Hank Thompson (baseball)
|Born: December 8, 1925
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
|Died: September 30, 1969
|July 17, 1947, for the St. Louis Browns|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 30, 1956, for the New York Giants|
|Runs batted in||482|
|Career highlights and awards|
Henry Curtis Thompson (December 8, 1925 – September 30, 1969), best known as Hank Thompson, was an American player in the Negro leagues and Major League Baseball who played primarily as a third baseman. A left-handed batter, he played with the Dallas Green Monarchs (1941), Kansas City Monarchs (1943, 1946–48), St. Louis Browns (1947) and New York Giants (1949–56). He possessed a powerful throwing arm, covered the outfield with grace, and was well liked by his teammates and the Giants' fans.
Thompson was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At the beginning of his career, he was a hard-hitting star for the Monarchs in the Negro American League, playing both infield and outfield. At 17, he played right field in his first season, batting .300. The following year he was drafted into the Army. Thompson was a machine gunner with the 1695th Combat Engineers at the historic Battle of the Bulge.
Sergeant Thompson was discharged on June 20, 1946, and immediately returned to the Monarchs, who were in the midst of capturing the league title. With the start of the major league 1947 season, history was made when Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Major League debut
Thompson played his first game with the Browns on July 17, 1947, integrating the Browns' lineup two days before Willard Brown made his debut as the second black player on the Browns. The following day, July 20, Thompson played second base and Brown played center field for the Browns in a game against the Boston Red Sox. That game marked the first time that two black players appeared in the same major league lineup. Later, in an August 9 doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, Thompson and Indians outfielder Larry Doby became the first black players of opposing teams to appear on the field at the same time. Thompson was with the Browns a little over a month and hit only .256 in 27 games, mainly at second base. On August 23 he was released, and he rejoined the Monarchs through the '48 season. Thompson batted .375 in his last year with Kansas City, finishing third in the batting race and leading the league in steals with 20.
New York Giants
On July 4, 1949, the New York Giants called Thompson up from the Giants’ Jersey City farm club. He received $2,500 over the league minimum of $5,000. By signing with the Giants, Thompson earned a unique place in the baseball history. He was the first black baseball player to play in both the National and American leagues. Subsequently, he repeated the same "first" many times. On July 8, 1949, Thompson and Monte Irvin became the first black players for the Giants. Thus Thompson became the only player to participate in breaking the segregation barrier on two different teams. Another first occurred when Thompson batted against Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe in the same season, becoming the first black batter to face a black pitcher in the majors. And in 1951, after playing a strong role in the Giants' drive to the pennant, Thompson and Irvin teamed with Willie Mays in the World Series to form the first all-black outfield in the majors. (However, for the remainder of his career he played mostly at third base.)
On August 16, 1950, Hank Thompson became the first player since 1939 to hit two inside-the-park home runs in one game, a feat which would not be duplicated again until 1972. He enjoyed his best season in 1953, when he batted .302 with 24 home runs, 74 runs batted in and a .567 slugging average. In 1954 he hit 26 homers and drove 86 runs, belted three homers in one game, and in the World Series batted .364 and drew a four-game Series record of seven walks against Cleveland.
In his 9-year career Thompson batted .267, with 129 home runs, 482 runs batted in, 492 runs scored, 801 hits, 104 doubles, 34 triples, 33 stolen bases, 493 walks for a .372 on-base percentage and 1360 total bases for a .453 slugging average. In 1957 his contract was sold to the minor league Minneapolis Millers of the American Association, where he finished his career.
Post-baseball struggles and death
After leaving baseball, Thompson met with a series of difficulties. He became a cab driver in New York, but following a divorce was convicted of armed robbery in Texas, and in 1963 was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 1967, however, he was paroled after serving three years; in 1968 he moved to Fresno, California, and became a city playground director. In the summer of 1969 he left that position, possibly to seek a job with the National League; but those plans did not have a chance to materialize. Thompson died at the age of 43 following a seizure on September 30, 1969, 13 years to the day of his last game in the majors.
- Baseball-Reference: Hank Thompson
- Amarillo Globe-Times, February 2, 1967, page 14. (notes)
- Former Giant Star, Hank Thompson dies