HOWARD MEGDAL: For me, Frank Thomas is a pair of images: at the start of his career, and at the end of his career. And both represent excellence on a scale I won’t soon forget.
I came of age as a baseball fan from 1985-1990. During that time, nine players posted an OPS+ of 170 or better: Kevin Mitchell, Rickey Henderson, Pedro Guerrero, George Brett, Jack Clark, Will Clark, Wade Boggs, Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco. Note, however, each of them did it once. Especially in Mitchell’s case, this was clearly a career year.
Then Thomas came along. And he posted an OPS+ of 177 in his first big league half-season in 1990. And then 180 in his first full season in 1991. And then 174 in 1992. and then 177 in 1993. And then 211 in 1994.
In other words, what had been career years for the best players in baseball were Thomas’s baseline.
Now, I didn’t know about OPS+ back then. But I did have a sense that Frank Thomas was a better hitter than I, or baseball, had recently seen. And certainly, the traditional numbers bore that out as well.
I got to experience the other side of Thomas’s career as well, in my capacity as a journalist. With Thomas in town to play the Yankees in 2007, as a member of the Blue Jays, I did a feature on him. For his part, he was quite friendly, and talked with me for quite a while, taking a break in-between for batting practice.
I stood there, not watching BP for the first time, but struck by the beauty of watching Frank Thomas connect with a pitch. His days of posting 170+ OPS+ numbers were in the past, but his hitting was, just as it had to be in his peak, something apart from even the younger hitters on both the Blue Jays and Yankees there in the cage.
When I think of individual players I am likely to talk about to future generations, Frank Thomas, for these two reasons, will be high on that list.
CHRIS PUMMER: As a White Sox fan, it’s hard to describe how incredibly lucky I felt to see Thomas — likely the best player in the franchise’s history — compete in his prime.
When commentators talk about how the ballpark stands still and pays attention when certain players are at bat, it’s sometimes an exaggeration. It wasn’t with Thomas. Even later in his career, when his batting average dipped but the prodigious power remained, everyone took notice when The Big Hurt stepped to the plate.
It maybe wasn’t as dramatic when Barry Bonds or Mark McGuire chased home run records, but most observers are comfortable with the assertion that Thomas — long a vocal opponent of baseball’s chemical culture — wasn’t enhancing his skills with steroids like the aforementioned sluggers.
In a way that made Thomas’ defensive deficiencies at first base more palatable. He was simply doing what he could with what he had, adding only hard work.
And what he did with that natural talent and hard work was hit. With a career batting average of .301, an on-base percentage of .419 and 521 home runs, Thomas was such a well-rounded hitter that he should be as close to a Hall of Fame lock as there is, even with more games played at designated hitter than first base.
What’s more, Thomas began his career just before the dawn of the internet age helped spread advanced batting metrics. With his unreal ability to avoid making outs, he helped many fans conceptualize the value of OBP in an age where batting average and RBIs were currency of baseball analysis.
Now that controlling the strike zone and hitting for power are the coin of baseball’s scouts and statistical analysts, there should be no shortage of Thomas supporters when he lands on the Hall ballot.