Captain Fantastic of the 1959 Husky Baseball Team

The late Jerry Thornton was a great ballplayer and a real family man.

An old black and white photograph shows a smiling baseball team hoisting a fellow teammate on their shoulders

Jubilant Huskies hoist Jerry Thornton for a ride off the field after they won the Northern Division title. Thornton played center field on the team.

He was one of the best players on one of the best baseball teams in Husky history. Jerry Bruce Thornton was a key part of the 1959 Husky squad that was the first in school history to reach the NCAA Tournament. It’s no coincidence that every year, Husky baseball gives out the Jerry Thornton Unsung Hero Award.

As the captain of Coach Dale Parker’s 1959 squad, Thornton, a centerfielder, led the team in runs in 1957 and 1958 and at-bats in 1958. The ’59 Huskies made one of the greatest turnarounds in school history after finishing the previous year 12-13. They went 21-12, winning the Pacific Coast Conference’s Northern Division to qualify for a regional playoff series at Sick’s Stadium, finishing one game shy of making it to Omaha for the College World Series.

The Seattle native came to the UW after graduating from West Seattle High School, where he starred in baseball and football. He played quarterback and running back for the Huskies until the Korean War interrupted his education. He joined the Navy and worked as an aircraft mechanic. Everyone who knew him would smile to learn how he somehow managed to find a way to play football while serving his country. He played halfback for the Hawaii All Stars in the 1956 Hula Bowl. Typical Jerry.

But let’s get back to that 1959 Husky baseball team. Its groundbreaking accomplishments resulted in the squad’s 1996 induction into the Husky Hall of Fame, and Thornton was named to the UW’s All-Century baseball team.

Black and white photo of 1959 Huskies baseball team

The 1959 Huskies baseball team

Thornton’s ability caught the eye of the Philadelphia Phillies, who invited him to try out for their Class AAA team. But he turned down that offer, instead opting to accept a teaching position at Glacier High School in the Highline School District since his first son was just born. Four more boys would follow.

Jerry always had a knack for making friends. He continued to teach in Highline (except for one year of grad school at the University of Michigan) but he left in 1973 to work for the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, making the Tukwila-to-Olympia commute every day. He retired in 2002 but retirement meant serving as a water commissioner and on numerous public safety committees, volunteering at the Museum of Flight and refereeing high school football games for 35 years. Beyond that, he continued to play baseball well into his 60s, and played on competitive teams with three of his sons. Sports Illustrated even did a story on them.

Thornton was a legendary storyteller who had a knack of remembering everything about you from meeting him for the first time. Which made it really sad when he died Aug. 6, 2022, only three days before he was to turn 89. It should be no surprise that in the obituary that appeared in the paper, the Thornton family asked that you not send flowers but instead, attend a local Little League game and cheer in Jerry’s honor. How fitting.