Frank Thomas is headed to Cooperstown.
Or so say the early exit polls.
Of the 133 ballots publicly cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America as of Monday morning, baseballthinkfactory.org said the former White Sox slugger has been included on 91.7 percent, well above the 75 percent mark required to gain entry into Baseball’s National Hall of Fame.
Whether or not Thomas, who is on the ballot for the first time this year, receives the call on Wednesday after the rest of the more than 600 ballots is counted remains to be seen. But were he not to be inducted into the Hall next July, several of Thomas’ former teammates would believe voters have made an oversight.
“It would be a terrible miscarriage of justice if Frank is not in that class,” White Sox chairman and owner Jerry Reinsdorf said last month at the winter meetings. “What I’m concerned about is there might be some writers who say ‘I don’t want a DH to go in the first time.’ But Frank was a position player for a lot of his career. DH is a position. Frank was probably the best hitter of his era. I’m hopeful he goes in, but you never know.”
A first-round pick out of Auburn in 1989, Thomas hit from the day he arrived in the majors in 1990 and didn’t stop in a career that spanned 19 seasons.
He is a two-time Most Valuable Player, had five top-5 finishes in MVP voting, including a fourth-place finish at age 38 for the 2006 Oakland A’s, and smacked 521 home runs. He also drove in 1,704 runs, which ranks 22nd in baseball history, and finished his career with 2,468 hits and 1,494 runs.
A four-time Silver Slugger and five-time All-Star, Thomas hit .301 and finished his career with a .555 slugging percentage. He managed those figures despite drawing the 10th most walks in major league history.
While his numbers appear to make him a lock, a loaded ballot could hinder Thomas’ first bid.
With a number of holdovers after no players were inducted in 2013, and two other strong first-timers in Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, the ballot is full of talented players with gaudy numbers. Of course, unlike several of their counterparts, Thomas, Maddux and Glavine were never suspected of using performance enhancing-drugs in an era dominated by usage.
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“He should be a slam dunk, I would think,” former teammate Jack McDowell said. “Everything you’re reading, Maddux, Glavine and him are the slam dunks. The rest of them, who knows? I don’t know how the vote’s going to go.”
As Reinsdorf points out, Thomas could also be hurt by the fact he was a DH for the majority of his career. Thomas appeared in 2,322 games in his career, but only 971 were in the field.
Over the years players that have attempted to enter the Hall as a DH have had a stigma attached to their campaign. Thomas could potentially be hurt by the combination of a full ballot along with 58 percent of his games played as a DH.
“Numbers speak for themselves,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I don’t ever think there’s been a class as good as this as far as qualified guys for pitchers and hitters. Frank is one of the better hitters in the league and in the top five. It will be interesting to see in that he played a lot of time at DH. Hopefully that becomes a viable position to get to the Hall. It is a position.”
Reinsdorf stands by his belief: Thomas is a Hall of Famer through and through.
Were he to be inducted this year, Thomas would be the first player since the veteran’s committee posthumously inducted Nellie Fox in 1997 to go into Cooperstown wearing a White Sox hat (inducted in 2000, Carlton Fisk wore a Red Sox hat). Reinsdorf would love nothing better than for the ‘Big Hurt’ to go into the Hall of Fame alongside former White Sox manager Tony LaRussa, who was unanimously inducted along with Joe Torre and Bobby Cox by the expansion era committee last month.
“I’m really hopeful,” Reinsdorf said. “It would be incredible.”