Independent team pursues Big Hurt
Northern League club hopes to return Thomas to Chicago area
CHICAGO -- News of the Joliet Jackhammers' contractual offer made to free agent Frank Thomas has drawn a mixed reaction from a select few among the club's Northern League fan base.
According to Joliet executive vice president/general manager Kelly Sufka, one fan called the home office and accused the team of being mean for making such an overture to what looks to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Another season-ticket holder called to find out if Thomas would be part of the Jackhammers' lineup for the home opener on May 23.
Truth be told, there's a better chance of first-year Joliet manager Wally Backman playing for the team during any game this year than Thomas showing up in Joliet. But Sufka is willing to do whatever it takes to bring the Big Hurt back to Chicago, or at least within 35 or 40 miles of the city.
"With him being in Chicago so long, along with the fact that he doesn't have any place to play, we thought, 'Why don't we give him an offer?'" said the first and only female general manager in the Independent Northern League, which features the competitive equivalent of Double-A baseball.
Northern League rules allow four veteran players per team, and while the Jackhammers currently have reached their quota, Sufka said the club would adjust if Thomas agreed to the five-page contract faxed on Monday to his representation. The most prolific hitter in White Sox history, who still holds 12 franchise records with the bat, would also be afforded a few extra perks.
For starters, Thomas would be given an apartment in either Joliet or Plainfield, whereas most Joliet players stay with host families. Sufka added that Thomas would get two lockers, his own seat on the team bus and his own hotel room on the road and he would be flown to the team's road game in Winnipeg.
Any Major League team who picked up Thomas, at this point, would be responsible for just the pro-rated part of the Major League minimum. The Blue Jays, who released Thomas this past weekend, are on the hook for the remainder of his reported $8 million salary for this season.
If Thomas joined Joliet, he could earn an additional $2,500 to $4,000 per month over the course of the three-month, 96-game Northern League schedule.
"We wouldn't even make him show up for Spring Training," said Sufka with a laugh. "The offer is pretty much open-ended -- if he wants to come tomorrow, next week or a month from now. Even if he's bored and wants to play, he's welcome to take batting practice every once in a while."
Sufka made it clear that the offer was not meant to be "mean" or an insult toward Thomas. It simply was a bid made in good fun to bring Thomas back to Chicago for the first time since 2005, when he finished a 16-year run with the White Sox.
"This is all in good fun, and the last thing want to do is offend him," said Sufka, who has yet to hear anything from Thomas or his representation. "We gave it our best shot, and I know he has to do what's best for him.
"It would be the best promotion the Jackhammers ever did -- absolutely incredible. We would bend over backward to make sure he's happy while he's here."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.