Thomas unfair, un-American with contract demands
Can we be Frank?
For $9.9 million a year, I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that any one of us would swap jobs — and bank accounts — with Frank Thomas.
Apparently, however, that’s not enough for the DH/occasional first baseman of the Chicago White Sox.
Frank Thomas sees what Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mike Hampton are getting these days and wants more. To make the point, after passing his physical exam last Wednesday, he skipped a team meeting, walked out of the White Sox camp and hasn’t been back.
“You can’t have A-Rod making $25 million and we’re coming in at seven, eight, nine million,” Thomas said. “It’s a business. It’s just like Hollywood. You can’t have the top actor making $25 million and the rest making $10 million.”
Earth to Frank: Yes, you can.
Players tend to have selective — and short — memories when dollar signs are involved.
Thomas wasn’t complaining when the White Sox signed him to a deal potentially worth $85 million following the 1997 season.
And after he batted just .265 in 1998 and saw his power numbers dwindle to 15 homers and 77 RBI in 1999, the only grumbling to be heard came from Chisox fans, moaning that Thomas had a deal guaranteed through 2006.
Then came last year.
After an initial blowout with manager Jerry Manuel, Thomas got his head on straight and revamped his batting stroke as well as his attitude. The result: career highs in home runs (43) and RBI (143) on a team that surprised everyone by going wire-to-wire in the American League Central Division.
The White Sox were Team Harmony and a lot of credit went to Frank Thomas. How soon he forgets.
Thomas, 32, has made it clear that he wants to rank among the top 20 highest-paid players in his sport. He’s also unhappy with some clauses in his existing contract. A .321 lifetime hitter with 344 home runs, one can presume that Thomas would be in line for more favorable terms were he free to re-sign today. But he is not.
Mark McGwire, a slugger with a salary similar to Thomas, put things in the proper prospective last night in an Up Close interview on ESPN. “Nobody puts a gun to your head to sign a long-term deal,” McGwire said. “If you sign it, play it out. It’s that simple. If you have three or four years left on your contract, there’s no complaining.”
Unfortunately, there is complaining in Major League Baseball.
What the sport is seeing are the ripples of the A-Rod signing coming back to soak it. The White Sox are not alone in what they are experiencing. Gary Sheffield is demanding to be dealt because the Dodgers refuse to extend his contract, which has three-years remaining. Barry Bonds wants out of San Francisco unless the Giants talk contract extension. These are megastars in search of megabucks.
On Wednesday, Thomas said he’d honor the remainder of the nine-year deal he signed after the ’97 season, but his words and his actions make one wonder.
Thomas missed his fifth consecutive workout yesterday, although he did chat with Manuel by phone. He won’t be subject to a fine until tomorrow, the players’ mandatory reporting day.
But that doesn’t mean his attitude and his actions have not been unsettling to the White Sox. Coming in the midst of the Mike Sirotka/Blue Jays commotion, this isn’t exactly what first-year general manager Ken Williams needed to deal with during his first spring training.
Even if one were sympathetic to Thomas, his timing was lousy. Players generally try to get these sort of issues resolved long before they interfere with their team’s spring training preparations.
“I do know he is a stubborn man,” said Manuel. “Through my first couple of years here, he was so stubborn. He didn’t make adjustments at the plate.”
To his credit, Manuel hasn’t been slamming his head against a wall, waiting for Thomas to report. He’s had veteran Harold Baines, creaky knees and all, taking ground balls at first base.
“We have to do what we have to do to get ready without Frank,” Manuel said.
Baines, who’ll turn 42 on March 15, wants to play. Needing 145 hits for 3,000, he’ll take all the at-bats he can get.
Chances are the White Sox won’t have to rely on Baines to back up Paul Konerko at first base. If it’s all about making his point, Thomas will return, perhaps today or tomorrow. If it’s about pure greed, this thing could drag on a bit longer.
“What I’m being paid now is way off the pay scale,” Thomas said. “I’ve never been greedy. I’ve never tried to be the top paid player in this game when I could have been. The bottom line is what’s fair is fair.”
Right now, Thomas is not being fair. Neither is any other player attempting to hold his club hostage with raise-me or trade-me demands. In what other occupation can a worker sign a guaranteed deal then demand more because the guy in the next cubicle gets more dough?
Frankly, it’s un-American.
BELOW THE RADAR: Ears perked when word broke that the Dodgers had traded a veteran outfielder yesterday. But the outfielder wasn’t Gary Sheffield. It was Devon White, who went to the Brewers in exchange for Marquis Grissom. White, sidelined much of last season by a shoulder injury, was disenchanted with his fourth outfielder status in LA, but could be in a similar situation with the Brewers who, at present, have Geoff Jenkins, Jeffrey Hammonds and Jeromy Burnitz as starters. Yet the more important action came Saturday when the Brewers locked up young sluggers Richie Sexson and Jenkins for four years apiece, committing more than $35 million to a pair of players who weren’t yet eligible for arbitration. It’s easy to see why Milwaukee has chosen to make Sexson and Jenkins cornerstones of their rebuilding plan. Both are 26 years old, both had 30-homer seasons in 2000 and both appear ready for bigger and better things this year.
Milwaukee isn’t getting much respect, yet. In our initial USA Today Baseball Weekly Super Power Rankings, the Brewers placed 26 out of 30 teams and last among NL Central teams. Yet keep an eye on them this season — they could be tough with Burnitz-Hammonds-Jenkins-Sexson at bat, the continued health of Jeff D’Amico and the development of Olympic pitching hero Ben Sheets.
CHATTER: Jim Morris, one of the “feel-good” stories of 2000, has called it quits. Morris, 37, who spent 10 years away from the game and had been a school teacher, pitched in 16 games for the Devil Rays. He had surgery on his left shoulder on June 30 but was invited to camp by the Dodgers. Discomfort, due to tendinitis in his shoulder, made it impossible for Morris to continue. But that doesn’t mean the end of his story in LA. In March, Disney plans to begin production on a movie about Morris with Dennis Quaid in the starring role. Morris, originally drafted by the Brewers in 1983, became the oldest rookie pitcher to make a big league debut in 40 years. … Baseball lost a legend yesterday when Hall of Fame writer Phil Collier died at age 75. Collier, who covered the Dodgers, Angels and Padres for 40 years in San Diego had waged a long battle with cancer. … And a ray of sunshine from Players Association chief Donald Fehr, who on Sunday visited the Chicago White Sox, his first stop on a tour of all 30 spring training camps. “Both sides have made a real effort to cooperate and find ways to solve problems,” Fehr said. “In 1994 by this time, there was overt hostility, there were overt threats. There are some rumblings and people talking the way they always do. But the rhetoric is not as loud, not as insistent and not as confrontational as it was then. I think if you’ll notice, there is no open hostility between the parties. Nobody is making any threats.”