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Isiah "Zeke" Thomas - One of the greatest basketball players of all time Tags: isiah thomas nba legend word life production sports entertainment feature blog

Isiah "Zeke" Thomas was one of the greatest "small men" ever to play professional basketball. His only peer at point guard in the NBA during the 1980s was the Lakers' Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who at 6-9 brought unique physical skills to the position.

Thomas, who stood barely over 6-feet, was in his day the grittiest performer to play the position, a feisty competitor who offered no quarter and expected none in return. Like Johnson, Thomas possessed the skill and determination to take over a game at will.

Thomas helped build a last-place Detroit Pistons team into back-to-back NBA champions in the late 1980s. Thomas' sunny smile belied an inner toughness that made him a key member of a scrappy, physical group of players dubbed the "Bad Boys" of Detroit.

"I call him the baby-faced assassin," an opposing coach once told the Charlotte Observer, "because he smiles at you, then cuts you down."

Like many of his teammates, Thomas was tempestuous, edgy, vocal and not opposed to balling up his fist when he felt the need. And he knew how to handle pain; he often played with injuries resulting from his rough-and-tumble style.

That fighting spirit, coupled with a shrewd business sense, served Thomas well as president of the NBA Players Association in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and continues to serve him well in his post-playing days, whether as a coach or executive, which has done with the Toronto Raptors, the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.

Though Thomas was an unselfish player, his personal achievements were impressive. In 13 years with Detroit, he became the franchise's all-time leader in points, assists, steals and games played. He made the All-Star Team in all but his final year and was named NBA Finals MVP in 1990.

Along with Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Utah's John Stockton, Thomas became the fourth player in NBA history to amass more than 9,000 assists. His 13.9 assists per game in 1984-85 set an NBA record for the highest single-season average ever, until Stockton bested it with 14.5 in 1989-90.

Thomas refused to let his height limit what he could do on the court. He was a dangerous shooter from any spot on the floor, a smart passer and a smooth, clever playmaker. He was also known for his full-speed, acrobatic drives into the teeth of the toughest and tallest frontcourtmen. Thomas took whatever defenses gave him, whether it was a three-pointer, the baseline, the lane or an alley-oop opportunity. He combined intelligence, court savvy and physical gifts to attain true NBA superstardom. Off the court, Thomas was a tireless charity worker known for his sincerity and compassion.

Isiah Lord Thomas III came into the world in 1961 under the harshest of circumstances. He was the youngest of nine children growing up in one of the poorest and dangerous neighborhoods of West Chicago. His family sometimes went without food or heat, and the lack of bed space forced some of the kids to sleep on the floor. Isiah's father left the family when he was 3 years old, leaving Isiah's mother to raise the children.

Mary Thomas, whose courage inspired a 1990 television movie, did her best to shield her children from the drugs, violence and crime that plagued the area. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, one night, when thugs came looking for Isiah, his mother got out her sawed-off shotgun and warned them, "There's only one gang here, and I lead it. Get off my porch or I'll blow you off it!" Another night, when Isiah got home late, she grounded him for the entire summer.

Rick Majerus, then a Marquette assistant coach who tried to recruit Thomas, remembered, "You talk about abject poverty, human failing, suffering -- they had all that in Isiah's neighborhood. You'd go in there and here was this young guy who's got this big smile. He was unbelievably optimistic for someone who had gone through all the misfortune that has occurred in his family. He was very focused."

Thomas played high school ball at St. Joseph's in Westchester, where he led the team to the state-title game as a junior in 1978. In 1979, he was a member of the gold medal-winning United States team at the Pan-American Games.

That fall Thomas enrolled at Indiana University. The street-hardened freshman impressed Coach Bobby Knight from the outset, averaging 14.6 points and 5.5 assists in his first season. That summer Thomas was selected to play on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, but a U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games robbed him of the Olympic experience.

As a 19-year-old sophomore, Thomas (16.0 ppg, 5.8 apg) steered the Hoosiers to the 1981 NCAA Championship. Following that season he passed up his final two years of collegiate eligibility and entered the 1981 NBA Draft.

