‘Mad Dog’ Lee Thomas

Known as ‘Mad Dog’ due to an incident on the Rio Hondo Golf Course that resulted in a three wood being launched into a tree…

Angels Over the Pond founder, Editor and features writer, Matt Thomas, writes on the illustrious heritage of our Angels.

Lee Thomas, a first baseman and outfielder of Illinois, was traded to the Angels in the first Major League Baseball season of 1961, having struggled to make the step up to the New York Yankees big league team, despite putting up respectable numbers in their minor league system. Understandably the Yankees, with the likes of Mickey Mantle amongst their stellar roster, found it difficult to find space for their talented rookie and at one point Thomas even considered walking away, until he eventually made the Major League for three at bats in 1961, prior to being traded away. Thomas hit 50 home runs in his first two seasons with the Angels and was honoured with an All-Star appearance in 1962. Known as ‘Mad Dog’ due to an incident on the Rio Hondo Golf Course that resulted in a three wood being launched into a tree, his playing career was eclipsed by his many years of service to baseball off the field.

Yankees superstars Micky Mantle and Roger Maris reportedly recommended Thomas to the Angels, recognising that despite his skill he was not likely to ever break through fully in New York. As his first full rookie season with the Halos was coming towards its end, Thomas achieved arguably his finest moment as an Angels player. On September 5th 1961, versus the Kansas City Athletics, Thomas achieved nine hits for the Halos in eleven attempts, in the twin bill, equalling a Major League record. In doing so he slugged three home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in eight runners. Not only will Thomas remain forever in the Angels annals of history for hitting their first ever three home run game, he also is in the history books as being the man who hit the first ever Angels grand slam, versus Baltimore Orioles, on June 6th 1961.

Not only will Thomas remain forever in the Angels annals of history for hitting their first ever three home run game, he also is in the history books as being the man who hit the first ever Angels grand slam…

As his career as a player was coming to an end and petered out with pinch hitting roles on a part time basis, and a spell with Nankai Hawks in Japan, Thomas knew he wanted to remain in baseball but not particularly within management. Having spent years in a number of roles, including travelling secretary and bullpen coach, Thomas was given the opportunity to show what he could do by former Yankees teammate Whitey Herzog, who appointed him as director of minor league operations at the St. Louis Cardinals. Thomas went on to be widely recognised as a key member of the Cards operation during a remarkable period of success, when they won National League pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987 alongside the World Series of 1982.

In June 1988 Thomas moved to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he secured the role of vice president for player personnel and was named general manager later that season. On his first day the organisation were last place in the National League East and had finished last in the league in hitting and pitching. Slowly he built up a roster, through shrewd trades and free agent signings, that as he told the Los Angeles Times at the time, reminded him of that 1961 Angels team. From rock bottom Thomas took the Phillies to the 1993 pennant and narrowly missing out on the World Series win, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays. For his efforts he was named Sporting News Executive of the Year.

If you would like to share your own memories of how you became an Angels fan, about Britain’s own baseball heritage or your view on anything Angels related for Views Over the Pond please get in touch.

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