The date was May 15th, 2004 and I was 10 years old. My dad and I walked through the underpass just past parking lot G to experience US Cellular Field emerge from the cold, damp surrounding that enclosed us, as if there was an actual light at the end of the tunnel. Soon, shouts of “Peanuts!” “Hot Dogs!” and “Cubs Suck T-Shirts!” quickly passed in and out of my head.
“Today” I thought to myself, “Is going to be special.”
On that cool, spring evening I had an opportunity to see the greatest hitter to ever put on a White Sox uniform.
I arrived to my seat, gazing at players scattered across the field as they went through their warm up routine. I can remember sites of Paul Konerko doing his pregame sprints down the right field line, while Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee worked together on similar stretches.
One man stood out among the rest, however, and it was the same man who can proudly call himself the heart and sole of the White Sox for the better portion of his storied career.
In my lifetime, there was arguably no one more intimidating than Frank Thomas. When 6’5″ 225 pound Thomas stepped into the batter’s box and struck the opposing pitcher with his daunting glare, fans and players alike felt the tension that followed after each pitch — anxiously awaiting the devastating swing of “The Big Hurt.”
My heart raced with anticipation as Thomas stepped in the batters box for his first at-bat of that May 15th match-up against the Minnesota Twins. A deafening crack! only The Big Hurt can muster when ball met lumber, resulted in a collective uproar from fans who littered the stadium. It was a ball deep enough to get supporters on their feet — myself included — but the end result was only a loud out number one.
After putting my 10-year-old metabolism to the test by devouring almost every edible thing offered at the park, I was back in time for Thomas’ next at bat, which came in the 4th inning with nobody on. One familiar crack of the bat later, Frank Thomas blasted a home run to right field, animating the US Cellular Field crowd in a unified eruption.
As the dust and 1,500 calories of the Cell’s finest gourmet settled, the White Sox went on to lose that game 4-1, making Thomas’ big fly the lone South side tally. Sure, it may not have been the story book ending I had hoped after already seeing the great Frank Thomas blast a home run, but I was privileged to watch the feat live and it left me with something to remember forever.
Watching baseball players perform in person is something unique in and of itself, but watching a Hall of Famer is an experience unlike any other. There is no question Frank Thomas deserves to be a first ballet Hall of Famer as his numbers and achievements speak for itself.
In 16 years with the White Sox, Thomas posted a .307 avg/.427 OBP/.568 SLG line with an awe-inspiring OPS of .995. The Big Hurt was awarded 4 silver sluggers, 5 All-Star nods, back to back MVP seasons in ’93 and ’94, while compiling 521 home runs and 1.704 RBIs over the course of his 19 year career that included stays with Oakland and Toronto; all while being done during the peak of the Steroid Era.
The accolades continue to pour upon Frank Thomas and deservedly so. Thomas epitomizes what it means to be an elite power hitter in Major League Baseball. During a time where performance enhancing drugs were a common theme, the two time MVP was never linked to steroid use as he took pride in playing the game the right way.
He ended his career with a .301/.419/.555 line, he walked more than he struck out, and was the beneficiary of a very impressive 16.6 percent walk rate.
The time for Frank to be inducted drew ever closer, and it was an accolade he wanted more than any other.
As I awaited the 1 o’clock hour of who’s to be revealed in this year’s Hall of Fame class back in January, I couldn’t help but think of the entire misconstrued voting process — a process that sometimes takes the spotlight away from those who deserve it, headlined by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
I could not stand the wait any longer. Once Greg Maddux and Tom Glavin were both respectively added to Baseball’s greatest honor, a nostalgic appearance by certain butterflies arrived in my stomach.
The third and final member of the 2014 Hall of Fame class was finally revealed to be “The Big Hurt” Frank Thomas. The same 10-year-old jumped as if I went back in time to that May 15th evening when Frank belted the long blast.
Finally, justice is served to one of the most deserving players to ever put on a uniform. Chicago and fans around the world can proudly call the greatest hitter to ever play for the White Sox, Frank Thomas, a Hall of Famer.
Thomas will be a part of one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes of all time. The “Splendid Six,” as some like to refer to the group, include Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre. These are all-time greats who simply belong in Cooperstown, and for Thomas, he can kick up his feet, brew his Big Hurt Beer, and enjoy looking back at what can be considered one of the greatest careers of all time.
Congrats, Frank. You’ve definitely earned it.