Here's a fact I've been having trouble getting my head around this morning: Frank Thomas, a future Hall of Famer and one of history's most feared hitters, has not been to an All-Star Game since 1997.
OK, so it's probably not the biggest surprise, given that the Big Hurt's once-prodigious numbers dropped a bit after that season and that his two biggest campaigns that came afterward (2000 and '06) occurred when the All-Star Game was in a National League city. There simply was no spot on the ballot for a designated hitter and first base always produces a number of qualified candidates.
Still, are we really going to let Thomas go the last decade of his 19-year career without one last All-Star moment? Are we really going to let the opportunity pass to put him in one last Midsummer Classic like we did with Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken in 2001?
"Heck no, we're not" is the answer to both question, which is why Big League Stew is officially launching a "Send the Big Hurt to the Big Apple" movement. Starting today and continuing for almost the next two months, head over to MLB.com and vote for Thomas early and often to be this year's DH for the American League squad at Yankee Stadium.
At this point, many of you might be asking: "Why would we do such a thing? Thomas is hitting .212 and he just got run out of Toronto and back to the arms of Billy Beane in Oakland. Besides, no one's going to out vote David Ortiz and Red Sox Nation."
That may be true, but I say it's at least worth an effort to recognize a career that might be one of the most underappreciated in recent memory.
Thomas' on-the-field accomplishments, of course, would alone deserve such a career honor. He won the AL MVP in both 1993 and '94 and might have been awarded a third in 2000 if Jason Giambi hadn't been juicing. As of this writing, he has a .302 career average and 516 home runs. He was the first player to hit over .300, score 100 runs, drive in over 100 RBI and take over 100 walks in seven straight seasons. Ask yourself this question: Were there any scarier sights for a pitcher in the '90s than Thomas' hulking frame looming over a 3-1 count?
Yes, Frank had a phenomenal career — and it's possible it could continue past '08 — but this campaign is motivated by more than just Thomas' impressive numbers. It's also rooted in the fact that over the past few years, we've scolded suspected star after suspected star for possible steroid use. Yet we've done absolutely nothing to reward and applaud the players who have actually spoken out against it.
Part of the reason for that inactivity is that there haven't been many of that latter category. Yet Thomas has been the only one to shirk the clubhouse code of silence and the players' unbreakable lockstep formation with its union. Think about it: When's the last time you saw a column lauding Thomas for taking a very public stance against performance-enhancing drugs?
Back in 2005, he gave a statement via videotape at the steroid hearings on Capitol Hill and did so without false bravado (Rafael Palmeiro), claims that he didn't speak English and didn't understand what was going on (Sammy Sosa) or completely avoiding it by saying that he didn't wish to live in the past (Mark McGwire.)
Also, when the Mitchell Report was released last December, the former U.S. Senator revealed that out of the many players he approached, there was only one who agreed to be interviewed about baseball's steroid problem:
Among current players I asked to interview were five who have spoken publicly
about the issue. When I did so, I made clear that there was no suggestion that any of the five had
used performance enhancing substances, and I repeat here that clarifying statement. Four of the
five declined. One of them, Frank Thomas (then) of the Toronto Blue Jays, agreed. His comments were informative and helpful.
Look, there's no denying that Thomas has been a polarizing figure throughout his career and a sometimes prickly teammate. He is outspoken and he's far from a politically-correct quote machine. He has been known to pout and some think he was focused too much on his stats instead of helping the overall state of his team by being a clubhouse leader.
Still, the fact remains that baseball and its fans are a lot better off for having Frank Thomas around for almost 20 years. He has been productive. He has been forthcoming. He has been deserving.
So tell your co-workers, tell your friends, tell your fellow baseball fans:
It's time to send the Big Hurt to the Big Apple.