Several Mississippians, all pitchers, have found success in the Korean Baseball Organization, which is getting a lot of attention these days (thanks to ESPN) as the only professional league going. Gary Rath, the Gulfport native and ex-Mississippi State All-American, won 43 games over parts of four years in the KBO between 2001 and ’08, including a 17-8, 2.60 ERA season with Doosan in 2004. Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway, now the Los Angeles Angels pitching coach, went 32-22 in three seasons in the KBO, including a 16-win campaign in 2005. Rath and Callaway, both of whom had some big league time, went to Korea at the end of their careers. Former Southern Miss standout Scott Copeland used a recent stint in the KBO as a route back to the big leagues. After making the majors with Toronto in 2015 (his sixth pro season), Copeland was released early in 2016 and went to Korea, where he made 13 starts for the LG Twins and then re-signed with the Blue Jays later that summer. He ultimately returned to the big leagues with the New York Mets – for one game — in 2018. Copeland spent last season in Washington’s system and is currently a minor league free agent. Meridian native Jamie Brown (2006-08), Jackson State alum Mike Farmer (2000-01), Columbus’ Luther Hackman (2005), UM alum Phil Irwin (2015) and ex-Purvis High star Kenny Rayborn (2007-08) also pitched in the KBO. Brown, Farmer, Hackman and Irwin had MLB appearances on their resumes.
ESPN will televise LIVE baseball from the Korean Baseball Organization beginning Tuesday morning (midnight CDT). As Jack Buck might’ve said, “Go crazy, folks.” If you’re wondering about a Mississippi connection in the KBO, there are at least a couple. Former Mississippi Braves Jake Brigham (2015) and Mel Rojas Jr. (2016) are established three-year veterans there, Brigham with the Kiwoom Heroes and Rojas with the KT Wiz. Brigham, a right-handed starter, went 6-3 with a 3.05 ERA for the M-Braves in 2015 and made the Southern League All-Star Game. He reached Atlanta later that summer and got into 12 games, his only MLB appearances. Brigham is 34-18, 3.72 in the KBO. Rojas, son of the ex-big league pitcher, batted .244 with two homers in 35 games for the ’16 M-Braves. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound switch-hitting outfielder has been a force in South Korea, belting 85 homers and hitting .310 over his three seasons. Quite a few former major leaguers are on KBO rosters.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of what some might consider a lost classic among the bundle of college games played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park over the years. At least it was classic from Jackson State’s perspective. Playing a rare home game at the TeePee, JSU beat Mississippi State 3-1, ending a 23-game losing streak in their series. The pitcher the Tigers beat that night was a true freshman who is now a major league veteran, Kendall Graveman. While SWAC schools rarely beat SEC schools, this one might not have been an upset. JSU was 28-14 going in and on its way to a 36-win season and a league championship. The Bulldogs were 20-23 at the time, en route to a 23-33 finish under second-year coach John Cohen. On this particular night, JSU’s pitching was impressive: Cortney Nelson and Quintavious Drains combined to hold the Bulldogs to three hits. Connor Powers’ sixth-inning home run accounted for State’s scoring. The Tigers, who had scratched out a run in the third inning on Chad Hall’s infield hit, reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the sixth on a squeeze bunt by Braneric Holmes and a Graveman wild pitch that plated Cortez Cole. Drains allowed just one hit over the final three frames to save it for Nelson. JSU hasn’t beaten State since that night and trails in the series 52-8. But on May 4, 2010, the Tigers roared.
