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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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Uh-oh. Serious slight. "They're going to change their strike zone just 'cause I walk up to the plate?" says Thomas, irked. "That's b.s." Hey, nothing's easy for me.

It is really the same old slugger's file they've always tried to cram Thomas into, but he just won't fit. It's not that umpires change the strike zone for Thomas, it's that Thomas is one of the few monsters who know the zone in the first place. "This guy has the eye of a leadoff man," says Philadelphia Phillie manager Jim Fregosi. To Thomas, it's same slop, different menu. "People are always saying I can't do this. I can't do that," he says. "People love knocking Frank Thomas."

But just for kicks, isn't it fun to contemplate what he can do—and what he might become? Says White Sox TV broadcaster Ken Harrelson, "Thirty years from now, if you take a poll of 100 hitters, they'll say, 'Frank Thomas is the best hitter who ever lived.' "

The Big Hope

Mickey Mantle charges about $40 for an autograph. Sandy Koufax, $35. Willie Mays, $25. Frank Thomas charges only $1, but he wants it in cash, right now.

"Who put these two balls in my locker?" Thomas bellows in the visitors' clubhouse in Cleveland. "Whoever it is owes me two dollars!"

A clubhouse man in polyester shorts and a red shirt hustles over from across the room, and as he jogs, the other White Sox begin chanting, "Frankie Fund! Frankie Fund!" The man hands the Big Hurt the $2 and gladly takes the balls, which are now worth $50 each whether Thomas ever swings another bat or not.

Frankie doesn't care. He just wants his buck. That's the rule: $1 per autograph, all of which gets stacked up in the corner of his locker, gets matched by Thomas himself, and will eventually go to the memory of Pamela through the Leukemia Society of America. "Man, I think I've made five, six hundred dollars, and I've only been doing it three weeks," says Thomas, beaming. Take that, and the proceeds from his special Gold Leaf baseball card, which will go entirely to leukemia, and you're into six figures. Maybe one day I'll be able to do something about it.

He has to. He still sees his sister. "You never get over it," he says, straightening the stack of ones. "Right now, she'd be 18 or 19, and it's just not something you can deal with until you've been there." The leukemia people say they're hoping for a cure by 2000, and Thomas is committed to it too. And you know how Thomas is when he commits to something.

Back in Columbus, Frank Sr. rubs the head of his grandson, Geoffrey Hushie, daughter Mary's second child. Geoffrey is 2½, just as Pamela was, and already has been rushed three times to the hospital, once to Egleston—the same hospital Pamela went to. In fact, when the doctors told Mary there were problems with the pregnancy, she thought, "God, don't let him have what Pamela had."

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