Since Sam Thompson didn’t play during the 21st century, not many Phillies fans are going to be very familiar with his career.
Well, actually, Sam Thompson didn’t even play ball during the 20th century, at least not in a Phillies uniform.
Samuel Luther Thompson played 15 seasons in Major League Baseball, a full decade of that spent with the Phillies from 1889-98. Nicknamed “Big Sam” because of his unusual height for the period (6’2″), Thompson played mostly right field.
Per Don Thompson for SABR, Sam was born the fifth of 11 children. His maternal great-grandfather had fought in the Revolutionary War under George Washington’s nephew, and his father fought in the Civil War with the Union army.
It was during the Civil War that his father, Jesse, had learned to play baseball. Jesse and other returning soldiers brought the game back to Indiana with them at the war’s conclusion, and young Sam would learn the game as most kids still do today, from his father.
When a traveling team from Indianapolis came through his hometown of Danville one day in 1884, Sam impressed with two long blasts in leading the local squad to a 9-0 win over the professional visitors. He was signed to a contract that very day, beginning his pro career.
Sam would reach the big leagues with the Detroit Wolverines in 1885, putting his power and speed combo on display immediately.
In his second full season of 1887, Thompson led the National League with 203 hits, 23 triples, and 166 RBI while also banging double-digit home runs, not common in that day. He became the very first professional player to record a 200-hit season that year.
After winning a championship in 1887, the Detroit club was folding under financial strain. On October 16, 1888, Thompson’s contract was purchased by the Phillies from Detroit for the price of $5,000.
He also got married that off-season, with he and his wife deciding to settle in Detroit, where they would remain for the rest of their lives.