It was the kind of smart, no-risk signing a guy like John Schuerholz built his career on. John Thomson‘s came to the Braves as a veteran expected to be steady at the bottom of the rotation. He played for five teams in ten major league seasons, started a postseason game, and was once traded for, among others, disappointing Mets outfielder Jay Payton. Thomson wore the journeyman label on his sleeve and ran with it. Unfortunately, injuries ultimately curtailed what probably wouldn’t have been a better career – but certainly a longer one.
|Thomson pitches during his short 2004 NLDS |
start (Jamie Squire | (Getty Images Sport)
Born on the first of October in 1973 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Thomson would later go to high school in Louisiana and played for both Blinn College and McNeese State. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1993 draft by the Rockies – the second draft of the young franchise’s history. Baseball-Reference ranks Thomson as the second-best player, according to WAR, that the Rockies drafted out of their first three drafts behind Craig Counsell. Lucky they got Todd Helton to open the 1995 draft because their early drafts were awful.
Thomson looked pretty good at times in the minors, though he was a little too hittable. Still, in his fifth year professionally, he was already on the cusp of the bigs and made his major league debut on May 11, 1997. He would throw seven innings with one earned run – at Coors Field – and wouldn’t be going back to the minors again that season. He lost that game, by the way. He took the L in his first four outings before throwing his first complete game against the Marlins on June 1 to get his first win. His second came ten days later against the Braves, though a nine-run outburst definitely helped. On August 6th, Thomson tossed a four-hitter at Shea Stadium. It was the first of three shutouts for Thomson in the bigs. Overall, Thomson finished with a 4.71 ERA, but a respectable 4.02 FIP.
Thomson’s numbers took a step back in 1998 as he finished the season with a 4.81 ERA, 4.47 FIP, and spent a little time on the DL. That would become a pretty common thing. In 1999, Thomson was awful and finished the season with a 8.04 ERA in the majors, a 9.41 ERA in the minors, and an arm injury that would limit him to four minor league starts in 2000. He appeared in 26 games total in 2001, though it wasn’t until August that he was able to stick in the majors. His two highlights of the year came in the season’s final two games. Against the Brewers in Coors Field, he tossed a five hitter with 9 K’s to win 10-0. He would strikeout 12 against the Padres six days later, which would serve as his career high. His efforts were a little overshadowed, even though he got the win, by an event in the bottom of the first. Rickey Henderson hit a double to right field and would later score. He was removed after the first. He had already made history and probably only played to reach his 3,000th hit. This game also served as Tony Gwynn‘s final game. He pinch-hit in the ninth and grounded out. To put a final bow on this…Juan Uribe, playing shortstop, hit a pair of homers in the win and drove in 5. Uribe’s been around for awhile.
Thomson opened 2002 with the Rockies and started 21 games, but the thing about fifth starters – you aren’t that anxious to keep them and contending teams with a hole at the bottom of their rotation absolutely love them. With that in mind, the Rockies sent Thomson to the Mets and away from the organization he had been a part of for nine years. Four other players were part of the deal, though Jay Payton’s the biggest name. At the time this trade happened, the Mets were 55-51 and while the East was a pipedream (they trailed by 13.5 games on July 31), they hoped to get in the playoff hunt. A 12-game losing streak in mid-August killed any chances the Mets would make the playoffs. Thomson started two of those games and lost both.
After the year, Thomson signed with the Texas Rangers and did something he didn’t do a lot of in his career. He stayed healthy. He started 35 games and eclipsed 200 innings for the first time. His 4.13 FIP was the best since his rookie year and he hit free agency at the right time. Atlanta was closing the door on Greg Maddux and was looking for someone to bring a little consistency to the bottom of the rotation. Thomson finished second on the team in starts and innings pitched while setting career lows in ERA (3.72) and FIP (3.90). The Braves faced the Astros (as they seemed to do every year in the playoffs). After the Braves failed in Game 1, they came from behind to beat the Astros on a walk-off two-run homer by Rafael Furcal. Game 3 was in Houston. Thomson’s big moment was short-lived, though, as he left after facing just three batters and getting one out with a strained muscle. The Braves would go on to lose 8-5 and ultimately lost the series in Game 5.
In the Baby Brave year of 2005, Thomson got off to a good start and tossed his only complete game in a winning effort against the Astros on May 5, but by May 16th, he was headed to the DL. He returned that August and was steadily inadequate down the stretch. In his defense, he did do his best to make up for his early exit the previous year against the ‘Stros in the playoffs and tossed two scoreless in Game 4 of the NLDS – exactly a year after his injury. It was his only postseason appearance of the series, the last of his career, and when Chris Burke happened in the 18th, it was the last time I believed in God. Only half-kidding.
Injuries (surprise, surprise) limited Thomson to 80.1 ING in his final season with the Braves, but even when he was on the mound, he wasn’t too good. He signed with the Jays after the year, but didn’t make it to the majors for them and was ultimately released. What did former Braves do back then? They signed with Dayton Moore and the Royals. Thomson would start two games with the Royals – one good and one not so good. Kinda mimics his career. His outing against the White Sox on July 1 was his final game in the majors.
After retiring, Thomson returned home to Sulphur, Louisiana. I haven’t seen much in terms of post-retirement happenings. He has taken part in some charity softball events, but that’s about it. Which is sad because Thomson’s just not that interesting.