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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Spring Thinking!
by Hal Vickery

It’s time again for the annual rituals of spring training: speculation about new players and how they will fit into the lineup, reports of possible rookie sensations, speculation about trade and free-agent acquisitions, dumping on Frank Thomas. You know—the usual stuff.

This year, as last, the dumping on Thomas has begun even before he reports to camp. Last year it started in January with speculation on a non-existent feud between Thomas an Ozzie Guillen. Stories were printed about how the two did not get along when they were teammates after Guillen, while answering a question from Bruce Levine, stated that if Thomas behaved as a bad teammate, he would not be welcome.

The funny thing was that after months of speculation about whether Guillen and Thomas would end up in a shouting match as happened when Gen. Disarray was manager, their first meeting started with the two embracing each other. Down the drain went all those months of speculation. Reporters had to find another story.

They found it when Thomas suffered a stress fracture in his ankle. Kenny Williams, reverting to his part-time role as Prof. Chaos, got all over Thomas for not putting on a charade that he was available as a pinch hitter. This was at a time when he couldn’t put any weight on the foot. With Thomas’s bulk, the pain in his ankle must have been excruciating.

At the time no one knew that it was a stress fracture, but as usual, there was no public apology to Thomas for putting him in a bad light before all the facts were known. But as usual, the Chicago media went after the easy story, and then simply reported the diagnosis without mentioning the lack of any sensitivity on the part of Williams for his only genuine superstar.

Then, of course, after the diagnosis, Thomas and his doctors originally decided on a conservative course of action, electing not to try surgery until after it could be determined whether the bone would heal naturally. When it became apparent that this wasn’t happening, Thomas was accused of not being a team player because having the surgery in October would mean that he would probably have to miss at least part of spring training.

Never mind that any doctors will tell you that surgery is a last resort in any case because it is an invasion of the body. This was Frank Thomas, and it is common knowledge (at least according to Chicago media types) that Frank is a slacker. After all, this is the same guy who refused to run a drill for Gen. Disarray that his doctors told him he should not run so soon after that bone spur surgery. “Everybody” knew that the general’s “finest hour” was putting Thomas in his place for that infraction.

So at least until Gen. Disarray showed beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a complete incompetent as a major league manager, he was a hero for being the man who put Frank Thomas in his place.

So what is the flap about this year? Well, it seems that Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner is upset on behalf of Frank Thomas’s teammates that he will not be reporting to camp with the other players because he will not have recovered sufficiently from the surgery to his ankle.

Thomas informed the White Sox of this last week after he saw his doctor for what might have been his final exam before heading to Tucson. The White Sox made the announcement stating that he would probably be able to report some time in March.

Rozner was guest hosting on WMVP’s “Mac, Jurko, and Harry Show.” When the topic came up, Rozner went into a tirade, the gist of which was that Thomas needed to do the right thing and go to camp as a show of support to his teammates.

Talk about utter nonsense! Over the past few years a couple of members of our family have had surgeries that involved rehab periods. Believe me, the last thing you want to do while you are still in that process is travel several hundred miles to a job-related activity just to be there for support of your fellow workers.

Another substitute co-host, Matt Spiegel asked Rozner, “What can he do there?”

Rozner’s only response was that “it’s the right thing to do.”

Again, this is utter nonsense. As Dan McNeil, who was strangely silent on the issue is fond of saying, these guys are professionals. This rah-rah stuff belongs in high school and college. They don’t need Frank Thomas for support or motivation. What they need is Frank Thomas in the best shape he can be in as soon as possible, and the best way to get that is for him to stay home and continue his rehabilitation there. He needs to show up in camp when he is ready to get into playing shape, not one minute before.

As one Sox fan, who posts on message boards and emails sportsblab radio shows under the moniker BOBBYROSEBOWL put it, “You don’t go into battle dragging along a wounded buddy so he can show his support.”

Well, maybe you do in the fantasy world of sportswriters. Now that Sammy Sosa is gone from the local scene, the local media can ignore the fact that they failed to ask any questions about Sosa’s acquisition of fifty or so pounds of muscle virtually overnight, choosing instead to concentrate on his boom box and corked bat because those were the easy stories.

Now they can divert your attention from their dropping the ball on Sosa and devote their time to the one remaining superstar in a city that has wallowed in mediocrity for decades. Perhaps they can make you think that his relatively minor transgressions, or even his non-transgressions are a huge story.

They’ve already convinced some people that Frank Thomas is a bad guy. Look for the media to use Thomas’s staying at home as the first step in their completing the destruction of his reputation.

The truly sad thing is that in the past the White Sox have contributed to the sullying of Thomas’s reputation. Soon the Sox will have an option to buy out Thomas’s contract. It may be in their best interests to follow the Tribune Co.’s example with Sosa and aid and abet the media in the process.

We’ll be watching in the coming months and reporting to you if this happens.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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