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Farewell Frank Thomas

Posted by Andy on February 12, 2010

From MLB.com we learn that Frank Thomas has retired. I guess this isn't a big surprise since he didn't play last season and hasn't been on anybody's radar screen for a while.

Here are some random thoughts and stats about Thomas and his career:

It's very common to talk about players' careers and wonder "how much better would he have been if he could just have stayed healthy?" Thomas is one of those cases, since after his age 32 season he managed only 3 more years with at least 140 games and had 4 full seasons with fewer than 80 games. However, there's more to it than just the games. After missing almost all of 2001 he had a good-by-anybody-else's-standards 2002 with 28 HR, 92 RBI, and a 118 OPS+. People wondered if he was done. Then in 2003 he roared back with 42 HR, 105 RBI, and a 146 OPS+.  After two more lost years in 2004 and 2005 he came back from injury in 2006 and posted 39 HR, 114 RBI, and a 140 OPS+ in 137 games with Oakland (at age 38!) My point is that the guy twice came back from major injury layoffs to post huge seasons, which really lends credence to the idea that if he had been healthier he had a good shot to post some really big career totals. He might have played 300 more games and realistically could have had 70 more HR, which would have put him close to 600 career bombs.

Since 1901, only 22 times has a player age 38 or older posted an OPS+ of at least 140 in a season with at least 100 games played:

Rk Player G OPS+ Year Age Tm PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Barry Bonds 147 263 2004 39 SFG 617 373 129 135 27 3 45 101 232 41 .362 .609 .812 1.422 *7/D
2 Edgar Martinez 145 141 2003 40 SEA 603 497 72 146 25 0 24 98 92 95 .294 .406 .489 .895 *D
3 Honus Wagner 145 144 1912 38 PIT 634 558 91 181 35 20 7 102 59 38 .324 .395 .496 .891 *6
4 Frank Robinson 144 141 1974 38 TOT 579 477 81 117 27 3 22 68 85 95 .245 .367 .453 .820 *D/37
5 Bob Johnson 144 174 1944 38 BOS 626 525 106 170 40 8 17 106 95 67 .324 .431 .528 .959 *7
6 Frank Thomas 137 140 2006 38 OAK 559 466 77 126 11 0 39 114 81 81 .270 .381 .545 .926 *D
7 Babe Ruth 137 176 1933 38 NYY 575 459 97 138 21 3 34 103 114 90 .301 .442 .582 1.023 *97/13
8 Willie Mays 136 158 1971 40 SFG 537 417 82 113 24 5 18 61 112 123 .271 .425 .482 .907 *83
9 Edgar Martinez 132 160 2001 38 SEA 581 470 80 144 40 1 23 116 93 90 .306 .423 .543 .966 *D/3
10 Ted Williams 132 233 1957 38 BOS 546 420 96 163 28 1 38 87 119 43 .388 .526 .731 1.257 *7
11 Barry Bonds 130 156 2006 41 SFG 493 367 74 99 23 0 26 77 115 51 .270 .454 .545 .999 *7/D
12 Barry Bonds 130 231 2003 38 SFG 550 390 111 133 22 1 45 90 148 58 .341 .529 .749 1.278 *7/D
13 Hank Aaron 129 147 1972 38 ATL 544 449 75 119 10 0 34 77 92 55 .265 .390 .514 .904 *39
14 Ted Williams 129 179 1958 39 BOS 517 411 81 135 23 2 26 85 98 49 .328 .458 .584 1.042 *7
15 Barry Bonds 126 169 2007 42 SFG 477 340 75 94 14 0 28 66 132 54 .276 .480 .565 1.045 *7/D
16 Babe Ruth 125 161 1934 39 NYY 471 365 78 105 17 4 22 84 104 63 .288 .448 .537 .985 *97
17 Willie Stargell 122 158 1978 38 PIT 450 390 60 115 18 2 28 97 50 93 .295 .382 .567 .949 *3
18 Ty Cobb 121 171 1925 38 DET 490 415 97 157 31 12 12 102 65 12 .378 .468 .598 1.066 *8/91
19 Hank Aaron 120 177 1973 39 ATL 465 392 84 118 12 1 40 96 68 51 .301 .402 .643 1.045 *79
20 Ted Williams 113 190 1960 41 BOS 390 310 56 98 15 0 29 72 75 41 .316 .451 .645 1.096 *7
21 Fred Clarke 110 147 1911 38 PIT 460 392 73 127 25 13 5 49 53 27 .324 .407 .492 .900 *7
22 Cy Williams 107 155 1926 38 PHI 384 336 63 116 13 4 18 53 38 35 .345 .418 .568 .986 *9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/12/2010.

Thomas slots in at #6 and there are only 14 different guys on this list.

Also, it's almost unthinkable to play a professional sport with an all-star player with the same name preceded you and your own career surpasses his. But that's exactly what Frank Thomas did, bettering the very good career of another Frank Thomas who played in the 1950s and 1960s. I know that on some old post on this blog, I generated a list for some particular achievement that actually included both Frank Thomases, but I can't locate the post now.

Here are the last 25 times a player has had an OPS+ of 200 or better in a season qualified for the batting title:

Rk Player Year OPS+ Age Tm
1 Barry Bonds 2004 263 39 SFG
2 Barry Bonds 2003 231 38 SFG
3 Barry Bonds 2002 268 37 SFG
4 Barry Bonds 2001 259 36 SFG
5 Sammy Sosa 2001 203 32 CHC
6 Mark McGwire 1998 216 34 STL
7 Frank Thomas 1994 211 26 CHW
8 Jeff Bagwell 1994 213 26 HOU
9 Barry Bonds 1993 204 28 SFG
10 Barry Bonds 1992 205 27 PIT
11 George Brett 1980 203 27 KCR
12 Willie McCovey 1969 209 31 SFG
13 Norm Cash 1961 201 26 DET
14 Mickey Mantle 1961 206 29 NYY
15 Mickey Mantle 1957 222 25 NYY
16 Ted Williams 1957 233 38 BOS
17 Mickey Mantle 1956 210 24 NYY
18 Ted Williams 1954 200 35 BOS
19 Stan Musial 1948 200 27 STL
20 Ted Williams 1947 205 28 BOS
21 Ted Williams 1946 215 27 BOS
22 Ted Williams 1942 217 23 BOS
23 Ted Williams 1941 235 22 BOS
24 Lou Gehrig 1934 208 31 NYY
25 Jimmie Foxx 1933 200 25 PHA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/12/2010.

There's some guy I have no memory of at all (one "Barry Bonds") who appears a lot but notice the huge gulf in time. Other than George Brett's singularly incredible 1980 season, nobody achieved the feat after the 1960s until Bonds in 1992.

That list also serves to reaffirm the connection between Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell. Both were cornerstones of their teams for many years. Both stuck with that one team for a long time. Both posted big numbers in HR, RBI, runs, walks, strikeouts, and doubles, as well as all the rate stats (and in fact the only big difference in their career numbers are Bagwell's stolen bases, which he leads 202-32.) Both were born on May 27, 1968.  Both won the MVP in 1994 and one other major award (1991 ROY for Bagwell, 1993 MVP for Thomas.)

Until 2009, Thomas was the most recent player to win back-to-back seasonal MVP awards. (OK, that's a joke because I'm ignoring Bonds again, who won it 4 times in a row from 2001-2004.)

Finally I'll end with the most games played among players (1901-present) with a career OPS+ of at least 150:

