Feb
12

Imagining Frank Thomas as a Yankee

By

Yesterday we heard some sad news: Frank Thomas has retired after 19 big league seasons. Though sad, the news comes as no surprise. Thomas didn’t play in 2009 and saw a massive drop-off in power during 2008. Though he wasn’t quite as bad as his 72 plate appearances with the Blue Jays suggested, he posted numbers just slightly above league average in his return to Oakland that year. That left him with the lowest wOBA of his career, putting his injury decimated 2001 season aside.

Growing up, The Big Hurt was my favorite non-Yankee. I didn’t understand concepts like OBP back then, so I didn’t realize that Thomas led the league in that category in three of his first five years in the league. But I did understand batting average and home runs, both of which Thomas supplied in abundance. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that I learned about slugging percentage because of him. I just remember seeing the letters SLG on the back of his baseball card, with numbers unlike I’d ever seen, or cared to notice, listed below.

Thomas was one of the most highly regarded prospects in the 1989 draft. The Yankees, who finished 85-76 in 1988, fifth place in the AL East, didn’t stand a real chance to draft him. Even if he had fallen to them at No. 15, the Dodgers would have been the beneficiaries, since they received the Yankees’ first round pick as compensation for free agent Steve Sax. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but that didn’t stop me from imagining what the Yankees, pathetic as they were in my baseball loving youth, would have looked like with The Big Hurt batting cleanup.

This is just a fun exercise, not any kind of serious analysis. I’ll use Thomas’s actual stats and imagine them in the Yankees’ lineup, tweaking aspects here and there to fit the narrative. The team did, after all, have this guy named Don Mattingly already playing first, so the storyline figures to be at least a little different.

1990

Don Mattingly, who missed seven games in early July because of back problems, finally realizes that he can no longer play through the injury. The Yankees place him on the disabled list before the game, calling up Frank Thomas from AA Albany. But, because the game was in Texas Thomas cannot make it in time. Kevin Maas gets the start at first against Nolan Ryan, who is trying for his 300th win. The Rangers give him a 2-1 lead through three, but Maas, leading off the fourth, ties the game with a home run. Ryan has to try again next start.

Sick of watching Steve Balboni strike out a third of the time, manager Stump Merrill implements a rotation between Thomas and Maas for the first base and DH spots. Though their pitching still keeps them down, the Yankees finish 73-89, one game ahead of the last-place Brewers. Thomas contributes heavily to the rise from last place, hitting .330/.454/.529 in 240 plate appearances.

1991

The Yankees face a tough situation in the off-season, having three players for the first base and DH spots. Mattingly is entering the first year of a five-year, $19.3 million contract. Combined with his status as Yankee legend, he is untradeable. With Thomas a rising star, Maas is the most expendable. The Yankees trade him to the Cardinals for Bob Tewksbury, who heads the rotation along with Scott Sanderson.

In the June draft, the Braves pick first and select Brien Taylor, a phenom prospect who has some of the best pure stuff scouts have ever seen. The Yankees pick fifth and select local product Manny Ramirez.

With Tewks at the helm and Thomas taking most of the reps at first, so to rest Mattingly’s back, the Yankees improve greatly in 1991, going 80-82. Thomas finishes third in the MVP voting, hitting .318/.453/.553, leading the league in OBP and OPS, though few baseball fans even know the terms at the time. What they do know is that he hit 32 home runs and 31 doubles.

1992

Seeing the team is on the verge of something, Bobby Bonilla chooses the Yankees over the Mets. The switch hitter turns in a nice season, hitting .249/.348/.432 to go with Thomas’s .323/.439/.536. But, most importantly, Tewksbury goes 16-5 with a 2.16 ERA, winning the AL Cy Young. He and Melido Perez head a much improved rotation, and with an improved bullpen the Yankees appear set. They finish 90-72, though that nets them only second place in the AL East to Toronto’s 94 wins.

