Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#150 Jason Thompson

Who is this player?
Jason Thompson, first baseman, Detroit Tigers
When he began the 1980 season in a slump, Jason Thompson found himself traded to the California Angels in May. He was hitting .214 at the time of the trade and was coming off a 1979 season that saw his offensive production slip. In his first Angel appearance, Jason hit a three run double as a pinch-hitter to win a game against Texas. Comfortable with his playing situation in Anaheim, Thompson rebounded to hit .317 as an Angel with 17 HR and 70 RBI. However, with Rod Carew manning first base and Don Baylor returning from injury, Thompson's playing time with California was to be effected.

Born in Hollywood, California, Thompson went to California State University and was originally a pitcher when an injury moved him to first base. Drafted in the fourth round in 1975 by the Detroit Tigers, the lefthand hitting Thompson was given the Tigers' first base job within ten months. During his 1976 rookie campaign, he showed some power, hitting 17 home runs (the most by a Tiger rookie in 40 years) but batted only .217. He flew under the radar a bit, in the shadow of Mark Fidrych's memorable year, but still made the Topps All-Rookie Team.

During the next two seasons (1977-78), Thompson emerged as a significant power threat and was selected to the American League All Star team both years. He averaged 28 HR and 100 RBI during that span and developed a reputation for prodigious blasts by crushing two home runs that cleared the roof in Tiger Stadium. At the time, he was only the third player to accomplish the feat twice and earned him the nickname "Rooftop." However, he slumped in 1979 when he drove in only 79 runs and batted .246.

Shortly before the 1981 season opened, the Angels were looking to trade Thompson and he was originally headed to the Mets for John Stearns before the deal fell through. Instead, he was swapped to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He regained All Star status in Pittsburgh when he was selected to the 1982 All Star Game and again clubbed 31 home runs and drove in 101. Jason spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, and was a productive major league first baseman averaging 22 HR and 85 RBI. He began to suffer hamstring injuries late in his Pirate tenure and his production dipped.

Before the 1986 season began, Thompson was traded to the Montreal Expos. He appeared in only 15 games with Montreal and he could not overcome his injuries. His 11-year career was at its end. He returned to Michigan upon his retirement and is a fixture at Tiger Fantasy Camps. He also splits time running Jason Thompson Baseball where kids can get hitting and fielding instruction and as an executive with Wachovia Securities.

Why I love this card
Like most young Tiger fans, when Jason Thompson was traded in 1980, I was shocked. I remember getting his card later in the summer after the trade. Usually a Tiger card would elicit excitement and pride. You showed everyone the Tiger you got in a pack. My reaction was similar to the one Thompson showed in this card. Probably the same facial expression. It was one of the first times that the reality of the game slapped me in the face. Guys get traded. Even ones you get attached to. Get over it. He would be the first of many.

Something else....
Apparently, Gene Autry of the Angels was disappointed that the Angels didn't originally sign Thompson when he grew up in their own backyard. He instructed his front office to obtain him whenever the opportunity arose. Later on, he was supposed to go to the Yankees in a three-team trade with the Angels and Pirates. When the Pirates and Angels couldn't agree on players, he stayed in Pittsburgh. There's omething that you aren't going to find at baseball-reference.com. Just kidding.


  1. Jason Thompson was the man. The Tiges got Al Cowens for him, who's only significant moment was picking a fight with Ed Farmer. When you compare him to all the crap we had at 1st base from 80-84, you have to say it is one of the worst trades in Tiger history.


  2. I loved Richie Hebner, but 1980 was his only good year. There was also Ron Jackson, Enos Cabell, Rick Leach, Tim Corcoran, John Wockenfuss, Mike Laga and Mike Ivie who all appeared at first in some capacity before Darrell Evans showed up.

    I had heard that there was friction between Thompson and Sparky Anderson and that he (along with LeFlore and Kemp) were part of the "my way or the highway" contingent. Couldn't find anything to substantiate it though.

  3. I was also one of those Detroit kids that was crushed when Jason Thompson was traded... My dad was always a "tall tales" kind of guy when I was a kid... and also being named Jason, one of my formative baseball-fan memories was my dad telling people I was named after the Tigers first baseman. This of course was poppycock, as I was born a full year and a half before Thompson was even drafted... but I don't recall anybody ever calling out my dad... Years later the story of my name was that he and my mom's first date was the movie "Jason and the Argonauts"... but that's bupkis as well... seeing that movie was released five years before him and my mom even met. I don't know how this became a yarn about my dad... so I'll stop now.

  4. i played little league with jason, (different team) went to grade, junior high and high school with him in apple valley ca. knew his sisters, rode their horses and swam in their pool. its really good to see he's viewed as a hero to you guys.