02 Jun

the babe chronicles

On this date in 1935, Babe Ruth announced his retirement at age 40. He was the game’s preeminent slugger at the time — “the Sultan of Swat, The Colossus of Clout, the King of Crash” — with 714 home runs, a record that would stand for 39 years. By weird coincidence, a collection of Mississippi natives have significant links to Ruth’s big league career. To wit: When Ruth debuted as a 19-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, the opposing starter was Pleasant Grove native Willie Mitchell of the Cleveland Naps. Mitchell struck out Ruth in his first at-bat, but Ruth won the game and Mitchell took the loss. After the 1919 season, his first as a full-time hitter, Ruth was famously traded by Boston to the New York Yankees, where he became the right fielder in 2020, displacing Batesville native Sammy Vick at that position. The two reportedly became fast friends, but Vick’s playing time decreased dramatically and he was traded after the season. In the 1932 World Series, when Ruth gestured and then smacked his legendary “Called Shot” home run at Wrigley Field, he was responding to abuse from the Chicago Cubs dugout, where Aberdeen native Guy Bush was among the most vocal bench jockeys. Three years later, on May 25, 1935, an aging Ruth, playing for the Boston Braves, hit the last three home runs of his career. Nos. 713 and 714, both massive clouts at Forbes Field, came against Bush, then pitching for Pittsburgh. Five days later, Ruth played his final game. At the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, in his lone at-bat in the top of the first inning, he was retired on a ground ball by Jackson native Jim Bivin, pitching in his one and only big league season. Ruth was then replaced in left field by Ludlow native Hal Lee, who would go on to bang out three hits that day. Ruth was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

30 May

almost perfekt

The Kansas City Royals took a flier in the off-season on Mike Mayers, signing the former Ole Miss standout to a minor league deal after he had posted a 6.88 ERA in Triple-A last season. It is beginning to look like a smart move. In his third appearance for the Royals since a May 17 promotion, Mayers threw six perfect innings in relief on Monday before yielding a couple of hits in K.C.’s 7-0 win at St. Louis. The 31-year-old right-hander now has a 1.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings. Coincidentally, Mayers made his MLB debut for the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in July 2016. He has good memories from his four years in St. Louis, but that outing — nine runs in 1 1/3 innings — wasn’t one of them. Waived by the Cardinals in 2019, he spent three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, won a pitcher of the month award in September 2020, struggled mightily in 2022 and finished the year in the minors, becoming a free agent at season’s end. “My story hasn’t always been easy,” he told the Kansas City Star after Monday’s performance. He relieved opener Josh Staumont in the second inning and carried a perfect game into the eighth before a Nolan Arenado single broke it up. Two other relievers closed out the two-hitter. P.S. Kudos to Michael Soroka, the former Mississippi Braves ace who returned to the big leagues with Atlanta on Monday for the first time since 2020. The injury-plagued right-hander threw six relatively sharp innings, allowing four runs in the travel-weary Braves’ 7-2 loss at Oakland. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner was optioned to Triple-A for the third time this year by Minnesota. … William Carey University is 2-0 in the NAIA World Series after a 13-4 win against Southeastern (Fla.) on Monday. The Crusaders play Westmont (Calif.) tonight in Lewiston, Idaho.

29 May

top of the heap

The ride has been anything but smooth for Milwaukee, but the Brewers have reached Memorial Day — a traditional benchmark — in first place in the National League Central. They beat San Francisco 7-5 on Sunday to snap a three-game skid and move to 28-25, 1.5 games up on Pittsburgh in a weak division. Devin Williams and William Contreras — two of several Mississippi connections on the Milwaukee roster — were key figures in Sunday’s win. The remarkable Williams, a former Biloxi Shuckers star, got the last four outs for the save; he is 8-for-8 with an 0.54 ERA. Catcher Contreras, a former Mississippi Braves standout and a 2022 All-Star for Atlanta before being traded, contributed a two-run homer and an RBI single; he is batting .250 with five bombs and 16 RBIs. The Brewers have nine players from their opening day roster on the injured list, including ace Brandon Woodruff, the Mississippi State product, and promising rookie Garrett Mitchell, a Shuckers alum. The team has wobbled through a 10-15 May but still sits atop the division. “We keep grinding through it,” Williams told mlb.com. (Ex-State star Ethan Small was sent back to Triple-A after a rocky outing in his 2023 debut.) … For the record, there is a Mississippi thread running through all of the six teams currently in first place in the big leagues. In Tampa Bay, there is former M-Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, a highly rated prospect when he passed through Pearl a decade ago. He has taken a winding path to Tampa. In Minnesota, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner was recently recalled from the minors and might be sticking around, having gone 7-for-11 with a homer, four RBIs and two walks in his last four games. In Texas, MSU product Nathaniel Lowe continues to rake for the power-packed Rangers: .273, five homers, 29 RBIs. In Los Angeles (Chavez Ravine branch), there is a trio of former M-Braves: the irrepressible Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Evan Phillips (an unsung bullpen piece who has seven saves and a 1.77 ERA). And in Atlanta, the bulk of the club is M-Braves alums: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried, Michael Harris II, Charlie Morton, Austin Riley, Spencer Strider, et al. And Orlando Arcia was on the first Biloxi club back in 2015. DeSoto Central High grad Riley hit his 10th homer in Sunday’s win against Philadelphia and is batting .357 over his last seven games. P.S. Shout-out to Scott Berry and Southern Miss, which won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship on Sunday, getting big homers from Dustin Dickerson, Danny Lynch and Slade Wilks and lockdown relief work from Justin Storm. Denied an NCAA regional host bid despite their 41-17 record (and 19-2 finishing kick), the Golden Eagles await the announcement today of their regional destination. Baton Rouge? Tuscaloosa? Fayetteville? … East Central Community College was eliminated from the NJCAA Division II World Series after an 11-10 loss to Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. The Warriors won both the MACCC title and the Region 23 crown en route to the World Series.

27 May

one of eight

Craig Kimbrel vs. Ronald Acuna. This was must-watch TV — for baseball fans, for Atlanta Braves fans and especially for longtime followers of the Mississippi Braves. On a 3-2 pitch with a runner on base and two down in the ninth inning, Kimbrel (M-Braves 2009) retired Acuna (M-Braves 2017) on a ground ball to third, preserving a 6-4 Philadelphia win Friday night at Truist Park. It was Kimbrel’s 400th career save, making the right-hander one of only eight pitchers to reach that milestone. “Just happy; just a lot of things,” Kimbrel said in an mlb.com story. Kimbrel came through Mississippi 14 years ago and was virtually unhittable in his brief stay. He was 6-for-6 in saves with a 0.77 ERA in 12 games. He was in Atlanta the next year (2010) and recorded the first of his 186 saves for the Braves that season. He has bounced around in recent years, running hot and cold. He has a 5.68 ERA this season but is 6-for-6 in save opps. There was nothing cheap about Friday’s save. Acuna, one of the best hitters to come through Pearl, is having a monster season — .323, 11 homers, 27 RBIs — and one swing could have tied it. Kimbrel joins former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner in the 400-plus club. Wagner had 422. Interestingly enough, there are seven Mississippi-connected closers in the top 23 on the all-time saves list. Jonathan Papelbon (Mississippi State) sits 11th at 368, Jeff Reardon (Jackson Mets) 12th at 367, Randy Myers (JaxMets) 14th at 347, Todd Jones (Generals) 22nd at 319, and Rick Aguilera (JaxMets) 23rd at 318. A bit further down are former MSU stars Bobby Thigpen (201) and Jeff Brantley (172). Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Josh Hader, currently with San Diego, is rising at 145, still a long way from 400. P.S. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn won again for the Chicago White Sox on Friday and is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his last three starts. He is 4-5 overall. … George County High product Justin Steele is 0-2 and has yielded 10 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings in his last three starts, taking an L Friday when the Chicago Cubs lost to Cincinnati 9-0. He is 6-2 on the year. … Ex-MSU ace Ethan Small made his 2023 debut for Milwaukee and gave up five runs in three innings in mop-up duty in a 15-1 loss to San Francisco. Small had a 2.33 ERA at Triple-A Nashville.

