At 6-foot-5 and north of 250 pounds, with a wingspan that reaches two ZIP codes and a perma-grin that could light up a dark hallway, Frank Thomas doesn’t exactly blend into his surroundings. Or so you would think. On this late winter day, as the former Major League Baseball great casually strolls along the second floor at the Cosmopolitan toting a black duffel bag, he doesn’t draw so much as a double take.
Finally, near the end of a 45-minute conversation in the bar at Holsteins, one fan clad in a Los Angeles Dodgers shirt and cap hesitantly approaches the Chicago White Sox legend—he of the 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs, .301 career batting average and two MVP awards earned over a 19-year career—and extends his right hand. “Sorry to interrupt. Just wanted to say hello and tell you I enjoyed watching you play. Tremendous career.” The gentle giant they call the Big Hurt smiles (he always smiles) and thanks the 50-something man.
“In Chicago, I was like a fish in a bucket every day, and it was tough to live like that,” says Thomas, who bought a home on Henderson’s Rio Secco golf course in 2002 and has lived there full time since retiring in 2008. “I come from a small Southern town, so I’m used to saying hello to everybody and just going about my day. But I just couldn’t do that in Chicago. Everywhere I went it was, ‘Hey, there’s the Big Hurt!’” I couldn’t enjoy dinners, couldn’t do anything. Here, you blend in with all the other celebrities. I love it, because I like being normal. I like walking through here with a bag of beer in my hand and people don’t freak out. They just say, ‘Hey, Big Hurt—Frank, what’s up?’”
About that bag of beer: It’s not just your run-of-the-mill brand; it’s Big Hurt Beer. And it’s Thomas’ new career. This isn’t his first business venture away from the diamond: He was the spokesman for Zizzazz energy drink, and he’s launched his own record label, Las Vegas-based W2W Records, whose most notable act is BelleVoxx, a local all-female trio. But right now, he’s all-in with his signature brew.
Two years in the making, Big Hurt Beer recently hit the shelves in Chicago and Las Vegas, including at the Palms and New York-New York, with additional distributorship coming next month in California and throughout the South, including his home state of Georgia. The lager is light and crisp and, with a 7 percent alcohol content, packs a bite; Thomas beams with pride when he talks about it. And, as we learned during our chat, that’s not all he’s proud of.
I love beer. I used to tell my teammates all the time that I was going to go into the beer business, and they’d just laugh their asses off. But this started almost two years ago. They came to my agent and were like, “Big Hurt” would be a great name for a beer. That’s where it started, and it’s taken almost two years to get it together. We’ve been working our butts off.
When people ask me about the beer I say, “Here, taste it.” That’s the best way to advertise it. Just have some.
It’s interesting to see the reactions of retailers when I come in and sell my product. Most celebrities let other people do it for them. I’m hands-on. This says Big Hurt Beer; that’s my nickname. So I care about it.
New York-New York is stocking the beer in all of its central stores. It’s a good feeling to walk in and see Big Hurt Beer next to all the big brands. I played professional baseball for 20 years and saw people wear my jersey all the time. But to walk in and actually see your product right there in the middle of the cooler? I was like, “Yes! We’re starting!”
Playing in the big leagues was the best job in the world. I miss it. I miss the camaraderie, being in the locker room every day. And everything was taken care of for you. It was like being a child for 20 years.
Football was my first love. I grew up down South, where football was everything. And I think I could’ve played in the NFL. Four of the five guys I blocked at Auburn went to the NFL. I blocked Aundray Bruce every day, and he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. I gave him a hard time. So I know I could’ve made it. But I chose baseball for longevity.
I really felt I could’ve hit 700 home runs. I could’ve been a bigger icon in baseball. I could’ve done more. But I had four years of injuries. Most people think I played for 18 years, but I only played on the field for 14½. And if you go back and look at my numbers and see they were amassed in 14½ seasons, they were amazing. I had a brilliant career. I wish I was healthy those other 3½ years, then my name would’ve been up there with the greatest of all time.
When I think about the era I played in, I have mixed emotions. I always thought I was playing with the best players ever, and the numbers were saying that. I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. I stayed away from all that, because I was so into “What do I have to do to get better every day and help my team win?” I was already the biggest guy. I didn’t know that everyone was chasing what I was doing. For five straight years, nobody could compare to what I was doing. The only one who came close was Ken Griffey Jr., and all he was doing was hitting home runs. He didn’t have the RBIs, runs, walks that I was producing. Then all of a sudden everybody caught me and passed me, and I’m like, “Fuck! I guess everybody’s outworking me.” That’s what was in my mind, that I wasn’t working hard enough. But I really wasn’t cutting any corners. I was working my ass off. Lo and behold, 12 years later we found out what the hell was going on.
People who suggest that players know everything that’s going on in a clubhouse, it’s bullshit. And when I found out—when the shit was crumbling—I started to see these cliques, guys huddled around each other. I lost a lot of friends along the way the last few years. Guys were distancing themselves from me, and I was like, “What the fuck is going on? All these guys were my buddies. Every time we’d come and play here, we’d hug. Now everybody’s gone.” They didn’t want to talk. If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t want to talk to someone who is clean.
My numbers never changed throughout my career. When I was healthy, you got 40 home runs, you got 115-120 RBIs, you got a .300 batting average, 40-50 doubles. I wasn’t just a home-run hitter, I was a complete hitter. I could hit the ball from line to line. Home runs just happened because I was big and strong.
I love the game, it’s been great to me, but I got it out of my system. And right now I’m interested in reinventing myself. Because when you retire and stay in baseball, you get put in a box, and I’ve always thought out of the box. I’ve always wanted to be something different, to pave my own way. Baseball’s over. It was 20 years of my life, but I just don’t see spending the rest of my life doing it. Besides, I probably would never get the position I’d want anyway, which is running a team, calling all the shots.
Making the Hall of Fame when I’m eligible in 2014 would be the final chapter, in my mind—to get into that hallowed hall and be recognized as one of the greatest players of all time.
My oldest son is almost 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and the plan is for him to walk on to UNLV’s baseball team next year. I’ve got him working his ass off right now with a personal trainer. It’s the first time he’s wanted something. He didn’t play Little League and only played two years of high school baseball, but he can hit—hits the ball to all fields, just like I did. Genetics.
I wasn’t at all apprehensive about moving to Vegas. When I first moved here, I was only here for six months out of the year, mostly during the offseason. But over the last four years, I’ve been here 70 percent of the time. So before it was like a vacation home. Now it feels like home. I love Vegas, I really do.
I’m a proud guy, but I’m not an arrogant or cocky guy. I’m a guy’s guy—love people, love to talk to people, love to hang out with people. That’s why good things happened to me. I tell people all the time good things happen to people who are humble and are good people.