Rk Player G OPS+ From To Age PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
1 Hank Aaron 3298 155 1954 1976 20-42 13940 12364 2174 3771 624 98 755 2297 1402 1383 .305 .374 .555 .928 *9783D/45 MLN-ATL-MIL
2 Ty Cobb 3035 168 1905 1928 18-41 13072 11434 2246 4189 724 295 117 1937 1249 357 .366 .433 .512 .945 *89/73145 DET-PHA
3 Stan Musial 3026 159 1941 1963 20-42 12712 10972 1949 3630 725 177 475 1951 1599 696 .331 .417 .559 .976 3798/1 STL
4 Willie Mays 2992 156 1951 1973 20-42 12493 10881 2062 3283 523 140 660 1903 1464 1526 .302 .384 .557 .941 *8/39675 NYG-SFG-TOT-NYM
5 Barry Bonds 2986 181 1986 2007 21-42 12606 9847 2227 2935 601 77 762 1996 2558 1539 .298 .444 .607 1.051 *78/D9 PIT-SFG
6 Frank Robinson 2808 154 1956 1976 20-40 11743 10006 1829 2943 528 72 586 1812 1420 1532 .294 .389 .537 .926 97D38/5 CIN-BAL-LAD-CAL-TOT-CLE
7 Tris Speaker 2789 157 1907 1928 19-40 11988 10195 1882 3514 792 222 117 1529 1381 220 .345 .428 .500 .928 *8/3971 BOS-CLE-WSH-PHA
8 Mel Ott 2730 155 1926 1947 17-38 11337 9456 1859 2876 488 72 511 1860 1708 896 .304 .414 .533 .947 *958/74 NYG
9 Babe Ruth 2503 207 1914 1935 19-40 10616 8398 2174 2873 506 136 714 2217 2062 1330 .342 .474 .690 1.164 971/83 BOS-NYY-BSN
10 Mickey Mantle 2401 172 1951 1968 19-36 9909 8102 1677 2415 344 72 536 1509 1733 1710 .298 .421 .557 .977 *8397/645 NYY
11 Frank Thomas 2322 156 1990 2008 22-40 10074 8199 1494 2468 495 12 521 1704 1667 1397 .301 .419 .555 .974 *D3 CHW-OAK-TOR-TOT
12 Jimmie Foxx 2317 163 1925 1945 17-37 9670 8134 1751 2646 458 125 534 1922 1452 1311 .325 .428 .609 1.038 *352/7196 PHA-BOS-TOT-CHC-PHI
13 Honus Wagner 2298 152 1901 1917 27-43 9640 8507 1414 2766 506 210 78 1375 836 327 .325 .392 .462 .853 *63/957481 PIT
14 Ted Williams 2292 191 1939 1960 20-41 9791 7706 1798 2654 525 71 521 1839 2021 709 .344 .482 .634 1.116 *79/1 BOS
15 Rogers Hornsby 2259 175 1915 1937 19-41 9475 8173 1579 2930 541 169 301 1584 1038 679 .358 .434 .577 1.010 *465/3978 STL-NYG-BSN-CHC-TOT-SLB
16 Manny Ramirez 2207 155 1993 2009 21-37 9437 7962 1506 2494 531 20 546 1788 1283 1748 .313 .411 .591 1.002 79D CLE-BOS-TOT-LAD
17 Lou Gehrig 2164 179 1923 1939 20-36 9660 8001 1888 2721 534 163 493 1995 1508 790 .340 .447 .632 1.080 *3/976 NYY
18 Nap Lajoie 1988 151 1901 1916 26-41 8256 7498 1083 2521 510 101 51 1141 457 74 .336 .382 .452 .833 *43/657 PHA-TOT-CLE
19 Johnny Mize 1884 158 1936 1953 23-40 7371 6443 1118 2011 367 83 359 1337 856 524 .312 .397 .562 .959 *3/9 STL-NYG-TOT-NYY
20 Mark McGwire 1874 162 1986 2001 22-37 7660 6187 1167 1626 252 6 583 1414 1317 1596 .263 .394 .588 .982 *3/D54967 OAK-TOT-STL
21 Dick Allen 1749 156 1963 1977 21-35 7314 6332 1099 1848 320 79 351 1119 894 1556 .292 .378 .534 .912 357/46D8 PHI-STL-LAD-CHW-OAK
22 Joe DiMaggio 1736 155 1936 1951 21-36 7671 6821 1390 2214 389 131 361 1537 790 369 .325 .398 .579 .977 *8/793 NYY
23 Albert Pujols 1399 172 2001 2009 21-29 6082 5146 1071 1717 387 14 366 1112 811 570 .334 .427 .628 1.055 *37/59D64 STL
24 Hank Greenberg 1394 158 1930 1947 19-36 6096 5193 1051 1628 379 71 331 1276 852 844 .313 .412 .605 1.017 *37 DET-PIT
25 Joe Jackson 1332 170 1908 1920 18-30 5690 4981 873 1772 307 168 54 785 519 158 .356 .423 .517 .940 798/3 PHA-CLE-TOT-CHW
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/12/2010.

Thomas just misses the top 10. Notice two active guys behind him here: Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols. It's likely that someday we'll talk about those two guys the same way we talk about Thomas day--as sure-fire future HOFer.

