Different season, different league, same old Thomas Dillard. The former Ole Miss slugger, who led the independent Atlantic League in homers this summer, has hit three bombs in 11 games in the Mexican Pacific League, Mexico’s winter league. Dillard, a switch-hitting first baseman, belted 39 homers for Lexington in his first year of indy ball and batted .258 with 100 RBIs. Now playing for Culiacan, Dillard is hitting .308 with nine RBIs. As a senior at Oxford High in 2016, Dillard led the nation with 16 homers and went on to hit 31 in three years at UM, including 14 as a junior in 2019. He spent three seasons in Milwaukee’s system, belted 12 homers for Double-A Biloxi in 2022 but was released after the season. Playing for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks in the Atlantic League — a Triple-A caliber loop — and now in the MPL, Dillard is showing that he still has plenty of thunder in his bat. P.S. Blaine Crim, the ex-Mississippi College star who played in Triple-A for Texas this season, mashed a home run in his first game in the Dominican Winter League but has just one hit since. He is 2-for-20 for Escogido. Crim hit 22 homers for Round Rock this summer and has 83 homers in his four-year minor league career. Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who had a good year (.290, 13 homers) in Triple-A for Cincinnati, is hitting .278 with three doubles for Cibao in the DWL. Also in the league is Ole Miss product David Parkinson, who got a win with three scoreless innings of work in his only appearance to date for Escogido. Parkinson, on a bit of a roller coaster since being drafted by Philadelphia in 2017, spent most of the 2023 season in Double-A, going 9-5 for Reading.
With a pair of Mississippians — Mississippi State alumni Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton — on the Texas roster for the 2023 World Series, here’s a quick review of some Series anniversaries and Magnolia State products who were involved. … Ten short years ago, in the 2013 World Series, former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn made the second — and final — Series appearance of his still active career. Lynn got a ring as a rookie with St. Louis in 2011 but in 2013, the Cardinals lost to Boston in six games. Lynn had a 4.76 ERA in two games. He has appeared in five postseasons since — and pitched for six different teams all told — but hasn’t gotten back to the Fall Classic. … Thirty years ago, in the Series widely remembered for Joe Carter’s walk-off homer for Toronto, there were a couple of Mississippi college products on the losing side. Ex-Jackson State star Wes Chamberlain and Mississippi State’s Bobby Thigpen played for Philadelphia in the ’93 Series, though neither had much of an impact as the Phillies fell in six games. That was the only World Series appearance for either Chamberlain or Thigpen. … This year marks the 80th anniversary of a classic Negro Leagues World Series between Homestead and Birmingham. The Homestead Grays, who won the Series 4-3 (there was also a tie), featured a pair of Mississippi natives: Starkville’s Cool Papa Bell, the Hall of Famer who, at age 40, batted .308 in the Series, and Mt. Olive’s Howard Easterling, a five-time All-Star in the Negro Leagues who batted .327 and drove in seven runs in the ’43 Series. Homestead’s lineup also included Hall of Famers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. … In the 1933 World Series, a pair of Mississippi natives squared off as the New York Giants beat the Washington Senators in five games. Starkville’s Hughie Critz was the second baseman and 2-hole hitter for the Giants; he went just 3-for-22 with a couple of runs but did get to celebrate a championship in his only Fall Classic appearance in a 12-year career. Myer, from Ellisville, was one of the few Senators hitters who had a good Series; the second baseman and leadoff batter was 6-for-20 with two RBIs and two runs. In the only game Washington won — Game 3 — he went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. That ’33 Series was his second and final appearance in a Fall Classic; he was also on the losing side in 1925. P.S. Columbus native Red Barber, named this week as a member of the 2024 class of Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductees, did national radio broadcasts of nine World Series and TV broadcasts of two Fall Classics between 1937 and 1952, according to information on Wikipedia. The late Barber, also in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, has been called baseball’s “play-by-play pioneer.”
Twenty-two years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks did something amazing. They scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera and beat the mighty New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. On Tuesday night, the D’backs did something amazing again. They beat mighty Philadelphia — at Citizens Bank Park, for the second straight night — to win Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and reach the second Fall Classic in their 26-year history. The franchise was just four years old when the ’01 team, which included former Ole Miss star David Dellucci, won the championship. That club had been largely constructed by Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter, who was fired as manager after the 2000 season reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. Originally drafted by Baltimore, Dellucci was plucked by Arizona (and Showalter) in the expansion draft in the fall of 1997. He hit .260 with a league-best 12 triples in 1998 and was still a reserve outfielder on the 2001 club. He played in two World Series games, including a pinch-running appearance in the fateful ninth inning of Game 7; he was erased on a fielder’s choice for the first out. Interestingly enough, Dellucci also played for Texas, which will face the D’backs in the Fall Classic that begins Friday in Arlington. Showalter was manager of the Rangers when Dellucci was with the team (2004-05).
The Texas Rangers ended a somewhat grueling 12-year wait to get back to the World Series, beating Houston 11-4 Monday night in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. There was a Mississippi State product on that 2011 Texas team, which lost in seven games to St. Louis after leading 3-2; Mitch Moreland went 1-for-10 in the Series. Coincidentally, two former Bulldogs stars are on the current Rangers roster: first baseman Nathaniel Lowe and reliever Chris Stratton. Lowe went 7-for-27 in the ALCS with two homers, including a two-run blast in the sixth inning of Game 7. Stratton pitched in Games 3 and 4, giving up a couple of runs in his first outing, working 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his second. This Rangers team bashed its way through the regular season, leading the league in runs, home runs, batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. And they bashed their way to victory at Minute Maid Park on Monday: 15 hits, four walks, four homers, two by the polarizing Adolis Garcia. On the receiving end of some of that bashing was MSU alum J.P. France, the 28-year-old rookie who had pitched so well for Houston during the season (11-6, 3.83 ERA) and in his Game 2 appearance (2 1/3 scoreless). The fourth pitcher called on by Dusty Baker, France came on in the fourth with the Astros down just 4-2. It was 8-2 when he was finally pulled with two outs. The game essentially got away from Houston as France was left twisting in the wind. Six of the eight batters he faced reached, and he threw only 13 strikes among his 28 pitches. Texas, which will face the winner of tonight’s Arizona-Philadelphia Game 7 in the World Series, has never won a championship, though manager Bruce Bochy can claim three.
While in the grip of postseason fever, here’s a well-deserved shout-out to Luther Hackman, the former Columbus High star who took MVP honors in back-to-back Taiwan Series in 2008 and ’09. (Stumbled across this compelling nugget of information while searching for something else on baseball-reference.com.) Hackman, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who pitched in the big leagues from 1999-2003, threw 17 shutout innings for the Uni-President Lions and won Games 4 and 7 in the ’08 Taiwan Series, the championship of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009, Hackman won Games 1, 4 and 7 of the series for the Lions. Hackman pitched in the CPBL for three years, 2010 being his last as a player. Drafted by Colorado in the sixth round in 1994, Hackman pitched in 149 big league games with three clubs and posted a 5.09 ERA. He also pitched in the independent Atlantic League, Mexico and Korea, with middling success. Yet he may still be a legend in the CPBL. P.S. A belated shout-out to umpire Lance Barksdale, the Brookhaven native who was behind the plate for Saturday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Barksdale missed just one call, according to umpscorecards.com, posting a 99 percent accuracy rate. The one miss: a called strike on a 3-2 pitch to Philadelphia’s Trea Turner in the third inning.
Happy 44th birthday to Eli Whiteside, the former All-America catcher at Delta State who played parts of six seasons in the major leagues. New Albany native Whiteside, drafted in the sixth round by Baltimore in 2001, played in 216 MLB games, batting .210 with 10 homers, and got two World Series rings despite never playing in the postseason. Whiteside, backing up Buster Posey, hit .238 for the 2010 San Francisco Giants and was on their Series roster but didn’t get in a game as they beat Texas 4-1. He also spent part of the 2012 season with the Giants but didn’t make the postseason roster for a club that won another Fall Classic. After he retired in 2015, Whiteside served for a time as a bullpen catcher for the Giants and a roving instructor. Whiteside’s first career homer was a grand slam for the Giants in 2009, and he also caught a Jonathan Sanchez no-hitter that year. He is one of nine Delta State alums to have made The Show. Others on that list: Barry Lyons, Stewart Cliburn and Jim Miles (the first in 1968).
Grae Kessinger, rookie infielder for Houston, watched the first eight games of the Astros’ postseason run from the dugout. The ex-Ole Miss star got quite a different view of the proceedings in the ninth inning Friday night, watching from first base as a pinch runner when Jose Altuve launched a momentum-shifting three-run homer that carried the Astros to a 5-4 win over Texas in a wild, wild Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Kessinger went in at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth and, with two runners on, made a leaping snag of a line drive for the first out. Two outs later Houston had swept the three games at Globe Life Field to go up 3-2 in the best-of-7. The defending champs can earn yet another trip to the World Series with a win in Game 6 at home on Sunday. The grandson of longtime big leaguer Don Kessinger — who never made a postseason appearance in 16 years in The Show — Grae was a midseason call-up by the Astros this year and played sparingly, batting .200 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Houston kept the versatile Kessinger on the postseason roster but didn’t get him into a game before Friday. It was one that won’t soon be forgotten, by Kessinger or anybody else who watched. Before Adolis Garcia’s dramatic three-run homer for Texas in the sixth inning and the benches-clearing kerfuffle he instigated in the eighth, former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe put the Rangers on the board with an opposite-field homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. It was Lowe’s second homer this postseason, and he is now 5-for-19 in the ALCS. … Meanwhile, in Arizona, things got a little wild also in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks, summoning a rally for the second straight day, scored three times in the eighth inning, handing ex-Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel the first blown save of his postseason career and beating Philadelphia 6-5. The series is square at 2-2. The big blow against Kimbrel (now 10-for-11 in saves) was a two-run, game-tying bomb by pinch-hitter Alek Thomas. A subsequent single and walk knocked Kimbrel out of the game, and the go-ahead hit came from Gabriel Moreno against Jose Alvarado. The Phillies struck out three times in the ninth. Of note: Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is slated to be behind the plate for Game 5 tonight at Chase Field, which will feature aces Zack Wheeler and Zac Gallen.
