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Thomas' legacy includes championship

Thomas' legacy includes championship

HOUSTON -- It was a scene more befitting a schoolyard playground than the locker room of the World Series champion Chicago White Sox at Minute Maid Park.

But there was Frank Thomas, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound behemoth, being chased around other players, staff members and friends and family, by bench coach Harold Baines and his exploding bottle of champagne. All the while, Thomas was laughing like a teenager who had just come home from a successful first date.

Actually, Thomas wasn't really running. He was quick-limping around with a plastic bag protecting the cast on his left leg, where a second fracture of the navicular bone continues to heel. And even though there was a risk of further injury or at least a little bit of pain, Thomas couldn't have been happier.

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He had waited 15 years to be part of a championship squad. He suffered bitter disappointments during an American League Championship Series loss to Toronto in 1993 and then a Division Series sweep at the hands of Seattle in 2000. There were a few personal issues along the way.

All was definitely forgotten, though, after Juan Uribe fired a strike to first baseman Paul Konerko on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, completing the 19th four-game sweep in World Series history. It was by far the best of the three celebrations Thomas had witnessed this season.

"I'm seriously happy right now," said Thomas, interrupted every couple of minutes by another player with dead-eye champagne aim. "I'm so happy for everyone right now.

"This was one [heck] of a team, and everyone really came through. Look at Willie Harris tonight, with a single off of a pitcher as tough as Brad Lidge. And then Geoff Blum with his home run the other night. It's a true team, from top to bottom."

Thomas certainly was a part of that team effort, albeit for a short period of time. The face of the franchise hit 12 home runs and drove in 26 runs after coming back from surgery on his first navicular fracture in late May. He spent the last two months of the season out of action with the latest ankle injury.

On a number of occasions during the postseason run, Thomas has admitted that the White Sox success might have been a little more difficult to handle if he hadn't played at all this season. But that statement isn't selfishness on Thomas' part. It's just an overriding desire to be part of a very special group of players.

"I've never been on a team where everyone really cared about all of their other teammates," Thomas said. "I've never seen a team do that.

"This has been one of the best teams I've ever been on, with the pitching and defense and clutch hitting. But it's been about the team all year long. If one guy doesn't get you, the next one will."

Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stands as possibly the only figure within the White Sox organization as misunderstood as Thomas. Maybe the reason for that sort of judgment is people really don't know either one of the men who helped make the franchise what it is today. But Reinsdorf appreciates his slugger, and Thomas feels the same way about the man in charge.

As Reinsdorf was talking to a group of eight or nine media members after the clinching victory, trapped against the wall outside the clubhouse, Thomas pushed his way through to rescue the chairman.

"Let the man breathe," said Thomas, before hugging Reinsdorf.

"Don't forget this guy here," Reinsdorf added, pointing to Thomas. "He didn't play all year, but when he did play, he won a lot of games for us."

Will Thomas be part of the White Sox effort to repeat in 2006? A great deal depends on his next check-up in Los Angeles with Dr. Richard Ferkel, who performed the original surgery on his left ankle.

If Thomas is deemed healthy or moving toward that stage, the White Sox could take a chance on bringing him back next year as he tries to pick up 52 home runs to reach 500 for his career. Thomas has until Monday, five days after the World Series, to exercise his player option of $10 million -- a move he most certainly will make.

The White Sox are then expected to use a $3.5 million buyout of Thomas' contract. Of course, that maneuver doesn't mean Thomas couldn't come back through another, less expensive deal.

Contractual issues weren't the issue on the table late Wednesday night. Instead, it was about celebrating and dodging the champagne.

"It means everything to me personally," Thomas said. "It's like I told the guys earlier, whatever I do forward from here, it's all gravy now. I always wanted to do what I did right here, and that's a World Series championship.

"I'm just glad I stuck it out. People told me it was time to get out of here and I'll never get a ring. Luckily, I didn't believe them.

"I hope I'm still here," Thomas added. "This is the only place I know. This is where I want to be."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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