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Paul Konerko lauds Frank Thomas for being ‘dialed in with his work’

Updated: August 26, 2014 6:43AM

The remarkable hitting eye and plate discipline helped Frank Thomas hit for high average and on-base percentage.

The exceptional size and strength grew the power numbers.

The motivation to have bigger and better statistics than anyone else kept Thomas’ extraordinarily blended hitting machine ticking along through a 19-year career (16 with the White Sox) that produced a .301 average, .419 on-base percentage, 521 homers and 1,704 RBI.

Thomas was self-motivated, but if he needed a nudge now and then, teammates such as Joey Cora and Ozzie Guillen were always around to push the right buttons.

“Joey was really annoying to him,’’ Guillen said this week. “Joey would pick up the paper and say, ‘Juan [Gonzalez] two hits, home run, two RBIs last night.’ That would get him going. We’d make him very upset and he hated it but I know he was going to hit two ­homers that night.’’

Broadcaster Ken Harrelson, who nicknamed Thomas “The Big Hurt,” often heard it suggested that Thomas was selfish because of his obsession with his numbers.

“I said, ‘He’s not selfish. Guys do that. They have to find ways to motivate themselves.’ You know, 162 games, that’s tough. It’s really tough, and guys find ways to motivate themselves.’’

As Paul Konerko — who ranks second to Thomas in homers and RBI among all-time Sox — says, first basemen and designated hitters don’t have much more than numbers to be judged by.

Thomas’ detailed, methodical day-to-day approach to his craft was as impressive as anything to Konerko.

“Just his routines,’’ Konerko said, “and it led to the numbers, ­obviously.

“He was just really consistent and dialed in with his work. He knew when things went bad and wasn’t swinging the bat the way he wanted to, he had drills and just a whole formula on how to get himself [right], he was very aware at all times where he was at with his swing. Knew what to do when it was good and knew what to do when he didn’t feel good. He kind of just knew and learned how to get it back to where he wanted to and knew little tricks to do it. That all leads to the numbers and not going through long stretches of bad results.’’

Ask Guillen about his former teammate and he points to a good work environment that included guidance from hitting coach Walt Hriniak and professional co-workers such as Robin Ventura, Carlton Fisk, Jack McDowell, Lance Johnson and Ellis Burks, work habits and “his desire for competition.”

“Frank was better because of Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez, all those guys to compete against,’’ Guillen said. “He always wanted to be the best.’’

Count chairmain Jerry Reinsdorf, Harrelson, and Guillen among those who say he was.

“I respect Kirby Puckett, Robin Yount, Griffey,’’ Guillen said, “but Frank was the best hitter in my era.’’

“I remember the first month he was up here he didn’t hit a home run and so we were wondering ‘Does this guy really have power?’ ’’ Reinsdorf said. “But after a couple of years he started putting up numbers like Gehrig and Foxx and Ott and Ruth. You knew if he stayed healthy he’d get into the Hall of Fame.

“I thought he was the greatest right-handed hitter I’ve ever seen. Now I think he’s one of the three greatest because [Miguel] Cabrera and [Albert] Pujols are probably in that category. Still, that’s pretty special. I didn’t see Hornsby so I don’t know how good he was.’’


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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