Says Joe Maddon: “The volunteers are the unsung heroes. Without them, none of our efforts occur.” Every month, the Respect 90 Foundation will salute a distinguished volunteer from the communities of Tampa, FL, Chicago, IL, Mesa, AZ, Southern California, or Joe’s Hometown of Hazleton, PA. Respect 90 will present a $1,000 grant to that volunteer’s charity. Should you have someone who is deserving, please let us know.
Ira Thomas | Saratoga Bridges
For each of the past 32 months, the Respect 90 Foundation has honored an active volunteer through our Volunteer Spotlight feature. This month, we decided on something a little different. We’re going retro to honor a volunteer who happened to be a ballplayer who happened to serve during a pandemic…just over 100 years ago.
We are honoring Ira Thomas, a catcher with the Yankees (then known as the Highlanders), Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics from 1906 to 1915. He was a .242 career hitter and managed only 3 home runs in his ten seasons, but was a team captain and won two World Series rings with the A’s. He is also known for getting the first pinch-hit in World Series history (in Game 1 of the 1908 Series for the Tigers vs. the Cubs).
After his playing career ended, Ira was living in Philadelphia and working as a scout for the A’s under legendary Connie Mack. The year was 1918 and it wasn’t just World War I that brought fear. There was also the horrific influenza pandemic that infected 500 million people–about a third of the world’s population at the time– and killed somewhere between 20 and 40 million.
Philadelphia alone would lose 20,000 to the virus. The city was reeling following its’ ill-advised decision to host a downtown parade that spread the infection to thousands. Bodies piled up in homes, on porches and streets. Funeral homes could not keep up. With many Philadelphians unable or afraid to help, Ira, by all accounts a man with a big heart, did not stand idly by. Neither did his wife, Katherine.
While Katherine made masks at the Philadelphia Hospital, Ira selflessly saw to it that seriously ill, highly contagious patients got to local hospitals. “He would drive to people’s houses and pick them up without regard for his own health and safety,” said Catherine King Eddy, a relative and family historian.
Ira also remains the lone player in major league history to hail from Balston Spa, NY. As a result of his selection, Respect 90 is making a donation in Ira’s name to Balston Spa’s Saratoga Bridges which has provided the highest level of quality of care to people with developmental disabilities and their families for more than 60 years. Their innovative and effective programs foster independence by promoting their residents’ abilities and achievements. The donation will go to their COVID-19 relief efforts. For more information on Saratoga Bridges go to saratogabridges.org.
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation