May 9, 1951 – June 12, 1980

Danny Lee Thomas was a Major League Baseball player who played for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1976 and 1977. During his brief major league career, he became known as the “Sundown Kid” because of his well-publicized refusal to play on seventh-day Sabbath.

Danny Thomas bounced around a lot as a kid, from Birmingham to Mobile to southern Illinois and to the rough outskirts of East St. Louis. He described his mother as a “religious fanatic” who dabbled in all kinds of faiths before settling with the WorldWide Church of God (WWCG), a sect of Fundamentalist Christianity that had been founded in the 1930s as an over-the-air radio church. For a time, Danny joined his mother in the church, but lapsed when its decree that no member shall work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday interfered with his baseball schedule. [1]

Joining the Brewers in September 1976, Thomas played 54 games for the Brewers in 1976 and 1977 as an outfielder and designated hitter. When he arrived for spring training in 1977, he informed the Brewers that he would not play on the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Thomas in 1977

His newfound inner peace came at a cost. Having rejoined the WWCG, Thomas was now forbidden to work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, when he was expected to meditate and attend church services. It was standard practice for teams to play Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, which meant Thomas would be unavailable for two games every week. Factoring in scheduled Saturday doubleheaders, Thomas estimated he would miss 40 games per season because of his religious convictions. “[The Brewers] were quite surprised,” Thomas said of his declaration. “They asked me to reconsider and I did. I thought about all the things I’ve been through and whether I should go back and become the old me or not. I decided there is something more important [than baseball] and said I couldn’t play on my Sabbath.” [1]

“The Sundown Kid”, as he came to be called, missed a night game on Saturday, April 23, 1977, when he was slated to be in the lineup as cleanup hitter and left fielder, after having been excused from pre-sundown batting practice earlier in the day. He once told People magazine, “If I’m good at baseball, it’s only because God gave me the talent. I’ll give it all I’ve got, but I won’t play on the Sabbath”.

After playing 22 games for the Brewers in 1977, Thomas was demoted on May 20 to the Spokane Indians, the Brewers’ Triple-A Pacific Coast League farm team in Spokane, Washington, although his batting average with Milwaukee was a respectable .271. A Milwaukee Journal columnist, Bill Dwyer, wrote, “No matter how tolerant and ecumenical Brewers’ management wants to be, they are irked by having a player sit out two games a week.”

While playing for the Indians, Thomas agreed to a pay reduction of one day per week due to his missed Saturday games. His batting average declined considerably, however, and the Brewers announced his reassignment to their Eastern League Class AA affiliate in August. Thomas refused the demotion and did not play the remainder of the season, saying “It’s like they’re asking me, ‘Do you want to stay in the minor leagues the rest of your life? Conform or get out.'” Brewers president Bud Selig said, “It’s just a tragic story. I know a lot of people are mad at us because of what they think we’ve done to him … He’s really a nice kid who wants to do the right thing.”

Thomas had difficulty finding steady employment after baseball and soon found himself in trouble with the law. He had been arrested on rape charges involving a 12 year old girl. Having no way out he hanged himself June 12, 1980.

His family was so impoverished by then that they were unable to afford funeral expenses or even remain in Alabama for his potter’s field burial.

Danny once told his wife that he knew something was wrong with him but could not say exactly what it was.

It appears that Danny had mental issues long standing, and joining Armstrong’s Worldwide Church didn’t help matters either. It was all down hill after 1977. Just 3 years later he would die by his own hand.

To what extent HWA had a hand in his death we can only speculate. All of us have seen people come into the WCG who were off balanced. Not one ever got better. They only degenerated quicker under the pressure of legalistic law keeping.

The reason I post this is that I made a comment about Danny Thomas killing himself over at SOS on Youtube. That comment was removed. I guess killing yourself after joining the WCG is no concern. Troubling.

[1] The Strange Story of the Sundown Kid

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