Hall of Fame Confidential
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Remembering The Big Hurt
Cooperstown, NY — A few people have asked me to pass along some of my memories of working with soon-to-be official Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. I started with the White Sox on July 22, 1991, so Frank was actually the last active Sox player to pre-date my arrival (which I guess only means that I am old). As I thought about my experiences with the greatest right-handed hitter I ever saw day-in and day-out, my memories tended to come back as quick bullet points, so here they are:
– His immense size upon meeting him. He is a large man.
– His big smile.
– His ability, early in his career, to hit breaking balls as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen.
– His raw strength. The ball just kept going when he hit it.
– Frank’s natural tendency to hit the ball with power to right center field, especially early in his career.
– Just how good he was during his MVP seasons.
– His incredible patience at the plate.
– His streak of reaching base, not just in consecutive games but consecutive plate appearances.
– Frank’s photo shoot with Sports Illustrated in the batting cage.
– His famous back-to-back photo shoot with Ken Griffey Jr. that also appeared in SI.
– His “Big Hurt” logo and Reebok line of shoes.
– His Home Run Derby performance in Pittsburgh at the All-Star Game.
– His ASG home run in Texas, the first by a Sox player.
– His long home run off the railing in left center field.
– Looking through the old Baseball Encyclopedia, along with colleague Dan Fabian, as we searched for other players to have generated the stats Frank did (this exercise took us days in the 1990s; now it could be done in seconds on a computer).
– The impressive list of names we did compile … Williams, Gehrig, Ruth, Foxx.
– His deserving of a third MVP Award in 2000.
– His ability to hit long, majestic home runs to left field later in his career.
– His tendon injury to his arm.
– Frank on the field in Houston celebrating a World Series Championship.
– His two home-run return to U.S. Cellular Field as an opposing player.
– Working with Frank as we planned his sculpture.
– His reaction when we unveiled that sculpture in left field at U.S. Cellular Field.
– Meeting with Frank to discuss the Hall of Fame vote.
– The reaction of Frank and his family and their excitement the day the Hall of Fame called.
– Looking forward to tomorrow as Frank takes his well-deserved spot among baseball’s greats.
Strolling down Main Street in Cooperstown yesterday afternoon among thousands of fans dressed in caps and jerseys of almost every big-league team, it was still easy to spot White Sox fans, who were out in full force in earth’s version of baseball heaven. Where else would you find Yastrzemski Sports, the Where It All Began Bat Co., the Doubleday Cafe, the Short Stop Restaurant, Baseballism Cooperstown and the Seventh Inning Stretch, pictured below?
And in different locations on Main Street and around the corner on Pioneer Street, baseball legends were signing autographs. During the time I was there, Orlando Cepeda, Wade Boggs, Tom Lasorda, Darryl Strawberry, Dale Murphy, Gaylord Perry, Reggie Jackson, Lou Brock and Doc Gooden were all available for their John Hancock. And in front of the CVS Pharmacy, of all places, there were Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal and Rickey Henderson.
Will the Real Frank Thomas Please Stand Up?
Perhaps the most confusing moment of the day was hearing someone yelling out that the “Original Frank Thomas” was signing at a nearby Main Street storefront (pictured below in the Pirates’ cap). For those of a certain age, you’ll remember there was indeed another quality major leaguer named Frank Thomas, an outfielder/first baseman/third baseman who was a three-time National League All-Star and hit 286 homers in 16 major-seasons with seven NL teams in the 1950s and 1960s.
I’m sure it was a bit confusing for the fans, especially on the same weekend that our Frank Thomas is being inducted into the Hall. But that Frank seemed to be having a good time.
Honey, We’re Spending our Anniversary in Cooperstown
George and Becky Wilcox of Darien, IL and their three children were planning on spending their 12th wedding anniversary tomorrow, July 27, on vacation in California–until that is, The Big Hurt was elected to the Hall of Fame in January.
Both long-time Sox fans, George and Becky quickly changed their plans to make a trip to the east coast and made sure they would be in Cooperstown when Frank was inducted.
“Being here is special,” George said while taking in the sights and sounds of Main Street yesterday. “We’re fortunate to be alive when the greatest player in Sox history goes into the Hall of Fame. I wanted us to share it as a family.”
The Wilcox kids are 10-year-old daughter Gracie, eight-year-old son A.G. and six-year-old daughter Anna. Being of a younger generation, their favorite player is Paul Konerko and they are hoping there is another trip to Cooperstown in their future.
Oh, by the way, if you think their pilgrimage here is the consummate definition of Sox loyalty, the following might top it. George, a sportswriter for the Pioneer Press, and Becky, a high school teacher at Hinsdale Central, were married at U.S. Cellular Field, then known as New Comiskey Park.
Happy Anniversary and many more to the Wilcoxes, pictured below:
A group of Sox staffers who are here to document the color and excitement of Induction Weekend via photographs, video and social media are staying in three private houses in the center of town. And they couldn’t have better neighbors. Next door to two of the homes is a house where former Thomas teammates Aaron Rowand and A.J. Pierzynski and their families arranged to stay while here to honor Frank. As I posted yesterday, Aaron, A.J. and Jermaine Dye all attended a party for Frank last night.
As you may have heard, A.J.’s stay in Cooperstown was short-lived as was his stint on the unemployment line. He left late yesterday afternoon to join the St. Louis Cardinals, who happen to be in Chicago playing the Cubs. Something tells me Frank will understand.
The Wisdom of Buck O’Neil
In 2008, the Hall of Fame honored the legacy of Buck O’Neil, a legend in the Negro Leagues whose contributions to baseball spanned eight decades, with the creation of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. O’Neil was the first recipient, which is given every three years. Former Sox GM Roland Hemond was the winner in 2011 and this year’s honoree is Joe Garagiola.
In anticipation of Sunday’s acceptance speeches, here is O’Neil’s priceless speech when he was honored in ’08 with the award named after him.
Meanwhile in Minneapolis…
Good news travels fast and all of us were happy to see that the Sox won their second straight against the Twins last night, 9-5, while collecting 17 hits. It was our 50th win of the season.
Plays of the Day: John Danks won his ninth game of the year, tossing seven solid innings. Jose Abreu hit a three-run homer, his 30th, and Alexei Ramirez (No. 9) and Tyler Flowers (No. 6) hit solo shots.
Photo/Video of the Day
ESPN Insiders pay tribute to the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 (artwork courtesy of ESPN).