By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) — The unique career of Frank Thomas will be celebrated next weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., where the 46-year-old iconic White Sox player will be enshrined in a Hall of Fame ceremony on Sunday in front of thousands of admirers and a contingent of 58 friends and relatives he has invited to the sleepy little upstate New York retreat.
The Hall of Fame speeches have become a mighty chore for the players who were more proficient hitting and throwing than writing perils of wisdom. Thomas will try not to get caught up in the emotion of the moment.
“There will be some moments there (with) the full waves of emotion,” Thomas said. “I am really going to practice my speech so I can get through this thing. There will be some moments there that will be kind of tough on me.”
The greatest hitter for power and average in the long history of the Chicago White Sox has many memories of great moments. Surprisingly, leading the American League in hitting (.347 in 1997) leads all other things Thomas treasures as far as personal accomplishments go.
“That was really a great thing for me,” Thomas said. “Being a big guy, you rarely see a person who is a slugger win the batting title. The reason is you don’t get any leg hits along the way.”
Thomas is the all-time White Sox leader in seven main batting departments, including home runs, RBIs, runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Looking at his first full seven seasons, he is one of three men in history to have at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, 100 walks, 100 runs and a .300 batting average.
Hitting instructor Walter Hriniak was a mentor to the “Big Hurt” and left coaching after the 1997 season. At that point, Thomas hit under .300 for the remainder of his career through 2008.
“I am not sure how my career would have turned out if Walter had stayed on as batting coach,” Thomas said. “I had to change my approach and became more of a pull hitter. My batting average suffered, but I was able to put up some power numbers.”
Winning a World Series ring with Chicago in 2005 was the highlight of Thomas’s team career.
“That was the closing chapter of my Chicago career,” Thomas said. “After being around for 16 years through a bunch of ups and downs, all the roster changes, manager changes and everything else, it was great … to finally have that happen in a season that was full of injuries for me was rewarding. It was the crowning moment of my Chicago career.”
Thomas was a special player in an era in which many of his contemporaries were using performance-enhancing drugs, passing him up on the power number charts. Thomas, to his credit, was one of the first players to call for drug testing back in the late 1990s. Nobody with pure raw power was impacted more than Thomas, who lost an MVP vote to Jason Giambi in 2000 after hitting 43 home runs and driving in 143 runs. Giambi later admitted he was using steroids during that period of his career.
Next Sunday, the White Sox will be represented by a large group of front office representatives led by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. WSCR 670 The Score will broadcast live from the Hall of Fame Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon and Sunday from 9 a.m. until noon.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.