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The Big Heart
Rick Reilly
August 08, 1994
Frank Thomas honors the memory of his sister by striving for unprecedented heights with his bat
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August 08, 1994

The Big Heart

Frank Thomas honors the memory of his sister by striving for unprecedented heights with his bat

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Built in the basement of a Coopers-town, N.Y., garage, Thomas is the unthinkable amalgam of Williams's eyes, Frank Howard's arms, Willie McCovey's legs, Rod Carew's hands and Ernie Banks's smile. There are quick-swinging guys like Tony Gwynn who can get a bat on a golf ball shot from a cannon; choosy guys like Wade Boggs who would not swing at a ball two inches off the black, even under court order; and buffed guys like Jose Canseco who leave balls at the feet of unsuspecting parking-lot attendants, hut nobody has ever been all of these guys until this guy. Asked to remember his favorite Thomas at bat, Milwaukee pitching coach Don Rowe couldn't think of any. "I usually cover my eyes," he said.

What pitchers are looking at is the baseball version of No Way Out. During one game in May, the Yankees' Jimmy Key threw Thomas 12 balls in 13 pitches, walking him three times. Macho diesel-thrower Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox says walking Thomas is fine with him. "Walk Frank Thomas?" says Toronto catcher Pat Borders. "I got no problem with that."

If you had the first pick in your Rotisserie League draft and let Thomas go, you can pack up your things and leave the country immediately. "He's doing things I've never seen in 17 years in the major leagues," says Toronto Blue Jay designated hitter Paul Molitor. Says the man lucky enough to bat behind Thomas, Julio Franco, "Playing with Frank is like being part of history." In fact, if Thomas does not win the first Triple Crown in 27 years, it may well be because Franco knocks him in so many times that Franco himself wins the RBI title. The long ball is not Thomas's main concern, however. "I don't especially care about the home run title," he says, "because people will say, 'Dang. Six-five, 275 pounds. He's supposed to win that.' I'd rather have the hitting title. Guys my size aren't supposed to win that."

To the true Frank Freak, this is where he really makes Ken Griffey his junior. Griffey may have as many home runs, but he's hitting 40 points less, striking out more often and scoring fewer runs. Put it this way: Almost any Frank Thomas baseball card goes for at least 20% more than any Ken Griffey card on the market.

Better yet, a few of them even go to Pamela.

The Big Hurry

Looking back on it, maybe ESPN baseball analyst Dave Campbell ought not to have said what he said the other night, which was that it's possible to get the Big Hurt out with high heat inside, as Nolan Ryan did; Thomas was 0 for 12 with 11 strikeouts against Ryan, who retired after last season. Because right about now the door to the White Sox clubhouse is flying open and....

"Who the——is Dave Campbell!?" Thomas yells. "A——.213 hitter trying to tell me what I can't hit!? A——.213 hitter! Tellin' me I can't hit fastballs!"

This has snapped the clubhouse to attention and caused Venezuelan shortstop Ozzie Guillen to try to be helpful.

Guillen: "That's true! You cannot hit fastballs!"

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