Over the last few weeks I’ve spent too much time reading words written by people about the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s reached the point where the folks who are constantly writing about what is wrong with the Hall of Fame, its selection process and the old dinosaurs allowed to submit ballots — and let’s not forget those folks whom don’t even cover baseball anymore — have become just as annoying as folks like Murray Chase, who admit to submitting ballots solely for the reason of pissing those same people off.
I love sports, and I understand why the Hall of Fame is important, particularly to the players hoping to get in. I don’t care what your profession is, you really don’t get tired of people telling you that you’re one of the best of all time. So being immortalized in Cooperstown is certainly an honor I understand.
But at the end of the day it’s just a museum. Yes, being in that museum is an honor, but whether you are in there or not doesn’t take anything away from the career you had. Barry Bonds will still be an amazing baseball player whether the moralists who didn’t mind watching Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs while all the players in his era popped amphetamines want him to be or not.
It simply boils down to “my childhood hero is better than your childhood hero.” It’s a child’s argument between children arguing over childish things. Baseball, and sports in general, are a connection we’ll always have to our youth, even when we’ve forgotten the crux of our existence before adulthood.
Of course, I say all this knowing full well that if Frank Thomas isn’t elected to the Hall of Fame this year I’m going to be pissed off. I mean pissed because god damn it my childhood hero was better than your childhood hero, and I have the numbers to back it up.
While I’m not going to go into a full argument for Thomas — Jim Margalus over at South Side Sox has done a magnificent job of making the obvious case for The Big Hurt in recent weeks — it’s not because I don’t have one, but instead it’s because I really don’t think I even need to.
Some things we just know.
We know that fire is hot. We don’t have to stick our hand into an open flame to figure it out. We know that Miley Cyrus has at least two drug-related arrests and an assault charge at some point in her future. We don’t have to predict it, all the signs are already there.
And we know that Frank Thomas was one of the greatest baseball players to ever grace us with his presence.
Frank’s career numbers are pretty insane. He finished his 19 years with a slash line of .301/.419/.555, 521 home runs, 1,704 RBI, 1,667 walks, 1,028 of his 2,468 hits (41.6%) were for extra bases, an OPS+ of 156 and two American League MVP awards (though I credit him with three because those same writers who now hate Jason Giambi fell in love with him for one month in 2000).
But while those career numbers are astounding, a lot of the time what voters will do is look at the seven-year peak of a player. Frank Thomas peaked for ten seasons, from 1991 through 2000. His slash line in that decade was .320/.439/.581 with 337 homers and an OPS+ of 168. Hurt drove in 100 runs and walked 100 times or more in nine of those seasons. The only season in that span he didn’t achieve both of those benchmarks was in 1999 when he missed 27 games. He finished with 87 walks and 77 RBI.
Thomas also had a batting average of .300 or greater and an OBP of .400 or greater in nine of those ten seasons. The only off year was 1998 when he hit .265 with an OBP of .381. Yes, that’s right, in Frank’s off year he still got on base 38% of the time, hit 29 homers and drove in 109 runs.
Still, his greatest season was 1994, which also happened to be the year there was no World Series. The lack of a World Series is what most baseball fans feel they lost due to that strike, but my biggest disappointment will always be the amazing season Frank Thomas was robbed of. Sure, I think the White Sox would have won it all in 1994, but I don’t know that.
What I know is that Frank Thomas was an absolute monster that season.
In 113 games, being robbed of damn near two months of a baseball season, Frank still finished it with 38 home runs and 101 RBI. In his ten-year prime Frank played an average of 151 games per season, so if we extrapolate those numbers to a full season for Frank he’s finishing 1994 with 51 homers and 135 RBI. Even without the full season, he still had a slash line of .353/.487/.729.
That’s right, he had an OBP of .487. He was damn near getting on base half the time he stepped to the plate. His OPS+ that season was 212. He was 112% better than the average player that season.
He was a damn superhero, particularly to a 13-year old kid who would watch as many White Sox games as he could on the tiny television in his bedroom that year, solely for the purpose of watching Frank Thomas play baseball.
That little boy wants to see Thomas in the Hall of Fame this year. I’ve never been to Cooperstown before, but something tells me that if Frank is going in this summer, I’ll be there to see it happen.
Originally I didn’t think it was going to happen this season. Baseball writers are a weird, bitter breed, and those with power tend to wield it in the wrong way. People are denied entry on the first ballot simply because, well, I don’t know why. They just aren’t. I suppose the voters need something to make them feel as if they’re better than the people they made a living writing about.
I do think he’ll get in now. While it’s hard to know for sure, just about every ballot I’ve seen made public this season has included Frank Thomas, and according to one early straw poll Hurt is pulling in over 90% of the vote. He only needs 75%. Oddly enough, I think the steroids argument is actually helping his case.
Not because he was so outspoken about drug testing during his career, and there’s no reason to believe he was anything but clean. No, I think steroids have helped him simply because they’ve become such a bogeyman to the voters that they’re willing to overlook the fact that Frank wasn’t the greatest defender, and spent a lot of time as a designated hitter. I always thought that would be the thing that helped hold Frank back.
But it appears voters are prioritizing steroids over the designated hitter in their list of things that ruined baseball, so for that I’m grateful.
Though I won’t take anything for granted just yet. I can only hope that the trend we’ve seen so far when it comes to voting for Frank will continue and that he’ll join Greg Maddux and whoever the hell else in Cooperstown this summer.
There’s simply no reason to deny him that honor.
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