Cooperstown, NY -- It’s a speech Frank Thomas has been working on for four months-- at his home, in hotels, in Chicago, Los Angeles, Cooperstown, and aboard airplanes flying all over America since the baseball season began.
“I didn’t want to write too much at a time,” Thomas said in an interview 24 hours before his Hall of Fame induction. “I would write one minute here, two minutes there, and make sure it’s meaningful.”
Due to the extraordinary Class of 2014, which also includes Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox, Thomas is supposed to keep his induction speech to a maximum of 10 minutes.
Sorry Hall of Fame, but that’s not going to happen.
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Thomas arrived at Cooperstown thinking his speech was right on the money, but once he timed it, the whole thing came out to 14 minutes. That doesn’t include the deep breaths and the tears.
And he can’t go back now.
So, what can you expect?
It’s a speech that will be short on stories, but very big on thank you’s.
The Hall of Fame might be his final baseball destination, but for a player like Frank, he remembers the journey. From his hometown of Columbus, Georgia to his second hometown of Chicago and all the stops in between and after, there are people who helped shape Frank Thomas, and make him the player he was and the man he is today.
This speech is for them.
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And now that induction day is almost here, the enormity of the moment has arrived.
“This is the finale, this is the pinnacle,” said Thomas, his eyes widening as if he can actually see tomorrow unfold.
Since arriving here in Cooperstown and seeing all the familiar faces of his 46 years, it’s not really a baseball reunion or a family reunion.
It’s more like a life reunion.
“Hometown newspapers, hometown cameras, Chicago, Oakland, Toronto. This has been my career. I’m thankful because most players don’t get to do this. You’ve got to take a deep breath some time and realize it’s starting to set in.”
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As the symbolizing slugger who played the game clean during the steroid era, he could easily work the crowd into a frenzy on Sunday by firing shots at the PED-users who have cheated the game. But since they already tainted the game, why let them invade his speech?
Expect Frank’s steroid comments to be brief. In fact, he might sum it all up in just one word
Thomas never took any. Others did. That’s the dividing line between him and the Mark McGwire’s of the world who may never see this day in Cooperstown for themselves.
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Sunday, Thomas will represent the first power-hitter from the steroid era to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Is this vindication?
“Of course it’s vindication. I lost a lot in that era. MVPs, big contracts, I lost a lot,” Thomas said. “My 40 (home runs) and 120 (RBIs) started to look normal there for a minute and people thought I was underachieving. I knew from day one the work I put into it.”
Thomas then spots former Atlanta Brave Ron Gant standing nearby.
“We’ve got a Ronnie Gant over there. He knows when I first got in the league 30 home runs and 100 RBIs meant you were a great, great player. Not a good player, but a great player.”
Frank reached the 30-100 plateau in 9 different seasons. He was 1 homer away in 1998 from doing it 10 times.
Sunday, he’ll make a Hall of Fame induction speech for the first and only time. He better have some tissues handy.
“I’m going to try to keep it together. It’s going to be hard. Maybe I’ll take a valium or something,” he said. “It’s a possibility it could be a teary ceremony. Hopefully, I get through it with no tears. Hopefully, the tears come at the end so I can finish my speech.”