Thanks to Chad Jennings at the LoHud Yankees Blog for his original post about Thomas' retirement.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010 at 6:13 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

23 Responses to “Farewell Frank Thomas”

  1. Concerning surpassing a preceding player with the same name, Ken Griffey comes to mind.

  2. Well that's sort of a technicality but you're right. It's not as if the same can be said for Pete Rose.

  3. When I think of MLB players with the same name, I think of George Burns:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/burnsge01.shtml
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/burnsge02.shtml

    They were only born four years apart and were contemporaries (1911-1925 vs 1914-1929). They didn't have All-Star games until 1933, but they both were All-Star caliber. One led the league in runs 5 times and SB's twice while the other led the league in hits twice and won an MVP (although that was in the day that previous winners weren't eligible). They alternated being hitting stars on WS winning teams in 1920 and 1921. How confusing that must have been for fans. I guess it helped that one was in the AL and the other was in the NL.

  4. Back to Frank Thomas. When a player plays so long past his prime its often easy to forget how great that prime was. We should all take a look at his 1991-1997 stats and remember how historically great those years were. No OPS+ worse than 174 over a seven year period. Cobb and Gehrig did that. Williams, Hornsby, Ruth, Mantle and Pujols had better seven-year stretches but all snuck in a sub-170 year in there.

    For seven full seasons, Frank Thomas was inner-circle caliber great.

  5. Johnny Twisto Says:

    My memory (which may be wrong) is that Thomas had a lot of foot problems, which I think could be attributed to the tremendous amount of pressure he was putting on his feet. That size also helped him hit for so much power. My point is that it's very difficult to separate the injuries from the talent, as if he just had bad luck in getting hurt so much. A different Frank Thomas who doesn't have so many injuries might not be able to hit ~70 HR in another 300 games.

    David, as someone unfamiliar with the Burnses until 75 years after they played, I've never kept them straight. I was quickly skimming through his wiki to see when "the" George Burns first became nationally known but it's not clear -- he was doing vaudeville at the time the others were still playing ball, but I'm not sure he was yet a celebrity.

  6. Another example of a later player surpassing an earlier player of the same (nick)name: Dutch Leonard. Hubert Leonard, a left-handed spitballer, pitched for the Red Sox and Tigers from 1913 to 1925, putting up a record of 138-111 and a 2.77 ERA (114 ERA+) in 2,189 innings pitched. In 1914 he was 19-5 with a 0.96</b) ERA. The Sox won three World Series during this period, although Leonard was away from the team doing war work during the 1918 Series. Dutch I sat out more than two seasons in salary disputes, accused Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker of fixing a game late in 1919 but failed to back up his charges, and later became a millionaire from the wine business in California.

    Right-hander Emil Leonard pitched for 20 years for weak teams (Dodgers 1933-36, Senators 1938-46, Phillies 1947-48, and White Sox 1949-53) in a hitter's era. Even though his teams almost always finished below .500, he finished his career with a 191-181 W-L record. His 3.25 career ERA in 3,218 IP represents a 119 ERA+. The later Dutch was a knuckleballer, a reliever for the Dodgers and Cubs, a starter for the Senators and Phils. Check out his 1948 season: 2.51 ERA, 157 ERA+ . . . 12-17 record.

  7. Frank Thomas was my favorite player growing up. As a 7 year old, I watched Frank in limited action in his first season in 1990. I followed his career and have collected his cards and memorabilia for the last 20 years. It is truly a sad day for all of us fans of the Big Hurt.

    When Randy Johnson retired, the blog gushed with comparisons to HOFers, stats cementing his place in history, and neat anecdotes and stories about him. Now that this future HOFer hangs it up, what is the blog filled with? Stories and comparisons about players with the same name. Really guys? Let's, at least for a day, keep the story on Thomas, and give him his 15 minutes. I have seen some of the best discourses on the web about baseball on this very blog, but today, I'm just disappointed.

    Frank, thanks for a great career. Best player in White Sox history. Here's hoping I can make it to the southside in August when they put your number on the wall with the other greats.

  8. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Kahuna, thanks for that. I'm ashamed to say I don't think I even knew about the second Dutch Leonard. Or if I did hear of him, I must have conflated him with the first. That's quite a good career, wonder how I missed it.

  9. I don't know any neat stories or anecdotes about Frank Thomas, he never played for my hometown team and I wouldn't say he ranks as highly among hitters as Randy Johnson does among pitchers. This may be part of why he doesn't get quite the same treatment that Johnson did.

    But I understand your point, JR. I can't do it myself, but please do add some anecdotes and interesting facts about Thomas; I'd be happy to read them.

