After laboring in Triple-A in 2021 with no big league look, Jacob Waguespack opted to head for Japan to pitch in 2022. He’ll return home as a champion. The former Ole Miss standout registered three saves, including one in Sunday’s 5-4 clincher at Jingu Stadium, to help Orix defeat Yakult 4-2-1 in the Japan Series. It was the first title for Orix since 1996, when Ichiro Suzuki was the Buffaloes’ star player. Waguespack, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, went 2-6 with a 2.97 ERA and five saves in 32 games as a reliever for Orix during the regular season. A Louisiana native, he pitched at Ole Miss from 2013-15, putting up a 3.42 ERA in 40 games, and signed with Philadelphia as a non-drafted free agent after the 2015 season. He was traded to Toronto and made his MLB debut in 2019. In 27 games over two seasons, Waguespack was 5-5, 5.08. He spent the 2021 season at Buffalo, where he had good numbers (7-2, 2.86) as a starter and reliever. He became a free agent last November and signed with Orix of Japan’s Pacific League.
Three Magnolia State college products pitched for Cleveland this season in its surprising run to the American League Central crown. And there are more Mississippi-groomed hurlers in the Guardians’ pipeline, one of whom is garnering attention in the high-profile Arizona Fall League. Hunter Stanley, a former Southern Miss standout, threw a dominant four innings for Peoria on Thursday night, notching his first AFL victory and trimming his ERA to 2.63 over four starts. Right-hander Stanley, described in scouting reports as a “command over stuff” pitcher, yielded no runs, one hit and no walks while fanning eight. He has 19 punchouts in 13 2/3 innings against the top prospects who populate the AFL lineups. Stanley was 13-6 with a 2.60 in his three seasons at USM and was All-C-USA and a second-team All-America pick after his junior year in 2021. He posted 127 K’s and 19 walks in 102 innings that year. Drafted in the 11th round by Cleveland, Stanley was not assigned to a team that summer. He debuted this season at High-Class A Lake County, where he was 2-1, 1.84, before being shut down with an injury in early May. He is making up for that lost time in the AFL. … Also in Cleveland’s minor league system is ex-Ole Miss star Doug Nikhazy, a left-hander drafted in the second round in ’21. He also debuted this season, went 4-4, 3.19, at Lake County and reached Double-A Akron, where his numbers were less impressive. He is the Guardians’ No. 26 prospect, according to MLP Pipeline. Cleveland took College World Series hero Dylan DeLucia out of Ole Miss in the sixth round of the ’22 draft; the right-hander has yet to make his pro debut. … Nick Sandlin (USM), Kirk McCarty (USM) and Konnor Pilkington (Mississippi State) pitched for the Guardians this season. P.S. Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith ranks among the AFL batting leaders with a .359 average in 13 games for Salt River. The lefty-hitting third baseman, a 2020 draftee, is Detroit’s No. 6 prospect.
Hopping in the Wayback Machine for a trip to three World Series past, each celebrating an anniversary this fall and each featuring Mississippi connections. Going back 90 years to 1932, we have New York Yankees vs. Chicago Cubs, a contentious Series swept by the Yankees and made famous by the “Called Shot.” Babe Ruth hit that legendary home run in Game 3. Guy Bush, “The Mississippi Mudcat,” played a tangential role. Aberdeen native Bush, a 19-game winner for the Cubs in 1932, started Game 1 at Yankee Stadium and got shelled: eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. At Wrigley Field for Game 3, in the fifth inning with the score tied at 4-4, Ruth came to the plate. Players on the Cubs bench reportedly were riding Ruth hard; Bush was one of their most vociferous bench jockeys. Ruth made a gesture with a finger, possibly pointing toward center field, possibly pointing at the Cubs’ bench. Accounts differ, but not about what happened next. He homered to right-center field. New York won Game 3 7-5. Bush started again in Game 4. In the first inning, he gave up two hits, hit Ruth with a pitch, yielded a sac fly and walked the next batter. He was pulled. His ERA for the series: 14.29. Three years later, as fate would have it, Bush yielded the last two home runs of Ruth’s career, ensuring that the pair will be forever linked. … Sixty years ago, we have Yankees vs. San Francisco Giants, a seven-game classic that ended in OMG fashion. Jackson native Marshall Bridges, the “Sheriff,” was a relief pitcher for New York. Ex-Southern Miss star Jim “Peanut” Davenport played third base for the Giants. Neither had a great Series. Bridges posted a 4.91 ERA in two appearances, surrendering a grand slam to Chuck Hiller in a Game 4 loss. Davenport went 3-for-22 with one RBI. Both were watching when Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson snared Willie McCovey’s line drive to end Game 7, a 1-0 Yankees victory, with the winning run in scoring position. … Thirty years ago, in the 1992 Toronto-Atlanta Fall Classic, no Mississippi native or college alum saw the field. But a current Mississippi connection put on quite the show in a losing cause. It should come as no surprise perhaps that Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders, aka “Prime Time,” would thrive on the big stage for the Braves. Sanders played in four of the six games, going 8-for-15 with two walks, four runs, an RBI and five stolen bases. Oh, and he was also playing for the Atlanta Falcons that fall; he skipped a road football game (a 56-17 loss at San Francisco) to play for the Braves in Atlanta on Oct. 18, going 1-for-3 in the Game 2 loss. Strange but true. P.S. The Mississippi connection in this year’s World Series won’t take the field but will have a great view: Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is Philadelphia’s infield coach.
In one of the greatest accomplishments in a long and laudable career, former Jackson Generals star Freddy Garcia pitched Chicago to a victory over Houston on Oct. 26, 2005, clinching the White Sox’s first championship in 88 years and becoming the first Venezuela native to win a World Series game. Garcia pitched in pro ball from 1995 to 2019, appearing in 565 games in five different countries and posting a 224-158 record with a 3.92 ERA, per baseballreference.com. Originally signed by the Astros, he pitched for the Generals, Houston’s Double-A team, in 1998 before being traded to Seattle in the famous Randy Johnson deal. Garcia won 156 games over 15 big league seasons, made two All-Star teams and won an ERA title. Only Felix Hernandez has more wins among Venezuelan-born pitchers. Garcia was 6-3, 3.26, in 11 postseason games and beat Boston, the Los Angeles Angels and the Astros in the White Sox’s 2005 title run. He threw seven shutout innings against Houston in a 1-0 victory that completed a series sweep. His last MLB season was with Atlanta in 2013, when he started Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. He stood to get the win before the Braves’ bullpen blew the save and lost the series. Garcia was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2019 but didn’t get enough votes to stay on. He’s deserving of further consideration by one of the Hall’s special committees.
Philadelphia and Houston, headed for a World Series showdown, have met once before in the postseason — in the wild and wooly 1980 National League Championship Series. It was a best-of-5 that went the distance and then some, featuring four extra-inning games, ultimately won by the Phillies in the 10th inning of Game 5 at the Astrodome. One of the heroes of that dramatic 8-7 win was former Mississippi State star Del Unser, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and produced two clutch hits, a big RBI and two huge runs. Unser, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, was an All-SEC and All-America outfielder at State, playing on two SEC title teams in the mid-1960s. He began a 15-year big league career with the Washington Senators in 1968. By 1980, he was 35 years old and a bench player — a pinch hitter extraordinaire — on a Phillies club that included Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa and Pete Rose. The lefty-hitting Unser batted .264 in 123 at-bats that season. In the NLCS, he was 0-for-3 before entering Game 5 with two outs and two on and the Phillies down 5-4. He singled off Ken Forsch to tie the score, then scored on a Manny Trillo triple that put the Phils up 7-5. Houston tied it in the bottom of the eighth. Unser came up again in the 10th with one out. He doubled off Frank LaCorte and scored what proved to be the game-winner on a double by Garry Maddox. The Phillies went on to win the World Series over the Kansas City Royals; Unser was 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs in that series. He retired after the 1982 season with a .258 career average, 481 RBIs and 617 runs. The 1980 postseason was the only one he ever played in. He certainly made the most of it.
The Houston Astros, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this season, gave a nod to their first World Series team by having a star pitcher from that club, Mississippi native Roy Oswalt, throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Thursday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Oswalt, the ex-Holmes Community College standout from Weir, was a 20-game winner for the 2005 Astros, who won the National League pennant — Oswalt won the clincher vs. St. Louis — before falling to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. That it took 43 years for Houston to make that first Fall Classic seems hard to fathom now. Up 2-0 on the New York Yankees in the current ALCS, the Astros are on the cusp of a fourth World Series appearance since 2017, when they won their first and only championship (under controversial circumstances). They’ve been in the ALCS six straight years. Yet this franchise had an inglorious start. Houston’s first team, the expansion Colt .45s, were managed by Ellisville native and former big leaguer Harry Craft. They went 64-96 in ’62. Craft was dismissed late in the 1964 season with a 191-280 record. The team became the Astros in 1965, moving into the Astrodome, and finally posted a winning season in 1972. Pascagoula native Harry Walker was the manager of that team — until he was fired in August despite having a winning record. In 1980, the Astros finally made the playoffs for the first time. Houston’s Double-A team, the Jackson Generals, took up residence at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1991 and helped fuel the Astros teams that won four NL Central titles in a five-year stretch (1997-2001) before finally reaching the World Series in 2005. They didn’t make the postseason again for 10 years, going through a rough rebuilding process that is now bearing fruit year after year. P.S. On this date in 1986, former Jackson Mets star Lenny Dykstra led off Game 3 of the World Series at Fenway Park with a home run off Meridian native Oil Can Boyd. The New York Mets, down 0-2 in the Series, won the game 7-1 over Boston and ultimately won the title in seven games. Boyd allowed six runs in seven innings in his only Series appearance.
A crafty left-hander who was the eighth overall pick in the major league draft and a college slugger who has topped 800 wins as the coach at his alma mater are among the eight new selections to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Paul Maholm and Jim Page are joined in the 2023 class by former NFL stars Lewis Tillman, Patrick Surtain, John Mangum and Jeff Herrod, former basketball player and coach Carol Ross and Olympic skeet shooter Tony Rosetti. They were introduced at a press conference Wednesday at the Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson. The formal induction ceremony will be held next summer. Maholm, who grew up in Holly Springs, was an All-American at Mississippi State who won 27 games over his three seasons and was drafted No. 8 by Pittsburgh in 2003. He spent 10 years in the big leagues, winning 77 games, twice posting 10-win seasons. Page batted a school-record .487 as a senior at Millsaps College in 1985 and went on to become the Majors’ coach, a job he still holds. He is 815-554-3 all-time and has won eight coach of the year awards at the NCAA Division III school. P.S. Mangum, from Magee, is the father of Jake Mangum, the ex-MSU outfielder and two-time Ferriss Trophy winner who is an up-and-coming player in the New York Mets’ minor league system.
The 2021 champions of the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves didn’t produce another trophy in 2022, finishing well off the pace in both halves of the Southern League season. What the M-Braves did produce were two players who made significant contributions in Atlanta’s playoff charge: likely National League rookie of the year Michael Harris II, who made the jump in May, and Vaughn Grissom, who followed in August. And that’s what the minor leagues are really all about. All told, nine M-Braves alums debuted in the big leagues in 2022 (not all with Atlanta): Harris, Grissom, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers, Freddy Tarnok, Joey Meneses, William Woods, Bryce Elder and Joey Wentz. A 10th, Alan Rangel, was recalled in late September but did not appear in a game. In total, more than 160 have made their MLB debuts since the M-Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005. While the team limped in with a 62-74 overall record under first-year manager Bruce Crabbe, six 2022 M-Braves made Atlanta’s organizational All-Star team as selected by milb.com. First baseman Drew Lugbauer, a fringy prospect, opened eyes with his 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. However, he batted just .213 and struck out 212 times. Cody Milligan was the pick at second base, Justyn-Henry Malloy at third (though he played mostly left field in Mississippi), Andrew Moritz in the outfield and Jared Shuster and Justin Yeager as pitchers. The top hitter, statistically, on the ’22 club was shortstop Cade Bunnell, who seemingly came from out of nowhere to bat .301 with eight homers. Shuster, a highly rated prospect who finished the season in Triple-A, posted a 2.73 ERA, best among the M-Braves’ starters. Tanner Gordon led in wins with nine and Justin Maese in saves with 11. Looking to next year, shortstop Cal Conley, currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, is a name to know. The Texas Tech product hit .251 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and 36 steals at High-Class A Rome. Another key player in 2023 figures to be outfielder Jesse Franklin, who began the year with the M-Braves but missed virtually all of the season with an injury. The M-Braves open the ’23 season on April 7 against Biloxi at Trustmark Park. P.S. The last time Philadelphia was in the National League Championship Series, back in 2010, former Weir High and Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt was one of the three (four?) aces on the Phillies’ pitching staff. Acquired in a midseason trade from Houston, Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch for the National League East champs. The staff also featured Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, but the Phils were knocked out by San Francisco. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier, who helped Seattle end its 21-year playoff drought, will be a free agent after the World Series. A 2021 All-Star in Pittsburgh, the lefty-hitting second baseman had a down year in 2022, batting .238. … Former Jackson Mets standout Dave Magadan is out as hitting coach in Colorado, which has had four straight losing seasons. Magadan was the third baseman on the JaxMets’ 1985 Texas League championship club.
