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.
Box scores are a wonderful thing. You stumble onto one and suddenly you’re digging up treasure. Take Aug. 24, 1930. New York Giants-Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. This was the last game of Tupelo native Andy Reese’s relatively brief big league career. An outstanding minor league player and manager for many years, Reese is in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. He played in 331 big league games for the Giants, batting .281. In his final game, he drew a walk as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning with the Giants down 2-1. The Cubs pitcher was Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen. The play-by-play from baseball-reference.com reveals that after a bunt by Starkville native Hughie Critz, Reese tried to score from second on a base hit but was cut down at the plate. He was tagged by Gabby Hartnett, called out by umpire Beans Reardon. If you know baseball history, you know those names. Hartnett hit the famous “Homer in the Gloamin’” in 1938. Reardon umped for 24 years and was behind the plate in 1935 when Babe Ruth hit his last homer, coincidentally against Bush. Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Bill Terry played for the Giants on Aug. 24, 1930, and fellow HOFer Hack Wilson was in the Cubs’ lineup. After the Giants tied the score at 2-2 in the ninth, the Cubs won it in the bottom half on a steal of home. Bush got the win while allowing 11 hits and three walks. The game took just an hour and 50 minutes. It was Andy Reese’s last game – but it was a lot more than that.
In the manager’s office at Smith-Wills Stadium one day many years ago, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan joked with Jackson Generals hitting coach and ex-big league masher Jorge Orta. “Jorge, this might be the first time I was ever glad to see you coming,” a grinning Ryan said as Orta approached for a handshake. In reality, Ryan handled Orta pretty well in their career matchups, holding him to a .179 average in 79 at-bats and striking him out 30 times. To be fair, Orta did hit a couple of home runs off the 324-game winner. Know who Ryan really hated to see coming? Will Clark. The former Mississippi State star famously homered against Ryan in his first career at-bat in 1986 and went on to smack five more bombs against him. No batter in MLB history hit more homers against Ryan, whose amazing career spanned 27 seasons (1966-1993). Clark was 12-for-36 career vs. Ryan, who did punch him out 12 times, adding to his MLB record total of 5,714 K’s. On the website baseball-reference.com, you can dig up career pitcher-batter matchups like those, and if you’ve got some time to kill, it’s worth a deep dive. Just taking Ryan as an example, you can decipher that he faced roughly two dozen Mississippians over the years. Rafael Palmeiro, Clark’s old MSU teammate, didn’t fare so well, going 2-for-12, two K’s. Jackson native Chet Lemon managed just five hits in 41 ABs vs. Ryan, fanning 18 times. Grenada native Dave Parker struck out 23 times and never took Ryan deep, though Parker hit .281 with a .338 OBP in 70 plate appearances. Greenville’s George Scott didn’t homer off Ryan either but did reach base 26 times in 67 plate appearances (.388 OBP) with 16 K’s. Former Shannon High star Dave Clark got just four at-bats against Ryan, but his one hit was a home run. Ex-Ole Miss star Donnie Kessinger and Gulfport native Bill Melton gave Ryan fits. Kessinger posted a .425 OBP and fanned just twice in 40 plate appearances. Melton hit two homers off Ryan and reached base 18 times against him, good for a .429 OBP.
If you love baseball and you love history, you look up box scores. It’s what you do. There is a profound delight in ferreting out an old box, whether it’s in a newspaper clipping or, more likely these days, a data base on a website. You’re bound to find something that will suck you in and take you back to a bygone time. To wit: Joe Gibbon, the former Ole Miss star from Hickory who died on Wednesday, made his big league debut on April 17, 1960. How’d it go? Thanks to baseball-reference.com, you can pull up the box score and find out in rich detail. It was Game 2 of a Sunday doubleheader at Forbes Field, Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh. There were 16,000-plus in the park at the start of the day. Gibbon came on for the Pirates in the eighth inning of a game the Bucs trailed 5-0. The big lefty worked two scoreless innings, yielding three hits and a walk, against a Reds lineup that included Frank Robinson, Billy Martin and Vada Pinson. Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Dick Groat played for Pittsburgh that day. In the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates scored six times. Hal Smith, pinch-hitting for Gibbon, hit a three-run homer. Bob Skinner hit a two-run, game-winning blast off Ted Wieand. Gibbon got the win. You can’t tell from the box score how he felt, but it had to be pretty darn good. And it was just the start of a magical rookie season that culminated with a World Series championship.