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.
It's too early to panic with the MLB owners' lockout

Major League Baseball’s owners initialed a lockout of major-league players when the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association did not finalize a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by December 1, the expiration of the old CBA. It sounds like a drastic move for the sport, but the reality is the lockout is just the next negotiation tactic in what will likely be a protracted process. The MLBPA put an aggressive proposal on the table in May and hasn’t budged off of it in the negotiations thus far.


MLB didn’t have to issue the lockout order right now. The two sides could have continued to operate under the old CBA, so that normal business operations could continue. However, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred rationalized that the lockout is part of the negotiation process and is designed to put pressure on the players to continue new CBA negotiations in earnest. In any case, it came as no surprise to the players association that the owners pulled the trigger on the lockout. The last owner lockout occurred 26 years ago. Essentially there has been labor peace in baseball since then.


The issues swirling around the negotiations are fairly complex; but when you boil them down, each side’s objective is rather simple. The players want a larger share of the revenue. The owners want to keep the status quo for the CBA—maintain the current revenue sharing percentages and ensure competitive balance among the teams. How both sides’ objectives are ultimately achieved is where the difficulty lies. The devil is in the details.


The union’s argument for a larger share of revenue is that baseball franchise values have sky-rocketed in the past few years, and they want consideration for contributing to that situation. The franchises are setting records for increased revenue, and the players want to increase their share of a larger pie. The MLBPA believes it got fleeced in the 2016 CBA, with respect to the allocation of revenue. Currently the owners have 57%, while the players get 43%.


The union has several constituents it is representing: the players with 0-3 years in the majors; the players eligible for free agency, the older players (usually 30 years or more), and the high-end superstars. However, their focus this time seems to be on the pre-salary arbitration players.


Following are some of the union’s demands, in addition to receiving a larger percentage of revenue.


The union wants to reduce the time required for two-year players to become eligible for salary arbitration. It maintains that the younger, high-performing players are being underpaid. Furthermore, they want players to be able to enter free agency sooner. However, the owners see this change as bad for fans because the better players on small market teams will leave sooner.


The union believes the 30-plus-year-old players are often not paid appropriately, since major league clubs are opting for younger, lower-paid players instead of signing older free-agent players seeking longer-term contracts and dollars that reflect their years of service. The older players are then forced to accept one or two-year deals at considerably less than market value.


Furthermore, the union wants the league to discourage teams that do “tanking” to lower their overall salary expense. The union sees this as a practice by the lower-end owners to improve their profits, because their rosters mainly consist of players under team control.


The union wants the league to institute a lower competitive balance tax, so that potentially more teams will exceed the maximum and be required to contribute taxes on overruns, which benefits the smaller market teams. The union believes that teams who receive a proportionate share of dollars from the competitive balance tax are not spending the money on player salaries, but instead are pocketing the money as profit. The union wants the league to require teams to spend the luxury money on the players.


As a backdrop to these MLBPA demands, the owners’ collective spending on player salaries has declined each year since 2017.


The owners are concerned about changes that would affect competitive balance. Small-market teams are especially hurt by earlier salary arbitration and a faster path to free agency. They tend to fill their rosters with younger players under team control at lowers salaries. Accelerating arbitration or free agency would cost them more and create more turnover of their players.


But what do the players have to offer in return for some of these concessions? Perhaps the only proposal is to agree to expanded playoffs that would involve fourteen teams. This would have a dramatic increase in revenue that benefits both sides.


Other items that could become part of the negotiation include an NBA-style draft lottery, a pitch clock, and universal DH.


In issuing the lockout now, the owners don’t want to make the same mistake as in 1994. During the negotiations then, the owners didn’t lock out the players, and the players went on strike in August that wound up cancelling the playoffs and World Series.


In reality, the lockout doesn’t become critical until teams start reporting for spring training. So, there are at least two months for the two sides to come to an agreement. One of the impacts, if it does take that long, is that it leaves a lot of free agents in limbo until right before they are to report. That’s because teams and players can’t communicate on trade or free-agent transactions during a lockout.


So, if you were planning to attend spring training in Florida or Arizona in March, it’s too early to think about canceling your trip.

 

 

Flashback: Third time's a charm for 2006 Rummel-based American Legion team

Rummel High School-based American Legion teams have a rich history of competitive baseball in the New Orleans area. Of course, the ultimate goal of all Legion teams is to win all the marbles in the annual American Legion World Series. Rummel had two unsuccessful cracks at the overall championship in the 1970s, before the 2006 team, sponsored by Nationwide Restoration, captured the national title.


New Orleans area baseball teams have competed in the American Legion World Series numerous times since the event began in 1926. Yet there have been only five years in which area teams have captured the overall championship. In addition to the 2006 Rummel squad, the other teams include the 1936 S.J. Peters-based Zatarain Papooses, 1946 Jesuit-based Post 125, 1960 Jesuit-based Tulane Shirts, and 2012 Jesuit-based Retif Oil.


Rummel’s American Legion past included two teams, coached by Larry Schneider, which reached the American Legion World Series in 1974 and 1976. Sponsored by Schaff Brothers, the team finished fourth in both years. (Note: In 2009 Ken Trahan convened a panel of historians, sportswriters, coaches, and former players who spanned several decades to determine the best American Legion teams in metro New Orleans history. The 1974 Schaff team tied for the No. 1 ranking with 1980 Jesuit-based Odeco, while the 1976 Schaff team ranked No. 6.)


Thirty years later Rummel was still turning out good teams, both in prep and Legion competition. Coach David Baudry’s Nationwide team had won the state Legion title in 2005, earning a trip to the Mid-South Regional. However, they were eliminated by Enid, Oklahoma, the eventual World Series champion.


The Rummel High School team, also coached by Baudry, won the District 8-5A championship in 2006. His talented team included All-Metro performers Robby Broach, Ryan Scott, Brent Brignac, and Mike Liberto. Brett Palermo, Kirk Cunningham and Dane Maxwell were All-District selections. Baudry was named the Coach of the Year in Rummel’s district. In the prep state tournament, Rummel reached the semi-finals but was eliminated by eventual champion Barbe.


All of those players transitioned to the Nationwide American Legion team that summer, while Baudry added eligible college freshmen who brought additional experience, including Kevin Weidenbacher and Matt Brown.


Nationwide swept its competition in the Louisiana Southeast Region tournament in Ponchatoula, defeating Holy Cross-based Ponstein’s in the finals. Baudry had confidence in the team’s talent. However, he told the Times-Picayune at the time, “My main concern is, do they want to go through the long grind again to reach the World Series.”


Nationwide handily won its first three games in the State Legion tourney in Shreveport against St. Amant, Shreveport, and Bossier, behind the pitching of Brown, Carl Labit, and Broach. Although they lost, 10-7, to a strong East Ascension Gauthier-Amadee team in the fourth game, Rummel still advanced to the finals. Nationwide rebounded in the finals against Gauthier-Amadee, winning decisively on a three-hitter by Maxwell, 13-1. Baudry credited his team’s success to its top two hitters, Liberto and Broach, being able to get on base for the middle of the lineup featuring Scott and Cunningham.


Nationwide advanced to the Mid-South Regional for the second year in a row. One of their foes at the tournament site of Crowley, Louisiana, was the Enid, Oklahoma team that eliminated them in 2005. Baudry expected to cross paths again with Enid. He said in a Times-Picayune interview, “I feel like our experience level will help us. I think if we are dedicated to playing hard, we have a chance to be around on the final day.”


Nationwide combined a 16-hit attack with a three-hit performance by Matt Brown to defeat Campbellsville, Kentucky, in the first game, 17-4. In their second game against Texarkana, Nationwide had to rally twice to overcome the Texas entry, 16-11. Ben Usner was credited with the win after pitching the final three innings, while Liberto and Maxwell led the hitting attack.


The team recorded shutouts in their next two games against Enid and Tupelo, Mississippi, as Broach and Maxwell turned in masterful performances on the mound. Facing Enid again in the finals, Nationwide gained a measure of revenge from 2005, with a 5-1 victory, their 40th of the season. Brignac was the winning pitcher with 10 strikeouts. Palermo was the hitting star for Nationwide, going 3-for-4 and driving in three of the team’s five runs. Maxwell was named the tournament MVP.


Nationwide advanced to the final eight teams in the national championship round in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It had been 46 years since a New Orleans area team won the American Legion World Series, and it had been 30 years since the Rummel Schaff Brothers team claimed a World Series berth. Hoping to end the drought, Baudry believed one of the keys to his team’s success was the experience that was retained with the seniors and college freshmen. Baudry told the Times-Picayune, “They know what to expect. Baseball is a high priority to them, and they have already played at a high level.”


Nationwide was feeling good about it chances. They had been battle-tested on their journey to the Word Series, including the victory over last year’s champion. Chris Accardo, father of Nationwide’s catcher Brett Accardo, had played for the Schaff Brothers team that went to the World Series in 1976. Familiar with the usual level of competition in the World Series, he remembers cautioning the squad about its confidence going into the tournament. He recalls telling them, “Guys, this is not like playing at Mike Miley playground. Your opponents will be a level above what you are accustomed to playing.”


Sure enough, Nationwide was set back on its heels in their first game against a very experienced team from Terre Haute, Indiana. Terre Haute took an early lead, 6-1, and Nationwide wasn’t able to catch up, putting up only two more runs. The team bounced back with a 7-6 win a seesaw battle with Lincoln, Nebraska. Baudry said about the win, “They are not satisfied with coming up here for a little vacation. They want to stay awhile.”


After playing inconsistently in the first two games, Nationwide mounted a strong attack against Milton, Massachusetts. Maxwell turned in a fine pitching performance, while Accardo led the offense with a grand slam home run. The elder Accardo vividly remembers his son’s dramatic hit . “I was just hoping Brett could deliver one run with the bases loaded, but then he hit it out. It was the biggest moment of my life.” Nationwide won convincingly, 10-4. Baudry said after the game, “Maybe we’re over the hump now. I just think we’ve been playing tight, and I think now maybe we might be able to relax.”


Nationwide’s fourth game entailed a re-match against Terre Haute. This time the outcome was vastly different, as Nationwide built up an early 14-0 lead that included sending 13 player to the plate in the second inning. Terre Haute tried to fight back but fell short in the 14-9 loss. Broach then struck out 11 against Middleton, Virginia, in Nationwide’s fifth game in which they won, 6-2. The victory advanced them into the finals in a winner-take-all game against Terre Haute.


In the final game, Nationwide’s starting pitcher Matt Brown faced off with Terre Haute’s ace Josh Phegley, a future major leaguer. Terre Haute was a different team from one that took a shellacking in the fourth game. They led until the bottom of the eighth inning, but then Nationwide put together three runs for a final winning score of 6-4. Brown hurled a complete game with 11 strikeouts and got the necessary offense from several teammates.


The Rummel-based Legion program had finally captured the World Series title on its third attempt. Liberto was named the tournament MVP and joined on the all-tournament team by Weidenbacher, Broach, and Cunningham. Baudry was complimentary of his team after the game. He told the Times-Picayune, “We’re very resilient. These guys, the last two nights, made big, big pitches and that’s the big key. We left everything we had out on that field.”


Fifteen years later, Baudry, currently head baseball coach at Hahnville High School, reflects on the 2006 team and its accomplishment, “At the beginning of the summer, I thought we had something special. We had a lot of returning players from the year before. I knew if we could stay healthy, we’d be around at the end of the summer. He added, “We had good competition at the district level that prepared us for the post-season tournaments. Our pitching always gave us a good chance to win. They pounded the strike zone. They knew if the ball were hit, our defense would make the plays.” Baudry was complimentary of the support by the parents of the players, recalling they rented a bus to travel with the team.


Brady Benoit, who was Baudry’s assistant coach in 2006 and is now the head baseball coach at Northshore High School in Slidell, offered his assessment. “The talent on our team was off the chart. It seemed like we had a different guy step up every night to lead the team. The players knew someone would pick up the slack, and they didn’t care who got the spotlight.” Benoit added, “People couldn’t believe that all our players came from one school, whereas the other tournament teams were comprised of all-stars from several teams.”


Still today, Larry Scott, father of Ryan Scott, has fond memories of the momentous season. He said, “The three months that we spent together that summer was the most fun for the parents, including the Field of Dreams visit in Iowa and the long bus ride to Cedar Rapids. We were like a family and everyone has many great memories.”  Ryan was honored with the American Legion Louisiana Player of the Year award and received a scholarship.


The Nationwide team was treated to a game at the 2006 MLB World Series at Detroit’s Comerica Park, where they were recognized in a pre-game ceremony.


The complete roster for the 2006 Nationwide Restoration (Post 175) squad included: Brett Accardo, Brent Brignac, Robby Broach, Matt Brown, Kirk Cunningham, Gregory Dick, Cory Hoffman, Tyler Koelling, Carl Labit, Mike Liberto, Dane Maxwell, Matt O’Connor, Brett Palermo, Ryan Scott, Ben Usner, Kevin Weidenbacher, and Kyle Zara. Team manager was Anthony Longo. A testament to the team’s talent was that eleven of the players went on to play baseball at the collegiate level.

Family Ties Still Flourishing in 2021

One of my special interests in baseball, going back about 30 years, has been the prevalence of relatives in professional baseball, including the majors and minors. My interests manifested itself in a book I authored in 2012, where I published my initial research efforts about baseball’s relatives. Appropriately, I titled the book “Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia about Baseball’s Relatives.” Since then, I have continued extensive research and documentation of the occurrences of family relationships in the sport, except it is now maintained in a database, with annual updates posted on my website “Baseball’s Relatives.”


There is no single source you can go to find all the family ties in baseball. There are several websites that provide lists of major-league players who are fathers, sons and brothers, but that’s about it. Several factors distinguished the information in my book from the other lists on these websites: 1) I not only included players, but also managers, coaches, scouts, executives, owners, front office personnel, broadcasters, and umpires who had relatives in baseball; 2) I also included minor-league players; 3) I included additional family relationships (uncle, nephew, cousin, grandson, etc.); 4) I included relatives who participated in non-baseball sports. The additional information I gathered resulted from reading baseball-related websites, books, magazines, and newspapers.


I thought I had a pretty comprehensive set of information in the Family Ties book. There were over 3,500 baseball personnel identified, covering all of the baseball roles. But I acknowledged in the book that my information was not exhaustive, if only for the reason that each new baseball season would bring in new players who had family relationship in the sport.


I just finished the 2021 season updates of my database.  I now have accumulated over 8,300 major-league and minor-league players, managers, coaches, scouts, executives, owners, front office personnel, broadcasters and umpires. All of these represent over 12,000 family relationships (father, son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, etc.) in baseball. There are another 1,400 family relationships with athletes in other major sports at various levels (amateur, college, professional, and Olympics).


For the past several years, most of my updates have been found in major-league team media guides. Most of the teams are pretty good at identifying in the bios of their players any relatives they have in baseball or another sport.


The 2021 season information can be viewed at https://baseballrelatives.wordpress.com/family-ties-2021-season/


Here are a few stats and interesting facts from the 2021 season:


 

  • 592 active major and minor league players have one or more relatives in pro baseball. That’s equates to about one in every seven players in the majors and minors combined.

 


 

  •  Those 592 players had 835 family relationships.

 


o   Nationals minor-leaguer Jake Boone and major-leaguer Vlad Guerrero each have six relatives. If Boone makes the majors, his family would become the first four-generation MLB family.


o   Minor-leaguer Trei Cruz has five family members in pro baseball. If he reaches the majors, the Cruz family would become only the sixth three-generation MLB family.


 

  •  648 active non-players have one or more relatives in pro baseball.

 


 

  •  Those 648 non-players had 1,180 relationships.

 


o   Jerry Hairston Jr. (Dodgers broadcaster) and Shawn Roof (Tigers minor-league manager) each have nine relatives in pro baseball.


o   Phillies executive Andy MacPhail has seven relatives, which includes four generations of front office personnel, going back to Larry MacPhail who began his career in the 1930s.


o   With more and more major-league and minor-league coaching and front office personnel being hired without playing experience, this category of relatives will likely decline over time.


 

  •  32 players with relatives made their MLB debut.

 


o   Reds pitcher Riley O’Brien is the grandson of former major-leaguer Johnny O’Brien, whose twin brother Eddie was also a major-leaguer.


o   Rays phenom Wander Franco has two brothers (both also named Wander) who played in the minors. They are nephews of retired MLB brothers Willy and Erick Aybar.


o   Brothers Trevor and Tylor Megill made their debuts with the Cubs and Mets, respectively.


 

  •  62 players with relatives made their minor-league debut

 


o   The last names of several of these rookie minor-leaguers are very familiar (Glavine, Kessinger, Niekro, Pettitte, and Boone).


 

  • 18 players with relatives were selected in the MLB Draft which consisted of 20 rounds. (In 2020 there were five rounds.) When here were 45 draft rounds in 2019, 77 players with relatives were drafted. There will be more of a shift toward undrafted free agent signings with limited rounds.

 


 

  • 362 players and non-players had relatives in other sports and levels. Below are some examples.

 


o   Royals manager Mike Matheny has four sons who played college baseball, one of which made it to the minors. His daughter played hockey in college.


o   Orioles second baseman Jahmai Jones’s father and three brothers played in the NFL.


o   Cubs outfielder Trayce Thompson’s father and two brothers played in the NBA.


 

  • By far, the San Francisco Giants had the most active players with relatives (31) and the most active non-players with relatives (41). It makes you wonder if this was by design (preference for hiring players and non-players with baseball in their bloodlines) or just a coincidence.

I envision a future trend in which we’ll see a reduction of family ties in baseball. The pipeline for new entrants is being reduced in several areas. There are now fewer draft rounds and fewer minor-league teams, which affects both the number of players and coaches. Many jobs in major- league front offices are being filled nowadays with personnel who did not play professional baseball. Scouting staffs are being reduced by many teams because of the availability of technology to evaluate players without seeing them in person.

Flashback: Will Clark involved in 1993 MLB free agency controversy

With Major League Baseball already into the off-season, navigating the free agency situation is occupying significant time by major-league front offices. General managers are looking to augment their rosters with players who can help turn their teams into a pennant contender next spring. As always, the GM’s challenge is being able to afford the players’ salary demands while also trying to minimize long-term commitments.


Major league clubs will be jockeying for this year’s top free agents, headlined by shortstops Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez, and Trevor Story. There’s sure to be a significant amount of attention around their signings, since any one of these players could be a difference-maker for many teams. It will be interesting to see which of these players will be the first to sign, thus setting the market price for the rest of the elite infielders. We can expect drama around the signing of one or more of these high-profile players.


Former New Orleans prep star and major-leaguer Will Clark had a flair for the dramatic on the field. But it was during the winter between the 1993 and 1994 seasons that he made a big splash in the free agent market, as he left San Francisco to sign with the Texas Rangers. The circumstances of his move created a fair amount of commotion and controversy within the baseball ranks.


Clark had a storybook career, starting with his playground days in New Orleans and extending throughout his 15-year major-league career. Along the way, he was a standout at Jesuit High School, an All-American at Mississippi State, the star of Team USA in the 1984 Olympics, and a six-time major-league all-star.


Clark made his major-league debut with the San Francisco Giants in 1986 after having been the No. 2 overall pick of the 1985 MLB draft. By 1990, his stock had risen significantly, making him one of the exciting young stars of the National League. He was rewarded accordingly with a new four-year, $15 million contract, the largest ever given at that time.


Following the 1993 season in which the Giants had acquired slugger Barry Bonds, Clark was a free agent again. While Bonds had put up an MVP season with San Francisco, Clark was coming off a subpar season for him, as his production declined when he missed 30 games due to nagging injuries. Clark preferred to stay with the Giants but decided to test the free-agent market after becoming disappointed with the Giants’ offer of a three-year deal at less than $15 million.


Clark drew interest from the Orioles, Mets and White Sox. Additionally, the Rangers and Rockies were expected to enter the chase for Clark if they could not re-sign their incumbent first basemen, Rafael Palmeiro and Andres Galarraga. The Orioles wound up entering contract negotiations with Clark but was unable to reach a final agreement.


Palmeiro didn’t immediately accept the Rangers’ initial offer of $26 million for five years and he decided to enter the free-agent market. The Rangers responded by initiating contract discussions with Clark.


Palmeiro was peeved at the Rangers for engaging his former Mississippi State teammate. He told The Sporting News, “I think Will Clark is a good player, but I don’t think he’s the player that I am. I feel I’m the better player.” Indeed, Palmeiro had just completed the best season of his career (.295 BA, 37 HR, and 105 RBIs), outpacing Clark (.283 BA, 14 HR, and 73 RBIs).


Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Giants, Clark signed a five-year contract with the Rangers worth $30 million. Clark’s agent, Jeff Moorad, commented in USA Today upon the signing, “He’s leaving the Giants with very mixed feelings. It was his sincere desire to re-sign with the Giants.”


Palmeiro was upset with the Rangers for the deal they struck with Clark, which was similar to the one he was seeking. He also lashed out at Clark in the press. In the Fort Worth-Star Telegram, Palmeiro lambasted Clark, believing he had undercut him, “That’s Will. That’s the way he is. He’s got no class. Friendship didn’t matter to him. He was looking out for himself. I don’t think much of Will. He’s a lowlife.”


Palmeiro was later apologetic for his comments about Clark. The Times-Picayune reported, “I think Will Clark is a great person and a great ballplayer. I was speaking out of frustration, and I want to apologize to Will.” However, Palmeiro harbored ill feelings for Clark that lasted a long time. It wasn’t until 2015 when ESPN Films was producing the documentary “SEC Storied – Thunder and Lighting” (about Clark and Palmeiro playing together at Mississippi State) that the two former teammates would make up and start speaking to each other again.


