Let's go back 10 years in our collective baseball history, all the way back to October of 2003, where the Oakland Athletics were unceremoniously bounced from the American League Division Series by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5, to cap off the fourth (count 'em - fourth) season in a row that an A's magical season ended in a brutal Game 5 loss in the first round. Morale was low for a fan base that had watched its team make the playoffs every single year from 2000-2003. Words like 'choker" and "uncluch" were bandied about. And just when we thought that we'd seen the worst baseball had to offer, Game #161 of the 2004 season trampled our hearts. We didn't even bother with 2005; our aces were gone, our superstars were gone, and 2006 started with little to no playoff hopes.
Bruised and battered Oakland fans were introduced to Frank Thomas for the 2006 season, wearing green and gold after a lifetime of black, silver and white. Thomas joined the A's rather bruised and battered himself, after the verbal beating he took in Chicago as he and the White Sox broke up. Kenny Williams, the general manager of the team--the one that Frank Thomas played for during, you know, sixteen seasons of his career--provides us the quote that is no less shocking to me today than when I first heard it eight years ago.
"He's an idiot. He's selfish. That's why we don't miss him," Williams said, responding to a Thomas interview that appeared in The Daily Southtown, a newspaper in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, Ill.
It wasn't a one-time statement:
"We don't miss him, by the way," Williams said. "If you go out there and ask any one of my players or staff members, we don't miss him.
He's the Oakland A's problem right now. ... He better stay out of our business. He better stay out of White Sox business."
The article, which was written on February 27, 2006, is a nice time-capsule back to the days before Frank Thomas had a single at-bat in Oakland, back to the days when no one knew that The Big Hurt still had one monster season left in him, and that it would be ours. The true irony of 2006 is, of course, that the A's won the West with Thomas at the helm, and would go on to both the ALDS and ALCS, while the White Sox (even with winning 90 games) missed the playoffs. Karma was a fickle mistress that year, and until this year's crowning moment for Thomas, nothing probably felt any better to him than early October of 2006.
Boy, did he make good on that contract.
He hit 39 home runs and tallied 114 RBIs that year, finishing fourth in AL MVP voting, before departing for a tour with the Blue Jays. Toronto released him in April 2008, and a 39-year-old Thomas knew exactly how he wanted to keep his illustrious career alive.
Within days, he returned to Oakland. That's where he would last put on a Major League uniform.
"I never wanted to leave here," Thomas said at the time. "This was my first choice, to come back here."
So if 2006 was the season that put the exclamation point on his distinguished Hall of Fame career, 2008 was the season that let the fans thank Thomas for singlehandedly exorcising the demons of the early 2000's and pushing the A's into the loftly heights of a real, live American League Championship series. And the best part? Knowing that we meant as much to Thomas as he did to us.
"The year that really got me in the Hall of Fame today was 2006," said Thomas, who joined the A's after 16 seasons with the White Sox. "I was counted out by a lot of people. For me to go out there and have another MVP (type) season, it was an incredible feeling, and I enjoyed playing out there for the A's. The fan base rejuvenated me that season."
That's right. You. Me. Us. We gave Frank Thomas another chance; we loved Frank Thomas in a way that he had not been loved in a while, and if all these warm and fuzzies aren't enough for you? Try this statement from the A's, neatly bookending the harsh comments from the White Sox, and if I didn't know any better, almost serving as a well-planned rebuttal, honoring Frank the man as well as the player.
"Beyond his special talents, Frank Thomas was the consummate professional who respected the game, his teammates and his opponents," the A's statement read, "and he exhibited the kind of class every player should aspire to. He is richly deserving of this honor."
Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment that puts a stamp of worldwide approval on your career. Thank you, Frank Thomas. Thank you for the silver lining that is the 2006 ALCS, in a decade full of 'not quite enoughs'.
And in January of 2014, eight years after that magical season, slightly battered and bruised from five years of drought and two more game 5 Division Series losses, A's fans honor and remember Frank Thomas for what he did during that magical season of 2006, even as we wait for the one A's team that will banish all demons from the 2000's; for the players, the fans, and our own general manager. But for now, seeing one of our own enter the Hall, a story of redemption and hope, outfitted with white cleats instead of glass slippers, a length of rebar instead of a pumpkin, somehow, it's enough.