Dan Thomas was born on Wednesday, May 9, 1951, in Birmingham, Alabama. Thomas was 25 years old when he broke into the big leagues on September 2, 1976, with the Milwaukee Brewers. His biographical data, year-by-year hitting stats, fielding stats, pitching stats (where applicable), career totals, uniform numbers, salary data and miscellaneous items-of-interest are presented by Baseball Almanac on this comprehensive Dan Thomas baseball stats page.
"Nicknamed The Sundown Kid because of his religious beliefs which prohibited him from playing sundown on Fridays until sundown on Saturdays, Danny never achieved the stardom that could have been his had he played on an everyday basis in the majors. Danny hit .325 with 29 HR and 83 RBI at Pittsfield (Eastern) in 1976 but his major league career was not as glamorous as he was not able to stick with the Brewers on a part-time basis." - Fritsch, Inc. (One-Year Winners Baseball Card #100, Danny Lee Thomas , 1983)
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Danny Thomas sacrificed his career for his God, found peace on the baseball field, but struggled mightily with his demons away from the diamond.
Danny Thomas | 1977 Topps Baseball Card (#488 | Checklist ) | Baseball Almanac Collection
The Sundown Kid appeared on his first baseball card in 1977, seen above, sharing it with three other outfielders; Jack Clark (18 Years | 4x All-Star), Ruppert Jones (12 Years | 2x All-Star), and Lee Mazzilli (14 Years | 1x All-Star). Thomas' story is much different, quite disturbing, ends in suicide , and was brilliantly written by Mike Chamness:
Danny Thomas' haunting words, self-destruction...
"Everyone was happy except me. I wondered if baseball was the sole purpose of my existence." - Danny Thomas
Danny Thomas' words are haunting.
You might remember him as the "Sundown Kid" - the Milwaukee Brewer clean-up hitter who would not play from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. That story made national headlines.
His death rated only a couple paragraphs in "The Sporting News," and even then the story was almost two months late.
Thomas, 29, died June 12, 1980, an apparent suicide. He was found hanged in a Mobile, Ala., jail where he was awaiting trial on charges of attempted rape involving a 12-year-old baby-sitter.
The Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register dutifully reported the bare circumstances surrounding Thomas' death. There was no mention of Danny Thomas the baseball player who only three years earlier had commanded such attention. As an apparent suicide, he didn't even rate an obituary.
It's almost as if Danny Thomas - the baseball player from Dupo who earned All-America status at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1972 and eventually made it all the way to the big leagues - never existed.
Some pro baseball players admit they live in a fantasy world, a world in which grown men play a boy's game for salaries that stagger the mind. They are idolized by fans who live out their sports fantasies vicariously.
Baseball apparently was Danny Thomas' fantasy world. Certainly it seemed to dominate his life, and in the final analysis, when his dream world evaporated, Thomas went with it.
The first time I talked to Thomas was in 1977, after the Brewers had demoted him to the minor leagues. He thought his demotion was because of his religious beliefs.
In an interview, he revealed that he had tried to kill himself with an overdose of muscle relaxants. He said he had become depressed.
"Everyone was smiling, patting me on the back and saying, 'Dan, you've made it. Your name and picture are in the paper, and you even hit a home run off Catfish Hunter .' Everyone was happy except me. I wondered if baseball was the sole purpose of my existence."
Only months before his first attempt at suicide, Thomas had been named the Most Valuable Player of the Class AA Eastern League. He was called up to the major leagues by the Brewers in September of 1976 and hit a respectable .276 with four homers and 15 RBI in only 32 games.
There were early warning signs that Thomas had problems coping. In 1975, he punched an Eastern League umpire and was suspended from baseball the last half of that season.
After his suicide attempt and psychiatric care, Thomas embraced the World Wide Church of God, a church he said he had been forced to attend as a youngster.
His religious belief dictated that man should not work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the hours set aside as the Sabbath.
"It became a big issue," he said in that 1977 interview. "Every town I went to, the reporters blew it up. The publicity hurt me more than the actual religious belief and laying out two games a week. It began a drawing-away process whereby my teammates began to think of me as the 'Sundown Kid' instead of Danny Thomas.
