|WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM ...|
|WAS A DAMNED SHAME.|
THE FRONT PAGE
- The third of the holy trinity of "What if?'' players. Dickie Thon, like Tony Conigliaro and J.R. Richard before him, was a superstar in the making felled by tragedy. Thon, like Conigliaro in 1967, was beaned in '84. Thon, unlike Richard who suffered a stroke in '80 during his prime and never pitched in the majors again, came back the next year from a fractured left orbital bone to play nine more seasons and 15 overall. But he was never the same, going from starter to role player. Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract estimated Thon, 25 in '84, had a 51 percent chance of making the Hall of Fame before the beaning, based on his rapidly improving skills and the determination shown to play again.
THE BACK PAGE
- Fred Thon was in the Dodgers' organization and played winter ball with Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin. Thon would later manage in Puerto Rico, where the family was from.
- Always thought the arms spread wide set position for infielders was a bit peculiar. Seems like you see most infielders with their hands close together, weight on the balls of the feet. Whatever works, I guess, even though Brooksie would disagree.
- Thon was signed by the Angels as a non-drafted free-agent in '75 and skipped Double-A to play in Triple-A by '77.
- Spent parts of the '79 and '80 seasons with the Angels before being traded to the Astros in April '81 for pitcher Ken Forsch.
- In '82, his first full season, Thon led the NL in triples with 10, slashing .276/.327/.397 with a 110 OPS+. He also stole 37 bags. Combined with above average defense at short, the leadoff hitter was worth 6.1 wins above replacement.
- Thon was even better in '83, making the All-Star team, hitting a career-high 20 homers with 34 steals, slashing .286/.341/.457. He had an OPS+ of 127 and a 7.4 WAR. Clearly, the sky was the limit.
- Then came April 8, 1984, in a game against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Striking out in the first inning on an outside pitch from Mike Torrez, Thon came up in the third and said he crowded the plate, expecting Torrez to continue to work outside. Torrez came in, with the ball accidentally riding up. Season over and many who witnessed it thought career over.
- Thon's vision was 20/150 in his left eye and eventually improved to 20/40, but most disconcerting was the permanent damage to his depth perception.
- Despite his handicap, Thon made it back the next season, but his days as a starting shortstop for the Astros were over.
- For the next three years, he battled eye fatique and experimented with different stances to compensate for his eyesight.
- Had a nice comeback season in '89 with the Phillies, belting 15 homers, driving in 60 and playing in 136 games, the most since his All-Star season in '83.
- In '91, he was awarded the Tony Conigliaro Award, which honors a player who best overcomes adversity.
- Tony C and Dickie T. ... Man, what if?