January 13, 2014
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Frank Thomas steps up to the plate. He approaches the plate wearing number 35 for the Chicago White Sox. The bases are loaded and Thomas, dressed in black pinstripes and a helmet that barely covers his head, awaits his pitch. He gets a breaking ball and crushes it over the center field fence. The crowd at U.S. Cellular Field goes nuts. And they always did when Frank Thomas played for the White Sox.
Thomas retired February 12, 2010, signing a one-day contract with the White Sox and formally announced his retirement. His legacy was complete, as Thomas happily sat down from the game of baseball after 19 seasons. However, the first baseman/designated hitter didn’t quite achieve baseball immortality. You need to be inducted into Cooperstown for that, and this past Wednesday is exactly what happened.
I would like to thank all my friends, fans and family members!! Thanks for the love and support!! HOF 2014
— Frank Thomas (@TheBigHurt_35) January 8, 2014
January 8th, 2014 saw three members getting their due into the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Maddux and Glavine were no-brainers, as both recorded 300-plus wins in their careers. Both were brilliant pitchers, and it was only a matter of time before they were elected.
All three deserved it, but Thomas was a surprise to me. Granted, he’s one of my favorite players I’ve seen play. I didn’t think he’d get in on his first try.
Jack Morris, who’s last shot at the hall before the expansion selection was this try, and Craig Biggio, who got 3,000 hits, were sure to get in. They didn’t. It was Thomas’ day to walk into Cooperstown.
I started to look into the legacy of the Big Hurt, and I realized why he got in. It was the same reason why I rooted for him all these years: he appeared larger than life.
Thomas is a member of the 500 home run club, recording 521 home runs. That normally wouldn’t be enough for him to get in. The funny thing is, Thomas did more than hit bombs over the warning track.
Thomas was a back-to-back American League MVP in 1993 and 1994. He hit a career .301 batting average with a .419 on-base percentage and a .555 slugging percentage. Babe Ruth and Stan Musial are the only other players who had 10,000 plate appearances and statistics of at least .300, .400 and .550 in those categories. And both are Hall-of-Famers.
Thomas also set a record in sacrifice flies. He is the only individual who recorded over 100 sacrifice flies without delivering a sacrifice bunt. That’s astounding, although not surprising. Who in their right mind would have Frank Thomas square a bunt?
The Big Hurt also was the face of a franchise. He may have played for the Oakland Athletics and the Toronto Blue Jays near his career’s end, but he was always a White Sock in baseball fans’ minds. Why else would the White Sox give Thomas a 2005 championship ring despite missing the World Series due to nagging injuries? He meant that much to the White Sox and still does. Thomas leads the White Sox in home runs, doubles and walks among other categories.
The fans remember him and love him for playing for that Chicago team on the South side. In fact, this reminds me of an old story.
I went to see the Yankees take on the Athletics in 2006 with my mother. We sat in the right field bleachers and noticed a family as well, wearing Frank Thomas shirts. The bleachers are notorious for harassing anyone without Yankee gear. But they didn’t give this family a hard time.
Thomas went up at the plate in the first inning, and he hits a home run. Yes, I said to myself. The Big Hurt’s still got it.
That moment and that family reminded me of his legacy. Frank Thomas is to the Chicago White Sox what Musial is to the Cardinals. It’s very rare to have the face of a franchise stand the test of time and do it with class and dignity.
Frank Thomas was always a Hall-of-Famer in my book. Now, he officially is. And it should come as no surprise his plaque should have the White Sox hat on it.
I’m excited as a fan, but I can hardly imagine what the White Sox fans are feeling now. Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Frank Thomas. See you in Cooperstown.
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