The upcoming induction of White Sox legend Frank Thomas into the National Baseball Hall of Fame is cause for celebration — and for an ambitious documentary on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
“Welcome to Cooperstown: Frank Thomas,” an original one-hour special on the life and career of “The Big Hurt,” will premiere at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (with rebroadcasts at 10 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. July 26 and 4:30 p.m. July 27).
Produced, written and edited by Comcast SportsNet’s Sarah Lauch and Ryan McGuffey, the documentary chronicles Thomas’s rise from childhood in Columbus, Georgia, to immortal White Sox slugger. Included are interviews with Thomas (who now works for Comcast SportsNet as a studio analyst) as well as Jerry Reinsdorf, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, Tom Paciorek, Ed Farmer, Darrin Jackson, Bobby Howard, Walt Hriniak, Jim Fannin, Paul Konerko, Billy Beane, Mike Scioscia, Ron Washington, Terry Francona, Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly.
It’s narrated by veteran Chicago columnist and broadcaster Richard Roeper, a lifelong White Sox fan and author of Sox and the City: A Fan’s Love Affair with the White Sox from the Heartbreak of ’67 to the Wizards of Oz.
“Frank Thomas is not only a Chicago baseball legend, but he will go down as one of the greatest athletes to ever play the game,” Kevin Cross, news director of Comcast SportsNet, said in a statement. “Our production team, led by Sarah and Ryan, has truly captured the story of Frank’s life in a special way and, more importantly, fans will be able to understand the true essence of what this Hall of Famer is all about.”
Following Thursday’s premiere of “Welcome to Cooperstown: Frank Thomas,” Comcast SportsNet will air a White Sox game from his 1993 MVP season — specifically July 27, 1993 with Thomas going 4-4 at the plate with two home runs and five RBI, leading the White Sox to a 7-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will be July 27 in Cooperstown, New York.
Here are excerpts from the documentary:
THOMAS on being passed up in the MLB Draft: “Not getting drafted out of high school was the worst moment of my life at that time because I knew that I was much better than pretty much half that draft. It was a lot of guys I played with in high school. A lot of guys got drafted. I want to say seven, eight, nine guys got drafted and I felt like I was the best player in the state. Most of the scouts played off, ‘Oh, you’re just a football player playing baseball.’ I took it serious because I knew what I had to give for baseball. They could have signed me out of high school for a dozen baseballs and a couple fungos. I was taking it hard because I wanted to play baseball. But, thank god I had the focus and the desire and the ability to play another sport. Football was my second sport, but it was really my first sport because all the big schools were recruiting me to play football. I just made that decision. My dad (Frank Sr.) told me, he said ‘Hey, we got a full ride to Auburn, let’s go be a football player and walk onto the baseball team later.’ He was right and that fire was burnt there that I was going to be the best football player I could be…and it turned out that going that extra yard for football made me a much better baseball player.”
THOMAS on his first impression of Chicago: “When I got here it was the biggest city I’d ever seen. It motivated me. I’m like, ‘I can’t be a failure here…there’s too many people watching.’ And it wasn’t easy being this big guy down in the minor leagues because everybody made a big deal out of it. I’d have a lot of people call me saying ‘they’re making a big deal about you coming up this year’…and I was like, ‘I’m ready for it.’ I just felt that if I continued to work harder, harder, and harder…I just didn’t want to let anybody down. I had my dad pushing me too. My dad was there. He wanted me to be the best. He wanted me to go that extra mile.”
THOMAS on the winning the MVP award in 1994, but losing out on the opportunity of possibly going to the World Series: “It was bittersweet. Of course you’re happy winning another MVP, but to not finish that type of season with a team that was ready to go, and a year later we broke it all apart…it hurts. It’ll always hurt. You learn to live with things, but you’ll never get over it. I’ll never get over 1994.”
THOMAS on being a part of the 2005 World Series champion White Sox team: “Being here so long, I felt it was my duty to be here for my teammates that year. It was my choice to come back early. (That team) had everything…the pitching…the defense…we had power…we had guys hit for average…and we had a cohesion for the first time that I had never seen before that it seemed like the whole team got along. You had some strong personalities in there that when you want to go in a foxhole, those personalities were on that team. However, it was damaging to me, not to be on that field in 2005, but I saw something special and that’s part of being a team. I had grown up a lot. I had been in the game a long, long time. I’ve accomplished everything except getting a ring and I felt I could help guys mentally and help them with their approaches against certain guys I’d faced over and over that season. I felt like I had a big voice on that team just because of that. But, I cared about those guys and I’m so happy they got me to the finish line…they got me a ring.”
WALT HRINIAK on Thomas’ dominance at the plate: “Frank Thomas is the best hitter I ever saw all around. If I had to pick one guy to start a lineup, Frank would be my guy and I’d hit him third…he’d be the guy. Every day I went out there to work with Frank and every day we took batting practice. He did stuff that amazed me. He would do stuff in batting practice that would just blow you away…and I played with Hank Aaron, I played against Willie Mays, I played against (Roberto) Clemente…but every day, this guy did things with the bat in his hands that just blew me away. He’d hit a ball down the right field line like a little ‘Punch and Judy’ and then, the next pitch he’d hit over the centerfield wall, you know, 430 feet, c’mon!”
KEN “HAWK” HARRELSON on how he came up with “The Big Hurt”: “I just blurted it out one day. I kept saying, ‘he hurt it, he hurt it, he hurt it.’ He’d kill one into left center, ‘he hurt it.’ One day he hits a home run…I’m watching him go around first base…and I said, ‘The Big Hurt’ and it just blurted out and that’s how that came about. It turned out to be a pretty good nickname for him.”
JERRY REINSDORF on Thomas’ unique combination of power and average: “Frank Thomas was amazing. He had such tremendous plate discipline. Rarely do you see a combination of power and plate discipline like he had. I mean, Ted Williams had it, but Frank was certainly one of the top two or three right-handed hitters that I’d ever seen. He was just an amazing guy, but when he first came up, I don’t think he hit a home run for the first three weeks I think…and we were wondering if this guy was ever going to hit a home run, but it certainly turned out that he did. More importantly was his on-base percentage was incredible and his ability to use the whole field was incredible.”
BILLY BEANE on Thomas’ lasting impact in Oakland: “He (Thomas) will always be known as a Chicago White Sox, but to have one of those great years, Hall of Fame career (years), come to Oakland and that year we won the division. He had a huge impact. We loved him as a player. We loved him as a person. We like him so much that our fantasy football league is forever named after him. There’s only one Frank Thomas, but we wanted our players to be that type of hitter. The power, the patience, and then he had such professionalism about every single look at bat, he never wanted to give away a pitch, never wanted to give away one at bat, and it was great. He’s a well-deserved Hall of Famer and, for a guy who spent one year out here, he put his mark on the people in Oakland.”
PAUL KONERKO on Thomas being one of the all-time great hitters: “Just like any other great hitter, when I say great hitter, he’s on the short list of a few guys that’s ever played. For me, it’s just that if you hit for a bunch of power, you have to sacrifice average and discipline and, if you hit for high average and you’re an on-base guy, then you don’t hit for a lot of power. He just blows that out of the water. So, there’s only a handful of guys that have done that…that can do both. I know just in my own career that many times it feels like you have a choice. Well, I can try to hit for power, I can get some hits, but it’s very hard to do both. I feel like it’s one of the other a lot of the time, but when you have a guy like that who has an on-base percentage of .400 and hits .330, but also hits 40 home runs and drives in runs…I mean, it seems like it is impossible. He’s one of the few that pulled it off.”