Bill (a.k.a. Willie) Foster, a former Negro Leagues star and a National Baseball Hall of Fame member since 1996, was known to have grown up around Lorman and to have served as the Dean of Men at Alcorn State for many years. He died in Lorman in 1978. Foster’s place of birth at the time of his Hall of Fame induction was listed as Calvert, Texas. Date of birth: June 12, 1904. Apparently, some new information surfaced. The Hall of Fame currently lists Foster’s place of birth as Rodney, Miss., which is now a virtual ghost town located along the Mississippi River between Fayette and Port Gibson. So, it seems like a welcome is in order for the third Mississippi native in the Hall of Fame. Negro Leagues outfielder Cool Papa Bell (Starkville) and broadcaster Red Barber (Columbus) are the other two. Foster, a left-hander, pitched for some of the great Negro Leagues clubs of the 1920s and ’30s.
Make it four different organizations in four years for Jarrett Hoffpauir. The former Southern Miss star from Natchez recently signed a minor league deal for 2012 with the Washington Nationals. He spent last season in the San Diego system, batting .281 in 91 games at Triple-A Tucson while battling injuries. He came up with St. Louis, which drafted the right-handed hitting infielder in 2004. He got some big league time with the Cardinals in ’09, then was claimed off waivers by Toronto after that season. The Blue Jays also gave him a look in The Show, but he was taken by the Padres off waivers after 2010. He is a .285 career minor league hitter and has some power. Plus, he’s a versatile infielder. He has a chance to claim a roster spot with a rapidly improving Nationals club.
Eli Whiteside will have to battle for a job with the San Francisco Giants in spring training. The deal signed by the former Delta State star on Saturday will give him an opportunity to beat out young catchers Chris Stewart and Hector Sanchez for the right to back up Buster Posey in 2012. The veteran Whiteside, 32, hit just .197 with four homers last season while sharing catching duties with Stewart (.204) after Posey went down for the year with a gruesome knee injury. Sanchez spent most of the past season in the minors, so the main competition for the No. 2 job figures to be between Whiteside and Stewart. Whiteside, a good defensive catcher, has to like his chances. He could have gone elsewhere. The Giants saved some money, though probably just a little, by not offering Whiteside a shot at salary arbitration and putting him on the free agent market. He’ll make $600,000 if he lands a spot on the 25-man roster in the spring; if he goes to the minors, he’ll make just $175,000.
With the Colorado Rockies reportedly closing in on signing free agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer while also showing interest in Carlos Beltran and Cody Ross, Seth Smith’s future with the club seemingly hangs in the balance. The former Ole Miss and Hillcrest Christian star could remain with the Rockies as a left-handed platoon player or a pinch hitter. Or, if the outfield picture gets too crowded, he could be dealt for a starting pitcher, which has been rumored for some time. Smith would appear to have some trade value. He had a good year in 2011, hitting .284 with 15 home runs and 59 RBIs, and he’s a good athlete in the outfield. But struggles against lefty pitching is a major flaw in his game. Smith, a second-round draft pick in 2004, has been with Colorado his entire career and was a rookie on the 2007 World Series roster. But player movement is just a fact of life in the big leagues these days.
P.S. A Matt Esquivel sighting: The former Mississippi Braves slugger, whose 2007 single-season homer record was broken this year by Ernesto Mejia, is playing for Navojoa in Mexico’s winter league. Esquivel, who turns 29 on Saturday, is hitting .211 with two homers in 19 at-bats; he homered Thursday. He has spent the last few seasons in the independent Atlantic League and hit .328 with 15 homers for Long Island in 2011.
With a nod to MLB Network, here’s a prime nine of smoldering questions regarding Mississippians in the majors that will be answered in the coming weeks and months:
1) Where will Roy Oswalt land? The latest buzz has the Washington Nationals in hot pursuit of the right-hander from Weir who probably still has enough in the tank to bolster any rotation.
2) Where will Paul Maholm land? The lefty out of Mississippi State went 6-14 with a 3.66 ERA for Pittsburgh last season and was 53-73 for the Pirates in his career; a change of scene might be very good for him.
3) How will things work out for MSU product Jonathan Papelbon in Philadelphia, which signed him to a record contract for a closer? He seems to like pressure, and there will be plenty of it in Philly.
4) How will the Pirates’ signing of Nate McLouth impact Alex Presley’s situation? The ex-Ole Miss star, who batted .298 in 52 games in 2011, is penciled in as the Bucs’ left fielder but will be pushed by the veteran McLouth, who had success in Pittsburgh before scuffling with Atlanta.
5) Is Desmond Jennings on the brink of becoming a full-blown star in Tampa Bay? The Itawamba Community College alumnus hit .259 with 10 homers and 20 steals in 63 games this past season, though he slumped down the stretch.
6) How will Zack Cozart bounce back from injury in 2012? The Ole Miss product took over as Cincinnati’s shortstop last summer but was cut down by a left shoulder injury that required Tommy John surgery. He hit .310 in Triple-A and .324 in 11 games with the Reds.
7) Is Chris Coghlan still in the Miami Marlins’ plans? The former Ole Miss standout, the 2009 rookie of the year in the National League, has endured two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons and finished 2011 in the minors, where it’s rumored he’ll start 2012.
8) Is Fred Lewis in anyone’s plans? The former Gulf Coast Community College star from Wiggins didn’t pan out with Cincinnati last season (.230 in 81 games). He’s a lefty-hitting outfielder with speed and pop but, at the moment, no team.
9) Which version of Jason Heyward will show up in Atlanta? The ex-Mississippi Braves standout hit just .227 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs this season after going .277-18-72 in 2010. He had shoulder surgery, and Peter Gammons has predicted he’ll have a “monster year.” Braves fans have their fingers crossed.
Mark Jan. 27 on your calendar. Belhaven will open its 2012 season on that date, facing Blue Mountain at 3 p.m. at Smith-Wills Stadium. Weather permitting, of course. In Mississippi, it could be snowing on Jan. 27 or it could be 70 degrees. Let’s hope for the latter.
P.S. Not a lot of news on player movement but did see where Luis Hernandez, who played shortstop for the 2005 Mississippi Braves, signed a minor league deal with Texas and ex-M-Braves right-hander Kyle Cofield, a 10-game winner in ’09, inked with Pittsburgh. Cofield spent 2011 in the Chicago White Sox system.
Mitch Moreland’s recovery from wrist surgery is pegged at 8-12 weeks, but the Texas Rangers expect him to be “100 percent no later than March 1.” That’s what GM Jon Daniels told mlb.com. The Rangers’ first exhibition game is March 4, so Moreland might even be able to play in it. The former Mississippi State star, who hit .259 with 16 homers in his first full big league season in 2011, slumped after the All-Star break. Bothered by the sore right wrist, the lefty-swinging Moreland hit .241 in the second half and went just 3-for-29 in the playoffs. Texas has other options at first — Michael Young and Mike Napoli both played there a fair bit this past season — and there are free agent first basemen out there, as well. But Daniels said the Rangers are committed to Moreland as their regular for 2012.