During the early years of baseball, it wasn’t uncommon for players who had a brief appearance in the majors to have played in all corners of the U.S. on their way up to the big leagues, and on their way back down. Frank Thompson determined that over the course of his professional career, he had played in 41 of the then 48 states, sandwiched around one season as a backup infielder with the 1920 St. Louis Browns. He’d missed out on only Washington, Oregon, Rhode Island, the Dakotas, and both Carolinas.1 He was able to check one more state off his list when he later suited up for a semipro club in North Dakota.
Thompson was a speedy 5-foot-8, 155-pound right-hander. He was a solid .270-.280 hitter in the minors, usually batting at the top of the order, but he excelled on defense, third base being his primary position. One contemporary writer seemed to have been aware of the modern concept of “Range Factor” when describing Thompson, saying, “Of course, the number of chances an infielder goes after must figure into his ability as a player, aside from the cold figures of averages. For instance, Miner fans wouldn’t trade Frankie Thompson for any third baseman in the league, and yet he ranks fourth so far as fielding averages are concerned.”2 Another report stated, “It would be hard for a sculptor to mold a third baseman who could perform better than Thompson.”3
Frank E. (no full middle name was found) Thompson was born July 2, 1895, in Springfield, Missouri. He could not be found in 1900 or 1910 US Census records, so little is known of his ancestry and early childhood. On his death certificate, his parents were identified as Mark L. Thompson and Nancy Biggs, both natives of Missouri. It is not known if he had any siblings.
It is known that Thompson began playing for amateur teams near his home as a teenager. Although it is not certain if it was the same Frank Thompson, a player by that name appeared in a box score playing right field for Windsor, Missouri in 1912.4 He played with Trinidad, Colorado in the independent Rocky Mountain League in 1913 and in a California winter league after the season.5 He started his professional career in 1914 in the Western Association with the Joplin-Webb City(Missouri) Miners. The franchise moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma on July 10 and finished up the season in Henryetta, Oklahoma. One source said Thompson also played briefly with the Oklahoma City Senators that season.6 Despite the upheaval surrounding the franchise shifts, Thompson had a strong year, batting .270 in 126 games.
Sioux City of the Western League tried to acquire him that off-season,7 but he remained in the Western Association with Oklahoma City. He played all of 1915 with the Senators but midway through the 1916 season he was sent to still another club in the Western Association, the McAlester (Oklahoma) Miners. He hit .268 in 133 games with both clubs.
That October Thompson was briefly a teammate of the great Washington pitcher Walter Johnson. After the major-league season had ended, Johnson – a native of nearby Coffeyville, Kansas – agreed to pitch in a game for Webb City, Missouri against Pittsburg, Kansas. Thompson was recruited to play for the Webb City team that day; according to one report he got two hits, including a home run, helping Webb City and Johnson to a 3-1 win.8
In the fall of 1916, Thompson was drafted by Fort Worth of the Class B Texas League. After batting just .208 in 15 games, he was returned to McAlester in late April. The reason given was that “his hitting failed to measure up to the Texas League standard.”9 Back in Class D, Thompson batted .364 in 76 games before being sold to Wichita of the Class A Western League in July.10 Thompson registered for military service on June 5, 1917, and in August it was reported he had passed his induction examination.11 However, he was not required to report for duty until the baseball season ended.
Nonetheless, he was back in baseball in 1918 with Joplin, Missouri, the team he had started with in 1914. By then he was widely considered the best third baseman in the Western League. The league suspended play on July 10 because of World War I. Although the details of his military service could not be found, Thompson played baseball for army teams in Wheeling, West Virginia and Norfolk, Virginia.12 He was back with Joplin in 1919 and after another strong season in which he batted .280 in 130 games, Thompson was sold to the St. Louis Browns that fall.13 He signed a contract and reported to the Browns’ spring training camp in Taylor, Texas the following March.
Jimmy Austin had been the Browns’ regular third baseman for the past decade, but he was approaching 40 years old. The club was looking for a reliable backup to Austin and a versatile utility man. Entering camp John Shovlin and Joe Schepner had the inside track on the role, but Thompson impressed manager Jimmy Burke with his flashy fielding in exhibition play.14 The Browns originally planned to farm him out to Mobile, Alabama, but when the club traded Schepner to Louisville at the end of spring training, Thompson made the opening day roster.
He made his major-league debut on May 5 against the Tigers in Detroit, drawing a walk as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning and later coming around to score on a sacrifice fly. After two more pinch-hitting appearances, he was given a start at third base in Washington on May 17 when the regular third sacker, Austin, came down with an illness. Thompson singled twice in five at bats in a 2-1 win over the Senators. Once Austin retuned to the lineup, Thompson was relegated to the bench and played sporadically over the rest of the season. His last game in the big leagues was when he pinch-ran after pinch hitter Hank Severeid singled in the ninth inning of a game against the Senators at Griffith Stadium on August 17.
Apparently, Thompson remained with the club the rest of the season. No transactions were reported in the St. Louis papers until the Star announced that the Browns had sold him to the Tulsa Oilers that November.15 In 22 big-league games, Thompson had nine hits, all singles, in 53 at-bats, for a .170 average. He did draw 11 walks, resulting in a .343 on-base average. In addition to three pinch-hitting and three pinch-running appearances, Thompson played 16 games at third, 15 of them starts, and two more at second. He was charged with eight errors in 52 fielding chances.
