On January 16th, 2023, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh area lost one of their most dominant baseball players during the 1950s; Pirates legend, third baseman/outfielder Frank Thomas passed away at age 93. Let's take a deep dive into Thomas' Pirate career and remember why his legacy will be remembered forever.
After being born in Pittsburgh in 1929, Frank Thomas signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947 as an amateur free agent at just 18 years old. Fast forward to 1951, Thomas made his Major League debut with the Pirates, posting a .264/.306/.392, hit 2 home runs, drove in 16 runs, and had a .320w OBA and 79w RC+ across 39 games during his rookie season.
At 24 years old, Thomas became an everyday starter for the Pirates during the 1953 season and broke out in a big way posting a .255/.331/.505, hit 30 home runs, drove in a whopping 102 runs, and had a 372 wOBA and a 102 wRC+ across 128 games.
Thomas hit the 11th most home runs (30) in all of baseball that season behind the likes of Eddie Matthews (47), Al Rosen (43), and Ted Kluszewski (40). Unfortunately, the 1954 Pirates did not have the best of seasons, finishing with an abysmal 53-101 record and were last in the National League.
For the next 5 seasons with the Pirates (from 1955-1959), Thomas was a three-time National League All-Star in 1954, 1955, and 1958, finished 4th in MVP voting in 1958, and hit over 20+ home runs a season with the Pirates.
During that 5 year period, the Pirates were bottom feeders in the league from 1954-1957, before finally having a winning season in 1958 with an 84-70 record, finishing 2nd in the National League. During the 1958 season, Thomas had a dominant season overall, posting a .281/.334/.528, hit 35 home runs, drove in 109 runs, and had a .374 wOBA and a 126 wRC+ across 149 games, but he did give up over 29 errors at third base. Thomas finished 7th (35) in home runs that season behind Cubs legend Ernie Banks (47), Yankee legend Mickey Mantle (42), and Roy Sievers (39). The 1958 season was the first time since 1948 that the Pittsburgh Pirates had a winning record, breaking a decade-long drought.
Following the 1959 season, 29-year-old Thomas was traded to Cincinnati along with right-handed pitcher Charles "Whammy" Douglas, outfielder Jim Pendleton, and outfielder John Powers, in exchange for three players; catcher Forrest "Smoky" Burgess, left-handed pitcher Harvey Haddix, Jr., and third baseman Don "Tiger" Hoak. The season after Thomas was traded, the Pittsburgh Pirates finished first in the National League with a 95-59 record and won their third World Series title against the New York Yankees in 1960. For the remainder of his career, Thomas played with the Cubs, Brewers, Mets, Phillies, and Astros until his retirement with the Cubs in 1966 at age 37.
Throughout his 8-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thomas had a combined .275/.333/.474, hit 163 home runs, drove in 562 runs, and had a 110wRC+. Thompson only struck out 12.1% of the time at the plate and walked 7.6% of the time during his entire Pirates tenure. While he wasn't the best defender at third base, Thompson made up for it with his offensive prowess.
Following his retirement, according to ESPN:"The team said he was a "proud family man and a man of great faith" who was "a valued member of the Pirates Alumni Association for over 30 years. He was most passionate about his charitable work with Camp Happy Days-Kids Kickin' Cancer, Courageous Kidz and the Millvale Meals On Wheels."
Thomas lived and breathed the black and gold and had the heart of a true Pittsburgh native throughout his entire life. During his dominant early years as a Pirate, I can only imagine how excited he made the fanbase during those difficult years in the 1950s.
Even though I never got to watch Thomas play, he will always have a lasting impact on the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh community as a whole. Thank you Frank for everything you did on and off the field for the city of Pittsburgh and Major League Baseball! May you rest in peace.