The 1980-81 Pistons were the second-worst team in the league, with a 21-61 record. Detroit was one of the few franchises that didn't have a player capable of scoring 20 points per game. The hapless club made Thomas the second overall pick in the 1981 draft behind DePaul's Mark Aguirre, a childhood friend of Thomas who later became his teammate. (Thomas, who had promised his mother he would finish college, received his degree in criminal justice six years later -- on Mother's Day.)

In 1981-82, with center Bill Laimbeer and rookie forward Kelly Tripucka also aboard, the Pistons posted an 18-game turnaround and climbed to third in the Central Division. Thomas had a solid first year (17.0 ppg, 7.8 apg, 150 steals), stepping into the point guard position and leading the team in assists and steals.

He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team and made the first of his12 straight trips to the NBA All-Star Game. The 20-year-old rookie started, scored 12 points and dished out four assists in the East's 120-118 win at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

 The competitive spirit fostered by Thomas's childhood manifested itself in his on-court performance. Although just a second-year pro, Thomas assumed the role of floor general, leading the team in assists, steals and minutes played. His 22.9 scoring average in 1982-83 was the second-highest on the team and the highest of his career.

As a team, however, the Pistons posted no improvement in the standings, finishing at 37-45. But the league started to take notice of the little man with the big smile who seemed to be able to do with the basketball whatever his heart desired. Thomas was tough from start to finish, and he was particularly focused in a game's final minutes.

During the mid-1980s, Thomas, Magic and Sidney Moncrief were the best all-around guards in the league. Still needing to carry much of the Pistons' offensive load, Thomas scored more than 20 points per game in each season from 1982-83 to 1986-87. The quick-handed guard was among the NBA's most prolific ball thieves.

But above all, he was the consummate quarterback, consistently placing near the top of the league in assists. In 1984-85, he set an all-time record by averaging 13.9 assists. He was selected to the All-NBA First Team for three consecutive seasons from 1983-84 to 1985-86. While keeping his own point totals healthy, Thomas fed Laimbeer, Tripucka, John Long and Vinnie Johnson a steady diet of scoring opportunities. Thomas could pass to anybody. In being named MVP of the 1984 and 1986 All-Star Games, Thomas recorded 15 and 10 assists, respectively.

When Chuck Daly came aboard as head coach for 1983-84, the Pistons became a playoff team once again. They were quiet in the first three years of Daly's reign, losing annually in the preliminary rounds to the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics or the Atlanta Hawks. But then, in 1987, Detroit came within one game of reaching the NBA Finals.

The Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics was one of the roughest of the era. Recriminations flew off the court, while elbows and expletives were traded on the hardwood. The experience was a painful one for Thomas. With five seconds left in Game 5, Larry Bird stole a Thomas inbounds pass and fed Dennis Johnson for a layup, giving Boston a 108-107 win. The war came to a head in Game 7. After 48 minutes of pounding, Boston survived, 117-114.

Thomas emerged from the series more driven and competitive than ever. The Pistons now had one of the league's most talented and bruising lineups, with Thomas, Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson, Adrian Dantley, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars.

With Thomas in top form, Detroit seemed ready to surge past Atlanta and the Milwaukee Bucks for the division title in 1987-88. The Pistons met the challenge, finishing the year in first place at 54-28. Thomas' statistics dipped a bit (19.5 ppg, 8.4 apg), but only because he was part of a complete team with few, if any, weaknesses. He could concentrate more on helping to bring out each player's individual talents.

In 1987-88, the Pistons reached the NBA Finals for the first time since moving to Detroit from Fort Wayne in 1958. In a painful repeat of the previous season's loss to Boston, Detroit lost a seven-game heartbreaker to the defending NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers. (Before the Game 1 tipoff, Thomas and close friend Magic Johnson exchanged what may have been the first on-court kiss in league history.)

Holding a three-games-to-two series lead, the Pistons lost Game 6, 103-102, despite 43 points from Thomas (25 points in one quarter, setting an NBA Finals record), who played on a badly sprained ankle. Los Angeles, behind James Worthy's 36 points and 16 rebounds, sweated out Game 7 and won, 108-105.

Thomas and the Pistons peaked in 1988-89, when their 63-19 record was tops in the league. Detroit picked up Thomas's buddy, Mark Aguirre, from the Dallas Mavericks in a controversial midseason trade for Dantley, giving the Pistons still more scoring power. Seven Pistons averaged more than 13.5 points, a tribute to Thomas' unselfishness and slick playmaking.

The Bad Boys pulled out all the stops in the playoffs, sweeping Boston in three games and Milwaukee in four to reach the Conference Finals against rival Chicago. Despite a great effort from the Bulls' Michael Jordan, Detroit won in six games and advanced to meet the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Los Angeles, though dominant throughout the decade, was ill-prepared for the series. In his last season, 42-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was ineffective and guards Magic Johnson and Byron Scott were slowed by hamstring injuries. The overpowering Pistons swept the Lakers for their first-ever NBA title.

The Pistons played and intimidated, their way to a second consecutive NBA Championship in 1989-90, becoming the second team since the 1968-69 Boston Celtics to win back-to-back crowns, and the sixth team ever to do so. During the season they used a 25-1 midseason tear to finish with a 59-23 record.

Thomas was named MVP of the Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 27.6 points and 7.0 assists. After the series, Thomas told HOOP magazine: "We never quit. We always feel we are going to win, no matter what the score is. It's all a battle of will. You have to keep asking yourself, 'How bad do you really want it?'"

The Chicago Bulls, with scoring champion in Jordan, took the division title away from the Pistons in 1990-91. In the playoffs Thomas was slowed by a sprained foot, a pulled leg muscle, and an injured wrist. Detroit's dynasty came to an end and Chicago's dynasty began when the Bulls swept the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Lingering physical problems slowed Thomas in the twilight of his career, and the aging Pistons faded further into the shadow of Jordan and the Bulls. By the 1993-94 season it was clear that Thomas, then 32 years old, was nearing the end of his playing days. That season he suffered a hyperextended knee, a broken rib, a strained arch, a calf injury and a cut left hand. Then, in his last home game against Orlando, he tore an Achilles tendon, effectively ending his career.

Thomas retired with 18,822 points (19.2 ppg), 9,061 assists (9.3 apg), and 1,861 steals over 979 games -- all Pistons records. He shot .452 from the field and .759 from the free-throw line. In 1996-97, Thomas was honored as a member of the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Thomas' many business ventures and his stint as president of the NBA Players Association groomed him well for life after basketball. After his retirement he became part owner of the expansion Toronto Raptors, who began play in the NBA in the 1995-96 season. As the team's Executive Vice President, Basketball, Thomas was charged with molding the character of the expansion club, and one of his first moves was to draft a talented, under-sized point guard -- Damon Stoudamire, who became Rookie of the Year in 1995-96.

He also continued his charity work with educational, anti-crime and anti-poverty programs; during his playing career, Thomas had paid college tuition for more than 75 young people. He spoke of this work to the Los Angeles Times with typical Thomas bluntness: "As a person and as a human being, if the only thing I'm remembered for is playing a stupid game of basketball, then I haven't done a very good job in my life. Basketball isn't everything to me."

Source: NBA Encyclopedia Playoff Edition

“The Big Hurt” Frank Thomas Tags: big hurt frank thomas baseball player african american word life production sports entertainment

Thanks to a cruel twist of fate, Frank Thomas may join that elite club of baseball immortals who never got to play for a championship. When his Chicago White Sox won it all in 2005, the Big Hurt was too hurt to take the field—and management left him off the postseason roster. Set adrift in the free agent waters, Frank landed in the green and gold of Oakland, where he is redefining the meaning of Money Ball. This is his story…


Frank Edward Thomas was born May 27, 1968 in Columbus, Georgia to Charlie Mae and Frank Thomas Sr. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) He was the second of three children. Frank’s dad had a job with the city and his mom worked in a clothing factory. Frank was large and energetic. He was a sensitive kid who seemed naturally polite and had a winning smile.

The Thomas family was a close-knit group. Frank’s best friend was his younger sister, Pamela. They went everywhere and did everything together as kids. Pamela was diagnosed with leukemia and died when Frank was 10. He never really got over this loss.

After Pamela’s death, Frank turned to his older brother, Michael. Sometimes Michael’s friends teased his good-natured sibling. He didn’t mind until a few tried to push him around. By the time they hit the ground, word was out—don’t mess with Big Frank.

Frank Sr. began developing his son’s skills in football and basketball when he was young, channeling his intelligence and natural aggressiveness in ways that would enhance his performance. As a result, Frank was not only bigger and faster than kids he faced on the playing field—he was better.

Frank dominated his youth league opponents in baseball and football, and was allowed to play up against older boys—mostly for the safety of the younger boys. His coordination and dexterity later made him a fine basketball player. By the time he enrolled in Columbus High School, everyone in Columbus knew who Frank was, and expected he would make millions as a professional athlete. The question was, in which sport?

Frank’s favorite athletes were Dave Winfield and Dave Parker. Both were baseball All-Stars who would probably have found fame in the NFL or NBA. He liked the way they intimidated opponents on the diamond. So after making the Columbus varsity football and basketball teams as a freshman, Frank was astonished when baseball coach Bobby Howard relegated him to the JV. After Howard explained to Frank that he was just too young, the frosh spent a year stewing and waiting for spring tryouts. When his got his chance, he hit three balls onto the roof of the building that stood more than 100 feet past the outfield fence. Frank was on the team.

Howard worked his super soph harder than anyone else on the team. If he made a mental error, the coach ordered him to run laps. When Frank complained, Howard told him that physical talent alone would not get him to the big leagues—he needed to master the game between his own ears. Frank hit over .400 as a sophomore and led the Blue Devils to the state championship.

Frank’s baseball exploits paled in comparison to his prowess on the football field. He was a ferocious tackler on defense and perhaps the best prep tight end in the country. He also handled the team’s kicking duties. When Auburn offered him a scholarship, he accepted—with the understanding that he would almost certainly choose baseball if he were drafted in a high round the following June.

Unfortunately, this was not communicated effectively to the big league teams that scouted Frank in the spring of 1986. With a scrapbook full of football headlines and a scholarship in his pocket, it was assumed Frank was NFL-bound. Not a single team wasted a draft pick on him. Frank could not believe it!

So it was off to Auburn, where he won the job as the Tigers’ back-up tight end. Frank’s ability to analyze defenses after the snap and deliver crushing blocks for Auburn’s runners made head coach Pat Dye fantasize about what he would do the next three years.

Frank’s mind was still on baseball, however. He asked coach Hal Baird for a tryout, and the Auburn skipper agreed to give him a look in the batting cage. After one swing, Baird all but decided to make Frank his cleanup hitter. The ball came off his bat with such force that it even surprised the freshman slugger. The weight training he had done for football had doubled his power.

Frank hit .359 with a school-record 21 homers in his first season. He was named All-SEC and played for Team USA in the 1987 Pan Am Games that summer. He had to miss the gold medal game, however, because football practice was beginning. Frank went into his soph season with mixed feelings about his career on the gridiron. Then, after injuring his knee in a scrimmage, he decided to give up the sport completely.


Frank made All-SEC in his second baseball campaign in 1988, but teams were starting to pitch around him. As a result, he hit only nine homers, and to his great disappointment, he was left off the Olympic Team. He took out his fury on the Cape Cod Summer League. The following spring, Frank had a monster year for Auburn and was named SEC MVP.

Dave Winfield, 1977 Hostess

After the season, Frank was selected by the White Sox with the seventh pick in the draft. He was the third college player taken, after LSU’s Ben McDonald and Donald Harris of Texas Tech. In what was a much-heralded group of first-rounders, only Frank, Chuck Knoblauch, Mo Vaughn and Cal Eldred ever found success at the big-league level. Frank spent his first season as a pro with two Florida teams in the Chicago system, collecting 71 hits and 42 walks in 72 games.

Frank was promoted to the Birmingham Barons of the Class-AA Southern League in 1990. In 109 games, he reached base 231 times, with a.323 average and .581 slugging mark. The White Sox kept waiting for him to cool off, but it never happened. Though Chicago was in the midst of a pennant race, it was obvious that a promotion to Triple-A ball would be a waste of Frank's time and talent. Within a few games of the powerhouse Oakland A’s in the AL West and with light-hitting Carlos Martinez holding down first base, the Sox chose to let the Frank Thomas Era begin. And on August 2, it did.

While Chicago ultimately finished nine games behind Oakland, there was plenty to celebrate at Comiskey Park in the final two months. Frank tattooed the ball at a .330 clip, demonstrating incredible patience and maturity and occasional power with 21 extra-base hits and a team-high .529 slugging mark.

For the 1991 campaign, t he White Sox were managed by Jeff Torborg, and had a nucleus of good young players, including Robin Ventura, Lance Johnson, Sammy Sosa, Ozzie Guillen, Jack McDowell, Bobby Thigpen and Alex Fernandez. Veterans Carlton Fisk, Tim Raines and Charlie Hough provided on-field leadership. Frank quickly emerged from this group as the team’s star. He split time at first base and DH with Dan Pasqua and hit .318 with 32 homers and 109 RBIs as Chicago finished second to the worst-to-first Minnesota Twins. Frank led the AL with 138 walks—an unheard of accomplishment for a player in his first full year—and for a brief moment looked as if he had a shot at the Triple Crown.

It was after one of his '91 home runs that announcer Ken Harrelson shouted, “Frank put a big hurt on that ball.” That day one of baseball’s great all-time nicknames was born.

Frank was the talk of baseball as he entered the 1992 season. With teams pitching him more carefully, his power numbers dipped slightly, but his average rose to .323 and he tied for the league lead with 46 doubles. Under new manager Gene Lamont, the Sox finished 10 games over .500 but 10 games behind the A’s.

Frank Thomas, 1990 Topps Auburn

Frank found a whole new gear in 1993, clubbing 41 homers and knocking in 128 runs. He batted .317 despite getting almost nothing to hit, and was ultimately rewarded for his efforts with the AL MVP award.

Due to all the distractions in Chicago, the team needed a big season from the Big Hurt. Bo Jackson, trying to return from a hip replacement, could not be counted on to play every day. Fisk finally ran out of gas and was forced to retire. George Bell, acquired for budding superstar Sammy Sosa, was felled by a balky knee. Frank and 22-game winner McDowell kept the Sox afloat all season, and with help from new closer Roberto Hernandez, and Chicago edged the Texas Rangers in September to win the division.

The White Sox hosted the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays in the first two games of the ALCS and dropped both. The team rebounded to take two of three in Toronto, but then Dave Stewart stymied Chicago in Game Six to win the pennant. Frank batted .353 in the series with a homer and three RBIs. Toronto pitchers wanted no part of him, walking Frank a record 10 tines. As he maintained for many years after, he would have traded his MVP trophy for a chance to play the World Series.


That was particularly apparent the following season, when Frank went on a rampage that saw him hit 32 home runs by the All-Star break and boost the White Sox to the top of the new AL Central Division. The season ended on August 11, however, when the owners and players could not come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Frank was on fire from the beginning of the year to its abrupt end. He led the AL with a ridiculous .729 slugging average, 109 walks and 106 runs to go with 38 homers, 101 RBIs and a .353 average. Although he did not lead the league in any of the Triple Crown categories, Frank would have had a very good chance of being the first to win it since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Frank’s next two years were nearly as good. He launched 40 home runs in 1995 and batted .349 in 1996. He reached triple-digits in runs, RBIs and walks, and played every game of the ’96 campaign at first base while Harold Baines served as Chicago's DH.

Unfortunately, the White Sox bottomed out in ’95. They won just 68 games and the fall from grace cost Lamont his job. The long-suffering Cleveland Indians, meanwhile, took the division with 100 wins. The skies brightened for Chicago somewhat in ’96, as the team went 85-77 behind Frank’s great year. But the Tribe had established its dominance and the Sox would not see another division title until the next century.

The 1997 season was another great one for Frank, but an incredibly frustrating one for Sox fans. The Big Hurt led the league with a .347 average and .456 on-base percentage, and kept the team in a three-way battle with Cleveland and Milwaukee for the lead in a weak Central Division. On the eve of the trade deadline, GM Ron Schueler decided to start rebuilding despite the fact his club trailed the Indians by just three games. Starters Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin and closer Roberto Hernandez were traded to the San Francisco Giants for infield prospect Mike Caruso and young hurlers Bobby Howry and Keith Foulke. The White Sox finished six wins short of the Tribe, which went on to win the pennant. The deal weny down in Sox history as the “White Flag” trade.

Frank was ready to wave the white flag after the 1998 campaign. Relegated to full-time DH-ing duties with the forgettable duo of Wil Cordero and Greg Norton holding down first base, he saw his average plummet to .265. Distracted by business and marital problems early in the season, he dug himself a hole and then pressed too hard to climb out. He hit poorly in the clutch all year and had a stunning lack of success against lefties. After a while, Frank noticed he wasn’t getting the benefit on borderline pitches. Instead of sucking it up, he argued with the umps—which only worsened matters—and then called them out to the press, making a bad situation disastrous.

Apparently unnerved, Frank began swinging at pitches out of the zone and looking at pitches right down the middle. It did not take long for opposing hurlers to pick up on this shift in Frank’s approach, and instead of working ahead of pitchers, he found himself facing a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 counts. He finished with 29 homers and 109 RBIs, but there was nothing good about the season.

Frank Thomas, 1993 Upper Deck

It didn’t seem possible to go anywhere but up for Frank. His numbers, however, continued to plummet in 1999. He argued with manager Jerry Manuel about playing with a chronically sore left ankle, and once again let off-field distractions affect his on-field performance. Frank’s frustrating year ended with September ankle surgery. His power numbers were atrocious—15 homers in 486 at-bats—and although he raised his average back into .300 territory, he was no longer the feared hitter he once was.

Fortunately for the White Sox—who owed Frank more than $60 million—the 2000 season found him back in the swing of things. He opened up his stance (a la Andres Galarraga) and began blistering the ball again, clubbing 43 homers and knocking in a career-high 143 runs. Frank raised his average to .325 and his slugging average to .625.

The Chicago offense was electric with Frank back on the warpath. Paul Konerko, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, ray Durham and Jose Valentin combined for 119 homers and the White Sox led the AL with 978 runs scored. The team finished with 95 victories—tied with the Atlanta Braves and and St. Louis Cardinals for the most in baseball.

The White Sox faced the Wild Card Mariners in the playoffs and Seattle won a battle of the bullpens. In the disappointing series loss, Chicago failed to score a single run off the M's relievers and Foulke couldn't stop the Mariners twice with the game on the line. Frank went hitless in the three-game sweep.

The frustration of the '00 postseason ruined an otherwise outstanding year for Frank. But that was nothing compared to his nightmarish 2001 season. Frank Sr. passed away, his marriage ended in an acrimonious divorce, and he tore his right triceps in April and missed 141 games. The year was a washout.

Frank returned to play a mostly injury-free season in 2002, but the team had too many holes to compete for the division crown, which went to the surprising Twins. The heart of the lineup was solid as always, with Konerko, Valentin, Ordonez and Lee supplying the power along with Frank, who belted 28 homers. But the young pitching staff—led by Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland—lacked consistency and the team hovered around .500 all year. When table-setters Durham and Kenny Lofton were dealt to the Giants and A’s, respectively, it marked the end of another disappointing season.

The low point came when Konerko, who was supplanting Frank as a team leader, publicly chewed him out for dodging a batting practice session. That winter, a “diminished skills” clause in Frank’s contract gave the team an opening to void his contract. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf went against the advice of his staff and chose to renegotiate a still-generous deal with Frank, paying him more than $6 million a year. The sensitive slugger did not see it this way, however. He believed the team was ungrateful.

