Leaguer of the Month
Orleans Black Pelicans, Birmingham Black Barons, Homestead Grays,
Memphis Red Sox
HT: 5'-2"; WT: 150 lbs
Batted left; threw left
Oct. 23, 1918 in Maryville, Louisiana.
was the Mugsy Bogues of Negro League history.
got his nickname because, well, he sort of looked like a groundhog.
One thing is for certain he didn't look like a professional
baseball player. One reporter described him on the mound as looking
like the tip of a sweet potato sticking out of the ground.
was discovered by Abe Saperstein, part owner of the Birmingham
Black Barons. Saperstein, better known for starting the Harlem
Globetrotters basketball team, was a great judge of baseball talent,
and one of the top booking agents in the Midwest. Saperstein had
discovered such stars as Goose Tatum, Dave Barnhill and Peanuts
Davis, and he was tipped off about Groundhog from Irving Picou,
a baseball coach from Houma, Louisiana, down in Bayou country.
sent scouts to Louisiana to watch Thompson pitch for the New Orleans
Black Pelicans, then went himself and signed him for the Black
Barons, joining pitchers Alonzo Perry, Willie Greason and one-handed
pitcher Willie Young.
Barons' manager W.S. Welch was impressed by the new pitcher. "He's
got everything," said Welch. "A fastball, curve, sinker,
control and poise on the mound. Best of all, he learns fast and
is constantly picking up the finer points of the pitching art."
first used Groundhog in a game in July of 1945 against the powerful
New York Cubans. Thompson entered the game, at the Polo Grounds,
in the fifth inning of a close game, and the crowd couldn't stop
laughing, thinking it was a stunt of some sort. "Who's the
kid?" one fan yelled.
Groundhog retired the first 6 batters he faced in order, the laughing
stopped and applause started.
the '45 season, Groundhog had many impressive outings: he shutout
the Cincinnati Clowns 5-0; beat the Chicago American Giants twice
by 2-0 scores; struck out 15 in beating the New York Black Yankees
13-1; beat the Kansas City Monarchs 5-1; and retired 13 New York
Cubans in a row in relief.
was ugly there's no other way to describe his appearance.
He was barely five feet tall and had a hairlip with one of his
chipped bottom teeth poking out through a scar on his upper lip.
1946 Thompson joined the Grays and was a sensation on the mound
and at the box office. Fans came out in droves to see this strange
little man. For the first few batters there was usually snickering
and laughter at his odd appearance, but the chuckles usually ended
when he buzzed through the first few batters.
threw hard, especially for his size, kept the ball low, and had
a strange motion that kept batters off-balance.
was no pushover, either, as gigantic teammate Luke Easter found
out when Thompson got tired of his teasing and pulled out a knife
and threatened to cut Easter down to his size!
his best season with the Grays, 1947, Thompson went 7-3 in league
games, and won more than 20 when non-league games are included.
1948 Thompson was a regular in the Grays' rotation when they won
the Negro League World Series over his old team the Black Barons,
featuring a young Willie Mays.
the late 40s Thomspon played with the Memphis Red Sox under manager
Willie Wells, and finished his Negro League career back with the
made the East-West All-Star game in 1952 for the Black Barons,
and took the loss. In two innings, Groundhog gave up 3 earned
runs. He was 33-years-old.
1953, when Groundhog was 34-years-old, had was arguably to top
pitcher in the Negro Leagues, narrowly missing a "Pitcher's
Triple Crown" when he led the league in wins, strikeouts
and came in second in ERA to the Philadelphia Stars' Wilmer Harris,
whose 2.07 ERA came in 52 fewer innings. Thompson went 14-6 in
the 23 league games he pitched, struck out 113 batters in 152
innings (almost 7 Ks per 9 innings), and walked only 42 (about
a 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio).
Groundhog retired after the 1954 season, and faded into obscurity.
1953 Negro American League
Finals Pitching Stats (100 or more innings pitched)
GAMES: 23 (first)
COMPLETE GAMES: 14 (second)
LOSSES: 6 (third)
WIN%: .700 (second)
INNINGS PITCHED: 152 (first)
WALKS: 42 (fourth)
STRIKEOUTS: 113 (first)
ERA: 2.31 (second)