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.
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.
If he produces a typical season, Brian Dozier will easily top 1,000 career hits in the big leagues in 2019. The Fulton native and former Southern Miss star is the active leader in hits among Mississippi-born players in MLB with 954 through six-plus seasons. Notching a thousand career hits is an impressive feat, requiring a combination of skill, opportunity and longevity. Dozier, 32 in May, will need another six or so productive seasons to reach 2,000 hits, which only four Mississippi-born players have managed to do. Grenada native Dave Parker tops that list with 2,712, followed by Ellisville’s Buddy Myer (2,131), Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks (2,107) and Greenville’s Frank White (2,006). Dozier, who’ll play second base for the Washington Nationals in 2019, could also reach another hits milestone this season. The record for a USM alum is 1,142, by Jim Davenport. Kevin Young is second with 1,007. … Former Mississippi State star Rafael Palmeiro is among the 32 players with 3,000 hits; his 3,020 are by far the most by a Mississippi college alumnus. Ex-Bulldogs great Will Clark had 2,176. The most by an Ole Miss product is 1,991 by Gee Walker, a Gulfport native who played in the 1930s and ’40s. Don Kessinger had 1,931. Dave Clark leads Jackson State alums with 518. … Amory’s Mitch Moreland, another Mississippi State product, is No. 2 on the state’s active hits list with 857. (Jackson’s Seth Smith, presumably retired, is sitting on 934.) Moreland, Boston first baseman, probably won’t get to 1,000 this year – his career-high for a season is 131 – but should make it in 2020. … … Bobby Abreu, who played for the Jackson Generals in the mid-’90s, is the leader, with 2,470 hits, among former Jackson area Double-A players. Hubie Brooks leads former Jackson Mets with 1,608, and Brian McCann, still active, is tops among ex-Mississippi Braves with 1,521.
The results of the National Baseball Hall of Fame voting should not, by any means, diminish what Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia accomplished in the game. Oswalt, arguably the best pitcher the state has ever produced, and former Jackson Generals stars Berkman and Garcia were among the 16 players who appeared on the ballot for the first time and didn’t garner enough support to appear again. It was a tad surprising how little support each received, but such is the nature of a process that had 35 names on the ballot, including the four truly great ones who were elected to Cooperstown. Each voter is limited to 10 picks. Oswalt got just four votes total. Berkman got five and Garcia none. It took 319 votes (75 percent) to get elected. Oswalt, from Weir and Holmes Community College, won 163 games, posted a 3.36 ERA and was a three-time All-Star. Berkman batted .293 with 366 homers, made six All-Star Games and won a World Series ring. Garcia won 156 games over 15 seasons, was a two-time All-Star and also won a ring. Though they’ll slip off the Hall of Fame ballot, Mississippi baseball aficionados won’t forget them. … Former Generals standout Billy Wagner, in his fourth year on the ballot, got 71 votes (16.7 percent), enough to stay on for the 2020 election. Meridian Community College alumnus Cliff Lee and Generals alum Bobby Abreu are among the players who’ll make their first appearance on the 2020 ballot.
Roy Oswalt, recently elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, is arguably the best major league pitcher the Magnolia State has ever produced. The right-hander from Weir won 163 games, posted two 20-win seasons, won an ERA title, made three All-Star teams, won an LCS MVP award and pitched in the World Series. His career ERA was 3.36, and he had over 1,800 strikeouts. For what it’s worth, his career WAR is 50.1, which is higher than that of Jack Morris, who went into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last summer. Oswalt was on the ballot for the first time for the 2019 class. As good as he was – and his stuff was unhittable at times — his Hall chances probably aren’t so good. The numbers just don’t rise to that level. Consider this: Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, won 176 games – most by a Mississippi native — from 1923-38 and added another 34 saves. Four times he won 18 or more games. His ERA was 3.86, and he played in a hitters’ era. He pitched in two World Series, including 1929, the year he won 18 games and saved eight for the Chicago Cubs. Bush was on the HOF ballot one year and got 1 percent of the vote from the writers. Tough crowd, those writers. There are no Mississippi-born major league players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame – Cool Papa Bell and William Foster were Negro Leagues stars – and while Oswalt will get some voter support, that’s likely to remain the case in 2019. … The HOF ballots were due Dec. 31, and the announcement of new electees will be made on Jan. 22. P.S. Former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia were first-timers on the ballot for 2019 and ex-Gens star Billy Wagner was a notable returnee. A case can be made for both Wagner and Berkman making the grade at some point. No ex-Gens (or Jackson Mets, for that matter) are enshrined in Cooperstown.
As the Houston Astros marched toward their first World Series title last year, all Tony Sipp could do was watch. The veteran relief pitcher, who struggled through much of the 2017 season, wasn’t on the team’s roster for any of their three postseason series. Well, that was then. After an amazing resurgence in 2018, the former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is on the roster for the American League Division Series against Cleveland. Game 1 is today at Minute Maid Park. A couple of things happened for the 35-year-old left-hander this year. First, he had to battle just to make the team in spring training and essentially keep his career alive. “It all just came together to create that hunger again. It’s do or die; my back is against the wall,” Sipp told the Houston Chronicle last month. Then, he regained confidence in his best pitch, a splitter that had abandoned him in 2016 and ’17. In 54 appearances (38 2/3 innings) this season, Sipp put up a 1.86 ERA. He yielded just one home run after coughing up eight in 2017 and 12 in 2016. He is the lone lefty in Houston’s bullpen; he is best against lefties (0.90 ERA this year) but can also get right-handed hitters (2.89). P.S. Houston’s roster also includes former Mississippi Braves Brian McCann, Evan Gattis and Charlie Morton, a hero of last year’s title run. Hitting coach Dave Hudgens is a former Jackson Generals hitting coach, a last link to the Double-A Astros affiliate that played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. … In that other ALDS, which starts tonight at Fenway Park, Boston’s roster includes former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland (but not Ole Miss alumnus Drew Pomeranz). The New York Yankees have an alum from both State (Jonathan Holder) and Ole Miss (Lance Lynn) in their bullpen, and the Bombers’ hitting coach is former East Central CC standout Marcus Thames.
All eyes – well, a lot of them — are on the National League Central and the two intra-divisional series that start today in Chicago and St. Louis. And, yes, Mississippi ties are all around. The first-place Cubs host fourth-place Pittsburgh – officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday – in a four-game series at Wrigley Field, while second-place Milwaukee – 2.5 games behind the Cubs – and the third-place Cardinals – 4.5 games behind the Cubs – tangle in a three-game set at Busch Stadium. The Brewers and Cardinals top the wild card standings, with Colorado lurking 1.5 games back. The Brewers’ roster includes former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff and several other former Biloxi Shuckers, notably pitchers Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams and shortstop Orlando Arcia. Brewers coach Carlos Subero is a former Shuckers manager. Ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers and State alum Dakota Hudson have been key contributors in St. Louis’ bullpen, and ex-Mississippi Braves John Gant and Chasen Shreve are also on the pitching staff. The Milwaukee-St. Louis season series is tied 8-8. The Cubs suit up a pair of M-Braves alums – Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella – and their pitching coach is former Jackson Generals coach Jim Hickey. The Cubs have the best record in the NL but they’re in no position to breathe easy against a Pirates lineup that usually features Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson, one of the league’s leading hitters, and ex-State standout Adam Frazier. Pittsburgh is managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, and the hitting coach is Waynesboro native Jeff Branson. P.S. Frazier hit his 10th home run on Sunday and joins Hunter Renfroe, Brian Dozier, Tim Anderson, Mitch Moreland, Dickerson and JaCoby Jones as Mississippians with double-digit bombs in the majors this season.
