Sal’s Dugout recalls the ‘Golden Age’ of baseball
Baseball is an important part of Sal Thomasson’s life and always has been. You’d probably guess that from the collection of baseball memorabilia in his Clarksville attic “mancave,” Sal’s Dugout.
You don’t often find dugouts in attics, but the pennants from famous teams of the past is a dead giveaway. Almost every inch of wall space is covered with framed magazine covers, articles and photos.
One side of the dugout is dedicated to college ball, the other to professional ball. Either way, Thomasson’s passion for baseball and collecting is obvious.
It all started with a handful of baseball cards.
“I actually first started collecting in 1948, but only five minutes worth then,” explained Thomasson. “I really got into it in 1953.”
He still has those first cards.
Also on display in his dugout is the jersey and shoes he wore when the high school team from Clarksville took on the team from Chase City in their last game.
“The next year the schools consolidated,” remembered Thomasson.
There are also several personalized Louisville Slugger bats, imprinted from the factory with his name. Only people who are or have been professional players are eligible to buy Louisville Slugger bats personalized with their name.
Briefly, Thomasson was a pro, but on the day of our visit, his collection of memorabilia was the primary topic of discussion.
Thomasson said he seriously began collecting in 1953, back in the day when baseball cards were packaged with bubble gum. Then, he said, the two big companies making the cards were Topps and Bowmans.
What was at first just a minor hobby became a passion that would last to this day.
“I remember I had some years when I was in college and playing ball and in the military when I couldn’t collect,” said Thomasson. “In 1979 I went to my first baseball card convention.” Thomasson laughed out lout. “It was all over after that.”
If Thomasson has an addiction to baseball cards, it’s a tightly focused one.
“I don’t have anything past 1958,” said Thomasson. “In baseball cards, the 1950s is the golden era, or whatever you want to call it.”
Despite his love of 1950s ball, he says candidly that the game is even better today.
“Baseball today is great,” said Thomasson. “It’s so good it’s unreal. The players are so good and so fast and so strong. Believe me, they’re good.”
The state of modern baseball cards, however, does not impress him.
“They’re not worth the paper they’re printed on,” he said with obvious disgust. “They make so many. From 1990 till yesterday, they aren’t worth a cuss.”
Once upon a time, Thomasson did have at least some interest in the new cards. That faded quickly.
“I’d say that in the past seven years I gave away to two people probably 30,000 to 35,000 cards. You can’t do anything with them. You can’t trade them to a dealer. There just isn’t any value there.”
Today, Thomasson said that his collection is by no means large with only around 8,000 cards. Some, he admitted, are not original issues but are reissues and reproductions.
Thomasson explained that although he started off with cards, dealers and traders soon learned his tastes and he soon branched out to magazines and pennants and more. Today, his dugout features stories and pictures of some of the greatest teams and players from baseball’s greatest era.
Prominent on his walls are things relating to the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies.
“They’re my favorite team,” he said. “I don’t know why. But that was where I started, and it hit me between the eyes. They were my team.”
Above the pictures and magazines are various pennants with the names of pro teams, both familiar and unfamiliar. Asked about the pennant of the Cincinnati Redlegs, Thomasson explained that Cincinnati Redlegs is the original and real name of the Cincinnati Reds. The New York Metropolitans is the “real” name of the New York Mets. After the Washington Senators left in 1960, their two expansion teams became the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers. Before there were the Atlanta Braves, there were the Boston Braves and then the Milwaukee Braves.
Thomasson obviously knows baseball history.
Unlike many sports fanatics who spend their lives dreaming the game, Thomasson actually had a chance to live the dream, if only briefly.
“I didn’t make it out of Class A,” laughed Thomasson. “I signed with the New York Mets Class A team. I had beyond major league speed. I had a major league glove, but that little T-ball bat followed me everywhere I went. I couldn’t hit. That’s why I didn’t make it. I was above average in some ways, but that bat will separate you in a heartbeat. If you can hit, they’ll find a spot for you.”
Thomasson has no regrets and fond memories of those days.
“I played for half a year and did have about two weeks training with the Chicago Cubs Triple A team in the Pacific League team,” he said. “But you know, if I couldn’t hit against Class A pitchers I couldn’t hit against a Triple A pitcher.”
Thomasson did, however, return to Clarksville where he played locally well into his late 30s.
Thomasson’s collection is not limited to baseball memorabilia. He also has a spot for homegrown heroes, and sitting along one wall is the first sign announcing Clarksville as “the home of Jerome Kersey.”
“When the town took down the sign, I went to them as asked if I could have it,” he said.
The sign now occupies a place of honor in his collection.
Featured Photo: Standing amid the collection he began in 1948, Sal Thomasson might just be the ultimate baseball fan.