Sunday, July 27 was not only a historic day for the MLB as it inducted one of the most star-studded classes of all time into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but also for the SEC. Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas became the first player from the Southeastern Conference to be enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The SEC experienced great success on the diamond over the last several years, capturing 10 of the last 24 National Championships and producing multiple All-Stars, Cy Young winners and MVP winners, but had yet to receive baseball’s highest honor.
After going undrafted in the 1986 amateur draft, Thomas accepted a football scholarship to Auburn University. Thomas spent just one season with the football team and after suffering an ankle injury prior to his sophomore campaign, made the decision to focus on baseball. Helping Thomas make this decision was none other than legendary Auburn football coach, Pat Dye. Ironically, last week Coach Dye told AuburnTigers.com, “If he [Thomas] had stuck with football, he’d be going in the Hall of Fame as a football player.”
During Thomas’ emotional Hall of Fame acceptance speech he made sure to mention his time at Auburn, giving a shout-out to former Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird, former tight ends coach and current athletic director Jay Jacobs and, of course, Auburn Coach Dye. Thomas even made sure to add a “War Damn Eagle”.
Thomas’ outstanding collegiate baseball career included 49 home runs and earned him Southeastern Conference MVP honors his senior year. The talent he showed at Auburn led to him being drafted 7th overall in the 1989 free agent draft. Thomas finished his career with .301 batting average and 521 home runs. In addition to his on-field brilliance, his warm and likable personality makes him one of baseball’s best ambassadors, a player deserving of holding the first SEC spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
***Alabama’s Joe Sewell is a Hall of Fame member but his time at the university predates the founding of the SEC.