Lee Thomas (baseball)
American baseball player and coach
|First baseman / Right fielder|
|Born: February 5, 1936|
Peoria, Illinois, U.S.
|Died: August 31, 2022 (aged 86)|
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
|April 22, 1961, for the New York Yankees|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 27, 1968, for the Houston Astros|
|Runs batted in||428|
|Career highlights and awards|
James Leroy Thomas (February 5, 1936 – August 31, 2022) was an American first baseman and right fielder, coach and front-office executive in Major League Baseball (MLB) who played for six teams from 1961 to 1968, most notably the Los Angeles Angels, then went on to a successful tenure as general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Traded to the Angels one month after the expansion franchise began play in 1961, he tied for third in Rookie of the Year voting after batting .285 with 24 home runs and 70 runs batted in (RBI), primarily playing in the outfield. The following year, he was named to the American League (AL) All-Star team after shifting to first base, and appeared in both All-Star games played that year as a pinch hitter and late-inning defensive replacement. He finished the year with career highs in batting (.290), home runs (26) and RBI (104), but a sharp decline in 1963 led to his being traded to the Boston Red Sox in mid-1964, the first of four trades before the 1968 season.
After finishing his major league career with a .255 average, 106 home runs and 428 RBI, Thomas played for the Nankai Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball in 1969. He played one more season in the minor leagues, then joined the St. Louis Cardinals as a coach for two years, followed by two years managing in the minors, before returning to the Cardinals organization to help them reach the World Series three times in the 1980s. Hired as the Phillies' general manager in 1988, he rebuilt the team's roster and assembled the team which advanced to the 1993 World Series; he served in the role until 1997 before spending another twenty years serving four teams as a scout and front-office executive.
Thomas was born in Peoria, Illinois, on February 5, 1936, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, with his family as a child. He graduated from Beaumont High School in St. Louis in 1954, and was signed by New York Yankees scout Lou Maguolo. Thomas spent seven full years in the minor leagues, unable to break into the Yankees' lineup despite putting up good offensive statistics in minor league baseball. He had two at bats for the Yankees in 1961 and garnered one hit, a pinch single off future Baseball Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, then with the Baltimore Orioles, on April 22.
On May 8, the Yankees traded Thomas, Ryne Duren, and Johnny James to the one-month-old Los Angeles Angels for Bob Cerv and Tex Clevenger. The trade was a boon to Thomas, beginning his five-year tenure as an everyday player: he appeared in 486 games for the Angels, and 258 more for the Boston Red Sox, who acquired him for outfielder Lou Clinton on June 4, 1964. From 1961 to 1965, Thomas topped the 20 home run mark three times, and drove in 104 runs batted in for the Angels in 1962. On September 5, 1961, Thomas collected nine hits in 11 at bats in a doubleheader against the Kansas City Athletics, hitting three home runs and driving in eight runs in the nightcap. He became one of eight players with nine hits in a doubleheader. He was selected to the 1962 American League All-Star team, and popped out as a pinch hitter in that year's first All-Star game, played at DC Stadium on July 10. In the year's second All-Star game, played July 30 at Wrigley Field, he appeared as a defensive replacement in left field for the game's final two innings and did not bat.
On December 15, 1965, the Red Sox traded Thomas, Arnold Earley, and a player to be named later (Jay Ritchie) to the Atlanta Braves for Dan Osinski and Bob Sadowski. Thomas was the starting first baseman in the first game in the Braves' Atlanta history, going hitless in five at bats on April 12, 1966, against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Thomas was the Braves' starter at first base for the first full month of the season, but he struggled offensively, hitting only .198 in 126 at bats. On May 28, 1966, the Braves traded him to the Chicago Cubs for Ted Abernathy. He then served as a part-time player and pinch hitter with the Cubs and Houston Astros, where he was dealt for two minor-league players on February 9, 1968, through the end of the 1968 campaign. He played in Nippon Professional Baseball for the Nankai Hawks in 1969. After he signed a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals organization for the 1970 season, they assigned him to the Tulsa Oilers of the American Association, where he concluded his 17-year pro playing career at age 34.
