By Bruce Levine–
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (CBS) –Frank Thomas was inducted in the Hall of Fame on Sunday for his contributions on the baseball field. Yet for all of his great numbers and memorable home runs, his finest hour may have been his stand against performance-enhancing drugs before any ball player of his time.
Thomas lost all kinds of status and baseball awards when over-developed contemporaries took drugs and passed up his real batting numbers like he was standing on the side of the road from 1998–2004.
“I tell people I am not the voice against steroids,” Thomas told me Saturday. “I certainly never took steroids. I was blessed with more size and strength. That helped make me special when I came to the big leagues.”
Thomas was blessed also with a real sense of what is right and wrong. He saw Jason Giambi steal an MVP award from him in 2000 and later admit to use of hard-core steroids. Thomas watched as former teammate Sammy Sosa passed him by almost 100 home runs for his career. Thomas saw Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire put up the most ridiculous power numbers as he continued to register his 35 home runs and 100 RBIs in a real way through hard work and practice.
Thomas saw the fake power numbers from a distance at first through his college experiences.
“I played major college football,” he said. “I could understand that football players get a little crazy and do something like that, it is life or death every play. Baseball is not like that. Baseball is not meant to be played like that. It is a round ball, throw the ball, hit the ball and run. That was what the game is all about, make outs and score runs. Yes, I had the biggest voice because I had the most to lose and did lose the most. I lost MVPs and bigger contracts. I deserved and others deserved a lot, and we didn’t get it.”
What Thomas did get was vindication this weekend and his day in the sun at Cooperstown on Sunday.
“Look at me — now I am in the National Baseball Hall of Fame so you are awarded some times for doing things right,” Thomas said. “I know I did it the right way.”
Thomas wasn’t always the greatest teammate every day. He could be selfish, but he was the guy his teammates wanted up there to give them a lead early or drive in the go-ahead run in the middle innings. Frank Thomas was real, flawed and terrific. Thomas’ at-bats were appointment television, really one of the last players to sell tickets on his merit alone.
As much as anyone, Frank Thomas represents the real things in baseball that count. So here’s a tip of the chapeau to the “Big Hurt,” for you did it the right way.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.