Sometime in distant future — maybe in a galaxy far, far away — fans will look back at the 2020 college season and wonder what the heck happened here. It might be tagged with an asterisk, as in *season cancelled. It was all so sudden. Promising starts were stopped in their tracks. Dreams were dashed. The COVID-19 crisis did what only one opposing team had done to the Ole Miss Rebels in 2020. It beat them. UM was 16-1 when the season was halted. Tyler Keenan looked like an SEC Triple Crown threat, batting .403 with seven homers and 33 RBIs. Gunnar Hoglund was an emerging ace at 3-0, 1.16 ERA. Mississippi State, with a couple of potential first-round draft picks (Justin Foscue, Jordan Westburg) in the lineup, was 12-4. As with Ole Miss, we’re left to wonder how the Bulldogs’ season would have played out. A rebuilding Southern Miss club, with new stars stepping up, was also 12-4. Jackson State was 9-7, featured three .400 hitters, including Jaylyn Williams at .434, and was sure to be a force in the SWAC. Mississippi Valley State was 0-14 – and will have to live with that indignity for all time. Chad Ragland was crushing it for Delta State, batting .449 for a team that was off to a 13-10 start under new coach Rodney Batts. Chauncey Callier was having a huge season for 11-9 Mississippi College, hitting .357 with six homers. Justin Milam had swatted five homers with 19 RBIs for Belhaven, 8-8 in Kyle Palmer’s first year as coach. Fritz Walker III had four homers and 18 RBIs for 7-11 Millsaps. Five Mississippi jucos were ranked in the top 15 of the NJCAA Division II poll on the eve of conference play. Things were just heating up when the plug was pulled. Done in mid-March. Seems so unfair. All we are left with are some numbers and woulda, coulda debates.
There are no big league games today, which might make the memory a tad bittersweet for Nate Lowe. On April 29 of last year, ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe made his MLB debut, going 1-for-4 with a double for Tampa Bay in a win at Kansas City. Lowe became the 60th Bulldogs alumnus to make the majors and the second of five Mississippi-connected players (the others: Chris Ellis, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley) to debut in 2019. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a first baseman/DH last season, reported for spring training this year about 20 pounds lighter. He was getting more work at third base, versatility that likely would help him contribute more on a Rays team expected to contend – again — in the American League East. “It took a lot of spiritual maturation and physical maturation to kind of start over (this) off-season to get to be the player and the person that I need to be,” he told draysbay.com in February, shortly before baseball shut down. A 13th-round pick out of State in 2016, the lefty-hitting Lowe made some adjustments in his swing after his second pro season and rolled through three levels of the Rays’ system in 2018. He batted .330 with 27 homers, went to the All-Star Futures Game and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year. … Coincidentally, on this date in 2012, another former State first baseman, Tyler Moore, made his big league debut, going 1-for-3 for Washington. Brandon native Moore, who slugged 30 homers over parts of five MLB seasons, is no longer in the game.
On a day when MLB Network is featuring games in which star players hit for the cycle, here’s a bit of trivia to impress your friends: Of the 30 players who have hit for the cycle more than once in MLB history, who is the lone Mississippian to do so? Answer: Greenville native Frank White, the former Kansas City Royals standout. White achieved the feat in September of 1979 and again in August of ’82. (Four other Mississippi natives did it once: Fred Lewis, Harry Craft, Gee Walker and Sam Leslie.) White is in impressive company on the list of players with two cycles. Others of note: Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Cochrane, George Brett, Ken Boyer, Cesar Cedeno, John Olerud and Christian Yelich. Only three players have done it three times: Adrian Beltre, Babe Herman and Bob Meusel.
On this date in 1901, the Detroit Tigers played their first official major league game in front of 10,023 fans in Bennett Park. (Major League Baseball formally entered its modern era in 1901, when the fledgling American League, of which Detroit was a member, gained major league status.) Sport McAllister, a native of Austin, Miss., was on the Tigers’ roster on April 25, 1901 – he was the only Mississippian in the “bigs” that year – and though he didn’t play, he did witness an amazing game. Detroit scored 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 14-13; that feat still stands as the biggest ninth-inning comeback in major league history. McAllister, a versatile switch-hitter, hit .301 for the Tigers that season and played five different positions. That was his fifth major league season; he had played four years in the National League prior to 1900, including a season with the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, with whom he witnessed something else very distinctive. The ’99 Spiders, who won only 20 of their 154 games, are generally regarded as the worst team in major league history.
The real Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals star, batted .296 with 366 homers over a sweet 15-year MLB career that rated more Hall of Fame consideration than it got. The virtual Lance Berkman, now “playing” for the all-time Astros team in the computer-generated MLB Dream Bracket tournament, has been pretty darn good, too. The “Big Puma” is batting .447 with three homers and 12 RBIs through 10 games over two series (see mlb.com for all the box scores). The Astros have reached the quarterfinals with wins against the Orioles and Tigers. Roy Oswalt, the Weir High and Holmes Community College alum, is 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA in three starts for the Astros’ dream team. Oswalt spent 10 years with Houston and was arguably as good in that stretch (143-82, 3.24 ERA) than any pitcher the Astros ever trotted out. That includes Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard and Mike Scott, the other members of the Dream Bracket rotation. Billy Wagner, another ex-Generals standout with Hall of Fame cred, has three saves for the all-time Astros, who’ll meet the Yankees in the next round.
Eight players in Mississippi are ranked among the Top 150 in mlb.com’s new list of draft prospects. That’s more rated players than all but five states – and more than the likes of Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama. Many things about the 2020 draft remain unclear, including when it might be held and how many players will be picked. The curtailed scouting season adds some extra intrigue. Mississippi State second baseman Justin Foscue is the highest rated of the local products at No. 32, which doesn’t necessarily imply that’s where he’ll be drafted. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg is No. 37 and teammate J.T. Ginn is 44th. DeSoto Central first baseman Blaze Jordan is the top-rated prep player in the state at No. 42 and is joined on the list by two other high schoolers, Biloxi’s Colt Keith (88) and Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks (112). Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan made the list at Nos. 111 and 128, respectively. … Servideo is one player who no doubt improved his stock in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. After a poor showing in the Cape Cod League last summer, the Florida native came out sizzling for the Rebels this year, batting .390 with five homers, 17 RBIs and nine steals in 17 games. At 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, he’s a lefty hitter with good speed and defensive versatility.
Benn Karr, a Mount Pleasant native, made 177 pitching appearances in his big league career. But his first appearance came as a pinch hitter. He struck out. One hundred years ago today, Karr debuted for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. A left-handed batter, he hit for Herb Pennock and fanned in the middle of a two-run rally in the ninth inning that gave Boston a 3-2 win on April 20, 1920. Two days later, Karr, a right-handed thrower, made his mound debut at Griffith Stadium against the Washington Senators. It didn’t go so well, either. Coming on in relief, he retired just one batter, yielded two hits, two walks and two earned runs as the Red Sox blew a lead. He took the loss. Undaunted, Karr, who picked up the nickname “Baldy,” went on to win 35 games over six seasons with Boston and Cleveland, including an 11-win campaign with the 1925 Indians. He even hit .245 for his career. After attending Union University in Tennessee, he first entered pro ball in 1914 at age 21. “I took a pro contract because it gave me, a farm boy, a chance to see the country,” he told The Sporting News in an interview many years ago. Karr bounced around the minors for several years and served in the military for two before Boston signed him in 1919. He died in 1968. … Other anniversaries to be celebrated this season: Eighty years ago, Pascagoula native Harry Walker, who won a batting title in 1947, debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals. Sixty years ago, Hickory’s Joe Gibbon, the former two-sport star from Ole Miss, broke in with Pittsburgh. Forty years ago, Jackson’s Stan Cliburn would make his debut with the California Angels. Twenty years ago, ex-Petal High star Nate Rolison had his one brief fling in the majors with Florida. And 10 years ago, four Mississippi natives broke in: Rhyne Hughes with Baltimore, Mitch Moreland with Texas, Jarrod Dyson with Kansas City and John Lindsey with the Los Angeles Dodgers.