White Sox Fan Favorites: Frank Thomas

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The Chicago White Sox have seen many players come and go over the last 100 years and more but only a few of these could be considered all-time greats. When you think of the White Sox franchise, what players immediately come to mind? Paul Konerko, A.J. Pyrzenski, Ron Kittle, Minnie Minoso.

One player that probably comes to mind for folks is Frank Thomas sometimes better known as The Big Hurt. Frank spent the majority of his major league career on the Southside and is beloved by the fans to this day as he should be. While not all fan favorites are all-time greats I would venture to put Frank Thomas in that category.

How It Started

Frank Thomas was born May 28th, 1968 in Columbus Georgia. Thomas was a two-sport high school star, starring in both baseball and football. In Thomas’ first year of eligibility for the MLB draft in 1986, he went undrafted and decided to enroll at Auburn University to play football. Thomas was an elite athlete in a huge 6’5″ 240-pound frame. I mention his specific frame because looking at Thomas now, one might think an offensive lineman or maybe a defensive lineman.

No, Frank Thomas played tight end at Auburn but managed only 3 catches his freshman year. Deciding to go ahead and give baseball another shot in the spring. Thomas was a standout at Auburn hitting a whopping .359. Frank went back to football the following fall at Auburn but ended up getting injured and never returned to the gridiron.

Thomas was named the Southeastern Conference Most Valuable Player in 1989 as a junior and would never play college baseball again. Thomas was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the draft that very summer with the seventh overall pick. It took Thomas only a year to make his big league debut and on August 2nd, 1990 at just 22 years old The Big Hurt did just that. Thomas went on to hit .330 as an August call-up in 1990 and never really looked back.

The Big Hurt

Thomas earned the nickname The Big Hurt from his tremendous size and the punishment he would hand out to opposing pitchers regularly. In his first full major league season of 1991, He put together a season to make quite an impression not only on the Southside and their fans, but baseball in general. Thomas hit .318 with 32 home runs and 109 RBI.

Thomas also led the league in walks that season leading to an outstanding league-leading .453 on-base percentage. He was just getting started. For the next 15 years, Thomas would lead the White Sox from first base and doing some DH work along the way. Thomas is a five-time all-star who finished his career slashing .301 / .419 / .555 over 19 years.

Thomas hit 521 home runs over his career and finished with a 156 OPS+. In what I believe to be Thomas’ most incredible statistical feat, he once had seven consecutive seasons with 20-plus homers, 100 RBI, 100 walks and a .300 average! Nobody in the history of baseball has done this. While the numbers are staggering, The Big Hurt meant much more than just what he did between the lines to the fans on the south side of Chicago.

The Fans

Thomas made a name for himself on the Southside that will last his lifetime and then some. I have 2 boys myself who never had the pleasure of watching Thomas play, they will tell you who Frank Thomas is and why he is important to the White Sox organization. I have found some evidence that Thomas was not the favorite of some of his teammates but neither was Michael Jordan. I spoke with several fans and asked some of them to give me some perspectives they had of Thomas and his time spent with the White Sox. One story from a fan particularly stuck and resonated with me as to who and what The Big Hurt was to the fans of the Sox.

Arnie Levitan shared, ” In the middle of September 1990, I received a photographer’s press pass for the final visit of the Red Sox to Old Comiskey. I had access to the clubhouses and dugouts before and after the game. I was even in the box behind home plate with the other photographers for the game itself. After batting practice wrapped up, I found half of the White Sox team in a small lounge area with vinyl sofas and a 12″ television very quietly watching a college football game.

It was a Sunday daytime game and I was just ignored. The last empty seat was next to me when Thomas came in and asked me, “Sir, may I sit next to you?” He was so completely business-like, respectful and not condescending at all. I didn’t have the nerve to try and start a conversation being that it was clearly the teams quiet time.”

This particular story rang my ears in a personal way as I have met a few professional athletes and they all have been somewhat condescending. While the athletes I have met were never in their prime and on top of the world this was at the beginning of Thomas’ run and could have went very differently.

While Thomas was, is, and always will be beloved on the Southside, unfortunately he could not finish his career there. Thomas moved on in 2006 where had short stints with both the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays finally retiring.

The Big Hurt seems to have been a complete professional and continues to be while doing pregame and postgame on NBC Sports Chicago for White Sox games and even has his own show, Hangin with Hurt.

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Andy is a huge White Sox fan who loves his family, baseball, and all things sports. Andy coaches youth baseball in his local community and passionately covers the White Sox for Overtime Heroics.