You Are Here > Baseball-Reference.com > Bullpen > Frank Thomas - BR Bullpen

Frank Thomas

From BR Bullpen

Jump to: navigation, search
Note: This page links to Frank Thomas, the long-time first baseman and DH in the 1990s and 2000s. For the major league OF/3B of the same name who played from 1951 to 1966, click here.
Thomasfrank.jpg

Frank Edward Thomas
(Big Hurt)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 2014

BR page

Contents

[edit] Biographical Information

[edit] Introduction

Frank Thomas-9810.jpg
"I've played with a lot of great players and I've played against a lot and he's the best I ever saw." - Tim Raines, talking about Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas, who reached 500 home runs in 2007 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014, is considered the Ted Williams of his era because of his all-around hitting prowess. At the end of the 2008 season, when he played his last big league game, he ranked # 18 all-time for home runs and # 21 all-time for RBI. The long-time first baseman with the Chicago White Sox, he was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1993. He repeated as MVP in 1994 when his National League counterpart was Jeff Bagwell, who was also born on Thomas' birthdate, May 27, 1968.

In addition to Frank's two MVP awards, he was also second in the MVP voting in 2000 behind Jason Giambi, was third in the voting in 1991 and 1997, and was fourth in 2006 as well as placing in the top 10 several other times. There was at one point some speculation that Giambi might be stripped of his 2000 MVP award, thus giving Thomas a third award, but that has not happened.

He is # 12 all-time in terms of MVP award shares with 4.79 (as of the end of 2008), ranking above Jimmie Foxx.

Frank was given the nickname "Big Hurt" by sportscaster Ken Harrelson (who was also a ballplayer and general manager in his career), as in "he'll put the hurt on you . . . the big hurt", in reference to Frank's slugging.

[edit] Early years

Thomas as a youngster played more football and basketball than baseball. Then, as a junior in high school, he helped Columbus High School win a Georgia state baseball championship. However, Auburn University offered him a football scholarship and he accepted.

Frank served as a tight end on the football team, but an injury got him thinking about focusing on baseball. He became a baseball star, hitting 49 home runs in 178 games. In his last year, he walked 73 times in 62 games, tying for third in NCAA Division I in walks. After playing his last season with Auburn in 1989, he was the 7th overall selection in the 1989 amateur draft. Assigned to the GCL White Sox, Thomas hit .365/.476/.519 in 17 games and was promoted to the Sarasota White Sox, where he batted .277/~.379/.399.

While counterpart Bagwell was shining in the Eastern League in 1990, Thomas lit up another AA league. With the Birmingham Barons, Frank batted .323/.487/.581 and led the Southern League in OBP, walks (112 in 109 games) and was second to Adam Casillas in batting average. He made the SL All-Star as a utility infielder and Baseball America named him the top prospect in the league. Additionally, he had the best OBP in the minor leagues that year and was promoted to Chicago in early August. Baseball America gave him their Minor League Player of the Year award.

[edit] Major Leagues with Chicago

Thomas was an immediate success when he came up to the White Sox, showing an all-around hitting ability in his first partial season in 1990. He posted the highest slugging percentage on the White Sox, who won 94 games. The next season, 1991, he was the clean-up hitter on Opening Day.

His 138 walks in 1991 are the most in a season by an American Leaguer since 1969.

For most of his early career, Frank was a first baseman. In his total career, he has appeared in nearly 1,000 games at first base in the majors, but ended his career with many more than that as a designated hitter. He played DH in 1991 as well as later in his career. He has played more DH for the White Sox than any other player, and he is second on the all-time list for the number of games played for the White Sox at first base.

He gave hitting coach Walt Hriniak a lot of credit for helping him with his hitting.

He is the White Sox all-time leader in home runs and runs batted in. He has never been the league leader in home runs, but has been second in the league four different times. He has also never been the league leader in RBI, although he was leading the league in 1993 up to the last week when he missed the last few games due to injuries, thus allowing Albert "Joey" Belle to pass him by one RBI on the last day.

Frank's eight-year stretch from 1990 to 1997 was one of the most remarkable performances by a hitter in the history of the game. He hit over .300 each year (with a high of .353), had an OBP over .425 each year (with a high of .487), and a slugging percentage over .525 each year (with a high of .729). From 1991 to 1997, he drove in more than 100 runs each year and also scored over 100 runs each year (he only came up to the major leagues in August of 1990, or he might have reached 100 in that year also since he slugged .529). From 1991 to 1997, he was always in the top four in OBP and in the top six in SLG. In that period, he was always in the top three in OPS and Adjusted OPS (OPS+) - he was in the top two each year except for 1995 when he was third. His Slugging Percentage of .729 in 1994 is the 21st best of all time.

