The Runner Sports

What If Astros’ Dickie Thon Avoids ’84 Beaning? Plus, Cards Await Rise Of AA 2B Dickie Joe Thon

Next to pitcher J.R. Richard‘s mid-1980 stroke during a pre-game sideline tossing, no other on-field tragedy has struck the Houston Astros as hard as the horrific beaning of SS Dickie Thon a handful of games into the 1984 season.

(Note: While pitcher Darryl Kile‘s untimely June 2002 passing from coronary disease happened while he was property of St. Louis, his loss was no less tragic, and affected the Astro family greatly, particularly good pals, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The Astros–who drafted Kile in 1987–have a black #57 memorial plaque placed high above the Minute Maid Park left-field wall honoring Kile.)

The Promise

Traded from the Angels (for whom he made his MLB debut in 1979) to the Astros straight up for Ken Forsch on April 1, 1981, Thon emerged as the starting shortstop in 1982 (at age 24), hitting .276/.327/.397 with a league-high 10 triples as well as 37 stolen bases in 45 attempts. He was touted by many as a future Hall-of-Famer.

Thon’s 1983 is the year that reflects the what-might-have-been in a full season, with his .286/.341/.457 line in 619 ABs. His amazing 28 doubles, 9 triples, and 20 homers prove the speed and power that was packed into a 5’11”, 175-pound body. Echoes of Houston’s Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn, and his 5’9″, 170-pound frame pounding and speeding around that same arid, expansive Astrodome from 1963 through ’73? We’ll never know.

Related: Jose Altuve’s New Power Polishes Memories of Jimmy Wynn

Thon’s 283 total bases ranked 4th in the National League in 1983, while his 177 hits ranked 7th. He was an All-Star and Silver Slugger Award Winner that year, as well.

The fastball from the New York Mets’ Mike Torrez zeroed in on Thon’s face, and plowed into his left cheek, putting an immediate end to his season, and effectively, his career. That fateful pitch broke the orbital bone around Thon’s left eye, leaving him with 20/150 vision in that eye. Though his left-eye vision would eventually improve to 20/40, swelling behind it would radically impair his depth perception for years.

Following his lost 1984 season, he gamely attempted a 1985 comeback, played half the season, and fell well below his previous two years’ Houston output.

Two more years in Houston followed, with Thon experiencing fewer playing minutes, lower numbers, and mounting frustration. After six years spread among the Padres, Phillies, Rangers, and Brewers, Thon retired after the ’93 season.

In 1991 (while with Philadelphia), Thon received the Tony Conigliaro Award in recognition of his recovery from the severe injury similarly suffered by Boston’s “Tony C” in 1967.

In the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James ranked Thon 57th among shortstops, and had this to say about Thon’s career that wasn’t:

“Would Dickie Thon be headed for the Hall of Fame had he not been beaned by Torrez? I think he probably would, yes, at least a 51 percent shot. Thon, only 25 years old, was one of the five best players in the National League in 1983. He had been really good in 1982. He didn’t need to get better than he was to make the Hall of Fame; he just needed to stay at a comparable level for six to eight years. In view of the courage and determination that Thon showed in fighting his way back to become a pretty good player years later, it seems likely he would have done so.”

The Premise

Inspired by the “What If?” feature in the April 17, 2017 issue of Sports Illustrated (and the non-existence, in over 20 pages, of any mention of Astros, past or present), I decided to see what a little math could do to steal a glimpse at the crystal ball, and the future denied Dickie Thon.

Averaging his two full seasons (1982 and ’83) just prior to the 1984 beaning yields totals that might come close to what would have nailed down the Astros’ shortstop position for a number of years, possibly delaying the re-emergence of Craig Reynolds as Houston’s shortstop anchor through the 80s (or maybe inducing a trade of Reynolds).

I took Thon’s two-year average of stats from ’82 and ’83, and treating them as a representative one-season compilation, applied the totals to an imagined 12-year career, one not hampered by a debilitating eye injury, and equaling the number of years he played, beginning with his first full-time season.

While it’s impossible to account for the nagging injuries that routinely plague a player, or the likely, if not inevitable, deterioration of skills, we’ll see what a ballpark approximation of his career may have resembled:

 The Two-Year Numbers, Average New 12-Year Totals
 145 Games 1,740
 558 ABs (613 PAs) 6,696 ABs (7,356 PAs)
 77 Runs 924
 157 Hits 1,884
 30 Doubles 360
 10 Triples 120
 12 Home Runs 144
 58 RBIs 696
 46 BB 552 (7.5%)
 61 Ks 732 (10%)
 36 Stolen Bases 432 (75%)
 12 Caught Stealing 144
 .281 BA
 .334 OBP
 .427 SLG
 .761 OPS

While none of the 12-year totals approach typical Hall of Fame numbers, an extrapolation of several more years might.

Thon, however, was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame on September 13, 2003, at Minute Maid.

Needless to say, the package of talents Dickie Thon (now 58) possessed was singularly unique, and while the theft of his use of those gifts must have been heartbreaking for him, Houston’s and baseball’s fans were all robbed.

The Son Also Rises

A fourth-generation baseball player, Dickie Joe Thon is, like Dad, a middle infielder, although most games find him planted at second base (and an occasional LF) for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A Texas League affiliate in Springfield, MO.

Born in Dickie Thon’s offseason Houston home after the 1991 season (after Dad finished his third year in Philly, and just before his Texas Rangers tenure), Thon the younger attended Academia Perpetuo Socorro High School in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His family has had Puerto Rican roots for several generations. In fact, Dickie Joe is fluent in the language “mash-up” known as Spanglish.

Counting Roberto Clemente as his favorite player, Dickie Joe’s go-to karaoke song is “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee.Image result for dickie joe thonHe was selected by Toronto in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, and then spent several years knocking around the minor leagues and the Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League before St. Louis signed the 25-year-old to a minor league contract two weeks before last Christmas.

Three inches taller than his father (and 15 pounds heavier), Dickie Joe has accumulated these minor league stats after six-plus American minor league years (including half-a-dozen of this season’s AA games, through April 18): .243 BA in 456 games (roughly equal to three full seasons he might play in MLB), with 71 doubles, 15 triples, and 23 home runs.

Dickie Joe has stolen 57 bases in 89 minor league attempts, with an OBP of .320, and a .351 slugging percentage. He’s managed to elude most publications’ Top Prospect Lists, but seems to possess the speed/power combo employed by his father, but on a less prodigious scale.

His first foray into life at the Double-A level, Dickie Joe will likely finish out 2017 at Springfield, with a late-season promotion to the AAA Pacific Coast League Memphis Redbirds a distinct possibility.

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Brad Ramone with (L-R) Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey Ramone, backstage at Houston's Liberty Hall, July, 1977.

Johnny, the Ramones' influential guitarist, who passed away in 2004 at 55, was an avid baseball and New York Yankees fan since childhood. He even once ranked baseball above rock'n'roll in a personal Top 10 List!

Like Johnny, my love for rock is only equaled by my love for baseball and my hometown Houston Astros, present and past!

At TRS, you'll get full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and maybe a little rock'n'roll!
Brad Kyle