When the Atlanta Braves turned their season around in early June, winning 14 straight games, Austin Riley was a major contributor. The former DeSoto Central High standout batted .271 (16-for-59) with six home runs, 14 RBIs and 13 runs. When the Braves essentially clinched the National League East by sweeping the New York Mets Sept. 30-Oct. 2, Riley chipped in with big hits, going 4-for-11 with a homer and three runs, one in each game. If the Braves are to rally past Philadelphia and win their National League Division Series, they need some Riley. It’s not all on his shoulders, of course, but the big third baseman has been the aircraft carrier most of this season, blasting 38 homers and driving in 93 runs. In the three games against the Phillies, Riley is 1-for-12 with four strikeouts. His lone hit and RBI came in the Game 2 win. He has stranded nine baserunners in this series. Yes, the Braves need a great outing from Charlie Morton today and more offense from Dansby Swanson and Michael Harris II, but Riley looms as the key to their fortunes. It’s now or never for the defending champs in 2022. They need some Riley. As he told mlb.com after the crushing Game 3 loss on Friday, “(we’ll) see what we’re made of.”
A long layoff this year has done nothing to chill Colt Keith’s bat. The former Biloxi High star is hitting .353 with two doubles and three RBIs in six games for Salt River in the Arizona Fall League. Third baseman Keith, Detroit’s No. 6-rated prospect, was shut down in June because of a shoulder injury; he was batting .301 with nine homers and 31 RBIs at the time for High-Class A West Michigan in his second pro season. He reported to the AFL after many weeks of rehab and hasn’t missed a beat. “Strength staff and medical staff took really good care of me and I’m better than ever right now,” the 21-year-old Keith said in a story on the AFL website. The 6-foot-3 left-handed hitter has also bulked up quite a bit from his listed 211 pounds and has developed more power as a result. Also in the AFL: Ex-Southern Miss standout Hunter Stanley, a 2021 draftee by Cleveland, has a 1.35 ERA over 6 2/3 innings for Peoria; the right-hander tossed 3 2/3 shutout innings in a Thursday game. Stanley went 2-1, 1.84, at the High-A level this season in his pro debut. … Reed Trimble, another USM product and ’21 draftee by Baltimore, is batting .250 with four walks and three runs for Scottsdale. Trimble, coming back from shoulder surgery last fall, played 31 games in A-ball this season, batting .291. … Former Mississippi State star Will Bednar, a San Francisco prospect pitching for Scottsdale, allowed two runs in two innings Thursday and saw his ERA jump to 16.20 in two AFL outings. He also missed a chunk of time with injuries this season. … Ex-Bulldogs ace J.T. Ginn, now in Oakland’s system, has thrown two scoreless innings for Mesa. … Justyn-Henry Malloy, who made a big splash for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in 2022, is raking at a .370 clip for Scottsdale with four doubles and three RBIs in 29 at-bats. Malloy played at three levels in Atlanta’s system this past season. P.S. Fun facts: Dylan Moore, who had a big hit for Seattle in a losing cause vs. Houston on Thursday, is one of 12 former M-Braves shortstops to reach the majors. Dansby Swanson is the most notable of that group, Vaughn Grissom the most recent. … Houston infielder/outfielder Mauricio Dubon, who played for the Biloxi Shuckers in 2017 on his path to the big leagues, is the only native of Honduras to play in MLB.