This was accomplished in White Sox ballparks that weren't particularly favorable to hitters. In 1992, Frank was on track to hit 30 home runs until a cold September in Chicago prevented the balls from traveling far, giving Frank a ton of doubles but few home runs that month - and he ended up leading the league with 46 doubles. He added some excellent seasons later in his career, with 43 home runs in 2000, 42 home runs in 2003, and two injury-plagued seasons in 2004 and 2005 when he nevertheless managed to slug .562 and .590. Adding together 2004 and 2005, he had less than 350 at-bats total because of the injuries but managed to hit 30 home runs and draw 80 walks. He hit 39 home runs in 2006, thus giving him 69 home runs in 811 at-bats in that three-year span.

Thomas was criticized for his drop-off after the 1997 season, but even his "bad" seasons are dream seasons for the ordinary player. His worst full season is generally considered to be 2002, when he hit "only" 28 home runs with 92 RBI and 88 walks - but when Carlos Lee in the same season hit 26 home runs with 80 RBI and 74 walks, Lee was considered to be a sharp, young up-and-coming player.

He was not suspected of taking steroids at a time when so many major leaguers did. Already a muscular star long before steroids became common, he was one of the few players (along with Ken Griffey, Jr. and Curt Schilling) who spoke out against the practice and urged that players be tested. Throughout his career, Thomas has been constantly compared to Jeff Bagwell, a player born on the same day, but while Bagwell has been frequently accused of steroid usage (although there is no proof), Thomas is considered to be a long-time fanatic weight-lifter whose edge was minimized by the steroid usage of others.

Thomas was almost always a slow starter, typically hitting for a low average with few home runs in April. Some of this was undoubtedly due to the cold weather in Chicago in April, which limited how far the balls could be hit. Nevertheless, he typically made up for it in May to August, before often tailing off in September, another cold time of year in Chicago when balls would cease to carry far.

Ozzie Guillen, when he became White Sox manager, did not agree with Frank's style of play (preferring players who played "small ball"), and so it was not surprising that Thomas was allowed to become a free agent after the 2005 season, when the White Sox won the World series with Thomas injured and missing most of the season and the entire post-season. The White Sox bought out his contract. Thomas expressed disappointment that owner Jerry Reinsdorf had not called to talk to him about it before it happened, saying that he felt treated like a "passing by player" instead of a long-time fixture in Chicago. One explanation for the action by the Sox is that they were able to pick up Jim Thome, a slugger several years younger than Thomas, and one who hails from Illinois. He signed with the Oakland Athletics, who won their division in 2006 while the White Sox were not able to return to the post season.

[edit] Major Leagues with Oakland (first time)

Thomas signed with Oakland in January 2006 and added a right-handed bat to a lineup which had a number of left-handed power hitters. Although he got off to a slow start because he was unable to play during most of spring training, he was credited with helping teammate Nick Swisher improve his power. Showing that he could still hit at the age of 38, he hit 7 home runs in 12 games during late May and early June. By the All-Star break, he was leading the team in slugging percentage. He was touted as a contender for the Comeback Player of the Year Award, something he won previously in 2000 (he ended up finishing second to Chicago's Jim Thome). In August, he was a key factor in Oakland's success as the team moved ahead of the competition in the AL West division while Frank hit .333 with a .443 OBP. During the first 9 games of September, Frank hit 7 home runs with a slugging percentage of .947. He was named American League Player of the Week for that week, the 14th time he received that honor in his career, but the first time for his new team. Thomas carried the team to the division championship, hitting 10 home runs in September (and one in the single game the team played in October), with a .602 slugging percentage. He finished fifth in the league in home runs and eighth in the league in RBI.

Signed for only $500,000 plus incentives, not much was expected of Thomas due to his history of injuries. Asked about Frank's performance, and about his earning (through about the end of July 2006) an extra $1.5 million in incentive pay, Oakland manager Ken Macha stated that he had been "Worth every penny".

[edit] Major Leagues with Toronto

The Toronto Blue Jays announced in November 2006 that they had signed Thomas to a two-year contract with a vesting option for 2009. The announcement was a surprise because Thomas had been expected to stay with Oakland. Toronto manager John Gibbons said he planned to use him as the cleanup hitter on the team.

Thomas started out pretty well in the first few games of 2007, hitting some singles and winning a game with a grand slam, but then slumped for much of April and brought his average down below .200, similar to his slow start in 2006 with the Athletics.

On May 31, Thomas hit his 243rd home run as a DH, putting him in a tie with Edgar Martinez for the most home runs at the position. On June 17, he hit a homer against Micah Bowie to break the tie and give him the all-time mark. On June 28, he hit his 500th homer against Carlos Silva on the same day that Craig Biggio got his 3000th hit; later in the same game, Thomas was ejected by an umpire, saying later, "I'm probably the first to get 500 home runs and get thrown out of the ballgame". Thomas's 3-run homer was crucial in Toronto's 5-4 win over the Twins. On August 4, Frank hit two home runs, leading the Blue Jays to a win and passing Eddie Murray for # 20 on the all-time home run list. On September 17, he hit three home runs in a game.

Although 39 years old, Thomas led the Blue Jays in home runs (26), RBI (95), and walks (81). He usually batted either fourth or fifth in the lineup - in August he typically batted fifth, while in September he usually batted fourth.

The Mitchell Report came out after the 2007 season, and observers called Thomas one of the "winners" in connection with the report. Long outspoken against the drug culture in MLB, he was one of the very few major leaguers who cooperated with the investigators. The report gave no indication that he had ever used steroids.

The 2008 season did not start well for Thomas. After hitting three homers in the first week, he went into a prolonged early slump for the third consecutive season, going on a 4 for 35 stretch that brought his batting average down to .167. Manager Gibbons benched him on April 19 and he was told by the Blue Jays that he would get less playing time. Thomas reacted angrily, refusing to congratulate his teammates after they won the day's game. The following day, the Blue Jays announced that Thomas had been released, in spite of the huge guaranteed contract owed him. He was signed again by the Oakland A's on April 24.

[edit] The End of the Road

Thomas played his first game (second time around) with the A's on April 24, 2008, getting no hits but two walks while batting in the clean-up slot on only five-hours' sleep after the trip. Both Jack Cust and Mike Sweeney, two players whose positioning and playing time might be affected by Thomas' presence, welcomed the chance to play with an all-time great.

Thomas struggled with injuries in 2008, being put on the disabled list three times, and finishing out the season with only 246 at-bats. He finished the year with a combined .240 batting average, 8 home runs and 30 RBI.

On October 30, 2008, the team announced that it expected Thomas to file for free agency. Over the winter, Thomas was unable to find a team, and in February he gave an interview indicating that he was in the best shape he'd been in for years, and that he expected to have a big season if he could just get a chance to play. HOF article

In early April, he was still working out with coach Mike Easler, who said he was hitting well and would be a good addition as a DH/first baseman for a team. However, no team showed interest in signing the aging slugger, and he did not play at all in 2009. Late in the season, his record for career home runs by a designated hitter was broken by David Ortiz. On February 11, 2010, he officially confirmed his retirement, although he claimed that he thought he could still play. The White Sox immediately announced that they would retire Thomas' uniform number 35 on August 29, when they would celebrate "Frank Thomas Day".

[edit] Career analysis

Frank Thomas is currently in the top 25 on the all-time list of players with the highest career slugging percentages, and also in the top 25 on the all-time list of players with the highest career on-base percentages.

In the middle of 2006, he passed Lou Gehrig and Mike Schmidt on the career list for most walks. In 2007, he passed Darrell Evans and Eddie Yost to become # 9 on the career list for walks.

He reached 1,700 RBI during the 2008 season, and ended the season at # 21 on the all-time RBI list. His career home runs put him at #18 on the all-time list, past Lou Gehrig, Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott and Eddie Murray, and his RBI put him past Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Sam Crawford, Joe DiMaggio, Harry Heilmann, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, and Tris Speaker. Add in the back-to-back MVP awards and the other times when he finished in the top three in the MVP voting, along with the lack of steroid use, and he was an odds-on favorite for the Hall of Fame.

In terms of similarity scores, two of the most similar players are contemporaries, Bagwell and Manny Ramirez. The third-most similar is Fred McGriff, who retired with 493 home runs, although McGriff's averages are much lower than those of Thomas. The other seven include three Hall of Famers, and others such as Gary Sheffield, Jim Thome and Ken Griffey who are considered very likely to make the Hall of Fame.

Actually, Frank Thomas has really had two different careers - there were the years from 1990-2000 when he was a high-average slugger, in the mold of Lou Gehrig, and then there were the years from 2000 on when he was a low-average slugger, in the mold of Harmon Killebrew. It is worth noting that his slugging percentage rose each year from 2001-2005, which is highly unusual if not unprecedented for a player in his mid- to late 30's (several of the years were partial seasons due to injuries, though). It dropped a bit in 2006, partly because he missed most of spring training due to his injury and had to use April as a substitute for spring training, then dropped off significantly in his last two years as age finally caught up with him.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA on his first try on January 8, 2014. He received 478 of 571 possible votes, or 83.7%, well over the 75% threshold for election. Two other first-times finished ahead of him on the ballot, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, making it the first time that three players were elected to Cooperstown on their first try since Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and George Brett in 1999.

