CHICAGO — It was more than just a big day for The Big Hurt.
Former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas called it a “gigantic moment” and wore a grin wide enough to connect the foul poles at U.S. Cellular Field after he was elected Wednesday to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was picked on 478 of 571 ballots by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, easing any fears he had of being overlooked.
“I never really paid attention to how much is said about the Hall of Fame over this month of January and December,” Thomas said. “That makes everyone nervous. The only person that couldn’t be nervous was Greg Maddux because the only problem he had was it going to be 100 percent for him.”
“The rest of us, we lost a lot of sleep I’m sure. I’m just proud and happy this moment. What a career that has turned to something that you don’t dream of. Kids dream about playing pro sports, but to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s a gigantic moment for me,” he said.
A two-time AL MVP and five-time All-Star, he was concerned he might get passed over because he spent a big part of his career as a designated hitter.
Instead, he’s going in with pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
Thomas hit .301 with 521 homers and 1,704 runs batted in during a sparkling 19-year career spent mostly with the White Sox.
He also frequently spoke out against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in an era defined by it, and he’s now headed to Cooperstown while tainted stars such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa remain shut out.
“I’m 100 percent clean, I’m so happy and proud of that,” Thomas said.
Does he feel vindicated that he’s in and they’re not?
“No vindication at all,” he said. “I’ve never really worried about the other players, and I probably was the last one that found out, honestly, that everyone was taking drugs. And I felt stupid about it, but I just didn’t care what other guys were doing because I felt if I was healthy I was going to give you 40 home runs and 120 RBIs. That was just me every year. If that wasn’t enough, it just wasn’t enough.”
And he stressed this point: “Numbers don’t lie, and I tell people that every day. Numbers don’t lie.”
Thomas was a unanimous selection for MVP in 1993 when he led the White Sox to the AL West championship and their first playoff appearance since 1983. He hit .317 with 41 home runs and 128 RBIs that year and won it again in the strike-shortened 1994 seasons, finishing with a .353 average while knocking out 38 homers and driving in 101 runs.
He also played on the 2005 championship team but was limited to just 34 games due to injuries and let go as a free agent following that season. The parting led to a bitter feud with then-general manager Ken Williams, but the relationship with the organization has warmed up in recent years.
His uniform No. 35 was retired in 2010 and he remained on good terms with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
“Induction into Cooperstown is the game’s greatest honor, and to see Frank’s plaque placed alongside baseball’s other outstanding hitters brings his White Sox career full circle,” Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Frank is the greatest offensive player in White Sox history, a line drive hitter and on-base machine in a slugger’s body. He now deservedly joins baseball royalty like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron, as well as Sox legends like Louie (Aparicio), Nellie (Fox) and Luke (Appling), in Cooperstown.”
“To have had the opportunity to see his career begin in 1990 and then end in the Hall of Fame has been a special privilege for me and for many with the White Sox, including so many fans who witnessed his greatness firsthand,” he said.
Former teammate and manager Ozzie Guillen expressed his support on Twitter: “i saw frank when he was best hitter in the game everyday. what a special kid. glad to call him a friend.”
Among White Sox hitters, there was none greater than Thomas.
He holds the franchise record for home runs (448), doubles (447), RBIs (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). Thomas also ranks among White Sox leaders in hits (fourth, 2,136), games played (fourth, 1,959), at-bats (fourth, 6,956) and batting average (seventh, .307).
Not bad for a guy who saw himself as a football player first. That changed at Auburn, where coach Pat Dye steered him toward baseball.
“He was like, ‘Listen, I just saw Bo Jackson play the last few years. He’s got nothing on you when it comes to overall hitting, so I’m just going to tell you right now baseball could be your future. Don’t worry about football,” Thomas said.