For one inning, a dream come true for Thomason

Phillies right-hander retired side in order in '74 for only Major League outing

For one inning, a dream come true for Thomason

Many kids dream of playing in the Major Leagues. Erskine Thomason, a right-handed pitcher from Laurens, S.C., realized that dream 40 years ago -- Sept. 18, 1974, to be exact -- at Veterans Stadium. Wearing No. 48, he trotted in from the Phillies' right-field bullpen to face the Chicago Cubs in the top of the ninth inning of a game his team lost, 5-2. He was 25 years of age.

Thomason retired the side in order, but he never toed a Major League pitching rubber again. According to available records, Thomason and fellow right-hander Al Verdel are the only two pitchers in Phils history with one scoreless inning in a very brief big league career. Verdel did it April 30, 1944, vs. Brooklyn.

"I struck out my first hitter, Steve Swisher, on a 3-2 pitch," Thomason said of his one inning. "I didn't remember the next guy [Steve Stone], but I remember he grounded out, and then I got Rick Monday on a grounder to second."

The next day, Thomason was interviewed on TV by Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. A 22nd-round selection in the 1970 First-Year Player Draft had made it to the Majors.

Thomason went to a local library years later and got the Encyclopedia of Baseball to see if his name was in it.

"There's this book with all the greats in it, and my name is there," said Thomason. "It was a thrill then and still is a thrill."

But hold on, there's more to the story.

You see, Thomason was the focus of a season-long video documentary by NFL Films, "Bush Leagues to Bright Lights," while pitching for the Toledo Mud Hens, whose manager was Jim Bunning. The film centered on a young prospect trying to reach the Majors. Thomason was recalled when rosters expanded in September and didn't get in a game for his first eight days with the big league club.

Ironically, the film crew missed his one inning as it arrived too late, not knowing when he would pitch. So about an hour after the game, Thomason went back on the mound in an empty, darkened stadium to throw for the cameras. Now 66 years of age, Thomason laughs about that incident, although admitting "I felt kind of stupid."

The movie ran on "ESPN Classic" as recently as Sept. 21.

"Being in the Major Leagues was a great experience," Thomason said. "Something I dreamed about. Never thought at the time it would be that brief. Looking back, there were a lot of 'What ifs.' But it was fun. And I got to be in a full length film."

In a 2004 newspaper interview with The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Thomason said: "You don't dream that particular moment would be your only moment. That never crossed your mind, never even crossed your mind. I got a taste of it, which most people don't get an opportunity to do. I don't have any regrets, other than I wished it had lasted longer."

There's no record of a pitch count for Thomason's one inning under the bright lights. And the three outs were not clocked, so no one knows how long he was on the mound. But everyone knows that Thomason did pitch in the Majors, a dream millions of kids never experience.

Larry Shenk is the vice president of Alumni Relations for the Phillies. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.