Thomas steers clear of steroid talk

February, 12, 2010
2/12/10
1:26
PM CT
LEVINE By BRUCE LEVINE
ESPNChicago.com
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During his press conference on Friday, Frank Thomas didn't want to talk about steroids and how the era affected his career. The Chicago White Sox icon decided to take the high road after announcing his retirement.

[+] EnlargeFrank Thomas
US PresswireFrank Thomas had eight seasons of 30-plus home runs with the White Sox.

Of course, the irony of all that is that Thomas did make a big deal about steroids during his career and how at one point his numbers were impacted by the alleged steroid users.

Factually, Thomas missed out on the 2000 MVP award by a few votes to admitted steroids user Jason Giambi, then of the Oakland Athletics. He was also an advocate of drug-testing before it became a practice for Major League Baseball in 2003. The assumption is that Thomas played his entire career drug-free, something that can't be said for many of his contemporaries.

I covered Thomas his entire career from Aug. 2, 1990 until he walked out as a world champion with the 2005 White Sox. I remember him as a guy who was totally self-immersed in his at-bats. Certainly all great players are selfish about getting on base, and Frank was no different. Over the years, some teammates took exception to the fact that Thomas would take a walk on a borderline pitch rather than trying to put a ball in play and drive in a runner from third base.

In fairness to Thomas, his strike zone was his strike zone. Until 2001, Thomas and the umpires saw eye to eye on balls and strikes. During that season, Thomas made the mistake of questioning the umpires publicly which ended up in him losing the inside corner for the rest of his career.

From 2001 on, Thomas never hit higher than .277. In 2000, the Big Hurt's career average was over .320. He ended up hitting a composite .301. To his credit, Thomas re-invented himself, becoming a pull hitter after spending the first 10 seasons of his career using the whole field.

"The game is one of adjustment," Thomas said Friday. "I did what I had to do after pitchers started to pound the insider corner on me. You have to make adjustments. That's the nature of the game."

In this reporter's opinion, Thomas should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His accomplishments are many, including two MVP awards in 1993 and 1994, a batting title, 521 home runs, 1,704 runs batted in and a career average over .300. Those are numbers certainly good enough for first-time induction.

Thomas was a dominant player for more than a decade, and without question the most popular player among fans in White Sox history. Maybe the big guy wasn't always the favorite player of his teammates, but when he was in the batter's box, no one was more efficient or productive.

The legend of Frank Thomas will live forever in White Sox annals, and he will alway be remembered as the franchise's greatest hitter.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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BA LEADER
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RBIJ. Abreu 107
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