26 May

main attraction

Like so many of his Mississippi Braves teammates this season, Drew Lugbauer doesn’t hit much. But when the left-handed Lugbauer does get into one, it typically goes a long way. He hit his 10th home run of the season on Thursday night, a majestic blast into the Farm Bureau Grill beyond the right-field fence at Trustmark Park. It was the third homer in as many games on this homestand for the 6-foot-3, 220-pound former Michigan star who is nicknamed “Slugbauer.” He is, at present, the main attraction on a team that is last in the Southern League in runs and last in the South Division with an 18-23 record that includes a 6-2 loss to Pensacola on Thursday. Lugbauer, 26, is batting just .217, actually one of the better averages in Thursday’s lineup. Ten of his 26 hits this season have left the yard. He leads the SL in homers and is on pace to break the M-Braves’ single-season record of 28 homers that he set last year. (For the record, the Jackson Mets/Generals record at Smith-Wills Stadium is Darryl Strawberry’s 34 in 1982.) In his third season with the M-Braves, Lugbauer is also the career homer leader with 56. Many a fearsome slugger has passed through Pearl since 2005: Jeff Francoeur, Matt Esquivel, Kala Ka’aihue, Jason Heyward, Michael Rosamond, Ernesto Mejia, Evan Gattis, Dustin Peterson, Ronald Acuna, to name a few. Lugbauer has bragging rights over all of them. … Austin Riley, another of those former M-Braves sluggers, had quite the night for Atlanta on Thursday, hitting two monstrous homers in an 8-5 win against Philadelphia at Truist Park. Riley, a former DeSoto Central standout, is just the third player to hit two homers of 455 feet-plus in one game in the last nine years; the other two did it at Coors Field in Colorado. Riley has nine homers on the season for the first-place Braves. P.S. Surprising Baltimore (second-best record in MLB) just completed a 5-1 road trip through Toronto and New York (Yankee Stadium) and ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier went 10-for-27 with two homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the six games. Frazier is hitting .253 with six homers and 23 RBIs in his first season with the Orioles. … Shout-out to former M-Braves ace Julio Teheran, who threw five solid innings (but took a loss) for Milwaukee on Thursday in his first big league game since 2021. Teheran, part of a combo no-hitter for the M-Braves in 2010, has 78 career MLB wins. He ranks with the best of the many standout pitchers who have come through Pearl. … Southern Miss is 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament after Danny Lynch delivered a walk-off win against Troy. Jackson State bowed out of the SWAC Tournament with a second straight one-run defeat.

