You’ve almost certainly never heard of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant unless you’re a resident of Rumford, Maine. This right-handed pitcher is the only Major League ballplayer ever born in that New England hamlet. But Stan Thomas was also the winning pitcher of a pretty significant victory in Yankee history.
Thomas had played his collegiate baseball at the University of New Haven and was one of the last draft picks ever made by the old Washington Senators team in 1971, just before that franchise relocated to Arlington, Texas and became the Rangers. During the summer of 1974, he was called up to the Rangers, where he pitched for manager Billy Martin for the first time. The following spring, he made the Texas Opening Day roster and became one of Billy’s go-to guys in the bullpen, getting into 46 games, putting together a 3.10 ERA and earning three saves. He also followed orders. During a spring training contest against the Yankees, Martin most likely told his pitchers he wouldn’t be too upset at all if they threw at Yankee outfielder Elliott Maddox. A week earlier, Maddox had called Martin a liar. In 1973, Maddox was a Ranger outfielder when Martin was hired as the team’s manager. According to Maddox, Martin had promised him playing time with Texas but never followed through. Billy’s method of payback for Maddox’s accusation was revealed early on in that 1975 exhibition game, when Ranger starter Jim Bibby hit the outfielder’s shoulder with a pitch in his first at bat. Then in the sixth, it was Thomas’s turn to defend his skipper. He threw a fastball that whistled over Maddox’s head. Naturally, the Yankee pitchers retaliated and an on-field brawl ensued, which was usually a rare occurrence in a big league spring training game, unless Billy Martin happened to be involved.
As fate would have it, Martin was fired by Texas before the 1975 season ended and then hired by George Steinbrenner to replace Bill Virdon as Yankee skipper. That move doomed Maddox’s future as a Yankee and probably paved the way to the Bronx for Stan Thomas. The pitcher had been traded by the Rangers to the Indians after the 1975 season for ex-Yankee Johnny Ellis. Thomas had pitched well for the Tribe during the ’76 season, appearing in 37 games, winning 4, saving 6 and amassing a career low 2.30 ERA. That July, in a game against Martin’s Yankees, he also got another opportunity to prove to his former and future skipper that he wasn’t afraid to send messages with his fastball. The Yankees were teeing off on Cleveland pitching and drubbing the Indians when late in the game, Thomas hit both Thurman Munson and Willie Randolph with pitches.
As good as Thomas pitched in ’76, Cleveland still chose not to protect him and he was selected by the Mariners in the 1976 AL Expansion Draft. He was having a horrible year for the first-year Mariners, when in August of 1977 he got the word that he had been acquired by the Yankees. He was sent to Syracuse for a while but got called up in September. That 1977 Yankee team had already clinched the Pennant and was going for the club’s 100th victory in its final game of the regular season versus Detroit. Fourteen years had passed since the Bronx Bombers had achieved the century mark, so the game was significant for many Yankee lovers but Billy Martin rightfully couldn’t care less. He was trying to get his team ready for postseason so he rested half his starting line-up and used rookie Ken Clay as his starting pitcher.
Still, despite the second tier lineup, the Yankees had just taken the lead and were ahead of the Tigers 3-2, entering the top of the sixth inning, when Martin inserted Thomas into the game. It wasn’t pretty. Thomas surrendered the lead twice but New York battled back to regain it both times. You wonder why Martin kept Thomas in to finish the game because with his late-season 40-man roster in effect, he had plenty of other choices. Perhaps it was his way of thanking Thomas for sending Maddox that message two year’s earlier or perhaps it wasn’t. Whatever the reason, it was Thomas who pitched stayed on to pitch a hitless ninth inning to earn his only Yankee victory and New York’s 100th win of the 1977 baseball season. The then 27-year-old Thomas, would never again get to throw a pitch in a Major League game.
|TEX (2 yrs)||4||4||.500||3.60||58||1||23||0||0||3||95.0||94||46||38||3||40||54||3||1.411|
|CLE (1 yr)||4||4||.500||2.30||37||7||15||2||0||6||105.2||88||33||27||5||41||54||4||1.221|
|NYY (1 yr)||1||0||1.000||7.11||3||0||2||0||0||0||6.1||7||7||5||0||4||1||0||1.737|
|SEA (1 yr)||2||6||.250||6.02||13||9||2||1||0||0||58.1||74||49||39||8||25||14||3||1.697|
It was certainly fun to watch the Yankees spoil Fenway Park’s 100th Anniversary Celebration earlier this season when they overcame a 9-run deficit to beat Boston in front of thirty-something thousand stunned members of Red Sox nation and just about every living former Red Sox on the planet. A century ago, it was the Red Sox who overcame a three-run Yankee lead to win the inaugural game at Fenway, 7-6. Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was New York’s starting right-fielder in that 1912 game, who became the first man ever to get a Fenway Park base hit, when he took a half-swing at Boston hurler Buck O’Brien’s pitch and tapped the ball slowly on-the-ground toward the mound. O’Brien got to the ball but when he wheeled to throw to first, no one was covering the bag and Harry Wolter was safe and part of Fenway Park history.
Wolter had joined the Yankees (who were then called the Highlanders) in 1909, when the Red Sox put him on waivers and Yankee Manager, George Stallings grabbed the then 24-year-old native of Monterey, CA. Like many position players from that era, Wolter had spent the early part of his career doubling as a pitcher, before devoting himself full time to the outfield once he came to New York. The Yankees had picked him up at exactly the right time in his career. Wolter started in right field for New York in 1910 and hit a respectable .267 and scored 84 runs. After Wolter’s home run beat the Red Sox in an early season game that year, Skipper Stallings told the press that the $1,500 paid to get the young outfielder was indeed a bargain. Wolter was just getting started.
During his second season in New York, he hit .304, belting 132 hits that included 17 doubles, 15 triples and 4 home runs. Although not especially big physically, this guy had good pop in his bat and the Yankees really did expect him to evolve into one of the league’s top stars. Unfortunately, that evolution pretty much ended 12 games into the 1912 season, when Wolter broke his ankle sliding into second. He would come back the following year and once again start in right field, but he had lost much of his speed and his average fell to .254. The Yankees did not re-sign him following that 1913 season and he went back to California, where in addition to playing in the Pacific Coast League, he got involved coaching for the Stanford University baseball team. He would eventually serve as head baseball coach at that prestigious school for a record (since broken) 26 seasons.