Frank played the 2003 season in a funk. He locked horns with Manuel in the spring and never felt like he was a core member of the White Sox, despite the fact he helped them stay on the heels of the Division-winning Twins throughout the summer. Frank took it out on enemy pitchers, belting 42 homers and knocking in 105 runs. Chicago finished with 86 wins, four shy of the Central crown..

Frank Thomas

(and Jerry Manuel),

2002 Upper Deck Vintage

In 2004, Manuel was replaced by Frank’s old teammate, Ozzie Guillen. He viewed the regime change as a positive development. But Guillen was a man who wanted to assert his dominance, and after Frank suffered another left ankle injury and Ordonez hurt his knee, Guillen decided to build a new team around speed and defense. This, of course, meant a diminished role for Frank. Before the injury, which limited him to just 74 games, he was actually enjoying himself. He was hitting the ball hard and often, and sensed that the team was finally coming together. Now his future was in doubt.

The picture clouded even more in 2005. Frank was the team’s full-time DH, and hit for decent power, but a broken ankle ended his season—and likely his career with the White Sox—in July. He then watched with a mixture of frustration and joy as his team won the pennant and World Series behind the pitching, speed and defense of the new Go-Go Sox. When the champagne corks popped, however, Frank’s smile was as big as it had ever been. During the wild clubhouse celebration, he happily doused his teammates with bubbly. Guillen, who had chastised Frank when he first took over the team, praised him for his team spirit after the Fall Classic.

As expected, after the season, the team exercised a $3 million buyout of Frank’s contract, making him a free agent for the first time in his career. At the winter meetings, he ran into A’s GO Billy Beane. Like most in baseball, Beane had grave doubts that Frank could recover from his twice-broken ankle. But Frank looked great and was practically bubbling over with enthusiasm when they spoke about the upcoming season.

Beane went with his gut and offered Frank a $500,000 deal, with a chance to bump that up to $3 million with incentives. Frank signed with Oakland, dropped weight, rehabbed his left leg, and gave the club a solid righthanded presence in a lineup that had been one of baseball’s best over the second half of '05. Fellow free agent Milton Bradley joined him in the Oakland batting order, and both men competed like they had something to prove as the A’s went through a typically sluggish first half.

Frank had a brief stint on the DL with a sore right leg in June, but returned to take the team lead in home runs as the A’s mounted one of their patented post All-Star break runs. He was also taking out infielders on DPs and playing the kind of spirited baseball that had his Oakland teammates feeling like they had a guy who could lead them into the post-season. As the possibility of a playoff showdown between the A’s and Sox became more of a possibility, Frank swung the stick with even more gusto.

With a World Series ring, two MVPs and his Hall of Fame enshrinement all but assured, Frank has little to accomplish and almost nothing to prove. Best of all, he can finally get back to playing baseball for the right reason—for the sheer joy of it.


Ozzie Guillen, 1992 Donruss

Although Frank is on the wrong side of his prime, he can still turn on a pitch and send it screaming into the stands. A master at working the count, he now uses this skill to help him guess fastball, and when he guesses right he is a dangerous pull hitter.

Never a graceful fielder, Frank is regarded as a fulltime DH. In fact, he has been reluctant to play first base when called upon to do so. With the A’s, this is not an issue; in Chicago, it was a point of contention between him and manager Manuel, as well as with GO Ken Williams.

Frank can still motor on the basepaths, and is one of the most terrifying runners in the game when he gets up to full steam. He outweighs many of the keystone players by 100 pounds, so he is given a wide berth at all times.

Frank’s 2006 season proves what he can accomplish as a hitter when healthy, despite his diminishing skills. In his prime, he was one of the most consistent power hitters in history. Now, pushing 40—and closing in on 500 career homers—he still is capable of putting up All-Star caliber numbers when he is 100 percent.

Source: Jockbio http://www.jockbio.com/Bios/Frank/Frank_bio.html

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