Baseball BeatAugust 25, 2006
Rushing a Prestigious Fraternity
By Rich Lederer

Frank Thomas slugged the 475th home run of his career on Wednesday night to tie Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 23rd place on the all-time list. Moreover, he is now just 25 HR shy of 500. Despite all the rhetoric about how easy it now is to club 500 homers, there are still only 20 players in the history of the game who have reached that milestone.

The player known throughout the game as The Big Hurt not only is closing in on 500 HR but is also hitting over .300 for his career with a little room to spare. Entering Friday night's game at Texas, Thomas has 2,229 hits in 7,303 at-bats (.3052). If he maintains his current pace this year and goes something like 25-for-95 the rest of the way, he will head into next season with 2,254 hits in 7,398 at-bats (.3047).

Barring a complete collapse, in order for Thomas to fall below the .300 mark for his career, he would have to hit under .220 with 450 or more AB. Although that's certainly within the realm of possibilities, it is unlikely for two reasons: (1) Thomas has never hit worse than .252 over a full season and (2) he probably wouldn't get that many AB if he was hitting so poorly.

Should Thomas call it quits after the 2007 season, he seems like a decent bet to finish his career with at least 500 HR and a .300 or better batting average. If so, he would become just the seventh retired player to reach those magic numbers. (The operative word here is retired because Manny Ramirez, with 469 career dingers, is the odds-on favorite to beat Thomas to the 500 club next year. The Boston slugger also has a career batting average of .315. As a result, he stands an excellent chance of joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, and Mel Ott upon retirement in this exclusive fraternity.)

HR >= 500
AVG >= .300

                      HR      AVG    
1 Hank Aaron         755     .305   
2 Babe Ruth          714     .342   
3 Willie Mays        660     .302   
4 Jimmie Foxx        534     .325   
5 Ted Williams       521     .344   
6 Mel Ott            511     .304   

Interestingly, Barry Bonds has dipped below the .300 lifetime mark this year to .298. It would be nearly impossible for Bonds to lift his average back up to the .300 level this late in his career. Nonetheless, the fraternity could gain new membership over time as Alex Rodriguez (455, .305) is a lock to hit 500 but a much longer shot to maintain a .300 batting average. At 37, Gary Sheffield (453, .298) is borderline on both fronts. Vladimir Guerrero (332, .324), who won't turn 30 until December [correction: he celebrated his 30th birthday on February 9, 2006], seems like a distinct possibility to join this exclusive club in due time. Albert Pujols (239, .332) has a ways to go but figures to learn the secret handshake as well.

While it is far too early to speculate on youngsters such as Miguel Cabrera and David Wright, I think we can safely assume that veterans Jeff Bagwell (449, .297), Jason Giambi (349, .293), Ken Griffey Jr. (561, .291), Chipper Jones (350, .304), and Mike Piazza (415, .309)--as good as they have been--are likely to fall short in at least one of the two departments. In other words, there may be no more than a dozen players in the history of baseball ten years from now who have combined hitting 500 HR with a .300 lifetime batting average.

Thomas, if and when he makes it, will clearly be at the low end in both areas. But, hey, that's OK when you are rubbing elbows with many of the best hitters ever. Granted, Frank's defensive shortcomings may prevent him from being thought of as an "inner circle" Hall of Famer but his offensive production is such that there should be no question as to his Cooperstown worthiness when it comes time to vote for him.

Oh sure, Thomas benefited by playing in a higher-scoring environment than many of his brethren. And, by serving as a designated hitter, he was also able to extend his career beyond those who weren't afforded the same luxury. That said, there have been dozens and dozens of DHs during Big Frank's career who have not come close to putting up such prodigious numbers.

In the category of what have you done for me lately, it's almost easy to forget just how great Thomas was in his first seven full seasons. From 1991-1997, Thomas hit .330/.452/.604 with an average of 36 HR, 34 2B, 171 H, 119 BB, 107 R, and 118 RBI. He scored and knocked in more than 100 runs every year. Thomas also walked over 100 times each season. The guy was an on-base machine. His lowest OBP during this stretch was .426. Looked at it a different way, he averaged getting on-base exactly two times per game.

Thomas lost games in 1994 and 1995 owing to the strike. In fact, he was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons of all time--certainly by a RHB in the post-War era--when the work stoppage cut short the 1994 campaign on August 12. He was limited to 113 games that year and the 1995 season was revised to 144 games.

From 1991-1997, Thomas finished in the top 10 of the Most Valuable Player voting every year, winning back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and 1994. Big Frank is the only player in MLB history to hit .300 with at least 100 BB, 100 R, 100 RBI, and 20 HR for seven consecutive seasons.

Thomas struggled over the next two seasons but bounced back in 2000 when he hit .328 with a career-high 43 homers, 115 runs, and 143 runs batted in. The slugger finished second in the MVP voting that season. He was slowed by injuries in 2001, then returned and had a sub-par year in 2002, before rebounding once again in 2003 to hit 42 HR along with 100 BB and 105 RBI.

