Heavenly Slugger

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Lee Thomas

When Lee Thomas was signed by the New York Yankees in 1954, he looked like someone destined for pinstripe greatness.

Lee Thomas’s best season as a slugger was 1962, when he batted .290 with 26 home runs and 104 RBIs.

Lee Thomas’s best season as a slugger was 1962, when he batted .290 with 26 home runs and 104 RBIs.

A left-handed batter who could hit for average and power, Thomas put up impressive minor league numbers as he progressed through the Yankees’ farm system, hitting 25 home runs with 122 RBIs in 1959 and 28 home runs with 112 RBIs in 1960.

The only thing standing in Thomas’ way was the powerful Yankees lineup of the late 1950s. A month into the 1961 season, Thomas was traded by the Yankees with Ryne Duren and Johnny James to the Los Angeles Angels for Bob Cerv and Tex Clevenger.

It was in Los Angeles that he became a hitting star, almost overnight.

Despite appearing in only 130 games, Thomas was third on the team in home runs (24 to Leon Wagner’s 28) and RBIs (70 to Ken Hunt’s 84) and second on the team in batting average (.284 to Albie Pearson’s .288).

In 1962, when the fledgling Angels shocked the American League by finishing third, Thomas led the team in hitting at .290. He hit 26 home runs with 104 RBIs. His offensive production slipped significantly in 1963, and during the 1964 campaign Thomas was traded to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Lou Clinton.

For the Angels and BoSox combined for 1964, Thomas finished with 15 home runs and 66 RBIs. He had a strong season for Boston in 1965, batting .271 with 27 doubles, 22 home runs and 75 RBIs. It was his last season as a full-time major league player. From 1966 through 1968, Thomas was a part-time performer for the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, before finishing his playing career in Japan.

Thomas was an All-Star in 1962. He retired with 106 home runs and a .255 career batting average.