Ex-WBAL anchor Thomas dead at 55

Knowledge, wit elevated him to jobs in Tampa, Fla.

Television

February 20, 2004|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Chris Thomas, former WBAL-TV sports anchor known for his humorous, irreverent style, died from cancer yesterday in Tampa, Fla. He was 55.

Thomas, whose real name was Christian Thomas Olrick, left Baltimore 15 1/2 years ago for a Tampa television station. He most recently was host of a sports talk show on radio station WDAE in Tampa.

"He was hilarious, pure and simple," Channel 2 sportscaster Keith Mills said. "You see guys today trying to be clever on ESPN, and sometimes they fail. Chris was just naturally funny."

Thomas worked at Channel 11 from 1978 to 1988 - he also broadcast on WBAL Radio - and his breezy approach offered a contrast to the homey style of the station's veteran sports anchor, Vince Bagli.

"He was very loose, a very funny character," Bagli said, "and I used to wonder what he was going to do next. But he had a great knowledge of sports and a ton of talent. Of all the guys who came through here looking to take that next step in the business, he had to be just about the best."

Thomas would don a sombrero and make football picks, hurl insults at a doll resembling former Colts owner Robert Irsay and end his sportscasts with "I'm outta here!"

"He and Vince were an awesome pair, very popular," Mills said. "They balanced each other out. Vince was the legend, and Chris would roll bowling balls down North Avenue. No one was doing that stuff back then."

Mills recalled Thomas throwing away his script the night of the 1983 Preakness.

"He got two minutes into his broadcast and threw it over his shoulder and said, `I don't need that; this is what happened,' " Mills said.

During one 1988 broadcast, Thomas thought he had just won the state lottery.

"I was working one Saturday night and the news anchor read the six numbers. When she read the last number, I freaked out on-air," he later recalled in an interview. "I got up, took my mike off and said, `Screw you guys,' and walked off the set."

Thomas turned around and made it back to the set before his segment, and as it turned out he'd missed two numbers. He later said about 300 people called the station about the incident, "half hoping I had really hit the lotto and quit."

But Thomas said his decision to leave Baltimore was difficult.

"It's the most emotionally wrenching thing I've ever done in my life to leave here," he told The Sun in September 1988. "I've spent half my life in Maryland."

In a Sun readers' poll published in May 1985, Thomas was voted favorite local sportscaster.

Thomas' favorite sport was horse racing, and he said his greatest career accomplishment was winning an Eclipse Award for a story on Triple Crown winner Secretariat in 1990.

Survivors include his wife, Kathryn Bonfield; an adult daughter, Shawna Olrick of Atlanta; a 7-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn Thomas of Tampa; and an adult son, Jeffrey Olrick of Charlottesville, Va.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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