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Thomas, Frank 1968—

Frank Thomas 1968

Professional baseball player

Big Baby

A Second Chance in Baseball

The Big Hurt

Back-to-Back MVP

Sources

Frank Thomas is quite possibly the most exciting major league baseball player to emerge in the 1990s. The six-foot-five-inch, 257-pound Thomas carries the nickname The Big Hurt, which aptly describes his devastating talents as a power hitter for the Chicago White Sox. Thomas is the only player in recent history to have won back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player citationsin 1993 and 1994after he put together outstanding seasons as a leader in a number of offensive and defensive categories. Chicago Tribune reporter Skip Myslenski described Thomas as a major star, a supernova in his games constellation of stars. For his part, the hard-working Thomas has only this to say: I want to make a dent in the game.

Thomass performance has brought comparison to some of baseballs biggest names. He is one of only five players to bat over .300 with 20 or more home runs, 100 runs batted in, 100 runs, and 100 walks in three consecutive seasonsand the other four players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Small wonder that Thomas earned his first Most Valuable Player award by unanimous vote from the always-cantankerous Baseball Writers Association of America. As Jerome Holtzman noted in the Chicago Tribune, Thomas is among the very best hitters in baseball history, probably the best of his generation, which is flooded with strong-arm sluggers hitting for both distance and average.

For Thomas, baseball is a serious business. If he performs at the highest levels, he also sets impossible standards for himself and works toward them. Im a competitive person, he explained in the Chicago Tribune. Ive been involved in athletics all my life, and I dont handle failure well. Thats why I try to outwork everyone else. In another Chicago Tribune profile, he concluded: Ive learned this much. A player cant take anything for granted. I have a gift. But that means I have to work extra hard to get better.

Big Baby

The fifth of six children born to Frank and Charlie Mae Thomas, Frank Edward Thomas Jr. was admittedly spoiled by his doting parents and older siblings. Growing up in Columbus, Georgia, he was called Big Baby and

At a Glance

Full name Frank Edward Thomas Jr.; born May 27, 1968, in Columbus, GA; son of Frank (a bail bonds-man) and Charlie Mae (a textile worker) Thomas; married Elise Silver, February 8, 1992; children: Sterling (son), Sloan (daughter). Education: Attended Auburn University, 1986-89.

Baseball player with Chicago White Sox organization, 1989. Signed with White Sox in first round of 1989 college draft (seventh pick overall); member of Class A Sarasota White Sox, 1989; member of Birmingham Barons, 1990; made debut with Chicago White Sox, August 2, 1990, became full-time first baseman for White Sox, 1991.

Selected awards: Southeastern Conference Most Valuable Player and All-SEC Tournament selection (baseball), 1989; named American League Most Valuable Player, 1993 and 1994. Member of American League All-Star Team, 1994 and 1995.

Addresses: HomeBurr Ridge, IL. OffceChicago White Sox, 333 W, 35th St, Chicago, IL 60616.

was encouraged to develop his gift for athletics. His parents never pushed him into sports, but they knew that if he was not at home he was playing ball somewhere nearby. As he grew he made little secret of his ambitions to play professional balleven though his working-class family could hardly imagine such a life. When I was a kid, probably around 12, I already knew I wanted to be a player, Thomas told the Chicago Tribune. So I was just telling [my parents] what I wanted, and I followed my dream, and I worked hard enough to get it. A lot of people nowadays wont dedicate themselves like that....I was a little different.

Thomas was just nine years old when he convinced his father and the local coaches that he could play football in the Pop Warner league, which catered to 12-year-olds. Sure enough, he easily made one of the teams and won the job of starting tight end. He was equally successful in Little League baseball, where he began seeing the frequent intentional walks that put him on base to this day. His success in sports was put into perspective by a family tragedy. In 1977 his two-year-old sister Pamela died of leukemia. Recalling those days many years later, Thomas told the Chicago Tribune: It was sad. It affected me. But its something you dont look back on. The way Ive dealt with it is to totally forget about it. As the years went by, it got easier and easier. Thomas has not really forgotten his baby sister, however. For years he has worked closely with The Leukemia Foundation, helping to raise money for research into a cure for the disease.

