Goldis: Big Frank brilliant from the start
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Al Goldis does not pretend that he knew Frank Thomas was destined for Cooperstown.
But he isn't shy about telling you what he thought when he drafted Thomas in 1989.
"You never look at a guy and think Hall of Fame. I don't know anyone that arrogant in the scouting world," said the 71-year-old Goldis from his home in Florida. "But on top of his obvious ability, he had an angry look in his eye that told you something about him was special."
The former White Sox scouting director -- who also collected players for the Cubs, Angels, Brewers, Mets and Reds -- can list among his draft picks, discoveries and amateur free-agent signings, the likes of Kerry Wood, Bo Jackson, Devon White, Dante Bichette, Kirk McCaskill, Bob Wickman, Magglio Ordonez, Ray Durham, Robin Ventura, Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Roberto Hernandez, and, of course, Frank Thomas, to name a few.
He also scouted the trade for then-Sox GM Larry Himes that netted the Sox Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez in exchange for Harold Baines.
"I always had one question I asked a kid before I took him in the first round, and it had to be face-to-face," Goldis explained. "I asked, 'Do you think you'll play in the big leagues?'
"As long as I live I'll never forget talking to Jack McDowell at Stanford. I waited 90 minutes after his game to see him, and he looked down at me like I was out of my mind.
"Jack said, 'I'm gonna be a star. I'm gonna be one of the best pitchers in baseball.' He knew. So did Robin. Robin was probably the greatest college hitter ever. He said, 'I'm gonna lead the league in hitting.'
"Frank crushed SEC pitching at Auburn. I said, 'Do you see yourself as a major-league player?' He got a little angry. Like, 'Who is this fool?' He said, 'Al, I'm gonna lead the league in home runs. I'm gonna hit .300. I'm gonna be a superstar. I'm going to be one of the greatest players ever.'
I thought, 'OK, there's a guy who gets it.' He already knew and it wasn't bull.
"I remember a kid I scouted who threw 97 and had it all. I said, 'What's your vision of your career?' He said, 'I'm gonna try to get to the big leagues.' We didn't take him. He never made it. It's not a coincidence."
White Sox southeast scout Tom Calvano saw Thomas first as a freshman at Auburn, and when Goldis moved him to the Cincinnati area, Mike Rizzo -- now the Washington GM and one of the best scouts in baseball -- took over in the southeast and stuck close to Thomas, quickly agreeing with Calvano that Thomas was their guy.
Goldis got his first look at Thomas in a doubleheader at Kentucky with both Rizzo and Calvano, and the decision was made in the time it took to see the hulking Thomas drive a ball off the wall in right-center.
"His power to the opposite field was breathtaking," Goldis said. "He always hit, but the thing so amazing to me was his visual skill, to see the ball out of the pitcher's hand and predict where the ball was going.
"His strike-zone awareness for a power hitter was like nothing I had ever seen in a guy that young. You want Frank Thomas hitting home runs, but we liked guys that walked at least 10 percent of the time because it told us they understood the strike zone and wouldn't swing at bad pitches. We liked guys who knew how to get on base.
"I also liked multisport guys. They have something extra. Frank had a football mentality, the work ethic and grit. It helps with the learning curve. The better the competition, good athletes elevate their game.
"Frank was that way. As the speed of the ball increased at each level, Frank just got better. Some guys are great players in college, but as the competition gets better, they can't keep up with the speed.
"With Frank it was obvious. I said, 'We're taking him.' I mean, you had to be blind not to see it."
Still, six players were chosen before Thomas in the 1989 draft, including No. 1 Ben McDonald and No. 2 Tyler Houston. Earl Cunningham went eighth to the Cubs.
"I sent Mike (Rizzo) in to sign him because he was his guy and Mike could sign anyone. Still can," Goldis laughed. "But we had a philosophy that was crucial in our scouting department.
"First, of course, were the physical skills.
"Next -- and this was critical -- was the mental and psychological capability. What kind of brain does the player have? Can he process information? Can he remember? Frank had that great brain and that's why he was still good even after losing some of his physical skills later in his career.
"Third was drive. Do you have the passion to be great? Do you want to win? Frank would kick your (butt) in a stickball game in the schoolyard because he didn't want to lose, ever, and as the competition got better, he got better.
"And from failure, he improved. When you're unsuccessful, how high do you bounce once you've hit the canvas? That's why we were very big on self-esteem and Frank had it all."
It got him all the way to Cooperstown.
"I'm so happy for him," Goldis said. "He accomplished that because he wanted to be that good. That man earned his place in the Hall of Fame and I'm elated for him."
Like the proud scout that he is.
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