Lance Lynn might have been an under-the-radar free agent signee by Texas last off-season, but his performance in 2019 did not go unnoticed. Former Ole Miss standout Lynn, a 16-game winner for the Rangers, finished fifth in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award won Wednesday night by Houston’s Justin Verlander. Coming off a rough 2018 campaign split between Minnesota and the New York Yankees, Lynn signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Rangers and quickly emerged as the staff ace. In 33 starts, the 32-year-old right-hander went 16-11 with a 3.67 ERA and worked 208 1/3 innings, striking out 246 batters, fourth-most in the AL. His most memorable moment might have come in the Rangers’ final game ever at Globe Life Park on Sept. 29. Lynn went 7 1/3 for the win, holding the Yankees to two hits and punching out 10. (An aside: In the first game at that Arlington stadium in 1994, Mississippi State product Will Clark hit the first Rangers home run.) … Three former Mississippi Braves hurlers got Cy Young votes: Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, one of the three AL finalists, finished third and Lynn’s Texas teammate Mike Minor eighth in the AL voting, while Atlanta’s Mike Soroka was sixth in the National League tally.
As baseball has become awash in new-age statistics, batting average has somehow been devalued. Yet even in this era of WAR, OPS+, hard-hit rate, et al., there remains something special about a batting title. Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College standout, won one this year in the American League, adding his name to a list that includes, just from this decade, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts and Josh Hamilton. Good company. Myriad Hall of Famers own batting titles: Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Rod Carew and Wade Boggs, to name a few. There is nothing fluky about batting average. Anderson hit .335 in 2019, becoming the first Mississippian (native or college alum) to earn a batting crown since Dave Parker won the second of his two in the National League in 1978. The only others to do it: Buddy Myer (1935) and Harry Walker (1947). Anderson, a shortstop in his fourth MLB season for the Chicago White Sox, also hit 18 home runs, drove in 56 runs, stole 17 bases and scored 81 runs. For the record, he posted a 4.0 WAR. It was the kind of season that deserves to be recognized with a Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the most outstanding performance by a Mississippian in MLB. Previous winners of the award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan.
All that glitters isn’t gold – sometimes it’s silver. Three former Mississippi Braves were awarded their first Silver Slugger awards on Thursday: Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. Those three figure to represent the core of Atlanta’s lineup for years to come, something Braves fans, disappointed at how the 2019 season ended, can feel good about this winter. First baseman Freeman, 30, batted .295 with 38 homers, 121 RBIs and 113 runs, MVP-type numbers. (Hard to believe he hasn’t won a Silver Slugger before this.) Outfielder Acuna, at age 21, also had an MVP kind of season: .280, 41 homers, 101 RBIs, 127 runs and 37 steals. And all second baseman Albies, 22, did was bat .295 – leading the National League with 189 hits – with 43 doubles, 24 homers, 86 RBIs and 102 runs. … There may be more hardware coming for M-Braves alums. Mike Soroka, who went 13-4 for Atlanta this past season, is a finalist for NL rookie of the year honors, and Brian Snitker, manager of the inaugural M-Braves team in 2005, is a finalist for NL manager of the year, an award he won in 2018. The ROY winner will be announced on Nov. 11, the manager award on Nov. 12. … Cristian Pache, an M-Braves star last summer, has been pegged by mlb.com as the Braves’ best NL rookie of the year candidate for 2020. Pache, 20, a center fielder by trade, batted .278 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs in Mississippi before earning a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett. Pache could have “Acuna-like impact in 2020” – if the Braves can find a spot for him, of course. … Love this quote (in an mlb.com story) from Chuck James, a soft-tossing former M-Braves ace who went 24-19 over five big league seasons: “I grew up in a small town and my college (Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Alabama) had a picket fence in the outfield. I had no expectations, because I didn’t know what to expect. But I got to be a kid longer than most, and it was everything they make it out to be.”
So many iconic college coaches have worked in Mississippi over the years that the legacy of Willie E. “Rat” McGowan can get lost in the shuffle. McGowan, who died on Tuesday, was the Alcorn State coach for parts of four decades (1972-2009). When you start reeling off the names of the state’s coaching greats — Ron Polk, Boo Ferriss, Hill Denson, Bob Braddy, Mike Bianco, Mike Kinnison, Bobby Halford, Jim Page, et. al — McGowan belongs in the conversation. He accomplished impressive things at a small school with relatively limited resources for baseball. McGowan, who doubled as a football assistant coach during much of his time in Lorman, is Alcorn’s all-time leader in baseball victories with a 720-663-7 record. His last two teams each won 29 games, the school record. He was a four-time coach of the year in the SWAC and is in the conference’s Hall of Fame. The school’s baseball stadium bears his name. The only Alcorn player to make the big leagues – Al Jones, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox from 1983-85 – played for McGowan, as did a dozen others who were drafted. A McComb native, McGowan played baseball and football for the Braves in the late 1950s.
Kendall Graveman rolled into the free agent market on Monday when the Chicago Cubs declined a $3 million option on the former Mississippi State standout. He pitched – very briefly — in the Cubs’ minor league system last season on a one-year, $575,000 deal while recovering from 2018 Tommy John surgery. Graveman is 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA over five big league seasons, four with Oakland. … Taylorsville High alumnus Billy Hamilton also became a free agent after Atlanta declined a 2020 option on the 29-year-old center fielder. Hamilton finished the past season with the Braves after being waived by Kansas City, with whom he had signed as a free agent last off-season. He is sitting on 299 career steals. … Former Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers was claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Angels, where the new pitching coach is UM product Mickey Callaway, fired as the New York Mets manager after two seasons. Mayers, 27, a right-handed reliever, posted a 6.63 ERA for St. Louis in 2019 and was not on the Cardinals’ postseason roster. … Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz will sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and McComb native Corey Dickerson with San Diego, according to predictions by MLB Trade Rumors staff. Left-hander Pomeranz is ranked No. 23 among available free agents and outfielder Dickerson is No. 25. … MSU product Brent Rooker and Mississippi Braves alum Drew Waters helped Team USA advance out of group play in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament in Mexico. Rooker, a Minnesota prospect, and Waters both homered in a Game 1 win vs. the Netherlands on Saturday. In an elimination game win on Monday against the Dominican Republic, Waters played as a defensive replacement in center field, while Rooker did not get in the game. Team USA now goes to Tokyo next week for the Super Round of the Premier 12 event, a 2020 Olympics qualifier. … Grenada native Dave Parker is one of 10 candidates announced by the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday for inclusion on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era (1970-87) ballot. A 16-member panel will vote and announce potential electees on Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings. Candidates must receive votes from at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain election to the Hall. Parker– a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time batting champion, two-time World Series champ and one-time National League MVP — lasted the maximum 15 years on the baseball writers’ ballot before falling off in 2011. “(W)hen Parker was at his best, he was elite at just about everything a player can do on the field,” an ESPN writer recently noted.
Though he has yet to pitch in a World Series game, Mississippi native Tony Sipp, a free agent since August, figures to collect a second World Series ring in the last three years as a result of the Washington Nationals’ stunning takedown of the Houston Astros. Sipp, a veteran left-handed reliever, was a member of the Astros — but not on their postseason roster — when they won the 2017 title. He appeared in 36 games for the Nationals this season but was released in August when they restocked their bullpen at the trade deadline. The former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star had an uneven season, posting a 4.71 ERA. He had signed with Washington as a free agent coming off a resurgent 2018 season with the Astros, for whom he pitched in the playoffs. In 2017, Sipp endured the worst of his 11 big league campaigns (5.79 in 46 games) and was left off Houston’s postseason roster. Still, he got a ring – his first – after the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Series. At age 36, Sipp’s playing days may be behind him.
There are always many storylines that develop in any World Series game, and umpires do not want to be one of them. In Game 5 on Sunday night, there was a missing ace, an ace on a mission, three big home runs and a clutch double play. There were also issues with balls and strikes. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale was behind the plate at Nationals Park in Washington, where Houston completed a three-game sweep with a 7-1 victory that takes the Astros back home with a 3-2 series lead. The two most contentious ball-strike calls came in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was 4-1 with two outs, and Astros starter Gerrit Cole, very sharp on this particular night, went to a full count on Ryan Zimmerman. The 3-2 pitch was high and away but appeared, on replay, to be a strike. Cole and catcher Martin Maldonado certainly thought so. Barksdale called it a ball. Cole again went full to Victor Robles. The 3-2 pitch again was high and away — but this time, on replay, was clearly a ball. Barksdale emphatically called it a strike, ending the inning. Robles couldn’t believe it and jumped in the air. The Nationals bench went nuts. If it had been a regular season game, people likely would have been ejected. It was Cole’s final pitch — and his ninth punchout — and the Nationals never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The Astros put the game away with a run in the eighth and two more in the ninth. No one blamed Barksdale for Washington’s loss. You give up three two-run bombs, you’re going to lose most of the time. But there has been lots of buzz about the ball-strike calls and how much they can impact the game. Pedro Martinez made some excellent points on the issue on MLB Network’s postgame show. Some are saying it’s time to institute an electronic system for calling balls and strikes, which would be a fundamental change in the grand old game. Will we look back someday on Game 5 of the ’19 Series — the Barksdale game — as the tipping point in that debate?
