Hank Thompson began playing Negro League baseball in 1943 as a teen aged outfielder for the Kansas City Monarchs. After that season, his baseball career was interrupted by the military draft. When World War II ended, Thompson not only went back to Negro League baseball as he intended. He followed closely on the coat tails of Jackie Robinson to bring an end to the racial barriers that had kept African American players out of Major League baseball. He had a prodictive nine year Major League career.
Born on December 8, 1925 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the left handed hitting Henry Curtis Thompson played a part in the historic changing of baseball’s face. Jackie Robinson played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League on April 15, 1947 to become the first African American to play in the Major Leagues in the 20th Century. At that time, Hank Thompson was in his second season with the Kansas City Monarchs since returning from the military. On July 5 of that year, Larry Doby played his first game with the Cleveland Indians to become the first African American in the American League.
Seeing the large crowds Jackie Robinson attracted to ballparks, the St. Louis Browns purchased the contracts of Hank Thompson and his teammate Willard Brown from the Monarch. The Browns were the worst team in the American League with attendance below 1,000 fans during many home games. The team’s management hoped having the black players would generate fan interest. Thompson played his first Major League game on July 17. On July 20, he and Brown made history as St. Louis became the first team to field two African American players. The Browns were a bad team, but still only used the black players sparingly and the integration experiment did not attract the crowds as desired. Both Thompson and Brown were released on August 23. Although he did not get a fair opportunity with the Browns, Thompson showed promise hitting .256 in 27 games playing mainly second base. He was only 21 years old and would get another opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.
Thompson returned to the Kansas City Monarchs for the 1948 season. However in 1949 he received his second chance and was signed by the New York Giants. Thompson and Monte Irvin on July 8, 1949 were the first African Americans to play for the Giants. His first full year with the Giants in 1950, Thompson hit .289 with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs while playing 148 games mainly at third base and was considered one of the best in league at that position. But he could also play in the outfield. He was a part of the first, all African American outfield in 1951 with Willie Mays and Monte Irvin when the Giants won the National League pennant and played in the World Series.
In 1954, Thompson hit .263 with 26 home runs and 86 RBIs to help the Giants win the National League pennant. In the team’s World Series sweep of the Cleveland Indians, he hit .364 with seven walks (a four game Series record) and made a spectacular fielding play at third base in Game Three.
After the 1955 season, the career long battle Thompson had with alcoholism dramatically took its toll. He became so unproductive the Giants sent him to the minor leagues late in the 1956 season and he retired from baseball in 1957.
How many former Negro League players participated in the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians?