27 Oct

reelin’ in the years

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.

02 Jun

nostalgia

Mississippi baseball aficionados may get a dose of nostalgia today if they follow the semifinals of mlb.com’s Dream Bracket 2, the computer-generated tournament matching some of the outstanding teams of recent years. The 1986 New York Mets, loaded with former Jackson Mets, are in the National League semis against the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. On the American League side, the 2001 Seattle Mariners, featuring three ex-Jackson Generals, take on the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The ’86 Mets, feeding on a farm system that had produced three Texas League titles (1981, ’84 and ’85), trotted out former OJMs Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Jesse Orosco, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman and Rick Aguilera, to name a few. The Generals, Houston’s Double-A club, claimed two TL pennants during their nine-year run at Smith-Wills Stadium and produced a long list of major leaguers. Three of them – Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama — were on the ’01 Mariners club that won an MLB-record 116 games in the regular season before falling to the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Those three were part of the blockbuster trade in July of 1998 in which the Astros acquired Randy Johnson from the M’s. Johnson went 10-1 for the Astros down the stretch but was 0-2 in the NLDS and then departed as a free agent to Arizona. Seattle, meanwhile, got long-term returns on the trade. All three ex-Gens were impactful players on the ’01 club. Garcia, a starting right-hander, went 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA and logged 238 2/3 innings, most on the staff. Halama, a lefty swingman, was 10-7 with a 4.73 in 31 games, 17 starts. Guillen, a good fielding shortstop, batted .259 with five homers and 53 RBIs as a complimentary piece in a loaded lineup with Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez and Bret Boone. P.S. On June 2, 1935, Babe Ruth announced his retirement at age 40. On July 11, 1914, Ruth, pitching for the Boston Red Sox, struck out in his first career at-bat against Pleasant Grove native Willie Mitchell. On May 30, 1935, batting third for the Boston Braves, Ruth grounded out against Jackson native Jim Bivin in the first inning. It was Ruth’s final career at-bat; he was replaced in left field by Ludlow native Hal Lee. In between those two ABs, Ruth belted 714 home runs, which stood as the record for almost 40 years.

01 Apr

fun fact

During the broadcast of Shohei Ohtani’s MLB pitching debut today on MLB Network, it was noted that only three players in big league history have produced both a 10-win season and a 10-home run season at some point in their career. Ohtani, whom the Los Angeles Angels plan to use as both a DH and a starting pitcher, did it in the same season twice in Japan. The great Babe Ruth did both in 1918, when he was with the Boston Red Sox, going 13-7 on the mound and hitting 11 homers, the first of 17 straight double-digit homer seasons. Rick Ankiel, who broke in as a pitcher and converted to the outfield, did it during his career (1999-2013) but not in the same season. The only other player to achieve this impressive feat was Jackson native Ewell Albert “Reb” Russell, who played in the early 1900s. Russell, a left-hander, won 23 games as a rookie for the Chicago White Sox in 1913 and posted three other double-digit win seasons before hurting his arm in 1918. He spent some time in the minors, came back to the big leagues in 1922 with Pittsburgh and belted 12 homers in 60 games. He hit nine more the next year in what was his final fling in the majors.

05 Jan

sudden change

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.

11 Jul

worth remembering

Not to be overlooked amid all the hubbub over the Home Run Derby and tonight’s All-Star Game: On this date in 1914, Babe Ruth made his big league debut as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. His mound opponent at Fenway Park was Pleasant Grove native Willie Mitchell of the Cleveland Naps. Ruth and the Red Sox won the game 4-3 as Mitchell took the loss. But the record will also show that in his first at-bat in the majors, Ruth – not yet known as the Sultan of Swat — was struck out by Mitchell. A crafty lefty, Mitchell pitched parts of 11 years in the big leagues, won 84 games and fanned 921 batters.

25 May

on this date

Guy Bush, the “Mississippi Mudcat” from Aberdeen, finished his major league career in 1945 with some nice numbers: 176 wins (most ever by a Mississippi native), 542 appearances, 151 complete games. He also allowed 151 home runs, a total that happened to include the last two – Nos. 713 and 714 — hit by Babe Ruth. It happened on May 25, 1935, at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. Bush, who spent most of his career with the Chicago Cubs, was pitching for the Pirates. Ruth, who made his legend with the New York Yankees, was in his only season with the Boston Braves. He hit three homers that day in Pittsburgh, the first off of Red Lucas, who was replaced by Bush in the first inning. The last homer of Ruth’s career cleared the right-field roof at Forbes Field, the first ever to do that. May 25, 1935, truly was Ruth’s last hurrah. He played only five more games in the big leagues without getting another hit. Meanwhile, it was a tough day all around for Bush. He logged six innings in relief and the Pirates prevailed 11-7, but he didn’t get the win. Waite Hoyt blew the save after replacing Bush in the seventh inning.