It felt like a constant argument in the city of Chicago back in the 90’s as to whom had the better first baseman, the Sox or the Cubs? Mark Grace or Frank Thomas, who would you rather have? Now that I look back at it, it seems silly that I was even baited into defending Thomas as “The First Baseman” of Chicago in the 90s, but I did tirelessly. Cubs’ fans often referred to Thomas as the “Big Skirt” because from time to time he was known to speak freely to the media without reservation or regard. He never took the easy the road by answering any question with the politically correct answer, instead he answered with integrity as to how he really felt.
This often lead to criticism, but it never effected the end result for Thomas, productive numbers. For me, this past Sunday’s induction into the Baseball of Home as a first ballot selection was vindication for my decades worth of defense of Thomas. I didn’t know what to expect from Thomas’ speech on Sunday other than the truth. What Thomas ended up delivering was not only about baseball, but about the tumultuous journey that included the death of his father, a nearly career ending injury, a divorce, a second marriage, and a rebirth courtesy of good management.
After suffering through two very injury plagued seasons in 2004 and 2005 with the Sox, the Oakland A’s and baseball saved Frank Thomas from early extinction and brought him out of his dark period. He clubbed 39 homers for the A’s including 7 in a 9 game span in September to help Oakland win the division. Baseball is an amazing sport that has the power to heal not just players, but also fans. As Thomas wore his emotions on his sleeve about the loss of his dad and “dark period” of his life, I too reflected on a period of my life where baseball was the only thing that made sense to me.
In 2005, I lost my first wife to cancer, and was struggling through life and then the unthinkable happened. The team that the geniuses at Baseball Prospectus picked to win 70 games won the World Series. The magical season that the White Sox gave to me in 2005 shed the brightest light on the darkest moments that I ever faced. Baseball is amazing and to listen to Thomas be completely human on Sunday was one of the most amazing speeches I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.
I too, like Thomas was not just saved by baseball but my beautiful wife, and we now have two beautiful children. Had the White Sox not provided me such hope and reward in 2005 who knows where I would be today.
For Thomas, he did not have the opportunity to play in the playoffs in 2005, but he did get a ring. Knowing how emotional I was over the White Sox winning the World Series I can only imagine what Thomas must have felt. So Frank, thank you for the wonderful years on the Southside and thank you for never wavering and being bigger than the game.