Oh, What a Relief: Bill Henry
Bill Henry was a lanky, high-kicking left-hander who lasted 16 years in the major leagues … after making his first appearance in the big show at age 24. Continue reading
Homer Happy: Frank Thomas
From their inaugural season of 1962 until 1975, the New York Mets’ single-season record for home runs belonged to a right-handed hitting outfielder who played for the Mets for only two seasons, but was a National League power threat for a decade.
Slugger Frank Thomas played both the outfield and first base for seven different teams in 16 years. Over that long career, he batted .266 with 286 home runs and 962 RBIs.
Thomas signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947 and made his major league debut in 1951. In 1953, his first full major league season, Thomas batted .255 for the Pirates with 30 home runs and 102 RBIs. He was an All-Star three times in his five full seasons with Pittsburgh, and had his best season in 1958 with 35 home runs and 109 RBIs.
In 1959, Thomas was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the deal that brought Smoky Burgess, Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pirates. Thomas spent one season in Cincinnati (12 home runs, 47 RBIs) and then was traded to the Chicago Cubs. With the Cubs, he hit 21 home runs with 64 RBIs in 1960, and a month into the 1961 season he was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. He had a solid season for the Braves, hitting 25 home runs plus two with the Cubs. The Braves team of 1961 was loaded with power hitters, and was the first major league club to smash four consecutive home runs in a game. (Thomas hit the fourth, preceded by home runs from the bats of Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Joe Adcock.)
After the 1961 season, he was traded to the Mets for outfielder Gus Bell. He led that first Mets team with 34 home runs and 94 RBIs. His home run mark was not topped by another Mets hitter until Dave Kingman blasted 36 in 1975.
Thomas hit 15 home runs for the Mets in 1963 and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964. At this point in his career, the 35-year-old Thomas had become a part-time player and pinch hitter, batting .282 in two seasons with the Phillies. He retired in 1966 with 1,671 career hits.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Don Hoak
Don Hoak was nicknamed “Tiger” partly because of his pre-baseball athletic career as a boxer, and partly because of his tough, aggressive style of play as a major leaguer. He played 11 seasons with five different National League teams, but his best seasons came as the third baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1959 through 1962.
Hoak was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and worked his way through the Dodgers’ farm system to make his debut with the team in 1954. After two seasons as a part-time player with the Dodgers, he was traded with Russ Meyer and Walt Moryn to the Chicago Cubs for Don Elston and Randy Jackson. He hit .215 in his only season with the Cubs, and was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds.
The 1957 season was his break-out year, hitting .293 for Cincinnati with 19 home runs and 89 RBIs. He also led the major leagues with 39 doubles, and was the starting third baseman in the 1957 All-Star game.
Hoak hit .261 for the Reds in 1958, and was traded with Smoky Burgess and Harvey Haddix to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Whammy Douglas, Jim Pendleton, John Powers and Frank Thomas. Hoak was inserted at third for the Bucs and hit .294 in 1959 with eight home runs and 65 RBIs. He led the league in games played with 155.
During the Pirates’ pennant-winning season of 1960, Hoak had his best all-around season, hitting .282 with 16 home runs and 79 RBIs, while providing solid third-base play for Pittsburgh. He had two doubles and three RBIs in the 1960 World Series. Hoak finished second to teammate Dick Groat for the Most Valuable Player award that season.
Hoak hit for a career-high average of .298 in 1961, but his batting average slipped to .241 in 1962 and he was traded in the off-season to the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .231 for the Phillies in 1963, and was released by Philadelphia six games into the 1964 season.
Hoak finished his career with 1,144 hits and a .265 batting average.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Smoky Burgess
Smoky Burgess was one of the best hitting catchers in the history of baseball. He retired as one of the most prolific pinch hitters in the history of the game.
Burgess was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1944 and made his debut with the team in 1949. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in October of 1951, and two months later was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He hit .296 in his first full season with the Phillies, and then batted .292 in 1953 and .368 in 1954.
At the start of the 1955 season, Burgess was traded back to the Reds. As the Reds’ starting catcher, Burgess had one of his best all-around offensive campaigns in 1955, batting .301 with 21 home runs and 78 RBIs. He hit for a combined batting average of .280 over the next three seasons, though he would never again match the power numbers he put up in 1955.
Just prior to the 1959 season, Burgess was traded again by the Reds with Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Whammy Douglas, Jim Pendleton, John Powers and Frank Thomas. It was a deal that would be critical to the Pirates’ success in 1960, as all three players acquired from the Reds contributed significantly in helping Pittsburgh win its first National League pennant in 44 years. Burgess hit .297 for the Pirates in 1959 and .294 in 1960. His best season in Pittsburgh was 1962, when he hit .328 with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs.
In 1964, Burgess was acquired by the Chicago White Sox. While he served as a backup catcher for the White Sox, he was primarily a pinch hitter in his last three seasons, and was one of that era’s best. He hit a game-tying pinch home run in his first plate appearance for the White Sox, and hit .286 in 1965 and .313 in 1966. He retired after the 1967 season with a career batting average of .295.
Though never considered one of the game’s elite defensive catchers, Burgess did lead National League catchers in fielding percentage three times. He was a six-time All-Star.
This Week in 1960s Baseball …
(April 23, 1961) Striking out at least one batter in each inning, Philadelphia Phillies hurler Art Mahaffey today set a new club record with 17 strikeouts.
Mahaffey (1-1) and the Phillies beat the Chicago Cubs 6-0. Mahaffey allowed only four hits and a walk. Mahaffey struck out the side in the second inning and the sixth inning. Four Cubs batters – Don Zimmer, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Frank Thomas – struck out three times each.
The hitting star for the Phillies was outfielder Johnny Callison. Callison drove in four runs with a sacrifice fly in the first inning and a three-run home run in the fifth inning off Cubs starter Bob Anderson (0-2). Mahaffey would finish the 1961 season at 11-19 with a 4.10 ERA.