Has it really been 20 years? The first home game of the final season of the old Jackson Generals was played on April 19, 1999, at Smith-Wills Stadium. It could’ve gone better, to say the least. Gov. Kirk Fordice bounced the ceremonial first pitch. The Generals, the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, then surrendered five first-inning runs and lost to Texas League rival Arkansas 9-2. Rick Ankiel got the win and also homered for the Travelers, who were managed by Jackson native and current Mississippi Braves skipper Chris Maloney. The loss dropped the Generals’ record to 3-8. Only 1,955 people turned out to see the lame-duck club, which had announced a year earlier that it was moving to Round Rock, Texas. The ’99 Gens would prove to be a pretty good team. Quite a few future big leaguers appeared on the roster, including Chris Truby (who hit 28 homers), Julio Lugo (.319, 25 steals), Keith Ginter, Brian Dallimore, Jeriome Robertson (15-game winner) and Wayne Franklin. They also occasionally started an all-Johnson outfield: A.J., J.J. and Ric. The Generals, managed by Jim Pankovits, finished 68-72 overall after making a run at the TL East second-half title. The championship actually came down to the last game of the season, also played at Smith-Wills. Alas, before the biggest crowd of the year (a turnstile count of 4,367), the Gens lost in heartbreaking fashion, 9-4 to Tulsa. It was 3-3 in the seventh inning when the Drillers’ Juan Pinella hit a grand slam that sucked the energy out of the old ballpark. The 25-year Texas League era at Smith-Wills began on April 19, 1975, with a pitch by the Jackson Mets’ Greg Pavlick. It ended on Sept. 8, 1999, on a pitch by Tulsa’s Matt Miller, a Delta State alum from Greenwood who would go on to pitch in the big leagues. … The M-Braves will pay tribute to the Generals and that bygone time during a series at Trustmark Park in Pearl from June 25-29.
Fifteen days before the season opener, Tony Sipp has found a new team, the Washington Nationals. The veteran left-hander out of Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College reportedly has agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract with a mutual option for 2020. The 35-year-old Sipp had a strong bounce-back year in 2018, putting up a 1.86 ERA in 54 appearances for Houston. He made $6M last year. Sipp has a career 3.67 ERA in 580 games, working exclusively as a reliever. He had a 0.90 ERA against left-handers in 2018, and a Washington Post reporter is already predicting a special role for him: “Expect to see a lot of Sipp versus (Bryce) Harper in the coming season.” The former Nationals left-handed slugger is now with division rival Philadelphia. Sipp joins Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier on what shapes up as a strong Nationals club. Dozier also signed a one-year deal as a free agent.
Cool idea by the Mississippi Braves to give a nod to the old Jackson Generals as part of the M-Braves’ celebration of the franchise’s 15th year in Pearl. The M-Braves will wear some throwback apparel when the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals (no relation to the other one) visit Trustmark Park from June 25-29. On June 28, the first 1,000 fans will receive a replica Jackson (Miss.) Generals jersey. As a refresher, the Generals were the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Houston Astros and played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-1999. That club produced a bevy of big league stars, including Billy Wagner, Lance Berkman, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia, Richard Hidalgo, Todd Jones, Julio Lugo, Daryle Ward, Melvin Mora, Brian Hunter and Scott Elarton, to name, well, more than a few. The Generals won two Texas League pennants (1993 and ’96). Of course, Jackson’s pro baseball legacy extends well beyond the Generals. The Mets – New York’s Double-A club – occupied Smith-Wills from 1975-1990, turned out an array of stars, as well (see Darryl Strawberry, Jeff Reardon, Mookie Wilson, Kevin Mitchell, et al.), and won three TL titles. And before the Mets there were a number of minor league teams that played in a long-gone ballpark at the Fairgrounds for many years up until the early ’50s. Included in that group was a Boston Braves farm team. And let’s not forget that after the Generals departed for Round Rock, Texas, two independent pro teams played at Smith-Wills: the DiamondKats (2000) and the Senators (2002-05). The Senators also won a championship. Bottom line: When it comes to pro baseball in central Mississippi, there’s a whole lot to celebrate.
In recognition of Black History Month, here’s a shout-out to Dave Clark, the ex-Shannon High and Jackson State star who is one of just 16 African-Americans to have managed in the major leagues. (Yes, that’s a shamefully small number.) Clark, about to begin his sixth season as third-base coach for the Detroit Tigers, was the interim manager in Houston for the last 13 games of the 2009 campaign. The team, limping to the end of a 74-88 finish, went 4-9 under Clark. Interestingly enough, he was the third Mississippi native to manage the Houston club; Harry Craft (1962-64) and Harry Walker (1968-72) were the other two. Clark was a first-round draft pick by Cleveland out of JSU in 1983 and played 13 years in the big leagues, batting .264 with 62 homers and earning a rep as a fearsome pinch hitter. Since retiring as a player, he has managed in the minors (two championships) and in winter ball and coached for three different MLB clubs. He has been interviewed and/or considered for several major league managerial jobs since his stint with the Astros. That door might still open for him someday.
