I blogged last year about the pleasure I had of running into Don Thompson, a descendant of Big Sam Thompson’s brother – one of the most unheralded great ballplayers of the late 1800s. Sam, the right fielder of the greatest outfield not only to ever start on the same team for the Phillies (1893-1898) – but the greatest outfield every to play the game – was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1974, and is now commemorated by a wonderful book authored by Roy Kerr.
I would have much preferred to have seen Big Sam in a Phillies uniform on the cover, but Mr. Kerr elected to go with Sam in the uniform of his first team, the Detroit Wolverines. Sam played four seasons for Detroit, and ten seasons for Philadelphia. You’ll find many reasons to marvel over Sam’s illustrious career with the Phillies in this book, but let me share with you one fact that jumped out at me when I looked up Big Sam’s stats.
In the so-called dead ball era, when they only replaced a baseball during the game once the cover began to come off, Sam was a prodigious hitter. In the eight full seasons he played for the Phillies, he led the league in home runs twice, and knocked in fewer than 100 runs only once (90 in 1891). It is his strikeout totals that are striking — the most he whiffed during those years was 29 times. Are you kidding me? Ryan Howard — are you paying attention? In 1892 Sam came to the plate 679 times and K’d in only 19 of them. In 1893 it was 17Ks in 656 PAs . In 1894 it was 13 in 501; in 1895 it was 11 in 576; and in 1896 it was 13 in 554.
It remains a travesty that Big Sam Thompson is not on the Phillies Wall of Fame in Citizens Bank Park.