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.
96-year-old Nolan Vicknair: one of the last links to notable era of New Orleans baseball

The 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were some of the greatest decades for baseball in New Orleans. The New Orleans Pelicans were the hometown professional team. Prep baseball was in its heyday with teams such as Jesuit, Holy Cross, Fortier, S.J. Peters, and Warren Eastern winning state titles and supplying numerous players to the pro ranks. Local American Legion and All-American Amateur Baseball programs produced several national champions. Baseball was practically played year-round in the city, with semi-pro leagues providing additional competition in summer and fall seasons.


One of the local area players who experienced first-hand a good portion of this timeframe was Nolan Vicknair. The Marrero native turns 96 years old on April 8. His career included prep and Legion competition in the city, as well as a chance to play in the minor leagues. He later played and coached in various semi-pro baseball and softball leagues. Vicknair still harbors a lot of memories about the era and its ballplayers. He is one of the last remaining connections to those days in New Orleans.


Vicknair considers himself fortunate to have encountered a few of major league baseball’s greats as he pursued his own pro career, but he also played with and against many of the ballplayers who made names for themselves at the local level.


Vicknair remembers as a high school sophomore playing with West Bank-based LaRocca’s against Jesuit in an American Legion game in which he struck out the first nine batters. Branch Rickey, general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals who was in town for a Pelicans tryout, had attended the Legion game to scout Jesuit players. Impressed with Vicknair’s outing, he recommended the left-handed pitcher consider pro baseball after graduating from high school.


Vicknair says Pelican Stadium was often used by American Legion teams when the Pels were playing out of town. He remembers pitching in the ballpark against a very talented S.J. Peters Legion team that included future professional players George Strickland, Pete Modica, and Red Lavigne. Strickland went on to play in the majors for 10 seasons, whiled Modica and Lavigne both had substantial careers in the minors, including stints with the hometown Pelicans.


Wilson Pollet was pitching in Legion ball when his older brother Howie was a rising pitching star for the St. Louis Cardinals. Wilson and Vicknair played against each other in a Legion contest in which Vicknair recalls hitting a triple off Wilson. He remembers Wilson didn’t throw very hard but had good “junkball” stuff. Wilson later followed his brother in professional baseball but managed to play only one season in the Class D Evangeline League.


Vicknair had to put his baseball ambitions on hold when he enlisted in the Navy in 1943 during World War II as soon as he turned 17. He eventually served on the destroyer USS Bearrs that operated as part of the Pacific Fleet.


After being discharged from the service, Vicknair remembered Branch Rickey’s advice about pursuing professional baseball. Vincent Rizzo, then the business manager for the Pelicans, offered to sign Vicknair after a tryout. But a former teacher at Marrero High School was acquainted with Mel Ott, then the player-manager for the New York Giants who resided in New Orleans. The teacher arranged for Vicknair to meet with Ott, who recommended he go to Fort Smith, Arkansas, for a tryout with the Giants in the spring of 1946.


Vicknair took Ott’s recommendation, reported to Fort Smith, and competed with 150 prospects in a tryout in which 40 players would be selected to make up two minor-league teams. The Giants organization signed him for a salary of $125 per month and assigned him to the Class D Oshkosh Giants in Wisconsin.


Since Vicknair hadn’t played organized baseball for three years, he says he was a bit rusty getting back into the game. At 5’ 6” and 150 pounds, he says he relied on his athleticism, especially his strong arm and speed on the bases and as an outfielder, to be competitive. However, he suffered a broken jaw when a baseball thrown by an infielder hit him in the face while sliding into second base. The injury curtailed his season to just 45 games in which he batted only .193.


He reported to the Giants’ spring training camp in New Jersey in 1947. He remembers getting his paychecks from former Giants all-star pitcher Carl Hubbell, who was then the farm director for the organization. But after being told he was being re-assigned to Oshkosh, Vicknair asked for his release.


He returned to New Orleans and was called by New Iberia Cardinals manager Harry Strohm to join the team, which was part of the Class D Evangeline League and an affiliate of the New Orleans Pelicans. Lenny Yochim, who had been a prep pitching star at Holy Cross High School in New Orleans, was his teammate with New Iberia. Vicknair says that Yochim could “hit the ball mile” in addition to being the team’s best pitcher. Yochim eventually went on to pitch briefly in couple of seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1950s and later had a 36-year career as a major-league scout.


Vicknair didn’t enjoy the same success as Yochim. When New Iberia changed managers early in the season, he was released by the team, having hit only .156 in 11 games.


However, his love for baseball didn’t die with his disappointing stint with New Iberia. He played and coached in semi-pro leagues throughout the 1950s and later in city-wide industrial softball leagues.


Vicknair recalls the semi-pro leagues in New Orleans being very competitive. Former professional players and college players would frequently fill roster spots. He says there was often a lot of betting between the better teams. He remembers one game in a Jefferson league in which he made a diving catch in the outfield to save a 2-1 victory, with $500 at stake. He says former Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell owned a car dealership that sponsored a team in that league, and former Jesuit High School and major-league players Tookie Gilbert and Putsy Caballero played for Parnell. Vicknair remembers the league’s games would sometimes outdraw the Pelicans in attendance.


He played on semi-pro teams with Marrero’s Pete Thomassie, who had successful seasons on several Southern Association teams and reached the Triple-A level with the Chicago White Sox. He remembers Thomassie as having a lot of natural talent, but often had trouble keeping himself in shape. Vicknair played in an all-star benefit game at Mel Ott Park against Gene Freese, who made New Orleans his home after his major-league career. Vicknair was the player-manager for the Mohawks, a popular West Bank team for a number of years, racking up several league championships.


Vicknair recalls a number of good players came through New Orleans to play for the Pelicans on their way to the big leagues. He specifically remembers Tommy Henrich, Frank Thomas, and Danny Murtaugh. One of his favorite Pelicans was Emil Panko, who hit 33 home runs in 1956, although he never got promoted to the majors.


Vicknair competed against Lenny Yochim’s older brother Ray in softball leagues. Like his brother, Ray had a brief major-league career in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Vicknair remembers Ray would play his heart out in those recreational league games, sometimes playing as many as six games on Sundays. Vicknair was the player-coach for Avondale Shipyards, which had prominent softball teams in city-wide leagues for many years. He played softball well into his 60s.


Three years ago, Vicknair was asked to throw the ceremonial first pitch a New Orleans Baby Cakes game honoring military veterans. Being the dedicated athlete he had been all his life, he practiced some throws at his home to get his arm loose.


Vicknair’s athletic background has served him well into his later years. The active nonagenarian still exercises daily and looks like he could suit up for a game. And he still has fond memories of a celebrated time in New Orleans baseball history.

 

Best Opening Days for New Orleans major leaguers

Opening Day is an exciting time for baseball fans. All their anticipation built up over the winter finally comes to a head. Of course, they’re hoping their favorite team and favorite players will have a good showing to start off the season on the right track.


Opening Day is also a special time for the players. It represents a new chapter of veteran players’ careers, regardless of how they finished the prior season. For rookies, it’s their chance to show they belong in the big leagues. Like the fans, the players are hopeful for a good day at the plate or on the mound.


Looking back at some of the New Orleans area players who participated in MLB Opening Days, a number of them had “red-letter day” performances.


