Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #496, Gary Thomasson (Article 96)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
Gary Thomasson might have been the first Yankee acquisition that I didn’t understand. The Yankees picked up Thomasson on June 15, 1978 in a trade for Mickey Klutts and Del Alston.
Why the Yankees needed Thomasson was beyond me. The day before the Yankees acquired Thomasson, they picked up Jay Johnstone in a trade for Rawly Eastwick.
Johnston was batting .179 at the time of the trade.
Thomasson was batting .201.
No, neither guy was setting the world on fire.
Both players were left-handed hitting outfielders who were often platooned. Neither was an everyday player. And they both filled the exact same role.
At the same time, the Yankees already had some outfielders on the team. They had Mickey Rivers, Roy White, Reggie Jackson, and Lou Piniella. They also had the lefty-swinging Jim Spencer as a back-up first baseman. I don’t think the Yankees really needed another lefty bat, Johnstone or Thomasson. Nothing personal, but especially not Thomasson. If ever there was a redundancy on a baseball team, this was it. It was like having a back-up for the back-up. If the Yankees had acquired Thomasson before Jay Johnstone, that would have been one thing, but to get him after made no sense.
Jay Johnstone would appear in 36 games for the 1978 Yankees. He batted .262/1/6.
Gary Thomasson would appear in 54 games for the 1978 Yankees. He batted .276/3/20.
I guess the Yankees made it work because they did win the World Series that year.
It seems clear that of the two players, between Johnstone and Thomasson that Gary Thomasson was the better of the two. He had a little more power and hit for a higher average. He played in more games. He was also younger. Thomasson was 26-years-old. Jay Johnstone was 32.
So, when choosing between the two, it also made no sense that the Yankees traded Thomasson after the season (in February 1979) to the Dodgers for catcher Brad Gulden.
Gary Thomasson would play two seasons for the Dodgers. He didn’t do well. In 195 games, he batted .239 with only 15 homers and 57 runs batted in.
Thomasson’s Major League career was over after the 1980 season.
For the 1981 season, Gary Thomasson went to play in Japan. It is sad to note that that didn’t go well, at all.
In 1981 Thomasson played well for the Yomiuri Giants (Roy White was also on that team). Thomasson batted .261 with 20 homers. That was the good news. The bad news was he struck out a lot. A ton. He earned a nickname, “The Giant Human Fan.” Man, it would be bad enough to be called “The Guy Who Strikes Out A Lot.” It would be even worse to be called “The Human Fan.” But the “Giant Human Fan.” Oh boy, that would be bad! In that first year, Thomasson led Japan’s central league in strikeouts. He didn’t play the least few games of the season, if he had, he might have set the all-time Japanese record for strikeouts in a single season.
In 1982, though, it all fell apart. Baseball can be a mean and tough game. Thomasson batted only .187 and hit no homers. It was a disaster of a season. But it got worse. Thomasson didn’t just get a nickname, his poor performance eventually coined a new word in the Japanese language. There is a term in Japan called “Thomasson” which refers to an obsolete or useless manmade feature in the urban landscape that serves no purpose. This website provides great examples of these.
Imagine having a name that means, “useless.” I guess that’s what batting .187 might do for a player. I’d like to think that maybe we live in kinder times.
I have never seen an interview with Gary Thomasson where he refers to this.
It made little sense for the Yankees to acquire Gary Thomasson.
After he preformed well, it made littler sense to let him go (unless the Yankees knew that his career was about to plummet.)
Going to play in Japan probably seemed like a great idea at the time for Gary Thomasson.
Alas, it wasn’t.