posted on Jan, 25 2006 @ 04:19 PM
Oh, no, not another one.
This is another guy who, like I said on the Piazza thread, could embarrass himself and his great legacy if he's not careful. Like Piazza, he is very
tall (a liability) and very big (a bad combination, where baseball longevity is concerned). And also like Piazza, he's already 37 years old--and an
old 37 because of his size.
He, not Griffey or Bonds, was almost every expert's choice for the greatest hitter of the 1990's, and really, neither Griffey nor Bonds was close. No
less an expert than Bill James made the extraordinary remark that Thomas had a chance to be remembered in the same historical company as Babe Ruth
and Ted Williams. Where hitting is concerned, of course, that's as good as it gets.
In his first 10 full seasons, Thomas:
-----Drew over 100 walks nine times, despite that strike zone. Those walks turned into a lot of runs at the expense of zero outs;
-----Hit 337 HR;
-----Had only one year with an on-base percentage below .414 (!);
-----Had six of ten seasons with slugging averages over .600, including one at .729, the first slugging average over .700 since 1957 (Ted Williams, at
-----Hand NINE out of 10 seasons over 100 RBI's, and nobody could call those White Sox teams juggernauts, much less call New Comiskey a hitter's
paradise with its long foul lines;
-----Had 3 firsts, 1 second and 3 thirds in RBI's.
NOW, do I think James went overboard in saying Thomas had a chance to be another Babe Ruth or Teddy Ballgame until he fell off in 2001? God, yes.
Babe Ruth led the A.L. in home runs 12 times in 14 years and slugging 13 times in 14 years (not a misprint); Frank Thomas has accomplished those feats
0 and 1 times, respectively. Babe Ruth had--you'll want to get ready for this one--three different seasons in which he hit more HR's than any
other American League TEAM. Nobody today would be allowed to do that, of course, and nobody could, anyway, considering the number of home runs
Now, I know Babe Ruth stats very well, because that's obligatory for a baseball history nut. And y'all may know them pretty well before this coming
season is over. But trust me, even making all sorts of adjustments for different eras, Frank Williams was never going to be another Babe Ruth. And
he wasn't going to win two triple crowns, have a .482 CAREER on-base average and bat .406 for a season, nor was he going to win six batting titles, 12
on-base titles and 9 slugging titles, or even come close to doing those things. So he wasn't going to be anything like Ted Williams #2.
But he was a very, very, very good hitter, and I've never heard anything to indicate he's tainted by you-know-what. In fact, his performances
in the past five years (see below) seem to suggest otherwise.
Even with the big fall-off in recent years, he has a .427 LIFETIME on-base average. That's one of the best of all time, with only seven 20th Century
players of 10 or more seasons ahead of him--not counting Bonds, which is how I'm going to approach these things. And the last of those seven to
retire was Ted Williams, after the 1960 season! (Williams, Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Cobb, Foxx and Speaker are the complete 7, in that order.) And he
has a .568 lifetime slugging average--higher than Mays, Mantle and Aaron--which has gone DOWN during the last five years, while all the steroid
cheats' averages have soared. His on-base average has really plummeted in the past 5 years, even though it's still good enough to be #8 all-time,
post-1900. As I recall, it was either #3 or #4; I can't recall if he was ahead of Gehrig or not.
I really don't want to see this great player embarrass his legacy. He has made over $86,000,000 already, not counting the considerable fortune he's
made in endorsements because the only better player of the 1990's is so hateable nobody wants him endorsing their stuff.
FRANK, YOU ARE THE KIND OF GUY WHO COULD REALLY EMBARRASS YOURSELF, GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY. You could play another 8 years, probably, with the last 5
or so being as a bench player who comes up and takes clumsy, Kingmanesque hacks at the ball, but absolutely murders it when he connects (a la
Kingman). But what a sad way that would be to end such a great career.
You've got the bucks, and they'll surely last you and yours as long as needed. You've got the glory, and in a game where the sport's history is so
big, that will last decades, if not centuries, after you are gone. Don't tarnish your legacy like Steve Carlton or, dare I say it, Willie Mays by
sticking around painfully too long.