Frank Thomas is the most underrated hitter ever

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Frank Thomas officially announcing his retirement has me thinking about his place in baseball history and preemptively worried that the Baseball Writers Association of America may not fully appreciate him when he appears on their Hall of Fame ballots in 2014.

Thomas was my favorite player growing up, which is admittedly an odd
sentiment for a Twins fan. However, when The Big Hurt was at his
baseball-crushing best my beloved Twins were finishing in fourth or
fifth place for eight straight seasons, so they were barely worth
following and the White Sox were on WGN just about every day when
baseball-watching options were limited.

A 6-foot-5, 250-pound mountain of a man who played tight end at
Auburn and was a massive slugger from the moment that he arrived in the
majors as a 22-year-old in 1990, the sheer magnitude of Thomas’
physical size and offensive numbers made a fan in me immediately.

now, two decades later, I’m here to tell you he’s the most
underrated hitter in baseball history. Seriously.

Because of what has happened to power numbers and power hitters
during the past decade or so Thomas is often talked about as just
another great slugger from this era, but that misses the boat in a big
way. Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball and surely everyone
would agree that at 29 years old he’s on track to be a first-ballot
Hall of Famer, but look at his numbers compared to Thomas’ stats at the
same age:

               G       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+
Pujols 1399 6082 .334 .427 .628 172
Thomas 1076 4789 .330 .452 .600 182

Pujols has hit .334 with a 1.055 OPS, whereas Thomas hit .330 with a
1.052 OPS through the age of 29. Plus, Thomas’ twenties came in a
slightly lower-scoring era, which is why his adjusted OPS+ of 182 tops
Pujols at 172. Pujols has three MVPs and one batting title while thrice
leading the league in OPS. Before his 30th birthday Thomas had two MVPs
and one batting title while leading the league in OPS four times.

Frank Thomas was Albert Pujols before Albert Pujols. And while it
remains to be seen what Pujols does after turning 30, Thomas hit
.276/.389/.515 with 264 homers and a 134 OPS+ in 1,246 games. To put
that in some context: Jim Rice had a 128 OPS+ for his entire “Hall of Fame career.” Add his amazing twenties to his very good
thirties and Thomas is a career .301/.419/.555 hitter with 521 homers
and a 156 OPS+.

Thomas ranks ninth all time in walks, 18th in homers, 21st in RBIs,
25th in extra-base hits, 29th in times on base, and 37th in total
bases. Among players with at least 7,500 career plate appearances,
Thomas ranks 11th in on-base percentage, 17th in slugging percentage,
12th in OPS, and 13th in adjusted OPS+. He’s also one of just 11
players to win back-to-back MVP awards.

And now that he’s officially finished playing, Thomas becomes just the seventh
hitter in baseball history to retire with 500 homers and a .300 batting
average, joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jimmie Foxx, Ted
Williams, and Mel Ott. He also joins Ruth, Williams, and Ott as the
only players with 500 homers, 1,500 RBIs, 1,500 walks, and a .300

Whether you choose to focus on peak dominance or career longevity
Thomas is quite simply one of the greatest 20 or so hitters in the
history of the sport and if that doesn’t get him into Cooperstown then
what use is there in even having a Hall of Fame?

Congress to pass bill depriving minor leaguers of minimum wage rights

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We saw this coming and wrote about it last weekend, but now it’s official: the new spending bill from Congress contains a gift for Major League and Minor League Baseball in the form of a provision classifying minor leaguers as seasonal workers, exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Practically speaking, this means that minor leaguers are not required to be paid minimum wage or have other basic protections to which even part-timers at fast food restaurants are entitled.

The relevant provision — buried on page 1,967 of the 2,232-page spending bill, which will get almost zero time to be read and processed by most people before it’s ultimately passed signed into law by tomorrow — is farcically entitled the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” It exempts from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 people who fit this description:

[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.

It may be news to you that the multi-billion baseball industry, run by a few dozen billionaires and billion-dollar businesses, needed to be “saved” in such a fashion. Congress knew though. Maybe because Congress is so benevolent and wise. Or, maybe, because baseball’s lobbying operation spent millions plying Congressmen for this special law to keep it from having to pay workers a living wage.

Based on the response to our past writings on this topic, I suspect most of you won’t care all that much. You either believe that all or most of these players are wealthy via six or seven-figure signing bonuses or will make serious money in the big leagues one day. That’s not true, but many of you believe it. Or, alternatively, maybe you view minor leaguers as a bunch of kids farting around with a hobby until they start their “real life,” so why should they make a living wage?

To the extent you believe that and to the extent this does not bother you, I’d simply suggest that you ask how much money minor league and major league organizations make via the playing and marketing of minor league baseball and how much Major League Baseball benefits by having its training and development system costs legislatively controlled. Ask yourself whether the company that gave you your first entry-level position would’ve loved to have a law allowing it to pay you less than minimum wage and how you would’ve felt if that was the case in your situation. Ask yourself if anyone else would have cared all that much about the job you had when you were 22 and whether that would make a difference to you as you made the equivalent of $5 or $6 an hour for a multi-billion dollar business.

Maybe that still doesn’t sway you. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a greedy cash grab by baseball which now, thanks to specially-requested government intervention, institutionalizes and legitimizes the exploitation of young men with very little power and even less money. That you may be OK with it doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s very, very wrong.