There are no big league games today, which might make the memory a tad bittersweet for Nate Lowe. On April 29 of last year, ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe made his MLB debut, going 1-for-4 with a double for Tampa Bay in a win at Kansas City. Lowe became the 60th Bulldogs alumnus to make the majors and the second of five Mississippi-connected players (the others: Chris Ellis, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley) to debut in 2019. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a first baseman/DH last season, reported for spring training this year about 20 pounds lighter. He was getting more work at third base, versatility that likely would help him contribute more on a Rays team expected to contend – again — in the American League East. “It took a lot of spiritual maturation and physical maturation to kind of start over (this) off-season to get to be the player and the person that I need to be,” he told draysbay.com in February, shortly before baseball shut down. A 13th-round pick out of State in 2016, the lefty-hitting Lowe made some adjustments in his swing after his second pro season and rolled through three levels of the Rays’ system in 2018. He batted .330 with 27 homers, went to the All-Star Futures Game and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year. … Coincidentally, on this date in 2012, another former State first baseman, Tyler Moore, made his big league debut, going 1-for-3 for Washington. Brandon native Moore, who slugged 30 homers over parts of five MLB seasons, is no longer in the game.
On a day when MLB Network is featuring games in which star players hit for the cycle, here’s a bit of trivia to impress your friends: Of the 30 players who have hit for the cycle more than once in MLB history, who is the lone Mississippian to do so? Answer: Greenville native Frank White, the former Kansas City Royals standout. White achieved the feat in September of 1979 and again in August of ’82. (Four other Mississippi natives did it once: Fred Lewis, Harry Craft, Gee Walker and Sam Leslie.) White is in impressive company on the list of players with two cycles. Others of note: Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Cochrane, George Brett, Ken Boyer, Cesar Cedeno, John Olerud and Christian Yelich. Only three players have done it three times: Adrian Beltre, Babe Herman and Bob Meusel.
On this date in 1901, the Detroit Tigers played their first official major league game in front of 10,023 fans in Bennett Park. (Major League Baseball formally entered its modern era in 1901, when the fledgling American League, of which Detroit was a member, gained major league status.) Sport McAllister, a native of Austin, Miss., was on the Tigers’ roster on April 25, 1901 – he was the only Mississippian in the “bigs” that year – and though he didn’t play, he did witness an amazing game. Detroit scored 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 14-13; that feat still stands as the biggest ninth-inning comeback in major league history. McAllister, a versatile switch-hitter, hit .301 for the Tigers that season and played five different positions. That was his fifth major league season; he had played four years in the National League prior to 1900, including a season with the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, with whom he witnessed something else very distinctive. The ’99 Spiders, who won only 20 of their 154 games, are generally regarded as the worst team in major league history.
The real Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals star, batted .296 with 366 homers over a sweet 15-year MLB career that rated more Hall of Fame consideration than it got. The virtual Lance Berkman, now “playing” for the all-time Astros team in the computer-generated MLB Dream Bracket tournament, has been pretty darn good, too. The “Big Puma” is batting .447 with three homers and 12 RBIs through 10 games over two series (see mlb.com for all the box scores). The Astros have reached the quarterfinals with wins against the Orioles and Tigers. Roy Oswalt, the Weir High and Holmes Community College alum, is 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA in three starts for the Astros’ dream team. Oswalt spent 10 years with Houston and was arguably as good in that stretch (143-82, 3.24 ERA) than any pitcher the Astros ever trotted out. That includes Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard and Mike Scott, the other members of the Dream Bracket rotation. Billy Wagner, another ex-Generals standout with Hall of Fame cred, has three saves for the all-time Astros, who’ll meet the Yankees in the next round.
Eight players in Mississippi are ranked among the Top 150 in mlb.com’s new list of draft prospects. That’s more rated players than all but five states – and more than the likes of Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama. Many things about the 2020 draft remain unclear, including when it might be held and how many players will be picked. The curtailed scouting season adds some extra intrigue. Mississippi State second baseman Justin Foscue is the highest rated of the local products at No. 32, which doesn’t necessarily imply that’s where he’ll be drafted. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg is No. 37 and teammate J.T. Ginn is 44th. DeSoto Central first baseman Blaze Jordan is the top-rated prep player in the state at No. 42 and is joined on the list by two other high schoolers, Biloxi’s Colt Keith (88) and Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks (112). Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan made the list at Nos. 111 and 128, respectively. … Servideo is one player who no doubt improved his stock in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. After a poor showing in the Cape Cod League last summer, the Florida native came out sizzling for the Rebels this year, batting .390 with five homers, 17 RBIs and nine steals in 17 games. At 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, he’s a lefty hitter with good speed and defensive versatility.
Benn Karr, a Mount Pleasant native, made 177 pitching appearances in his big league career. But his first appearance came as a pinch hitter. He struck out. One hundred years ago today, Karr debuted for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. A left-handed batter, he hit for Herb Pennock and fanned in the middle of a two-run rally in the ninth inning that gave Boston a 3-2 win on April 20, 1920. Two days later, Karr, a right-handed thrower, made his mound debut at Griffith Stadium against the Washington Senators. It didn’t go so well, either. Coming on in relief, he retired just one batter, yielded two hits, two walks and two earned runs as the Red Sox blew a lead. He took the loss. Undaunted, Karr, who picked up the nickname “Baldy,” went on to win 35 games over six seasons with Boston and Cleveland, including an 11-win campaign with the 1925 Indians. He even hit .245 for his career. After attending Union University in Tennessee, he first entered pro ball in 1914 at age 21. “I took a pro contract because it gave me, a farm boy, a chance to see the country,” he told The Sporting News in an interview many years ago. Karr bounced around the minors for several years and served in the military for two before Boston signed him in 1919. He died in 1968. … Other anniversaries to be celebrated this season: Eighty years ago, Pascagoula native Harry Walker, who won a batting title in 1947, debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals. Sixty years ago, Hickory’s Joe Gibbon, the former two-sport star from Ole Miss, broke in with Pittsburgh. Forty years ago, Jackson’s Stan Cliburn would make his debut with the California Angels. Twenty years ago, ex-Petal High star Nate Rolison had his one brief fling in the majors with Florida. And 10 years ago, four Mississippi natives broke in: Rhyne Hughes with Baltimore, Mitch Moreland with Texas, Jarrod Dyson with Kansas City and John Lindsey with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Have you heard? Rafael Palmeiro is back. Sorta. Cool Papa Bell, too. Roy Oswalt will pitch again. Kinda. In an effort to fill the void of actual baseball, mlb.com — in conjunction with DraftKings and Out of the Park Baseball — is staging the MLB Dream Bracket. The simulated tournament, which will be conducted using Out of the Park Baseball software, features all-time rosters for the 30 big league franchises plus a Negro Leagues team and an Under-25 team. The best-of-7 series begin Monday. The full bracket – and results – can be found on mlb.com. Quite a few Mississippians – and state minor league products — made the rosters. Ex-Mississippi State stars Palmeiro and Jonathan Papelbon made two rosters each. The loaded Negro Leagues club, which could be really tough to beat, includes Starkville native Bell and Bill Foster, who grew up in Rodney (near Lorman) and played at Alcorn State. Three former Mississippi Braves made the Atlanta cut: Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Ronald Acuna, who is also on the Under-25 team. Oswalt is with the Astros, and other Magnolia State notables on various teams are Bobby Thigpen (White Sox), Frank White (Royals), Will Clark (Giants), Dave Parker (Pirates), George Scott (Brewers) and Ellis Burks (Rockies). Ex-Jackson Mets Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson and Jesse Orosco are on the Mets’ team, former Jackson Generals Billy Wagner and Lance Berkman made the Astros’ roster and Biloxi Shuckers alum Josh Hader is on the Brewers’ club. All things considered, this could be a pleasant distraction.
A walk-off home run isn’t just a bomb — it’s “the bomb,” to borrow the cringe-worthy slang of another era. Of the many cool things you miss about baseball, the sudden, exhilarating finality of the game-ending homer rates near the top of the chart. There were 77 walk-off homers in the big leagues in 2019. Mississippians accounted for five of them, and this seems like a good time to relive them. The first was struck on April 9 by Jarrod Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout from McComb. Dyson, not a slugger by any stretch, was sent up as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning for Arizona and surprised a lot of folks when he belted a two-run shot to beat Texas 5-4. It was Dyson’s first career walk-off homer and just the 15th homer of his 10-year career. Walk-off No. 2, Mississippi edition, came on April 26. East Central CC alum Tim Anderson stroked his first career walk-off – punctuated with an award-worthy bat flip – to give the Chicago White Sox a 12-11 win over Detroit. In a much-publicized incident a few days earlier, Anderson had ignited a benches-clearing kerfuffle when he bat-flipped after a mid-game homer against Kansas City. On May 5, Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, got into the walk-off act. Renfroe came up as a pinch hitter for San Diego in the ninth with the bases loaded and his team down a run to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Closer Kenley Jansen was on the bump. Renfroe delivered a 429-foot game-winner, his second career walk-off bomb, and threw his arms up as if signaling a touchdown. Next was Nate Lowe, another State product and a rookie with Tampa Bay. One Sept. 21, in the heat of the American League playoff battle, Lowe slugged a two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat Boston 5-4. It was his seventh of the season (and career) and first walk-off. It snatched victory from the Red Sox, who had gone ahead in the top of the inning on a homer by former Bulldogs star Mitch Moreland. Two days after Lowe’s heroics, Petal High product Anthony Alford, playing for Toronto, launched a two-out solo homer in the 15th inning to beat Baltimore 11-10. It was Alford’s first career homer, and he broke out in a huge grin as he rounded the bases. “I was trying to hold my smile as best I could, but it was pretty tough,” he told mlb.com. “It was my first-ever walk-off, so it felt pretty good.” It’s a feeling we’re all missing.
“When I saw Jackie Robinson go to the big leagues, I knew that was my way of getting out of the cotton fields.” It didn’t work out exactly that way for the kid from the Mississippi Delta who made that comment to mlb.com a few years ago. He was 13 when Robinson broke major league baseball’s color line on April 15, 1947, and he chased the baseball dream for many years. But his career path ultimately turned to music. And that worked out quite well for Sledge native Charley Pride, who is a Country Music Hall of Famer with 12 gold albums to his credit. Pride played in the Negro Leagues, briefly in the low minors and had a few tryouts with major league clubs before his music career took off. He remains a baseball fan and is part of the Texas Rangers ownership group. For many years, Pride has attended spring training with the club and sung the national anthem before Rangers games, including in the 2010 World Series.
On this date in 1952, Greenwood native Dave Hoskins became the first black player to appear in a Texas League game. His story is chronicled in an milb.com piece published today. Hoskins, a Negro Leagues alumnus, debuted for the Double-A level Dallas Stars on April 13 and beat San Antonio. The right-hander yielded just two runs while working around eight hits and seven walks. Hoskins went 22-10 with a 2.12 ERA for Dallas that season – he also batted .328 – and made the majors in 1953 with Cleveland, posting a 9-3 mark with a 3.99 ERA. (He claimed to be 27 at the time, but it was later revealed that he was 36.) Hoskins pitched briefly for the Indians in 1954 but was not on their World Series roster that fall.