COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — About three quarters into a moving speech on Sunday afternoon, including a touching tribute to his deceased father, Frank Thomas apologized to his fellow Hall of Famers.
“I’m an emotional guy because I wear my heart on my sleeve,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ 17-minute, 45-second speech on induction day at the National Baseball Hall of Fame was full of sentiment as the former White Sox slugger thanked seemingly everyone on and off the field from a 19-year career.
But Thomas made no apologies — nor was one necessary — afterward for his passionate display in front of an estimated 48,000 spectators, the third biggest induction crowd in the HOF’s 75 years.
“My dad was my everything,” Thomas said. “He pushed me day in and day out to go to practice and do all these things. He was just so proud of me all the time. I was just overcome with emotion. I’m sorry about it. But I’m not sorry about it because it is what I am and I’m proud to be here with these great legends.”
Thomas entered Cooperstown as part of what many consider one of the finest induction classes in HOF history along with ex-Sox manager Tony La Russa, managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, and longtime Atlanta Braves great Tom Glavine.
Shortly after he began a speech four months in the making, Thomas’ voice cracked as he recognized Frank Thomas Sr., who passed away in 2001.
Thomas said he and his mother discussed the speech on Saturday night and she predicted he’d cry after the first mention of his father. Having practiced numerous times, however, Thomas thought he’d get through it without any tears.
But Thomas said he spotted his mother in the crowd and had to fight off tears as he spoke about how proud his father would be to see him on the stage after all the effort spent encouraging his son to work harder. Thomas noted, “I took that to heart Pops, look at us today.”
“As soon as I stood my knees started knocking and the first person I looked at was my mom,” Thomas said. “It just hit me right in the heart.
“It’s rough. Some of the closest people in my life are gone. When you get to that, that’s a lot of emotion. My father meant so much to me and he’s not here.”
Thomas said during his speech he didn’t get to Cooperstown on his own and wanted to thank everyone who helped him, from the 138 or so teammates he mentioned (he said he cut nearly 50 from the original speech) to doctors, trainers, coaches, clubhouse personnel and traveling secretaries.
Thomas also singled out several individuals, including White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, former teammate and manager Ozzie Guillen — who got him his “only ring” — and broadcaster Hawk Harrelson, who coined him “The Big Hurt” — “Your nickname for me really changed my life forever.”
Thomas also spent considerable time thanking his first major league hitting coach Walt Hriniak, noting performance never dictated their effort in the batting cage.
“It didn’t matter if we were 10-for-10 or 0-for-10,” Thomas said. “It was the same process every day, no free lesson. Consistency and dedication was what made you tick, and I’m so grateful for your tutelage.”
Near the end of his speech, Thomas — who has long had one of the loudest voices in objection to use of performance-enhancing drugs — sent a message to young players, encouraging them to avoid short cuts. Thomas said he stopped short of making a political message about PED usage because he didn’t want to ruin the celebratory nature of induction weekend.
“I just didn’t think that stuff was necessary,” Thomas said. “We all know what has happened over the last 15 years in baseball. Today was a bright stage among heroes.
“I’m in the Hall of Fame, man. It gets no better than that.”