The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Why would anyone not want to adopt the universal DH?

Ever since the American League adopted the designated hitter position in 1973, a lot of hopeful fans have wondered when the National League would follow suit. Now, 48 years later, a lot of fans are still asking when the senior circuit will finally get on board.

When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred implemented the universal DH rule last year during the coronavirus pandemic to help reduce risks for NL pitchers during the shortened season, it was assumed the situation would provide the impetus for being incorporated permanently across both leagues.

However, according to MLB insider Ken Rosenthal, Manfred issued a letter advising teams to plan the upcoming season without the universal DH. The National League are probably okay with this direction for now. They did not have much of a chance to plan their 2020 rosters for utilization of a DH and consequently did not get the appropriate type of players to fill the role. For example, according to Call to the Pen, three of the most-used National League DHs in 2020 failed to hit above .200 and six failed to slug .400. On the other hand, the best DH in the National League was Marcell Ozuna, who led the league in home runs and RBIs. Where would the Atlanta Braves have finished without him last year?

There used to be a contingent of baseball fans who didn’t want the National League to embrace the full-time DH role. They were generally part of a group of “traditionalists,” who wanted to keep the game the same as it was played in the ‘40s and ‘50s. By the way, they also didn’t like league expansion, livelier baseballs, and other changes in the game.

But nowadays, why would anyone not want to see the universal DH fully used throughout the game?

Here are some of the main benefits of the DH.

Forget tradition. There would finally be consistency between the leagues for 100% of the games, not just the interleague games.

It provides an opportunity to extend some of the older players’ careers. A prime example of this is Twins’ DH Nelson Cruz, who is still a top slugger at 40 years of age and does not have to play in the field.

There’s not much strategy in having National League pitchers bat, since they are usually an automatic out. Not every team has a pitcher like Madison Bumgarner, who can be a real threat at the plate. However, for every Bumgarner, there are 50 Yu Darvishes, who can’t hit a lick. Eliminating the pitcher as a batter is more in keeping with today’s offensive-minded game.

The DH gives managers more flexibility in lineups, especially if they have an abundance of good hitters. Multiple players can be moved in and out of the role, including defensively-challenged players. As a result, the quality of play in the field improves.

Teams wanting to trade a designated hitter have more options if NL teams are in play.

One of the downsides for teams with a good DH is they cost more. The average player signed by an American League team to be its primary DH got $13.65 million. That was three times the average $4.35 million salary for all positions. Six of the 15 primary DHs were paid in excess of $20 million, topped by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera at $30 million. Seven were the highest paid players on their team.

So, what’s Manfred waiting on? More than likely, the matter won't be resolved permanently until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed. That probably won't happen until before the start of the 2022 season. The Major League Baseball Players Association will likely want to see rosters expanded to allow for the permanent DH across all teams.

Ever since New York Yankees’ Ron Blomberg became the first DH in major-league history in 1973, it’s been somewhat incredible it has taken so long to be adopted throughout all of baseball. Wait til next year.

Flashback: NORD pioneer Dutch Legett, a ballplaying dentist

The New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) was once the envy of the nation in providing opportunities for youngsters aged 8 to 20 to play organized baseball. One of the gentlemen most responsible for growing the program over the years was Dr. Lou “Dutch” Legett, a former major-league player in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It turned out he became better known in local circles for his role as the volunteer chairman of NORD than as a big league player.

With his background as a professional baseball player and a native of New Orleans, Legett was well-qualified to spearhead the baseball portion of the recreational program. During his tenure, the Times-Picayune declared New Orleans “the junior baseball capital of America” for its progressive organization of NORD’s city-wide facilities and leagues. He spent parts of four decades leading the program.

Legett was a three-sport star at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans. He was an all-prep and all-state end in 1919 and 1920. He was the quarterback and captain of the school’s squad that won the city and state championship in 1921. Warren Easton won the city championship in basketball in 1921, when Legett was named to the city’s Prep League all-star team. His school completed the sweep of city league championships in baseball that same year. Leggett demonstrated his versatility by playing multiple positions on the team, including pitcher and catcher.

Following his graduation from high school, Legett attended Tennessee Dental School in Memphis where was enrolled in the dentistry program. He continued his love of sports by playing on the university’s football team. During the summers he played for semi-pro baseball teams, where he was a teammate of another future major leaguer, Carl Lind.

After finishing dental school, he set up his practice on Frenchman’s Street in New Orleans yet got the itch for baseball again. After playing the 1926 and 1927 seasons in the Class B South Atlantic League, he was acquired by the Chicago Cubs who assigned him to Reading in the International League. He hit .342 with 11 homers and made the league’s all-star team as catcher. In November 1928, he was one of five players (along with $200,000) that Chicago traded to the Boston Braves for future Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby.

He made his major-league debut with the Braves on May 8, 1929. He appeared in 39 games as a backup catcher but managed to hit only .160. He was purchased by the Boston Red Sox for the 1933 season, when he spent most of the year in the minors and saw action in only eight big-league games.

He spent the entire 1934 season with the Red Sox but played sparingly (19 games) behind all-star catcher Rick Ferrell. He got into only two games with the Red Sox in 1935 and then finished out his career in the minors, retiring in 1937. He was among a small number of players in major-league history to have practiced medicine while still an active player.

Having continued his dental practice in the off-seasons, Legett returned to New Orleans as a full-time dentist after his baseball retirement. He got involved in the newly-formed NORD baseball program in 1947 as its chairman, when they started out with just 50 teams. By 1950, the program had grown to 326 teams involving over 5,000 kids. By 1964, NORD had reached 500 teams. Legett was known for his annual tours of the NORD facilities with city officials and local professional baseball players in order to showcase the expansive program. He used his professional baseball ties to enlist other former local major-leaguers such as John “Oyster Joe” Martina and John “Fats” Dantonio to help coach and mentor teams. He continued his work with NORD until the mid- ‘70s when illness forced him to retire.

Legett was inducted into the Diamond Club of New Orleans in 1969. This honorary group consisted of local players and coaches who had distinguished themselves in the sport. In 1984 he was inducted into the New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. Legett died on March 6, 1988, at age 86.

Legett is among over 1,700 players from the New Orleans Metro Area to have played high school baseball and gone on to college and/or professional baseball careers. Click here to view a compilation of those players.

What's in store for the 2021 baseball season?

The 2020 baseball season was like no other. Given all the hurdles, we were actually lucky Major League Baseball managed to get in a 60-game regular-season and a post-season. It was the most tumultuous season since 1994-1995 when the Major League Baseball Players Association called a players strike, which resulted in shortening the 1994 regular season, cancelling the 1994 post-season, and delaying the start of the 1995 season.

The absence of minor-league baseball and an abbreviated MLB draft (five versus forty rounds) also contributed to a turbulent time that negatively impacted player development. The effects may not manifest themselves for a couple of years though.

Will major league players and staffs be allowed to take the COVID-19 vaccine early enough to permit a normal start of the season? Probably so. Will fans be allowed to attend games at the start of the regular season? Probably, but with limited numbers at first.

Which of the new rules instituted in 2020 will carry over to 2021? Here’s my take: Universal designated hitter (yes). Expanded playoffs (yes). Extra-innings starting with runner on second base (no). Seven-inning double-headers (no).

Alex Cora(Boston Red Sox) and AJ Hinch (Detroit Tigers) are back in the dugout after sitting out last year due to their association with the sign-stealing scandal that surfaced in late 2019. Both of their clubs will have a hard time getting back to a World Series any time soon.

The Houston Astros were largely spared the fans’ indignation for the team’s involvement in the sign-stealing fiasco, as games were played last season without fans in attendance to heckle them. Time will not have healed all those wounds yet.

The San Diego Padres are putting all their chips on the 2021 season, with the acquisition of top-flight starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. They’ll have the world champion Dodgers standing in their way though.

Major league GMs seem to go from one extreme to another in hiring managers. For several years now the trend has been to bring on new-style managers who have no prior managerial experience at any level. Last year the Astros hired 71-year-old Dusty Baker to replace AJ Hinch. This offseason the White Sox hired 76-year-old Tony LaRussa, who last managed in 2011. The White Sox seem poised to make a run for a World Serie ring, but I’m not sure LaRussa is the best choice to lead them there.

Which New York team will DJ LaMahieu wind up playing for? He’s been the best position player for the Yankees the past two seasons. New Mets owner Steven Cohen wants to make a big splash immediately, and LeMahieu would be a huge contributor to that effort. “La Machine” is in the driver’s seat on where he finally lands.

Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena came out of the 2020 post-season with one of the most phenomenal playoff performances in recent history. His slash line in 20 playoff games was .377/.442/.831. He set a new MLB record for most home runs (10) in a single post-season. Was that just a “flash-in-the pan” accomplishment, or can we expect more of this type of play in 2021? His arrest in Mexico during the offseason for a family dispute may delay us in finding out.

Where will respected baseball executive Theo Epstein re-surface in 2021? He stepped down as president of the Cubs after nine seasons. I think he’ll sit out this season, and I’m predicting he’ll wind up with the Mets for the 2022 season. He’s got experience leading franchises (Red Sox and Cubs) to world championships, and it’s been a long time since the Mets were champs (1986).

Texas Rangers fans will get to attend a proper opening of its new Globe Life Field this season. They got short-changed last year with the coronavirus, when fans didn’t get a chance to attend regular-season games.

Here are some other key questions for the 2021 season.

Can the Twins win a playoff game? They’ve been swept in their last six playoff series.

The Marlins were a surprise playoff team in the shortened 2020 season. Are they capable of a winning season in a 162-games schedule?

Will Mike Trout ever play in another playoff game?

After a World Series championship drought lasting 32 years, could the Dodgers be the first repeat World Series champ since the Yankees in 2000?

New Orleans finally gets designation as major league baseball city

No, it’s not what you think or have been hoping for since the 1960s. Major League Baseball hasn’t awarded a new franchise to the City of New Orleans. Instead, by virtue of MLB deciding to add the Negro Leagues to its official records, and because the St. Louis-New Orleans Stars were part of the Negro American League in 1940 and 1941, New Orleans will retroactively be considered a major-league city. It’s not exactly the way the city’s baseball fans would have preferred to attain its big-league status though.

What brought about this unexpected designation? According to, “MLB is officially recognizing that the quality of the segregation-era circuits was comparable to its own product from that time period.” Consequently, MLB gave Major League status to seven professional Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948.

Black organized baseball teams existed in the city as far back as 1886, when a team called the Unions of New Orleans played. However, New Orleans didn’t have a single franchise that existed throughout the Negro Leagues era. For example, teams that were part of regional leagues included the New Orleans Black Pelicans who played in 1920 and again in 1945. The New Orleans Crescent Stars played in 1922, 1933, and 1934. The New Orleans Eagles played in 1951. Furthermore, there existed numerous Black semi-pro teams that often competed against barnstorming teams on tour from other parts of the country. These teams included the Caulfield Ads, Jax Red Sox, and Algiers Giants. Wesley Barrow, after whom the local baseball stadium is named, served as manager of the 1945 Black Pelicans.

New Orleans shared an entry in the National American League with St. Louis in 1940 and 1041. Home games were played in both cities, with Pelican Stadium used as the site of the contests in New Orleans. Their competition included the Kansas City Monarchs and Birmingham Black Barons, two of the more storied franchises in Negro Leagues history. The Stars’ manager was George Mitchell, and their best pitcher was Eugene Smith, who threw a no-hitter against the New York Black Yankees in 1941.

Some of the more notable Negro League players whose careers started in New Orleans high schools and semi-pro teams were Oliver Marcell, Dave Malarcher, and John Bissant. Their hitting and pitching stats will become part of MLB’s official records.

New Orleans had long harbored hopes it could become the home to a major-league baseball franchise. When Major League Baseball’s expansion first occurred in the early 1960s and the concept for a local domed stadium emerged later in the decade, expectations soared that the city would secure an MLB big-league team. However, after numerous unsuccessful efforts by city and state officials to lure an existing franchise to re-locate to the Crescent City to play in the Louisiana Superdome, the endeavor was finally abandoned in early 1980s. The closest New Orleans came to hosting a big-league team occurred when the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate relocated for the 1977 season.


HOF voters faced with big decisions for 2021 class

The 2021 class of HOF-eligible players is not very strong this year. The probability of seeing a first-ballot election is practically nil. There are no Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter-caliber players making their ballot debut this year. In fact, I don’t think any of the new entrants will ever get serious consideration. In my opinion, first-timers Tim Hudson, Mark Beuhrle, and Torii Hunter were decent players, but are not Hall-worthy. So, how should voters look at years like this, when even many of the eligible carryover players (from previous years) are on the fence of being Hall-worthy?

Given the above situation, should voters give more consideration to the PED era players on the ballot? Several of them, namely Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez, were top echelon players when it comes to the Hall of Fame’s statistical standards. However, if a voter continues to take the stance of omitting all suspected or positive-tested PED users from his ballot, does he then cast a vote for a borderline player instead? Or cast a ballot with less than ten votes?

The baseball writers who make up nearly 400 voters have some tough choices to make this year. If any of them are looking for inputs, here’s my two-cents worth.

My carryovers from the 2020 class include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, and Jeff Kent; and I’m sticking with them.

As I stated in my blog last year about the Hall of Fame voting, I’ve put the PED era stigma behind me. I’ve always believed Bonds and Clemens should be elected, and then last year I added Manny Ramirez. I no longer tried to differentiate players who were suspected of PED use versus those who actually tested positive.

Bonds and Clemens seemed to have stalled out in their percentage of votes in the 2020 class balloting. Neither of them substantially increased their percentages from the year before. They have only one more year after this one to reach the minimum 75% of the votes. It would be very telling if they stayed at the same percentage again this year.

Schilling got to 70% last year and appears to be on track to be elected this year. It’s been a long struggle for him. I believe the baseball writers ultimately came to appreciate his post-season performances (in 19 games, he posted a 11-2 record, 2.23 ERA, and 0.968 WHIP for three different teams).

I’m definitely in the minority in voting for Sheffield. In his six years on the ballot, he’s managed to get to only 30.5%. I believe he’s been negatively affected by PED suspicion, but when you look at his slash line (.292/.393/.514) and OPS+ of 140, (not to mention his 509 home runs and 1,675 RBIs), he’s hard to ignore. The fact that he played for eight different teams during his career may have contributed to the perception of him as a journeyman ballplayer.

Todd Helton had a ten-year period when he had an impressive slash line of .332/.432/.585 and averaged 30 home runs and 108 RBIs. He was at 29.2% after his second year of eligibility. I think he’ll have a big increase this year.

I voted for Vizquel and Kent for the first time last year, but admittedly I included them only to fill out my ballot with ten votes. Kent’s in the top three second basemen in history for slugging percentage. However, like Sheffield, he’s only garnered 27.5% after seven years on the ballot. Vizquel is arguably the best defensive shortstop in history although he never hit for much power in an era when shortstops were expected to contribute offensively. However, he managed to get 52.6% in his third year. Vizquel’s percentage could be hurt by recent negative press regarding alleged physical abuse of his wife.

The top of this year’s list of new eligible players includes Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter, Dan Haren, Barry Zito, and Aramis Ramirez. They were all-stars during their careers but were hardly of the superstar category. I’m not voting for any of them.

That leaves two more votes I could add. I’m of the opinion that a Hall of Fame ballot should include the top ten players eligible that year. My rationale is that one can’t reliably predict the worthiness of Hall of Fame induction of players up to ten seasons in the future, so one should pick the best currently eligible players. That implies one or more of the players may not be on a voter’s list in a subsequent year, if indeed more worthy players come along. The argument against this approach is that a player is either a Hall of Famer or not—that voting for them shouldn’t depend on who else is eligible in a given year. Thus, one could wind up with less than ten votes.

So, my last two votes go to Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones.

Of the top thirty relief pitchers with a minimum of 300 saves (which includes seven existing Hall of Famers), Wagner has the third-best ERA (2.31) and third-best strikeout percentage (33.2%), while being tied for third-best in batting average of balls in play (BAbip) with .265. His career WHIP was 0.998. He collected 31.7% of the votes in his fifth year of eligibility.

Jones is one of the best defensive centerfielders of all time. He was a Gold Glove winner in eleven consecutive seasons (1997-2007), while averaging 30 home runs and 100 RBIs during the same period. He garnered 19.4% of the votes in his third year of eligibility, so he would have to make a big jump this year to stay in the hunt.

The PED era remains on trial during this year’s voting. The outcome could have a direct bearing on two of next year’s eligible players, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, both connected to PED use. This could be the year in which several players will gain significant ground in reaching 75%, due to a relative shortfall of viable candidates. Let’s see what happens.

Dick (don't call me Richie) Allen should get his due in HOF

By now you probably have already read several stories about the career of Dick Allen, who died on December 7 at age 78. So, bear with me as I reminisce about the player who was initially called Richie by Philadelphia Phillies publicists when he made his major-league debut in 1963. Ten years later he declared to the media he wanted to be called Dick, since it was the name he grew up with.

Allen played in 10 games in his debut season, and then played his first full season in 1964. He was an immediate success individually and almost got the Philadelphia Phillies to their first pennant since 1950. Allen had an impressive slash line of .318/.382/.557, as he led the National League in runs (125), triples (13), and total bases (352). He was voted the Rookie of the Year, garnering 18 of 20 first-place votes.

Allen went on to one of the best major-league careers during his prime years (1964 to 1974), matching up well with some of the all-time greats. He made seven all-star teams during that timeframe and captured the American League MVP Award in 1972. During his 15-year career, he averaged .292, hit 351 home runs, and drove in 1,119 runs.

Yet he never really got the recognition as those other superstars. He was viewed as a malcontent, frequently at odds with team management. He broke team rules, such as showing up late for games and missing flights. Some days he decided he didn’t want to take batting practice. Furthermore, he was not a favorite of the press in Philadelphia, as he frequently denied interviews.

When he got into professional baseball his early twenties, he had to deal with racial issues that existed around the nation. Baseball had been integrated since 1947, but there were still lingering problems with bigotry within the game. Allen spoke up when others shied away from the issues. His openness contributed to the negative perception that often surrounded him.

However, the fans loved Allen. They loved the way he hit home runs with his 41-ounce bat, often in extra-inning games, although it was joked the fans were sometimes disappointed when he hit homers--because the ball couldn’t be found since he hit them so far.

When Allen became eligible in the Hall of Fame voting in 1983, he received a meager 3.7 % of the votes. The highest percentage of votes he obtained during his 14 years on the ballot (18.9%) was far lower than the required minimum of 75%. Since he had not accumulated 3,000 hits, hit 400 home runs, or averaged .300 or better, common benchmarks for election at that time, he never got serious consideration by the baseball writers. Furthermore, many of them remembered the disgruntled perception that plagued Allen during his playing days.

Yet with modern analytics now being utilized in the criteria for election to the Hall, there has been renewed interest in Allen by the Golden Era Committee (formerly known as the Veterans Committee). This blue-ribbon group of veteran players, managers and executives re-considers the careers of former players from past decades for election to the Hall. Allen missed by one vote for election by this committee six year ago. He was scheduled to come up again this year, but the committee deferred its voting until next year.

There are strong sentiments by today’s baseball analysts that Allen deserves to be voted in, based on his on-field performance and disregarding prior negative perceptions of his persona. The Athletic’s Jayson Stark produced the following analysis (for years 1964-1974) that shows Allen in good company with current Hall of Famers when considering several of the non-accumulation stats. The facts are pretty revealing when he is compared to peers of his era.

Best OPS: Hank Aaron (.941), Dick Allen (.920), Willie McCovey (.937).

Best Slugging Percentage: Hank Aaron (.561). Dick Allen (.554), and Willie Stargell (.541).

Best OPS+: Dick Allen (165), Willie McCovey (164), Hank Aaron (.159), Frank Robinson (159).

Assuming Allen gets the nod to enter the Hall next year, it will be a huge tragedy that it occurred after he passed. It is reminiscent of Ron Santo’s posthumous election in 2012.

Robinson Cano, don't ya know!

Yankees broadcaster John Sterling has a signature home run call for each of the Yankees players. During the time Robinson Cano was the star second baseman for the Yankees, he hit his share of round-trippers, prompting Sterling each time to shout out, “Robbie Cano, don’t ya know!” He was on a pace to get a plaque in Cooperstown, as he was among the top six in the voting for American League MVP for five consecutive years ending in 2014.

Apparently, Cano doesn’t know or care about PED use, since he was recently suspended from baseball for the entire 2021 season for testing positive for the performance enhancement drug Stanolozol. His 162-game suspension comes as a result of his second PED violation, having tested positive for a diuretic in May 2018. He wound up sitting out 80 games then.

Well, Cano can forget about Cooperstown now. He can forget about his $24 million salary for 2021. He previously had to forfeit $11.7 million for his first transgression in 2018. For most people, they get wiser with age. That adage doesn’t seem to apply to Cano.

He’ll be 39 years old when he returns for the 2022 season, and the demand for his aging skills will likely be greatly diminished. The Mets plan to move on without him, reportedly in the hunt for free-agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu. If successful, the Mets may have to wind up eating the $48 million owed Cano for 2022 and 2023. However, for new Mets owner Steve Cohen, the richest in the majors, that may be not be a big problem.

Cano’s situation is extremely disappointing. He’s a ballplayer with loads of talent. He made the game look easy, especially with his side-armed flip to first base on ground balls. He was destined for stardom early in his career. In his 2005 debut season, he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors. He secured an All-Star Game berth in his second season, when he hit .342. When the Yankees last won a World Series in 2009, he had an impressive slash line of .320/.352/.520 and finished second in total bases (331) on an outstanding offensive team. In addition to being a perennial top candidate for MVP honors, Cano was a five-time all-star with the Yankees.

Cano entered free agency after the 2013 season as a hot commodity. Even with the Yankees already sporting a $233 million payroll for 2014, including huge salaries for Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, CC Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixiera, and Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees still offered Cano a seven-year deal valued at $175 million. However, he chose to go with Seattle who gave him a $240 million, 10-year deal.

Cano had three all-star seasons with Seattle, although the team needed to fill other holes on its roster to be competitive. After his first PED suspension in 2018, Mets GM Brody Van Wagenen, formerly a player agent, acquired his former client in a seven-player deal. In the abbreviated 2020 season, Cano remained a productive hitter with a .316/.352/.544 slash line with 10 homers and 30 RBIs in 49 games. With Cohen’s purchase of the Mets franchise and his stated pursuit of a world championship, Cano won’t be a factor in the short term.

Cano is the second-best second baseman in Yankees history, better than Joe Gordon but behind Tony Lazzeri. Don’t you know he could have had a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, if his career hadn’t become marred with the PED-related suspensions? Evidently, Robbie didn’t care about that, but forfeiting $35 million was just plain dumb.

A 'cup of coffee' was all these New Orleanians got in the majors

In major league baseball parlance, when a player only appears in a few big league games in his professional career, it’s said he was there only long enough for a proverbial cup of coffee. That expression especially applies to players who got into only one major-league game in their entire career.

The Crescent City can boast having over 80 players reaching the big leagues, but for many of them a cup of coffee is about all they can claim. Yet they can be counted among the elite group of nearly 20,000 players to ever appear in the majors in over 140 years.

Of course, New Orleans is noted for having produced storied players like Mel Ott, Mel Parnell, Rusty Staub, and Will Clark. Each had lengthy, productive careers. Ott is enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, while the others have a plaque in their respective team’s hall of fame. Their careers are well-chronicled by baseball historians.

Below is a selection of some of the lesser-known New Orleans area players whose short-lived appearance was likely the highlight of their baseball careers. They won’t be found on any major-league all-star teams or in any halls of fame. Some of them weren’t around long enough to even get cream and sugar in their cup of coffee. But they were still major leaguers all the same.

Johnny Oulliber broke into professional baseball with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1932 by hitting .330. After another good start in the next season with the Pelicans, the former St. Aloysius High School outfielder was promoted to the Cleveland Indians in July. However, he played in only 22 games with the Indians, and wound up back with the Pelicans in 1934 for the last season of his career. He batted .267 with only one extra-base hit in 87 plate appearances with the Indians.

Rod Dedeaux appeared in only two major league games in 1935 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Born in New Orleans, Dedeaux’s family moved to Oakland, California, as a young child. He played three seasons at the University of Southern California before entering the pro ranks. Having developed a friendship with Casey Stengel during high school, the shortstop was called up by the Dodgers, then managed by Stengel. Dedeaux got a hit in four plate appearances on September 29. After becoming injured in 1936, he played sparingly in the minors until 1939. Dedeaux attained national notoriety as the long-time head baseball coach at USC, capturing 11 national titles between 1942 and 1986.

Oscar Georgy was a right-handed pitcher who made only one major-league appearance with the New York Giants in 1938, when he was a teammate of Mel Ott. He pitched one inning in relief, giving up two runs against Cincinnati on June 4. He finished his pro career in the low minors in the Giants system, retiring in 1941. Georgy played high school baseball at Fortier.

Al Flair signed with the Boston Red Sox organization out of Fortier High School in 1937. After posting an outstanding season with Baltimore of the International League in 1941, he was promoted to the second-place Red Sox in September. The first-baseman hit .200 in 10 games. After missing the 1942-1945 seasons due to World War II, he returned to the minors in 1946. However, he never got back to the majors. He played for with the New Orleans Pelicans in 1947 and 1948 and ended his pro career in 1951 after also playing in the Pirates, Senators, Tigers, and Dodgers organizations.

Ray Yochim signed with the St Louis Cardinals organization out of Holy Cross High School in 1941. His career was put on hold while serving in World War II from 1943 through 1945. The Sporting News erroneously reported his death while serving overseas in the Marines. He eventually pitched for the big-league Cardinals in 1948 and 1949, appearing in a total of 3 1/3 innings in four games as a reliever. He is the older brother of former major-leaguer Lenny Yochim.

Gerry Schoen, who prepped at De La Salle, was drafted out of the University of Loyola in New Orleans by the Washington Senators in the 15th round in 1966. He got called up by the last-place Senators in 1968 and made his debut as the starting pitcher against the New York Yankees on September 14. He pitched only 3 1/3 innings and took the loss. It was his only major-league game, and he was out of baseball after the 1971 season.

Allan Montreuil grew up as a schoolboy “phenom” in New Orleans, often playing in amateur leagues at a higher level than his normal age group. After two state championships at De La Salle High School, he played for the University Loyola in New Orleans for two seasons. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1963 but was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1969 when he became blocked in his bid for a regular job with the big-league Red Sox. After four seasons at the Triple-A level, he finally got a call-up to the big-league Cubs in 1972. He managed to get only one hit in five games in his only major-league season. His last season of pro ball was in 1975.

Jim Gaudet’s abbreviated major-league career spanned two seasons, but still amounted to only six games. He had one hit in 14 plate appearances with the Kansas City Royals during 1978 and 1979. He was initially drafted out of Jesuit High School by the Atlanta Braves in the third round in 1973. However, he chose to attend Tulane University and was drafted again in 1976 by the Royals in the sixth round. He ended his pro career in 1982 in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

Webster Garrison was a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays out of Ehret High School in 1983. The shortstop signed with the Blue Jays for a $150,000 signing bonus, passing up a scholarship offer to the University of New Orleans. Shortstop Tony Fernandez blocked his ascent to the Blue Jays, and Garrison was granted free agency after an injury-plagued 1990 season. The Oakland A’s signed him, and he finally got his shot in the majors for five games in 1996. He was hitless in 10 plate appearances with the A’s, and then it was back to the minors. He played three more seasons in the A’s organization before retiring as a player in 1999. He became a minor-league manager and coach in the A’s system and was still active in 2019.

Kevin Mmahat played at Tulane University and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 31st round of the 1987 MLB Draft. After one season in the Rangers organization, the left-handed pitcher was purchased by the New York Yankees. He was called up by the Yankees in September 1989, when he made two starts and two relief appearances, posting two losing decisions. He lasted three more seasons in the minor before retiring in 1992. Mmahat played high school ball at Grace King.

Steve Bourgeois, who prepped at Riverside Academy and played for Delgado Community College and University of Louisiana Monroe, was first drafted in 1991 by the Cleveland Indians in the 49th round but did not sign. Two years later the right-handed pitcher was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 21st round. He made his major-league debut with the Giants on April 3, 1996, and wound up pitching 40 innings that season, posting a 1-3 record and 6.30 ERA. It was his only big-league season. Bourgeois finished his career in the Mexican League in 2007.

Jeremy Bleich was a supplemental first-round pick (41st overall) of the New York Yankees in 2008. He had starred for Newman High School before playing for Stanford University. He played in the Yankees organization until 2011, when he was granted free agency. He then went through several more organizations before landing with Oakland in 2018. At 31 years of age, he made his major-league debut with the A’s on July 13 in a relief appearance and then pitched in one more game before being sent back the minors. Those were his only major-league games. He last pitched in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019.

Mike Romano was an All-American pitcher as a sophomore at Tulane in 1992, when he led the country in wins (17) and finished second in strikeouts (174). The right-hander was drafted in 1993 by the Toronto Blue Jays in the third round. After three seasons at the Triple-A level, he made his major-league debut with the Blue Jays on September 5, 1995, in a relief appearance against Kansas City. Altogether, Romano pitched in three games for a total of 5 1/3 innings in his only big-league season. He finished his career by pitching in the Mexican, Japanese, Korean and Venezuelan professional leagues. Romano threw the first no-hitter in Mexican League playoff history on August 18, 2002. He prepped at Chalmette High School.

COVID won't impact the Hot Stove season

COVID-19 put a real damper on the 2020 baseball season. The after-effects will be felt far beyond last season. Teams lost serious money. Player development, particularly in the minor leagues, was put on hold. Fans had to learn to engage differently, and unfortunately many lost interest. I don’t know about you, but Korean baseball at 4:00 AM on ESPN and stadiums with cardboard fans in the seats didn’t help me at all.

But all is not lost. For those with optimism that the impending vaccines will help mitigate the situation, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And I’m betting that baseball will pretty much be back to normal, if not in the early spring, by the start of summer.

In normal times, this time of the year for baseball fans is mostly about discussion and debate through various sports talk shows, blogs, and baseball websites. The good news is that we can participate in these media without the personal interaction requiring masks, social distancing, and washing hands. Long gone are the olden days when baseball enthusiasts gathered around the wood-burning stove in the general store during the wintertime to hash over last season and opine about the upcoming year.

So, what will baseball fans be talking about over this Hot Stove season?

Hall of Fame voting. There won’t likely be a first-ballot election in the voting that will happen later this year. I doubt that any of the new entrants will ever get serious consideration. Therefore, this could be the “make or break” year for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to get elected. Will the shortage of other serious candidates be the catalyst for these two guys finally getting elected?

Rules changes. The pandemic forced numerous changes in the game last season. We experienced expanded playoffs, neutral sites for the playoffs, universal use of the DH, and new rules for extra-inning games. Which of these will be carried over into the 2021 season if indeed we are back to normal?

Future of minor leagues. Major League Baseball is forcing fundamental changes in how minor league baseball will operate. There will be fewer teams and thus fewer players, although there seems to be a movement to offset the reductions with the creation of more independent teams (who, by the way, won’t be able to pay its players a decent salary). Is college baseball really the future of player development for entry-level professionals. Will the minors evolve to encompass only Triple-A and maybe Double-A levels?

Free agency. Aside from the top five or ten “game-changer” free agents this season, MLB will likely wait out the rest of the field. The teams’ dire financial situations from COVID-19 are partially the cause, but there is also a general trend toward limiting long-term deals for players who are into their thirties. How will aging players like Nelson Cruz, Jake Arrieta, Yadier Molina, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jon Lester fare over the winter?

Women in baseball. Kim Ng broke one of the highest glass ceilings in all of professional sports when she was recently named the general manager of the Miami Marlins. (Take note, NFL and NBA: the “lowly” MLB was the first to do this.) That being said, there is a general shortage of women in the front offices of most major-league teams. Will Ng’s appointment have an impact on that situation?

Future of the Mets franchise. New Mets owner Steve Cohen said his goal was to develop an “iconic” franchise. I suppose he meant iconic like the Yankees or Dodgers, who spend a lot of money on player salaries. Will his fat wallet cure a lot of the Mets’ past ills? How active will the Mets be in this winter’s free agency race?

Kyler Murray and baseball. The idea is not that far-fetched. After all, Murray was a Number 1 draft pick of the Oakland A’s in the 2018 MLB draft. However, as a rising NFL star, he’s proving he made a good decision by choosing football. He’s been able to make an immediate impact in football, whereas he would likely have spent a few years in the minors before getting a shot to play in baseball’s big leagues. But does that rule out the possibility Murray wouldn’t eventually make a Tim Tebow move?

Theo Epstein’s next job. Epstein resigned from the Cubs organization last week. Was he burned out, or does he already have his eyes on his next job? He’s a likely Hall of Famer down the road, having won world championships in Boston and Chicago. Only 47-years old, what’s his next gig? Could it be the Mets or Phillies who are in the market right now?

Mets fans may be setting their expectations too high

At Steve Cohen’s introductory press conference last Tuesday, New York Mets fans heard just what they wanted to hear. “I’m here for the fans. It’s not just about making money. We will act like a major-market team. I’m shooting for a World Series championship in 3-5 years. We can now emphasize the acquisition and not the cost.” That’s how the New York Mets’ new billionaire owner characterized his planned ownership of the team, and it was music to the ears of Mets fans, who have long been frustrated with previous ownership.

Cohen generated a lot of excitement and anticipation with his press conference comments. Mets fans now believe they can look at upcoming seasons with more than just a hope and a prayer. After all, the Wilpon family that had a significant ownership interest in the Mets since 1986 seemed to rarely put the fans first. The franchise nearly crumbled when Fred Wilpon reportedly lost $700 billion in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal. At one point, he had to borrow money to make monthly payrolls. His biggest critics complained that he wasn’t willing to shell out the dollars for one or two transformative players needed to make the team a perennial contender.

Are Mets fans being set up by Cohen? Is he just saying all this as up-front PR work to win the hearts of the fans early on? The prosperous manager of hedge fund, Cohen portrays himself as a fan with a lot of sentimentality for the Mets era of the Shea Stadium days. But will he make decisions based on the emotions of a fan, or objectively like a businessman? Obviously, he must know how to run successful businesses in order for him to have accumulated the wealth he currently has. (He’s now the richest owner of a major-league franchise.) Does he think he just needs to spend a lot of money on the Mets to make them competitive? It sure will help, but there’s more to it than having a fat wallet.

Here are some other critical issues Cohen and the Mets must address.

They need a GM to replace Brady Van Wagenen, who was let go after Cohen purchased the team. Van Wagenen was largely an experiment by the Wilpon family, since his background was not in baseball operations, but as a player agent. The experiment failed. The good news is that revered front office executive Sandy Alderson was hired by Cohen as president, so now it will be his task to find the right person for GM. The Mets will need someone capable of making personnel decisions to spend Cohen’s money wisely.

Alderson and the new GM will have to determine whether Luis Rojas should be retained as the Mets’ manager. He was called on to manage the Mets in February 2020, when Carlos Beltran was forced to step down because of his involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017. But Rojas was a relatively inexperienced manager. The verdict is out on whether Rojas is the right person long-term.

The Mets have some big holes in their roster. A top-of-the-line starter behind Jacob DeGrom is probably the biggest gap, followed by some middle relievers and a catcher. If Cohen wants to part with a good chunk of his fortune, he couldn’t go wrong with current free-agents like starter Trevor Bauer, catcher J.T Realmuto, and relievers Brad Hand and Roberto Osuna.

Unlike the Wilpons, Cohen seems prepared to be in the same spending realm as the Yankees and Dodgers so he can secure the top free agent(s) who can fundamentally change the club from being a pretender to a contender. But how many times have we seen teams spend a lot of money on free agents, only to be disappointed that they could never jell with the team? Teams like Tampa Bay and Houston have shown how to successfully build a team with complementing pieces. Cohen says he wants to build a perennial winner. His new front office might need to take some lessons from those teams. That includes building a sustaining farm system to backfill players when they become too expensive to retain.

All of these issues won’t be resolved by Cohen and his staff overnight. He says he expects the team to be a champion in 3-5 years. Well, it could take that long to address them. In the meantime, euphoric Mets fans must be patient and temper their expectations.

Baseball's family ties hampered by crazy 2020 season

COVID-19 put a damper on most things this year, including the 2020 MLB season. The changes that came about because of the pandemic even had an impact on the number of family relationships in the majors and minors this year and next year as well. It affected players, managers, coaches, scouts, and front-office personnel of all the big league organizations.

We had an abbreviated spring training, with players barely have gotten in game-ready condition when they were sent home in mid-March. Then we had a truncated regular season that lasted 60 games in a little more than two months. We didn’t have a minor league season from which big-league teams could draw needed players throughout the season. Instead it was replaced by each major-league team having a taxi or reserve squad of 60 players at their disposal during the season. The draft class was the smallest in history because MLB limited the selections to five rounds. Although not COVID-related, MLB also announced its plan to reduce the number of minor-league affiliates by 25 percent in 2021.

Consequently, fewer players were able to break into major league rosters coming out of spring training, since there wasn’t sufficient time for them to hone and demonstrate their skills. There were fewer call-ups to big-league rosters because of the limited pool of available players to draw from. In fact, the shortened season saw the fewest prospects promoted since 1878. There were fewer number of amateur players drafted, which will impact the population of major and minor league rosters in the future. Players with baseball in their bloodlines were impacted by all of these factors.

The duties of player development and minor-league field and front office personnel were dramatically curtailed, although most organizations continued to pay their salaries, albeit reduced, for parts of the season. There will be 25 percent fewer affiliated players in the minors next season, although independent leagues may fill some of the gap. Many of those jobs and roster spots, including those held by staff and players with baseball relatives, will be eliminated in 2021 because of the negative financial impact of COVID this season.

Despite all of these factors, baseball’s bloodlines weren’t completely put on hold this season. Here are some highlights of baseball’s relatives in 2020 in several categories.



Brothers Hunter and Braden Bishop met on the field for the first time in their lives in an early spring training game this year. Hunter was a first-round pick of San Francisco in 2019, while Braden, who is five years older, is in his second major-league season for the Seattle Mariners. They had a memorable moment together in the game when Hunter fielded an overthrow from the Giants catcher while Braden stole second and then made his way to third on the overthrow. For a brief moment, Hunter thought about trying to throw out his brother at third base, but then realized he didn’t have a shot on the play.

David Bell was in his second season as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 2020. His brother Mike was named the bench coach for the Minnesota Twins under manager Rocco Baldelli for 2020, setting up the occasion for them to be in opposing dugouts for a three-game series starting on September 25. The Twins won two of the games, helping them earn the Central Division title.

On August 14, cousins Franmil Reyes and Ivan Nova faced each other for the third time in a major-league game. The Indians’ Reyes got the best of Detroit’s Nova with a two-run home run and an RBI single, as the Indians won, 10-5.

Brothers Corey and Kyle Seager are six years apart in age and never had a chance growing up to play on the same baseball diamond. On August 17, their respective teams (Dodgers and Mariners) faced each other, with both of them homering in the game won by Los Angeles, 11-9. The two brothers were productive that day, combining for five hits, four runs scored, and five RBIs.

When outfielder Kyle Zimmer was called up by the Kansas City Royals on July 25, it set up the possibility that he could face his brother Bradley, who pitched for the Cleveland Indians. They both appeared in the same game on July 26 but wound up not opposing each other. They’ll have to wait until the 2021 season.



Josh Naylor was traded by San Diego to the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline on August 31. Naylor’s brother Bo currently plays in the Indians farm system, so they could find themselves as teammates for the Tribe down the road. The Naylor brothers are natives of Canada, and both were Number 1 draft picks by their respective teams.

In Toronto’s first game of the 2020 season on July 24, the first four batters in their lineup, who also made up the entire infield, were sons of former major-leaguers. Shortstop Bo Bichette, son of Dante Bichette, led off for the Blue Jays. Second baseman Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, batted second. First baseman Vlad Guerrero Jr., son of Hall of Famer Valdimir Guerrero Sr., was in the third spot, while third baseman Travis Shaw, son of Jeff Shaw, batted cleanup. Each of the players got at least one hit in the game, with Biggio hitting a home run.


Extending the multi-generation families

Three-generation major-leaguers are a rarity, with the Boones, Bells, Hairstons, and Stephensons as the only ones in baseball history. The next candidate for a three-generation family would likely be accomplished by Trei Cruz, son of Jose Cruz Jr, and grandson of Jose Cruz Sr. Trei was drafted in the third round out of Rice University by the Detroit Tigers. He had previously been drafted out of high school in 2017 by the Washington Nationals.

The Boone family could become the first four-generation family, since Jake Boone signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Washington Nationals during the summer. Jake, who played three seasons as shortstop at Princeton University, is the son of Bret Boone, nephew of Aaron Boone, the grandson of Bob Boone, and the great grandson of Ray Boone.


MLB Debuts

Sons of former professional players who made their MLB debuts this year include:

Daulton Varsho, July 30, Diamondbacks outfielder/catcher, son of Gary Varsho (1988-1995)

Brandon Leibrandt, August 23, Phillies pitcher, son of Charlie Leibrandt (1979-1993)

Ke’Bryan Hayes, September 1, Pirates third baseman, son of Charlie Hayes (1988-2001)

Derek Hill, September 4, Tigers outfielder, son of Glenallen Hill (1989-2001)

Daz Cameron, September 9, Tigers outfielder, son of Mike Cameron (1995-2011)

Mickey Moniak, September 16, Phillies outfielder, grandson of Bill Moniak (minor leaguer, 1958-1963)

Ryan Weathers, October 10, Padres pitcher, son of David Weathers (1991-2009)


Latest MLB manager with family ties

Luis Rojas made his major-league debut as manager of the New York Mets, joining Aaron Boone, David Bell, and Terry Francona as current managers with major-league fathers. Rojas is the son of Felipe Alou, who managed the Expos and Giants during 1992 through 2006.


Family Ties Overseas

On September 17 in South Korea, Preston Tucker hit two home runs in his Kia team’s win over Samsung in the Korean Baseball Organization league. Nearly 12 hours later and over 7,000 miles apart, his brother Kyle homered for the Houston Astros in their defeat of the Texas Rangers, 2-1. That’s probably the first time brothers hit homers on the same day on two continents.

Mel Rojas Jr, son of former major-league pitcher Mel Rojas Sr., is currently leading the Korean Baseball Organization in all the Triple Crown categories. The 30-year-old was a former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, but he never played at the big-league level.


Drafted players

In addition to Trei Cruz, some of the players drafted in 2020 with major-league ties include:

Tyler Soderstrom was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the first round. He is the son of Steve Soderstrom who was also a first-rounder of the 1993 draft by San Francisco. They are the tenth father-son duo to be first-round draftees.

Carson Tucker was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Indians. His brother Cole Tucker, currently a Pirates shortstop, was also a first-round pick. They are the ninth set of brothers as first-round picks.

Bryce Jarvis was a first-round pick of the Diamondbacks, while his father Keith Jarvis was a 12-year starter.


Players not drafted

Some of the draft-eligible amateur players with family ties were victims of the smaller draft class and didn’t get selected. In normal years, some of those players would likely have been drafted in the later rounds. A few of the more recognizable names include:

Peyton Glavine, son of Tom Glavine

Dante Girardi, son of Joe Girardi

Marquis Grissom Jr., son of Marquis Grissom Sr.

Casey Dykstra, son of Lenny Dykstra

Ryan Berardino, grandson of Dwight Evans and Dick Berardino

Darren Baker, son of Dusty Baker



Former Chicago White Sox pitcher Richard Dotson (1979-1990) was surprised this year to find out through DNA testing that his biological father was former major-league pitcher Turk Farrell (1956-1969). Dotson’s deceased mother had never spoken of her relationship with Farrell.

Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer struck out Toronto’s Vlad Guerrero Jr. on July 29. Scherzer also struck out Vlad’s father ten years earlier.

Mookie plays like Willie

If I told you Willie Mays was available today to play like he did in the 1950s and 1960s, you’d want your favorite team to jump at the chance of signing him, knowing the kind of immediate impact he could have. You can bet almost every major-league GM would try to find a way to afford a talent like him.

Well, the reincarnated Willie Mays is indeed playing today, and he’s named Mookie Betts.

Like Mays, Betts can beat you with his bat, his legs and his glove. Practically every day he’s turning in the performance of a superstar. Some say he’s the best in baseball right now, although there’s an ongoing debate as to whether he or Mike Trout is the better player.

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the race for Betts when Boston decided to trade him in February, knowing that they’d have to empty the coffers in order to retain him beyond the 2020 season. They stepped up to the plate in July and agreed to a mega-deal that will shell out $365 million for 12 years. Andrew Friedman rightfully assessed there was something missing from the team that had won seven consecutive division titles, but no World Series. Betts was that missing piece, and he delivered the goods. For a team that already had young stars like Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager, Betts brought the real meaning of superstar. He gave the Dodgers what they couldn’t get during the last 32 years, a World Series ring.

I am including links to MLB’s videos of selected games where Mookie displayed Willie Mays-like performances.

July 31 – Outstanding throw to nail Padres runner at third base


August 13 - Three home runs in a game (sixth time in career) against Padres


October 16 – Great shoe-string catch in NLCS Game 5 against Braves


October 18 – Robs Freddie Freeman of a home run in NLCS Game 7


October 20 –2 stolen bases, 2 HRs in World Series Game 1 (ties Babe Ruth record)


In case you need a refresher on May’s career, here’s some old film featuring the Hall of Famer. Click on the last video in the group that’s about three minutes in length.

It’s a shame Mays played when he did—before free agency, before owners were willing to pay the big bucks. shows that he made just short of $2 million over his entire 22-year career. Think he’d be worth $365 million today? Say Hey!

Flashback: Career minor leaguer 'Oyster Joe' Martina in rare World Series appearance

New Orleans native John Martina is remembered more for his catchy nickname “Oyster Joe” than his pitching record in the majors. That’s because Martina spent 21 years in the minors, but only one in the big leagues. However, his season included a World Series appearance during an historic year for the Washington Senators franchise.

He spent the 1924 season with the Senators and was a member of the staff that featured future Hall of Famer Walter Johnson. The 34-year-old Martina had spent the previous 14 seasons in the minors, including three years with the New Orleans Pelicans for whom he won 56 games from 1921 to 1923.

Martina started 14 of his 24 appearances for the Senators and finished with a 6-8 record, while Johnson, Tom Zachary, and George Mogridge shouldered most of the workload in the starting rotation. The Senators wound up surging in late August to win the pennant over the vaunted New York Yankees. It was the Senators’ first World Series appearance.

Washington faced the New York Giants who were playing in their fourth World Series in four years. Martina got his opportunity to pitch in Game 3, when he entered the game in the seventh inning with the Senators trailing, 5-2. And who does he face? None other three future Hall of Famers—George Kelly, Bill Terry, and Hack Wilson. Martina rose to the occasion and retired them in order.

It was his only appearance in the Series, eventually won by the Senators in seven games.

Martina returned to New Orleans in 1925 and pitched for the Pelicans for four seasons, including two campaigns with 23 wins in each. He spent the last few years of his career in the low minors, eventually retiring in 1931 at age 41. shows that he won 322 games in the minors. It could have been more since there are two seasons where his detailed statistics are missing. In any case, he is acknowledged as the pitcher with the second-most wins in minor-league history, behind Bill Thomas.

Below is a complete list of New Orleans metro area players who played in one or more World Series. Asterisks indicate team won the World Series that season.



High School

Year(s) in World Series

World Series Team

Larry Gilbert Sr.




John Martina




Mel Ott


1933*, 1936, 1937


Howie Pollet


1942*, 1946*


Lou Klein

S. J. Peters



Al Jurisich

Warren Easton



Jack Kramer

S. J. Peters



Connie Ryan




Putsy Caballero




George Strickland

S. J. Peters



Rusty Staub




Will Clark




Gerald Williams

East St. John



Chad Gaudin

Crescent City



Mike Fontenot




Will Harris


2017*, 2019


Tanner Rainey

St. Paul’s



Tampa Bay’s Aaron Loup (Hahnville High School) is playing  in the current World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Former Tulane pitcher Aaron Loup contributing to Rays' bid for World Series ring

Hahnville native Aaron Loup found himself looking for a job over the winter, and now he’s in the middle of a run by the Tampa Bay Rays to win their first-ever World Series. He made scoreless relief appearances in each of the Rays’ four victories over Houston in the American League Championship Series.

The 2020 season has been gratifying for Loup since he missed practically all of last season. He was pitching for San Diego when he went on the injured list in early April with an elbow strain and wound up missing the remainder of the season. He was granted free agency after the 2019 season, leaving the 31-year-old left-hander in jeopardy of not catching on with another team. However, Tampa Bay picked him up cheaply, and going into spring training, he got a chance to extend his career.

The Rays had one of the best pitching staffs in the league during the regular season, and Loup was a key part of their bullpen. He made 24 relief appearances, posting a 2.52 ERA, with an outstanding 0.840 WHIP which included only four walks in 25 innings.

He was an All-Metro Team selection from Hahnville High School in 2006 and was named by the Times-Picayune as District 4-5A’s most valuable player. Loup was a three-year letterman with Tulane from 2007 to 2009. As a junior led the Green Wave in strikeouts and became the ninth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009. He spent seven big-league seasons with Toronto before being traded to Philadelphia in late 2018.

In 2019 the New Orleans metro area was represented in the World Series by Tanner Rainey and Will Harris. Rainey, who was born in Folsom and prepped at St. Paul’s in Covington, pitched in four games for world champion Washington Nationals. Harris, who prepped at Slidell High School, appeared in five games for Houston.

You gotta be happy for Dusty Baker

Regardless of how you feel about the Houston Astros players who weren’t punished by the Commissioner’s Office for their involvement in the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, you have to be happy for Astros manager Dusty Baker. He was brought in by Astros management to run the team under the cloud of the scandal for the 2020 season and the uncertainty about how the team would respond to criticism that would surely come their way. In a weird season, he’s got them challenging to repeat as American League pennant-winner.

Many figured Baker would serve as a stop-gap manager. After all, he had been out of baseball for the past two seasons and was 70 years old. He should have already started his transition into full retirement after over 50 years in baseball.

When former manager AJ Hinch was forced to resign over the winter, the Astros needed someone who would make sure there was stability on the club during what was expected to be a tumultuous season from a public relations standpoint. Furthermore, it was speculated the new skipper would likely be a bridge to a well-thought out choice for a new manager in 2021. The Astros selected the low-keyed Baker two weeks before spring training started. He was a safe bet for this season. Even if the Astros weren’t competitive this season, he would have the respect of the rest of the league and the players he was charged with leading. Proponents of the new-style major-league managers didn’t necessarily favor the Astros’ hiring of Baker, who’s generally considered a traditional “old-school” manager.

When the Astros finished the regular season with a losing record, it wasn’t totally unexpected. Blame wasn’t directed toward Baker, but rather on the loss of key players from the 2019 season and some key injuries in 2020, including COVID casualties. The Astros managed to squeeze their way into second place, just two games ahead of the Mariners, thus earning a playoff spot.

But now the Astros seem to have hit their stride. They swept the favored Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Series. They started hitting like the Astros of 2019, while their young pitchers shut down the slugging Twins’ bats, allowing only two runs in their two wins.

Astros bats were even better in the League Division Series against division-winner Oakland. As a team, they had a slash line of .322/.388/.594, led by shortstop Carlos Correa’s 3 HRs and 11 RBIs. They prevailed over the A’s in four games.

Houston faces a tough challenge against Tampa Bay in their fourth straight ALCS. It will be interesting to see if they can continue their hot streak against the league’s best pitching staff.

The Astros chose Baker over other personnel within their organization who would have already had experience with players on the team. He didn’t have much time during the abbreviated spring training to help the team to prepare for the negativity they were about to experience. Then there was the rush to re-start the season in late July, still leaving Baker handicapped in being able to learn his new players. Adding to the turmoil from the team’s messy situation and the season’s uncertainty from the pandemic, Baker was at high risk himself for contracting COVID-19.

But now, the team is coming together at the right time, and Baker’s influence in how the team has progressed is starting to show. The players obviously want to win the World Series in order to vindicate themselves of their cheating scandal. (It’s highly debatable whether a championship would actually make the animosity against them go away.) However, you can also bet those same players would love nothing more than to give their skipper his first championship after helping them through the crazy season.

Baker is looking for redemption himself. He was let go by Washington following the 2017 season after winning two consecutive division titles. Despite his age, he wasn’t ready to get out of the game.

He is the first manager to lead five different franchises to the playoffs. His most successful season was almost twenty years ago when the Giants won a pennant. His last five playoff teams didn’t get out of the first round, so this year’s results are already gratifying for him. It would be nice to see him get another shot in the World Series.

Another Astros NL pennant would go a long way to restoring image

The Houston Astros entered the 2020 season under the cloud of the sign-stealing scandal over the winter. From a public relations standpoint, the team had alienated itself with opposing players and the fans. The franchise’s integrity and the players’ reputations were under scrutiny by the media and the baseball community in general. As spring training approached, everyone was wondering how the Astros players, new manager Dusty Baker, and the front office would handle the fallout. They were compelled to show they could win without cheating.

By mid-March MLB decided to cancel the remainder of spring training due to the national emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If there was any bright side to the pandemic for the Astros, the break in the season allowed them, to a large degree, to avoid dealing with the media and the fans. In a strange way, the 4 ½ months away from the diamond was fortuitous, because the Astros’ regular season was not one of their best, compared to what we have come to expect.

The Astros finished below .500 for the first time since 2014. It was a frustrating season for the team and its players, but it would have been worse without the interruption of the season. The pandemic diffused what would likely have been a toxic situation for the team. Astros players largely avoided the heckling by opposing fans the and the agitation by the media, who were unable to attend the games and have direct contact with the team. There could have been more incidents on the field like the bench-clearing with the Los Angeles Dodgers when Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly threw pitches at the heads of Astros batters and made a demonstrative pouty face at Carlos Correa, as a show of disrespect for the Astros.

After the first three weeks, the Astros’ record was 7-10, giving ammunition to their detractors’ ill feelings about the team. But then they went on to win 14 of 19 games They finished second to the Oakland A’s in their division, winding up with a losing record, 29-31.

The team’s performance was plagued by the absence of several key players from the year before, in addition to slumping bats that never got on track in the abbreviated season. First, they lost Cy Young runner-up Gerrit Cole to free agency over the winter, and then lost Cy Young winner Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery after only one start this year. Their rookie sensation from 2019, outfielder/DH Yordan Alvarez, played in only two games before getting injured and missing the rest of the season. Outfielder Jake Marisnick had been traded to the New York Mets, while catcher Robinson Chirinos went to the Texas Rangers in free agency.

The Astros were below the league average in home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The only batter to hit .300 was Michael Brantley. The usually reliable Jose Altuve had the worst season of his career. 23-year-old Kyle Tucker, who finally broke into the regular lineup after being their top prospect in the two preceding seasons, turned out to be one of the best players on the team, along with George Springer.

Veteran Zach Greinke was still available on the starting pitching staff, but it was a corps of relative “no-names” that stepped up to help fill the gap in the pitching staff. 23-year-old rookie Cristian Javier was the best in the rotation. Jose Urquidy, a late-season surprise last year, missed the first half of the season, but then rebounded well in September. Relatively inexperienced as a starter, Framber Valdez also pitched admirably in the rotation.

Without an expanded playoff system this year, the Astros would not be in the post-season. They wound up as the sixth-seed going into the American League Wild Card Series, an underdog in facing the Minnesota Twins in the first round. However, behind the arms of their young pitching staff and Grienke, a decisive sweep of the Twins advanced them to the Division Championship Series against the A’s.

The Astros have lots of incentive to show the baseball world they can indeed be a championship team without the stigma of sign-stealing. Their reputation is at stake. It would be a huge vindication for the players to get back to the World Series. The Astros aren’t going away lightly, as they showed in their first test against the Twins.

It’s somewhat ironic the Astros will face Oakland in the next round. The A’s best pitcher, Mike Fiers, played for the Astros during the 2017 season in which the sign-stealing occurred, and after he left the team he turned out to be the snitch who squealed to the media about the Astros’ sign-stealing tactics. Most baseball observers see him as the main reason why the whole scandal came to light. As you might expect, Astros players have no love for Fiers. In fact, they would love nothing better than to chase him from the game in the first inning.

Regardless of how the Astros make out for the rest of the season, should the baseball community, including the fans, opposing players, and media just move on, with respect to how the Astros are viewed? It’s not likely, but a National League pennant would sure help.

Flashback: Jesuit prep star Tookie Gilbert used father's lottery to determine pro signing in 1946

Before Major League Baseball’s annual draft process was instituted in 1965, amateur players could pick the major-league organization with which they would sign a pro contract. Most amateur prospects would typically attract interest of only one major-league team. One of the exceptions was Harold “Tookie” Gilbert of New Orleans, who had been a high school and American Legion star in the mid-1940s. When Tookie drew serious interest from five big-league teams, his father Larry Gilbert (then manager of the Nashville Vols) arranged a unique lottery in October 1946 to decide which team would sign his 17-year-old son to a professional contract.

As a junior at Jesuit High School, Tookie was named the most valuable player in the New Orleans prep league by the Times Picayune in 1945. His Jesuit-based American Legion team claimed state and regional championships that season. The first-baseman represented Louisiana in the 1945 Esquire All-American Game in New York City, which included top amateur players from across the country. Partly because he was the son of a well-connected minor-league manager, Tookie was already attracting attention of major-league scouts. It was rumored he had been offered $40,000 by the New York Yankees while still a junior in high school to join the organization after he graduated from high school. Tookie’s high school senior year produced All-Prep team and most valuable player honors for the second consecutive season.

Not wanting to upset any of his relationships in the baseball community, Larry came up with the idea for the lottery. He told the Times-Picayune he decided on a “drawing” because of the continued telephone, telegraph, and personal contacts made to him by major-league clubs. He said, “I didn’t want to start a bidding contest for the boy’s services. I decided to set a price (amount undisclosed) and notify my friends to come down and participate in the picking.”

The drawing took place at the Monteleone Hotel with Tookie’s parents and representatives of five bidding teams in attendance, including the Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, and Pirates. Giants player-manager Mel Ott, who resided in New Orleans, was on-hand for his organization. The name of each team was written on a slip of paper and placed in a hat from which Mrs. Gilbert picked the Giants’ name.

After the drawing Ott said, “I’m glad we got Tookie. I have been trying for four years to get Larry’s consent to let him play for the Giants. As far back as 1942, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert were in New York to witness the world series and it was at breakfast one morning in that year that I first suggested that we sign him up.” He added, “The boy has great possibilities and the Giants were extremely lucky in landing him—even if it was in a hat.” Larry had set the signing price at $50,000, which is what the Giants ultimately paid.

For all the hype young Gilbert commanded during his recruitment, his career turned out to be a huge disappointment. The Giants didn’t get a return on their huge investment, as he spent two seasons with the big-league club in 1950 and 1953, batting a meager .203 with seven home runs and 48 RBIs. He rode the Giants’ bench for most of the 1953 season, playing behind Whitey Lockman at first base and being used in pinch-hit situations.

Tookie decided to retire from baseball before the 1954 season at age 25. Even though he had been raised on baseball (he had been a batboy at three-years-old for his dad’s New Orleans Pelicans team), he settled on a career in business in New Orleans to provide stability for his young family. He said, “Well, I found myself standing still and so I decided I owed it to my wife and kids to try something else while I was young. And that’s why I quit baseball.”

His father tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to return to baseball later in the year. Tookie did play one season for the New Orleans Pelicans in their last year of existence in 1959. Still only 30 years old, he led the hometown team with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs.

The Gilbert family’s baseball bloodlines were strong. Tookie’s brother Charlie was also a highly recruited prep star out of Jesuit High School who eventually played six seasons in the majors between 1940 and 1947, while brother Larry Jr. played two seasons in the minors in 1937 and 1938. After playing the 1914 and 1915 seasons in the majors, Larry Sr. served as the Pelicans manager from 1923 to 1938 and held Nashville’s managerial post from 1939 to 1948.

Tookie became the civil sheriff of Orleans Parish in 1962 and served in that job until he died of a heart attack in 1967 at age 38.

What to look for in the upcoming MLB playoffs

A good portion of the baseball season this year has been different from what we’ve grown accustomed to over the long history of the game. Just like everything else we’ve experienced in our personal and work lives, the coronavirus had changed the way we experience the sport--in ways we would have never anticipated. Optimists hope that conditions will go back to the way they were before the coronavirus, but most of us now realize we have begun the “new normal” and there’s probably no reverting back.

Baseball has been one of the most traditional institutions in society since it began about 150 years ago. You could always count on things like pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in mid-February, Opening Day around April 1, a mid-summer All-Star Game in mid-July, and the regular season completing by the end of September, with the playoffs ending before November 1. Yet, like pretty much all sports these days, many of the traditions have been thrown out the window, to keep the game as alive and viable as possible.

The MLB playoffs begin on September 29, or at least that’s plan today. We’ve come to expect changes in the plan, and when they happen, they are no big deal. That’s just part of the new normal.

The new playoff system has been expanded to include 16 teams this year, more than half the total number of teams in the two leagues. There will be no off-days through the League Championship series. The first-round of elimination games will consist of a best-of-three series, all played in the ballpark of the higher ranked team. Pre-determined sites have been assigned for the later rounds, so that the teams can operate in somewhat of a bubble (although not exactly like the NBA). For the first time in history, the World Series opponents won’t be playing any games at their home field. (The new Globe Life Park in Dallas has been designated as the location of the World Series, and it’s unlikely the Texas Rangers will be one of the playoff teams.)

Here’s a look at some of the possible implications of this year’s playoff system, now and in the future.

Will the expanded playoff be continued next year?

It’s not a certainty that the expanded number of teams will carry forward to next year, although there were some in baseball who wanted to see this happen before the pandemic occurred. Arguments for expansion include the fact that more teams stay relevant through the end of the regular season. Detractors of expansion say that the significance of the regular season gets watered down. However, you can bet if there is positive reaction to this year’s format, MLB will do something similar next year.

Should a team with a losing record be eligible for the playoffs?

This situation is possible under this year’s playoff format, since the top two teams in each division have automatic bids, and the second -place team could have a losing record. The Houston Astros are currently in this situation as of this writing, although they have enough remaining regular season games to remedy it. In general, there’s a stigma about teams with losing records being rewarded with playoff berths. If this playoff system goes forward, should MLB do something to disallow this?

Does a 60-game regular season schedule produce drastically different results for the playoff participants?

Will this season’s World Series champion have an asterisk by its season results, because of the shortened season due to the pandemic?

It’s been long debated how long a regular season should be. Some have argued that it doesn’t take 162 games to produce worthy playoff teams. Often, it’s how a team starts out that determines how they will finish. We’ve heard the adage, “A team can’t win the pennant in April, but they can lose it in April.” Yet are 60 games too short of a period?

If you look back at the 2019 season at the same number of games (on May 25) that have been played this season (51 as of September 19), the Phillies and Cubs were in first place of their respective NL divisions, but wound up not making the playoffs. In the AL, each of the first and second-place teams of each division finished in that same order at the end of the season. Thus, the results were mixed. The Nationals were in fourth place in the NL East last year (ten games below .500) after 51 games and then wound up winning the World Series, proving a longer regular season can produce some dramatic turnarounds.


Does the playoff bubble concept involving neutral sites take away from home field advantage?

The MLB had decided the playoff games after the first round will be played at pre-designated, controlled sites in Texas and California, to improve health safety and reduce the chances of games being delayed because teams become affected by the virus. Some teams are built well to take advantage of features of their home ballpark but won’t get a chance to leverage them in the playoffs. The Yankees are a prime example.

Furthermore, teams play better at some parks than others. Eno Sarris of The Athletic did a statistical look at this. Among his conclusions were Minute Maid Park (Houston) and Petco Park (San Diego) are more friendly to power teams than Globe Life Park, while Dodger Stadium is neutral.

With fans unable to attend games, the home crowd factor isn’t applicable. It’s not clear yet whether the playoffs will allow fans at a reduced capacity or at all. In any case, teams won’t have the traditional advantage that usually comes with playing in front of a friendly home crowd.


Will managers have to manage differently in this playoff format?

Use of the pitching staffs could be tricky problems for managers. It’s possible the first-round Wild Card Series could be played without a team’s ace getting a chance to pitch. With no off-days during the Division Series and League Championship Series, managers may have to use five or six starters, or make extensive use of relief pitchers as openers if these series go the full slate of games.

Roster make-up may be different for each round of the playoffs, depending on the three, five, or seven-game formats. Again, the number of pitchers carried on the rosters will be a key factor.

Flashback: UNO All-American Augie Schmidt's 1982 season was golden

One of the “fast facts” about Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Gavin Lux is that his uncle had been the 1982 winner of the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the best amateur player in the country. That uncle is Augie Schmidt, who played at the University of New Orleans from 1980 to 1982. Schmidt was a first-team All-American shortstop for the Privateers in 1982 and became the second overall pick of that year’s MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Schmidt was part of a wave of players UNO head coach Ron Maestri recruited from the Midwest during his 14-year tenure. He had been a ninth-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds after graduating from high school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1979, but chose to attend UNO instead.

He had a sensational freshman season in 1980, hitting .304 with seven home runs as the Privateers posted a 46-15 record. They won a berth to the NCAA South Regional, where Schmidt hit a grand slam against Vanderbilt.

Maestri’s Privateers were a powerhouse in the South during Schmidt’s tenure. They won 48 games in his sophomore season and again played in the NCAA Regionals. The Privateers were even better the next season when they finished 11th in the final national rankings with a 49-16 record, following a runner-up spot in the NCAA South Regional tournament.

As a junior, Schmidt batted .372, with 14 home runs and a .676 slugging percentage and was named to All-American teams in 1982 by The Sporting News and Baseball America, as well as the American Baseball Coaches Association.

He won the Golden Spikes Award, comparable to college football’s Heisman Award. He beat out Jeff Ledbetter of Florida State, John Morris of Seton Hall, and Jim Paciorek of Michigan. He was the first college player selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Toronto Blue Jays and the second overall pick, after Brooklyn high school player Shawon Dunston. He was picked before such future major-league stars as Dwight Gooden, Jose Canseco, Jimmy Key, and Bret Saberhagen. He reportedly signed for a bonus between $100,000 and $125,000.

Playing professional baseball was his lifelong dream, since his father Augie Schmidt III had played briefly in the Boston Red Sox organization. Following his draft selection, Schmidt told the Times Picayune, “I’ve wanted this forever. My dad would tell me how he pitched to Brooks Robinson and I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

Schmidt was initially assigned by the Blue Jays to Class A Kinston in the Carolina League, where he turned in a credible slash line of .297/.378/.412. He got a promotion to Double-A Knoxville in 1983 and responded with a .264 average with four home runs and 54 RBIs. He appeared to be on a trajectory toward the majors, earning a shot with Triple-A Syracuse in 1984.

However, injuries and a logjam at the Blue Jays’ infield positions at the major-league level kept Schmidt from advancing further. His offensive numbers declined, and the Blue Jays wound up dealing him to San Francisco. His 1985 season was limited to 71 games, split between Triple-A Phoenix and Double-A Shreveport. After the Giants left him unprotected, he signed with the Minnesota Twins. He played one final minor-league season in his hometown of Kenosha (in the Midwest League) before retiring in 1986.

Schmidt succeeded his father in 1988 as head baseball coach for Carthage College in Kenosha and continues to hold the position today. Through 2020, his teams have compiled a 935-452-5 record, making 16 NCAA regional appearances. He was the NCAA Division III Central Region Coach of the Year nine times.

Schmidt was inducted into the Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame in 2005.

Lux has demonstrated baseball is in his bloodlines. He was the Dodgers’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2019, as well as Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. He made his major-league debut last year and played in 23 games during September. He hit a pinch-hit home run in his first playoff at-bat during Game 1 of the NLDS against Washington. He was called up from the Dodgers’ taxi squad on August 27 of this season, with his best outing consisting of a two-homer game against Arizona on September 8.

Tom Terrific's Most Striking Record

When news came last week that Tom Seaver had passed, it brought back memories of some of his most memorable games and seasons in his storied career. He was magnificent from the very start and then went to post 20 seasons that resulted in 311 wins and 3,640 strikeouts. The Hall of Famer is only one of 10 pitchers to win 300 games and record 3,000 strikeouts.

Seaver was Rookie of the Year, won three Cy Young Awards, and led the league in strikeouts five times and ERA three times. He was a 12-time all-star. Yet with all the accolades and records he attained, the one that still sticks out for me is his performance on April 22, 1970.

25-year-old Seaver was coming off a stellar 1969 season when he helped the “Miracle” Mets win their first-ever World Series. He was one of their main contributors, posting a 25-7 record and solidifying his status as a bona fide ace. He took the hill against the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium in his fourth start of the 1970 season. He had thrown a shutout in his previous outing, so he was getting into form early in the season. He had 12 consecutive winning decisions going back to the 1969 season.

Seaver was sharp in the first inning, retiring the side in order and claiming his first two strikeout victims. After Padres outfielder Al Ferrara led off the next inning with a home run to tie the game, 1-1, Seaver began to settle into a routine. Through the fifth inning he had recorded nine punch-outs, including six batters who took third strikes. Intermixed among the strikeouts were a couple of walks and a single by Dave Campbell, but Seaver was clearly in control of the game.

With two outs in the sixth inning and the Mets ahead 2-1, Seaver began one of the most improbable pitching feats in history. He got revenge against Ferrara by striking him out for the final out of the inning and posted his tenth of the game.

From the top of the seventh through the remainder of the game, Seaver struck out all nine Padres batters he faced, giving him 10 in a row and 19 for the game. A total of eleven batters were caught looking on the third strike. Shortstop Jose Arcia was the only Padres batter to escape a strikeout.

Ferrara was a casualty again as the last out of the game. After the game Seaver told the New York Times, “I was still worried I’d make a mistake and Ferrara might hit it out. But when I got two strikes on him, I thought I might never get this close again so I might as well go for it.” He went for it and secured the record. It was somewhat ironic that Mets catcher Jerry Grote didn’t think Seaver was all that sharp during pre-game warmups.

His ten consecutive strikeouts broke a record that had stood for 86 years, when Mickey Welch struck out nine consecutive batters on August 28, 1884. Seaver’s record still stands, although seven pitchers have come close by striking out nine batters since his fabulous 1970 game. (Detroit’s Tyler Alexander was the most recent when he struck out the first nine batters in a relief appearance against Cincinnati on August 2.) Seaver broke the Mets franchise record of 15 strikeouts set by Nolan Ryan.

Seaver tied Steve Carlton of the St. Louis Cardinals for most strikeouts in a nine-inning game (set in 1969 against the Mets). That mark has since been broken by several pitchers with 20, including Roger Clemens (twice), Kerry Wood, Randy Johnson, and Max Scherzer.

Seaver went on to win his first five decisions of the 1970 season, en route to an 18-win season.

Will Seaver’s consecutive strikeout record continue to stand up in the future? In today’s game with the high propensity for strikeouts by batters, probably not. In any case, Seaver’s record-setting performance in 1970 is one of the reasons he’ll always be remembered as “Tom Terrific.”

Sometimes history repeats itself

I think it was one of Yogi Berra’s famous quips: “it’s déjà vu all over again.” For baseball historians, it is often the case that what is believed to be a unique situation in a recent game or in a season has actually existed before.

How often do we see something that everyone thinks is new, but it’s really not? In fact, we find it existed before, but everyone didn’t know about it or just forgot about it.

I recently ran across the following paragraphs on the topic of baseball strategy:

“The old game of base-stealing, bunting, executing the hit and run, of scratching and straining to grab a few runs and then relying on sturdy pitchers to hold a small lead, had given way to ‘big-inning’ baseball.”

“With the ball being hit all about the lot [park} the necessity of taking chances on the bases has decreased. A manager would look foolish not to play the game as it is, meet the new situation with new tactics.”

“There is no use in sending men down on a long chance of stealing a bag when there is a better chance of the batter hitting one for two bases, or, maybe out the lot [park].”

You might automatically assume these observations came from someone like current Yankees manager Aaron Boone talking about relatively recent changes in the game, and how he might manage his team in today’s environment.

In fact, these came from a book by author Charles Alexander describing New York Giants manager John McGraw’s reactions to changes in the game that occurred almost one hundred years ago.

You’re probably wondering, “How can that be?” Well, sometimes history repeats itself.

The situation about which McGraw was reacting was the result of the end of the “deadball” era in 1919. With the introduction of a livelier ball (sound familiar?), the number of home runs began to soar, compared to earlier years. Of course, the absolute numbers then weren’t anything like we are experiencing today; but relative to the state of the game in that era, it was still significant.

Alexander noted in his book John McGraw (Penguin Books, 1988) that batters from both leagues in 1920 swatted 630 home runs, versus 338 in 1917. By 1925, both leagues produced 1,169, an increase of nearly 350 percent over 1917. Total runs scored in both leagues increased by nearly 40 percent during the same timeframe, while pitchers gave up one and one-half more earned runs per nine innings. One of the consequences of the increase in offensive output, as noted in McGraw’s comments, was a decline in the number of stolen bases and less reliance on a general strategy of “scratching out a few runs.”

All of this sounds very familiar to what we are seeing today in the game. Compared to just 8-10 years ago, home runs and runs scored are up, while stolen bases, bunts, and sacrifice hits are fading away.

However, I don’t imagine McGraw or any other manager a hundred years ago could have anticipated the game would change even more drastically, as baseball strategists and the players have continued to evolve the sport. For example, both leagues produced 6,776 home runs last year, which equates to approximately 3,616 on a 16-team basis, as in McGraw’s day.

What will the game look like in another hundred years? Who knows? Maybe they’ll be talking about a strategy that involves stolen bases and bunts again.

Cal Ripken Jr.'s bout with prostate cancer: a reminder for all adult males

It was revealed this week that Cal Ripken Jr. underwent successful surgery back in March for prostrate cancer. It serves as a reminder that all men should take the initiative to get routine tests with their physician. It can strike even the most famous of “Iron Men” like Ripken.

With the possibility of limitations of surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ripken opted to have his operation shortly after his diagnosis in February. Now 60 years old, Ripken’s surgery removed his prostrate where all the cancer was contained and is deemed to be cancer-free. The baseball legend will fortunately be able to resume a normal life. Ripken’s father Cal Ripen Sr., a long-time coach and manager at both the major-league and minor-league levels, had died of lung cancer in 1999.

During his playing career, the younger Ripken’s normal life consisted of suiting up every day and taking his infield position with the Baltimore Orioles. The 25th anniversary of his record-setting consecutive game streak is coming up in September. Even during this unusual season of fan-less games, there’s sure to be some type of commemoration of the Hall of Famer’s longevity streak. It’s one of those records that won’t likely ever be broken.

Since his retirement in 2001, Ripken had remained active in baseball, although not associated with the majors. He has bought three minor-league clubs. He is CEO and president of Ripken Baseball, Inc., whose goal is to grow the interest in baseball. The company sponsors baseball camps and tournaments, as well as designs of ball fields for all levels of baseball competition.

In an August 20 article in The Athletic, Ripken said, “As baseball players…all the medicals are provided for you. You get your physicals. You do what you’re told and you’re healthy and everything is fine. But when you retire, that responsibility falls on you to get a test. Your regular physicals. And sometimes, we as guys, avoid that, or think, ‘Well, we’ll just to go to the doctor when we need to.’” Ripken has generally kept his personal life private in the past but hopes making his situation public can convince men to undergo regular screenings.

There are several publicly available cancer awareness programs today. One baseball-related is Fans for the Cure. Ed Randall, a long-time sports radio and TV personality, is a spokesperson for the organization that promotes prostate cancer awareness and education. For the past few years, the non-profit organization has made appearances at every minor-league ballpark to bring attention to male adults the need for routine testing for prostrate cancer. (As a side note, I had the privilege of being interviewed on the radio twice by Randall when my Family Ties book was published in 2012. At the time, he had radio talk shows on WFAN Radio in New York City and the MLB Radio Network on Sirius XM Radio.) For more information about Fans for the Cure, click here.

Ripken is one of the truly “good guys” of baseball. Let's hope he continues to enjoy good health.

Angels outfielder Jo Adell couldn't have had a worse day

Los Angeles Angels top prospect Jo Adell made his much-anticipated major-league debut on August 4. Having been the first-round pick of the Angels in 2017, their fans have been anxious to see whether he could help Mike Trout make a dramatic turnaround in the Angels’ immediate future. Of course, it’s way too early to tell that after only a couple weeks of play, but Adell’s fourth major-league game against the Texas Rangers a week ago is one he and Angels fans would just as soon forget.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Adell was playing right field for the Angels when the Rangers’ Nick Solak hit a fly ball to deep right. In reaching out to catch the ball, Adell let it bounce off his outreached glove, and the ball landed over the fence. At first, it was ruled a home run, but later the official scorer changed the ruling to a four-base error. An embarrassed Adell hung his head in disgust over the inadvertent play.

Fortunately for Adell, his misplay was not a factor in the final score, since the Rangers were leading 5-2 at the time and ultimately won the game, 7-3. To make matters worse, Adell contributed to the Angels’ lack of offense that day, as he struck out four times against three different Rangers pitchers.

This certainly wasn’t the type of performance everyone was expecting from the 21-year-old Adell.

Coming into the season, he was the third overall ranked MLB prospect by Baseball America, trailing only the Rays’ Wander Franco and the White Sox’s Luis Robert. He played at all three levels of the minors last season, after missing most of April and May due to hamstring and ankle injuries. In 76 games, he slashed .289/.359/.457, with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs.

However, Adell has had a rough major-league start. Through Saturday, he was hitting only .167 with no extra base hits. He has struck out in over half of his plate appearances this season.

His gaffe in the outfield was reminiscent of a similar play by Jose Canseco in 1993. He was playing left field for Texas when a fly ball he was chasing hit him on the head and bounced over the fence. In his case, the hit was ruled a home run, but Canseco’s detractors never let him forget his bumbling play. Even today, the play shows up frequently on the all-time blooper highlights.

Stew Thornley, long-time SABR member and official scorer for the Minnesota Twins, recalls another situation of a four-base error. Outfielder Jose Guillen let a fly ball drop behind him and batter Howie Kendricks circled the bases. Initially, Kendrick’s hit was ruled a home run, but then was overruled on appeal as an error, with the thinking Guillen should have made the catch.

There’s really nothing to be alarmed about with Adell just yet. It’s not that unusual for top prospects like Adell to struggle at the beginning of their first big league stint. Hall of Famer Willie Mays hit just .163 in his first dozen games for the New York Giants in 1951. The story goes that Mays asked to be sent back to the minors because he felt he wasn’t ready, but Giants manager Leo Durocher had the wisdom to stick with him. Mays wound up with a .274 average to go along with 20 home runs and 68 RBI. It was good enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors.

As was the case for all the major-league players, Adell’s preparation for the season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. If for no other reason than that, the rookie deserves to get a break for his slow start.

Maybe Adell will wind up being another Mays. But one thing’s pretty sure. Years from now, he won’t be showing the highlights video (or in his case, low-lights) of his disastrous performance against the Rangers to his kids and grandkids.

Ex-New Orleans Pelican Lenny Yochim had life-long baseball journey

Former New Orleans professional baseball player and scout Lenny Yochim once said in a Times-Picayune interview, “I had a good life doing something I love.” 

From his teenage days in the 1940s until his retirement in 2002, Yochim spent practically every summer participating in some aspect of the sport he was devoted to. Altogether he put in almost 60 years on a journey that saw him progress from a high school and Legion star, to local hero for the hometown New Orleans Pelicans, to major-leaguer with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and ultimately to renowned major-league scout.

Yochim’s first exposure to diamond accomplishments was as a sophomore at Holy Cross High School when they defeated S. J. Peters for the state title. The two teams had battled throughout the season that featured pitching duels between Holy Cross’ Dick Callahan and Peters’ Frank Azzarello, the city’s two best hurlers. Yochim also played on the Holy Cross Comiskey’s entry in the American Legion league. They defeated Baton Rouge in the state championship game in which Yochim went 3-for-4.

Yochim missed the 1945 prep season because Holy Cross decided not to field a high school team. However, he still emerged as a productive pitcher and first baseman for Comiskey’s. In a game against Easton, he struck out 17 batters in seven innings, believed to be a Legion record at the time. He was named to the first team All-Legion squad as a pitcher.

Yochim led the city’s prep league in 1946 with five home runs and was named to the All-Prep team as a utility player, since he had both pitched and played first base during the season. The talented group of high school all-stars included eight eventual professional players, including future major leaguers Yochim, Tookie Gilbert, and Putsy Caballero.

Yochim had a red-letter day on the national stage when the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper sponsored a three-game series later that summer in New York City, called “Brooklyn Against the World.” The showcase event featured a team of teenage all-star players from Brooklyn who competed against an all-star team of players from around the United States. Yochim was selected to play for the “World All-Stars” squad. He was the losing pitcher in the first game, but he had the game-winning hit to even the series the next day when he played first base. The Brooklyn All-Stars wound up winning the third game.

Yochim signed with the New Orleans Pelicans, who had a working agreement with the Boston Red Sox, for the 1947 season. The 18-year-old left-hander’s first pro outing came in a spring exhibition game in which the Pels played against defending American League champion Boston Red Sox. Upon realizing the first batter he would face was Boston’s famed slugger Ted Williams, Yochim later told the Times-Picayune, “My arm got the jumps, my knees starting shaking, and I said to myself, ‘Yochim, that Ted Williams--$250,000 worth of ball player; and if you don’t relax and get that ball in there, you might bean him and then even the skipper might kill you.’ That’s all I was thinking about—not hitting Williams.” Luckily for Yochim, Williams wound up grounding out to first base.

Yochim didn’t stick with the Pelicans and instead was optioned to their affiliate in New Iberia, then part of the Class D Evangeline League. The demotion didn’t discourage him, as he posted ten straight wins by mid-season and began drawing speculation about the price the Pelicans could command for his services by a big-league club. He went on to win twenty games for New Iberia, while losing only six. 95-year-old Nolan Vicknair, an outfielder on the team for part of the season, recalls playing with Yochim, “Lenny was a big guy; he could really hit the ball. So, our manager would often play him at first base when he wasn’t pitching.” A review of New Iberia’s stats showed that Vicknair had a good memory, as Yochim posted an impressive .343 batting average and seven home runs for the season. Vicknair also remembers him as someone who liked to clown around on their bus rides between towns.

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired the New Orleans franchise prior to the 1948 season. They sent him to their Class A affiliated in Albany, New York, where he had another fine season with a 14-4 record. He was back with the Pelicans in 1949 and eventually earned a late-season call-up with the Pirates in 1951. He made his major-league debut on September 18, drawing the starting assignment against the Boston Braves. He was credited with the winning decision as the Pirates downed the Braves, 6-5. He got another start for the seventh-place Bucs on September28, but this time he didn’t make it out of the second inning against Cincinnati.

Yochim became a mainstay in the Pelicans’ pitching rotation in 1952 and 1953, claiming 25 victories. During the winter following the 1953 regular season, he played winter ball in Venezuela, where he helped his team get to the league finals. He started the 1954 season with Pittsburgh and pitched in 10 games, mostly in relief. Perhaps the final straw in his stint with the Pirates occurred on June 19, when he tied a major league record by throwing three wild pitches in one inning against Milwaukee. He was sent back to New Orleans where he won seven straight games in the Pels’ race for the pennant.

After only three games with Triple-A Hollywood in 1955, Yochim was back in New Orleans again where he finished with a 12-8 record. The highlight of his pro career occurred over the winter, as he recorded the first-ever no-hitter in Venezuelan professional baseball.

Yochim finished his professional career in 1956, helping the Atlanta Crackers, a Milwaukee Braves affiliate that acquired him in June, win the Southern Association title. A sore arm forced him to quit baseball.

Still only 27 years old when he finished his pro career, he returned to New Orleans, where he continued to play baseball with the Norco Shell Oilers, a prominent local semi-pro team. They occasionally provided practice game competition against local colleges, as well as the Pelicans. Local fans especially enjoyed the semi-pro contests in which he and his older brother Ray were mound opponents. Ray had briefly pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1948 and 1949.

He took his initial step into a major-league scouting career when he signed on with the Kansas City Athletics in 1961. It would turn out to be his profession for over 40 years. He also did a stint with the New York Yankees before he started working for Pittsburgh in 1966. By 1979, he was an area scout, and from 1980 to 1989 he served as a national crosschecker for the Pirates. He later filled senior roles in the organization’s front office as a major-league scout, special assistant to the general manager, and senior advisor for player personnel. He was named the Midwest Scout of the Year in 1994 and received the “Pride of the Pirates” Award in 1996 recognizing the person in the Pirates organization who displayed sportsmanship, character, and dedication during a lifetime of service. He retired in 2002.

Among the countless players he scouted for the Pirates, he was responsible for signing Moises Alou with Pittsburgh, although the prized prospect ultimately spent most of his star-studded career in other major-league organizations. Yochim was credited by Pirates manager Chuck Tanner as being a key factor in the capture of the 1979 World Series against Baltimore because of his insightful scouting report on the Orioles.

In recognition of his long career in baseball, Yochim was elected to the Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1996. He died in 2013 at age 84.

Babe Ruth and the Yankees called New Orleans home during spring training in 1920s

Long before the Florida and Arizona became the permanent annual sites of all the MLB teams’ spring training season, New Orleans played host to several major-league teams seeking warm weather that would allow them to get a head start on their training and preparation for the regular baseball season. The New York Yankees were one of those teams, spending their spring training for the1922, 1923, and 1924 seasons in the Crescent City. These comprised some of the early years of Babe Ruth’s illustrious career with the Yankees.  Already a national sensation by then, he naturally attracted most of the attention from baseball fans and newspapermen in New Orleans.

The Yankees’ spring training routine during those years included a stopover in Hot Springs, Arkansas, for several weeks prior to arriving in New Orleans. Yankee management usually sent players there to lose weight and begin their conditioning prior to beginning baseball drills. This was an era in baseball where players didn’t engage in any type of training or dietary regimen during the off-season. Known as a hearty eater and drinker, Ruth’ time spent in the Arkansas resort city was usually well spent, typically losing 20 or more pounds.

Once in New Orleans, Yankee players were housed at the Grunewald Hotel, which was the predecessor to the original Roosevelt Hotel and later the Fairmont. Folklore has it that Ruth had to be frequently smuggled into the hotel in the wee hours of the morning after a night of carousing in the city.

The local New Orleans Pelicans team provided practice game competition for the Yankees. They drew large crowds at the Pels’ home stadium, Heinemann Park, most of which were attracted to the spectacle surrounding Ruth and his Yankee teammates, as opposed to the local team. Ruth had hit 54 and 59 homers, respectively, in 1920 and 1921, helping to propel the major leagues out of the deadball era. Fans came to the stadium to see Ruth hit his mammoth home runs.

Ruth’s talented teammates included other notable players, including catcher Wally Schang, third baseman Home Run Baker, outfielder Bob Meusel, and first baseman Wally Pipp. Pitching for the Yankees were Bob Shawkey, Waite Hoyte, Bullet Joe Bush, and Carl Mays. Most of these players had helped the Yanks win their first American League pennant in 1921.

Ruth came into New Orleans in 1922 under the order of a suspension (until May 20) and fine by Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Landis for his participation in post-season exhibition games following the 1921 season. It wasn’t clear at first that Ruth would be allowed to participate in training activities, but Landis ultimately approved Ruth’s training with the team in New Orleans.

Ruth’s wife, who was in New Orleans to watch some of the spring games, publicly lobbied the commissioner to allow her husband to play the entire season. She said, “Babe broke his record by making fifty-nine home runs last year, but he is in even better form this year and I hope he will make seventy-five. I am sure he will make around sixty-five, at the least, for he has been doing wonderful work in training.” Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert said he thought Ruth could break his record even if Landis didn’t rescind his suspension.

New Orleans fans were delighted when Ruth hit a grand slam home run in a 9-0 victory in one of the games against the Pelicans. Two days later he homered again against the St. Louis Cardinals who came into town for a practice game.

Ruth signed a contract for $75,000 during spring training in 1921. He was clearly the highest-paid player at the time. It was rumored he would also be rewarded with $500 for each home run he hit, but that turned out to be false. Landis wound up sticking to his order for Ruth’ suspension until May 20, and Ruth played in 110 games as a result. He still managed to finish third in home runs with 35. The Yankees won the AL pennant again but lost the New York Giants in the World Series for the second year in a row.

Ruth contracted the flu in 1923 while in Hot Springs, getting into condition for spring training in New Orleans. He was confined to his room for two weeks and delayed his arrival in New Orleans.

Controversy arose again around his time in the city, centering around a $50,000 lawsuit against Ruth by 19-year-old New Yorker Dorothy Dixon for breach of promise. She claimed that she was carrying Ruth’s unborn child. From the outset of the suit, Ruth countered he was being blackmailed, and ultimately the suit was dropped.

The Yankees topped the Pelicans in four of seven contests during the 1923 spring training series. New Orleans native Larry Gilbert was in his first season as manager of the Pels. He was praised for the team’s results in spring games, and it was an omen of good things to come during the Pelicans’ regular season, since they wound up winning the Southern League title. Playing in their first season in Yankee Stadium, the Yankees won their third consecutive pennant and defeated the Giants for their first World Series championship.

The Yankees returned to New Orleans for the third straight year in 1924. Ruth had another bout with the flu in Hot Springs. However, it turned out not to be a serious case, and he arrived in New Orleans ready to play.

There was no shortage of entertainment activities Yankees players experienced in the Crescent City while not on the ball diamond. They were theatre guests at an Orpheum party, spent time at the racetrack, went to boxing matches, and took a fishing trip to a nearby bayou. Their popularity also found themselves selling raffle tickets for a local church and playing a benefit game for school children.

21-year-old rookie Lou Gehrig was being mentioned during spring activities as a prospect who could eventually become heir apparent to Ruth as the home run king. However, it turned out Gehrig wouldn’t become a permanent fixture with the team until 1925.

The expectation of a Ruth home run attracted the local crowds at Heinemann Park. He was continually on-stage, as fans hung on each at-bat, hoping he would blast one out. In one of the games with over 3,000 howling schoolboys in attendance, he sent them happily home by hitting a homer over the right field fence in a losing cause to the Pelicans, 12-4.

The Yankees had an off-year during the 1924 regular season, finishing second behind the Washington Senators. However, Ruth led the league in batting average (.378) and home runs (46).

Other major-league teams that came to New Orleans for spring training during the modern era (beginning in 1901) included the Cleveland Indians (1902-1903 and 1916-1920), Chicago Cubs (1907, 1911-1912), and Brooklyn Dodgers (1921). Over the years, the city would also play host to numerous major-league teams playing exhibition games on their way North following spring training.

Interview: 93-year-old Frank Azzarello counts all-star game at Polo Grounds among biggest thrills

Frank Azzarello played in a lot of big games during his high school and American Legion career in New Orleans during the 1940s, but one of his most memorable occurred in August 1944 in a teenage youth all-star contest at New York’s Polo Grounds. Now 93 years old, Azzarello still has a vivid recollection of his rare opportunity to represent Louisiana in Esquire Magazine’s All-American Boys’ baseball game, along with 28 other players from across the country.

His selection for the prestigious game was the result of a vote by Louisiana high school and Legion coaches and officials. Among the boys he beat out were other local prep stars Tookie Gilbert and Ralph “Putsy” Caballero, both of whom eventually played in the major leagues. He was no stranger to receiving all-star honors, having been a New Orleans All-Prep Team member for S. J. Peters High School and a selection to the city’s All-Legion Team representing the Holy Cross Comiskey’s entry.

Azzarello commented in a recent telephone interview, “It was an honor to represent Louisiana. Being able to participate in this event was like a dream.” He had good reason to think he had been dreaming, since he spent two weeks in New York City sightseeing, preparing for the game in fabled stadiums, and rubbing elbows with some of baseball’s all-time greats.

He was a member of the East all-star squad managed by venerable Connie Mack, then the skipper of the major-league Philadelphia A’s. Fellow New Orleanian Mel Ott, then a player-manager for the New York Giants, was the manager of the West all-star team. Azzarello said he got to spend time with Ott, whom he recalls walked around the field during a workout in his stocking feet because of a recent foot injury. Azzarello relished a chance to have a practice stint on the mound in the Polo Grounds with legendary Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell looking over his shoulder and giving him tips. Azzarello, who weighed only 135 pounds at the time, said he was amazed at how thin Hubbell was. One of the boys’ trips in the city took them to a radio station where they met Babe Ruth who was doing a broadcast appearance. Yankee Stadium was also the site of one of the boys’ practice sessions.

The game on August 7 in the Polo Grounds was attended by over 17,000 fans. Azzarello was on the East’s starting nine as the left fielder. Detroit’s Bill Pierce, a future major-leaguer who recorded 211 career wins, got the starting assignment on the mound for the East. Azzarello said he was able to become good friends with Pierce during the event. The West team included future major-leaguers Richie Ashburn and Erv Palica. Over half of the 29 players from the two teams, including Azzarello, eventually signed professional contracts.

Facing Virgil Jester, another future major-league pitcher, Azzarello drew a walk in the first inning, when the East put up the first score. In the fifth inning, he laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner but wound on first base due to a throwing error. He eventually scored one of the East’s three runs that inning. Azzarello walked and struck out in his other two at-bats. Behind the solid pitching of Pierce and two relievers, the East team was victorious, 6-0.

Azzarello signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox in October 1944. However, Uncle Sam had other plans for him, as he served in the Army from January 1945 to November 1946. He saw action on transport ships serving as Army troop carriers and hospitals, including overseas trips. He recalled that when his ship was docked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he took the opportunity to attend a few games at Ebbetts Field. New Orleanian Fats Dantonio was playing with the Dodgers then, and Azzarello remembered talking to him and asking him for baseballs.

He made his professional debut in 1947 with Class D Milford, Delaware, in the Eastern Shore League. Not having played baseball for over two years, Azzarello said he had lost something on his fastball, although he managed to pitch 16 complete games. His numbers in show that he compiled a 13-9 record with a 4.33 ERA.

After starting the 1948 season 5-0 with Class C Oneonta, New York, in the Canadian-American League, Azzarello says he was hit by a line drive from a batter that injured a leg muscle. After a two-week layoff, his next five games didn’t go well, and he was released by the team. When he returned to New Orleans, he learned that Thibodaux of the Evangeline League needed an outfielder, so he signed with them to finish out the season.

Azzarello had surgery on his left shoulder after the 1948 season to repair ligaments and tendons, and he missed the entire 1949 season. He attempted a comeback the next year as a first baseman with two unaffiliated teams in Alabama, but he was not the same ballplayer. At age 23, it was his last season in pro baseball.

Prior to his military service, he had been a local amateur star on New Orleans playgrounds. His Peters High team lost to Holy Cross in the city prep championship in 1942. In 1944 he faced off with Holy Cross’ star pitcher Dick Callahan in a classic pitching duel at Pelican Stadium that lasted 12 innings. Callahan struck out 20 while Azzarello fanned 18 in a 1-0 game won by Holy Cross, who went on to defeat Peters in the state finals. Azzarello said, “We had some tough losses to Holy Cross, but I was proud that I beat Jesuit every time I faced them that year, in both prep and Legion games.” A Times-Picayune report on Azzarello called him “one of the best southpaws ever developed in this part of the country.”

Holy Cross High School coach George Digby asked Azzarello to play with the Holy Cross-sponsored Comiskey’s American Legion team beginning in 1942. He ultimately became one of their best players, as he was named to the city’s All-Legion teams in 1943 and 1944. Comiskey’s defeated Baton Rouge in 1944 for the state title and fell one game short of getting to the American Legion Little World Series.

Amateur and professional baseball in New Orleans was in its heyday during the 1930s and 1940s. Azzarello was one of the home-grown stars who helped make it an exciting era to follow the game in the Crescent City.

Albert Pujols: A tale of two decades

Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols will play in his 20th major-league season this year, assuming there will indeed be a season without further interruption. Whether he plays this season or not, the 40-year-old Pujols has already logged one the best careers ever. It’s a certainty he’ll be elected to the Hall of Fame, having already passed lofty career milestones such as 3,000 hits, 600 home runs, 2,000 RBIs, and 1,300 extra-base hits. Only Hank Aaron has surpassed those numbers. Not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, nor Ted Williams. Not any other Hall of Famer.

Pujols broke into the majors with St. Louis in 2001, winning the Rookie of the Year Award. It turned out he wasn’t one of those “flash in the pan” rookie players that occasionally show up in the big leagues. His first decade put him in the same class as former Yankees great Lou Gehrig, who is generally regarded as the best first baseman ever to suit up.

Yet Pujols’ career hasn’t always been a bed of roses. After setting the baseball world on fire during his first ten seasons, his last nine have been pretty darn good, too, but not representative of Hall of Fame caliber by themselves. The dichotomy is largely attributable to Pujol’s nagging injuries, especially the plantar fasciitis condition that plagued him in the second half of his career.

Let’s do a deep dive on Pujols’s first ten years and look at a statistical comparison of Pujols and Gehrig, normalizing their ten-best seasons using 162-game averages, as well as a comparison of their league dominance in their respective eras.

Between 2001-2010 (his first ten seasons), Pujols’s 162-game average (per consisted of 43 HR, 128 RBIs, 198 hits, and a slash line of .331/.426/.624. Among his nine Top 5 finishes for the MVP Award, he won in three seasons and finished second in four additional seasons.

In Gehrig’s first ten seasons as the Yankees’ full-time first baseman (1926-1935), his 162-game average consisted of 38 HR, 157 RBIs, 210 hits, .346/.452/.645. He had seven Top 5 MVP Award seasons, winning in two and finishing second in two.

Of course, part of Gehrig’s greatness is attributed to having played on perhaps the greatest dynasty teams in history. Over the course of his 17-year career, the Yankees won six of seven World Series in which he played. Pujols’ Cardinals teams won two of three World Series.

Pujols’ next nine seasons (2011 throughs 2019) weren’t nearly as dominating as his first ten, although most major-league players would have been satisfied with them. His 162-game average consisted of 32 HR, 109 RBIs, 167 hits, and a slash line of .263/.320/.461. His power numbers were still impressive, but he had a significant drop-off in batting average and on-base percentage. He had only one All-Star season and only one Top 5 season in MVP voting. If his entire career were comprised of these types of numbers, he would have trouble getting Hall of Fame honors.

St. Louis Cardinals fans were shocked when the team didn’t re-sign Pujols after the 2011 season. Despite Pujols’ role in their winning seasons and his immense popularity in St. Louis, the Cards made a purely business decision not to shell out the huge dollars and long contract term it would take to retain him. The Los Angeles Angels, however, decided to step up and ink Pujols to a free-agent deal worth $270 million over 11 years. In retrospect, based on Pujols’ results in the last nine seasons, the Cardinals are b probably glad they made the decision they did, while the Angels are probably regretting theirs.

Because of the negative perception of Pujols from his last few years (overpaid for what he produced), we sometimes forget just how good he was during his first decade. His teammate Mike Trout has been putting up similar results in his nine major-league seasons, and we’re now labeling him one of the best players ever. I remember saying the same thing about Pujols.

Former New Orleanian George Digby became renowned Boston Red Sox scout

In Boston Red Sox circles, the name George Digby is well-known. He has a plaque in their Hall of Fame, along with former Red Sox greats such as Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, Carlton Fisk, and another New Orleanian, pitcher Mel Parnell. But Digby is different from these other honorees. He wasn’t inducted as a major-league player but rather as a top major-league scout in the Red Sox organization for 50 years.

Digby had unique exposure to professional baseball as a young boy, when he was batboy for his hometown New Orleans Pelicans. His dream in high school was to eventually play major-league baseball. But as it often happens, fate has other plans. It turned out his baseball career wasn’t on the diamond itself, but in finding young prospects the Red Sox could ultimately put on the diamond at the major-league level.

He had good reason to believe he could play professional baseball. As an All-District player for Jesuit High School in New Orleans, he was a member of its famed 1936 team that produced three future major-league players: Charlie Gilbert, Connie Ryan, and Fats Dantonio. Four other Blue Jay teammates played in the minors. The Jesuit squad, which won its fifth consecutive state championship, provided eight of the 14 players who garnered first-team honors on the city’s All-Prep team. Digby also drew attention from major-league scouts. He wanted to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school, but his father had other plans that included college.

Digby attended Louisiana State University on a scholarship, thinking he could hone his baseball skills for a future in pro baseball while obtaining his degree. However, a severe back injury he incurred in a wrestling match derailed his plans and ended his career as a player.

Following graduation from LSU in 1942, he took a job as the baseball coach for Holy Cross High School in New Orleans. His teams were immediately successful, winning three consecutive city championships and capturing one state championship. One of his star players was pitcher Dick Callahan, whom he helped negotiate a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox in 1944. Callahan’s $15,000 signing bonus was an unusually high amount for that era. Fifteen of Digby’s Holy Cross players eventually signed pro contracts.

The Red Sox organization liked the way he had developed a good pulse on the local baseball talent and consequently hired him in February 1945 as their first scout in the South. Only 26-years-old, Digby was an anomaly among a typically veteran group of scouts. By November 1948, he was named a supervisor in the Red Sox scouting organization.

In 1949 Digby sought to purchase the contract of teenager Willie Mays from the Birmingham Barons, the Negro Leagues team with whom Mays was playing. Digby reached an agreement with Barons ownership for $4,000, but he couldn’t persuade Red Sox management to go through with the deal, as they were one of the last holdouts among major-league teams to sign black players. (Boston was the last team to have a black player in the majors ten years later.)

By the 1950s Digby was well-established in the scouting community. He co-authored an instructional book titled Baseball for Boys for aspiring baseball players in 1960. It provided an in-depth review of tips and techniques for playing each position, as well as hitting. Former Yankee great and Hall of Famer Bill Dickey endorsed the book, “There is not a man in baseball today who has a better basic knowledge of the game.”

In 1961 Rusty Staub was the top New Orleans area high school prospect in his senior season at Jesuit High School. While Digby may have thought he had in inside track on signing Staub, since Jesuit was also his alma mater, the competition among major-league teams for Staub’s services was stiff. Taking nothing for granted though, he brought along Red Sox legend Ted Williams to help recruit Staub. However, Boston wound up dropping out of the bidding for Staub, since they had just shelled out $65,000 to sign Baton Rouge phenom Dalton Jones. Houston ultimately won out over Philadelphia, snagging Staub for $100,000.

Altogether, Digby signed more than 50 major-league players for the Red Sox. The most noteworthy was Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, who was drafted by the Red Sox in the seventh round in 1976. Other signees included Milt Bolling, Faye Throneberry, Dalton Jones, Haywood Sullivan, Mike Greenwell, Gerry Moses, and Bob Montgomery.

He was the first scout to be named to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2008. He was one of three Red Sox scouts whom long-time Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey left a bequest when he died in 1976. The Red Sox established an award in Digby’s name in 1994 that is given annually to recognize outstanding organizational scouts.

Digby retired as an active scout in 1994 and served the Red Sox as a consultant through 2004. He died in 2014 at age 96.

Gerrit Cole has a chance to be the best Yankees starting pitcher ever

I am pumped about getting the 2020 season started, even with an abbreviated schedule.  Some baseball is better than no baseball.


One of the things I am most looking forward to is Gerrit Cole pitching in Yankees pinstripes.  With all due respect to Verlander, deGrom, Scherzer, Kershaw, and Strasburg, Cole is currently the best pitcher in baseball.  And now he has a chance to make his mark in the annals of the Yankees franchise.  In fact, Cole could well become the best starting pitcher the Yankees ever had, even better than Hall of Fame greats like Whitey Ford, Lefty Gomez, and Red Ruffing.  As my Dad used to say, “That’s some pretty tall cotton.”


Table 1 is a recap of the top Yankees starters of all time. The WAR for Pitchers stat of 30 or greater was used as the baseline criteria to identify this group. WAR isn’t the absolute best indicator, but at least it provides a common denominator to assess pitchers across eras. It has a cumulative element to it (the longer one plays, the higher the WAR can become), but it’s better than traditional stats like career wins and strikeouts. In any case, the table also includes other relevant pitching stats not based on stats accumulations.


Table 2 shows the same information for Gerrit Cole in two time periods: his career to date with the Pirates and Astros (2013-2019) and only his last two seasons with the Astros (2018-2019).


Table 1


Yankees Pitcher

Years with Yankees


WAR for Pitchers









Whitey Ford (HOF)







Andy Pettitte







Ron Guidry







Red Ruffing (HOF)







Lefty Gomez (HOF)







Mel Stottlemyre







Bob Shawkey







Waite Hoyt (HOF)







Mike Mussina (HOF)







Herb Pennock (HOF)







CC Sabathia








Table 2

Gerrit Cole (2013-2019)







Gerrit Cole










Table 1 shows is that Ford was the best among the group of all-time Yankee greats. He is not only the leader in WAR, but also ERA (Earned Runs Average), ERA+ (ERA adjusted for player’s ballpark), and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). He trails only Ron Guidry in WHIP (Walks and Hits Per Nine Innings Pitched).


Cole really stepped up his performance after his trade to the Astros following the 2018 season. He finished in the top five for the Cy Young Award in 2018 and was runner-up to teammate Justin Verlander last season, when he led the league in ERA, strikeouts, FIP, and ERA+. He was already good with the Pirates, but his team’s poor performance probably overshadowed his true value. At 29 years of age, he is in the prime of his career. With the amount of money the Yankees will pay Cole (contract is worth $36M per year for the next nine seasons), they certainly expect him to be productive for a long time. If he can maintain performances like his two seasons with the Astros, he could ascend to the top of the list.


It’s a tall order to project Cole in this auspicious company. In addition to the great Bronx Bombers that included Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Maris, Berra, and Jackson, most of these pitchers were also huge contributors to the Yankees having won 27 World Championships.


At a minimum though, it’s not far-fetched to project Cole becoming the best starter the Yankees have had since Ford last pitched in 1967. I think Pettitte is an anomaly on the all-time list. He represents a case where WAR isn’t always the best indicator. He was never a top-of-the rotation starter. Same with Mussina, although he did manage to get into the Hall, partially based on his Orioles career, too. CC Sabathia only had four superior years out of his 11 with the Yankees. Guidry is somewhat underrated when considering the all-time Yankee greats.


Cole ended the 2019 regular season with 16 consecutive winning decisions. In a 60-game schedule, he just might go undefeated this year.

Alario Father-Son Duo Named to Northwestern State's N-Club HOF

Earlier this month Northwestern State University announced its 2020 Class of the N-Club Hall of Fame.  Included in this honored group are Terry Alario Sr. and his son Terry Alario Jr., who are originally from the New Orleans area. In the induction ceremony scheduled for October 17 at the university, they will be bestowed the N-Club’s Distinguished Service Award.


The pair is the first father-son combo to have lettered in baseball at NSU. Both were members of conference championship teams for the Demons.


Northwestern State’s 2020 Hall of Fame press notice stated, “The Alario pair has been ardent NSU athletic supporters, notably creating the Alario 22 Scholarship for the university’s baseball program, while continuing to lend financial support and actively promoting Demon athletics throughout the state. Both Alarios wore jersey number 22 during their Demon playing days.”


Terry Sr. was a pitcher for the Demons from 1966 to 1969 and was named captain during his senior year. He was a member of NSU’s 1967 Gulf South Conference championship team that made the school’s first appearance in an NCAA Regional. Prior to attending NSU, he was a rare four-sport letterman at West Jefferson High School. Alario was selected to the 4-AAA District All-Star team for both baseball and football during his senior season. He was also named to the district’s All-Star second team for basketball and participated on a relay team in the state track and field meet. He is remembered for being involved in numerous classic pitching matchups against East Jefferson’s Barry Raziano (an eventual major leaguer) in both prep and American Legion competition. Alario fondly remembers one of the Legion games in which he pitched a no-hitter at Mel Ott Park.


Terry Jr. attended John Curtis Christian High School, where he was an All-District catcher on the 1990 state prep championship team. His American Legion team was also a Southeast Louisiana title winner. He lettered at NSU in 1993 and 1994, when NSU won the Southland Conference championships in back-to-back seasons.


Terry Sr. said about the Hall of Fame honor, “My son and I were overwhelmed when we were first notified about the Hall of Fame election earlier this month. Normally, those types of honors go to athletes who produced impressive stats during their college careers. We didn’t have those, but we were both good teammates on some championship teams; and we continue to have great love for the university.”


To view an extensive list of New Orleans area high school players who went on to play collegiately and professionally, click here.

Flashback: Thrilling moments in Will Clark's MLB career

Former Jesuit High School and major-league star Will Clark acquired the nickname “The Thrill” early in his professional career. He was a rookie with the San Francisco Giants in 1986, when teammate Bob Brenly tagged him with the moniker that stayed with him throughout his 15-year career. He would eventually provide fans of the Giants, Rangers, Orioles, and Cardinals with many memorable thrills.


Clark’s career was filled with countless big hits.  Altogether he amassed 2,176 hits in nearly 2,000 games. He became a six-time all-star in the majors. In his best season in 1989, he was runner-up for the National League’s MVP Award, and he finished in the top five of the award’s voting in three other seasons.


Clark exuded confidence in his hitting ability from the very start of his pro career. He gained a reputation for being cocky and brash, but he could back up those traits with impressive at-bats. His performances in college as the Golden Spikes Award winner and in the 1984 Olympics as Team USA’s leading hitter had prepared him well for the majors. He was accustomed to playing on the big stage when he arrived in the majors and would prove he could live up to the name “Will the Thrill.”


Following are three of Clark’s many momentous major-league games. Click here for a nine-part series covering Clark’s entire career.


April 8, 1986: Home Run on First Major League Swing.  Clark won the Giants’ first base job coming out of spring training, having unseated veteran Dan Driessen. His pro experience consisted of only 65 Class A games the year before.  


In his brief pro career, Clark had already shown a penchant for hitting memorable home runs. In his first minor-league game for Fresno in 1985, he hit a home run. In his first exhibition game for the Giants in spring training in 1986, he hit a towering 430-foot home run. His MLB debut game would produce yet another milestone.


With Opening Day for the Giants being played in Houston’s Astrodome on April 8, many of his family and friends from New Orleans made the five-hour drive for his major-league debut game.


Clark was batting second in the lineup that night, facing the Astros’ vaunted strikeout pitcher Nolan Ryan in his first at-bat. After Giants leadoff batter Dan Gladden grounded out, Clark next stepped up to the plate. On a letter-high fastball, his first swing delivered a 420-foot home run into the center-field bleachers, thus becoming the 50th major-league player to hit a round-tripper in his first plate appearance. The Giants went on to defeat Houston, 8-3. Indicative of his self-confidence, Clark said after the game, “Everybody tries to make a big deal of it—the pressure and all. They ain’t dealing with a kid. I’ve been all over the place. I’ve been around.”


It would be Clark’s first of 284 career home runs. He went on to have great success opposing Ryan, MLB’s career strikeout leader. He posted a spectacular slash line of .333/.385/.889 and six home runs in 36 official at-bats versus Ryan.


October 1, 1989: Batting Title Race Decided on Last Day of Season.  Clark had highly productive seasons in 1987 and 1988, but he would establish himself as one of MLB’s premier players in only his fourth big league season in 1989. One of the outstanding aspects of this season was his consistently high batting average during the entire season. He had previously been known as more of a power hitter, having led the National League in RBI and finished third in home runs. His batting average became evidence of having rounded out his game.


Throughout the season, Clark was matched with San Diego’s Tony Gwynn for the batting title lead. It was new territory for Clark, while Gwynn had a reputation as a perennial front-runner, having already led the National League three times and finished third and fourth in two other seasons.


Going into the last game of the season on October 1 in San Diego, Clark held a narrow lead over Gwynn, .3339 to .3333. However, with a boisterous Padres crowd rooting against him, Clark ultimately relinquished his lead, and Gwynn captured his third consecutive title. Gwynn collected three hits to only one for Clark, giving Gwynn a final edge by three percentage points, .336 to .333. Clark commented after his disappointing second-place finish, “I got beat by the best [Gwynn], and there’s no disgrace in that.” Gwynn countered, “I ended up winning it, but that doesn’t take away from Clark’s year.”

Gwynn eventually garnered eight batting average titles, earning him a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. Clark hit over .300 in 10 of his 15 seasons and finished with a .303 career average.


October 4, 1989: Record-Setting Performance in NLCS Game 1. The 1989 San Francisco Giants, led by Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark, won their second NL West Division titles in three years, and then faced the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.


Clark hadn’t played particularly well (.271 batting average without a home run) against the Cubs during the regular season, which included a 2-for-11 performance against pitcher Greg Maddux, the starter in Game 1. Furthermore, Wrigley Field was not one of his favorite hitting parks, because he had trouble picking up pitches there.


However, his past performance against the Cubs wasn’t a predictor of his future performance in the Series.  He put on a hitting display in Game 1 that set numerous records for post-season play.


He got the Giants on the board in the first inning with a run-scoring double off Maddux. He hit a solo home run in the third inning, followed by a grand slam home run in the fourth, causing Maddux to take an early exit from the game. He finished his hitting spree with a single in the sixth and then settled for a walk in the eighth inning. Powered by Clark, the Giants wound up winning the game, 11-3.


Clark’s six RBIs set a single-game playoff record and his 11 total bases set a record for National League playoff games. He tied NLCS records for most hits, runs scored, and most times reaching base safely in a single game. Opposing Cubs manager Don Zimmer summed up Clark’s outing, “He had a helluva week tonight.” However, Clark didn’t stop in Game 1. During the five-game series in which the Giants prevailed, Clark’s slash line was a whopping .650/.682/1.200.


No shortage of family ties in abbreviated MLB draft

This year’s MLB amateur draft was significantly different from previous years in that it consisted of only five rounds.  Last year there were 40 rounds, and there have been as many as 60 rounds in some years. The high school and college prospects from which major league clubs make their selections have always included players with baseball in their bloodlines.  Yet even with the reduction in the number of prospects drafted, there was still a good representation of players who have relatives that also played professional baseball. 20 of the 160 (12.5%) players selected last week had baseball as part of their family heritage.


By comparison, in 2019 there were a total of 1,217 players drafted in the 40 rounds, of which 65 (5.3%) had family ties. Nine were selected in the first five rounds last year.


Often, these prospects seem to have an advantage because of their heritage.  In the scouting process, it’s a plus factor for a player who has been raised in a family that has familiarity with professional baseball.  Of course, having a relative in baseball is no guarantee for success; the player still must have the requisite baseball skills.


It seems more and more of the players being drafted are coming from multi-generational baseball families. This year’s draft could wind up having several prospects in that category.


Here’s the background on some of the players selected this year.


Seven of the first-round picks were the son or brother of a professional baseball player. Included in this elite group was Heston Kjerstad (Orioles), the second overall pick of the draft, whose brother Dexter previously played in the Royals and Marlins organization. Carson Tucker (Indians) is the brother of Cole Tucker, who made his major-league debut last year with the Pirates. They became the ninth set of brothers to each be drafted in the first round. Tyler Soderstrom (A’s) is the son of Steve Soderstrom who pitched one season with the Giants in 1996. They became the 10th father-son duo to be picked in the first round.


Jared Jones (Pirates, 2nd round) is the cousin of two former major leaguers, brothers Randy and Ron Flores.


The father of LSU’s Cole Henry (Nationals, 2nd round) was drafted twice (1991 and 1993), although he never signed a professional contract.


Two draftees were the grandsons of former major-league stars. Trei Cruz (Tigers, 3rd round) is the grandson of Jose Cruz Sr. who played 19 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Astros.  Anthony Servideo (Orioles, 3rd round) is the grandson of Curt Blefary, the American League Rookie of the Year in 1965.


In fact, Cruz is a third-generation player.  His father, Jose Cruz Jr., was also a major-leaguer that played for 12 seasons.  Trei’s uncles Tommy and Hector also had major-league appearances. If he were to eventually reach the majors, it would be only the fifth three-generation family in history.


Milan Tolentino (Indians, 4th round) is the son of former Astros major leaguer Jose Tolentino. His brother Patric played two seasons in the Indians organization.


Draft-eligible players who weren’t selected in the first five rounds will have the option of signing pro contracts as free agents, with a standard $20,000 bonus being offered. Each of these players will be able to negotiate with the teams of their choice. This year’s list of additional eligible players includes names of well-known former major leaguers: Glavine, Boone, Girardi, Grissom, Bevacqua, and Dykstra.  


In addition to Joe Girardi (son Dante), several other current major-league managers have relatives who could wind up signing pro contracts, including Dusty Baker (son Darren), Rocco Baldelli (brother Dante), and Joe Maddon (cousin Joe Baran).


Jaren Shelby, son of former major-league player and coach John Shelby, could become the fourth son in the family to sign a pro contract.  Their cousin is major leaguer Josh Harrison.


Both of Ryan Berardino’s grandfathers had major-league ties.  Dwight Evans was a 20-year player with the Boston Red Sox, while Dick Berardino was a long-time minor-league player, manager, and coach in the Red Sox organization.


Jake Boone’s great-grandfather Ray, grandfather Bob, and father Bret all played in the majors. If Jake were to eventually reach the majors, their family would become the first four-generation combination in major-league history.

LSU's Daniel Cabrera could be next first-round draft pick from Metro New Orleans

Major League Baseball will hold its 66th annual amateur draft on June 10-11. First-round selections naturally get the most attention, as each major-league organization picks their top prospect from the abundant population of draft-eligible high school and college players. The New Orleans area has provided several first-round draft picks over the years, most notably Will Clark, who was the second overall pick of the 1985 June draft by the San Francisco Giants.


This year’s draft process will be drastically different from the preceding 65 in that player selections will be made in only five rounds. Last year the draft consisted of 40 rounds and in other previous years there have been as many as 60 rounds. Once the fifth round is completed, all remaining amateurs can potentially sign with any team for the same $20,000 bonus.

Daniel Cabrera, who spent part of his prep career at John Curtis Christian High School and played collegiately at LSU, has an outside chance to be a late first-round pick this year. ranks him 38th in their list of top draft candidates, while Baseball America projects him as the 41st top prospect in the draft. Cabrera was previously drafted out of high school by the San Diego Padres in the 26th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, but chose to sign with LSU.


Cabrera played his first three high school seasons at John Curtis, where he was named the Outstanding Player in the New Orleans Metro Area in 2015 and 2016. He earned 2017 first-team All-State recognition, batting .510 with 25 RBIs in his senior season at Parkview Baptist High School in Baton Rouge. The left-handed hitting outfielder has been a three-year starter and leader for LSU. He earned Freshman All-America honors in 2018.

Here’s a rundown of past first-round selections of players who played high school baseball in Metro New Orleans. The players’ draft year and team are indicated in parenthesis.


Mike Miley (1971, Cincinnati Reds; 1974, California Angels). Miley was one of those rare amateurs that has been a first-round pick twice, first out of high school and later during college. He was a two-sport star at East Jefferson High School in Metairie and earned a scholarship to LSU. LSU sports followers would most likely remember “Miracle Mike” as the starting quarterback for a Charlie McClendon-coached football team. As a junior in 1973, Miley quarterbacked the Tigers to a 9-2 record, when they won nine consecutive games before losing to Alabama and Tulane. LSU finished the season ranked 13th in the final AP poll.


However, it turned bout baseball was Miley’s calling, as he was also the starting shortstop for the Tigers baseball team. He had been an All-SEC selection in his freshman year in 1972.  In his junior season in 1974, he was named to The Sporting News All-American team, which led to his becoming the Number 1 selection (10th overall pick) of the California Angels in the June 1974 amateur draft. He decided to forgo his senior year at LSU by signing with the Angels. He made his major-league debut with them in 1975, but his life was cut short when he was killed in an automobile accident in 1977 at age 23.


Frank Wills (1980, Kansas City Royals). Wills played all three major sports at De La Salle High School. His baseball coach, Jerry Burrage, called the hard-throwing pitcher one of the top athletes in the high school’s history. Burrage had known Wills since his playground days and figured correctly he would become a special athlete one day. Their baseball team won the Louisiana state 4A championship in 1977, as Wills garnered All-State honors.


Wills signed a scholarship offer with Tulane to play football and baseball. He was the Green Wave’s punter for three seasons.  In his junior season in 1980, he compiled a 5-3 record and 2.81 ERA, averaging 10.5 strikeouts per game. An All-Metro Conference player, he was also named to The Sporting News College Baseball All-American Team. Wills was the 16th overall pick of the 1980 draft and played in the majors from 1983 to 1991 with the Royals, Mariners, Indians, and Blue Jays.  His major-league career record was 22-26 record with a 5.06 ERA.


Will Clark (1985, San Francisco Giants). Clark broke Rusty Staub’s home run record as a junior at Jesuit High School. In his senior season, he batted .560 but didn’t qualify for the city batting title because opposing pitchers walked him an average of three times per game. The first baseman passed on an opportunity to sign a pro contract with the Kansas City Royals, who drafted him out of high school in the fourth round in 1982. Instead, he attended Mississippi State, where he earned All-SEC honors in his sophomore and junior seasons. He led a talented 1984 USA Olympic Team in hitting when they captured the silver medal. Clark was the Golden Spikes Award winner in 1985, as college baseball’s best player.


Clark was the second overall pick of the 1985 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants. The sweet-swinging left-hander made his major-league debut in 1986, smacking a home run off Nolan Ryan in his first major-league at-bat. He went on to a fifteen-year career with the Giants, Rangers, Orioles, and Cardinals, accumulating a career slash line of 303/.384/.497. He was voted in the top five for the National League MVP Award in four seasons.


Jason Fitzgerald (1997, Cleveland Indians). Fitzgerald wasn’t heavily recruited out of Holy Cross High School, where he was a four-year letterman. Yet he leveraged his scholarship at Tulane to eventually become an All-American outfielder. In his junior season, he hit .387 with 20 home runs, 79 RBIs, 16 doubles, and four triples, while stealing 21 bases to lead the Green Wave to the Conference USA regular season championship. He was named to Baseball America’s All-American third team in 1997.


He was the 41st overall pick of the Cleveland Indians in the 1997 MLB Draft. He was what the pros called a “five-tool” player and was known for his defensive play. His pro career got sidelined in 1999 with Tommy John surgery. He wound up playing in the minors from 1997 to 2003 with the Indians and Braves organizations, followed by two seasons in the independent leagues.


Jeff Winchester (1998, Colorado Rockies). Formerly called the “best player ever to wear a Rummel uniform” by his coach Frank Cazeaux, Winchester is among the top catchers to ever come from the New Orleans area. An All-Stater as a junior, he posted a slash line of .481/.596/.926, with 12 home runs in 35 games, as Rummel captured the Louisiana State 5A title. In his senior season in 1998, he was the city’s All-Metro MVP and Gatorade’s Louisiana Player of the Year.


Although Winchester had signed a baseball scholarship with LSU, he chose professional baseball after being chosen as the overall 40th pick of the 1998 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies. He went on to play for the Rockies, Brewers, and Reds organizations from 1998 to 2006.


Mike Fontenot (2001, Baltimore Orioles). Fontenot was a four-year letterman at Salmen High School in Slidell, selected to multiple All-State and All-Metro teams. He was the Metro New Orleans MVP in his senior season in 1999. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 21st round but opted to accept a scholarship with LSU. The second baseman made an immediate impact at LSU setting a freshman record with 17 home runs on his way to earning The Sporting News National Freshman of the Year honors. He played on LSU’s 2000 National Championship team. 


Fontenot was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles as the 19th overall pick of the 2001 MLB Draft. He was Baltimore’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2003, leading the farm system with .325 batting average.  He was a member of the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series championship team. He played in seven major league seasons during 2005 to 2012 for the Cubs, Giants, and Phillies, posting a career slash line of .265/.332/.401.


Thomas Diamond (2004, Texas Rangers). Diamond was a three-year letter winner at Rummel, making All-District and All-State teams in his senior season. He once struck out 20 batters in a seven-inning game. He was selected by Tampa Bay in the 38th round out of high school in 2001 but chose to attend the University of New Orleans.


In three seasons with the Privateers, Diamond had 26 starts in 52 games. He was 6-4 with a 2.38 ERA in his junior season, earning him Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year in 2004. The Texas Rangers selected him as the tenth overall pick of the 2004 MLB Draft. He played seven minor-league seasons in the Rangers, Cubs, and Twins organizations. His only major-league season occurred with the Cubs in 2010, when he posted a 1-3 record and 6.83 ERA. 


Beau Jones (2005, Atlanta Braves). After going 8-0 in his junior season at Destrehan High School, Jones followed with a record of 11-3 and 1.03 ERA in 2005. He was the Times-Picayune’s Large School Player of the Year in the metro New Orleans area.  A Class 5A All-State selection, he was also named Mr. Baseball by the Louisiana Sports Writer’s Association, an award given to the state’s top high school baseball player.

Jones passed on the opportunity to play for LSU after being selected as the 41st overall pick by the Atlanta Braves in the 2005 MLB Draft, reportedly signing for a bonus in the million-dollar range. The left-hander was a high-strikeout pitcher who eventually moved into a reliever role. He played in the minors from 2005 to 2012 in the Braves, Rangers, A’s, and Marlins organizations. He was involved in the 2007 blockbuster major-league trade that sent all-star Mark Teixeira from Texas to Atlanta. Jones pitched for the hometown New Orleans Zephyrs in 2012 before retiring from baseball.

Revisiting the Sons of the Big Red Machine

I originally wrote about this topic in 2012 for my book about baseball relatives, Family Ties. As I was compiling the lists of major league players who were fathers of other professional players, it came to light that players from the Cincinnati Reds teams of the early-to-mid 1970s produced a bevy of future professional baseball players.


Those Reds teams of the 1970s are regarded as some of the more famous in baseball history. Some historians have labelled them a “dynasty.” Popularly known as the “Big Red Machine,” they were led by manager Sparky Anderson and were comprised of some of the game’s best individual players of that era: Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, George Foster, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey, and Dave Concepcion. The Reds went to the World Series in 1970, 1972, 1975, and 1976, winning back-to-back world championships in 1975 and 1976.


Sixteen players (fathers) on those teams had sons who would later play professional baseball at some level. Eight of the fathers saw their sons go on to the majors, including Pedro Borbon Sr., Ed Crosby, Ken Griffey Sr., Julian Javier, Hal McRae, Tony Perez, Pete Rose Sr., and Ed Sprague Sr.


Ken Griffey Sr., Tony Cloninger, Terry Crowley Sr., Tommy Helms Sr., Andy Kosco, and Tony Perez contributed to the proliferation of ball-playing sons by having two that played professionally.


Was it merely a coincidence that sixteen of the Reds players from those teams would have sons to follow in their footsteps? Did the environment the sons grew up in, hanging out with their fathers in the Reds clubhouse, give birth to their careers in baseball? How did all these sons develop the skills to eventually play professionally? Was it in their genes to be able to excel athletically?


The sons were sometimes referred to as “Little Red Machine.” Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was like their second home. They learned the winning feeling by hanging around the clubhouse of their famous fathers. This situation is a prime illustration of the sons of major leaguers exceling because of the environment in which they were raised.


Frequently, sons of major leaguers have attributed their success in baseball to being able to observe first-hand what it’s like to be a major leaguer. In their own careers, the sons became less intimidated by the challenges of a youngster rising through the ranks of professional baseball. They had the advantage of having a father who was just a phone call away from being able give them expert advice on the finer intricacies of the game.


Six of the sons obviously had the requisite athletic skills, since they were first-round draft picks by major league clubs. They included Brian McRae (1985), Ken Griffey, Jr. (1987), Ed Sprague Jr. (1988), Lee May, Jr. (1986), Eduardo Perez (1991), and Bobby Crosby (2001). But that wasn’t necessarily the case for several of the other sons. Craig Griffey and Tommy Helms Jr. were two examples, as they were both selected as token draft picks in the late rounds because of their fathers. Their last names got them into pro ball, but they didn’t live up to their fathers’ reputations. They may have had the genes but were ultimately short on baseball skills.


Ken Griffey Jr. stood out among the group of sons, as he eventually went on to 20-year Hall of Fame career. On the other hand, Pete Rose Jr. had a “cup of coffee” career since he managed to get only a total of 14 at-bats in one major-league season.


The Griffeys made history on August 31, 1990, when they became the first father-son duo to play in the same game as teammates on the Seattle Mariners.


Several of these sons of the Big Red Machine had a déjà vu moment in a spring training game on March 27, 1997. In a contest between Cincinnati and Texas, the Reds’ lineup included Pete Rose Jr., who batted leadoff and played third base; Dave Concepcion Jr., playing shortstop and batting second; and Eduardo Perez, son of Tony Perez, playing first base. It was reminiscent of days gone by when their fathers were manning those same positions for the Reds.


Below is a list of the father-son combinations from the Big Red Machine era.



Reds Years


Son’s Playing Career

Pedro Borbon, Sr.


Pedro Borbon, Jr.

Major league (1992–2003)

Tony Cloninger


Darrin Cloninger

Mike Cloninger

Minor league (1983–1985)

Minor league (1983–1985)

Dave Concepcion


Dave Concepcion, Jr.

Minor league (1995–1996)

Ed Crosby


Bobby Crosby

Major league (2003–2010)

Terry Crowley Sr.


Terry Crowley, Jr.

Jimmy Crowley

Minor league (1986–1992)

Minor league (1991–1995)

Cesar Geronimo Sr.


Cesar Geronimo, Jr.

Minor league (1996–1998)

Ken Griffey, Sr.


Ken Griffey, Jr.

Craig Griffey

Major league (1989–2010)

Minor league (1991–1997)

Tommy Helms, Sr.


Ryan Helms

Tommy Helms, Jr.

Wes Helms (nephew)

Minor league (1994–1995)

Minor league (1990–1992)

Major league (1998–2010)

Julian Javier


Stan Javier

Major league (1984–2001)

Andy Kosco


Andrew Kosco

Bryn Kosco

Minor league (1986–1990)

Minor league (1988–1996)

Lee May Sr.


Lee May, Jr.

Minor league (1986-1993)

Hal McRae


Brian McRae

Major league (1990–1999)

Tony Perez


Eduardo Perez

Victor Perez

Major league (1993–2006)

Minor league (1990)

Pete Rose Sr.


Pete Rose, Jr.

Major league (1997)

Ed Sprague, Sr.


Ed Sprague, Jr.

Major league (1991–2001)

Woody Woodward


Matt Woodward

Minor league (1998–1999)

Flashback: Smilin' Dick Callahan one of New Orleans' most sought after prep pitchers

Former New Orleans prep pitching star Dick Callahan lived up to his nickname “Smilin’ Dick,” since he had a lot to smile about while playing for Holy Cross High School in the early 1940s.  He was an All-Prep Team selection for three seasons, going undefeated in his final two years. During his tenure, the Tigers captured three city championships and one state title. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1944 for a $15,000 bonus, an amount previously unheard of for a high schooler during that era. But he was rushed by the Red Sox organization to play in the high minors too soon, and he ultimately failed to live up to the schoolboy hype.


Callahan first appeared on the radar of New Orleans baseball in 1941, when he helped his American Legion team advance to the sectionals leading up to the World Series. He had started out the regular season as a batting practice pitcher but wound up becoming the sensation of the Legion baseball season, including an All-Legion Team selection. He led the Holy Cross-based Dunlaps with decisive victories in the state and regional tournaments, but the team was ultimately knocked out in the sectional.


The 1942 prep season saw the sophomore right-hander building upon his Legion success from the prior summer.  He matched up with S.J. Peters’ star hurler Pete Modica in several well-pitched games that drew city-wide attention by being played in Pelican Stadium. Callahan defeated Modica in the city championship game. Callahan was named to his first All-Prep Team, along with Modica, with the Times-Picayune reporting the duo was far and away the best pitchers in the league. (They would later become teammates for the professional New Orleans Pelicans.)


Callahan went undefeated in ten decisions for Holy Cross in 1943, including a win over Jesuit, 6-1, for the city championship. He was dominant against league opponents, at one point with 38 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. The junior fireballer finished the season with 81 strikeouts and was selected to his second All-Prep team. He followed that by pitching for the Jax White Sox in the summer Audubon Baseball League, in which he went 5-0 in the first round of play.


By then, Callahan had reached “legend” status in local baseball circles, popularly referred to as “Smilin’ Dick”. Yet his best season would come in 1944. Early in the prep schedule, he pitched back-to-back no-hitters. In a highly publicized game believed to be the first high school night game at Pelican Stadium, he struck out 20 batters in a 12-inning contest against S.J. Peters, winning 1-0. His pitching opponent, Frank Azzerello, struck out 18. Holy Cross won its third consecutive city championship and then defeated S.J. Peters for the state title, as Callahan struck out 17 in the final game.  He was selected to his third All-Prep Team, after collecting his seventh win against no losses.


By the end of the prep season, Callahan had attracted scouts from nearly every major-league organization. He was being compared to former New Orleans prep stars Howie Pollet and Al Jurisich, both of whom had reached the majors. The teams most interested in him boiled down to the New York Giants, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Callahan’s coach at Holy Cross, George Digby, took charge of his recruiting process, accompanying him on workouts with the interested teams and advising him on contract matters. Digby eventually became a long-time scout for the Red Sox, culminating his career with a plaque in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.


Callahan wound up signing with the Red Sox, although he reportedly might have preferred the Dodgers if they had come closer to the Red Sox’s generous $15,000 signing bonus. His signing raised national attention about major-league clubs paying attractive bonuses to relatively unproven amateur players. Independent minor-league clubs, which were prevalent at the time, criticized major-league owners for luring away top prospects with sizable bonuses. The minor-league Atlanta Crackers were one of the independent teams interested in signing Callahan. Sixteen-year-old New Orleans Jesuit High School phenom Putsy Caballero was another player that signed with a lot of fanfare in 1944, although his bonus with the Philadelphia Phillies turned out to be considerably less at $8,000. Caballero would make history by going straight to the Phillies out of high school, as major-league teams were starved for players during World War II.


Unlike Caballero, Callahan didn’t go directly to the big-league Red Sox.  Instead, they assigned him to their highest minor league level at Louisville, also uncommon for players right out of high school. However, he was over-matched at Louisville, winning only one game against six losses in nine appearances. His ERA was a whopping 5.86, while he his WHIP approached 2.00. The Red Sox demoted him to Class A Scranton during the second half of the season, where he began to show his potential by posting a 4-2 record and 2.79 ERA. Local New Orleans sportswriters were critical of Red Sox management for trying to rush Callahan to the majors too soon.


Callahan re-gained his spot on the Louisville Colonels roster in 1945. He appeared to be better prepared to face the competition. He was sensational during the first half of the season, winning seven consecutive decisions after two losing his first two. Louisville wound up winning the American Association championship and faced International League champion Newark in the Little World Series. Callahan got the losing decision in Game Four, but the Colonels prevailed as Series champion. Callahan finished with a respectable10-5 record.


He started out the 1946 season with Louisville again, but lost control of his fastball and couldn’t get on track early in the season. In mid-May after only two appearances, he was assigned to play with the New Orleans Pelicans, then a Red Sox affiliate. The Times-Picayune speculated Callahan had hurt his arm when the Red Sox initially thrust him into the high minors. Personal tragedy struck when his 41-year-old mother died shortly after his arrival in New Orleans. As both a starter and reliever for the Pels, he compiled a 9-8 record and 4.43 ERA in 27 games.


The Sporting News reported Callahan had become a “problem child” for the Red Sox during spring training, when he refused an assignment to join Boston’s Toronto affiliate. Instead, he was assigned to Tulsa, but then never played during the entire 1947 season. Louisville sold him to Atlanta over the winter, althoug the Crackers kept him for only two games before trading him to Shreveport in early May 1948. Shreveport released him by mid-June, and his professional career was ended at age 24. By then, all the smiles had disappeared for the ill-fated hurler.


Callahan continued to play baseball in New Orleans in the semi-pro Audubon Baseball League and occasionally appeared in charity fund-raising games involving former pro players from the New Orleans area. He was honored by the Diamond Club of New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1991.


Callahan died in 1995 in New Orleans at age 70.

It's time for baseball to get going

Last week the MLB owners agreed on an approach to start the MLB regular season. The MLBPA must now ratify their recommendations. There appear to still be hang-ups in how the owners and players will divide the revenue and how much salary reduction will be imposed on the players in this shortened season. As usual, the money ends up driving how things will work. I hope both parties come to their senses and get on the same page real soon. For a lot of reasons, it’s time to get the baseball season underway.


Baseball fans are getting nervous. They don’t want to have to watch Korean Professional Baseball on an ongoing basis. It’s okay as a temporary diversion during the sports drought, but it’s just not the same as Major League Baseball.


The NFL has published its 2020 schedule.  The Premier League in the UK has a plan to get their season moving ahead. NASCAR ant the PBA Tour have plans. Fans of those sports know what to expect now.  MLB needs to follow suit quickly.


MLB will make a big mistake with its fans by letting the dollars get in the way and continuing to delay the start of the regular season. The optics are not good with a disagreement over economics.  A breakup over money will not be received well by fans who have lost their jobs or taken salary reductions and see a cloudy future for the return of their own economic stability.


Baseball is part of Americana.  The owners and players have a joint responsibility to make sure they don’t ruin that.


Sure, there are a lot of issues that must be worked out, and it won’t be easy. MLB teams have severe cash flow problems with no revenue coming in. Traditional revenue sharing among the clubs must be revisited. The players’ union contends the current proposal for splitting the revenue between players and owners is analogous to a salary cap. Players are already taking salary reductions because of fewer games, but don’t want further reductions because they will be playing without fans in attendance. There’s a question of whether players can be forced to return, if they don’t want to expose themselves to the conditions they will be playing under. Both sides want to limit their risks if the revised regular season and post-season schedules don’t play out because there are further problems with the virus. Neither side wants to accept interim terms that will jeopardize their ability to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement scheduled for next year.


There is a lot of pressure on MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to start the season. He said publicly he was optimistic that the two parties would come work out the economics and come to an agreement. It won’t be perfect for either side. But the parties need to be reminded that most people across the country are already forced to make sacrifices in their livelihood. Something is better than nothing when it comes to getting play underway.


There’s a new normal being developed as we work our way through the pandemic.  I’d prefer that major league baseball is still part of the new normal.  I know it sounds drastic that there would be a future without baseball as we know it, but there are some other crazy things going on right now. (Look at what’s happening in some of the college sports conferences.)


We’ve learned enough about the history of the game while in this period of isolation by having to watch replays of old games and re-hashing old baseball arguments of past years. It’s time to start creating new history by getting the players on the field right now. It’s time for baseball to get going.


Falling short of immortality: Yankees who didn't make it big

A lot of kids grow up dreaming of playing baseball for the celebrated New York Yankees. If they know about the history of the franchise, they’ve heard about long-ago immortals Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and more recently Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Joining them in Monument Park was an aspiring wish by many youngsters.


Of course, trying to follow in the footsteps of one of these legendary players and other superstars of Yankees teams over the years can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes in the form of notoriety and fanfare while rising through the ranks, being compared to one of the Yankee greats. The curse manifests itself in having to live up to the expectations of Yankee predecessors.


This piece looks at some of the up-and-coming players over the years who got to the big leagues with the Yankees but fell short in joining the ranks of Yankee superstars. Some were better-than-average players. Some only played in a handful of games with the Yankees after a big buildup from the minors. Some were blocked from extensive careers with the Yankees by all-stars ahead of them. However, none of them come close to attaining the immortality of Yankee greats. Often, they were ultimately given up on by the Yankees and traded.


Vito Tamulis won 20 games in his first year on the Yankees organization in 1932. After posting 13 wins with the Yankees’ top farm club Newark in 1934, he earned a spot in their 1935 rotation, joining future Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. He finished the season with a respectable 10-5 record but couldn’t keep his roster spot in 1936 and 1937 when the Yankees won two World Series. Tamulis was returned to Newark, where he was 25-11 during those seasons. However, with their starting rotation limiting opportunities, the Yankees traded Tamulis to the St. Louis Browns. He was finished in the majors by 1941 at age 29, although he attempted a comeback in 1946.


Bob Porterfield was a pitching phenom the Yankees were hoping would supplement their rotation consisting of star hurlers Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, and Ed Lopat in the late 1940s. He rose quickly through the Yankee farm system and made his major-league debut in 1948. However, he suffered a variety of injuries over the next few years and was traded to Washington in 1951. Porterfield eventually reached his mound potential, compiling double-digit wins in four consecutive seasons with the Senators, including 22 in 1953.


Clint Courtney played four seasons in the Yankees farm system during which he earned a reputation as a scrappy catcher. By the time he reached the majors in 1951, the Yankees already had Charlie Silvera, and Ralph Houk as backups to Yogi Berra. Courtney played in only one game for the Yankees before being traded to the St. Louis Browns. The Yankees may have given up on his too soon, as he was the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 1952 with the Browns. He wound up playing 11 seasons in the majors, earning the nickname “Scrap Iron.”


Bob Grim was American League Rookie of the Year with the Yankees in 1954, when he fashioned a 20-6 record and 3.26 ERA. However, he lost his job as a starter at a time when the Yankees staff featured Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Bob Turley, Tommy Byrne, Bobby Shantz, and Tom Sturdivant. The Yankees tried him as reliever, but he was traded to Kansas City in mid-1958 and was out of baseball by 1962.


During the 1950s the Yankees won the American League pennant every season except 1954 and 1959. Infielder Jerry Lumpe and outfielder/first-baseman Norm Siebern were starters for the Yankees for several of those championship seasons. Lumpe was eventually pushed out by Clete Boyer and Tony Kubek.  Siebern, a Gold Glove winner in left field in 1958, lost his outfield job to Hector Lopez and Bob Cerv, while Bill Skowron had a strong hold on first base. Lumpe and Siebern subsequently became mainstays in the Kansas City A’s lineup for several years during the early 1960s.


Marv Throneberry got a $50,000 bonus in 1952 (significant in those days) for signing with the Yankees out of high school. He was pegged as a “can’t miss” prospect after becoming a feared slugger in the Yankees farm system. However, the first baseman was blocked by Joe Collins and later Bill Skowron with the big-league club. He made his major-league debut in 1955 but didn’t claim a permanent job (as a backup first baseman) with the Yankees until 1958 and 1959. He was traded to Kansas City for the 1960 season, and later gained notoriety as “Marvelous” Marv in the New York Mets’ inaugural season in 1962.


Jake Gibbs was a highly touted football and baseball star at Ole Miss. He passed on an opportunity to sign with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and AFL’s Houston Oilers to ink a contract with the Yankees in 1961. He was converted to a catcher in the hopes he could eventually become the regular at the position after Yogi Berra and Elston Howard retired. He played for the Yankees until 1971; but since he didn’t hit for average or power, he shared time with other catchers throughout his tenure. Gibbs retired as a player at age 32, after Thurman Munson took over the full-time job.


Bobby Murcer was supposed to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle. He was from Oklahoma like The Mick and started out as a shortstop like Mantle although he would convert to an outfielder like Mantle. He would eventually become a four-time all-star with the Yankees when they had some poor teams, but they gave up on him when they traded him to San Francisco for Bobby Bonds in 1975. Ironically, he later came back to the Yankees in 1979 as a part-time player.


Outfielder Kevin Maas made a big splash with the big-league Yankees in 1990 by hitting 21 homers in 79 games as a rookie. He finished as runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year. However, after three more seasons in which he couldn’t sustain is rookie-year performance, he was released by the Yankees and bounced around in the Reds, Padres, Twins, and Astros organizations before leaving baseball after the 1997 season.


Steve Balboni was a second-round pick of the Yankees in 1978. He was a big, burly first-baseman who acquired the nickname “Bye-Bye” because of his home-run prowess in the minors, including seasons of 26, 34, 33, and 27. But he couldn’t hit big-league pitching in his stints with the Yankees. With Don Mattingly emerging as the Yanks’ star first-baseman, Balboni was eventually traded to Kansas City where he fulfilled his power potential at the major-league level.


As most of these players found out, being touted as the next Mickey Mantle or Whitey Ford wasn’t any guarantee to a bright future with the Yankees. Yankees brass always seemed to have a stable of players capable of extending the team’s dynasty, and many otherwise good players were forced to play elsewhere. There was no immortality in the Bronx for them.

Griffeys were first-ever father-son MLB teammates

In my research for my book Family Ties about baseball’s relatives a few years ago, I came across hundreds of facts about father-son combos and brother combos over the course of baseball history.  The most fascinating for me was the game in which Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. played as teammates in 1990.  It was the first time that situation had ever occurred, and it has only been accomplished once more since the Griffeys.


When you think about what must transpire for this feat to occur, there are several factors that must fall in place at the right time.  The father must have a lengthy career, at least 20 years as a professional.  The son must begin his pro career right out of high school and reach the big leagues by age 20 or 21.  For the father and son to be major-league teammates, a team will likely be compelled to go out of its way to bring them together at the same time.


The odds of all these factors happening are extremely high, especially when you consider there have only been 200+ father-son duos in the history of the majors.


Griffey Jr. was the No. 1 overall pick out of high school by the Seattle Mariners in the 1987 MLB Draft.  He made his major league debut at 19 years of age in 1989 and joined his father Ken Griffey Sr. (with Cincinnati) as the first father-son combo to play in the majors at the same time.  A year later Griffey Jr. was an American League All-Star and one of the most promising stars in baseball.


Griffey Sr. had been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1969 and made his major-league debut with them in 1973. He became part of Cincinnati’s dynasty teams of the 1970s known as the Big Red Machine.  His career took him to the Yankees, Braves, and back to the Reds by 1988.  By then he was on the downside of his career, serving as a pinch-hitter and occasional starter in the outfield and at first base.  However, he provided a valuable veteran presence in the Reds clubhouse.


In mid-August 1990, the Reds informed Griffey Sr. he was at risk of losing his roster spot. He decided to announce his retirement on August 18, in order to help the club with a roster problem. With the prospect of Griffey Sr. being able to team up with his son for Seattle, the Reds agreed to take him off the voluntarily retired list and put him on waivers, so that he could become eligible to play for another club. When Seattle signed him on August 29, Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre insisted Griffey Sr.’s signing was not a publicity stunt. He said, “This is not a dog-and-pony show.  We’re looking for a spark.” The Mariners were looking to capture their first-ever winning season since joining the league in 1977.


Their historical first game as teammates occurred on August 31 against Kansas City. 40-year-old Griffey Sr. played left field and batted second in the lineup, while Junior took his normal centerfield position and batted third.


Facing Royals right-handed pitcher Storm Davis, both father and son singled in the bottom of the first inning and later scored to help the Mariners take a 3-0 lead. They both went hitless during the remainder of the game that the Mariners won 5-2.


On September 14, the father-son duo hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the first inning in the Mariners’ game against the California Angels.


Griffey Sr. didn’t hang up his spikes after the 1990 season. He returned with the Mariners in 1991, where he continued to team up with his son until May 31, when he retired after 19 major-league seasons.


Over a decade later, in 2001, 41-year-old Tim Raines and his son 21-year-old Tim Raines Jr., became the second father-son duo to play as teammates in the same game. Raines Jr. was called up late in the season by the Baltimore Orioles, who then made a request to Montreal to trade for his father. On October 3 against Toronto, Raines Sr. made a pinch-hit appearance, while his son was the starting centerfielder. Both father and son started the next day as outfielders against the Boston Red Sox. Raines Sr. retired in 2002 after 23 seasons in the majors.


On at least two other occasions, father-son combos were active players at the same time, although only the fathers were in the majors. Juan Beniquez played in the majors until 1988 (his 17th major-league season), while his 18-year-old son was in his second season in the Kansas City Royals farm system. Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez was active in 2011 (his 21st major-league season), when his 19-year-old son was a rookie in the Twins minor-league system.


Following are examples of other noteworthy father-son duos.


49-year-old pitcher Jamie Moyer was still playing in the majors in 2012 when his son Dillon was drafted out of high school but opted to attend college instead.


45-year-old Fernando Valenzuela and his 23-year-old son Fernando Jr. played together for Mexicali in the Mexican League in 2006. The elder Valenzuela had been a major-league pitching star from 1980-1997, amassing 173 career wins.


53-year-old Rafael Palmeiro and his 28-year-old son Patrick were teammates for independent league team Cleburne Railroaders in 2018. The elder Palmeiro had been a 20-year major-league veteran, collecting over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

April 5, 1976: Exhibition game launches Superdome baseball amid hopes for MLB franchise

When New Orleans businessman Dave Dixon originally envisioned the Louisiana Superdome, he intended it to be a multi-sport, multi-function facility. While a new home for the NFL New Orleans Saints provided the primary impetus for building the new stadium, Dixon sold the Superdome’s stakeholders on the concept that it should ultimately host NBA and MLB teams as well.


The first professional baseball game was played in the Superdome on April 5, 1976. Unlike football and basketball, the Superdome didn’t have a baseball tenant when it initially opened. New Orleans had been unable to lure a big-league baseball team for the opening of the facility. Superdome officials settled for a three-game exhibition series between the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros, but still had hopes of eventually getting a team.


From the beginning of the Superdome project, the Louisiana Superdome Baseball Commission naturally assumed it would be just a matter of time before it would land a major-league franchise in New Orleans. After all, the Astrodome in Houston had been a huge success with MLB’s Astros franchise, and the Superdome had the lure of being an even more spectacular facility. Consequently, pursuit of a professional team began well before construction of the facility began in 1971.


Major League Baseball’s most recent expansion had occurred in 1969 when it added the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots, Montreal Expos, and San Diego Padres. It was believed another expansion would soon follow, and New Orleans desperately wanted to be in the mix of candidates. Of course, the other major path for obtaining a franchise was the relocation of an existing franchise. Although it had far less appeal, a third option mentioned in the Times-Picayune in late 1970 involved the concept of a joint-city team, where an existing MLB franchise would play half of its games in its home city and half of its games in the Superdome.  The Cleveland Indians were reported to have interest in the concept.


The Superdome Commission was assertive in generating interest by Major League Baseball by hosting the league’s winter meeting in New Orleans and sponsoring major-league exhibition games in the city, even before the Superdome’s construction was finished. Tad Gormley Stadium and Kirsch-Rooney Park were used as sites for exhibition games between major-league teams going north following the end of spring training. New Orleans wanted to prove it was a genuine baseball town.


In early 1974 Superdome secretary-treasurer Billy Connick predicted New Orleans would get a team, most likely a relocation of the Cleveland Indians or Baltimore Orioles. Superdome officials even went as far as reserving 21 dates for exhibition games and 52 regular-season games for the 1975 season.


However, the stadium didn’t officially open until August 6, 1975, when the New Orleans Saints played the Houston Oilers in an exhibition football game, followed by their regular NFL season schedule. The New Orleans Jazz played its first regular-season NBA game in the Superdome on October 24.


In early 1976 while the Superdome Commission was in the process of hammering out the details of a sweetheart deal for a “rent-free” lease of the facility, New Orleans was disappointed to learn that MLB had awarded its next two American League expansion franchises to Toronto and Seattle (whose original franchise moved to Milwaukee after only one season in 1969) for the 1977 season. Consequently, the State of Louisiana cooled to the prospect of attracting a team and began focusing on other revenue-producing sources, although city officials still harbored long-term hopes to attract a relocated team. Local banker Louis Roussell said he would be willing to throw his large financial assets behind a major-league team.


The game between the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins on April 5 was first of three-game series. It was intended to demonstrate to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn New Orleans’ enthusiasm for a team. A spirited crowd of 10,073 showed up for the game, eager to see the baseball configuration the Superdome architects has envisioned. The stadium featured movable stands that are retracted for baseball, allowing for the best seats along the first base and third base lines and around home plate. The playing field had relatively short foul lines (318 feet), but a cavernous outfield.


Both clubs had sub-par seasons in 1975, as the Twins finished fourth in the AL West and the Astros were sixth in the NL Central. The Twins had a new manager in Gene Mauch, while the Astros were led by manager Bill Virdon, who had taken over the job for the last 34 games of the 1975 season.


The Twins’ Bert Blyleven and Astros’ Tom Griffin drew the starting pitching assignments for the game. The Twins’ infield featured perennial all-star and four-time batting champion Rod Carew.


The score of the game went back and forth for the first seven innings, eventually becoming knotted in a 4-4 tie. Carew scored the first run in the Superdome, while Astros’ catcher Cliff Johnson smacked the first home run in the second inning.


The bottom fell out on the Twins’ Vic Albury who relieved Blyleven in the top of the eighth inning. The Astros strung together eight runs in the final two innings, sending 19 batters to the plate. During that span, the Astros had five extra-base hits, led by Greg Gross’s two doubles and three RBIs. The Twins managed another score in the eighth for a final score of 12-5.


The Astros battered the Twins for 16 hits. Johnson and Gross led the Astros with three hits apiece. Steve Braun and Larry Hisle each collected three hits for the Twins. Albury took the loss, while Paul Siebert, the third of five Astros hurlers, got credit for the victory.


The Times-Picayune’s headlines the next day declared, “Superdome Passes Test.” The feedback from players, managers, and front-office officials from both sides was positive. There were a few issues with the stadium—troublesome seams in the outfield artificial turf and ceiling lights not aligned for baseball—but the conditions were acknowledged by the players as easily fixable.


Hisle said, “The turf was as good as any I’ve played on.” Johnson called the spacious centerfield area “death valley” and liked the background view for batters.


Mauch said, “This place is awesome beyond description. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be a great baseball facility.” Virdon called the facility “a beautiful place. I’m sure once they play some games here they’re going to correct the little things that are wrong now.”


Twins president Calvin Griffith said, “It is just fantastic…fabulous. I can’t see any faults about it as a baseball facility.” He added, “We had gotten reports that there were some areas where you couldn’t see the entire field. There were supposed to be some spots behind home plate like that but it just ain’t so.”


It turned out Commissioner Kuhn couldn’t attend the game, but his representative John Johnson said he would turn in a favorable report to his boss.


The Superdome wound up securing a minor league team for the 1977 season, when A. Ray Smith, owner of the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, relocated from Tulsa. The former New Orleans minor-league Pelicans baseball team name was revived, and the new team played its regular-season American Association games in the Superdome. Smith was hopeful that a season of minor-league ball in the Superdome would provide momentum for an existing big-league franchise to more strongly consider a move, especially given the attractive stadium lease deal.


However, a major-league team never materialized, despite ongoing efforts to lure teams to New Orleans. In the following years, the Times-Picayune reported on preliminary discussions with Oakland, Pittsburg, Minnesota, Montreal, and Chicago’s White Sox to move their teams to New Orleans. However, none reached a serious level of negotiation. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose team played exhibition games in the Superdome for several years, publicly backed New Orleans’ bids for an expansion team. As late as 1988, efforts by the city to secure a team continued. At the end of the day though, New Orleans lacked a local, big-money backer who could spearhead bringing a team to the city.


Despite the efforts for nearly twenty years, the Superdome ultimately struck out getting a major league team.

Flashback: Former Fortier baseball star Tony Roig a big hit in Japanese pro league

Former New Orleanian Tony Roig played parts of three seasons in the majors in the 1950s, but he is more remembered for his six-year career in professional baseball in Japan. The Fortier High School prep star spent 13 seasons in Organized Baseball in the United States, including three seasons with the Washington Senators. However, he was unable to make the most of his big-league opportunities but ultimately became part of the first wave of American players to migrate to Japan.


While playing for Fortier in 1947, Roig was named to the third team of Times-Picayune’s All-Prep Team. He gained additional notoriety when he struck out 15 batters in a summer prep league game and then pitched for the St. Aloysius team that represented New Orleans in the All-American Amateur Baseball Association tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. They finished second to Washington DC.

Roig initially signed with the Detroit Tigers organization in 1948 as a pitcher, but after two mediocre seasons at the Class D level, he converted to an infielder. After an impressive start of the 1950 season, the Washington Senators acquired him and sent him to Chattanooga, the highest level of minors at the time for the Senators. His baseball career was interrupted when he enlisted in the Army during 1951 and 1952.


The Washington Senators were perennially a second-division team during the early 1950s, which offered an opportunity for Roig to get to the majors, despite his relative inexperience. He made his major-league debut in a late-season callup by the Senators on September 13, 1953.


Yet it was not until 1955 that Roig finally got a starting job as shortstop with the Senators, but his weak hitting prevented him from keeping his spot in the lineup. After being demoted to Class A Charlotte later in the season, he became disgusted with the team and left for a week because he felt he had been unfairly treated. Lookouts team president Joe Engle took him back at Chattanooga, where he finished the season.


The 1956 season found a similar story. Roig competed with several infielders for the Senators’ second base job. Manager Chuck Dressen liked Roig, but again his anemic bat kept him from maintaining a starting job. He lost ground when he suffered an injured hand in August and was unable to reclaim a regular spot in the lineup. One of his more productive games came on September9, when he hit a double and a triple off renowned Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford. In 44 games for the season, he had a paltry slash line of .210/.321./.286.


Injuries during spring training in 1957 kept him from starting the season with Washington, and he wound up spending the entire season with Chattanooga. The Los Angeles Dodgers purchased him during the off-season minor-league draft, and he was assigned to Triple-A Spokane in 1958. He turned in a credible season, earning him all-star honors in the Pacific Coast League.


Looking for a backup role with the big-league Dodgers in 1959, he had a hard time claiming a roster spot, since the Dodgers had veteran infielders Jim Gilliam, Don Zimmer, Bob Lillis, and Charley Neal ahead of him. Roig’s teammate, Maury Wills, got the opportunity for a promotion to the Dodgers, when Zimmer suffered an injury. Thus, Roig missed out on becoming a World Series champion with the Dodgers, who defeated the Chicago White Sox. His role evolved as a super-utility player who manned both infield and outfield positions. He found his power stroke, hitting 15 home runs and 63 RBIs.


Now 31, Roig watched as additional teammates advanced to the Dodgers in 1960, while he posted his third season at Spokane without a major-league promotion. He had one of the best offensive seasons of his career when he compiled a .278 batting average, 16 home runs, and 90 RBIs. His only consolation was a Pacific Coast League championship. A popular player in Spokane, he once entertained their fans by playing all fielding positions in a game without committing an error in five chances. The Tony Roig Fan Club was reported to have an adoring female contingent.


He played for White Sox and Indians minor-league organizations before finishing his career in Organized Baseball in 1962. Altogether Roig played in 76 major-league games, posting a career slash line of.212/.295/.283 and 11 RBIs.


However, that was not the end of Roig’s professional career. He decided to take his services to Japan in 1963 when he received a significant offer to play for the Nishitetsu Lions of the Japan Pacific League. Along with former major leaguers Jim Baumer and George Wilson, they were among the first wave of Americans to play in Japanese professional leagues.


Roig played five seasons for Nishitetsu, mainly at shortstop in his first three years, though he switched to third in 1966 and played all infield spots. He switched to the Kintetsu Buffaloes and first base in 1968, when he finished his playing career. He was a popular player overseas, since it was unusual at that time for Japanese shortstops to hit as many home runs as he did. His career stats in Japan included a slash line of .255/.309/.437 with 126 home runs and 414 RBIs in 779 games. Japanese baseball historian Jim Albright named Roig to his All-Time Foreign-Born Team of players in Japanese pro baseball.


After a few years in the lumber yard business in Spokane, Roig got the itch to get back in baseball. He coached and scouted for the Brewers, Angels, and Phillies for nearly twenty years.


Tony Roig died on October 20, 2010, at age 81, but his memory remained alive. In March 2019, his son Rick and grandson Clint made a trip to Japan (where Rick had spent much of his youth) during the Major League Baseball series between Seattle and Oakland. Their goal was to discover more details about Tony’s career in Japan. A television station in Kintetsu offered to document their visit, which included a meeting with Roig’s 85-year-old former manager, Futoshi Nakanishi.


The other Fortier High School players to reach the majors include Howie Pollet (1939-1956), Al Flair (1937-1951), Joe Katz (1940), and John Sehrt (1945-1950).

Annual father-son baseball trip a casualty of COVID-19

Major League Baseball is talking about starting up it season as early as May with all thirty teams playing its games in Arizona at ten baseball diamonds in the Phoenix area.  With the effects of COVID-19 still expected to be around, part of the proposed plan would entail quarantining all the players in the area and playing the games without fans in attendance.


I’ll be glad to see the season start, although it seems like May would be a very optimistic timeframe.  COVID-19 has taken its toll on the entire sports world, with baseball being no exception.  While I’m sad for not being able to enjoy games this season, the situation has rightfully taken a back seat to all the heath and economic issues wrought by the pandemic.  One of the casualties of the pandemic has included my annual baseball trip with my son Lee.  A road trip to a major-league park doesn’t appear to be in store this year.


For the past dozen years, Lee and I have been able to schedule a baseball weekend, usually in the May-June timeframe, to attend baseball games in major-league cities.  Our past trips have taken us to Pittsburgh, Miami, Dallas, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Chicago, Kansas City, San Diego, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Houston, Toronto, and Baltimore.  We’ve also been fortunate to see spring training games (seven games in five days) in Florida, the World Series in Houston, the World Baseball Classic in Orlando, and the College World Series in Omaha.  An MLB All-Star Game is still on our bucket list though.


The first professional game we saw together was a pre-season exhibition game between the Yankees and Rangers in the Louisiana Superdome, when Lee was about six years old.  Since then, we’ve shared a passion for the game, and attending games together has been a huge part of that.


We’d like to eventually catch games at all the current major-league ballparks.  Realizing we still have a long way to go, on a few occasions we’ve taken in games in nearby cities over a long weekend in order to accelerate our pursuit.  For example, one year it was a game at the new Yankee Stadium on Thursday, a train ride to Philadelphia for games on Friday and Saturday, and then another train ride to DC to watch the Nationals on Sunday.


We usually plan out the details of our trips while watching MLB games on TV the entire day on Opening Day.  We’ll lock in the location and dates, purchase the game tickets, and make the airline and hotel reservations before the last out of the day.  Everything is set except picking the Italian restaurants we want to visit at our destination city, since we like to try some of the best Italian cuisine on our trips.  One year, while wearing baseball caps, shorts, and tennis shoes, we managed to talk our way into a lunch seating at a highly rated fine-dining Italian restaurant in the Chicago business district that featured home-made pasta dishes.


This year we were preliminarily thinking about marking off San Francisco and Oakland from our outstanding cities list this year.  But then Opening Day got postponed, and it appeared useless to make any detailed plans.  At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are unable to see a major-league game in person anywhere this season.  The pandemic hasn’t helped our cause, and that’s too bad because we have a bunch more cities on our list.


Besides the two Bay Area cities, current parks that remain outstanding are in Seattle, Phoenix, Tampa, Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Atlanta (Sun Trust Park), Dallas (new Globe Life Field), New York (CitiField) and Denver.


Over the years, I’ve been to almost as many decommissioned major-league ballparks as I have gone to currently active stadiums. They include Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis, Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field in Atlanta, the Astrodome in Houston, Arlington Stadium and the original Globe Life Park in Arlington, the original Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium in New York, Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the second Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and Pro Player Stadium in Miami.  I guess I’m showing my age with a few of these older stadiums.


Lee’s a die-hard Red Sox fan, and I’m an equally die-hard Yankees fan.  We haven’t been to a series yet where they faced each other.  That would make for an interesting trip.  One time at Yankee Stadium, Lee bought a ladies’ “I Love Derek Jeter” cap and made me wear it the entire game just to embarrass me.  I’m waiting for the right time to somehow get revenge.


Our father-son tradition may be interrupted this year, but once baseball gets back on track, we’ll will be anxious to knock the next stadium off our list.

Flashback: New Orleanians reach MLB managerial ranks

New Orleans has a rich tradition of professional baseball since the Pelicans first fielded a minor-league team in 1887.  Native New Orleanians have been on major-league rosters since the beginning of the organized baseball.  The City has produced its share of players, including such stars as Mel Ott, Mel Parnell, Rusty Staub, and Will Clark.


However, there have been only a handful of New Orleanians who went on to manage at the big-league level.  The route each of them took in assuming the job provides an interesting look at baseball through the years.  They found out first-hand that a major-league manager’s job is one of the toughest in all of sports.


Out of six New Orleanians, only Mel Ott and Ron Washington held full-time jobs as managers, with Ott continuing to play at the same time.  Charlie Mason, Lou Klein, George Strickland, and Connie Ryan filled the role on an interim basis for their respective teams.  Washington was the most successful of the group, leading the Texas Rangers in back-to-back World Series appearances.  Below is a summary of each of their careers.


Charlie Mason among the first 275 players in major-league history, making his debut in 1875 with one of the Philadelphia teams in the National Association.  He appeared in twenty games that year and later played several minor-league seasons before becoming a part-owner of the Philadelphia Athletics.  When Athletic manager Frank Bancroft went on the sick list requiring a leave of absence, 34-year-old Mason stepped in to manage the team for the balance of the season.  Under Mason, the team posted a 37-41 record and finished sixth in the final standings.  It was his only managerial stint in the majors.


Mel Ott was a product of McDonough-Jefferson High School in Gretna before signing with the New York Giants as a 17-year-old.  Two years later he broke into the Giants’ starting lineup as an outfielder and became one of the top hitting stars of the National League.  He led the league in home runs for six seasons and the National League’s career home run leader (511) until Willie Mays surpassed him in 1966.


During World War II, Ott took on the Giants’ managerial role, while he continued to play full-time.  Under his helm, the Giants finished in third place in his first season in 1942 but fell into the lower half of the National League for the next four seasons.  With a reputation as a quiet, courteous gentleman, Ott was the subject of rival Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher’ saying that “nice guys finish last.”  Ott’s last season as manager of the Giants was in 1948, when Durocher ironically replaced him at mid-season.  Ott’s career record as a manager was 464-530.

Lou Klein was an All-Metro player at S. J. Peters High School before signing a professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1940.  He made his major-league debut in 1943 and helped the Cardinals win the World Series as their second baseman.  After losing his starting job to Red Schoendienst in 1946, he was one of several players who “jumped” to the Mexican League when the Pasquel brothers were luring players from the major leagues.


Klein became a player/manager in the Chicago Cubs system and then was part of the infamous “College of Coaches” concept in 1961 and 1962, when owner Phil Wrigley decided he didn’t need a full-time manager for the Cubs, instead instituting a rotating head coach role from the ranks of the Cubs’ coaches.  In 1965 Klein became the manager of the Cubs in mid-June, replacing Bob Kennedy, as the Cubs finished in eighth place.  He combined record as Cubs manager was 65-82.


George Strickland was a member of the S. J. Peters High School team that won the New Orleans city title in 1942.  He was signed by the Boston Red Sox organization and initially played for the hometown New Orleans Pelicans.  Known as an outstanding fielder, he made his major-league debut with Pittsburgh in 1950 and was the starting shortstop for the Cleveland Indians who captured the American League pennant by winning 111 games.  He continued to play for the Indians until retiring as a player in 1960.


Strickland was signed by the Minnesota Twins as a base coach for a year and then took a similar job with the Indians.  He served two interim stints (1964 and 1966) as manager of the Indians when Birdie Tebbetts missed time due to illness.  His combined record as manager was 48-63.  He retired from his coaching duties in 1972.


Connie Ryan was an All-Prep member of the legendary Jesuit High School team that won the state championship in 1936.  The team featured seven players that eventually played professional baseball, including three major leaguers.  He was the first athlete to receive a full baseball scholarship at LSU, where he played his freshman season before signing a professional contract in 1940 with the Atlanta Crackers.  The infielder made his major-league debut with the New York Giants in 1942 and went on to a 12-year major-league career that ended in 1954.  He made the National League all-star team in 1944 with the Boston Braves and appeared in the 1948 World Series with them.


Ryan coached and managed in the minors before obtaining coaching positions with several major-league teams.  While coaching with the Atlanta Braves in 1975, he was interim manager for 27 games.  With the Texas Rangers in 1977, he managed six games.  Reportedly, he was not considered for full-time manager’s jobs because management was worried about “his no-nonsense approach.” Altogether his record as a major-league manager was 11-22.


Ron Washington attended John McDonough High School before trying out and being accepted in a baseball academy sponsored by the Kansas City Royals in 1970.  He played in their system for five seasons following the academy.  He made his major-league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977 but didn’t get a permanent job in the majors until 1982 with the Minnesota Twins.  He also played for Baltimore, Houston and Cleveland before retiring as a player in 1990.


Washington served as a major-league coach for the Oakland Athletics for 11 seasons, before getting his first opportunity to manage at the big-league level with the Texas Rangers in 2007.  He led the Rangers to their first World Series in 2010 but wound up losing to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.  The Rangers repeated as AL champs in 2011 and came within one pitch of winning the World Series in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals.  However, the Cardinals prevailed by winning Games 6 and 7.  The Rangers had a third consecutive playoff season in 2012.  Washington resigned as manager during the 2014 season.  He has the most wins (664) in Rangers history.

Why baseball lags other major sports in popularity

Sports programming during the current COVID-19 pandemic has convinced me even more than before that Major League Baseball plays second-fiddle to the NBA and NFL.  Football and basketball news have recently dominated the sports talk shows, except for what the MLB Network provides.  There has been little discussion about the impact of coronavirus on baseball and the eventual resumption of the season.  The clincher for me was the speculation that the NBA might consider altering its season schedule on a permanent basis that would make it overlap more with baseball than football.  The thinking was that baseball was less threatening to the NBA than football.  It’s indicative that baseball, once America’s favorite pastime, has lost ground in popularity to the other major sports that it may never recover.


MLB had already recognized that it must undergo some changes to maintain and ideally increase its fan base.  Rule changes addressing duration of games and pace of play have been the primary areas of focus in the past few years.  They have been only marginally effective so far, but they wouldn’t have been enough anyway.


I’ve identified four areas that are contributing to baseball taking a back seat to its major-league sports counterparts.


The Games

Baseball games are seen as too boring in comparison to its counterparts.  Overall game duration is not as big a problem as the need to significantly improve the pace of play.


The increase in home runs (enabled by the juiced baseball and baseball analytics) is on the right track to create more action during the game, but it comes with unintended consequences involving an ever-increasing number of walks and strikeouts which don’t put the ball in play.  Currently, one-third of major-league at-bats end in a home run, walk or strikeout.  Those types of results won’t typically keep fans packed in the ballparks, sitting on the edge of their seats.  By contrast, basketball has been liberated by the three-pointer, while football has become a pass-happy game; and fans seemed to have responded favorably to these offensive-intensive strategies.


The baseball season is too long.  Fewer games that have more relevance is warranted.  It’s hard to keep fans’ interest from April to September., especially if their team doesn’t play .500 ball and contend for the playoffs.  More teams eligible for the post-season would also help maintain interest throughout the season.


The Players

Baseball has a shortage of personalities who transcend the sport.  Babe Ruth was the pre-eminent celebrity in all of sports, but that was 100 hundred years ago.  Perhaps the last one in baseball was Mickey Mantle in the 1950s.  Derek Jeter, who was the face of MLB for a good portion of his career, was a private person off the field.


Big Papi was a recognizable face outside of baseball, but he still wasn’t close to the popularity of NBA players such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant or the NFL’s Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and now Pat Mahomes.  The best player in the baseball now is Mike Trout, but his following is largely confined to just baseball fans.  Many of baseball’s other stars are Latin and Asian natives who don’t always get the same press coverage as the U.S. players and who aren’t seen as spokesmen for the sport.


The NBA and NFL have the advantage of its top prospects being able to play immediately in their leagues, and this creates an immediate fan-following within those sports.  Baseball players usually must invest three to four years in the minors before being able to crack a major-league lineup.  Few people outside hard-core baseball fans remember the first-round draft picks in MLB, while practically everyone was aware of Zion Williamson, who came into the NBA this season.  


The Fans

Baseball is not attracting new fans.  As baseball’s current fan base grows older, the sport is not replacing them with a younger audience at an equivalent rate.  In the past, a lot of baseball fans’ earliest experiences with major league players came through collecting baseball cards.  That avenue for becoming familiar with the game has been largely been curtailed.  Card collecting has evolved into primarily an adult activity, because of the relatively high price and limited availability of cards.


Minor league baseball has been a feeding ground for younger baseball fans. The family atmosphere at these games has helped foster the interest, especially in the smaller, less metropolitan cities.  However, MLB is now proposing to reduce the number of minor league teams in 2021 by 25%.  Possibly more in later years.  That’s going to have a big impact on cultivating new fans.


Baseball is noted for its long history of players and teams and the ability to analyze their performances across the decades.  Most fans who grew up with the game are aware of the history and the traditions and culture that evolved from it.  However, those same fans are also criticized for hanging on to the long-standing traditions and not viewed as being open to changes in the game.  Slowness to adopt change by MLB has curbed interest in the game by new fans, who don’t care to learn about all the history in order to enjoy the game.


With the reduction in the number of African American major league players in the past few years, the African American fan base has dwindled as well.  Those fans identify more with the NFL and NBA where most players are African American.  MLB is several years into a campaign to revive interest in baseball by young blacks in the major metropolitan areas, but it’s been a slow process penetrating the player population and the fan base.


SABRmetrics, as good as they have been for baseball analysts and advanced fans to analyze all the different dimensions of the game, are making the game more complicated for the average fan.  The casual fan can be intimidated or bored by all the new acronyms and jargon that have emanated from baseball analytics, and consequently they tend to shy away from watching games.


The League

MLB and their teams are viewed as stodgy organizations, mired down by its long-standing, conservative traditions.  Individual showmanship by its players is frowned upon.  For example, bat-flipping by batters hitting decisive home runs was initially considered inappropriate behavior by the sport.  Only recently has it become more acceptable and part of the game’s folklore.  The sport needs to release many of the cultural shackles it puts on itself.


When Cuban-born Yasiel Puig broke into the majors with the Dodgers in 2013, he brought on-the-field energy and antics that were criticized by baseball traditionalists, including some of the players and front offices, who thought he was trying to draw attention to himself or show-up his opponents.  He was an oddball—an unconventional player in a very conventional game.  In baseball that behavior is often seen as disrespecting the game.  In the NFL or NBA, it’s viewed as showmanship.


Here’s another example:  during several of the MLB exhibition games during Spring Training this year (before it was cancelled) a few of the players were outfitted with microphones while they were in the game, batting and playing in the field.  The broadcasters were able to communicate spontaneously with the players as action on the field was occurring.  It was entertaining, and it provided great insight into what the players were thinking as plays happened.  Yet there were many detractors who thought it was inappropriate for the sport--it wasn’t traditional.


MLB doesn’t always market itself and its players very well.  Its biggest event of the season, the World Series, just sort of happens a day or two after the League Championship Series, without a lot of lead time for a promotional buildup of the final two teams and their players.  MLB does a better job with its mid-season All-Star Game, but what about the annual amateur draft or the winter meetings when most of the off-season trade activity occurs?  I’ve always thought MLB should lobby hard to have its Opening Day being a national holiday.  Why not?


Don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of good things about baseball.  But I worry about the future of the game.  There needs to be significant change in all the different aspects of the sport to keep it viable, not just a few minor changes in rules every few years.  If MLB is not careful, the once glorious game will continue to lose its popularity.  I’d hate to see its storied history fall by the wayside because its stewards failed to recognize it needed to adapt to changing times.

Gavin Lux looks to extend Dodgers' Rookie of the Year tradition

Who knows when the MLB season will start, but when it does, one thing fans can look forward to the play of Los Angeles Dodgers rookie second baseman Gavin Lux.  He was last year’s Minor League Player of the Year, which earned him a late-season callup and a spot on the Dodgers’ post-season roster.  With his rookie status still intact, he’ll be among the favorites this season to win National Rookie of the Year honors, which has been somewhat of a tradition in Dodgers’ history.


The Dodgers made a concerted effort over the winter to keep the 22-year-old Lux, who became a target for other major-league teams considering trades with the Dodgers.  Most notably, when the Dodgers made one of the biggest trades of the off-season to acquire superstar Mookie Betts from Boston, Lux was not part of the deal.  The Dodgers gave up its top outfield prospect Alex Verdugo instead.  It was rumored the Dodgers were more willing to give up its established young shortstop Corey Seager than part ways with Lux.  That’s how much they valued Lux.


Lux had been a first-round draft pick out of high school by the Dodgers in 2016.  Two year later he posted a slash line of .324/.399/.514, splitting the season across Class A and AA.  Last season, he improved to .347/.421/.607, along with 26 home runs and 76 RBIs at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.


He appeared in 23 games for the Dodgers in September, hitting a couple of home runs and knocking in nine runs.  The Dodgers had enough confidence in his initial showing to put him on their roster for the Division Series with the Washington Nationals.  He hit a pinch-hit home run in his first post-season at-bat.  


Lux was the Number 2 overall prospect in Major League Baseball coming into this spring.  The starting job at second base belonged to him and he was expected to be a big part of the Dodgers’ pursuit of their eighth consecutive NL West Division title.  But then the coronavirus put everything on hold.


The Dodgers franchise has a rich history with the Rookie of the Year Award.  The first time the award was given in 1947, infielder Jackie Robinson was the winner.  Recall this was the year Robinson broke the color barrier in the majors.  It should be noted there was a single award for both the National and American leagues for its first two years.


Between 1949 and 1953, Dodgers players captured the award three additional times:  pitcher Don Newcombe (1949), reliever Joe Black (1952), and infielder Jim Gilliam (1953).  Like Robinson, all three of these players had come from the Negro Leagues and helped Brooklyn become the dominant team in the National League.


The Dodgers ran off a string of four consecutive years of winning the award beginning in 1979 when pitcher Rick Sutcliffe captured the honors.  He was followed by pitcher Steve Howe in 1980, pitcher Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, and second baseman Steve Sax in 1982.


Ten years later, Dodgers’ first baseman Eric Karros won the award, setting off another remarkable streak of Dodger winners:  catcher Mike Piazza in 1993, outfielder Raul Mondesi in 1994, pitcher Hideo Nomo in 1995, and outfielder Todd Hollandsworth in 1996.


If Lux were to win the award this season, it would be the second in three seasons for the Dodgers. First baseman Cody Bellinger put up big offensive numbers in 2017 to win the award.  And the Dodgers system is still deep with other top-rated prospects that could also become future winners following Lux.


Interestingly, Lux has a New Orleans connection.  He is the nephew of Augie Schmidt, who was college baseball’s Golden Spikes winner in 1982 when he was an All-American shortstop at the University of New Orleans.

Coronavirus delays 2020 MLB season; interruptions part of league

We are in unchartered waters with the suspension, delay, or cancellation of all the major professional and collegiate sports across the country due to concern for the spread of coronavirus.  Within a matter of a couple of days, the sports world was rocked like never before, as virtually all sporting events have come to a screeching halt.  Major League Baseball was no exception.  While never as severe as what we are experiencing now, MLB had to deal with all types of interruptions in its gloried past.


Even though MLB faced the gravity of non-baseball events like World War II, the 9/11 terrorist strike, hurricanes, and earthquakes, none of them materially affected the game like the novel coronavirus is expected to do.


On the other hand, work stoppages involving several player-strikes and owners-lockouts, as a result of expiring baseball labor contracts, did interrupt major league schedules on three occasions.  Two of them had significant impacts on season outcomes.  While is it too early to tell the full effect of coronavirus, it appears there will be at least a two-week impact.


Following a call on Wednesday with the thirty major-league clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that MLB had decided to suspend spring training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.


One would think the United States’ involvement in World War II would have caused an interruption to major-league baseball.  However, prior to the 1942 season, President Roosevelt issued the “Green Light” letter to MLB Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Landis encouraging the league and baseball’s owners to continue play during the war.  His rationale was that the country needed a diversion from the everyday worries about the fighting overseas.  This theme would re-occur several times in later years, especially following natural disasters in the country.


In the case of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers in 2001, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended play for a week, while players and fans, especially those in New York City, dealt with the emotional aftermath of the terrorist strikes.  The end of the season was pushed back a week to accommodate a full 162-game schedule.  One of the most historic games in baseball involved the Yankees and Mets in the resumption of the season’s schedule.  In the game which honored 9/11 first responders, President Bush threw out the first pitch amid a highly charged, patriotic crowd.


The 1989 World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants was interrupted by an earthquake in the Bay Area of San Francisco.  While the teams were warming up for Game 3 on October 17, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook Candlestick Park, and the game was postponed due to safety concerns, as well as the fact that power was lost to the stadium.  After considerations for ending the Series after only two games, as well as resuming the Series in another city, Commissioner Fay Vincent decided to wait until Candlestick could be checked for safety to resume the Series.  Vincent felt the communities in the Bay Area would see the remaining games as a partial relief for the loss of lives and the destruction caused by the quake.  Games 3 and 4 were played on October 27-28, as the A’s swept the Giants.


In the wake of Hurricane Ike in mid-September 2008 affecting the Houston metropolitan area, MLB moved two Astros home games with the Chicago Cubs to Milwaukee, because it was believed the Astros shouldn’t play at home given the devastation and loss of power in the area that affected many of its fans.  Chicago won both of those games, with Carlos Zambrano throwing a no-hitter in the first one.  The Astros, who were trying to make up ground in a race with the Cubs for the division title, were furious about the move which effectively became home games for the Cubs.


The Astros’ schedule was again interrupted by a hurricane in 2017.  Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in the area, thus necessitating the move of a three-game home series against the Texas Rangers to a neutral site in Tampa.  When the Astros returned to Houston a few days later to play the Mets, it helped the city return to a sense of normalcy following the devastation which took the lives of 40 people.


More significant impacts to major-league play have occurred because of labor disputes between the player and ownership.


The first MLB strike ensued during April 1-13, 1972, over issues of player pensions and binding arbitration.  86 games were missed during the two weeks.  1985 saw a work stoppage of only two days in August over issues of salary arbitration, although the games were made up later in the season.


The 1981 season was the second that experienced games being missed without being re-scheduled, except it was more significant.  A work stoppage occurred during June 12 and July 31 due to issues involving free-agent compensation.  A total of 712 games were missed, causing MLB to go to an unprecedent split-season format.  The season resumed on August 9 with the All-Star Game, which had originally been scheduled for July 14.  The winners of the two halves of the season for each division met in the post-season playoffs.


A black eye for Major League Baseball occurred in 1994 when the season was cancelled on August 12, because the owners and players couldn’t agree on issues of salary cap and revenue sharing.  It was the first year since 1904 that a World Series wasn’t played.  With players still on strike at the beginning of the 1995 season, owners used replacement players (referred to as scabs) to begin spring training.  A district court judge’s ruling finally resolved the dispute, ending the strike on March 31.  After a hurried spring training for the players, the regular season began on April 25.  A total of 938 games were missed over the two seasons.


The best-case scenario today would be a two-week delay, but it’s not improbable the delay will be longer.  In any case, it will be interesting to see whether the league will adjust the schedule going forward.  Will they resume with the original schedule, or attempt to adjust in some way so that each team gets an equal number of home games?  Would the regular season be extended past the normal October 1 end date?  If the post-season occurs later than usual, getting into extreme cold weather situations, will neutral sites be used?  These are all questions that will likely become the topic of conversation in the coming days, in lieu of talking about the rest of spring training and Opening Day.  


It’s ironic that the game of baseball has often been the respite for fans who have experienced some sort of disruption or tragedy in their lives.  Now, the sport itself is in trouble, too, with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Legendary USC Baseball Coach Rod Dedeaux Had New Orleans Roots

Raoul “Rod” Dedeaux was the winningest coach in college baseball at the time of his retirement in 1986.  Born in New Orleans in 1914, his family moved to the West Coast when he was a youngster, and he eventually became the head coach at the University of Southern California, where his teams won 11 College World Series championships.  The baseball program he established at USC became the standard for modern-day college programs.  He was named “Coach of the Century” in 1999 by national baseball publications.


Dedeaux first made his name in baseball as an all-city selection for Hollywood High School in Los Angeles.  He played three years for USC, serving as team captain during his senior season.  As a result of having had workouts with Casey Stengel during high school, Dedeaux was signed out of college by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935 on Stengel’s recommendation. 


After playing most of the 1935 season for Class C Hazelton, Dedeaux received a September call-up to the Dodgers, who were managed by Stengel.  He made his major-league debut on September 28 when he appeared as a late-inning defensive replacement.  The next day Dedeaux got a start at shortstop and went 1-for-4, hitting an RBI-single.  Those would be the only two games of his major-league career.


He returned to the minors the next season but suffered a back injury that forced him to quit.  Returning to Los Angeles, he invested $500 remaining from his signing bonus to form a trucking company that eventually grew into a million-dollar firm (DART Entities) specializing in world-wide distribution.  Dedeaux would remain as the company’s president, involved in its daily activities until his death.


Dedeaux attempted a comeback in pro baseball when he played for several West Coast minor-league teams in 1938 and 1939 but ultimately wound up playing for and managing semi-pro teams in the Los Angeles area.  USC was one of the teams against which Dedeaux’s squad would frequently play practice games.


When USC baseball coach Sam Barry was called into military service in 1942 during World War II, Dedeaux was named interim head coach.  After Barry returned in 1946, Dedeaux was retained as the co-head coach through the 1950 season, although he was responsible for all the major decisions involving the team.  USC defeated Yale in the second-ever College World Series in 1948.


Ten years later, USC returned to the College World Series to defeat Missouri after coming out of the loser’s bracket.  Three more championships followed in the 1960s, as the program became a regular source of major-league players.  Dedeaux’s Trojans captured a still-unbroken record of five consecutive national championships during 1970 to 1974, including wins over other prominent national programs such as Arizona State, Miami, and Florida State.


His 1978 club defeated Arizona State in the CWS for the third time in the decade. He still holds the record with 11 College World Series championships as a coach.  Dedeaux ended his 45-year tenure in 1986. He amassed a record of 1,332-571-11 (.699), making him the then-winningest coach in collegiate baseball history.

Dedeaux remained actively involved in his business during his coaching tenure at USC. During baseball season, he worked in the company’s office in the mornings and then carried out his coaching duties in the afternoons. It was often joked that Dedeaux coached a baseball team in his spare time.


He was responsible for building the USC program into a national power, as well as helping to elevate college baseball across the entire country. Before Dedeaux developed his program at USC, major-league organizations didn’t typically look to collegiate baseball as a major source of amateur players. That changed with Dedeaux, who sent nearly 60 Trojans to the major leagues. Among the more successful players were Ron Fairly, Don Buford, Tom Seaver, Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn, Roy Smalley, Steve Kemp, Mark McGwire, Steve Busby, and Randy Johnson. Altogether, he sent nearly 200 players to professional baseball careers.

Among the many honors Dedeaux garnered during his career were “Coach of the Century” in 1999 by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. As part of the 50th anniversary of the College World Series in 1996, Dedeaux was named the head coach of the All-Time CWS team by a panel of former World Series coaches, media, and college baseball officials. Dedeaux was named Coach of the Year six times by the American Baseball Coaches Association and was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame in 1970.  USC’s baseball field bears his name and a bronze statue of him ushers fans into the stadium.


Dedeaux died at age 91 in 2006.  He never had any baseball ties to New Orleans.  He has distant relatives still living in the area.

Yanks hope Giancarlo Stanton doesn't become the new Jacoby Ellsbury

It was disappointing to see that Giancarlo Stanton will not start the season for the New York Yankees because of a strained calf.  Stanton says he’s frustrated with his latest condition.  Guess what, Giancarlo, Yankees fans are frustrated with you, too.


Last season, he was one of the 30 Yankees to go on the injured list last year.  He played only 18 regular season games due to bicep, knee, and calf problems and was finally re-activated for post-season play against the Twins and Astros.  Altogether he got paid $26 million for 77 at bats and four home runs.  His disappointing year came after his first season with the Yankees in 2018, in which he had satisfied Yankees fans with 38 home runs and 100 RBIs, setting the stage for bigger expectations to follow.


But now there is concern Stanton‘s situation is becoming reminiscent of Jacoby Ellsbury’s tenure with the Yankees.  Ellsbury had been a key cog in the Red Sox’s World Championship seasons in 2007 and 2013.  As a free agent after the 2013 season, he defected to the New York Yankees who drastically overpaid to sign him.   At seven-years and $153 million, then-30-year-old Ellsbury’s deal at the time was the third richest in history by an outfielder (following only Manny Ramirez and Matt Kemp).


At the end of the day, the Yankees got stung by the Ellsbury contract.  He never delivered an all-star-type season and suffered injuries that kept him out of baseball for the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons.  He also missed 50 games in both the 2015 and 2017 campaigns.  (Maybe the Yankees should have taken more notice that he had missed most of the 2010 and 2012 seasons with Boston.)  The Yankees wound up releasing Ellsbury from his contract in 2020 (while still shelling out $21 million) and buying out his option for 2021 for $5 million.  In the four seasons he played for the Yankees, his production fell way short of his compensation, as he posted an unimpressive slash line of .264/.330/.386, while producing only 39 home runs and 198 RBIs.


When the Yankees acquired Stanton prior to the 2018 season, they inherited his mega-deal with the Miami Marlins that was inked after the 2014 season, eclipsing all previous sports contracts.  The slugger had signed for $325 million over 13 years.  Including 2020, the Yankees are still on the hook for nine seasons worth $259 million, although the Marlins have agreed to pick up some of his remaining salary in later years.


The Yankees set a franchise record for home runs last year without Stanton.  Because they aren’t desperate to replace him in the lineup, the team says it will give Stanton time to fully heal from the calf injury before trying to put him back on the field.  Who knows how long that will take?


Recent chatter on radio talk shows has mentioned that the Yankees should consider look at unloading Stanton now and not take a chance on his medical condition down the road.  But there aren’t many teams able to absorb his current contract.  Stanton can opt-out of the contract after the 2020 season; however, if his time on the field winds up being limited because of continued health issues, his value on the open market after the season won’t increase over his current contract.


Will the Yankees get stung again with the Stanton contract?  Maybe.  They always seem to manage to recover though.  Yet I wonder if they will ever learn to stop tying up so much salary with one player (remember A-Rod’s deal?).  Perhaps not.  They just did another one with Gerrit Cole.

Is the 2020 LA Dodgers roster the best in franchise history?

The website asserted last week that the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers roster might be the best in the franchise’s history.  With the addition of megastar Mookie Betts, as well as former Cy Young Award winner David Price to a lesser degree, to a team that won its seventh consecutive division title last year, a plausible case can be made.  However, we need to look back almost 70 years ago to find the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers roster that can hold its own, not just within Dodgers history, but across all major-league organizations.


Betts is currently one of the top five players in the majors, and he certainly makes a very good Dodgers team even better.  They had an impressive 106-56 record last year and pretty much return the same roster as last season.  Teaming Betts with Cody Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, creates one of the best-hitting combos in all of baseball.  But the existing cast around Bellinger was pretty good too, as he was one of four Dodgers players to collect 30 or more home runs last year.  The team led the National League in home runs.


Gavin Lux, who was called up late last season, may wind up being the next in a long line of Dodgers players who have won Rookie of the Year honors.  He was the Minor League Player of the Year last season, and the Dodgers took great care not to surrender to offers from other teams in trades.


The Dodgers had a whopping Run Differential of 273 in 2019.  This meant Dodgers pitching was pretty good, too.  They led the league in ERA, WHIP and SO/W.  Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw will headline the starting rotation again.  Hyun-Jin Ryu, who finished second in the Cy Young Award voting, is gone this year, but that’s where Price fits in.  If 34-year-old Price returns to his performance level of a few years ago, the Dodgers won’t miss Ryu.


Another valuable, but less publicized, feature of the current Dodgers is their corps of utility players who provide a lot of flexibility on their roster.  Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor, and Matt Beatty can play multiple positions and bat anywhere in the lineup when called on.


The Brooklyn Dodgers organization from 1947 to 1956 had an analogous run of winning teams as the current era of Dodgers.  During that timeframe, Brooklyn won six pennants (when there were only eight teams in the National League) and had three second-place finishes. 


The 1953 team had a 105-49 record, the best in franchise history until the 2019 season.  It is one of the top 15 MLB season records of all time, when the schedules consisted of 154 games.  There were four Hall of Famers on that squad:  Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider.  Furthermore, many people believe first baseman Gil Hodges should be in the Hall.  Outfielder Carl Furillo was the sixth all-star on the roster that season.


The 1953 Dodgers scored 69 more runs than the 2019 Dodgers, while playing eight fewer games.  Their Run Differential (266) was equally as impressive.  The 1953 team’s slash line was .285/.366/.474, slightly better than the 2019 Dodgers’ .257/.338/.472.


On the pitching side, the Dodgers’ starting pitcher staff didn’t have the type of league-leading stats as the 2019 team, but the combination of Carl Erskine, Preacher Roe, Russ Meyer, Billy Loes, and Johnny Podres was still formidable.


The question for the 2020 season is whether newcomers Betts, Lux, and Price can put together seasons that will make the dominant 2019 team even better.  That’s a pretty tall order, even for this group of talented players.  This year’s version of the Dodgers is desperate to win a World Series title that has eluded the franchise since 1988.  If they succeed, they’ll outdo the 1953 team which wound up losing the World Series to the New York Yankees.


The Dodgers are betting on Betts.  He already had one World Series ring with the Red Sox.  He’ll be due a contract extension after this season.  Another ring with the Dodgers would put him in a position to get the largest contract ever, whether it’s with the Dodgers or someone else.

I liked baseball more, before it became more of a science

We are currently debating who’s responsible for the sign-stealing scandal, when we should be talking about where Mookie Betts will hit in the Dodgers’ lineup and whether Gerrit Cole will get the Yankees to the World Series again.


We have evolved to a situation where technology has outdone itself in baseball for the average fan.  The cameras used to steal signs were a relatively basic deployment of technology, especially when you consider that it was combined with the “high-tech” garbage can banging used to signal the batters what pitch was coming.


But there are more prevalent technology implementations now that involve the use of massive databases supporting advanced data analytics, pitching sleeves to measure stress on a pitcher’s arm, STATCAST to capture virtually every motion on the playing field, “smart bats” that break down body mechanics of batters, and soon there will be robo-umps calling balls and strikes.


Fans are subjected to discussions involving terms such as launch angle, exit velocity, defensive shifts, defensive runs saved, runs created, and fielding independent pitching.  It helps to have a degree in physics or mathematics to fully comprehend some of these.


The reality is baseball has evolved into more of a science.


Major-league clubhouses now include cubicles where data scientists are providing real-time information to the coaches and players.  Major-league coaching staffs now include a person responsible for interfacing between the front office and the manager, translating and presenting complex information to field personnel for implementation of game strategies. Some coaches have even gone so far as to learn database languages so they can sift through available information for themselves.


As a result, the technology and the people who promote it have taken some of the passion out of the game.  And it has flowed over to the people who analyze and report on the game, which has gradually flowed over to fans.  I believe all this is contributing to a decline in interest in the sport by the average fan.  A lot of the simplicity of the game has been lost.


We don’t hear as much about the long, storied history of the game and its players from years past.  (The MLB Network would lead you to believe that baseball history began at the same time as the network launched about 11 years ago.)  Off-the-field transgressions of current players are often talked about more than the latest hitting streak or string of scoreless innings pitched.  We’re talking about players who might have worn buzzers and Excel spreadsheets that have “code breaker” logic for stealing signs.  The metrics we grew up with--batting average, earned run average, and fielding percentage—could be calculated in our heads.  Have you seen the arithmetic expression for WAR (Wins Above Replacement)?  By the way, what is WAR anyway?


When I was growing up sixty-something years ago, baseball was a great game for a kid.  It was simple and unsophisticated.  You really didn’t have to know much about the game in order to play.  If you could hit, catch, and throw, that was all that was important.


If you could play baseball at the playground, you could easily watch a major-league game and know what was going on.  Sure, there were more rules to be aware of, but you could still follow what was happening on the field.


It seems we have evolved away from those days.  The recent technology innovations have been primarily designed to help front offices, coaches, and instructors develop higher performing players, which ideally translates to winning more games.  I get that.  But perhaps an unintended consequence is the game has become more complex and less enjoyable.  Or maybe it just says something about my age and tolerance for change.

An MLB All-Star Team with Negro Leagues Heritage

February is Black History Month and therefore it is a good time to review some of the history of Major League Baseball involving significant African American contributions. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Negro Leagues.


When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, he had previously played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.  He ushered into the majors other African American players whose careers started in the Negro Leagues.  Several of them became all-stars, winners of MVP and Cy Young Awards, and Hall of Famers.  They helped pave the way for many black players, managers, and coaches who followed in their footsteps.


The Negro Leagues experienced a significant decline after several of its stars in their prime years pursued careers in the majors beginning in 1948.  With a few exceptions, most of its legendary stars were past their prime and the dream of eventually playing in the majors had passed them by.  However, a younger group of black players seized the opportunity to leverage their talents and set out to prove themselves in the big leagues.


Here’s a mythical all-star team of major-leaguers whose careers began in the Negro Leagues.


First Base – Luke Easter played for the Homestead Grays in 1947 and 1948, winning the Negro League World Series in 1947.  He played in six seasons for the Cleveland Indians, beginning in 1949 at age 33.  His best season with the Indians was 1950 when he had a slash line of .280/.373/.487, with 28 HRs and 107 RBIs.  He finished second in the AL in home runs (31) in 1952.


Second Base -- Jackie Robinson played only one season with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945 (.414/.460/.569) before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946.  He made his major-league debut in 1947, becoming the first Negro player in the modern era.  He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1947 and won the NL MVP Award in 1949.  A six-time all-star, he helped the Dodgers get to the World Series six times between 1947 and 1956, winning in 1955.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.  His Number 42 has been retired by every current major-league team.


Shortstop – Gene Baker played one season for the Kansas City Monarchs at age 23 in 1948 and then went straight into Organized Baseball at the Triple-a level in the Chicago Cubs organization.  He and Ernie Banks were the first black players for the Cubs in 1953.  He was a versatile infielder, holding down a full-time job with the Cubs from 1954-1956.  He finished his major-league career with Pittsburgh in 1962.  His slash line was .265/.321./.385 with 39 home runs and 227 RBIs.  Baker is the least well-known player on this mythical all-star team but was a trailblazer for blacks in other aspects of the game.  He eventually become the first black manager in Organized Baseball and the second black coach in the majors.


Third Base – Jim Gilliam began playing in the Negro Leagues at age 17 in 1946.  He played sparingly with the Baltimore Elite Giants for five years before being signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951.  After two impressive seasons with Triple-A Montreal, he got a promotion to the big leagues in 1953.  He was the National League Rookie of the Year and remained a regular with the Dodgers, contributing to seven World Series, until his retirement in 1966.  His slash line was .265/.360/.355.  He was an All-Star in 1956 and 1959 and finished in the Top 5 of the MVP voting in 1956.


Outfield – Monte Irvin was a celebrated multi-sport amateur player in New Jersey before signing with the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues in 1938 at age 19.  He became one of the league’s stars leading Newark to a Negro League World Series title in 1946.  He signed with the New York Giants in 1949 when he was thirty years old; but by then segregation had robbed him of his prime years.  However, in his first full season in 1951 showed how good of a player he was, when he hit .312, 24 homers, and 121 RBIs.  He was with the Giants when they won the 1954 World Series.  He retired in 1957 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Negro League Committee in 1973.


Outfield – Larry Doby began his professional career as a shortstop with the Newark Eagles at age 18 in 1942.  He was a teammate of Monte Irvin’s in 1946 when they won the Negro League World Series.  He became the first black player in the American League in 1947, shortly after Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers.  He went on to become a seven-time All-Star as an outfielder.  He led the America League with 32 HRs and 126 RBI in 1954, when he finished second in the MVP voting and helped the Cleveland Indians to the AL pennant.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Veterans Committee.


Outfield – Willie Mays played the 1948 season with the Birmingham Black Barons before signing with the New York Giants organization in 1950.  After hitting .477 in 35 games with Minneapolis in 1951, he earned a promotion to the Giants, with whom he hit 20 home runs and captured National League Rookie of the Year honors.  He went on to log 22 major-league seasons that included a slash line of .302./.384/.557 to go along with 660 home runs and 1,903 RBIs.  He was a two-time NL MVP and a 20-time All-Star.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.


Catcher – Roy Campanella first played in the Negro Leagues at age 15 with the Washington Elite Giants in 1937.  In 1946, the same year Jackie Robinson signed with the Dodgers, Campanella was also signed by them, but played at the Class B level.  He made his major-league debut in 1948 and established himself as one of the best catchers in the 1950s.  He was a three-time NL MVP before retiring in 1957.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.


Starting Pitcher – Don Newcombe played for the Newark Eagles in 1944 and 1945 before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a 20-year old in 1946, when he was a teammate of Roy Campanella.  Newcombe won 52 games in the minors before being promoted to the big-league Dodgers in 1949.  He won 17 games on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year.  He was a 20-game winner in 1955, and in 1956 he won both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, when he finished with a 27-7 record and 3.06 ERA.  He was the third black pitcher in the majors behind Dan Bankhead and Satchel Paige.


Relief Pitcher – Satchel Paige was a rare Negro League player who made his major-league debut well after his prime playing days.  He had played 18 seasons in the Negro Leagues when he was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at age 41.  Remarkably he still managed to play five seasons as a reliever with the Indians and St. Louis Browns, including two All-Star seasons at age 45 and 46.  He was 58 years old when he pitched for the Kansas City A’s in a promotional stunt.  Paige was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971 by the Negro League Committee.


Utility – Minnie Minoso was a Cuban-born player who played for the New York Cubans in the Negro Leagues in 1946-1948.  He made his major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 and later became the first black player for the Chicago White Sox in 1951, when he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year.  He was a seven-time All-Star and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting in four seasons.  He played all the outfield positions as well as third base during his career.  Minoso made two pinch-hit appearances as a 54-year-old for the Chicago White Sox in 1980.  In 2003 as a 78-year-old, he made a batting appearance for the independent St. Paul Saints.


Manager – Larry Doby has two spots on this mythical all-star team.  In addition to his Hall of Fame playing career, he managed the Chicago White Sox for part of the 1978 season. He took over for Bob Lemon after 74 games, and the team finished 37-50 under him.  Doby was the second black manager in the majors (not in an interim status), following Frank Robinson with the Cleveland Indians in 1975-1977.


Coach – Elston Howard was an all-star major-leaguer before becoming a coach for the New York Yankees.  He began his professional playing career with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1948 as a 19-year-old, before signing with the Yankees organization in 1950.  When he made his major-league debut in 1955, he was the first black player for the Yankees.  He was an American League All-Star for nine seasons and league MVP in 1963.  He served as a coach for the Yankees from 1969 to 1979 and was the first black coach in the American League.


Coach – Buck O’Neil was the first black coach in majors with the Chicago Cubs in 1962.  He had a long career in the Negro League from 1937 to 1950, primarily with the Kansas City Monarchs.  He later served as manager of the Monarchs.  By the time baseball was being integrated, he was well past his prime to play Organized Baseball.