Hanlon: Dickie Thon: Lost greatness, scar tissue, and survival

From Greg Hanlon at VICE Sports on May 7, 2015:

In the Houston Astrodome, the sound of bat striking ball wasn’t so much a crack but a dull thud. The dome was a notorious pitcher’s park, it’s huge, plastic grass outfield swallowing fly balls, its cavernous depths making it hard to track the ball from the pitcher’s hand.

Dickie Thon stepped onto that plastic grass and into the batter’s box for his second plate appearance of the day. It was the Astros’ fifth game of the 1984 season. He assumed his normal coiled stance, leaning in, his front foot nearly touching home plate. He had come up with the Angels, where he was teammates with Don Baylor, who for years held the modern-day record for being hit by pitches. Baylor had told him to stake his claim to the inside edge of the plate. His lightning quick wrists meant he was entitled to that space just like he was entitled to his burgeoning greatness.

Thon remembers what happened next as another dull Astrodome thud. The ball ran up and in, and up and in—home plate umpire Doug Harvey said it moved 10 inches—and hit Thon’s earflap and then socked him on the orbital bone above the left eye, fracturing it. The broken bone would heal, but the scar tissue that built up behind Thon’s retina, rendering him nearly blind in that eye, would remain. With that, Thon went from being a potential Hall of Famer to a hard luck journeyman.

It kept happening: The ball riding in toward his face, chasing him, Thon realizing what was happening but powerless to move. He had leaned out over the plate again, had guessed outside half, had disrespected the pitcher, had been too sure of himself, and now he was about to pay the price for his hubris.

Read the full article here: https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/lost-greatness-scar-tissue-and-survival-the-life-of-baseballs-brief-superstar-dickie-thon

Originally published: May 7, 2015. Last Updated: May 7, 2015.