July 25, 2014
Frank Thomas, baseball player, had reason to smile when Auburn honored him on the school's Wall of Fame in 2010
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Jay Jacobs was a young guy coaching up Auburn tight ends when Frank Thomas changed his life.
He smiles as he remembers it this way:
"Frank was sitting on the training table at the coliseum when he said, 'Coach Jacobs, I think I'm going to quit playing football and just play baseball.'"
Uh-oh, thought Jacobs.
Coach Jacobs jokes about that day in 1987 as his first step toward becoming Auburn Athletics Director Jacobs.
"Frank talked to Coach Dye about his decision, and then I went in there and told Coach Dye, 'I think I'm going to administration, because great players make great coaches, not the other way around. If Frank was going to play baseball, I figured my best bet was administration."
Jacobs would become Auburn's athletics director one day, and Thomas would become a baseball star. He'll be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday following a 19-year major league career that produced 521 home runs, a .301 batting average, five All-Star appearances and two American League MVPs.
Thomas played one year of football at Auburn before an ankle injury helped him decide that baseball was his ticket. He was right. He's the first player from the Southeastern Conference to make the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"That's simply amazing because of the number of great baseball players the Southeastern Conference has produced," Jacobs said. "To be the first player to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and to be a former Auburn student-athlete, is something we're proud of. It just goes to show how great a player Frank was in college and the pros."
Jacobs coached Thomas in 1986. Jacobs says Thomas is the same guy in 2014.
"I talked to him a few days ago, and he's the same today as he was then. He's got a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. He's so appreciative of Auburn, talked about how much Auburn means to him and how it became the foundation of his success."
Thomas is already on Auburn's Wall of Fame at Plainsman Park. Jacobs said the school will recognize him again at a football game this season.
Ah, but baseball was Thomas' sport. Jacobs remembers Thomas and the star he succeeded on the diamond.
"Frank was the closest thing as going to watch Bo Jackson play, because every time he came to bat, there was a chance you were going to see the longest ball you've ever seen in your life. There was also a chance when he got on third base, and he was going home, there was going to be the biggest explosion you've ever seen with the catcher."
Thomas was a big man, already.
"He was a very athletic big guy," Jacobs said.
But, today, Jacobs mostly remembers Thomas this way:
"Just a class guy and a gentleman," he said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine