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Tom Eaton

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Tom Robert Eaton

Tom Eaton played five years in the minors, reaching AAA. He was noted for his speed, walking ability and defense but did not hit enough to make the majors. He led his league in at least one fielding department every season, including four of five years in fielding percentage. He stole 162 bases.

Eaton was a 17th round draft choice in the 1977 amateur draft, picked by the Baltimore Orioles.

Eaton debuted in the pro ranks with the 1977 Bluefield Orioles and showed a fine glove. He led Appalachian League second basemen in assists (174) and fielding percentage (.971). He hit .227/.326/.287 but stole 20 bases in 26 tries and laid down 11 sacrifice hits to lead the league. He was third in swipes.

In 1978, Tom played for the Miami Orioles and batted .267/.357/.297. He stole 50 bases in 60 tries and scored 89 runs. He drew 83 walks, showing a good batting eye. He was second in the Florida State League in runs (trailing Dan Rohn), third in walks and third in steals behind Tito Landrum and Tim Raines Sr.; Eaton stole at a far better rate that year than Raines. He led the FSL with 499 at-bats. Eaton fielded .972 and led FSL second sackers in double plays (86) and assists (432). He beat out both Raines and Rohn for the All-Star nod at second base.

Eaton spent most of 1979 with the Charlotte O's. He hit .276/.378/.328 but his steal rate fell drastically. He stole 25 bases but was caugght running 13 times. He did lead Southern League second basemen in fielding percentage (.991), making only 5 errors in 103 games. Despite worse defense, Raines was picked as the All-Star 2B in the 1979 SL.

In 1980, Eaton formed an "ironman" infield in Charlotte with 3B Cal Ripken Jr. as they tied for the Southern League lead in games played, each appearing in all 144 contests. Tom hit .234/.343/.334 with 92 runs, 84 walks and 52 steals - in 74 tries. He also showed his best power, with 26 doubles and 8 home runs. Eaton led the SL in times caught stealing, was 4th in runs, third in walks (14 behind leader Tony Phillips) and third in steals (2 ahead of Phillips). Eaton had as many game-winning RBI as Ripken, 5. He led the SL's second basemen in putouts (360), assists (442), double plays (108) and fielding percentage (.975). Pat Tabler won All-Star honors at second.

Eaton made it to AAA with the 1981 Rochester Red Wings. He hit .216/.330/.256 and was caught stealing in 12 of 28 attempts. Defense was the lone positive as he led the International League's second basemen in fielding percentage (.986). In the longest game in Organized Baseball history, Eaton led off for Rochester and went 3 for 10, outhitting Ripken. He, Ripken and Dallas Williams all set the professional baseball record for plate appearances in a game with 15.

Sources: 1978-1982 Baseball Almanacs

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