Clark played out his five seasons with Texas, while Palmeiro put in five years with the Orioles. Ironically, the two players swapped teams in 1999, with Clark going to Baltimore and Palmeiro returning to Texas.


Clark finished his career in 2000 with the St. Louis Cardinals, who acquired him from Baltimore at the trade deadline to backfill injured first baseman Mark McGwire. Clark went on a hitting spree during the last two months of the regular season, helping the Cardinals secure the Central Division title.

Post-season musings

Before we go headlong into the off-season, I thought I’d close out the 2021 season with some thoughts about the World Series.


Braves manager Brian Snitker gets a World Series ring after 45 years in the organization. His story is one of perseverance. He had been demoted a couple of times in the minor-league ranks and had been passed over once before for the Braves managerial spot. I guess the old adage “good things come to those who wait” applies to him.


You have to wonder how one of the best offensive teams in baseball can go so flat in the World Series? The Houston Astros got only 10 extra-base hits (including only two home runs) in the six-game Series. Alverez and Bregman, with only two hits apiece, took an early vacation. What does it say when pitcher Zack Greinke has the highest Astros batting average (.667) during the Series? (Admittedly, he had only three plate appearances.)


With the absence of true “stoppers” (starting pitchers who can shut the opposition down with seven or eight solid innings following a loss by their team), all of the post-season teams had to resort to bullpenning in several games. It makes for an interesting chess match between the managers.


The Braves managed to win the World Series without their best position player, outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., and their best pitcher, Charlie Morton. It’s a tribute to other teammates who stepped up when needed, especially outfielders Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and Joc Pederson, all of whom were acquired by the Braves after July.


The Astros really didn’t miss former outfielder George Springer, who had been a key part of the team’s makeover going back to 2015. Springer signed with Toronto for the 2021 season, but his loss was offset by 24-year-old Kyle Tucker who had a breakout season and enabled Astros fans forget about Springer.


With the city of Atlanta hosting the World Series and MLB Commissioner Manfred having to present the Braves with the World Series trophy in Atlanta, Major League Baseball looks pretty silly now for moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Colorado back in July. MLB over-reacted to the political situation in Georgia, resulting in the change of the All-Star Game venue.


Looking ahead to 2022


What’s in store for Astros manager Dusty Baker for 2022? Will Houston bring the 72-year-old back for a third season? Does he want to come back?


Does Series MVP Jorge Soler get re-signed by the Braves for 2022? His post-season performance came at a good time, as he shops himself around in free agency over the winter. The Braves may not be willing to match some of the offers he’s likely to get from other teams.


The Astros appear to be pretty set in their starting rotation for the foreseeable future. Playing on the big stage for the first time, their corps of young starters that includes Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy, all of whom performed admirably at times during the post-season. Adding 27-year-old “veteran” Lance McCullers Jr. to the mix, the Astros have to feel good about that part of their roster. Two-time Cy Young Award pitcher Justin Verlander missed the entire Astros season due to recovery from Tommy John surgery. They don’t need to bring the 38-year-old back. It’s also bye-bye for 37-year-old Zack Greinke.


While the Astros pitching staff is manned by relative youngsters, the team will have to guard against getting too old with its position players down the road. Gurriel, Altuve, Brantley, and Maldonado are into their 30s.


The Braves would be foolish not to re-sign first baseman Freddie Freeman, who becomes a free agent after this season. He’s the clear leader of the team and a perennial MVP candidate. He’s the face of the franchise. Pay him.


By the same token, the Astros need to re-sign Carlos Correa. Yeah, he’s missed a lot of games during his short career, but he’s one of the main reasons the Astros have been to the World Series in three of the past five seasons. However, expect the Yankees to make a run at Correa.

Flashback: Former Fortier star Howie Pollet led St. Louis Cardinals into 1946 World Series

The New Orleans area has produced numerous players who made it to baseball’s biggest stage, the World Series. Some of the city’s best-known major-league players, including Mel Ott, Rusty Staub, Will Clark, George Strickland, and Connie Ryan, can count World Series appearances among their career highlights.


Seventy-five years ago, Howie Pollet, former prep pitcher at Fortier High School, was the World Series Game 1 starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals when they faced the powerful Boston Red Sox.


After missing half of the 1943 season and all of 1944 and 1945 due to military service in World War II, 25-year-old Pollet returned in fine form with the Cardinals for the 1946 season. He led the National League with 21 wins and a 2.31 ERA. In 32 starts for the Redbirds, he pitched 22 complete games, including four shutouts. He also appeared in eight games as a reliever, collecting five saves. With a windmill-type of delivery, the left-handed Pollet relied on his fastball as his No. 1 pitch and combined it with a change-up and slow curve. He finished sixth in the league in strikeouts with 107.


The Cardinals were making their fourth World Series appearance in five years, having won all the marbles in 1942 and 1944. (Pollet had pitched to one batter in a relief appearance in the ’42 Series.) Stan Musial headlined the 1946 Cardinals’ hitting attack that also included Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Whitey Kurowski, and Terry Moore.


The Red Sox were considered the favorite going into the Series, having won 104 games during the regular season. Their offense was led by Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Rudy York. Their pitching staff featured 25-game winner Boo Ferriss and 20-game winner Tex Hughson.


The Cardinals went with Pollet as their Game 1 starter, even though he had been dealing with an unpredictable back problem. Hughson drew the assignment for the Red Sox. The game was played before a packed house of 36,218 fans at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.


The Red Sox got on the board first with a run in the second inning, when Pinky Higgins hit a single off Pollet that scored York. The Cardinals evened the score in the sixth when Musial doubled to score Schoendienst.


Joe Garagiola’s run-scoring double gave the Cardinals took the lead, 2-1, in the sixth inning. Pollet yielded the seventh Red Sox hit in the ninth inning, as Tom McBride’s single scored Don Gutteridge to tie the score.


In the top of the 10th inning, York walloped a solo home run off Pollet that turned out to be the game-winning run for the Red Sox. The final score was 3-2. Pollet took the loss, giving up nine hits and four walks, while striking out three.


Pollet got another start in Game 5 at Fenway Park. However, he didn’t get out of the first inning due to back pain that was aggravated in Game 1. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series in seven games.


Pollet, whose major-league career consisted of 14 seasons, pitched until 1956. His career record was 131-116 with a 3.58 ERA. His 131 wins are still the most of any major-league pitcher from the New Orleans area. He was named to the National League All-Star team three times.


Below is a complete list of New Orleans metro area players who played in one or more World Series.


Player

High School

Year(s) in World Series

World Series Team

Larry Gilbert Sr.

Unknown

1914*

Braves

John Martina

Unknown

1924*

Senators

Mel Ott

McDonough-Jefferson

1933*, 1936, 1937

Giants

Howie Pollet

Fortier

1942*, 1946*

Cardinals

Lou Klein

S. J. Peters

1943

Cardinals

Al Jurisich

Warren Easton

1944*

Cardinals

Jack Kramer

S. J. Peters

1944

Browns

Connie Ryan

Jesuit

1948

Braves

Putsy Caballero

Jesuit

1950

Phillies

George Strickland

S. J. Peters

1954

Indians

Rusty Staub

Jesuit

1973

Mets

Will Clark

Jesuit

1989

Giants

Gerald Williams

East St. John

1999

Braves

Chad Gaudin

Crescent City

2009*

Yankees

Mike Fontenot

Salmen

2010*

Giants

Will Harris

Slidell

2017*, 2019

Astros

Tanner Rainey

St. Paul’s

2019*

Nationals

Aaron Loup

Hahnville

2020

Rays

Asterisks indicate team won the World Series that season.

It's uncanny how improbable stars rise to the occasion in the MLB post-season

You would expect perennial stars like Reggie Jackson (AKA Mr. October) and Derek Jeter (AKA Mr. November) to have spectacular performances in post-season play. They seemed to have a knack for hitting a home run or making a dramatic catch at the right time to lift their respective New York Yankees teams to critical playoff victories.


But if I had mentioned at the end of the regular season names like Kike Hernandez, Tyler Matzek, Yordan Alvarez, or Eddie Rosario as potential playoff heroes, it would have raised a few eyebrows. By and large, these players don’t have familiar names associated with superstardom. Not even during the regular season, much less the playoffs.


But have you noticed how every season seems to have at least one player, well short of superstar caliber, who puts his team on his back and carries them toward the prized World Series ring?


This year it just happens to be those not-so-familiar names like Hernandez, Matzek, Alvarez, and Rosario who are rising the occasion.


Boston’s Kike Hernandez had prior experience in World Series play with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, 2018, and 2020. He had gained a reputation as an effective utility player, but the Dodgers felt he was expendable and granted him free agency after the 2020 season. He finally secured a full-time job as the Red Sox’s center fielder this season. He became a Red Sox hero in the ALDS against Tampa Bay when he went 5-for-6 with a home run and two doubles in Game 2 and went on to lead the team with nine hits in the series. In Game 1 of the ALCS against Houston, he made a spectacular catch in center field while also hitting another home run. He wound up leading the Red Sox with 10 hits in the ALCS.


Yordan Alvarez made a splash in his MLB debut in 2019 with Houston, but then missed all but two games last season from having surgery on both knees. In the shadows of established Astros stars Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel, he quietly led the Astros with 33 home runs and 104 RBIs and posted a 136 ERA+ this year. When some of these other players struggled at the plate in the post-season, Alvarez put on a hitting clinic against Red Sox pitchers. He had five extra-base hits among his 12 safeties for the ALCS and led the Astros offensively with a slash line of .522/.538/.970.  He was named the MVP for the ALCS.


Eddie Rosario was acquired by the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline this year to bolster their outfield after having lost Ronald Acuna Jr. to injury. With a team that already featured offensive threats Freddie Freeman, Austin Riley, Adam Duvall, Ozzie Albers, and Dansby Swanson, not much was expected from Rosario. But all he did was get the walk-off winning hit in Game 2 of the NLCS, go 4-for-5 with a homer and triple in Game 4, and hit a 3-run homer in the decisive Game 6. Altogether, he banged out 14 hits in the NLCS (a franchise record) and captured the MVP award for the series.


Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek, who was practically out of baseball a few years ago due to a case of the yips, has had incredible post-season.  In nine appearances, he has yielded only two runs in 10 1/3 innings. The outing that best illustrated his impact with the Braves came in NLCS Game 6 against the Dodgers where he struck out the side in the seventh inning with the Dodgers having runners on second and third. He’s had 11 strikeouts with runners in scoring position during the post-season.

  

Here are a few other improbable stars of past post-seasons.


Last year there was Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays. He had played a total of 42 major-league games spread over two partial seasons with St. Louis (2019) and Tampa Bay (2020). He got on a hot streak during the post-season and wound up banging out 10 home runs in 20 post-season games while batting .377. His performance earned him the MVP award for the ALCS against Houston.


Steve Pearce had been a platoon player for practically all of his major-league career that started in 2007. The Red Sox became his seventh major-league team in 2018 when they acquired him from Toronto at the end of June. He appeared in 50 games for the Red Sox, filling in as a reserve first baseman and outfielder, in addition to DHing and pinch-hitting. In Games 4 and 5 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pearce hit three home runs with seven RBIs, helping Boston win the Series in just five games. He was voted the MVP of the Series, while playing on a team that featured Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Mitch Moreland.


Ben Zobrist was the epitome of a “super utility” player with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 when he played three infield and two outfield positions during the regular season. In the Cubs’ historic World Series championship that year, it was Zobrist who led the Cubs. Playing left field in the Series against Cleveland, the switch-hitter went 10-for-28 at the plate and was named the Series MVP.


In 2015 the Mets appeared in their first post-season since 2006. The team was only a little better than average offensively in the National League. However, the Mets got past the Dodgers and Cubs to reach the World Series. 30-year-old second baseman Daniel Murphy was the key player that propelled them into the Fall Classic. Seven of his 16 hits in the NLDS and NLCS went for home runs after he hit only 14 during the entire regular season. The Mets wound up losing to Kansas City in the World Series, but Mets fans will forever remember Murphy’s unexpected power surge that got them there.


David Freese was in his third major-league season in 2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals, having missed almost two months due to injuries. The Cardinals had been led offensively by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and Allen Craig during the regular season. But it was Freese who stepped up his game in the post-season to help the Cardinals franchise win its 11th World Series. He was the MVP of the NLCS against Milwaukee when he hit three home runs and batted .545. The Rangers were one out away from capturing its first-ever world championship in Game 6 of the World Series, but Freese hit a triple in the ninth inning to tie the score. He later smacked a walk-off home run in the 11th to keep the Cardinals alive in the Series. The Cardinals went on to win Game 7, with Freese named the MVP. 

New Orleans native Ron Washington brings World Series experience to the Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Division Series last week and now have the Los Angeles Dodgers in their path to reaching their first World Series since 1999. One of the Braves’ weapons in their pursuit of the NL pennant is not a pitcher or a position player, but rather third base coach Ron Washington, a native of New Orleans who still resides in the city.


Should the Braves advance to the World Series, they will benefit from Washington’s experience in two World Series as manager of the Texas Rangers. None of the other members of the Braves coaching staff, including manager Brian Snitker, has any background with World Series competition. Bench coach Walt Weiss is the only one of Snitker’s staff who has experienced a World Series as a player. The 68-year-old Washington is in his fifth season as a base coach for the Braves, while also working extensively with the infielders.


Washington fell short of claiming a World Series ring, as his 2010 Rangers team was over-matched against the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 Series, losing in five games. However, in 2011 they were one pitch away in Game 6 from winning the franchise’s first World Series championship against the St. Louis Cardinals. But they wound up losing to the Cardinals in seven games. Washington spent eight seasons as the Rangers manager, including 2007 to 2014. He is the all-time winningest manager in Rangers history with 664 victories.


He graduated from John McDonogh High School in New Orleans in 1970. He was in the first class of amateur players signed by the Kansas City Royals to participate in their newly established baseball academy. The infielder spent five seasons in the Royals’ minor-league system, followed by stints in the Dodgers and Mets organizations.


Washington made his major-league debut with the Minnesota Twins in 1981 and primarily played as a utility infielder with them for six seasons. He spent one season each with Baltimore, Cleveland, and Houston before retiring as a player after the 1990 season. He began his coaching career at the minor-league level in 1991 and has spent 26 years on major-league coaching staffs.


“Wash” is a favorite among the Braves players. He is well-known for his demanding fielding drills with infielders before games. Braves all-star second baseman Ozzie Albies told The Sporting News in August, “He’s [Washington] the GOAT, that’s what I’d say. He’s the guy. He makes us feel comfortable, makes us feel great on and off the field. He makes us feel at home, feel safe. He’s all about doing the right things. Just do it right, good things are going to happen. He’s a special guy and we love to have him here.”


Washington has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the San Diego Padres managerial job vacated by Jayce Tingler, who was let go after two seasons. Padres general manager A.J. Preller is familiar with Washington because they were with the Rangers at the same time.


Washington’s boss, Braves manager Brian Snitker, also has ties to New Orleans since he played baseball at the University of New Orleans.

Hey brother, let's play ball

Playing wiffle ball in the backyard with a brother was an experience familiar to a lot of us. Playing on the same team with a brother in Little League, Babe Ruth, or high school baseball is something we might have also experienced. But what about brothers playing with or against each other in the major leagues? Not too many can say they know what that’s like.


But it happens every once in a while. Some of the occurrences go relatively unnoticed. Others like the Alou brothers (Felipe, Matty, and Jesus) attracted significant attention in September 1963 when the trio of Dominican players started in the outfield together in a game for the San Francisco Giants. Their improbable feat is often the subject of baseball trivia questions.


This year’s major-league season saw several instances of brothers playing on opposite sides of the diamond and one in which the brothers teamed up as batterymates.


Brothers Jordan and Justus Sheffield pitched in the same game during Spring Training in March. Justus started for the Seattle Mariners, while Jordan entered the game in the fourth inning in relief for the Colorado Rockies. It was the second time they had crossed paths in a professional game as opponents, the first in a minor-league series in 2019. The brothers roomed together during spring training camp.


Brothers Corey (Dodgers) and Kyle Seager (Mariners) have opposed each other as major leaguers several times. On April 19 this season, Corey homered in a 4-3 loss to the Mariners. On May 11, Kyle homered in a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers. Even though Kyle is the older of the two, his nickname is “Corey’s Brother.”


Yuli and Lourdes Gurriel are Cuban-born major-leaguers whose father Lourdes Sr. was a baseball star for the Cuban National team in the 1980s and 1990s. The brothers played against each other in a series between Houston and Toronto on May 7-9. Houston’s Yuli outshined his brother with a 4-for-4 performance in one of the games. Yuli wound up leading the National League in batting this season with a .319 average.


Veteran major-league brothers Andrew and Austin Romine became the first brother batterymates since brother Norm (catcher) and Larry Sherry (pitcher) played together on June 28, 1962. Andrew, normally an infielder, was brought in to pitch for the Chicago Cubs in a blowout game against the Milwaukee Brewers on August 12. His catcher was his brother Austin. With the Brewers already holding a 16-3 lead   Andrew pitched the final inning of the game, yielding a home run and a single and striking out one batter.


On August 21, Aaron Nola and his brother Austin played against each for the first time since both were playing in a spring practice game as teammates at LSU. Aaron, who pitches for the Philadelphia Phillies, faced Austin with the San Diego Padres in three at-bats. Austin struck out, flied out, and walked against his brother, who had a perfect game through the first 6 1/3 innings. The Padres wound up inning, 4-3, in 10 innings.


On September 27, Cleveland’s Bradley Zimmer got bragging rights when he a 408-foot home run off his brother Kyle who was pitching in relief for the Kansas City Royals. The Indians won, 8-3. The brothers, who were both first-round draft picks, had faced each other three times previously this season. It was the first time a brother homered against his brother since 1976. (See Niekro brothers below.)


Below is a sampling of other games in baseball’s long history where MLB brothers played with or against each other.


Alex Gaston of the Boston Red Sox broke up his brother Milt’s no-hitter in 1926, hitting the first pitch of the ninth inning for a single.


The St. Louis Browns’ Rick Ferrell almost broke up kid brother Wes’s no-hitter on April 29, 1931; but the official scorer ruled Rick’s 8th inning at-bat an error and Wes claimed his no-hitter. On July 19, 1933, the brothers homered in the same inning for opposing teams. Rick hit his off Wes, only one of 28 total home runs in an 18-year career.


Mort and Walker Cooper were the pitcher-catcher combo for six seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and one with the New York Giants. During 1942 through 1944 with the Cardinals, each of the brothers made the all-star team and helped their team win three National League pennants and two World Series championships.


Clete and Ken Boyer played against each for the first time in Game 1 of the 1964 World Series between the Yankees and Cardinals. In Game 7, Clete (Yankees) and Ken (Yankees) each hit home runs in the Cardinals’ win.


Brothers George and Ken Brett played against each other for the first time in an exhibition game on March 27, 1976. George, playing for the Kansas City Royals, hit a home run off Ken of the New York Yankees. In 20 regular-season plate appearances against his brother, George never homered once.


Joe Niekro (Astros) hit the only major-league home run of his 22-year career against his brother Phil on May 29, 1976. Joe’s seventh-inning home run against his older brother tied the game, with the Astros ultimately defeating the Braves, 4-3. Joe got the winning decision, giving up only four hits and one earned run in eight innings. Phil recorded the loss.

Who are the real contenders for AL and NL pennants?

It’s taken until the last week of the season to determine a few of the MLB playoff teams. It was a wild finish, especially in the AL East. That’s the way we like it. However, despite their regular season records and finished, all the playoff teams start in the same place, 0-0. But in reality, there’s only a couple of teams in each league that practically have a chance to advance to the World Series this year.


In the National League, I believe the Giants and Dodgers are head and shoulders over the rest of the playoff entrants, while the Rays and Astros are the teams to beat in the American League. I’m not saying the opposition will be push-overs, but they each have weaknesses that make their case for winning a pennant a tough pick. Below is how I see the playoff teams stacking up.


National League


The Dodgers are the most complete team offensively and pitching-wise. Even with Clayton Kershaw going on the Injured List as late as Saturday, their cadre of starters, led by Max Scherzer, is the best in baseball. And they are deep in the bullpen as well. Manager Dave Roberts can juggle his lineup, depending on the opposition, because of his players’ versatility and a deep bench. Outfielder Cody Bellinger has been abysmal at the plate this year, but it doesn’t matter much with the rest of the Dodgers’ roster. Trea Turner should be a NL MVP candidate just based on his two months with the team.


The Giants don’t have the overall team strength as the Dodgers but winning the most games in San Francisco Giants history was no fluke. Their veteran player presence, combined with their relatively young skipper Gabe Kapler, didn’t fold against tough division opponents Dodgers and Padres, who were favored to win the division. One of the impressive stats about the Giants is that they were 65-25 in games involving one-run differences and blowout games (won by 5+ runs). They can win either way.


The Brewers probably are the most motivated team in the playoffs since their franchise has never won a World Series. Their pitching can compete with anyone, but they lack offensive punch in the lineup. They are near the bottom of the league in slugging. Christian Yelich hasn’t played anywhere near his capability demonstrated in 2018 and 2019, when he finished first and second in the MVP voting. The Brewers will make their opposition struggle at plate but won’t be able to advance past the first round.


No one was hotter down the stretch than the Cardinals. They can cause some trouble in the playoffs if they can manage to keep up their momentum. 39-year-old pitcher Adam Wainwright has found the fountain of youth with 17 wins, but the rest of the staff is not that impressive. The Cards will need all they can get from all-stars Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, but it still won’t be enough offense.