Thomass skills won him a scholarship to The Brook-stone School, a private college preparatory institution in his home town. He stayed only three years, opting to return to the local public school and its more competitive sports teams. There he lost little time in making his mark. As a Columbus High School sophomore he hit cleanup for a baseball team that won a state championship. As a senior he hit .440 for the baseball team, was named an All-State tight end with the football team, and played forward with the basketball team. He wanted desperately to win a contract to play professional baseball, but he was completely overlooked in the 1986 amateur draft. Baseball teams signed some 891 players on that occasion, and Thomas was not among them.

I was shocked and sad, Thomas recalled in the Chicago Tribune. I saw a lot of guys I played against get drafted, and I knew they couldnt do what I could do. But Ive had people all my life saying you cant do this, you cant do that. It scars you. No matter how well Ive done. People have misunderstood me for some reason. I was always one of the most competitive kids around.

A Second Chance in Baseball

In the autumn of 1986, Thomas accepted a scholarship to play football at Auburn University. Even so, his love of baseball drew him to the Auburn baseball team, where the coach immediately recognized his potential. We loved him, Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird told Sports Illustrated. He was fun to be aroundalways smiling, always bright-eyed. He was also a deadly hitter, posting a .359 batting average and leading the Tigers in runs batted in as a freshman. During the summer of 1987 he played for the U.S. Pan American Team, earning a spot on the final roster that would compete in the Pan American Games. The Games coincided with the beginning of football practice back at Auburn, so he left the Pan Am team and returned to collegeonly to be injured twice in early season football games.

Thomas might have lost his scholarship that year because he could no longer play football. Instead the school continued his funding, and baseball became his sole sport. He was good enough as a sophomore to win consideration for the U.S. National Teampreparing for the 1988 Summer Olympicsbut he was cut from the final squad. Stung and misunderstood again, he fought back. By the end of his junior baseball season he had hit 19 home runs, 19 doubles, and had batted .403 with a slugging percentage of .801. With another amateur draft looming, the scouts began to comprehend that the big Georgia native could indeed play baseball.

The Chicago White Sox picked Thomas seventh in the first round of the June 1989 draftafter his home state team the Atlanta Braves had chosen someone else. While he would have liked to have played in Georgia, Thomas was thrilled to be with Chicago. He made his minor league debut with the Sarasota, Florida Class-A White Sox. The following year, 1990, he was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America magazine after hitting .323 with 18 home runs, 71 runs batted in, and a league-best 112 walks as a member of the Class-AA Birmingham Barons.

Finally prepared to admit that they might have a future star on their hands, the White Sox organization called Thomas to the major leagues on August 2, 1990. Thomas jumped into a tight pennant race and batted .330 with seven home runs and 31 runs batted in over the following two months. He never saw another inning of minor league baseball after that. By the spring of 1991 he had won a position as regular first baseman for Chicago.

The Big Hurt

In his first full season with the White Sox, Thomas batted .318 with 32 home runs and 109 runs batted in. He led the majors in walks, with 138, and on-base percentage (.453). At a stage when most young players are struggling to establish themselves, he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting, behind veterans Cal Ripken Jr. and Cecil Fielder. Chicago fans quickly dubbed Thomas The Big Hurt, based on his size and his ability to punish opposing pitchers.

Prior to the 1992 season, the New York Times released an article about the relative worth of active major league players. Using a formula based on several statistics, the Times declared that Thomas was the biggest bargain in the majors,based on his l991salary of $120,000. The White Sox lost little time in placating their emerging star, issuing Thomas a new three-year contract with a base salary more than $1 million, not including performance bonuses. Thomas responded in 1992 by leading the American League in extra-base hits, on-base percentage, walks (a tie at 122), and doubles. Thomas promised that he could do even better if he could avoid the distractions of superstardom. Concentration is the key, he explained in the Chicago Tribune. I try not to be distracted. Lately, Ive been blowing a lot of people off because theyve been getting in the way. I dont like to do that. But to be successful, Ive got to have time for myself.

Both Thomas and the White Sox turned in stellar years in 1993. For Thomas it was the unanimous Most Valuable Player award. For the White Sox it was a division title in the competitive American League West. Although the White Sox were beaten in the American League playoffs by the Toronto Blue Jays, Thomas emerged as his teams focal point. He was rewarded accordingly with a four-year contract estimated to be worth $42 million, as well as lucrative product endorsement deals with Reebok, Pepsi-Cola, DonRuss, and Bausch & Lomb. The financial security Thomas achieved with the deal did little to dim his competitive spirit. I cant afford... not showing up at the ball park mentally, he told the New York Times. I have to be on every night to be a force in the lineup. Im a humble guy; Ive always been humble. But I realize my place.

Back-to-Back MVP

White Sox fans might always moan for what might have been. Frank Thomas was on his way into the history booksand the 1994 baseball season was ended prematurely by a players strike. No one felt the sting of the strike more than Thomas, who stood poised to achieve one of baseballs most prestigious honors: the Triple Crown. Not since 1967 had any player finished the regular season first in average, home runs, and runs batted in. Thomas was contending for the honor when the strike occurred, and his numbers were good enough to earn him a second American League Most Valuable Player award. Pressed by the media to comment on his accomplishmentsand his futureThomas told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution: Im not into being known as the best by fans or the media. I care how Im perceived by my peers. I can settle for the label one of the best because that means youre considered an elite player.

This elite player has let it be known that baseball comes first and off-the-field activities rank a distant second. For years Thomas has tried to avoid the kind of fish bowl existence that plagues fellow Windy City superstar Michael Jordan. This dedication to his game as a serious business has led to some misunderstandings in Chicago for Thomas, but as the White Sox continue to fare well, he has earned respect for his workmanlike attitude. Thomas is such a lethal hitter that he draws walksintentional and otherwisewith stunning regularity. Some observers have even speculated that he will some day be walked with the bases loaded, so tremendous is his home run potential. Were very mindful of his presence, Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella told the Chicago Tribune. If we have our druthers, well let somebody else beat us.

Thomas has expressed no interest in leaving Chicago, at least in the near future. I see myself with the Sox my whole career, the slugger told Sports Illustrated in 1993. Stability has been part of Thomass life off the field as well. His 1992 marriage to Elise Silver, the daughter of a minor league baseball team owner, has produced two children, a son and a daughter. Thomas plays an active, if quiet, role in many charities, donating money from autograph signings to a variety of local and national sources. And although he has achieved more in a short major league career than many players do in a lifetime, he still has big ambitions. I relish the opportunity to rise to the top, he told the Chicago Tribune. When you see the Jordans and guys like that who love that type moment, it takes a special guy to want that. I want to be the guy there with two out and the bases loaded trying to get a hit. I love that situation.

Asked what final mark he would like to leave on the game, Thomas paused and concluded: I want to be able to.. .when I leave here, I want people to say, Hey, I dont know if some of the things he did can ever be done again.

Sources

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 30,1994, p. D7.

Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1992, p. 1 (Sports); November 11,1993, p. 6 (Sports); March 23,1994, p. 1 (Sports); August 7,1994, p. 1 (Sports); September 17, 1995, p. 3 (Sports).

New York Times, March 12,1992; October 5,1993, p. B13; October 28, 1993, p. B15; November 11, 1993.

Sports Illustrated, September 16, 1991, p. 30-34; September 13, 1993, pp. 40-44.

Mark Kram

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Thomas, Frank

Frank Thomas

1968

Baseball player

Frank Thomas was quite possibly the most exciting major league baseball player to emerge in the 1990s. The six-foot-five-inch, 257-pound Thomas wears his nickname "The Big Hurt" well. It aptly describes his devastating talents as a power hitter for the Chicago White Sox. Thomas won back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player citationsin 1993 and 1994after he put together outstanding seasons as a leader in a number of offensive and defensive categories. Chicago Tribune reporter Skip Myslenski described Thomas as "a major star, a supernova in his game's constellation of stars." For his part, the hardworking Thomas has only this to say: "I want to make a dent in the game." Indeed, by 2005 Thomas had made a "dent," becoming his team's all-time leader in home runs (436) and runs batted in (1,439).

Thomas's performance has brought comparison to some of baseball's biggest names. Between 1991 and 1997, Thomas became the first player in history to put together seven consecutive seasons where he bat over .300 with 20 or more home runs, 100 runs batted in, 100 runs, and 100 walks. Only four other players have come close to his recordLou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Jason Giambi, each accomplished that feat for as many as four consecutive seasonsand they are all in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Small wonder that Thomas earned his first Most Valuable Player award by unanimous vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 1993. As Jerome Holtzman noted in the Chicago Tribune, Thomas is "among the very best hitters in baseball history, probably the best of his generation, which is flooded with strong-arm sluggers hitting for both distance and average."

For Thomas, baseball is a serious business. Although he performs at the highest levels he continues to set even higher standards for himself, and diligently works toward them. "I'm a competitive person," he explained in the Chicago Tribune. "I've been involved in athletics all my life, and I don't handle failure well. That's why I try to outwork everyone else." In another Chicago Tribune profile, he concluded: "I've learned this much. A player can't take anything for granted. I have a gift. But that means I have to work extra hard to get better."

The fifth of six children born to Frank and Charlie Mae Thomas, Frank Edward Thomas Jr. was admittedly spoiled by his doting parents and older siblings. Growing up in Columbus, Georgia, he was called "Big Baby" and was encouraged to develop his gift for athletics. His parents never pushed him into sports, but they knew that if he was not at home he was playing ball somewhere nearby. As he grew he made little secret of his ambitions to play professional balleven though his working-class family could hardly imagine such a life. "When I was a kid, probably around 12, I already knew I wanted to be a player," Thomas told the Chicago Tribune. "So I was just telling [my parents] what I wanted, and I followed my dream, and I worked hard enough to get it. A lot of people nowadays won't dedicate themselves like that.... I was a little different."

Thomas was just nine years old when he convinced his father and the local coaches that he could play football in the Pop Warner league, which catered to 12-year-olds. Sure enough, he easily made one of the teams and won the job of starting tight end. He was equally successful in Little League baseball, where he began seeing the frequent intentional walks that put him on base to this day. His success in sports was put into perspective by a family tragedy. In 1977 his two-year-old sister Pamela died of leukemia. Recalling those days many years later, Thomas told the Chicago Tribune :"It was sad. It affected me. But it's something you don't look back on. The way I've dealt with it is to totally forget about it. As the years went by, it got easier and easier." Thomas has not really forgotten his baby sister, however. For years he has worked closely with The Leukemia Foundation, helping to raise money for research into a cure for the disease.

Thomas's skills won him a scholarship to The Brookstone School, a private college preparatory institution in his hometown. He stayed only three years, opting to return to the local public school and its more competitive sports teams. There he lost little time in making his mark. As a Columbus High School sophomore he hit cleanup for a baseball team that won a state championship. As a senior he hit .440 for the baseball team, was named an All-State tight end with the football team, and played forward with the basketball team. He wanted desperately to win a contract to play professional baseball, but he was completely overlooked in the 1986 amateur draft. Baseball teams signed some 891 players on that occasion, and Thomas was not among them.

"I was shocked and sad," Thomas recalled in the Chicago Tribune. "I saw a lot of guys I played against get drafted, and I knew they couldn't do what I could do. But I've had people all my life saying you can't do this, you can't do that. It scars you. No matter how well I've done. People have misunderstood me for some reason. I was always one of the most competitive kids around."

In the autumn of 1986, Thomas accepted a scholarship to play football at Auburn University. Even so, his love of baseball drew him to the Auburn baseball team, where the coach immediately recognized his potential. "We loved him," Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird told Sports Illustrated. "He was fun to be aroundalways smiling, always bright-eyed." He was also a deadly hitter, posting a .359 batting average and leading the Tigers in runs batted in as a freshman. During the summer of 1987 he played for the U.S. Pan American Team, earning a spot on the final roster that would compete in the Pan American Games. The Games coincided with the beginning of football practice back at Auburn, so he left the Pan Am team and returned to collegeonly to be injured twice in early season football games.

Thomas might have lost his scholarship that year because he could no longer play football. Instead the school continued his funding, and baseball became his sole sport. He was good enough as a sophomore to win consideration for the U.S. National Teampreparing for the 1988 Summer Olympicsbut he was cut from the final squad. Stung and misunderstood again, he fought back. By the end of his junior baseball season he had hit 19 home runs, 19 doubles, and had batted .403 with a slugging percentage of .801. With another amateur draft looming, the scouts began to comprehend that the big Georgia native could indeed play baseball.

The Chicago White Sox picked Thomas seventh in the first round of the June 1989 draftafter his home state team the Atlanta Braves had chosen someone else. While he would have liked to have played in Georgia, Thomas was thrilled to be with Chicago. He made his minor league debut with the Sarasota, Florida Class-A White Sox. The following year, 1990, he was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America magazine after hitting .323 with 18 home runs, 71 runs batted in, and a league-best 112 walks as a member of the Class-AA Birmingham Barons.

At a Glance...

