Thompson dies in Asheville at 85
ASHEVILLE Don Thompson played baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers with Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges.
He roamed the outfield of Ebbets Field, a magical place in the 1950s. He threw out Billy Martin of the Yankees at the plate to end Game 3 of the 1953 World Series.
Outside baseball Thompson was known as a real estate agent and one of the founders of Preferred Properties. Friends also said he played a good game of handball and enjoyed cooking.
Thompson, who lived in Asheville, died Monday at Mission Hospital's Memorial Campus following a long illness. He was 85.
He was the greatest guy, said Jane McNeil, who worked with Thompson at Preferred Properties before he retired. He was a true gentleman, as honest as the day is long.
Thompson loved to play handball at the YMCA, especially on one wall.
One of his playing partners was Bob Riddle.
He was an interesting guy, a hero for us local obscure people who were would-be athletes, said Riddle. It was always exciting to play with somebody who had been a professional athlete.
Thompson was born in Swepsonville on Dec. 28, 1923. He signed his first professional contract in 1943 with the Boston Braves and made his major league debut with them in 1949. He played with the Dodgers in 1951, '53 and '54. Mainly a utility outfielder, Thompson had a career batting average of .217.
His best season was in 1953 when he hit .242 while playing in 96 regular-season games for the Dodgers, who lost the World Series in six games to the New York Yankees.
Thompson appeared in two games as a defensive replacement, including the third game when he had one of his best moments as a ballplayer.
Martin was on second base with two outs and the Dodgers ahead by one. Mickey Mantle singled to left. Thompson took the ball on the second hop and threw home where catcher Roy Campanella positioned himself for Martin, who had rounded third. Thompson's throw beat Martin.
Campy had the ball in his mitt and was getting ready for a collision and Martin was bent over and he was going to run into him, Thompson, a member of the Dodgers' Hall of Fame, recalled in a Citizen-Times story in 1998.
But at the last minute Campy sidestepped right quick and came up and tagged him under the chin, and honest to God he turned him a flip. He knocked the hell out of Martin. That was the last out, and we won the game.
After his baseball career, he founded Preferred Properties in 1968 along with Ned Gibson and Ellen Ford Gibson.
Don was a great cook, Ellen Ford Gibson said. He had every gourmet magazine. He enjoyed cooking for his family as well as entertaining.
Don was a gentle soul who was loved by everybody, Riddle said. He was a great supporter of the Y.
Thompson is survived by his wife, Katy, and two sons, Tracy (wife Sandy) and John (wife Diane) and one grandchild.
Visitation will be 6-8 p.m. Friday at Morris Funeral Home at 304 Merrimon Ave., Asheville. The service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul's Methodist Church, 223 Hillside St, Asheville.