10/02/06 9:08 PM ET
Thomas gets back to playoffs with A's
Twins passed on chance to sign slugger because of ankle
For a while last winter, the "Big Hurt," weeks removed from celebrating with the Chicago White Sox following the World Series win, pondered the idea of a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Twins.
After 16 seasons in Chicago, Thomas and the White Sox parted company and considering he'd only played 108 games the last two years because of injuries, including surgery on his left ankle, the 38-year-old slugger wasn't heavily pursued. But a few clubs were interested enough for the talks to advance to face-to-face meetings, including Oakland and the Twins.
"We had a few conversations," Thomas said of the Twins. "They were [in the] final three, just all of us had big reservations about the turf, we were all concerned about playing on that turf coming back from this major injury, but things worked out perfectly for both teams and we're here in the playoffs, and that's what it's all about."
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire remembered those discussions vividly.
"We were talking to him just like every other team," Gardenhire said. "When you have him in the room talking to him, obviously you are interested in him. Obviously, we went over a lot of things. He was very impressive. They didn't even let me in the room because they know I really like Frank as a person, so I didn't even get to sit in on the meetings because [Minnesota General Manager] Terry [Ryan] knew I would probably say something really stupid and it would cost him more money.
"They actually kicked me out, and they did the interviews, and you know what, it turned out. We were concerned, we understand with his Astroturf and foot problems that he had had, that was the big concern. We ended up going another route, not because of anything that's happened in the past. Frank is a great person and a great baseball person."
Thomas and the Twins agreed that playing on artificial turf was probably not the best option at this stage of his career. And so Thomas wound up signing a one-year deal with Oakland worth $500,000 plus an additional $2.6 million in performance bonuses and incentives.
"Frank Thomas is a great player, and we looked at him during the winter and we were worried about the Astroturf on his foot and his health. ... We knew if he could get in the right situation and he could stay healthy, he could do a lot of damage. And you know what? [You've] got to be happy when the things he has gone through in the last couple years over the years with the Sox," Gardenhire said. "And now to turn around and have a great year like this with Oakland, pretty special for him, I am sure."
The deal was a good one for both Thomas and A's. Thomas maxed out the bonuses and the A's added a designated hitter who hit .270 with team highs of 39 home runs and 114 RBIs. Now both have a chance to go to the World Series.
Imagine where the Twins would be today had they signed Thomas. Imagine where the A's would be without him? Then again maybe Thomas wouldn't have enjoyed the kind of renaissance he's having had he inked with Minnesota.
In the meantime, Thomas would like to get back to the World Series again. Injuries prevented him from participating in the postseason last year, but he is one of three players from the defending World Series champions, along with Orlando Hernandez of the Mets and Geoff Blum of the Padres, who have a chance at another ring this year.
As sweet as that would be for Thomas, the A's have a long road ahead of them before they can consider that possibility. Thomas does see some similarities between these A's and last year's White Sox.
"Their defense, their pitching, the whole team. Guys have fun together, and guys that look forward to playing together," Thomas said. "This is the first time in a long time I have been with a team that guys look forward to coming to the clubhouse every day and being around each other throughout the day, so we've got a great mix."
Thomas will always cherish the ring he won with the Sox last season. But he'd love to have another.
"Hey, I felt that I was there in spirit last year, so I wanted to say I can make a difference this time around, and it just feels good," Thomas said. "I tell people last year I was happy to get a great ending leaving there with a ring, but this time it's a little different, different situation, different team, different area of the country."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.