Tuesday, January 17, 2023

In Memoriam: The Original Frank Thomas (1929-2023)

I follow probably a dozen or more baseball-related groups on Facebook, and one of them is dedicated to announcements of athletes from various sports who have died. I always feel a certain level of sadness when I see these posts, particularly when I knew of the athlete and perhaps cheered for him during his career. In the past year and a half, I have written to some old baseball players, many who once played for the Cubs. One of the most memorable series of correspondence was with Frank Thomas, "The Original One", who played for several teams in the 1950s and through the mid-1960s. 

Thomas passed away Monday morning in Pittsburgh. While I'm sure there are still plenty of old baseball fans who remember Thomas's career, probably thousands more communicated with him through the mail. He was a prodigious autograph signer, replying to anyone who wrote to him. While I'm certain he signed many, many cards for free, it was widely known that he requested $5 per autograph. This was a more than reasonable fee, especially considering he donated the proceeds to various causes, once of which I recall was dedicated to the care of sick children. 

As far as I can gather, Thomas provided personalized notes to everyone who took the time to write to him. I received full page letters on two occasions, an unexpected but much appreciated response that created a connection that didn't match any of the responses I received from other former players, though many of those responses were quite generous in their own right. 

I initially sent Thomas his 1960 Topps card, which he graciously signed:

Thomas seemed so genuine and sincere in his communication that I felt compelled to send an additional $20 or so for an autographed 8x10 photo of his time with the Cubs. In that same mailing, I sent another $5 along with his 1955 Bowman card.

As a testament to his generosity, Thomas each time sent an extra signed card back with the card I sent him. 

He also sent his business card each time. I kind of regret that I never called him, though I don't know what I would have said. I'm sure, though, that he would have gladly answered the call and given of his time to a random fan halfway across the country. Seems like that was just the kind of guy he was. A man of faith with a large family that left a legacy of generosity. Rest in peace, Mr. Thomas.


  1. Great guy. He loved the correspondence and was always so gracious. He certainly will be missed.

  2. It's always sad to hear about someone passing away, but at least Mr. Thomas lived a full life and touched the lives of numerous fans. Those full page letter sound super cool. Now that's what I call interacting with fans.

    By the way... that second "extra" he sent totally looks like one of Nick's (of n j w v) customs. I wonder if Thomas commissioned Nick to make those for him.

  3. He was a card collector! I remember his old web site, he liked to collect Heritage and he had want lists and everything!

  4. Calling him would've been very weird, even if he did give out his number. And it's hard to be too sad for someone that made it to 92, especially one who accomplished a lot more by the age of 35 than the average person ever will by any age.

  5. Cool story and cool to hear how friendly he was with fans. Too bad players today don't seem to be like that but it's a different time for sure.

    Frank Thomas was before my time but he sounds like a great guy!