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Columbus' Frank Thomas overcome with emotion during Hall of Fame induction

An emotional Frank Thomas touched all of the bases Sunday as he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In a speech where he thanked everybody from the clubhouse guys to the physician who added a few years to his career, Thomas knew the exact moment the speech he had been writing for four months became tearful and personal.

He was introduced to loud applause from the Chicago White Sox fans among the nearly 50,000 people packed into a field in this mythical birthplace of baseball.

He took a deep breath, almost a sigh, then said, "Give me a second." He took another deep breath.

He then thanked the Hall of Fame, the writers who made him a first-ballot selection and Commissioner Bud Selig. He thanked the 50 living Hall of Fame players at the ceremony for being great role models saying, "Thanks for having me in the club."

To that point, he was on script. Then the game changed.

"I would like to thank my parents, Charlie Mae Thomas, who is here today, and the late Frank Thomas Sr. for giving me the love and support that kept me involved in team sports in a lovely town, Columbus, Ga.," Thomas said. "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 tireless for me and my four siblings."

Thomas' mother was in a wheelchair sitting to his right. In failing health, it was the first time in 15 years she has left Columbus. Frank Thomas Sr. died of heart disease in 2001.

At that point Thomas began to fight back tears, a theme that would run the length of the 17-minute speech, almost double the time the Hall of Fame allotted.

Thomas then thanked his father for pushing him to greatness.

"I took that to heart Pops," he said. "Look at us today."

He then told his mother he loved her.

The man with one of the greatest nicknames in baseball history -- "Big Hurt" -- then reached for his hanky and fought back more tears.

Thomas' older brother and closest friend, Michael Waverly, is not an emotional guy, but he too got caught up in it. He kept thinking about "Big Frank."

"I kept thinking about this one thing Big Frank used to tell him," Waverly said. "Frank would come home after a big game and he would say, 'I hit two home runs today.' Big Frank would just look at him and say, 'Well, that is good, but you are no Hank Aaron.'"

As Thomas was giving his speech, Aaron, a Hall of Fame member and one of the greatest to ever play the game, was sitting just behind him to the left.

It was that kind of day.

After the ceremony in which he was inducted alongside former Braves Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and managers Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre, Thomas explained when the faucet got turned on.

"The first person I looked at was my mom, then it hit me," Thomas said.

"I knew I was going cry as soon as I mentioned my dad's name. I was overcome with emotion. I am sorry about it, and I am not sorry about it. That's who I am."

And that is who he has been since childhood.

After it was over, Charlie Mae Thomas just smiled when asked about her son's emotional delivery.

"That's why we call him the Big Baby," she said of her 6-foot-5, 250-poud, 46-year-old son.

Thomas' thank-you list was long and heartfelt.

He cried when he talked about his wife, Megan, and five children, all of whom were sitting on the front row. He cried when he thanked his brother and sisters for their love and support.

The list of people he thanked was lengthy, especially those in the Chicago White Sox organization, where he spent 16 of his 19 major league seasons. He finished his career with stints with the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays.

He cried again when he got to his coaches. And he started with his Columbus High School coach three decades ago.

"Bobby Howard, I know you are here somewhere, it all started with you," Thomas said.

He did not cry when he talked about his teammates, naming off more than 100 of them in a sing-song manner.

He also did not cry when he talked about his days at Auburn University in the 1980s playing football and baseball. He said that was where he became a man.

"I would like to thank Pat Dye, Jay Jacobs, Hal Baird," he said of his Auburn football and baseball coaches. "Under your guidance at Auburn University, I became a man. You guys pushed me to new heights and instilled a will to win that I never knew existed."

He thanked Dye for honoring his word and allowing Thomas to quit football and focus on baseball his sophomore year. That was a promise Dye made when he recruited Thomas as a Columbus High tight end and slugger.

"The decision changed my life," he said. "I thank you for letting me follow my dreams. The passion to what's right led me to my career path in baseball. I thank you, Coach Dye. War Damn Eagle."

In closing, Thomas thanked the city that embraced the legend of Big Hurt.

"I want to thank the city of Chicago," he said. "You guys made the Big Hurt who he was in the greatest sports town in America."

Thomas did not openly refer to the fact that he is the first slugger from baseball's steroid era to make the Hall of Fame. Many of his contemporaries such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds have had their journeys to Cooperstown derailed because they were linked to performance-enhancing drug use.

Not Thomas. He played the game clean and was an outspoken critic of those who used the drugs.

Though he did not mention it, he certainly alluded to it in the closing moments of his speech.

"To all of you kids out there, just remember one thing from today: there are no shortcuts to success," he said. "Hard work, dedication, commitment, stay true to who you are."

How good was the Big Hurt's speech? Ask Richard Brooks of Iowa, a fan of the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs, who was sitting 30 rows back.

"If that didn't bring you to tears," he said, "you should not have been here."

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