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.
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.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Flashback: New Orleanians reach MLB managerial ranks

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Why baseball lags other major sports in popularity

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Games


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

 

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

 

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

 

The Players


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

 

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

 

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

 

The Fans


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The League


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Coronavirus delays 2020 MLB season; interruptions part of league

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Legendary USC Baseball Coach Rod Dedeaux Had New Orleans Roots

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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


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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

An MLB All-Star Team with Negro Leagues Heritage

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Are the Astros taking a step back with Dusty Baker?

My good friend and baseball buddy Jim in Houston texted me when it was announced Dusty Baker was in the process of finalizing a deal for the manager’s job with the Astros.  His reaction was, “Really?”

 

70-year-old Dusty Baker signed a one-year deal with the Astros, with a club option for a second year.  He fills the vacancy created when A. J. Hinch was suspended for a year by Major League Baseball for his involvement in the sign-stealing scandal by the Astros.  Hinch ultimately stepped down as manager of the team, along with President and General Manager Jeff Luhnow, by mutual agreement with owner Jim Crane.

 

Baker’s most recent managerial job had been with the Washington Nationals in 2017.  His Nats won division titles in 2016 and 2017 but couldn’t advance in the post-season.  Prior to that, he had stints with the San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cubs.  Altogether he has 22 seasons under his belt.

 

The Houston Astros have the reputation of being one of the most forward-thinking major-league clubs, after beginning the makeover of the team in 2014.  They are considered one of the leaders in player acquisition and development and in the use of technology and baseball analytics.  Their manager, A.J. Hinch, was one of the more progressive managers in translating analytical data into effective to game strategies and decision-making.  Under Hinch, the Astros won 100 or more games for the past three seasons that have included two World Series appearances and one championship.  The Astros’ approach was working.

 

But perhaps their reputation was also instrumental in their sign-stealing scandal that ultimately led to the dismissal of Hinch and Luhnow.  The Astros stretched the envelope with what they could do with technology and wound up breaking the rules.  As a result, the luster of the Astros’ model franchise has faded somewhat, and their integrity has been called into question.

 

So, what did the Astros do?  They hired “old school” Dusty Baker whose managerial experience has mostly preceded the development of new models for the “new age” manager.  He doesn’t seem to be a logical fit for the job given the Astros’ recent organizational history and the trend happening across Major League Baseball where managers are frequently being hired with virtually no experience in the dugout as a coach or manager.  It appears the Astros organization has taken a step back.

 

Even though he’s a well-respected, seasoned skipper, Baker doesn’t have extensive managerial experience in the analytics world that has come to dominate the game.  It was one of the reasons why the Nationals chose to go in a new direction despite his two division titles.  They brought in Dave Martinez, who was considered a disciple of modern analytics, and sure enough the Nationals won a World Series in his second season at the helm.

 

Another characteristic of the new style of managers is that they are more collaborative with their front office in developing strategies for game-time decisions involving lineup construction, pitcher utilization and matchups, and defensive shifts.  That hasn’t been Baker’s previous style of running a team.  He has instead relied on his relationships with the players, applying the “eye test” to evaluate players, and using his baseball instincts for making game decisions.

 

A concern is that Baker will be obstinate about fully accepting the direct inputs he will undoubtedly receive from front office baseball research and data analytics staff who have never set foot on the baseball diamond.  This can result in a friction that will be obvious to the players and put them in a quandary about whose direction to follow.  Furthermore, players who have readily adopted the use of analytics could see this as a regression.  Assuredly this issue was discussed in Baker’s job interview with Astros ownership, and Baker said all the right words to assure them he would be on board with the front office staff.  But as everyone knows, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

 

With a one-year contract, Baker could very well be a transition or interim manager for the Astros.  Baker would help them get past a publicity nightmare in the short-term. The Astros would also buy more time to hire a longer-term guy who better fits the mold they have established with Hinch.

 

On the other hand, here’s another theory.  Maybe the Astros are trying a new approach for its manager.  Recall that MLB Network host Brian Kenny suggested several years ago in his book Inside the Curve that teams will evolve to the point where the big-league manager’s job is de-emphasized, and a team of coaches, in conjunction with the front office, will collaborate to run the team. 

 

In this model, Baker’s nominal role as manager would be the face of the clubhouse, leveraging his experience to help the team restore its credibility, handle the media, and manage player relationships.  He’s capable of leading the team through the period of turmoil that is expected to heighten when the players will have to get in front of the media every day and answer tough questions about their involvement in the sign-stealing in 2017.  In the background, the field coaches would be attuned to inputs and directions from the front office staff to make in-game decisions and be responsible for ensuring the players are buying in and using the information.  Crazier things have happened.

 

Baker may not be the right guy, but one thing is for sure.  He wants to get back to the Fall Classic.  A World Series ring has eluded him in his previous 22 years as manager, and this is the 70-year-old’s last chance to get it.  The Astros would love nothing better.  And Jim, too.

You read it here first: Tom Brady to pursue diamond career

There’s been a lot of speculation about whether free agent qurterback Tom Brady will re-sign with the Patriots or strike out with a new team for next season.  Well, what if I told you Brady was considering a career in baseball instead?  After all, he’s achieved everything a player can accomplish in the NFL.  6 Super Bowls wins. 3-time league MVP. GOAT.  Why should Brady put himself through another grueling season (with any team) getting knocked around on the gridiron?  He is a sure-fire lock for a bronze statue in Canton.  The voters won’t even have to go through the motions to fill out a ballot for him.

 

It’s not too well-known Brady was a left-handed hitting catcher for Junipero Sierra High School in Mateo, California.  He was good enough for the Montreal Expos to draft him in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB Draft.  He was selected ahead of seven catchers who eventually reached the majors, including 15-year MLB veteran David Ross.  It’s not out of the question he could have been a viable professional player.

 

Fortunately for the NFL, Brady opted not to sign a pro baseball contract, instead attending the University of Michigan to play quarterback.  Five years later he signed with the Patriots after being drafted in the sixth round.  And the rest is history.

 

By now, you should have figured out my prediction about Brady’s pursuit of a baseball career is fake news at its best.  The 42-year-old isn’t going to take the route of former NFL QB Tim Tebow, who will enter his fourth season in 2020 attempting to reach the majors.

 

Tebow is an anomaly by playing baseball after his football career.  However, the NFL is full of history with QBs who played baseball before settling on a football career.  Three are currently on NFL rosters.

Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson played two seasons as a second baseman in minor-league baseball while still in college playing football.  He was drafted by MLB teams twice:  out of high school in the 41st round of the 2007 draft by the Baltimore Orioles and in 2010 in the 4th round by the Colorado Rockies while attending North Carolina State.  His pro career slash line of .229/.354/.356 with the Rockies organization likely influenced his decision toward a pro football career.

 

Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is being touted as the future Tom Brady of the NFL, displaying potential to be one of the all-time great quarterbacks after only his third NFL season.  Mahomes’s pedigree includes baseball, since his father Pat was a major-league pitcher for 11 seasons, posting a career win-loss record of 42-39 and 5.47 ERA. Everyone assumed young Mahomes would follow in his father’s footsteps as he grew up.  He was drafted out of high school by the Detroit Tigers in 2014 in the 37th round but chose to attend Texas Tech where he played play both sports.  He appeared in few baseball games during his freshman year.  However, when Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns during his junior season in 2016, it cinched his decision to pursue a pro football career.  He was selected by the Chiefs in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

 

Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray was the first athlete to be selected in the first rounds of both MLB and NFL drafts.  A two-sport star at Allen High School in Dallas, he initially committed to Texas A&M to play football but then transferred after his freshman season to the University of Oklahoma in 2017, where he played both football and baseball during his sophomore and junior seasons.  He attracted the attention of major-league scouts with his .296/.398/.556 slash line, 10 home runs, and 47 RBIs in 2018.  The Oakland A’s selected the outfielder in the first round (9th overall pick) of the 2018 draft, and he signed a contract that included a $4.7 million bonus.  As the favorite to succeed Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield as the Sooners’ QB in the fall of 2018, he decided to play at the collegiate level again.  He turned in a Heisman-worthy season and became the first overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.  He passed for over 3,700 yards and 20 touchdowns in his rookie season.

 

Reaching back in time, Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway played minor-league baseball in 1982 in the Yankees organization (having been drafted in the second round in 1981) while playing quarterback for Stanford University.  Yankees owner George Steinbrenner reportedly told Elway he could be the starting right fielder for the Yankees by 1985.  Elway used his baseball experience as leverage in the 1983 NFL Draft when the Baltimore Colts drafted him as the first overall pick.  He didn’t want to sign with the Colts and play for Coach Frank Kush; and after threatening to play pro baseball instead of football for the Colts, they ultimately traded him to Denver, where he had a 16-year career.

 

Archie Manning had been a baseball phenom since he was eight years old on the Drew, Mississippi, Little League team.  He was eventually drafted on four different occasions by MLB teams.  The first time was in 1967 when he was selected out of high school by the Atlanta Braves in the 43rd round, but he chose to attend Ole Miss where football coach Johnny Vaught agreed to let Manning also play baseball.  He played shortstop for the Ole Miss team that made a College World Series appearance in 1969.  Manning was drafted by the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals while in college.  However, by his junior season it was obvious he would play pro football.  He was drafted again by the White Sox after he had graduated from Ole Miss in 1971.  Manning became the NFL’s second overall pick of the New Orleans Saints with whom he played for 11 seasons.  He also played for Houston and Minnesota before retiring in 1984.

 

Heisman Trophy winner and NFL QB Chris Weinke played six seasons in the minors in the Toronto Blue Jays organization before embarking on his football career.  He signed out of high school in 1990 with the Blue Jays who drafted him in the second round.  He reached the Triple-A level before quitting baseball.  He then enrolled at Florida State University at age 26 to play football and led the Seminoles to a national championship in 1999.  He was the Heisman winner in 2000.  Weinke was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with whom he played for four seasons, mostly as a backup.  He retired from football after his 2007 season with San Francisco.

 

The common characteristic among all these multi-sport athletes is their superior athleticism.  It’s clear they all made the right choice for a career on the gridiron.  Brady has said he wants to play football until he is 45 years old, but no one would blame him for stepping away right now.  If his need for competition is still there, I’m sure he could find a softball team that needs a good catcher.

Former Astros Pitcher Mike Fiers: Hero or Tattletale?

The results of Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Houston Astros’ illegal use of technology to steal signs during the 2017 season reverberated throughout the baseball community last week.  Most people were surprised by the harsh penalties levied on the Astros organization by MLB.  The end-result was the dismissal of GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A. J. Hinch by the Astros, after they had been suspended by MLB.  Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran were released by mutual agreement with their respective teams.  Cora had been employed as a coach by the Astros during 2017, while Beltran was a player on the team; they were both named in the investigation report as being ringleaders of the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme.

 

The stunning impact of the investigation is being compared to the 2007 Mitchell Report in which 89 major-league players were alleged to have used steroids or other PEDs.  Arguably, it also rivals the fallout of the 1920 investigation surrounding the Black Sox Scandal.

 

While most of the spotlight has rightfully been on the accountability of Luhnow, Hinch, Cora, and Beltran in breaking MLB’s rules related to the use of technology to steal signs, the role of former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers is also worth noting.  As a pitcher, he didn’t have any involvement in the wrongdoing. Instead, he likely provided the trigger for MLB to launch its full investigation into the Astros organization.

 

Fiers, now a pitcher with the Oakland A’s, revealed to the press in November that the Astros’ routinely employed a practice of using video feeds to the dugout to aid in stealing signs from opposing teams during the 2017 season.  After he left the Astros following their World Series season, Fiers said he alerted his teams (Detroit Tigers and A’s) of the Astros’ stealth practices so his teammates could take measures to prevent any advantage for Astros hitters.

 

MLB didn’t initiate its investigation until they decided Fiers’ story warranted additional review.  It’s possible there wouldn’t have been an investigation had Fiers stayed silent on the subject when probed by a reporter back in November.  The question now is whether Fiers should be hailed as a hero for standing up for the integrity of the game or viewed as an outcast for snitching on his former teammates and employer.

 

There is a fraternity among players that discourages publicly divulging their team’s inner workings that might be viewed as taking unfair advantage of opponents.  Examples include excessive use of pine tar by batters, use of illegal substances by pitchers, and pitchers intentionally targeting hitters with brushback pitches.  Players (especially the younger, less-established ones) refrain from exposing their teams and teammates in these situations because they don’t want to rock the boat.  They “look the other way” for fear of being blackballed as a tattletale.

 

Many believe Fiers crossed the line by publicly exposing the Astros’ sign-stealing methods.  The immediate reaction was that he was a snitch, someone who betrayed his former teammates.  It remains to be seen, but he could be ostracized by some players and teams, including prospective employers, because he stood up and admitted to what was happening behind the scenes with Astros.

 

Fiers’ detractors point to the fact he didn’t speak out during the 2017 season when he was personally benefitting from the Astros’ sign-stealing since he was part of a World Series championship team and collected a nice post-season check.

 

However, Fiers, a 34-year-old veteran pitcher, apparently wasn’t intimated by the prospect of being blackballed.  He felt the integrity of the game has been compromised.  In fact, he was standing up for the fraternity of pitchers, many of whom took his side in exposing the Astros’ tactics.  That’s because pitchers naturally see illegal sign-stealing as detrimental to their success on the mound and can potentially affect their livelihood.

 

Fiers had the guts to speak up, when other players who also disagreed with the Astros’ tactics chose silence.  In that regard he should ultimately be applauded for causing Major League Baseball to address a serious problem, which many believe has been pervasive throughout all 30 big league teams.  It points out that MLB should have a process for players to anonymously report illegal activities, including PED use.

 

The entire situation has left a huge black mark on Major League Baseball with respect to the integrity of its competition on the field.  The careers of well-respected men in the game have been tainted.  With the investigation of the Boston Red Sox still underway, it’s possible there will be more negative fallout, especially if specific players are called out and punished.  (Astros players were exempted from punishment in the investigation of their organization in exchange for their cooperation.)

 

After the dust settles on the scandal, it will be interesting to see how Fiers is viewed.  Although he has pitched two no-hitters in his career, he will most likely be remembered, good or bad, for his role in “Astrogate.”

2020 a pivotal year for Hall of Fame voting

Last year we saw the first unanimously elected player, Mariano Rivera, voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Every BBWAA voter acknowledged the Yankees relief specialist was the best-ever at his position.


We will likely see another unanimous selection this year, Derek Jeter, one of Rivera’s teammates on the Yankee dynasty teams of 1996-2003.  By the time he had finished his superb 20-year career, Jeter achieved the status of Yankee legend along with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra.  Unlike Rivera, Jeter wasn’t necessarily the best shortstop ever to play in the majors, but his career numbers and role in attaining five World Series rings certainly match up with the best of all-time.


The big question in this year’s Hall election is whether Jeter will be the only selection, or some of the other players under the shroud of the PED era will finally get over the hump in receiving the required minimum 75% of the votes.


Aside from Jeter, the remainder of the newcomers on this year’s ballot don’t measure up to traditional Hall standards.  The best of the rest includes Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Paul Konerko, Alfonso Soriano, and Cliff Lee, but none of them would even make the “Hall of Very Good” in my book. 


When you add the fact that the 2021 class will be completely void of Hall-worthy candidates (very good, but not great, players Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, and Torii Hunter top the list), voters will have difficulty filling out their entire ballot with 10 votes, unless they include players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Gary Sheffield, all of whom have been previously tainted by suspicion of PED use.  And there’s also Manny Ramirez who tested positively for PEDs.


Hall voters will be further tested on their position around treatment of players with PED use, when superstars Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz come up on the ballot for the first time in 2022.  Unlike Bonds and Clemens, there is little mystery about A-Rod and Big Papi, since both tested positive for PEDs.


Many voters have already changed their initial stance on Bonds and Clemens, evidenced by their percentages have risen in the past few years.  They are both currently shy of 60%.  With the shortage of other truly worthwhile candidates, the situation could provide the impetus for additional voters to get them to the required 75%.


If Clemens and/or Bonds are finally elected this year, I believe it will open the door wider for others (including those under suspicion, testing positive, and admitting to use) to get in.  That’s why this year’s results could be a real indicator in determining the future of Hall membership with respect to acceptance of PED users.


I’ve use my blog in past year to cast my own votes for the Hall of Fame, even though they are actually inconsequential in the grand scheme.


Re-visiting my votes in 2019, I included Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, and Mike Mussina, all of whom got elected by the BBWAA voters.  I also voted for Bonds, Clemens, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Todd Helton, and Gary Sheffield.  I realize I’m in the minority by continuing to vote for Sheffield, who garnered only 16.5% in his fifth year of eligibility.  However, if Harold Baines and Ted Simmons are Hall of Famers (with whom I disagree), so is Sheffield.


This year I’m sticking with my six carryovers and adding Jeter, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, and Jeff Kent.  Yes, I’m crossing another threshold by including Ramirez, who tested positive for PED use.


I’ve been sitting on the fence in past years regarding voting for players with the PED halo.  I drew the line with players who actually tested positive; hence that justified (at least in my mind) my vote for Bonds and Clemens.


However, I’m crossing that line this year with Ramirez.  Here’s why.


The complaint against PED users has always been that those players “cheated” in order to gain an advantage.  When PEDs were first being used in 1998, highlighted by the home run craze generated by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and then later by Barry Bonds, it created much-needed renewed interest in the game.  Major League Baseball initially turned a blind eye to the situation, until the Mitchell Report exposed widespread use.  It was only after public awareness of the situation that MLB was forced to take action with drug-testing and penalties.


More recently, MLB admitted to using a different baseball for the 2019 season, which contributed to the record number of home runs.  Again, it was good for boosting interest in the game, but didn’t it create a disadvantage for pitchers?  In my opinion, the situation amounted to a form of cheating by hitters, except in this case it was done on a planned league-wide basis, versus an individual choice basis like PED use.  But does that make it more acceptable?  Won’t the individual performance of players in this new “livelier ball” era skew comparisons with players from the past?  That was supposedly one of the complaints of the PED era.


What I’ve come to realize (and accept) is that the game evolves and goes through changes (planned and unplanned) that affect how the game is played.  The PED era was unfortunate in that MLB didn’t fully admit to and address it sooner.  But in looking back, it was just another period of change.  (Remember when cortisone shots were frequently taken by pitchers to overcome arm and elbow pain so that they could get their next start in the rotation?  Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax was famous for that.)


So, I am casting my vote for Ramirez now and will be voting for A-Rod and Big Papi when they become eligible in two years.  And 20 years down the road, if I’m still kicking, I’ll be voting for Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso for the huge number of home runs they’re hitting now with the livelier, “juiced” baseball.

2019: A Review of My Work

2019 was a busy year for me with respect to my baseball research and writing.  I’m fortunate to have several outlets to deliver my work, allowing me flexibility to cover a wide range of topics.

 

As a member of Society for American Baseball Research, I’ve become immersed in the SABR Biography and Games projects, writing biographies of MLB players and accounts of historical games.  The editors, fact-checkers, and copy editors I work with are fantastic, and the books (collaborative efforts of multiple SABR members) they turn out are first-class.  The SABR.org website provides searchable access to the all the published biographies and games.

 

I also write about local New Orleans baseball through the Crescent City Sports website that is owned and managed by Ken Trahan and Jude Young.  They do a tremendous job covering all sports in the New Orleans area.

 

One of my special interests continues to be the discovery and cataloging of professional baseball players who have family ties in baseball.  My Baseball’s Relatives website is where I present outputs of my extensive database, which now has over 7,500 players representing over 11,000 relationships.  I also use this website to provide links to recent stories about players with relatives in the sport.

 

My website The Tenth Inning hosts my weekly blogs where I often blend current events with related looks back in history.  The site also serves as single reference point for all my other work.

 

Here is a recap of my published work in 2019.  Links are provided to websites hosting the articles and book reviews.  Check them out if you haven’t previously seen them.

 

 

The Glorious Beaneaters of the 1890s (SABR book)


April 27, 1891: Kid Nichols Shuts Out Phillies in Beaneaters’ Home Opener

 

October 1, 1891: Beaneaters Clinch Pennant Amid League Controversy

 

October 2, 1891: Beaneaters Win 18th Consecutive Game in Pennant Run

 

 

The Babe (SABR book)


October 9, 1928: The Sultan of Swat Smacks Three Homers to Sink the Cardinals

 

 

The Base Ball Palace of the World: Comiskey Park (SABR book)


September 25, 1946: Kansas City Monarchs Gain Edge in Game 5 of Negro World Series

 

September 26, 1947: Few Notice as the Negro League World Series Visits Chicago

 

October 1, 1950: Gus Zernial’s Three Homers Provide Preview of Rest of Decade

 

August 13, 1954: “16” is Magic Number Again for Jack Harshman in Shutout Duel

 

July 15, 1963: Patient Gary Peters Registers Near-Perfect Game

 

 

Kansas City Royals: A Royal Tradition (SABR book)


August 19, 1986: Frank White’s Seven RBIs Overcome Rangers in Wild 11-Inning Game

 

August 1, 2016: Duffy’s Sweet Sixteen a Royal Masterpiece

 

 

San Diego Padres: The First Half Century (SABR book)


October 1, 1989: Tony Gwynn Edges Will Clark on Last Day for Batting Crown

 

May 25, 2008: Padres Win in 18th Inning on Gonzalez’s Walk-Off Home Run

 

 

Wrigley Field: The Friendly Confines at Clark and Addison (SABR book)


August 28, 1950: Hank Sauer Slams Three Home Runs

 

June 11, 1952: Hank Sauer Gets Second HR “Hat Trick”

 

April 17, 1976: Schmidt Brings Phillies Back from the Dead with 4 HRs

 

 

1995 Cleveland Indians: The Sleeping Giant Awakes (SABR book)


Eddie “Scooter” Tucker Bio

 

May 7, 1995: Indians and Twins Both Make Team History in 17-Inning Marathon

 

July 21, 1995: Dennis Martinez Defies Age, Gets 9th Consecutive Win

 

 

Crescent City Sports


2/18/2019:  Will Clark inducted into Mississippi State baseball ring of honor

 

2/24/2019:  Superdome hosted rare prep baseball doubleheader in 1977

 

4/21/2019:  2018 John Curtis baseball team helps fill college ranks

 

6/9/2019:  Slidell native Ryan Eades makes major-league debut with Minnesota

 

6/22/2019:  Turn Back the Clock: "New" Pelicans lose 1977 home opener in Superdome

 

7/21/2019:  Former LSU standout DJ LeMahieu indispensable for title-hunting Bronx Bombers

 

9/6/2019:  Former Baby Cakes pitcher Brian Moran has historic family matchup in MLB debut

 

9/22/2019:  Eastbank Little League still basking in the glory of World Series triumph

 

12/7/2019:  Bregman and Nola headline LSU's All-Decade baseball team

 

 

SABR Games Project


October 9, 1946: Boo Ferriss extends his unbeaten string at Fenway with Game 3 win

 

April 8, 1986: Will Clark produces thrill in major-league debut

 

October 4, 1989: Giants' Will Clark has 'helluva week' in 1989 NLCS opener

 

 

Baseball’s Relatives


6/2/2019:  Baseball's bloodlines are booming

 

6/9/2019:  MLB draft keeps family ties pipeline filled

 

6/14/2019:  Ranking the best father-son combos in history

 

9/3/2019:  Taylor and Tyler Rogers: rare set of MLB twins

 

9/3/2019:  It's good to have another Yastrzemski in baseball

 

2019 Family Ties Database Update

 

 

The Tenth Inning


4/21/2019:  Metro New Orleans Area Player Database V20

 

12/4/2019:  Metro New Orleans Area Player Database V20.1

 

Weekly Blog Posts

 

A Look Back at 2019: Ten Memorable MLB Games

Reflecting on the 2019 baseball season, there was no shortage of unforgettable games.  It was a record season for home runs, both at the team and individual levels.  Pitchers continued to pile up dominating performances.  MLB took games overseas on two occasions.  Players with family legacies in baseball made their big-league debuts.  Numerous career milestones were reached.  Four teams won 100 or more games.  A whacky World Series saw neither team win at home.

 

Putting the historic post-season aside, here are ten of the most memorable games during the regular season.

 

March 28: Dodgers set the tone on Opening Day

The Dodgers set the tone for the entire major-league season by hitting eight home runs on Opening Day of 2019, as the Dodgers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 12-5.  Ultimately, a new record for most home runs in a major-league season (6,776) was established.  The Twins set the single-season record for most home runs by a team (307).  14 teams set franchise home run records.  The New York Yankees hit home runs in 31 consecutive games.

 

May 17: Kris Bryant puts up late-game surge with homers in three successive innings

For the second time in his career, Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant hit three home runs in the game against the Washington Nationals.  However, this time his “hat trick” came in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings of the game.  The Cubs wound up winning, 14-6, and Bryant accounted for five RBIs.  He was only the 12th player in history to hit homers in three consecutive innings and only the second to accomplish it in the final three innings of a game.

 

May 19: “Prince Albert” posts 2,000th career RBI

Albert Pujols has been on the downside of his historic career for several years and is sometimes forgotten in terms of how impactful he has been over the course of his 19 seasons.  However, it was hard to overlook his 2,000th career RBI on his 639th career home run in the game against Detroit.  He is only the third player in history to reach this milestone, surpassed by only Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez.  During the preceding month, he had passed Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Barry Bonds on the all-time RBI list.  That’s some legendary company.

 

June 18: Max Kepler delivers three dramatic hits in 17-inning game

Kepler produced three clutch hits for the Minnesota Twins during a marathon game against the Boston Red Sox, in which he wasn’t in the starting lineup.  He first entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch-hitter and then stayed in to play left field.  He tied the game in the bottom of the eighth inning on an RBI single.  Then in the 13th, his solo home run evened the score again.  He hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 17th to win the game, 4-3.  The victory gave the Twins the best record in both leagues at the time.  They would go on to capture the AL Central Division title, winning 23 games more games than in 2018.

 

June 29: Major League Baseball goes to England

In its continuing effort to expand the international interest in U.S. baseball, Major League Baseball took the game to London for a two-game series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  MLB had previously hosted regular-season games in Japan, Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.  The game in London Stadium with almost 60,000 fans in attendance was the first regular-season contest in Europe.  The Europeans saw a good sampling of the offensive shows that have become commonplace in the majors, as the Yankees won 17-13.  DJ LeMahieu was the hitting star for the Bronx Bombers, getting four hits and five RBIs.  Boston’s Michael Chavis hit two homers and knocked in six runs.

 

July 9: Shane Bieber strikes out the side in All-Star Game before home crowd

In only his second major-league season, Cleveland Indians pitcher Shane Bieber was named to the all-star team as a late addition replacing Mike Minor.  He was the fifth pitcher for the American League, entering the game in the fifth inning with his team leading 2-0.  Pitching in his home-town ballpark, he proceeded to strike out Wilson Contreras, Ketel Marte, and Ronald Acuna Jr. in succession.  His shut-down performance earned him the MVP Award for the game.  Bieber went on to win 15 games and finished fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

 

July 12: Angels hurlers combine for no-hitter on night honoring former teammate Tyler Skaggs

Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room on July 1.  The popular player’s tragic death was devastating to the team and its players.  On July 12 in their first home appearance since his death, the Angels dedicated the game against the Seattle Mariners to Skaggs.  Taylor Cole and Felix Pena combined to throw the 11th no-hitter in Angels history.   Mike Trout, who was in the same draft class with Skaggs in 2009, went 3-for-4 with a homer and six RBIs.  All the Angels players honored their teammate by wearing his Number 45 jersey.  (It was later determined Skaggs’s death was drug related.)

 

September 1: Justin Verlander hurls third career no-hitter

36-year-old Verlander seems to get better with age. He struck out 14 in a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays.  It was the third no-no of his career, with his first two coming with Detroit.  He is one of only eight pitchers in history to throw no-hitters for multiple teams.  Verlander wound up winning the AL Cy Young Award, as he led the league in wins (21), games started (34), and WHIP (0.803).  He also struck out 300 batters for the first time in his 15-year career.

 

September 17: Mike Yastrzemski hits home run at Fenway with HOF grandfather in attendance

With his Hall of Fame grandfather at the game, San Francisco Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski hit a nostalgic home run in Fenway Park, where grandad Carl hit a bunch of home runs and became one of the all-time greats in Boston Red Sox history.  The younger “Yaz” had made his major-league debut on May 25, and his home run was his 18th of the season.

 

September 28: Pete Alonso smashes rookie record for home runs

It wasn’t a certainty New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso would stick with the team after breaking spring training camp this year.  Yet all he did was set a new single-season record for home runs (53) by a rookie.  He passed Aaron Judge who previously set the record with 52 in 2017.  Alonso was voted the NL Rookie of the Year and selected to the first-ever All-MLB first team.

Family Ties Flourishing in Baseball: New York Yankees

Baseball has more family relationships than any other professional sport.  They existed in the earliest days of the sport in the 1870s, and they are abundant in today’s game, perhaps more so than ever before.  Baseball has been called a “generational” sport for several reasons.  One is that multiple generations of families have been active in the game--grandfathers, fathers, sons, and brothers.  And now even some great-grandsons are starting to show up on rosters.  Uncles, nephews, cousins and in-laws are part of the extended family of baseball relatives, too.


Baseball bloodlines aren’t limited to just the players.  Family trees with a baseball background have commonly included managers, coaches, scouts, owners, executives, front office personnel, umpires, and broadcasters.

 

Indeed, families with a heritage of baseball are like those with military, medical, jurisprudence, and agricultural backgrounds.  Their professions are often passed down from one generation to the next.  Likewise, professional baseball fathers generally want their sons to follow in their footsteps.  Brothers grow up pushing each other to excel on the diamond.  Once one brother gets drafted by a major league team, then it’s often the case his brother will try to follow.

 

A look back in history shows many fascinating stories about baseball families.  For example:

the Hairston family, which included a major league father (Sam), three sons (two in the majors—John and Jerry Sr.), and five grandsons (two in the majors—Jerry Jr. and Scott), collectively had professional careers that spanned from 1945 to 2014.


three Alou brothers (Felipe, Matty, and Jesus) played for the San Francisco Giants in the same game in 1963.  The trio had two cousins who followed them in the big leagues, and one of the trio, Felipe, also had four sons to play professionally.


the Boyer brood included seven brothers that played professionally, including three major leaguers (Cloyd, Ken, and Clete).  They then produced three sons who played in the minors.

 

Numerous players of the 1960s New York Yankees teams had offspring who wound up playing professional baseball.  Follow the link below to an article entitled “Sons of the 1960s Bronx Bombers Had Big Shoes to Fill.”

https://baseballrelatives.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/sons-of-the-1960s-bronx-bombers-had-big-shoes-to-fill/

 

Fast-forwarding to more recent times, here are some highlights of baseball relatives in the New York Yankees organization during 2019.

 

Gary Sanchez was an all-star selection in 2019.  He had the most home runs in his career (34) despite spending several stints on the injured list.  He had been the runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 when he hit 20 home runs in only 53 games.  Gary’s brother Miguel had played in the Seattle Mariners organization for six seasons (2009-2014) as a catcher and pitcher.

 

Austin Romine had one of his best years with the Yankees with a slash line of .281/.310/.439, with 8 home runs and 35 RBIs.  He filled in very capably when regular catcher Gary Sanchez was on the injured list.  Romine is in one of those rare families that had a father and a brother in major-league baseball.  His father Kevin was a major-league outfielder in the Red Sox organization from 1985 to 1991, when he was also a backup player to regulars like Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Mike Greenwell.  His brother Andrew is a nine-year major-league veteran who played at the Triple-A level with the Philadelphia Phillies last season.

 

Aaron Hicks was in his fourth season with the Yankees but was one of several regulars who spent most of the season on the injured list.  In 59 games he hit 12 home runs and 36 RBIs.  He had signed a seven-year contract extension worth $70 million before the season began.  Hicks is the son of Joseph Hicks, who reached the Double-A level with the San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals organizations before retiring in 1981.

 

Luis Severino missed all the 2019 season except one game in September due to a rotator cuff injury.  His disappointing season came after he led the Yankees in wins (19) in 2018.  His younger brother Rafael is also a pitcher, signed as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic and assigned to the Yankees’ academy there.

 

Zach Britton was one of the stalwarts in the Yankees’ bullpen in his first full season with them last season. In 66 appearances, he posted a 1.91 ERA.  He didn’t yield any runs in five relief appearances against Houston in the ALCS.  He is the brother of Buck Britton who played nine seasons in the minors before becoming a manager in the Baltimore Orioles farm system.

 

The Yankees’ pipeline of baseball relatives includes several prospects whose relatives were former major-league all-stars:  Jose Mesa Jr. (son of Jose Mesa Sr.), and Michael O’Neill (nephew of Paul O’Neill), Ryan Lidge (brother of Brad Lidge), LJ Mazzilli (son of Lee Mazzilli), and Isiah Gilliam, (grandson of Jim Gilliam).

 

The Yankees had numerous personnel filling non-playing roles in the organization during 2019.  Some of them include:

 

Hal Steinbrenner is the managing general partner of the Yankees, having taken over for their legendary father, George Steinbrenner, following his death in 2010.  His siblings, Hank, Jennifer, and Jessica are general partners.

 

Aaron Boone was in his second year as manager of the Yankees.  His teams have won a hundred or more games in each season.  He played 12 seasons in the majors, including a stint with the Yankees.  Boone is part of a three-generation major-league family (one of only four in MLB history), including his grandfather Ray, father, Bob, and brother Bret.

 

Phil Nevin is in his second season as the Yankees’ third base coach.  He was the first overall pick of the 1992 MLB draft by the Houston Astros.  Nevin played 12 seasons in the majors, including an all-star season in 2001 with San Diego.  Nevin’s son Tyler was a first-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in 2015 and played at the Double-A level in 2019.

 

Brothers Lou and Rob Cucuzza have been long-time clubhouse and equipment managers at Yankee Stadium.  They previously served with their father, Lou Sr., who also had an extensive career in similar capacities with the Yankees.

 

Mark Littlefield is a medical coordinator in the Yankees organization.  He is the brother of David Littlefield, currently an executive in the Detroit Tigers organization, and Scott Littlefield, currently a scout in the Texas Rangers organization.

 

Ken Singleton is currently a broadcaster for the Yankees.  He previously had a 15-year major-league playing career with the Montreal Expos and Baltimore Orioles.  His son, Justin, played for six seasons in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, reaching the Triple-A level.

 

Donny Rowland, Yankees’ Director of International Scouting, is the father of Shane Rowland, who played two seasons in the Cleveland Indians organization.  The following Yankees scouts have relatives in baseball: Troy Afenir (father of Audie Afenir, 2019 independent league), Jeff Patterson (brother of Jim Patterson, former Yankees scout), Cory Melvin (son of Doug Melvin, former front office executive with several teams).

Was the Yankees' signing of Cole a good decision or not?

I cringe when major league teams sign these expensive, long-term deals for pitchers.  But when it’s my favorite team, I’m especially nervous.  When the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, my initial reaction was euphoria; but then as I thought about it more, I was sobered up by thoughts of other questionable deals involving David Price, Yu Darvish, and Barry Zito (remember him?).  Often, these mega-deals don’t pan out.


Yankees’ owner-chairman Harold Steinbrenner reportedly told GM Brian Cashman to spend whatever it took to get Cole, who was the top free agent pitcher on the market based on his sterling performance with the Houston Astros for the past two seasons.  When I heard that, it made me think ole George Steinbrenner was still alive somewhere in the bowels of Yankee Stadium.  Cashman took his boss at his word, as he proceeded to shell out $324 million in a nine-year deal. 


Cashman was determined not to not to strike out on Cole this go-around.  The Yankees selected him out of high school in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but he decided to attend UCLA instead.  Then over the winter following the 2017 season when the Pirates put Cole on the trading block, Cashman attempted again to acquire him, but lost out to Houston.


Cole’s deal set new marks for total contract value for a pitcher on the free-agent market and for highest average annual value for a free agent ($36 million).  Cole will be able to opt out of the contract after the fifth year.


Cole is in the prime of his career at 29 years old, so there is a good chance the Yankees will get at least 4-5 years from him, assuming he stays healthy.  Getting nine years of superior performance would be a stretch unless he is able to adjust his approach from primarily being a strikeout pitcher to one that incorporates more finesse in his repertoire.  Verlander is a good example of having done that.


However, that’s still a lot of dough being shelled out for one player.  When Cole’s salary is combined with Giancarlo Stanton’s mega-deal after the 2017 season, the Yankees will have salaries nearly $70 million per year tied up between them for the next nine years.  That could come back to haunt the Yankees later when contracts for their younger stars (Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino) come up for renewal.


Not since 2012, when CC Sabathia was still at the top of his game, have the Yankees had a true ace at the top of their rotation.  Since then, Matsuhiro Tanaka and Luis Severino have produced decent performances when they had their turns in the role, but they really weren’t true No. 1 starters.  Both have also dealt with injuries that hampered them. 


The Yankees were in real need of an ace.  They largely relied on their deep bullpen last year, after their starters put in their usual five innings.  That formula obviously worked, as the Yankees won 103 games, although they also benefitted from having one of the best offenses in the league.


Cole was considered the No. 2 guy on the Astros behind veteran Justin Verlander who narrowly won the American League Cy Young Award over Cole.  But make no mistake about it.  Cole could realistically be the ace of any other team in either league.  His 2019 numbers included a league-leading 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts.  Beginning May 27, he won 16 consecutive decisions through the end of the season.  With a total of 20 wins for the season, he barely missed out on the Triple Crown for pitchers (Verlander had 21 wins).


The Yankees would still be a playoff contender in 2020 with an additional starter of lesser talent than Cole, but his presence now makes them the favorite for the American League pennant.  They haven’t won a World Series since 2009.  That’s seems like an eternity for the Yankees’ ownership and its fans.  I think Cashman saw a window of opportunity to significantly enhance his team’s chances to immediately get back to a World Series with a pitcher like Cole or Stephen Strasberg, who re-signed with the Nationals a few days earlier.


George Steinbrenner was famous (although many would say infamous) for spending tons of money on free agents during the 1980s and early 1990s that got abysmal returns for the Yankees franchise.  Then there was Alex Rodriguez, who was released from his Yankees contract for the last 2+ years of his historic (now regrettable) long-term deal.  His production had fizzled out at age 35, when his contract term was supposed to take him through age 41.


Of course, I’m hoping Cole’s career with the Yanks ultimately ends up like Verlander’s, not A-Rod’s.

Bregman and Nola Headline LSU

LSU head coach Paul Mainieri continued to lead one of the best college baseball programs in the country during 2010-2019. During that stretch, the team made appearances in nine NCAA Regional tournaments, six Super Regional tournaments, and three College World Series.  They won three regular-season SEC championships and four SEC Tournament titles.  All of these accomplishments occurred in what is generally acknowledged as the toughest baseball conference in the NCAA.

 

Mainieri’s teams featured some of the best players in the SEC.  Several were also recognized at the national level.  Two of the more notable Tiger alums during the decade included Alex Bregman and Aaron Nola, both of whom have gone on to achieve all-star status in Major League Baseball.  Many other Tigers in the 2010s were prominent in the annual MLB drafts and played professionally.

 

In looking back at the LSU squads over the past ten seasons, here’s my All-Decade Team representing the best players (who finished their careers in the 2010s) at each position.

 

First Base – Mason Katz (2010-13).  Katz was a first team All-American and All-SEC in his senior season, as he led the SEC in home runs and RBI.  A career .341 hitter, he was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention: Chris Chinea (2013-15).

 

Second Base – Jacoby Jones (2011-13).  Jones was name to the All-SEC Second Team in 2013.  He was a second round draft choice of the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention: Cole Freeman (2016-17).

 

Shortstop – Alex Bregman (2013-15).  Bregman was the SEC and National Freshman Player of the Year in 2013 and a first-team All-American in 2013 and 2015.  He was a second-team selection in 2014.  Bregman was the second overall pick of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros.  Honorable mention: Kramer Robertson (2014-17).

 

Third Base – Tyler Hanover (2009-12). Hanover was a mainstay in the LSU infield for four seasons, when he batted .321, 332, .311, and .281.  He was a 33rd round pick of the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention: Christian Ibarra (2013-14) and Conner Hale (2014-15).

 

Catcher – Micah Gibbs (2008-10).  Gibbs was a three-year starter for the Tigers, becoming a first-team All-SEC selection in 2010, when he hit .388 with 10 HR and 60 RBI.  He was named to two nationally recognized All-American second teams.  Gibbs was a third-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 2010 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention: Kade Scivicque (2014-15).

 

Outfielder – Mikie Mahtook (2009-11). In 2010, he led the Tigers in slugging percentage and stolen bases.  Mahtook led the SEC in batting average in 2011 and was name to the All-SEC first-team and several nationally-recognized All-American teams.  Mahtook was a first-round selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 MLB Draft. Honorable mention:  Andrew Stevenson (2013-15).

 

Outfielder -- Antoine Duplantis (2016-19). The durable Duplantis started all but two games for LSU during his four seasons.  He is the all-time hits leader for LSU, breaking Eddy Furniss’s record of 352.  In 2016 he was named to several nationally recognized All-American teams.  He was a member of the 2017 College World Series All-Tournament team.  Duplantis was a 12th-round selection of the New York Mets in the 2019 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention: Jake Fraley (2014-16) and Zach Watson (2017-19).

 

Outfielder -- Raph Rhymes (2011-13). Rhymes led the SEC and the nation in batting average (.431) in 2012.  He was named the 2012 SEC Player of the Year, only the seventh player in Tiger history to receive the honor.  He batted .360 and .331 in his other two seasons and struck out only 62 times in 700 career at-bats.  Rhymes was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention:  Greg Deichmann (2015-17).

 

Designated Hitter – Blake Dean (2007-10). Dean was an All-SEC selection as DH in 2009 and selected to the SEC All-Tournament team in 2009 and 2010.  He was a career .331 hitter with 56 HR and 260 RBI.  In addition to his role as a DH, Dean also played as an outfielder and first baseman during his career.  Dean was picked in the eighth round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Honorable mention: Sean McMullen (2013-14).

 

Right-Handed Starting Pitcher – Aaron Nola (2012-14).  Nola had a career record of 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA.  He was a first team Freshman All-American in 2012 and was the SEC Pitcher of the Year and a first team All-American in 2013 and 2014.  Nola was a first-round selection of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2014 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention: Alex Lange (2015-17).

 

Left-Handed Starting Pitcher – Jared Poche (2014-17).  Poche was a workhorse for the Tigers during his four seasons, averaging 18 starts per season.  He is LSU’s career leader in wins (39).  He was selected to the SEC All-Tournament team in 2014.  Poche was picked by the Oakland A’s in the seventh round of the 2017MLB Draft.  Honorable mention: Cody Glenn (2012-14).

 

Relief Pitcher – Matty Ott (2009-11).  Ott is the all-time leader in career saves (33) for LSU. He was the SEC Freshman Player of the Year and a second team All-American in 2009.  He posted ERAs of 2.68 and 2.60 in two of his seasons.  Ott was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round of the 2011 MLB Draft.  Honorable mention:  Hunter Newman (2013-17).

 

Bregman finished as the runner-up for the American League MVP Award in 2019, while Nola was third in the National League Cy Young Award voting in 2018.  Mahtook and Jones were teammates for the Detroit Tigers in 2019.  Duplantis and Poche were still active in the minors last season.  Dean is currently the head baseball coach for the University of New Orleans.

.

Inaugural All-MLB Team: Best of Both Leagues

Major League Baseball has instituted the selection of an All-MLB Team for the 2019 season.  While the official MLB All-Stars are selected at mid-season, this elite team of superstars representing both leagues will take into account the entire regular season.  The inaugural team will be announced on December 10 in conjunction with baseball’s annual Winter Meetings in San Diego.

The voting results for the all-star members will come 50% from fans and 50% from a panel of baseball experts.  Fans are eligible to vote via the internet each day between November 25 and December3.

A first and second team will be named, each consisting of five starting pitchers, two relief pitchers, one selection at each position, and a designated hitter.  The three outfielders are not required to represent specific outfield positions.  60 position players and 30 pitchers were pre-selected by MLB as candidates for the all-star team.

No specific criteria were identified for voters to consider.  Hence, it seems the team could wind up being the result of a popularity contest among the candidates, especially with fans being able to cast multiple votes.  The likely purpose of the contest is a way for MLB to continue to engage fans during the off-season.

Here are my selections for the team.

First Base – Freddie Freeman (Braves) captured his first Silver Slugger Award, while finishing eighth in the NL MVP voting.  He had a career year in HR (38) and RBI (121).  He’s been a good glove man, too.  Freeman was selected over Pete Alonso (NL Rookie of the Year) and Matt Olson (NL Gold Glove winner).

Second Base – D.J. LeMahieu (Yankees) was given up on by the Rockies over the winter, and it wasn’t clear where he would fit in with the Yankees at the start of the season. But when they had a rash of injuries, LeMahieu stepped up and was the one constant throughout the season.  He won the AL Silver Slugger Award and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting.  LeMahieu beat out Jose Altuve, who had another fine season.

Shortstop – Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) had a career year with a .309/.384/.555 slash line and highs of 33 HR and 117 RBI.  He was a Silver Slugger Award winner and finished fifth in the AL MVP Award voting.  He edged out Oakland’s Marcus Semien, who had a breakout year by finishing third in the AL MVP voting.

Third Base – Alex Bregman (Astros) is my pick in the tightest race among all the positions.  In many respects, it was hard to differentiate his performance from that of Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado, Rafael Devers, Josh Donaldson, and Eugenio Suarez.  Bregman collected a Silver Slugger Award and was second in the AL MVP voting.  He had a career-high 41 HR and 112 RBI.  His on-base percentage was an outstanding .423, aided by AL-leading 119 walks.

Catcher – J.T. Realmuto (Phillies) was the easiest pick of all the positions.  His post-season hardware included both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award.  He was everything the Phillies wanted when they acquired him over the winter.  Yasmani Grandal was a distant second.

Outfielders – Mike Trout (Angels), Christian Yelich (Brewers), and Cody Bellinger (Dodgers).  Trout maintained his “best in baseball” label with his third AL MVP Award this year.  Yelich missed the last three weeks of the season, but still put together the best season of his career (which included a NL MVP Award last year).  He led the NL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging, but finished second (probably influenced by his injury) to Cody Bellinger for the NL MVP title.  Bellinger smacked 47 HR to go along with 115 RBI.  These three players were picked over Ronald Acuna Jr., who was also a Silver Slugger Award winner and led the league in runs scored and stolen bases; and Mookie Betts, who had a down year compared to 2018 when he was the AL MVP, but still logged an all-star season.

Designated Hitter – Nelson Cruz (Twins) seems to be getting better with age.  At 38-years-old, he posted a slash line of .311/.392/.639, with 41 HR and 108 RBI, and captured the Silver Slugger Award as he led the Twins to a first-place finish in the AL Central Division.  He beat out veteran J.D. Martinez and Jordan Alvarez, the AL Rookie of the Year, who played in 87 games after being called up to the Astros in early June, but still managed to hit 24 HR and 71 RBI.

Starting Pitchers – Gerrit Cole (Astros), Justin Verlander (Astros), Jacob DeGrom (Mets), Hyun-Jim Ryu, (Dodgers), and Charlie Morton (Rays).  There’s no need to provide more justification for Cole, Verlander and DeGrom.  They were the cream of the crop in both leagues.  Ryu and Morton are not as well-known, but turned in better seasons than several other more notable pitchers.  Ryu led the NL in ERA (2.32) and posted a 1.007 WHIP.  He finished second in the NL Cy Young voting.  Morton led the Tampa staff after coming over from Houston in the off-season.  He finished third in the AL Cy Young voting.  These five pitchers beat out several others with fine seasons: veterans Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Zack Grienke; and relative newcomers Shane Bieber, and Jack Flaherty.

Relief Pitchers – Kirby Yates (Padres) and Josh Hader (Brewers) top the list of reliever candidates.  Their strikeouts per 9 innings are the highest among the candidates at 15.0 and 16.4, respectively, while their WHIPs are 0.89 and 0.81, respectively.  Yates was the only relief pitcher to receive NL Cy Young Award votes.  These two beat out Aroldis Chapman, Roberto Osuna, and Will Smith.

There are no big surprises in my selections.  With the exception of Cruz, all of these players were named to the mid-season All-Star Game tyhoueams.

If you had some different thoughts on the team's selections, I'd like to hear from you.

Stealing signs is an age-old dirty trick

There’s been a lot of commotion since the World Series about the allegations that the Houston Astros used electronic means to steal other teams’ signs in 2017 on their way to winning their first-ever World Series.  It’s bad for the reputation of the Astros and Major League Baseball in general.  However, if we look back in time, what some people are characterizing as the latest scourge in baseball is actually nothing new.

Stealing opponents’ signs between the pitcher and catcher has been one of those under-publicized things in the game for a long time.  Everyone figures it’s going on, but no one talks about it much.  It’s kind of like the days when pitchers were throwing spitballs and scuffing up the baseball; and batters were using corked bats.  Some players were always looking to gain even the slightest edge.  Their opponents generally knew it was happening but most considered it “part of the game.”

Throughout history, the most common way teams stole signs was for runners on second base to read the catcher’s signals and then tip-off batters as to what pitch was coming.

One of the more famous occurrences of sign stealing happened during the 1951 season, but it reportedly used “high technology” for the times.  The New York Giants were the culprits, using a high-powered telescope behind a window in Manager Leo Durocher’s office in the center-field clubhouse of the Polo Grounds and a buzzer system connected to the Giants’ dugout and right-field bullpen.  Many believe the elaborate system contributed to the Giants’ 16 consecutive wins after having been13 games behind the first-place Brooklyn Dodgers on August 11.  The two teams ended the season in a tie, creating a best-of-three playoff series.

It’s been long rumored that Bobby Thomson benefitted from his teammates’ sign stealing when he hit his famous “shot heard ‘round the world” home run in Game 3 of the playoffs.

The Dodgers were leading 4-1 going into the ninth inning.  After Whitey Lockman doubled in Alvin Dark to make the score 4-2, Thomson came up with the tying runs on base.  Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen brought in Ralph Branca to replace Don Newcombe.  Branca was hoping to set up Thomson for a curveball, knowing that Thomson had homered earlier in the series on a fastball.  His first pitch was a fastball that Thomson took.  His next pitch was a fastball, up and in, and Thomson created one of the most famous moments in baseball history with a walk-off home run that gave the Giants the pennant.

Thomson always denied that he knew a fastball was coming.  He said, “I was proud of that swing.”  However, years later his teammates revealed the Giants’ were frequently taking advantage of their “system” of stealth in the last months of the regular season.

Branca acknowledged that he later became aware of the strong possibility Thomson was tipped off on the upcoming pitch, but never said anything.  Branca said, “I didn’t want to cry over spilled milk.  I became friendly with Bobby and I didn’t want to demean his home run.  I didn’t want to cheapen a legendary moment in baseball.”  He added, “I wasn’t going to bring it up to Bobby.  To me, it was a forbidden subject.”

A lot has been made about the use of new technology to facilitate the current-day covert activity.  For example, in 2017 the Boston Red Sox were caught using an Apple Watch in the dugout to facilitate stealing signs from the New York Yankees.  A member of Boston’s replay team was communicating with a trainer wearing the watch in the dugout, who was sharing the information with the batters.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has authorized an investigation into the allegations about the Astros’ use of electronic sign stealing, and it will look into 2018 and 2019 as well.  Ken Rosenthal suggested last week in The Athletic that the investigation shouldn’t stop with the just the Astros, implying the problem may be more pervasive throughout the league.

All Major League clubs have recently employed the use of new technologies to measure and track games and players in ways that have fundamentally changed the professional sport.  It appears the nefarious sign-stealing activities are one more area that technology has been leveraged.

 

Aaron Boone should feel like he got robbed

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was narrowly defeated by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli in the voting for American League Manager of the Year, 106 to 96.  Having remarkably won 103 games with a lineup that practically changed every day due to a barrage of injuries throughout the year, Boone has a good case for claiming “I wuz robbed.”

Boone is in his second season with New York, while Baldelli was in his first season at the helm of Minnesota.  Both of them represent the new-style of major-league manager that has no prior managerial experience at any level.  Yet despite their relative inexperience, there’s no doubt they are already making a big impact with their teams

The Yankees finished first in the East Division for the first time since 2012.  They won 100 games last year in Boone’s rookie season, when they finished second behind World Series champion Boston.  There are some managers who’ve never won 100 games in even one season during their entire careers.

The deck was stacked against Boone from the very start of this season because of injuries.  His Opening Day lineup consisting of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Andujar, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Luke Voit collectively missed 55% of their games during the season.  And that’s not counting Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks who began the season on the injured list and played only 141 games between them.  Thank goodness for newly acquired DJ LeMehieu and a host of no-name Yankees (Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, Clint Frazier, and Austin Romine) who stepped in and admirably filled in the gaps every day.

To top that off, Boone was without his top-of-the-rotation pitcher Luis Severino and one of his top relievers, Dellin Betances, for all but four games during the season.  Domingo German, who had pitched in 28 major-league games before this season, was pressed into full-time service as a starter and thankfully contributed 18 wins.

In all, 30 different Yankees players were on the injured list during the season.  Yes, that’s right, THIRTY!

To win 103 games with those types of conditions is practically unheard of in the big leagues.  Boone had to become the master magician in order to piece together a viable lineup each day.  Fortunately LeMahieu, Torres, Urshela, and Gardner wound up having career years.  Admittedly, Boone did have the benefit of one of the best bullpens in the league, which contributed tremendously to their overall results.  But he still had to make tough decisions every day on which strings to pull with the relief staff.

And yet the Yankees still set a franchise record for most home runs in a season (306), finishing second in the league to Minnesota with 307.  And they finished with a run differential of 204 for the season, second only to Houston.

There’s no denying that Baldelli had a fine season.  The telltale sign of his influence was that Minnesota won 23 more games that they did last year.  That’s a huge turnaround in one season.  However, his detractors say that the division was the least competitive this year, and they were only 9-10 against division runner-up Cleveland.

As an inexperienced rookie manager of a sub-.500 team from last year, Baldelli was one of the more improbable candidates for the award coming into the season.  In the past though, voters for the award have placed a high value on first-time managers who get into the playoffs.  Baldelli was the “shiny new rock” among the league’s managers this year, and many of the voters may have been swayed by that situation. 

If the voting had occurred after the post-season, the results would likely have swayed toward Boone.  Baldelli got out-managed in the American League Division Series by Boone, as the Yankees swept the Twins, who scored only seven runs in the series.

Boone has good reason to be upset with the outcome of the voting.  Arguably he had the best talent in the league going into the season.  They were expected to win a lot of games.  But after a practical overhaul of the roster as the season unfolded, his team still won a lot of games. 103, in fact.

"Sir Didi" Served the Yankees Well

The New York Yankees announced last week that they would not be making shortstop Didi Gregorius a qualifying offer to retain his services for 2020.  It’s understandable why the Yankees made this decision, as they have become log-jammed with infielder options and didn’t want to shell out the one-year $17.8 million tender.  Gregorius played only half of this season due to Tommy John surgery in October 2018, and didn’t return to his prior form.  So there is also some concern about his future health status.

But his release doesn’t mean Gregorius wasn’t a valuable contributor to the team since arriving in 2015.  He had the insurmountable task of replacing the immortal Derek Jeter, who had held the Yankees shortstop position for 20 seasons, ending in 2014.  Jeter ranks right up there with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra as one of the all-time Yankee icons.  He was a tough act to follow.

In fact, no one could have filled Jeter’s shoes, but Gregorius didn’t disappoint Yankees management and fans with his performance throughout his tenure.  Yankees GM Brian Cashman gets credit for seeing something in Gregorius beyond what he demonstrated in his first three major league seasons with Cincinnati and Arizona.

A relatively inexperienced major leaguer, Gregorius had only one full season in the majors before he was acquired by the Yankees in 2015.  His athleticism was a plus, and he proved to be a serviceable shortstop, improving in all offensive categories as he appeared in 155 games in his first year with them. 

As the Yankees were doing a makeover of its team, moving from established veterans Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Texeira, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann to a younger roster, Didi fit right in.  He was a key factor in the acceleration of the Yankees’ roster re-build that didn’t miss a beat in making the playoffs.

He got even better during the next three years, when he hit for a .277 average and averaged 24 HR and 81 RBI.  He posted a career-high 4.2 WAR in 2018.  With right-handed sluggers like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez in the lineup, it seemed a bit odd that Gregorius would hit fourth in the batting order.  But the left-handed hitter provided an effective cleanup bat in a lineup nicknamed the “Baby Bombers” for their home run prowess.

He returned from the injured list on June 7 this season, but his on-base percentage was a meager .276.  He still managed to hit 16 HR and 61 RBI.  While he was out, Gleyber Torres filled in and turned in an all-star season; he will likely be the full-time shortstop in 2019.

Gregorius will be one of the top picks in a weak free-agent group of shortstops this offseason.  It is reported the Cincinnati Reds are interested in signing him, but he’ll likely have several suitors.

It wasn’t an easy decision by the Yankees to let Gregorius go.  If nothing else, he’ll be remembered for his unique nickname, which resulted from his being knighted in his native country, The Netherlands, after the Dutch team upset Cuba in the 2011 Baseball World Cup.

6 Teams That Need Gerrit Cole

It’s no secret Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole is the hottest thing in free agency this off-season.  In reality, every MLB team could use Cole.  However, in reality most teams will not be able to afford signing him, so his pursuit will likely be narrowed to six or eight teams. 

Cole’s new contract is expected to be the richest deal ever signed by a major-league pitcher.  According to MLB. com, Stephen Strasburg made the most of any pitcher this year at $38.2 million.  David Price signed the largest valued contract for a pitcher (7 years, $217 million) back in 2016.  With Cole at 29 years of age next season, it’s not out of the question that he can command a seven or eight-year contract worth $35-40 million per year.

He will be most heavily recruited by teams that figure they are one pitcher (of Cole’s caliber) short of getting to the World Series in the next year or two.  That’s largely the mentality of baseball ownership these days when looking at making huge investments in players like Cole.

Here’s my rundown on the feasible teams that need Cole in order to compete for a World Series ring next year.

Yankees – The Yankees should have upgraded their starting pitching this season at the trade deadline, but didn’t pull the trigger. They lack a bonafide ace at this point.  Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Domingo German, even assuming they are injury-free, are not their answer.  With CC Sabathia retiring and Dellin Betances possibly looking to free agency, the Yankees could shed existing payroll that would help offset the high price for Cole.  He was originally drafted out of high school by the Yankees in the first round of 2008 draft, but he chose to attend UCLA.  He’s been quoted in the past as saying he has always wanted to play for the Yankees.  The Yankees’ bullpen and offense carried the team in 2019.  Cole could be their answer to shore up their rotation next year and beyond.

Red Sox – Starting pitching was an Achilles heel this year, after winning the World Series in 2018.  None of their three former Cy Young Award winners (David Price, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale) had a good year.  Injuries contributed somewhat to that situation, but none of them are the same as they were just a few years ago.  There is concern that Sale has already flamed out at 30 years old.  With their potent offense, an ace like Cole can put them back into contention for a pennant next season.  The Red Sox are accustomed to paying the luxury tax on payroll, so Cole’s high price shouldn’t be a hindrance.

Dodgers – At first blush, the Dodgers would seem to be a questionable suitor for Cole.  After all, their main need is in the bullpen, while their starters were among the best in the league in ERA and WHIP.  However, Rich Hill (age 40) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (age 32) won’t likely be retained as they enter free agency.  (Their combined salary of $36 million in 2019 could pay for Cole.)  As we saw in the playoffs, Clayton Kershaw appeared to have run out of gas after the regular season.  He’s already been displaced by Walker Buehler as the ace of the staff.  Thus, help will be needed in the rotation, and the addition of Cole with Buehler could make for a combo that compares favorably with any others (Strasburg/Scherzer or Verlander/Greinke) in baseball.  With Cole, the Dodgers would be a shoo-in to win their eighth consecutive division title.

Angels – The same observation (about being a questionable suitor) can be made about the Angels, but for a different reason.  After finishing with the worst record in the league in 2019 with one of the worst pitching staffs, they are several years away from being a contender for the post-season with their current roster.  Joe Maddon has been brought on as manager with the expectation he will turn around their program within a few years, like he did with the Rays and Cubs.  The acquisition of Cole and a few other pieces of supporting staff could jump-start their renewal.  The Angels have an urgent need to take advantage of superstar Mike Trout’s prime years. (He has played in only one post-season during his nine years.)  They can’t wait more than a couple of years to be relevant, and Cole would greatly accelerate the process.  There are indications Cole would like to play near his home town on the West Coast.  The Angels would be glad to make that happen.  Like they did with Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, the Angels won’t hesitate to spend the necessary money to get him.

Phillies – They spent big bucks last winter to boost their offense with the addition of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, JT Realmuto, and Jean Segura.  As a result, they had expectations of getting to the playoffs, and for a while (through the middle of June) it looked like they might do it.  However, their pitching staff was well below average.  Aaron Nola wasn’t as good as he was in 2018, when he was a Top 3 finalist for the Cy Young Award, while 33-year-old Jake Arrieta was able to pitch only 140 innings.  The Braves and Nationals are likely to be very competitive again, so the Phillies have to do something dramatic to stay in the mix.  The addition of Cole could be a difference-maker in their outlook for 2020.

Cubs – Chicago had the oldest pitching staff in the National League last season, so they have to be thinking about how they will rejuvenate their starting rotation.  Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, and Cole Hamels, all previous top-of-the-rotation pitchers, can’t be expected to continue being the workhorses.  In order for the Cubs to remain competitive with the Cardinals and Brewers, who made the playoffs with first and second-place finishes in 2019, they will need an upgrade like Cole.

So, what about the Astros?  Are they completely out of the picture on Cole?  It seems so, given their current salary situation.  They have eight players tying up $150 million next year, not including impending raises for Carlos Correa, George Springer and Roberto Osuna.  The Astros acquired Zach Greinke, not only to bolster the rotation for this year’s playoff run, but as a hedge if Cole did not return in 2020.  They also have Lance McCullers Jr. returning from Tommy John surgery next year, so a rotation of Verlander, Greinke, McCullers, and Jose Urquidy could be sufficient to win the division title again in 2020.  They also have 2016 first-round draft pick Forrest Whitley in the minors being groomed for a rotation spot.

Stephen Straburg declined his option to re-sign with the Nationals.  You can’t blame him for wanting to test the market after the sterling post-season performances he turned in.  It’s possible he could still wind up with the Nats, but the suitors for Cole will also be looking at Strasburg as an alternative.

Cole proved during the playoffs, as well as the regular season, the type of impact a big-time pitcher can have on a team.  That’s why the teams, with near-term windows of opportunity to claim a World Series ring, are willing to shell out the bucks Cole will command.

Can Joe Maddon revive the Los Angeles Angels?

There have been eight managerial vacancies created after the end of this season.  Several long-time skippers have lost their jobs or retired, which will once again cause a major change in the managerial landscape.  One of those veteran managers, former Cubs skipper Joe Maddon, has been named the new manager of the Los Angeles Angels, a team with whom he previously worked in various capacities.  He gets another shot at running a club, when in the past few years most teams have been hiring the new style of managers who bring a heavy reliance on sabermetrics but have little to no prior managerial experience.

Maddon was once considered the new-style manager--a “players’ manager,” a master motivator in the clubhouse, an early disciple of advanced analytics.  When he got his first job with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006 and then as he moved to the Chicago Cubs in 2015, his style of leadership became more likened to that of a cult leader than the traditional baseball man in the dugout and clubhouse.

The Angels fired Brad Ausmus after his only season as manager to make room for Maddon.  In one sense it didn’t seem fair to Ausmus, but the team lost eight more games than they did the year before, when they were only .500.  Apparently Maddon’s prior connection with the team overrode any sense of fairness to Ausmus.  His hiring was the second time he uprooted an incumbent manager after only one season—in 2014, the Cubs fired one-year manager Rick Renteria.

What is it about Maddon that causes teams to make decisions like that?  Let’s take a look back in history with Maddon.

When Maddon was hired into his first permanent managerial position with Tampa Bay in 2006, the Rays had the worst record in both leagues, winning only 61 games.  They weren’t much better in 2007 with 66 wins.  But 2008 was a completely different story.  The Rays won 21 more games than the prior year, capturing their first-ever division championship and going all the way to the World Series.  It was a classic “last-to-first” accomplishment for a small-market team with one of the lowest payrolls in the game.

Admittedly, the Cubs had just completed their roster overhaul when they hired Maddon in 2015, but the Cubs won 24 more games that year than they did with Renteria at the helm.  Then in the following season the Cubs won their first World Series since 1910.

Maddon’s results with the Rays and Cubs are why a team like the Angels want him.  Their past relationship may be desirable, but the team really needs Maddon’s experience and leadership to break out of the funk they’ve been in since 2014, the last year they went to the playoffs.  The last year the Angels won a playoff game was 2009.  The franchise needs desperately to revert to the winning days of the first ten seasons of the new millennium, when they went to the playoffs six times, including winning a World Series championship in 2002.

The Angels have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout; but he’s hasn’t had much of a supporting cast and thus has had only one appearance in the playoffs during his nine seasons.  One of Maddon’s biggest challenges will be working with a roster of relatively weak talent outside of Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Kole Calhoun.  The Angels’ pitching staff is one of the worst in the league, recording the lowest WAR and the second-lowest Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).  The team didn’t have an ace, or even a legitimate No. 2 or 3 starter in the rotation after Tyler Skaggs died of a drug overdose at mid-season.  No Angels pitcher started more than 18 games.  Only Trevor Cahill pitched more than 100 innings.

The Angels organization has several young minor-league players who put up some big power numbers last year, but it remains to be seen whether their performance will translate well to the big leagues in the near-term. Twenty-year-old outfielder Jo Adell is their top prospect in the farm system, but he is still probably a year or two away from a permanent roster spot.  Their pitching at the Triple-A level was atrocious, as they posted a 6.78 ERA and 1.752 WHIP as a team.  Don’t look for any immediate help there.

A good thing about Maddon is that he’s familiar with working with a young roster. He likes having versatility among his position players so that he can juggle his lineup as needed.  Unfortunately for Maddon, Albert Pujols still has two more years on his contract worth $59 million, and Justin Upton has three more years at $72 million, so he’s stuck with two aging veterans that are providing marginal value and not much flexibility.

The offseason for the Angels has to address pitching as its first priority, both the starting rotation and the bullpen. (They need to be in the hunt for Gerrit Cole's services.)  Ohtani could provide an upgrade to the staff if his arm is healthy next season.  They’ll need to settle their catching position, as they used five different ones last year.  They could use more power from their infield positions.  And they’ll need Trout and Ohtani to stay healthy.

The Angels aren’t noted for their use of advanced analytics, but this is another strength of Maddon.  He was among the first managers doing innovative things with baseball data as far back as his tenure with Tampa.  If there’s value to be gotten from utilizing the numbers for lineup and game strategy, Maddon will find a way to leverage it.  With his prior experience, Maddon might be giving directions to the Angels’ front-office analytics staff, instead of vice versa.

It will be interesting to see if Maddon will continue to use whacky teambuilding tactics like having the players wear pajamas on travel days or dressing up in the clubhouse like theme characters of the latest animation movies.  It’s been part of his approach to building the cult-like following with his previous teams and gaining a reputation as being a manager the players like to play for.

I don’t expect great things from Maddon for the next couple of years, due to the lack of player talent.  But I think Maddon’s relationship with the Angels’ ownership and front office will come into play.  They’ll give him some slack during those first few seasons, while they re-position the roster; and they’ll trust him to get the most out of what is available and to start to build a winning culture in the meantime.

Don’t be surprised after a couple of years to see the Angels as a relevant team again—just like when Maddon was with the Rays and Cubs.  That’s what the Angels ownership is counting on.

More post-season reflections

Last week I focused on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ latest failure in the post-season, suffering a disappointing ending to one of the best regular seasons in baseball history.

 

I’m continuing to reflect on the post-season this week, but commenting on some of the other playoff teams’ successes and failures and looking forward to the World Series between the Astros and Nationals.

 

Cardinals must have lost their bats between NLDS and NLCS

After an impressive series beating Atlanta in the NLDS, the Cardinals offense was surprisingly woeful in the League Championship Series against Washington.  Sure, the Nationals had an impressive battery of starting pitchers, but the Cards managed only 16 hits, including only three extra-base hits, in the four-game sweep. (Three Cardinals batters accounted for 11 of their hits.)  It made you wonder if the Cards’ bats somehow got misplaced on the trip between the two series, and they wound up having to use Whiffle Ball bats in the NLCS.

 

Bryce Who?

The Washington Nationals’ defeat of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS has put them in the World Series for the first time in franchise history.  Their sweep of the Redbirds came after a come-from-behind defeat of Milwaukee in the wild-card game and a surprising win over a favored Los Angeles Dodgers squad in the NLDS.  And the Nats accomplished this without their former standout player, Bryce Harper, who had been the face of the franchise since his Rookie-of-the-Year season in 2012.  Harper apparently didn’t want to continue playing for the Nats, who offered him $30 million per year.  Instead Harper wound up signing a 13-year, $330 million mega-deal with the Philadelphia Phillies at the start of spring training.  While the loss of Harper was considered by many to be disastrous for the Nats’ future, the rest of the team, led by MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and 20-year-old phenom Juan Soto, stepped up big time to offset his absence.  How soon Nats fans forgot about Harper.

 

Nats’ Anibal Sanchez doesn’t fit the mold, but he still wins

In the era of flame-throwing pitchers who routinely hit 97 mph or better, Anibal Sanchez is somewhat of an anomaly.  Unlike his hard-throwing counterparts in the Nationals’ starting rotation, he’s more of a finesse pitcher, never reaching more than the low 90s at best.  He carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of NLCS Game 1 against the Cardinals, something that would have been expected of one of the other headliner starters.  He stayed on the corners with his four primary pitches (four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, and splitter) that he used almost equally throughout the game, while throwing in a few curveballs and changeups for good measure.  However, Sanchez is a much-welcomed throwback on the staff.

 

So long, CC.  See ya in Cooperstown.

Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia made a painful exit in Game 4 of the ALCS Game.  He had entered the game in relief in the 8th inning, in an effort to keep the Astros from adding to their 7-4 lead; but the 38-year-old had to be taken out he threw his arm out of his socket.  It was his last appearance in a major-league game, after pitching for 19 big league seasons.  It was a sad ending to what has been a Hall of Fame career for the left-hander.  In these days of re-defining the use of starting pitching, his 251 career wins may make him the last pitcher to register that many victories.  His first four years with the Yankees (2009-2012) marked the best stretch of his career, although he had previously won a Cy Young Award with the Cleveland Indians in 2007.  Always a fan favorite, Sabathia is a good bet to get a bronze plaque in Cooperstown.

 

DJ LeMahieu: all he did was hit

He’s not your prototypical-looking leadoff hitter at 6-foot-4, but this guy can get on base with the best of them.  He was one of the few Yankee constants during the regular season in which a record 30 players went on the Injured List.  He was in the lineup practically every day, playing 40 or more games in three different positions, and he led the team in Batting Average and On-Base Percentage.  He’s the Yankees’ MVP for the season in my book, even though Gleyber Torres put up some big power numbers this year.  When most of the rest of the Yankees offense went stale in the playoffs, LeMahieu was still in there cranking out the hits, including three timely home runs.

 

Yanks and Astros pitchers may have done better hitting for themselves

Who said the Designated Hitter provided more excitement in American League games?  Well, not in the ALCS.  The Yankees’ Edwin Encarnacion (1-for-18) and the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez (1-for-22) turned in dismal performances as their respective team’s DH.  There wasn’t much room for the teams’ pitchers to have done worse.  Both DHs had lost their stroke, looked completely out of synch at the plate, and ultimately did nothing to help their teams.  A career .225 hitter, Zack Greinke should be scheduled to pitch at Nationals Park where he can take his own turns at the plate in the World Series.

 

In the “Year of the Home Run,” homers haven’t been the dominant theme in the playoffs.

Major League teams broke the record for most home runs in a season by over 600.  Eight of the ten teams in the playoffs made up the top eight home run-hitting clubs from both leagues, led by Minnesota and New York that broke the previous record for homers with over 300 apiece.  But we didn’t see a barrage of home runs in the playoffs.  Tampa Bay, which was one of the playoff teams not in the Top 8, was the only one that hit more than three homers in a game (four in their wild card game against Oakland and in Game 3 of the ALDS against Houston).  The Twins hit only four in their entire series against the Yankees.  When the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the top of the first of Game 5 of the NLDS against the Braves, none came from home runs.  Of course the biggest dinger of the playoffs so far was Jose Altuve’s dramatic ninth-inning walk-off to defeat the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS.  Perhaps the upcoming World Series will be a different story, but it’s not likely with the quality of starting pitching of each team.

 

Detroit Tigers fans are kicking themselves

No, the Tigers weren’t in the playoffs.  In fact, they were the team farthest away from making the post-season, since they lost more games (115) than anyone in baseball this season.  But there are three former Tigers pitchers who are currently headed for the World Series.  When the Tigers last appeared in the World Series in 2012, they had Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez in their starting rotation.  If we combine the 43 wins of these three pitchers in 2019 with the Tigers’ 47 wins, they would have come within only a few game of being an American League wild card team this year.  Unfortunately for Tigers fans, they won’t be seeing another home-team playoff contender for quite a few years.

 

What will happen when good pitching meets good pitching?

We’ve heard the old adage “good pitching beats good hitting.”  Well, what happens when good pitching meets good pitching?  That’s what we’ll see in the World Series when the Astros and Nationals face off.  Both teams have top-of-the line starters in the first three slots of their respective rotations.  It’s Verlander/Cole/Greinke vs. Scherzer/Strasberg/Corbin.  So, what should we expect in the World Series?

 

Lots of strikeouts.  Nationals pitchers struck out 11 or more batters in eight of their nine post-season games, including games with 14, 15, 16, and 17 punchouts.  The Astros struck out their opposition 10 or more times in nine of their 11 post-season games, including a game with 17.

 

Low-scoring games.  Even when pitchers like Verlander, Cole, and Scherzer get behind early in games, they are usually able to recover quickly and hold their opposition from running away.  Astros pitchers gave up three or less earned runs in six of their nine playoff games.  Nationals pitchers yielded three or less earned runs in seven of their nine playoff games.

 

Game-winning home runs.  Each team will hit less than 10 home runs in the Series, but several of them will be game-winners coming at the expense of the bullpens.

 

Who wins the 2019 Fall Classic?

My money’s on the Astros.  I expect Alex Bregman to be more of a factor in the World Series.

Where do the LA Dodgers go from here?

In my September 16 blog post, I was asking which Dodgers team would show up in the post-season.  The one that lost the World Series in 2017 and 2018, or the powerhouse team that won 106 regular season games on their way to easily winning their seventh straight division title?

Well, the Dodgers, who were favored to get to the World Series again this year, answered that question last week, but it wasn’t in the Fall Classic this time.  They allowed the Washington Nationals to force a Game 5 in the Division Series and then collapsed in the late innings when the Nationals came from behind, hitting three home runs to tie and then win the deciding game in extra innings.

Now the discussion around the Dodgers is: where do they go from here?  Are they just a victim of bad luck?  Did they just get beat by a better Nationals team? Or is there something more fundamental in their post-season failures over the past few years?  Who gets the blame for their disappointing ending?

If we go back and look at the 2019 regular season performance of the Dodgers, there are a few revealing numbers that might explain why this year’s fateful ending shouldn’t be so surprising.

The Dodgers beat up on weak West Division competition, getting 51 of their 107 wins (against only 25 losses).  On the other hand, in facing tougher regular season competition against American and National League teams that are in the post-season, the Dodgers were only 18-16.  They were only a .500 team (10-10) in all interleague games.

The Dodgers’ powerful bats were a huge part of their regular season success.  They were overwhelming winners of blowout games (decided by five or more runs) with a 41-12 record.  They had the most walk-off wins of any National League team with 12.  Yet they were only 27-22 in one-run games.

The Dodgers’ insufferable defeat could be blamed on several fronts.  Roberts didn’t have any confidence in his bullpen and thus he made some questionable pitching decisions.  Clayton Kershaw curiously faltered again in the post-season.  Several key Dodgers’ hitters, including MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, were absent in the offense.

The Dodgers were exactly where they wanted to be after seven innings in Game 5.  Buehler did his job holding the Nationals to only one run in 6 2/3 innings.  With two runners on base, it was a good decision to bring in Kershaw to shut down the Nationals.  It’s been a familiar move made by several post-season managers to call on their aces in critical shut-down relief situations.

However, Roberts was uncomfortable using relievers Kenta Maeda and Adam Kolarek, or even closer Kenley Jansen, to start the eighth inning, and he went with Kershaw again.  That turned out to be a big mistake, as Kershaw gave up two home runs to tie the game.  Ironically, Maeda struck out the side after relieving Kershaw in the eighth..

The Nationals’ Howie Kendrick then delivered the final blow with a grand slam in the 10th inning to send the Dodgers packing for the rest of the playoffs.

Roberts admirably took full responsibility for the Dodgers’ devastating defeat.  His inability to deliver a World Series title over the past three years, with some very talented teams, initially drew speculation that he may not get a chance to finish out his contract.  However, the Dodgers’ front office squelched any conjecture a few days after the series by announcing Roberts would return for 2020.  But keep in mind managers Joe Girardi, John Farrell, and Dusty Baker were fired immediately after winning division titles.

With Kershaw’s inability to come up with big performances in crucial games in the post-season, did Roberts decide with his heart (versus the stats) to put the left-hander back out for the eighth inning?  Was he trying to give Kershaw an opportunity to re-gain his confidence?  It’s baffling that Kershaw’s post-season performances don’t come close to matching his regular season records when he has been the best pitcher in baseball since Sandy Koufax.  I wonder if the three-time Cy Young Award winner (and two-time runner-up) just runs out of gas at the end of the regular season and has nothing left in the tank for the playoffs.  As the Dodgers look ahead at their roster’s needs, perhaps they will be tempted to off-load the 31-year-old in favor of a younger, cheaper alternative.  After all, they already have Walker Buehler as Kershaw’s heir apparent as the ace of the staff.

Keeping Kershaw wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Dodgers, but keeping the same bullpen would definitely be catastrophic.  When the blame game is played, the Dodgers’ front office has to take responsibility for not acquiring much-needed bullpen help at the trade deadline this year.  Their bullpen weaknesses during the regular season were masked by a terrific offense and a stellar starting rotation.  I don’t see them making that mistake again.  Expect the Dodgers to go out and buy the best bullpen components available during the off-season.

The Dodgers seem well-situated for the future with their position players.  They are a young team (Justin Turner is the grizzled veteran at 34 years old) with most of their better players under team control for the next few years.  Their farm system has recently produced Alex Verdugo, Will Smith, Gavin Lux (2019 Minor League Player of the Year), and Matt Beatty, all of whom figure to be part of their starting lineup of the future.  If anything, the Dodgers might look to add a veteran player who can help bring along the youngsters (like the Astros used Carlos Beltran in 2017), especially in post-season situations.

Based on this season’s results with their divisional competition, the Dodgers would have to be favored at this time to finish as division champions yet again next year.  So what else is new?  The big question will remain though:  which team will show up in the post-season?