As Chicago Cubs fans eagerly look forward to the club’s first World Series appearance in 71 years, let’s take a quick look back at that 1945 Series, the last of the four played during World War II. Yes, the Cubs lost in seven games to Detroit, but don’t fault the efforts of Claude Passeau, the big right-hander from Waynesboro. Passeau, who won 162 games and made five All-Star teams, might never have been better than he was in Game 3 of that Series, throwing a one-hitter in a 3-0 victory that put the Cubs up 2 games to 1. The only hit was a second-inning single by Rudy York. Meridian native Skeeter Webb, the Tigers’ leadoff batter, took an 0-for-3, as did Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. Passeau walked only one and struck out only one – and even drove in a run. “I felt so good I began to tease the Detroit hitters,” Passeau, known for his fidgeting on the mound, told The Sporting News after that game. Passeau also started Game 6, with the Cubs down 3-2 in the series, and he worked into the seventh inning, departing with the lead. The Cubs’ bullpen let it get away, but Chicago rallied to win 8-7 in 12 innings. Passeau also pitched in Game 7, two days later, and yielded two runs in the eighth inning of a game that was already out of hand. The Tigers won 9-3. Surely, some Cubs fans at Wrigley Field that day – and maybe even Claude Passeau himself — shrugged and said, “We’ll get ’em next time.” Well, 71 years later, next time is here. P.S. The Cleveland Indians also lost the last time they were in the Series. In 1997, former Mississippi State star Jay Powell from Meridian got the win in Game 7 for the Florida Marlins. Powell worked a scoreless top of the 11th and then celebrated a championship when Edgar Renteria knocked in the game-winner in the bottom half.
Delta State, in a major rebuilding mode this fall, is holding its Green-and-White Series today and Saturday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. Most of the key players from last year’s 42-17 team are gone, and 22 newcomers were positioning for jobs during fall ball. The notable returnees are left-hander Tre Hobbs, a 13-game winner and All-America candidate, Juwan Burney (.321 in 26 games) and Dakota Glore (.290 in 32). … Alcorn State’s program took a tough 0-for-4 this week. According to the penalties handed down by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, all of the Braves’ wins from the 2012 through the 2015 seasons are vacated. As in, gone. Brett Richardson gets to keep the 16 wins he picked up in 2016, his first season. The SWAC Tournament championship from 2011 was unaffected. … Ole Miss’ highly touted recruiting class has generated a lot of buzz this fall, but veteran Colby Bortles rates some attention, too. The senior third baseman has been raking this fall, according to every report out of Oxford. He had seven hits, including two homers, and four RBIs in last weekend’s scrimmages. Bortles hit .269 with eight homers and 50 RBIs for the Rebels in 2016. … Fall ball has to feel a little weird in Starkville with John Cohen expected to move into the athletic director’s chair and hand the reins to a new coach for 2017. Mississippi State has scrimmages set for today, Saturday and Sunday. Freshman Dustin Skelton, the ex-Magnolia Heights star who can catch and play third base, reportedly stood out in last weekend’s games. … Southern Miss players will be presented with their 2016 Conference USA championship rings at the Oct. 29 homecoming football game against Marshall. The Golden Eagles made the NCAAs last season for the first time since 2011 and finished 41-20.
Chris Stratton, who could be vying a job in San Francisco’s rotation next spring, was razor sharp in his second Arizona Fall League start on Thursday. The ex-Mississippi State standout from Tupelo threw five shutout innings, yielding just three hits with no walks and six strikeouts. He has allowed just one run in nine innings over two starts for Scottsdale. A first-round pick by the Giants in 2012, Stratton got a look in the big leagues back in May, posting a 3.60 ERA in seven relief appearances. He has been a starter in his minor league career, going 12-6, 3.87 at Triple-A Sacramento in 2016 and 34-29, 3.92 for his career. Stratton’s stuff isn’t as overwhelming as it often was at State, but he is making it work. … Stratton’s mound opponent on Thursday was former Madison Central High star Spencer Turnbull, a Detroit prospect pitching for Salt River. He allowed four hits, three walks and three runs in three innings in a 4-1 loss. Turnbull’s 2016 season was curtailed by injuries; he went 1-1, 3.00 in six games at Class A Lakeland after going 11-3, 3.01 in low-A ball in 2015.