The Braves won their fourth consecutive AL East division title with only 87 wins. Their best player, Ronald Acuna Jr., missed the last 2 ½ months of the season, although MVP candidate Austin Riley and all-star Ozzie Albies picked up a lot of the slack from Acuna’s absence. Playoff veteran Charlie Morton and Max Fried headline a solid pitching staff. They went down to the wire with the Dodgers last year losing the NCLS in seven games. If there’s a sleeper in the NL playoffs, it’s the Braves.


American League


The Rays were impressive in winning a tough AL East division since their starting rotation was largely overhauled from last year. Manager Kevin Cash is the master in managing the in-game use of his pitching staff. The addition of veteran slugger Nelson Cruz and the promotion of Wander Franco late in the season bolstered their offense. Second baseman Brandon Lowe had a breakout season with 39 home runs. He‘s probably anxious to overcome his miserable performance in the playoffs last year.


The Astros have significant playoff experience, led by their grizzled veteran manager Dusty Baker. Their core players are healthy. Two relative newcomers, Jordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, have put up big numbers for the team that leads the league in OPS. Their pitching staff is good enough to make them competitive in all of the playoff series. They have a winning regular-season record against all the playoff teams except the Yankees.


I wasn’t a big fan of Tony LaRussa being hired as the White Sox manager this year. But you have to give him credit for winning the division (their first since 2008) despite losing several key players during the season. Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez being healthy is key in the playoffs. Last year’s AL MVP Jose Abreu turned in his usual 30+ HR and 100+ RBI season. The White Sox have two first-rate starters in Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon, but the talent level falls off after them. I don’t think their pitching is strong enough to contend. The White Sox had a losing record against other playoff teams.


The Yankees were a streaky team most of the year. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge hit their stride together during the last two months of the season and carried the team. The additions of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo didn’t produce as much as the Yankees had hoped. The usually reliable DJ LeMahieu didn’t help either. Those three will need to be a lot more productive in the playoffs. Yankees pitching stats rank up there with other AL playoff teams, but you never know what you’ll get from their starters, who often can’t get past the fifth inning. The worrisome part about the Yankees is they had losing records against each of their division foes.


The Red Sox squeaked into the wild card spot, just like the Yankees. They were good during the first half of the season, but barely finished above .500 during the second half. It was as though they had run out of gas at mid-season and couldn’t find the nearest gas station. If they had three or four Rafael Devers on the team and more consistency from their pitchers, I could be more optimistic about their chances in the playoffs. They could very well beat the Yankees in the wild card game, but don’t hold your breath for wins after that.

Flashback: 1940s S.J. Peters star Ray Yochim had to settle for a 'cup of coffee'

Ray Yochim was one of many players from New Orleans in the 1930s and 1940s who pursued dreams of playing in the major leagues. An April 1939 article in the Times-Picayune reported as many as 100 players represented New Orleans in professional baseball ranks. Of course, only a small number of them ever reached the majors. Yochim beat the odds and eventually got his shot in the big leagues, although it turned out he was there only long enough for the proverbial “cup of coffee.”


Yochim attended S.J. Peters High School, where he was a teammate of Mel Parnell, who eventually pitched for 10 years with the Boston Red Sox, and Pete Modica, who later pitched for the hometown New Orleans Pelicans. Yochim was captain of his team as a junior in 1940, when he earned second team honors on the city’s All-Prep squad.


Yochim and Parnell led Peters into the 1941 city playoffs in which they struck out 19 and 17 batters, in successive games. However, Peters lost to a tough Jesuit High School team for the city championship. Yochim was again named to the All-Prep second team, as he led the league in strikeouts.


Ray signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization out of high school. He finished with a 9-8 record split between two Class C teams at Fresno and Springfield, where he joined a familiar face in catcher Fats Dantonio who had prepped at Jesuit.


Yochim and Dantonio both received promotions to the Class A1 New Orleans Pelicans for the 1942 season. Although he started out by winning his first two decisions, he experienced control problems and was sent to Class B Columbus. He fell on hard times, winning only three of 18 decisions. The Sporting News referred to him as a “one-bad inning right-hander.”


With World War II in full swing, 20-year-old Yochim enlisted in the Marine Corps, reporting in April 1943. He was sent to San Diego, where never completed boot camp since the local Marine Corps baseball team needed a pitcher. He was 22-5 in Marine Corps games in 1944, leading his team to the 11th Naval District championship. He frequently played with and against major leaguers stationed on the West Coast. One of his personal highlights was a game in which he prevented Joe DiMaggio from hitting a ball out of the infield by throwing him curveballs in each plate appearance.


Yochim spent time in Guam before receiving orders in April 1945 to go to Hawaii. The Sporting News erroneously reported in their April 19 edition that he had been killed in action at Iwo Jima. A ship that he was supposed to be on was sunk in that area, but fortunately he had taken a flight instead.


He continued to play service ball in 1945. For the Navy All-Star Series, he was selected to represent the National League in a seven-game series against the American League. Yochim’s teammates included major leaguers-turned-servicemen Charlie Gilbert (from New Orleans), Hugh Casey, Herman Franks, Cookie Lavagetto, Stan Musial, and Clyde Shoun.


Yochim returned to baseball in the United States in 1946, when major leaguers came back from military service. Over the next four seasons, he spent most of his time with Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliates in Rochester and Columbus. After winning 14 games for Rochester in 1947, he started the 1948 season with the Cardinals but managed to get only one appearance on May 2. His debut consisted of one inning in relief in which he walked three of the six Chicago Cubs batters he faced. He was sent back to Rochester and finished out the season in Columbus.


In 1949 Yochim got into three games with the Cardinals in May, pitching a total of 2 1/3 innings. But he had issues with his control and was sent back to Columbus. After the Boston Red Sox purchased him, he proceeded to win 15 games with Birmingham in 1950. He required surgery during the off-season for complications resulting from being hit on his right elbow.


He struggled thereafter, bouncing around with several teams through the 1954 season. He was pressed into service as manager of Panama City during the second half of the 1954 season, following two other dismissed managers. He sat out the 1955 season but returned for a short stint with Shreveport in 1956.


He was serving as a part-time pitching coach for the New Orleans Pelicans in 1958, when manager Charlie Silvera left the team in August due to illness. Yochim finished out the season as manager and also pitched in seven games, winning two. It was his last season of professional baseball.


However, Yochim continued to play in semi-pro baseball leagues in New Orleans. Local baseball fans enjoyed games when he pitched for the Yochim All-Stars against the Shell Oilers, whose pitcher was his brother Lenny, who had a brief major-league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1950s.


With numerous local ex-ballplayers in attendance at Mel Ott’s funeral in New Orleans in November 1958, Yochim conceived the idea for an organization called the “Diamond Club of Greater New Orleans,” whose members would be former professional and semi-pro players and interested parties [umpires, scouts, sports writers, and sports announcers]. The organization became a popular social club with regular meetings and annual inductions of former baseball figures from the New Orleans area into its hall of fame.


Yochim died in 2002 at age 79. He and his brother weren’t the only pair of major-league brothers from New Orleans during their era. Charlie and Tookie Gilbert also played professionally in the 1940s and 1950s, including stints in the majors. Other major leaguers from Peters High included Jack Kramer, Lou Klein, Hal Bevan, and George Strickland.

Brewers ace Corbin Burnes flies under the radar in bid for Cy Young

When you hear the names Kershaw, Verlander, Scherzer, Cole, and deGrom, you automatically recognize them as the pitching aces of their respective major league teams. But when you hear the name Corbin Burnes, you might get him confused with Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin or Arizona’s pitcher Corbin Martin. He’s one of those Corbins.


Burnes doesn’t play for a big-market team like the Yankees or Dodgers. He’s not on a pace to win 20 games. Instead, he pitches for the Milwaukee Brewers, and he’s won only 10 games so far this season. So, what’s the big deal with him?


The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central, and one of the main reasons is that they’ve been riding on the back of Burnes. Even though he’s credited with only 10 wins, the Brewers are 18-8 when he starts.


And he’s putting up numbers that put him in the class of bona fide ace like other Cy Young Award candidates Scherzer and Cole.


The 26-year-old right-hander is second in the National League in ERA (2.34), second in WHIP (0.937), first in bases on ball per 9 innings (1.823), first in strikeouts per 9 innings (12.589), first in home runs per 9 innings (0.342), second in adjusted ERA+ (181), and first in fielding independent pitching (1.58). Those are definitely Cy Young Award types of numbers.


One of the reasons Burnes is not yet a household name among many baseball fans is that he’s only in his second season as a regular starter. Actually, it’s his first, if you don’t count the shortened 2020 season due to the pandemic.


He had an impressive major-league debut with the Brewers in 2018 as a middle reliever, when he finished 7-0 with a 2.61 ERA in 30 games.


The Brewers needed help in the starting rotation in 2019 and moved Burnes to a starter role coming out of spring training. But he was a disaster. In his first four outings, he was prone to giving up extra-base hits, including an average of three home runs per game. He didn’t pitch more than five innings in any of his starts, and his ERA ballooned to 10.70 before he was returned to the bullpen.


Of course, the 2020 season was a crazy time for all the major league teams who were looking for stability and consistency in the uncertain times of the COVID pandemic. However, one of the constants for the Brewers was Burnes, who secured a spot in the starting rotation again. He went 4-1 in nine starts, posting an impressive 2.11 ERA and 1.022 WHIP. He solved his home runs allowed problem by giving up only two in almost 60 innings.


Burnes picked up in 2021 where he left off last season. He was selected for his first all-star game. He gained national attention on September 11 against Cleveland when he combined with reliever Josh Hader to throw the ninth no-hitter of the season. He issued only one walk in his eight innings pitched, while striking out 14 Indians in the no-hitter.


Burnes is in the running for NL Cy Young Award, with stiff competition coming from three Dodgers pitchers who are also having standout seasons: Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer and Julio Urias.


Burnes may be flying under the radar with respect to many baseball fans, but certainly opposing batters know all too well about the proficient right-hander, who is one of the spin-rate kings in the game.

Why Yankee shortstop prospects didn't like Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony occurred last Wednesday, when the 2020 class finally took their place among the all-time greats of baseball. Jeter played 20 seasons for the Yankees, one of the longest tenured players in Bronx Bomber history. During his time from 1995 to 2014, he was a member of five World Series championship teams. He was one vote short of being a unanimous Hall selection.


When you think about Jeter’s long career, you have to wonder how many shortstop hopefuls for the Yankees didn’t get a chance for a steady job in the big leagues because Jeter was a permanent fixture in the position, year-in and year-out.


Shortstop prospects must have cringed when their name was called by the Yankees on MLB Draft Day. They had to figure their chances of displacing Jeter were close to zero percent. Do you think they ever wished that Jeter would have a premature career-ending injury in order to open up the position? Did they try to change to another infield position to avoid being backlogged by Jeter?


When Jeter made his major-league debut in 1995, 33-year-old veteran Tony Fernandez was the regular shortstop for the Yankees. Fernandez was a one-year rental by the Yankees, so it was inevitable the Yankees would look elsewhere for their next shortstop. Andy Fox and Robert Eenhoorn were contemporaries of Jeter in the minors in 1995 and would have also been candidates for Fernandez’s replacement. Fox had been a second-round draft choice by the Yankees, but he wound up switching to second base, teaming with Jeter to form the double-play combo for one season. He played only 11 games at shortstop in his two seasons with the Yankees. Eenhoorn was also a second round pick, and he played a total of 20 games over three years for the Yankees.


Over the next years with Jeter firmly entrenched at shortstop, the Yankees front office continued to use relatively high draft picks for shortstops. Seth Taylor was a fifth-round pick in 1999. Bronson Sardinha was a first-round supplemental pick in 2001. Andy Cannizaro was a fifth-round pick in 2001. C.J. Henry was a first-round pick in 2005. Corban Joseph was a fourth-round pick in 2008. Angelo Gumbs was a second-round pick in 2010. Cannizaro was the only one who played shortstop for the Yankees, and that amounted to only 10 games. All of them were ultimately traded or released by the Yankees. The Yankees didn’t bother to select a shortstop in several draft-years.


Not counting his first season in 1996 and an injury-plagued season in 2013, Jeter was an “Iron Man” of sorts, averaging 150 games per season. When his name wasn’t on the lineup card, the Yankees primarily used veteran utility infielders to backfill him. Reserve players like Luis Sojo, Miguel Cairo, Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez filled the bill. When Jeter played only 17 games in 2013, Nunez and journeyman infielder Jayson Nix played in his place, not some new shortstop-in-waiting from the Yankees farm system.


When Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, a two-time Gold Glove winner, was acquired by the Yankees in 2004, it was A-Rod who changed positions, going to third base, not Jeter.


Jeter was a 14-time all-star and five-time winner of both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. He ranks sixth in all-time hits (3465). He was MVP in the World Series and an All-Star game.


When Jeter retired in 2014, fans wondered how the Yankees would ever backfill the legendary shortstop. Their answer was 25-year-old Didi Gregorius whom they acquired from Arizona. Practically anyone the Yankees put in the position would have big shoes to fill. Gregorius was somewhat of a gamble, never having put in a full season with the Diamondbacks or the Reds in his three big-league seasons. But Gregorius rose to the challenge and put in four solid years with the Yankees before sitting out half of 2019 recuperating from torn cartilage in his wrist. He signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies for the 2020 season.


Jeter was the face of baseball during his prime playing years. He played on baseball’s biggest stage in New York City and led the Yankees to some of the biggest victories in the franchise’s history. He was a beacon of light for Major League Baseball throughout the turbulent PED era. As he said during his induction speech, he always tried to play the game the right way and to have respect for the game.


Jeter won over countless fans throughout his career. But there were also numerous Yankees organization shortstop who wished he wouldn’t have been so good for so long.

Hometown Heroes - Southeast Louisiana products in MLB, MiLB

Here’s an update for many of the 2021 major-league and minor-league players who prepped or played collegiately in the New Orleans area and southeast Louisiana. All stats are cumulative for the year through Wednesday September 2. Below are some of the highlights from August.


Alex Bregman finally returned to the active list on August 25 after being on the injured list since June 17. Jake Fraley, Alex Lange, and Kyle Keller were recalled by their major league clubs.


Promotions during the month included Daniel Cabrera (to Double-A), Eric Orze (to Triple-A), Chase Solesky (to Hi-A), and Ian Gibaut (to major leagues).


Players from some of the local colleges who were drafted in 2021 and started their professional careers have been included.


Outfielder Greg Deichmann made his major league debut with the Cubs on August 7 and got a hit in 5 at-bats.


Aaron Nola faced his brother Austin for first time on April 21. Austin struck out, flied out and walked against his brother.


Players who will be involved in key division races during the final month of the season include Alex Bregman (Astros), Kevin Gausman (Giants), Aaron Loup (Mets), DJ LeMahieu (Yankees), Wade Miley (Reds), Aaron Nola (Phillies), and Austin Nola (Padres).


 

MLB

Alex Bregman—Astros (LSU) MLB (65 G, .284 BA, .380 OBP, 7 HR, 35 RBI); MiLB (11 G, .250 BA, .386 OBP, 1 HR, 5 RBI); Returned to active list on August 25


Kevin Gausman—Giants (LSU) 27 G, 12-5, 2.52 ERA, 157.0 IP, 183 SO


Greg Deichmann—Cubs (Brother Martin HS, LSU) MLB (7 G, .174 BA, .174 OBP, 0 HR, 1 RBI); MiLB (80 G, .284 BA, .399 OBP, 6 HR, 44 RBI, 9 SB)


Ian Gibaut—Twins (Tulane) MLB (2 G, 0-0, 0.003 ERA, 5.0 IP, 3 SO); MiLB (27 G, 1-3, 7.20 ERA, 40.0 IP, 46 SO); Promoted to Twins on August 28


Will Harris—Nationals (Slidell HS, LSU) 8 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 6 IP, 9 SO; On Injured List since May 23


Jake FraleyMariners (LSU) MLB (62 G, .213 BA, .359 OBP, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 9 SB); MiLB (11 G, .333 BA, .488 OBP, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 SB); Activated by Mariners on August 2; On Injured List August 28


Kyle Keller—Pirates (Jesuit HS, Southeastern) MLB (23 G, 0-1, 7.13 ERA, 24.0 IP, 25 SO); MiLB (13 G, 2-0, 1.96 ERA, 18.1 IP, 31 SO); Recalled by Pirates July 2


Alex Lange—Tigers (LSU) MLB (23 G, 0-1, 5.32 ERA, 22 IP, 25 SO); MiLB (19 G, 2-1, 4.57 ERA, 21.2 IP, 27 SO); Recalled by Tigers August 22


Aaron Loup—Mets (Hahnville HS, Tulane) 53 G, 4-0, 1.20 ERA, 45.0 IP, 48 SO


DJ LeMahieu—Yankees (LSU) 126 G, .267 BA, .350 OBP, 9 HR, 52 RBI


Wade Miley—Reds (Loranger HS, Southeastern) 25 G, 11-5, 2.97 ERA, 148.2 IP, 114 SO


Aaron Nola—Phillies (Catholic HS, LSU) 26 G, 7-7, 4.30, 148.2 IP, 181 SO


Austin Nola—Padres (Catholic HS, LSU) MLB (44 G, .260 BA, .340 OBP, 1 HR, 26 RBI); MiLB (11 G, .303 BA, .410 OBP, 1 HR, 4 RBI)


Tanner Rainey—Nationals (St. Paul’s HS, Southeastern) MLB (32 G, 1-2, 7.62 ERA, 26 IP, 31 SO); MiLB (4 B, 0-0, 4.91 ERA, 3.2 IP, 6 SO); Returned from Disabled List on August 12


Jake Rogers—Tigers (Tulane) MLB (38 G, .239 BA, .306 OBP, 6 HR, 17 RBI); MiLB (1 G, .000 BA, .250 OBP, 0 HR, 0 RBI); 60-day Injured List


Riley Smith—Diamondbacks (LSU) MLB (24 G, 1-4, 6.01 ERA, 67.1 IP, 36 SO); MiLB (2 G, 0-0, 7.2 IP, 6 SO); On 60-day Injured List


Andrew Stevenson—Nationals (St. Thomas More HS, LSU) MLB (81 G, .220 BA, .276 OBP, 3 HR, 15 RBI); MiLB (15 G, .436 BA, .466 OBP, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB)


 

Triple-A


Drew Avans – Dodgers (Southeastern) 65 G, .264 BA, .394 OBP, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 14 SB


J.P. France—Astros (Shaw HS, Tulane, Miss. State) – 20 G, 7-2, 3.42 ERA, 92.0 IP, 123 SO


Nick Goody—Yankees (LSU) 32 G, 4-5, 5.35 ERA, 38.2 IP, 48 SO; Released by Nationals, signed by Yankees August 17


Jacoby Jones—Tigers (LSU) MiLB (68 G, .238 BA, .324 OBP, 7 HR, 26 RBI); MLB (36 G, .170 BA, .210 OBP, 2 HR, 9 RBI)


Mikie Mahtook—White Sox (LSU) 82 G, .260 BA, .323 OBP, 21 HR, 52 RBI


Reeves Martin—Mariners (UNO) 5 G, 0-2, 8.10 ERA, 6.2 IP, 4 SO; Retired May 20


Zack Mathis – Padres (LSU) 60 G, .251 BA, .350 OBP, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 1 SB


Andrew Mitchell—Mets (Jesuit, Delgado, Auburn) 22 G, 3-1, 3.89 ERA, 39.1 IP, 43 SO; Activated from Injured List August 31


Eric Orze—Mets (UNO) 29 G, 3-2, 3.53 ERA, 43.1 IP, 57 SO, 5 SV; Promoted to Triple A on August 10


Michael Papierski—Astros (LSU) 86 G, .258 BA, .403 OBP, 6 HR, 41 RBI


Kramer Roberston—Cardinals (LSU) 98 G, .243 BA, .353 OBP, 8 HR, 50 RBI, 8 SB


Tate Scioneaux—Rockies (Riverside HS, Southeastern) 38 G, 3-2, 4.47 ERA, 44.1 IP, 48 SO


Justin Williams—Cardinals (Terrebone HS) MiLB (16 G, .250 BA, .276 OBP, 3 HR, 8 RBI); MLB (51 G, .160 BA, .270 OBP, 4 HR, 11 RBI); Placed on 7-day Injured List August 3


 

Double-A


Jared Biddy – Rockies (Southeastern) 23 G, 4.20 ERA, 40.2 IP, 41 SO


Nick Bush—Rockies (LSU) 17 G, 4-6, 3.71 ERA, 87.1 IP, 90 SO; On Injured List since August 7


Daniel Cabrera—Tigers (John Curtis HS, Delgado, LSU) 101 G, BA .242, .299 OBP, 9 HR, 65 RBI, 7 SB; Promoted to Double-A August 30


Cole Freeman—Nationals (LSU) 87 G, .275 BA, .332 OBP, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 13 SB


Shawn Semple—Yankees (UNO) 20 G, 10-3, 2.85 ERA, 98.0 IP, 117 SO


Mac Sceroler—Reds (Denham Springs HS, Southeastern) MiLB (12 G, 1-4, 9.30 ERA, 40.2 IP, 48 SO); MLB 5G, 0-0, 14.09 ERA, 7.2 IP, 11 SO); Transferred to Development List


Bryan Warzek—Dodgers (UNO) 30 G, 3-2, 5.60 ERA, 45.0 IP, 52 SO


Zach Watson—Orioles (LSU) 88 G, .263 BA, .304 OBP, 18 HR, 61 RBI, 21 SB


 

Hi-A


Brendan Cellucci—Red Sox (Tulane) 31 G, 0-3, 5.93 ERA, 30.1 IP, 54 SO


Antoine Duplantis—Mets (LSU) 92 G, .255 BA, .320 OBP, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 8 SB


Cody Grosse—Mariners (Southeastern) 71 G, .218 BA, .336 OBP, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 12 SB


Hudson Haskin—Orioles (Tulane) 83 G, .276 BA, .381 OBP, 5 HR, 42 RBI, 22 SB


Cole Henry – Nationals (LSU) 8 G, 2-5, 3.09, 32.0 IP, 48 SO,


Zack Hess—Tigers (LSU) 39 G, 2-5, 3.80 ERA, 45.0 IP, 60 SO, 11 SV


Kody Hoese—Dodgers (Tulane) 54 G, .204 BA, .259 OBP, 1 HR, 16 RBI (Activated from rehab assignment August 17


Todd Peterson—Nationals (LSU) 16 G, 2-1, 4.76 ERA, 28.1 IP, 29 SO


Kaleb Roper—White Sox (Rummel, Tulane) 14 G, 1-6, 7.95 ERA, 48.2 IP, 67 SO


Chase Solesky—White Sox (Tulane) 18 G, 1-7, 5.14 ERA, 68.1 IP, 88 SO; Promoted to Hi-A on August 3


Josh Smith—Rangers (Catholic HS, LSU) 63 G, .305 BA, .418 OBP, 11 HR, 34 RBI, 22 SB


Bryce Tassin—Tigers (Southeastern) 36 G, 5-5, 1.86 ERA, 53.1 IP, 53 SO, 8 SV


 

Lo-A


Jay Aldrich – Royals (Tulane) 5 G, 2-1, 1.29 ERA, 7.0 IP, 4 SO


Donovan Benoit – Reds (Tulane) 2 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.1 IP, 3 SO


Collin Burns – Orioles (De La Salle HS, Tulane) 14 G, .333 BA, .407 OBP, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB


Saul Garza – Royals (LSU) 38 G, .279 BA, .396 OBP, 3 HR, 21 RBI


A.J. Labas – Twins (LSU) 3 G, 1-2, 15.88 ERA, 5.2 IP, 5 SO


Aaron McKeithan – Cardinals (Tulane) 14 G, .171 BA, .292 OBP, 0 HR, 2 RBI


Braden Olthoff – Angels (Tulane) 2 G, 0-0, 3.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 10 SO


Connor Pellerin – Yankees (Episcopal HS Baton Rouge, Tulane) 6 G, 0-1, 8.59 ERA, 7.1 IP, 10 SO


Tyree Thompson -- Rangers (Karr HS) 7 G, 1-0, 2.70 ERA, 20.0 IP, 19 SO; On 60-day Injured List June 25 June 18


 

Independent League


Ryan Eades -- (Northshore HS, LSU) MiLB (7 G, 0-1, 7.71 ERA, 7.0 IP, 12 SO); Released by Astros, playing in Independent League

Are the San Francisco Giants for real?

At the end of April, the San Francisco Giants were in first place in the National League West, and everybody was asking, “Are they for real?” Most of the answers from baseball pundits came back, “Probably not,” since pre-season favorites Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres were within 1 ½ games of first place.


By the end of June, the Giants were still in first place, having maintained the top position for most of May and all of June. Yet there was still skepticism about whether the club was a legitimate contender for the division title. After all, the last time the Giants were in first place at the end of June was in 2016.


At the end of July, the Giants were still in first place, and some baseball analysts were still asking, “Are the Giants for real?” The pre-season assessment of the team was that they had not refreshed their roster with younger players, that their core position players (Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Evan Longoria) wouldn’t stand up to the grind of long seasons anymore. Yet the Giants had the best record in both leagues.


Now, with the month of August almost over, the Giants are remarkably still in first place. Just when many people thought they would start to wane, they are playing their best baseball with an 19-6 record for the month of August. The last time they were in first place with one month left in the season was in 2012, when they won the World Series. It’s true the Dodgers are still hovering close to the Giants, only 2 ½ games behind, while the Padres appear to have faded out of contention, 16 games behind.


On paper the Giants’ individual players aren’t nearly as talented as the Dodgers, who have one of the more accomplished rosters in recent history, including four former Cy Young Award winners, three former MVPs, and three former Rookies of the Year.


But the Giants’ grizzled veterans are playing with a lot of teamwork and a balanced effort. The team is in the top five of the following batting categories: runs (5th), home runs (1st), batting average (4th), OBP (4th), SLG (1st), and OPS+(3rd).


Their rank second in all of the following pitching categories are: ERA, fewest runs allowed, fewest home runs allowed, ERA+, and WHIP.


However, the Dodgers compare favorably to the Giants in all these categories, which explains why the continue to nip at the Giants’ heels.


When you dig deeper into the Giants’ overall record, you quickly notice that their combined record against weaker division opponents Arizona and Colorado is a whopping 23-6, while they are 13-12 against the more formidable Dodgers and Padres. Looking ahead to September, 13 of their remaining games will be against division rivals Dodgers (3) and Padres (10), plus they will have to face the other division leaders, Milwaukee and Atlanta, in three-game series. They don’t have an easy route to the division title for the rest of the season.


The Dodgers have somewhat of a psychological advantage over the Giants, as they have won the NL West Division for the past eight straight seasons. Consequently, they play with confidence and are more battle-tested for a tight division race.


Of course, the team that finishes second in the NL West will still have a good chance to make the playoffs. The Dodgers would like nothing better than to repeat as World Series champions, something that hasn’t been done since the New York Yankees won three in a row in 1998, 1999, and 2000.


Giants manager Gabe Kapler was a .500 manager in his previous three managerial seasons (2018 and 2019 with the Phillies) and 2020 with the Giants. He’d like nothing better than to get his first division championship under his belt.


So, are the Giants for real? We’ll find out soon enough.

1946 Jesuit Blue Jays impressive in capturing American Legion World Series title

The Jesuit-based American Legion baseball program was no stranger to post-season playoffs in 1946. According to the Times Picayune, they had won Legion regional tournaments in 13 of the last 17 years and going as far as the finals of the Legion World Series in 1934. Perhaps fueled by their past successes, Jesuit overcame several obstacles during the post-season to claim their first World Series title.


Jesuit High School had already repeated as the state champion during the school year, earning the label “Yanks of the Prep League.” They were led by first baseman Tookie Gilbert and pitcher Hugh Oser, who completed his second season without a loss.


Jesuit’s Legion coach Eddie Toribio was faced with two factors that could have worked against him in fielding the team for summer Legion play, but he was ultimately able to overcome them.


Absent from the Legion roster were their two best players from the prep squad: Gilbert and Oser. Gilbert chose to play in the Esquire all-star game in Chicago instead, while Oser was too old for Legion participation. Other prep team starters who didn’t play for the Legion entry were catcher Jack Golden, second baseman Pete Tusa, and third baseman Rene Kronlage. Gilbert, Oser, and Golden had been named to the city’s All-Prep team, with Gilbert being tabbed the most valuable player. One of the consequences of these unavailable players was their replacements tended to be younger players with less experience. Toribio wound up with a roster whose average age was 16 years old.


Through a unique set of circumstances Jesuit was crowned the city’s First District champs without ever playing a game against district competition. That situation came about because seven teams withdrew from the league after it was decided by local American Legion officials that a second round of games would be limited to the top four teams competing in a double-elimination playoff. Their rationale was there wouldn’t be enough time to conduct a full second round. In the past there had been two full rounds of play in which all teams competed before the playoffs. The decision upset the sponsors of the teams, who maintained it didn’t provide their players an opportunity for a full season of competition. With Jesuit being the only team who didn’t withdraw, American Legion officials cancelled the regular season and declared them the First District champions.


As a result, the first time the Jesuit team, with its newly overhauled roster, competed in Legion play was during the playoffs against Second District champion Norco. However, undaunted by their lack of prior regular season games, Jesuit handled Norco easily in two games, 17-0 and 14-2, to earn the right to advance to sectional play against Baton Rouge.


Baton Rouge delivered a blow to Jesuit in the first game by coming from behind in the ninth inning to win, 4-3, but Jesuit rebounded in the second game to win behind Pat Rooney’s four-hitter, 6-2. Pitcher Gus Riordan handcuffed Baton Rouge in the rubber game to lead Jesuit to a 9-0 victory and the South Louisiana championship.


Next up for the Blue Jays was Shreveport, who had defeated Alexandria for the North Louisiana title. One of their wins included a 13-inning, 26 strikeout effort by Shreveport pitcher Gene Stevens. Jesuit took the first game in Shreveport, 7-0, battering Stevens for 11 hits. Rooney recorded his third consecutive shutout in the playoffs. Before 2,918 fans in Pelican Stadium in the second game, Jesuit defeated Shreveport, 7-1, to win the state crown. Third baseman Al Weidemann spearheaded the Jays’ offense with two hits, including a 352-foot home run.


The victories over Shreveport earned the Blue Jays an entry in the national regional tournament which was played in New Orleans. Their opponents were state champions from Mississippi, Texas, and New Mexico. The Times-Picayune observed about Toribio’s charges, who were without their two best players, “The Jays banded themselves to get the maximum amount of good from teamwork. Coach Toribio came up with one of the best-balanced teams ever seen from the preps. From top to bottom the boys play heads-up, spirited ball, and with two fine pitchers and the will to pull together, they are hard for any team of 17-year-olds and under to beat.” It was the second straight year Jesuit had advanced to this regional in the post-season.


Jesuit spanked Houston in their first game, 19-1, before 6,500 fans at Pelican Stadium and then went on to defeat a tough Little Rock squad twice, 4-2 and 10-8 to win the regional title. Shortstop Don Wetzel collected seven hits in 16 at-bats, scored five runs, and handled 21 chances without an error to help lead the Blue Jays. Their three-game sweep earned them a spot in the national sectional tournament in Gastonia, North Carolina.


Jesuit defeated Kanapolis, North Carolina and Thomasville, Georgia twice to win the sectional. Once again, Jesuit’s pitching came through, with Rooney hurling a sterling three-hitter in the deciding game. It was the seventh time since 1929 that the Blue Jays won the sectional.


Next advancing to the American Legion World Series in Charleston, South Carolina, their opponents were Trenton, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati. Jesuit had last appeared in the World Series in 1934, when they lost to Cumberland, Maryland. The 1946 Blue Jays suffered their first loss in 12 games to Los Angeles, who held them to only two hits in a 6-0 loss.


But Jesuit fought back in the loser’s bracket to defeat Cincinnati (7-2), Los Angeles (5-3), and Trenton twice (15-3 and 3-1) to claim the World Series title. Jays captain Wetzel and Rooney were named to the all-tournament team, with Wetzel also receiving the tournament’s sportsmanship award. Wetzel was the second best hitter in the tournament, getting nine hits in 20 trips to the plate for a .450 clip, while Jesuit’s Joe Mock had the fourth-best average with .412.


In addition to Wetzel, Rooney, Riordan, Weidemann, and Mock, the rest of the roster included Stanley McDermott, Monroe Caballero, Don Murphy, Terry Ryan, Jimmy Nissel, Tommy Wedig, Billy Glennon, Joe Shirer, and Moon Landrieu.


As a testament to the talent of the Jesuit prep/Legion team members, a majority eventually went on to higher levels of baseball. Gilbert played briefly in the major leagues; Oser, Wetzel, Tusa, Riordan, Golden, Rooney, and Murphy had brief careers in the minor leagues; and Landrieu, Caballero, Nissel, Glennon, Wedig, and McDermott played collegiately.


Besides Gilbert’s family ties with his father Larry Gilbert and brother Charlie Gilbert (both former major league players), Caballero was the brother of Putsy Caballero, who made his major-league debut in 1944 as a 16-year-old. Ryan was the brother of Connie Ryan, who made his big-league debut in 1942. Landrieu served as the mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978.


In addition to the American Legion World Series title in 1946, the Blue Jays took home national championships in 1960 and 2012.

Current day shortstops fit the mold established by Cal Ripken Jr.

When Cal Ripken Jr. came onto the major-league scene as a rookie in 1981 and 1982, he was somewhat of an oddity for his position. At 6 feet, 4 inches and 200 pounds, he was considered a giant for shortstops. Along with his unusual physique, came a big bat. Not only was he a relative “giant” physically, but he ultimately became one of the “giants” of the sport, earning a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


Ripken is generally credited with ushering in an era in which the shortstop position was expected to provide more offense, in addition to being a solid fielder. Today we are seeing shortstops like Fernando Tatis Jr., Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Dante Bichette, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Trea Turner as some of the game’s best, because they are an offensive force on their respective teams, like Ripken was.


Before Ripken, the shortstop was primarily regarded as a “good field, no hit” position. The prototypical shortstop before the 1980s was relatively small in stature (often the smallest guy on the team), had a good glove, had good speed, and was mostly a singles hitter. Standout players like Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Lou Boudreau, Al Dark, Maury Wills, Luis Aparicio, and Larry Bowa are some of the best examples of the pre-Ripken model.


Occasionally there were anomalies at the position. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks started out as a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in 1953, and he averaged 33 home runs during his first nine seasons, before moving to first base. Boston Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli hit 40 home runs in 1969. Vern Stephens led the league in RBIs in three seasons in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At 6-foot-3, the Orioles’ Ron Hansen was one of the taller shortstops in the game during the 1960s.


Ripken came along and consistently demonstrated the most power for a shortstop since Banks. In his prime years from 1982 to 1998, Ripken averaged 23 home runs and 89 RBIs to go along with a batting line of .276/.344/.448. He was an eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a 19-time All-Star, and a Gold Glove winner twice.


The “Ripken mold” continued with some of the best shortstops in baseball from the mid-1990s into the 2000s that included Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Tejada. Like Ripken, they had an ability to bring offensive production to their teams and still provide the requisite defense for shortstops. Troy Tulowitzki followed them as one of the best fielding shortstops of all-time, and he managed to average (on a 162-game basis) 28 HRs and 98 RBIs during his career.


6-foot-3 Tatis Jr. is one of the most athletic players in the game today. He makes the spectacular plays in the field while also giving the Padres a power bat in the second spot of the batting order. Like Ripken in his time, Tatis Jr. has become one the popular faces in all of baseball. His contemporaries.


Bogaerts is a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, while Story has two silver bats to his credit. Bichette is only in his first full major league season, yet he has already established himself as a nice complement to slugger Vlad Guerrero Jr. with the Blue Jays. The Dodgers can now boast having two of the best shortstops with Seager and Trea Turner, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Washington Nationals. It’s a nice problem for the Dodgers to have both players. It looks like the versatile Turner is being moved to second base for the time being.


Correa has fulfilled the Houston Astros’ expectations after being the overall first pick of the 2012 draft. Still only 26 years old in his seventh MLB season, he’s one of the main reasons the Astros are contenders each year.


Most of the shortstops of yesteryear probably wouldn’t find a permanent spot on today’s rosters. While they were key players on their teams, they contributed in ways that aren’t valued as much in today’s game. Players like Wills or Aparacio, whose games were built around their speed on the bases, wouldn’t be appreciated for their skill, since base-stealing and bunting have been de-emphasized.


Ripken emerged before the current era of offensive explosion and changed the paradigm that it was indeed possible for shortstops to contribute more than singles and stolen bases. And we’re seeing the result of that today.

Hometown Heroes: Southeast Louisiana products in MLB, MiLB

Here’s an update for many of the 2021 major-league and minor-league players who prepped or played collegiately in the New Orleans area and southeast Louisiana. All stats are cumulative for the year through Sunday August 1.


It wasn’t a particularly good month for several major leaguers. D. J. LeMahieu hit a dry spell in July where he didn’t hit a home run and had only 6 RBIs. His average dropped to .265. Jake Fraley and Alex Lange were sent to Triple-A after coming back from injuries. Kevin Gausman had three losing decisions in July although was still fourth in the National League with a 2.35 ERA.


Alex Bregman is currently doing his rehab assignment at the Triple A level and should return to the Astros soon. He has been on the Injured List since June 17.


Outfielder Greg Deichmann was traded by the Oakland A’s to the Chicago Cubs, where he could likely get an opportunity soon for a major-league promotion, since the Cubs offloaded major-league outfielders Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant.


Josh Smith was one of three minor-league players the Yankees sent to Texas in a trade for slugger Joey Gallo.


Mikie Mahtook leads the Triple-A Charlotte Knights with 15 home runs.


After being promoted to Triple-A Sugar Land, J. P. France won his first three decisions in July. Shawn Semple posted four wins at the Hi-A level, thus earning a return to Double-A.


Other promotions included Andrew Mitchell to Triple-A; Eric Orze, Nick Bush, and Zach Watson to Double-A; and Hudson Haskin to Lo-A.


 

MLB


Alex Bregman—Astros (LSU) 59 G, .275 BA, .359 OBP, 7 HR, 34 RBI (Has been on Injured List since June 17. Currently on rehab assignment in Triple-A)


Kevin Gausman—Giants (LSU) 21 G, 9-5, 2.35 ERA, 126.1 IP, 149 SO


Will Harris—Nationals (Slidell HS, LSU) 8 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 6 IP, 9 SO (Remained on Injured List since May 23)


Aaron Loup—Mets (Hahnville HS, Tulane) 39 G, 3-0, 1.32 ERA, 34 IP, 38 SO


DJ LeMahieu—Yankees (LSU) 98 G, .265 BA, .345 OBP, 7 HR, 39 RBI


Wade Miley—Reds (Loranger HS, Southeastern) 19 G, 8-4, 2.92 ERA, 114 IP, 88 SO


Aaron Nola—Phillies (Catholic HS, LSU) 21 G, 7-6, 4.30, 121.1 IP, 145 SO


Austin Nola—Padres (Catholic HS, LSU) 24 G, .222 BA, .354 OBP, 1 HR, 14 RBI (Returned from Injured List on July 22)


Tanner Rainey—Nationals (St. Paul’s HS, Southeastern) 31 G, 1-2, 7.20 ERA, 25 IP, 31 SO (On Injured List for most of July)


Jake Rogers—Tigers (Tulane) 38 G, .239 BA, .306 OBP, 6 HR, 17 RBI


Riley Smith—Diamondbacks (LSU) 24 G, 1-4, 6.01 ERA, 67.1 IP, 36 SO (Missed all of July. Currently on Injured List)


Andrew Stevenson—Nationals (St. Thomas More HS, LSU) 66 G, .213 BA, .279 OBP, 2 HR, 12 RBI (Returned from Injured List on July 18)


 

Triple-A


Greg Deichmann—Cubs (Brother Martin HS, LSU) 64 G, .291 BA, .420 OBP, 4 HR, 35 RBI, 7 SB


Ryan Eades—Astros (Northshore HS, LSU) 6 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 9 SO (On Injured List since June 8)


Jake FraleyMariners (LSU) MiLB - 11 G, .333 BA, .488 OBP, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 SB

MLB – 40 G, .237 BA, .409 OBP, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 7 SB


J.P. France—Astros (Shaw HS, Tulane, Miss. State) – 15 G, 6-2, 3.46 ERA, 67.2 IP, 92 SO


Ian Gibaut—Twins (Tulane) 22 G, 0-3, 8.63 ERA, 32.1 IP, 39 SO


Nick Goody—Nationals (LSU) 24 G, 4-3, 3.98 ERA, 31.2 IP, 42 SO


Jacoby Jones—Tigers (LSU) MiLB – 47 G, .246 BA, .341 OBP, 5 HR, 21 RBI

MLB – 36 G, .170 BA, .210 OBP, 2 HR, 9 RBI


Kyle Keller—Pirates (Jesuit HS, Southeastern) MiLB – 13 G, 2-0, 1.96 ERA, 18 SO

MLB - 13 G, 0-0, 5.11 ERA, 12.1 IP, 15 SO


Alex Lange—Tigers (LSU) MiLB - 14 G, 1-1, 5.17 ERA, 15.2 IP, 18 SO (Returned from IL on July 6)

MLB – 19 G, 0-1, 7.94 ERA, 17 IP, 21 SO


Mikie Mahtook—White Sox (LSU) 56 G, .223 BA, .292 OBP, 15 HR, 32 RBI


Reeves Martin—Mariners (UNO) 5 G, 0-2, 8.10 ERA, 6.2 IP, 4 SO (Has not played since May 18)


Andrew Mitchell—Mets (Jesuit, Delgado, Auburn) 21 G, 3-1, 3.76 ERA, 38.1 IP, 42 SO


Michael Papierski—Astros (LSU) 63 G, .242 BA, .392 OBP, 2 HR, 26 RBI


Kramer Roberston—Cardinals (LSU) 75 G, .243 BA, .360 OBP, 7 HR, 39 RBI, 7 SB


Tate Scioneaux—Rockies (Riverside HS, Southeastern) 30 G, 1-2, 4.08 ERA, 35.1 IP, 41 SO


Justin Williams—Cardinals (Terrebone HS) MiLB – 16 G, .250 BA, .276 OBP, 3 HR, 8 RBI

MLB - 51 G, .160 BA, .270 OBP, 4 HR, 11 RBI (Has not played since July 2)

 

Double-A


Nick Bush—Rockies (LSU) 15 G, 4-5, 3.63 ERA, 79.1 IP, 84 SO


Cole Freeman—Nationals (LSU) 62 G, .277 BA, .333 OBP, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 8 SB


Eric Orze—Mets (UNO) 21 G, 3-2, 3.41 ERA, 34.1 IP, 48 SO, 4 SV


Tate Scioneaux—Rockies (Riverside HS, Southeastern) 18 G, 0-1, 3.63 ERA, 22.1 IP, 26 SO


Shawn Semple—Yankees (UNO) 15 G, 7-3, 2.92 ERA, 74 IP, 90 SO


Mac Sceroler—Orioles (Denham Springs HS, Southeastern) MiLB - 8G, 1-2, 7.40 ERA, 23.1 IP, 30 SO

MLB - 5G, 0-0, 14.09 ERA, 7.2 IP, 11 SO


Bryan Warzek—Dodgers (UNO) 24 G, 3-1, 3.11 ERA, 37.2 IP, 47 SO


Zach Watson—Orioles (LSU) 67 G, .251 BA, .299 OBP, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 18 SB


 

Hi-A


Daniel Cabrera—Tigers (John Curtis HS, Delgado, LSU) 75 G, BA .237, .305 OBP, 6 HR, 44 RBI, 6 SB


Brendan Cellucci—Red Sox (Tulane) 24 G, 0-2, 6.12 ERA, 25 IP, 42 SO


Antoine Duplantis—Mets (LSU) 69 G, .275 BA, .341 OBP, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 3 SB


Cody Grosse—Mariners (Southeastern) 50 G, .216 BA, .347 OBP, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 10 SB


Hudson Haskin—Orioles (Tulane) 68 G, .276 BA, .368 OBP, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 20 SB


Zack Hess—Tigers (LSU) 18 G, 0-3, 5.85 ERA, 20.0 IP, 30 SO, 2 SV


Todd Peterson—Nationals (LSU) 10 G, 2-0, 5.59 ERA, 19.1 IP, 20 SO


Kaleb Roper—White Sox (Rummel, Tulane) 10 G, 0-4, 9.90 ERA, 30 IP, 45 SO


Josh Smith—Rangers (Catholic HS, LSU) 42 G, .333 BA, .453 OBP, 9 HR, 27 RBI, 17 SB


Bryce Tassin—Tigers (Southeastern) 27 G, 3-5, 2.52 ERA, 35.2 IP, 34 SO, 4 SV


 

Lo-A


Chase Solesky—White Sox (Tulane) 14 G, 1-5, 5.08 ERA, 51.1 IP, 71 SO


Tyree Thompson—Rangers (Karr HS) 7 G, 1-0, 2.70 ERA, 20.0 IP, 19 SO (Has not played since June 18)


 

Rookie


Kody Hoese—Dodgers (Tulane) 35 G, .182 BA, .241 OBP, 1 HR, 10 RBI (Has not played since July 12)


Reduced MLB draft takes its toll on baseball's family ties

Major League Baseball’s decision to reduce the number of draft rounds the past two years has had a negative effect on the number of players selected who have relatives in professional baseball. Prior to 2020, MLB typically conducted a draft that consisted of 40 rounds. In 2019 77 drafted players had family ties in baseball, including players, managers, coaches, scouts and front office personnel. Since 2013, the average number of drafted players who had family ties is 63.


