31 Oct

spirit of ’46

The 70th anniversary of the 1946 World Series (see previous posts) is worthy of any and all hoopla it receives. St. Louis and Boston, featuring Mississippians Harry Walker and Boo Ferriss, battled it out for seven games in what was truly a Fall Classic. But that World Series didn’t corner the market on thrills that fall, and Walker wasn’t the only Mississippi native toasting a title. In the ’46 Negro Leagues World Series, the Newark Eagles, led by Monte Irvin, Larry Doby and Hattiesburg native Rufus Lewis, beat the Kansas City Monarchs in seven games, winning the clincher 3-2 at Ruppert Stadium in Newark. Lewis, one of the aces of the Eagles’ staff, started and got the victory in Game 7 and went 2-1 with a 1.23 ERA in the series. Lewis never made the major leagues but did pitch in the minors in “organized baseball.” Of course, 1946 was also the year that Jackie Robinson broke the color line and led the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club, to the International League and Junior World Series championships. Robinson’s manager in Montreal was none other than Clay Hopper, a Portersville native and Mississippi State alum who had a long and decorated career as a minor league skipper.

30 Oct

so there’s a chance

A 3 games to 1 deficit is certainly a slippery slope but not the end of the world in the World Series. The Chicago Cubs – and their legion of fans – can find some measure of hope in the fact that five teams have crawled out of that hole to win the championship. The last two times it happened, Mississippi natives were on the winning side. In 1985, Greenville’s Frank White was a key contributor for Kansas City as it rallied past St. Louis in the Series many remember for umpire Don Denkinger’s bad call in Game 6. White batted .250 for the Royals with three doubles, a home run, six RBIs and four runs and had two hits, two runs and two RBIs over the final three games. He also played his usual stellar defense at second base. In 1979, Grenada’s Dave Parker (sometimes listed as being born in Calhoun City) had a big series for Pittsburgh as the “We Are Family” Pirates stormed back to beat Baltimore. Parker, the Bucs’ right fielder, hit .345 with three doubles, four RBIs and two runs in the Series and delivered a key knock in Game 6. The current Cubs do have a Mississippi connection in Ole Miss product Chris Coghlan, though his contributions to this point have been minimal. Maybe that’ll change. For the Cubs, something needs to change.

28 Oct

pitching and defense

Don’t be shocked if Cleveland’s pitching staff figures out a way to tame the Chicago Cubs three more times to claim the World Series title. After all, they’ve got Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss star, pulling levers and flipping switches – almost always the right ones — as their pitching coach. Over his four years in that role, the Indians have the best ERA (3.72) in the American League. While Cubs-mania has been sweeping the country this postseason, don’t forget that Indians pitchers already have taken down the heavy hitters trotted out by Boston and Toronto. Callaway, who is being touted as a future manager, rates a chunk of the credit. “Callaway has been a difference-maker, a confident communicator whose understanding of how to strategize and harmonize has routinely allowed the Indians to make the most of whatever arms are on hand,” Anthony Castrovince wrote for mlb.com. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton and McComb’s Jarrod Dyson are up for “Best Play, Defense” in the annual Esurance MLB Awards. Hamilton, with Cincinnati, made a jaw-dropping diving snag on Aug. 23, and Dyson, of Kansas City, produced an equally amazing home run-robbing catch two days later. You can vote on this and other yearly awards on mlb.com through Nov. 11. … Hamilton and Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland (Texas) are among the finalists for Gold Gloves in their respective leagues, as are former Mississippi Braves Jason Heyward (Cubs) and Andrelton Simmons (Los Angeles Angels).

27 Oct

there and here

Former Ole Miss standout Aaron Barrett is now a free agent after refusing an assignment to the minors by the Washington Nationals. Barrett, 28, missed all of 2016 because of injuries. The right-hander has a 3.47 ERA in 90 MLB relief appearances. … Jackson native and former big leaguer Stan Cliburn will speak at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi on Friday as part of the “Our Love Affair with Baseball” exhibit. Cliburn was recently named manager of the year in the independent Atlantic League after steering the expansion New Britain Bees to a 71-69 record. Cliburn has won over 1,600 games as a minor league skipper. … A couple of Mississippi products were saddled with losses on Wednesday in the Arizona Fall League. Mississippi State alum Chris Stratton gave up nine hits and five runs in three innings for Scottsdale. Stratton, who made his big league debut with San Francisco this season, is 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three AFL appearances. Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull, a Detroit prospect, allowed just two hits and one earned run in three innings for Salt River but saw his record dip to 0-2 (5.00 ERA) in three starts. … Anthony Alford, the ex-Petal High star and Toronto prospect, had a triple and three RBIs for Mesa in the AFL and is now batting .306. … Joey Meneses of the 2016 Mississippi Braves is playing for his hometown team, Culiacan, in the Mexican Pacific League and batting .288 with two homers and 12 RBIs for the Tomateros. Meneses, an outfielder/first baseman, hit just .234 for the M-Braves after batting .342 at Class A Carolina to begin last season. … Colby Bortles, enjoying a huge fall ball campaign at Ole Miss, homered and doubled on Wednesday to pace Team Bortles to an 8-1 win over Team Blackman in the opener of the Pizza Bowl at Oxford-University Stadium. James McArthur got the win. Game 2 of the best-of-3 series is today. … Southern Miss will conclude its fall season with a 3-game Fall World Series set for Friday, Saturday and Tuesday at Pete Taylor Park. … Cole Gordon hit a bomb for the Maroon team in a 4-0 win over the Gray on Wednesday in Game 8 of Mississippi State’s 19-game fall scrimmage schedule. They’ll play again today (and Saturday and Sunday) at Dudy Noble Field.

