As evident by the sellout crowd at U.S. Cellular Field, who lined up outside as early as 8:00 a.m. to get a bobble head in his likeness and see his induction into White Sox immortality, the name Frank Thomas and the Chicago White Sox go hand in hand. Here we examine why.
From nearly homering in his first major league at bat, to carrying most of the White Sox offenses during the 90’s, Frank Thomas was the face of the franchise for over 15 years.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was one of the best hitters to ever play the game, and regardless of the criticism he has received for “only being a DH” most of his career, there should be little doubt he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he’s eligible.
In an age where records were tainted by performance enhancing drugs, Thomas was among the first players to disclose that there was a problem in MLB clubhouses, and to openly lobby for testing. He was one of the few players praised in the United States Congress’ Mitchell Report for openly stating PEDs were a problem in major league baseball and that something needed to be done to clean up the game.
Thomas himself was an admitted “numbers guy,” obsessed with his statistics to the point some considered him selfish, while others called him passionate.
Was Frank Thomas the greatest White Sox hitter ever? Well, the numbers speak for themselves:
The Big Hurt is the club’s franchise leader in: home runs (448), doubles (447), RBI (1,465), runs scored (1,327), extra-base hits (906), walks (1,466), total bases (3,949), slugging percentage (.568) and on-base percentage (.427).
He was a five-time American League All-Star.
A two-time MVP (1993-94)
In the 1994 strike-shortened season that almost killed baseball, Thomas captured his second straight league honor by batting .353 with 34 doubles, 38 home runs and 101 RBI in just 113 games!
Many fans feel Thomas was cheated out of a third MVP award in 2000, when he finished second in AL MVP balloting behind admitted PED user Jason Giambi. That season, Thomas hit .328 with 44 doubles, 43 home runs and 143 RBI. His home run and RBI totals in 2000 were both career highs.
He is a four-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1991, ’93-94, 2000) and the 2000 AL Comeback Player of the Year.
To those who don’t believe Thomas deserves the title “one of the greatest hitters ever” consider this:
The Big Hurt is one of just four players in baseball history to have a .300 average with 500 home runs, 1,500 RBI, 1,000 runs scored and 1,500 walks in his career. The other three players? Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Thomas has a lifetime .301 BA, clubbed 521 home runs and drove in 1,704 runs.
While many don’t give Thomas much credit for bringing a World Series title to Chicago in 2005, he actually played a very valuable role on that the team.
Struggling for an offensive lift and rotating several weaker bats in the DH slot, Thomas returned from ankle surgery producing 23 hits, 12 of which were home runs. While he hit just .219 in 105 ABs, he posted a .909 OPS, which would be second only to Paul Konerko (.979) on the 2010 team. After re-injuring his ankle, Thomas remained an active cheerleader for he team through the play-offs.
Beyond the numbers, almost any White Sox fan offering memorable White Sox moments between 1990 and 2005, will surely include the name Frank Thomas within it.
Soxman is no different. Shortly after Thomas was selected in the first round (seventh overall) by the White Sox in the 1989 Major League Baseball Free Agent Draft he was invited to take batting practice with the team in uniform. This is a fairly common practice for the White Sox and their top draft picks.
Just a young boy, I anxiously sat in the outfield of Comiskey Park shagging batting practice home runs, as the 6-5 Auburn alum stepped into the batter’s box, crushing every pitch he saw over the outfield wall. I was lucky enough to grab a ball he parked about 15 rows deep and quickly scurried to the dugout area as he walked off the field. As other fans were actively calling for regulars like Ozzie Guillen and Carlton Fisk, I alone shouted: “Mr. Thomas can I have your autograph?” The gentle giant walked over without hesitation and signed my homerun ball while telling me to just call him Frank. “You are going to be awesome.” I said. He humbly replied. “I sure hope so,” and thanked me for the compliment. That ball remains encased with his Topps rookie card in the Sox Cave today.
Years later, I can say it with confidence: “You weren’t only awesome, you were the best Big Frank.”Follow paulmbanks