Originally I was going to further rant about the Hall of Fame this weekend like I started to do last January when this year's inductees were announced but my heart just wasn't in it. I decided to instead celebrate one of my all time favorite players getting into Cooperstown: Frank Thomas.
The Big Hurt needs very little introduction to even casual baseball fans. He came up in 1990 as a fully formed hitter and then spent the next 19 years living up to his nickname. 521 home runs, 1704 RBIs, .301 BA, .419 OBP, .941 OPS, 156 OPS+, 2 MVPs and he did it absolutely clean, if that sort of thing matters to you. In fact, it speaks volumes about the hypocrisy and double standards of the baseball writers that he only got 83.7% of the vote. The man is the closest thing we have seen to Ted Williams in the last 50 years and 16.3% of the writers said "pass" - I would really like to hear their reasons.
Frank Thomas won his place in my heart when I learned he and I shared the same birthday. It's a simple notion but I think I backed the right horse. Speaking of horses, the quote that is the headline of this post is a classic one from Steve Lyons and fits Frank perfectly. I began collecting his cards in earnest at the end of 1990, his rookie year, and have a dedicated binder and shoebox for his cards. Let's take a look at them all. Yup, I said all of them; a man only gets into the Hall of Fame once, so here we go.
Frank has just begun to be featured as a Legend in the baseball card world.
He alternated years for the Blue Jays and Athletics at the end of his career. It is kind of hard to keep track which team he was on which year.
A's and Jays. A's and Jays.
That card with him superimposed over the stadium is a bit of foreshadowing for my favorite Frank card. Well, one of my favorites.
I have a whole nine pocket page of that 2007 Topps Moments & Milestones card (not shown).
You will notice Frank was the same size at the end of his career as he was at the beginning. That size, of course, is huge.
This page shows the first few A's cards he had. It was bizarre to see him in anything but a White Sox uniform when it happened.
The White Sox won the World Series in 2005 but sadly, Frank was injured and didn't get a chance to play in that post season.
I do like Frank in that throwback 80's White Sox uni. He makes that hideous thing look good.
A "typical" late career season: 2003
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
153 662 546 87 146 35 0 42 105 100 115 .267 .390 .562 .952 146 307
He finished 15th in the MVP voting.
For that Power Up! card, I believe they just shrunk his body, rather than blowing up his head. It is kind of hard to make a caricature out of someone who is already shaped like one.
I spent the last 2 days reorganizing my Frank Thomas collection. Even I was taken aback by how many there are.
This page has one of my favorites, or at least one of my favorites in the manner I acquired it.
Frank had that great looping Walt Hriniak follow-thru made famous by George Brett. It is fair to say, no one ever hit with as much power with that swing.
With so many brands by the same company in the early aughts, you get a nice progression of photos of the same swing on the Topps Gold Label, Total, and base cards here.
The Leaf and Leaf Rookies and Stars here show a variation on that same idea.
Frank got grouped with a lot of White Sox teammates on his cards over the years. Sadly, most of them had careers like Joe Crede here.
This is a nice walk down memory lane for me, seeing examples of all these different cards from the turn of the millennium. Until I reorganize my Mike Piazza collection, this will be the finest example I have of that.
Here you see Frank on one of his first "legends" cards. By now it was already quite clear he was on the fast track to the hall of fame.
So much high end shininess on this page. Even the base Chrome card looks like a refractor here, though trust me, that is just the regular one.
While I have long extolled the virtues of shiny, there is good shiny and bad shiny. This page shows a great example of that contrast: the Flair Showcase (good) and the Pacific Revolution (bad).
Topps had a thing for tiered sets in the early years of this century. The Stars set came with multi-starred versions of each base card that zoomed in on the photo with each progression, here you see the three star. And the less said of the bazillion versions of Topps Tek the better.
You can't really tell from the scan but that UD Encore card is slightly miscut. I seem to have a more than a few slightly miscut Frank Thomas cards.
More Tek, more Gallery, more Gold Label. Folks complain about the sameness of sets these days but were the late 90's, early 00's that much different?
Plus we also bitch about using the same photos but look at that UD Retro and SP Authentic. They are basically the same picture.
One of the late 90's conventions was putting superstar players on the checklist cards and here you see Frank on not one but two from the same set. You will see this was not uncommon for Frank.
Say what you want about Fleer Metal, but it certainly was, um, different.
That 1997 Topps base card shows Frank doing something most people seem to think he didn't do much, field. Frank played 971 of his 2322 major league games in the field. That's 41.8% which isn't terrible. It certainly opposes the notion that he was "just" a DH.
