Blaine M. Thomas was born in August 1888, in Glendora, California – but no one has yet been able to turn up the date of his birth. His debut is easy to pin down, though. He started the second game of a doubleheader for the Boston Red Sox in St. Louis on August 25, 1911, and “lasted just long enough to allow the Browns to score their two runs.” [Boston Globe, August 26, 1911] The Globe called him “one of Donovan’s youngsters,” referring to Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan.
Thomas was a right-handed pitcher who stood 5-feet-10 and weighed 165 pounds. He may not have had a lot of hair on his head, given that his nickname was Baldy. He batted right-handed as well.
In that debut, both Thomas and Browns pitcher Earl Hamilton – a rookie himself – pitched well enough for the first three innings, but then “the fans were entertained by both teams to all sorts of woozy baseball.” Duffy Lewis was first up for the Red Sox in the top of the fourth. He tapped the ball weakly back to the mound. Hamilton fielded it. First baseman John Black “was somewhere on the field, but not around first.” Lewis was safe with a base hit. Larry Gardner deliberately tried the same thing – and it worked. Men on first and second, with two base hits and nobody out. Bill Carrigan went for the hat trick, but Black pounced on the ball and fired to third base, retiring Lewis. Hoping the Browns would never expect it a fourth time, Heinie Wagner tapped a roller to the mound and first base was once more left uncovered. Yerkes hit a fly ball to center field and the Red Sox took a 1-0 lead.
Thomas took the mound for the bottom of the fourth and walked the first batter, Willie Hogan. Mimicking the Red Sox to some extent, Frank LaPorte tapped one back to Thomas. First baseman Clyde Engle failed to cover first base. A sacrifice moved both runners up. Black hit a ball back to Thomas, but Engle muffed his throw at first and a run came in on the error. The second run came in a couple of batters later when Thomas had his third chance but earned himself an error with a bad throw to first base before helping catch the trailing runner in a rundown between home and third base. Charley Hall relieved Thomas beginning with the fifth, finished the game, and got a win as the Sox scored five times in later innings for a 6-2 victory.
Eleven days later, on September 5, Thomas got another start, in Boston against New York. It was a short start. The next day’s New York Times said, “A sideshow wild man never had anything on Blaine Thomas, who started to pitch against [manager Hal] Chase’s men, only to last a fraction of an inning.” He hit the leadoff batter, Bert Daniels, with his very first pitch. He walked Harry Wolter, the next man up. Catcher Les Nunamaker fielded a bunt and forced the lead runner at third. Player/manager Hal Chase hit to third, and again the lead runner was retired. When Thomas walked the next batter to load the bases, he was pulled. Permanently. Charley Hall got out of the inning without a run scoring, but Boston lost the game, 4-3.
Thomas had started two major-league games. He held a 0.00 earned-run average, and he hadn’t lost a game. In his two times at bat, he singled once, so he held a .500 batting average. He committed one error (the reason his ERA was zero) in four chances, so held a .750 fielding percentage. But of the 19 batters he faced, seven walked, he gave up three hits, and he hit one batter. He was gone from major-league baseball. After the game on September 5, the Sox had a 63-63 record and they really wanted to end up over .500. Donovan had seen enough of Blaine Thomas. As it happens, they finished 78-75 and just barely held onto fourth place.
Now, who was Thomas and how did he earn this brief stay in major-league baseball? Starting at the end of his life and trying to move backward, we find that he died on August 21, 1915. He was only 26 or 27 years old, depending on whether his actual birth date preceded August 21 or followed it. The Arizona State Board of Health certificate of death says he was 27. His date of birth is listed as unknown. Even though our last knowledge of his playing ball dates back to 1912, his occupation is listed as “professional ball player.” He was living in the Herron Hotel in Payson, Arizona, at the time he died of a pulmonary hemorrhage. The death certificate says that the disease was contracted in California. Such hemorrhaging in adults typically reflects a complication of other diseases such as mitral stenosis in rheumatic fever or other infection, perhaps caused by influenza.
His parents are listed as W.C. Thomas, originally from Iowa, and Cora Billingsea, originally of West Virginia. The informant is one Glen Thomas of Phoenix, one of his two brothers. According to a letter from the Globe, Arizona, school superintendent in the Baseball Hall of Fame player file, James and Glen gave orders for the Globe Mortuary to prepare the body. Funeral expenses were paid by Joe Ryan, manager of the Globe Baseball Club. Blaine’s body was removed to Compton, California, three days after his death, on August 24.
Payson is about 90 miles northeast of Phoenix, a community almost fully surrounded today by the Tonto National Forest. It is the home of the world’s oldest continuous rodeo, held each year since 1884 – the year in which the fledgling town first got a post office.
The 1920 Census shows us a Glen H. Thomas, an auto machinist who lived in Phoenix with his wife, Jessie. Glen was born in California 27 years earlier to a father from Iowa and a mother from West Virginia. It’s safe to assume that Glen was Blaine’s younger brother. The 1930 Census shows Cora B. Thomas living in Los Angeles, born around 1863 in West Virginia with what appear to be her daughter Elizabeth Sealock and Elizabeth’s 7-year-old son, Robert. Elizabeth was working as a millinery saleswoman. Both Cora and her daughter were living together in Los Angeles in 1920 as well.
Dropping back to 1900, we find that Cora was married to a man named Finfield Thomas (not W.C.), who did indeed come from Iowa, born around 1849. Mr. Thomas was a farmer. The couple had several children: Charles (b. September 1886), Blaine (b. August 1888), Winabel (b. June 1890), Glen (b. April 1893), James (b. April 1895), and William (b. September 1899). Elizabeth was 18 in 1920, so she was presumably born in 1901 or 1902.
Further investigation leads us to believe that Mr. Thomas was actually Winfield C. Thomas (not Finfield, after all), who was born around 1849 in Cottonwood Falls, Iowa. He was a farmer as well, but married to a woman named Hannah and with two children, a son named Ross who was 2 and an as-yet-unnamed son Baby Thomas, born in May 1880, a few weeks before the census taker enumerated the family. Ross was born in Kansas, where Winfield lived at the time of the 1870 Census. This may have been a first marriage for Thomas. Whether he moved west to California because of a tragic event or the dissolution of the marriage, we do not know.
Working with the name Winfield, we find him as a dairy farmer in Downey, California, with Cora and the kids. Blaine was already out of the home at this time, we know not where. It was just the following year that he turns up in the baseball record books. Thomas played for the Victoria Bees in British Columbia in 1911, in the Northwestern League. He was 7-11 in Class B baseball. His hitting wasn’t going to propel him up any ladders; he hit .145 in 69 at-bats – though he did have a home run and two triples among his 10 hits. In 1912, he appeared in one game in the Pacific Coast League, pitching for Sacramento. He pitched nine innings for the Sacts and gave up five runs on 12 hits, losing the game. There was a pitcher named Thomas who was due to pitch for Victoria in 1913, but whether it was the same Thomas remains undetermined. No one with that surname appears to have pitched for the Bees in 1912 or 1913. This is the only information about baseball before the Red Sox that we are able to find.
What happened to him after his time with the Red Sox has proven as elusive as his birthdate.
Thanks to Peter Morris for supplying a copy of Blaine Thomas’s death certificate. In addition to those cited in the text, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology.