Stan Thomas

July 25, 2008
It’s still a few months away, but I’m already looking forward to my religion’s biggest holiday: Expansion Day. The truth is I just invented this holiday a few minutes ago, just as I have been for the last couple years on this site gradually and half-assedly inventing an indecipherable tangle of fallible deities and contradictory beliefs so as to, among other vague purposes, fill the decades-old irreligious void located roughly where I stuff all the potato chips and beer. (The gut thickens; the void remains.) Yesterday was one of those days that circle around inevitably to fall on me like a sour mist, depressing and slack for no apparent reason, boredom and uselessness attaining the level of a physical ache. I dropped into fantasies of contracting some sort of exotic incurable illness that would not kill me or even hurt that much but that would somehow make it necessary for me to spend the last several decades of life in or near a comfortable bed. There I would sleep a lot and watch episodes of old television shows too obscure to have ever been released on DVD but somehow made available to me by the powerful pity-charged network of affectionate well-wishing that added further cushioning to my stress-free invalid life.

“How are you doing?” each visitor would say, smiling sadly, as he or she entered my room.

“Oh,” I’d say, adding a very slight wince to my brave smile. “I can’t complain.”

“You’re so brave,” the loving visitor would say. “And hey, I brought you a bootleg video of all eight episodes of Quark.”

As fantasies go, it’s probably not as alarming as, say, fantasizing about going one step further and offing oneself, but it’s not exactly a sign of robust mental and spiritual well-being. I mean, consider that oft-mentioned and supposedly motivational notion of a deathbed, as in “When you are on your deathbed, how are you going to look back on your life?” (It’s supposed to inspire you to seize the day, I guess.) But in my fantasy, when I’m finally on my deathbed and looking back at my life, I’ll be looking back at a life spent on a deathbed. Which is a pretty narrow way to go through life. And so when things start to seem narrow, from now on, I will try to remember Expansion Day.

As Expansion Day approaches I’ll have more to say about it, maybe, about what it means to me, about the rituals involved in such a day, about the many legends and miracles intertwined with that day, but for right now I will just pass along the date of this holy day, November 5, and take a stab at the core of its importance to me and my ridiculous religion: It is about possibilities.

Lame as it is, there is a certain purity to my religion, in that I am its only adherent. This will always be the case, but if instead it followed the path of development of other religions fissures and splits would inevitably occur. Take Expansion Day. The cleancut, success-oriented BlueJayists would emphasize the day as one in which seeds of future glory were wisely planted, while the more fatalistic Marinerites would find complicated klezmeresque celebration among the inescapable solemnity of life. Joy in the tears. The list of names would be at issue, the Holy List of the Expanded, and among the names of the Blue Jays would be some, Whitt, Clancy, Iorg, who would one day rise up from the ignominy of being deemed unnecessary to appear in the miraculous baseball version of the afterlife called the postseason, whereas among the Mariners listed there seem to be only years of neither rising nor falling, none of the Holy Names ever offering any readily apparent deliverance.

But still, even though you are marginal, unimportant, unprotected, cut loose, drifting, possibilities dwindling or gone, there is Expansion. You are chosen.


  1. 1.  Nice.

    Now playing in my head: http://tinyurl.com/6hu6ql

  2. 2.  Funny how the Blue Jays and Mariners could only select players from the American League. That just made those teams even worse at the beginning (although Seattle did finish one game ahead of Oakland in the AL West in 1977).

  3. 3.  Stan Thomas, not even mentioned above, is a complicated Expansion Day figure. He actually seemed to be someone who prior to the draft had a fair amount of possibilities–listed on the back of this card is his pre-Mariner career ERA of 2.91 in 201 major league innings–but as soon as he got to the Mariners he started tanking. In August, after compiling a 6.02 ERA in 13 games for the Mariners he was, according to Baseball-Reference.com, “Sent to the New York Yankees by the Seattle Mariners as part of a conditional deal.” What does this mean? No money mentioned. No other players. Did the Yankees promise to take the Mariner brass to Billy’s Topless the next time they were in town? Who knows? Whatever, Thomas was even worse for the Yankees, appearing in only 3 games and posting a 7.11 ERA. He did record one win, however, and perhaps even got a World Series ring on his way out into the oblivion beyond the major leagues.

  4. 4.  FYI: There’s a recent comment on the Jeff Torborg (Indians) post that recounts a blown no-hitter, plus (fittingly, considering the rancor of the post), there’s some recent Yankee fan-Red Sox fan sniping at the tail end of my Wade Boggs (Yankees) diatribe. Also, Walbers provides a link to the roster of the infamous San Jose Bees team in comments at the end of the post on Cardinal (and Bee) Ken Reitz.

  5. 5.  Happy Festivus! Will you have an aluminum pole to symbolize your holiday? Who will perform the feats of strength — Stan Thomas? Can’t wait for the airing of grievances!

  6. 6.  The Mets made a lot of so-called “conditional deals” in the wake of their expansion as well. These were mainly deals where they’d pay some nominal fee for a look-see of a guy and full retail $$ only if he stuck with the team past X date or whatever. They got Run Hunt this way but kissed a lot of frogs first.

  7. 7.  Nothing in Stan Thomas’s Yankee life became him like the leaving of it. He was traded to the White Sox for Jim Spencer, who became a useful spare part in NY.

  8. 8.  6 : Thanks for that explanation. I wonder how that applies to the Stan Thomas deal. He didn’t stick very long for the Yankees, but as mentioned in 7 he was used to acquire a guy who did stick. I wonder what the Mariners ever got for him, if anything. Upon such unanswerable questions may a religion arise!

    Speaking of mysteries, that Spencer deal is kinda hard to figure from the White Sox perspective. Thomas and a minor leaguer for Spencer and a couple other guys doesn’t quite equate; Spencer had just put up decent power numbers and won a Gold Glove in ’77. I guess there was still hope that Stan Thomas would regain the promise of his pre-Mariner years.

  9. 9.  Playing for the Mariners must have crushed his spirit, and not even a stint with the Yankees was able to revitalize it. Whereas teams like Colorado and Florida at least had a chance to assemble competitive teams, Toronto and Seattle had no such chance.

    His cap & uniform shirt look doctored and since the Mariners played in a dome that clearly isn’t their home stadium in the background. Must be a photo taken when he was on Cleveland in 1976.

    I don’t know why I remember that he was on the Yankees, but as soon as I saw the card I thought “he was on the Yankees, wasn’t he?”.

  10. 10.  2 That 1977 A’s team was the result of Charlie Finley dismantling the team after the 1976 season. Years later Wayne Huizenga would do the same thing to the World Series champion Marlins.

  11. 11.  In checking around the internet to see if I could learn what the Mariners got for Stan Thomas I came across this on someone’s blog:

    Mystery solved

    On July 10 of 1977, the Twins were playing the Seattle Mariners. I was listening to the game while riding in the back end of our Dodge station wagon.

    With nobody on in the first inning, up came Mike Cubbage against Stan Thomas. Thomas fired the first pitch at Cubbage’s head. It missed. Seemed odd, Herb Carneal said, this early in the game for a pitcher to be throwing at somebody.

    Next pitch, same place. Thomas missed Cubbage again. Third pitch, right at Cubbage’s legs. Fourth pitch, again, right at Cubbage’s shoulder. He walked. Carneal was really buffaloed. What was going on?

    Darrell Johnson, the Seattle manager came out of the dugout. He pulled Thomas from the game. A few days later, Thomas was traded to the Yankees. A few weeks after that, he was traded to the White Sox, and by the next spring he was out of baseball.

    Turns out, Thomas and Cubbage were roomates at one time in the minor leagues. It didn’t come out at the time, but thanks to Warroad blogger Seth, I found out just now the reason for the blowup: Cubbage had stolen Thomas’ girlfriend.

    Uff da. You’d think that wouldn’t be worth ruining your major league career.

  12. 12.  10 He traded Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman before the season, but that was really the only dismantling he did on his own. He famously tried to sell Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue, but Bowie Kuhn nixed the deals.

    What happened was that, after the season, his players all walked away. OK, they ran.

    November 1, 1976

    Sal Bando granted Free Agency.
    Don Baylor granted Free Agency.
    Bert Campaneris granted Free Agency.
    Nate Colbert granted Free Agency.
    Rollie Fingers granted Free Agency.
    Willie McCovey granted Free Agency.
    Joe Rudi granted Free Agency.
    Gene Tenace granted Free Agency.

  13. 13.  11 That might have been the reason the M’s traded him, but I have trouble believing that’s why his career ended. The White Sox wouldn’t have traded Jim Spencer for him unless they thought he could pitch. Apparently he couldn’t.

  14. 14.  11 : Stan Thomas just keeps getting more and more interesting.

    I dug up the link for that post, from the blog entitled Country Scribe (you have to scroll down to see the Stan Thomas info):


  15. 15.  12 You are absolutely correct. Dismantle was the wrong word to use. From what I recall he made absolutely no effort at all to resign any of them.

