T.S. Flynn went and tweeted out my central thesis before I even got started.
I don’t care much about the HOF, which is why I’m surprised by how much I care about Frank Thomas getting in on first ballot.
— It’s a long season. (@mighty_flynn) December 31, 2013
Frank Thomas is ultimate litmus test for the disaffected White Sox fan. Oh you’re fed up with the hypocrisy and arbitrary decision-making rippling through all Hall of Fame selections? Oh, so you won’t mind if this meaningless honor is withheld from the greatest White Sox hitter of all-time. And I suppose this angry tweet at a San Francisco writer who doesn’t like the DH just wrote itself?
Part of this is Frank’s fault. All the time spent watching Frank, listening to Frank and understanding Frank’s success to be closely aligned with our own desire to see the White Sox win, has let us in on the revelation that Frank craves validation. He wants the Hall of Fame to make his career feel appropriately honored and validated, and we want that for him, as we always have.
Surely Thomas is driven by hubris, but it also seems like a prerequisite for any kind of conversation with Thomas about his craft. He’s in the business of mastery, and it seems that 15 years with the permanent South Side also-rans has nudged him into constant vigilance about the public’s awareness of how great he was, how crazy the offensive era he played in was, and how separate he was from the reasons that era was crazy.
His politicking has been so constant that it can appear to have a larger role in the strength of his candidacy (87% so far) than the increasingly distant and hazy images of his inconceivably virtuoso play, and I am beginning to hope that, whether he ever indulged in PEDs or not, that his early positioning on the PED debate was the product of incredible foresight and tact, just so it can be another layer of his greatness rather than sanctimony. It feels just as calculated either way.
The Hall of Fame is compiled via a selection process tortured and skewered by distorted notions of duty, and sportwriters regularly displaying that the specifics of that profession do not necessarily translate to roles like “analyst” or “purveyors of reason.” In turn, it has produced this Frank Thomas for Hall of Fame machine, which trudges onward and upward often by stepping on the hands of its peers, and serving as the precedent for punitive hindsight judgment just to further its own goals. I wouldn’t suffer this crap from a pro-Don Mattingly campaign.
And yet, I still want this for Frank. A tainted process can still produce a moment as simple as a franchise great getting a well-deserved honor, and a fanbase bathing in their shared reverence and pride for him. It’s worth coveting, aside from the ugliness that coveting brings.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan