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Hurt's so good: Thomas elected to Hall of Fame

White Sox slugger nets 83.7 percent of vote in first year of eligibility

CHICAGO -- Frank Thomas never realized how much talk took place over the months of November, December and especially early January concerning the National Baseball Hall of Fame selection process until he was placed on the ballot for the Class of 2014.

With each piece of analysis, Thomas grew more nervous that he would not be a first-ballot inductee when results were announced at 1 p.m. CT on Wednesday. It was an especially painful last 72 hours, according to the Big Hurt, as the dissection grew more intense.

But the man who always will be remembered as the greatest hitter in franchise history now holds the distinction of being the 28th player with White Sox ties to be elected to the Hall of Fame. According to the Hall of Fame, he's the 14th member in franchise history elected with the White Sox serving as his primary team.

Thomas received 83.7 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, well above the 75 percent needed for election, garnering 478 votes of the 571 cast. The man who became the first Hall of Famer starting more games as designated hitter (1,310) than in the field (969 at first base) joins pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, along with retired managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre who already were selected from the Expansion Era Committee ballot in December, as part of a spectacular '14 Hall class to be inducted on the weekend of July 26-27 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

During a late-afternoon news conference at U.S. Cellular Field, Thomas admitted that he would have been happy if he was selected on one of his first two or three times on the ballot. The broad smile on his face and the joy in his voice for the response to every question asked of him pretty much indicated that the first-time selection stood as his primary goal.

"Just to get to the Hall of Fame means a lot. Going in the first time, it's overwhelming, it really is," said Thomas, who was joined by his wife and five children, as well as numerous White Sox staffers who applauded when he walked into the room. "So I had an impact and I'm proud of that impact and today as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. What a day."

Through 16 years with the White Sox and 19 years overall, including stops in Oakland and in Toronto, Thomas posted a .301 average, 521 homers, 1,704 RBIs and 1,494 runs scored. He produced a .419 on-base percentage and a .555 slugging percentage, winning American League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1993 and '94, Louisville Silver Slugger honors in '91, '93, '94 and 2000 and taking home the '97 batting title with a .347 average.

This 6-foot-5 slugger topped the .300 mark in 10 seasons and went .330 or higher four times. Thomas produced seven straight seasons of hitting .300 with at least 20 homers, 100 walks, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored, a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage from 1991-97. Thomas did it the right way, as he talked about Wednesday, not only avoiding the trappings of the steroid era but speaking out against those who did not for many years.

"You don't speak for others, but I can speak for myself. I'm 100 percent clean and I'm so happy and proud of that," Thomas said. "I came from an Auburn University program where there were no shortcuts. You got to the weight room at 6, 7 o'clock in the morning, basically killing yourself, or you weren't going to get any better.

"I never really worried about the other players. I probably was the last one who found out, honestly, that everybody was taking drugs. I felt stupid about it, but I didn't care about what the other guys were doing. I felt when I was healthy I was going to give you 40 home runs and 120 RBIs. That was me every year.

"If that wasn't enough, it just wasn't enough," Thomas said. "I told people that day in and day out. You saw my biggest career in home runs was [43] and that between 40 and 44 were the numbers I could give you. I got there quite a few times to prove to you that numbers don't lie. I tell people that every day: Numbers don't lie."

Former teammates and coaches such as Robin Ventura, Greg Walker, Aaron Rowand and Thomas' trusted friend and mentor Walt Hriniak extolled Thomas' virtues and talked about him to as all but a Hall of Fame lock. Thomas wouldn't allow himself to believe this dream could come true until it actually did.

There was a time after a somewhat acrimonious departure from the White Sox following the 2005 World Series championship that it would have been hard to envision this news conference taking place on the South Side. Thomas spoke with pride of being back in the White Sox fold, to go with his media duties, and talked about the role this organization that selected him seventh overall in the 1989 First-Year Player Draft played in his career.

"I'm a Hall of Famer and the Chicago White Sox have a lot to do with that," Thomas said. "Leaving here was the hardest thing I had to do in my life. I wanted to start here and finish here and I didn't get that chance. I felt it was taken away from me a little bit, but I had something to do with that.

"Sports are not fair. I saw it happen to Brett Favre and Shaq [O'Neal] and a couple of other guys. When you are that big organization guy for so long, you feel like you are invincible, and no one is invincible in pro sports. I'm just happy to be sitting right here in Chicago and right here at U.S. Cellular Field, holding my Hall of Fame press conference. I'm proud of that."

It might take Thomas two or three days to process what happened and more time than that to jot down all the influences and memories that will go into his induction speech. But the nerves have been calmed and the Hall of Fame celebration began, thanks to a call he took in his Libertyville, Ill., home Wednesday.

"I did it between the lines. I gave 100 percent every day. I'm so honored and blessed. I'm ecstatic," Thomas said. "To be chosen on the first ballot is an honor. For me, they made the right decision because I know what I put in this game day in and day out."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
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