Adam Frazier and Hunter Renfroe, former Mississippi State teammates who just completed their fourth major league season, have been named Gold Glove finalists in the National League. Neither has previously won the Rawlings-sponsored defensive award. The 18 winners, one at each position in both leagues, will be announced on Nov. 3. Frazier, who has played six different positions for Pittsburgh, took over as team’s regular second baseman in 2019. In 142 games, he made six errors and posted a .989 fielding percentage. Analytics credited him with six Defensive Runs Saved. Renfroe is a finalist in left field, though he actually spent more time in right for San Diego down the stretch. The former Copiah Academy standout played 127 games in the outfield and registered 13 assists with just two errors. He was credited with seven Defensive Runs Saved. For the record, Frazier batted .278 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs, Renfroe .216 with 33 bombs and 64 RBIs. … A Mississippian has won a Gold Glove in each of the last three seasons: Mitch Moreland in 2016, Brian Dozier in 2017 and Corey Dickerson last year.
Kirk McCarty’s work is complete in the Arizona Fall League, and it was a job well done. The ex-Southern Miss standout, in his third year in Cleveland’s system, finished 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA over 24 innings for Mesa in the prospect-filled AFL. The little left-hander struck out 19 and walked just six. In his final start on Monday, McCarty threw five shutout innings, reportedly displaying command of four pitches. “It’s good to build a lot of confidence back up going into the off-season,” he told mlb.com. “It’s absolutely vital to end on a good note.” McCarty got a late start on his 2019 season because of a minor injury and wound up 3-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 13 starts for high Class A Lynchburg. A seventh-round pick in 2017, the Oak Grove High product – a state champion as a senior in baseball and football (as a quarterback) – is 10-20 with a 4.12 ERA in his pro career. There are 12 pitchers – including USM product Nick Sandlin – currently listed among the Indians’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline and McCarty is not among them. At age 24, he needs to build on his AFL success with a strong 2020 season to stay on Cleveland’s radar.
With Game 1 of the World Series on tap tonight, the time is right to highlight some significant anniversaries with a quick trip through Fall Classics past. Ten years ago, in the 2009 Series, Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee made two starts for Philadelphia and notched the only wins the Phillies managed against the New York Yankees. Left-hander Lee threw a complete game in Game 1, a 6-1 victory, and pitched seven-plus in Game 5, an 8-6 win. He had a 2.81 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings. Lee won 143 games in his career and went 7-3 in the postseason, though he never won a ring. Twenty years ago, a Mississippi native appeared in the box score of Game 1 of the Yankees’ sweep of Atlanta. Ocean Springs’ Howard Battle was announced as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning but was replaced (by Keith Lockhart) when New York changed pitchers (bringing in Mariano Rivera). That would be the final MLB “appearance” for Battle, who played a couple more years in the minors. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Earthquake Series, a sweep by Oakland vs. San Francisco that involved three Mississippi-connected players. Grenada native Dave Parker, at age 38, went 2-for-9 with a homer (in Game 1) for Oakland. Will Clark was 4-for-16 for the Giants, and his former Mississippi State teammate Jeff Brantley posted a 4.15 ERA in three relief appearances. Ten years prior, Parker had a big impact in the ’79 Series, helping Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in seven games. He had four hits in Game 1 – a Pirates loss – and finished with a .345 average, four RBIs and two runs. Sixty years ago, West Point native and former Southern Miss two-sport star Bubba Phillips went 3-for-10 for the Chicago White Sox as they fell in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eighty years ago, in the ’39 Fall Classic, Harry Craft, an Ellisville native and Mississippi College alum, went 1-for-11 for Cincinnati in a four-game sweep at the hands of the mighty Yankees. Craft would win a ring with the Reds the next year but got only one at-bat in that Series. In the 1929 Series, Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, started and won Game 3 for the Chicago Cubs, who lost in five games to the powerful Philadelphia A’s. Bush also made a relief appearance in that series and finished with an 0.82 ERA. Two Mississippi natives – Fulton’s Brian Dozier, a second baseman for Washington, and Brookhaven’s Lance Barksdale, an umpire – will be suited up tonight in Houston. Something significant involving one or both seems almost bound to happen.