Blaine Thomas

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

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.”1 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. His nickname was “Baldy,” but perhaps not due to a lack of hair on his head.2 He batted right-handed as well. He had been acquired from Vancouver (Northwestern League) by Red Sox owner John I. Taylor and joined the Red Sox on June 10, 1911.3 Taylor paid a reported $2,500 for his contract.4

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.”5 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. Steve 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. Of Thomas, the Globe wrote, “Thomas had lots of stuff but could not control it. He looks to be a pretty good flinger at that if he can ever gain control. He has plenty of speed.”6

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.”7 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. It was perhaps related to the malarial fever that afflicted him in the summer of 1912.

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 Lorraine Thomas was born in California on September 9, 1903.

Further investigation leads us to believe that Mr. Thomas was actually Winfield C. Thomas (not Finfield, after all), who was born around 1849 in 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. Why he moved west to California, we do not know. His first wife, Hannah Pickett, died October 4, 1883 in Cottonwood Falls.

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, though he is almost certainly the Blaine Thomas who lived in Douglas City, Arizona, at the time of the 1910 census and is identified as a ball player. He appears to have worked for some period of time as an umpire based in El Paso, but was reported to be more focused on his “twirling aspirations” — pitching rather than umpiring.8

He is seen to have played for Davenport, Iowa, in the Three-I League in 1910. He was suspended at one point, and then later reinstated. Thomas signed and 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 joined the Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Sacts for spring training playing under manager Patsy O’Rourke. He appeared in at least a couple of games for Sacramento. He is listed by Baseball-Reference.com as having pitched nine innings for the Sacts, giving up five runs on 12 hits, and losing the game. The game was played on May 15 in Los Angeles. The newspaper account referred a prior game as “his only other appearance of the season, when he allowed two hits and forcefd across two runs by walking three men.”9

On June 2, he also pitched an 11-inning Sacramento State League game against Stockton, losing 4-3. In the game, he gave up eight hits, walked five, and struck out six. The newspaper account noted “Errors figured in every run that was scored.”10 He was unconditionally released by Sacramento on June 18, 1912.11 He was signed by Vancouver.12 Within a couple of weeks, Vancouver released him, too.13 He contracted malaria in August and recuperated in Clearwater, California.14

In 1913, the “speedburner” was brought to Ogden, Utah, to pitch there.15 Whether he arrived and did pitch is not something we have yet been able to determine. His career from this point on remains as elusive as his birthdate.

 

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was originally published in 2010 and most recently updated in October 2019. Thanks to Peter Morris for supplying a copy of Blaine Thomas’s death certificate.  Thanks as well to Tim Copeland, who provided a number of very useful items for the 2019 update.

 

Sources

In addition to those cited in the text and acknowledgments, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Bill Lee’s The Baseball Necrology.

 

Notes

1 “Red Sox Strike Two-A-Day Clip,” Boston Globe, August 26, 1911: 4.

2 The Sacramento Bee commented on his nickname, but really shed little light. It was, teammate Ben Hunt explained, “not because he lacks a covering for his cranium but because huis real name, Blaine, was considered too fashionable.” Sacramento Bee, February 2, 1912: 10.

3 “Red Sox Make It 2-1 from Naps,” Boston Globe, July 22, 1911: 4.

4 “Many Players Sold to Majors,” The Province (Vancouver), August 15, 1911: 10

5 “Red Sox Strike Two-A-Day Clip,”

6 Ibid.

7 “Yankees Win By A Margin of One Run,” New York Times, September 6, 1911: 11.

8 El Paso Herald, June 11, 1910: 22.

9 “Halla Allows But One Hit to Senators,” San Francisco Examiner, May 16, 1912: 15.

10 “Stockton 4, Sacramento 3,” San Francisco Examiner, June 3, 1912: 8.

11 “Ball Players Change Hands,” San Francisco Call, June 19, 1912: 15.

12 “Baseball,” Victoria Daily Times, June 24, 1912: 15.

13 “Brown Releases Blaine Thomas,” Spokane Chronicle, July 9, 1912: 14.

14 “Prospects for Ball Tournament Grow Brighter,” Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee, Arizona), August 28, 1912: 5.

15 “Arizona Pitcher for Ogden Team,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 6,1913: 8.