Baseball / Sports

Thomas thanks many in heartfelt Hall of Fame speech

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- If you didn't get thanked by Frank Thomas on Sunday, please raise your hand.

In a heartfelt speech at his Hall of Fame induction, Thomas made sure not to slight any of his favorite former teammates, coaches or other employees he met during the long and winding road from Columbus, Ga., to Cooperstown.

It was an emotional day for Thomas, 46, who teared up twice in front of a crowd estimated at 48,000 and mentioned everyone from former clubhouse man "Chicken Willie" Thompson to White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

All in all, 138 people were mentioned, which could be another all-time record for the Big Hurt.

"This is my grand finale, and I just wanted to thank all the people that touched me," Thomas explained afterward.

"All those guys had something to do with my career, on the field, off the field. I got here the other day and I was like, 'Wait a minute, we can't do this.'

"So I had to cut 50 guys off and go back. If it was up to me, I wish I could've gotten everybody in. There were a lot of people that meant a lot to me over the years, and I could not forget my teammates. They got me here, every day. I didn't drive those runners in by myself. We're all tight.

"Hopefully they got it all. My phone has been blowing up since I got here."

Thomas' speech went over the prescribed time limit by several minutes, but no one seemed to care. The big man was on a roll, and there was no stopping him.

Thomas batted fifth in Sunday's six-man lineup, sandwiched between managers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. He predicted he would choke up when mentioning his late father, Frank Thomas Sr., and he did just that, shedding tears over the man who gave him the determination to become one of the elite hitters in baseball history.

"Thanks for pushing me and always preaching to me, 'You can be someone special if you really work at it,' " Thomas told the crowd. "I took that to heart, Pops. Look at us today."

Thomas' mother, Charlie Mae Thomas, was present for the ceremony, along with his family and friends.

Thomas was amazed at the turnout, saying Ozzie Smith had told him: "It's for real now. Look at all those people." Thomas had practiced his speech numerous times and said it all went well until he actually had to deliver it.

"I was 'Cool Hand Luke' sitting there watching everyone's speeches, and as soon as I stood up, my knees started knocking," he said. "And the first place I looked was at my mom.

"It hit me right in the heart because my mom hadn't left Columbus, Ga., in 15 years, and she was here today, so I just started crying right away. It was a huge day for me and my family, and I feel really blessed."

Thomas also cried when mentioning his late agent, Robert Fraley, and gave special shoutouts to former teammate and manager Ozzie Guillen, Sox announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and hitting coach Walt Hriniak, whom he credited with making him the hitter he was.

Though he has been outspoken against PEDs during and after his career, Thomas decided not to make an issue of it during his speech, saying later that it wasn't "necessary" to address it on such a special stage.

Instead, Thomas referred in his closing comments to playing the game the right way.

"To all you kids, just remember one thing from today -- there are no shortcuts to success," he said. "Hard work, dedication, commitment, staying true to who you are."

Thomas lived his life with no regrets and a big chip on his shoulder, and he has always said what's on his mind. His memorable speech showed a side of the Big Hurt that few outside his family and closest friends have seen, and there is no need to apologize for shedding a few tears.

"I was just overcome with emotion," he said. "I'm sorry about it, but I'm not sorry about it.

"It is what I am."

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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