Only 20 players with family ties were selected in 2020 when MLB conducted only five rounds in the annual amateur draft. It’s understandable why the draft was limited since the minor-league season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


This year ‘s draft consisted of 20 rounds. With the number of minor-league teams cut by 25% this year, there was naturally less need for the number of new ballplayers to enter the pros with affiliated major-league teams. Even with this season’s larger draft than last year, only 16 players with family ties were taken in the 2021 draft. That’s a 75% reduction from the average during 2013 and 2019. Some of the players who might have been selected in a larger draft are now signing as non-drafted free agents (NDFA) with major-league teams this year. Others are joining independent league teams with the hopes of eventually catching on with an affiliated minor-league club. Other non-drafted players are returning to college for their senior season in the hopes they can improve their draft status for 2022.


The most well-known player with family ties drafted this year was Jack Leiter, who was the second overall pick by the Boston Red Sox. He had a stellar season with Vanderbilt and has been high on the draft radar since high school. His father is Al Leiter, a former major league pitcher for 19 seasons. Al was a member of three World Series team including world championships with Toronto (1993) and Florida (1997) and in a losing cause with the New York Mets (2000). Jack’s uncle Mark Leiter and his cousin Mark Leiter Jr. were also major league pitchers.


Other draftees with well-known relatives were Will Wagner, the son of Billy Wagner, and Michael Sirota, the great-nephew of Whitey Ford. Wagner was the 18th-round selection of the Astros, the team with which his father played nine seasons. Sirota was selected in the sixteenth round by the Dodgers, a frequent World Series foe of his great uncle in the 50’s and 60’s.


Will Bednar, the Mississippi State pitcher who was the MVP of the College World Series, was the draft’s overall 14th pick of the Giants. His brother Dave is currently pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.


Darren Baker, the son of Astros manager Dusty Baker, was the 10th round pick of the Nationals. The infielder had played collegiately at the University of California.


Each year there are typically players drafted whose family ties are in sports other than baseball. For example, Kumar Rocker (10th overall draft pick of the Mets) is the son of Tracy Rocker, a former NFL player and current NFL coach. Blake Holub (15th round pick of the Detroit Tigers) is a relative of E.J. Holub, a former two-way player in the NFL from 1961 to 1970.


Some of the non-drafted free agents who have already signed contracts include famous last names: JJ Niekro (son of Joe Niekro and nephew of Phil Niekro), Jared Pettitte (son of Andy Pettitte), and Peyton Glavine (son of Tom Glavine and nephew of Mike Glavine). In past years that the draft consisted of 40 rounds, these players would have likely been drafted in the higher rounds. NFDAs are signed by major-league clubs for a standard bonus amount of $20,000.


High-profile prospects who went undrafted this year include Dante Baldelli (brother of Twins manager Rocco Baldelli), Casey Dykstra (nephew of Lenny Dykstra), and Max McGwire (son of Mark McGwire). With a larger number of draft rounds, they may have been selected, even if only as a sentimental pick.


The average number of players with family ties who made their MLB debuts from 2015 to 2020 was 28. It remains to be seen what the long-term effect of the reduced number of drafted players with baseball bloodlines is on those who eventually reach the majors. But early indications are that the number of relatives reaching the majors will be less than recent history.

Frank Wills's baseball journey from Wisner Playground to Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame

Former De La Salle and Tulane multi-sport athlete Frank Wills is being inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. His baseball accomplishments in high school and college eventually earned him a job in the professional ranks, including nine seasons as a pitcher in the major leagues.


Wills got his start in baseball at Wisner Playground in Uptown New Orleans. The competition at the playground and the coaches who taught him the game were instrumental in his formation as a future baseball standout. One of his NORD and Babe Ruth coaches, Larry Scott, says he watched Wills steadily progress as a player, from an eight-year-old playing in the 10-year-old league until he was 15. Scott noted that baseball was a family affair for the Willses. He said,” Frank’s mother kept the scorebook for the team, while his father helped coach the team and drove the players to their games. His mom would call me after the games to review the highlights of all the players.” He remembered the parents never missed a game.


Jimmy Anderson grew up with Wills, and they wound up playing together through high school. When they were 13 years old in 1972, they both made the Uptown Babe Ruth All-Star team coached by Tom Piglia. They defeated New Roads for the state championship. Even at 13 years of age, Anderson said Wills dominated as a pitcher. He recalls the right-hander being nicknamed “Wild Man” Wills, because he had good velocity, yet his control wasn’t always the best. Anderson said, “It wasn’t unusual for him to walk the first three batters of an inning and then strike out the next three.”


Jerry Burrage, Wills’s eventual high school baseball coach at De La Salle, lived two blocks from the Wills family and followed his playground career. He also spoke of the family’s avid support of the young athlete. Burrage said, “Frank was somewhat of a free spirt, but he showed a ton of respect for his parents.” Burrage says he believes Wills started to come into his own as a pitcher as a 15-year-old in Babe Ruth ball in 1974. He recalled a specific game in which Wills pitched in the city Babe Ruth championship contest against a strong Lakeshore team coached by Firmin Simms. He said, “Frank’s team wound up losing in a close game, but his outing made a strong statement about how good he would become.”


Wills became a multi-sport athlete at De La Salle, playing football and basketball in addition to baseball. He was on the Cavalier basketball team that finished second to Landry High School in the 1976 state finals. He was a two-way player in football at quarterback and safety, when De La Salle went 7-3 in his senior season in 1976. He was selected to play in the Louisiana East-West All-Star Football Game in July 1977.


Wills lettered three years in baseball at De La Salle. The Cavaliers won the state title during his senior season in 1977, with Wills and Bruce O’Krepki as their key pitchers. Anderson, the left fielder on the De La Salle squad, recalled that they didn’t have to score many runs to win games with those two standouts on the mound. The Cavaliers played the first-ever high school baseball game in the Louisiana Superdome that year, when they defeated West Jefferson in the state playoffs. Wills was the winning pitcher over Glen Oaks in the state semi-finals. Against Chalmette in the finals, Wills hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning and then delivered the game-winning hit in the seventh. He was named to the Times-Picayune All-Metro Team and selected for the Class 4A All-State Team by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.


Paul Kelly, current De La Salle principal and head basketball coach, was a student-athlete at De La Salle several years after Wills had graduated. He said, “I remember that our coaches still held up Frank as the standard for athletic excellence.” A common theme among his coaches and teammates interviewed for this article was that Wills was a natural athlete and a good teammate.


Wills accepted a scholarship offer from Tulane University, where he played football and baseball. He was in rare company as a two-sport athlete at the major-college level. His achievement preceded prominent two-sport collegiate athletes such as Bo Jackson, Ben McDonald, and Deion Sanders. As a freshman, Wills started out as the fourth quarterback on the Green Wave depth chart. However, as a testament to his athleticism, he wound up winning the starting job as the punter in his freshman year and often played on special teams. Burrage believes Wills punted only once while playing football at De La Salle.


But it was baseball where Wills made his name at Tulane. He played immediately as a freshman, compiling a 3-5 record in 1978. As a sophomore, he posted a 6-5 record with a 3.30 ERA in 13 games. The Green Wave made their first NCAA regional appearance that season.


Wills compiled a 5-3 record with a 2.81 ERA in 13 games as a junior in 1980. His wins included three complete games, and his strikeouts-per-nine-innings was an impressive 10.55. He made the Metro Conference All-Conference Team and was named to the All-American first teams by Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association. His outstanding performance earned him a first-round selection (16th overall) by the Kansas City Royals in the 1977 MLB Draft.


Wills had mixed results at the major-league level. He made his debut with the Royals in his third pro season (1983). But he had control problems that eventually led him to become a reliever. He was involved in a four-team trade at the beginning of 1985 in which he was sent to the New York Mets. But after spending spring training with the Mets, he was dealt to Seattle. He threw a no-hitter for Triple-A Calgary on May 31, 1985, before getting called up to the Mariners. His stint in the Mariners organization was followed by two years (1986-1987) in the Cleveland organization.


In 1988 he signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he spent four seasons. His performance in the next-to-last game of the Blue Jays’ pennant race in 1989 was one of the highlights of his career. He pitched four innings in relief in which he allowed only one hit, propelling the Blue Jays into the playoffs. 1990 was his busiest season, as he appeared in 44 games, mostly as a middle reliever. He compiled a 6-4 record with a 4.73 ERA.


Wills retired after the 1991 season at age 32. His nine-year major-league career record included a 22-26 record, 6 saves, and 5.06 ERA in 154 games. He died in 2012 at age 53.


Wills is one of five new inductees into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. The others include Les Bonano (boxing), Bernard Griffith (basketball), Joanne Skertich (volleyball), and Reggie Wayne (football).

When MLB scouts relied solely on the "eye test," Lenny Yochim was among the best

Advanced analytics and new technologies have contributed to significant changes in baseball over the past six to eight years. One of the effects has been less dependence on scouts by major-league organizations. New Orleans native Lenny Yochim was a major-league scout for over 40 years beginning in 1957. Thirty-six of his years were spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his day, a scout’s job was to evaluate prospects and opposing major-league players by traveling across the country watching them play, in order to determine if they were a good fit for the organization. Nowadays, a large part of player evaluation is performed by someone sitting in an office behind a computer.


After a playing career that included a state championship with Holy Cross High School, 51 winning decisions with the New Orleans Pelicans, the first no-hitter in the Venezuelan Winter League, and a brief career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Yochim became a full-time scout for the Pirates starting with the 1966 season. He had previously spent time as a part-time scout evaluating amateur players for the Kansas City A’s and New York Yankees.


When the Pirates defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series, Pirates manager Chuck Tanner publicly credited Yochim for his contribution to the team’s championship. He had pulled together the advance scouting reports on the Orioles and reviewed them with the Pirates’ coaching staff and players prior to the Series. With the benefit of Yochim’s inputs, Pirates pitchers were able to hold Orioles sluggers Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray to only two extra-base hits and four RBIs during the entire Series.


Yochim advanced through the professional scouting ranks with the Pirates, eventually rising to the position of Special Assistant to the General Manager, which is one of the top jobs in major-league front offices. Upon Yochim’s assignment to that role, Pirates General Manager Cam Bonifay said, “I wanted to surround myself with people who had done the job, earned that position. I wanted to get the most out of Lenny Yochim and get the most out of his experience factor to evaluate players.”


Yochim was well-respected by his peers in other major league organizations, too. He was the recipient of the Midwest “Scout of the Year” award in 1994.


In 1996 he was honored with the “Pride of the Pirates” award in recognition for his 30 years of valuable service with Pittsburgh. The award recognizes members of the Pirates family who had demonstrated the qualities of sportsmanship, dedication, and outstanding character during a lifetime of service. It is the only award presented by the Pirates organization. Yochim retired from baseball in 2002.


There is a lot less reliance today on scouts to apply the “eye test” to obtain their information, as Yochim did during his career. He watched how players performed in games as input to his evaluations. He used a radar gun to measure a pitchers’ velocity. He would then translate his observations onto a paper form using a rating scale that quantified each player’s pitching, fielding, hitting, and running capabilities. He also provided an assessment of whether his organization should try to acquire each player.


In today’s environment, current technology provides video of every major-league play accompanied with quantitative data such as the distance, location, and exit velocity of every batted ball; the velocity, type of pitch, spin rate, and location of every pitch; and the location of every fielded ball. This is also the case for minor league and college games. Consequently, most major-league organizations have reduced their scouting staff because of this relatively new capability to capture and analyze highly objective performance data.


With today’s new capabilities, many argue the use of the “eye test” is too subjective for determining a player’s true capability, since inputs can vary depending on the scout doing the observations. Counter arguments insist the “eye test” can also provide valuable inputs on the makeup of a player, including his attitude, energy level, confidence level, and teamwork. Perhaps for that reason alone, scouts will always be around to some degree.


Below are excerpts from some of Yochim’s actual scouting reports on opposing major-league players in 1981. The comments were written by him in conjunction with his recommendation for whether the Pirates should try to acquire the player through trade or free agency. His observations are often quite candid and occasionally humorous. (This information was obtained by this writer from Yochim’s daughter Jamie Jacob, who shared some of his working papers from his Pirates scouting days.


Bob Stanley, Red Sox, RHP


Throwing the spitter or the greaser. Though a real good one, he tries to use too often. Has 9 wins out of the pen and strangely no saves. Would take, has a good arm and is 27.


Bobby Grich, Angels, 2B


Having an outstanding year. Very productive with the bat and has more HRs than he did last year (14) in twice as many games. Caught every ball. He’s got limited range. Could be putting out to get into free agency fortune. Why not!


Carlton Fisk, White Sox, C


Came over as free agent on this club. However, he is not the catcher he was at Boston. Not as aggressive nor as productive with the bat. Through 71 games, only 5 home runs. Could be of help to a front line club in need of catching.


Von Hayes, Indians, OF


Young, tall lanky raw-boned build. A player to be reckoned with. Is aggressive especially with bat and can run. In time should hit with a little power, is pulling now. The kind to build with.


Lance Parrish, Tigers, C


Ability to be one of the better catchers in the game. Can do it all, catch, run, throw and hit with power. Don’t believe he is very bright. I would take over ours.


Kirk Gibson, Tigers, OF


The future offensive rage of the American League if not baseball. Has some kind of running speed, both on bases and in the field. A strong forceful hitter, a lot of broke bat hits because of strength. In time will be a good hitter with great power. Can and will drag for hit. All except throw and that could get better if can loosen up in the shoulders. Can go in the alleys (like catching passes) and catch the ball by the walls. If they let him continue running (stealing) when he learns (break, leads), he will steal a ton of bases. A pull hitter. To say that he hit for me (20-for-50) is an understatement. I would like to have a few of these.


Kevin Saucier, Tigers, RHP


For a spell, the hottest pitcher in the American League. I call him “Sauce Picante” (hot stuff for sauces). He magnifies Tug McGraw’s act coming off the field. All this hypes him up. Is very aggressive and goes right to the hitter. His pitches are average. I would take because of his positive attitude.


Reggie Jackson, Yankees, RF


In his twilight years. Not able to hit out with regularity. Not able to hit mistakes as in past. Has a lot of value to this club. Electricity. 35 and running low on gas, 6 instead of 8 cylinders.


Don Mattingly, Yankees Florida Instructional League, LF


Short-waisted, lower body heavier. An upper-cutter with fairly quick bat. Bat is laid on his shoulder with a slight crouch. A pull hitter. Has an outside chance because of his bat.


Rickey Henderson, A’s, LF


A premium offensive player in this league. Throwing and fielding will keep him from super star status. Took the extra base on his hustle. Can steal all the bases. At the time seen, he had played in 60 of their 61 games. Would definitely take.


Fergie Jenkins, Rangers, RHP


I would say he is at the end of the line. Has resorted to a lot of junk and over-anxious hitters for his best results. Should bow out.


Dave Stieb, Blue Jays, RHP


The cream of their crop. The one on this club that every other club would take. From the continued tone of their talks, would not be available unless over traded for and we can’t do that. Has all the pitches and the make-up. Can pitch a good game without his best stuff. Yes.

De La Salle HS was springboard to baseball opportunities for Morreale father and son

De La Salle High School lost one of its more popular alumni when John Morreale Jr. died on June 13. He had a spectacular baseball career with the Cavaliers as did his son John Morreale III. Both of them played on state championship teams, and their high school careers facilitated other opportunities in amateur, collegiate, and professional baseball.


A recent interview with Morreale III revealed a close-knit relationship between the father and son. He said, “I was fortunate to have a dad that could teach the right way to play baseball, beginning when I played on my first team of organized baseball.” Furthermore, Morreale III spoke of numerous occasions when his dad took other youngsters under his wing to teach them not only about baseball but about life in general.


As a junior in high school in 1958, Morreale Jr. played on a talented De La Salle team that won the state title over Byrd High of Shreveport. He was the winning pitcher in the deciding championship game. He was named to the Times-Picayune All-Prep team as a utility player. The Cavaliers also featured future professional players Allan Montreuil and Wayne Pietri. The De La Salle-based Perfectos went on to defeat Ruston for the state American Legion title that summer. When he wasn’t pitching, Morreale Jr. played catcher. He was named to the Times-Picayune All-Legion team as catcher.


With the addition of Floyd Fourroux (another future professional player), De La Salle repeated as prep and Legion state champions in 1959. Morreale Jr. was again named to the city’s All-Prep team and selected for the Times-Picayune’s All-State team. However, There was quite a stir among local New Orleans media when he was left off the Louisiana baseball writers’ all-state team.


In the summer of 1959, Morreale Jr. played in the All-American Amateur Baseball Association league in New Orleans where he was among the league’s leaders in hitting and pitching. He was selected to Rags Scheuermann’s all-star team that competed in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. New Orleans was eliminated by Baltimore and finished with a 2-2 record.


Morreale Jr. attended Southeastern Louisiana in 1960 but did not play baseball. He signed with the Boston Red organization next year, as one of their scouting supervisors George Digby had New Orleans ties. He was assigned to Class D Alpine in Texas, where New Orleans native Mel Parnell, former star pitcher with the Red Sox, was the manager. Morreale III related a story about how his father recalled catching a seemingly mile-high flyball on his first fielding play in his first minor-league game in left field, a position he had never played before. Morreale Jr. hit only .238 in 38 games and was given his outright release in June. Parnell told the Times-Picayune, “He was an excellent fielder, but he had problems throwing and wasn’t hitting well.” Morreale III said his father had injured his knee while sliding, which may have ultimately contributed to his release.


For a number of years afterward, Morreale Jr. continued to stay active on local New Orleans baseball and softball playgrounds. He played for the Ponchatoula Athletics semi-pro team that finished second in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas, in 1963. His family owned Frankie and Johnny’s restaurant in the Uptown area, and he led several of its softball teams to league championships. He helped coach numerous NORD Uptown Babe Ruth teams, including all-star squads that competed in post-season tournament play. He is a member of the De La Salle Hall of Fame.


One of his baseball pupils was his son, whom he started working with at a very young age. Morreale III said his dad wanted him to already be skilled in the game when joined his first team. He told the story of trying out and making his first organized team as a 10-year-old without his dad knowing. Apparently, young Morreale had been prepared well by his father.


Morreale III followed in his father’s footsteps at De La Salle with similar results. As a junior in 1988, the second baseman helped the Cavaliers win the state title over Jesuit, their first since 1977. He recalled that after the team lost its first three games of the season, his father got approval from the Cavaliers baseball coach to work with the players after their regular workouts to get extra hitting practice using a batting cage in the gym. Morreale III believes the extra work helped the team get back on track and ultimately take home state championship trophy. It was indicative of how Morreale Jr. liked working with kids to improve their game.


He earned his third letter in baseball during his senior year. He was an All-District player for the De La Salle-based Legion team that summer. Morreale III also played on the De La Salle basketball team, receiving the Senior Award in 1989.


He attended George Wallace Junior College in Alabama during his freshman year in 1990 where he played with several other New Orleanians. He transferred to Delgado Community College for the 1991 season to play for Coach Joe Scheuermann. He batted .302 with 29 RBIs and was named to the All-Region 23 junior college baseball team and the Miss-Lou all-conference team. Morreale III said he anticipated he would be selected in the MLB Draft, but his name was never called.


He played for Northeast Louisiana (now University of Louisiana Monroe) in the 1992 season. During the summer he played in the local All-American Amateur Baseball Association league, as his father had done in 1959. In previous years of the summer league, he had played under Rags Scheuermann, like his father. He was selected for the Boosters all-star team under Coach Joe Scheuermann (Rags’ son) that represented New Orleans in Johnstown. Morreale III was the MVP in the qualifying tournament in Altoona. The Boosters wound up winning the national title over Lavonia, Michigan, with Morreale III one of the team’s leading hitters.


He returned to Northeast for his final college season in 1993. He received honorable mention on the All-Southland Conference team as a second baseman.


Morreale III was passed over again in the 1993 Major League Baseball draft, but big-league scouts were certainly familiar with him from his performance in the AAABA national tournament in 1992. His father continued to hold workouts with him, which included fielding ground balls, taking batting practice, and running on the levy by Audubon Park. Morreale III said, “My father helped me keep my dream alive.”


They took a trip to Plant City, Florida, in early 1994 for a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds and received an offer. He was later working out at UNO when New Orleans Zephyrs (then the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers) batting coach Ron Jackson noticed him and recommend him to Brewers farm system officials Freddie Patek and Fred Stanley for a tryout. He made a good showing and got an offer to sign with the Brewers. He said his dad had been studying minor-league rosters and noted the Brewers appeared to need more depth at second base than the Reds. So, they inked a contract with the Brewers, who assigned him to Lo-A Beloit in Wisconsin.


In his first year at Beloit under manager Wayne Krenchicki, Morreale III was mainly used in a utility role playing multiple infield positions. He laughs about his first play in the field at second base, when a high fly ball came his way. Unlike his father’s situation 33 years before him, Morreale III didn’t make the catch. He hit a respectable .271 in 70 games and earned a promotion to Hi-A Stockton (California) in 1995. However, he wound up tearing ligaments in his wrist that required surgery and extensive rehab, thus limiting him to 30 games.


He started spring training in 1996 with the Brewers’ Double-A squad. He felt he was making good progress with his hitting. He said his batting average was around .470 in spring exhibition games when he got called up to substitute for second baseman Fernando Vina on the big-league roster. Playing against the Colorado Rockies, he went 0-for-2. In one of his at-bats facing veteran pitcher Marvin Freeman with the bases loaded, he hit a line drive to right field that went foul by a few inches. Morreale III still wonders how his future might have changed had that hit landed in fair territory. He said, “It’s true that baseball is a game of inches.”


Upon returning to Stockton for the regular season, he was seeing positive results from trying to hit with more power, but then tore a ligament in his knee when his foot got pinned against the bag by a sliding baserunner. Wanting to stick with the club, he did his rehabilitation in California. He tried to resume playing while still hurt but became injured again, breaking his hand that required surgery. After playing only 50 games that season, he ended of his playing career.


Morreale III joined his father in coaching NORD Uptown Babe Ruth teams. He said he is gratified by all the comments he has received from former ballplayers after hearing about his father’s death. Their sentiments were indications of how much of an influence his father had on them.


The Morreale baseball family tree sprouted a third-generation ballplayer. John Morreale IV is currently spending the summer with a travel ball team and will play as a senior in high school next year. Morreale III said he is trying to teach his son all that was originally passed down from his father. The messages are still the same. “Work hard to improve your skills. Give 100% all the time. Be a good teammate. Get through the ups and downs.” Young Morreale would do well to live up to his baseball bloodlines.

Flashback: New Orleanian Connie Ryan shines in 1944 MLB All-Star Game

With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game coming up on July 13, it’s a good time to recall the performance of New Orleans native Connie Ryan in the 1944 All-Star Classic.


Ryan was a member of several Jesuit High School teams that dominated prep baseball in New Orleans in the 1930s. He was a Times-Picayune All-Prep selection as an infielder from 1936 to 1938. He was awarded the first baseball scholarship to LSU in 1939. However, he played in only one season for the Tigers before entering professional baseball in 1940.


In his third season of professional baseball, he was sold by the Atlanta Crackers minor-league club to the New York Giants for $60,000, which was big money in those days. He started out the 1942 season with the Giants, where he was a teammate of Mel Ott, who was originally from the West Bank in New Orleans. However, Ryan wasn’t able to stick with the big-league club and was sent to Jersey City where he finished out the season.


In April 1943, Ryan was traded with Hugh Poland to the Boston Braves for Ernie Lombardi. He spent the full season with the Braves when he batted .212 with one homer and 25 RBIs.


1944 was his breakout season, as he earned an all-star berth at second base with the National League. He started the scoring for the National League in the fifth inning of the All-Star Game with a leadoff single off Tex Hughson. He stole second and scored on Bill Nicholson’s double. The NL scored four runs that inning on their way to a 7-1 victory. Ryan had another single in the sixth inning, while fellow New Orleanian Mel Ott was hitless in a pinch-hit appearance for the NL all-stars.


Two weeks after the All-Star Game, Ryan enlisted in the Navy and was sent to the Western Pacific theater. At the time, his .295 batting average was second on the Braves team. Despite playing in only 88 games, he still received votes for the NL’s Most Valuable Player Award.


He was a member of the Navy’s 5th Fleet ball clubs that played exhibition games to entertain the servicemen stationed on the various Pacific fighting fronts in 1945. The group of players was headed by New York Yankee Bill Dickey and included other major-leaguers such as Johnny Mize, Billy Herman, and Pee Wee Reese.


As did most of the major leaguers in the military, Ryan returned to baseball in time for the 1946 season. He never earned all-star status again, but one of his career highlights was playing for the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.


Ryan spent 12 seasons as a player in the majors, with his last in 1954. He served as a minor-league manager and major-league coach until 1979. He was a scout for the Texas Rangers until he retired in 1985. He was a member of the Milwaukee Braves coaching staff when they won the World Series in 1957. He served as interim major-league manager on two occasions, in 1975 with Atlanta and 1977 with Texas. He is a member of both the New Orleans and Louisiana Sports Halls of Fame.


Other New Orleans area players who have appeared in Major League All-Star games include Jack Kramer (S.J. Peters), Mel Parnell (S.J. Peters), Howie Pollet (Fortier), Rusty Staub (Jesuit), Will Clark (Jesuit), and Will Harris (Slidell).

Hometown Hero Update

Here’s an update for many of the 2021 major-league and minor-league players who prepped or played collegiately in the New Orleans area and southeast Louisiana. All stats are cumulative for the year through Wednesday, June 30.


Aaron Nola (LSU) tied Tom Seaver’s major-league record with 10 consecutive strikeouts on June 25. He had a total of 12 punchouts for the game, but despite his efforts his Phillies lost to the Mets. He managed to get two wins in June.


Kevin Gausman (LSU) had won seven consecutive games before taking his first loss on June 12. He is now 8-2, with a NL leading 1.68 ERA. He’s one of the main reasons the Giants are in first place in the NL West.


Seattle’s Jake Fraley (LSU) had several career firsts during the first two weeks of June. On June 3, he hit his first MLB home run against the Angels. Two days later he belted his first grand slam home run. On June 9 against Detroit, he robbed a Tiger home run with a fantastic catch in left field and then got his first walk-off hit in the 11th inning.


The Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman (LSU) and the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu (LSU) were among the finalists at their respective positions in the MLB All-Star Game voting.


Andrew Mitchell (Jesuit and Delgado CC) pitched the last three innings of a combined no-hitter with Josh Walker for Class AA Binghampton against Reading.


Josh Smith (LSU) hit a home run in his first at-bat after being promoted to Hi-A Hudson Valley from Lo-A Tampa. He’s been on a tear the entire season with a slash line of .342/.463/.685.


At the end of May, Daniel Cabrera (John Curtis HS, LSU) had three consecutive games with three hits for Class A West Michigan. He has 14 multi-hit games in his total of 46 games this season.


Greg Deichmann (Brother Martin, LSU) had a red-hot June with a slash line of .346/.453/.449 with one HR and 11 RBI while playing for Triple-A Las Vegas.


 

MLB


Alex Bregman—Astros (LSU) 59 G, .275 BA, .359 OBP, 7 HR, 34 RBI (On Injured List since June 17)


Jake Fraley—Mariners (LSU) 30 G, .241 BA, .427 OBP, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 5 SB


Kevin Gausman—Giants (LSU) 16 G, 8-2, 1.68 ERA, 101.2 IP, 116 SO


Will Harris—Nationals (Slidell HS, LSU) 8 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 6 IP, 9 SO (On Injured List since May 23)


Alex Lange—Tigers (LSU) 18 G, 0-1, 7.31 ERA, 16.0 IP, 20 SO (On Injured List since June 15)


Aaron Loup—Mets (Hahnville HS, Tulane) 27 G, 2-0, 1.52 ERA, 23.2 IP, 29 SO


DJ LeMahieu—Yankees (LSU) 76 G, .273 BA, .347 OBP, 7 HR, 33 RBI


Wade Miley—Reds (Loranger HS, Southeastern) 14 G, 6-4, 3.09 ERA, 81.2 IP, 118 SO


Aaron Nola—Phillies (Catholic HS, LSU) 17 G, 5-5, 4.44, 95.1 IP, 76 SO


Austin Nola—Padres (Catholic HS, LSU) 18 G, .217 BA, .373 OBP, 1 HR, 11 RBI (On Injured List since May 25.


Tanner Rainey—Nationals (St. Paul’s HS, Southeastern) 30 G, 1-2, 6.93 ERA, 24.2 IP, 31 SO


Jake Rogers—Tigers (Tulane) 28 G, .224 BA, .283 OBP, 4 HR, 12 RBI


Mac Sceroler—Orioles (Denham Springs HS, Southeastern) 5G, 0-0, 14.09 ERA, 7.2 IP, 11 SO


Riley Smith—Diamondbacks (LSU) 20 G, 1-4, 6.02 ERA, 61.1 IP, 33 SO


Andrew Stevenson—Nationals (St. Thomas More HS, LSU) 54 G, .227 BA, .283 OBP, 2 HR, 10 RBI (On Injured List since June 17)


 

Triple-A


Greg Deichmann—A’s (Brother Martin HS, LSU) 40 G, .324 BA, .457 OBP, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 6 SB


Ryan Eades—Astros (Northshore HS, LSU) 6 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 9 SO (On Injured List since June 8)


Ian Gibaut—Twins (Tulane) 14 G, 0-2, 8.57 ERA, 21.0 IP, 25 SO


Nick Goody—Yankees (LSU) 17 G, 4-1, 2.86 ERA, 22.0 IP, 31 SO


Jacoby Jones—Tigers (LSU) 26 G, .235 BA, .333 OBP, 2 HR, 10 RBI


Kyle Keller—Pirates (Jesuit HS, Southeastern) 12 G, 2-0, 1.65 ERA, 16.1 IP, 27 SO


Mikie Mahtook—White Sox (LSU) 34 G, .207 BA, .265 OBP, 8 HR, 18 RBI


Reeves Martin—Mariners (UNO) 5 G, 0-2, 8.10 ERA, 6.2 IP, 4 SO (Has not played since May 18)


Michael Papierski—Astros (LSU) 39 G, .290 BA, .423 OBP, 2 HR, 23 RBI


Kramer Roberston—Cardinals (LSU) 47 G, .245 BA, .369 OBP, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 4 SB


Justin Williams—Cardinals (Terrebone HS) 14 G, .241 BA, .255 OBP, 2 HR, 7 RBI


 

Double-A


Cole Freeman—Nationals (LSU) 41 G, .261 BA, .331 OBP, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 6 SB


Kody Hoese—Dodgers (Tulane) 30 G, .178 BA, .244 OBP, 1 HR, 9 RBI


Andrew Mitchell—Mets (Jesuit, Delgado, Auburn) 14 G, 3-1, 2.05 ERA, 26.1 IP, 30 SO


Tate Scioneaux—Rockies (Riverside HS, Southeastern) 18 G, 0-1, 3.63 ERA, 22.1 IP, 26 SO


Bryan Warzek—Dodgers (UNO) 16 G, 3-1, 2.42 ERA, 26.0 IP, 33 SO


 

Hi-A


Nick Bush—Rockies (LSU) 9 G, 4-2, 2.61 ERA, 48.1 IP, 56 SO


Daniel Cabrera—Tigers (John Curtis HS, Delgado, LSU) 46 G, BA .265, .317 OBP, 4HR, 32 RBI, 5 SB


Brendan Cellucci—Red Sox (Tulane) 14 G, 0-1, 5.87 ERA, 15.1 IP, 22 SO


Antoine Duplantis—Mets (LSU) 41 G, .236 BA, .311 OBP, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 2 SB


Cody Grosse—Mariners (Southeastern) 27 G, .261 BA, .381 OBP, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 7 SB


Zack Hess—Tigers (LSU) 18 G, 0-3, 5.85 ERA, 20.0 IP, 30 SO, 2 SV


Eric Orze—Mets (UNO) 6 G, 0-1, 5.19 ERA, 8.2 IP, 10 SO, 1 SV


Shawn Semple—Yankees (UNO) 10 G, 4-2, 3.15 ERA, 45.2 IP, 53 SO


Josh Smith—Yankees (Catholic HS, LSU) 30 G, .342 BA, .480 OBP, 8 HR, 22 RBI. 14 SB


Bryce Tassin—Tigers (Southeastern) 17 G, 3-2, 2.45 ERA, 22.0 IP, 22 SO, 3 SV


Zach Watson—Orioles (LSU) 43 G, .256 BA, .314 OBP, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 14 SB


 

Lo-A


Hudson Haskin—Orioles (Tulane) 43 G, .280 BA, .382 OBP, 5 HR, 31 RBI, 12 SB


Chase Solesky—White Sox (Tulane) 9 G, 1-3, 4.63 ERA, 35.0 IP, 49 SO


Tyree Thompson—Rangers (Karr HS) 7 G, 1-0, 2.70 ERA, 20.0 IP, 19 SO


 

Rookie


Todd Peterson—Nationals (LSU) 4 G, 1-0, 7.71 ERA, 4.2 IP, 6 SO

No more "Wander"ing in the minors for Franco

Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco finally made his big-league debut last week, after a couple of years of being touted as the top prospect in all of baseball. The anticipation of his promotion to the majors was on par with former teenage phenoms Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989 and Bryce Harper in 2012.


The 20-year-old Franco didn’t disappoint anyone when he hit a home run and a double in his debut game on June 22 against the Boston Red Sox. Coming out of spring training, it was anticipated Franco would eventually get his callup this season. It’s likely the Rays’ front office purposefully held him back until now so that the start of his service time in the majors would be delayed. (After five years of a player’s service time in the majors, he becomes eligible for free agency.) Recall the same situation occurred with Kris Bryant’s promotion with the Chicago Cubs in 2015.


In fact, Franco was probably ready for the majors last year, but again it was likely a financial decision to keep him at the Rays’ summer camp, when it became evident a full season wouldn’t be played due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise, he would have used up one of his years of major league service time, without the Rays getting the full benefit of his playing an entire season.


Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic, was signed by the Rays as a 17-year-old in 2018, when he made his professional debut in the rookie Appalachian League. Right off the bat, his slash line was an impressive .351/.418/.587, with 11 HRs and 57 RBIs in only 61 games.


Prior to the 2019 season, Baseball America had projected him as the No. 4 prospect in the minors. He lived up to expectations by slashing a combined .328/.398/.487, with 9 HRs and 53 RBIs, between Hi-A and Lo-A levels.


Prior to the 2020 season, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus joined Baseball America in ranking Franco the overall No. 1 prospect. But then the minor league season was cancelled entirely in 2020 because of the pandemic. Franco spent last summer working out in the Rays’ summer camp, where the organization’s top prospects kept in baseball shape. He was rated No. 1 again for the 2021 season.


Franco is a switch-hitter that has mostly played shortstop in the minors. The Rays traded its light-hitting shortstop Willie Adames to the Milwaukee Brewers in May, with most baseball analysts thinking the Rays were making room for Franco. Franco’s first game was at third base, so it remains to be seen where he will play most of the time.


Franco has been rated a five-tool player. That would put him in the company of Griffey and Harper, which of course sets high expectations for him. It’s projected he will join a bevy of new, young stars that have become the faces of MLB, including players such as Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Franco’s only problem with keeping up with those guys in popularity is that he plays in the Tampa market, which is not known as a rabid baseball town.


Here’s a piece of trivia about Franco: if you search Baseball-Reference.com for “Wander Franco,” you will find three players. In addition to the Rays’ new star (whose full name is Wander Samuel Franco), he has two brothers, both named Wander, who have also played professionally. There’s Wander Javier Franco, who last played in the independent leagues in 2019. He previously played in the Royals and Giants organizations. Then there’s Wander Alexander Franco, who last played in the minors for the Giants in 2019.

Makeshift baseball games with broom sticks and rocks

The other day, I was discarding an old worn-out straw broom with a wood-handle, and I had a flashback to my younger days.


A three-foot sawed-off broom handle would appear to a normal person as just a useless piece of wood from a broom that was no longer worth using.


To a young boy who lived on a rural farm about 60 years ago, the piece of wood would have been a good candidate for a “bat” to use in makeshift baseball games. You see, the “playing field” was my father’s cotton or soybean field. The “ball” would be rocks from an adjacent gravel road that you would toss up and smack with the broom handle. Your “opponent” would be your brother or a cousin from the neighboring farm down the road.


Mostly, our games were analogous to “home run derby,” i. .e, who can hit the most rocks over some designated distance within the field? It was Mantle vs. Mays, “Killer” Killebrew vs. “Hammerin” Hank, or whomever we wanted to emulate. If we really got sophisticated, we would mark off distances for singles, doubles, triples, and home runs and play a simulated baseball game. We’d “call the games” by doing our best impersonation of then-popular St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray.


I had read about kids from big cities like New York City and Philadelphia, where the sawed-off broom handle was used in a game of stickball usually played in the streets. Except there would have been more kids on each team, the ball would have been made out of electrical tape, and the bases would have been a fire hydrant or the bumpers of parked cars in the street. I remember seeing a photo of a young Willie Mays (then with the New York Giants in the early 1950s) playing stickball in the street with kids in Harlem. On a farm in the middle of nowhere, we could only dream about playing with someone as famous as Mays.


Of course, it was a simpler time back then. There was no expensive baseball equipment, no travel ball teams, and no specialized batting or pitching coaches. We felt fortunate to play in a real uniform (flannel at the time) in a real Little League game once a week, with your coach being a teammate’s dad who took the afternoon off from his farming responsibilities.


But after hours of hitting rocks with a broom handle, hitting an official baseball with a regulation wooden bat seemed like a piece of cake in those Little League games. I guess it was the hand-eye coordination we developed from hitting rocks.


I confess to having kept that discarded broomstick the other day. Maybe one day I’ll go back to one of those cotton fields and gravel roads and see if I can still hit ‘em out.

Ranking the best father-son combos in MLB history

Father’s Day is a good time to recall some of the all-time best Major League Baseball father-son duos.


There have been over 250 combinations of fathers and sons to play in the majors since Jack Doscher became the original second-generation player in the majors in 1903.  They represent a little more than 1% of the 20,000+players to ever play in the big leagues.  Almost 35 of the sons were still active at the end of the 2020 season.


One would think sons of major leaguers have an advantage over other prospective professional players, because of their name.  That’s probably true.  A player with the last name of Biggio or Yastrzemski would likely attract a baseball scout’s attention more than a player with a last name like Smith or Jones. 


In fact, when many sons of major leaguers were growing up, they spent time with their dad in the clubhouse or during pre-game warmups and batting practice.  From that perspective, they have an advantage of being more comfortable in the major-league environment once they get there.  For example, during the heyday of the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” teams of the 1970s, sixteen Reds players had sons who went on to play professional baseball, including the sons of Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey, Lee May, and Hal McRae.  Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium was like a second home to their kids.


Furthermore, sons of major-league fathers probably had better access to advanced coaching when they showed potential in their developmental years in the sport.  They also had ready access to a father who could advise them how to handle the mental side of the game, such as how to deal with being in a hitting slump recovering from an injury.


However, having the same last name as a major league father obviously doesn’t guarantee success for a son aspiring to a professional baseball career like his father.  Sons of major leaguers usually have more pressure to excel.  Some of the second-generation players have struggled as much against their family name as they did against the opposition.  For example, sons who didn’t measure up to their father’s Hall of Fame careers include Eddie Collins Jr., Tim Raines Jr., Ed Walsh Jr., George Sisler Jr., and Joe Wood Jr.


Former major leaguer Moises Alou, son of former major-league player and manager Felipe Alou, perhaps said it best, “If you can’t hit, field, and throw, it doesn’t matter who your father is.


So who were the best father-son duos in the majors?  Who were those sons that managed to become good enough to follow in their father’s footsteps and have a respectable career themselves? The Bonds and Griffey duos are the most recognizable, but the rest of the list may not be as obvious.


Below are the Top 10 duos ranked by their combined Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  Pairs were eliminated where one of the players didn’t have a substantial major league career. (For example, Pete Rose had a WAR of 79.7, but his son played in only 11 career major-league games and actually had a negative WAR.)  Fathers are listed first in the below combinations.


Bobby (57.9) and Barry (162.8) Bonds


Total WAR 220.7.  Barry has the fourth-highest WAR in baseball history, which makes their ranking practically uncontested by any other duo.  He was a seven-time MVP for the Pirates and Giants and was selected to 14 all-star games.  He has a slash line of .298/.444/.607 and holds the major-league record for most career HRs (762).  His father Bobby finished in the Top 4 for MVP voting twice and was a three-time all-star selection.  He was noted for his combination of power and speed, connecting for 331 (107th all-time) career home runs and swiping 461 bases (51th all-time).  Both players were outfielders.


Ken Sr. (34.5) and Ken Jr. (83.8) Griffey


Total WAR 118.3.  Ken Jr. fulfilled his potential as the overall Number 1 of the MLB draft in 1987, by hitting 630 HRs (7th all-time) and 1,836 RBIs (16th all-time) while posting a career slash line of .284/.370/.538.  A thirteen-time all-star selection for Seattle and Cincinnati, he was a near-unanimous selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.  Ken Sr. was a member of two World Series championship teams with the Reds.  He posted a career batting average of .297 and was selected as an all-star in three seasons.  The father-son duo, who were both outfielders, became the first to play in a major-league game as teammates in 1990.


Felipe (42.2) and Moises Alou (39.9)


Total 82.1.  Felipe was the best of three brothers that all played in the majors at the same time.  A three-time all-star selection, he led the league in hits twice and in runs scored once.  A career .286 hitter with 206 HRs and 852 RBIs, he played for the 1962 World Series champion San Francisco Giants.  Moises finished third in the MVP voting twice, when he played for Montreal and Houston.  He was a six-time all-star who had a .303 career batting average with 332 HRs and 1,287.  Moises was a key member of the 1997 Florida Marlins that won its first World Series.  He was one of only a few major-leaguers to have played for his father as manager, when they were with Montreal.


Gus (15.4) and Buddy Bell (66.3)


Buddy Bell (66.3) and David Bell (15.3)


Total WAR 81.7 and 81.6.  Buddy is actually part of three father-son duos, including one with his father Gus and two with sons David and Mike.  A career .281 hitter, Gus was a four-time all-star selection with the Cincinnati Reds as an outfielder.  David was an infielder for 12 seasons, appearing in the World Series with San Francisco in 2002.  Buddy was the best of the three generations as a five-time all-star and Gold Glove winner at third base in six consecutive seasons.  He batted .279 with 201 HRs and 1,106 RBIs.  There have been only four occurrences of three-generation families in major-league history.


Sandy Sr. (10.5) and Roberto (67.1) Alomar


Total WAR 77.6.  Roberto is a Hall of Fame second baseman who was selected to 12 consecutive all-star teams and won 10 Gold Glove awards.  He was a career .300 hitter with 200 HRs, 1,135 RBI, and 474 stolen bases.  He won two World Series rings with Toronto.  Sandy Sr. was an all-star selection for one of his 15 seasons.  The infielder hit only .245 with only 13 HRs during his career.  Sandy Sr. had another son, Sandy Jr., who played 20 seasons in the majors, but didn’t have near the productive career as his brother Roberto.


Tony Sr. (69.2) and Tony Jr. (5.2) Gwynn


Total WAR 74.4.  Tony Sr. was a Hall of Fame outfielder who won eight batting titles, while compiling a career .338 average and collecting 3,141 hits.  He was selected as an all-star in fifteen seasons, while capturing five Gold Glove awards and seven Silver Slugger awards.  He appeared in two World Series for San Diego.  Tony Jr. was an outfielder during eight major-league seasons after being drafted in the second round of the 2003 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.  It turned out he couldn’t hit like his father, as his career batting average was 100 points less.


Jose Sr. (54.4) and Jose Jr. (19.5) Cruz


Total WAR 73.9.  Jose Sr. had a career slash line of .284/.354/.420 in his 20 major-league seasons (19 with Houston).  The outfielder was in the Top 8 for National League MVP voting on three occasions.  An all-star selection in two seasons, he had 1,077 RBI and 317 stolen bases.  Jose Jr. was the third overall selection of the 1995 MLB Draft by the Mariners and went on to play 12 major-league seasons.  Ironically, he was traded during his rookie season in which he was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors.  A Gold Glove winner as an outfielder with the Giants in 2003, he was a career .247 hitter with 204 career HRs.


Craig Biggio (65.4) and Cavan Biggio (5.1)


Total WAR (70.5). Craig was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2015. He played three different positions for the Houston Astros: catcher, second base, and center field. He is 25th on the all-time hits list with 3,060. He was a seven-time all-star that won four Gold Glove awards and five Silver Slugger awards. He finished fourth and fifth in the NL MVP voting in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Cavan is only in his third major-league season, finishing fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2019.


Mel Sr. (43.1) and Todd (22.9) Stottlemyre


Total WAR 66.0.  Mel Sr. won 15 or more games for the Yankees during six seasons, while totaling 164 career wins.  A five-time all-star selection, he posted an impressive career 2.97 ERA.  He started three games for the Yankees in the 1964 World Series against St. Louis.  Todd pitched for 14 major-league seasons during which he posted double-digit wins in eight seasons and compiled 138 career wins.  He was a member of two World Series championship teams with Toronto.  Mel Sr. had another son, Mel Jr., who pitched in one major-league season.


The recent rise to the majors for Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio in the past few years has resulted in in a change in the father-son combo leaders. The Biggio combo pushed Yogi Berra and his son Dale from the last Top 10 List I compiled two years ago. The Berras had a combined WAR of 65.3. (Of course, Yogi provided the bulk of the value in their case.) In fact, 11th place is now occupied by the Vlad Guerrero (Senior and Junior) combo, who also edged out the Berras. The Guerreros’ combined WAR is currently 65.5. With Cavan Biggio and Vlad Guerrero Jr. still early in their careers, they could easily rise further in the Top 10 list.


The next five father-son combos after the Guerreros include George Sr. (56.3) and Dick (8.0) Sisler; Dizzy (49.6) and Steve (13.3) Trout; Maury (39.7) and Bump (16.5) Wills; Bob (27.4) and Bret (22.8) Boone; and Gary Sr. (30.4) and Gary Jr. (14.2) Matthews.

 

Game-fixing scandal shook Louisiana's Evangeline League in 1946

In addition to the minor-league Pelicans of New Orleans, other cities in south Louisiana helped formed a hotbed for professional baseball in the 1940s. The Evangeline League was one of 42 leagues that rebounded following World War II. (In 1943, the number of minor leagues had dropped to as few as nine.) Baton Rouge, Hammond, Houma, Abbeville, New Iberia, Thibodaux, and Alexandria fielded teams in the Evangeline League.


Among the Class D leagues in the country, the Evangeline League was one of the more popular from the standpoint of attendance. Times-Picayune sports columnist Bill Keefe contended that the level of play in the Evangeline League was not too different from Class A competition. 74 players from the Evangeline League would eventually become major leaguers. However, the league became the center of attention in 1946, not because of its popularity, but because of a betting and game-fixing scandal in which five players were suspended.


Houma had won the regular season title with an impressive 92-39 won-lost record and then went on to defeat Abbeville in the playoffs. The player suspensions were based on an alleged conspiracy between the players and New Orleans bookies to fix league playoff games.


The Black Sox scandal involving Chicago White Sox players during the 1919 World Series should have provided a stern warning that betting on baseball games could have serious consequences for the players. Yet it was suspicioned that fixing games was occurring in a number of baseball leagues, including the Evangeline League, in 1946.


In mid-December 1946 following an investigation, Evangeline League president J. Walter Morris reported the charges of “throwing games, betting against their own clubs and being in collusion with gamblers.” The scandal was discovered when Abbeville owner “was informed that some of his players had arranged with gamblers to throw games.” The accused players were summoned to appear before Judge W. G. Bramham, who was commissioner of the minor leagues.


On January 18, 1947, Bramham placed five Evangeline League players on the ineligible list, including Bill Thomas, Leonard Pecou (who prepped at Warren Easton HS in New Orleans), Paul Fugit, and Alvin Kaiser of Houma and Don Vettorel of Abbeville. Following the decision, Morris warned the league’s owners and managers that “we either have to clean the league up or close up.” He said, “Fighting the gamblers is like fighting cockroaches. You have to keep at it all the time.” George Trautman, incoming president of the National Association replacing Bramham who had retired, later declared all matters regarding the gambling allegations had been resolved and gave a clean bill of health to the Evangeline League for the 1947 season.


The league’s problems gave the sport a black eye and caused increased warnings within Organized Baseball, including the major leagues, for preserving the integrity of the game. Boxing and horse racing were facing similar issues around the same time.


However, the after-effects from the scandal didn’t seem to significantly hurt the Evangeline League. Attendance in the league in 1947 was 690,000, while 1948 saw 683,000 at the turnstiles. The 1946 season had a little over 700,000 for the league.


Some of the New Orleans area players who competed in the Evangeline League after the scandal included Lenny Yochim, Nolan Vicknair, and George Stumpf (New Iberia); Skeeter Theard, Fernand Lorio, Weldon Ploger, and Frank Azzarello (Thibodaux); Paul Bruno, Benny Plaia and Dick Callahan (Hammond); Pete Thomassie and Frank Mediamolle (Houma); and Tony Roig and Pete Catalano (Lafayette).

Hometown Hero Watch

Here’s an update on many of the 2021 major-league and minor-league players who prepped or played collegiately in the New Orleans area and southeast Louisiana. All stats are through Friday, May 28.


One of the highlights of the early major-league season was Wade Miley’s (Loranger HS, Southeastern) no-hitter. It is one of six that has occurred this season. Miley was an unlikely candidate for throwing a no-hitter since he has pitched only two complete games in his previous 10 seasons.


Kevin Gausman (LSU) has had the best start of his nine-year career with a 5-0 record and an impressive 1.53 ERA in 10 starts. He is the No. 1 starter in the Giants’ rotation and has been a key factor in the Giants’ contention for the NL West lead.


Reliever Will Harris (Slidell HS, LSU) missed the first month of the season due to an injury related to a blood clot in his right arm. Since joining the Nationals, he has had a rough start to his season with a 9.00 ERA and 1.667 WHIP in eight games.


Alex Bregman (LSU) has an impressive .319/.398/.481 slash line in helping the Astros’ current 2nd place ranking in the AL West. He has had multiple hits in 17 of his 41 games.


Alex Lange (LSU) made his major-league debut on April 10. He is being used as a reliever by Detroit. Mac Scolerer (Denham Springs HS, Southeastern) made his debut with the Orioles on Opening Day, then appeared in only one other game before going in the injured list with a shoulder injury. Scolerer is a cousin of former LSU pitching star and major-league player Ben McDonald.


Bryce Tassin (Southeastern) had two wins and two saves in seven games as a reliever for Lakeland in the Detroit Tigers farm system.


Mikie Mahtook (LSU) had an eight-game hitting streak for Triple-A Charlotte.


Hudson Haskin (Tulane) has had an impressive start with a .351 batting average and .467 on-base-percentage, 2 home runs, 15 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases for Delmarva in the Orioles system.



MLB

Alex Bregman—Astros (LSU) 43 G, .305 BA, .393 OBP, 6 HR, 25 RBI


Kevin Gausman—Giants (LSU)10 G, 5-0, 1.53 ERA, 64.2 IP, 76 SO


Will Harris—Nationals (Slidell HS, LSU) 8 G, 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 6 IP, 9 SO


Jacoby Jones—Tigers (LSU) 36 G, .170 BA, .275 OBP, 2 HR, 9 RBI


Kyle Keller—Pirates (Jesuit HS, Southeastern) 3 G, 0-0, 8.10 ERA, 3.1 IP, 4 SO


Alex Lange—Tigers (LSU)15 G, 0-1, 7.43 ERA, 13.1 IP, 16 SO


Aaron Loup—Mets (Hahnville HS, Southeastern) 17 G, 1-0, 2.77 ERA, 13 IP, 15 SO


DJ LeMahieu—Yankees (LSU) 47 G, .264 BA, .352 OBP, 3 HR, 14 RBI


Wade Miley—Reds (Loranger HS, Tulane) 8 G, 4-4, 3.50 ERA, 43.2 IP, 34 SO


Aaron Nola—Phillies (Catholic HS, LSU) 11 G, 3-4, 3.72, 65.1 IP, 76 SO


Austin Nola—Padres (Catholic HS, LSU) 18 G, .217 BA, .373 OBP, 1 HR, 11 RBI


Tanner Rainey—Nationals (St. Paul’s HS, Southeastern) 17 G, 0-2, 9.49 ERA, 12.1 IP, 15 SO


Jake Rogers—Tigers (Tulane) 10 G, .200 BA, .226 OBP, 1 HR, 3 RBI


Mac Sceroler—Orioles (Denham Springs HS, Southeastern) 2G, 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 3.2 IP, 6 SO


Riley Smith—Diamondbacks (LSU) 11 G, 1-3, 6.00 ERA, 36.0 IP, 17 SO


Andrew Stevenson—Nationals (St. Thomas More HS, LSU) 41 G, .225 BA, .292 OBP, 2 HR, 9 RBI


Justin Williams—Cardinals (Terrebone HS) 46 G, .156 BA, .264 OBP, 3 HR, 9 RBI



Triple-A


Greg Deichmann—A’s (Brother Martin HS, LSU) 17 G, .296 BA, .457 OBP, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB


Ryan Eades—Astros (Norshshore HS, LSU) 6 G, 0-1, 3.52 ERA, 7.2 IP, 5 SO


Jake Fraley—Mariners (LSU) 6 G, .389 BA, .522 OBP, 2 HR, 2 RBI


Ian Gibaut—Twins (Tulane) 7 G, 0-2, 12.54 ERA, 9.1 IP, 13 SO


Nick Goody—Yankees (LSU) 8 G, 1-1, 3.48 ERA, 10.1 IP, 16 SO


Mikie Mahtook—White Sox (LSU) 16 G, .241 BA, .311 OBP, 4 HR, 7 RBI


Reeves Martin—Mariners (UNO) 5 G, 0-2, 8.10 ERA, 6.2 IP, 4 SO


Michael Papierski—Astros (LSU) 15 G, .354 BA, .483 OBP, 1 HR, 9 RBI


Kramer Roberston—Cardinals (LSU) 19 G, .245 BA, .365 OBP, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB


Tate Scioneaux—Rockies (Riverside HS, Southeastern) 8 G, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 9.2 IP, 13 SO



Double-A


Cole Freeman—Nationals (LSU) 18 G, .246 BA, .297 OBP, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 4 SB


Kody Hoese—Dodgers (Tulane) 18 G, .158 BA, .198 OBP, 0 HR, 4 RBI


Shawn Semple—Yankees (UNO) 5 G, 0-2, 5.09 ERA, 17.2 IP, 16 SO


Bryan Warzek—Dodgers (UNO) 8 G, 3-1, 2.45 ERA, 14.2 IP, 19 SO



Hi-A

Nick Bush—Rockies (LSU) 4 G, 1-0, 1.59 ERA, 17 IP, 20 SO


Daniel Cabrera—Tigers (John Curtis HS, Delgado, LSU) 20 G, BA .231, .307 OBP, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 4 SB


Brendan Cellucci—Red Sox (Tulane) 5 G, 0-1, 12.60 ERA, 5 IP, 9 SO


Antoine Duplantis—Mets (LSU) 16 G, .265 BA, .342 OBP, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB


Cody Grosse—Mariners (Southeastern) 12 G, .286 BA, .432 OBP, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB


Zack Hess—Tigers (LSU) 8 G, 0-1, 7.27 ERA, 8.2 IP, 16 SO, 2 SV


Eric Orze—Mets (UNO) 6 G, 0-1, 5.19 ERA, 8.2 IP, 10 SO, 1 SV


Todd Peterson—Nationals (LSU) 3 G, 0-0, 13.50 ERA, 2.2 IP, 3 SO


Zach Watson—Orioles (LSU) 18 G, .232 BA, .299 OBP, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 6 SB



Lo-A


Hudson Haskin—Orioles (Tulane) 19 G, .351 BA, .467 OBP, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 11 SB


Chase Solesky—White Sox (Tulane) 4 G, 0-2, 4.26 ERA, 12.2 IP, 20 SO


Bryce Tassin—Tigers (Southeastern) 9 G, 2-0, 1.46 ERA, 12.1 IP, 15 SO, 3 SV

 

Tyree Thompson—Rangers (Karr HS) 4 G, 0-0, 2.61 ERA, 10.1 IP, 9 SO

Pursuit to attend a game in every MLB stadium gets a re-boot

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on a lot of things in the past 15 months. Some were more sobering than others. For example, it’s tragic that our nation lost so many lives to the terrible scourge. It’s disheartening that the nation’s children were largely set back in their educational development. But one of the less serious impacts was the disruption in 2020 to my son’s and my pursuit of attending a game in every MLB stadium. Once it was announced that fans could return to attending games in-person this season, we were happy to hit the re-boot button on our plan.


I had 12 stadiums and Lee had 13 on our respective lists of current stadiums we had not been to. Lately our strategy has been to pick an area of the country each year where we can get in at least two new stadiums in one trip, so that we can accelerate ticking them off our lists. For example, in 2019, we went to Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Stadium in Chicago and Miller Park in Milwaukee. The year before, we took in games at Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego.


The Midwest and West Coast offered the best opportunities to continue our approach of multiple cities in one trip. However, MLB didn’t publish the entire schedule for each team at the beginning of the season, so it would have been difficult back in March to plan a trip much in advance of 30 days. Then we weren’t sure about whether there would be disruptions in the MLB schedules because of potentially continued spread of the coronavirus on a large scale. Plus, in March most stadiums were still planning to allow only a percentage of capacity to attend games.


With all these uncertainties, we went to a “simple” Plan B--just go to a new stadium in a single city in the near-term, in order to assure ourselves we wouldn’t be shut out altogether again this year.


Lee routinely travels to the Dallas area and Tampa for his work. Thus, with the new Globe Life Park in Arlington and Tropicana Field in Tampa on our not-yet-attended list, those were our immediate candidates.


 

So, last week we took in two games in Arlington to see the Texas Rangers face the New York Yankees. There was no limit on attendance by the state of Texas’ pandemic rules. I got a double bonus since the Yanks are my favorite team. By the way, this was the third different Texas Rangers stadium I’ve been to.


The Rangers’ new Globe Life Field is adjacent to their previous baseball stadium and is in the proximity of Jerry’s World (AT&T Stadium). The façade of the stadium doesn’t have a traditional baseball stadium look-and-feel. It’s more similar to a super-large airplane hangar.


Watching the game in the new ballpark was a lot like being at Houston’s Minute Maid Field. The stadium features a retractable-roof, and its left field has the large glass windows. Except Globe Life doesn’t have a choo-choo train or an area similar to the Crawford boxes at Minute Maid. But it does have field-level suites between the dugouts, which looked pretty cool. Like Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Globe Life has a large, covered entertainment arena outside the stadium (called Texas Live!) with giant TV screens, bars, and BBQ for pre- and post-game activities. Inside the stadium, we found the ballpark food was only average—nothing distinguishing it from the other MLB stadiums, like the huge Primanti Brothers sandwiches at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.


The Rangers and Yankees split the two games we saw. We got to see the Yanks’ ace Gerrit Cole, one of the top three pitchers in the majors. However, we were disappointed that the Rangers chased him early in the game with a couple of home runs and several other extra-base hits. We also got to see former Mississippi State star Nate Lowe who plays first base for the Rangers, but he went hitless in the two games. We weren't disappointed when we saw Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman end the game on Tuesday with a 102 mph fastball strikeout. He was "throwing smoke" as they say. We kicked ourselves later for not getting tickets for the third game in the series, because the Yankees’ Corey Kluber pitched a no-hitter against the Rangers on Wednesday night. Oh, well.


Unlike many of our previous baseball trips, we didn’t get to experience any new Italian restaurants. With Lee’s work schedule last week, there just wasn’t any time to fit that in.


So, now there are 11 remaining stadiums on my list which includes Tampa, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Denver, Arizona, Oakland, Seattle, and New York (Citi Field). By the way, there are 13 major-league stadiums I have attended which are no longer in use, the first being in 1962 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.


I can see a quick Southwest Airlines trip to Tampa to knock out Tropicana Field later this season, or perhaps a six-hour drive to Atlanta to watch a game in their relatively new Truist Park. Lee says we better get busy with our plan, or else he will be rolling me around in a wheelchair.

Flashback: Charlie Gilbert a member of renowned New Orleans baseball family

Charlie Gilbert had a storied prep career in New Orleans in the 1930s, helping Jesuit High School win numerous high school and American Legion championships. Under the guidance of his father Larry Sr., a former major-league player and later the manager of the New Orleans Pelicans and Nashville Vols, Charlie reached the majors in 1940 as a 20-year-old, highly-touted prospect.


There have been only 266 father-son duos in the major leagues, a rarity when considering there have been nearly 20,000 players in big league history. Larry Sr.’s only two major-league seasons occurred in 1914 and 1915, but his claim to fame as a player was being a member of the “Miracle Braves” that won the World Series in 1914. When Charlie was promoted to the majors, they were among the first 30 pairs of fathers and sons to reach the majors.