  16. 16.  Cubbage and Thomas were both drafted by the Senators in 1971 and came up through the Rangers system (Cubbage in round 2 and Thomas in round 27). I wonder where the girlfriend-stealing occurred; this Stan Thomas lists all his minor league stops: Geneva, Burlington, Pittsfield, and Spokane.

    I’m actually reading a novel right now called California Rush that hinges on a woman-related incident in the minors that causes one player to dedicate his life to getting revenge on another player.

    One other piece of Stan Thomas arcana: On the back of this card, Thomas’ home is listed as Mexico, Maine.

  17. 17.  One of the reasons the Indians traded Dennis Eckersley is that Rick Manning was banging Eck’s wife (they later married). The Indians had to choose and, being the Indians, made the wrong choice.

    16 I knew a guy from Indiana, Pennsylvania.

  18. 18.  I had forgotten all about Stan Thomas.
    At first I confused him with Roy Thomas — another largely forgettable swabbie on the Mariners’ eternal journey to nowhere.

  19. 19.  9 I’m pretty sure that all the Mariner and Blue Jay cards from this year were airbrushed. And poorly at that. The stadium in the background is the Oakland Coliseum. 10 12 I’ll say this about Finley…he was a freakin’ tightwad, but rather than lose Phil Garner to free agency (or pay him what he was worth according to the market conditions at the time), in 1977 he traded him to the Pirates for, among others, Rick Langford, Mitchell Page and Tony Armas. There were other players involved on both sides, but I’m trying not to prattle on here. Really, I’m trying…

  20. 20.  Reminds me a little bit of that comic who points out that suicide is not really that much of a tragedy-if you’re sitting in a movie, and the first half of it has sucked, can anyone really blame you if you get up and leave the theater?

    His name escapes me for the moment.

    Josh, did you see Wall E? The hoverchairs from the second half of that movie sound a little like what you’re talking about.

  21. 21.  20 Doug Stanhope.

    19 Helluva trade. For that matter, before they all walked out on him, Finley had built up one hell of a team – the talent and balance to beat you every way possible, fun and interesting to watch.

  22. 22.  1 I’ve got Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” in my head, http://tinyurl.com/6zp6ns, which opens with these lyrics:

    “This is the day / Of the expanding man / That shape is my shade / There where I used to stand”

    and also includes:

    “So useless to ask me why / Throw a kiss and say goodbye / I’ll make it this time / I’m ready to cross that fine line”

    which all seems oddly relevant to expansion drafts, guys leaving teams, and beer guts.

    3 CG trivia time: Is this the first post to not include the player in the main copy, only in the comments section?

  23. 23.  22 : I just read a book about The Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime in which it is reported that the great George Hurley was a huge fan of “The Dan.”

    I’ve never quite seen the light with them yet, but that song you quote has certainly gotten caught in my head before, especially the line “I want a name when I lose.”

    Trivia question answer hint: Obsessive own-hair-sniffer featured in classic 1970s baseball book.

  24. 24.  I was wondering if Stan was mentioned in Ball Four. I may have to dig out my old dog eared copy if I can even find it to see.

  25. 25.  Still love the lyrics to “#1 Hit Song” on Double Nickels:

    on the back of a winged horse
    through the sky, pearly grey
    love is leaf-like
    you and me, baby
    twinkle, twinkle
    blah blah blah
    e t c

  26. 26.  25 : Lyrics written by George Hurley (who also supplied the album’s first words: “Serious as a heart attack!”).

  27. 27.  22 25 The hair-sniffer? Lou Piniella, I think… For 20+ years, the Minutemen have made my world a better place. “God Bows to Math” is inspired by Dr. Gene Scott? Heavy! D. Boon, RIP.

  28. 28.  27 : That’s who I was thinking of, yes. Lyle’s The Bronx Zoo talks of his habit of twirling his fingers in his hair and then sniffing it. But anwyay the post on this site about Lou (see Yankees sidebar) doesn’t actually mention him (until the comments). There might be other posts where I fail to mention the subjects, but that one sprang to mind.

    D. Boon was a great American, and I’ve long loved and been inspired by Mike Watt (and am looking forward to seeing him play bass for The Stooges in a couple weeks). Only recently have I seen the light about Hurley. Jesus was he an amazing drummer. What a band they were.

  29. 29.  “We Jam Econo” is a great DVD retrospective of the Minutemen. Lots of live performance, interviews with the band members and their families, and other scenesters. I’d rank it right up there with “The Unheard Music” in terms of capturing the best of the LA scene in the 80’s.

    But I’ve never seen “The Decline of Western Civilization Volume 1”, so I may be off base about it.

  30. 30.  Oh, and if we’re going to cite lyrics at this site, then “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing” needs referencing.

    “I must look like a dork”.

    I think of that line often.

  31. 31.  28 Lou Piniella appears in another, far greater 70’s baseball book. He’s mentioned in the early pages of Ball Four as a kid – not so young, actually – trying to stick with the Pilots. I’m trying to remember what the union action was that spring – was it a threatened strike or just an effort to establish the union? In any case, Bouton speaks admiringly of Piniella’s decision to support it despite his shaky position.

    Before the season started, Seattle traded him to KC, where he won Rookie of the Year.

  32. 32.  23 In my opinion “Double Nickels On The Dime” is one of the greatest albums ever released. I have been a huge Minutemen fan since the early 80s and was lucky enough to have seen them 4 times. One time involved renting a car and driving down from Albany (where I went to college) with 4 friends for 3 hours to Manhattan to see them at The Peppermint Lounge and then driving back to Albany right after the show. We had the pleasure of meeting D. Boon, who was a really nice guy. This was April 1985, when it was still common for bands to go on stage at 2:30 in the morning so that the clubs could rack up as much as possible in liquor sales. It must have been around 1:30 and the Minutemen just walked out on stage and D. sat on his amp waiting for the DJ to kill the music. The message was clear. Cut the crap and just let us f*ckin’ play for these folks. Best show I have ever seen.

    I also saw them twice in L.A. in September of that year, including 1 acoustic show. It was so sad when he died a few months later.

  33. 33.  Stan Thomas grew up down the street from me in Mexico, Maine. He was much older than me, but I do remember a summer night in 1977, when I became a Seattle Mariner fan for one night as he was on the hill against my beloved Red Sox. He won the game and the whole town loved it.

  34. I live in Maine. One day (Josh you will appreciate) my son said, “I want to go to Mexico, Maine” so we all piled in the car for a road trip to what turned out to be a paper mill town. They had a good ice cream store, so I guess he liked it but I’m pretty sure he expected mariachi guys in Sombreros playing La Cucaracha. Oh, and the paper mill (across the Androscoggin River in Rumford) makes the paper used for Sports Illustrated.

    In the late 1970s there was a weird Maine-Yankees connection, one of Steinbrenner’s guys was Jack Butterfield, Yankees Director of Player Development (and father of MLB coach Brian Butterfield), who died in a car crash the same year as Munson, and their director of scouting was Bill Livesey who I think is an executive still for the Pirates. Also manager Stump Merrill was a Maine guy. They all played on the 1964 Maine Black Bear team that almost won the College World Series, having beaten Arizona State and USC. Unbelievable run.

    Regarding all the 1977 Topps being airbrushed for the Mariners and Blue Jays, that is not strictly true – The Diego Segui Mariners card shows him with a dark navy batting helmet with no logo, which is pretty awesome for an AL Pitcher in the days before interleague play. I have to assume it was a Cardinals helmet from a couple of years prior, because he has the arm stripes. Also, the O Pee Chee version of the 1977 set shows the Blue Jays in their true uniforms as it was released after spring training started. It’s a pretty cool set, John Lowenstein is in Blue Jays duds and never played a game for them. And there’s a way better picture of Chuck “Twiggy” Hartenstein than the awful Topps version with those glasses (not as bad as 1978 Greg Minton, though)… the guy hadn’t pitched an inning in the MLB since 1970 and somehow he made the Blue Jay roster. Since I’m on a 1977 roll, I loved that the Cardinals sported pork pie hats (like the Pirates Pops Stargell hats they wore for a decade after the NL’s 100 year anniversary) such as on the Tom Walker card in 1976. I wonder what other teams did. The White Sox wore shorts for a game that year, too. Isn’t Jim Spencer wearing them on his card? Good times.

  35. Thanks for the trip to Mexico, Maine! And now I want to get my hands on that O Pee Chee set of Blue Jays.

  36. I’m friendly with a guy that was a college coach for Stan Thomas. I remember my friend telling a story of how Stan Thomas called him in the middle of the night to let him know that he was getting called up to the big leagues. It helped that my friend was a good story teller, but I remember all the 16 year olds listening got chills. Thank you Josh for reminding me of the excitement of that great story.

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