Remember Dickie Thon? Well, You Should.

Before I start, I want to preface this by stating that I have become a fan of the Chron’s Steve Campbell, primarily because he appears to be the only columnist at the Chron who’s not afraid to tell the truth about various Astros stupidities without backing down or changing his mind days later. That said, I hope you can understand my disappointment with his column last week celebrating Miguel Tejada.

“Love him or hate him,” the headline says, “Tejada here to stay.” Then Campbell tells me in the column that I should like Tejada because of the way he plays the game and because of how he acts on the field. Which leads to my obvious question: Does Campbell mean that I’m supposed to like a guy who cheats and lies and is under investigation for lying to Congress? But primarily, Campbell says I’m supposed to like the guy because he’s not Adam Everett, or any of the other bums who have ever played shortstop for the Astros, because, unlike those bums, Tejada can hit.

It’s true, Adam Everett was a whiz with the glove, but he just never learned how to hit major league pitching. The same with Tim Bogar, who was one of the team’s shortstops before Everett. I should remind Campbell though that Julio Lugo was about as a good with the glove as Miguel Tejada – which is not exceptional – but that he was good with the bat, though Drayton McLane felt that Lugo was the wrong type of player for his club – though never convicted of a crime, he was accused of beating his wife, which I suppose is a worse offense than all of Tejada’s many crimes.

And I should remind Campbell that before that, the Astros played in the Astrodome. A park where the team’s best sluggers were lucky to put up Tejada-type numbers. Campbell does briefly mention Dickie Thon who one year was able to slug 20 homers in a season before a New York Mets pitcher nearly killed him.

I suppose what bugs me, more than Campbell’s dismissive tone toward any of us who aren’t enamored of Miguel Tejada, is the manner in which he just dismisses Dickie Thon. Because Dickie Thon was special. Dickie Thon was one of those break-the-mode players, and if he doesn’t get hit in the head by a fastball that causes severe vision problems and causes him to miss most of a season of baseball, then the possibility is very real that Dickie Thon would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame right now, and it would be Dickie Thon, not Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio, who Astros fans would speak of as the greatest Houston Astro player ever.

Dickie Thon was very good in the field, though he was not up there with the likes of the Ozzie Smith, who was one of his peers. But Thon was a breed apart because, unlike most shortstops of that time – the early-80s – he was a hitter. He could hit for average. He could hit for power. He was good on base. He had speed. This was a time when shortstops weren’t expected to hit, and definitely weren’t expected to hit for power. Cal Ripken was just beginning his streak in Baltimore, and Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Nomar Garciaparra were just starting out in Little League.

So Campbell’s right. I might not like it, but I’m stuck with Miguel Tejada. That doesn’t mean that he’s the best shortstop in the history of the Astros, and it’s insulting to Dickie Thon to try and compare him to a cheater and liar like Miguel Tejada.

Then again, maybe it’s just me. I’m one of those people who actually have memories of the Astros. Who went to games when Cesar Cedeno roamed centerfield before crowds under 8,000. I remember watching Roger Metzger range around shortstop and Doug Rader glove any ball that came toward third. I go back to the days before the plastic eyesore that is Minute Maid Park. And I remember what a great player Dickie Thon was.

I actually saw Dickie Thon play baseball. And Miguel Tejada, Mr. Campbell, is no Dickie Thon. And no matter how many times the overpaid and rapidly aging Tejada shoots himself up with steroids, he will never be Dickie Thon. Hell, he’s barely Julio Lugo.

So, Steve Campbell, while I’m really a fan of your work – most of the time – please stop trying to make me like Miguel Tejada because I actually know the history of Houston Astros shortstops. And nothing that anyone can say or write makes me think that Tejada would ever be able to recover from the obstacles that Dickie Thon had to recover from.

Long live Dickie Thon. The man who could have been the greatest player ever in the history of the Houston Astros. May we never again ruin his name by comparing him to Miguel Tejada. – John Royal

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