Year Inducted: 1974 (Veterans Committee)
There are some players that are instantly recognizable as being deserving of induction. Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Randy Johnson, and a host of others are all obvious first ballot Hall of Famers, and writing about them is easy because it’s easy to explain why they are Hall of Famers. Likewise, players like Tommy McCarthy and Bill Mazeroski are easy to write about because it’s easy to explain why they aren’t great selections for the Hall of Fame. Then there are some players that have sadly been lost to the tales of time, like Sam Thompson, who people no longer recall quite as easily.
Thompson was an excellent hitter in the early days of baseball, slashing .331/.384/.505 with a wRC+ of 136, mostly for the Phillies in 15 seasons. Thompson is credited with the first 200 hit season, and one of the first to hit 20 home runs in a season. Thompson’s power numbers, like the aforementioned .505 slugging (higher than many Hall of Famers like Jim Rice and Billy Williams), as well as his 127 career home runs (2nd in baseball until Babe Ruth started rewriting everything) are what made him a Hall of Famer. Despite playing in only 1400 games, he drove in almost 1300 runs and scored over 1250 times. Thompson was easily one of the top-10 hitters of the early era of the game.
Defensively, he was a strong-armed right fielder. He threw out almost 300 runners in his career, and was claimed to perfect the one-hop throw from the outfield. SABR Bios claim that he was routinely among the league leaders in unassisted double plays from the outfield, which is an impressive feat. Fangraphs has him rated as a slightly above average outfielder, with +11 fielding runs at a time when outfield defense wasn’t that difficult due to it being the Dead Ball Era.
Thompson was one of the early stars of the game, and absolutely deserving of his induction. It would be interesting to see how a player like he would have done in a more potent offensive era like the current game. He would have most likely fared better in a purely statistical study like this. As it is, playing only 15 years in early baseball will severely limit his stats compared to more modern players. That being said, Thompson was an excellent pick by the Veterans Committee.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 8/23/16: This Hall of Fame pitcher from the first generation of pitchers won almost 250 games while losing over 200.