The Arizona Fall League has been described as an All-Star game every night, and Mississippi State product Rowdey Jordan is showing that he belongs among the highly rated prospects in the league. Jordan — who isn’t among the New York Mets’ Top 30 prospects — had a three-hit game for Glendale on Thursday night, raising his average to .275 in 11 games. The switch-hitting infielder/outfielder scored twice and picked up his sixth double, which is tied for the AFL lead. He has eight runs and three RBIs. Alabama native Jordan batted .323 with 10 homers for State’s national championship team in 2021 and was drafted, as a senior, in the 11th round by the Mets. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Jordan reached Double-A Binghamton late in 2022 and spent all of 2023 there, hitting .230 with 13 homers, 63 RBIs and 30 steals. P.S. Jordan’s teammate on the ’21 Bulldogs, College World Series star Will Bednar has had a rocky go in the AFL as he attempts to get his pro career on track. Bednar, the 14th overall pick in 2021 by San Francisco, has a 9.82 ERA in four appearances for Scottsdale. The right-hander, beset by injuries since he was drafted, has allowed four runs on three hits and seven walks in 3 2/3 innings. He does have six strikeouts. Once the Giants’ No. 4 prospect (by MLB Pipeline), Bednar is now listed 26th. He went 1-2, 4.22, in four games in rookie ball this season.
After eight years in the big leagues and 302 regular season appearances, Chris Stratton got in a postseason game for the first time on Wednesday night. It wasn’t an outing the former Mississippi State ace from Tupelo will remember fondly. Stratton yielded two hits and a walk and was charged with two runs in an inning of work during Texas’ 8-5 loss to visiting Houston in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. An effective reliever for the Rangers much of the season (3.41 ERA in 22 games after being acquired in a trade), Stratton was idle for the first seven playoff games. The 33-year-old right-hander entered Game 3 in the sixth inning with the Rangers down 5-2. He got the last two outs of that inning and the first of the seventh before a couple of singles chased him from the game. Will Smith relieved, walked the bases loaded and gave up a two-out, two-run knock to Yordan Alvarez. Stratton, 33, was the 20th overall pick by San Francisco in 2012 after winning SEC pitcher of the year honors — and the Ferriss Trophy — at MSU. He made the majors in 2016 and won 10 games (with a 5.09 ERA) for the Giants in 2018. Traded twice in 2019 and converted to the bullpen, he became a solid reliever, winning 30 games, registering 21 holds and notching 10 saves from 2019-22. He pitched well for St. Louis as a trade acquisition last year, and the Rangers added him to their pen at the deadline this season. The Rangers lead the ALCS 2-1 but the series appears far from over. Stratton may well get another shot, which he surely covets.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star now manning third base for Atlanta, and ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, are among the finalists for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Both have previously been recognized for their hitting prowess, Riley winning a Silver Slugger in 2021 and Lowe taking one in 2022. Also making the top three at each position (in each league) were former Mississippi Braves Michael Harris II (center field), Dansby Swanson (shortstop) and Freddie Freeman (first base) and Biloxi Shuckers alum Mauricio Dubon (both second base and utility). Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is among Riley’s competition at third base in the National League. Riley’s defensive metrics don’t compare well to Hayes’ or Ryan McMahon’s, but the ex-M-Braves star committed just 11 errors in 393 chances in 2023 and routinely made outstanding plays (see Game 2 of the NL Division Series). Gold Glove winners will be announced on Nov. 5. Of note: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia’s second baseman, is a finalist in his first year after moving from shortstop to second. Stott has credited Laurel native Bobby Dickerson with helping him make the transition. Dickerson, a former minor league player and longtime MLB coach, is in his second year as Phillies infield coach. He also has worked extensively with third baseman Alec Bohm and Bryce Harper, who learned to play first base at midseason. Bohm made several outstanding plays in the Phillies’ 10-0 win Tuesday in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “As much as we have a lot of really great hitters, games are won on defense,” Bohm told mlb.com.