[edit] Miscellany

Thomas also played football as a freshman at Auburn University. He was at Auburn just after Bo Jackson had been a star football player there. After Frank had a minor knee injury, he started thinking that playing baseball might lead to a longer career than football.

Though he has hit over 500 career homers, only twice did he hit 3 in a game. The first was against Tim Wakefield at Fenway Park. The second occasion was also against the Red Sox, with the first two homers off Wakefield.

On August 23, 2006, when Thomas tied Willie Stargell with 475 home runs, he also had the same number of RBIs (1540) as Stargell did in his career.

Frank finished just shy of 1500 runs scored, a total possibly caused by batters hitting behind him who did not drive him in more often. Subtracting his home runs from the runs scored (since he drove himself in on those occasions), he scored 973 runs when someone else batted him in. However, he was on base 3701 times other than his home runs (1947 non-home-run hits, 1667 walks and 87 hit by pitch), so the batters hitting behind him were able to drive him in less than 28% of the time. Some of the players batting behind him have included George Bell, Julio Franco, Robin Ventura, Albert Belle, Magglio Ordonez, and Paul Konerko. Of those, the most notable was Belle, who drove in 152 runs in 1998 for the White Sox, partly because Thomas was in the lineup ahead of him getting 110 walks.

Frank has one of the best walk to strikeout ratios among sluggers. He drew 1667 walks and struck out 1397 times. As a comparison, Jeff Bagwell had around 1400 walks and 1550 strikeouts, and Sammy Sosa had around 900 walks and 2200 strikeouts.

He appeared in the Tom Selleck movie Mr. Baseball in 1992 playing a rookie, and was also on Married with Children in 1994. In 1995 he was interviewed in Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream.

He has a superlative batting record against Yankees ace Mike Mussina, averaging .385/.467/.846/1.313 in 90 career plate appearances.

[edit] Quotations by and about Frank Thomas

"It's so much fun watching him from the on-deck circle. I just sit back and become a fan just like everybody else." - Eric Chavez

"I do feel I was overshadowed by some of those guys (who took steroids) . . . I had a diminished-skills clause written in after I hit 29 home runs and drove in 92 RBIs, and I think those (steroid-aided home run hitters) are partly to blame." - Frank Thomas, speaking about the impact on his career of other players taking steroids

"He's always had those legs and those shoulders. He could have played in the NFL." - Bobby Howard, Frank's high school football and baseball coach

"The guy causes fear just standing at the on-deck circle." - Nick Swisher, speaking about Frank Thomas

"Frank has been carrying us for a long time, so nothing he does surprises me, but you still kind of drop your jaw and say, 'Bro, are you kidding me?" - pitcher Barry Zito's reaction when Thomas hit a huge home run off of 2006 Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana in the first game of the 2006 playoffs after Santana had struck out the first two batters of the game. Thomas later hit another one in the 9th inning to win the game

"If Frank gets a base hit, it takes five hits to score him." - Ozzie Guillen

"It looks like he's going to hit one out every time he's up. You're almost surprised when he doesn't." - Dan Johnson

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 1990 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, Birmingham Barons, Southern League
  • 5-time AL All-Star (1993-1997)
  • 2-time AL MVP (1993 & 1994)
  • 4-time AL Silver Slugger Award Winner (1991/DH, 1993/1B, 1994/1B & 2000/DH)
  • 2000 AL Comeback Player of the Year Award
  • AL Batting Average Leader (1997)
  • 4-time AL On-Base Percentage Leader (1991, 1992, 1994 & 1997)
  • AL Slugging Percentage Leader (1994)
  • 4-time AL OPS Leader (1991, 1992, 1994 & 1997)
  • AL Runs Scored Leader (1994)
  • AL Doubles Leader (1992)
  • 4-time AL Bases on Balls Leader (1991, 1992, 1994 & 1995)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 13 (1991-1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006 & 2007)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 9 (1991, 1993-1997, 2000, 2003 & 2006)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1993, 1995, 1996, 2000 & 2003)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 11 (1991-1998, 2000, 2003 & 2006)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 9 (1991-1998 & 2000)
  • Won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005 (he did not play in the World Series)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2014


AL MVP
1992 1993 1994
Dennis Eckersley Frank Thomas Frank Thomas
1993 1994 1995
Frank Thomas Frank Thomas Mo Vaughn

[edit] Further Reading

  • Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: First Baseman Frank Thomas", Baseball Digest, September 1993, p. 79. [1]

[edit] Related Sites

Personal tools