Football coach's push put Frank Thomas on a HOF track

Football coach's push put Frank Thomas on a HOF track
January 11, 2014, 11:30 am
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All signs pointed toward the gridiron for a young Frank Thomas.

Had it not been for a legendary college football coach, the man who would later become “The Big Hurt” might have never landed in Cooperstown.

Not only did Thomas — who on Wednesday was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame — hail from SEC country, his massive frame earned him a scholarship and a chance to be a football star for Auburn University.

Ultimately, it was advice from College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye that led the tight end to convert to the diamond.

After he hit .359 with 21 home runs as a freshman All-American, Dye suggested Thomas stick with baseball.

“Football was my game,” Thomas said. “When I got to Auburn, I saw how deep the program was. Every position was four deep. But I could play baseball and I could play baseball at a high level. But I grew up down South and people didn’t care about baseball. It wasn’t the cool sport back then.”

[MORE: The Big Hurt's big moment]

The Columbus, Ga. Native didn’t immediately relent.

He returned to the football field for his sophomore season and suffered a pair of early injuries. That spring Thomas hit .385 with 54 RBIs for the Tigers baseball team.

By the time he was a junior, Thomas had developed into an elite baseball player, as he batted an SEC-leading .403 with 19 home runs.

In June 1989, the White Sox selected Thomas with the seventh overall pick in the amateur draft.

After a 19-year career in which he blasted 521 home runs, won a World Series and has now achieved baseball’s highest honor, Thomas is glad his coach offered his advice.

“Coach Dye told me at the time, ‘You might want to start thinking about baseball,'” Thomas said. “He told me that baseball could be my future. ‘We have three guys right there with you (in football), same talent and same spring. You have a special talent here in baseball and you might want to start thinking about that.’ He was right.”