"A lot of these guys don't remember how Frank, in the early 90's, was the
dominant player in this league," Clayton said. "Even though he's 39,
he's still doing it. He hit 39 home runs last year at an age where a lot
of people his age are dropping off substantially -- especially power
hitters. To remain that consistent says a lot about his dedication."
Clayton was teammates with Thomas during the 2001-02 seasons in Chicago,
and the two veterans were reunited for the second time when they
signed free agent contracts with the Jays over the offseason. Even though
the game has changed dramatically since they entered the league, Clayton
is quick to shoot down any talk that the 500 Home Run Club doesn't hold
the same kind of prestige that it once did.
"500 is 500," Clayton said. "That's an automatic trip into the Hall of
Fame. If you can't appreciate that in this day and age, then I think
people are missing out, because besides from a few, we're not going to see
it too much more. ... The guys who do hit 30-40 home runs a year, you
don't see them having that type of consistency and longevity that Frank has had."
Jays manager John Gibbons said Thomas' achievement Thursday in Minnesota was something few other players have done, and that he would like to believe that Thomas' 500 career home runs put him in the Hall of Fame.
"I sure hope so. I mean, [baseball writers] vote, not me, but I sure hope," Gibbons said. "It's a great accomplishment, only 21 guys have done that. First of all, to have longevity in this game, to play as long as he's been playing and then to maintain that level of play, that speaks for itself."
Jays reliever and Chicago native Jason Frasor was just 13 years old
when Thomas first homered in the Majors. The right-hander grew up as a
fan of the Cubs, but he says now that he is older, he has learned to
appreciate all that Thomas has done for the game.
"You grow up and you learn to respect the player and his achievements," Frasor said. "He was amazing. Two-time MVP. I didn't care for him back
then, because of the Cubs, but I love him now. He's a great teammate,
and he deserves all the milestones he's reached in his career."
What impresses Frasor the most is the longevity Thomas has sustained
in his career. Thomas, who is listed at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, has been
placed on the disabled list six times over 18 seasons, and has been
forced to undergo countless surgeries on various parts of his body. But
each and every time, he's managed to come back with his classic power
stroke that has helped cement his place among baseball's elite.
"It's incredible," Frasor said. "He's worked really hard to keep his
body in shape and get back from those injuries. I'm going on four years
and it feels like 20. I don't know how he's done it."
Thomas was also the boyhood hero of Jays 23-year-old left fielder Adam
Lind. While Lind was growing up in Muncie, Ind., he used to make the
trip to Chicago to watch Thomas in person.
"I loved watching Frank," Lind said. "I think he was a favorite of a
lot of kids, just because he was so big and hit so many home runs. ... Now
he'll be in the record books. Five-hundred is one of those milestones in
baseball that proves greatness."
For Clayton, he's just happy Thomas now has his place in history, but he
hopes that's not all people will remember Thomas for.
"Five-hundred home runs is one thing," Clayton said. "But if you look at his career on-base percentage, slugging percentage, batting average, it's really impressive. For a man of his stature to combine all that together, it's an accomplishment to the dedication to his craft and his professionalism."
Thomas said that even though he has spent just half a season with the Blue Jays, his teammates have been supportive during his quest for No. 500, and he appreciates that.
"They've been great. They've been encouraging," he said. "They know how hard its been to get here."