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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hank Thompson

Hank Thompson

Eligible in 1962.

John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: September 21, 2005 at 10:32 PM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: September 21, 2005 at 11:18 PM (#1633412)
He was also the first C&W singer to have drums on stage at the "Grand Ole Opry." ;-)
   2. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: September 22, 2005 at 02:29 AM (#1634291)
Hank Thompson had an amazing batting eye. The guy drew walks by the bushel. He had some pop too and good speed. And he was versatile defensively.

The limiting factor for him is that he has no seasons beyond age 31.

Why did he quit baseball so young?

He was a tough character, grew up in reform school. He was known to carry a gun at all times, shot and killed a man during his career, and was killed in 1968. If I recall, he may have died by foul play of some sort, though I'm not certain.
   3. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: September 22, 2005 at 02:31 AM (#1634299)
Two statistical questions:

1) Does anyone know where to find his Mexico stats from 1945, Cisneros doesn't appear to list him anywhere.

2) Were the Monarchs the only team he was with in 1946? He appeared in just 8 of their 43 decisions.
   4. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: September 22, 2005 at 02:45 AM (#1634358)

YEAR LG AGE POS  AVG  OBP  SLG    G   PA   AB    H   TB  BB ops+ sfws
1943 NL 17            
1944 NL 18            
1945 NL 19  3b  .294 .398 .455   48  214  183   54   83  31 146   8.7
1946 NL 20  3b  .215 .299 .610   29  122  109   23   66  13 154   5.0
1947 AL 21  3b  .299 .420 .392  154  690  571  171  224 119 117  24.1
1948 NL 22  3b  .320 .435 .529  152  695  577  185  305 118 160  37.3
1949 NL 23  3b  .274 .392 .476   68  309  258   71  123  50 132  12.6
1950 NL 24      .289 .388 .463  148  595  512  148  237  83 123  23.0
1951 NL 25  3b  .246 .354 .427  101  370  317   78  135  53 109  11.9
1952 NL 26      .260 .338 .454  128  473  423  110  192  50 118  18.0
1953 NL 27      .302 .395 .567  114  448  388  117  220  60 147  18.0
1954 NL 28      .263 .387 .482  136  538  448  118  216  90 129  21.0
1955 NL 29      .245 .368 .398  135  516  432  106  172  84 106  18.0
1956 NL 30      .235 .346 .415   83  214  183   43   76  31 104   6.0
1957 NL 31  3b  .109 .160 .109    7   29   27    3    3   2 -26   0.0
TOTALS          .276 .385 .464 1254 4999 4246 1173 1970 753 118 203.6

Thompson's a challenge.

For his position, in those seasons where he was not in the majors, I simply put him at 3B.

He went to war at age 18-19, but he began his career at age 17 with a good season in KC. I simply backed his rookie year MLE to 1945, giving him a 19-year old rookie year.

See also, the questions posed above for other issues that need addressing before his MLEs can be considered "final."

I did include his wretched 1957 season to show how bad he'd become. But I've got no idea if there's any cause for it.
   5. Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee) Posted: September 22, 2005 at 06:53 AM (#1634622)
Why did he quit baseball so young?

From 1957, at age 31, Hank Thompson was through. His legs were shot, mostly the result of a lifetime of excessive boozing. “The liquor got to his legs,” said Giants executive Gary Schumacher. Even Thompson himself admitted, “I was in terrible shape.” The Giants sold his contract to their Minneapolis farm club that April. Although at first bitter about the demotion (he threatened to retire), Thompson eventually reported to the Millers of the American Association. But by July 20, Hank was batting .243, and he knew his baseball career was over.

The entire article's really interesting. A recommended read.
   6. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: September 22, 2005 at 12:28 PM (#1634753)
Enrie C, great handle, great article. Thanks!
   7. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: September 22, 2005 at 05:39 PM (#1635226)
Hey, everyone, my calculations went awry for Thompson's 1949 season. Should be this:

143G 638PA 533AB 146H 242TB 105BB
126 OPS+
24.5 WS

This changes his career totals to

1329G 5328PA 4521AB 1248H 2089TB 807BB
118 OPS+
215.5 WS

Sorry about that.
   8. kthejoker Posted: September 22, 2005 at 08:32 PM (#1635519)
Non Sequitur De Jeur:

Hank Thompson the country singer was the best man at my grandfather's wedding. They were best friends in high school. He's a very gracious old guy.
   9. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: September 22, 2005 at 08:39 PM (#1635537)
Hank Thompson the country singer was the best man at my grandfather's wedding. They were best friends in high school. He's a very gracious old guy.

Wow. That's pretty cool.

I own a few of his albums, so I count myself as one of his fans. I can even do a decent karaoke version of "The Wild Side of Life." :-)
   10. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: September 22, 2005 at 09:19 PM (#1635618)
The Wild Side of Life is one of several songs whose refrains are all eerily similar, including My Blue Eyes, Honkey Tonk Angels, and The Great Speckled Bird.

I'll take Roy Acuff on this one....
   11. Cblau Posted: September 22, 2005 at 10:16 PM (#1635702)
Dr. C,
That 1946 MLE looks kind of funny. 23 hits and 66 total bases?
   12. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: September 23, 2005 at 01:17 AM (#1636174)

Agreed, but here's his line from 1946
1946 NAL KC 20 2B 43 8 27 6 18 0 0 4 2 .222 .667

As I mentioned in post #3, I don't have the story on his 1946 season, and I'm not sure what to make of this truncated line: injury? disciplinary problems? platooning? iffy record keeping? It's a small sample any way you cut it.
   13. Howie Menckel Posted: September 23, 2005 at 12:50 PM (#1637133)
I noticed this on a link from the page for Thompson:

"I'm the daughter of the famous third baseman, Henry "Hank" Thompson, who played for the New
York Giants. I thought
that I would write and introduce myself to the world as his only offspring.
Many sports writers don't even know I exist. I'm 53 years old, and was the
only natural child he had.
I'm also intrested in knowing if any one has any memorabilia belonging to my
father. When I was a child, living in Chicago, were I was born, my father
gave me a trunk full of baseballs, bats, signed gloves, etc. That trunk was
stolen. My father never received his pension since he only played nine
years. I like to hear from any of you oldtimers who knew my Dad and would
contact me at
I like to know more from those of you who were there."

NO idea if it's legit or not, but it sure is interesting.
   14. Howie Menckel Posted: September 23, 2005 at 12:51 PM (#1637134)
P.S. The byline is "by Ellecia Mints"
   15. sunnyday2 Posted: September 23, 2005 at 01:17 PM (#1637168)
She didn't say if she was looking for that memorabilia so that she could buy it...or sell it.
   16. The definitely immoral Eric Enders Posted: September 27, 2005 at 04:38 PM (#1645822)
Here are some excerpts regarding Thompson from a draft of a book that I was working on a while back. Hopefully they may prove interesting. Apologies for the length, the choppiness, and anecdotal structure, but like I said, it's only a draft.


March 31, 1938: At age 12, arrested on jewel theft charge in Gatesville, Texas. Sent to state reformatory.

1943: Arrested for murder, Dallas, Texas. Charges dropped.

Dec. 15, 1943 – Charged with larceny of less than $50, Dallas, Texas. Disposition unknown.

April 4, 1948 – Charged with murder, Dallas, Texas. Case dismissed.

Feb. 10, 1953 – Charged with felonious assault in altercation with cab driver, New York City. Case dismissed.

June 23, 1956: Arrested for speeding through a red light at 50 miles per hour, Newark, NJ. Released on $58 bail.

January 29, 1958: Arrested on auto theft charge, New York City.

April 11, 1959: Charged with third-degree assault and burglary after altercation with Ruth Bowen, New York City. No further information.

February 26, 1961: Arrested for stealing $37 from his neighborhood bar, New York City. Charged with assault, robbery, and weapons violations; held on $10,000 bail.

July 13, 1963: Arrested after holding up a liquor store, Houston. Charged with robbery, burglary, and felony theft.


Thompson’s parents split up before he started school. His father was a railroad worker, and also an alcoholic who beat him often with a leather strap. Thompson’s parents split up when he was 5 or 6, sparing him the beatings but intensifying the family’s poverty.

“So I had one parent to raise me, and she left for work at six a.m. and got back at six at night. Which meant my sister Florence was supposed to watch me, but I would sneak off and play ball. All I wanted was to play ball. They made me go to school, but I played hooky.”

It was baseball, ironically, that started Thompson on the road to destruction. After too many afternoons of skipping school to play baseball, he claimed, he was busted on a truancy charge and sent to the state reform school, at Gatesville, Texas, 135 miles away from home. At age 12 he was arrested on a jewel theft charge.

When it opened in 1887, Gatesville had been the first correctional facility in the United States to separate juveniles from adult felons. According to an official state history, “the residents attended academic and vocational classes and engaged in a variety of farming activities.” But Gatesville was notorious for abusing its youthful inmates. The punishment for serious offenses was being taken into an empty room, stripped naked, and beaten with a leather strap. Crowd control devices such as tear gas were often used, and after Thompson left, involuntary injections of the drug Thorazine became commonplace as a way of controlling individuals’ behavior. Remarkably, placed in such a brutal environment at age 11, Thompson reported no mistreatment. “I was treated decent at Gatesville,” he wrote. “At Gatesville, I played on the first organized baseball team I’d ever seen.” Thompson had reason to be less than honest about his time at Gatesville, however, since the article in which he made the comments was published while he was incarcerated in a Texas prison in 1965.

Whatever Thompson experienced at Gatesville, the experience seems to have changed him for the worse. After he got out, he spent a year enduring his father’s beatings. At age 15, he began drinking wine. Then, after moving in with his mother, his ballplaying skills caught someone’s eye, and he began playing for a local black team. In 1943, that led to the pinnacle of black baseball: a spot on the Kansas City Monarchs’ roster.


Playing alongside such men as Satchel Paige, Buck O’Neil, and Willard Brown, Thompson held his own with the Monarchs until being drafted into the Army in March, 1944. He found the segregated Army’s rules confining; once he was reprimanded for going AWOL to attend a nephew’s funeral. There was also racial tension in his unit, the 1695th Combat Engineers, in which all the soldiers were black and most of the officers white Southerners. At one point, the unit was assigned to work as a road construction crew, and the soldiers staged a boycott, refusing to do the menial work. It took mediation efforts by one of the unit’s black soldiers – a noncommissioned officer named Whitney Young, Jr. – to ease the tension between the black soldiers and white commanders. Also around this time, Thompson was graduating from beer and wine to hard liquor, occasionally ending up in the stockade. He also learned how to fire a gun in the army, and as a machine gunner in the Battle of the Bulge, killed untold numbers of German soldiers.

Thompson was discharged from the Army as a sergeant in June of 1946 and stepped right back into the Monarchs’ lineup. He helped them make it to the Negro League World Series that fall, where they fell to the Newark Eagles (starring Monte Irvin and Larry Doby), four games to three.

In the spring of 1948 Thompson was traveling south to Monarchs training camp in San Antonio, and stopped to stay with his sister in Dallas along the way. “It was the worst night of my life,” Thompson would later say. “You can leave everything else exactly as is – all the arrests, the time in jail – but if you cross out this one night and tell me it never happened, my whole life don’t seem so bad.”

When Brown had re-joined the Monarchs the previous summer, he began carrying a gun with him on an everyday basis. “Some older players I knew were carrying guns and I always liked to do what the older players did,” he said. “I bought a .32 automatic for $26. I carried it in my pocket. It made me feel like a man.”

According to Thompson, he went out to a bar on Saturday night, April 3, 1948, with his brother in law. There they ran into a man named Buddy Crow, an old ballplayer whom Thompson knew from his sandlot baseball days. Crow taunted Thompson about his status as an ex-major leaguer, calling him “Mr. Moneyman.” Then, Thompson claimed, the drunken Crow walked toward him with a knife, saying “I’m gonna get you.” Thompson, according to his own account, pulled out his gun and twice warned Crow to stop. When he did not, Thompson shot him three times in the chest, fled the bar with his brother in law, and ran to his sister’s home. The next morning he turned himself in at a police station and was promptly arrested for murder. Thompson soon acquired a lawyer, entered a not guilty plea, was released on bond, and joined the Monarchs without missing a day of spring training. Two years later the case was dismissed. “I killed a man,” Thompson wrote, “and the next day I was playing ball like nothing had happened.”

“I’d seen Buddy Crow when he was drunk. I saw him cut another boy with a knife and the boy stood there holding his intestines in his hands,” Thompson later said. “I remember I was thinking I had no choice. I know better today. I had two other choices. I could have turned and run, or I could have let him cut my throat. Either one would have been better... seventeen years later, I still haven’t gotten over it.”

Ex-teammate Stanley Glenn described Thompson as “a little bit off center.” “He had a drinking problem and a woman problem. He was like a time bomb. But he was all baseball on the field. He had all kinds of ability.”