Among all the major leaguers from the New Orleans area, Will Clark (Jesuit High School) had perhaps the most dramatic Opening Day performance. After only one minor-league season in 1985, Clark wasn’t expected to break spring training on the San Francisco Giants’ big league roster in 1986. But he made such an impression on Giants manager Roger Craig that he earned a spot in the starting lineup at first base in their first game on April 8. In his first at-bat in his debut game, he hit the first pitch from Houston Astros ace Nolan Ryan for a home run. The Giants went on to win 8-3. Clark became an important cog in the Giants’ resurgence, ultimately reaching the World Series three years later.


Mel Ott (Gretna High School) slammed homers in four different Opening Day games during his 22-year career, but the one that had the most impact was on April 19, 1938. In the game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ott hit a three-run homer and a double to lead the Giants to a 13-1 slaughter of the Dodgers. He also scored three runs. Ott went on to lead the National League in home runs (38) that season and held the career home run record (511) for the National League when he retired ten seasons later.


The New York Mets’ popular star Rusty Staub (Jesuit High School) was traded to the expansion Montreal Expos before the 1969 season. In the first-ever game for the Expos on April 8, 1969, Staub managed to gain revenge on his former team. Expos fans were delighted with Staub’s six plate appearances, as he hit a solo home run and an RBI-single and walked three times in the Expos’ win, 11-10. Unfortunately for Staub, the Mets would win the NL East title and their first World Series. However, he was back with the Mets in 1973 when they won their second World Series.


Returning from military service during World War II, Connie Ryan (Jesuit High School) was the leadoff batter for the Boston Braves on Opening Day on April 16, 1946, against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ryan smacked two doubles and scored two runs in the Braves’ 5-3 win. He scored the go-ahead run for the Braves in the 6th inning after he walked and stole a base. Ryan would play for the Braves when they won the National League pennant in 1948.


George Strickland (S. J. Peters High School) wasn’t known for his hitting, but on Opening Day on April 13, 1954, he had one of his better performances of the season for the Cleveland Indians. He went 3-for-4 for the day, that included a solo home run. He knocked in two runs and scored three times in the Indians’ 8-2 win over the White Sox. Strickland and the Indians went on to win an astonishing 111 games to capture the American League pennant in 1954.


Mel Parnell (S. J. Peters High School) was the ace of the Boston Red Sox going into the 1952 season. He had won 18 games in each of the previous two seasons and led the American League with 25 wins in 1949. On Opening Day on April 15, he threw a three-hit shutout over the Washington Senators. He walked six batters and struck out two in the Red Sox’s 3-0 win. However, Parnell wound up with a subpar season for him, finishing with a 12-12 record and 3.62 ERA. He returned to form with 21 wins the next season.


Opening Day games were especially productive for Zeke Bonura (Loyola University). He had four season openers in which he recorded three or more hits. While playing for the New York Giants on April 18, 1939, he went 3-for-4, including a three-run home run, two singles, and a walk, as the Giants defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers, 7-3. Bonura played only seven major-league seasons, posting a career batting record of .307/.380/.487, 119 home runs, and 704 RBIs.

In his fourth season with the Chicago Cubs in 2009, Mike Fontenot (Salmen High School) finally secured the starting job at second base. He had one of his better games of the season on Opening Day on April 6, 2009. He was instrumental in the Cubs’ win over the Houston Astros, 4-2, when he went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. During the following season, he was traded to San Francisco where he helped the Giants win a World Series.


Gerald Williams (East St. John High School) was a platoon outfielder for the Atlanta Braves in 1998. On Opening Day on March 31, 1998, he got into the game against the Milwaukee Brewers as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning with the score tied, 1-1. He walked and scored the winning run. Williams went on to post a batting slash line of .305/.352/.504 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs in a part-time role. The Braves won the NL East in 1998 but wound up losing to the San Diego Padres in the NLCS.

Can the Yankees manage their way out of this current dry spell?

The New York Yankees franchise has won the most World Series championships in baseball history with 27. They are known for their dynastic teams that were dominant in multiple stretches of winning success.


However, sandwiched in between several of those successful stretches were dry spells where the Yankees failed to win a league pennant, much less a World Series. In 2021 the Yankees will start the twelfth year of their latest drought. It is one of three lengthy stretches where Yankees failed to win a pennant. The other two consisted of 14 years (1982-1995) and 11 years (1965-1975).


It’s not as though the Yankees have had really weak teams during this latest drought. In fact, they haven’t had a losing season during the previous 11 years and have made the playoffs eight times. They just haven’t won a pennant. On the other hand, historically mediocre franchises like the Marlins and the Mariners would consider a similar period of performance as huge successes. But more is expected of the Yankees because of their legendary history of championships.


Below are some thoughts on reasons for the Yankees’ latest decline.


There has been balanced competition in the American League. No team in the league has been overly dominant. During the 11-year drought, there have been seven different pennant winners: Boston (2), Houston (2), Tampa (1), Cleveland (1), Kansas City (2), Detroit (1), Texas (2).


The Yankees haven’t been a good playoff team. While they managed to get to the post-season eight times, their combined playoff record was 25-33. They lost four attempts at a pennant in ALCS play.


Starting pitching has been a relative weakness for the team. CC Sabathia (3), Masahiro Tanaka (2), and Luis Severino (2) have been the only starters in the past 11 seasons with more than one all-star season. (On the other hand, one of the key reasons the Yankees have posted winning records is that their bullpens have been among the best in the league.)


The Yankees have lacked a strong catcher. Why highlight that position? It’s not inconsequential that in the Yankees dynasty periods over the years, they had standout catchers, including Jorge Posada (1996-2009), Thurman Munson (1976-1981), Elston Howard and Yogi Berra (1947-1964), Bill Dickey (1936-1943), and Wally Schang (1921-1928), calling the signals behind the plate and contributing to potent offenses. During this latest drought, the Yankees have used Gary Sanchez, Brian McCann, Chris Stewart, Russell Martin, and Francisco Cervelli as their primary catchers. None of them were all-star-caliber players. (McCann was an exception but he was past his prime during his Yankees years.)


The last dynasty (1996-2009) included five core players who were constant during most of that stretch: Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. Each of these players came up through the Yankees farm system, and the rest of the team was built around these all-star players.


In the last 11 years, the Yankees farm system has been less than stellar in producing prospects that eventually helped the team win, especially its pitchers. Robinson Cano was a carryover from the previous dynasty period, but that leaves Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Miguel Andujar as the only regular starters that came up through the Yankees farm system.


So, what are the chances this year’s Yankees team can end the dry spell? They have a good chance to get to the playoffs again, possibly even winning their division. But winning the AL pennant is a different story.


The team appears to be healthy again for Opening Day, except for starter Severino who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and reliever Zach Britton. It will be good to see Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks put in full seasons for a change.


DJ LeMahieu was re-signed over the winter with a four-year deal. He’s been the best player for the Yankees for the past two seasons. Jay Bruce was acquired to bring another much-needed left-handed bat to the roster.


Tanaka went back to Japan, so starting pitching will again be something to worry about. The Yankees will need a lot of innings from its rotation in order to put less stress on its bullpen. But there are serious questions about that expectation. Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber (a former two-time Cy Young Award winner) were acquired during the off-season to start behind ace Gerrit Cole, but they missed the 2020 season. Another starter in the projected rotation, Domingo German (who won 18 games in 2019), also missed the 2020 season due to injury. Severino is expected back sometime later in the year. The book is still out on how effective these starters will be this year. Rounding out the rotation, Jordan Montgomery and Michael King are relatively inexperienced starters at the major-league level.


The Yankees’ saving grace the past few years has been its bullpen. They are in good shape again with the exception of Britton, who recently had surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips and won’t likely be available until right before the All-Star break. But the Yankees have depth in the pen led by Aroldis Chapman. Veteran reliever Darren O’Day was a good addition over the winter.


Another area of concern is the catcher position. Sanchez, who shows intermittent streaks of power at the plate among his many strikeouts, remains a liability defensively. Backup Kyle Higashioka is much better defensively, but his bat won’t help much. The Yankees need to find a long-term solution at this position.


Overall, I figure there’s a 50-50 chance the Yankees’ drought will continue again this year. I think the Chicago White Sox should be favored to win the AL pennant, with some secondary competition from Tampa Bay, Houston, and Minnesota.

2021 MLB Division Projections

Things are looking up for the upcoming baseball season. Opening Day will occur when it’s supposed to. Fan will get to attend games in person. We can expect full 162-game schedules and a post-season that will have true home-and-away series. Rangers fans will finally get a proper Opening Day in their new stadium.


How the teams stack up this year in the division races will largely depend on how pitching staffs hold up for a full 162-game season. With only 60 games being played last year, most starters only pitched between 50 and 70 innings the entire season. Teams will approach the season very carefully with respect to how they manage their staffs. We will likely see six-man rotations and pitch limits during the first half of the season. Bullpenning will be utilized even more than in the past few seasons. Minor-league pitching staffs may get called on pretty regularly.


Here’s how I see each division race shaping up, picking the top two front-runners in each.


AL East

The Yankees and Rays will be the front-runners again. While the Rays had a big turnover in its starting pitcher staff, they backfilled with veteran pitchers who have won before. They will provide time for younger staff to emerge. The Yankees are the Yankees, what else can I say? It looks like they will be healthy. The Blue Jays made some key upgrades in the field with George Springer and Marcus Semien, but their starting pitching lacks top of the line starters and will have to rely more on its depth.


AL Central

The White Sox and Twins will battle for the top two spots. The White Sox will be good again, despite signing on 76-year-old manager Tony LaRussa, who hasn’t been in a uniform since for ten years. (I thought the White Sox could have done much better.) Player for player at each position, the White Sox may have the best team in the AL. Their bullpen ranks right up there with the Yankees. The Twins return a roster pretty much intact from last year, with the addition of defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons at shortstop. The Indians’ pitching is actually pretty decent, but they have managed to decimate a previously good roster of position players.


AL West

The Astros will bounce back from a losing record last year (even though they still qualified for the playoffs). Their young starters stepped up in the playoffs last year, and I expect them to be even better. The A’s have the edge on the Angels based on past performance of the last three seasons. A healthy Shohei Ohtani who can both pitch and DH could be a difference-maker for the Angels. They’ll get a full season with Anthony Rendon at third base. Pitching has been their Achilles heel in the past. Can the Angels finally get over the hump this year? Would love to see Mike Trout a playoff situation.


NL East

This division will likely be the most competitive this year. The Braves are the clear front-runner again. Up and down the lineup, they are solid. With three division titles already under their belt, they could very well be mounting another streak of division winning teams like the Braves did in in the 1990s. I’m picking the Nationals to bounce back this year. Jayson Stark recently asserted that Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is the next Ted Williams. He can carry the team on his back if needed. Plus, they added Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to the offense. Their top three starters (Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin) were supplemented with the addition of veteran Jon Lester.


Although they will field good teams, the Phillies and Mets will be close followers. The Phillies managed to retain free-agent catcher JT Realmuto, which was desperately needed. The Mets improved with shortstop Francisco Lindor and catcher James McCann, but their pitching behind Jacob DeGrom still needs help. Acquiring Trevor Bauer would have provided a huge boost. One could make a case for the Marlins being on the rise since they made the playoffs last year; but they benefitted from the short season.


NL Central

This division will also be competitive, but not for the same reason as the NL East. There’s not a clear front-runner this season. All of the teams have at least one major issue to deal with. They were among the least active teams over the winter in making roster improvements. The St. Louis Cardinals made a big splash by trading for all-star third baseman Nolan Arenado. Primarily due to that reason, I’m picking the Cardinals as one of the front-runners.


I think the Brewers will bounce back from a down year in 2020 and challenge the Cardinals for first place. Christian Yelich never got on track in the shortened season; he’ll be key to a return as division winner. The Cubs have a lot of familiar names returning but have been huge under-achievers. They didn’t solve their bullpen issues over the winter. The Reds seem to have been on the verge of a breakout for the past few seasons, but they never delivered. The loss of Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer is a big setback.


NL West

This division will have two of the more exciting teams in baseball in 2021 in the Dodgers and Padres. The Dodgers finally got their World Series ring last year; and with everyday lineup that includes Betts, Seager, Bellinger, and Turner, and a starting staff that includes Kershaw, Bauer, Buehler, and Price, I think they’ll repeat.


The Padres figure they were close last season and decided to add two big arms that would help put them into the winner’s circle this year. The addition of top-flight starters Yu Darvish and Blake Snell are significant pickups to go along with a few highly-touted youngsters in the rotation. Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is showing he is a game-changer in all facets of the game, but he also has a good supporting cast with Machado, Myers, Hosmer, and Pham. The Giants, Diamondbacks, and Rockies will provide fodder for the rest of the league.


Post-season

I see the Yankees and White Sox (even with LaRussa) playing for the AL pennant, and the Dodgers and Braves fighting it out in the NL. I’m picking the Dodgers to win it all again, maybe in a repeat of the 1959 World Series.

Leo Durocher to Mel Ott: "Nice Guys Finish Last"

We’ve all heard the familiar expression “Nice guys finish last.” But most people don’t know the origin of the saying or about whom it was first said. The phrase was used by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher to describe former New Orleans area baseball great Mel Ott and his Giants team when the Giants were mired in last place during the 1946 season. Since then, the saying has been commonly used in non-baseball situations as well.


Ott was in his fifth season as the player-manager of the Giants in 1946. Going into a doubleheader with the Dodgers on July 4, their record was a dismal 28-40, while the Dodgers were seven games ahead of St. Louis for first place. The Dodgers had held first place since May 22.


The Giants won the first game of a twinbill at the Polo Grounds on July 4 but lost to the Dodgers in the second game, despite slamming three home runs.


Fred Stein, in his book Mel Ott: The Little Giant of Baseball, described a conversation the next day that led to the now-famous saying. Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber sat on the Dodgers bench before the next day’s game kidding around with Durocher. “Leo,” Barber provoked, “your guys were lucky to split yesterday the way the Giants were hitting, especially those home runs.” Durocher scoffed, “Hell, they were nothing, just cheap Polo Grounds specials.” Barber countered, “Come on Leo, be a nice guy and give credit where it’s due.” Durocher shouted back at Barber, “Nice guys! Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? And where are they? The nice guys over there are in last place!”


Over the years since, the idiom stuck with Ott. He was indeed a nice guy. He had an easy-going style of management and was well-respected by his players as well as his opponents. He had a special way of maintaining a big-family atmosphere on the club without giving up authority. But Ott wasn’t nearly as good at managing as he was at playing.


By contrast, Durocher, whose nickname was “Leo the Lip,” had a tough-guy persona and was often at the center of controversy with the media and league officials.


The rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers had always been a heated one. Brooklyn had played second-fiddle to its New York City counterparts, the Yankees and Giants, since the 1920s and 1930s when those franchises were winning frequent league championships. The tide turned for the Dodgers in the 1940s, as they became a first-division club, including a National League pennant in 1941 with Durocher at the helm.


