1977 rookie card
May 9, 1951|
|Died: June 12, 1980
|September 2, 1976 for the Milwaukee Brewers|
Last MLB appearance
|May 18, 1977 for the Milwaukee Brewers|
|Runs Batted In||26|
Career highlights and awards
Danny Lee Thomas (May 9, 1951 – June 12, 1980) was a Major League Baseball player who played for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1976 and 1977. During his brief major league career, he became known as the "Sundown Kid" because of his well-publicized refusal to play on seventh-day Sabbath.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Thomas grew up in East Carondelet, Illinois, where he graduated from Dupo Senior High School. He then attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, playing on the university's baseball team. In June, 1971, he played in the College World Series, when the Southern Illinois Salukis advanced to the final game, losing the match for the national championship to Southern California (USC) 7–2 on June 17.
The next year, Thomas was picked 6th overall in the 1972 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1975, he was suspended for a half-season for striking an umpire, but in 1976 he had a league-leading .325 batting average in the Eastern League, playing for the Berkshire Brewers, and was named the league's Player of the Year. He won the Eastern League's Triple Crown by also leading in home runs and runs batted in, an accomplishment that would not be equalled again in that minor league until Lou Montañez garnered the Eastern League Triple Crown 32 years later, in 2008.
Major league career
Joining the Brewers in September, 1976, Thomas played 54 games for the Brewers in 1976 and 1977 as an outfielder and designated hitter. He had a career batting average of .274, an on-base percentage of .363, and a .457 slugging percentage.
The "Sundown Kid"
Thomas joined the Worldwide Church of God and began practicing strict Sabbath observance. When he arrived for spring training in 1977, he informed the Brewers that he would not play on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. "The Sundown Kid", as he came to be called, missed a night game on Saturday, April 23, 1977, when he was slated to be in the lineup as cleanup hitter and left fielder, after having been excused from pre-sundown batting practice earlier in the day. Thomas said he heard on the radio that he was scheduled to play in the game and apologized to Brewers manager Alex Grammas.
He told People magazine, "If I'm good at baseball, it's only because God gave me the talent. I'll give it all I've got, but I won't play on the Sabbath". Thomas was also outspoken in criticizing pitchers who hit batters, saying, "I think they ought to make a rule that if a guy gets hit and is able to get up, they should tie the pitcher's hands behind his back and let the hitter smack him in the face."
End of his baseball career
After playing 22 games for the Brewers in 1977, Thomas was demoted on May 26 to the Spokane Indians, the Brewers' Triple-A Pacific Coast League farm team in Spokane, Washington, although his batting average at the time was a respectable .271. A Milwaukee Journal columnist, Bill Dwyer, wrote, "No matter how tolerant and ecumenical Brewers' management wants to be, they are irked by having a player sit out two games a week". While playing for the Indians, Thomas agreed to a pay reduction of one day per week due to his missed Saturday games. His batting average declined considerably, however, and the Brewers announced his reassignment to their Eastern League Class AA affiliate in August. Thomas refused the demotion and did not play the remainder of the season, saying "It's like they're asking me, 'Do you want to stay in the minor leagues the rest of your life? Conform or get out.'" Brewers president Bud Selig said, "It's just a tragic story. I know a lot of people are mad at us because of what they think we've done to him ... He's really a nice kid who wants to do the right thing."
Thomas was unsuccessful in his later attempts to rejoin the Brewers or sign with another major league baseball organization in 1978. He then played in Boise, Idaho, for the independent Buckskins (predecessor of the Boise Hawks) in the short-season Northwest League, where he won the Class A league's batting title in 1978. In 1979, Thomas played for the Miami Amigos of the short-lived Inter-American League. Afterwards, Thomas quit baseball.
Thomas suffered from mental health problems beginning not long after his promotion to the major leagues. Thomas would later say that he "couldn't take success" and that he began to drink and take pills. While playing winter ball in Venezuela after the 1976 season, Thomas was hospitalized after overdosing on pills; he was flown back to Milwaukee for psychiatric care. According to a friend who lived with Thomas and his wife, Thomas knew that he had problems: "Danny knew he wasn't right. He told us that. He once said to his wife, 'Judy, I wish I had cancer, then at least people would realize what was the matter with me.'" In June 1980, Thomas was arrested in Mobile on a rape charge involving a 12-year-old girl.
While in jail on the rape charge, Thomas committed suicide by hanging on June 12, 1980. His family was so impoverished by then that they were unable to afford funeral expenses or even remain in Alabama for his potter's field burial. After the outfielder's death, sports columnist John Blanchette of the Spokane Spokesman-Review described him as a "troubled soul", saying, "no one was more haunted than Danny Thomas".
- Eisenbath, Mike (June 30, 1996). "Roy Branch, One of Hottest Picks out of St. Louis, Burned Out Quickly". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. p. 3F. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- "Brewers' 'Sundown Kid" Pulls Shades on Career". The Ledger. August 12, 1977. p. 2D. Retrieved 2009-06-20.[dead link]
- Fordin, Spencer (September 1, 2008). "Montanez's season full of highlights". MLB.com. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- "Dan Thomas statistics". ESPN. 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
- Blanchette, John (June 21, 2003). "Worst, wildest, weirdest". The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- "Brewers' Thomas Misses A Game He Was to Play" (PDF). The New York Times. April 25, 1977. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
- "Dan Thomas is Demoted". Milwaukee Journal. August 10, 1977. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
- Woodward, Tim (August 1, 1977). "On the Seventh Day Dan Thomas Rests—Which May Be His Third Strike in Big-League Ball". People magazine 8 (5). Retrieved 2009-06-19.
- "What They Are Saying" (PDF). The New York Times. May 15, 1977. Retrieved 2009-06-19.
- "Thomas 'Rejected'". The Daily Chronicle. April 19, 1978. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- Colson, Bill (June 4, 1979). "The Over-the-hill League". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
- "Danny Thomas: Ex-Indian suicide victim". Spokane Chronicle. July 14, 1980. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- Hall, Chris (August 20, 1980). "Late Danny Thomas 'knew he wasn't right'". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- Stalwick, Howie (August 5, 2003). "Remembering the Tragedy of Danny Thomas". The Capital Times. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference