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Chicago Greats: Sammy Sosa or Frank Thomas?

Chicago Baseball in the nineties was well, dismal to say the least.

During that decade both the cities two teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, combined to reach the postseason just four times with neither team reaching the World Series.  The cities failures in not just baseball, but all professional sports have helped Chicago earn the nickname as "the second city."

There were two players however that drew fans to both Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field during that era in Frank Thomas of the White Sox and Sammy Sosa of the Cubs.

Over there respective careers the two have launced a combined 1100+ home runs and have driven in 3200+ runs.  Sure, runs batted in isn't a statistic used frequently in sabermetric circles, but you can't doubt the dominance of the two with such a large figure.  

Now that both are nearing the ends of their respective career and aren't playing baseball in Chicago, I'm starting to hear a new debate spark between Cubs and Sox fans:  Frank Thomas or Sammy Sosa?

Let's take a look:

MVP Awards, All-Star Appearances and Silver Slugger Awards:  

As a note before I begin, I wanted to mention that the awards, honors and the statistics that will be presented later are Thomas' and Sosa's awards and honors received and statistics strictly during their times with the Cubs and the White Sox.  This may seem like sampling bias to some of you, but I wanted to keep things on a Cubs vs. White Sox basis.  Sosa's time with the White Sox, Orioles and now Rangers along with Thomas' time with the A's and now Blue Jays has little significance to the comparison anyway; the bulk of their careers came playing with the Cubs and White Sox respectively.

Anyway here are the two's fared in terms of receiving assorted awards and honors:

Sammy Sosa:

*One-Time MVP Winner:  1998
*Seven-Time All-Star:  1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004  
*Six-Time Silver Slugger Award Winner:  1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002

Frank Thomas:

*Two-Time MVP Winner:  1993, 1994
*Six-Time All-Star:  1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997
*Four-Time Silver Slugger Award Winner:  1991, 1993, 1994, 2000

When people thought of Chicago Baseball in the nineties there is little doubt that the man that came to mind was Sammy Sosa.  

Chicks and well, all baseball fans dig the longball and Sosa built his game around power.  He played for the cities more popular team in the Cubs and arguably resurrected baseball during the glorious 1998 season in which he and Mark McGwire re-wrote the record books.

If there is one thing all Chicago Baseball fans can probably agree on, it's that Sammy Sosa was more popular then Frank Thomas back in the nineties.

Judging by the awards and honors the two received however, they look pretty even.  

While Sosa appeared in more All-Star Games and won more Silver Slugger Awards, Frank Thomas makes up for it winning an extra MVP Award over Sosa.

If you were to judge the two going just by the awards and honors each received, you'd have a pretty even race.

The Numbers:  

On a statistical basis the argument opens up a bit.  Once again note the following numbers illustrate Sosa and Thomas' production during their respective times with the Cubs and White Sox only:

As I mentioned earlier, Sammy Sosa has built his game around power his entire career.  He's currently fifth on Major League Baseball's All-Time Home Run List with 602 home runs with 545 of them coming with the Cubs.  He also barley edges Frank Thomas in Chicago career slugging percentage at .569.

Sosa's three year peak WARP3 of 32.2 wins came during the 2000 through 2002 seasons; his age 31 through 33 years.  It doesn't match Thomas' peak of 34.7 wins and is fueled by a ridiculous 2001 season in which Sosa hit .328/.437/.737 with 64 home runs.  His season was worth 14.1 wins above the replacement level player.  Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt never had a season quite like Sosa's 2001 campaign in terms of WARP3.

Despite Sosa's power surge throughout his career in Chicago, it appears Frank Thomas was the more valuable player the city saw.

Thomas three year peak WARP3 of 34.7 wins slightly edges Sosa's as does his Chicago career WARP3, batting average and on-base percentage.  

Thomas' peak came before Sammy Sosa was a household name with the Cubs, during Thomas' age 24 through 26 seasons in 1992, 1993 and 1994 which is another reason why Sosa was much more popular than Thomas in the mid-nineties.

The numbers tell a much better story than the awards do here.  Thomas received around an extra seasons worth of plate appearances than Sosa during their respective careers in Chicago, but Thomas' Chicago WARP3 is 26.1 wins better than Sosa's; a difference that simply isn't negligible even if Thomas received a little more than 700 plate appearances.  

Final Thoughts:  

Baseball really became an important part of my life during the nineties.  The home run chase of 1998 was one of the greatest spectacles in professional sports I had ever seen and I'm yet to see a more popular baseball player in Chicago than Sammy Sosa.  

Despite what some White Sox fans may say, Sammy Sosa will always be remembered as the more popular player during he and Frank Thomas' prime years in the city.

It was Thomas however that established a better career in Chicago.  Even with Sosa's three 60+ home run seasons in Chicago, Thomas was worth more than 25 wins than Sosa over their respective Chicago careers.  

Sosa may have meant more to baseball and the city of Chicago during his career with the Cubs, but it was Thomas who put together a better career on the lesser-known South Side.