The winter of 1948-49 was a busy off-season for the New York Giants. First they purchased Monte Irvin from the Newark Eagles, then pitcher John Ford Smith from the Kansas City Monarchs. On Feb. 1, 1949, the Giants added a third black player to their organization when they purchased Hank Thompson’s contract from the Monarchs. “I didn’t sign right off,” Thompson said. “Not that I wasn’t thrilled. I just didn’t like the way I was getting shuttled around, nobody asking me my opinion. The big leagues bought me, the big leagues fired me, the big leagues bought me again.” Thompson asked for a $5,000 signing bonus, the team offered $2,500, and Thompson agreed soon enough. When he got to the majors soon afterward, the team treated him like a veteran, agreeing to pay him $7,500 instead of the $5,000 league minimum. Thompson appeared his first game with the Giants on July 8 against the Dodgers and Don Newcombe – the first time a black pitcher ever faced a black batter in the major leagues.


In April 1950, Bill Roeder of the New York World Telegram published an article about the state of race relations on the Giants. “Henry [Thompson] says things have been smooth, and he adds that he’s been getting along well, on the whole, with the Giant players,” Roeder wrote. “He named several with whom he has been particularly friendly: Wes Westrum, Alvin Dark, Bob Thomson, Bill Rigney, and Sam Calderone. Only a few players, he said, draw the color line. ‘There’s always one or two smart guys no matter where you go. A couple of them spoke out of turn to me even this spring and I told them where to get off.’”

“The worst fans were in Cincinnati,” Thompson remembered. “Whenever there was a lull someone would yell ‘Nigger’ or ‘Black [expletive],’ and you could here it all over the place.”

   17. The definitely immoral Eric Enders Posted: September 27, 2005 at 04:39 PM (#1645823)


On Jan. 31, 1953, Thompson was driving his wife Mary and Monte Irvin’s brother, Milton, home from a party at 4 a.m. when they had a near-collision with a cab driver in Harlem who cut them off. After a brief argument, the cabbie, 30-year-old William Winfrey, grabbed a sawed-off baseball bat from his car and proceeded to beat Thompson over the head with it. Winfrey then fled on foot, leaving his cab in the middle of the street with a befuddled passenger in the back seat. The various face and head wounds eventually required 14 stitches.


When the mood struck him, Thompson would often order up a round of drinks for everyone in the bar. He wore custom tailored suits that cost $200, and seemingly never wore the same one twice. He bought his wife a mink coat, and after she left him, bought his new girlfriend an Oldsmobile.

Even when he was playing well, Thompson’s life off the field was turbulent. He fought often with his wife, and she left him. “I guess I was mainly to blame,” he said later. “I was drinking heavy. When the game was over, I’d go straight to a bar and have two or three Scotches to get the game out of my system. Then I’d have a big steak dinner, and go home, and drink a fifth of Scotch, or maybe two fifths.”

Thompson didn’t drink before games, but he didn’t eat either, which meant he was often playing at less than his best. “I kept having little injuries,” he said. “I began to slow down.”

While an active player, Thompson denied having a drinking problem. In 1955 Frank Shellenback, the pitching coach, approached him at Durocher’s request, asking if he had a drinking problem. Thompson said everything was fine. Of course, everything was not fine, and it showed on the field. That year Thompson’s batting average dropped 18 points, his homers dropped by nine, and his slugging percentage fell almost 100 points. Later that year, Durocher approached him personally and warned that Giants owner Horace Stoneham was threatening to get rid of Thompson if the problem continued. In 1956, with Bill Rigney now managing the team, Thompson’s batting average dropped for the fourth consecutive year, bottoming out at .235. By July he had won himself a permanent seat on the bench and at the end of the year the Giants sold him to Minneapolis. Hank Thompson would never play major league baseball again. In 1957 he was plagued by injuries at Minneapolis. Batting only .243, Thompson decided to call it quits at midseason. He was a year and a half past his thirtieth birthday.

After an attempt to reconcile with his wife failed, Thompson was unemployed for six months. After that he drifted from job to job, once working as a delivery boy, but usually as a bartender. He was fired from several jobs for stealing money from the cash register. And as a bartender he was, of course, his own best customer.


At 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Thompson set off for a party in Brooklyn. He entered the Harlem parking garage where he kept his car and, after finding it blocked by other vehicles, decided to borrow a friend’s car that was unblocked and had the keys in the ignition. After coming home from the party Thompson went to drink in a Harlem bar, where he met two strangers who said they needed a ride somewhere. He promptly handed them the keys to the stolen car. Naturally, they were pulled over on the way, and the police were at Thompson’s door not long after. He was arrested for auto theft, and was “groaning mildly because of a monumental hangover” when he was dragged before a judge late that night for arraignment.

