July 27, 2014
Emotions get the best of Frank Thomas at the Hall of Fame
By Charles Goldberg
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Frank Thomas was waiting his turn and playing it cool on stage as he listened to everyone else's Hall of Fame speeches.
Then he heard his name, thought of his family and everything changed.
"As soon as I stood up, my knees starting knocking and the first person that I looked at was my mom."
Frank Thomas, the big man whose Baseball Hall of Fame plaque will forever remind fans that he was "imposing figure at the plate and in the field," remembered his parents and cried.
"Just a second…" he asked the 48,000 fans as he tried to choke back tears. The tears won.
An emotional Thomas talked of his family, his big league career and Auburn University and its coaches, where he played football and baseball.
"Under your guidance at Auburn University, I became a man," Thomas said.
Sunday, though, he was not the grown man who struck fear in pitchers, like the plaque said, or the .301 lifetime big league hitter who hit 521 homers. He was simply the son of Frank and Charlie Mae Thomas. His mother was on hand, having left Columbus, Georgia for the first time in 15 years to see her son as he was inducted into baseball's shrine.
When he saw her from the stage, "I just started crying right away."
Thomas' father died in 2001. He was not far from Thomas' thoughts, either. It was that emotion that got the best of him. Charlie Mae Thomas had predicted it the night before.
"She said, 'I know you're going to cry when you mention your dad's name. I said, 'yep.' I said I'm going to get through it, that I had practiced it over and over and over, but what you saw on stage was nothing like the practices."
Because when he practiced his acceptance speech, "I got through it easily -- cool, calm and collected -- but looking at mom, my dad came out. My dad was my everything. He was just so proud with emotion."
Thomas' speech was the longest -- more than 17 minutes and well beyond the allotted time -- but Thomas had so many to thank, and had to pause to collect himself time and again.
"I'm sorry about it, but I'm not sorry about it. It is what I am," Thomas said.
Thomas had been warned by another Hall of Famer on the bus ride over about what was surely going to be an emotional day.
"Ozzie Smith said, 'It's for real. Look at all those people,'" Thomas recalled. "He said just take it all in, and you've got to be tough when you get to the stage. Just remember, these are true fans and the world will be watching, do what you've got to do."
What Thomas did was show his emotions.
He began the speech thanking his father for "giving me the love and support that kept me involved in team sports in my lovely town, Columbus, Georgia. I would also like to thank my parents for working so hard to instill core values, to make the best of life. We didn't have much, but my parents worked tirelessly for me and my four siblings."
And of his dad, "I know you're watching and smiling. Without you, I know 100 percent I wouldn't be in Cooperstown today.
"Thanks for pushing me, and preaching to me, 'you can be someone special if you really work at it. I took that to heart, Pops. Look at us today.'"
He thanked his mom "for believing in the same vision. I thank you and love you mom."
He named more than 130 of his former teammates, and regretted for having cut 50 more from the list to make his speech shorter. But he found the time to thank former Auburn football coach Pat Dye, former Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird and Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs, who was his tight ends coach for his only year of college football.
He thanked Baird for "treating me like a pro before my time. I thank you my friend."
He thanked Dye for "letting me follow my dreams" from football to baseball.
"I thank you Coach Dye."
He thanked his big league coaches and teammates, trainers and doctors, entire cities, entire teams, especially the Chicago White Sox for "'taking a chance on a kid from a small town with many big dreams."
Thomas was already a star in the making when the White Sox came calling with the seventh pick of the 1986 draft. He hit 51 homers in three years at Auburn.
He didn't talk numbers Sunday. He talked about the many people who had touched his life, and it took time. Thomas sensed that during the speech.
"Sorry," he said, "I can't ramble all day. I was told the rookie has to hurry up."
He didn't, not really. Frank Thomas was speaking from the heart.
Here's what Frank Thomas' Hall of Fame plaque says:
Frank Edward Thomas
"The Big Hurt"
Chicago, A.L., 1990-2005; Oakland, A.L. 2006, 2008; Toronto, A.L., 2007-08
An imposing figure at the plate and in the field, combined power swing and exceptional batting eye to come one of the game's most feared hitters. In each of his first seven full seasons, posted .300 average, 100 walks, 100 runs, 100 RBI and 20 home runs, a first. Won back-to-back A.L. Most Valuable Player Awards in 1993-94. Led A.L. in on-base percentage four times, walks four times and claimed batting title in 1997. A .301 lifetime batter, five-time All-Star whose drive for excellence produced 521 home runs and 1,704 RBI.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: