Prior to last Wednesday’s Rays-Red Sox game, Rich Thompson was as close to a modern day Moonlight Graham as they come. If you have never seen Field of Dreams, please stop what you are doing and go watch it. Assuming you have seen the movie then you surely remember the character of Moonlight Graham. The real Doc Graham played three seasons in the minors before being called up to play for the New York Giants as a 27 year old. On May 23, 1905 he was put in a game as a defensive substitution in the late innings, but never got his chance to bat; it was the only major league game of his career.
Thompson’s comparison to Graham is not identical, as the 33 year old has played in the bigs before this year. Back in 2004 the outfielder played in six games for the Royals, but only got one at bat (which he grounded into a double play). Four organizations and 3,710 minor-league plate appearances later, Thompson got his 2nd career stint in the majors with Tampa.
On Wednesday against the Red Sox he pinch ran for Luke Scott in the 8th inning and moved to third on a balk. The following night he got his first career start, hit, and RBI. He knocked in a run on a single to center field in the bottom of the 4th and found himself standing on 3rd base after back to back stolen bases. His single also made him the oldest AL position player to get his first career hit since 1970. Thompson went 0-4 the following night against the Braves, and has yet to see playing time since.
It is unclear what Joe Maddon has in store for Rich Thompson’s future with the big league club; however, the circumstance in which he was called up and his replacement level skills hint that he is not here for the long haul. The Rays had seen their backup, second backup, and third backup centerfielders go down with injury, so they scrambled around until they met a deal with the Phillies. Thompson was traded for minor leaguer Kyle Hudson on May 16, and placed on the active roster when Brandon Guyer hit the DL. With very limited upside, Moonlight Thompson seems to be first in line to get sent back down when one of the injured outfielders is ready to return.
It is easy to feel bad for minor league ball players who never get a chance with a big league club – or simply don’t have what it takes to stay in the majors. At the same time, these are men who are getting paid to play a game that we all grew up dreaming about. Rich Thompson has displayed the attitude expected of a long time minor leaguer. He is grateful for his chance, saying “I never thought, ‘The minor leagues stink.’ That’s not my personality. I was striving to get to the majors, but if you can’t play in the majors, Lehigh Valley (Phillie’s AAA affiliate) is a pretty cool place to be” (Tampa Bay Times).
Rich Thompson will eventually be sent back down to the minors, maybe for the last time. Like Moonlight Graham, he will fade among the many minor leaguers who never got their chance to stick with their major league clubs. While Thompson won’t fade into the green padding in center field at the Trop, we can all agree that the rookie was good.