Today’s challenge is to build a player. Drawing from the pool of Mississippi-born big leaguers, put together a Super Player based on the five tools scouts evaluate in a position player. Those are hit, hit for power, field, throw and run. Start with the latter, which might be the easiest call here. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, currently signed to a minor league contract with San Francisco, is one of the fastest to ever play the game, a modern day equivalent of Starkville native Cool Papa Bell, the Negro Leagues legend and Hall of Famer. Hamilton has 299 career steals in his seven MLB seasons and holds the all-time pro record with 155 bags in the minors in 2012. Check. Hamilton also is a standout defender in center field, but Jackson native Chet Lemon arguably was better. Lemon, who played from 1975-90, recorded 509 putouts in center field for Detroit in 1977 to set a major league record. He had three more as a right fielder that year, and that 512 total ranks as the fourth-most all-time in a single season. Lemon ranked among the top 10 center fielders in putouts in a season seven times and among the fielding percentage leaders five times. No less an authority than Sparky Anderson called Lemon the best center fielder he had ever seen. Good enough. When it comes to throwing ability, one can’t go wrong with Grenada native Dave Parker. Anecdotal evidence: His throw from right field to nail a runner at the plate in 1979 All-Star Game is widely regarded as one of the most jaw-dropping ever. When players dared run on him, Parker made them pay. A three-time Gold Glover, he recorded 143 assists – 26 in 1977 alone — over a 19-year career from 1973-91, though he played little outfield the last four years. The best hitter, based on average alone, among Mississippi natives is Buddy Myer, the Ellisville native who played from 1925-41. A lefty-swinging singles hitter, Myer batted .302 for his career and won a batting title with a .349 mark in 1935. Gulfport’s Gee Walker, who played from 1931-45, batted .294, including a single-season best of .353 in 1936. Among more recent players, the best hitter is, surprisingly enough, Dmitri Young, the big (6 feet 2, 295 pounds) switch-hitter from Vicksburg who batted .291 from 1996-2008. He had more pop, with 171 career homers, than Myer or Walker, but for just pure hitting, Myer is the pick. When it comes to raw power, there are several great candidates, from Parker to George Scott to Ellis Burks to Hunter Renfroe. But, from many accounts, there was something special about the threat that Luke Easter brought to the plate. The 6-4, 240-pound Easter, from Jonestown, clubbed 93 big league homers in the 1950s and another 247 in a long minor league career. He hit some legendary bombs, including a 500-footer in Buffalo’s Offermann Stadium and a 477-footer in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. So, that’s Hamilton’s wheels, Lemon’s glove, Parker’s hose, Myer’s bat and Easter’s power. A star is born.
Two Mississippians were on the field the last time there was a World Series game in Washington, D.C. They wore flannel uniforms and gloves that looked like leather oven mitts. Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House. It was 86 years ago. Nationals Park will play host next week to a Series game, or two or three, marking the first time the nation’s capital will have hosted a Fall Classic contest since way, way back in 1933. On Oct. 7 of that year, at Griffith Stadium, the Washington Senators (sometimes called the Nationals) lost Game 5 – and the series – to the New York Giants 4-3 on a 10th-inning homer by Mel Ott. Ellisville native Buddy Myer manned second base and batted leadoff for the Senators, going 0-for-5. Starkville native Hughie Critz played second and hit second for the Giants, also putting up an 0-for-5. There have been many twists and turns in Washington’s baseball history since. That Senators franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961 – the Twins have made three Series appearances — and was replaced by an expansion Senators franchise, which later moved to Texas, where, as the Rangers, the team has made two Series appearances. The current Nationals club arrived in Washington in 2005 from Montreal, a 1969 expansion club which never made the Series. Finally, after an 86-year wait, Washington gets to host the World Series again. As fate would have it, there is a second baseman from Mississippi — Fulton’s Brian Dozier – on the 2019 Washington club.