Front office career
In 1971, Thomas joined the MLB Cardinals as bullpen coach. In 1973, he became manager of the GCL Red Birds in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Then, in 1974, Thomas moved up to Class A as skipper of the Modesto Reds of the California League. Thomas moved into the Cardinals' front office in 1975, becoming traveling secretary and rising to the position of director of player development in 1980. He was a key member of the St. Louis organization during the club's run of success during the early to mid-1980s when the Cards, led by manager Whitey Herzog, won NL pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987 and the 1982 World Series.
In June 1988, the Philadelphia Phillies hired Thomas as their general manager. He acquired players such as Curt Schilling, Lenny Dykstra and Mitch Williams, who played critical roles in the Phillies' 1993 pennant-winning team, which lost the 1993 World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays. That same year, The Sporting News named him Executive of the Year for all of Major League Baseball.
When four straight losing seasons followed the 1993 pennant, Thomas was fired and replaced as general manager by Ed Wade, his assistant. He then returned to the Red Sox as a special assistant to Dan Duquette, Boston's general manager, in 1998. He played a key role in Boston's signing of free agent outfielders Manny Ramírez in December 2000 and Johnny Damon one year later. He served the Astros and the Milwaukee Brewers as a scout, and on December 4, 2011, he joined the Baltimore Orioles as a special assistant to Duquette, who was the executive vice president. He served in the role until the end of the 2018 season.
Personal life and death
- Hagen, Paul (August 31, 2022). "Former GM Lee Thomas, architect of '93 Phils, dies at 86". MLB.com. Retrieved September 1, 2022.
- "Lee Thomas". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "Orioles adviser Lee Thomas may be the most interesting man in baseball you don't know – The Virginian-Pilot". Pilotonline.com. June 2, 2018. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "9 May 1961, 20 – The Virginian-Pilot at". Newspapers.com. May 9, 1961. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "4 Jun 1964, Page 64 – Philadelphia Daily News at". Newspapers.com. June 4, 1964. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- Retrosheet player profile
- London, Mike (January 7, 2016). "Jay Ritchie, Rowan County baseball legend, dies at 80". Salisbury Post. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- Retrosheet box score (12 April 1966): "Pittsburgh Pirates 3, Atlanta Braves 2 (13 innings)"
- "29 May 1966, Page 18 – Palladium-Item at". Newspapers.com. May 29, 1966. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "10 Feb 1968, 21 – The Austin American at". Newspapers.com. February 10, 1968. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "18 Feb 1969, Page 38 – San Antonio Express at". Newspapers.com. February 18, 1969. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "4 Feb 1970, 7 – St. Joseph Gazette at". Newspapers.com. February 4, 1970. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "1 Apr 1970, Page 31 – Herald and Review at". Newspapers.com. April 1, 1970. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "Lee Thomas, architect of the 1993 Phillies, dies at 86". Associated Press. August 31, 2022. Retrieved September 1, 2022.
- "PHILS GIVE THOMAS KEY POST – The Morning Call". Mcall.com. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "Phillies Fire GM Thomas, Tap Wade". AP News. December 10, 1997. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "PLUS: BASEBALL – PHILADELPHIA; G.M. Dismissed – The New York Times". The New York Times. December 10, 1997. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "25 Feb 1998, Page 83 – Philadelphia Daily News at". Newspapers.com. February 25, 1998. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- Baseball America Annual Directory, 2004–05 and 2009 editions
- Kubatko, Roch (December 4, 2011). "Thomas and Ferreira Added to Orioles' Front Office". Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- Kubatko, Roch (November 1, 2018). "More Changes Coming to Oriole Front Office and Scouting". Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Retrieved August 31, 2022.
- "Lee Thomas passes away". MLB.com.