Born Frank Edward Thomas Jr. on May 27, 1968, in Columbus, GA; son of Frank (a bail bondsman) and Charlie Mae (a textile worker) Thomas; married Elise Silver, 1992 (divorced); children: Sterling (son), Sloan (daughter), and Sydney (son). Education : Attended Auburn University, 1986-89.

Career : Professional baseball player with Chicago White Sox organization, 1989. Class A Sarasota White Sox, 1989; Birmingham Barons, member, 1990; Chicago White Sox debut, August 2, 1990, White Sox, full-time first baseman, 1991. Big Hurt Enterprises (sports marketing company, founder, 1994-99; Un-D-Nyable Entertainment (recording company), founder, 1990s(?).

Awards : Southeastern Conference Most Valuable Player and All-SEC Tournament selection (baseball), 1989; named American League Most Valuable Player, 1993 and 1994. Member of American League All-Star Team, 1994 and 1995.

Addresses : Home Burr Ridge, IL. Office Chicago White Sox, 333 W. 35th St., Chicago, IL 60616.

Finally prepared to admit that they might have a future star on their hands, the White Sox organization called Thomas to the major leagues on August 2, 1990. Thomas jumped into a tight pennant race and batted .330 with seven home runs and 31 runs batted in over the following two months. He never saw another inning of minor league baseball after that. By the spring of 1991 he had won a position as regular first baseman for Chicago. In his first full season with the White Sox, Thomas batted .318 with 32 home runs and 109 runs batted in. He led the majors in walks, with 138, and on-base percentage (.453). At a stage when most young players are struggling to establish themselves, he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting, behind veterans Cal Ripken Jr. and Cecil Fielder. Chicago fans quickly dubbed Thomas "The Big Hurt," based on his size and his ability to punish opposing pitchers.

Prior to the 1992 season, the New York Times released an article about the relative worth of active major league players. Using a formula based on several statistics, the paper declared that Thomas was "the biggest bargain in the majors," based on his 1991 salary of $120,000. The White Sox lost little time in placating their emerging star, issuing Thomas a new three-year contract with a base salary more than $1 million, not including performance bonuses. Thomas responded in 1992 by leading the American League in extra- base hits, on-base percentage, walks (a tie at 122), and doubles. Thomas promised that he could do even better if he could avoid the distractions of superstardom. "Concentration is the key," he explained in the Chicago Tribune. "I try not to be distracted. Lately, I've been blowing a lot of people off because they've been getting in the way. I don't like to do that. But to be successful, I've got to have time for myself."

Both Thomas and the White Sox turned in stellar years in 1993. For Thomas it was the unanimous Most Valuable Player award. For the White Sox it was a division title in the competitive American League West. Although the White Sox were beaten in the American League playoffs by the Toronto Blue Jays, Thomas emerged as his team's focal point. He was rewarded accordingly with a four-year contract estimated to be worth $42 million, as well as lucrative product endorsement deals with Reebok, Pepsi-Cola, DonRuss, and Bausch &amp; Lomb. The financial security Thomas achieved with the deal did little to dim his competitive spirit. "I can't afford...not showing up at the ball park mentally," he told the New York Times. "I have to be on every night to be a force in the lineup. I'm a humble guy; I've always been humble. But I realize my place."

White Sox fans might always moan for what might have been. Frank Thomas was on his way into the history booksand the 1994 baseball season was ended prematurely by a players' strike. No one felt the sting of the strike more than Thomas, who stood poised to achieve one of baseball's most prestigious honors: the Triple Crown. Not since 1967 had any player finished the regular season first in average, home runs, and runs batted in. Thomas was contending for the honor when the strike occurred, and his numbers were good enough to earn him a second American League Most Valuable Player award. Pressed by the media to comment on his accomplishmentsand his futureThomas told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution : "I'm not into being known as the best by fans or the media. I care how I'm perceived by my peers. I can settle for the label 'one of the best' because that means you're considered an elite player."

This "elite player" has let it be known that baseball comes first and off-the-field activities rank a distant second. For years Thomas has tried to avoid the kind of fish bowl existence that plagues fellow Windy City superstar Michael Jordan. This dedication to his game as a serious business has led to some misunderstandings in Chicago for Thomas, but as the White Sox continue to fare well, he has earned respect for his workmanlike attitude. Thomas is such a lethal hitter that he draws walksintentional and otherwisewith stunning regularity. Some observers have even speculated that he will some day be walked with the bases loaded, so tremendous is his home run potential. At the close of the 2003 season, Thomas had "joined the 400-home run club and surpassed 2,000 hits," according to Baseball Digest.

In 1993, Thomas had expressed no interest in leaving Chicago. "I see myself with the Sox my whole career," the slugger told Sports Illustrated, and in 2005, near the end of his career, he remained with the club. Before retirement he had two remaining goals, he told Baseball Digest that he aspired to win a World Series title and to reach the 500-homer, 3,000-hit plateau held by baseball greats Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray. And although he achieved more in his first few years in the major leagues than many players do in a lifetime, he continued to pursue higher goals. "I relish the opportunity to rise to the top," he told the Chicago Tribune. "When you see the Jordans and guys like that who love that type moment, it takes a special guy to want that. I want to be the guy there with two out and the bases loaded trying to get a hit. I love that situation." Asked what final mark he would like to leave on the game, Thomas paused and concluded: "I want to be able to...when I leave here, I want people to say, 'Hey, I don't know if some of the things he did can ever be done again.'" If injuries don't derail his plans, Thomas may get to hear those words. Whether or not he does, he seems destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 30, 1994, p. D7.

Baseball Digest, June 2004, p. 50.

Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1992, p. 1 (Sports); November 11, 1993, p. 6 (Sports); March 23, 1994, p. 1 (Sports); August 7, 1994, p.1 (Sports); September 17, 1995, p. 3 (Sports); April 16, 2005.

New York Times, March 12, 1992; October 5, 1993, p. B13;October 28, 1993, p. B15; November 11, 1993.

Sports Illustrated, September 16, 1991, p. 30-34; September13, 1993, pp. 40-44.

On-line

Chicago White Sox, www.chicago.whitesox.mlb.com (April 28, 2005).

Mark Kram and Sara Pendergast

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Thomas, Frank

Frank Thomas

1968-

American baseball player

Immense and powerful, at six-feet five-inches tall and somewhere between 250 and 300 pounds (depending on the season), Frank Thomas is a giant menace to opposing pitchers, who start worrying about this powerhouse before he even steps to the plate. Thomas, known as "The Big Hurt" (a nickname that stuck when White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson said it in 1992 after watching him crush a home run over 450 feet) is truly one of baseball's great sluggers. Whether he goes by "Frank Thomas" or "The Big Hurt," the names show up time and again when the greatest right-handed batters in the history of baseball are discussed.

Growing Up

Frank Edward Thomas, Jr., was born on May 27, 1968, in Columbus, Georgia, to Frank Thomas Sr. and Charlie Mae Thomas. Frank's father was a deacon at the local Baptist Church, but he also worked for the city to bring in some extra money for the family. Thomas' mother worked in a local fabric factory, and although their kids grew up in a poor neighborhood, Thomas' parents raised him and his five brothers and sisters under strict rules to keep their kids out of trouble.

As a child, Thomas already showed the signs of being an outstanding athlete. Warned to avoid trouble,

he often participated in sports at the local Boys Club, playing baseball, basketball and football. He was good enough that they soon moved him up to play organized sports with kids two to three years his senior. Thomas was an imposing presence, large (some say chubby), and his reputation with a bat even then caused kids to panic. They'd "throw the ball behind him, over the backstop, all over the place," his dad recalled in a Sports Illustrated article. "They'd do anything to avoid pitching to him."

Not immune to pain, however, Thomas saw his two-year-old sister Pamela grow sick and die of leukemia when he was still a young boy. After he turned professional, he would establish the Frank Thomas Foundation, in 1993, to raise money to find a cure for the disease. The suddenness of his sister's death frightened Thomas, who, on Thanksgiving Day in 1977 vowed that, in Pamela's honor, he would become a professional baseball player.

Graduating Disappointment

While at high school in Columbus, Thomas honed his jump shot in basketball, excelled as a tight end on the football field (also kicking extra points and making every one), and led the baseball team to a state title two years in a row. His senior year Thomas batted .440 and was voted onto the all-state team.

Despite his power and prowess in baseball, however, when the 1986 draft was over, 888 players from high schools and colleges from around the country had been draftedbut not Thomas. He was devastated, claiming later on that he would have played anywhere, just to be able to get on the diamond. But he also realized later that it was one of the better things to happen to him, forcing him into college. He accepted a football scholarship to Auburn, a perennial collegiate powerhouse, where the time spent in the weight room increased his power, and the time spent learning the game at the college level helped turn him into "The Big Hurt" he is today.