  10. there were 2 players named Jim Hunter. 1, a pitcher for the brewers with a career record of 0-5. the other, the famous catfish, one of the most overrated pitchers of all time.
    see a great article:http://www.mlbexpertanalysis.com/blog/?p=33
    thomas also may have been one of the most underrated of all time

  11. JT you make a good point as always. It's just like a pitcher with a wicked curve that hurts his shoulder. If he throws it more he will be more effective but have a shorter career (in some cases perhaps.) Had Thomas hit more line drives than long fly balls, perhaps he would have played more games but finished with fewer overall HR.

    This reminds me of how rotator cuff injuries didn't exist before the rotator cuff was recognized by sports physicians. Today it's impossible to pitch with a full tear but back then it was either possible to do, or they didn't have them. It's sort of a Schroedinger-esque paradox.

  12. Plain and simple,, Frank Thomas was the proto-Pujols: http://yallkiltit.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/the-proto-pujols-frank-thomas-retires/

  13. DoubleDiamond Says:

    Three players named Randy Johnson debuted in the major leagues in the 1980s. In order of debut, they were:

    Randall Stuart Johnson - http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/johnsra03.shtml

    Randall Glenn Johnson - http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/johnsra04.shtml

    Randall David Johnson - http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/j/johnsra05.shtml

    The last of these three cannot be compared fairly to the other two because he was a pitcher, while the other two were not. I'm still new at this statistics thing, so the only three-decimal places batting percentage that I'm comfortable using as a comparison is batting average (BA). Randall David did have some at-bats in his career, and his regular season average was .125. Randall Stuart hit .244 in parts of two non-consecutive seasons with the White Sox and Twins. The great majority of his games were spent as a DH, incidentally. Randall Glenn, in parts of three seasons with the Braves, had the highest BA of the three Randy Johnsons, .267.

  14. DoubleDiamond Says:

    The Hispanic name pool has fewer possibilities, so I know there have been instances of someone with a Hispanic name surpassing someone else with that name who was considered pretty good himself.

  15. For *any* duplicate name pairing, I think there are too many to list. Andy's original distinction that both of them be All-Stars is a reasonable way of narrowing the pairs of players down.

  16. The Indians had two All-Stars named Al Smith. One was a pitcher who was an All-Star in 1943 and the other was an OF-3B who was an All-Star in 1955 and later with the White Sox in 1960. He played on both the 54 and 59 non-Yankee pennant winners (Yankees won every other year between 49 and 64.

    There was a Sam Jones who had some All-Star caliber seasons in the AL in the 10s and 20s. Later in the 50s, Sad Sam Jones pitched in a couple of All-Star games for the Cubs and Giants.

    I'm just scanning common names... likely more.

  17. Brooklyn Lou Says:

    There is one facet of Frank Thomas' career I didn't care for- He never liked playing the field, and hence, was just a D/H for over half of his career. The stats are there for sure, a batting title, 2 MVP's, a championship (albeit, he didn't play), 500 homers... but again, he was in reality, just a part time player. Should he get in the HOF? Sure, especially since everyone was juicing up, and he didn't it.

  18. Neither really had what you'd call a great career but I find it interesting that there were two MLB players with the seemingly uncommon name of Steve Ontiveros.

  19. I believe there were two Bobby Joneses . . .
    . . . that both played for the Mets . . .
    . . . at the SAME TIME (in 2000)

  20. Somehow, Sandy Alomar Sr. was also an All-Star

  21. If Jose Cruz Jr. could have made the All-Star team in 2001 ...

  22. Both Gary Matthews were All-Stars

  23. JR: I remember one time when Frank Thomas hit a bird with a pitch... oops, never mind. Or how about that time he caused John Kruk to turn around in the batter's box in an All-Star game... Oops, wrong future HoFer again.

    Frank was a quiet guy who simply put up big numbers - year in and year out - throughout the first half of his career. He didn't stir up controversy, and he didn't do "spectacular" stunts, either intentionally (a-la Neon Deion Sanders) or unintentionally (a-la the Big Unit examples above). Quite simply, there aren't that many anecdotes to tell - but I will tell you this: Frank Thomas topped my most wanted players list for my Strat-O-Matic league for over a decade - and I had the likes of Keith Hernandez and John Kruk playing First Base!

    Frank Thomas may not have gotten the media hype of some of his contemporaris, but he had the respect and admiration of true baseball fans everywhere.