Frank Edward Thomas




Frank Thomas is one of the most effective and most feared baseball hitters in the history of the sport. His nickname, "The Big Hurt" is an accurate description of the damage that he has directed against opposing pitchers throughout his major league career.

At 6 ft 5 in tall (1.95 m) and a weight of approximately 265 lb (120 kg), Thomas was a much sought after American football player at the conclusion of his high school career. He accepted a football scholarship to Auburn University in Alabama; after playing both varsity football as a tight end and baseball in his freshman year, Thomas devoted his athletic attentions to baseball for the balance of his university career. Over 50 major league baseball players at one time played for Auburn; the university has a reputation as a collegiate baseball powerhouse.

While at Auburn, Thomas was named the South East Conference baseball player of the year among other athletic distinctions in 1989. After being selected the seventh player overall in the 1989 baseball amateur draft by the Chicago White Sox of the American League, Thomas opted to sign with the White Sox and end his college playing career.

Most major league baseball players serve an apprenticeship in the American minor leagues, no matter how talented they may be. Thomas minor league career was short and emphatic, as he impressed the Chicago White Soc management with his power hitting abilities. Thomas was called up to the major league team in 1990, where he made an immediate impact against major league pitching. By 1992, Thomas was established as one of the most potent all round hitting threats in all of baseball. Thomas played first base when in the field, but his defensive play was never more than average. Later in his career he would seldom be called upon in a defensive role, as he was usually listed in the lineup as a designated hitter, the player who may be entered in place of any other player as a hitter, with no obligations in the field.

Thomas was the rare slugger who could consistently get on base through the drawing of a walk from the opposing pitcher. A number of baseball experts, including those known as sabermetricians, regard the performance of Thomas throughout the 1990s as one of the finest periods of sustained offensive play in the history of baseball. Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball performance through statistical means; the term was coined using the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research, SABR, an organization made famous through its promotion of a better understanding of baseball performance through statistics. The SABR was founded by baseball writer and statistician Bill James in 1977.

Thomas's level of play, as supported by his statistics through the 1990s was remarkable. Using the sabermetrics statistical device known as Runs Created, Thomas was the most dominant hitter of this decade. Runs created is a statistical measure of baseball performance, expressed by the equation (Total Hits + Total walks [Base on balls]) × (Total bases) ÷ (Total number of at bats + Total walks). Sabermetricians believe that the runs created calculation is the most accurate assessment of a player's true offensive value to a team, as the more runs a player creates (as opposed to scores), the greater the player's contribution to the overall offensive success of the team.

Using the more conventional baseball standards of batting average, runs scored, walks, and home runs, Thomas established a major league record in the 1990s, with seven straight seasons where he exceeded .300 in batting average, drew more than 100 walks, scored over 100 runs, and hit more than 20 home runs. Thomas broke the record of five consecutive seasons at this level of excellence, established by the legendary Ted Williams in the 1940s.

In the 1993 and 1994 seasons, Thomas became only the second first baseman in the history of the game to win successive Most Valuable Player awards. The 1994 season remains one of the great speculative questions about precisely how much Thomas might have been to achieve had the season not been shortened by almost 50 games in mid-August of that year by a player strike. At age 25, Thomas was entering his physical prime and through 113 games (of a 162 game regular season), Thomas had posted a .353 batting average and amassed 38 home runs. He also had 101 RBIs, leading the league with runs scored (106), walks (109), slugging percentage (.729), and on-base percentage (.487). Sports Illustrated was one of a number of sports publications that concluded, barring the strike, Thomas may have broken Babe Ruth's long standing records for runs, walks, and extra-base-hits in a single season.

Given his demonstrated skills as a hitter, it is not surprising that Thomas was a hero to the Chicago White Sox faithful through out the early and mid-1990s. Off the field, Thomas made contributions to charity, particularly those directed to his own foundation established in honor of his younger sister, who had died of leukemia at an early age. Thomas was periodically bedeviled by weight problems, as he weighed close to 300 lb (136 kg) on occasion. He was injured in April of the 2001 season and did not play for the remainder of the year, after which the White Soc exercised a clause in his contract where by he could be released as a free agent if certain performance standards were not attained by Thomas.

After Thomas re-signed with the White Sox in 2002, he was frequently injured, missing most of both the 2004 and 2005 seasons. The most serious of his injuries was sustained to his left foot, which was fractured. In 2005, the Chicago White Sox won the major league World Series for the first time since 1917; the greatest irony of the White Sox triumph was that Thomas, the White Sox best offensive player in the club's over 100-year history, was on the disabled list and did not play any of the championship games.

SEE ALSO Baseball; Baseball Bat Speed; Baseball Bats: Sweet spots and tampering; Baseball Injuries.