Note: This page links to Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Thompson. For the former Negro League pitcher of the same name, click here.
Samuel Luther Thompson
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 207 lb.
- Debut July 2, 1885
- Final Game September 10, 1906
- Born March 5, 1860 in Danville, IN USA
- Died November 7, 1922 in Detroit, MI USA
"On a frequency (per at-bat) basis, Sam Thompson led all nineteenth-century hitters in home runs. . . After 1893, when the pitching distance was increased . . . (Thompson} capitalized on the new pitching distance more than any other batter . . ." - from the book The King of Swat
Hall of Famer Sam Thompson is perhaps best known as one of the trio of outfielders on the 1894 Philadelphia Phillies who all hit .400. The others were Ed Delahanty and Billy Hamilton. Thompson was by far the oldest, having started his major league career with the Detroit Wolverines in 1885. The Wolverines won the pennant in 1887 and the 1887 World's Series, with a team featuring "The Big Four" (Dan Brouthers, Jack Rowe, Hardy Richardson, and Deacon White), along with Thompson, who had the highest batting average in the league. He also ran away with the RBI lead in the league - he had 166 RBI, with the next closest total being 104.
He got a late start in pro ball, beginning in the minors at age 24. His first two professional teams both folded in mid-year, freeing him to be signed by Detroit partway through the 1885 season when the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the Western League closed shop. He was the best hitter on his team as a major league rookie, slugging .500 in a league whose slugging percentage was .322. During his career, he frequently led the league in offensive categories (most notably, three times in hits and three times in slugging), and when he didn't lead the league, he was typically somewhere in the top ten. As an example, he led the league twice in total bases, but was also second or third five other times.
Thompson stopped playing as a regular after 1896, appearing only sparingly with Philadelphia in 1897 and 1898. However, he came back at age 46 for 8 games with the Detroit Tigers in 1906, a team which also featured the 19-year-old Ty Cobb and the 26-year-old Sam Crawford. He had married a woman from Detroit and still lived in the city where he remained very popular playing semi-pro ball in his 40's. When the Tigers suffered a rash of injuries to their outfielders that year, he was a popular choice to lend a hand, and did not embarrass himself.
After baseball Thompson worked as a "crier" in Federal Court and died in 1922 when he had a heart attack while working as an election inspector.
When the Hall of Fame was created in the late 1930s, he was long dead and largely forgotten, so he never received a vote from the BBWAA in spite of his stellar record. It took the Veterans Committee until 1974 to finally resurrect him from obscurity. He was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.
Thompson's reminiscences about the first professional game he ever saw, and the first professional game he ever played in, appeared in Sporting Life of April 8, 1893, reprinted from the Reach Guide. Sporting Life in 1900 called him "big, good-natured and deliberate". He was a large man for his time, but very quiet and never argued with umpires.
Thompson's career ratio of RBIs per game was a record .926. Lou Gehrig is second with .922. (Qualifier: 10 career RBI).
He also holds the obscure single-season record for the most RBI driving in a teammate (i.e. excluding self). Playing for Detroit in 1887, he drove in 156 teammates. (He hit just 10 home runs, for a total of 166 RBI.) Further, he holds second place in this category, as he drove in 147 teammates for Philadelphia in 1895. (Third place belongs to Hank Greenberg: 143 for the modern Detroit team in 1937.)
- NL Batting Average Leader (1887)
- 2-time NL Slugging Percentage Leader (1887 & 1895)
- 2-time NL At Bats Leader (1887 & 1893)
- 3-time NL Hits Leader (1887, 1890 & 1893)
- 2-time NL Total Bases Leader (1887 & 1895)
- 2-time NL Doubles Leader (1890 & 1893)
- NL Triples Leader (1887)
- 2-times NL Home Runs Leader (1889 & 1895)
- 2-time NL RBI Leader (1887 & 1895)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1889)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 8 (1887, 1889, 1890 & 1892-1896)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 10 (1886, 1887 & 1889-1996)
- 200 Hits Seasons: 3 (1887, 1893 & 1895)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1974
- David L. Fleitz: "Sam Thompson", in More Ghosts in the Gallery: Another Sixteen Little-Known Greats at Cooperstown, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007, pp. 151-167. ISBN 978-0-7864-3133-5
- Roy Kerr: Big Sam Thompson: Baseball's Greatest Clutch Hitter, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2015. ISBN 978-0-7864-9708-9