Amid divorce proceedings with his wife, Thompson began dating a married woman, Ruth Bowen, wife of the former Ink Spots vocalist Billy Bowen. On April 12, 1959, after Thompson and his girlfriend had both had drunk too much, they got into an argument at her apartment, which ended with Thompson getting arrested for assault and theft (he allegedly stole $3 from her pocketbook). Bowen appeared in newspaper photos the next day sporting a black eye, but the papers suppressed any hint of sexual impropriety, identifying Bowen simply as an “acquaintance” of the ballplayer. For his part, Thompson admitted hitting her, but denied the theft. He spent a week in jail.


In the wee morning hours of Feb. 26, 1961, a drunken Thompson walked into Bill’s Place, a bar on Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem, four blocks away from his home. He had once frequented the bar; in fact, he had sold his 1954 World Series ring to the owner for drinking money. But on this night, Thompson asked the bartender, Nathan Goodwin, “Do you know who I am?” When Goodwin replied in the negative, Thompson pulled a .22 caliber revolver and announced that he was holding up the bar. Goodwin gave him $37, all the cash in the register, and Thompson then herded the bartender and his 10 patrons into a back room. Unfortunately for Thompson, a police officer happened to be watching the entrance of the bar as he left. The officer supposedly saw Thompson glance nervously around him and, suspicious, he tailed Thompson for two blocks before stopping him. After a brief scuffle, Thompson’s gun clattered to the pavement and he was arrested. The $37 was confiscated. Although he gave his occupation as “public relations,” Thompson was in fact unemployed.

“I’m no psychologist,” Thompson wrote, but “I think I was saying that evening: ‘Will somebody catch me before I hurt someone or before I hurt myself.’ They caught me and I was glad.”

“You are a serious disappointment to thousands of children and baseball fans if these facts are true,” the magistrate told him. “I hope for your sake they are not.” Still, with Horace Stoneham and Ford Frick writing to the judge on Thompson’s behalf, he escaped jail time and was sentenced to probation. Stoneham, perhaps feeling badly for not doing more to help Thompson in the mid-1950s, gave him a job cleaning the swimming pool at the team’s spring training site in Arizona.


On a Saturday night in July 1963, Thompson was drunk, and he needed money. He was arrested for holding up a liquor store for $90. Shortly afterward, he was arrested in a nightclub with a stolen gun and the hot money. Police arrested him after his car was recognized as the one used in the robbery, and the store owner identified him as the perpetrator. On September 25, Thompson pleaded guilty to robbery, burglary, and felony theft, and was sentenced to ten years in a Texas prison. “This is one of the toughest sentences I have ever had to pass on anyone,” said the judge, John Barron. “You are still a young man. You have a great past and you still have lots of friends. Keep your prison record clean and I’ll give you all the help I can.” Interviewed two days after his sentencing, Thompson told a reporter that he made an estimated quarter of a million dollars from baseball salaries and endorsements. “Liquor and gold diggers,” he said. “Tell those young fellows out there that have a chance to play big league baseball to keep the gold diggers away from their money.”

Though sentenced to 10 years, Thompson was paroled after four. “He used to write me when I was with Sacramento in the Coast League and I used to send him baseballs,” said Bob Dillinger, his ex-teammate on the Browns. “Evidently they used them when they were in prison, playing catch or whatever, so I’d send him whatever used balls I could gather up.”

“The only person to blame is me,” Thompson said in a prison interview. “I’m in jail, not my father. Don’t ask me to blame society, or the fact that I’m a Negro in a white world, or the fact that I have a grade school education, or the fact I was washed up as a major-leaguer when I was 31 years old.”

“When I get out I’m going to have to walk down streets with liquor stores and bars, and I’ll have a choice – walk past them, and live, or walk into one, and run wild again. They say life begins at 40. It better, for me.”

But it did not. In 1968, Thompson visited his mother in Fresno, California, and liked the place so much he decided to move there, getting a job as a playground director. He showed signs of reconnecting with baseball, even playing in the Giants’ old-timers game in San Francisco in 1969. Around September of that year he quit his job, hinting that he might be getting a job with the National League. But less than a month later Thompson was dead at age 43, collapsing after suffering a seizure at home. He was still five years away from becoming eligible for his baseball pension.
   18. Mike Webber Posted: September 27, 2005 at 07:11 PM (#1646272)

This is an awesome article. Thanks for sharing it
   19. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: September 29, 2005 at 01:24 AM (#1650359)
I agree, great stuff. You should clean it up and publish it somewhere - if you don't do the book, it'd be a great feature type article.
   20. Dr. Chaleeko Posted: May 09, 2018 at 09:02 PM (#5669677)
Please click through for my latest Hank Thompson MLEs.

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