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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Frank, Juice, & Sox Fans

by George Bova

With the Sox back in camp, it is time again for Sox Fans to contemplate the glory we hope our team achieves.  It is spring and no time of the year better lends itself to all the delicious possibilities that all Sox Fans under the age of 90 can dream about together.  Nobody has waited longer to celebrate a world championship, not counting those idiots on the North Side of town who obviously don't count since they long ago spelled out their love of losing by hanging the tag "Lovable Losers" on their team.  We Sox Fans are the longest suffering group that isn't perverted enough to think such ridiculous thoughts.

If the 2004 Sox are to finally reach the mythical "Point C" Jerry Reinsdorf told us fourteen long years ago his organization was chartered to reach, the main man to get us there will be the same one it was back in 1990 when Reinsdorf stated that claim, the late-season rookie call up who is still with us, Frank Thomas.

He is the best hitter in the history of the franchise and has achieved hitting feats nobody short of Ted Williams ever achieved in the history of the sport, too.  In his fourteen seasons playing on the South Side, the Sox have achieved exactly three division crowns (one in a strike-shortened season) and two post-season victories, both of those occurring way back in 1993.

Thus it has been that Frank Thomas has come in for criticism from time to time in Chicago, sometimes even from Sox faithful.  For them being the all-time best hitter simply isn't enough.  The media dismisses him as surly, and the fans who mistakenly confuse exceptional batting average with exceptional leadership skills are inevitably disappointed in what Frank delivers in the clubhouse.  It's been like this for many years now.

So I'm quite pleased to note 2004 could truly be a watershed year for Sox Fans, if not because of a Sox championship then at least for the revelation we Sox Fans might be treated to about the real value of Frank Thomas and his undisputed contributions to the winning Chicago White Sox.  Two fundamental pieces have already dropped into place and they ought to make all the difference in the world.

First, Ozzie Guillen is the new manager.  We Sox Fans love to debate whether or not the rookie manager will bloom into a successful field general for our beloved Pale Hose.  Maybe he will, and maybe he won't.  As Sox Fans we will be tuned in regardless.  One point we Sox Fans can't debate at all is that Ozzie Guillen most definitely is not the same person as Jerry Manuel.  Sox Fans, this is a good thing. 

Lost in all the discussion about the shortcomings of Jerry Manuel as Sox manager is the unmistakable role he played in running down the value of his team's best hitter.  It was 1998 that Jerry Manuel took over for the buffoon Terry Bevington.  Say what you will about what a goof Gene Lamont's replacement was, there is no mistaking that the productivity of Frank Thomas suffered almost immediately after Manuel arrived to replace him. 

Sox Fans know what a holy terror the MVP Frank of the early and mid nineties was, and most of us remember being positively giddy at the news of the team finally acquiring a heavy duty #4 power hitter to protect Frank in the lineup, the truly menacing presence Albert Belle.  That was November, 1996.  Just one problem.  Belle has a sub-par first-half in 1997, and our owner pulled the plug on what might have shaped up as a late-season run for the playoffs in a series of White Flag trades that July.  Then Jerry Manuel arrived in 1998 and suddenly the problem wasn't Albert Belle's bat anymore, it was Frank's. 

1998 was the first full season in Frank Thomas's career that he was not a legitimate MVP candidate.  Left all to itself that wouldn't mean very much, but there was oh so much more to follow.  There was the famous "early dismissal" of Frank in 1999 after Manuel got pissed that Frank wasn't available for pinch-hitting duty.  It turns out Frank had a bone spur the size of a golf ball in his foot.  No apologies from the Sox manager.

There was the infamous "shuttle run showdown" during spring training, 2000, and the season-ending tricep tear in 2001 followed by a year of rehabilitation.  And of course there was Manuel's stubborn insistence last July that "nothing short of an emergency" would ever have Frank Thomas playing first base for the Sox, even when faced with over ten years of empirical data suggesting Frank was a far superior hitter when also playing first base.  Nope, Manuel would keep sending Paul "GIDP" Konerko out to first base no matter what. 

By the time September rolled around, Manuel was just petty enough to sit Frank Thomas on the bench for the star's last home at-bat of the season, sending Armando Rios to bat instead.  That's right.  Manuel sent The Great Armando "Friggin' Rios to the plate, denying Sox Fans their last chance to applaud their hero of fourteen campaigns. 

Some of us we're paying attention, and we're quite glad Jerry Manuel is now in our rearview mirror.

And what about Frank's hitting these past six seasons?  How do his numbers compare to the best hitters of that same period?.  Well guess what, Sox Fans!  It turns out maybe Frank Thomas wasn't that far from being an MVP candidate after all.

The power numbers Frank produced in late-90's didn't compare to baseball's best, but then Frank Thomas isn't the one accused of using steroids and human growth hormone to pump his numbers up either.  The investigation into what other ballplayers did to turn baseball into a charade will leave Frank Thomas unblemished.  To the contrary it has been Frank Thomas himself leading the call (and his teammates, too) to put an end to the fake means by which lesser ballplayers made themselves into superstars. 

We Sox Fans haven't forgotten the stand the entire Sox clubhouse took last spring (refusing to submit to random testing and thus adding "positive" results to the official tally) that has now led to mandating a system of drug screening all ballplayers face. 

It was our Sox who took that stand.  It was our Sox that made a difference.  It was our Frank Thomas who played the leading role.  And it is our Frank Thomas who will come out looking better than ever, both on the field and off.  How's that for leadership?

Let's see if the Chicago sports media takes note.

George Bova is editor and founder of White Sox Interactive.  You can write George at

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