There is an inextricable link between Mississippi and the Cleveland Indians, who are back in the World Series for the first time in 19 years and seeking their first title since 1948. The first black Mississippian to play in the major leagues did so for Cleveland. Jonestown native Luke Easter, a long-ball legend in many circles, debuted on Aug. 11, 1949, at age 34. He was a big man with big power, which he had demonstrated in semi-pro and Negro League ball before the Indians signed him in 1948, and he had three big years – 1950-52 — in the big leagues. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Easter hit 86 homers and drove in 307 runs in those three seasons. As age and injuries caught up to him, the Indians shipped Easter out in May of 1954. He never played another MLB game but put in 11 more years in the minors, ending his playing career with 367 homers, many of them tape measure blasts that old-timers still talk about. Easter, murdered in 1979 during a robbery in Ohio, really ought to be in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Game 4. However it plays out, Game 4 of the 2016 National League Championship Series is one Chicago Cubs fans will remember. “Teams that win the whole thing always have games that define them,” Cubs outfielder and ex-Ole Miss star Chris Coghlan told ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Game 4 at Dodger Stadium tonight will be such a game. Win it, and the series is even, guaranteed to go back to Wrigley Field. Lose it, and the Cubs are down 3-1 with Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw looming either in Game 5 or 6. The Cubs, shut out in Games 2 and 3, haven’t been hitting. Coghlan, a .252 hitter in 48 regular season games, hasn’t had much opportunity off the bench, going 0-for-2 with a walk in the NLCS. He doesn’t face lefties often, so he isn’t likely to start Game 4 against Julio Urias. But he could get an at-bat late, in a crucial spot, a “defining” moment perhaps. An anxious Cubs Nation – and every other true fan – will be watching.
JaCoby Jones is off to a good start – again – in the Arizona Fall League. The former Mr. Baseball from Richton High is 4-for-10 with a home run, five RBIs and three runs through five games for Salt River. Jones, a highly rated Detroit prospect, played in the high caliber AFL last year, too, and was doing quite well before being slapped with a drug suspension that lasted into his 2016 minor league season. Having spent some time in the majors this year, Jones is back for more seasoning in the AFL, older and presumably a bit wiser. “I think the biggest thing I learned in the big leagues was how to prepare myself before games,” Jones, 24, told mlb.com. A third-round pick (by Pittsburgh) out of LSU in 2013, Jones batted .257 with seven homers in Double-A and Triple-A in 2016 and got an August call-up from the Tigers. He hit .214 in 28 at-bats. Jones, 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, is a career .269 hitter in the minors with 47 homers and 58 steals and can play virtually anywhere in the field. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State standout Tyler Moore, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum Joey Butler, Ole Miss product Alex Presley and Starkville native Julio Borbon have become minor league free agents. Moore spent all of this past season at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system but played in only 25 games (.229, three homers) because of injuries. Butler also spent all of the season in Triple-A for Cleveland, while Presley (Detroit) and Borbon (Baltimore) did see some big league duty. … Hawtin Buchanan, the 6-8 former Ole Miss pitcher from Biloxi, has signed a minor league deal with Cincinnati. He pitched in the independent United Shore League this year after being released in spring training by Seattle.
In its annual MLB draft assessment issue, Baseball America picked a pair of precocious pitchers from Mississippi colleges to highlight for having had the best debut in their respective organizations. Wyatt Short, the ex-Ole Miss star from Southaven, and Zac Houston, a Mississippi State product, were among a number of Mississippians hailed in BA’s Oct. 21-Nov. 4 issue. Short, drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round in June, did not allow an earned run in 15 innings and notched seven saves in short-season A-ball. Houston, an 11th-rounder by Detroit, had an 0.30 ERA and four saves over 20 games at two levels, finishing in the Class A Midwest League. Also earning props from BA was ex-State standout Jacob Robson, an eighth-round pick by the Tigers who batted .267 in rookie ball and .316 in low Class A. Robson was labeled the Best Pure Hitter in Detroit’s class and was ranked among the five fastest runners drafted this year. Ole Miss alum J.B. Woodman, a second-rounder by Toronto, shared Best Defensive Player honors in the Blue Jays’ class. BA praised outfielder Woodman’s arm in particular. Woodman hit .272 with three homers, 24 RBIs and 10 steals in short-season A-ball and earned a promotion to low-A, where he batted .441 in 34 at-bats. The first Mississippian picked in June, State’s Dakota Hudson, who went to St. Louis in the first round, was recognized for his fastball: He tallied 19 strikeouts in 13 innings between the rookie level and high-A. Others to be singled out: State’s Nathaniel Lowe (Best Power, Tampa Bay), Bulldogs product Jack Kruger (Best Late-Round Pick, Los Angeles Angels), Itawamba Community College alum Delvin Zinn (Best Athlete, Cubs) and Starkville’s A.J. Brown (Best Athlete, San Diego). Brown, now playing football at Ole Miss, won’t make his pro debut before next summer. MSU fans lamenting what they lost in the draft can take some solace in the arrival of Graham Ashcraft, an Alabama prep star labeled The One Who Got Away in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ draft class, and Ole Miss fans can do the same concerning Grae Kessinger, the Oxford High product who passed on an offer from the Padres. Kessinger is part of a recruiting class ranked No. 1 by BA, which had seven of the new Rebels in its top 500 in the pre-draft rankings. … Atlanta and Milwaukee were ranked 2-3 in the Best Draft category, which bodes well for what we might see in Pearl and Biloxi a few years down the road.