Remember This Guy: William Thomas (And the 1995 Giants)

Remember This Guy: William Thomas (And the 1995 Giants)

My name is Dave, and I write for the Sixers site, Liberty Ballers. I’m a 29 year old man still trapped in the 1990s. When I’m not leaving long-winded voicemails with Third Eye Blind lyrics on my wife’s phone, I’m updating Sharone Wright’s Wikipedia page.

These are my stories.

That’s a hold by the way.

Name: William Thomas

Tra Thomas, Dave?: No, the other William Thomas

College: Texas A&M

Eagles Tenure: 1991-1999

Nickname: Willie T

Semi-Believable WIP Phone Call from 1995:

Hey Jody, first time, long time. Just wanted to get your thoughts on maybe trying out Willie T at tight end? Just don’t think Jimmie Johnson is getting the job done. Rhodes needs to create a spark. Imma hang up and listen.

A 4th Round pick from Texas A & M, William Thomas played linebacker for the Birds from 1991 through 1999. He was a Philadelphia staple in the 90’s, like ECW on the Sports Channel or a Clarence Weatherspoon pump fake. Out of a possible 144 regular season games during that time frame, Thomas played in 142. It was easily the most publicized consecutive games played streak in the 1990s.

He was affectionately known as Willie T.

Willie T was always smack dab in the thick of things. As the legend goes, he once recovered a fumble in Phoenix, while simultaneously performing magic tricks for a delighted crowd in the downstairs bar at Finnegan’s Wake. When asked about this feat, Willie T slyly replied, “It’s magic.”

Googling “William Thomas Eagles Football Card” is like a who’s who of 90’s quarterbacks.

Is that Steve Walsh? That must be Steve Walsh. I’d recognize those quads anywhere. Thomas was a menace in opposing backfields. He was active in coverage, disrupting passing lanes like a young Pepe Sanchez. And he looked the part, too. He rocked these larger than life shoulder pads, like he had tucked two airplane pillows into his jersey.

“Willie, you using both of those pillows? Yeah? Ok, it’s no big deal, really. It’s just that, my neck is a bit, you know, it’s kind of a long flight to New Zealand. “

In 1995, Thomas picked off seven balls on his way to a Pro Bowl berth. Six of those interceptions came at the expense of NFC East rivals, the Cardinals and the Giants. Now, those 1995 Giants were led by “Run, Run, Run, Punt” Dan Reeves, and quarterback, Dave Brown. Throw in a splash of Tommy Maddux, and it was like the holy trinity of ineptitude. The Brown/Maddux quarterback controversy split the boroughs of New York at the seams. Relationships ended. Life-changing friendships formed. Everyone had an opinion.

I was actually fortunate enough to get my hands on a recorded conversation from August 1995 that took place in Hoboken, NJ. A conversation which I’m happy to transcribe for you today.

“We gotta go with Dave Brown. We gotta! He knows Reeves’ system. He knows the playbook!“

Ma! You’re wrong, ma! You’re wrong! We gotta give the keys to Maddux. He has the intangibles. The intangibles, ma!

William Thomas had an unspoken chemistry with both signal callers. If Willie T was open in the flat, then Tommy Maddux found him. If Willie T found some daylight in the middle of the field, then ‘Ol Five Fingers Brown hit ‘em between the numbers. In one particularly ugly 17-14 Eagles win over the Giants, Tommy Maddux went 6-23 for 49 yards and three picks, which is like .0026 yards per pass attempt.

(Fast forward to the 3:44 mark for NFL Primetime highlights. Come for the highlights, stay for the Ray Rhodes Starter jacket).

Now, Pro-Football Reference says that Thomas only had two career interceptions off of Tommy Maddux, but that’s because Pro-Football Reference is lying. I like to defer to the old reliable eye test in these situations. My memory is still sharp as a tack. If I can rattle off every WWF Tag Team Champ from 1985 to 1995 … in order (I see you over there, Men on a Mission), then recalling Thomas’ picks off the Giants is child play. All we Willie T Truthers out there know the correct answer is 71.

71 career interceptions against the Giants.

Dave Brown: 34

Tommy Maddux: 18

Phil Simms: 6

Jeff Hostetler: 4

Kent Graham: 9

Danny Kanell: 0. That Danny Kanell sure valued the football, what can I say.

William Thomas and the Giants quarterback de jour were attached at the hip. They were arguably one of the most influential tandems from my childhood, just ahead of my mom and dad, and right behind Eisenreich/Chamberlain.

After nine seasons with the Birds, Thomas signed with the Oakland Raiders before retiring in 2001. In 2006, Willie T found his name in the headlines after Eagles offensive lineman, William “Tra” Thomas, requested to be referred to by his birth name. And while the Eagles employed two very productive players named William Thomas, they’re still searching for just one half-decent Nate Allen.

So today, remember William Thomas. Willie T. He survived the Kotite and Rhodes years. And as we can attest, that’s no small feat.

You can follow Dave on Twitter at @wheresbenrivera

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph is making the Phillies' situation at first base quite tricky.

Joseph on Thursday continued building on his red-hot month of May by going 2 for 5 with a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's hit .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

That'll hold off the eye-popping production of Rhys Hoskins for now (see Future Phillies Report).

Extending it further, Joseph has played 148 career games with 499 plate appearances in the majors. That's just a bit less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. He's provided above-average offensive production from first base.