26 Oct

jogging the memory

Kept seeing and hearing Cliff Lee’s name pop up after Corey Kluber’s brilliant performance for Cleveland in Game 1 of the World Series. Former Meridian Community College star Lee, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2014, never won a World Series ring but did post some impressive postseason numbers that are worth recounting. The stoic left-hander was 7-0 in the postseason at one point and finished 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts; he struck out 89 and walked 10 in 82 innings. He was never better than in Game 1 of the 2009 Series, when he was pitching for Philadelphia against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Lee went nine, allowed six hits and a lone unearned run, struck out 10 and walked none. Excellent. He beat the Yankees again in Game 5 of that Series, but those were the only games the Phillies won. Lee won 143 games and a Cy Young Award (with Cleveland in 2008) over his 13 big league campaigns. He averaged 7.6 K’s and just 1.9 walks per nine innings for his career. Baseball America once wrote of Lee that he “will be remembered as a pitcher who had arguably the best control and command of any lefthander of this generation.”

25 Oct

the right stuff

There are players you find yourself rooting against, for whatever reason. It’s hard to find a reason to root against Jason Heyward. He plays hard, and he plays smart. He conducts himself like a professional, which is easy to do when you’re going good, which hasn’t been the case for Heyward here lately. It’s been tough to watch the former Mississippi Braves star scuffle at the plate this postseason. He is 2-for-28 during Chicago’s historic run to the World Series. In the first year of a $184 million contract, Heyward batted .230 with seven homers, 49 RBIs and 11 steals. (His career-highs: .293, 27, 82 and 23.) Yes, he plays a Gold Glove-quality right field, but for the money he’s making, he is expected to hit, too. And he can hit. If you saw him at Trustmark Park back in 2009, you know this first-hand. Arriving on July 4 of that season, as Atlanta’s top-ranked prospect, Heyward batted .352 with seven homers in 47 games for the M-Braves. He was 6 feet 5, cut like an elite athlete and just scary good. He won the right field job in Atlanta the next spring and homered in his first at-bat. A great career surely lay ahead. Yet there was always something odd about Heyward’s swing, and it seems that major league pitchers have gradually learned to exploit the flaws. There have been reports that the Cubs will address those in the off-season. Heyward isn’t in the lineup tonight for Game 1 against Cleveland; ex-Ole Miss star Chris Coghlan, another left-handed hitter, will start in right field. But Heyward will play at some point, and when he does, Cubs fans can rest assured that his head and his heart will be in the right place. “It’s about this team,” Heyward said in a recent interview with CBSChicago.com. “It’s about the team.”

25 Oct

also starring

While so much of the attention was on Kyle Schwarber, former Petal High standout Anthony Alford tried to steal a little thunder in the Arizona Fall League on Monday. Alford — in the Mesa lineup with the World Series-bound Schwarber – went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs in a 7-2 win against Surprise. It was the second homer of the fall for Alford, one of Toronto’s top prospects. “I have some power and I’m starting to tap into that power,” the 6-foot-1, 215-pound outfielder told mlb.com. He has just 16 homers in 224 minor league games but is still developing as a hitter. Alford is batting .290 in eight games in the AFL. … Former Richton High star JaCoby Jones, another Mr. Baseball, boosted his AFL average to .429 with a pair of hits for Salt River on Monday. The Detroit prospect has a homer, seven RBIs and four steals for the Mississippi-flavored Rafters. Dylan Moore, who made a splash with the Mississippi Braves in the Southern League playoffs this season, is batting .467 with two homers in four games for Salt River. Shortstop Moore, acquired in August from Texas, went 4-for-9 in the playoffs for the M-Braves after batting .343 with Class A Carolina. He looks like a strong candidate for the M-Braves’ 2017 roster. Also shining for Salt River are M-Braves alums Dustin Peterson (.364) and Kade Scivicque (.273), Biloxi Shuckers star Jacob Nottingham (.258) and Ole Miss alum Chris Ellis (1-0, 3.00 ERA). Former Southern Miss standout Bradley Roney is on the Rafters’ roster but has yet to pitch. … Ex-Mississippi State star Chris Stratton is 1-0, 1.00 in two starts for Scottsdale; he is expected to work again on Wednesday. P.S. Ole Miss product Chris Coghlan (0-for-4 in the postseason) kept his spot today when Schwarber, coming back from a knee injury suffered in April, was added to the Chicago Cubs’ active roster; pitcher Rob Zastryzny was removed. UM fans also have a rooting interest on the other side in the World Series: Former Rebels pitcher Mickey Callaway is Cleveland’s pitching coach.

