Congratulations to Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star from Louisville who was named hitting coach of the New York Yankees on Monday. Thames, 40, was the club’s assistant hitting coach the past two seasons. A 30th-round draft pick out of Texas State in 1996, Thames played 10 seasons in the big leagues and homered 115 times in 640 games with a batting average of .246. One of his career highlights came on the first AB of his career. On June 10, 2002, playing for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, he homered on the first pitch he saw from the great Randy Johnson, then with Arizona.
You’re dating yourself if you admit to remembering when Freddy Garcia pitched at Smith-Wills Stadium. Hillary Clinton’s husband was president, “Saving Private Ryan” hit the theaters and the second Harry Potter book was published. It was 1998. Garcia, who’ll be 42 in April, is still out there pitching. On Saturday, in Guadalajara, Mexico, he started for Venezuela in its 15-4 win against the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series. Garcia threw four shutout innings before running into trouble in the fifth, when he had to leave one out shy of qualifying for the win. The big right-hander was a standout for the ’98 Jackson Generals before Houston sent him to Seattle as part of the big Randy Johnson trade. Garcia made the big leagues in 1999 and won 156 games, plus an ERA title, over 15 seasons. He last pitched in the majors for Atlanta in 2013, including a postseason start. … There are a handful of familiar names in the Caribbean Series, including former Mississippi Braves Christian Bethancourt (three hits for the D.R. on Saturday) and Joey Meneses (with Mexico). P.S. Southern Miss product Cody Carroll, who had a brilliant showing (0.00 ERA, four saves in 11 2/3 innings) in the Arizona Fall League after reaching Double-A last season, has received a non-roster invitation to the New York Yankees’ big league spring camp. Carroll, 25, was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2015.
Jonathan Holder’s task entering spring training with the New York Yankees will be challenging, to say the least. Mississippi State product Holder will be trying to nail down a job in what mlb.com speculates might be the best bullpen of all-time. Holder, 24, has pitched well in his 45 MLB appearances to date – 4.15 ERA, 45 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings – but he would appear to be far down in the Yankees’ pecking order. Aroldis Chapman, the fearsome left-hander, is the closer. The crew of middle relievers and set-up men includes Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Adam Warren, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green and Chasen Shreve, the former Mississippi Braves lefty. Holder, a sixth-round pick by New York in 2014, established himself as a prospect in 2016, when he struck out 101 batters and walked just seven in 65 1/3 innings in the minors. The Gulfport native made his big league debut that season and made the opening day roster last year, though he spent most of 2017 in the minors. And the competition for bullpen jobs has only grown more fierce in the Bronx.
On this date in 1920, the course of baseball history – and Sammy Vick’s career – changed. The Boston Red Sox, under new ownership, sold their best player, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees for the sum of $125,000. Ruth, who would come to be regarded by some as the best player ever, transformed the Yankees into a dynasty that became major league baseball’s iconic franchise. The “cursed” Red Sox, who had won three World Series with Ruth, fell into a decades-long funk that only recently ended. Ruth was a two-way star for the Sox, hitting a record 29 homers as their left fielder and going 9-5 on the mound in 1919. The Yankees made him a fulltime outfielder in 1920, and he played mostly in right, where he displaced the former starter, Batesville native and Millsaps College alum Vick. After missing most of the 1918 season while serving in the military, Vick, then 24, earned the Yanks’ right field job in 1919. He had an up-and-down year, batting .248 with two homers, 15 doubles and nine triples in 106 games. Ruth’s smashing arrival – he hit 59 homers in 1920 – was the beginning of the end for Vick, who got into just 51 games that year, then was traded to the Red Sox in ’21. That was his final big league season.
Today’s subject: Frank W. Baker. Not to be confused with Frank “Home Run” Baker, an early 1900s star, or Frank Baker Jr., who played for Cleveland in 1969 and ’71, this Baker was a second-round draft pick out of Southern Miss by the New York Yankees in 1967. Baker, a lanky, left-handed hitting middle infielder, is one of a large contingent of players from the Meridian area to make the majors. He played three years at USM, where he is in the Hall of Fame, and parts of four years in the big leagues. After batting .259 at Triple-A Syracuse in 1970, Baker debuted with the Yankees on Aug. 9, going 0-for-3 against Baltimore’s Jim Palmer. In 146 MLB games with New York and then Baltimore, Baker batted just .191. He hit his one big league homer in 1973. He was out of the game by 1975.
After making a strong finish in his 2017 season, Cody Carroll got off to a similar start in his Arizona Fall League debut on Tuesday. The ex-Southern Miss star worked two scoreless innings to notch the save in Scottsdale’s 7-4 win against Mesa. Drafted in 2015 by the New York Yankees, 6-foot-5 right-hander Carroll reached Double-A this summer and posted a 2.66 ERA with five saves in 39 games at Trenton. Carroll did not allow an earned run over his last eight appearances, registering four saves and a win. He has a 2.73 ERA in 79 career pro games with 205 strikeouts in 184 1/3 innings. … Elsewhere in the AFL, which opened on Tuesday, four 2017 Mississippi Braves pitchers combined for 16 strikeouts in eight innings in Peoria’s 4-3 victory over Glendale. Max Fried, who made it to Atlanta this summer, fanned seven in three innings. Touki Touissant, Josh Graham and Corbin Clouse joined Fried in the punchout parade. Among their victims was former Harrison Central star Bobby Bradley (a Cleveland prospect), who went 0-for-4 with three K’s for Glendale. DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, also a 2017 M-Brave, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts for Peoria. Picayune native Braxton Lee (Miami), who played at Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss, was 1-for-4 with a run for Salt River, which beat Surprise 4-3.
Keep an eye on Mitch Moreland in today’s American League Division Series opener between Boston and Houston. The former Mississippi State star has very good numbers against Justin Verlander, the future Hall of Famer who’ll start for the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Moreland, the Red Sox’s lefty-hitting first baseman, is 10-for-29 (.345) against Verlander with six doubles and six RBIs. Moreland hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs in his first year with Boston; he has a .216 career postseason average in 33 games, all with Texas. Verlander, who has 188 career wins, went 15-8 with a 3.36 ERA this season, 5-0, 1.06 with Houston. … Tony Sipp, the Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum, was not expected to make the Astros’ ALDS roster. Left-hander Sipp had a 5.79 ERA this year, almost two runs higher than his career mark. … There will be two Mississippians in uniform for today’s New York-Cleveland ALDS opener. Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway is in his fifth year as the Indians’ pitching coach, and Louisville native and ex-East Central CC star Marcus Thames is in his second as the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach. … Former Mississippi State pitcher Jonathan Holder, who had a 3.89 ERA in 37 MLB games in 2017, was not on the Yankees’ active roster for the wild card game and isn’t likely to be on the ALDS roster. … Belated props to Hawtin Buchanan, the former UM standout from Biloxi who won a championship with the York Revolution in the independent Atlantic League last Friday. Buchanan posted a 3.40 ERA in 38 games for York.