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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Crossfire! Kenny vs. Frank

by
Guy Bacci

So much for the Frank Thomas era ending on a pleasant note. Egos, greed and money have once again triumphed over goodwill, modesty and a sense of perspective. That sweet ceremonial first-pitch during the playoffs, those loving words Thomas uttered on the podium after the parade—all a façade, apparently. The Big Hurt decided to spill his guts to Phil Ariva of the Daily Southtown in a fantastic-but-depressing interview that caused Kenny Williams to fire back with gusto.

Some of the most hurtful comments by the Big Hurt involved Williams. “Bottom line, Kenny and I have never seen eye to eye, from Day 1. There's no secret about that.”

Essentially, what the two didn’t see eye-to-eye on was the value of Thomas’ past performances. Frank wanted to be loved for what he had done in a White Sox uniform, but Williams was a brash newcomer focused on the future. We all know now that Williams took the GM job with an unquenchable thirst for a World Series. Nobody was going to get in his way, certainly not an aging slugger, no matter what that slugger had done before.

“I had done a lot more than anybody in this game, so I (bleeping) earned it,” Thomas stewed, referring to the money that he lost due to a restructured contract after his injury in 2001. “But [Williams] came in with this new regime ... that's where the bad blood started.”

The problem with Thomas’ latest outburst is that he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, both literally and figuratively. The “new regime” that he complains about just won Chicago’s first World Series in 88 years. While new Sox slugger Jim Thome is looking brilliant in batting practice, Thomas hasn’t yet stepped on the field for Oakland. There’s no question Williams made the smart business decision in letting Thomas go. Why can’t the Big Hurt accept it?

“If they had just called and said, ‘Thanks for the ride, we're going a different direction,’ I could handle that. That's all I wanted. That was the whole thing,” Thomas said.

Instead, Thomas claims, Williams called with a different statement. “He left it on the voice mail, said, ‘I know you've seen we signed Konerko, and I can help you try to get signed somewhere else.’”

The Sox—and Jerry Reinsdorf in particular—do seem to have a bed rep when it comes to parting with players. From Carlton Fisk to Michael Jordan to Scottie Pippen to Ozzie Guillen, there has been a lot of bad blood when the ties have been severed. Yet so many players wind up returning to the organization as they mature and realize it’s all just a business. Thomas seems rational enough to realize the same thing someday. But for now, it has officially gotten ugly.

“He's an idiot. He's selfish. That's why we don't miss him,” Williams said, deciding to bypass the high road this time around. “If you go out there and ask any one of my players or staff members, we don't miss him.”

That basically confirms what many have speculated—that Thomas has been an unpopular clubhouse presence for several years, if not most of his career. In essence, Williams is subtly saying he “put up” with Frank because of his iconic status in Chicago. But now that Williams has a ring, he no longer has to.

Thomas continues to sound like the confused soul he was for much of his Sox tenure. He wants to be a team guy—the historical legend of a franchise—while also being a macho, self-absorbed superstar. It’s difficult to have it both ways, especially when your body starts to betray you. Alex Rodriguez can shave it all, because he’s still one of the best in the game. Frank Thomas no longer is. Sure, 30 homers over his last 345 at bats is impressive. But 88 strikeouts and a .255 average are not.

We feel pity for Thomas because we know he was unfairly overshadowed by cheating steroid users. But history will eventually take care of that. For now, Thomas should check himself from saying things that make him sound like a fool.

For example, Thomas complains that he and Carl Everett shouldn’t have been put in a situation to share plate appearances. “Kenny put too many guys together. You can look through that. He put too many great players together.”

Oh, really? Are those the words of a team player? Most fans would argue you can’t ever have enough great players. Considering Thomas was unavailable for all but a few months of last season, the presence of Carl Everett was essential for the Sox to reach the post-season. Sounds like Williams was simply doing his job, and doing it incredibly well.

But in Frank’s mind, Kenny’s job was to coddle to him. Not only did Williams refuse to coddle, he went on to win a championship without him, and that had to sting.

This is a PR battle that Thomas will lose, much like Pudge and Ozzie before him. When the glory days start to fade, many players begin to feel disrespected. The everyday working man can’t comprehend the egos inside the world of baseball. How could these players who have earned millions upon millions possibly feel disrespected?

But in a world where reality is supplanted by endless adoration and gobs of money, the man with the biggest paycheck laughs the loudest.

Except, there’s more to it than greenbacks. There’s history, winning on the field, eternal glory. The 2005 White Sox achieved it. The 2006 White Sox have a chance, too. And if Thomas had been able to truly put himself aside for one measly moment, he may have been remembered as a bigger part of it.

Instead, he leaves a selfish whiner. And that, unfortunately, is the biggest hurt of all.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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