COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Former Auburn star Frank Thomas became the first Auburn player and first former Southeastern Conference baseball player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
"The Big Hurt" played at Auburn from 1987-89 under coach Hal Baird and was Auburn's first consensus All-America selection in 1989. During his All-American season, he hit a SEC-best .403 while manning first base. He also drove in 83 runs and hit 19 home runs as the Tigers won the SEC Tournament and advanced to the Atlantic Regional. He finished his Auburn career with a .382 batting average before being drafted seventh overall by the White Sox in the 1989 MLB Draft.
"Today, I would like to thank the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the baseball writers for selecting me as a first-ballot selection in this 2014 Hall of Fame class," Thomas said. "I'm so humbled and honored to be a part of this historic class of first-ballot hall of famers. To share the stage in front of all of the legendary men who made the game better for us all, I'm speechless."
During his 19-year major league career, which began in 1990, he hit .301 with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs, 1,494 runs scored and 495 doubles while drawing 1,667 walks in 2,322 games. A five-time All-Star, he was just the 11th player in big league history to win back-to-back MVP awards, winning in 1993 and 1994.
"I would like to thank [former head football coach] Pat Dye, [athletic director] Jay Jacobs and [former head baseball coach] 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. 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."
Thomas' induction makes Auburn the first SEC member school to have former players that played in the conference inducted into the major hall of fames for baseball (Thomas), basketball (Charles Barkley) and football (Frank "Gunner" Gatski).
Auburn is one of only 10 colleges in the country joining Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, NYU, Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Virginia as schools that have had a player inducted into the baseball, basketball and football hall of fames.
"Everyone knows Frank was one of the all-time great baseball players, but he was also one of the greatest men to ever play at Auburn," Jacobs said. "Frank has been the same way as long as I've known him. He's a first-class man of character and integrity. I congratulate him on this highest of honors."
He is one of four players in Major League Baseball history to have a career .300 batting average with 500 home runs, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 runs scored and 1,500 walks. The others are Hall of Famers Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
"[Thomas] was in the minor leagues a short period of time, and he was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1993, that was just three years after he left Auburn," Baird said. "All of that seemed to be within his grasp because of his ability and his dedication. It was almost like he was on a mission. I think he knew early on he had something special."
Thomas spent 16 of his 19 seasons with the Chicago White Sox and split his final three seasons between the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics.
He joined former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine as the three first-ballot inductees into the Hall of Fame. Also earning selection this year were former big-league managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
Thomas appeared on 483 of 571 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, earning 83.7 percent of the vote, well clear of the 75-percent minimum required for election. Maddux received 91.9 percent of the vote; Glavine earned 91.9 percent.