Joe Pittman, 32 at the time and in his first year scouting, was a believer in Thomas. As the story goes, he was such a believer that even though Thomas slipped through the draft, Pittman, working for the Houston Astros, wanted to sign him.
Thomas indicated he'd put his name on the contract for a $50,000 signing bonus.
But at the age of 18, and tipping scales at what scouts say was in the neighborhood of 350 pounds, Thomas had more interest from the football coaches at Auburn than baseball, and opted to be a two-sport start for the Tigers.
Injuries brought Thomas' football career to an end during his sophomore season. He, however, continued to play baseball, and the Chicago White Sox, with the seventh pick in the 1989 First-Year Player Draft, used their first-round selection on Thomas, who became the only player in history to have seven consecutive seasons in which he hit at least .300 with at least 100 walks, 100 runs, 100 RBIs, and 20 home runs.
Things turned out just fine for Thomas, underscored by his election into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
The Astros and their fans can only wonder what might have happened had Houston signed him.
"Joe was always in Frank's corner," said Dan O'Brien Jr., the Astros' scouting director at the time. "That was many moons ago, but the best I can remember, the pull of Auburn football was a component in that situation. He was a big man. He is still a big man."
And Thomas was, said O'Brien, a Pittman-type prospect.
"Joe was always a guy who beat the bushes," said O'Brien. "He would look for the obscure guy that had tools others had overlooked."
Thomas was the first player elected to the Hall of Fame who was a designated hitter in more than half of his Major League plate appearances. He was the DH in 5,698 of his 10,075 career plate appearances, or 56.6 percent. Pushed into the role by injuries, Thomas ranks fifth on the all-time DH list with 1,310 games, second in home runs by a DH with 269, and fourth in RBIs with 881. Harold Baines is the all-time leader with 1,643 games as a DH. David Ortiz is the leader with 381 home runs and 1,245 RBIs.
Does Thomas being inducted into the Hall of Fame mean voters will rally around the DH now? Maybe, but it should be noted that Edgar Martinez, whose 1,403 games as a DH are third all-time, had a sudden drop in support in the same election that Thomas was enshrined. Martinez was on only 25.2 percent of the ballots cast this year -- the first time in his five years of eligibility that his vote total fell below 32.9 percent.
The reliever has been slow in gaining support, too. In 1985, Hoyt Wilhelm was the first pitcher used primarily out of the bullpen to be inducted. Rollie Fingers was inducted in '92, and there have been only three other relievers since -- Dennis Eckersley in 2004, Bruce Sutter in '06 and Goose Gossage in '08.
Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux both were elected this year in their first year of eligibility, along with Thomas. It's only the third time that two players who were teammates on the team they will represent in the Hall of Fame were elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America voters in the same year. Glavine and Maddux were teammates in Atlanta from 1993-2002.
Glavine and Maddux were the first members of the same rotation elected in the same year by the BBWAA. Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell, in the Philadelphia A's rotation together from 1902-07, were inducted in 1946. Both were selected by the Veterans Committee.
Only twice before this year were players from the same era of a franchise elected by BBWAA membership. Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, elected in 1974, were teammates with the Yankees from '53-67. Lefty Gomez and Mickey Cochran, elected in '47, were teammates with the Philadelphia Athletics from '25-33.
There were three other elections involving teammates, but the Veterans Committee voted in at least one of them.
The famed Chicago Cubs infield of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance, who played together from 1902-12, were Veterans Committee selections in '46. Catcher Ray Schalk and pitcher Ted Lyons, teammates with the White Sox from '23-28, were inducted in '55 -- Schalk selected by the Veterans Committee and Lyons the BBWAA. And in '46, Red Faber, by the Veterans Committee, and Luke Appling, by the BBWAA, were voted in. They were teammates with Cleveland from '30-33.
Maddux of facts
Want consistency? Maddux's career ERA was 3.18 in the first half of a season, 3.13 in the second half. His strikeouts per nine innings were 6.1 in the first half of a season and 6.0 in the second half. His WHIP was 1.140 in the first half and 1.147 in the second half.
Expansion wasn't kind to Maddux. The highest team batting average against Maddux among NL teams was .313 by Arizona, a product of expansion in 1998. Colorado, an expansion team from '93, hit .268, ranking second. His 5.37 ERA against Arizona was his highest against an NL team.
Eddie Perez was Maddux's primary catcher for a stretch in Atlanta, and caught more innings with the right-hander (832 1/3) than any catcher. Damon Berryhill, a teammate with the Cubs, was second, with 583 2/3 innings. Maddux's 2.52 ERA with Perez behind the plate was his third lowest. He had a 2.35 ERA with Javy Lopez catching him, and 1.61 with Charlie O'Brien.
Glavine to be here
Glavine came up with Atlanta in 1987 and remained with the Braves until signing with the New York Mets as a free agent for the 2003 season. Good thing Glavine had limited exposure against those Braves. His 5.15 ERA against Atlanta was his highest against an NL team, and he was 4-11 against the Braves. The only other NL teams he had an ERA above 4.00 against were Milwaukee (4.24) and Florida (4.03).
The only NL teams other than Atlanta against which he did not have a winning record were Florida (17-19) and the Chicago Cubs (15-15).
Morris or less
Jack Morris, who couldn't quite gain the needed support in his 15th and final year on the ballot, will receive Veterans Committee consideration in 2016.
He is a challenge for the stats folks.
Among the 10 pitchers with similarity scores closest to Morris on baseball-reference.com, five are not in the Hall of Fame -- No. 1 Dennis Martinez, No. 2 Andy Pettitte, No. 4 Luis Tiant, No. 5 Jamie Moyer and No. 8 Chuck Finley. Pettitte and Moyer have not been retired the required five years to be eligible for consideration by the Hall.
The other five of the top 10 are pitchers in the Hall of Fame -- No. 3 Bob Gibson, No. 6 Red Ruffing, No. 7 Amos Rusie, No. 9 Burleigh Grimes and No. 10 Bob Feller.