Frank Thomas, the 6-5, 275 slugger aptly nicknamed "The Big Hurt," became just the 21st member of the 500 home run club on Thursday. The 500 home run club used to be one of the most glamorous in all of sports--at least until it became apparent that several of its newest members gained admission by chemically enhancing their performances. There has never been a hint of such scandal associated with Thomas and he has long been in the forefront of the players who have called for more stringent drug testing policies. It is most unfortunate if his authentic accomplishment is tainted or diminished in anyone's view simply because Thomas played during baseball's "steroids era." In fact, the timing of his career should actually serve to increase our appreciation for what he has done, for Thomas has put up tremendous numbers while competing not only against juicing sluggers but also, most likely, against power pitchers who juiced, too. Neither Thomas' numbers nor his physique underwent any suspicious changes during the time when other players' heads, bodies and statistics literally ballooned to cartoonish proportions.
The other important thing to note about Thomas is that he has always been much more than just a home run hitter. Thomas won back to back AL MVPs in 1993-94 and finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting each year from 1991-97. He rebounded from a couple down years to have another great season in 2000, winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award and placing second in MVP voting to Jason Giambi, who since has admitted to being a steroids user. Injuries cut short Thomas' 2001, 2004 and 2005 campaigns but he had a great 2006 season, placing fourth in AL MVP voting and second in AL Comeback Player of the Year voting. On Thursday's SportsCenter, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian listed just some of Thomas' remarkable achievements as a hitter:
1) The only players other than Thomas to hit 500 home runs while also boasting a .300 career batting average are Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams and Mel Ott.
2) Thomas is one of just 22 players in Major League Baseball history who has a .300 career batting average, a .400 career on base percentage and a .500 career slugging average.
3) Thomas has the third highest on base percentage ever for a right handed hitter, trailing only Rogers Hornsby and Jimmie Foxx.
4) In Thomas' first three full seasons he never went more than eight consecutive plate appearances without getting on base.
5) Thomas hit .318 with 32 home runs, 109 RBI and 138 walks in his first full season; no player has had that good of an average combined with totals that high in each of those categories in his first full season since Ted Williams.
6) Since 1963, only Jeff Bagwell had more RBI in his first 10 seasons than Thomas did.
Kurkjian added that current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen once called Thomas the best hitter that he's ever seen. Kurkjian concluded his ESPN piece by saying that Thomas should easily have been considered a first ballot Hall of Famer even before he belted his 500th home run. Perhaps Thomas put it best in his postgame press conference after his milestone home run, firing a not so thinly veiled shot across the bow of several of his contemporaries: "It means a lot to me because I did it the right way."