Although Big Gorm didn’t hit for the lofty averages of guys like Gwynn, Boggs and Carew, he put on power displays that left the aforementioned Judy-hitters in awe. A burly looking, stout man from South Carolina, Thomas didn’t look the part of a center fielder but he was better than serviceable. Thomas could hawk balls quite well and unlike swift center fielders of his day, he offered big-time power. Gorman led the American League in homeruns twice and was denied a third title in 1981 courtesy the player’s strike–he finished fifth that year but Gorm could have made a run and ended atop the leader board had it been a usual 162 game season.
Originally a first round draft choice by the one-year-in-existence Seattle Pilots, Thomas spent his amateur days as an infielder but was converted to the outfield in the minors. The Pilots relocated to Milwaukee and became the Brewers and Gorman would eventually become the franchise’s best slugger. Gorman received his first trial in the Majors in 1973 but he failed to impress with 61 strikeouts in just 155 at-bats. High strikeout totals were always a concern with Thomas but his occasional moon-tower blasts were a decent enough tradeoff.
After hitting .261 in a late season look in 1974, Gorman became a regular in 1975. That year he reached double-digits in homeruns for the first time but his batting average of .179 made Brewers brass feel he’d never hit well enough at the Major League level. He didn’t dispel their concerns in ’76 when his slugging average fell off and he again failed to hit .200. But the Brewers were patient and Gorman rewarded them with a breakout season in 1978. That season Gorman ripped 32 homeruns and led the American League in at-bats per homerun with 14.1. Although he fanned 133 times, he offset that total with 73 walks which bumped his on-base percentage up to the respectable mark of .351.
In 1979, Gorman led the American League with 45 homeruns. This output established a Brewers record that held until Prince Fielder recently broke it. The big basher had his most productive season that year as he drove in 123 runs and scored 97 more. He may have led the league with 175 strikeouts, but with an at-bats per homerun output of 12.4 (a league leading stat) every whiff came with the realization that Big Gorm would soon rip one. In the outfield, Thomas finished second among center fielders in fielding percentage and had the third highest total of putouts among outfielders.
With the new decade came more production from Thomas. He set a personal high with 150 base hits in 1980 while clubbing 38 homeruns with 105 RBI. The following year Gorman was named to his only All-Star team as he finished fifth in homeruns in the strike shortened ’81 season. The Brew Crew nevertheless made the postseason, and true to form, Gorman clobbered a homerun in the Division Series against the Yankees, but the Bronx Bombers prevailed and ventured to the ALCS. Thanks to the strike, Big Gorm was denied a chance to string together four straight 100 RBI campaigns. He drove in 123 in 1979, 105 in 1980 and in ’82, the year after the strike, Gorman chased 112 mates across the dish.
The 1982 season was a magical one for the Brewers. They made their first World Series that season and Thomas played an integral part in the team’s success. The club, nicknamed Harvey’s Wallbangers, after skipper Harvey Kuenn, romped to the World Series with Gorman leading the American League with 39 dingers. The powerful center fielder slugged over .500 for the third time in his career and also crossed the plate 96 times. Gorman smashed a homerun in the ALCS against the Angels but failed to take St. Louis pitchers deep in a World Series loss to the Cardinals. The next year the Brewers would send their prolific power hitter packing.
After a rough start to the 1983 season, Gorman was sent to the Indians for southpaw Rick Waits and his center field successor Rick Manning. Manning, a swift, slap-hitter, was more the prototypical center fielder than Gorman was but not half the run producer Big Gorm had been. After the season he was sent to the Mariners with speedy second baseman Jack Perconte for Tony Bernazard and he missed most of the ’84 season to injury. Healthy again in 1985, Gorman won Comeback Player of the Year honors by socking 32 homeruns for the Mariners. He played one final year, split between Seattle and the Brewers before ending his Major League playing days.
G 1,435/R 681/H 1,051/2B 212/3B 13/HR 268/RBI 782/SB 50/BB 697/SO 1,339/BA .225/OBP .324/SA .448