Year Inducted: 2014 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 478/571)
Baseball loves its number clubs, doesn’t it? The 300 win club, 3000 strikeout club, 500 home run club, and others are used as benchmarks for greatness. However, there is one club that relatively few people talk about: the .300/.400/.500 club. In all of baseball history, roughly 20 players have maintained a .300 batting average, .400 OBP and .500 SLG for their entire careers. This is a feat that legendary hitters like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio haven’t accomplished. Not surprisingly, most of them are in the Hall of Fame that are eligible (Joe Jackson was part of the Black Sox Scandal and Lefty O’Doul only had 3000 plate appearances so he should be disqualified), or will be in the near future (with the possible exception of Manny Ramirez). One of the most overlooked players of this club is Frank Thomas.
Thomas was built to mash the baseball, putting up a career line of .301/.419/.555 with a wRC+ of 154, the same as Willie Mays. Thomas spent most of his career with the White Sox, becoming the best player of that team’s long history, and hit a total of 521 homers, 495 doubles and 12 triples. Thomas stood 6’5″ and was an intimidating 275 pounds, so he wasn’t the most graceful athlete in the world (only 32 steals and a very poor baserunner), but made up for it with his power hitting and ability to produce runs (scoring nearly 1500 times and driving in over 1700). Thomas was one of the best hitters ever.
The real downside to Thomas’ career was his defense. Unlike Paul Molitor, who was a decent fielder at third base before his switch to DH, Thomas never really was good defensively. Early in his career, he was a poor defender at first base (the easiest position) and as he got older and heavier and beset by injuries, his fielding ability crashed. Eventually, Thomas had to become a full-time DH, and actually played more games at DH than at first base in the course of his career, making him difficult to judge when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Obviously, his numbers stack up well at first base with others in the Hall of Fame like Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial, and the position is cluttered with guys that weren’t good fielders (Willie McCovey and Harmon Killebrew come immediately to mind). Is being a poor defender at an easy position better or worse than being solely a bat? Logically, if a guy isn’t a good defender, it’s better to just put him at DH, but is that fair to the rest of the players who didn’t have that option? From this perspective, it gives some sympathy to the BBWAA for being less inclined to vote for career DH’s with the Hall of Fame (ie Edgar Martinez should have been a first ballot inductee).
Having said that, the best compromise would be to induct those players that had great bats and not hold hypotheticals against anyone. It wasn’t Thomas’ fault (or Edgar’s or Ortiz’s) that MLB introduced the DH, but they were able to contribute offensively like few players had before. Thomas’ bat was good enough to get him in no matter the position and hopefully the writers ease their stance to get Martinez inducted soon.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/28/16:
#44- Mr. Cub