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.
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.
The MLB Manager of the Year awards will be announced today, and there’s a good chance former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker will win the National League honor. Snitker, skipper of the first M-Braves team in 2005, guided the 2018 Atlanta Braves to a division championship, exceeding most expectations. Ronald Acuna, a former M-Braves player, was a key piece on this year’s Braves club and won NL rookie of the year honors on Monday. Acuna is the third former Jackson area Double-A player to win the top rookie honor, following M-Braves alumnus Craig Kimbrel (2011) and former Jackson Mets star Darryl Strawberry (1983). Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan took that award in 2009. Four other Mississippi-connected managers have won the top managerial award. Ex-Mississippi State star Buck Showalter has won three American League awards; former Jackson Mets manager Davey Johnson owns two trophies (one from each league); and Clint Hurdle, another JaxMets manager, and former JaxMets player Ron Gardenhire have won once each. Former Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee and JaxMets alum Mike Scott won the Cy Young Award, which will be handed out on Wednesday. The MVP awards go out Thursday. Mississippi native Dave Parker claimed one of those, as did ex-JaxMets star Kevin Mitchell. For the record, adopted Mississippian Dizzy Dean also won an MVP, back in 1934.
Atlanta ended a four-year playoff drought under Brian Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves manager, and ex-Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle kept Pittsburgh in contention well into September. That’s the good. For the other five Mississippi-connected managers in the big leagues, 2018 was mostly bad – if not downright ugly. Toronto, two years removed from a playoff berth, collapsed, and it has already been announced that former JaxMets catcher John Gibbons won’t be back as skipper in 2019. Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway’s first year as New York Mets manager was undermined in large part by injuries. Long out of contention, the team is 75-84. Ex-JaxMets infielder Ron Gardenhire, a veteran manager but new to Detroit, kept an undermanned club afloat for a while, but the Tigers (64-95) ultimately sank. Then there’s Ned Yost. Yost’s Kansas City club is a ghastly 57-102 in the former JaxMets catcher’s ninth season at the helm. Yost is the franchise’s all-time winningest manager and won the World Series just three years ago. He survived a terrible fall from a tree stand last November, and he apparently will survive the team’s plummet in the standings this season. No team has fallen harder than Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles, and the former Mississippi State star won’t be back in 2019, according to several credible reports. The second all-time winningest manager in Baltimore history, Showalter watched the Orioles tumble – and tumble and tumble — to 46-112. This is his ninth season with the O’s, the fourth team he has managed. His contract expires next month. He said in a session with the media on Thursday that he hasn’t been told anything about his future, isn’t thinking about it right now and is simply grateful to the organization for the opportunity he’s been given.
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.
Jarrod Dyson is expected to be ready for spring training in 2019, according to one report on Thursday. That’s the glass is half full part of the story. The other part: For the second straight year, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star has seen his season halted early by a lower body injury that requires surgery. Last year it was a double hernia, this year an abductor muscle. Dyson is 34. The comeback next spring won’t be a snap. Dyson, in the big leagues since 2010, signed a two-year deal as a free agent with Arizona this past off-season. In 67 games with the Diamondbacks, the speedy outfielder batted .189 with 16 stolen bases. He went on the disabled list on July 5 with a groin injury. He was on a minor league rehab assignment last weekend when the abductor issue flared up. “Jarrod was trying to gut it out and get back here as fast as he possibly could,” D’backs manager Torey Lovullo said in an mlb.com story. Dyson spent the first seven years of his career with Kansas City, winning a ring in 2015, before moving to Seattle in a trade. Though he missed most of the last month of 2017 because of the double hernia, he batted .251 with a career-best 56 runs and 28 steals. For his career, the onetime 50th-round draft pick, a McComb native, is hitting .251 with 220 steals, third-most among Mississippi-born players. P.S. Toronto manager John Gibbons, the old Jackson Mets catcher from 1982 and ’83, won’t return with the Blue Jays in 2019. Gibbons, much-criticized as a manager, has won more than 780 games in 11 seasons spread over two stints with Toronto, twice making the postseason.
