Frank Thomas was a one-dimensional player. All he did was hit. Sure, the White Sox played him at first base in the early years of his career. He was a big guy without a ton of agility who probably could have played in the NFL as a tight end. He was huge.
He came up to the major leagues in 1990, which was in the midst of the first period of the team being good since the disastrous playoff series in 1983. The Oakland As were the juggernaut. They were a bit of the precursor of the 90s Braves and the 00s Colts. They were the best team in baseball for an extended period of time but only won one title. As a White Sox fan, one title seemed like an infinite number. In August he and Alex Fernandez were called up on the same day, along with a lanky outfielder called Sammy Sosa.
Thomas came to the league slightly ahead of the sabermetric revolution. In the early 90s, the batting title was all that mattered. In his first eight seasons, he hit better than .300 with an on-base percentage no lower than .426. He hit a lot but he walked a lot as well. His walk-heavy tendencies hurt his overall hit total for sure.
It’s hard to beat his first seven full seasons in the majors. During that time he finished no lower than 8th in MVP voting. He led the league in on-base percentage four times. He had 100 RBIs every year, and just one year of fewer than 30 home runs. In that season he led the league in doubles. During 1994’s strike-shortened season he flirted with .400, led the league in runs (the heaviest guy to do so in history) and was on pace for his first 50-home run season. I think he could have hit 12 in the season’s final 50 games. The season ended doubly sadly in that the Sox led the AL Central when the season was cancelled.
2000 was his comeback year. He hit a career high 43 homers with 143 RBI. He was denied a third MVP because Jason “do these steroids make my pecs look fat” Giambi won.
After hitting an early-series home run in the 1993 AL Championship Series, the Blue Jays decided to walk Thomas. He had ten walks in 27 series plate appearances. In the 2000 divisional series he didn’t get a hit in 13 plate appearances. By the time the Sox made their great 2005 run, Thomas was injured. He played in only 34 games that year and when the team got to the playoffs, he claimed that he could play but was not activated. I think he deserves the World Series ring.
2006 was a tough year for me as a sports fan. The Titans locked out Steve McNair due to his horrible contract. My favorite White Sock of all time was not re-signed. Instead they went with Jim Thome. Thomas played angry, signing with the As and winning the Comeback Player of the Year award. It was his sixth top-four finish in the MVP. I thought he looked good in green. He had one great playoff series as the As swept the Twins but was shut out against the Tigers in the ALCS.
He did not look good in Toronto Blue. The Jays signed him to a two-year, $18 million contract. I hope he saved much of that money, as he famously burned through his money by buying a house with a helipad and a dance club and started a record label.
The Jays released him midway though the 2008 season and the As claimed him. At 40 years old he was a shell of himself and hit 240.
No one signed him last year. He finally gave in and retired last week.
Despite his prodigious size, no one’s ever hinted at any steroid use. He was just naturally huge. It’s a little sad that his career ended in a whimper and that he couldn’t stay with the Sox. I can’t connect with any of the current players the way
I connected with Frank. You had to watch his every at bat. He’d glare at the umpire if a strike were called on a ball slightly out of the strike zone. His swing was powerful. He once hit a home run when he broke his bat.
I met him after a game in Kansas City. I was in college. He autographed a picture and said nothing. It was good enough for me.
For me, he was the ultimate player. He satisfied my need for stats and lots of him. Watching him play was a treat. I didn’t even watch one entire baseball game last year. I may not do so again this year. I might not even play fantasy baseball at all. Yeah, it’s the end of an era.