Roy Oswalt, who won 163 games in the big leagues, second-most by a Mississippi native, is being inducted into the Round Rock Express Hall of Fame on Saturday in Texas. Next week, the 38-year-old former Weir High and Holmes Community College star is going to play again. Oswalt, who last pitched competitively in 2013, was recruited to play for the Kansas Stars, a collection of ex-big leaguers, in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan. Others on the squad include 53-year-old Roger Clemens, Tim Hudson, Josh Beckett, Adam LaRoche, J.D. Drew and Dan Uggla. The field for the NBC is made up mostly of semi-pro teams and college summer league squads. “If you took 10 years off our ages, I guarantee we’d be pretty hard to beat,” Oswalt told the Austin American-Statesman. There is a distinct Mississippi flavor in the NBC event. The semi-pro Laurel Black Cats, champions of the Magnolia State Tournament, are slated to start play tonight. Mason Irby, former Jones County Junior College star who’ll suit up for Southern Miss in 2017, is on the roster of the NJCAA National Team, which opens next week. Oswalt, drafted by Houston out of Holmes CC in 1996, spent the 2000 season in Round Rock. That was the new home of the Texas League franchise that had been in Jackson from 1975-99. Oswalt went 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA for the Express, helping the team win the TL championship. Five years later, he helped the Astros reach the World Series.
The stars will come out to play on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl, sometime around 7:30 p.m. The 2016 Southern League All-Star Game will feature a bunch of “local talent,” with Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Dustin Peterson and Biloxi Shuckers Brett Phillips, Garrett Cooper and Jacob Nottingham expected to be in the starting lineup for the South stars, managed by Luis Salazar. Biloxi’s Josh Hader, who leads the league with a 0.95 ERA, and hard-throwing Atlanta prospect Mauricio Cabrera are on the South pitching staff. League home run leader Daniel Palka (Chattanooga), stolen base leader Yefri Perez (Jacksonville) and pitching strikeout leader Jacob Faria (Montgomery) are also on the rosters, along with highly rated MLB prospects such as Amir Garrett (Pensacola), Willy Adames (Montgomery) and Jake Peter (Birmingham). This is the second SL All-Star Game to be held at the TeePee. The other was in 2007, when eight M-Braves played for the South Division team managed by Phillip Wellman. J.C. Holt and Carl Loadenthal had three hits apiece, but the South stars lost the game before an announced 4,555. Jackson hosted two Texas League All-Star Games at Smith-Wills Stadium, in 1984 and 1992. Both were decided by walk-off home runs by East Division stars, the first by the Jackson Mets’ Billy Beane, the second by Greenville native Adell Davenport, who was playing for Shreveport.
Scan the roster of the 1996 Jackson Generals and it’s plain to see how that club won a Texas League pennant. They had talent. Future big leaguers on that team included Richard Hidalgo, Melvin Mora, John Halama, Russ Johnson, Mitch Meluskey, Jamie Walker, Rich Loiselle, Tom Martin, Manny Barrios, Chris Hatcher and Mike Grzanich. Among the ’96 Gens who didn’t reach The Show were former Ole Miss star Kary Bridges, who batted a team-best .324, Buck McNabb (.301, 10 steals), Dennis Colon (.280), Tim Forkner (.293, seven homers), Ryan Creek and Tim Kester. The Generals, managed by the affable Dave Engle (with an assist from coach Rusty Harris), won the first half in the TL East, faded in the second and beat Tulsa (3-1) and Wichita (four straight) in the playoffs. Halama, the tall lefty, was the ace: 9-10, 3.21 ERA. Barrios had 23 saves, and lefties Walker, Martin and Grzanich (now the softball coach at Hinds Community College) combined for 16 wins and 11 saves. Hidalgo, a Venezuela native, looked like a budding superstar — and he did have a couple of big years in the majors. In Jackson, he hit .294 with 14 homers, 78 RBIs, 34 doubles and 11 steals and handled both right- and center-field duties with aplomb. Hatcher could mash (13 homers in 41 games), and Mora did a lot of things well. Johnson, the shortstop and former LSU star, was the team’s MVP, however. His numbers still dazzle: .310, 15 homers, 78 RBIs, 86 runs, 24 doubles, five triples, nine steals, a .470 slugging average, 56 walks and just 50 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he couldn’t replicate that production in the majors. It happens. It’s unfortunate also that there is nothing at Smith-Wills Stadium to commemorate the ’96 pennant — or any of the other championships from the old ballpark’s pro era. So take this occasion, the start of another season, to raise a glass for the 20th anniversary of a very special one.
