Is he Charlie or Tim?
That’s the question that still follows one of the longest tenured Montreal Royals around.
You see, Charlie Thompson (as identified in the Montreal Royals team photo above and on his 1954 Topps baseball card) is presented as “Tim Thompson” on his 1958 Topps card. And if you conduct a Google search, more information appears on him when you enter “Tim Thompson.”
So which is it? Charlie or Tim?
Well, it appears that Thompson, who recently turned 90, will answer to both. When veteran autograph collector Tom Owens wrote to Thompson in 2011, he asked the ex-Royal if Topps had mixed up his name on the two cards (1954 and 1958). Thompson’s written response was a concise “no,” without further elaboration. (You can read about Owens’ communication with Thompson on his blog, “Baseball By the Letters”).
Whatever you prefer to call him, Thompson was born in Coalport, Pa., on March 1, 1924. After serving in the U.S. military during World War II, he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a free agent in 1947. The young catcher was immediately assigned to the Dodgers’ Class-D Eastern Shore League affiliate in Cambridge, where he would lead the league with a .349 batting average and 162 hits. This performance expedited his promotion to the Class-B Newport News Dodgers and then the Triple-A St. Paul Saints the following season.
Thompson returned to Newport News in 1949, before being promoted to the Triple-A Montreal Royals for the first time later that year. He hit .278 in 46 contests in his first stint with the Canadian squad.
He started the 1950 campaign with the Class-A Elmira Pioneers before he was again elevated to the Royals. In 12 contests with Montreal, he hit .467, which helped him earn regular catching duties for the Dodgers’ other Triple-A affiliate in St. Paul in 1951.
With Roy Campanella and Rube Walker above him in the Dodgers’ catching ranks, Thompson was again assigned to the Royals in 1952, where he hit .303 and was named an International League all-star.
He returned to Montreal in 1953 and batted .293 and belted 10 homers to help the Canadian squad to a league championship and a Junior World Series title. This was enough for him to finally crack the Dodgers’ big league roster the following spring as a 30-year-old.
“My first [big league] game was the only time I ever played in the outfield. It was in St. Louis,” Thompson once reminisced. “Dick Williams was ejected, and I was the only one left on the bench. Steve Bilko lined a single and I thought I nailed Dick Schofield at the plate with a good throw, but he slid between Roy Campanella’s legs to score. I kidded Campy that if he had blocked the plate I would have been a hero.”
When Thompson caught his first big league game on May 16, 1954, he became the first National League catcher to appear in a game wearing glasses. In his written correspondence with Owens, Thompson shared that he was far-sighted.
Unfortunately, Thompson’s work behind the plate wasn’t enough to keep him in the big leagues. In 10 games with the Dodgers, he registered just two hits in 13 at bats before he was shipped back to Montreal.
In 1955, he was assigned to St. Paul and recorded a career-best .313 batting average. His minor league success caught the eye of the Kansas City A’s, who traded for him on April 16, 1956.
In Kansas City, Thompson finally received an extended big league look. In a career-high 92 major league games in 1956, he hit .272, but his defensive performance was a mixed bag. On one hand, he threw out an impressive 21 baserunners attempting to steal (fourth best in the American League), but on the other, he permitted a league-high nine passed balls.
Thompson was, however, impressive enough to return to the A’s the following season, where he would belt seven homers in 81 games.
On November 20, 1957, he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers in a massive 13-player transaction. He appeared in four games with the Tigers in 1958, but he spent the bulk of that season with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. He continued with the Leafs through 1962, eventually becoming a player-coach and, for a short period, the club’s manager.
After hanging up his professional playing spikes, Thompson became a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. From 1964 to 1994, he was the Cards’ supervisor of scouting. He told Owens that two of his proudest signings were Tom Herr and Brian Jordan.
Following his long tenure with the Cardinals, Thompson scouted for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. Little has been written about Thompson’s family, but reports indicate that he’s alive and well and living in Lewistown, Pa.
*This is the 12th article in my series about members of the 1954 Montreal Royals. You can read my articles about Roberto Clemente, Billy Harris, Don Thompson, Gino Cimoli,Chico Fernandez, Glenn Cox , Joe Black, Ed Roebuck, Jack Cassini , Bobby Wilson and Ken Lehman by clicking on their names.