July 26, 2014
Frank Thomas sports an Auburn cap during a Saturday press conference on a Hall of Fame weekend
By Charles Goldberg
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Frank Thomas is four minutes over. He knows it, too. He knows that his Baseball Hall of Fame acceptance speech is supposed to be no longer than 10 minutes, knows it's 14 and he's just about given up trying to cut it.
There will be too many people to thank Sunday, especially since he'll be recognized as one of baseball's all-time greats after a 19-year big league career that featured a .301 batting average and 521 home runs; especially since he'll remember his late dad, Frank Sr., from Columbus, Ga.; and because he'll recall his coaches and friends at Auburn University.
"The Hall of Fame has said it is a solid speech and they don't want me to leave anything out," Thomas said Saturday.
If Frank Thomas is thanking, he's thanking Auburn on Sunday at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He hinted Saturday there may be a "War Eagle" in his speech. He happily slipped on an Auburn cap during a Saturday press conference, and happily talked about his two college coaches — Pat Dye in football and Hal Baird in baseball.
He thought about what it all meant, too, being the first person to have played in the SEC to make baseball's Hall of Fame.
"When I heard that a couple of months ago I was really shocked," Thomas said. "So many great players have come out of that conference. To be the first is special because it's an unbelievable conference in all sports. I'm glad to be the first one to get in the door."
Frank Thomas can now remember that as baseball will remember Frank Thomas as a big man, as the Big Hurt.
"A big guy who is going to hit for average and drive in runs," said Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. "That's why they called him the Big Hurt. He put a big hurt on a lot of people. He was a great player who had a great career."
Hall of Famer George Brett told a similar story, saying he and Thomas had similar swings, but with a difference.
"I was 6-foot, 200 pounds and Frank was 6-4 and 260; and I never lifted a weight in my life and he could lift the whole weight room if he wanted to," Brett said.
His Auburn career started with -- yes, it's true -- football and Dye. He played as an Auburn tight end for a season, and then Dye made sure he was good enough for baseball.
"Coach Dye was special. He really made this possible," Thomas said. "He signed me as a football player, but he told me you've got to earn your way to walk on to the baseball team. I made sure that I busted my butt as a freshman, and got to play that freshman year in football, and earned my way to walk onto the baseball team."
Think about it. The deal was Frank Thomas had to earn the right to walk on to the baseball team.
"The first couple of days I was there he wanted to make sure I had baseball talent. He watched me for two days, and I remember looking back at him."
Dye waved Thomas on — to a Hall of Fame career.
"My sophomore year he came and told me, 'It's amazing what you did on the baseball field last year. You might need to think about that as your future.' I said, 'Wait a minute. I signed with you to play football and — what are you telling me? — I'm not a good enough football player.' He said, 'No, I never said that. I think you'll be a very, very good football player, but you're not going to be that level that you are in baseball.' He really helped me that decision for me."
Baird, the baseball coach, was happy to have Thomas on a full-time basis. The feeling was mutual, Thomas said.
"He ran his program like the pros run their programs. He had that background of minor leagues and with the big leagues. That's the type of camps he ran," Thomas said. "He treated me like a pro. He taught me the pro way of baseball at Auburn."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine