Frank Thomas is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his first year of eligibility, voters agreed with the easy case for Frank Thomas to be enshrined with baseball's greats. The two-time American League MVP (he finished second in 2000 to Jason Giambi, an admitted steroid user) is one of 21 players to achieve baseball's holy trinity: a .300 average, .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage.
Frank Thomas was simply the most dominant pure hitter of the 1990's. In his first season, 1991, Frank Thomas became the first player since Ted Williams to hit .300 with that many home runs (32), RBIs (109) and walks (138).
I had the privilege as a White Sox season ticket holder (four kids ago) to see the "Big Hurt" punish baseballs in his prime. Frank Thomas was the player who caused you to look at the scoreboard, determine when he was due up and plan concession and bathroom runs accordingly. You had a sense that every Frank Thomas at bat would result in something great.
Frank Thomas should have owned Chicago after starring in a series of commercials for Reebok.
So how come Frank Thomas never became the "King" of Chicago baseball?
1) Frank Thomas wasn't Sammy Sosa. Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa played on opposite sides of town in more ways than one. They were both stars but Chicago fans embraced Sosa and his image as the happy showman, complete with hoping and preening after home runs. Frank Thomas seemed distant, at times surly in the public eye and unapproachable by teammates.
2) Frank Thomas was dinged by the steroid era. Frank Thomas was "born big," having played tight end at Auburn before switching to baseball full time. He put up monster stats while surrounded by drug cheats such as Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. There was never any suspicion about drug use by Frank Thomas but players in the steroid era are viewed through a different prism.
3) Frank Thomas' best years were hurt by labor strife. Frank Thomas and the White Sox were in first place in 1994 when a strike ended the season. Thomas earned a World Series ring in with the White Sox in 2005 though he was injured and did not play. If the White Sox had won the 1994 World Series would history view Frank Thomas differently?
4) Frank Thomas spent too much time as a DH. While baseball fans have strong opinions about the designated hitter there's no question Thomas benefited from the ability to rest his injured ankles for much of his later career. Despite over a decade at first base many view Frank Thomas as the first designated hitter to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
5) Frank Thomas left Chicago a bitter man. He had a well publicized falling out after leaving the White Sox in 2006, angry that GM Kenny Williams decided to sign Jim Thome as his replacement. He hit his 500th home run playing for the Toronto Blue Jays and finished his career in Oakland, which just seemed wrong. He's back now, hopefully for good.
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Filed under: Baseball