Friday, June 11, 2021

#153 Frank Thomas - Pittsburgh Pirates

Frank Joseph Thomas
Pittsburgh Pirates

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  6'3"  Weight:  200
Born:  June 11, 1929, Pittsburgh, PA
Signed:  Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent, July 23, 1947
Major League Teams:  Pittsburgh Pirates 1951-1958; Cincinnati Reds 1959; Chicago Cubs 1960-1961; Milwaukee Braves 1961; New York Mets 1962-1964; Philadelphia Phillies 1964-1965; Houston Astros 1965; Milwaukee Braves 1965; Chicago Cubs 1966

Slugger Frank Thomas was a three-time All-Star with the Pirates in the 1950s, and hit at least 20 home runs in 10 of his 16 seasons in the Majors.  He finished fourth in voting for the N.L. MVP in 1958 when he hit .281 with 35 home runs and 109 RBIs, both career highs.  He bounced around between 1959 and 1961, playing for the Reds, Cubs and Braves, but maintaining his annual power output.  In 1962, he was a member of the original Mets, leading the team in both home runs (34) and RBIs (94) as their regular left fielder.  His single-season home run mark stood as a Mets franchise record until broken by Dave Kingman in 1975.

Thomas, who was given the nickname "The Big Donkey," appeared in 1,766 career games, hitting .266 with 286 home runs and 962 career RBIs.  His career home run tally is currently 173rd on the all-time list.

Some text for this post originally appeared on my 1965 Topps blog.

Building the Set
January 18, 2003 in Plymouth Meeting, PA - Card #235
In January 2003, I added seven cards to our set, purchased at a baseball card show held inside the Plymouth Meeting Mall.  I paid $45 for the seven cards, which included this Thomas card.  My Topps set building had stalled out somewhat in 2003 as I had switched over to become primarily a Phillies collector, and I was also spending my disposable income trying to put together the early Topps Heritage sets.  This was the first of only 18 cards we added to our set in 2003, but we did cross the threshold of needing less than 100 cards to complete the set late in the year.

The Card / Pirates Team Set
That has to be Thomas sliding into second base, but the red sleeves and socks threw me off somewhat.  I'm also guessing that's the Dodgers' Jim Gilliam (#280) who looks to have just fired off a throw to first after forcing Thomas at second.  Sure enough, in the 1955 Dodgers home opener at Ebbets Field, on April 13, 1955, Thomas walked to start the second inning and was the first out in a 5-4-3 double play off the batt of the Pirates Sid Gordon.  Jackie Robinson (#30), starting at third, threw to Gilliam who relayed to Gil Hodges (#145) at first to complete the twin killing.

Thomas appeared in the 1954 and 1955 Bowman sets, and this was his first Topps card.  The cartoon panels on the back highlight his power for the Pirates, as he hit 30 home runs in 1953, 23 in 1954 and 25 in 1955.  The card was reprinted for the 2011 Archives and Archives Autographs sets.

1956 Season
Thomas moved from the outfield to third base for the Pirates in 1956 at the request of manager Bobby Bragan and to accommodate Lee Walls in left field.  Thomas had a tough season defensively, but his bat continued to produce.  In 157 games, Thomas batted .282 with 25 home runs and 80 RBIs, both power marks second on the team to Dale Long (#56).

Wes Covington, Thomas, Dick Allen and Johnny Callison
Phillies Career
The Phillies acquired Thomas from the Mets on August 7, 1964 for Wayne Graham, Gary Kroll and cash and he immediately paid dividends for the pennant seeking Phillies.  In his first month with the club, Thomas hit .302 with 7 home runs and 26 RBIs, but he'd miss crucial time down the stretch after breaking his thumb in a September 8th game.  By the time he returned to the lineup, the historic Phillies collapse and their season, was almost over.

He returned to the Phillies in 1965, initially serving as a pinch-hitter or late inning defensive replacement in the outfield or at first base.  Prior to the game on July 3, 1965, and according to various accounts, Thomas and Dick Allen got into a fight.  Different reports have Thomas using racial slurs or swinging a bat in Allen's direction after Allen had taken a swing at him.  Whatever truly happened marked the end of Thomas' Phillies career as he was put on waivers following the game and sold to the Astros on July 10th.

There's a great article, linked here and authored by Frank Fitzpatrick, that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the fight.

1954 Bowman #155
1958 Topps #409
1959 Topps #490
1964 Topps #345
1964 Topps #345

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1954 Bowman #155
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (10):  1956-1965
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2014 Topps Heritage Real One Autographs #ROA-FT

123 - Thomas non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 5/15/21.

1965 Topps Blog

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