In that June’s draft the Yankees pick 12th and take Ron Villone, a lefty from UMass. After the draft, everyone raves about the Giants, who with the sixth pick in the draft select Derek Jeter.

1993

George Steinbrenner, back at the helm, realizes that his team is poised for a division title. While Stick Michael handles the smaller moves, such as trading Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill, Steinbrenner cooks the big plot. While both players are reluctant to play in New York, Big Stein makes Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux offers they can’t refuse, paying Bonds more than any hitter and Maddux more than any pitcher in the game.

Over the course of two seasons the Yankees go from an anemic offense to a powerhouse. The batting order:

1. Barry Bonds, LF
2. Ray Lankford, SS
3. Don Mattingly, 1B
4. Frank Thomas, DH
5. Bobby Bonilla, 3B
6. Mike Stanley, C
7. Paul O’Neill, RF
8. Dion James, CF
9. Pat Kelly, 2B

And with a rotation of: Greg Maddux, Jimmy Key, Bob Tewksbury, Jim Abbott, Scott Kamieniecki

The Yankees finish 98-64, winning the AL East. They beat up on the White Sox before beating the Phillies and bringing a World Championship back to the Bronx for the first time in 15 years.

Credit: AP Photo/Harlan Chinn

Categories : Days of Yore

88 Comments»

  1. pat says:

    I’m not so sure I like how this story turns out. I am very sure however, that Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball was awesome on Game Gear.

  2. AndrewYF says:

    Maddux + Thomas + Bonds + Manny >>>_infinity_>>> Derek Jeter. Yankees win 10 titles in a row.

  3. Mo's Savant says:

    Great post Joe. If this had happened, I would probably hate Jeter just like everyone else out of NY and NJ. On the other hand the Feared Bernie and the other farmhands wouldn’t have come up.

    • bexarama says:

      Eh, maybe with the Giants he goes pretty much nowhere. He probably wouldn’t be the very visible face of an extremely successful franchise, leading to a lot of hype around him to die down.

      I… don’t want to think about Jeter on any other team. :(

      • Hughesus Christo says:

        Why do people say this?

        Royals SS Derek Jeter is still a first-ballot hall of famer.

        • bexarama says:

          I know that, but heck, maybe the Giants staff or whatever can’t get his swing to a major league level, or they decide his defense isn’t good enough to be a ML shortstop and they move him elsewhere… I dunno.

          But, if he’d played SS for all these years, putting up the same numbers he had with the Yankees, for terrible teams, he’d definitely be a first-ballot HOFer. Obviously.

          • Pete C. says:

            Derek Jeter to the Giants, Barry Bonds leading off, Sacrilege.
            Oo-fah, next thing you’ll tell us is Roger Clemens will pitch for the Yanks and we all learn to love the Rocket.
            Pitchers and catchers can’t report soon enough.

  4. JGS says:

    no way Tewks takes home the AL Cy Young with a 16-5, 2.16. McDowell won 20 that year and still came in behind the “let’s honor Dennis Eckersley for five mostly untouchable years out of the pen” vote

  5. Salty Buggah says:

    Let’s assume we sign Barry Bonds for 10 years and we keep Frank Thomas until 1997, when his contact expires and the Yanks can’t afford him.

    Bonds’ 199 OPS+ in those 10 years + Thomas’ 184 OPS+ from 1993 to 1997 on the same team = …..

    There’s no word to describe that.

    Now, let’s assume we keep Manny until 2000, when he leaves via free agency. Add in his 154 OPS+ from 1994-2000 and the Yanks have a historic lineup.

    I know there are some holes in this logic but just ignore it and imagine this for a minute.

  6. camilo Gerardo says:

    manny and bbonds probably get Frank to try PED’s during his latter years, too. More Power!!

    do we still get JoPo, Pettitte (Hughes) and Mo?

  7. vinny-b says:

    Edited by RAB. This is not LoHud. There are rules. Please do not continue conversations from previous threads. We have an off-topic thread for that. Also, please do not respond to off-topic comments.