Most Phillies fans know Joseph's story — big-time catching prospect acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, series of concussions, position switch, hot start to 2016 at Triple A, promotion, production.

It was a long, winding road for Joseph, and when he was asked Thursday if he expected to be this solid 500 plate appearances into his major-league career, he brought up health.

"My goals were to be healthy, to be able to play in 162 games and that's all I really want to be able to do," Joseph said. "That's something I haven't been able to do in my career and it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the challenge to go through the mental challenge and the physical challenge and I'd say that's my No. 1 goal, that's my only goal. Because if I'm able to stay healthy and stay on the field then I'm able to enjoy this great game and getting to share it with my teammates."

As for the May adjustments, Joseph said the standard things about communicating with hitting coach Matt Stairs, working in the cage and staying consistent with his approach. His timing wasn't there in April but it's certainly been there in May.

"There's no telling what clicks in a guy, it's just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Bullpen bouncing back
It's been completely overshadowed by the Phillies' recent skid but the bullpen has pitched very well of late. The unit that was overworked and criticized in April has combined to allow just two earned runs in its last 22 2/3 innings. On Thursday, six Phillies relievers — Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez — pitched six scoreless innings.

Neshek made the play of the day, diving and landing on his head to snag a pop-up bunt attempt before turning and firing to first base for the double play.

"I said early on that I think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said of the bullpen. "And after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them."

Neshek, who has pitched in the postseason for four different teams, said Thursday that he thinks this is one of the best bullpens he's ever been around. It's not lip service, either. The unit was terrible in April, there's no getting around that. But some of that really did have to do with the overuse. Setup men were entering in the sixth inning. Opportunities for holds and saves were few and far between. Roles were not defined.

Stuff-wise, repertoire-wise, there is a lot to like about the Phillies' bullpen. Neris, Benoit and Neshek all offer vastly different looks and have track records of success.

While Neshek didn't totally endorse Benoit's comments from a few weeks ago that everything would settle down once the relievers knew specifically which inning they'd pitch, he did say that he too feels most comfortable coming in during a hold opportunity.

"I think my numbers show that I'm best in those situations, coming into a hold opportunity when we're ahead," Neshek said. "We haven't had much of those lately."

The horrendous start to the season for the Phillies' relievers will skew their stats all season long, but it's nice to see that at least one aspect of this team is starting to get into a groove.

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

With a new mentality, Vince Velasquez takes nice step in right direction

Vince Velasquez needed 94 pitches to complete five innings in yet another short outing Thursday ... but still, it was a nice step in the right direction.

Velasquez minimized the damage against a stacked Rockies lineup, allowing one run over five innings with seven strikeouts in a 2-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay). He avoided having that one big, meltdown inning. His pitch count still soared because the Rockies fouled off 28 pitches, but it was a promising sign that the longest at-bat of the day — 11 pitches to Charlie Blackmon — ended in a strikeout.

"Today was just huge on my part, even giving up the home run (to Trevor Story), just shutting down the majority of the guys," Velasquez said. "I gave up seven hits, but limiting the damage and getting out of the innings. These guys are just attacking.... I had a plan to attack the guys. You know, prior starts, changing game plans causes damage. So keep planning to attack and work your way around that.

"They're fouling off fastballs, it means they're late on them. I'm not changing my mentality. Why throw a curveball?"

Velasquez met with pitching coach Bob McClure last Sunday after his latest poor start Saturday in Pittsburgh. The key advice he was given was "stick to your strengths." Anybody who's watched Velasquez the last two seasons knows what his strength is: his fastball.

"Definitely. That's my go-to," Velasquez said. "[Before], I was just pretty much having second thoughts about certain pitches and again, just changing my game plan. If you shy away from that, things pretty much go away from you. That's where you get hurt. Today's mentality didn't change at all. I attacked guys with high fastballs in 0-2 counts. Story put a good swing on it and it ended up escalating out."

That was the one big mistake Velasquez made. He threw an 0-2 fastball right down the middle that Story hit out of the park. The Phillies have allowed the most 0-2 home runs in the majors this season (six) and the last two seasons combined (17). For reference, the Marlins have allowed the fewest over that span, just two.

But still, the high fastballs for Velasquez mostly worked on this afternoon. He induced 10 swinging strikes on 72 fastballs.

His off-speed stuff was a different story. The Rockies' first two hits of the day came on curveballs and they went 4 for 6 against his curve, slider and changeup. Colorado's hitters swung through just 2 of the 22 offspeed pitches they saw from Velasquez.

Manager Pete Mackanin said after Velasquez's last start that commanding his off-speed pitches is the key for him. His fastball is great, we all know that, but it just doesn't play multiple times through the order when the other team knows that pitch is coming in every key situation.

"The changeup was actually working a little bit [today]," Velasquez said. "It was down. That's just another pitch I need to work on a little bit more. But it's coming around. The curveball has a good shape to it but, again, it's just locating it."

It's important to keep it all in perspective when it comes to Velasquez. He's a power-armed 24-year-old who's still figuring things out. Most pitchers wouldn't be doing their jobs by going five innings, but with Velasquez it's a baby-steps approach — every small step in a positive direction being a sign that his dominant stuff can someday translate into consistency. 

He'll carry a 2-4 record and 5.55 ERA into his next start Tuesday in Miami.