Friday, October 03, 2008

#123 Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas by you.
The first of several Phillies from Brandon is this handsome fellow, whom history has relegated to a status as the "other" Frank Thomas. He is Frank Joseph Thomas, white slugging outfielder of the 1950s Pirates. Though modern fans are more familiar with the 500-plus home run exploits of Frank Edward Thomas, African-American slugging first baseman of the 1990s White Sox, the original Frank was no slouch.
Thomas, a Pittsburgh native who had studied for the priesthood from 1941-1946, suffered through losing seasons year-in and year-out with the Bucs. He got a cup of coffee with the 1952 squad, which had a putrid 42-112 won-lost record. The following year was his first as a regular, and he announced his presence with 30 home runs and 102 RBI. Still, the Pirates improved by only eight games in the standings. "The Big Donkey" followed his freshman feats with back-to-back All-Star seasons in 1954 and 1955, reaching career highs in doubles (32) and batting average (.298) in 1954 and surpassing 20 home runs in both years. Though he kept clearing the fences at a steady rate, his teams averaged 96 losses in his first five full seasons. In 1958, however, Thomas peaked at just the right time. His personal bests in home runs (35) and RBI (109) placed him as runner-up to National League leader Ernie Banks in both categories. He made his third and final All-Star team, getting the starting nod for the only time in his career. The Pirates surged to 84-70, landing in second place for the first time in fifteen years. For his role in the turnaround, Frank finished fourth in league MVP balloting. Pittsburgh thanked him him to the Reds for three players. Talk about gratitude.

In the Pirates' defense, the three players they received (Smokey Burgess, Harvey Haddix, and Don Hoak) all made significant contributions to the 1960 club that outlasted the Yankees in the World Series. While it must have been a bitter pill for Frank to swallow, winding up back in the bottom half of the N.L. just as his former team took off, the Bucs were wise to sell high with him. The 6'3" power hitter seemed lost in Cincinnati, hitting just .225 with 12 home runs in 108 games. The Reds cut their losses after just one year, swapping him to the Cubs for three players. Only reliever Bill Henry, an All-Star in 1960, proved to be of any worth.

Rapidly becoming a journeyman, Thomas switched teams eight times in the last nine years of his career (1958-1966). He rebounded to hit .281 with 27 homers in 1961 (mostly with the Braves), and swatted 34 big flies and drove in 94 runs in 1962. Unfortunately, the latter effort was turned in for the lousiest team of all time, the 40-120 Mets. His home runs accounted for one quarter of the entire team total and were a Mets' single-season record until Dave Kingman socked 36 in 1975. Frank's last hurrah came as a stretch-drive acquisition in 1964; in 39 games as a Phillie, he hit .294 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI. But a broken thumb on September 8 sidelined him as Philadelphia completed their epic collapse and were overtaken by the Cardinals. The following July, the veteran came to blows with outspoken young star Dick Allen prior to a game and was soon shipped off to Houston. He retired in 1966 with 286 home runs, which placed him in the top 40 at that time.

Fun Fact: Frank, now 79 years of age, is a fellow card collector and (somewhat infrequent) blogger! He has completed each Topps set from 1953 through 2007, and apparently trades on occasion to fill his few remaining needs. He is happy to receive fan mail and autograph requests. He charges $5 per autograph, but donates the proceeds to charity.
Frank Thomas (back) by you.


  1. Very cool info about his blog! Plus, a great looking card.

  2. Yeah, I normally don't care for the bare-headed photos, but that's a classic character face. Congrats on tonight's win, btw.

  3. It was nice to link into Frank Thomas' blog. I was flicking through my 1965's and there he was (Frank) staring right at me. Also, discovered him in 1961 sitting in a box of commons.