If you didn’t become a fan of Billy Beane during his three seasons as an outfielder with the Jackson Mets, then surely “Moneyball” won you over. The longtime Oakland A’s executive is still trying to win that last game of the season, and he might have a team that can do it this year. As they say in the movie, What is happening in Oakland? From a ho-hum start – and on the heels of three straight losing seasons – the A’s have caught fire. They are on a 38-13 roll and have climbed to within 2 games of Houston, the defending World Series champion and leader of the American League West, heading into a rather large weekend series at Oakland Coliseum. These A’s aren’t a team of household names – Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Matt Olson, et al. – but that could change by October. Beane is now the A’s vice president of baseball operations but still works like a GM. With his club surging into playoff contention in mid-July, he engineered several moves just before the trade deadline that might prove huge. The A’s added Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley, Mike Fiers and Fernando Rodney, greatly enhancing their pitching depth. “We just went through three years where we didn’t have that opportunity (to make the postseason),” GM David Forst told Yahoo Sports. “And you know Billy’s personality. As soon as he sees it, he’s going to jump on it.” The A’s still have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB. They might not be buried under “50 feet of crap” as they were in the “Moneyball” season of 2002, but they’re still an underdog in this fight. It just kinda feels right to pull for Billy Beane.
Adam Frazier may have found his form, and his discovery comes at a good time. Former Mississippi State standout Frazier delivered a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning Friday night for Pittsburgh, capping a three-hit game in the Pirates’ 7-6 win against St. Louis. Frazier’s clutch knock came on a 101 mph sinker from Cardinals gas-thrower Jordan Hicks. “It says a little bit that I’m where I need to be if I can do that on him,” Frazier told mlb.com. Frazier hit .301 in 66 games as a rookie in 2016 and followed that with a strong 2017: .276, six homers, 53 RBIs, 55 runs, six triples, nine steals. But he struggled out of the gate this season and was sent to the minors in June. He made a brief return to the Bucs, went back to Triple-A Indianapolis again and then got another call on July 25. He has 10 hits since, lifting his average to .269 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 66 games. Frazier is a lefty hitter who can play practically anywhere, which, if he continues to produce at the plate, makes him a valuable piece for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. The old Jackson Mets skipper has guided this overachieving club to 17 wins in its last 22 games and into the thick of the playoff chase in the National League. P.S. Still searching for his form is ex-State star Chris Stratton, whose return to San Francisco’s rotation on Friday did not go well. The right-hander from Tupelo allowed five runs in the first inning and six all told in three innings of work as the Giants fell to Arizona 6-3. After a good start this season — he was 6-3 through May — Stratton wobbled and wound up back in the minors for a stint. He has been knocked around in both appearances since his return and is now 8-7 with a 5.52 ERA. His spot in the rotation may be in jeopardy.
The suddenly surging Pittsburgh Pirates, the hottest team in baseball, are getting a lot of their juice from Corey Dickerson. The ex-Meridian Community College standout homered for the fourth straight game on Sunday as the Pirates beat Cincinnati 9-2 to extend their winning streak to nine games. Don’t look now, but the Bucs, under former Jackson Mets manager Clint Hurdle, are 51-49 and back in the wild card picture in the National League. Dickerson, once thought to be a possible trade chip, may now be sticking around. An All-Star with Tampa Bay in 2017 before being inexplicably cut loose by the Rays, Dickerson is batting .315 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs for the Pirates. He’s been a steady hitter all season but through the first three months had not shown the power he displayed previously in his career. He went from May 5 to June 30 without a homer. He has hit six in July, five in his last four games, including the 447-foot bomb on Sunday at Great American Ballpark. “My approach changes every day,” Dickerson told mlb.com, noting that he doesn’t always try to hit home runs. Batting mainly in the leadoff spot, he has 10 hits in his last four games and is batting .400 in his last 15. Dickerson and his Pirates mates are in Cleveland today, where their rejuvenation will be challenged by Corey Kluber, ace of the American League Central leader.