Moving On Up

Thomas would leave the Auburn football team after only one season in order to concentrate on baseball. By his senior year (1989) he was voted the Southeastern Conference MVP in baseball, leaving the school with forty-nine career homers, a new record.

After a brief and dominating stint in the Chicago White Sox minor league system, Frank Thomas was finally called up to the big leagues on August 2, 1990. In those last few months of the season he would start at first base and bat .330, with 31 Runs Batted In (RBI), as well as hitting seven home runs.

Chronology

1968 Born May 27, in Columbus, Georgia
1977 Convinces father to let him play football in Pop Warner league (a league for twelve-year-olds)
1977 Younger sister Pam (two years old) dies of Leukemia
1986 Graduates High School and isn't drafted by any major league team
1986 Accepts scholarship to play football at Auburn
1987 Plays baseball for the U.S. Pan American Team and plays in Pan Am Games
1989 White Sox draft Frank Thomas with the 7th pick in the draft
1990 Called up to the Majors after spending a short time in the minors
1992 Crushes home run more than 450 feet
1992 Marries Elise Silver, daughter of a minor league baseball team owner. Frank and Elise will have two children
1993 Voted into his first All-Star spot
1993 Starts the Frank Thomas Charitable Foundation, which contributes to Leukemia Society of America
1994 Hits .452 in May, with twelve home runs; wins second straight American League MVP
1994 Major League Baseball season ends early on players strike, cutting short Thomas' phenomenal season
1996 Becomes the White Sox career home run leader
1997 Reaches base fifteen straight times, one short of major league record
2001 Injured during game against Mariners on April 27 and out for rest of season
2002 Renegotiates contract with White Sox after testy period in which it looked like Thomas might move to another team

Throughout the 1990s Thomas would exemplify a true power hitter, putting up impressive numbers year in and year out. In his first full season with the White Sox, he batted .318 and hit thirty-two home runs, with 109 RBIs. Though he was left out of the All-Star lineup that season, he finished third in MVP voting. In fact, he was left off of the All-Star roster again in 1992, even though his numbers seemed to indicate otherwise (.323 with twenty-four home runs and 118 RBIs).

In 1993, Thomas made it to the All-Star game, but more importantly, his bat helped propel the White Sox to their first division title in ten years. With a batting average of .317 and a new White Sox record forty-one home runs, as well as 128 RBIs, Thomas was voted baseball's Most Valuable Playeronly the tenth time in the history of the sport the MVP has been chosen by unanimous decision. He'd completed an impressive season, and he would only build on those numbers in 1994.

The Season That Could Have Been

The "what-ifs" about Thomas's 1994 season still echo in the halls of baseball statisticians. The year was shortened by a players' strike in mid-August, and through 113 games, Thomas had posted a .353 batting average and amassed thirty-eight home runs. He also had 101 RBIs, leading the league with runs scored (106), walks (109), slugging percentage (.729), and on-base percentage (.487). It was a truly impressive run, capped by a May in which he averaged .452 at the plate while belting twelve home runs. Though Thomas would win a second MVP when the strike ended the season, one can only imagine what might have been. In fact, Sports Illustrated claimed that, barring the strike, Thomas might have broken Babe Ruth 's records for runs, walks, and extra-base-hits in a single season.

Getting Back On Track

In July of 1996, Thomas was injured for the first time, ending his consecutive games played streak at 346. It would be the beginning of some rocky times for Thomas, who in 1997 began to let disputes over his contract and outside interests in developing recording labels interfere with his concentration. Additionally, according to Gerry Callahan of Sports Illustrated, there was speculation that Thomas and his wife, Elise Silver, were going through some tough times in their marriage. Thomas, who tends to keep to himself and doesn't bother people with his brooding, told Callahan that, "All I'll say is, I'm a grown man with grown-up problems." His problems increased when he started putting on weight, and though he still compiled impressive statistics, they weren't the numbers Thomas was known for. The shadow of the outstanding player he had been loomed large. He wanted to, and would, get back to that spot.

