July 28, 2014
Frank Thomas had the 'biggest voice against steroids'
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – We used to have these talks, Frank and I, inside the Chicago White Sox clubhouse. The subject was taboo back in the days, but Frank Thomas was never one to keep his peace. He was among the first players to speak publicly about baseball’s darkest, deepest secret: Steroids. Thomas knew what was happening. He saw the massive bodies. He saw the bloated numbers. He saw the rich rewards. And it sickened him. Thomas, a huge man among baseball standards, 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, despised what he was seeing. Here was a man with a body and strength that his peers would envy, but with injections and pills, his peers were able to stay in the weight room longer, growing stronger, and putting up historical numbers., They were cheating, of course, but Major League Baseball had no rules back then. The only watchdog was your conscience.If you could look yourself in the mirror, believe there was absolutely nothing wrong with gaining an unfair advantage, you were ahead of the game. Man, did that ever frustrate Thomas, hoping others were paying attention. “I wasn’t THE voice against steroids,” Thomas said Saturday afternoon. “But I had THE biggest voice.” It was actually pretty easy to spot the steroid cheats back in the day. We would talk about names, exchange stories, and wish they’d be exposed, knowing that without proof, it was impossible to go public with names. Baseball had a real problem, and it was being covered up, but no one really cared. No one listened. And Thomas went about his business, knowing he was the best natural right-handed power hitter in the game. “I probably lost more than anybody else in that steroid era,” says Thomas, a two-time MVP. “I could have had more MVPs, bigger contracts, things that I deserved.” It’s only fitting that Thomas is now the first slugger inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame Museum from the steroid era. “That means a lot to me,” Thomas says, “because this is the pinnacle, and it was all done by hard work and dedication. I can look at them in the face, and tell them I worked my ass off.” There is no evidence to suggest anything different. Yet, by staying clean, and ignoring any temptation of using performance-enhancing drugs, Thomas realizes his reputation was damaged. “The first eight years, I couldn’t be touched,” Thomas told USA TODAY Sports. “There were crazy numbers I put up. When I came into the league, if you were hitting 30 homers and driving in 100, you were a great major-league baseball player. Not good. Not great. So I set my goal every year at 40 and 120. “But overnight, everybody caught up.“My 40 home runs, and my 120 RBI wasn’t what it once was. Guys started ramping up 50 and 60 home runs. They were doing things that were crazy. “So people started talking like my numbers were just average, and I took a lot of flak for that. They looked at me like, “What are you doing? You’re not working out. “That’s the one thing I was pissed off about.” Thomas is one of only four players to hit at least .300 with more than 500 homers, 1,500 RBI, 1,000 runs and 1,500 walks in baseball history, joining the likes of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mel Ott. He once averaged 39 homers and 120 RBI from 1993-1998. Yet, with a nation transfixed on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who staged the great home-run race in 1998, and Barry Bonds, who became baseball’s all-time home run king, Thomas received all of the national attention of a utility infielder. “Frank was the guy you didn’t want to let beat you,” says former manager Tony La Russa, who also is being inducted Sunday into the Hall of Fame. “He had power, average, a good strikezone, could hit to all fields. You couldn’t defend him. You try shifting on Frank Thomas. “Frank Thomas was that good.” Thomas didn’t provide any clues or hints on his acceptance speech, but it would be a bit surprising Sunday if steroids aren’t at least addressed. Thomas is the first 500-homer hitter to be inducted into the Hall of Fame since Eddie Murray in 2003, and could be the last until Ken Griffey Jr. is eligible in 2016. Rafael Palmeiro, who hit 569 home runs, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs his final season, and is already off the Hall of Fame ballot. Sammy Sosa, who hit 609 home runs, is barely clinging onto the ballot, receiving just 7.2% of the vote last year. The same with Mark McGwire, and his 583 home runs, who admitted to steroid use.Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, still waits, but hits chances of induction took a hit Saturday when the Baseball Hall of Fame announced it is reducing the number of years a player can remain eligible for induction to 10 years, instead of 15. It leaves McGwire with just two remaining years on the ballot, while Bonds has eight years left. “I definitely think he’s [McGwire] a Hall of Famer,” says La Russa, who managed him in Oakland and St. Louis. Ninety-five percent of Mark McGwire was legit.” He has no shot. McGwire’s support is shrinking just like a whole lot of juiced bodies, and with just 11% of the vote this past election, it would be an impossible task to make such a dramatic leap in two years. And Thomas is just fine with that. “You get rewarded in life some times for doing things right,” Thomas says. “I definitely did things the right way.” Thomas, the man who went to Auburn on a football scholarship, but left the university as a baseball player, and Sunday will become the first player from the SEC inducted into the Hall of Fame. “Before my time at Auburn,” Thomas says, “there were all kinds of guys trying to use PEDs and anabolic steroids to play football in college. “A lot of guys were caught, and by the time my class got there, they had video available, showing what steroids would do to your body, to your organs, what is going to be tolerated and what is not going to be tolerated. “We were well aware. And back then, all I had was my scholarship. They basically told everyone to their face, if you’re caught doing any of this, you will lose your scholarship. You will be kicked out of the university. “That was all I needed to hear.”And Sunday, we will celebrate Thomas’ greatness, and his integrity, with an honest-to-goodness home-run hitter, doing it the right way. “I really believe,” he says, “that I deserve this.” Thomas was wronged for so many years, never receiving all of the accolades he deserved, but Sunday, he’ll be the one rewarded, while those who cheated will be forced to watch from home. “I wanted to be great,” Thomas says. “I wanted to be the player people talked about. I always thought, “Don’t be afraid to dream great.”’ Thomas dreamed it. And he certainly lived it. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2014/07/26/frank-thomas-mlb-against-steroids/13216839/
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