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Frank Thomas Elected to Cooperstown as a ‘Misunderstood’ Star

In many organizations, superstars are handled with kid gloves, but in others top workers can become punching bags, too.

January 10, 2014
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Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas, aka "The Big Hurt," was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Jan. 8, 2014. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes the stars align; other times scrutiny of the stars is misaligned.

On Sept. 30, 1990, I sat in the right-field bleachers at Comiskey Park in Chicago as the White Sox took on the Seattle Mariners in what was the last game played at the old park.

It was a solid season for my team, the surprising White Sox. The Sox had gone from one of the worst teams in baseball in the late ’80s to a contending ballclub seemingly overnight. But by that sunny Sunday in Chicago, the division had already been decided; the powerhouse Oakland A’s were going to the playoffs instead of the White Sox. Still, you could feel bigger and better things were in store for the up-and-coming South Siders.

One of the big reasons for the turnaround was the emergence of a young star first baseman, Frank Thomas. I remember Thomas getting a single in the eighth inning of that game and it being the last hit for a White Sox player in the ballpark (a quick check of Baseball-Reference.com confirmed my recollection). I remember thinking to myself at the time that it felt appropriate that Thomas should get the last hit for the Sox at “Old” Comiskey because it felt like he would help put an end to past futility for a franchise that hadn’t won a World Series since 1917.

And Thomas, or “The Big Hurt” as he was known, didn’t disappoint. By the time he retired in 2008, the two-time MVP joined an elite club of only four players in Major League history with at least a .300 batting average, 500 home runs, 1,500 RBIs and 1,500 walks. So it was no shock to me that Thomas was voted into the Hall of Fame this week on his first year of eligibility along with pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

As a big-name baseball player, it’s not surprising Thomas received his fair share of criticism and scrutiny over his career. One of his managers called Thomas out for not running a shuttle drill in spring training and then for refusing to pinch hit during the season, but it turned out a huge, painful bone spur in his foot was the reason he chose not to participate — not selfishness.

We often argue for the little guy to get recognized in this blog, but let’s not forget that star players shouldn’t have to face curveballs that others don’t just because they put up big numbers.

Sure Thomas said and did some things over his career that I’m sure he regrets, like a public dispute he had with then-Sox General Manager Kenny Williams. The rhubarb occurred after the Sox decided not to bring Thomas back to the team in 2006 after the Big Hurt’s big hurt caused him to watch the Sox win the 2005 World Series from the sidelines. But as the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein said, “Normally when an athlete calls himself ‘misunderstood,’ that’s code for being a jerk. Thomas, legitimately, was misunderstood.”

In many organizations, superstars are handled with kid gloves, but in others top workers can become punching bags, too. Perhaps the scrutiny is justified if the people are just looking to help themselves instead of the team. But what if those stars are really team players who get treated differently just because of petty jealousy or a sense that there’s a sense of entitlement?

We often argue for the little guy to get recognized in this blog, but let’s not forget that star players shouldn’t have to face curveballs that others don’t just because they put up big numbers.

I’m happy for Frank Thomas and to have had the opportunity to follow his career. He was truly a star that didn’t get his proper due at the time, especially in the steroid era, but that’s another story — as is the time in high school when my brother almost accidentally rammed into the Big Hurt’s convertible.

James Tehrani is Workforce’s assistant managing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Tehrani on Twitter at @WorkforceJames and like his blog on Facebook at “Whatever Works” blog.

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