The moment of truth has come for Columbus’ Frank Thomas — who started his baseball journey as a Peach Little League all-star bashing home runs into the pine trees at Lakebottom Park.
Thomas will find out Wednesday if he is selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The decision will be announced about 2 p.m. on MLB Network as Thomas, who played most of his 19-year big-league career for the Chicago White Sox, and two former Atlanta Braves — pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine — headline a list of possible inductees.
Thomas is trying to get into an exclusive club — not just the Hall of Fame itself, but to earn entry on the first ballot.
According to a survey of voters that was reported on nj.com Tuesday, Maddux, Glavine, Thomas and former Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio all appear on more than 75 percent of the ballots, which is the margin it takes to get voted in. Biggio also has a local connection, having been a teammate of Glenn Davis, now a Columbus councilor.
Since 1990, there have been 20 first-ballot Hall of Fame players. The list includes players such as Baltimore pitcher Jim Palmer, Oakland and Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson, two Phillies in Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt and most recently Oakland and Yankees great Ricky Henderson in 2009.
Does Thomas belong in that company?
Ask his former high school coach and mentor, Bobby Howard, and he will tell you he believes there is little doubt.
“But I am biased,” Howard said.
In Thomas’ sophomore year at Columbus High School, he led the Blue Devils to the 1984 Georgia AAAA state championship, the first of 12 titles won by Howard-coached teams.
Howard has kept a close relationship with Thomas, who now lives in Las Vegas. They have talked and texted a couple of times since New Year’s Eve.
“He is nervous about it,” Howard said. “He knows he has a shot, but he is still nervous.”
One of the reasons Thomas has a shot is he was one of the few power hitters in the steroid area who never faced allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Thomas addressed that a year ago with reporters at a White Sox event.
“Watching all the nonsense unfold and not really knowing what was going on, it makes me much more proud of my career because I competed in that era and I played at a high level in that era,” Thomas told ESPN. “There were a lot of great players, but as it unfolds, a lot of it was not the real deal. I know 100 percent mine was the real deal.”
“I think that is something that he is proud of,” Howard said.
Playing clean, Thomas produced eye-popping statistics that measure up with players already in the hall. He is a two-time American League MVP, narrowly missing a third in 2000 when Jason Giambi won. Giambi is one of the players caught in the steroid scandals.
Thomas had 521 career home runs and was a lifetime .301 hitter. A disciplinbed hittter, Thomas drew an astounding 1,667 career walks.
Known as “The Big Hurt,” Thomas was a six-time all-star. After leaving the White Sox after 16 seasons, he bounced between Oakland and Toronto his final two years.
If he is elected into the Hall of Fame, Thomas would become the first Columbus athlete to be voted into one of the major professional sports halls of fame.
Former Alabama football player and current Central High School coach Woodrow Lowe is in the College Football Hall of Fame.