Durocher was feeling good about the Dodgers’ chances for another pennant on that Independence Day in 1946, but they wound up being overtaken by the St. Louis Cardinals. Sure enough, Ott’s Giants finished in last place.


Ironically, Durocher replaced Ott as the Giants manager after 78 games of the 1948 season. Being the “good guy” again, Ott actually recommended Durocher to Giants ownership as his replacement.


While Ott had a losing record (464-530) as Giants manager, he had a Hall of Fame playing career. In 22 seasons, he had a batting slash line of .304/.414/.533. During 18 of his seasons, he was at Top 10 finisher in home runs and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). At the time of his retirement in 1948, he was the National League’s career leader in home runs with 511. After a short stint as a manager in the Pacific Coast League, Ott eventually transitioned into a broadcasting role for the Detroit Tigers.


In 1958 he was seriously injured in an automobile accident while driving to his home in Metairie from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and died a week later at age 49. A long-time popular baseball park in Gretna, Ott’s birthplace, bears his name. A section of Louisiana Highway 23 in Gretna was named Mel Ott Parkway by the Louisiana legislature in 2004.

What baseball needs now are more "characters" of the game

At a time when MLB is trying to address improvements that will bring more fans, especially younger ones, one of the things missing are “characters” of the game. Major league baseball has become too stodgy.


In the good old days, baseball’s captivating personalities were players and managers like Mark Fidrych, Al Hrabosky, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, Jim Piersall, Joe Charboneau, and Bill Lee. They were always good for some type of antic on the field or in the clubhouse, a good quote, or a run-in with an umpire. They endeared themselves to fans and the media because they were outlandish, outspoken, and sometimes outcasts. They had a way of getting fans revved up at the stadium. They would mix it up with the media, or entertain their teammates in the clubhouse.


The current trend toward a more analytical approach to the game is ruining much of the charm of the game. Major-league front offices being run by MBAs are typically all business, and that has carried over into the clubhouse. Competition for roster spots is stiff; players don’t want to risk standing out because of a perceived quirky personality. In the past, it seemed like every club had at least one prankster, someone who could get away with being a bit whacky. Spontaneity seems to be missing. In the case of managers, the media questions every decision, and they have few opportunities to demonstrate charisma.


The type of players I’m talking about are not your Derek Jeters and Cal Ripkens, who were models of professionalism and consistency. They were great teammates but were not the sort who would set fire to a teammate’s shoelaces in the dugout or place a wad of chewing gum on the top of a teammate’s cap while he is not paying attention.


Perhaps the best way to depict the kind of characters I’m referring to is to give some examples from the past.


Jim Piersall, who actually suffered from diagnosed mental problems early in his career in the 1950s, maintained his whacky personality after his recovery. He was often viewed as a rebel of conformity. On one occasion he circled the bases running backwards after hitting a home run.


Al Hrabosky, a Cardinals relief pitcher in the 1970s, was nicknamed “Mad Hungarian” because of the way he would stomp around the mound, pounding his glove as though he was angry.


On his way to winning the 1976 American League Rookie of the Year award, Detroit’s Mark Fydrich gained national popularity for talking to the baseball while on the mound, as if to offer it encouragement. His notoriety became even more noteworthy when he acquired the nickname “The Bird” because of his resemblance to the “Big Bird” character on the Sesame Street television program.


Bill Lee, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos from 1969 to 1982, was famous for wearing various paraphernalia on the mound, including a gas mask, a Daniel Boone cap, and a beanie with a propeller. On one occasion he even wore an astronaut suit, which gained him the nickname “Spaceman.”


In the ‘80s and ‘90s Roger McDowell’s pranks included lighting firecrackers in the dugout. He wrapped a wad of chewing gum around a cigarette, then secretly place the contraption on the heels of unsuspecting teammates' cleats—better known as the hot foot. Once, during a nationally televised game, the pitcher was filmed with his uniform on upside down—his pants over his head with his shoes on his hands.


Joe Charboneau quickly became a fan favorite in his Rookie of the Year season with the Cleveland Indians in 1980. Charboneau was dyeing his hair bright colors long before NBA wildman Dennis Rodman came along. He was the subject of a song, "Go Joe Charboneau,” that reached No. 3 on the local charts.


Jay Johnstone, who played for eight teams during 1966 to 1985, had the reputation as the ultimate prankster. One of his best shenanigans was dressing up as a groundskeeper during the fifth inning of a game to take part in dragging the infield. He got dressed again in his uniform, went back to the dugout, and later hit a pinch-hit home run. His book Temporary Insanity chronicled many of his antics.


Casey Stengel, the charismatic manager of the New York Yankees from 1949 to 1960, was a favorite of the New York press, because he was always good for a quote, often expressed in a disjointed manner of speech. He once tried to convince the media he made decisions for the team by using a crystal ball.


Billy Martin and Tommy Lasorda were other managers who frequently captured the spotlight: Martin, for his dirt-kicking disputes with umpires, and Lasorda, with his verbose nature, for never dodging a camera.


Dizzy Dean, Bob Uecker, Harry Caray, Mickey Hatcher, and Oil Can Boyd were a few of the other personalities in the game who gained reputations for their propensity to clown around.


There have been a couple of recent players who seem to enjoy the game a little differently from everyone else. Yet they are few and far between.


When Yasiel Puig initially came to the Los Angeles Dodgers from Cuba in 2013, he played with emotion and celebrated on the field in ways that many fans felt disrespected the traditions of the game. He could be seen licking his bat as he approached the batter’s box and wagging his tongue in his celebrations on the bases. He’s shown more maturity in his later years, much to the chagrin of some of his following.


Hunter Pence gained popularity for his high-energy, emotional leadership and motivation for the teams he played for, especially the San Francisco Giants. His teammates loved playing with him, while fans also became energized by his fun-loving personality which was often on display through social media. He added to his persona by letting hair and beard grow out. He retired from the game after the 2020 season.


Baseball still needs its Derek Jeters and long-standing traditions. But it should always have a place for a Mad Hungarian, a Big Bird, and a Spaceman, who often cast traditions aside and made the game fun.

Turn back the clock: 18-year-old Bob Feller wowed New Orleans during 1937 spring training

MLB teams are currently in full swing at spring training sites in Florida and Arizona. As far back as the early 1900s, New Orleans was host to several big-league teams for spring preparation leading up to the regular season. For local baseball fans, the highlights of the training activities included exhibition games with the minor-league New Orleans Pelicans and other traveling major league teams. It was often their only opportunity to see major league players in action.


1937 was a special year for local baseball enthusiasts, with the arrival of the Cleveland Indians and their sensational teenage pitcher Bob Feller who were in town for spring training.


While still enrolled in high school, Feller had taken the baseball world by storm in July 1936. With only eight innings pitched in relief under his belt, the 17-year-old farm-boy from Iowa struck out 15 batters in his first major-league start for the Cleveland Indians. He immediately acquired the “phenom” label and went on to win five games that season, including a 2-hit, 17-strikeout win over the Philadelphia A’s on September 13.


Of course, fans’ expectations of Feller were high going into the 1937 season. Because his fastball was his featured pitch, he was already being compared to Walter “Big Train” Johnson, the premier strikeout artist at that point in baseball history. Feller would soon acquire an appropriate nickname, “Rapid Robert,” for his strikeout prowess.


The Cleveland Indians traveled south for spring training, initially making a stop in Hot Springs, Arkansas, before spending nearly the entire month of March in New Orleans. His arrival stirred up great anticipation by the Crescent City’s baseball fans to see him make an appearance in an exhibition game at Heinemann Park. They wanted to see this “boy wonder” whom the rest of the country was raving about.


The Times-Picayune posted daily stories about the teenager, marveling at his accomplishments from the previous season and tracking all of his activities during the team’s preparation for the regular season in April. Because Feller was still technically a high school student, he received specialized tutoring from a teacher from Warren Easton High School in New Orleans. It was his intention to graduate with his senior class in Iowa. Amid his training and schooling, his popularity made him a frequent guest at local events. On one such occasion in which he handed out awards at a Boys Scouts banquet, Feller (a former Boy Scout) wasn’t that much older than the youngsters to whom he was passing out ribbons.


Feller got his first appearance on March 14. He didn’t disappoint a small crowd of shivering fans, as he pitched a scoreless first inning against the local Pelicans minor-league club. On March 19, he got his second start before a capacity crowd of 10,000 consisting mostly of school kids. He struck out five in three scoreless innings, while yielding only one hit as the Indians won, 7-0. The Times-Picayune reported that he was barely able to get in his warm-up pitches before the game because of the throng of autograph-seekers surrounding him.


Indians manager Steve O’Neill said he felt like Feller would be good for 10 to 15 victories during the regular season. He thought Feller could be the difference between a fifth-place club and one contending for first place. O’Neill said he was surprised at how well Feller had developed a change-up pitch during the spring.


Feller’s next outing came on March 28 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, as the Indians played the New York Giants, who were barnstorming throughout the deep South for its spring training. He struck out six Giants batters in three hitless innings. The Indians staged a rally in the ninth inning to win, 2-1. Veteran umpire Bill Klem declared after the game, “He [Feller] showed me stuff the likes of which I’ve never seen in all my life. I expected to see plenty but I never dreamed an 18-year-old pitcher could pitch like that.”


The Giants also made a stop in New Orleans, where a much-anticipated matchup between Feller and Giants all-star hurler Carl Hubbell took place on April 5. Hubbell was at the peak of his career, having been the National League’s MVP in 1936. The 33-year-old lefty had finished with league-leading 26 wins and 2.31 ERA. This time the crowd exceeded the stadium’s capacity. The Times-Picayune noted it was the largest crowd (11,037) at a spring exhibition game in New Orleans since Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees played at Heinemann Park in 1923. Feller struck out six batters in five innings, while Hubbell struck out five in a well-pitched game by both teams. Feller was a bit wild during the first two frames but showed some moxie by getting out of the innings safely. He didn’t allow any hits during his stint. The Indians won in 10 innings, 2-1.


As the Indians headed north after breaking camp in New Orleans, they faced the Giants again in Fort Smith, Arkansas, on April 8. Feller capped off his spring by striking out four in three hitless innings.


Feller was dominant in his four spring outings comprised of 12 innings. He struck out 17 while yielding only one hit. He cemented his status as one of MLB’s up-and-coming stars. Time magazine put him on the cover of the April 19 edition, only the second time by a baseball player.


However, Feller encountered a diversion in fulfilling the high expectations set for him. In his first start of the regular season on April 24, he felt a sharp pain in his elbow on his first pitch of the game. He wound up appearing in only three games during the first three months of the season. In the meantime, he managed to attend his high school graduation in May.


He returned to the Indians on July 4. Despite losing his next three decisions, he rebounded with nine wins during the remainder of the season. Despite missing the majority of three months, he still finished fourth in the league with 150 strikeouts.


Feller went on to have a Hall of Fame career. During his 18 major league seasons, he compiled a 266-162 record, 3.25 ERA, and 2,581 strikeouts. He missed three entire seasons and part of a fourth (during age 23 to 26) due his Navy service during World War II. Otherwise, his career numbers would have been even greater. Feller threw three no-hitters during his career and led the American League in strikeouts in seven seasons, including 348 in his first full season after the war. When he retired in 1956, he was third on the all-time strikeout list.


Feller came back to New Orleans in 1986 for an old-timer’s game in the Superdome. He made his last visit to the city in 2007 when he was featured on a panel of former major league players at a conference (“When Baseball Went to War”) hosted by the World War II Museum. Feller died in 2010 at age 92.

Flashback: East Jeff's Raziano narrowly missed being part of the Miracle Mets

Former East Jefferson prep baseball star Barry Raziano came awfully close to being on the 1969 New York Mets team that astonished the baseball world with their first World Series championship. But an injury sidetracked his Mets destiny, yet he still managed to reach the majors, albeit for a short ride.


Raziano had been named the outstanding prep Class AAA player in Louisiana, before being drafted out of high school by the New York Mets in the 47th round of the inaugural Major League Baseball amateur player draft in 1965. The right-handed pitcher had already accepted a scholarship to play at Nicholls State in 1966, which could partially explain why he had been a late-round selection. However, the Mets selected 17 pitchers before Raziano, so he would have been considered a long-shot to eventually reach the majors in any case.


Raziano opted not to play at Nicholls State and entered the pro ranks in 1966. His first pro season was with the Greenville (SC) Mets, where he was a teammate of 19-year-old Nolan Ryan. Raziano was impressive as a starter in his first season, posting a 9-4 record and 3.08 ERA. Ryan was the ace of the staff with a 17-2 record with 272 strikeouts in 182 innings. It was evident even then that Ryan was bound for the big-leagues.


Raziano progressively rose through the Mets’ minor-league ranks as a reliever, including stints with Class A Durham, Double A Memphis, and Triple A Jacksonville over the next two years. His stock had risen such that he was slated for Triple-A Tidewater at the start of the 1969 season, just one step away from the big-league Mets.


He played winter ball in Venezuela after the 1968 season in an effort to gain more experience against major leaguers who often played ball there during the off-season. Baseball Digest listed him as an up-and-coming Mets relief specialist for the 1969 season. But when he reported to Mets spring training camp as a member of the 40-man roster, he developed a sore arm and was left in Florida to rehabilitate when the regular season started. His injury persisted and he wound up pitching only two innings in the minors that season.


It’s worth noting that four of the 17 pitchers picked ahead of him in the 1965 draft included Les Rohr (1st round), Jim McAndrew (11th), Nolan Ryan (12th), and Steve Renko (24th), all of whom saw action for the 1969 “Miracle Mets.” Had he not suffered the injury Raziano would likely have joined these four on the big-league roster at some point in the season.


Raziano played the next three seasons with Tidewater in both starter and reliever roles. His combined record was 23-26 with a 3.71 record. It wasn’t good enough to earn a spot on the big-league roster. Another factor affecting his potential promotion was the Mets’ major-league staff was already stocked with young pitchers such as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jamie McAndrew, Gary Gentry, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw, and Danny Frisella.


The Mets traded Raziano to the Kansas City Royals after the 1972 season. As fate would have it, he missed out on another chance to play for the Mets’ World Series team in 1973. Instead, he was assigned to Triple-A Omaha in the Royals organization, where he posted his best season as a reliever (5-2 record, 3.66 ERA, 10 saves) and earned his first big-league promotion with a two-week stint with the Royals. He made his major league debut with the Royals on August 18 when he pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief against the Boston Red Sox.


When the Royals needed a veteran outfielder for the 1974 season, they gave up Raziano for California’s Vada Pinson. Playing for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City, Raziano was their best reliever, posting a 3-0 record and 2.25 ERA. He got a callup on June 6 to the Angels where he crossed paths again with Nolan Ryan as a teammate.


The highlight of his stint with the Angels occurred in an historic 15-inning-inning game on June 13 in which Ryan pitched 13 innings, striking out 19 Red Sox batters. Red Sox starter Luis Tiant countered with 14 1/3 innings pitched. Raziano relieved his teammate in the 14th inning and prevented Ryan’s effort from being wasted. He pitched two scoreless innings, claiming his first big-league win. As a side note, Ryan threw an astonishing 235 pitches during his outing, as he walked 10 batters. History would later be written that Ryan’s “bionic” arm allowed him to pitch until age 46.


Raziano appeared in 13 games for the Angels but recorded an unimpressive 6.48 ERA and two blown saves. In an interview with the Times-Picayune in 1977, Raziano recalled being worked to death by the Angels, “I’d either warmed up or pitched in 22 of 26 games. I started having trouble with my arm. I had one off-day and the next time I couldn’t throw.” He was sent back to Salt Lake City where he went on the disabled list.


He returned to form in 1975, posting a 6-1 record and 2.37 ERA in 39 games. However, discouraged that he wasn’t going to get another shot in the majors with the Angels, he packed his bags and came home to New Orleans. He sat out the entire 1976 season. When MLB announced its plans to expand to Toronto and Seattle in 1977, he had hopes of catching on with one of them. But both teams told him they had enough players and would keep him in mind. He said, “I’d more or less had given up on the idea of playing ball again.”


His hopes for returning to baseball were raised when it was decided New Orleans would become the new home of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in 1977.  Raziano contacted the Cardinals and asked for a chance to play with the new Pelicans team in spring training. The Cardinals declined at that point, although he later got a chance to work out for the Pelicans during a home-stand in New Orleans.


When the Pelicans needed pitching help in late June, Raziano’s name surfaced with the Cardinals front office. The Kenner, Louisiana native ultimately signed a contract with the Pelicans and promptly went on the team’s 30-day road trip before he had a chance to pitch before a home crowd at the Superdome. Altogether, he appeared in 20 games for the Pelicans, recording one loss and a 4.65 ERA. It was the last season of his career.


Before entering the pro ranks, Raziano had been a prep and Legion standout at East Jefferson High School in 1965. He was a strikeout machine, leading the entire state in strikeouts (142 in 74 1/3 innings). In a 15-inning state playoff game against Shreveport’s Fair Park, he whiffed 27 batters. Raziano matched up with West Jefferson’s star pitcher Terry Alario in classic pitching duels on several occasions during the prep and Legion seasons. Alario recalls about his opponent, “He was the hardest-throwing high school pitcher I ever faced.”


Raziano beat the odds against his reaching the majors, although a few untimely cases of a sore arm kept him from having a more significant major-league career. Who knows what his future would have been had he been on the “Miracle Mets” team?

Flashback: Faciane family proficient at collecting state baseball titles

Eight state baseball championships. That’s what New Orleans’ Faciane family achieved during their combined high school and American Legion careers. John Sr. and his sons, John Jr. and Josh, played on some of the city’s best teams during parts of four decades. When it came to winning, they are one of the most accomplished families in New Orleans baseball history.


Names like Staub, Yochim, Retif, Pontiff, Butera, Wineski, Schwaner, and Scheuermann might be more familiar to local baseball fans, but none of these prominent baseball families were as proficient on the diamond as the Faciane father-son combo.


John Sr. started the family’s winning tradition in his third year as a letterman at Jesuit High School in 1979. Both his prep team and the Odeco-sponsored American Legion team won state championships, defeating New Iberia in prep and Abe’s Grocery of Lake Charles in Legion.


In 1980 his teams repeated their two championships from the previous season. They defeated Rummel for the state prep title and Crowley in the state Legion finals. They advanced to the Legion World Series in Ely, Minnesota, where they finished fourth. John Sr. got the win in an elimination game against Palo Alto, California, when he pitched 6 2/3 innings of relief, allowing only two hits.


The 1980 Jesuit team was named by the Times-Picayune as one of the Top 10 teams in New Orleans prep history. It featured twelve players who ultimately signed college scholarship offers, including Will Clark, who went on to an outstanding 15-year major-league career. The cumulative record of the Jesuit prep and Legion teams during 1979 and 1980 was 102-25. As one of the key hurlers on the Blue Jays team, John Sr. was selected to the First District All-Legion team.


John Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps at Jesuit. He was a three-year letterman from 2005 through 2007. In his sophomore year, Jesuit defeated Destrehan for the prep state championship.


In 2006 the Blue Jays advanced to the state prep semi-finals but lost to Sulphur. John Jr. was an All-Metro team selection at catcher with a .373 batting average, while also earning honorable mention on the Class 5A All-State team.


During his senior season in 2007, Jesuit captured the prep state championship by defeating West Monroe. John Jr. repeated as an All-Metro and All-State honorable mention performer.


Josh grew up hearing his dad’s stories about his ballplaying days at Jesuit. He says when saw his brother also play for Jesuit, his love for Blue Jays baseball only strengthened. He got a first-hand view of what a championship game could be like when he suited up as a batboy on his brother’s team during the 2007 state finals game.


During the summer of his freshman year in 2008, Josh was a starter on the Jesuit-based American Legion team sponsored by Retif Oil. He got his first taste of being on a championship team when Retif defeated Brother Martin-based Peake BMW in the state finals. The Blue Jays wound up getting defeated in the regionals in Enid Oklahoma.


Josh’s first two seasons as a starter on the Jesuit prep squad ended in losses in the second round of the state tournament. In his senior year in 2011, with his father and brother having each claimed two state prep titles, Josh recalls feeling stress to join them with one of his own. He said, “I often think of the pressure that I had on me that year to win my first prep title to join my dad and brother in champion’s hall and wonder how I wasn’t overwhelmed.” However, he credits Coach Joey Latino and his teammates with a complete team effort in which they all shared the burden of winning it all. Coincidentally, two of his teammates, Patrick “Bubby” Riley and Brandon Shearman, were related to two of his father’s teammates on the Blue Jays’ 1980 championship team.


Josh and his teammates rose to the challenge by defeating Lafayette for the state championship, the 20th state title in Jesuit history. He said, “The biggest moment in my Jesuit career came in the semifinal game against Baton Rouge Catholic.” Batting against Aaron Nola (now a major league pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies), Josh got the game-winning hit in the top of the seventh inning at Turchin Stadium. Eleven Blue Jays on that team went on to play in college. Josh was named to the All-Metro team and received honorable mention on the All-State team.


Upon reflecting back to finally achieving the state prep title, Josh said, “A lot of people mention my game-winning hit off Nola as my greatest achievement that year, but not many know that my favorite moment of that championship season was walking off the field to see my father and brother there and both of them welcoming me with open arms saying, ‘Welcome to the club.’ No other words were needed.”


John Jr. and Josh culminated their respective high school careers by being selected the winner of the prestigious Rusty Staub Award, the highest individual honor a Jesuit baseball player can receive.


John Sr. and Josh continued their baseball careers at the collegiate level.


John Sr. received a scholarship from Nicholls State, where he played from 1981 to 1984. His senior season team won the Trans American Conference season championship and tournament. He led the team with 10 wins and 2.99 ERA.


Josh earned a scholarship to the University of Louisiana Monroe, where he lettered for three seasons and was a member of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference tournament championship team.


When counting prep and Legion titles, the only New Orleans family more accomplished than the Facianes were the Gilbert brothers. Larry Gilbert Sr., legendary manager of the minor-league New Orleans Pelicans from 1923 to 1938, had three sons (Larry Jr., Charlie, and Tookie) who attended Jesuit High School. The trio won a total of nine state championships (including prep and Legion) during the 1930s and 1940s. Charlie and Tookie went on to play in the majors, while Larry Jr. played briefly in the minors, thus putting the Facianes in good company.

Imagine a game between these two Black all-star teams

Black History Month is a good time to recall some of the greatest African-American ballplayers, both in Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues.


Baseball fans love to debate the comparisons of players from different eras. In a fantasy world, anything’s possible, right? Well, what if I told you there could be a ballgame between the greatest Black players of Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues? It would indeed be something to marvel. Some of the best African-American players in baseball history graced the two leagues. Most of them have already been honored with a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


As a make-believe general manager, I came up with a mythical all-star team of African-Americans who played in the majors, as well as a team of all-stars who played in the Negro Leagues. There were some difficult choices in selecting players for each position, although it turned out all are Hall of Famers and therefore it’s hard to make bad picks.


My selection for manager of the Negro League all-star team is Biz Mackey. Here’s his lineup against the major leaguers:


SS – Willie Wells


OF – Cool Papa Bell


1B – Buck Leonard


C – Josh Gibson


3B – Judy Johnson


OF – Monte Irvin


OF – Oscar Charleston


2B – Pop Lloyd


SP – Satchel Paige


Hilton Smith is the relief pitcher, while Larry Doby serves as the pinch-hitter/designated hitter.


My pick for manager of the Major League all-star squad is Dusty Baker. His lineup against the Negro League all-stars includes:


2B – Joe Morgan


SS – Derek Jeter


OF – Willie Mays


OF -- Hank Aaron


OF – Barry Bonds


1B – Frank Thomas


C – Roy Campanella


3B -- Jackie Robinson


SP – Bob Gibson


Baker can look to Lee Smith in the bullpen and Ken Griffey Jr. on the bench as a pinch-hitter/designated hitter.


I selected Robinson for third base on the Major League all-stars team. There haven’t been any Black players in the Hall whose primary position was third base. Since Robinson played third base periodically for the Dodgers, I gave him the nod over Terry Pendleton, who might be the next best Black player at the hot corner.


There are several cross-overs between the rosters. Irvin, Paige, and Doby were among the first African-Americans in the majors in the late 1940s after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Mays, Aaron, Campanella, Robinson, and Doby got their careers started in the Negro Leagues before getting the opportunity to compete in the majors.


So, which team would be favored to win such a game? It would be a great matchup for one of those computer baseball game simulators.


Can you picture Bob Gibson throwing high-and-inside to Josh Gibson, or Satchel Paige with his funky windup facing Barry Bonds? How about Cool Papa Bell chasing down a long fly ball hit in the gap by Hank Aaron?


Would Satchel be intimated by a batting lineup that featured Mays, Aaron, and Bonds in consecutive at-bats? After all, they collected 2,177 home runs between them. Could Josh Gibson throw out a speedy Joe Morgan on the bases?


We’ll never know for sure, but it would surely be a fun debate.

Cubs embark on second round of re-tooling

Chicago Cubs player transactions over the winter indicate the team is going into re-tooling mode again. Five years ago (2016), the Cubs dramatically won their first World Series in 98 years, following a complete make-over of the team that started four years earlier. However, it begs the question of whether re-build strategies provide sustaining benefits.


The Cubs’ strategy worked as they became a frequent contender for the playoffs. By their management’s own admission, their rise to prominence during the re-build came sooner than they had anticipated. Since claiming their most recent World Series ring, they have made the playoffs in three of four seasons, although admittedly the last two have been as wild card entries. They now find themselves in a position of sacrificing several upcoming seasons to re-build a championship club again.


At about the same time as the Cubs started their make-over in 2012, the Houston Astros took a similar approach, ravaging their roster by jettisoning their older, higher-priced players in favor of acquiring and grooming prospects and supplementing them with a few strategic trades. They also achieved similar results with a Word Series championship in 2017 and another World Series appearance (although losing to the Nationals) in 2019.


The Astros made the playoffs last year, but their season was marred by a losing record during the abbreviated regular season. Free agency has taken its toll on the roster since 2019, including the loss of several players like Gerrit Cole, Marwin Gonzales, Jake Marisnick, Wade Miley, Will Harris, and more recently Josh Reddick and George Springer. The Astros aren’t completely starting over in 2021, but they’ll be relying on a stable of relatively inexperienced starting pitchers and outfielders. They aren’t the clear favorite to win their division any longer.


The Cubs have off-loaded most of their starting rotation from the past two seasons, including a recent trade of Yu Darvish to San Diego for a bevy of prospects. Jon Lester and Jose Quintana weren’t re-signed over the winter, while Cole Hamels left the year before when he became a free agent. Only Kyle Hendricks is left from that group. The Cubs are now looking for reclamation projects to augment Hendricks.


Cubs outfielder/designated hitter Kyle Schwarber found himself without a job over the winter and signed as a free agent with the Nationals. After the dramatic start of his career in 2015 and 2016, his stock fell because he was a liability in the outfield and he never fit the leadoff role the Cubs often put him in. Outfielder Albert Almora Jr. was also released to free agency.


Third baseman Kris Bryant’s future in Chicago had been questionable since last season and then carried over into the off-season. Apparently, the Cubs didn’t get any compelling offers for him. They wound up re-signing Bryant, shortstop Javier Baez, and catcher Willson Contreras to extensions in January. Combined with first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Jason Heyward, they represent the last vestiges of their championship season. Some would argue the Cubs aren’t undergoing a complete re-tooling with those five position players still on the team. However, their subpar pitching staff will cause them to struggle in an increasingly competitive division.


Cubs president Theo Epstein, the architect of the Cubs’ revival that led to the 2016 championship, surprised everyone when he reached a mutual agreement to resign over the winter. It raised questions about his lack of desire to go through another arduous re-tooling period with the Cubs.


The Boston Red Sox are currently in a similar position as the Cubs when it comes to pitching. Just three seasons ago they won 108 games and captured the World Series with the best staff in the American League. Now they are having trouble finding five serviceable starters. Combined with the trade of superstar Mookie Betts last year, there is a distinct atmosphere of a rebuild effort in Boston.


The Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers are into their fourth seasons of re-building, but it appears they will have a longer resurgence period than the Cubs or Astros. They are still several years away of becoming competitive within their divisions, much less contending for championships. The Cleveland Indians is the latest team to embark on a re-tooling, after having averaged 95 wins from 2016 to 2019.


Re-building or re-tooling (I’m not sure there is a big difference) efforts have been shown to work successfully for several major-league clubs. It appears more teams are going down that path. But what is becoming evident is their results don’t last forever without continuing roster management. If teams don’t have a strong emphasis on drafting and player development to provide a continuous pipeline for their big-league rosters, they will have to settle on second- and third-tier players in the free-agent market. Furthermore, teams have to manage their payrolls so they can retain their franchise players with contract extensions. Otherwise, they could find themselves in a frequent cycle of having to turn over their rosters.

Baseball legend Hank Aaron had a history of home runs in New Orleans.

The baseball community lost one of its most respected ballplayers when Henry Aaron died on January 22, a few days shy of his 87th birthday. He is most remembered for breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing career home run record in 1974 when he hit his 715th homer. He wound up hitting 755 during his 23-year career. A little-known fact is that Aaron has a home run history tied to New Orleans, although not including one of his historic 755.


New Orleans had long-hosted exhibition games between two major league teams. As teams wrapped up their spring training in Florida and were making their way back to their home cities to start the regular season, a stopover in New Orleans was often scheduled.


The Atlanta Braves and the Baltimore Orioles came to the city for a final tune-up exhibition game at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium on April 1, 1974. The game drew significant local attention since Atlanta’s Aaron needed just one more home run to tie Ruth’s record of 714.


While the whole nation was waiting for Aaron’s first regular season game with Cincinnati on April 4, New Orleans fans got the treat of a lifetime when Aaron smacked a home run in the eighth inning of the game against the Orioles. Given that he had struck out and walked in his first two at-bats, the crowd sat anxiously on the edge of their seats to see if Aaron would get another at-bat or be replaced by a substitute in the later innings. Furthermore, rain has been threatening the entire game.


Aaron did stay in the game and the rain held off. He finally gave the fans what they had waited for, when he hit a fastball off Orioles pitcher Bob Reynolds over the left field fence. His homer was one of five the Braves hit for the day, as they defeated Baltimore 7-0.


On April 4, Aaron tied Ruth’s record on Opening Day in Cincinnati, and then broke the legendary record in his home ballpark in Atlanta against the Los Angeles Dodgers with his 715th.


Aaron retired in 1976 with 755 home runs, a record he held until Barry Bonds surpassed him in 2007.


Aaron returned to New Orleans ten years later when he participated in an old-timer’s game in the Superdome. He suited up for the Nationals team that opposed the Americans in the All-Time All-Star game on June 2, 1984. In addition to Aaron, both teams were packed with other Hall of Fame players such as Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, Larry Doby, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, and Warren Spahn.


Again, Aaron didn’t disappoint the local crowd, as he got the Nationals on the scoreboard in the first inning by cranking a home run off Bob Feller with Willie Mays on base. Those were all the runs the Nationals needed as they went on to a 7-0 win.


Aaron began his career in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves as a 20-year-old. He played 21 seasons in the Braves organization, moving with the franchise to Atlanta in 1966. He returned to Milwaukee in 1975, after they had become the Brewers franchise, and played two more seasons. He still holds major-league records for RBIs and total bases.


After his playing career, Aaron served as an executive in the Braves front office. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

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.com, “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.


 

Opponents


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.


 

Teammates


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


 

Miscellaneous


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


https://www.mlb.com/news/mookie-betts-great-throw


 

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


https://www.mlb.com/news/mookie-betts-ties-record-with-sixth-three-homer-game


 

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


https://www.mlb.com/news/mookie-betts-makes-great-catch-marcell-ozuna-out-in-nlcs-game-5


 

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


https://www.mlb.com/news/mookie-betts-robs-freddie-freeman-hr-nlcs-game-7


 

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


https://www.mlb.com/news/mookie-betts-babe-ruth-world-series-feat


 

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.


https://www.mlb.com/video/search?utm=mlbfilmroom-redirect&q=Player+%3D%3D+%5B%22Willie+Mays%22%5D+Order+By+Timestamp+DESC


It’s a shame Mays played when he did—before free agency, before owners were willing to pay the big bucks. Baseball-Reference.com 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. Baseball-Reference.com 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.

 


Player

High School

Year(s) in World Series

World Series Team

Larry Gilbert Sr.

Unknown

1914*

Braves

John Martina

Unknown

1924*

Senators

Mel Ott

McDonough-Jefferson

1933*, 1936, 1937

Giants

Howie Pollet

Fortier

1942*, 1946*

Cardinals

Lou Klein

S. J. Peters

1943

Cardinals

Al Jurisich

Warren Easton

1944*

Cardinals

Jack Kramer

S. J. Peters

1944

Browns

Connie Ryan

Jesuit

1948

Braves

Putsy Caballero

Jesuit

1950

Phillies

George Strickland

S. J. Peters

1954

Indians

Rusty Staub

Jesuit

1973

Mets

Will Clark

Jesuit

1989

Giants

Gerald Williams

East St. John

1999

Braves

Chad Gaudin

Crescent City

2009*

Yankees

Mike Fontenot

Salmen

2010*

Giants

Will Harris

Slidell

2017*, 2019

Astros

Tanner Rainey

St. Paul’s

2019*

Nationals


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 Baseball-Reference.com 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 Baseball-Reference.com) 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

 

ERA

 

FIP

 

ERA+

 

WHIP

Whitey Ford (HOF)

16

53.6

2.75

3.26

133

1.215

Andy Pettitte

15

51.3

3.94

3.77

115

1.373

Ron Guidry

14

47.8

3.29

3.27

119

1.184

Red Ruffing (HOF)

15

46.5

3.47

3.86

119

1.282

Lefty Gomez (HOF)

13

43.3

3.34

3.87

125

1.351

Mel Stottlemyre

11

40.7

2.97

3.37

112

1.219

Bob Shawkey

13

42.9

3.12

3.44

117

1.269

Waite Hoyt (HOF)

10

36.3

3.48

3.81

115

1.336

Mike Mussina (HOF)

8

35.1

3.88

3.50

114

1.212

Herb Pennock (HOF)

11

33.9

3.54

3.61

114

1.335

CC Sabathia

11

29.6

3.81

3.92

112

1.272

 


Table 2


Gerrit Cole (2013-2019)

7

23.3

3.22

3.06

127

1.129

Gerrit Cole

(2018-2019)

2

12.3

2.68

2.67

164

.0962

 

 

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. MLB.com 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.

 

Father

Reds Years

Son

Son’s Playing Career

Pedro Borbon, Sr.

1970–1979

Pedro Borbon, Jr.

Major league (1992–2003)

Tony Cloninger

1968–1971

Darrin Cloninger

Mike Cloninger

Minor league (1983–1985)

Minor league (1983–1985)

Dave Concepcion

1970–1988

Dave Concepcion, Jr.

Minor league (1995–1996)

Ed Crosby

1973–1973

Bobby Crosby

Major league (2003–2010)

Terry Crowley Sr.

1974–1975

Terry Crowley, Jr.

Jimmy Crowley

Minor league (1986–1992)

Minor league (1991–1995)

Cesar Geronimo Sr.

1972–1980

Cesar Geronimo, Jr.

Minor league (1996–1998)

Ken Griffey, Sr.

1973–1981

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Craig Griffey

Major league (1989–2010)

Minor league (1991–1997)

Tommy Helms, Sr.

1964–1971

Ryan Helms

Tommy Helms, Jr.

Wes Helms (nephew)

Minor league (1994–1995)

Minor league (1990–1992)

Major league (1998–2010)

Julian Javier

1972–1972

Stan Javier

Major league (1984–2001)

Andy Kosco

1973–1974

Andrew Kosco

Bryn Kosco

Minor league (1986–1990)

Minor league (1988–1996)

Lee May Sr.

1965–1971

Lee May, Jr.

Minor league (1986-1993)

Hal McRae

1968–1972

Brian McRae

Major league (1990–1999)

Tony Perez

1964–1976

Eduardo Perez

Victor Perez

Major league (1993–2006)

Minor league (1990)

Pete Rose Sr.

1963–1978

Pete Rose, Jr.

Major league (1997)

Ed Sprague, Sr.

1971–1973

Ed Sprague, Jr.

Major league (1991–2001)

Woody Woodward

1968–1971

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.