The players' strike might have deprived Frank Thomas of the opportunity to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, but it did not prevent the Chicago White Sox first baseman from obtaining a milestone of comparable significance.
In results announced Wednesday, Thomas was voted the American League's most valuable player by a committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, becoming the 11th player to win the award in consecutive years and the first in the American League since Roger Maris in 1960 and '61.
Asked if the shorter season diminished the accomplishment, Thomas said it was even sweeter the second time, although he "hated to see the season end like it did because I was having a career year. I felt like I was in a groove all year.
"Fortunately, I got a full season award last year," he said. "If this was my first, maybe I couldn't have lived it down, but I thought my stats were deserving. I thought they were reflective of a full season."
A unanimous winner last year, Thomas received 24 of 28 first-place votes and 372 points. Ken Griffey Jr., the Seattle Mariner center fielder who led the league with 40 home runs and hit .323, got three first-place votes and 233 points to finish second. Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians was third, and teammate Kenny Lofton, who received the other first-place vote, was fourth.
Thomas, known as the Big Hurt, dominated the league's offensive statistics. He was third in batting at .353, second in home runs with 38 and tied for third in runs batted in with 101. He led the majors with a .487 on-base percentage and led the league with a .729 slugging average. He also led the league in runs and walks while striking out only 61 times in 399 at bats. He is the only player in major league history to hit .300 or more with 100 RBIs, 20 homers, 100 walks and 100 runs in each of his first four full seasons, reaching those levels in 1994 despite appearing in only 113 games because of the strike.
Thomas said he was not too upset over missing out on the Triple Crown but that it remains a goal he is confident he can obtain. His MVP carried a contract bonus of $100,000, and Thomas said, "I'll take whatever comes. The strike is tough on everyone."
His 1994 salary was $2.5 million. It jumps to $7.15 million next year.
"I told (owner) Jerry Reinsdorf he wouldn't be overpaying me," Thomas said. "A two-time MVP deserves to be paid more than everybody else."
A COMPARISON WITH OTHER BASEBALL GREATS
Frank Thomas' key statistics for his first four major league seasons compared to those of other baseball greats.
Player R HR RBI AVG Frank Thomas 424 135 453 .326 Hank Aaron 387 110 399 .313 Joe DiMaggio 520 137 558 .341 Jimmie Foxx 428 113 472 .327 Lou Gehrig 496 110 492 .342 Ralph Kiner 401 168 458 .285 Mickey Mantle 449 108 380 .304 Willie Mays 402 148 389 .310 Stan Musial 431 51 350 .348 *Babe Ruth 532 177 521 .350 Mike Schmidt 427 150 419 .267 Ted Williams 541 127 515 .356 C. Yastrzemski 338 59 309 .293
* Statistics after he became a full-time position player in 1919.