Frank Thomas reflects on his career and Cooperstown after Hall of Fame day

Jeff Gross

Making the media rounds after getting the news, the Big Hurt is overjoyed, proud and a little bit feisty

You may never seen Frank Thomas as happy as he is today. There's this.

And there's this.

Fueling those smiles was a wave of relief. Although Thomas said he had been watching Baseball Think Factory's Hall of Fame Ballot Collecting Gizmo, he couldn't separate the optimistic forecast from the chatter.

"Over the last 72 hours, so much debate from all the TV shows, from all the blogs, from all the other media, Twitter ... one after the other, it makes you think back: 'Did I do enough in my career?' "And then you hear people say, 'I don't vote for players their first time out,'" Thomas said in a conference call.

On top of that, the conversation about Thomas' extensive experience at DH made him "uncomfortable."

"Some people tried to make that an issue, but if you follow my career, you'd know that I was an everyday first baseman for the Chicago White Sox for a very long time."

He said that early in his career, the Sox used him as a DH to keep him fresh, and to keep his bat in the lineup 160 games a year. Later in his career, his assortment of injuries forced him to DH full-time, much like another Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor.

"The DH extended my career, and I'm proud of that," Thomas said.  "It's an extremely difficult position to have an impact in the game, and I think I did it as well as possible."

The longer Thomas talked about it, the more it fired him up. At one point, Thomas took up the defense for his glovework.

"I think I need to get my defensive video tape together for you guys, because I think I can put together an All-Star tape at first base."

He sounded like he spoke with a smile, but with undertones of indignation -- to the point that he said toward the end of his lengthy answer, "I don't think anybody can bring me down today."

Star-divide

Indeed, Thomas told MLB.com he was "blessed and honored" by the first-ballot status. "83 percent is a large amount. I'm so happy. I didn't care if it was 75.5, I'm just happy I got into the Hall of fame."

He was also grateful, repeatedly thanking the writers, thanking the fans, thanking his organizations, and thanking Walt Hriniak, who drove him to be a well-rounded hitter, and not just a power guy. He also saluted Gene Lamont for being a "stabilizing figure" early in his career, but he said he'll need until July to think of all the others who deserve mention, lest he exclude somebody important.

But Thomas said he didn't take any particular satisfaction or vindication from any potential "clean-player" push behind his candidacy.

"I always worried about my own career. You can't worry about others and what they've done. I just know what I put into the game day in and day out, for the fans here in Chicago and Oakland and Toronto, and I'm proud.

"I told people many days, I could go home and sleep at night and not have to worry about all the nonsense that other people are going through, because I know I won't be getting a call in the middle of the night with someone saying, 'Oh, he did this or he did that.'"

Repeatedly asked questions about performance-enhancing drugs, Thomas tried to keep it about himself. He praised the coaching staff at Auburn's football program for stressing weight lifting without steroids. Thomas said they showed the incoming class videotapes of steroids' effect on bodies, and it stuck with him through the rest of his life.

He said that knowledge base gave him an advantage -- both scaring him away from steroids, and creating a hardcore gym habit that many baseball players didn't adopt.

"I'll be honest -- I think I was one of those guys that made a few guys go that direction, because the size and the strength of a football player playing baseball, and for a seven-year run, no one basically could compete," Thomas said. "There was one or two guys that put up a couple numbers that could compare. I don't fault anyone for what they did, but hey -- I did it the right way."

He maintained he didn't have a "stance" against steroids, but rather he was "honest" about what he could do.

"I felt if I was healthy, I was going to give you 40 home runs and 120 RBI. That was just me every year, and if that wasn't enough, it wasn't enough. You saw my biggest career (total) in home runs was 44, and between 40 and 44 was the numbers that this body could give you."

Thomas tried his best to avoid discussing individuals or labeled groups, saying, "I never worried about the other players. I probably was the last person to find out everyone was taking drugs." When asked about whether steroid-tainted players should join him in the Hall, he tried to deflect the answer onto the group he's joining.

"Over the last year, doing a couple charity events with Hall of Famers that are in, they have a strong stance against anyone who's taken steroids," Thomas said. "They don't want them in. They don't care when they started or when they did it -- they do not want them in. For those guys, this Hall of Fame means a lot of them, and they don't want anybody there who doesn't deserve to be there 100 percent."

But that didn't avoid the follow-up -- what does Thomas himself think?

"I've got to take the right stance, too. No, they shouldn't get in. There shouldn't be cheating allowed, to get into the Hall of Fame."

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At his media conference in Chicago, Thomas was asked about the meaning of holding his conference in Chicago. When his career came to a unceremonious end after the 2005 season, it was hard to imagine him being all smiles around the stadium at this point.

"I'm a Hall of Famer, and the Chicago White Sox have a lot to do with it" Thomas said. "Leaving here was the hardest thing I had to do in my life. I wanted to start here and I wanted to finish here, and I didn't get that chance. I felt it was taken way from me a little bit, I had something to do with that, and that's health. Sports are not fair. It happened to a lot of great players."

"I've had a lot of time to think about it. I've done a lot of growing up since then. I saw it happen to Brett Favre, I saw it happen to Shaq[uille O'Neal], I saw it happen to a couple other guys. When you've been a big organization guy for so long, you feel like you're invincible, and no one's invincible in pro sports."

"I'm just happy to be sitting here in Chicago, right here at U.S. Cellular Field, holding my Hall of Fame press conference," Thomas said, to close out the day of public comments. "I'm proud of that."

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A few other notes...

*Regarding his two-sport start at Auburn, Thomas admitted, "Football was my game."

"When I got to Auburn, I saw how deep the program was. Every position was four deep. I could play baseball and play baseball at a high level, but I grew up down south, and people didn't care for baseball. They didn't look at baseball players like they did football players. It wasn't a cool sport back then."

"But I had an out, and when I went out in my first year at Auburn and made freshman All-American my first year, football coach Pat Dye said, 'You might need to start thinking about baseball.'

"I was like, 'But you just gave me a full football ride!' But he was like, "Listen, I just saw Bo Jackson play the last few years. He's got nothing on you when it comes to overall hitting. Baseball could be your future. Don't worry about football. We got three guys right there with you -- same talent, same frame. You've got a special talent here in baseball. You might need to start thinking about it.'"

*Thomas said he thinks his rebound season in Oakland in 2006 pushed him into Hall of Fame territory.

"I was counted out by a lot of people, and for me to go out there and put up another MVP season, it was an incredible feeling for everybody. I enjoyed playing out there for the year. The fan base out there, they rejuvenated me that year, so it was an awesome feeling."

*Thomas said his career was affected by his Chicago days overlapping with Michael Jordan's.

"When I got here, I was a huge Michael Jordan fan. Watching Michael Jordan every night making things happen, I said, 'Why can't I do that in baseball?' We all can dream, and I did have those types of dreams, and I wanted to make it a special moment for everyone who came through that turnstile every night."

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