On this date in 1949, Luke Easter became the first black Mississippian to play in a major league game. A native of Jonestown, in Coahoma County, Easter made his debut as a pinch hitter for the Cleveland Indians at old Cleveland Stadium. This was two years and several months after Jackie Robinson broke the modern-era color line. Easter was 34 when he got his chance, having already played numerous years in various Negro Leagues. Easter did not homer in 45 at-bats for the Indians in 1949 but mashed 93 homers over the next four seasons, many of them tape-measure shots. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound first baseman produced two 100-RBI campaigns and had another of 97. Easter’s big league career was over after six games in 1954, but he played 10 more years in the minors. Despite his short time with the team, Easter was selected as one of the 100 Greatest Cleveland Indians in 2001, when the club celebrated its 100th anniversary. He died tragically in 1979 (see previous posts). P.S. In the majors on Thursday: Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College star, snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a game-changing three-run homer for Tampa Bay in a win over Cleveland. It was homer No. 22 for Dickerson, who joins Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier atop the leaderboard in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe has 20. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn was hit in the head by a batted ball in the third inning but stayed in the game for St. Louis. He worked six innings all told, allowing two runs, and took a no-decision in the surging Cardinals’ 8-6 win vs. Kansas City.
Rookie Stuart Turner took center stage Wednesday among Mississippians in the majors. Turner, the ex-Ole Miss star, struck his first big league home run, an upper deck shot in the Reds’ 8-3 win vs. San Diego. “It could’ve been a wall-scraper and I would’ve taken it,” Turner told The Associated Press. Turner, a catcher and a Rule 5 draftee from Minnesota, has played sparingly, with only 46 at-bats all season. He is hitting .174. Footnote: Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton got his 45th stolen base for the Reds. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier went 3-for-4 with his 22nd homer – and fifth in his last seven games – to spark Minnesota’s 4-0 win at Milwaukee. Dozier’s bomb came off ex-Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff, who took the loss in his second big league start. He went 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson homered – his 11th – doubled and drove in three runs to help the Chicago White Sox knock off Houston 7-1. It’s been a tough sophomore season for Anderson, who is batting .242, but he has warmed up lately (.346, two homers over his last seven games). … Ex-State star Tyler Moore also has been scuffling in limited playing time for Miami. He got a start at first base on Wednesday vs. Washington and went 2-for-3, but he is just 3-for-16 in August. He is batting .233 with six homers, the last of those on June 17. … Boston beat Tampa Bay 8-2 for its eighth straight win, but former MSU star Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox and Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson of the Rays had a quiet night. They were a combined 0-for-8. All-Star Dickerson’s average has slipped to .293. … Ex-Mississippi Braves star Dansby Swanson went 0-for-4 in his return to Atlanta. Fellow M-Braves alum Sean Newcomb (1-7) took the loss against Philadelphia, which won 3-2 and improved to 11-2 against the Braves. The Phillies are 42-69 overall. … Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn, 4-0 in his last six starts, goes to the bump for St. Louis tonight against Kansas City on MLB Network. Lynn is 10-6, 3.12 ERA for the Cardinals, who have won five straight. … UM product Chris Coghlan is 4-for-8 with two doubles in his rehab assignment at Class A Dunedin in Toronto’s system. He has been on the disabled list since June 16. … Former Rebel Bobby Wahl, on the DL with Oakland, reportedly will see a shoulder specialist in Dallas on Friday. Wahl has been out since May 24 and was shut down from a recent rehab assignment.
It is a three-team scrap, at the moment, in the American League East. Boston clings to a 1-game lead over the New York Yankees with Tampa Bay hanging 2.5 back. The Rays are visiting Yankee Stadium for a four-game series that starts tonight. Boston hosts surging Kansas City, an AL Central and wild card contender, for three starting on Friday. It’s not a good time to be in a slump, but both Corey Dickerson of the Rays and Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox are in one. Former Meridian Community College star Dickerson, a first-time All-Star this year, is batting .209 with one homer and four RBIs over his last 23 games. His average has plunged to .303. Yankee Stadium is a great hitter’s park for lefties, and Dickerson is batting .343 with three bombs against Yankees pitching this season. So … a breakout might be coming. The Rays would love to see it. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, is hitting .124 without a homer in his last 24 games and went 2-for-17 on the club’s recent road trip. His average is down to .239, and he’s been dropped in the BoSox’s order. He suffered a broken toe in mid-June but played through it and says it’s fine now. If there is a positive for Moreland entering the weekend, he is a better hitter at Fenway Park: .253 with six of his 12 homers and a .341 on-base percentage. He doesn’t have a hit in seven at-bats against Royals pitchers this year, so … perhaps he is due. The Red Sox surely hope that’s true.
Hunter Renfroe announced his presence with authority for San Diego on Thursday night. In his first at-bat since coming off the disabled list, the former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs hit a home run at San Francisco. Renfroe’s 17th homer, which came off Madison Bumgarner no less, moves the rookie slugger into a tie with Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson for the lead in the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Renfroe, who was on the 10-day DL with a neck problem, had not homered since June 29. All-Star Dickerson, who has been fighting a slump, last went deep on June 24 for Tampa Bay. The home run race has tightened up during that time. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier now has 15, MSU product Mitch Moreland 12 and former Ole Miss standouts Zack Cozart and Seth Smith 11 each. Renfroe, described by cbssports.com as a “low-end fantasy asset,” is hitting just .231 but has 41 RBIs and 35 runs in 86 games. Dozier is the top RBI man among state players with 47. Dickerson has 42, as does Moreland. P.S. USM product Taylor Braley made his pro debut Thursday, pitching a scoreless inning for the Gulf Coast League Marlins. Braley, a two-way star for the Golden Eagles, was drafted as a pitcher in the sixth round by Miami last month. Also appearing in that rookie league game for the Marlins was Blake Anderson, the converted catcher out of West Lauderdale High who has now worked two innings as a pitcher (see previous post).
