Four summers ago in Cooperstown, New York, White Sox icon Frank Thomas closed his Hall of Fame induction speech with a message to young people everywhere:
“There [are] no shortcuts to success,” he said. “Hard work, dedication, commitment. Stay true to who you are.”
It may or may not have been a thinly veiled reference to the steroid users of Thomas’ era, but it sure replays like one.
Thomas, 50, was part of a reunion of the 1993 AL West-winning White Sox before the game against the Royals on Saturday at Guaranteed Rate Field. He referred to that 94-win team as the most talented he played on in 19 years in the major leagues. He lamented the ALCS defeat in six games against the eventual World Series champion Blue Jays.
“You look back and kind of regret we didn’t finish the job,” he said.
Thomas won his first of back-to-back MVP awards that season after batting .317 with 41 home runs and 128 RBI. He finished his career at .301, 521 and 1,704 — first-ballot Hall numbers, to be sure.
But Thomas drew a line, as he has done before, between himself and the crowd that used — or was suspected of using — performance-enhancing drugs. Without that line, there wouldn’t be the same context for his “Mr. Clean” numbers.
“I was the most hurt in that era,” he said. “My career was stepped on. I had an incredible career, and some of the guys on steroids passed me up in one year. To dominate for seven straight years like I did, and then overnight go back to 15th in home runs, it’s alarming.
“Back then, I was naive. I thought guys were just getting better workout programs and were really killing themselves. It wasn’t the case, as it panned out. That wasn’t the case, as we found out later. That’s okay. I got what I deserved.”
Thomas is tied for 20th on the all-time home run list. He is 24th in RBI and 10th in walks (1,667). His No. 35 Sox jersey was retired in 2010.
He maintains that he had no knowledge of widespread performance-enhancing drug use in the sport while he played.
“Not at all,” he said. “I heard whispers. Jose [Canseco] never hid it. Jose Canseco was Jose Canseco. He was the only one who was honest out of that era, I’ll tell you that much. He knew everybody in that era who was on it. It’s amazing.”
One thing bothering Thomas these days is the fact that the percentage of Hall votes garnered by alleged steroid users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is growing every year.
“They shouldn’t creep up,” he said. “Trust me, I talk to a lot of Hall of Famers about it and they’re not happy. A lot of these guys didn’t make much money, and all they have is their legacy. Trust me, they’re not happy about it. We have talked about it.”