STARKVILLE — Bobby Thigpen has no shortage of baseball accolades.
The former standout Major League Baseball relief pitcher set a major league record for most saves in a single season (57) in 1990 for the Chicago White Sox, earning him an All-Star Game appearance and the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year award. His record stood for 18 seasons, and he made more than $10.7 million in career earnings according to BarryCode.com.
Yet, after being in attendance for the first-ever Ron Polk Ring of Honor class in 2019 that included former teammates Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro, he was told by Polk himself it wouldn’t be long before he gets his own name called. One year later, Thigpen did. That just hit differently for the former Mississippi State pitcher and outfielder.
“There is no other award I could get at this point that would be better,” Thigpen said.
The ceremony was supposed to occur in 2020, but it was pushed back to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Thigpen was inducted in a class that includes MSU’s career strikeout leader in Eric DuBose and the first coach to lead MSU to a College World Series in Paul Gregory in the middle of the Arkansas series March 27, emotion took over.
“This was an honor that exceeds anything I’ve ever done individually,” he said. “I look at this from the view of the fans, school, and coach Polk. I’m eternally grateful for the school giving me the opportunity to come here and play and will forever be a Mississippi State Bulldog.”
While Thigpen is remembered by many pro baseball fans for his contributions as a reliever, MSU fans remember a two-way player who helped lead MSU to the 1985 Collegiate World Series. At the plate, his first and last career at-bats were grand slams. Over a two-year career with the Bulldogs, Thigpen drove in 101 runs, hit seven home runs and racked up seven saves.
“At Mississippi State, I liked being in the outfield,” Thigpen told The Dispatch. “Pitching was a secondary hobby. Obviously in the big leagues I wasn’t good enough to be a big league hitter. But as far as college goes, being in the outfield took your mind off things. One of the last games I ever played in, I had a tough pitching game, so you definitely try to forget about that.”
Meanwhile, DuBose, who racked up a school-leading 428 strikeouts from 1995 to 1997, also got a bit emotional after receiving the honor from the school.
“It’s overwhelming to have the honor to be inducted in the second class with Bobby Thigpen and Paul Gregory,” DuBose said. “I really lived a fairy tale for my three years at Mississippi State. Getting to play here, I had a great career and the story book ending of my last game being pitched here in 1997 against Washington to go to the College World Series and getting the dog pile on the mound. It was a perfect ending for me in my three years.”
After being picked 21st overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1997 draft, DuBose carved out a five-year big league career for himself, pitching 188.1 pro innings. DuBose is also the first player from the 1990s era to be inducted into the ring of honor.
“It was like the ’85 Ring of Honor (last year), so it’s good to bring a little ’90s taste into the ring,” DuBose said. “It’s a great accomplishment and something I’m very honored to be a part of.”
Gregory, who coached at MSU from 1957-1974, was inducted posthumously. He led MSU to its first four NCAA tournament appearances in program history, including the first trip to the College World Series in 1971, and four Southeastern Conference titles. Gregory won 328 games and was named SEC coach of the year on four occasions.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.