Louis C. Thuman, 84, major-league pitcher

December 26, 2000|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Louis C. Thuman, who rose from the Baltimore sandlots to the Washington Senators only to have his pitching career cut short by a German bullet, died of pneumonia Dec. 19 at Dulaney-Towson Health Care Center. He was 84.

The lanky Baltimore native and Polytechnic Institute graduate was playing for the Apaches, a local amateur ballclub, when major-league scouts discovered him pitching at Bugle Field on Erdman Avenue. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Mr. Thuman was promoted to the majors for the 1939 season, debuting as a pitcher for the Senators at age 22.

Like many young pitchers, Mr. Thuman needed some breaking in: In his first two seasons, he pitched in only five games, giving up 15 hits and nine walks in nine innings, while registering one strikeout.

He never would have a chance to improve on those numbers. In December 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Mr. Thuman was soon drafted.

Sent across the English Channel with the 29th Infantry Division in the second wave of the Normandy invasion, he was badly wounded shortly after landing.

The bullet passed through his lung and his right shoulder - his pitching shoulder. Sent home with a Purple Heart and a promotion to technical sergeant, he spent the rest of the war recuperating in Washington state.

Back in Baltimore after the war, he went down to his old team to see if they would take him back. The answer was no: His war injuries, the Senators said, had left him damaged goods.

"He came home and said he tried out for them and they said, `Sorry, you just don't have it anymore,' and that was that," said his sister, Patricia A. Naumann of Westminster. "It was devastating for him."

Mr. Thuman took a clerical job at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore and avoided baseball.

He never used the "gold pass" that was given to all wounded former major-league players, which gave him free lifetime access to any major-league park in the country. He owned no baseball caps, never met with his former teammates and almost never watched or listened to ballgames, his sister said.

A few years ago, British author Gary Bedingfield tried to contact Mr. Thuman for a book he was writing about ball-playing GIs stationed in England during the war. Mr. Thuman never responded, but Bedingfield featured him in his book, "Baseball in Wartime," anyway, describing in his introduction how excited he was to come across an old program for an Army game in England that included major-leaguers.

Mr. Thuman's one concession to his ball-playing past, his sister said, was to honor the requests of fans and memorabilia collectors who wrote him seeking autographs. He always kept a supply of photos of himself as a player, his sister said, which he would sign and send to fans.

In the last two years of his life, his sister said, something changed. For the first time in years, Mr. Thuman began reminiscing about his ball-playing years. There was the time soon after he arrived in the big leagues, he recalled, when Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams asked him, "How do you like it up here, kid?"

"Can you imagine that, him calling me `kid,' when he was two years younger than me?" Mr. Thuman would say, according to his sister.

And when his sister brought a photo of Mr. Thuman as a Senator into her brother's hospital room recently, she said, she noticed that he had someone move the picture frame onto his nightstand.

Services were held Friday at St. Pius X Church, followed by burial at Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

Mr. Thuman is survived by another sister, Dorothy L. Unverzagt of Baltimore; and a brother, A. Ralph Clark of The Colony, Texas.

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