I’ve explored the multi-tiered, literary existentialism of the 1991 Upper Deck Frank Thomas card before, but as #35 finally calls it a day, it feels worth revisiting—but for different reasons. Nearly every baseball fan has a favorite baseball card; card number 246 is mine and while yes, the front demands attention because Frank’s giving us all the finger, what people never mention is what’s on the back:
60G 240PA 191AB 63H 7HR 31RBI .330AVG .454OBP .529SLG 44BB
Frank, at the time, was surly on the surface but monstrous when it came right down to it. Most people dismissed it—what do 60 games really say about a player?—and this, fittingly, became the essence of Frank’s entire tenure on the South Side.
He’s the MVP. Yeah, but he choked in the playoffs.
He’s the MVP again and made a serious run at the Triple Crown. Yeah, but it was a strike year.
He won the batting title—a 257-pound man won the batting title. Yeah, but his 35 home runs were only good for 7th-highest in the AL—no better than the likes of Tino Martinez and Mo Vaughn.
He nearly won a third MVP. Yeah, but the Mariners swept his team out of the playoffs by using his defense against him.
He spoke out against steroids. Yeah, but where was this ten years ago?
He’s the face of the franchise. Yeah, but where was he for the franchise’s finest hour?
But baseball players do not exist to be perfect, nor to be well-liked, nor to do anything but play a game and not embarrass any themselves or the people watching. Did Frank have some cringe-worthy moments? You bet, but in the end matters is this: when people talked about Frank, they never used adjectives; they used names. Williams. Gehrig. Aaron. Mays.
So unique were his abilities in his era that when Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols now go about setting new marks for right-handed batting, it’s Frank and Frank alone they surpass. Frank was not just a great White Sox batter, or even a great baseball player of his time; Frank was the logical link in the long chain of important hitters, a momentary caretaker of the Definition Of Greatness. Many a sportswriter will say his career now belongs to the ages, and they will of course get that wrong.
Immortality actually began one sunny afternoon in 1990. Face frozen in disbelief, fist crumpled into a manifestation of tiny rage as an idiotic teammate giggled away in the background, a young Frank Thomas turned to his left, head down over his shoulder not unlike it would be in the batter’s box as he so often dug in and crushed the spirits of American League pitching for most of the next two decades.
Twenty years on, his work finally done, #35 turns back and looks ahead.