COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- If Frank Thomas had chosen football over baseball, would the Big Hurt have been successful in the NFL?
"If he had stuck with football, he'd be going in the Hall of Fame as a football player," former Auburn coach Pat Dye told auburntigers.com, the university's athletic department's web site.
That may be wishful thinking from a proud Auburn icon, but as Thomas gets ready for his Baseball Hall of Fame induction Sunday, the "what if" question is worth asking.
"He was a good freshman tight end at Auburn before turning his attention to baseball," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who signed Thomas as a White Sox scout. "He was big enough and physical enough. He looked the part, I know that."
Thomas gave up on playing football for the Tigers after his freshman season. Still, his agent at the time, the late Robert Fraley, tried to use a potential NFL career for Thomas as leverage during negotiations with the Sox in Orlando, Fla.
"Robert said: "If he doesn't sign, maybe he'll go back to play football and try to go into the NFL draft,' " Rizzo recalled.
Rizzo wasn't surprised at the statement, and called Fraley's bluff.
"I said 'Robert, if you think he's a better football player than he is a first baseman, I think you're not evaluating him right. This kid needs to go out and play baseball and put football in the rear view mirror. He has a chance to do some special things as an offensive player in the major leagues. He's with the right team, and in the right league, and it's a perfect scenario. I'm not buying your leverage is to go back to football.' "
Thomas wound up signing for $175,000, and the rest is history.
Looking back, he believes he could have made it big in either sport.
"I could've played in the NFL, yeah," Thomas said. "But I don't know how long it would've lasted. I was blessed to play that long.
"But I look at it like my 5-year-old son, little Frankie, he's going to have that choice, what he wants to do. He has an arm that's out of this world. I was like 'Where did you get that from? You must have got it from your mom.'"
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