American League All-Star DH Corey Dickerson, in an interview on MLB Network on Monday, didn’t offer up a very complex analysis of his resurgent 2017 season. “I gotta be me,” he said. “Be the hitter I am.” Dickerson, the McComb native and Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College alumnus, is batting .312 (.355 on-base percentage) with 17 homers in 85 games in his second season with Tampa Bay. He hit 24 bombs in 2016 but batted just .245 (.293 OBP). A .299 hitter in three years in Colorado and a .321 hitter in the minors, Dickerson said it was the first time in his career that he had struggled at the plate: “I was searching, didn’t know who I was.” He got fitter in the off-season and made subtle changes to his free-swinging approach. He appears to be Corey Dickerson again – and that’s a good thing. He’ll bat seventh for the AL tonight at Marlins Park in Miami. Ole Miss product Zack Cozart bats ninth and plays shortstop for the NL. … Putting the best players in the game on the field at one time won’t necessarily produce a great game. Baseball doesn’t work that way. But the All-Star Game has produced its share of drama. This year marks the 10th anniversary of one such game, and a couple of Mississippians were involved. Flash to 2007 and San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The National League scored two runs in the ninth to make it a 5-4 game and had the bases loaded when Aaron Rowand popped out against Francisco Rodriguez to end it. Vicksburg native Dmitri Young got a one-out hit for the NL in that final inning and scored on Alfonso Soriano’s home run. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless eighth for the American League, preserving the 5-2 lead, but yielded to J.J. Putz (who was followed by Rodriguez) in the ninth. Holmes Community College alum Roy Oswalt of Weir was on the NL roster but didn’t get in the game. … Other All-Star anniversaries of note: Forty years ago, at Yankee Stadium, Mississippi native Dave Parker, batting third for the NL, singled and scored as part of a four-run first inning against Jim Palmer that carried the Senior Circuit to a 7-5 win. That was one of Parker’s seven All-Star game appearances. … Seventy years ago, Pascagoula’s Harry “The Hat” Walker, then with Philadelphia, batted leadoff for the NL and went 0-for-2 in a 2-1 loss at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Walker made two All-Star Games during an 11-year career. … Eighty years ago, in Griffith Stadium in Washington, adopted Mississippian Dizzy Dean suffered a broken toe when struck by a line drive off the bat of Earl Averill. After the All-Star Game (in which he took the loss), Dean tried to pitch through the injury, hurt his arm and hastened the end of his brilliant career. Ellisville’s Buddy Myer was on the NL team that year but didn’t play, and Gulfport native Gee Walker, selected as a starter for the NL, couldn’t play because of injury.
Baseball weaves a web of connections that never fails to surprise. Take a trip to Vancouver. Go to a Canadians game at Nat Bailey Stadium. Who’s managing the home team? Rich Miller, a member of the original Jackson Mets team of 1975. Miller played parts of four seasons for the JaxMets. He is in his second stint with the Canadians, a short-season Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. He won a championship with the team in 2011. … Minnesota Twins fans should be pumped today. Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier hit a tie-breaking home run — his 13th of the year — in the eighth inning as the Twins beat Cleveland 4-2 on Saturday and moved within a half-game of the first-place Indians in the American League Central. Dozier told The Associated Press it was “the most high energy game we’ve had in a while.” Meanwhile, down in rookie ball, Mississippi State product Brent Rooker hit his first pro home run in a 4-for-5 game for Elizabethton. Rooker, the 35th overall pick by the Twins in the recent draft, is 5-for-11 in three games as a pro. “The hard work went in this past season at school,” Rooker told milb.com. An advanced player at age 22, Rooker could move up quickly in the Twins’ system. … Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, bidding for an All-Star Game berth, belted his 17th homer for Tampa Bay; he leads the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Former State standout Mitch Moreland got his 10th dinger for Boston. … Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn surrendered seven runs for the second straight game as St. Louis lost to Pittsburgh 7-3. Lynn (5-5) has yielded 20 home runs this season.
29 – Stolen bases, a total which leads the majors, by ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton, who got one Sunday to end a 13-game drought. Hamilton also had three hits, two runs and an RBI in fading Cincinnati’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
4 – Home runs allowed, a career-high, by Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn in 4 2/3 innings in St. Louis’ 8-5 loss to Baltimore. Lynn (5-4) yielded seven runs all told.
7 – Homers on the year for ex-UM star Seth Smith, who hit a leadoff bomb for Baltimore, the first of the four Lance Lynn allowed for St. Louis. Smith, batting .271, had two other hits and scored three times.
91 – Hits, most in the American League, by Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson, who tallied three on Sunday. He is batting .330.
7 – Runs allowed in four games at Target Field by Cleveland in a sweep of Minnesota that moved the Indians into first place in the AL Central. Former Ole Miss star Mickey Callaway, the Indians’ pitching coach, saw his staff’s ERA drop to 3.93, tied for third-best in the AL.
3 – Hits in 13 at-bats in the Cleveland series by ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier, who had a homer and two RBIs for Minnesota, which had a 2-game division lead before the Tribe arrived in town.
34 – Wins in 70 games for the Mississippi Braves, who completed the first half of the Southern League season with a 6-3 win against Montgomery at Trustmark Park. The M-Braves will send seven players to the SL All-Star Game in Pensacola on Tuesday.
6 – Strikeouts in five scoreless innings by USM’s Nick Sandlin in his Cape Cod League debut for Hyannis.