July 28, 1958
Nearly every Tuesday for 20 years, Frank Thomas and his wife of half a century, Dolores, have volunteered on behalf of Meals on Wheels to deliver food to shut-ins in the Pittsburgh area. To Frank, a 72-year-old former outfielder for seven big league teams, it has become part of his routine, much as taking batting practice was during a 16-year major league career that saw him hit 286 home runs and suit up for three All-Star Games. Taking care of people in his native city, where four of his seven children and 10 of his 17 grandchildren and great-grandchildren live, is an act of gratitude for Thomas, who lived out a dream by playing his first eight seasons with the Pirates. "Every boy has the desire to play in the major leagues, and I got to play in my hometown," he says. "I had the best of both worlds. After I got traded, I would come back and get standing ovations."
During his years with the Bucs, Thomas bragged that he could break Babe Ruth's single-season home run record if he played anywhere but cavernous Forbes Field. Once he left Pittsburgh, however, he never matched the 35 he hit for the Pirates in 1958. Hampered in his later seasons by a viral infection and elbow and hand injuries, he retired in '66 at age 37. Finding a new career wasn't easy. "I walked the streets for a long time trying to get a job," says Thomas, who was armed with a high school diploma and overflowing determination. "One time I got fed up and said to this guy, 'How did you get your start?' and he said, 'Someone gave me a chance.' I said, 'That's all I'm looking for.' " Thomas finally got his opportunity, and for 18 years he was a recruiter for the ICM School of Business in Pittsburgh, never missing a day of work or an opportunity to stress the importance of education to high school kids.
After retiring from ICM in 1984, Thomas focused on extending and filling in the gaps in his collection of Topps baseball card sets for every year from 1952. A fire struck his garage in '92, though, and destroyed the cards. With prices sky-high, he felt he had no hope of rebuilding the sets, but an article about his loss in Sports Collectors Digest later that year sparked national interest. Fans, and some dealers, sent a flood of cards to Thomas, almost completely restoring his collection. It was an apt display of appreciation for a man who had spent his nights on the road answering mail and had signed autographs tirelessly on game days. "My dad always told me to be nice to the people on the way up because you're going to need them on the way down," he says. "But if the only card I need is the '52 Mantle, then God knows what I'll do."