Career Statistics

Yr Team AVG GP AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB E
CHW: Chicago White Sox.
1990 CHW .330 60 191 39 63 7 31 44 54 0 5
1991 CHW .318 158 559 104 178 32 109 138 112 1 2
1992 CHW .323 160 573 108 185 24 115 122 88 6 13
1993 CHW .317 153 549 106 174 41 128 112 54 4 15
1994 CHW .353 113 399 106 141 38 101 109 61 2 7
1995 CHW .308 145 493 102 152 40 111 136 74 3 7
1996 CHW .349 141 527 110 184 40 134 109 70 1 9
1997 CHW .347 146 530 110 184 35 125 109 69 1 11
1998 CHW .265 160 585 109 155 29 109 110 93 7 2
1999 CHW .305 135 486 74 148 15 77 87 66 3 4
2000 CHW .328 159 582 115 191 43 143 112 94 1 1
2001 CHW .221 20 68 8 15 4 10 10 12 0 1
2002 CHW .252 148 523 77 132 28 92 88 115 3 2
TOTAL .314 1698 6065 1168 1902 376 1285 1286 962 32 79

Awards and Accomplishments

1989 SEC Most Valuable Player
1989 All-SEC Tournament Selection (baseball)
1990 Wins Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award
1991 Silver Slugger Award-American League
1993 Named American League MVP by unanimous vote; wins Silver Slugger Award
1994 Repeats as American League MVP
1997 Ted Williams Award-American League (most productive hitter)
1997 Wins first batting title with a .347 average
2000 Silver Slugger Award-American League

The tough final years of the 1990s came to a head during spring training in 2000 when a shouting match erupted between Thomas and Sox manager Jerry Manual, involving, among other things, Thomas' refusal, due to a sore heel, to participate in the team's "shuttle run" drill. Though fans worried about what the argument might bode, Thomas and Manual let off some necessary steam, and Thomas went on to compile the numbers he was known for (.328, 43 home runs, 143 RBIs, 114 runs and 191 hits).

In the 2002 off-season, the White Sox exercised a "diminished skills" clause in Frank Thomas' contract. His 2001 season was riddled by injury, and to many, it looked as if the man who had a contract with the Sox through 2006 would now be a free agent. As fall wore on and winter approached, Thomas talked to several teams. But in early December, Thomas and the White Sox came to an agreement, albeit a rather complicated one.

The contract is chock full of options that, according to Scott Gregor of the Daily Herald, sound as if they were concocted "in an economic think tank." Thomas, who has been in the spotlight for over a decade, intends to remain in that spotlight, but this time for the right reasonsgaining his former prominence at the plate and putting up the numbers he's known for.

Hurtin'

"I've got a problem with him not doing the shuttle [run]," [Jerry] Manuel said to [general manager Ron] Schueler. "I told him he couldn't be on the field. How do you want to handle it?"

Schueler thought for a moment. "This is something you have to work out," he said.

They worked it out, all right. The manager tracked his star player into the clubhouse. "Come into my office," Manuel said. He closed the door, but one could hear the two men shouting at each other, their voices rising and their words often profane. "That's a bunch of bullsand it had better stop!" Thomas yelled. "I'm not having it."

"This bullsis the reason why we are always butting heads!" Manuel said.

The confrontation cleared the air and left both men looking relieved and at peace with each other. That same day Thomas called a meeting in the clubhouse to address his teammates. He apologized for not having done the shuttle, explaining that his foot was not completely healed, and told them why he could not pinch-hit in Texas. "I didn't quit on you guys," he said. "It was a medical thing. Jerry didn't know how bad it was." Thomas said all those media reports about him being "an individual player"read, selfishwere not true. "I just want you to know I'm with you," he said.

Source: Nack, William. Sports Illustrated (Mar 13, 2000).

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: Frank Thomas, c/o Chicago White Sox, 333 W. 35th St., Chicago, IL 60616.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Contemporary Black Biography. Volume 12. Detroit: Gale Group, 1996.

Newsmakers 1994. Issue 4. Detroit: Gale Group, 1994.

Sports Stars. Series 1-4. UXL, 1994-98.

Periodicals

Baseball Weekly (April 16, 1997).

"The Big Heart." Sports Illustrated (August 8, 1994): 16.

Callahan, Gerry. "Hurt so good." Sports Illustrated (April 19, 1999): 60-64.

Cannella, S. "The Big Hurt: no 3. no more." Sports Illustrated (May 27, 2002): 96.

Nack, William. "Hurtin'." Sports Illustrated (March 13, 2000): 64-75.

Sports (April 1992).

Other

"Frank Thomas." http://www.baseball-reference.com/t/thomafr04.html (January 1, 2003).

"Frank Thomas." http://www.pubdim.net/baseballlibrary/ (January 1, 2003).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren

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