Thomas hit 500th wearing a Jays uniform

* Frank Thomas is the sole big bopper in the class of six being inducted Sunday afternoon at Cooperstown. He'll be inducted along with pitcher Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, plus manager Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent


Greg Maddux .... Tom Glavine …. A Hall of a Class

By Bob Elliott

Mark Buehrle was in awe the first time he ever saw Frank Thomas.

“He was the only player I knew who played for the Chicago White Sox,” said Buehrle.

Buehrle was a 38th round pick of the White Sox in 1998, signed the next May and after 36 games in the minors was in the same clubhouse as Thomas in 2000.

Thomas and Buehrle still keep in touch, via phone.

“I saw him from a distance at the all-star game in Minneapolis when he was working for FOX, I had to dodge him,” said Buehrle who doesn’t enjoy doing TV interviews.

“Frank was a good dude who could hit.”

And on Sunday afternoon Thomas will be a Hall of Fame dude when he’s inducted into Cooperstown along with Atlanta starters Greg Maddux, Tom Galvine and managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre.

When Buehrle made his debut on July 16, 2000 Thomas had for what was for him a typical day: two hits and two walks in an 11-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

After 16 seasons with the White Sox, including back-to-back MVP honours (1993-94) Thomas signed with the Oakland A’s and Buehrle remembers the first time the DH returned to U.S. Cellular Field in 2006.

“First time up, the fans gave him a standing ovation, he hit a homer off Jon Garland and everyone stood and booed him,” said Buehrle.

Thomas hit two solo homers off Garland -- in the second and in the fifth as Thomas knocked in three runs. The A’s lost 5-4 as A’s closer Huston Street allowed three runs in the ninth and Pablo Ozuna squeezed home the game winner in the 10th.

The Jays signed Thomas heading into the 2007 season giving him to a two-year, $18-million US deal, with a $10-million option. The slugger arrived with 487 career homers and in the Jays 78th game he hit a three-run homer off Carlos Silva of the Minneapolis Twins for No. 500. The drive scored Vernon Wells and Matt Stairs, but three at-bats later when he struck out looking for the second out of the ninth, he was ejected by Mark Wegner in an 8-5 Jays loss at the MetroDome.

“He was an incredible hitter,” said former Jay Alexis Rios who was in the lineup that day. “Frank was a good for a young guy like me to be around. He had a lot of wisdom about hitting mechanics. He knew the game and he’d share it too.”

The next year manager John Gibbons decided to platoon Thomas, hitting .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs in his first 16 games, with Stairs.

One day later Thomas met with general manager J.P. Ricciardi and was given his release. He re-signed with the A’s, played 53 games and retired.

“I didn’t face him in his prime,” said Jays closer Casey Janssen, “but he was certainly a guy who could make you pay for your mistakes. He could take you out to any part of the field.”

When the Jays prepared for the 1993 American League Division Series scouts saw Thomas’ weakness as an unwillingness to expand the strike zone -- which most thought was needed since one of Bo Jackson Danny Tartabull or George Bell was hitting fifth. All were on the down side of their careers.

“Not expanding the zone and getting into a 2-0 count ... wouldn’t that make you a better hitter?” said Janssen.

After being teammates for five years Thomas went 2-for-8 with a home run, walk and strikeout against Buehrle.

“What did I throw? What ever finger the catcher put down,” said Buehrle. “He stood off the plate and raise his arms on an inside pitch, as if it just missed him and that wasn’t the case. He could flick his wrists and hit the ball the other way.”

A lot of ball fans are familiar with the names of the Hall of Famers, along with Buehrle, Rios and Janssen, but you should know the name Joe Pittman, who died earlier this season. A story on Thomas can’t be written without mentioning Pittman, who first played and then scouted for the Astros.

At the tender age of 32 -- which is about nine in scouting years -- Pittman lobbied hard for the Astros to sign Thomas as an undrafted high school. In his first year scouting Pittman believed so much in Thomas that Pittman said he’d cover the $50,000 signing bonus to get the deal done.

Yet, Thomas then 18, headed to the Auburn Tigers as a tight end and a two-sport star before injuries ended Thomas’ career. Thomas was the seventh pick over-all pick in 1989 draft.

Thomas was a hit becoming the first player in history with seven consecutive seasons of a .300 average with at least 100 walks, 100 runs, 100 RBIs, and 20 homers.