  8. W.W.J.M.D. says:

    The moment i read that the Yankees don’t still up end drafting Derek Jeter, this post stopped being just for fun and i began to take it serious.

    • Chip says:

      If they don’t have Jeter, there’s a chance they sign A-Rod when he’s a free agent

      • W.W.J.M.D. says:

        If they don’t have Jeter, i never see him hit a HR in ’96 and maybe don’t become a Yankee fan. Just the thought makes me tear up

        • camilo Gerardo says:

          Instead you’d get to see Barry Bonds hit 80 or so?

        • If they don’t have Jeter but they do have Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez, those two heart of the order baseball-murdering pitcher-skullfuckers literally mash the shit out of more baseballs than you can count and hit probably a collective SEVEN TIMES as many homeruns in Yankee pinstripes. They both become your favorite players in all of baseball; in ’96 they hit BACK TO BACK homers and you become an even BIGGER fan than you are now.

          And Derek Jeter in San Fransisco becomes your new Hanley Ramirez: A damn fine future HoF player who is a total afterthought in your mental consciousness because, to paraphrase a Bo line of stupidity, he “toils away in obscurity for a last place team”.

  9. bexarama says:

    Big Stein makes Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux offers they can’t refuse,

    DON’T TORTURE ME LIKE THIS

  10. Drew says:

    Revisionist History ftw! That’s fun to think about.

  11. Salty Buggah says:

    To those that can’t digest the thought of losing Jeter: Use your imagination.

    In 1992, Jeter hurts his knee before the draft, causing his stock to drop a bit. Also, he states that he will only sign if selected by the Yanks. So, the Yanks end up drafting Jeter with the 12th pick anyway.

    We have Bonds, Thomas, Manny, Mo, Andy, Posada, Bernie, Tewsbury, all of the other guys, AND Jeter. They go on to win the next 7 World Series…at least.

    • Salty Buggah says:

      Oh and we assume that Jete’s knee injury was nothing more than a scare and it never resurfaces again.

    • Salty Buggah says:

      Add Maddux to that list. How can I forgot him?

    • bexarama says:

      Since this is fantasy land, that one pitching prospect the Yankees had that was awesome, but got into a fight and basically ruined himself forever, never gets into that fight (I can’t remember his name). Also, Mariano makes his cousin get his sh-t together.

    • W.W.J.M.D. says:

      ok, this scenario works. As long as we still sign Jesus Montero.

    • Bo says:

      If you think a team wouldnt draft him because he said ‘he’d only play for the yankees’ you’re nuts. You don’t pass on elite talents. You change their minds with money and playting time.

      • A.D. says:

        If you think a team wouldn’t draft him because he said ‘he’d only play for the yankees’ you’re nuts.

        Well prospects have done this before, especially coming out of HS when they have commitments from big colleges, such as Jeter did.

  12. Jimmy says:

    Melido Perez? Just a bitter reminder of how the Yanks wasted the opportunity for a Mattingly-era dynasty by commiting to mediocre pitching.

  13. BigBlueAL says:

    You have a helluva imagination Joseph, plus mustve been bored as hell tonight to come up with this.

  14. Matt :: Sec 105 says:

    This is a fun post, but weird at the same time. I hate the “what if?” game…I guess it’s just a product of the week in between the Super Bowl and start of spring training…

  15. BJS says:

    This what we fans have to turn to in the cold, baseball-less days of February. Speculative, what-could-have-been scenarios that straddle the fine line of slighty plausible and completely ridicolous. “In the winter of ’92, Stick signs Captain Crunch to fortify the bullpen. The CC era in the Bronx lasts only a couple of weeks, however as Crunch gets caught doing Coke in Steve Howe’s mid-town Manhattan apartment”.

  16. Derek Jeter: One of the top 5 shortstops in baseball history.

    Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez: two of the top 30 hitters in baseball history.