In case anyone was wondering – and someone was – Brian Dozier was not the first Mississippian to lead off in a World Series game when the Fulton native did so in Game 1 on Tuesday night. That distinction belongs to Buddy Myer, the Ellisville native who hit first for Washington in Game 1 of the 1933 Fall Classic against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. Myer, like Dozier, struck out to start the game. Longtime big leaguer Myer, who would win a batting title in 1935, led off in all five games of the ’33 Series for the Senators, who lost to the Giants. Myer went 6-for-20 overall, including a three-hit, two-RBI performance in Game 3, the only game the Senators won. (In the 1945 Series, Meridian native Skeeter Webb led off in all seven games for Detroit, which beat the Chicago Cubs.) … Eduardo Nunez’s big home run on Tuesday – off former Mississippi Braves ace Alex Wood — was the first pinch-hit Series homer for Boston since ex-Ole Miss star Bobby Kielty went deep in Game 4 of the 2007 Series against Colorado. (See previous post.) … Saw this very cool item on the baseball subreddit: Dave Parker, Ellis Burks and Mitch Moreland are tied for the most postseason home runs by a Mississippi-born player. As of today, each has three. Amory native Moreland, of course, could jump ahead with a bomb in this World Series. He struck out in a pinch-hit opportunity in Game 1. Moreland hit his three postseason homers in 2010 and ’11 with Texas, two of them in World Series games. Parker, a Grenada native (per baseball-reference.com), hit all of his postseason homers with Oakland in 1989 – at the age of 38. Vicksburg’s Burks – the state’s career home run leader — hit one each with the Chicago White Sox in 1993, San Francisco in 2000 and Cleveland in 2001. Of note: Louisiana’s leaders are Reggie Smith and Albert Belle (6). For Arkansas, it’s Brooks Robinson and Pat Burrell (5), Alabama Delmon Young (9), Georgia J.D. Drew (7), Tennessee Bill Madlock (4) and Florida Chipper Jones (13).
Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, as fast as anybody in the game, now and probably ever, has 30 career triples as he nears the end of his fifth full big league season. That might sound like a lot until you check the all-time record: 309, by Sam Crawford. Three-zero-nine. Don’t think Billy is gonna threaten that. Crawford, who played in the early 1900s, had 26 triples in one season; the single season record is 36, set in 1912. Hamilton’s best in a season is 11. Last year’s MLB leader was Charlie Blackmon with 14. No one in the last 90 seasons has gotten as many as 24. So, where did all the triples go? The decline of the three-bagger, such an exciting play, is telling commentary on how much the game has changed since Crawford roamed the basepaths a hundred years ago. Ballparks are smaller now, for one thing. Players are bigger and stronger and much more inclined to swing for home runs. (Note: Hamilton, who weighs 160 pounds, has 20 career homers.) Speed is still important but not a necessary skill. Defense has improved and gotten more strategic. All of these factors have combined to make triples a rare treat, akin to seeing a shooting star – or a street without a pothole. A triple usually involves a weird carom or a collision of outfielders. The only man among the top 20 in career triples who played as recently as the 1960s is Stan Musial. He finished with 177. The only active player with more than 100 is Jose Reyes, who’s near the end of his career. Hamilton, if he plays 10 more years (and improves as a hitter), might approach 100, but that would be well short of the record among Mississippi natives. That belongs to Ellisville’s Buddy Myer, who hit 130 in an outstanding career spanning 1925-41. Starkville native Hughie Critz, a Myer contemporary, tripled 95 times. No. 3 is Gee Walker (1931-45) of Gulfport with 76. Grenada’s Dave Parker retired in 1991 with 75. Even with his great wheels, Hamilton might not catch any of that bunch.
Ran across this rather remarkable list in the November/December issue of Baseball Digest. Their editors’ research turned up 127 players who have recorded 50 or more hits in a single month of an MLB season since 1900. Only 127. A few have done it multiple times: George Sisler nine, Ty Cobb seven, Rogers Hornsby six, Pete Rose four, Ichiro Suzuki four, just to pick out a few. George Brett only did it once. Tony Gwynn isn’t on the list. It’s worth noting that three Mississippians appear on that list, and all three were great hitters in their day. Gulfport native Gerald “Gee” Walker did it twice, in August of 1936 and again in August of 1938. Walker was a career .294 hitter. Ellisville’s Buddy Myer, who some say should be in the Hall of Fame, got 50 in August of 1935. Myer was a .303 career hitter. Starkville’s Hughie Critz turned the trick in July 1930. Critz batted .268 over a 12-year career.