But when he returns to Chicago for the first time on Monday as a member of the Oakland Athletics, he may not be remembered so fondly.
Following a tumultuous offseason that saw him land in Oakland, Thomas comes back to the city he called home for so long when the Athletics begin a three-game series with the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Thomas spent much of 2005 on the disabled list with an ankle injury, watching as the White Sox won their first World Series since 1917. Even though he is Chicago’s all-time leader in home runs (448) and RBIs (1,465), Thomas claimed the team never told him he wasn’t going to be re-signed for this season.
He voiced his frustration and a controversy erupted when White Sox GM Kenny Williams responded at the end of spring training, calling Thomas “an idiot” and “selfish.”
Both sides have since appeared to move on, although Thomas says the relationship was damaged beyond repair.
“It’s going to be good for the fans. They treated me right forever,” Thomas said. “I’ve got no problem with the fans. What happened to me with the GM at the end of spring training, that was very unfortunate all the stuff that came out.
“That’s gone. I just don’t think our relationship will ever be repaired. That’s just the way it is. It’s really unfortunate because I didn’t feel that way until all that happened.”
Unfortunately for Thomas, this season hasn’t been much different from last year. He has struggled while the White Sox (28-15) have played well without him.
After signing a $500,000, one-year deal, Thomas is batting .178 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. He didn’t play on Sunday and has four hits in his last 33 at-bats.
“He’s not swinging it like we had hoped,” A’s manager Ken Macha said. “Hopefully we can get him there.”
Thomas leads all players with 261 homers at U.S. Cellular Field, and Oakland hopes his swing returns to give a lift to a slumping offense.
After they watched Giants slugger Barry Bonds hit his 714th career homer to tie Babe Ruth in a 4-2 defeat to San Francisco on Saturday, the Athletics managed only one hit in a 4-0 loss on Sunday.
Now Oakland hits the road for seven games, having lost four straight away from home.
The Athletics (22-21) have had success against the White Sox recently. Since 2003, Oakland is 19-8 against Chicago overall, and 8-4 at U.S. Cellular Field including four straight wins.
Left-hander Barry Zito (3-3, 3.27 ERA) tries to extend Oakland’s winning streak in the Windy City when he starts on Monday.
Zito is 7-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 10 career starts against the White Sox, and won both of his starts versus Chicago last season.
While the return of Thomas will bring a buzz to the park, it’s unlikely to match the controversy from the White Sox’s just-completed weekend series against the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs.
The White Sox won the first two games of the series before falling 7-4 on Sunday. But it was the behavior of the two catchers that drew the attention of the fans.
In Saturday’s 7-0 White Sox win, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett punched White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the face following a home plate collision, setting off a melee that saw four players ejected.
On Sunday, Pierzynski homered off Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano and pointed to the sky, a gesture Zambrano often makes after strikeouts.
The irritated pitcher yelled at Pierzynski and a bench-clearing brawl nearly erupted. Cooler heads prevailed and Pierzynski said he wasn’t trying to show up anybody.
“I’m under a microscope all of the time,” Pierzynski said. “It gets tired after a while because I’m sick of dealing with stuff when I don’t do anything.”
Jon Garland (3-2, 6.18) starts on Monday for Chicago. He is 3-5 with a 4.73 ERA in eight starts against Oakland.
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