Two noteworthy players with Mississippi ties remain on the free agent market, and they have a few things in common. Tony Sipp and Drew Pomeranz are left-handed pitchers, played college ball in Mississippi, were originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians and own a World Series ring. They are even in somewhat similar situations as they look for a new club in 2019. Sipp is 35 – he’ll be 36 in July – and is nearing the end of what has been a fine career. The former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, a short reliever for all of his 10 years in the big leagues, has a 3.67 career ERA. After a couple of off years with Houston, he bounced back strong with a 1.86 ERA in 2018, demonstrating that he may still have something in the tank. Ole Miss product Pomeranz, a former first-round pick (fifth overall) in 2010, had a rough 2018, dealing with arm issues and posting a 6.08 ERA for Boston. He was on the Red Sox’s roster for their World Series triumph but didn’t get in a game. Pomeranz, 30, has had a career that’s been all over the place. He has been with five different organizations. He has started and worked in relief. He has had some very good years (All-Star with San Diego in 2016, 17 wins for the Red Sox in 2017) and has a career ERA of 3.92. But last season was such a clunker, his value surely took a hit. It’s likely that both Sipp and Pomeranz will get short-term deals for modest money and will head into spring training with something to prove, Sipp that he’s not done and Pomeranz that last year was an aberration.
Houston Astros fans surely will cringe when reminded of what went down on this date in 1971. During the winter meetings, the Astros traded – drumroll, please — Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke to Cincinnati for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart. Might have been the worst trade ever. And Mississippian Harry Walker, the Houston manager at the time, had a role in it. Morgan, Billingham and Geronimo became key players on the great Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and ’76. Morgan was the National League’s MVP both of those years and is now in the Hall of Fame. The Astros improved slightly from 1971 to ’72, thanks in part to May’s 29 homers, but Walker was fired before the season ended. The Astros wouldn’t sniff the postseason until 1980. Why did the Astros dump Morgan, only 29 at the time of the infamous deal? According to reports, Walker, the Pascagoula native and onetime big league star, didn’t like Morgan, calling him a troublemaker. And Morgan didn’t like Walker, years later accusing him of racism. A stern disciplinarian with an outspoken manner, Walker is said to have clashed with a lot of his players. Hired by the Astros in mid-1968, he was fired in August of ’72 even though the team had a winning record at the time. Leo Durocher finished out the campaign. It was Walker’s ninth and final season as an MLB skipper.
Mitch Moreland was back in the starting lineup for Boston on Thursday and now he’s back in the World Series – for a third time – after the Red Sox dispatched Houston 4-1 in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Mississippi State alumnus, who had been limited by a hamstring injury since Game 2 of the ALDS, went 2-for-4 and was on base when Rafael Devers smacked his huge three-run homer off Justin Verlander in the sixth inning. Moreland is 4-for-9 this postseason and carries a .252 career postseason average – with three homers, 15 RBIs and 14 runs – over 44 games. He has appeared in the postseason in seven of his nine pro seasons, going back to his rookie year of 2010 with Texas, which lost in the World Series to San Francisco. Moreland went 6-for-13 in that Series, then 1-for-10 the next year as the Rangers fell to St. Louis. Boston has had Mississippi natives on several of its World Series teams – Boo Ferriss in 1946, George Scott and Dalton Jones in 1967, Oil Can Boyd in 1986 – but never on one of its championship teams. Amory native Moreland will be out to change that.
Quite a few atta boys to pass out to the Mississippi connections after Tuesday’s league championship games. Who better to start with than:
Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product from Fulton, making his first postseason start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, went 1-for-4 with a walk and an HBP and drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a two-out single in the first inning in the National League Championship Series. “For him to spark us, and get a point early, I thought that was huge,” LA manager Dave Roberts told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. After the 2-1, 13-inning, series-squaring win over Milwaukee, it’ll be interesting to see if Dozier gets another start in Game 5 today at Dodger Stadium.
Alex Wood. The ex-Mississippi Braves star threw a clean 11th inning with one strikeout for the Dodgers.
Orlando Arcia. The Biloxi Shuckers alum went 1-for-5 and scored Milwaukee’s lone run. After an uneven regular season, Arcia is batting .280 with three homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the postseason.
Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader. The former Shuckers chuckers worked a combined six scoreless innings in relief duty and punched out 11 for the Brewers.
Mitch Moreland. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory picked up his second RBI for Boston in the American League Championship Series when he was hit by a Roberto Osuna pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. That run extended the visiting Red Sox’s lead to 4-2, and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed with his game-breaking grand slam as Boston rolled to an 8-2 win and a 2-1 series lead over Houston.
Tony Sipp. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Moss Point closed out the sixth inning for the Astros after Joe Smith yielded Steve Pearce’s go-ahead homer. Sipp, making just his second postseason appearance, walked the first batter he faced but got a strikeout and a ground out to end the inning.
Charlie Morton. The M-Braves product will get the ball for his first postseason start of 2018 for Houston in tonight’s Game 4, a virtual must-win for the Astros. Morton, 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA this season, was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of both the World Series and the ALCS in 2017.
There are four Mississippi natives still playing in this MLB season, one with each of the four teams still standing in the playoffs. Amory’s Mitch Moreland plays first base for Boston, which faces Houston and Moss Point product Tony Sipp, a relief specialist, in the American League Championship Series. Fulton’s Brian Dozier is a second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are taking on Milwaukee and Wheeler product Brandon Woodruff, a pitcher, in the National League Championship Series. Sipp, 35, is the senior member of the group and has followed the most serpentine route to this point. He signed with Cleveland as a 45th-round pick out of Clemson in 2004. He had been drafted twice previously (in higher rounds) – at Moss Point High in 2001 and a Florida juco in 2002. He was a two-way star at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC in 2003 but went undrafted. It took the lithe left-hander five years in the minors to reach the big leagues but once he did, he stuck. This is his fifth year with the Astros and was one of his best, as a 1.86 ERA will attest. He and Moreland have a little history. Moreland is 3-for-11 with two doubles vs. Sipp, who has fanned the lefty hitter six times. Moreland was a 17th-rounder out of Mississippi State in 2007 by Texas, made the big leagues three years later and has made a habit of showing up in the postseason. Moreland is in his second year with Boston, having re-signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in the off-season. He made his first All-Star Game in 2018 and finished with a .245 average and 15 homers. He and Dozier have a little history. They played American Legion ball together back in Tupelo. Dozier went to Southern Miss and was an eighth-round selection in 2009 by Minnesota. He reached the big leagues in 2012, took a brief detour back to the minors, then returned to stay in 2013. An All-Star with the Twins in 2015, the pending free agent was traded to the Dodgers in July. He slumped at season’s end, finishing with a .215 average and 21 homers. He and Woodruff have a little history – but only a little. Dozier is 1-for-2 with a homer off the right-hander, who is in just his second MLB campaign. Woodruff was drafted in the fifth round out of Wheeler High in 2011 but went to Mississippi State instead. After an unspectacular career with the Bulldogs, Milwaukee picked him in the 11th round in 2014. He blossomed quickly, becoming the Brewers’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2016 and making his big league debut the next summer. He put up a 3.61 ERA this season, working primarily in relief down the stretch.
Boston would no doubt like to have Mitch Moreland in the lineup tonight for the American League Division Series Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, but it could be a game-time decision. The former Mississippi State star, who carries a .350 average against expected New York starter Luis Severino, has been getting “aggressive treatment” for a hamstring issue that surfaced during Saturday’s game. Moreland went 1-for-3 in the Red Sox’s loss, which evened the best-of-5 series at 1-all. Moreland, an outstanding first baseman, is 6-for-16 in the postseason for Boston the last two years and is a .239 hitter with three homers in 39 career postseason games. He batted .245 with 15 homers this year. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn worked two scoreless innings for the Yankees in their Game 1 loss in his 25th career postseason appearance. He has a 4.33 ERA in those games, the first 24 of which were with St. Louis. Former State standout Jonathan Holder, who had a 3.14 ERA for the Yankees this year, is yet to pitch in the ALDS and has no career postseason appearances. … Tony Sipp, the Pascagoula native and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product, did not work in either of Houston’s two wins in the ALDS vs. Cleveland. The veteran lefty has six career postseason appearances, all with the Astros in 2015. Indians batters are 1-for-9 against Sipp this year. Game 3 is today. … Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, got a hit Sunday night in his first at-bat this postseason for Los Angeles but also struck out to end Game 3 of the National League Division Series, a crazy 6-5 win by Atlanta. The win, the loss and the save went to former Mississippi Braves: Touki Toussaint got the W, Arodys Vizcaino the save and Alex Wood – who yielded Freddie Freeman’s clutch home run – took the L. Game 4 is today. … Former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes got the win in relief Sunday for Milwaukee as it wrapped up its NLDS against Colorado. Ex-Shuckers star Orlando Arcia homered in the 6-0 victory. Former State standout Brandon Woodruff, also a former Shuckers hurler, started the Brewers’ NLDS roll with three hitless innings as the “opener” in Game 1. “(T)hat kind of set the tempo for everybody,” said Game 3 starter Wade Miley, a veteran whose 2018 season began on a minor league deal in Biloxi. “We kind of went from there.” Colorado scored just two runs in the series.