After a couple more injury-riddled seasons, Thomas (.268/.390/.524 with 27 HR in only 347 AB) has risen from the scrap heap a third time and is one of the mainstays of the AL West-leading A's offense this year. Although the 38-year-old DH is definitely in the twilight of his career, fans and HOF voters alike should take note of just how great he was during the 1990s.

With or without 500 HR and a .300 lifetime average, Thomas is one of the top two dozen most productive hitters in the history of the sport. Now that, in and of itself, is a pretty prestigious fraternity.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

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Update: Sports Illustrated ran a concurrent article on Frank Thomas. It is a good read.


Vlad was born February 9, 1976 - He is already 30 - Aquarius, Year of the Dragon.

Frank's in the twilight of his career, but his sun is still shining - brighter than Jr's, and Jr's still a HOFer in most people's minds (including mine)

When mentioning guys that are going to come up short you have to remember Piazza is a catcher making his 415 even more impresive.

Good catch, Rev. Can't remember where I got that birth date, but I remember thinking at the time that it didn't feel right. I should have checked a second source. My bad.


Griffey is a no brainer HOFer. The sixth best CF of all time. Like Thomas, it is easy to forget just how great he was during the 1990s.


Piazza's HR totals and batting average are both impressive indeed, especially in light of his position. He is unquestionably the best-hitting catcher ever.

One thing that is left out about Thomas is that he almost for sure did not do steroids when they were in full swing. I really hope he gets 500 because he deserves to be in the HoF way before McGwire, Sosa, or Palmeiro.

How can you say "almost for sure"? With no testing, millions of dollars at stake, and these guys being extremely competitive anyway, I can no longer assume anyone did not take any PEDs.

Though no one can be "sure" about Thomas and PEDs, one can say that he was consistent from the very beginning, both in performance and in physique.

Whereas some of the other "greats" such as Giambi, Bonds, etc., have most obviously morphed into different looking players in their careers, Thomas has aged and but does not appear to be out of line with the body he brought into the league.

Greasy, I don't know if I've become unrealistically cynical. I would hope I can take emotion out of an issue like this. But when I look at the body that Thomas brought in, the fact he was obviously spending a lot of time in the gym before he hit his first hr, I can't say that I think he was clean.

Now, I know the implication of that is that, well then, every big guy did it, and ofcourse that is false. Which is such a big reason this PED thing pisses me off, I have to take assumptions that I cannot say are justified or unjustified.

What about players with 500 HR and a high career OBP, say .400+?

Jon, unless I'm mistaken, Thomas would have been tested for steroids in college as a football player. Since he passed those tests, that would make him one of only a handful of major league players who can point to a period of time and say, "Look! I was demonstrably not on steroids for four years." Thomas was jacked in college, as well. Thomas has also stood against steroids throughout his career, even before that sort of thing was popular, so he's no "johnny-come-lately" like Curt Schilling. All these factors make him the least likely player in the major leagues to have done steroids. It also makes him the easiest to root for.

Ted Williams' career OBP of .482 is mind-boggling...

On 'roids:

Palmeiro throws a monkey wrench in the look-at-his-body-change argument, unless you believe that he was using 'roids for 12-15 years, which I find unlikely because of his tremendous durability.

What about players with 500 HR and a high career OBP, say .400+?

HR >= 500
OBA >= .400

                                  HR      OBA    
1    Babe Ruth                   714     .474   
2    Barry Bonds                 708     .442   
3    Mickey Mantle               536     .421   
4    Jimmie Foxx                 534     .428   
5    Ted Williams                521     .482   
6    Mel Ott                     511     .414

Bonds and Mantle in (both with .298 AVG), Aaron (.374 OBP) and Mays (.384) out.

Frank Thomas is the man. A lot of Sox fans regarded Thome as a huge upgrade over him, but I just never saw it. The lefty bat is good, and the fact that Thome lead directly to the team keeping Konerko is HUGE, but as far as these two guys head to head, its a push at this point.
Alot of them said he would never get 500 when he left too. I knew better:

Re: Frank Thomas
by: the_e_23 (30/M/Savannah, Ga) 02/02/06 02:35 pm
Msg: 2590 of 17072

2 years and Frank gets to 500, then he retires.
25-30 this year.
20+ in 2007.
I just hope he can retire with his career average over .300.

too bad all my predictions werent that accurate:
Re: Is it too early for season predicti
by: the_e_23 (30/M/Savannah, Ga) 01/19/06 03:18 pm
Msg: 2267 of 17072

AL EAST and WEST winners? Toronto(the trendy pick) and Texas
White Sox centerfielder? Anderson
White Sox leading hitter for average? Uribe? nah, Iguchi

I am a life-long A's fan and it has been a great joy to watch Thomas hit this year. The guy simply punishes the baseball. Also, although it is very hard to measure in stats, Thomas brings "presence" to the A's lineup -- something they have not had for a few years.