(WJW) — The 1995 Cleveland Indians season was a magical season that saw the team clinch its first playoff spot since 1954.
“The feeling that every game we played, we were never out of it,” said Jim Poole, former Indians relief pitcher, who helped lead the team to the World Series that year. “The number of comebacks were incredible. Watching that lineup from the bullpen; I was glad to be an Indian and not on the other team. They were amazing.”
Poole made 42 appearances out of the bullpen that season. He was the Tribe’s left-handed specialist out of the pen and was instrumental in helping the Indians clinch a spot in the World Series for the first time in 41 years.
Unfortunately, Jim might be best known for the pitcher who allowed the only run – the David Justice Home Run – in the Braves’ series-clinching Game 6 of the World Series that October.
“Even giving up that home run to Justice, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Jim. “He beat me, and that was that. I did use it as a motivator, but I’m not and never have been embarrassed for having that moment.”
That one pitch. That one game does not define Jim Poole.
He pitched 11 seasons in Major League Baseball with four seasons with the Indians. Toward the end of his career and retirement in 2000, Jim and his wife, Kim, moved to Atlanta for life post-baseball.
But for the last year and half, Jim has been facing a much tougher opponent.
“When we were running, his left leg was not acting normal when we were outside,” said Kim.
Poole’s left arm, the same arm that struck out 256 batters in 431 MLB games, started to fail.
“It was almost like a little joke was being played on me,” he said.
It was at that moment, they knew something was seriously wrong.
“By that point, I was confident on what I was going to hear but [it was] still shocking to hear the words,” said Jim.
Two months later, on June 15, 2021 – on the 31-year anniversary of Jim making his Major League Baseball debut, doctors broke the news the couple was dreading.
“It was literally a gut punch,” said Kim. “There were a lot of other things better than the diagnosis of ALS.”
According to the ALS Association, ALS patients live on average between two to five years after being diagnosed.
“He ultimately loses something every day, every week … whether it’s the independence of being able to turn on the TV or feed himself,” Kim said. “Each day he knows he may or may not be able do something, so he does whatever he can every day he gets up.”
“I have no idea what each day will bring anymore,” said Jim.
There have been more than 20,000 baseball players in the sport’s more than 150 years of existence. Jim Poole is considered to be just the third documented prominent player to be diagnosed with ALS.
One of the three is legendary and hall-of-fame slugger Lou Gehrig. His life and career were cut short because of ALS. He died in 1941 from the disease, two years after his diagnosis and after his famous “luckiest man” speech.
“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” said Jim.
Gehrig’s speech didn’t resonate with Jim when he heard it hundreds of times throughout his life. But after battling ALS now for a year and half, Jim feels Gehrig’s pain, love and appreciation.
“Now that I live with it, I understand Gehrig’s speech,” he said. “My life is still very blessed.”
Jim’s ALS story is what his wife, Kim, calls an emotional roller coaster. It’s easy for Jim, Kim and their family to be negative. However, it’s Jim’s positive attitude that makes his ALS journey truly inspiring.
“When people hear my story, they look forward with optimism and not sadness,” said Jim.
“He’s been so incredibly strong,” said Kim. “Just never complains.”
The Pooles’ three kids and grandchildren have been with them every step of the way.
“It’s the best medicine ever,” said Kim. “It’s the only medicine for what we’re going through.”
Asked why he thinks it’s important to share his story, Jim said: “If there’s somebody else that has it, they’re not alone, and life does not end.”
There is no cure for ALS. The Pooles hope anyone watching and hearing about Jim’s story can bring more awareness to the devastating disease.
“If we can use his career …to help you know…fight this disease. That would help, knowing that this was given to us for that reason,” said Kim.
“ALS does not mean the end of your life while you’re living,” said Jim. “Never stop living life to the fullest.”