24 Oct

cubs nation

Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan, a Chicago Cubs outfielder these last three years, took part in the madness at Wrigley Field on Saturday night, a joyous celebration that reverberates in the Magnolia State. If Cubs Nation embraces everyone who ever played for the team, then the upcoming World Series means – or would have meant – a lot to a long list of Mississippians. Aberdeen native Guy Bush and Waynesboro’s Claude Passeau, both deceased, actually pitched in World Series games for Chicago but never celebrated a championship. Of course, no Cub has since 1908. Former Ole Miss star Donnie Kessinger was a fixture at shortstop for the Cubs for 12 years in the 1960s and ’70s but never even played in a postseason game for the team. Rafael Palmeiro, the ex-Mississippi State slugger, came up with the Cubbies in 1986 but didn’t make the playoffs in three years with them. John Stephenson (William Carey), Steve Dillard (UM), Jeff Fassero (UM) and Greg Hibbard (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) also wore the C during the 71-year World Series drought. Adopted Mississippian Dizzy Dean pitched for the Cubs and made it to the Series in 1938 only to leave empty-handed, swept by those damn New York Yankees. Mississippi natives who’ve passed through Wrigleyville during the protracted period of woe include Harry Walker, Billy Cowan, Cleo James, Matt Lawton, Laddie Renfroe, Joey Gathright, Roosevelt Brown, Eli Whiteside and Paul Maholm. And then there’s Dave Clark, the former Shannon High and Jackson State star who is now a coach for Detroit. He spent a couple of seasons with the Cubs — but he came up with Cleveland and played four years for the Indians. He can’t lose.

23 Oct

a long, long time ago

As Chicago Cubs fans eagerly look forward to the club’s first World Series appearance in 71 years, let’s take a quick look back at that 1945 Series, the last of the four played during World War II. Yes, the Cubs lost in seven games to Detroit, but don’t fault the efforts of Claude Passeau, the big right-hander from Waynesboro. Passeau, who won 162 games and made five All-Star teams, might never have been better than he was in Game 3 of that Series, throwing a one-hitter in a 3-0 victory that put the Cubs up 2 games to 1. The only hit was a second-inning single by Rudy York. Meridian native Skeeter Webb, the Tigers’ leadoff batter, took an 0-for-3, as did Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. Passeau walked only one and struck out only one – and even drove in a run. “I felt so good I began to tease the Detroit hitters,” Passeau, known for his fidgeting on the mound, told The Sporting News after that game. Passeau also started Game 6, with the Cubs down 3-2 in the series, and he worked into the seventh inning, departing with the lead. The Cubs’ bullpen let it get away, but Chicago rallied to win 8-7 in 12 innings. Passeau also pitched in Game 7, two days later, and yielded two runs in the eighth inning of a game that was already out of hand. The Tigers won 9-3. Surely, some Cubs fans at Wrigley Field that day – and maybe even Claude Passeau himself — shrugged and said, “We’ll get ’em next time.” Well, 71 years later, next time is here. P.S. The Cleveland Indians also lost the last time they were in the Series. In 1997, former Mississippi State star Jay Powell from Meridian got the win in Game 7 for the Florida Marlins. Powell worked a scoreless top of the 11th and then celebrated a championship when Edgar Renteria knocked in the game-winner in the bottom half.

21 Oct

campus notes

Delta State, in a major rebuilding mode this fall, is holding its Green-and-White Series today and Saturday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. Most of the key players from last year’s 42-17 team are gone, and 22 newcomers were positioning for jobs during fall ball. The notable returnees are left-hander Tre Hobbs, a 13-game winner and All-America candidate, Juwan Burney (.321 in 26 games) and Dakota Glore (.290 in 32). … Alcorn State’s program took a tough 0-for-4 this week. According to the penalties handed down by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, all of the Braves’ wins from the 2012 through the 2015 seasons are vacated. As in, gone. Brett Richardson gets to keep the 16 wins he picked up in 2016, his first season as coach. The SWAC Tournament championship from 2011 was unaffected. … Ole Miss’ highly touted recruiting class has generated a lot of buzz this fall, but veteran Colby Bortles rates some attention, too. The senior third baseman has been raking this fall, according to every report out of Oxford. He had seven hits, including two homers, and four RBIs in last weekend’s scrimmages. Bortles hit .269 with eight homers and 50 RBIs for the Rebels in 2016. … Fall ball has to feel a little weird in Starkville with John Cohen expected to move into the athletic director’s chair and hand the reins to a new coach for 2017. Mississippi State has scrimmages set for today, Saturday and Sunday. Freshman Dustin Skelton, the ex-Magnolia Heights star who can catch and play third base, reportedly stood out in last weekend’s games. … Southern Miss players will be presented with their 2016 Conference USA championship rings at the Oct. 29 homecoming football game against Marshall. The Golden Eagles made the NCAAs last season for the first time since 2011 and finished 41-20.