chose to step back from the Sunday night job following last season. This, by the way, marks the second time A-Rod has taken over Aaron Boone’s job given that he replaced Boone at third base for the Yankees in 2004.

The twist: A-Rod is likely to keep his Fox postseason job too. While some broadcasters work for multiple networks, it’s pretty rare for Fox to allow its talents to work for competitors like that. Apparently they believe keeping A-Rod — who five years ago was one of the most despised figures in baseball — is worth it. What a difference a few years makes.

In other news, Alex Rodriguez is likely to be shunned mightily by the current crop of BBWAA voters when he hits the Hall of Fame ballot in a couple of years. At the rate he’s going, though, their successors will put him in Cooperstown via the Ford Frick Award sometime in the 2040s.