Barry Bonds, the greatest left handed hitter I’ve ever seen is still not in the Hall of Fame. We all know the reasons why. Mike Piazza, the best hitting catcher of all-time is also not in. Those reasons are a bit more unclear.
Still others who belong are shut out and some questionable inductees are in Cooperstown. The debate could go on forever. I’m not pleased with many moves made by the Hall. This week though the voters did get one thing very right.
White Sox great Frank Thomas joined pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in the 2014 Hall of Fame class. The Big Hurt appeared on 83.7 percent of the ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He may as well have been on all of them.
Thomas batted over .300 and blasted 521 home runs during his illustrious career. He played 19 seasons, all but three on the South Side of Chicago. Thomas did it all. A two-time MVP, five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger, batting champ, comeback player, and home run derby king. The White Sox retired his #35. More than stats though, Thomas also passed the eye test. He was, and still is, great for the game.
Standing at 6′ 5″ and weighing around the 250 mark for much of his career, Thomas was larger than life in his playing days. A modern day Paul Bunyan, if you will. Only this brawny folk hero wielded a bat instead of an axe. Instead of a blue ox named Babe, he led the White Sox and hit some bombs that were Babe-esque. If any nickname ever described someone’s hitting style, the “Big Hurt” summed up Thomas’ beautifully.
Sports of course bring us together. We look back at times spent enjoying athletics fondly. They remain with us forever. I remember my grandfather taking me to the new Comiskey Park in the early 90s to see the Sox play the Blue Jays. It was July and the game had plenty of juice to it. Both teams were contenders. The storylines were aplenty. Toronto first baseman John Olerud was chasing .400. He wound up hitting a home run a few rows behind us. It wouldn’t be enough. On a night where fans received plastic cups with Frank Thomas’ likeness on them, the real Thomas didn’t disappoint. He belted a majestic shot well over our heads that wound up being the difference in the game. I can still taste the churros and the victory from that night. Thomas just doing what he did so often… putting on a show.
On that night, so long ago, Thomas played first base, but for much of his career he served as a designated hitter. In fact, Thomas played more at DH than he did in the field. That makes his first ballot selection even more impressive. The Big Hurt was such a monster with the stick that even an often nit-picky, fickle bunch or writers couldn’t say no to his prowess at the plate.
I had wondered for months leading up to the vote if any writers would assume Thomas had some connection to performance enhancing drugs simply based on his size. Some certainly did, even though Thomas has been outspoken about taking pride in playing the game clean. Thankfully enough voted in his favor. Still, a process like Hall of Fame voting is often flawed. Breitbart Sports reported earlier in the week about one writer who did not vote for Maddux solely because he played in the steroid era. The great Maddux who looks more like Matthew Broderick than Hulk Hogan certainly has never been implicated in any wrongdoing, but this gives us a snapshot of the often peculiar mindset of the Hall of Fame voter.
With all the wrongs that come out of Hall of Fame voting, the selection of Frank Thomas is an encouraging sign. There will be plenty to argue about in the coming years when it comes to who’s in and who’s out. We’ll all have an opinion. But for now we can look forward to the induction of Thomas, a well deserved honor. A slugger and a gentleman. Undoubtedly, a White Sox winner.