Stew Thornley works for the Health Department. He likes cats. He also likes baseball, and works as an official scorer at Twins games. He wears a mustache and studies statistics.
He is stereotypical baseball geek, except when sky diving, bear wrestling, writing books about obscure topics or visiting Hall of Famers’ grave sites.
“Official scoring is the way in which I am a conformist,” he said. “I usually pride myself on nonconformity, but when it comes to scoring, I want us to be consistent across the board.”
Hang around press boxes, and you will encounter characters. Thornley might be Minnesota’s most-unique and useful press box character, a dedicated scorer with a list of hobbies that make him a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Bill James.
Thornley, 59, has worked as a Gophers bat boy and as a PA announcer at St. Louis Park High School. He also has visited the grave sites of, he believes, 207 baseball Hall of Famers.
Sometimes he has to use covert methods to find them. Willie Stargell wanted his grave site to remain secret, so Thornley had to consult a pharmacist and baseball enthusiast from Stargell’s town, Wilmington, N.C., to deduce where to look.
“I love traveling,” Thornley said. “The grave sites give my journeys a destination.”
When working for a radio station he wrestled a bear. “It goes on until the bear gets bored and just lays on you,” Thornley said. “You’re exhausted, trying to push around this bear, and then they bring the bear a bottle of soda, to show that the bear can drink, and you’re laying there saying, ‘Hey, I’ll take one, too.’ ”
Thornley is the mustachioed gentlemen you may spot at the end of the Target Field press box, bearing down on every pitch.
He has written books about the Minneapolis Millers and the Minneapolis Lakers, as well as baseball grave sites. (His works are listed at StewThornley.net.) He has worked with or around the Millers, Loons, Timberwolves, Twins and Saints. He always is working on a book or a trip.
He has even more time to concentrate on baseball now that he no longer sky-dives. An accident in 2011 broke a vertebra.
Two years later, he had surgery to remove an aggressive tumor in his hip, and he still is wearing a walking boot while trying to regain full use of his foot.
The two injuries share a common denominator.
“Good timing,” he said. “I didn’t have to miss Twins games either time.”
He muses that if doctors had done a better job diagnosing his cancer, they might have forced him to have surgery in midsummer 2014. “I would have missed the All-Star Game,” Thornley said. “The All-Star Game in Minneapolis — that might have been the five best days of my life in I don’t know how long.”
He clicks a ring on the wooden table. It is the large, gaudy ring Major League Baseball gave him for being the official scorer at the All-Star Game. It is also the only ring on his hands.
He is married to Brenda Himrich but never has worn a wedding ring. “I used to tell my wife,” he says with a wink, “that I didn’t’ want to wear one because then women would hit on me. But the All-Star ring — that I wear every day.
“My wife has taken great care of me. She says, ‘You would do the same for me,’ and I say, ‘Yes, but the level of care would not be as good.’ ”
As his foot has made bear-wrestling, sky-diving and gravesite-visiting unadvisable, Thornley has become even more focused on official scoring. He is on MLB’s official-scoring advisory board, and flies to New York every year to meet with other official scorers and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre.
“I know visiting grave sites sounds morbid, but I’m morbid,” Thornley said. “That’s why I love being in the press box. I love that dark, sarcastic humor.
“But official scoring requires a certain amount of dignity and propriety. So I try.”