The Gilbert baseball family ties were extended when Charlie’s younger brother Tookie also developed into a high school phenom. Tookie received a hefty $50,000 bonus to sign his first pro contract with the New York Giants and got his promotion to the big leagues in 1950 as a 21-year-old. Thus, the Gilberts became only the third family with a major-league father and two major-league sons. Even today there have been only 13 such families since the major leagues’ inaugural season in 1871.


Older brother Larry Jr. had become the first Gilbert brother to play professionally, logging two seasons in the minors (including one with his father’s Pelicans team), before being forced to quit the game due to a heart problem. Charlie followed in Larry Jr.’s footsteps in 1934 as a baseball star for Jesuit. In addition to playing baseball, Charlie ran track and was captain of the Jesuit basketball team during his senior season in 1937. He made the city’s All-Prep baseball team in three seasons.


During Charlie’s tenure at Jesuit, the Blue Jays won four Louisiana state championships. His 1936 team went undefeated and became known as one of the more lauded in New Orleans prep history. Every member of the starting lineup, including two pitchers, were named to the Times-Picayune All-Prep team. Six of the members eventually signed pro contracts, including Connie Ryan and Fats Dantonio who also reached the majors. Another teammate, George Digby, became a long-time major-league scout.


Since Charlie was only 16 years old when he graduated from high school, his father didn’t allow him to immediately enter the pro ranks. He arranged for Charlie to play in an Alabama semi-pro league during the summer of 1937. He followed that with a standout season for a North Carolina semi-pro team in the Tobacco State League in 1938, when he batted .367 and stole 30 bases.


Larry Sr. left the Pelicans after 15 seasons and became manager and part-owner of the Nashville Vols in 1939, bringing Charlie with him to play under his tutelage. Charlie was impressive in his professional debut season batting .317 with 14 home runs in 144 games. He drew comparisons to his father as a speedy, slick-fielding outfielder.


Nashville was an affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who felt they were on the verge of winning their first National League pennant since 1920. Charlie was among several young players from their farm system, including Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers believed could help immediately, so they negotiated with Larry Sr. to purchase 20-year-old Charlie. The signing added a $30,000 bonus to the Gilbert family’s coffers. (When Larry Sr. had negotiated his contract with Nashville, one of the conditions was that Charlie would not become their property if he played for them.)


Expectations were high for Charlie as he joined the Dodgers out of spring training in 1940. When he hit two home runs and four RBIs in his third major-league game, it appeared he was going to deliver on his potential. But Charlie failed to produce in his next 43 games (no home runs and only three more RBIs), causing the Dodgers to swap him with Pete Reiser from their Triple-A affiliate in Montreal.


The Dodgers gave up on Charlie in 1941 by trading him to the Chicago Cubs in May. His lack of production eventually relegated him to pinch-hitting and late-inning replacement roles by season’s end.


Charlie spent the entire 1942 season with the Cubs but he continued to struggle at the plate (.184 average, no home runs and seven RBIs in 206 plate appearances). The Cubs wanted to send him down to one of their Triple-A clubs in 1943, but Charlie requested to go back to Nashville to play under his father’s wing again. His offensive production helped the Vols win the league title, as he posted a slash line of .328/.423/.471, with 7 homers and 68 RBIs in 122 games.


Charlie missed the entire 1944 and 1945 seasons after enlisting in the Navy during World War II. He was stationed in Hawaii where he was able to play baseball on service teams. He was released by the Navy in February 1946, during the time when many major leaguers were returning from military service.


He started the 1946 season with the Cubs, but still wasn’t able to hit major-league pitching. He was purchased in mid-June by the last-place Philadelphia Phillies, where he saw considerable playing time. While he was performing well defensively, he hit only one home run and 18 RBIs in 307 plate appearances for the season.


Despite his poor performance, the Phillies kept him on their roster for the entire 1947 season. Yet the results were similar to the prior season. Over half of his appearances came in pinch-hitting situations. He finished with a .237 average with two home runs and 10 RBIs.


Larry Sr. was in his last season as Nashville’s manager in 1948, when he purchased Charlie outright from the Phillies. Charlie arrived with a newly-found power stroke, smacking seven home runs in his first four games. By June 1 he had 18 homers. He explained his success, “They told me in the majors I wasn’t a power hitter, so I became a place hitter. Now I’ve changed my stance and I’m swinging the way I want to. That’s the new difference, ‘my new swing.’” Charlie finished the season with 42 home runs and 100 RBIs, batting .362 and setting Southern Association records for runs score and walks. He was a key contributor to Nashville’s winning the regular-season league title.


The Boston Braves, Larry Sr.’s old team, selected Charlie in the annual major-league draft in late 1948. However, neither Charlie nor his father were thrilled about his going to Boston. Charlie was reportedly satisfied to stay in Nashville. He was being rumored as a potential replacement for his father as manager.


In late January 1949, Charlie notified the Braves that he had been diagnosed with a separation in his fifth lumbar vertebra, resulting from a back injury suffered at the end of the 1948 season. The Braves placed him on the disabled list, and at age 29 Charlie’s playing career was over.


Charlie didn’t wind up managing Nashville but did serve as their business manager for several years. He returned to New Orleans where he worked in the civil sheriff’s office for over 20 years as a real estate auctioneer. He died at age 64 in New Orleans on August 13, 1983.

 

Charlie’s career was an enigma. Had he shown the kind of offensive production in the majors that he demonstrated in his three seasons playing for his father in Nashville, Charlie could have had a much different career. Perhaps he needed more seasoning before being rushed to the majors. Maybe he wasn’t able to handle the pressure of the high expectations set for him. Or as he put it, maybe it just was a matter of him swinging the way he wanted to.


The Gilbert brothers and other Metro New Orleans area high school players that went on to play at the collegiate and professional levels can be viewed in an extensive catalog by clicking here. The list is sorted by high school.

Player Database Reflects Evolution of Baseball in New Orleans

Each year around this time, I make updates to my Metro New Orleans Area Player Database, which catalogs baseball players who competed in high schools in the metropolitan area and then went on to play at the collegiate and professional levels. The scope of the high schools in the database includes both public and private schools on the East Bank, West Bank, North Shore, and River Parishes.


I first started the digital compilation of players about 15 years ago with 300 entries, and now the database has grown to over 1,950. Most of the new updates each year now come from college media guides. The older players have come from a variety of sources, including research of newspaper archives, major-league team media guides, and internet databases. My local SABR colleagues who grew up in New Orleans have provided countless inputs and corrections. On many occasions, I have gotten inputs directly from the players themselves, who want to be included in the compilation.


In many ways, the database contents reflect the evolution of high school, college, and professional baseball in the New Orleans area.


The earliest dates of high school players in the database begin around 1910, at schools which no longer exist, such as Boys High, Rugby Academy, and McDonough-Jefferson. In the 1930s Jesuit, Warren Easton, S.J. Peters, Holy Cross, Fortier, and St. Aloysius started to become regular sources of players who advanced beyond high school play.


College baseball scholarships didn’t become available until the early 1940s, with Tulane and Loyola being the predominant local universities that some high schoolers advanced to over the next two decades. However, most players advancing their careers went straight into the professional ranks.


Baseball’s minor-league farm systems grew exponentially, beginning in the mid-to-late 1930s and into the 1940s. To fill minor-league rosters, high schools became the primary source. Major league organizations looked to the New Orleans area as a popular area to recruit players, especially since the city hosted the minor-league New Orleans Pelicans and several other South Louisiana cities fielded teams in the Evangeline League. For example, the 1936 class of Jesuit High School had seven of its starters eventually sign professional contracts. A 1939 Times-Picayune article reported over 100 New Orleans players in the professional ranks. in 1944, seven of the players in the Pelicans’ starting lineup were native New Orleanians.


Colleges began to elevate their baseball programs in the early 1970s to the same level as football and basketball. Local high school players started to populate colleges like LSU, Tulane, University of New Orleans (originally LSUNO), Delgado Community College, Southeastern Louisiana, and Nicholls State in larger numbers. Southern University and Grambling attracted many of the best Black ballplayers in the area.


However, most of the larger universities have now turned to recruiting nationally, which affects the number of scholarships awarded to local players. Consequently, community colleges and smaller universities in New Orleans provide an expanded opportunity to play at the next level for many local ballplayers.


Delgado Community College has developed into a perennial breeding ground for major-college programs throughout the South, but especially in Louisiana. Within the last couple of years, Nunez Community College launched its inaugural baseball program, while Xavier University of Louisiana re-instituted its baseball program after a 60-year absence. Loyola University, which is experiencing a resurgence in its program this season, has been another prominent destination.


The number of players being drafted out of high school and going directly to the minors has diminished over the years. This is partly due to major league teams increasingly looking more to the college ranks for players who have already developed their skills due to advanced player development efforts by college coaching. Another reason is that MLB has increased its recruiting and player development efforts in the Latin American countries.


The number of New Orleans area players in the professional ranks is not at predominant as it used to be, now in the 15 to 20 range. I believe this is attributable to the fewer number of local players in major-college (NCAA Division 1) programs, where major-league teams focus their recruiting and draft efforts.


After I complete the update of my database for the 2021 college season, I’ll report back on some of the details of where local players are coming (high school) from and where they are going to (college).

Flashback: Shaw's Greg Yarbrough a man among boys

Last week someone posted a question on the SABR discussion group I belong to about whether San Diego Padres rookie pitcher Ryan Weathers held the record for lowest ERA for a high school pitcher. The writer stated Weathers had an ERA of 0.09, giving up one earned run in 76 innings for a Tennessee high school in 2018.


The question immediately brought to mind Greg Yarbrough, a senior teammate of mine at Shaw (MS) High School in 1967.


Greg had Weathers beat, since he gave up no (zero) earned runs on his way to a 12-0 record that included four no-hitters. The left-hander allowed only 12 hits the entire season and struck out 194 of 257 batters faced. Greg led our team to the Mississippi Class BB state championship over Woodville. Shaw had lost to Woodville in the state finals the year before. Revenge was nice.


It often seemed like Greg was pitching to Little Leaguers in the way he overpowered opposing batters. His rising fastballs and sharp curves left many batters standing at the plate after striking out, trying to figure out what they had just seen. Of course, this was a time before radar guns were used to measure pitchers’ speed. But I don’t’ think I’m exaggerating to say I believe Greg must have thrown in the low 90s on a good day, which was pretty much every game. Fifty years ago, 90 mph was the velocity many major leaguers aspired to.


Defensive shifts have been used extensively in the majors in the last 5-6 years. Well, our team used a shift back then, but not because we had a ton of data on batter tendencies like they do today. It was actually pretty simple. Most of the right-handed hitters couldn’t get around on their swings against Greg’s fastball; and when they did make contact, which wasn’t too often, they’d invariably hit it in the hole between first and second base. Consequently, as the second baseman, our coach had me routinely cheating over toward first base to prevent any grounders from making it through the hole. Heck, we were just ahead of the times!


Greg was intimidating to most of the batters he faced. It was understandable, since he would strike out almost 75% of the hitters that came to bat. I recall one game in the playoffs against the team from DeKalb, in which one of the opposing players told me after game, “We probably should have just forfeited this game against that guy (Greg).”


Greg was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 28th round of the 1967 MLB Draft following his senior season. This was before professional signing bonuses became outrageous, and as the 28th pick, Greg didn’t likely get offered much to sign. (For example, the Giants’ first-round pick in 1967, Dave Rader, only got $22,000.)


Instead, Greg opted to accept a baseball scholarship offer from Mississippi State University. Ironically, the person who represented State in the signing process was Boo Ferriss, a former Shaw High pitcher who eventually became a star major-league pitcher. Boo was working in MSU’s athletic department at the time.


The jump to the collegiate level of baseball in 1968 didn’t seem to faze Greg. In his second start for the Bulldogs in the prestigious National Collegiate Tournament in Riverside, California, he led them to a 4-1 victory over Tennessee. Vols hitters must have felt like the Little Leaguers that day, as Greg struck out 13, tying a tournament record. Oh yeah, he also hit a two-run homer. Greg went on to post a 5-4 record in nine starts for the Bulldogs. He pitched five complete games and had an impressive 2.85 ERA.


He decided to leave school and signed with the Giants organization for the 1969 season. He was sent to Great Falls, Montana, where he played in the rookie Pioneer League. He made 16 appearances, mostly in relief, posting a 2-0 record and 4.34 ERA. He was still striking out hitters at a high rate, 38 batters in 29 innings pitched.


However, Greg didn’t play another pro season, leaving baseball at 20 years of age. He remained a high school legend in the Mississippi Delta region for many years. Opposing players from his era certainly remembered him long after competing against him. Here are a couple of examples I’ve personally witnessed. Years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Archie Manning at a company function at which he was a guest speaker. When I introduced myself to Archie and mentioned I was from Shaw (about 25 miles from his hometown of Drew), he immediately recalled he had played against Greg and marveled at how impressive he was. I recently ran across Phil Greco, who now lives in the New Orleans area. A multi-sport athlete originally from the Delta in Leland, Phil had his own memories about batting against Greg.


When I watch today’s major-league pitchers, I often wonder how Greg would have fared if he had stayed in the game. Of course, it would be purely speculation. But I do know this: back in 1967, Greg was a man among boys playing the game of baseball.

16-year-old Jesuit star Putsy Caballero helped fill major-league rosters during World War II

World War II took its toll on America in countless ways. And major-league baseball was no exception. In January 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt supported the continuance of professional baseball, despite many other war-time restrictions implemented throughout the nation. However, with many young men being pressed into military service, a shortage of players in the majors developed.


One of many players who had an improbable ascent to the majors during that time was Ralph “Putsy” Caballero. He had graduated from Jesuit High School in 1944 at age 16, after a celebrated prep baseball and basketball career. A few months later he was on the Philadelphia Blue Jays (a nickname the team used in 1944 and 1945 in lieu of the Phillies) roster making his major-league debut.


New Orleans was a familiar place for major-league scouts. The local high schools were producing numerous professional prospects that had recently included future major leaguers Charlie Gilbert, Howie Pollet, Mel Parnell, Jack Kramer, and George Strickland. Pitching phenom Dick Callahan from Holy Cross High School in New Orleans signed a contract in 1944 to play for the Boston Red Sox organization, and it included a bonus of $15,000, an unheard of amount at the time.


Caballero continued to play American Legion baseball after graduation, as he had done during several prior summers. He already had an offer to attend Louisiana State University on a dual baseball and basketball scholarship, but that didn’t stop him from entertaining offers from professional teams. One of his suitors was the New York Giants, with whom New Orleans native Mel Ott was the player-manager. When Philadelphia offered a lucrative $8,000 signing bonus, his father advised Putsy to accept it and forgo college.


Because of the shortage of professional players, Philadelphia decided to send Caballero directly to their major-league club. Essentially, he swapped his Jesuit Blue Jays uniform for one with the Philadelphia Blue Jays. Their management wanted to get a first-hand look at him in a major-league environment in preparation for the 1945 season. He was almost 13 years younger than the average age of position players in the majors at the time.


Caballero made his major-league debut on September 14, 1944, against the New York Giants in a lopsided loss by Philadelphia. He was a late-inning defensive replacement at third base and popped out in his only at-bat. He appeared in three more games with Philadelphia that season and failed to get a hit in three more at-bats.


Interestingly, Caballero wasn’t the youngest player to appear in the big leagues. Earlier in the season, 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall made his pitching debut with the Cincinnati Reds, still the record for youngest major-leaguer. Carl Sheib (Philadelphia Athletics) and Tommy Brown (Brooklyn Dodgers) were also 16 years old (a few months younger than Putsy) when they made their major-league debuts in 1944.


Twenty-five-year-old Fats Dantonio was another native New Orleanian who made his debut late in the same season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His promotion to the big leagues was another example of baseball’s difficulty in filling rosters with experienced replacements. He lacked the usual experience of playing at a high level in the minors before reaching the majors. Dantonio wound up playing in only 50 games during his two major-league seasons.

 

Caballero started out the 1945 season with Philadelphia but was soon sent to the minors for more seasoning. It turned out he had been rushed too quickly to the majors. He didn’t win a full-time job with the Phillies until the 1948 season.


The highlight of his career came in 1950, when still only 22 years old he was a member of the Phillies’ “Whiz Kids” team that won the National League pennant, their first since 1915. He was used mostly as a utility player in defensive replacement, pinch-hitting, and pinch-running situations. He managed to see action in three World Series games against the New York Yankees, who swept the Phillies in four games.


Caballero was a part-time player with the Phillies in 1951 and 1952 and then finished out his pro career in 1955 after three seasons in the minors. His career stats in 322 major-league games include a .228 batting average, one home run, and 40 RBIs.


Caballero is often remembered as having one of the more unique nicknames in baseball. Years later in an interview he stated there was no particular reason why he was called “Putsy.” He said when he was growing up in New Orleans, practically everyone had a nickname. Caballero was inducted in the Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1994 and the New Orleans Professional Hall of Fame in 2009. He died on December 8, 2016, at age 89.

Hometown hero watch

With Major League Baseball’s season a little more than two weeks old, it’s a good time to check in on which local players started the season in the majors and how they are faring so far.


Here’s a rundown on some of the 2021 major-league players who prepped or played collegiately in the New Orleans area and southeast Louisiana. The initial list of players is dominated by former LSU and Southeastern players. The list will grow as the season progresses and as minor-league play gets into full swing.


It appears most of the players are still shaking off rust from the off-season. Injuries and illnesses have already taken their toll on four of the players who are on the MLB disabled list. The stats below are through games on Friday, April 16.


Alex Bregman (LSU) is currently on the 10-day injured list for Covid for the third-place Houston Astros. He started the season with four multi-hit games. He has hit two home runs and 9 RBI and has a slash line of .286/.342/.486.


Jake Fraley (LSU) is also on the 10-day injured list with a hamstring problem for the Seattle Mariners, after playing in their first five games. The outfielder had eight walks in his first 19 plate appearances, contributing to a .526 on-base percentage.


Kevin Gausman (LSU) drew the Opening Day starting assignment for the San Francisco Giants. He gave up only two hits in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision effort. After 19 2/3 innings in three starts, he has a 3.20 ERA and still has no decisions for the surprising second-place Giants.


Will Harris (Slidell HS, LSU) started the season on the injured list for the Washington Nationals. The right-handed relief pitcher participated in spring training but developed a blood clot in this right arm.


Jacoby Jones (LSU) has gotten off to a slow start in his sixth season with the Detroit Tigers. He has only one extra-base hit and a .120 average in eight games. He has been platooning in the outfield for new manager AJ Hinch.


DJ LeMahieu (LSU) inked a lucrative four-year extension with the New York Yankees over the winter. He is third in batting average (.271) for the team and continues to produce a high on-base percentage. Last year he led the American League in both categories.


Aaron Loup (Hahnville HS, Tulane) signed with the New York Mets over the winter to bolster their bullpen, after pitching in the World Series with Tampa Bay last year. He’s made two relief appearances with the Mets.


Wade Miley (Loranger, Southeastern) is in his second season with the Cincinnati Reds. He posted wins in his first two starts of the season, not allowing any runs in each appearance.


Aaron Nola (Baton Rouge, LSU) headlines the Phillies starting rotation again. But he has only one quality start in his first three appearances this season. His record is 0-1 with a 3.45 ERA.


Austin Nola (Baton Rouge, LSU) fractured his finger in spring training and has yet to play for the San Diego Padres this year.


Tanner Rainey (St. Paul’s HS, Southeastern) had two rough relief outings in his first two appearances with the Washington Nationals. He has pitched in four games so far, and his current ERA is still elevated at 10.80.


Mac Sceroler (Denham Springs, Southeastern) had an impressive major-league debut on April 5 when he pitched 2 2/3 hitless innings for the Baltimore Orioles. He recently went on the 10-day disabled list with a shoulder problem.


Andrew Stevenson (Lafayette, LSU) is hitting .227 with one home run and three RBIs in 10 games. His home run on April 12 came in a pinch-hit appearance against St. Louis.


Justin Williams (Terrebone HS) has been a starting outfielder in nine games for the St. Louis Cardinals. His best outing came on April 13, when he got two hits and three RBIs. He is batting .207 for the season, with one home run and five RBIs.


Other local major leaguers who are starting out the 2021 season in the minors include Kyle Keller (Jesuit, Southeastern), Jake Rogers (Tulane), Mikie Mahtook (LSU), and Nick Goody (LSU).

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

Best Opening Days for New Orleans major leaguers

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

2021 MLB Division Projections

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


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


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


AL East

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


AL Central

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


AL West

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


NL East

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


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


NL Central

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


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


NL West

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


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


Post-season

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Flashback: Faciane family proficient at collecting state baseball titles

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Imagine a game between these two Black all-star teams

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


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


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


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


SS – Willie Wells


OF – Cool Papa Bell


1B – Buck Leonard


C – Josh Gibson


3B – Judy Johnson


OF – Monte Irvin


OF – Oscar Charleston


2B – Pop Lloyd


SP – Satchel Paige


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


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


2B – Joe Morgan


SS – Derek Jeter


OF – Willie Mays


OF -- Hank Aaron


OF – Barry Bonds


1B – Frank Thomas


C – Roy Campanella


3B -- Jackie Robinson


SP – Bob Gibson


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Cubs embark on second round of re-tooling

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Why would anyone not want to adopt the universal DH?

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


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


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


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


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


Here are some of the main benefits of the DH.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Flashback: NORD pioneer Dutch Legett, a ballplaying dentist

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

What's in store for the 2021 baseball season?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Here are some other key questions for the 2021 season.


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


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


Will Mike Trout ever play in another playoff game?


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