This afternoon Frank Thomas will be the first Auburn Tiger inducted into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Thomas arrived on the Plains and actually played one season at tight end for Pat Dye. Dye told auburntigers.com that if Thomas had stuck with football that “he’d be going in the Hall of Fame as a football player.”
Following Dye’s logic that would mean that Thomas would be the second Auburn Tiger in Canton named Frank. That is where the unique story of Frank Gatski, the lone Auburn Tiger in the National Football League Hall of Fame, begins.
Gatski played center for 12 years in the NFL, a majority of which were with the Cleveland Browns in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. He got the nickname “Gunner” using his strength and speed to block for Browns quarterback Otto Graham. He was inducted in the 1985 Hall of Fame alongside a very distinctive group: Joe Namath, Pete Rozelle, O.J. Simpson and Roger Staubach.
Gatski was the son of a West Virginia coal miner and actually attended nearby Marshall University for three years. In 1942 he joined the Army. He was a private first class and served in World War II for three years. Upon returning home in 1945, he hoped to earn his degree and play one more season of college football. In the fall the Thundering Herd had yet to resume their football program so Gatski decided to go to Auburn. He earned his letter as the Tigers went 5-5 in 1945.
The chances of Gatski making it as a pro seemed slim. He tried out for a new team in 1946, the Cleveland Browns, after a couple months of working in the coal mines. He signed a $3,000 contract as a rookie free agent. Gatski was the back-up center and played some linebacker his first two years before winning the starting center job in 1948. He was a four-time All-Pro and played on eight championship teams. After the 1957 season Gatski retired. In addition to being in Canton, Gatski is also in the Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2005.