On July 21, 1951, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Crawford native Sam Hairston made his major league debut, becoming the first black American to play for the White Sox. Hairston played in only four MLB games – but his legacy is much, much larger than that. He is the patriarch of the only black three-generation family in MLB history. Hairston had two sons, Jerry and John, who played in the majors and two grandsons, Jerry Jr. and Scott, who also reached that summit. Sam Hairston, a catcher, was a Negro Leagues star, winning a Triple Crown in 1950, before signing with the White Sox. He was 31 when he debuted. He played on in the minors until 1960, winning an MVP award in 1953 and hitting .304 for his career. He scouted and coached in the White Sox’s system before his death in 1997. Eight years ago, the city of Columbus, just a few miles from Crawford, held a Sam Hairston Celebration day with plans to name a baseball field in his honor.
In a dugout interview during ESPN’s coverage of Thursday night’s game, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon sang the praises of former Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward, calling his first-half performance a key ingredient in the team’s charge into first place. Heyward rose to the occasion with a three-hit, two-RBI game as the Cubs beat St. Louis 9-6 to begin the second half. After a couple of seasons of scuffling in Wrigleyville, Heyward is hitting .290 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 2018. Resurgent seasons by Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez, All-Star campaigns by Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and the unyielding brilliance of Craig Kimbrel give rise to the idea that you could put together a competitive team of former M-Braves now in the big leagues. An infield of Freeman, Albies, Andrelton Simmons and Martin Prado is pretty darn solid. At catcher, there’s the seven-time All-Star Brian McCann, backed by Jesus Sucre. In the outfield, Heyward, Hernandez and either Ronald Acuna or Mallex Smith would be outstanding defensively. Evan Gattis is a scary man at DH. On the bench: Choose from Johan Camargo, Jose Peraza, Dansby Swanson, Tommy La Stella, Jose Martinez. Charlie Morton, also a 2018 All-Star, would head up a rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb and Mike Minor. All-Star Kimbrel would be the closer in a bullpen with some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Jesse Biddle, A.J. Minter, Chasen Shreve, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin. Such a team could probably win the American League Central this year.
Zack Shannon, whose 31 home runs for Delta State this past season were the most ever hit by a Mississippi collegian, is in a long-ball dry spell in rookie ball. Shannon has three homers in 25 games for Missoula in the Arizona chain but hasn’t gone yard since July 2. This is not to say he is slumping, however. The big first baseman, a 15th-round pick in June by the Diamondbacks, is batting .291 (.406 on-base) and has 11 extra-base hits all told, good for a .500 slugging percentage. … Shannon may not have been the top power prospect in the state this year. Simon Landry of Pearl River Community College set a Wildcats record with 19 home runs in 2018 and apparently impressed the Los Angeles Dodgers in a pre-draft workout. “It’s probably the best raw power we’ve ever seen at a workout,” the Dodgers’ scouting director told Dodgers Insider. The Dodgers took the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Landry in the 22nd round. He has played just one official pro game, going 1-for-1 with a double and a walk in the Arizona League. Landry hit .392 for PRCC this year while breaking the school mark for homers set by Wildcats assistant – and ex-big leaguer – Rhyne Hughes. … While neither Shannon nor Landry homered on Thursday, there were long balls to celebrate around the minors. To wit: Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley hit No. 20 – his third in five games – at Double-A Akron (Cleveland system). Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker belted his 16th for Double-A Chattanooga (Minnesota); he is hitting .261 with 56 RBIs in his second pro season. Ex-Itawamba CC star Tyreque Reed bopped his seventh homer for Class A Hickory (Texas). And the red-hot Hunter Stovall hit his fourth in nine games for rookie-level Grand Junction (Colorado). MSU product Stovall, a 21st-rounder this year, has 17 hits and a .447 average.
After he posted a 5.79 ERA in 2017 and was left off Houston’s postseason roster, Pascagoula native Tony Sipp’s future with the World Series champs appeared rather cloudy. The left-hander’s results in spring training weren’t great, but an injury to another relief pitcher enabled Sipp to grab the last spot in the Astros’ bullpen. To his credit, he has not let go. The former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout enters the second half of the season with a 1.93 ERA in 27 appearances. Over his last 15 games, it’s a 0.66. Home runs plagued him in 2017, when he yielded eight. He hasn’t allowed one this year. Sipp, now 35 years old, is only used situationally – he’s worked just 23 1/3 innings – but he has been effective in his role. “I can use him a little bit more, the way I used him in 2015 and 2016, and he adds a different dimension to a bullpen that I’ve been able to mix and match,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told The Houston Chronicle last week. The first-place Astros are said to be seeking bullpen help for the second half (and beyond), but Sipp’s job would appear secure. Quite a change from just a few months ago.
Gotta wonder if the St. Louis Cardinals are beginning to ponder a change – from hitter to pitcher — for Walker Robbins, their fifth-round draft pick in 2016. Currently playing in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League, the former George County High star is batting .123 with three extra-base hits in 19 games. He hit .174 last year in the rookie Appalachian League and .185 in the Gulf Coast League in 2016. He has a grand total of two home runs in 305 pro at-bats. Robbins, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-hander, was a two-way star in high school. He hit .477 as a senior and posted a 0.67 ERA with two no-hitters. A Mississippi State signee, he planned to hit and pitch for the Bulldogs. Robbins was generally considered the top prep prospect in Mississippi heading into the 2016 draft, with some speculation he’d go in the first round. St. Louis signed him as a hitter and moved him from first base to the outfield. That transition seems to have gone fairly smoothly, but his bat just has not taken off. Robbins, still only 20 years old, said in an off-season interview with the Biloxi Sun-Herald that he wants to hit but would be fine with a move to the mound. Stay tuned.
Mississippi State’s Riley Self and Keegan James teamed up for a stifling pitching performance in the Cape Cod League on Tuesday. Self entered in the third inning and went four, allowing one hit and no runs with five strikeouts. James pitched the last three innings, giving up a run on two hits. Self got the win and James the save in Hyannis’ 8-4 victory over Bourne. Self is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in nine innings in the CCBL, while James is 1-0 with a save and a 1.68 in 10 2/3. They were key pieces in the Bulldogs’ bullpen during the run to the College World Series. … One of Self’s punchout victims on Tuesday was Ole Miss’ Cooper Johnson, the Bourne catcher who is batting .200 in 15 games this summer. UM’s Greer Holston is also with Bourne and is 1-2 with a save and a 3.14 ERA in eight appearances. … Thomas Dillard, who hit 13 homers for the Rebels this past season, has three in the Cape. He is batting .261 with 13 RBIs for Cotuit. … Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner is batting .250 with a homer in nine games for Falmouth. … Ole Miss’ Houston Roth has made five starts for Hyannis and posted a 3.98 ERA but has no decisions on his ledger. P.S. UM’s Parker Caracci made six appearances for the Collegiate National Team and did not allow an earned run over 9 2/3 innings. The Jackson Prep alumnus notched a win and two saves as Team USA went 12-3 on its summer tour.
Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star and Atlanta prospect, is 6-for-21 since he returned to Triple-A Gwinnett from a rehab assignment in rookie ball. Riley, out roughly a month with a knee injury, is hitting .285 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 31 games for the Stripers. He was promoted from Double-A Mississippi in early May. … The hits keep coming for Jacob Robson, the former Mississippi State standout now at Triple-A Toledo in Detroit’s farm system. Robson is hitting .414 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 15 games for the Mud Hens. Also at Toledo is ex-State star Zac Houston, a big right-hander who has a 2.08 ERA and three saves in 16 appearances. … Southern Miss alum Mason Robbins went into last week’s Triple-A All-Star break with a 12-game hitting streak for Charlotte (Chicago White Sox). He is 0-for-12 since play resumed. Overall, the lefty-hitting outfielder is at .269 with two homers and 24 RBIs in 54 games. … Former State star Reid Humphreys notched his 20th save on Sunday for Lancaster, Colorado’s high Class A affiliate. Humphreys, who leads the California League in saves, has a 1.67 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. … USM product Chuckie Robinson has started to hit at high-A Buies Creek in Houston’s system. An 11-for-33 surge has boosted his average to .204 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 53 games. Robinson, a catcher, was a Midwest League All-Star in 2017, when he batted .274 with 15 homers and 32 doubles for a championship club at Quad Cities. … LeDarious Clark, the East Mississippi Community College alum from Meridian, has hit in six straight games since he returned to the Down East (Texas Rangers) lineup from an extended rehab stint. He is batting .266 with three homers for the high-A club in the Carolina League. He hit 13 homers and stole 20 bases there last year. … One of the more interesting picks in this year’s draft was Dallas Woolfolk, taken by Oakland in the 13th round. Right-hander Woolfolk, who had some struggles at Ole Miss late last season and ultimately left the team, has been up and down for the Arizona League A’s. In five games (six innings), he has two saves and a win with a 6.00 ERA, seven strikeouts and seven walks.