In Praise of Jason Thompson

I’m a bit full of the nostalgia today. I have a weird quest to acquire every regular issue baseball card for every Pirate player from 1952 to 1993. I want not just the cards that show them in a Bucco uniform, but every single card ever issued to them whether they were a Cub, Cardinal or Royal on the front of the card and became a Pirate later in their or had been a Pirate earlier in their career. I’m way more than half way there, but the bulk (or at least the expense) of the work has yet to be done as my collection essentially starts in the early 1970s. Thankfully, I have previously acquired all of the regular issue cards of the big three – Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski. But all of those other 1950’s cards have yet to find their way to my basement.

I recently won an ebay auction that is allowing me to purchase a number of the 1981 Topps Traded cards that I’m lacking. By this week I will have in my possession the 1981 Topps Traded cards of Gary Alexander, Rick Reuschel, Richie Zisk and Jason Thompson, to name a few.

That purchase got me to thinking about Jason Thompson and how quickly people soured on him in Pittsburgh. After being acquired from California for Ed Ott and Mickey Mahler, Thompson spent the strike shortened 1981 season playing first as Stargell’s age rapidly caught up to him. 1982 saw him hit 30 homers, knock in 100 runs and make the All-Star team. Along the way he became among only a handful of players (at that time) to slug 30 dingers in both leagues.

Unfortunately, it was a quick trip downhill for Thompson. His home run total, RBI total, slugging percentage and batting average declined each of the next three seasons until he was replaced at first base at the end of 1985 by the newly acquired Sid Bream. At the end of Spring Training in 1986, Thompson was traded to Montreal for two career minor leaguers. He was released in June by the Expos and never again appeared in the Majors. Although I don’t have my collection of Sporting News handy, it seems like he suffered some knee problems and that hastened his decline.

Here’s the crazy thing: Thompson’s 1985 season, though certainly not stellar ranks in the top five seasons for OPS+ for Pirate first basemen (min 100 games at 1B) since 1990. So, Thompson’s worst season in a Pirate uniform would be among the best among the myriad of first baseman who have suited up in the last 20 years.

Jason Thompson 1985 – 111 OPS+
Sid Bream 1990 – 124 OPS+
Orlando Merced 1991 – 119 OPS+
Orlando Merced 1992 – 104 OPS+
Kevin Young 1993 – 73 OPS+
Mark Johnson 1996 – 111 OPS+
Kevin Young 1998 – 108 OPS+
Kevin Young 1999 – 127 OPS+
Kevin Young 2000 – 86 OPS+
Kevin Young 2001 – 80 OPS+
Kevin Young 2002 – 90 OPS+
Daryle Ward 2005 – 89 OPS+
Adam LaRoche 2007 – 109 OPS+
Adam LaRoche 2008 – 122 OPS+
Garrett Jones 2010 – 93 OPS+

Thompson was the subject of a ‘Where are the Now?’ piece in the Post-Gazette a few years back. He homered in what is now a legendary game in Pittsburgh: Bob Prince’s return to the broadcast booth in a 5/3/85 contest against the Dodgers. He now runs a baseball academy.

So, here’s to a guy who could draw a walk and hit a ball a long way.

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