I am sure I have mentioned this before, but for some reason whenever I hear a reference to former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, I think of Toni Fischer's 1959 hit The Big Hurt.
And, as it turns out, I happen to be in Chicago (it is Super Bowl week and that is where I spend it these days) where Thomas and his bat did the bulk of their damage in The Show, and where yesterday morning he officially retired from baseball.
Thomas is one of those guys who to me simply had a charmed everything, not that he did not work hard at it. He was born May 27, 1968, amazingly enough the same day as another potential HOF'er, Jeff Bagwell. He played baseball, but also was a tight end at Auburn at the same time Bo Jackson was a running back.
And, he debuted, auspiciously as a White Sox on August 2, 1990, and never looked back, hitting .330-7-30 over 62 games that first season, with an incredible .454 OBP, it was clear Thomas had an understanding of the major league strike zone and major league pitching that transcended the skill set of most players.
I thought at the time he came up that he was arguably the best pure hitter the majors had seen since Ted Williams. Proving the point, Thomas went .318-32-109 with a .453 OBP and 1.006 OPS, leading the league with 138 walks his first full season, and prompting my regular argument that "for every Frank Thomas there are 100 Paul Konerkos, a line designed to emphasize how rare players like Thomas are as opposed the Konerkos who need a few seasons to adjust to the bigs.
Not so Thomas, who was as steady as they come, logging career .301-521-1704 totals over 19 seasons, numbers that will surely make him a first ballot Hall of Famer.
In 2006, when he resurrected his fading career in Oakland with a .270-39-114 season that bought him another year in Toronto, and enough dingers to pass the 500 mark.
And, I remember him, that year, crushing a ball off the center field wall in Oakland while I was scoring a game. As Thomas rounded first he tweaked something in his leg, and instead of advancing to second, he retreated to first and was promptly replaced by a pinch runner. As I was leaving the yard, Thomas sidled up next to me and I asked him how his leg was.
"OK," he said.
"Think you will wind up on the DL?" I asked.
"Naw," he said, "I felt a twinge and I did not want to stretch it and risk anything."
I nodded and looked at him and said, "All I can say is I have never seen anyone hit a single as high or as far or as hard."
"You think?" he asked.
I simply nodded and said no more, feeling pretty happy that the circumstances of life made it so I could even have an exchange with a guy like that.
Not bad. Congrats Frank, on such a wonderful career. For carrying it out with dignity, passion, and style. Because, since Teddy Ballgame, you were the best pure hitter I have seen. And, I have seen a few.