Though he appeared in only 18 games in the big leagues, fans of the old Jackson Mets might remember that John Gibbons could play a little bit. The Toronto Blue Jays manager, a first-round pick by the New York Mets in 1980, was the regular catcher for the Double-A JaxMets in 1983 and batted .298 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs for a club that made it to the Texas League Championship Series. He was a standout on a team that included Billy Beane, Kevin Mitchell, Herm Winningham, Roger McDowell and Calvin Schiraldi. Gibbons was penciled in to start for the big Mets in 1984 before being injured in spring training. Soon thereafter the Mets traded for Gary Carter. Gibbons was up for a while with the Mets’ 1986 world championship club but didn’t play in the postseason. He was the bullpen catcher that October and got a ring, but, he told the Toronto Sun, “I didn’t really feel like I was part of that team.” He never got back to The Show as a player. Gibbons won two championships as a minor league manager in the Mets’ system but struggled in his first opportunity in the big leagues, a stormy tenure with the Blue Jays from 2004-08. Toronto gave him a much-questioned second chance in 2013, and now he has the Jays in the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. Gibbons is very much a part of this team, which many think is the favorite to win a ring. Maybe he can manage a little bit, too.
Houston makes its first appearance in the postseason in 10 years tonight when it plays New York at Yankee Stadium in the American League Wild Card Game. The Astros had been bad for so long that it seems hard to believe they were once a playoff regular. Between 1997 and 2005, they were in the playoffs six times. They won three straight National League Central championships from 1997-99 and another in 2001. And, yes, a bunch of former Jackson Generals – 26 at one time or another – played on those four teams. (For the record, ex-Jackson Mets Tim Bogar and Chuck Carr and Mississippians Dave Clark, Jay Powell and Charlie Hayes also made appearances in that period.) Houston’s Double-A club played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99, won Texas League pennants in 1993 and ’96 and produced some outstanding big league talent that aided in winning those NL Central titles. Jackson’s Houston connection included Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman, Billy Wagner, Richard Hidalgo, Julio Lugo, Chris Holt, Shane Reynolds, Chris Truby, John Halama and Tony Eusebio, who was the first General to reach the big leagues in 1991. The Astros won only the one NL pennant during that run of success, in 2005, when they got in the playoffs as a wild card. There were only two ex-Gens left on the roster by then: Berkman and Raul Chavez. It was fun while it lasted.
Can’t let September end without another nod to the 1985 Jackson Mets, who won the Texas League championship in this month 30 years ago. The ’85 JaxMets, managed by Sam Perlozzo, won the second half in the TL East, beat Arkansas 2-0 in a best-of-three division playoff and then swept El Paso four straight for the pennant. But it wasn’t a season of smooth sailing. Injuries and inconsistency marked a first half that saw the team finish 31-35, which many felt was not indicative of its talent. Perlozzo, who had won titles in 1983 at Class A Lynchburg and ’84 in Jackson, called it his “most challenging season.” The team was led by a strong core of future big leaguers: Biloxi native Barry Lyons, Dave Magadan, Kevin Elster, Mark Carreon, Randy “Moose” Milligan, Keith Miller and Stanley Jefferson. The pitching staff featured DeWayne Vaughn, Dave Wyatt, Craig Weissmann, Tom Burns, Jim Adamczak and Ed Pruitt. The El Paso team they encountered in the championship series was stocked with sluggers like Joey Meyer (37 homers that year), Billy Jo Robidoux (133 RBIs) and Glenn Braggs. Chris Bosio was the Diablos’ ace. The JaxMets went to El Paso’s hitter-friendly Dudley Field for the first three games and won them all, then came back to Smith-Wills Stadium for the clincher. The September surge was a case of a very talented team finding its form at the right time, and it produced the last of the JaxMets’ three TL championships.
The record for most players drafted in one year by one team to reach the majors is 17 (1982, New York Mets), this according to Baseball America, which did a splendid retrospective on the MLB draft in a 50th anniversary tribute in the June 19-July 3 issue. Many of the players drafted that year by the Mets turned up on the Jackson Mets teams of 1984-87 that won two Texas League pennants and played for two more. Dwight Gooden, who didn’t play in Jackson, was the Mets’ top pick in ’82, and Rafael Palmeiro, who didn’t sign out of high school and went on to Mississippi State, was their eighth pick. Barry Lyons, the ex-Delta State star from Biloxi, was the 15th pick and starred on the ’85 JaxMets title team before going on to the big leagues. Other players of note in that draft include Roger McDowell, Greg Olson, Floyd Youmans, Steve Springer, Mickey Weston, Kyle Hartshorn, Joe Redfield and Al Carmichael, all of whom played at Smith-Wills Stadium. McDowell, Olson and Youmans enjoyed nice MLB careers. P.S. Ole Miss products Lance Lynn (St. Louis) and Aaron Barrett (Washington) have been put on the disabled list, leaving just five Mississippi-connected pitchers on active rosters in MLB. There have been as many as 11 this season. … Right-hander Mike Broadway, who pitched for the Mississippi Braves from 2009-11, was called up to the big leagues by San Francisco. He didn’t pitch on Friday, but Jesus Sucre did make his mound debut. The ex-M-Braves catcher worked a scoreless inning for Seattle in its 10-0 loss to Houston.