Columbus' Frank Thomas elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

kprice@ledger-enquirer.com, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 8, 2014 

Columbus’ Frank Thomas is a Baseball Hall of Famer.

Thomas’ selection was announced Wednesday afternoon. He was elected by the voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America with 83.7 percent of the votes — 75 percent is needed to be included.

Thomas will be inducted in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 27.

Two Atlanta Braves pitchers were also selected: right-hander Greg Maddux and left-hander Tom Glavine.

"I’m a Georgia kid,'' Thomas said on MLB Network. ''Going in with Glavine, Maddux and Bobby Cox means a lot to me."

Thomas, whose baseball days started at Peach Little League and went through Columbus High and Auburn University, said he was overjoyed and overwhelmed.

''I am so happy, so proud,'' said Thomas, who is the first person from Columbus to be elected to one of the major professional sports hall of fames.

This was only the second time since 1936 that three players were selected in the same class.

Maddux had the highest percentage at 97.2 percent or 555 of the 571 votes. Glavine had 91.9 percent or 525 votes.

Craig Biggio missed by two votes. He got 427 of 429 votes needed or 74.8 percent.

Three former managers, including Atlanta’s Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa, will also be part of the 2014 Class. They were chosen by a committee late last year.

Thomas told mlb.com back in November, “Of course I want to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I deserve to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, I think. The resume speaks for itself.”

Thomas said the last three days leading up to Wednesday's announcement had been extremely stressful.

''The hall of fame sent me something that said 18,000 people had played in the majors and that only 1 percent get to the hall of fame,'' Thomas said. ''I had to sit back and think about that, how special it made it.''

Former Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird called it a great day.

"I was not the least bit worried," Baird said. "I could not imagine him not being a first-ballot Hall of Famer."

Not only does Thomas become the first Auburn baseball player to reach the Hall of Fame, he is the first player from the talent-rich Southeastern Conference, Baird believes.

"I have done a lot of research and talked to a lot of different people around the league, and we can't find one," Baird said.

Baird coach 18 Major League players while he was at Auburn, including Bo Jackson and pitcher Tim Hudson.

"We had a number of players at Auburn make it to the big leagues, and I don't think a single one of them would be insulted with what I am about to say," Baird said. "But Frank Thomas was the best baseball player to ever come through Auburn."

Baird said one of the people Baird is thinking about is Frank Thomas Sr., Frank's father. Baird and Big Frank grew close while Thomas was playing at Auburn.

"That is one of the really poignant things for me right now," Baird said. "I know Big Frank is not here and I am melancholy. Big Frank was always there for him.

"I feel like he knows."

Columbus Councilor Glenn Davis was an all-star first baseman for the Houston Astros and said Thomas’ selection for the Hall of Fame is well-deserved.

“Frank was an unbelievable hitter,” Davis said Wednesday. “He truly deserves this.”

Davis said all you have to do is look at Thomas’ stats — 521 home runs, .301 career batting average over 19 big-league seasons — to know how special he was.

“That is really something,” Davis said. “That puts you in superstar status. And there is no doubt in my mind Frank is a baseball superstar.”

When retired Columbus real estate broker Jack Key coached Thomas in Little League he did not see a future Baseball Hall of Fame player, but he saw the talent.

"He was a man among boys when he was at Peach Little League," Key said. "You could tell he had all kind of potential."

Key coached Thomas in 1980 with the Peach Lions.

"This is a great honor for Peach and Columbus and it should be celebrated," Key said.

Bobby Howard, Thomas' high school coach, got this text message from Thomas on his way to a news conference after the announcement:

"Thanks Bobby it all started with you!! Unreal day"

When asked how this compares to Howard's 12 state championships, Howard said you can't compare them.

"It's two different things," he said. "This is about an individual player and all of his accomplishments. All the glory goes to Frank."

Howard said he couldn't be prouder of him.

Thomas was drafted out of Auburn by the Chicago White Sox with the seventh overall pick in 1989. He made his MLB debut on Aug. 2, 1990.

He played 16 seasons with the White Sox before finishing with the Blue Jays and the A’s.

Thomas was a feared hitter, who won the American League Most Valuable Player award twice in 1993 and ’94. He also won the AL batting title in 1997 with a .346 average.

Former White Sox teammate Robin Ventura told mlb.com, “He wanted to be known as the best hitter in the game. He was driven to be that.”

Thomas played 56.4 percent of his games as a designated hitter. He is the first such Hall of Famer.

FRANK EDWARD THOMAS

Age: 44

Born: May 27, 1968 in Columbus

Ht./Wt: 6-5/275

Bat/Throw: R/R

High school: Columbus

College: Auburn

MLB debut: Aug. 2, 1990

Number 35 retired: 2010 by Chicago White Sox

MLB awards: American League MVP in 1993 and ’94 … Silver Sligger Award in 1991, ’93, ’94 and 2000 … Five All-Star games in 1993-97 … AL Comeback Player of the Year in 2000 (White Sox) and 2006 (A’s).

You need to know: Baseball America Minor Leaguer of the Year in 1990 (Birmingham, Southern League) … Went to Auburn on a football scholarship in 1986. Played as a tight end only as a freshman. Caught three passes for 45 yards. … Left Auburn’s baseball team with the school record for home runs (49) and single-season records for home runs (21) and walks (73). … Named SEC’s MVP and Sporting News All-American in 1989. Led the SEC in batting (.403) and RBIs (83) and finished second in home runs (19) … Made a cameo appearance in the 1992 film, “Mr. Baseball,” and was in an episode of “Married With Children” in November 1994. Source: mlb.com

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