With former Chicago White Sox star Frank Thomas announcing his retirement on Friday, the thought crossed my mind to what his legacy will be.
Just a few years back, there were questions whether he would be a Hall of Famer.
Now it seems to be a slam-dunk that not only will he get in, but that it will be the highest honor of all—first ballot.
But is Frank Thomas really a Hall of Fame baseball player?
Statistically he is. With 521 career home runs, a .301 lifetime batting average, 1,704 ribbies, and a .419 OBP, am I crazy for even asking this question?
Those are his numbers and I know the stats geeks out there will rip me a new you know what for even questioning his candidacy, but do stats lie?
He was nicknamed the "Big Hurt" by White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, supposedly because of the hurt he put on the baseball, and let's face it, he was big.
That's one of the questions I have when trying to decide whether he really belongs in the hall.
Thomas has repeatedly denied ever using steroids and nobody has ever said he did. Steroids or not, he was not just big, he was huge.
I've seen him in the locker room and he did get a lot bigger as the years went by, though he was a big man when he first came to the Sox.
Let's take him at his word that he never cheated. Isn't it an advantage to be bigger than every other player in the game even without the juice?
He was generously listed at 6'5" and 257 pounds. Switch the five and the seven around and you're probably a lot closer to his weight.
Wouldn't that help you hit home runs? Wouldn't it increase your intimidation factor at the plate and make pitchers less likely to throw you strikes, thereby increasing your on base stats a great deal?
He was also known for his great eye at the plate. If Frank Thomas took the pitch, the umpire called it a ball. That's just the way it was up until the 2001 season when Thomas publicly complained about not getting the calls on the inside pitches anymore and the umpires decided to start calling them strikes.
I'm just wondering if those pitches weren't always strikes. If the ball hits the inside corner between the knees and the letters, isn't it supposed to be a strike?
It never was for Thomas.
In fact, for such a large man, he had a strike zone like a postage stamp. I live in Chicago and watched him play on a regular basis, and I was continually amazed at the pitches he would take that would be called balls.
The umpires gave him the benefit of the doubt that turned him into a legendary hitter. Isn't it far easier to hit when you're constantly up in the count 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, etc?
His numbers declined sharply after that 2001 season, with him barely finishing his career with a .300 average after being well over that number after his first seven years in the league.
What would his numbers have been had he had the strike zone he had to deal with later in his career? The one that everybody else had.
Let's also not forget that he spent more than half his career as a designated hitter. In over 2,300 career games, he played first in 972 of them...well, less than half.
Isn't it easier not to play the field and rest?
Maybe you take a few hacks in the batting cage by the dugout to warm up before your at-bat.
No designated hitter is in the Hall of Fame. Edgar Martinez was eligible for the first time this year and fell well short of the votes needed to get in.
Could the DH be like the closer where there are only a few allotted that honor, and certainly not the first time out? In fact, for several "firemen" or closers, like Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage, the wait was excruciatingly long.
Frank Thomas was always a "stats" guy. He knew his numbers every game he played and throughout his career.
In fact, you could say, and some of his teammates did, that he cared more about that than winning.
As ESPN baseball beat reporter Bruce Levine mentioned on his show yesterday called "Talking Baseball," many times Thomas' teammates wanted him to try to drive in a run with a man on third and less than two outs to help the team, instead of taking a pitch that missed by a millimeter to draw a walk and give a lesser hitter a crack.
Thomas was a selfish player with few friends among his teammates, coaches, managers, and the media covering him.
He often wore a scowl on his face, whether he was at bat, or in the clubhouse, appearing unapproachable to both teammates and the media.
He also was not a very good clutch player.
In his first at-bat, he was golden. He hit more home runs in that turn at the plate than any other. It counts whenever you hit it, so there's nothing wrong with that.
It's just that later on in a close game, he would disappear. From the seventh inning on, the "Big Hurt" looked more like Eddie Gaedel, the midget that Bill Veeck once put up to pinch hit in a game.
According to FanGraph.com, Thomas finished with a -7.97 clutch rating in his career, including several years over 1.00 in the negative in the early dominant years of his career, when he was supposed to be the best hitter in baseball and one of the best ever.
They define clutch as, "How much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment."
He also ended up -0.28 in the postseason, when he batted .224 with only three homers and five RBI in 49 career at-bats.
One of the reasons he was a DH most of his career was because he was a poor fielder at first with very little range and a throwing arm that looked more like a girls (No offense, ladies).
For a guy who played tight end at Auburn University, he also was a very poor baserunner (he must have been a blocking tight end).
When you put everything in perspective, he was a one-dimensional ballplayer who failed to come through when it counted most.
Is that deserving of being voted into the Hall of Fame? I think not.
First ballot? No way!
What do you think?
Am I wrong and being too hard on him?
Are his numbers Hall of Fame worthy?
You tell me; I'm waiting.
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