While the Southeastern Conference is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished conferences in the NCAA in most major sports, occasionally something occurs that has never happened before. For an organization that was founded in 1932, those occurrences are few and far between. But in 2014, former Auburn Tiger standout Frank Thomas broke new ground for the SEC.
Following a stellar high school career where he was named an all-state performer in football and baseball in Columbus, GA, Thomas desperately wanted to win a contract to play professional baseball. To his disappointment, he was not one of the 891 players selected in the amateur draft.
Swallowing his pride, Thomas turned his attention to football and the scholarship offers he had received, narrowing his choices to Auburn and Georgia. Thomas chose Auburn because he would be able to join the baseball team.
After catching three passes for 45 yards as a freshman tight end, Thomas joined the Tigers baseball team during the spring. He hit .359 with 21 home runs and drove in 68 runs.
During his second season with the football team, Thomas suffered two early season injuries that ended his football career. Then Auburn coach Pat Dye called baseball coach Hal Baird and asked about the big slugger.
“How good a player is Frank?” Dye asked. “He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.” Baird replied.
“Can he make money for his family playing baseball?” Dye asked.
Baird answered, “Without a doubt. He’ll be a first rounder.”
The decision was made that Thomas would stay on his football scholarship—and play baseball.
Following his three seasons at Auburn in which he hit .382 with 49 home runs and 205 RBIs, Thomas in 1989 was again eligible for the MLB draft. This time, he wasn’t overlooked. The Chicago White Sox took him with the seventh pick of the first round.
Thomas’ journey through the minors was swift. He was named 1990 Minor League Player of the Year after his season with the Birmingham Barons. Thomas was called up to the White Sox in August of 1990 and became a fixture for the White Sox at first base for the next sixteen years.
“The Big Hurt” would become one of the most productive players in Major League baseball during his tenure with the White Sox. A two-time MVP in 1993 and 1994, Thomas finished in the top 10 of the MVP vote every year from 1991-1997, and finished second in 2000, when he won the AL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Thomas also became the only player in Major League history to have seven consecutive seasons with at least a .300 average, 100 RBIs, 100 runs scored, 100 walks, and 20 home runs. He was a five time All Star and won the 1997 AL Batting title with a .341 average. He finished his career with a .301 average, 521 homers, and 1704 RBIs, becoming only the seventh player in Major League history to retire with an average above .300 and 500 home runs.
In 2014, Frank Thomas became a first ballot Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, becoming the first White Sox player to achieve that distinction. But that was just one of the firsts Thomas achieved with his election. Thomas also became the first Auburn Tiger and the first player from the SEC to be selected to the MLB Hall of Fame. Thomas also joined Frank Gatski and Kevin Greene in the NFL and Charles Barkley in the NBA to make Auburn the first school in the SEC with Hall of Famers in all three major sports. HA
Cover Image courtesy Auburn Athletics.
Follow Hall & Arena on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.