Phillies manager speaks to London lunch crowd

Rob Thomson (Photo courtesy of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame)

In between Zoom calls with free agents his club is interested in signing, Rob Thomson delighted a lunchtime crowd at the Victory Legion branch in London.

The Philadelphia Phillies manager was the guest speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the London Sports Association on Tuesday. After being introduced by long time friend Rick Corner, Thomson answered questions from those in attendance and shared stories from his life in baseball from his childhood days in Corunna, to playing in the Intercounty Baseball League for the Stratford Hillers, to leading the Phillies to the 2022 World Series after being named interim manager in June. Thomson took over managing duties when the team fired Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start to the season. Following that June promotion, Thomson led the Phillies to a playoff berth and was rewarded with a two-year contract extension to manage the club.

Despite the 2022 Phillies becoming only the third team in Major League Baseball history to reach the World Series after firing a manager mid-season, when asked about the turnaround that happened after he took over, Thomson would not take credit.

“We got off to a bad start coming out of spring training. We thought we had a good club, and we did, so there were a lot of expectations,” he said. “And once we got off to a bad start, I think guys lost a lot of confidence. May was probably the toughest part of our schedule, and then we got into June. That’s when I took over and it was the easiest part of our schedule and we started winning some games, guys got their confidence back, and it started to snowball from there.”

Among those in the crowd were several London Majors alumni, some of whom played against Thomson in the 1980s. As Rick Corner told the story, it was initially thought that a 19-year-old Thomson would join the Majors. But with Wayne Fenlon firmly entrenched as the team’s catcher, Thomson went to Stratford to play for the Hillers.

“I was very young. I was 19 when I first started in the Intercounty League,” he said. “I played against a lot of guys that I looked up to and I knew. It was my first real experience playing with grown men and it helped me out a great deal.”

It was also in Stratford where Thomson met his wife, Michele.

But it was a story about Thomson’s late father, Jack, that seemed to have the biggest impact on the attendees. Thomson was asked about what has now become a famous Father’s Day Instagram post by Phillies star Bryce Harper. In the photo, a suit and tie clad Thomson is flanked by the Phillies players, who were also dressed in suits, despite the Phillies relaxed road trip dress code. Thomson explained that, throughout his career as a major league coach, he has always worn a suit and tie on road trips as a tribute to his late father. He told the crowd about the time that Jack Thomson took his young son to his first big league game at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. They happened to walk past the area where the Tigers players parked their vehicles, and saw several players  dressed in suits and fedora hats.

According to Thomson, his father pointed to the Tigers players and said, “that’s what a big league ball player looks like.”

Decades later, on the night his father passed away, Thomson and his two brothers remembered that story over “a couple of scotches.” It was then that Thomson’s brothers said that, if he ever made it to the big leagues, he would have to wear a suit and tie on roads trips to honour their father. In June of this year, the Phillies players surprised Thomson by wearing suits on the plane as the team flew to Texas to begin a road trip.

When he asked them why they were wearing suits, they answered, “this is for your Dad.”

After a few more questions from the crowd, Thomson shook some hands and posed for some pictures before having to leave for a 2 p.m. Zoom call with a potential free agent target of the Phillies. It was to be his second such call of the day, the first having been done at 11 a.m. in a Tim Horton’s parking lot in London.