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Now Batting for Randy Hundley…

September 11, 2022

Hugh Atkins

Former major-league first baseman Lee Thomas passed away last week. He was an original member of the Atlanta Braves, appearing in 39 games for the team in 1966. Thomas had a decent career, hitting .255 with 106 home runs in eight seasons; he played in both All-Star Games in 1962 while with the Los Angeles Angels. But I remember Thomas as the first player the Braves traded after I started following baseball.

As a seven-year-old baseball fan, I was not familiar with the concept of teams swapping players. But one afternoon in 1966, the Braves were leading the Chicago Cubs late in a game at Wrigley Field when the Braves made a pitching change. The Braves radio announcer said that Ted Abernathy would be the new pitcher. This led to an exchange with my older brother, Cushman, that went something like this:

© THE TOPPS COMPANY, INC

Ted Abernathy?” I said. “Who is he?”

“He’s a pitcher they just got in a trade with the Cubs,” Cush said.

“A trade? You mean they can just swap players? Why would they do that?”

“Well, I guess the Braves figured they needed another relief pitcher, so they traded Lee Thomas to the Cubs for Ted Abernathy.”

“Lee Thomas? Why did the Cubs want him?”

“I guess they needed another bench warmer.

The trade took place on May 28, 1966 while the Braves were in Chicago, so Abernathy and Thomas swapped dugouts in time to play against their former teams. A review of the details from that game on Retrosheet reveals that the trade did not pay immediate dividends for the Braves.

Abernathy took the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning after starter Denny Lemaster gave up a two-run homer to Billy Williams, drawing the Cubs within a run of the Braves. Abernathy walked Ron Santo, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ernie Banks. After Byron Browne grounded out, moving Santo to third, the Cubs sent Thomas to the plate to pinch hit for Randy Hundley. Thomas singled, driving in Santo to tie the game 5-5.

Abernathy settled down and retired the next 11 hitters, but gave up a three-run homer to Santo in the bottom of the 12th inning. I was not sold on the concept of trading players.

Trades also caused confusion in my first year of collecting baseball cards. My brothers and I hoped to get at least one Brave in every pack of cards we opened. Unfortunately, it seemed that every other pack included a Dan Osinski card, which for us was fool’s gold. There Osinski was on a Braves card, but I never had heard of him. I later learned the Braves traded Osinski to the Boston Red Sox during the off-season for Thomas, yet both Osinski and Thomas appeared as Braves in the 1966 Topps set. We tossed these Osinski cards aside with those of John Blanchard and Chris Cannizzaro, who also were on Braves cards despite not being with the team in 1966.

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As a young fan, I never really liked trades. It didn’t help that most of the Braves’ trades early after moving to Atlanta were terrible. There was Ed Mathews for Bob Bruce; Denis Menke and Lemaster for Sonny Jackson; Mack Jones for Deron Johnson; and Tony Cloninger, Clay Carroll, and Woody Woodward for Milt Pappas.

I eventually got used to trades, but I still don’t like them. I prefer the Melvin Nieves for Fred McGriff type of trades where the Braves give up prospects for established stars.

By the way, anybody want to buy a Topps 1966 Dan Oskinski or John Blanchard card?

(All statistics and trade details are from Baseball Referencegame details are from Retrosheet.)

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