CINCINNATI -- White Sox great Frank Thomas' career was celebrated when the slugger was inducted into the Baseball of Fame on Sunday afternoon. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, the person who signed Thomas to his first professional contract, was unable to attend the ceremony because of the upcoming non-waiver Trade Deadline on Thursday.
"I talked to Frank and told him how I proud I am of him," Rizzo said. "Sunday comes at a really busy time for us here in baseball where you have Trade Deadline stuff to worry about. I felt it was more important to be here with the team. I will be [with Thomas] in spirit, and I will watch Frank's acceptance speech and have a lot of pride."
In 19 big league seasons, Thomas hit .301 with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs and a .419 on-base percentage. He also won two American League Most Valuable Player Awards (1993-94). Rizzo called Thomas one of the best right-handed hitters of all time.
"What separated him was, he had the brute force and the strength to hit the ball a long way, but a lot of guys had that attribute," Rizzo said. "This guy had great plate discipline. He knew the strike zone as good as anybody in the game. Not only could he hit for power, but really could hit for average that allowed him to utilize his big-time raw power. He is a guy that did it the right way."
Rizzo first scouted him in 1988 when Thomas was attending Auburn University. According to the website Diamond Mines, which is affiliated with the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rizzo's scouting report said that Thomas was a B-plus prospect and a "powerful player with potential to be an impact power-hitting [first baseman]."
"The big thing about him was his character," Rizzo said now. "He was a guy who played with a chip on his shoulder and a guy that was destined to work as hard as he could to be the best that he could. It turned out the faith that the White Sox put in us was right."
Not too long after the White Sox selected Thomas in the first round of the 1989 First-Year Player Draft, Rizzo negotiated Thomas' first professional contract. It was the first time Rizzo dealt with a player agent, in this case, Robert Fraley. It was also the first time Rizzo had thoughts of becoming a GM.
"That was the first professional contract that I negotiated with an agent for that type of money," Rizzo said. "At that time, it was a lot of money. Robert Fraley was a big-time agent. He really knew what he was doing. That was an interesting process. It paved the way for me to move up in the game and become a GM."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.