Thomas said he thought an incident in California early in the 1977 season may have cost him a major league baseball career. He said he had spent a Saturday afternoon with friends at church and later at a restaurant. He said he gave no thought to the fact that the Brewers were scheduled to play a night game against the California Angels at Anaheim until the Sabbath had ended. He said it was already dark when he and his friends emerged from the restaurant. En route to the game he heard on a friend's car radio that he was supposed to be hitting cleanup in the Brewers lineup. He arrived at the game in the fifth inning.
Thomas was hitting .271 with two home runs and 11 RBI at the time in May of 1977. Within two weeks, he was sent down to Spokane, the Brewers ' Class AAA club.
He accepted that demotion - just as he had accepted the fact that the Brewers had cut his salary by two-sevenths for refusing to play two days a week - but he always insisted he was being punished for his religious beliefs.
Thomas hit only .236 at Spokane, and, in August of 1977, he called his own press conference - to the utter shock of the Brewer organization - and announced his retirement from baseball when the Brewers tried to send him another rung lower, to their Class AA team in Holyoke, Mass.
Thomas had signed a pro baseball contract in 1973 after his sophomore season at SIU-C. The Brewers had made him their first-round draft choice. He holds the now-empty honor of being the only Saluki baseball player ever to be a first-round selection.
When he retired from baseball, Thomas was only 26 - married with a 4-year-old daughter and a baby son. He had no university degree or marketable skill other than being able to hit the daylights out of a baseball. He had no job.
Eventually, Thomas landed a job as a riveter at a tractor-trailer company in Spokane. However, he said he lost that job, too, because he wouldn't work Friday night or Saturday.
Milwaukee Brewers President Bud Selig, interviewed at the time, termed Thomas' "a tragic story. I know a lot of people are mad at us because of what they think we've done to him, but I would prefer to see us get ripped up if we could really help him. That's what is really important. He's a nice kid who wants to do the right thing."
In a later interview, Thomas told of how the Brewers had seen to it that he got psychiatric care after his first attempt at suicide, how they paid the bills and took care of his family - and of his second, perhaps intentional, brush with death, this time roaming a busy freeway near a hospital at which he was a patient.
The subject of the second interview, in June of 1978, was that Thomas had announced his return to baseball with an independent team in Boise, Idaho, at the lowest rung of pro baseball. Ten months had passed since he had "retired."
A spokesman for the Boise Buckskins said he had heard of Thomas' abilities and finally had tracked him down. Thomas was living in the backwoods area of Spokane with his family in a house with no electricity. He agreed to play for $500 a month, payable four months out of the year.
That comeback attempt failed, as did a later attempt wit a team at Miami in a new, not-long-to-last Inter-American League.
I lost track of Thomas after that - that's the nature of the business, his and mind - until someone brought the "Sporting News" obituary to my attention.
The detective who investigated Thomas' death in Mobile, a man named Rivers Johnson, knew only sketchy details of Thomas' background. He told me Thomas had been separated from his wife, living with his children in Mobile, and working as a laborer for a swimming pool company there. The detective said he had heard something about Thomas having been a professional baseball player or something like that.
He said records showed that Thomas was arrested and charged on June 1 after a high-speed automobile chase. His court date for the alleged attempted rape was postponed twice and, at about 3 p.m. on June 12, a jailer found Thomas dead in his isolation cell, hanging from his bunk by shreds of his own clothing.
Everyone was happy but me. I wondered if baseball was the sole purpose of my existence."
What makes Thomas' words so chilling is that they don't just apply just to him or just to professional athletes or just to movie stars. In all walks of life, people run the risk of being engulfed by their careers.
Was baseball the only reason for Danny Thomas' existence?
Pathetically, he found his answer in that isolation cell.
Source: Mike Chamness. Sports Editor. The Southern Illinoisan. August 3, 1980. Page 16.
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Last-Modified: April 11, 2020 5:35 AM EST