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Top Minor League Hitters in Milwaukee Brewers History: #1 Gorman Thomas, 1977 Spokane

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This spring, I began the ‘Top Minor League Hitters in Milwaukee Brewers History’ series and after six months, we are finally down to the top spot. This player appeared once in the Top 25, placing in the number four spot.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Stormin’ Gorman Thomas.

The Spokane Indians were the Milwaukee Brewers Triple A affiliate for three years (1976-78). The Indians played at Fairgrounds Park, aka Indians Stadium.

Thomas, also known as Spike, was 26 years old, just a bit less than a year older than league average. The home park was a little above average for hitters, so Thomas lost a few ranking points due to those two factors.

#1 Gorman Thomas, 1977 Spokane (AAA)

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The team finished at 75-69, three games behind the Pacific Coast League (PCL) West Division leader Hawaii. East Division champion Phoenix won the PCL title in six games over the Islanders.

Amazingly, Thomas didn’t even get named to the PCL All-Star team.

Gorman had over 775 plate appearances in the bigs between 1973-76, but was sent back to the minors for more development. He made his final minor league year a memorable one.

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Thomas led the league in two major categories and finished runner-up in five others. He paced the league with a slugging average of .640 and with 320 total bases. He trailed only the league leaders in runs scored (114), doubles (41), home runs (36), walks (105), and OPS (1.076).

He was third with 114 RBI and fifth with 161 hits.

The weirdest part of the story was yet to come.

According to Jamey Newberg of the Newberg Report:

"Dan O’Brien Sr., who was the Rangers’ general manager from 1974 through 1978, recalls the impetus for the move, initiated by Brewers GM Harry Dalton, that made Thomas a Ranger. “Harry and I were good friends.“And he needed a favor.”The 1977 season was a breakthrough year for the Rangers. They won 94 games, a total they have surpassed just once (in their third playoff season in 1999). In mid-June, four games back and in third place, Texas sent seldom-used 35-year-old first baseman Jim Fregosi to Pittsburgh for seldom-used 32-year-old first baseman Ed Kirkpatrick. The move didn’t have much of an impact. Over the course of two months, Kirkpatrick got 48 largely unproductive at-bats.The Brewers, for some reason, called Texas two months later and, in spite of being on their way to 95 losses, said they could use Kirkpatrick. On August 20, O’Brien (whose team had been in first place the previous three days, the first time in franchise history that the Rangers held a division lead after May) agreed to send him to the Brewers for a player to be named later. In what would be the final major league action of his career, Kirkpatrick managed to get 77 Milwaukee at-bats over the season’s final six weeks.After the season, Dalton, who still owed Texas the player to be named, asked O’Brien to help him out. The two GM’s agreed that the Kirkpatrick deal didn’t call for a significant return, but Dalton nonetheless needed to clear a roster spot over the winter. He basically asked if the Rangers would stash Thomas on their roster for a few months.“It was purely a friendship deal,” O’Brien says.On October 25, 1977, the Brewers sent Thomas, a big league disappointment coming off a huge AAA season (.322 with 36 homers and 114 RBI in 143 games), to Texas.On February 8, 1978, O’Brien sold Thomas back to Dalton. That year, the 27-year-old Thomas, whose biggest home run output in four big league seasons had been 10, would go deep 32 times. Kindly, however, he only trotted around the bases twice that year against Texas, the team that had owned him – on paper – for 106 days the preceding winter."

So one of strangest deals in big league history sent Thomas away to Texas and then back to Milwaukee 3 1/2 months later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Stormin’ Gorman Thomas is a legend in Milwaukee to this day, and occasionally can be found roaming Miller Park, signing autographs and mingling with fans.

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