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Frank Thomas lets it out, lets everybody in during Hall of Fame speech

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Big Hurt expresses gratitude in a (high) number of ways during induction ceremony

Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Thomas' words often got him into trouble during his playing days in Chicago, but they couldn't have worked any better for him in Cooperstown.

Honesty tended to burn Thomas before. He didn't pretend to be ignorant of his stats and accomplishments, which rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and when he wasn't happy with a situation -- defensive position, strike zone, managerial criticism -- he didn't mask his discontent very well.

Now, that openness is working for him. Since he and the Sox reconciled with each other, he's made the subsequent celebrations very personal and unguarded.

And boy, did he let everybody in during his 17-minute Hall of Fame induction speech on Sunday.

Nobody came close to being as emotional as Thomas on the stage at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown. His composure came out wobbly -- he needed a couple deep breaths before he started, and his voice wavered and cracked throughout the first minute.

The tears came out 90 seconds in, when he paid tribute to his late father. He had to wipe his eyes again when he saluted his second wife and five children ... and again when he talked about his late agent, Robert Fraley, who died in a plane crash in 1999.

Listening to Thomas share all of this, it really painted a vivid picture of just how much crap he had to deal with from 1998-2001. His marriage crumbled and led to an expensive divorce, he lost his most trusted adviser, he was dealing with a massive bone spur in his ankle the size of which doctors couldn't believe, his leadership and toughness were under assault from his manager and teammates, and then his father passed away.

I had some idea of what Thomas endured, but I definitely understand it better now. His words registered with the unfamiliar, too. Next to me in the crowd were two Yankee fans who were there to see Joe Torre's speech. One woman turned to her friend and said, "Now he's got me crying." Her friend started crying, too, and the audible sniffles multiplied.

A lot of people don't come back from that. Thomas did, and from the tears and smiles, the perseverance paid off.

Star-divide

Earning a spot in the Hall of Fame -- especially on the first ballot -- pretty much disables all critics and counterarguments. Given the number of people who took shots at him over his career, and his rebirth as the "clean slugger" after the PED crisis, he had enough reason to bring a flamethrower to the stage.

Thomas could've pulled a Michael Jordan and slammed everybody who doubted him (David Wells, for example). He could've pulled a Ryne Sandberg and criticized the general population of baseball players for not possessing his moral superiority.

Instead, Thomas did the opposite by going full-blown positive. He didn't denounce steroid users, but only told those listening that "there are no shortcuts." And instead of ripping those who ripped him, he chose to thank a lot of them instead -- family, friends, employees, front office members, team personnel, and enough of his teammates to constitute a quorum, including Lyle Mouton.

Scott Merkin said the beat writers combed through his speech to try to account for all the players he mentioned. Try reading the list and not getting "We Didn't Start The Fire" in your head.

Cotts, Glover, Loaiza
Space monkey mafia
D. Bo, Magglio
Edsel is a no-go

Harden, Haren, Kotsay
The late Joe Kennedy
McElroy, Merullo
Belgians in the Congo!

Baseball-Reference.com says Thomas had 410 teammates in his major-league career. Thomas cleared one-third of them by naming 138, and he said he had it in mind to name 50 more than he did. Either way, he set the record by plenty.

If the "verbal montage" didn't cross over into absurdity, it definitely flirted with it. Hearing names like Joe Magrane (19 games with the Sox in 1996) and Phil Bradley (45 games in 1990) was weird enough, but maybe the strangest name to come up was Brian Anderson's, since he made his MLB debut several weeks after Thomas played his last game for the Sox.

(The most notable omission might be "Wells." He had his choice of two -- Boomer and Kip -- and he named neither.)

The way it unraveled at the end took some of the attention off the heartwarming and heartbreaking first half. If I were to rank them in terms of speech quality (content and delivery), I'd probably place Thomas third.

  1. Bobby Cox -- A good mix of sincerity and humor, delivered in a voice that sounded like his.
  2. Tom Glavine -- Started with a good personal anecdote, hit all the points well.
  3. Thomas
  4. Joe Torre -- Good speaking style and a nice overall theme ("dealing with failure"), but went 27 minutes and still forgot to thank George Steinbrenner.
  5. Greg Maddux -- A cursory career timeline that lasted 10 minutes, sounded like he was reading another person's speech.
  6. Tony La Russa -- Used his script/notes less than anybody else, but was too anxious to ad-lib smoothly.

But I don't think the technical quality mattered to Thomas. Talking about the overrun after the ceremony, he said, "I'm sorry about it, but I'm not sorry about it." The induction speech was Thomas' moment, and he treated it as such. Rank the speeches by fewest regrets, and I'd guess that Thomas tops the list easily. He left it all out on the field.