Friday, December 9, 2011

#288 - Gorman Thomas

Hey, it's a rookie card! In a pre-game - note all the kids leaning over the railings in the background - posed shot at Oakland, Stormin' Gorman gets his Topps debut. While his '73 season was a bit short of spectacular - to his posted stats add 61 strikeouts in limited work and you get the picture - it did presage a nice popular run in Milwaukee. Gorman's partially obscured number is 44 which he would have to give up in a couple seasons to a guy named Hank Aaron. But right now he looks carefree and clean-shaven. It wouldn't be too long before all his cards were full of hair.

Gorman Thomas was a star high school athlete in South Carolina who attended Florida State for a year before he was drafted by the new Seattle Pilots as a first rounder in '69. An infielder in high school, he played shortstop his first year in Rookie ball and produced very good numbers. '70 and '71 were spent in A ball, the first season at short and third and the second in the outfield, which was fine because that year he hit like an outfielder. He also struck out 170 times that season which would be a continuing feature of his career. In '72 he moved up to Double A, again put up strong offensive numbers, and put on an impressive display in the outfield. Despite his looks, Gorman was a graceful fielder with an excellent arm. He also had no problem crashing into walls. In '73 his numbers up top pushed him down to Triple A by mid-season. In '74 he had a big year at Triple A Sacramento, hitting .296 with 51 homers and 122 RBI's. But he got in dutch with the team's GM when he wouldn't come out and take a bow after every homer. The field on which his team played was a football field with very short foul lines of about 232 feet and Gorman didn't think his 233 foot home runs down the left field line were worthy of ovations. But Gorman was always a bit self-immolating. He hit more homers on the road that year than at home. Ironically, he didn't even lead his team in either power number. A guy named Bill McNulty hit .329 with 55 homers and 135 RBI's which earned him, as Gorman later noted, a one-way ticket to Japan.

After the big '74 season and a nice little run up top, Thomas stayed on the Brewers roster for all of '75 and '76. His numbers generally weren't great - his combined line was .188/18/64 in what added up to a full season - but about half his hits were for extra bases and he played well in the field. Still, he returned to Triple A for the '77 season and put up an excellent line: .322 with 36 homers and 114 RBIs and, with almost as many walks as strikeouts, an OBA of .436. That got him a ticket to Texas as the player to be named later in a trade for Ed Kirkpatrick. Prior to the '78 season George Bamberger was named Brewers manager and he wanted to know where the kid Thomas was. When he was told he was traded he asked the team to get him back which they did in a purchase before spring training. Nobody actually told Gorman about either trade. But when he showed up at camp that spring he was told he would be the starting center fielder which worked out fine for him. That year he hit 32 out in his first season as a regular and Milwaukee won 93, by far the team's highest total ever. For the next five years Gorman would be a power-hitting fan favorite who played an excellent center field and led the AL twice in homers (and twice in strikeouts). Three of those years he also had over 100 RBI's. In '81 he was an All-Star and Milwaukee reached the playoffs for the first time and in '82 they took a memorable Series to the seventh game.

1983 was no fun for Thomas. A nagging rotator cuff injury contributed to a relatively weak start power-wise and that June he and pitchers Jamie Easterly and Ernie Camacho were sent to the Indians for Rick Manning and Rick Waits. After finishing out the season in Cleveland he and Jack Perconte were traded to the Mariners for Tony Bernazard. In '84 the rotator cuff problem pretty much dismantled his season and he had surgery on it. It left him unable to play in the outfield and when he returned in '85 it was as the team's DH. While he hit only .215 that year, he did pound 32 homers and 87 RBI's to win the Comeback Player of the Year. It was a short-lived resurgence however as another sub-.200 start to the '86 season would result in his release. He returned to Milwaukee to finish out the year and then retired. Gorman finished with a .225 average, 268 homers, a .324 OBA and 782 RBI's. In the post-season he hit .102 with two homers and seven RBI's in 17 games.

Thomas has remained close to the Brewers franchise since playing. He has done some coaching work and makes community appearances for the team. He also has a restaurant at the stadium named Gorman's Grill. There is a long audio interview with him from a couple years ago linked to here. It is quite entertaining and cements his reputation as a down to earth guy who is actually pretty humble about his baseball achievements but has no problem speaking his mind.

Gorman is in the Wisconsin athletic hall of fame and was named by SI as one of South Carolina's best athletes. The second star bullet and the cartoon would later be linked when he called the Sacramento stadium in which he played in '74 when he knocked out 51 a pool hall. And that's some ugly signature.

We get to a pitcher for the hook-up:

1. Thomas and Mike Caldwell '78 to '83 Brewers;
2. Caldwell and Clay Kirby '71 to '73 Padres.

1 comment:

  1. It seems like this card showed up in about every three packs.