Alas, that Donruss Signatures card is not the autographed version.
Do you think that Ultra card is a checklist? I might have to turn it over to make certain. I find it ironic that the word Checklist is printed larger than the title of a set called Headliners.
Those original 1996 Topps Chrome cards are still the best.
It's amazing how vast Topps' designs were back in the mid 90's. They made stuff as classic as those Gallery cards and as crazy as those Finest. I wonder if they had two different teams, one for the "normal" cards and one for the "nutty" cards. Or maybe they were the same team, just before and after a six martini lunch.
I can recall losing my shit over that 1996 SP card of Frank in his St. Patrick's Day uniform back in the day. There is a lot of black and white on his cards, so it was great to get some unexpected color. That pink checklist also sort of fits into this category, but not nearly in as cool a way.
Oddball alert! The bottom card with the blue border is from a baseball style card game and also, a 1995 Panini sticker, of which I have seen precious few of.
Remember what I said about checklists?
I filled an entire page of just his 1996 checklist appearances. Yeah, I know, right?
His 1995 cards came out right after his second consecutive MVP season in 1994. He had 38 homers, 101 RBIs, 109 BB, and 106 Runs in 113 games when the strike ended his season. I would have loved to see how his numbers would have finished out. Fuck you, Bud Selig.
The early and mid 90's are parallel crazy. You will begin to see double a lot from here on in.
This page has all sorts of crazy busting out all over the place. The infamous 1995 Fleer set is here, but don't sleep on that collector's choice insert and its hot pink aura, not to mention that crazy half yellow card just screaming on top or Frank's eyes peaking out of that Score card on the bottom.
And here it is, probably my favorite Frank Thomas card:
For all the crazy on that last page, nothing beats how insane that 1995 Pinnacle checklist card is. I mean, I know Frank is a big dude, but he's not that big (right?).
So many parallels, so little time.
And finally, some Duflex technology. Took long enough.
I love Frank with the three bats but what I am missing is a photo of him holding his famous piece of rebar. I wonder if any of his cards has a photo like that. See? Even in such a vast collection, there are holes.
There you see a Triple Play card of Frank in his little league uniform, though I am willing to bet there was nothing little about him even then.
In 1993, Leaf did an entire 10 card insert set of Frank. He celebrated by winning his first MVP with this year:
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
153 676 549 106 174 36 0 41 128 112 54 .317 .426 .607 1.033 177 333
As amazing as that year is, it was pretty much his average year for the next 5 seasons.
While he never actually knocked the cover off the ball, I bet the stitches on the balls he hit were never the same.
That 1968 Topps style design is from Baseball Card Magazine. Their advice on his cards is "If you haven't bought his rookies cards already, don't, you probably won't make any money." Considering his rookie cards were selling at $50-$100 at the time, and these days you can only sell them for that much if they are PSA 10s, this seems like sound advice. Ah, the joys of cards as commodities.
McDonalds had not one but two giveaways in 1992, one for Topps and one for Donruss. That is covering your bases. Alas, I did not get either of these with my Big Mac back then.
It seems Baseball Reference does not agree with me that Frank Thomas was Ted Williams-esque in their similarity score section, but Ted himself did on that 1993 Upper Deck card. I'll take the Splendid Splinter's word for it.
There are three of those playing cards featuring Frank, this is a rare instance where I double cards up since the "backs" are just the playing card front.
I remember busting a whole lot of 1991 Topps over that summer and I never got a single Frank Thomas card. I was very disappointed. In fact, I don't think I had one of these until well into the 90's.
Ah, we've hit Frank's rookie cards. Since he spent all of 181 games in the minor leagues, by the time you pulled these cards in 1990, he was already up in the majors with official phenom status. His cards were never not popular.
Oh boy, we have wondered into some real oddball section here. That is a gold and silver version of the same hologram. And that 1971 design card is another Baseball Cards magazine card telling you to buy! buy! buy!
I have long loved this unofficial 1967 style all star rookie card. It's so wrong it's right.
Here we have the combo card section, if that kind of thing does it for ya. Seeing Junior Griffey and Mike Piazza are always nice.
Pairing him with Magglio Ordonez and Robin Ventura is much nicer than Joe Crede.
And now some big cards of the Big Hurt.
Obviously, I need one more.
I'd say that 5x7 Leaf Set card is probably the right size for Frank; it parallels the Leaf set from earlier. And just so you know, that Super Chrome card is a refractor.
Wow Max you have a lot of Frank Thomas cards...
Think we're done? Not even close.
We still have Frank's box full of cards in top loaders to go through.
