Don Blasingame, born on this date in 1932 in Corinth, did a little bit of everything in a whirlwind baseball career. He played for five teams, played in both leagues, made an All-Star team, appeared in a World Series, played and managed in Japan. He hit .258 for his 12-year MLB career (1955-66), the first five years of which were spent with St. Louis. Four times in his career, Blasingame got the only hit by his team in a game. An adept bunter, he played hard and he played fast, a style he once said he adopted from reading about Ty Cobb. Nicknamed “Blazer” and the “Corinth Comet,” Blasingame stole as many as 21 bases in a season and three times had eight triples or more. In 5,296 at-bats, he hit into just 43 double plays, one very 123.2 ABs. For reference: Billy Hamilton, the “Taylorsville Tornado,” one of the fastest players in the game today, has hit into one DP every 146.5 ABs. Blasingame, who died in 2005, was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.
Other contract offers for more money and years reportedly were on the table when Brian Dozier chose a 1-year, $9 million deal with Washington last week. The Southern Miss product from Fulton is betting on himself to rebound from a tough 2018 season that may have caused his stock to drop. “Going into this year, personally, you kind of have a chip on your shoulder,” Dozier said in an mlb.com story. Dozier, 31, hit .215 last year with 21 homers playing for Minnesota and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He admitted that a knee injury hampered him but says he is fully recovered now. The former All-Star also said he feels he is a good fit with the Nationals – who needed a second baseman — and likes the club’s prospects of contending for the postseason in 2019. He’ll be back on the market in 2020. … In an under-the-radar move over the weekend, the Chicago White Sox signed Biloxi native Jacob Lindgren to a minor league deal. The former St. Stanislaus High and Mississippi State star has missed the last two seasons with injuries. He had Tommy John surgery last spring. The 25-year-old left-hander was in Atlanta’s system in 2018 but was cut loose in October. A former second-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2014, he had a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2015. … The Philadelphia Phillies signed Laurel’s Bobby Dickerson, formerly of Buck Showalter’s Baltimore staff, as their new first-base coach last week. Dickerson, coincidentally, has been a longtime mentor to free agent Manny Machado, whom the Phillies have been hotly pursuing. … What has 199 big league wins, 22 saves, 148 professional home runs, 1,417 minor league managerial victories and a World Series ring? The four featured guests – Roy Oswalt, Jay Powell, Hunter Renfroe and Chris Maloney, all Mississippi natives with impressive baseball pedigrees – at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Hot Stove Hall of Fame Evening, set for Jan. 24 at the museum in Jackson. Tickets are on sale at the museum or online at www.msfame.com.
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.
Kudos to former Jackson State coach Bob Braddy and ex-Mississippi State and MLB star Jay Powell on their induction into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend. Braddy, an icon at JSU, should have been in a long time ago. Who’ll be the next baseball luminary to get the call? Longtime big leaguers Roy Oswalt (163 MLB wins, three-time All-Star) and Charlie Hayes (.262, 144 homers, World Series ring) certainly should get in at some point, as well as Luke Easter, who was the first black Mississippian to make the major leagues. Sam Hairston and Howard Easterling, a couple of Negro Leagues stars, also rate consideration. Among coaches, there’s William Carey’s Bobby Halford, the 2017 NAIA coach of the year who has more than 1,100 wins, and Millsaps’ Jim Page, who has over 700 W’s and seven conference coach of the year honors on his ledger. Both are deserving of recognition over on Cool Papa Bell Drive.
There is an inextricable link between Mississippi and the Cleveland Indians, who are back in the World Series for the first time in 19 years and seeking their first title since 1948. The first black Mississippian to play in the major leagues did so for Cleveland. Jonestown native Luke Easter, a long-ball legend in many circles, debuted on Aug. 11, 1949, at age 34. He was a big man with big power, which he had demonstrated in semi-pro and Negro League ball before the Indians signed him in 1948, and he had three big years – 1950-52 — in the big leagues. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Easter hit 86 homers and drove in 307 runs in those three seasons. As age and injuries caught up to him, the Indians shipped Easter out in May of 1954. He never played another MLB game but put in 11 more years in the minors, ending his playing career with 367 homers, many of them tape measure blasts that old-timers still talk about. Easter, murdered in 1979 during a robbery in Ohio, really ought to be in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
It’s an eye-opening and heartwarming experience to read some of the comments coming from Giants Nation about Jim Davenport, the former Southern Miss star who died on Thursday at age 82. Davenport, nicknamed “Peanut” or “Davvy,” played 13 years in the majors, all for San Francisco, and is arguably the most accomplished of the 16 USM alumni who have made it to the big leagues. (Brian Dozier is on a track to change that, but that’s yet to be seen.) In a San Francisco Chronicle piece, Felipe Alou called the diminutive Davenport “a big player” on a team filled with stars in the 1960s. “If he was a friend of yours, he’d fight for you,” said Willie Mays. Giants exec Brian Sabean said Davenport was the “old breed of baseball lifer,” which is a great compliment. Davenport, who briefly managed the Giants, was still working in the organization last year despite declining health. Davenport batted .258 for his career with 77 homers and 456 RBIs. He played mostly third base, and Orlando Cepeda called him a “human vacuum” at that position. Davenport’s best year may have been 1962, when he made the All-Star Game and helped the Giants reach the World Series. He hit .297 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs that season. An Alabama native, Davenport played football and baseball at then Mississippi Southern College from 1952-54 and was elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1983.