    Drafting Thomas and Ramirez >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Drafting Jeter

    Even if all the rest of the stuff in the post never happens, if you could build a time machine and make the Yankees select Thomas and Ramirez instead of Jeter, you’d do it. You’d be a fool not to.

    • Bo says:

      Why would anyone be a fool that chooses Jeter??

      Hasnt Jeter proved his worth being a part of 5 title winners and 15+ playoff teams? theres a reason hes maybe the best SS in major league history. Not to mention what he brings to the team and the franchise. Something those two malcontents don’t on their best day.

      I’d rather have the great SS than the DH and LF. A great SS is more valued than a DH.

  17. Good thing that ’94 line up would be so prolific; they’d be giving a lot back on defense with the lefty throwing Lankford at short.

    Also, technically Steinbrenner couldn’t have made offers to Bonds and Maddux as he wasn’t reinstated until March 1, 1993. Although, as the articles Ben linked to in the Boggs post the other day indicated, it’s likely George was pulling strings behind the scenes anyway.

  18. Aaron S. says:

    If memory serves me correctly we did see Thomas in a Yankee uniform. Anyone remember the movie “Mr. Baseball”?

  19. Hey Yo says:

    Does anyone remember those “What If” comics? Yeah, I didn’t like those either.

  20. Bo says:

    Now cue all the stories about how Thomas was natural and a non drug user. Like anyone really knows for sure. I’m sure a big man wouldnt take something that makes him better and more durable. It’s the hypocrisy of the baseball writers.

  21. Steve H says:

    Thomas should have juiced. In his early career he always was the first to do this or that since Ted Williams. While he continued to put up astounding numbers, the players around him passed him (at least with HR’s) and for a while I think Thomas was put on the back burner. From 22-25 he OPS’d 1.002, back before everyone seemed to be OPS’s over 1.000, he did it in his rookie year and first 3 full seasons in the majors. He only got better after that, but was overshadowed. Even his legendary 1994 (when the owners juiced the balls) was overshadowed by the chase for Maris and the chase for .400, and of course the strike.

  22. Steve H says:

    Oh, and he could play a mean tight end too.

  23. A.D. says:

    2. Ray Lankford, SS

    Wasn’t Ray an OF?

    Also we can still assume Bernie comes up and play CF?

  24. Hey, while you’re going back in time and changing things, do me a favor and don’t pick Matt Drews with the 13th selection of the 1993 draft. Take the guy who went two spots behind him, Chris Carpenter.

    kthxbai

  25. noseeum says:

    I appreciate the effort, but please, can we get real baseball back? The RAB crew needs some news to write about!

  26. grouchonyy says:

    To add to your fantasy you ought add the picture of Frank in a Yankee uniform for his rôle in the movie, Mr Baseball.

  27. scoopemup says:

    Frank Thomas DID play for the Yankees, in the baseball movie ‘The Scout’,he had a minor role.Movie stunk by the way.

  28. jp says:

    frank thomas was on the yankees in 1992. he took over for yankee great jack elliot and then that sent elliot to japan where he then helped his manager have a little fun in baseball. on a serious note, im sure alot of you on here have noticed that even though they never show his face in the movie mr. baseball.

  29. boreifs says:

    Gee, I wonder what would have happened if Catharine of Aragon had a boy? To post or not to post, that should be a question asked more frequently.

  30. TJ says:

    That story was amazing.

    I love DJ but I’d give my left nut for that line-up.

  31. Professorg says:

    The guy was juiced, plain and simple! I have no proof but when are going to wake up to the fact that from the 90′s to the present day, when a player looks like something out of a comic book, he’s probably been taking something. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  32. ShoreThunder says:

    Frank Thomas did wear the Yankee uniform briefly…in “,Mr. Baseball” starring Tom Selleick. The Big Hurt plays a rookie in SpringTraining hitting BOMBS. Check it out…

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