It's time to start speaking in fabled terms about Brewers folk hero Eric Thames
By now, you surely have heard the tale of Eric Thames, the until-recently unknown Brewers first baseman who has become a suddenly superhuman folk hero – a muscle-bound and merciless masher of taters, bearded blaster of baseballs, arouser of annoyingly allegorical alliteration and, hey, even an encouragingly competent defensive player. He is become smash, the destroyer of worlds – or at least baseballs, ballparks, fantasy leagues and the Cincinnati Reds.
Indeed, thanks to Thames' hot start to the season and his continually astonishing power surge over the last week – he's hit a league-leading 11 home runs in 21 games, has set franchise records for homers in the month of April and ranks among the major leagues' top five in nearly every offensive statistical category – his determined, adversity-overcoming, rise-from-the-ashes story is now widely chronicled. Not to mention the raised-eyebrow PED insinuations and his good-natured responses, which are also well-worn.
Eric Thames was drug tested again tonight. "If people keep thinking I'm on stuff, I'll be here every day. I have a lot of blood and urine." pic.twitter.com/De1smFWVj7— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) April 26, 2017
In case you've somehow missed it, here's a recap of the Thames saga: Forsaken by the Major Leagues after looking flummoxed and utterly overwhelmed in 2011 and 2012 campaigns with Toronto and Seattle, Thames signed with the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2013. There, facing pitchers who didn't throw hard but gave him a ton of off-speed breaking stuff, he got plenty of practice hitting junk. And he did hit it. Thames crushed 124 home runs in three KBO seasons and was named league MVP in 2015, when he batted .381 with 47 homers, 140 RBI, 40 stolen bases and a 1.288 OPS.
Beloved by baseball fans (and broadcasters) in Korea, he acquired a sort of herculean Other archetype – the bearded, brawny, tattooed and charismatic African-American foreigner dominating the league – and was nicknamed "God" for his prodigious production, a moniker the modest Thames has said he was uncomfortable with, along with his cult-status fame. He also acquired a wonderful home run song in Korea.
Brewers general manager David Stearns said he'd kept tabs on Thames since 2015, and after watching him improve his approach at the plate, thought his performance might translate, especially with the added experience at this later stage of his career.
So far, Stearns has been proven prophetically right. Milwaukee signed Thames to a three-year, $16 million contract last November that many at the time thought was overzealous, but which now looks to be a bargain. Making $4 million this year and currently with a MLB-leading FanGraphs WAR of 1.9, Thames could outperform his 2017 salary by midseason, if one win equals about $8 million, even accounting for regression. His success, so far, reflects as positively on Stearns and the Brewers' personnel evaluations as it does on Thames. At 30 years old, he's not the first baseman of the future for rebuilding Milwaukee, but it's promising to see that the front office can find a diamond in the rough, all the way across the world.
There's another element to the Thames story, too. The Brewers, who have been historically bad at first base since Prince Fielder left in 2011, had Chris Carter at first last year, and the slugger led the NL in home runs with 41. Even though Carter also led the league in strikeouts and was one of the worst defensive players in the majors, at all positions, when the team did not offer him a contract for this season, it seemed like a questionable decision, given they had no proven options to replace him.
Or so we thought. Thames has stepped in and showed as much power early on as Carter, plus better plate discipline and contact hitting, and vastly improved defense. Even just by being average at first base, which is about what he's been, according to FanGraphs, it's a massive improvement over Carter, who was one of the most detrimental defenders in baseball.
Thames has an eye-popping .370/.489/.904 slash line, good for a MLB-high 1.393 OPS, and has more home runs just against the Reds (eight) than anyone else in the majors has total. The Brewers recently – finally – got a large stock of Thames jerseys and merchandise in to their team store. When I was in attendance at Miller Park on Wednesday for Milwaukee's day game against the Reds, Thames – already beloved by Brewers fans for not only his offense, but also his professed love of the city and its people and beer – singled in his first at-bat, walked in his second and third plate appearances, struck out, flew out and scored two runs, before exiting late in the game. To be honest, I almost felt disappointed in such an eminently mortal – though still productive – performance. Indeed, Alien Eric Thames was human for a day.
Anyway, on an estimably affordable contract, with a likable and down-to-earth personality, providing potentially great offense and probably average defense, Thames could easily become the Brewers' best first baseman in half a dozen years. Arguably the current MVP frontrunner and the best offseason move made by any team, Thames is an impressive, surprising, feel-good story, and his signing represents real front-office efficacy.
But, of course, you already knew all that. And when a guy unexpectedly turns into Hank Aaron, starts massacring the major leagues after spending three years playing in Korea and has The New York Times asking who he is, it's time to embellish his origin story. Brewers fans will be telling their grandchildren about Eric Thames – or at least about his month of April – so we may as well begin writing the tall tale now.
The only son of Nemesis, the powerful Greek goddess of retribution, and Mr. T, the bald-and-bearded American hero warrior, Eric Thames is a mythological demigod.
Rather than the Caribbean Leagues, Eric Thames plays winter ball on Jupiter because, as the largest planet in the solar system, it has the highest amount of gravity and thus gives him the best resistance training for jacking mega-bombs.
Every morning for breakfast, after he finishes his daily workout of rotating the Earth around its axis, Eric Thames eats 1,000 bowls of Korean kimchi, which include 50 raw ginger roots for seasoning.
Officially classified as a United States National Forest, Eric Thames' beard is a protected and managed federal land – though it does not need protection and it refuses management – and his biceps, listed as national monuments, are expected to defend the Antiquities Act against President Trump's executive order.
Paul Bunyan thinks Eric Thames is cool.
The famous River Thames, which flows through London and is the longest river in England, was named for Eric.
Exceedingly polite, Eric Thames has never once interrupted someone.
Though he has a strapping physique, Eric Thames has never lifted weights – his muscles simply know they need to be strong so as not to disappoint him.
According to his Milwaukee Brewers bio, Eric Thames "enjoys video games, Star Wars, professional wrestling, reading and ancient war history," which is all pretty epic as is.
Over his entire baseball career, Eric Thames has committed only one error, which occurred when he left first base during a routine grounder to run out to the left-field bleachers to catch an elderly woman who was falling from the upper deck.
When viewed together, Eric Thames' tattoos reveal The Meaning of Life.
Acclaimed American painter Jasper Johns asked Eric Thames to tattoo him, and Johns' lower back, which is depicted with Thames' head, is now considered artistically priceless.
When taking batting practice, Eric Thames uses the foul pole as a bat.
One time, thirsty after a game, Eric Thames drank all the beer. Literally, all of the beer that there is, he drank it.
In the Korean League last year, Eric Thames hit a home run with such velocity that it ruptured the space-time continuum and created a parallel universe, which maybe explains some of the stuff that's been going on lately.
What's your favorite Eric Thames tall tale? Let us know in the comments!
Outstanding! That is some fluorescent writing! LOL! I love it! I am just enjoying the moment.
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