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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Frank & Maggs... one last time.

by
Guy Bacci

As whiny and immature as Frank Thomas has been at times in his career, he deserves sympathy these days. He is a forgotten figure in MLB’s current drama. There’s a possibility the injured Thomas won’t play much this season, and his career could come to an end in relative obscurity. Meanwhile, a Greek tragedy is unfolding with Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi as the blemished heroes. But consider a tale written with Thomas as the protagonist. He’s got plenty of fatal flaws: a craving for statistics, a lack of leadership, an awkwardness with the media, a swing that has slowed with age. And he has something Bonds and Giambi don’t currently posses: A reason to feel sorry for him.

Thomas was a smiling, dominant force in the early ‘90s. He did things on the baseball field that very few players have done. But as he watched the likes of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire steal the spotlight in the second half of the decade, he became brooding and unproductive. The media pounded him relentlessly, and his seemingly selfish stances, such as when he demanded more money after Alex Rodriguez signed with Texas, didn’t help his cause.

In recent years, Thomas has curiously been passed up for All-Star nominations, and he stunningly lost the 2000 MVP to a juiced-up Giambi despite leading his team to the best record in the American League. And yet through it all, Thomas never called out any of his peers. His most vocal comment came in 2002 when he said, “I don't know who's on [steroids] and who's not on. There is definitely more activity in the weight room nowadays. I was hoping that it was just old guys working hard in the weight room. I really think it's time for testing.”

Thomas wasn’t the only Southsider who believed it was time for testing. In spring of 2003, sixteen Sox players considered not taking the test, thus automatically being counted as offenders, in order to raise the percentage of positive results and force mandatory testing through 2005. The ploy made national headlines, although the sixteen Sox were eventually talked out of it by the players’ union. Nonetheless, Sox fans were proud, as was GM Kenny Williams. “Although the players and their union do their own business, I admire our players greatly for taking a stand,” Williams said.

Thomas is a freak of nature—a biologically enormous man with an uncanny ability to track a baseball. As age slowed him down, his numbers dipped. Meanwhile, players like Bonds and Sosa went from skinny speedsters to hulking homerun hitters, and as they got older, they only seemed to get bigger, stronger and better. Hence Thomas was maligned as a fading failure, while others were marveled as timeless wonders.

Except nobody defies time, and it’s clear that many of these sluggers were doing so artificially. But didn’t we already know this?

Sure we did. Yet we didn’t want to believe it, or hear it, or accept it. But that has changed. The psychological impact of knowing these players admitted to taking steroids is powerful. Now we’re forced to wonder how much the gaudy numbers have truly been inflated. Would Sosa or McGwire have ever passed 60? Would Bonds have hit 73? Would Giambi have stolen the 2000 MVP from Thomas? We’ll never know. And because of that, the asterisks will forever remain. That’s a shame. There’s no doubting Bonds is great, we’re just not sure how great.

Thomas the protagonist could earn a happy ending. He could be given the 2000 MVP, he could be admired for having a clean career and inducted into the Hall of Fame. The story doesn’t have to be a tragedy for the Big Hurt. As for Bonds and Giambi, it seems unlikely their images will ever be completely restored. For example, is anyone feeling sorry for Bonds because he claims not to have know he was taking steroids? In a recent ESPN poll, 92-percent didn’t believe Bonds’ assertion. Giambi is known as a genuinely nice guy, and he may rightfully provoke sympathy.

But you only have to look across town to see how hard and fast a hero can fall. As Sosa’s body shrunk the past year, so did his power numbers. The fans and media turned against him, and he become moody. Sound familiar? How ironic would it be if, in the end, Thomas is held up as a Chicago icon and Sosa is traded away in infamy.

There are no winners. Everyone, in some way or another, has been cheated. And fans and media must share the blame. We continue to be a star-driven society, begging to see things we’ve never seen before. The media is eager to give us what we want. The reception that occurs when Bonds breaks Hank Aaron’s homerun record will be fascinating. Will we have learned from our foolishness? Or will we continue to be blind?

MLB must get tough. The landscape is about to change. There will always be muscular, athletic players to admire, such as Albert Pujols and Maggio Ordonez, but there won’t be hulking cartoons like Sosa and Bonds. They belong to the Steroid Era now—an era that produced unbelievable homerun hitters who were cheaters. That’s what we’ll be saying years from now.

They weren’t all cheaters, though. There was this guy named Frank Thomas…

Magglio Moves On

The soap opera that has become Magglio Ordonez’s departure from the White Sox has the city divided. Fans and media are shouting against JR, shouting against Ordonez and Boras, or shouting against all three. While Phil Rogers and Greg Couch recently wrote editorials chastising the front office and praising Maggs, Mike Downey followed with an anti-Ordonez article.

Nobody seems to know what went on behind the scenes. The “journalism” on this matter has been sketchy at best, based mostly on speculation. But one fact seems rather obvious: This is another example of how screwed up baseball is.

The media can stroke itself over as many Red Sox/Yankees ALCS match-ups it wants; that doesn’t change the fact that nearly every other team remains on the outside looking in. It’s gotten to a point where a team like the White Sox doesn’t even have a shot at landing a mediocre pitcher such as Jaret Wright.

There is a recent comment from Magglio that speaks volumes about the state of the game: “They don't care about winning. They only care about making money.”

Excuse me, but why can’t the Sox try to win and make money? Is this what it has come to? You must choose to either stay profitable or win a World Series? And if the Sox don’t shell out $16 million a year for a 30-year-old right-fielder, they’re considered cheap and uncaring?

This is absurdity.

Ordonez is quite simply one of the best players in Sox history. In the future, he will likely be thought of in much the same way Robin Ventura is—a quiet, steady player who was never flashy but always productive. If you were to make a roster of the best Sox players of all time, you’d be hard pressed to leave off Ordonez, as you’d be hard pressed to leave off Ventura.

But nowadays, the great ones rarely stay.


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.

More features from Guy Bacci here!

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