Sox Drawer: What still hurts the Big Hurt?

Sox Drawer: What still hurts the Big Hurt?
August 26, 2010, 11:45 pm

Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010
6:46 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Youve seen Frank Thomas hit. Youve seen him run. Youve seen him throw.

Now get ready to see the man cry.

Sunday is Frank Thomas Day at U.S. Cellular Field, an event honoring the White Sox all-time greatest hitter, who gave gallons of blood, sweat, and tears to the franchise for 16 seasons.

Now that hes retired, the blood and sweat are gone. All thats left are the tears.

Im going to try and keep a straight face, but its going to be hard, Thomas said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. I know the emotions are going to be flowing (on Sunday). Its going to be difficult.

So yes, there is crying in baseball. Its happened to Thomas before, but for an entirely different reason.

The 1994 baseball strike.

The infamous labor catastrophe that abrupty canceled the season might have robbed Thomas and the White Sox of a World Series title. It still hurts the Big Hurt, a gash that remains inside his heart, a wound that might never heal.

It was heartbreaking, because I was at my best that year, Thomas remembers. I had everything rolling. My mind was just in a great place. For that to happen, I had to pick up the pieces just like everybody else. But its been tough to swallow over the last 16 years.

On Aug. 10, the White Sox were in first place, 21 games over .500, predicted by most to be the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series. Besides Thomas, the Sox lineup featured Robin Ventura, Tim Raines, Julio Franco, Lance Johnson, and Ozzie Guillen. The starting rotation had Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, and Jason Bere.

That team to me had it all, Thomas said. Hitting, pitching, defense. We were just a very talented bunch, and we had gelled together because of the disappointment of the 1993 playoffs (losing in the ALCS to Toronto in six games). We were ready to go all the way.

And Frank? He wasnt tearing the cover off the ball that season, he consistently severed and slashed it. He was batting .353, with an on-base percentage of .494, the highest since Ted Williams in 1957. He also had 38 homers and 101 RBIs.

But after beating the As in Oakland 2-1, Frank and everyone else were told to pack their bags and go home. The season was over. The league was shutting down.

Frank sat at his locker that night and cried.

I did because I knew it was my last game of the season, and because I knew that I was at my best. I said to myself that night, I dont think I can ever play at that level again, and have everything go my way. The hits were getting through, hitting behind runners, home runs, scoring runs, everything was just right where it needed to be.

It was a tough pill to swallow, about the size of a donut, which would ironically be repeated in 2005, when the White Sox won the World Series with Franks foot strapped to a cast, the slugger lost for the season with a fractured ankle.

He couldnt win, even when the White Sox did.

It was tough, Thomas said. On one side I was so happy for the organization, on the other side I was just torn, because I was sitting there going, How can we finally get to the World Series after all of this, and Im not playing. But this was my heart. This was 16 years of hard work, and I saw this team go from a bottom feeder to the top of the heap and it was such an amazing thing to be through all of that, because a lot of the guys on the team had no idea. (Before) nobody wanted to watch this team, no one wanted to put this team on TV, but to be World Series champions from there, and I was able to be there year in and year out through it all, it made my life.

Today, Franks baseball life is pretty full. Earlier this summer he became an official White Sox ambassador. Hes also spent the season on the set with Bill Melton and I as an analyst on White Sox Pre and Post-Game Live. As much as Id like to think that my presence has been a life altering experience for Frank, and that he will remain with Comcast SportsNet from here to eternity, he has other ideas for his baseball future.

How does manager Frank Thomas sound?

Of course I could manage. I think I could easily manage. I think I would be a great hitting coach, but at this particular time, Im happy with what Im doing, and well see. Working with young guys my last five years in the league, thats all I did day-to-day, was helping young guys with hitting situations, and getting them through tough times.

But now that his playing days are over, there is one goal that has yet to be fulfilled - induction into the Hall of Fame. Hes eligible in 2014.

Its in the back of my mind. Thats a goal of everyone after the first few years in the league and youve had success. Everyone wants to be compared to the greatest who have played in this game. To ever get the opportunity to be a Hall of Famer, I would be overwhelmed and overjoyed and a proud member, because I do know what it takes to get to that level because I put myself through it.

Now if he can only get through Sundays ceremony without weeping. That might be his greatest accomplishment.