10.03.2006

Don't Big Hurt Me, Frank

Well, Frank Thomas went yard twice for the A's today in their victory over the Twins and Johan Santana. Watching him hit the second one, I couldn't help but be torn between impulses of happiness and hatred for him. Well, maybe hatred's too strong a term, but we'll get to that later.

Frank was, essentially, the reason I became a White Sox fan. In that sense, he'll always be incredibly important to me as a baseball fan. He saved me from being an Old Style swilling, frat boy ignorant Cubs fan. Let me explain. Born in Indiana in 1981, I was too young to appreciate Andre Dawson's phenomenal 1987 season, but by the time I started seriously playing and following baseball in the late '80s and early '90s, Andre was still cranking out great seasons. It would have been easy to be a Sandberg or Grace fan (particularly since I played the right side of the infield), but I think I was attracted to the Hawk's rocket arm and power numbers. Plus, my mom liked the cigarette smoking Grace (not for his smoking... I still don't think she knows about that) and the pretty-boy Sandberg. It's not cool to like the players your mom likes. Not when you're eight years old. So I followed Andre with a mild obsession, collecting his baseball cards, spending my allowance and lawn mowing money on an autographed rookie card, sending letters to him (he actually mailed me back a signed card), stalking him at baseball card shows for yet another autograph (there's a picture lying around somewhere of me with the Hawk), going to a Cubs game on his birthday and holding up a Happy Birthday sign, and dressing up as Andre at Halloween (there's a picture somewhere of my one and only innocent, if misguided, foray into blackface, too). And then, abruptly, after the 1992 season, the Hawk was gone, moving on to Boston and Florida to finish his career which was drawing quickly to a close.

Coincidentally, Frank Thomas was about to post consecutive MVP seasons in 1993 and 1994.
He made the transition from being a Cubs fan to a White Sox fan seamless. As a 12 year old kid, I had no guilt about suddenly switching teams. In reality, I was an Andre Dawson fan first and a Cubs fan second. But now that I'm a White Sox fan, I'm a White Sox fan for life. And that's thanks to Frank Thomas. Though there were some ups and downs, Frank was a world beater through 2000. Man, those were the years. Frank swingin' the rebar in the on-deck circle, hitting bombs in the Home Run Derby.

Then the new millennium hit, and the roller coaster ride began. 2001 was the triceps injury, limiting him to only 20 games. After 2002, the infamous diminished skills clause was invoked, thus allowing the White Sox to re-sign him as a (much cheaper) free agent. Then 2003 was the Renaissance Year, when Frank hit 42 homers (while only batting .267). But then 2004 and 2005 brought the foot injuries. Frank was always back and forth with the management--whether it was the contract issues, the injuries, his admission that he changed his approach at the plate to hit more home runs (batting average be damned), or whatever, Frank got typecast as being a dick. Or if not a dick, then a moron. A clubhouse cancer. A distraction. I always kinda felt bad for Frank about that stuff; he often seemed like he was taken advantage of and not appreciated. And it hurt him. Frank came off like a fragile, emotional guy with an oversized ego, which, for better or worse, made it harder for me to root for him.

When, by chance, Gage and I happened to see Black Jack McDowell's band Stick Figure a few years back, I convinced Gage to ask Black Jack if Frank was a douche bag (or something to that effect). Jack's answer was, if I remember correctly, "No, he's just misguided." Which made me sad. Misguided. This guy could've been a Chicago hero, and through a series of misguided events (both on the part of Frank and the organization), the relationship finally soured enough to let Frank go.

I was happy that Frank was able to share in the White Sox World Series celebration, no matter how awkward it was that he didn't even have an at-bat in the playoffs after being the face of the franchise for so long, no matter how awkward it was as he spoke at the parade's celebration rally to everyone who pretty much knew he wouldn't be back this year. And then it got ugly. Frank signed with A's (a move which I did and still do stand behind, no matter how weird it is to see him in an A's uniform; you couldn't expect the Sox to re-sign him with all the bad blood, injury issues, and when better options were present, no matter how much he meant for the past decade of White Sox baseball). Then Kenny Williams and Frank traded insults. Misguided. Macho. Stupid.

Frank got redemption late this season when he helped stick a dagger in the White Sox' playoff hopes. And now he has the satisfaction of hitting homers in the playoffs his old team wasn't good enough to make. I hope Frank wins another World Series this year (that'd give ex-Sox Esteban Loaiza a ring, too), and that he contributes to it in a significant way. That'd make me happy. Frank needs it, after his colossal 0-fer choke in the '00 playoffs against Seattle, and the emasculation of a team--a team I'm sure he saw as HIS team, possessive--winning the Series without him. I wish him the best. I just hope he's not wearing an Oakland hat when he goes in the Hall of Fame. That just wouldn't be right. No matter how dysfunctional Frank's 15 years with the White Sox was (and remains), both he and the organization need to overcome all the drama and make amends. I just hope they're man enough to do it. Watching Frank hit important home runs for the A's is bad enough; having to see that HOF plaque with a giant A on the hat would be so much worse.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's funny that you followed the same path I did except I was a Grace fan. I was a big White Sox fan during the years of Frank, Black Jack, Ventura, Fernandez, and Thigpen. Remember Bobby Thigpen? It was bandwagon jumping, but who cares. I had an early year Frank Thomas Topps Stadium Club card. It was my pride and joy.

~Jason

Gage said...

You and Frank should sit down over a bottle of white wine and sort this whole thing out. Ask if you can "swing his rebar."

trout said...

I'm more of a red wine man myself. But I would like nothing more than to swing Frank's rebar.

Notorious B.O.B. said...

The Big Frank situation was a lose-lose one this offseason for the Sox. If we gave him another 1 year extension he would have stayed lazy and disgruntled. But with Oakland he was on a mission to stick it to Kenny Williams. So, as a Sox fan, good for him. The reason the Sox missed the playoffs this year was bad pitching and fundamentals, not the absence of the Big Hurt.

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