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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is Frank Thomas a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Yup

Wow, things are slow around Auburn, with the peak of recruiting season over, spring football still over a month away, both basketball teams struggling and baseball not yet underway.

As such, it's been difficult to find things to put on the blog, so I'm referring to the work of one of my favorite writers out there, Joe Posnanski, who makes a very strong (and lengthy) argument about former Auburn great Frank Thomas, who recently retired, being a no-doubt-about-it first-ballot Hall of Famer.

I don't think there will be a question that Thomas gets in. And I'm of the mind that there shouldn't be any debate about whether he is a first-ballot pick. He is in my opinion, considering that he, along with Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams are the only players to finish with a .300 batting average, 500 home runs, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 runs and 1,500 walks in a career. But not all Hall of Famer voters think like that.* Not that I'm seeing this argument a lot, just that there is, for some reason, an argument that is out there.

* To steal a Posnanski writing technique, I'll put this mid-post footnote to say that I would vote for Bert Blyleven (don't get caught up in his win total; he's fifth all-time in strikeouts), Tim Raines (a poor man's Rickey Henderson during his Montreal years) and Roberto Alomar (best second baseman of his generation) to absolutely be in the Hall of Fame.** I'll listen to arguments about Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Lee Smith and even someone under the steroid cloud like Mark McGwire. I would also say that Jack Morris (3.90 career ERA, somewhat romanticized postseason resume) should not get in. And this is coming from a Minnesota Twins fan who saw him do his best work in the 1991 World Series.

** Alas, I do not have a vote.

ANYWAY, Posnanski's point is this: you're crazy if you don't think Thomas is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, especially considering he is presumed to be one of the "clean" players from the era. He sums up Thomas's "Fair Play List" credentials like this:
(Thomas) did work out. He did look like the football player he was at Auburn. He’s on the Fair Play List by force — he has been on the PED front lines ever since he got into the big leagues. Even in the early 1990s, he expressed surprise that there was no testing in Major League Baseball. He is on record calling for testing as early as 1995. He has been quoted many times either saying or hinting that other players were taking short cuts that he refused to take. He gave video testimony before Congress. He was the only active player who willingly spoke with George Mitchell. If we want to believe that (Ken) Griffey is the Willie Mays of the steroid era — rarely saying anything controversial but hoping to make his case with his brilliant play — then Thomas is the Jackie Robinson, outspoken, raw, controversial and proud of his high standards.

I bring all this up now because Frank Thomas just retired and, impossibly, people are “discussing” whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. I find this stunning. This takes a discussion? Frank Thomas is not only a Hall of Famer, but unless he has been pulling off one of the greatest scams in baseball history, he and Greg Maddux are probably the clearest cut Hall of Fame players of their era. Thomas should not just go into the Hall of Fame, he should go in unanimously.

None of this will play out until 2014, when the unbelievably stacked class of Thomas, Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent will all be eligible.***

*** My (fictitious vote): Yes, yes, yes, yes (Mussina's numbers are closer to Glavine's than you think) and yes (even though his fielding was pedestrian, Kent's offensive numbers for a second baseman are staggering). That is one amazing class.

I'm sure some voters will come up with ridiculous reasons for not voting for Thomas right away, probably citing his occasional me-first attitude or his sub-par fielding chops (which should be less of an issue for first baseman, by the way) or his end-of-career slide. Even worse, they could continue to penalize all sluggers from the steroid era, as though everyone who hit home runs during that time is guilty simply by association. These reasons are just plain dumb.

I guess I'm of a similar opinion as Posnanski. I can't see how anyone CAN'T vote for him on the first ballot. None of this will really matter until four years from now, but for a time during the athletics season when not a lot is going on, it's at least something to write about.


Jess said...

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Jeff Kent????? You have to be kidding!! The only reason he owned a glove was that he was in the National League. He would have been a designated hitter in the AL...and how many of them are in the HOF?