February 12, 2010
It's true. Not long after Thomas joined the White Sox as a rookie in 1990, broadcaster Ken Harrelson had the good sense to start calling him "The Big Hurt."
Thomas was big, of course, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 260 pounds, which was perfect for his baseball-football career at Auburn.
What's more, the violent physics of his swing appeared to put a hurt on the baseball.
Like peanut butter and chocolate, Harrelson put the two great things together and, presto! Simple, true and brilliant, "The Big Hurt" lives alongside "The Splendid Splinter," "Charlie Hustle" and "Stan the Man" in the baseball nickname Hall of Fame.
Thomas, the man, will most likely join Williams, Stan Musial and (some artifacts from) Pete Rose in Cooperstown come 2014, when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. The Big Hurt announced he was retiring Thursday night — the same day as Tom Glavine — and is having a formal good-bye press conference in Chicago today.
It's something of a formality, considering Thomas hasn't played since 2008. He'll turn 42 in May and he appears finally convinced no more offers from major league teams are coming his way. Luckily, his official acknowledgement gives us a chance to look back at a career that — for a few years — looked a lot like what Albert Pujols(notes) is doing with a bat now. Pujols should eclipse Thomas' career numbers someday — not to mention everyone's career numbers — but he will always be lacking in one department.
Over his 19-season career, Thomas hit .301 with a .419 on-base and .555 slugging percentage, along with 521 homers. He's one of only four players in history to have at least a .300 batting average, 500 homers, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 runs scored and 1,500 walks.
The other guys? Williams, Ruth and Ott.
And, oh, those 1,667 walks. Thomas is ninth all-time in that category and if just one word could be used to describe his style, it would be patient. Even with all that power bulging from his biceps, the guy could wait, and wait, for a good pitch.
Barry Bonds(notes) walked away, if you will, with the career lead in bases on balls. But most of the time it seemed like he was standing there with a bat on his shoulders as pitchers cowered in his presence or simply issued him a free pass to first.
Thomas was also feared, but you always got the feeling he was sizing up the opponent, lying in wait for the perfect pitch near the plate. There was an academic component to his at-bats. To hit for that kind of power, with that kind of contact and to draw walks?
It should be noted that Thomas' swing was kind of funky and not to be copied. But his approach that was equally balanced between the trust in his eyes and in his ability?
That's how you should operate at the plate. I don't think there's ever been anyone better.
Nobody since Teddy Ballgame had burst onto the scene like Thomas did from 1991-1997. Hitting for average, getting on base, hitting for power — Thomas did it better than anyone to start a career — until Pujols came along in 2000, anyway.
Thomas should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer simply because of his offensive production, even if his defense at first base was lacking. How many guys are actually in the Hall mostly because of defense, anyway? Rabbit Maranville? Ozzie Smith? Bill Mazeroski?
Is that the list?
Some can argue Thomas would have added another MVP trophy in 2000 if Jason Giambi(notes) hadn't roided-up. And it might be true. Thomas was always a proponent of strong drug testing and he was the only active Major Leaguer not to turn the Capitol Hill hearings into a farce. He was the only active Major Leaguer not to slam the door in George Mitchell's face.
And for whatever it's worth, he never looked like a user. Thomas always bordered on being a little out of shape, actually. He had a consistent career arc of statistics.
If he truly abstained from drugs, I'm happy for him. But it doesn't matter, really.
If you can look at his Baseball-Reference page and don't think Frank Thomas belongs in the Hall on his numbers alone, well, I'm not quite sure what to say. It's an open-and-shut case.
So here's to The Big Hurt — a one-of-a-kind player with a one-of-a-kind nickname.