Here we have some game used jersey cards.
Why would you have a white swatch against a white background? Such an odd design choice. That pinstripe card makes up for it.
A few more jersey swatches in various colors and numbers. That is my only autograph of Frank; while it is not a "certified" auto, I received it from a dealer who I trust implicitly.
Here are some bat chips. The Hammer one has always been a favorite. That quad card has Jim Thome, Juan Gonzalez, and Carlos Delgado - which would be a nice middle of the order.
Alas, that is not a real 1990 Topps no name, it is the 2010 Topps reprint. Sadly, I don't think I have ever actually even seen an actual one of those in real life.
Alright, my box o' inserts all scanned up nicely in groups of six.
A couple of nice Heritage cards: a refractor and a chrome parallel. I have those two but I don't think I have the base of that Heritage card (note, it is a high number SP).
Those UD Masterpiece framed cards are just wonderful. I have another one of those Moments and Milestones black cards in the binder. Hmm, I wonder how many overlaps we'll find.
That Hit Parade card scanned so gloriously. All the shiny etching goodness is there to behold.
That Polo Grounds Leaf card numbered to /45 is my lowest number Frank card. Coincidentally, that blue Diamond Kings numbered to /50 next to it is second lowest.
Oooooo.... more nicely scanned shiny.
Those are two different rare backs of the T206 cards. One is Polar Bear and the other Tolstoi, the latter, I believe is rarer.
That Donruss Fan Club card is die cut and Frank is on the back of that Back to the Future card, the aforementioned bust Joe Crede is on the front.
Those top three cards are much shinier in person. They can't all scan like gold.
Making up for their dullness is the Power Players card you see below. That thing scanned like it was backlit.
Not one but two die cut Stadium Club multi-player cards here. That Beam Team looks positively radioactive.
Breaking the pattern of Joe Crede as the bust on a Frank Thomas card is Nick Johnson, who is on the other side of that Mirror Image card. How anyone thought Nick Johnson would be Frank Thomas in any way shape or form is beyond me.
Cards these days need more die cuts like that Hit Machines gear theme and more puns like that Grasskickers set.
The Lord of the Diamonds card there is both die cut and a refractor. You could actually cut yourself on those spikes, they are so sharp.
David Ortiz is on the other side of that die cut Mirror Image card. That is more like it.
That Hank Aaron Award Contenders card has the ominous red visage of Hammerin' Hank in the background. Kinda creepy.
Upper Deck insert cards start all looking the same after a while, don't they?
Alas, my computer's CD rom is positioned sideways so I could not quite finagle that Powerdeck card/CD thingy into it. I would love to see what magic of the information age is on it.
More die cuts, more minis, more checklists.
I have no idea if I still have the Frank Thomas Starting Lineup statue that came with that card. I will have to look around for it. I have those stashed in a couple places in the dark recesses of my collection.
That Minted in Cooperstown card seems appropriate for the occasion.
The Mystery Finest card has Scott Rolen on the back of it. That's about midway between Joe Crede and David Oritz. And once again, that Royal Court is a card that looks 10x shinier on the scanner.
I don't have a run of any of his 1998 SPx Finite cards, but I do have one each of the base, radiance, and spectrum. I might have to fix that in the near future since I love those cards.
Can you figure out that the card on the left there is a Starquest card? Took me a moment...
Alas, Frank Thomas never played in a Fall Classic.
Those Hobby Master cards scan so wacky, it is hard to tell what is going on there. Is a series of black holes opening and exploding over Frank's face?
Speaking of explosions, I have two of those 1996 All Star cards strictly because the shiny patterns are different on each one.
That Finest Gold Rare card was a big deal back in the day but I think the stain glass design of the Gallery of Heroes card stands up better to time.
The 1997 Bowman's Best card has Travis Lee as his counterpart. He was born two days before I was, so he has that going for him, which is nice. The colors on that Peter Max insert are something else. I wonder why the White Sox don't wear red hats again like they did in the 70's. They would look good with the all black.
I have not one but two of his 1997 Atomic Refractors. They are so iridescent and bright, they make that base refractor pale in comparison.
That Interleague Match Up card has Sammy Sosa on the other side, which makes sense, Chicago-wise. I can't tell if that Gallery card is a base card that wandered in or some kind of parallel I am missing. I will have to look that up.
You got to give it to Upper Deck, some of their inserts are so boring and others are so off the wall and full of gimmicks. The one in the middle there perfectly hits the middle ground of those two ideas.
That Get a Grip card in the middle is die cut but I am not sure why. I am not fond of die cutting just for the sake of die cutting but try telling that to card companies sometimes.
