LAWRENCE, Kan. — Former Kansas baseball catcher and current Philadelphia Phillies manager Rob Thomson led the Phillies back to the World Series for the first time since 2009. Thomson was a catcher at KU from 1983-85 and had the best hitting season in program history in 1984 with a batting average 0.443.
Thomson will make his World Series managerial debut tonight with Game 1 between the Phillies and Houston Astros set for 7:03 p.m. CT.
“He dug his way through professional baseball for a really long time,” head coach Dan Fitzgerald said. “It truly epitomizes what the Jayhawk is – a great workman’s sander. Playing for baseball’s biggest prize in the World Series is pretty special.”
Phillies defeated St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 in the first round, then defeated the defending champion Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series with a 3-1 series win. Thomson and the Phillies advanced to the World Series by defeating the San Diego Padres 4–1 in the National League Championship Series.
Thomson was named interim manager for the Phillies on June 3, 2022 following the firing of Joe Girardi. Thomson had the interim tag removed from his title on October 10 and received a two-year contract extension. He took over a 22-29 club and led the Phillies to an 87-75 regular season record and a trip to the postseason.
“He finally got an opportunity,” said former Kansas assistant Lee Ice, who coached with the Jayhawks from 1984-90 and played baseball at KU from 1976-78. “I think he would have been successful even if he had had the opportunity earlier. That’s what I saw in him when I followed his career and his organizational skills. His attention to detail is incredible. I’m happy for him.”
Former teammate Scott Jones echoed that sentiment. “Rob was a great teammate at KU,” said Jones, who played at Kansas in 1984 and was teammates with Thomson. “He was generous with his talent as a ball player on and off the pitch. His generosity included providing support and advice to his teammates to improve their performance and that of our team. His future as a coach and eventually as a manager was evident.”
Thomson was a .369 hitter during his three seasons at KU, the fifth-highest career batting average in program history (minimum 200 at-bats). He also finished his career with the sixth-best slugging percentage at .570 and the ninth-highest on-base percentage at .448. After the 1984 and 1985 seasons, Thomson won the Gib Francis MVP Award, as voted on by his teammates.
“Rob was an outstanding leader for us and a great catcher when I played with him in 1983 and 1984,” said former teammate and pitcher Kevin Kroeker. “I’m so glad that after all these years he finally got the chance to make it. He completely turned the Phillies into self-confident winners (just like Rob).
Thomson’s leadership was pretty clear even to his old coach.
“That’s the first thing that comes to mind,” Ice said. “A lot of the players who were playing at the time looked up to Rob because of how tough he was and he was kind of a defender for the club. He’s the guy who led the pitching staff.”
Thomson was drafted in the 32nd round of the 1985 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers. After a brief playing career with the Tigers, Thomson moved into coaching and spent more than 30 years working in various positions with the Tigers, New York Yankees and now the Philadelphia Phillies.
Thomson spent 27 years in the Yankees organization in the front office and as a coach. He was the bench coach for the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees. Thomson assisted coaches Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez during his time in New York and was in the organization for five World Series championships.
The last KU player to reach the World Series was Bob Allison of the 1965 Minnesota Twins. Allison played at KU in 1954. Thomson is believed to be the first KU player to do so in the World Series.
“It’s great to see the success he’s having after all these years,” Ice concluded. “He’s very proud to be a Jayhawk, and I think people are starting to realize that.