Thomas 'at peace' with retirement
White Sox slugger says goodbye to baseball after 19-year career
CHICAGO -- As of 11:15 a.m. CT on Friday morning, the greatest hitter in White Sox history became a stay-at-home father.
Frank Thomas officially announced his retirement at the U.S. Cellular Field Conference and Learning Center, a story first reported by MLB.com Thursday night. Thomas was accompanied by his wife, Megan, and children Sterling, Sidney, Sloan and Frank III, who range in age from 17 years old to 15 months. He also spoke in front of many media members who wrote or broadcasted about his illustrious 19-year career, with 16 coming as part of the White Sox organization.
The spacious room was filled with White Sox staff members, watching a man who put up numbers matched by few others in the history of the game address the end of his run.
"It's been a long time coming, and I'm happy to be back here," Thomas said. "It took me a while to get to this point, but I had to get baseball out of my system.
"I'm happy with this announcement, and I'm at peace with it. I had one heck of a career."
Thomas certainly speaks the truth when talking about his accomplishments. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound force joins Hall of Famers Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams as one of four players to have a .300 average, with 500 home runs, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 runs scored and 1,500 walks in his career. He ranks in the top 30 all-time in eight statistical categories, including sitting in a tie for 18th with Willie McCovey and Williams at 521 home runs.
These numbers certainly indicate Thomas was so much more than just a slugger. He was a cerebral hitter, who not only spent countless hours in the weight room but spent just as much time going over film to get supremely prepared.
His dedication to the game was perceived at times as too much of a focus on personal numbers. But as Thomas explained on Friday, his devotion to winning didn't always come out through this hard work.
"I cared a little bit too much, and people couldn't take me right all the time," Thomas said. "I did my homework, and I cared about what I did. It's not like I just rolled out there every day. I don't think everyone saw how much I cared.
"We all have regrets, but I was blessed to play 18 years, which is a long time in this game. As you are growing up and going from a no one to someone, there's a lot of adjustments made earlier in your career. I learned a lot of lessons from those first 12 or 13 years, and the game humbled me my last five years and I really grew up."
Stops in Oakland in 2006, Toronto in 2007 and stints with those two clubs in 2008 rounded out Thomas' legacy. Aside from an injury-plagued 2008 season, Thomas still was a productive force in the end. Yet, nothing stacks up to Thomas' White Sox achievements.
Twelve White Sox statistical categories feature Thomas at the top, by a wide margin in many instances. That list includes 448 home runs, 447 doubles, 1,465 RBIs, 1,327 runs scored, 1,466 walks and a remarkable .427 on-base percentage and a .568 slugging percentage.
There were back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player honors for Thomas in 1993, when he was a unanimous selection, and in 1994, making him the 11th player in Major League history to win consecutive MVP awards. It was announced by the White Sox on Friday that Thomas' No. 35 will become the 10th uniform number retired by the White Sox during an on-field ceremony at U.S. Cellular Field on "Frank Thomas Day," scheduled for Aug. 29 prior to a 1:05 p.m. CT first pitch against the Yankees.
Being asked about this recognition made Thomas reflect upon his career coming to an end in Chicago after 2005's memorable World Series championship.
"If it was up to me, I would have played every year of my career here in Chicago," Thomas said. "I understand professional sports, and as guys get older, they move around.
"To have your number retired, it's just a huge honor. I'm very, very proud."
During the course of Thomas' 25-minute press conference, he spoke of how fences had been mended with general manager Ken Williams. There was a public falling out between the two in Spring Training '06 over Thomas' perception as to how his departure was handled. Thomas also pointed out how White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, with whom he maintains a close bond of friendship to this day, was the first person he called when the retirement decision was made.
"Our conversation was as warm as they all have been over the years," said Thomas of the call to Reinsdorf. "People think we had a rocky relationship, but we haven't."
"Everyone who enjoyed watching Frank Thomas perform during his outstanding career with the White Sox quickly realized we were watching one of the greatest offensive players of all-time, a player destined to re-write our club's record books," said Reinsdorf in a statement on Thomas. "When your career comes to an end and your body of work is compared to Hall of Famers like Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, you truly rank among baseball royalty."
Reinsdorf's statement went on to say how it only will be a matter of time until Thomas is inducted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. Thomas didn't play in 2009, so he will become eligible for election in 2014.
At that point, Thomas should be a first ballot choice. He was a special talent in the long, storied history of the game, a man with the size to hit a ball 480 feet but with a keen batting eye that rarely gave opposing pitchers a margin for error.
In 1997, Thomas' .347 average made him the biggest man to win a batting title, an even more impressive accomplishment attached to 125 RBIs and a .456 on-base percentage and with hardly any infield hits.
Now, Thomas can sit back and reflect on those moments in retirement. His priority is being a father, instead of trying to hit the fastball on the inner half.
"People told me you'll know when it's really over," Thomas said. "Physically, I still can do it, but mentally, I'm not there anymore to play.
"I've been away 14 months, spending time with my family. It shows you there are things more important than being an entertainer out on the field."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.