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Big Hurt stressed, grateful as induction nears

Longtime slugger to deliver 'thank-you speech' from stage this afternoon

Big Hurt stressed, grateful as induction nears

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Frank Thomas, first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.

It's an honor that the Big Hurt wanted. It's an honor that the Big Hurt deserved as the culmination of a 19-year-career with the White Sox, A's and Blue Jays. It's also an honor that Thomas worried would not happen on his first try, despite a resume featuring 521 career homers, 1,704 RBIs, 1,494 runs scored, 1,667 walks, a .301 career average, a .419 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .555.

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With those election worries aside, Thomas now focuses on today's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where he will join fellow players Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. Hall of Fame coverage will begin at noon ET with MLB Tonight live from Cooperstown on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com and the At Bat app, with the induction ceremony beginning at 1:30 p.m.

This dream has become a definite reality for Thomas, and brought with it a whole new set of worries.

"It's reality, but it's very stressful, trust me," said Thomas, addressing the media at the Clark Sports Center gymnasium Saturday afternoon as part of the electees news conference. "It's been a long week."

Thomas had been instructed to keep his speech somewhere around the 10-minute mark, but in his first practice run, the speech timed out at about 20 minutes. He trimmed it to 14, with both Thomas and the Hall of Fame happy with its content.

Those expecting Thomas to use part of this allotted time to get on his bully pulpit concerning past performance enhancing drug users will be disappointed, even coming from a big man who always did it the right way. Thomas described his words as a "thank-you speech" because he certainly didn't get to Cooperstown by himself.

"We've all left our mark on the field, but I want people to understand that I do care about people and people who made me who I am," Thomas said. "That's more important to me than anything.

"I've written my speech over four months. I took my time with it. I've been on the road doing TV stuff, so I would find myself in the hotel the last 3 1/2 months. Each night I would take a look at it and add a few lines.

"I would start thinking about all my teammates and friends and coaches and disciplinarians along the way," Thomas said. "That's what my speech is about, from the heart for the people who helped me get here."

During his 30 minutes with the media Saturday, Thomas clarified that he should not be depicted as the voice against steroids usage. He never took them or took any shortcuts, explaining how he was the first one in and the last one out of the clubhouse as part of his intense work ethic.

But he had the biggest voice because Thomas probably "lost more than anyone else during that steroid era."

"More MVPs, bigger contracts, different things like that that I deserved but didn't get," Thomas said. "Look at me now. I'm in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for doing things right. This is vindication. I'm at the pinnacle, and it was done by hard work and dedication.

"Having played major college football (at Auburn), I understand football players and some of the guys get a little crazy and take something like that because it's life or death every play. But baseball was not meant to be played like that. It's a round ball, round bat, throw the ball, hit the ball, run. That's what the game is about. Make outs and score runs."

Most of Thomas' hits and runs came during 16 years with the White Sox. It was his comeback year with the A's in 2006, though, which Thomas believes ultimately defined him as a Hall of Famer.

That season started off poorly, with Thomas carrying a .178 average into his return to U.S. Cellular Field on May 22. He was in an admitted funk, having unceremoniously left the only baseball location he had ever known, coming on the heels of a White Sox World Series title. With a standing ovation from the White Sox faithful and two homers off Jon Garland that night, Thomas was back. He finished the year with a .270 average, 39 homers and 114 RBIs.

From thought to be finished to MVP consideration.

"Just a force to be reckoned with at the plate and deserves to be a Hall of Famer," said fellow Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage, who gave up one homer in eight career at-bats against Thomas. "He was a great hitter. Not only a big guy for power but also just a very good average hitter."

"Frank, with his smile and with his power and with his love for the game as well, that was just sheer domination on his part," Hall of Famer Johnny Bench said of Thomas' career. "We have three really, really wonderful qualified people to come in here. It's great to see them join our class."

White Sox fans from California, New York, Pennsylvania, his home state of Georgia and, of course, Illinois, to name a few locales, wear his No. 35 jersey down Main Street in Cooperstown with pride. Thomas credits the fans with "making him who I am."

Until tonight, what Thomas will be is a Hall of Famer with a strong dosage of nervous energy.

"I'm sure I'll sleep better," said Thomas of the post-speech celebration, which will include more than 100 family members. "This is like, wow. It's the finale, but a lot goes into this finale.

"This is big-time stuff. Going over to the stadium and seeing how big that field is. They are expecting it to be filled. I'm looking forward to it. I'm just overjoyed. But the nerves are there."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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