Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas’ Retirement Leaves a Big Hole In Baseball’s Heart.

At 6’5″ and 260 pounds, Frank Thomas was one of the most intimidating hitters in the history of baseball.

Perhaps no athlete in sports better embodied his nickname than Frank Thomas. Dubbed “the Big Hurt” by his teammates and the media, the gargantuan Thomas (a former tight-end at Auburn) towered over the baseball landscape as the best right-handed hitter for nearly a decade. The two-time MVP possessed a rare combination of prodigious power and plate discipline that made him one of the most feared sluggers of the 1990’s.

Along with Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez, Thomas was part of a group of young stars that led a revival of the home run during the early 90’s, peaking in the strike-shortened 1994 season in which he hit 39 longballs in only 399 at bats. Thomas finished his career with 521 home runs, good enough for 18th all-time, though the Big Hurt’s game was much more than just big flys.

A disciplined hitter who led the American League in walks four times, Thomas’ knowledge of the strike zone was nearly unparalleled among his peers. His 1,667 walks rank 9th all-time, and combined with his .301 batting average, result in a robust .419 career OBP (21st all-time, just behind Mickey Mantle and ahead of Stan Musial and Edgar Martinez).

Though the later part of his career was marred by injuries (joining Griffey Jr. in the “what if” club), the Big Hurt still finished 15th all-time in OPS, 25th in slugging, 22nd in RBI’s and 26th in extra-base hits. Sure he made David Ortiz look like John Olerud at first base, and yeah he ran with all the grace of a bewildered water buffalo, but Thomas owned home plate with a modern-day Thor’s hammer. Frank Thomas didn’t just hit baseballs…he destroyed them.

Even more impressive than all the numbers Thomas accumulated is the fact that he played baseball the right way, refusing to substitute shortcuts or supplements for hard work. Despite being a home run hitter in the scandal-filled steroids era, the Big Hurt has never been linked to PED’s and was one of baseball’s most outspoken players about steroids, calling for strict punishments of convicted cheaters.

Frank Thomas retired from baseball as one of the 15-20 greatest hitters of all-time. His numbers alone make him a Hall-of-Fame candidate, but it’s his integrity that ensures he will go in on the first ballot. Happy trails Big Hurt; baseball was a better sport because of you.

Immortalized in Bronze? A Look At This Year’s Hall-of-Fame Ballot First Timers

Roberto Alomar has the numbers of a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Roberto Alomar: The best second baseman of the 90’s, Roberto Alomar was a model of consistency both offensively and defensively, winning 10 Gold Gloves (the most ever by a 2B) and capturing four Silver Sluggers during his illustrious career. The 12-time All-Star collected 2,724 hits, 504 doubles, 210 HR’s, 1,134 RBI’s, 474 stolen bases and hit an even .300 in his 17-year playing tenure with the Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, Indians, Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks. Delivering surprising pop and excellent speed for a middle infielder, Alomar is one of the most decorated second baseman in the history of the game and compares favorably to another recent Hall-of-Famer at his position, Ryne Sandberg. The native of Puerto Rico captured two World Series titles with Toronto in 1992 and 1993, hitting .480 in the ’93 Fall Classic and finishing with a .318 career postseason average. If there’s a knock against Alomar’s candidacy it would be an embarrassing incident in 1996 when he spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck, leading to a five game suspension. However, in an era of rampant steroid abuse and numerous other off-field transgressions, Alomar’s moment of stupidity probably won’t cost him that many votes. His numbers speak for themselves…Alomar is one of the game’s best second baseman ever. Verdict: First Ballot Hall-of-Famer

Barry Larkin: Barry Larkin was the preeminent shortstop of the National League in the 1990’s, making eight All-Star appearances in the decade. Born in Cincinnati, Larkin attended the same high school as Ken Griffey Jr and played the entirety of his 19-year career with the Reds after being selected fourth overall in 1985. Larkin’s tenure with Cincinnati was highlighted by his selection as the NL MVP in 1995 (.319-15 HR’s-66 RBI’s-51 SB’s), but he also thrived defensively, capturing three Gold Gloves at SS. Despite the fact that he won nine Silver Sluggers during his career, Larkin never led the league in a single offensive category, and his career numbers (.295-198 HR’s-960 RBI’s-379 SB’s) aren’t that overwhelming. He was a very good player for a long time, but the Hall-of-Fame was created for greatness. Verdict: Outside looking in

Edgar swung a mean stick, but will his lack of time in the field cost him a shot at the Hall?

Edgar Martinez: The only man who could legitimately challenge Ken Griffey Jr. as the most beloved player in Seattle Mariners’ history, Edgar Martinez helped to save a franchise on the brink with his steady presence and clutch hitting (his game winning double in the 1995 ALCS against New York is one of the best postseason moments of the past 20 years). Martinez was one of the game’s finest right-handed hitters, finishing his career with 2,247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 HR’s, 1,261 RBI’s and a .312 lifetime batting average. His career .418 OBP is 22nd all-time, placing him ahead of Hall-of-Famers Stan Musial, Mel Ott and Hank Greenberg, while his OPS is the 34th best in the history of baseball. “Gar” was a 7-time All-Star, 5-time Silver Slugger and 2-time AL Batting Champion (1992 and 1995) while playing his entire 18-year career in Seattle. The main argument against Martinez is that he accumulated the majority of his stats as a designated hitter, but he did so well enough that the award for the best DH is now named after him. The fact that he was never associated with steroids helps his cause, as does voters willingness to consider “newer” statistics like OBP and OPS in which Martinez excelled. Leaving a player out of the Hall-of-Fame simply because he didn’t play in the field seems like quite an injustice, especially if players who made their living almost solely defensively (Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, etc.) or couldn’t field at all but hit well (Jim Rice, Paul Molitor, etc.), have been enshrined in Cooperstown. Verdict: Hall-of-Famer, but not in 2010

Fred McGriff: When he retired in the middle of the 2004 season, Fred McGriff fell just short of the mythical 500-HR plateau, finishing with 493 career longballs (although he could still pull a Bernie Mac and return for one last shot at glory ala Mr. 3000). Much like Larkin, McGriff was a good player for an extended period of time, making five All-Star teams and winning three Silver Sluggers. The Crime Dog was a consistent run producer with eight seasons of 100+ RBI’s and 10 seasons in which he hit 30 or more HR’s, although he never hit more than 36 in any one year. His career numbers (.284-493 HR’s-1,550 RBI’s-2,490 hits) are certainly impressive, but McGriff never finished in the top-3 of MVP voting, and is 8th all-time in strikeouts. There have been worse selections in the history of Cooperstown (Ted Lyons?), but McGriff isn’t quite worthy of joining baseball’s most exclusive fraternity. Verdict: Close but no cigar