Back in the familiar Western League, Thompson had another consistent season with Tulsa in 1921. He batted .275 in 137 games, despite missing six weeks owing to a bout of malaria and a broken arm sustained when he was hit by a pitched ball during batting practice. In fact, Thompson included a letter to Tulsa management with his signed contract for 1922, in which he apologized for his performance the previous year and promised even better things for the new season.16 True to his word, Thompson batted .283 in 150 games for Tulsa in 1922. He played one more season for Tulsa, 1923, but his average dropped to .232 in 97 games.
That off-season, on October 18, 1923, Thompson married Agnes Bucher in Joplin, Missouri. The couple had one child, a son named Jack, born February 24, 1935.
Also that off-season, there was a rumor that Thompson would be hired to manage the Muskogee, Oklahoma club of the Western League.17 Instead, though, he continued as an active player, signing with the Des Moines Boosters.18 After batting just .212 in 24 games, he was released in May.19 He thereupon signed on for a third stint with his hometown Joplin Miners20 (the team moved to Bartlesville, Arkansas in June) and hit a career-best .328.
Thompson worked as a lineman for the telephone company during the off-season. That January he sustained a broken arm and severe internal injuries when he fell off a pole. He eventually recovered, but the injuries effectively put an end to his playing career. That March he said, “It’s the first time in thirteen years that I’ve had to sit by and watch the other boys go out, and it’s pretty tough to swallow.”21 Later that spring he was hired to manage the Cushing, Oklahoma Refiners in the Southwestern League. Even though he had not fully recovered from his injuries, Thompson still inserted himself into the Refiners lineup on several occasions. In Cushing, he managed future major-league pitcher Elon “Chief” Hogsett in his rookie season in professional baseball.
Thompson made one more attempt to revive his playing career. In March 1925, he signed with Augusta, Georgia to play for manager Gabby Street, whom he knew from when they were teammates in Joplin a few years earlier.22 It’s not clear how long Thompson lasted in Georgia, but by May he was back managing, this time with McAlester, Oklahoma, where he played earlier in his career.23
Thompson appears to have retired from baseball after that season. By the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, he and his wife Agnes had moved to Tulsa, where he worked as an electrician in an oil refinery. According to city directory listings, the couple was living in Springfield, Missouri in 1935 and 1936. By the next year, though, they and their young son had moved to Joplin, where Frank still worked as an electrician.
Agnes Thompson died in 1938. Frank followed her on June 27, 1940, at the age of 44. He’d been in the Jasper County Tuberculosis Hospital in Webb City. He was survived by his five-year old son Jack, who was living with his late wife’s parents at the time of the 1940 US Census. Frank Thompson was buried at the Fairfield Cemetery in his hometown of Joplin.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb, Russ Walsh, and Rory Costello. It was fact-checked by Evan Katz.
Unless otherwise noted, records from Thompson’s playing career were taken from Baseball-reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and his Sporting News contract card. Family and genealogical information was taken from Ancestry.com.
1 Lou Duffy, “SPORTOGRAMS”, Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, March 31, 1923: 4.
2 “Boneheads and Bingles”, McAlester (Oklahoma), News-Capital August 28, 1915: 6.
3 “Squad of Scouts Give Fighting Oilers 0.0.”, Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, August 22, 1922: 5.
4 “Windsor Baseball Team Won”, Windsor (Missouri) Review, April 18, 1912: 1.
5 Lou Duffy.
6 “Oklahoma Signs Thompson, Forney”, Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, March 2, 1915: 6.
7 “Sioux City Out After Thompson”, Muskogee (Oklahoma) Times-Democrat, January 12, 1915: 9.
8 “Facts and Fancies in Fields of Frolic”, McAlester (Oklahoma) News-Capital, October 14, 1916: 5.
9 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 22, 1917: 31.
10 “Frank Thompson Sold to Wichita W. L. Club”, Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, July 12, 1917:8.
11 “Miners Help Swell Fighting Forces”, News-Capital and Democrat (McAlester, Oklahoma), August 31, 1917: 8.
12 Lou Duffy.
13 “Three New Players Obtained by Locals”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1919: 29.
14 “Thompson Displayed Class Against Cards”, St. Louis Star, April 8, 1920: 24.
15 “Thompson Sold by Browns to Tulsa”, St. Louis Star, November 11, 1920: 21.
16 “Thompson Ready to Go”, Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, February 5, 1922: 17.
17 “Frank Thompson to Manage Muskogee?”, Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), December 29, 1923: 9.
18 “Des Moines Gets Frank Thompson”, Des Moines Tribune, April 4, 1924: 26.
19 “Boosters Release Johnson, Thompson”, Des Moines Register, May 18, 1924: 77.
20 “Frankie Thompson, A Well-Known Player, Goes To Joplin”, Springfield (Missouri) Leader and Press, June 8, 1924: 17.
21 “Frankie Thompson Missing Spring Training for First Time in Thirteen Seasons”, Joplin (Missouri) Globe, March 7, 1925: 7.
22 “Thompson To Spend Season with Street”, Joplin (Missouri) Globe, March 27, 1926: 7.
23 “Frankie Thompson Named Manager of McAlester Team”, Springfield (Missouri) Leader and Press. May 20, 1926: 5.