Seventy years ago this month, Jonestown native Luke Easter helped the Homestead Grays win the 1948 Negro League World Series, beating the Birmingham Black Barons (and a kid named Willie Mays) 4 games to 1. Negro Leagues legend Buck Leonard and future major leaguer Bob Thurman were also on that Grays team. It was a significant Series in a couple of ways. The NLWS title was the last for the great Grays franchise, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that won three – plus nine Negro National League pennants — in a 12-year span. The 1948 season was also the last gasp of the old Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough in the majors in 1947 created opportunities for other prominent black players and began to diminish the talent in the Negro Leagues. Easter, who hit .363 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs for the ’48 Grays, would make the majors in 1949, becoming the first black Mississippian to do so. As a 34-year-old rookie in 1950, Easter slugged 28 homers for the Cleveland Indians. P.S. The National Urban Professional Baseball League, which launched on May 25 in Laurel and disbanded on July 1 due to a “lack of support,” plans to field teams again in 2019, according to the league website. The NUPBL has been rebranded as the Urban Baseball Association. All of the 2018 games for the four-team league were played at Laurel’s Wooten Field. The league was founded in response to declining numbers of African-American players in the game but is open to players of all races. One of the organization’s stated missions is to honor old Negro League stars and teams.
One of the great mysteries of this season at Trustmark Park is the abrupt decline of Alex Jackson. The 22-year-old catcher, rated Atlanta’s No. 14 prospect entering the year, is batting .182 with one home run and eight RBIs in 32 games for the Mississippi Braves. He started off well enough, with eight hits in his first seven games in his second Double-A stint, but has since fallen into an abyss with no signs of climbing out. He’s batting .132 over his last 10 games, including an 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Thursday’s first game against Jacksonville at the TeePee. Jackson was the sixth overall pick by Seattle in the 2014 draft, but he struggled to adjust to pro ball. Prior to last season, the Braves acquired him in a trade, moved him back to catcher – his high school position – and watched him take off. He hit .272 with 14 homers at Class A Florida before getting bumped to Mississippi. In 30 games in the Southern League, he batted .255 with five homers and 20 RBIs. He went to the Arizona Fall League and made the Top Prospects Team, sort of an All-AFL list. He was named an Atlanta organization All-Star by milb.com and invited to big league camp. MLB Pipeline projected him as a “Javy Lopez type of regular big league backstop when it’s all said and done.” That was before this season began. With three months left, Jackson has time to get back on that track. Some mysteries do have happy endings. P.S. Laurel’s Wooten Legion Field is the site for tonight’s National Urban Professional Baseball League (see previous posts) inaugural game, with the Josh Gibson All-Stars hosting the Vickie Pasley All-Stars in the opener of a four-game series. The four-team NUPBL was founded in response to declining numbers of African-American players in the game but is open to players of all races.
Dominant may not be a strong enough word to describe Will Freeman’s performance on Tuesday in Ellisville. The Jones County Junior College sophomore struck out 18 batters in a seven-inning, 2-0 win over Pearl River Community College. The Alabama signee is 6-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 57 innings. In the day’s second game, Jones’ Tyler Spring and Bryce Fagan combined on a three-hitter in a 4-1 win. This twinbill was a showdown for first place in the MACJC standings, which third-ranked Jones, 33-7 and winner of 14 straight, now leads at 18-4. Fourth-ranked PRCC is 17-5, 32-8. … It’s a midweek, neutral-site game that doesn’t count in the SEC standings, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone among the 8,500-plus in Pearl on Tuesday night who would dismiss the Governor’s Cup as just another game. Mississippi State’s dramatic walk-off win against Ole Miss was the Bulldogs’ third straight victory in the Cup series and eighth in the last nine games overall vs. the Rebels. Worth noting: Jake Mangum, the Jackson Prep product who had a two-run double for the Bulldogs and scored the game-winning run, is 22-for-51 (.431) against UM in his career. … Delta State, ranked as high as No. 3 in NCAA Division II, put up 20 runs in a win against Ouachita Baptist on Tuesday in Cleveland and is averaging 10 runs a game. How does DSU, 36-7, ever lose? … A hitter making his big league debut couldn’t pick a much better venue than Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, a masher’s paradise. Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star and Atlanta’s top prospect, is expected to be in the Braves’ lineup tonight at what some jokingly call “the Great American Small Park.” Acuna passed through Trustmark Park in Pearl last season en route to being named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year. The Reds’ scheduled starter is left-hander Brandon Finnegan. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier saw his 17-game hitting streak end as Minnesota suffered its fifth straight loss, 8-3, on Tuesday night against the New York Yankees. “Couldn’t care less about the streak,” Dozier told mlb.com. “The beautiful thing about it is, we play tomorrow.” Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, seeking his first win as a Twin, will get the start today at Yankee Stadium. … They’ve set a date in Laurel. Opening day for the city’s National Urban Professional Baseball League team is May 25. Tickets are on sale. The team will be called the Josh Gibson All-Stars in honor of the Hall of Famer from the Negro Leagues and will play at Wooten Legion Field. Tryouts are ongoing. (Visit nupbl.com for more information.) A number of Mississippians are expected to be on the Laurel team roster.
Is professional baseball coming to Laurel? The new National Urban Professional Baseball League, which is scheduled to hold tryouts this week in Jackson and Laurel, says on its website (nupbl.com) that Laurel will be home next spring to one of its teams, with others in Texas and Millington, Tenn. Tryouts, open to anyone 17 or older, are slated for Wednesday and Thursday at Jackson State’s Braddy Field and Saturday and Sunday at Laurel’s Wooten Legion Field. The league was founded in response to declining numbers of African-American players in the game but is open to players of all races. The NUPBL will honor Negro League stars and teams from the past. Several Mississippians are listed on the website as already having been chosen to participate. The 90-game schedule is slated to start in May, though no further details were available.