Sudden End for the Big Hurt
Two weeks ago, the Rogers Centre rang with chants of "Frank! Frank! Frank!" as DH Frank Thomas smashed a series of big hits, including three home runs. Few could have foreseen his release with 10 days still to go in April. But the hits dried up quickly and Thomas' swings got ugly.
Baseball players can get old in a hurry. Many hit a wall in their early 30s, as regulars become part-time players and more marginal players disappear completely. Dale Murphy, a two-time National League MVP, stopped hitting at age 32, while baseball's original Frank Thomas, a slugging outfielder, hit 34 homers as a 33-year-old before dropping to 15 the following year. He was out of baseball two seasons later.
Hall of Fame talents such as the Big Hurt do tend to last longer and age better, but when the end comes, it can come quickly. Even a 40-year-old Babe Ruth could only muster a .181 average just a year after posting a .985 OPS.
Thomas may not be done. He insisted, in his tirade following Saturday's game, that he is a just a good week away from being back on top. While perhaps true, a team aspiring to contend can't just wait around for that week. Especially with a $10 million option set to kick in for 2009 if he plays regularly.
Thomas' release is good for all parties involved. It gives him a chance to sign elsewhere and play, and it puts a very quick end to what would have become a huge distraction in the Blue Jays clubhouse. It also allows the Jays to add another, more versatile player to the roster. Since a .160 hitting DH is remarkably easy to improve upon, it also means an immediate upgrade for the Blue Jays lineup, and should result in some more runs on the scoreboard.
The spectre of Barry Bonds as a Thomas replacement has already been raised in some corners. Were the Blue Jays a computer-based fantasy team, the thought of plugging Bonds and his .900+ OPS into the DH slot would be a no-brainer. For a flesh-and-blood team composed of personalities, it's another matter altogether. Seeing as how the Thomas controversy was resolved within 24 hours of the initial benching, this seems to be a team trying to avoid a circus, not seeking to add one.