Frank Thomas doesn't seem like the kind of guy you'd want to mess with.
But Ozzie Guillen, his teammate at the beginning and boss near the end of Thomas' career, said teasing from teammates in the clubhouse fueled the Big Hurt's fire on the field.
"We'd make fun of him and that would make him better," Guillen said. "Sometimes we'd start playing with him like oh my God, Ken Griffey Jr. got four hits yesterday, Juan Gonzalez got two home runs and [Jason] Giambi got three home runs, stuff like that.
"It motivated him to be better and we got to see when we teased him that way, we knew he was going to have a great, great day."
The greatest player in White Sox history heads into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend, a well-deserved honor for a man who put up monster numbers in his 19-year career. He ranks among the White Sox's all-time leaders in every major offensive category except for triples, and his 521 home runs tie him for 18th in baseball history.
Guillen said he knew Thomas was destined for big things the moment the slugger debuted for the Sox in August 1990.
"From the first day you could see his confidence and know he could play in the big leagues," he said. "That's not easy to do when you come up to the big leagues for the first time and you make a first impression and stay in the big leagues."
Gene Lamont, currently Detroit's bench coach, managed Thomas in 1993 when the Sox won the AL West. Ask about his favorite memory of the Big Hurt and you can almost see him smiling in your mind as he fills out the lineup card.
"Being able to write his name in the lineup third every day," he said. "That first month I tried to bat him fourth; I thought that was the spot for him. But he was used to batting third and really hit much better batting third than he did fourth. He was always ready to play, played every day."
Guillen said what separated Thomas from the also-rans was that he took his job so seriously.
"Frank never gave up one at-bat or one pitch, and that is the reason why Frank is a Hall of Famer and the rest of the team wasn't," he said. "We gave up at-bats and Frank never did give up one inch off the plate. He went about his business no matter what."
"It wasn't like there was any pitch that he couldn't hit," Lamont said. "It seemed like he'd get a lot of big hits early in the game needed to get you ahead or late in the game."
It's that consistency that Guillen said Chicago fans almost took for granted. Thomas was so good over such a sustained period of time, hitting 30 or more home runs in a season eight times while driving in over 100 runs in eight consecutive seasons (1991-1998) that the extraordinary almost became, well, ordinary.
"It was so good that it was almost like it was normal," he said. "The impact he had, I don't think he got enough credit. It put baseball back on the map here in Chicago [after the 1994 strike]."
But while Thomas was all business on the field, former teammates remember him being jovial off it.
"He was always entertaining, always kept us on our toes," said Jack McDowell, the ace of those early '90s Sox teams and current minor league manager in the L.A. Dodgers organization.
"On the field he didn't want to be that smiling guy making faces," Guillen said. "Off the field he was funny, I think he had a lot of fun. His business on the field was all about business and when the game was over, he was a normal guy like everybody else was."
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS
Featuring Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux
12:30 p.m. Sunday, MLB Network
The ceremony also will be streamed live at baseballhall.org.