Oklahoma City native Hank Thompson helped break down baseball’s color barrier. Unfortunately, his success during nine Major League seasons from 1947-56 and four earlier campaigns with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues was tainted by his off-the-field conduct.
Ironically, Thompson played his first organized game of baseball while serving a six-month sentence at Gatesville Reform School, near Dallas, after an arrest. His hitting and fielding skills were equally impressive, and in 1942, at the tender age of 17, he signed a pro contract with the Monarchs.
But just when Thompson was getting his legs under him in Kansas City, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. During his time in the military, Thompson began to drink.
Prior to his contract being purchased by the Giants in Feb. 1949, Thompson was involved in a Dallas bar fight during which he allegedly shot and killed a man. The case eventually was dismissed.
“Hank was a little bit off center. He had a drinking problem and a woman problem, but he was all baseball on the field,” Philadelphia Stars catcher Stanley Glenn once said.
But by Thompson’s 30th birthday, alcoholism had zapped his legs and bat speed. He was out of baseball by the end of 1957. He was convicted of armed robbery in 1963 and served four years in prison.
On Sept. 30, 1969, he suffered a heart seizure and died three months shy of his 44th birthday. Besides his mother and wife, only a handful of people attended his funeral. “Jay C. Upchurch