Baseball success starts with honesty for Lee Thomas

Lee Thomas told his wife to get up. He wanted to leave.

Photo by Brett McMillan
Lee Thomas addresses students at Lindenwood University Nov. 2. Thomas currently is a special assistant to Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette.

She was confused why her husband, then general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, wanted to leave game six of the 1993 World Series with his team leading 6-5.

Thomas had been in professional baseball since he was 18. He knew what was coming, and he was just being honest.

What happened next at Rogers Center, Thomas said he still sees during his sleep sometimes.

Toronto Blue Jays’ outfielder Joe Carter hit a World Series winning, walk-off three run home run. The ball beat the Thomases out of the ballpark.

“It was like somebody hit me over the head with a hammer,” Thomas said.

Carter’s home run off Phillies’ closer Mitch Williams ended Thomas’ only appearance in the World Series as a general manger.

Eleven years earlier he won the only World Series of his career when he was Farm Director for the St. Louis Cardinals under GM-manager Whitey Herzog.

“Whitey always told me one thing, if you don’t lie to any of the players you don’t have to worry about what you said when you lay your head down,” Thomas said. “And boy, I agree with that one-hundred percent.”

Bing Devine gave Thomas his first job with the Cardinals during the 1970s. He moved up from the minors, and eventually found himself making the rounds of the Cardinals minor league affiliates by the time Herzog arrived.

Thomas said those in the Cardinal organization trusted each other. Before Thomas finalized a decision to release a minor leaguer he would call the Cardinals’ Director of Scouting, Freddie McAlister. Thomas would not make a final decision until after the pair had talked about it.

The teamwork philosophy traveled with Thomas to Philadelphia when he was hired as the Phillies GM in 1988. He said having people he could trust to evaluate talent and give him advice about players was key.

Scouting convinced Thomas to bring several marquee players to Philadelphia. Curt Schilling was one example.

“He got us to the World Series, and somebody asked me, ‘What are your real thoughts on Curt Schilling?’ And I said, ‘I’ll tell you one thing. I like him every fifth day,’ ” Thomas said.

Outfielder Lenny Dykstra was another one of Thomas’ signature trades. He was traded from the Mets to the Phillies in 1989 after the Mets grew tired of his antics. Thomas said sometimes he would call Lenny up to the “principal’s office” when complaints arose, but overall he liked Dykstra.

Even after Thomas and Dykstra were both no longer in Philadelphia, Thomas still had to deal with the ramifications of Dykstra’s behavior.

In 2006, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was commissioned by Major League Baseball to do an investigation on steroid use in MLB. They called Thomas in to talk about Dykstra.

Thomas was honest about what happened one day when Phillies’ manager Jim Fregosi called him to the clubhouse to watch Dykstra put on a weight lifting show.

“I went up to him and said, ‘Lenny, you look great. What did you do?’ He said, ‘Oh, I worked out. I worked real hard.’ He said, ‘I took some great vitamins.’ And that was it. I didn’t say no more, because at that time [steroids] wasn’t that prevalent,” Thomas said.

Photo by Brett McMillan
Orioles special assistant Lee Thomas shows off his 1993 National League Championship ring at Lindenwood University Nov. 2. Thomas was the general manager of the Phillies in 1993 when they won 97 games, and were beat by the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series.

After being fired by the Phillies in 1997, Thomas went to work for the Boston Red Sox as a special assistant to GM Dan Duquette.

Thomas played a role in signing both outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez for the Boston Red Sox.

“Manny is an incredible hitter, and at that time the numbers he was putting up were just sick. I mean he was slugging .600,” Matthew Kory, Red Sox Blogger said.

Duquette was replaced by Theo Epstein in 2002. Epstein, then 28, was the youngest GM in Major League history. While Duquette and Thomas relied heavily on reports collected by scouts, Epstein centered his philosophy around sabermetrics and computers.

Thomas displayed his trade mark honesty, and decided Boston was no longer the place for him.

“Theo Epstein is very good. I think I could have stayed. I know I could have stayed, but I just felt like I had a chance to go do something better, and do more baseball work,” Thomas said. “It was almost like I wasn’t used enough. Let’s put it that way. That’s why I felt like I didn’t want to stay any longer.”

Milwaukee was the next stop. He was a scout for the Brewers from 2002 to 2008. Then, he took a break from the game for four years. He even stopped watching games regularly on television.

The four year hiatus from baseball was broken by his old boss from Boston, Dan Duquette.

Duquette had an interview for the Baltimore Orioles’ GM position. He told Thomas that if he got the job he was going to hire him as a special assistant.

“Around midnight I get a text on my phone. It said, ‘We be back.’ I knew he got the job then,” Thomas said. “But it was fantastic, and we lost 93 games [in 2011], and we won 93 [in 2012].”

Dan Connolly, Orioles beat writer for the Baltimore Sun, said people in Baltimore were aware of Thomas’ reputation when his signing was announced.

“He has got a real keen eye for scouting. He is one of those guys that can figure out ballplayers,” Connolly said. “He has got a good sense of what it takes to be a big leaguer. I think his scouting eye is considered one of his strengths.”

Thomas commutes to Baltimore several times a summer, but lives in St. Louis, Mo. where he attended high school. He started his MLB playing career after being drafted out of Beaumont High School.

Thomas said he enjoyed his eight year playing career, but working in the front office is better.

In typical Thomas fashion, if asked why he gives an honest answer.

“When I go out and throw a baseball I don’t miss playing,” Thomas said. “Because my arm hurts.”


About brettmcmillan

Believer. Broadcaster. Story Teller.

Posted on November 9, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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