Frank Thomas was a great player and for his efforts, he’s enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“The Big Hurt” was inducted in his first year of eligibility, as BBWAA voters agreed that Thomas deserved his position in Cooperstown. The two-time American League MVP, (he finished second in 2000 to Jason Giambi, an admitted steroid user), Thomas is also one of only 21 players to achieve baseball’s “Holy Trinity.”
The “Holy Trinity” consists of a .300 average, .400 on-base percentage, and a .500 slugging percentage.
Frank Thomas was simply the most dominant “PURE” hitter of the 1990s. In his first season, 1991, Thomas became the first player since Ted Williams to hit .300 with (32) home runs, (109) RBIs, and (138) walks.
I heard a White Sox season ticket holder once say they planned their concession stand and restroom runs around innings he wasn’t due to come to the plate. He had that effect on the game and its fans.
Frank Thomas should’ve owned “The Windy City” after appearing in a series of Reebok commercials.
But somehow he was never embraced as such.
A huge reason why Thomas’ lofty accomplishments were undervalued had to do with his crosstown rivals Cubs and one Slammin’ Sammy Sosa. Both were stars but Chicago fans loved the charismatic Sosa, a happy showman, who hopped and diddy-bopped around the bases after hitting home runs.
Thomas seemed distant at times. Some even misinterpreted his calm demeanor and all-business approach as surly. And rumor had it, he was unapproachable by teammates.
Not that he could control it, but Thomas played in the PED era. Born big, he played football at Auburn after Bo Jackson, before switching to baseball full time. He put up monster stats while surrounded by drug cheats such as the aforementioned Sosa, Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco.
Thomas is considered a “clean” superstar, but the stain of the entire steroid saga has lead to a situation where players from that era are viewed through a different prism. Even if they were clean. Thomas, however, would be a Cooperstown candidate in any era.
Labor strife also affected Thomas’ best years. Thomas and the White Sox were in first place in 1994 when a strike ended the season. Thomas did earn a World Series ring in 2005 with the White Sox, even though he was injured and did not play.
Hypothetical question here: If the White Sox had won the 1994 World Series would history view him differently?
A lot of Thomas’ career was spent as a DH. While baseball fans and so-called purists have strong opinions about the designated hitter, there’s no question Thomas benefited from the ability to rest his injured ankles for most of his career.
Despite spending over a decade at first base, many view Thomas as the first designated hitter to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Thomas left Chicago a bitter man after GM Kenny Williams signed Jim Thome in 2006.
He hit his 500th career home run playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, and finished his career in Oakland, all of which just seemed WRONG!
He did return home to Chicago. Things were mended about as good as you can expect in “ChiTown,” but it still has to leave a sour taste in his mouth to have done everything right and still not get the love he so deserves.
The great Kirby Puckett produced arguably two of the greatest moments in Minnesota sports history in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.
Atlanta Braves fans still get sick when they hear Jack Buck’s famous words, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night.”
Puckett’s success was seen early and often in his career. Nowhere was that talent more prevalent than in Elizabethton where he began his career in 1982. The kid from Chicago was the third overall pick in the MLB January Draft and played in 65 of 68 Elizabethton’s games that season.
Puckett’s life played out in many parts. He escaped from the Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project on Chicago’s South Side — and as good as he was at baseball he was offered no scholarships coming out of Calumet High School. With no scholarship offers Puckett went to work on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company, before being given an opportunity to play the game he loved at Bradley University.
After one season at Bradley he transferred to Triton College, where he set single-season records for hits (120) and triples (8) for the Trojans.
Puckett was always a good hitter but didn’t really become a power hitter until later in his career. He batted .382 for the E-Twins who finished (32-36) that season and Puck lead the Appalachian League in that category. An even more incredible stat is for every game he played, the lead-off man scored a run (65). He also totaled 105 hits, 35 RBIs, 43 steals and belted three home runs.
He was voted to the Appy League All-Star team, but league MVP was given to Paintville’s Dan Pasqua.
With his quick progress, Puckett was promoted to the Class AAA Toledo in 1984, before being called up to Minnesota 21 games into the season. He finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind Alvin Davis and Mark Langston, both of the Seattle Mariners. But the writing was on the wall and we knew Puckett was here to stay.
Even without hitting any homers he still batted .296.
After his second season, he was elected to 10 consecutive All-Star games.
Coming off his brilliant 1986 season, where he finished top 10 in nine major categories, Puckett was poised to lead the Twins to the promised land.
In 1987 the Twins entered the postseason at (85-77) and were playing October baseball for the first time since 1970. He struggled most of the postseason but came up clutch in the Twins’ Game 7 World Series upset win over the heavily-favored St.Louis Cardinals. He batted .357 and the “Twin Cities” hoisted its first WS title in 63 years (1924).
The 1991 World Series was Puck’s shining moment, as he made plays you have to google to believe. The Twins were facing a red-hot Atlanta Braves team who had won 55 of its last 83 games behind the dominant pitching trio of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery, who’d won a combined 52 games that season.
Minnesota was more battle-tested, while Atlanta was thought to be the more talented, but inexperienced. The Braves hadn’t won a division since 1982 and just got by Barry Bonds’ Pittsburgh Pirates in a tightly contested seven-game NLCS.
With his team trailing the series 3-2, Puck had one of the more iconic games in baseball history. His third-inning leaping catch against the plexiglass wall of the old Metrodome, robbed Braves outfielder Ron Gant of an extra-base hit. The great Tim McCarver was doing color commentary.
He then topped that with an 11th-inning walk-off homer run on a 2-1 count to force Game 7. Twins would win Game 7 and their second “Fall Classic” in five seasons, with both going the distance.
In March of 1996, Puckett woke up and didn’t have vision in his right eye. He was later diagnosed with glaucoma and placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.
The glaucoma didn’t get any better and he was forced to retire in July following three surgeries. At the time of his retirement, he was still a force to be reckoned with. His .318 career batting average was the highest for a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio.
Puckett was the fourth player in the 20th century to record 1,000 hits in his first five full seasons and the second to record 2,000 hits in his first 10 seasons.
His No.34 was retired by the club in 1997. Former Red Sox superstar David Ortiz wore the same number for years to honor the friendship he and Puckett had formed as teammates when “Big Papi” began his career in Minnesota.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001 on the first ballot.
In March 2006 Puckett suffered a major hemorrhage stroke and underwent emergency surgery. The surgery failed and Puck died on March 6, he was only 45.
He was so beloved in the “Twin Cities” that 15,000 people showed up at the Metrodome for his funeral despite an impending blizzard.