Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Big Props For The Big Hurt

If ever there was a player who Chicago fans have had a love-hate relationship with, it's Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt can divide a room faster than Dubya's policies or a discussion on abortion. Or a big, thick wall. He's a lightning rod, often attracting the bolts of criticism himself by whining about anything and everything. The guy is permanently one self-perceived disrespectful look away form jumping into pout mode.

In other words, Thomas can be infuriating in a way few players can. It's a special ability of his.

However, many props must be given to Thomas in the pathetic mess that is MLB and steroids and congressional hearings and subpoenas. While a spineless scumbag like Bud Selig cowardly hides behind lawyers and red tape, and while cheating steroid freaks willingly bypass the chance to speak the (so-called) truth and clear their names (thus cementing their guilt in the minds of millions, as if there was any aver doubt), Thomas is willing to face the committee and answer all questions.

Look, let there be no question about who the stand-up guy is here. Thomas should be commended. Oh, he has some reservations about heading to D.C, but they have more to do with the swelling an airplane trip might inflict on his recovering ankle, and less to do with the oozing cowardice so visible in the likes of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, and Rafael Palmeiro, who have “politely declined” to tell the truth..

Thomas will show up and speak the truth. Not a problem, Mr. Congressman. What do you want to know?

Let's remember a few things about the Big Hurt:

1) He has openly called for steroid testing throughout his career.

2) Considering he was already built like a truck when he arrived on the scene as a youngster, and has maintained that physique (aside from the occasional weight issue), nobody has ever been able to accuse, nor even suspect, Thomas of steroid use. He has always remained above the fray.

Look, say what you will about Thomas' often surly attitude, but he is one of the good guys. Sure, at times the Big Baby has been a more apt moniker than the Big Hurt, but once you get past Thomas' penchant for melancholy meanderings, he has maintained his integrity in a game drenched in doubt. When the current era is looked back upon, and all the steroid suspects are forever, and rightfully, marked by proverbial astericks in the unforgiving scope of history, Thomas will have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. His conscience and legacy will be as clean as his blood and urine have always been.

The sad part is, if anyone has a gripe about the way this era of steroids will be remembered (at least statistically), it's Thomas. I would imagine he can't help but feel cheated. He came up in the early-'90s and has been producing stellar numbers consistently ever since. Other than the odd injury-plagued year, Thomas has never fallen off much, despite the continual howls that he's over the hill. His early MVP-winning numbers compared favorably with those of Bonds, Sosa, and McGuire before those three (and others) jumped on the steroid gravy train and saw their stats explode.

Personally, I'd love to see how the stats of these players would have compared if steroids never dirtied the pool.

What a shame.

I have a theory that Thomas may just be the best hitter of this era. He may have been remembered with the likes of Ted Williams and Willie Mays as a sweet-swinger who dominated for a long, long time. Should Thomas stay healthy, and have a few more productive seasons, his body of work will speak for itself. It already does.

Of course, we'll never know for sure if Thomas was the preeminent hitter in baseball at the turn of the century. His untainted accomplishments will forever pale in comparison to those who took the easy route and stuck needles in their butt cheeks in the name of well-kept schedules of performance-enhancing injections.

Thomas? He just went out here and hit. And hit. And hit. And all the while, he was a voice of reason as the game of baseball wandered through the dark alleys of corruption and cover-ups.

This should not be forgotten.

Thomas has always loved to talk. Of course, all too often his love of chatting revolved around his litany of complaints concerning contracts and a perceived lack of respect.

But as Thomas heads to D.C. to answers questions that others slither away from like snakes, I'm going to forget about all that for a moment, and look upon Thomas for what he is underneath his thin skin.

A decent guy. And a great hitter. Maybe the best of his era. We'll never know.


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