These, on the other hand, are wonderful mid 90's die cuts...
...and that Baseball Rules card says it all, no?
Another oddity: I have the Silver and (very rare) Gold version of the Pinnacle Mint here but I do not have the standard Brass.
Those Megaheroes Inserts were wonderfully bonkers. I wish I had the whole set. I would also like to get breakfast with Frank Thomas, just somewhere classier than Denny's.
Those first two cards are so cool but did not scan well. The one on the left has wonderful movement and the Bowman's Best is another Atomic Refractor.
You Crash The Game, because you can't see after staring too long at that card.
1996 seems to have found both Topps (above) and Donruss trying to be Sportsflix. Just be yourselves, guys.
That Leaf Lumberjacks is made from real wood (cool!) and numbered to /5000 (really?). One of these things is still very impressive.
That is a Gold parallel of the Leaf Stars and Steels, pound for pound the heaviest cards ever.
Why would you make a card called Golden Memories and then write the name in silver and have the photo in sepia tone?
The Team Pinnacle card you see before you has Jeff Bagwell on the back of it. How in-sync are those two? They were born the same exact day, were both MVP in 1994, and if you check Baseball Reference, you will find that they are both their own's closest comparable player. So why didn't Jeff Bagwell get elected to the hall of fame again?
I must say, both Pinnacle and Upper Deck could do a nice huge hologram.
More parallel madness. Aren't those Score cards the same? Nope, one is an Artist's Proof and the other isn't.
According to that 1995 Topps Cyberstats card, which completed the 1994 strike shortened season via computer, Frank finished with 53 HRs, 145 RBIs, and led the league with a .360 average. I can live with that.
I am borderline obsessed with those 1995 Stadium Club Clear cards and I have no idea why I do not have either the whole set or at least a 9-pocket page.
This time around, Bowman's Best paired Frank with Ruben Rivera. He makes Joe Crede look like Scott Rolen.
So many silver signature parallels, so little time.
Yes, apparently I like that SP card with Frank in his Irish green so much I have it in my collection twice.
This is a six card set Leaf put out in 1995, I only have three of them.
Donruss paired Frank with Bagwell and Fred McGriff on their 1st base Dominators card here. Those are three fine first sackers.
Win MVP, get lots of inserts celebrating that fact.
I think that is a base E-motion card, but the Masters card is an insert. Not only is that Home Run Kings card an insert, it is also a parallel of the Gold Medallion persuasion. Following cards in the mid 90's made a lot of us drink.
Shiny, foilly goodness.
I adore those Swing Men subset cards and the Museum Collection parallel makes them so much better.
Topps Black Gold.
And in 1993, Bowman's Best pairs Frank with Dimitri Young. It is official, Bowman hates Frank Thomas.
That is the second reprint of Frank's Leaf rookie card (the first you saw was from 1998). They reprinted a card twice in 8 years. SMH
Frank looks classy on that Studio Heritage card.
Gold, gold, garish. Such is the early 90's.
That card on the left is the rare unlicensed card with foil on it.
Original Finest. Original Black Gold.
Original Elite Dominator (numbered to 5000!). I like my inserts simple, like that nicknames card. Perfection.
And sticking with the theme, how simple and refined is that Studio card?
There that Ted Williams card again, though this time in UD Anniversary form. And even more classy Studio cards, those were very well done, looking back.
SP was a big deal back in the day. I never even saw the packs back then.
Everyone celebrates the 1992 Topps for their photos and I always loved the Thomas in that set. That is probably my favorite Topps flagship for Frank. Notice the gold foil on that Ultra.
Bowman was a big deal in 1992 too. I guess that is why those are here? Because they always have been? Even though they probably shouldn't be?
I won that Stadium Club card in a raffle in a store in 1992 on a Saturday morning. I remember that so vividly. I remember where the store was (it was very short lived) in Maywood and everything. I think of that morning every time I drive by that corner.
Frank's first Diamond King leaves something to be desired. Not Perez's best work.
Uh oh, we're heading back into rookie card territory.
We have seen some of these before, but the 1990 Leaf card makes its first appearance but really its third.
Finally, some pre-rookie minor league cards.
I don't even remember that Cape Cod League card or where it came from. I just looked it up and it is pretty rare. Sweet.
Total: 765 cards in 100 scans. There are a few other Frank cards hiding
in other parts of my collection, but this is easily 98% of it. This was a great retrospective of both cards in general and Frank Thomas specifically. I had a ball, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I am gonna go watch Frank's heartfelt acceptance speech again. The man left it all on that podium the way he left it all on the field.