How Did Frank Thomas Only Make Five All-Star Teams?

Frank Thomas will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. He is easily the best hitter in White Sox history, and probably only has to fend off Luke Appling in any conversation of greatest player ever in White Sox history1. Thomas leads the White Sox in most offensive categories, and many of the ones he doesn’t he still ranks in the top 10. But what was very surprising was the fact that Thomas only made five All-Star teams with the White Sox. Paul Konerko made six. Something seemed off, so it was time to do some digging.

Year Age G HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR 1st Half
1991 23 158 32 109 138 112 0.318 0.453 0.553 1.006 180 6.9 0.961
1992 24 160 24 115 122 88 0.323 0.439 0.536 0.975 174 6.9 0.959
1993 ★ 25 153 41 128 112 54 0.317 0.426 0.607 1.033 177 6.2 0.970
1994 ★ 26 113 38 101 109 61 0.353 0.487 0.729 1.217 212 6.3 1.311
1995 ★ 27 145 40 111 136 74 0.308 0.454 0.606 1.061 179 5.3 1.143
1996 ★ 28 141 40 134 109 70 0.349 0.459 0.626 1.085 178 5.5 1.069
1997 ★ 29 146 35 125 109 69 0.347 0.456 0.611 1.067 181 7.3 1.115
1998 30 160 29 109 110 93 0.265 0.381 0.480 0.861 126 3.5 0.852
1999 31 135 15 77 87 66 0.305 0.414 0.471 0.885 125 2.3 0.931
2000 32 159 43 143 112 94 0.328 0.436 0.625 1.061 163 6.0 1.086
2002 34 148 28 92 88 115 0.252 0.361 0.472 0.834 119 1.9 0.774
2003 35 153 42 105 100 115 0.267 0.390 0.562 0.952 146 4.2 0.952

Looking at Thomas’ stats above for all of his full seasons with the White Sox, it’s really hard to figure out what went wrong. Thomas made all of his all-star appearances from 1993–1997. It’s a bit understandable how Thomas didn’t make the team in 1991, his first full season, but how did he not make it in 1992? His first half was a bit worse than his second, but he was coming off a pretty remarkable 1991. It just goes to show how undervalued OBP and OPS were then, as Thomas led the league in both in ’91 and ’92. Although he dropped off significantly, how did he not make it in 2000? He was a long established player at that point, and he had 18 home runs on July 1st. Let’s examine these two seasons.

In 1992, Mark McGwire was selected as the 1B starter, and no other 1B was selected to the roster, although DH Paul Molitor was selected, and the game was in an NL ballpark. McGwire had been an all-star the previous five seasons, so he had a major edge. But he was coming off a weak 1991 campaign where his home run numbers had dropped. He had clubbed 10 home runs in the first month of the ’92 season though, and had 26 home runs at the end of June. Plus he was voted in by the fans. Hard to argue with. Molitor was in his 14th season, and was a four-time former all-star. He led the league in hits and triples in ’91 in addition to hitting .325. He hit .319 in the first half of 1992 and had enough of a reputation to get in on that. Another hard to argue with decision.

The White Sox also had two other all-stars in 1992. Robin Ventura made his first (of two) all-star teams. He had his 23 home runs in ’91 and won his first Gold Glove. He was also coming off a monster June. It’s amazing he only made one all-star team, but he probably didn’t deserve to make it over Thomas at this point. Positional value played a big role here. Jack McDowell made his 2nd straight all-star game and would go on to win the Cy Young in 1992 (and 1993). It’s hard to argue with his selection as well.

What happened in 2000? Four first basemen made the cut, plus Edgar Martinez as DH. Thomas was essentially a DH at this point, which likely played a role in being left off. This was Giambi’s first all-star game, and PEDs or not, this was the beginning of his peak. He had finished 8th in MLB voting the year before, and had a pretty nice first half. Fred McGriff was 36, coming off a pretty decent 1999, had [15 home runs on July 1st], and was coming off a ridiculous June. More importantly, there was no one else on this Tampa Bay team that was an all-star, so he was helping fill a quota.

KC’s Mike Sweeney was similar. Also the only KC player to make the team, at least Sweeney was 26 and on the rise (he would make four straight all-star teams). Sweeney had a solid first half, and as the only KC player on the team, it makes some sense. Carlos Delgado was hitting his peak, and had hit 44 home runs in 1999. Delgado was essentially unconscious in the first half of 2000. He had 27 home runs on July 1st and hit .363 in the first half. Edgar Martinez hadn’t made an all-star team since 1997. The 2000 power surge netted Martinez 37 home runs. He never cracked 30 any other year (suspicious?). He hit .354 in the first half, so again it’s hard to argue with his inclusion.

The 2000 White Sox, who eventually won the division, had three all-stars anyway. Ray Durham made his 2nd team, and had clubbed 13 first half HR. He was the only backup 2B. Magglio Ordonez made his 2nd (of six) all-star teams. Ordonez was having a sick first half, and was probably the star of the White Sox at that time. James Baldwin was the last selection as a pitcher.

Was Thomas screwed? Maybe. Walks were so undervalued in the early ‘90s that him being left off the team in 1991 and 1992 is probably the worst, and likely wouldn’t happen in current times. It’s hard to find anything wrong with the selections in 1992, but the one player from every team rule no doubt hurt him in 2000 when he might have been more deserving than Sweeney or McGriff. Thomas’ steep drop off in 1998, and his injury shortened 1999 hurt him a bit. Those were his age 30 and 31 seasons, both considered prime years. So Thomas missing the all-star team on his own accord those two years were ultimately his demise.

  1. Appling edges Thomas in overall bWAR thanks to playing SS and being a plus defender. []