The career path that took Chipper Jones to the Hall of Fame veered through Mississippi in 2006. Anyone who was there for those two days in August surely has not forgotten. Jones’ visit to Trustmark Park in Pearl on a rehab assignment created a hoopla that hasn’t been matched by any other Mississippi Braves games played there in the 14 years of the stadium’s existence. The announced crowds on Aug. 11 and 12, 2006, were 7,577 and 7,652 — and those are legit figures. To his everlasting credit, Jones signed autographs for fans and did pre- and postgame media sessions. He was engaging. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy reminiscing about his previous Double-A days in 1992, when he crushed it in Greenville. They played his signature walk-up song, “Crazy Train,” on the P.A. when he batted, and the crowd went nuts when he got his one hit in the six at-bats he took. Fellow Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine also made rehab appearances with the M-Braves — Smoltz threw one inning in a road game — and HOFer Jeff Bagwell did a rehab stint with the Jackson Generals at Smith-Wills Stadium. But they didn’t generate the excitement that Jones did. Fernando Valenzuela’s visit to Smith-Wills in 1991 drew a standing-room only throng, but he came in with the visiting team, the Midland Angels. There was a very different vibe for Jones, a former No. 1 overall pick by Atlanta whose ascendance had been tracked for years by the many Atlanta Braves fans in the area. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson worked a 1-2-3 inning in his MLB debut for St. Louis on Saturday, striking out the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. … Richton High alum JaCoby Jones, batting .122 over a 15-game stretch, needed a highlight moment and produced one on Saturday, belting a two-run homer in Detroit’s 2-1 win against Cleveland. Jones is hitting .208 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 95 games for the Tigers. He left Saturday’s game with an apparent injury that he later deemed “nothing serious.” … Former State star Mitch Moreland returned to Boston’s lineup after missing two games with a minor ailment; he contributed a hit and an RBI in the Red Sox’s 10-4 victory over Minnesota. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College product from McComb, went on the 10-day disabled list for Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury. Dickerson is hitting .318 with 11 bombs and 44 RBIs. … Former M-Braves Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna grace the cover of the latest issue (Aug. 3-24) of Baseball America, which has a feature piece on the “Baby Braves” behind Atlanta’s resurgent season.
Richard Hidalgo, Jackson Generals star of the mid-1990s, got some recognition today – his 43rd birthday – in a column on mlb.com by Joe Posnanski. Posnanski was highlighting “most surprising” major league seasons, of which Hidalgo had one in 2000. In his fourth MLB campaign, he batted .314 with 44 homers and 122 RBIs as Houston’s centerfielder, far and away the best year of a modest career. Hidalgo was a highly rated and impressive-looking Astros prospect when he played in Jackson in 1995 and ’96, hitting .280 with 28 homers over those two seasons. He could play the outfield, too, and throw and run. He spent nine years in the big leagues and finished with 171 bombs. As good as Hidalgo’s 2000 season was, it didn’t make Posnanski’s “most surprising” top 10. But former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell’s 1989 season with San Francisco did. Mitchell, who played at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1983, hit .291 with 47 homers and 125 RBIs that year, winning National League MVP honors on a pennant-winning team that included Will Clark. (And, yes, that was also the year Mitchell made his famous over-the-shoulder, bare-handed catch.)
Voting ends Friday for the Triple-A All-Star Game, and if fans have been paying attention, ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson should be leading the pack for Pacific Coast League starting pitcher. Hudson, with the Memphis Redbirds in St. Louis’ system, leads the PCL in wins and ERA. The 23-year-old right hander, the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect, has won six of his last seven starts to move to 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA. Hudson doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts but, according to scouting reports, generates a lot of weak contact and ground balls with a heavy sinker. Drafted in the first round in 2016, he was the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2017 and got a non-roster invite to 2018 big league camp, where he posted a 1.86 ERA in four games. The Triple-A All-Star Game (see the ballot on milb.com) is slated for Columbus, Ohio, on July 11. Considering all the injuries the Cardinals have had in their rotation, Hudson might be in St. Louis well before then. P.S. There was a Mississippi Big 3 summit of sorts at Minnesota on Wednesday, when Mississippi State’s Mitch Moreland, Ole Miss’ Lance Lynn and Southern Miss’ Brian Dozier all took the field. Dozier, who’s been slumping (.135 his last 15 games), went 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI in the Twins’ 4-1 victory over Boston. Despite fighting command issues, Lynn went five innings for the win, improving to 5-5, 4.64 ERA as he pitched around three hits and five walks. Moreland got one of those hits and drew one of the walks and scored an unearned run on a throwing error. … Pittsburgh put Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College standout, on the family emergency medical leave list and recalled MSU product Adam Frazier from Triple-A. … Houston produced back-to-back-to-back home runs on Wednesday, the first time the Astros have pulled that off in over 10 years. As you might have guessed, former Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman was involved in that previous trifecta.