By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) I grew up in Bourbonnais, which at 55 miles is far enough away from Chicago to not really be considered suburbia, yet close enough to the city’s southern border that you might think that it was White Sox Country.
No, just like most of Illinois north of Interstate 70, Kankakee County when I was growing up during the 1980s was predominately Chicago Cubs turf. So much so that when I was 13 years old during the summer of 1989, I can recall a discussion with my Pony League teammates about our favorite baseball teams. To a man, everyone said the Cubs except for one kid, who was embarrassed to admit that he instead rooted for the White Sox.
“I know they suck, but …” I can still remember him saying.
Things changed pretty significantly a year later when a baby-faced Hercules by the name of Frank Thomas debuted with the Sox and hit .330 in 60 games. In 1991, they changed even more when the White Sox traded in their clunky red, white and blue uniforms for trendy black ones and saw Thomas blow up with a .318 average, 32 homers and 109 RBI to finish third in AL MVP voting during his first full season.
As the Cubs tumbled from the heights of the 1989 NLCS back to their losing ways, the White Sox suddenly became cool. For a Cubs fan, it was highly annoying to see kids in town jump on the Sox bandwagon simply because of their new uniform colors. Meanwhile, it was still annoying, but less so, to see them suddenly cheering for the Sox because of Thomas. That, at least, I could understand. And respect.
And nearly 25 years later, I still do have great respect for Thomas.
Last week, I wrote about how it’s my wish that former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux would become the first unanimously elected Hall of Famer in history when voting is announced on Wednesday. Today, I’m writing to say that I also hope that Thomas will become the first White Sox first-ballot HOFer in franchise history.
With career numbers that include a .301 average, 521 home runs (18th all time), 1,704 RBI (22nd all time), .419 on-base percentage (19th all time), .555 slugging percentage (22nd all time) and an OPS of .974 (14th all time), as well as the 10th most walks in history with 1,677, Thomas deserves it.
And when it comes to the idea of Thomas and Maddux entering Cooperstown together this summer, Chicago fans deserve that too.
This week, Paul Sullivan shared his Hall of Fame ballot in the Tribune writing that, “There were no storybook endings in Chicago for Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas. Maddux was let go twice as a Cubs player – via free agency and a trade – and then left the front office following a regime change.
“The White Sox let Thomas flee as a free agent after their 2005 World Series championship and weren’t exactly shedding tears when he left. Still, if both Maddux and Thomas are announced as first-ballot selections for the Hall of Fame, Chicago finally will have something to celebrate, shaking off a miserable 2013 on both sides of town.
“Maddux will make it in a landslide. Thomas also has the stats and figures to get over the hump on a crowded ballot, but nothing is assured.”
Thomas, like Maddux, dominated during a steroid-fueled era without also having suspicions of PED usage swirl about himself. Both men represent what baseball should be about, and what I am sure of is that it would be fun to see Cubs fans applaud one of the White Sox’s all-time greats in Cooperstown this July and to see Sox fans do the same for one of the Cubs’ greats.
The fan bases don’t often agree on much, but I’d hope we can all agree on that.
And I hope we see it.