Corunna’s Rob Thomson takes reins of Phillies, makes baseball history

Rob Thomson shakes hands with Philadelphia Phillies player Rhys Hoskins on June 3 at Citizens Bank Park, in what was his first official game as Interim General Manager of the ball club. Photo: courtesy of The Phillies/Miles Kennedy

Tara Jeffrey

Rob Thomson practically grew up on the ball diamonds of Corunna.

“I was always the bat boy,” he said with a laugh, recalling a youth spent following around older brothers Tom and Rick — and their teams — each summer.

So it was only natural he’d pick up a glove of his own and follow in their footsteps.

“I was just around the ball parks all the time,” he said of Corunna’s Duggan and Stewart fields on Hill Street.

“My father was a pretty good baseball guy too, and he coached for many years. Being around the game all the time — I just fell in love with it.”

It’s been a whirlwind recently for the 58-year-old, who on June 3 was named interim general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies — the first Canadian to become a full-time manager in Major League Baseball in nearly 90 years.

Since taking the reins, the Phillies have gone 9-2 under Thomson’s leadership

His promotion from bench coach came after the firing of long-time friend and colleague Joe Girardi.

“It’s bittersweet for me,” Thomson told The Journal. “I feel good and I feel excited about the ball club and what we’re doing so far. But you know, the Phillies letting Joe go is tough to see.

“Joe and I have been through so much — a lot of great times — World Series, playoff games, and grinding through a lot of tough stretches, too,” he said.

The pair spent a decade spent together in the New York Yankees organization.

“He and I will always have this bond together that will never be broken. But the schedule doesn’t stop, and you have to keep moving forward.”

And that’s exactly what he did with a 10-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels that same night.

“My father always taught me to think about today and take care of what’s in front of you, and not really look too far ahead.”

Thomson said his first goal is get his players to compete at a high level each and every game.

“It’s one day at a time, really.”

His father Jack spent his working career at Sarnia’s Cabot Carbon plant while raising the family on Lyndoch Street in Corunna — where Antonio’s Pizza now stands.

When Thomson reached Bantam age he played in Sarnia for Larry Lecour and the late Glenn Lecour.
“It couldn’t happen to a nicer or more dedicated person,” said Larry Lecour, who coached lived near the family in Corunna. “He was a hard worker, never missed a game, always showed up and was ready to go.

“And he used to babysit my kids,” he added with a laugh.

Lecour has followed Thomson’s journey through the baseball ranks and says it’s about time he was promoted to the top job.

“In my opinion, it’s well overdue,” he said. “He’s a baseball lifer, and we’re glad it finally happened.”

Thomson played for the Stratford Hillers in the early 1980s before recruiters drew him to St. Clair Community College in Port Huron. A year later he transferred to the University of Kansas.

The catcher and third baseman represented Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, before the Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 32nd round.

In 1988, Thomson set his sights on managing and served as Detroit’s minor league coach for two seasons.

He then joined the Yankees and spent the next 28 years in various roles including bench coach and third base coach — earning five World Series rings in the process.

He made history in 2008 when in Girardi’s absence he led the Yankees for three games. It was the first time since 1934 that a Canadian had managed a Major League team in regular season play.

He joined the Phillies as bench coach in 2017, and was named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame two years later.

These days, the father of two grown daughters calls Stratford home in the offseason, but still makes the drive to Corunna to see how things have changed — or stayed the same.

He’s pleased to see more Canadian kids coming up through the baseball ranks, he said.

“I think there’s more baseball players [from Canada] on college scholarships to the U.S. than hockey players,” he said. “I understand that there’s more baseball schools than hockey schools, but I think that’s a fascinating thing.

“It just goes to show you how much baseball in Canada has grown, and I’m kind of proud of that.”