Wednesday, September 22, 2010

#18 - Gary Thomasson

This is the second rookie card in a row as this was Gary Thomasson's first Topps card. Per the back of the card, he was on the Topps Rookie All-Star Team as a first baseman although he was primarily an outfielder. He began '73 in that latter role as a regular for the first month-plus. But when Gary Matthews then came on strong this Gary lost his spot as his .229 average couldn't compete with the .300 of the other Gary. So for most of the middle part of the season this Gary did pinch hit work. Then in July he began getting some work at first to spell the injured Willie McCovey and he would get occasional starts there and in the outfield the rest of the way while pulling his average up nearly 60 points. Regarding his rookie team status, in '74 Topps for some reason eschewed the gold cups normally placed on the front of the cards to indicate who was on the team. If the back narratives indicate it, however, it should be easy enough to create the whole bunch. If not, a little digging will have to be done. It is another exercise I look forward to in annotating this set.

Gary breaks the away uniform streak by having his shot taken at Candlestick. In the background is a gentleman wearing uniform number 4 who I imagine is a coach since he has neither a bat nor glove and his number is not on the roster. I am going with Joey Amalfitano.

Gary Thomasson hailed from Oceanside, California where a big high school career in football and baseball got him selected by the Giants in the seventh round of the '69 draft. He would hit quite well that year in Rookie ball while playing first and the outfield. He then moved up a rung each year and in '70 hit not too badly as a top of the order guy and stole 37 bases. He would preserve most of his stat line in '71 in Double A - though not the stolen bases - and add some power in Triple A in '72 as well as some strikeouts, which wouls be a continuing demerit. That year he got his first look in Frisco and the next year he moved there to stay.

For the two years after his rookie season Thomasson would play mostly the outfield in a platoon role - Cary was a lefty - as he started about half the games each year. But over that time his average fell to .244 and then .227. In '76 in the wake of Willie Montanez's trade to Atlanta he got more time at first and revived his average to .259.before having his busiest year in '77 when he put up a .256/17/71 line in 446 at bats. After that season he was part of the biggest trade for one guy when he, Gary Alexander, Dave Heaverlo, Mario Guerrero, Phil Huffman, Alan Wirth, John Henry Johnson, and 300K went to Oakland for Vida Blue.

Thomasson did his reserve thing for Oakland in '78, but only hitting .201, before a mid-season trade for Del Alston and Mickey Klutts brought him to the Yankees. He second half was significantly better than his first one as he hit .276 in NY and then got some post-season time. Just prior to spring training of '79 he returned west and to the NL in a deal for Brad Gulden, one of the three catchers that would unsuccessfully try to take over the recently deceased Thurman Munson's place behind the plate that year. Gary had one of his better offensive years with a .248/14/45 line in 315 at bats but also struck out 70 times. So when LA got some new kids in the outfield in '80 - Rudy Law and Pedro Guerrero - Gary spent most of '80 on the bench before a sale that December to the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. His MLB time ended with a .249 average and he hit .200 in six playoff games.

When Thomasson was signed by the Giants, he was the highest paid player in the league and big things were expected. And though Gary had an OK stat line in '81 with a .261/20/50, the biggest stat he produced was his 132 strikeouts, which nearly set a record. And Gary certainly paid for that transgression. On top of being benched the next year, he was given the nickname in Japan of "the great whirring fan" and an artist developed an exhibit called a Thomasson which was explained as "a big, expensive thing that does nothing." Awfully harsh and understandably it has been quite difficult to get a line on Gary's activities or whereabouts after his playing days.

On the card back is evidence of a decent minor league career that peaked at Phoenix in '72. As mentioned above, the last star indicates his attained status vis-a-vis Topps Rookie team. The cartoon indicates Gary was a musician. I have not been able to verify this elsewhere, but since according to his stats he had a bit of both power and speed, he was probably multi-talented enough for that to be true. Also, I believe he has the first middle name I have seen that is a girl's name and a biblical one at that.

Thomasson and Bird meet through the Yankees, as follows:

1. Thomasson and Willie Randolph '78 Yankees;
2. Randolph and Doug Bird '80-'81 Yankees.

I hope that is not too abhorrent for a west coast guy.

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