Disclaimer: I am a Chicago White Sox fan. I am an admin on the largest independent fan run Sox message board on the Internet. We've been around for well over a decade and it's not your typical sports message board. No swearing, no trolling and we have a strict policy against gender based slurs and locker room mentality which leads to us having a respectable percentage of female members and posters.
Disclaimer 2: Frank Thomas is my all time favorite White Sox player.
Frank Thomas was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame today in his first year of eligibility. As to why this might be a DK worthy blog post well follow me below the orange pinwheel and I'll try to explain...
Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas appeared in MLB baseball games for 19 years. He was a full time player for most of them. His stats are some of the greatest in MLB history for a right-handed hitter. His string of 7 straight seasons to open his career with .300 average, 100 runs, 100 walks and 100 RBI is a record. He did it again for an 8th time one year after the string was broken by the first occurrence of the serious and chronic ankle injury that would end up costing him many productive seasons and greatly curtail his numbers the rest of his career. Still there was a time when Frank Thomas was the most feared hitter in baseball and someone people would stop what they were doing to watch bat. His 1994 season - cut short by the player's strike that ended up cancelling the World Series - stands as one of the greatest seasons ever by a right handed hitter and in line with any year any player has ever had at the plate. Frank's numbers stand with names like Williams, Dimaggio and Mantle. Even after he slowed down he still managed to put up solid numbers that most other players would have willingly cut off a finger or two to achieve.
Alas, Frank was a designated hitter (DH) for about half his career and there has long been a bias among Hall of Fame (HOF) voters against designated hitters. Purists claim it's not really a position and thus won't vote for anyone who spent a good chunk of their playing career as a DH. One notable example of this is my other all time favorite player who also played for the Sox, Harold Baines, who never got a sniff of a chance to make the HOF even though his numbers are damned impressive.
In addition, Frank played his career during the steroid era in MLB. He actually lost out on his third MVP award (finishing second) in 2000 to Jason Giambi who later acknowledged he used steroids, though he claims he didn't use them before 2001 (yeah right). The reason supposedly given for Giambi winning the award was that he played first base. The really sad part about that incident is that Frank had a contract that was worth about 60M over 6 years going forward, but he had to maintain certain numbers/ratings to get all the money. The minute his production fell off the Sox were free to redo the contract. The only single event that would have locked in the contract was winning the MVP for a third time. Frank didn't that year and never came close again. A few years later the Sox did indeed tear up the contract and Frank lost a lot of money due to a known steroid user and cheat.
People remember so many of the hitters from this era. The great home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 where McGwire shattered the old home run record by 10 and Sosa beat it by 6 is widely acknowledged as the year the fans forgave baseball for 1994. A few years later of course Barry Bonds put them all to shame and got to 73. Of course none of it was clean. Those players have all been implicated as steroid user or even admitted to using them. Today the beat goes on with "the greatest player of his generation" Alex Rodriquez having been suspended for well over a full season due to his actions covering up a new steroid scandal. While I acknowledge the temptation to use performance enhancing drugs is strong given the amount of money there is to be made, most fans seem to prefer a clean game - or at least want to be able to "nudge nudge wink wink" look the other way and hope the players/numbers are legitimate. Not many I know want to see old records destroyed by chemistry or for voters to ignore strong evidence of steroid use and let players into the HOF.
Unlike many of the players who have been tainted by steroids, Frank never was. In fact he was one of the strongest critics of steroid use and offered to be tested anytime any place. His stance didn't earn him any love from the other players or the players' union which obviously wanted to use drug testing as a bargaining chip and also wanted to see players earn as much money as they could. Guys who hit lots of homers get paid lots of dollars so the union mostly wanted to not test at all.
Well, today Frank got his while the cheats have been slapped down again. Frank was one of three players elected to the HOF in his first year of eligibility and while some wondered if his years as a DH would cost him they didn't and it's pretty easy to assume that Frank's stance on steroids was one of the reasons why. The purists may not like guys who don't play a defensive position but they hate cheaters more. Meanwhile those who turned to chemistry to jack up their stats have been roundly ignored by the HOF voters once again. Frank may not have the gaudy power numbers of some of the players who have been passed over, but they are clean numbers and as good as players who played before the game got twisted and tainted in the pursuit of money and fame.
Notable names, many of whom testified before a Senate committee investigating steroid use in MLB, who's number exceeded Frank Thomas at various times in their career but did not make the 75% ballot threshold and probably never will:
Barry Bonds (all time MLB HR and single season HR record holder) - 34.7%
Mark McGwire (broke the 35+ year old single season HR record by 10) - 11.2%
Sammy Sosa (3X 60+ HR in a single season 600+ for his career) - 7.2%
Rafael Palmeiro (denied ever using steroids to a congressional committee, later received a suspension for failing a steroid test (that's an article I wrote for the Sox site I mentioned above back after Frank took his final at bat for the team in the summer of 2005)) - 4.2%
Frank Thomas - outspoken critic of steroids/PED use, clean player, designated hitter - 83.7%.
Congratulations, Frank and thanks for standing up for the game I love. I'm glad the voters got it right.