There used to be a sort of center fielder, big and powerful and not particularly fast, that you just don't see any more.
In 1969, the Seattle Pilots drafted Thomas out of a high school in South Carolina. Later, Thomas would claim that when his mother told him he'd been drafted by the Pilots, he figured it was some military unit and he'd be going off to war. He was the 21st pick in the whole draft and you'd think he'd have heard of the Pilots and I'm wondering maybe he's having a little fun with us now.
In 1974, Thomas played for the Sacramento Solons in the Pacific Coast League, and hit 51 home runs. He spent 1975 and '76 with the Brewers, and was so bad they sent him back to Triple-A for the entire 1977 season. Thomas made it back to the club club in '78, and over the next five seasons nobody in the American League hit more home runs; in fact, only Mike Schmidt hit more homers in the majors, and it was close: 180 to 175.
Then in 1983, everything just sort of went away.
Gorman Thomas still calls it the saddest day of his baseball career.
He was relaxing at home on June 6, 1983, when his telephone rang. It was Brewers general manager Harry Dalton calling to inform Thomas he had been traded to the Cleveland Indians. "What?" Thomas replied incredulously, making Dalton repeat the message to make sure he wasn't dreaming. If so, it would've been a nightmare.
The Brewers' ultra-popular center fielder had been traded to Cleveland with pitcher Jamie Easterly and minor league hurler Ernie Camacho for another center fielder, Rick Manning, and pitcher Rick Waits. Thomas never asked Dalton to explain the thinking behind the deal.
The gruff slugger merely put the phone down and began to sob. "I was stunned, devastated," he said. "I never saw it coming. I don't know why I was traded. I know unequivocally that I never did anything that was inappropriate. Sure, they were getting somebody who could run faster, but that was it. That ruined the rest of my career. It became just a job. I still played hard, but it was a job. I wanted to be in Milwaukee.
Rabid Brewers fans fans felt exactly the same. Many never forgave Dalton for trading away Thomas, though he had slowed down considerably and become much less productive. At the time of the trade, Thomas was hitting .183 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 46 games.
That's from a new book, Tom Haudricourt's 100 Things Brewers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, and if you're a Brewers fan you should be glad that you're alive.
Before we go any farther, it's important to recall that this was Gorman Thomas; go ahead, drink that in.
That trade did come at a strange time, as just the season before, Thomas hit 39 home runs and the Brewers were in the World Series. But he really was never the same after '82, although he did hit 32 homers for the Mariners in 1985. The Brewers brought him back in the middle of the next summer -- the M's had released him -- but he was finished.
You know the tailgating culture in Milwaukee? Stormin' Gorman was a part of that. Before a game, he might stop by for a Coke and brat. And then "I'd come back after the game and have a beer. It was no big deal. Some of the other guys did it."
You don't see that any more, either.