Thomas became the first player from the Southeastern Conference to be inaugurated into the Hall. That’s a stunning fact considering the rich history of SEC teams in the NCAA tournament, particularly when you consider that the league has produced hundreds of first round draft picks. Household names like Will Clark, Rafael Palmiero, Buck Showalter, Jonathan Papelbon, Jeff Brantley, Bo Jackson, and Tim Hudson all came from the SEC, a conference which owns nearly half of the NCAA championships over the last 25 years.
Thomas’ selection to the Hall gave Auburn University a first of its own as Auburn is now the only school in the SEC to have a former player in the Hall of Fame of all three major sports. Cleveland offensive lineman Frank Gatski was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1985. Charles Barkley was selected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 2006.
Thomas spent 19 years in the major leagues, mostly with the Chicago White Sox. Over his career he batted .301, rocked 521 home runs, drove in 1704 runs, scored 1494 and hit 495 doubles.
Thomas was dubbed “The Big Hurt” in 1992 by White Sox broadcasters for his ‘menacing power at the plate’
Thomas is the only player in major league history to have seven consecutive seasons of a .300 average and at least 20 home runs, 100 walks, 100 runs and 100 RBI. Legendary Ted Williams is second with five consecutive years. Only five other players in history both hit more home runs and have a higher career batting average than Thomas: Hank Aaron, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, Manny Ramirez, and Willie Mays.
Thomas was named to the All Star game five times and was one of just 11 players to win back to back MVP awards. He won four Silver Slugger awards and was the American League batting champ in 1997. In 2000 he was named American League Comeback Player of the Year. His number 35 was retired by the White Sox in 2010.
Thomas was a two-sport phenom from Columbus Georgia who dreamed of being picked in the major league draft as a high school senior. Disappointed and surprised when he was passed over in the 1986 Major League draft, Thomas instead signed a football scholarship with Auburn and then-head coach Pat Dye.
One of the biggest factors in his decision to come to Auburn was the opportunity to also play for the Tiger baseball team and head coach Hal Baird.
He led the Tigers with a .359 batting average as a freshman and was selected to play in the Pan American Games in 1987. On the football field later that year Thomas suffered a pair of injuries that jeopardized his football longevity and eventually led him to focus exclusively on baseball.
Even though Thomas elected not to continue his football career, Dye graciously allowed Thomas to keep his football scholarship, paving the way for Thomas to become a human wrecking ball for the Tigers on the baseball diamond.
He left Auburn as the career leader in home runs with 49. As a junior he hit 19 homers and batted .401. Thomas was the SEC Most Valuable Player as a senior.
Baseball made up for its 1986 oversight when the White Sox grabbed Thomas with the seventh overall pick of the 1989 draft.
At his induction ceremony last weekend Thomas illustrated yet again what a profound impact Auburn University and the Auburn Spirit have on those who are a part of the extended Auburn Family.
Over the course of his remarks, Thomas tearfully thanked Coach Dye, Athletic Director Jay Jacobs and Coach Baird.
“I would like to thank Pat Dye, Jay Jacobs and Hal Baird,” Thomas said. “Under your guidance at Auburn University, I became a man. You guys pushed me to new heights, and instilled toughness and a will to win that I really never knew existed.
“Coach Baird, thanks for treating me like a pro before my time. I thank you my friend. I know you couldn’t make it here today, but I thank you,” Thomas continued. “Coach Dye, at the same, I know you couldn’t make it either, but I really thank you for letting me play both sports. The decision changed my life. I thank you for letting me follow my dreams. Your passion for what is right led me to my career path in baseball. I thank you Coach Dye, and War Damn Eagle.”
War Damn Eagle.
How often do we hear that (or a variation thereof) from people who rise to prominence after their time at Auburn?
NBA Hall of Famer Barkley is a vocal supporter of all things Auburn. So, too, is Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson — who has his own unique place in NFL and MLB history. Jackson is a frequent visitor to Auburn and a supportive presence on the Tiger sidelines. NFL defensive stalwart Takeo Spikes, a definite candidate for future NFL Hall of Fame consideration, wears his Auburn allegiance proudly. Auburn alumni from Apple CEO Tim Cook to Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to Carolina Panther Cam Newton all embrace their Auburn heritage.
There’s a unique bond among all of us who are part of the Auburn family; a shared love for the people, places and things that truly make Auburn special. Being a member of the Auburn family is more than cheering on sports teams or basking in their reflected glories. The Auburn family is a state of being, it’s an integral part of who and what you are.
It was gratifying, but not entirely surprising, to hear Thomas honor that familial bond as he celebrated one of the greatest moments of his life.
War Eagle, Big Hurt.
War Damn Eagle.