Jobu Ponders if Frank Thomas could finally bring down the door that gets Edgar Martínez into the Hall of Fame.
As you all know, nobody got into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame this year. It was the first time nobody on the ballot got in since 1996 (Joe Neikro led the ballot with 68%) and only the second time since 1961 (Yogi Berra topped players with 67% in 1971). Considering this year’s class included two members of the 3,000 hit club, four members of the 500 home run club (Rafael Palmeiro is in both) and three other members of the 400 home run club, not to mention Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, it’s kind of a big deal that no one got in. So what do we have to look forward to in 2014? Maybe the pioneer the league’s Designated Hitters need to bust that door down for them. Will Frank Thomas get in?
For years, guys like Edgar Martínez, Harold Baines and Dave Parker have heard that they weren’t good enough for the Hall of Fame because they didn’t play the field in their major league careers. Of those men, only Martínez still has a chance to be voted into the Hall of Fame by the writers (Parker is eligible for the veterans committee starting in 2014), but there are plenty of guys that might run into that same roadblock in the future. Guys like David Ortiz and Jim Thome need someone to kick the door down for them. I think Frank Thomas is that man.
Like most DHs, Thomas started his career in the field. The White Sox drafted the mammoth 6’5″, 240 lb Thomas out of Auburn with the seventh overall pick in the June 1989 amateur draft. Just 14 months later, he was showing every other big league club his Hall of Fame caliber bat. Thomas was called up in August of 1990, and played 60 games for the White Sox the rest of the way, hitting .330/.454/.529 and socking seven homers with 31 RBI. It was just a sign of things to come for Thomas.
The very next year, at just 23 years of age, “The Big Hurt” hit .318/.453/.553 with 32 bombs and had his first of eight straight 100 RBI seasons. He seemingly just got better and better, winning consecutive MVPs in 1993 and 1994, and helping the White Sox become contenders in the AL Central. It’s hard to pinpoint Thomas’ best season. Was it one of those MVP seasons? Was it the year he hit .353? How about in 2000, when he hit 43 homers and drove in 143 runs? Some could even argue that the 2006 season, when he hit .270/.381/.545 with 39 homers and 114 RBI at age 38 with the Oakland A’s (after a messy divorce with the GM Kenny Williams and the White Sox), was his most impressive campaign. It’s really hard to say.
By the time he played his last game at the age of 40 with Oakland (after a couple years in Toronto) in 2008, Thomas had racked up 521 career home runs and 1,704 RBI. While he only ended up with 2,468 hits, he might have reached 3,000 if not for a couple of lost seasons due to injury (2001, 2005) and his incredible plate discipline (1,667 walks). His career slash line of .301/.419/.555 isn’t half bad either.
Based on numbers alone, Thomas is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Not only does he have impressive numbers, he was among the best hitters in the game for the entire decade of the 1990s, and even a couple of the 2000s. Longevity and domination are HOF worthy. The problem is that Thomas played mostly DH from 1998 on. That’s ten of his 19 major league seasons. If you think like most baseball writers, if he hadn’t switched to DH, he probably wouldn’t have lasted long enough to reach the 500 home run club, or put up some of the other impressive numbers he ended up with.
Personally, I think that’s crap. The DH was created because, for the most part, pitchers are terrible hitters. The American League wanted to fortify their lineups, boost offenses and put more butts in the seat. When you’re a DH, you’re there to hit the ball. Guys like Thomas and Martínez were born to hit the ball. They became so good at hitting that they were able to use the DH position to overcome their defensive shortcomings and stick around baseball. They terrorized opposing pitchers for their entire careers, and helped their teams succeed in the standings. Why should they be judged any differently than a guy who played the field? Defensive abilities or not, they were the best at their positions, and should be recognized as such.
I think Thomas will end up in the Hall. I’m not saying that his entry will directly lead to the induction of Martínez and, in the future, of Ortiz and Thome (who should get in based on his 600 home runs alone), but it should help these guys get a much needed foot in the door. Here’s hoping to see Frank giving a big speech in 2014.
Featured image courtesy of: USA TODAY Sports
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