The White Sox, er, community of sorts is excited about the Hall of Fame eligibility of Frank Thomas, and rightfully so. As Collin pointed out this morning, no player since Luis Aparicio in 1984 has been inducted by BBWAA vote with a White Sox hat on, and barring a sudden heel turn where he dons an A’s hat and spends his whole speech ripping into Kenny Williams, Thomas will break that streak.
The real de-facto ban against first ballot selections took place from 1937-1961 (these monsters shut out Lou Gehrig for a year), during which there were absolutely no such selections at all, and things have opened up even more since 1980. But even then, first-ballot selections have occurred less than once per year, with only Rickey Henderson earning an immediate bid in the last five years.
Three concerns about Thomas’ immediate hopes:
1. Frank Thomas is not a blow away candidate like Rickey Henderson, or Cal Ripken Jr. In both notoriety, records and overall value, these type of players have stronger candidacies than Thomas. He’s solidly above-average for Hall of Fame statistical performance and has two MVP’s and over 500 home run, but as a player without a ton of national exposure during his career, these performance records make up nearly the entirety of his case.
2. Which is what makes the DH-problem more relevant. Thomas played more than 57% of his games as a designated hitter, and played like a DH often when he was out at first base. Despite that being factored in to the WAR and JAWS stats that still place Thomas safely, it’s a stigma that’s crippled Edgar Martinez’s candidacy and will surely be mentioned with him.
3. This is a royally clogged ballot, with as many as 15 deserving candidates, and the whole last-year-of-Jack-Morris-kerfuffle. Thomas is deserving, and easily so, but perhaps not the blow-the-doors-off candidate that overrides all other concerns. And don’t forget that the reason this ballot is clogged is because of a disastrous outbreak of sheer lunacy. Sitting on the ballot having received less than 60% of the vote last year is a first basemen who was essentially Thomas’ equal at the plate: Jeff Bagwell.
But there’s some hope still if you glance down that list of first-ballot selections.
Eddie Murray cruised in a decade ago with 85.3% of the vote on the strength of a seemingly endless career that saw him hit over 500 home runs and collect over 3200 hits. Despite these accomplishments, Murray’s career was more of a steady burn, and when paired against a player like Thomas, his lack of a truly elite peak becomes apparent. Thomas has a slight edge on Murray in fWAR, bWAR and JAWS despite playing nearly 700 fewer games.
Paul Molitor garnered a near identical percentage of the vote a year after Murray, and while WAR puts him in the same tier with Murray and Thomas, he played as a designated hitter for the plurality of his career and had a .817 OPS. He was almost exclusively a designated hitter during those 1993 and 1994 years in Toronto that did wonders to boost his profile.
There’s precedent to hope for Thomas, but please take into account the mitigating factors before storming Cooperstown and setting fire to the museum just beca–aaaand it’s already on fire. Someone already set it on fire. Were you even listening?
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan