Frank Thomas breaks new ground for White Sox in Cooperstown

Al Bello

Big Hurt becomes first first-ballot Hall of Famer in franchise history

We here at South Side Sox spent part of the run-up to the election discussing the unique aspects of Frank Thomas' Hall of Fame case, noting that few players have redefined their franchise the way that Thomas changed his.

The Big Hurt had help -- a string of strong drafts, a new stadium, a new uniform -- but it was Thomas' unprecedented hitting that finally gave the franchise a signature talent it had lacked since the Black Sox scandal. He did it for 16 years in Chicago, and it seems even longer than that. He's the one on-field connection between the last days of Comiskey Park and the final out of the World Series. He bridged eras in franchise history that are now impossible to compare, and he's the biggest reason they're so disparate.

I had doubts that Thomas' credentials would withstand the capricious voting patterns of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which collectively has no idea how to handle the last 25 years.

Fortunately for everybody associated with the White Sox, those fears went unrealized. The vote total matched the man, and it's fitting that he'll enter the Hall of Fame the way no other player has -- with a White Sox cap, and on the first ballot.

The pool is small enough if you limit it to the headware. The most recent plaque to feature a Sox logo: Nellie Fox's in 1997. So it's been 17 years, and as long as the Veterans Committee keeps denying Minnie Minoso, we're not going to see another one anytime soon, unless Mark Buehrle has Jamie Moyer's second act.

Here's a list of the White Sox caps in Cooperstown, in alphabetical order:

  1. Luis Aparicio
  2. Luke Appling
  3. Red Faber
  4. Nellie Fox
  5. Ted Lyons
  6. Ray Schalk (presumably)
  7. Ed Walsh (presumably)

That's all of them, and that includes the caps without markings. You can infer that Schalk and Walsh are wearing White Sox caps because they barely played for anybody else, but you can't draw the same conclusion about Eddie Collins' blank lid since he accomplished plenty in Philadelphia. Carlton Fisk had a similar career split to Collins, and he chose Boston.

So the hat is rare enough. The ease with which Thomas cleared the bar is another matter altogether.

Let's take the seven with Sox caps, then throw in Fisk and Collins, and a couple more longtime White Sox (Early Wynn and Hoyt Wilhelm). That's 11 Hall of Famers whose elections truly registered with White Sox fans, and Thomas will make 12.

Of the 12, Thomas triggered the most resounding voter reponse by far. Thomas earned 83.7 percent of the vote in his first year, which is the fourth-highest percentage for any of these players. However, he's the only one to clear 75 percent in his first year. Others had to wait longer ... and some had to wait an eternity.

Player Ballot Percent Electorate
Aparicio 6th 84.6 BBWAA
Appling 7th 70.6 BBWAA*
Collins 4th 77.7 BBWAA
Faber 15th 30.9 VC
Fisk 2nd 79.6 BBWAA
Fox 15th 74.7 VC
Lyons 11th 86.5 BBWAA
Schalk 16th 45.0 VC
Walsh 10th 56.9 VC*
Wilhelm 8th 83.8 BBWAA
Wynn 4th 76.0 BBWAA
THOMAS 1ST 83.7 BBWAA

BBWAA* = Elected in runoff vote
VC* = Old-Timers Committee

It's difficult to compare election results across some eras. Collins was inducted in the fourth year of the Hall's existence, and Walsh was among the gigantic backlog the museum had to address. Appling was inducted in a special run-off vote, which don't exist anymore.

Still, the mechanism for the standard Hall of Fame election has remained largely unchanged for most of its existence, and it's never responded to a White Sox player like it did to Frank Thomas on Wednesday.

As much as some of us braced for disappointment, this really shouldn't be a surprise. Thomas spent his career redefining the achievable for a White Sox player. Why would his Hall of Fame experience be any different?

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