Frank Thomas: 'This is big-time stuff'

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Frank Thomas came to the plate more than 10,000 times in his career, yet Sunday's march into the spotlight will be the most pressure-packed of his career.

Maybe he should wear his spikes and take a bat up to the dais when he makes his approximately 14-minute Hall of Fame induction speech in front of a crowd that could total 40,000 or more, not to mention those watching on television. For the record, the speech is four minutes longer than requested.

"It's reality, but it's very stressful -- trust me," Thomas said Saturday in advance of his induction, along with former players Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre.

"It's been a long week, man. This is like, wow. It's the finale, but a lot goes into this finale. This is big-time stuff. Going over and seeing how big that field is, [and] they are expecting it to be filled. I'm looking forward to it, man. I'm just overjoyed. But the nerves are there."

It seems silly, given that dealing with pressure was Thomas' forte. He is one of only four players in major league history with a career .300 batting average, 500 home runs, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 runs scored and 1,500 walks. Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams are the other three who can match those numbers.

Thomas is also only one of 12 players to ever win back-to-back MVP awards, in 1993 and 1994. He won the '93 award unanimously.

He even knew how to pick himself back up and dust himself off, and he won the American league comeback player of the year award not only in 2000 but in 2006 as well.

Making things feel as though they've come full circle for Thomas is that this is not only a Chicago celebration in Cooperstown, with he, La Russa and Maddux being enshrined, but it's an even bigger Atlanta celebration with Maddux, Glavine and Cox being honored. Thomas is a Georgia native.

"Going in with these historical guys -- two of the managers, Bobby and Torre, managed my hometown team, and I got to watch those guys manage my hometown team, the Atlanta Braves -- it's weird, man," Thomas said. "It's a big finish because of the Chicago crowd, with Greg Maddux and myself, the Atlanta and Georgia crowd and just being around. Oakland is going in. It's crazy."

Part of the narrative this weekend is how Thomas has been a major anti-steroid voice in the game. As others cut corners and power numbers grew, Thomas stayed clean and kept pace with the power hitters anyway.

"I tell people that I'm not the voice against steroids -- I never took steroids," Thomas said. "I was blessed with my size and my strength. That's what made me special when I came to the big leagues. My hand-eye coordination had something to do with that too.

"I had the biggest voice because I probably lost more than anyone else during that steroid era. More MVPs, bigger contracts, different things that I deserved but didn't get. Look at me now. I'm in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for doing things right, and I definitely did it the right way."

He fell a handful of votes short of the 2000 MVP, an honor won by Jason Giambi, who later admitted he cut corners in his career.

"It's a part of history to have that third MVP," Thomas said. "I didn't get it, but that's OK. It was a great year. I'm not going to lick my wounds because I received another two earlier. It was a long career of stretches of MVP performances: 1993, '94, 2000 and then 2006. That could have been an MVP season. I had that longevity and that consistency, and that meant more to me than anything else."

That 2006 season is why Thomas might be here this weekend instead of an induction weekend sometime in the future. Thomas left the White Sox as a free agent after 2005, signed with the Athletics and moved past an injury-riddled year to show he was still capable of producing.

Thomas hit 39 home runs and had 114 RBIs for the Oakland Athletics in 2006 and finished fourth in the MVP voting that year. A year later, he hit 26 home runs with 95 RBIs for the Toronto Blue Jays. Anybody who might have been on the fence about considering Thomas for the Hall of Fame was forced to see things in a new light.

"[When] I first got there, I was in a mental funk, leaving Chicago after being there for such a long time and really got kicked out of the door," Thomas said. "I was rejuvenated by a young cast of characters -- it was a different world. You see the media here? The majority of it is from Chicago. We didn't have that in Oakland.

"So when I got there, it became fun, and [I] didn't worry about any stress every day. It was, 'Let’s go out, have fun and play baseball.' After that second month, I think my return home to Chicago really got me going because getting to that ballpark really started my season for me, and then the rest was history. I had a wonderful, wonderful season there, and I think that season really got me into the Hall of Fame because it showed I could adapt quickly and I did."

There were some missteps along the way, most notably a war of words with former general manager Kenny Williams once he left the White Sox. There was the shuttle-run fiasco in spring training under manager Jerry Manuel. He awkwardly left the All-Star Game in 1995, exiting before the contest was even over.

But for the most part, Thomas wouldn't change a thing. Why should he? He is one formal ceremony from being one of the Hall of Fame's newest members.

"I'm not going to throw anything out firsthand, but you make a lot of mistakes in life -- everyone does," Thomas said. "It becomes a maturity thing. Would I do something different in my first 10 years that I wouldn't have done my last eight? Of course. Some hardships you just can't control.

"That's just the battle that we face every day. Men will be men. You can't control other men. But the bottom line in baseball is to win, and I did a lot of winning in my time with different teams and especially in Chicago. I just have to be proud of that and not worry about any of the negativity."