18 May

atta boys

Luis Cano: The freshman right-hander, one of several stars for East Central Community College on Wednesday, worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to save an 8-5 win against No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice and propel the Warriors into the NJCAA Division II Region 23 championship round. Cano is a Mexico native who pitched at Belmont High in 2022.
Davis Bradshaw: The ex-McLaurin High and Meridian CC star went 2-for-3 for High-Class A Beloit in the Miami system and raised his average to .415, which leads the Midwest League. Bradshaw has 13 hits in his last six games.
Will Warren: The former Jackson Prep standout, 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA at Double-A Somerset, has been promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre by the New York Yankees and will make his debut at the new level tonight.
Ryan Rolison: The Ole Miss alum, making his first live appearance in a game since August 2021, threw three scoreless innings on a rehab assignment for Low-A Fresno in the Colorado system. The former 2018 first-round draftee has yet to make his big league debut.
Bobby Bradley: The former Harrison Central High star — and erstwhile big leaguer — belted his eighth home run (in 15 games) for Charleston in the independent Atlantic League. Bradley has 188 homers in his pro career.
Garrett Crochet: The Ocean Springs native, who missed all of the ’22 season after Tommy John surgery, has been activated from the injured list by the Chicago White Sox but has yet to appear in a game. The left-hander, a first-round pick out of Tennessee in 2020, has a 2.45 career ERA over 59 games.
Mike Mayers: The ex-Ole Miss standout, back in the majors with Kansas City, threw 2 2/3 innings in middle relief, allowing six baserunners but just one run in the Royals’ 4-3 win against San Diego. Mayers, an eight-year MLB vet, was signed to a minor league contract in the off-season and had been pitching at Triple-A Omaha.
Corey Dickerson: The Meridian CC alum from McComb, fresh off the IL, homered in his first at-bat since April 1 for Washington. He has 135 homers and 994 hits over his 11-year MLB career.
Orlando Arcia: The former Biloxi Shuckers star, now Atlanta’s shortstop, hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning as the Braves took down Texas 6-5 in a battle of first-place teams. Arcia is hitting .342 with four homers.

16 May

staying the course

With four hits, including a home run on Monday night, plus two walks in his last three games, it looks like Austin Riley might be coming out of his lengthy slump. The former DeSoto Central High star’s seventh homer of the season, a deep blast to right-center at Globe Life Field, was one of five bombs Atlanta hit in a 12-0 win over Texas that snapped a four-game losing skid. It was Riley’s first homer since May 3, though he has had some hard-hit balls in the interim. He has 20 RBIs, ranking just fifth on the team. His average, which had dipped to .239 on on May 9, is now at .245. He is a .270 career hitter and batted .300 in 2021. Watching Riley play, you’d never guess he has been slumping. He never shows any sign of frustration or anger. His defense at third base is unaffected. He punches in every day, always with the same calm demeanor. Slumps, Riley said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, are “part of the game. I think how you deal with it is what brings you out of the back end of it.” Maybe that’s what’s happening now. P.S. Former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson was activated from injured list by Washington on Monday, though he did not play. Dickerson is eight hits shy of 1,000 for his big league career, which began in 2013. … Milwaukee transferred ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff (shoulder inflammation) to the 60-day IL, retroactive to April 8. That likely means it’ll be late June at the earliest before the Brewers get their horse back. Before landing on the IL, he was 1-0 with a 0.79 ERA in two starts. … The Brewers sent Hattiesburg High product Joe Gray Jr. back to High-Class A Wisconsin from Double-A Biloxi. Gray was 2-for-37 in his first taste of Double-A pitching … Mississippi State alum Jordan Westburg is ranked No. 52 in MLB Pipeline’s recently updated list of the Top 100 minor league prospects. Westburg, who was 74th in the February rankings, is batting .321 with 11 homers in Triple-A in Baltimore’s system. Biloxi High product Colt Keith cracked the Top 100 at No. 87. Keith is hitting .266 with five homers in Double-A in Detroit’s chain.

11 May

worth noting

Justin Steele, former George County High standout, ran his record to 6-0 on Wednesday, throwing six strong innings for the Chicago Cubs in a 10-4 win over rival St. Louis at Wrigley Field. “It was a fun game,” he told The Associated Press. Steele, who has a 1.82 ERA, yielded three earned runs, the first time in 15 starts dating to 2022 that the left-hander had allowed more than two. … For the other Chicago team, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn gave up a career-high seven earned runs against Kansas City and saw his record drop to 1-5 and ERA rise to 7.51. The crumbling White Sox also placed Taylorsville native Billy Hamilton on the injured list. The 11-year veteran, now basically a pinch-running specialist, had scored two runs and stolen two bases in three games since his call-up earlier this month. … On a brighter note for White Sox fans, former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet posted back-to-back scoreless outings on Tuesday and Wednesday at Triple-A Charlotte as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. … In the independent Atlantic League, Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley hit his fourth home run for Charleston. It was just the fifth hit of the young season for the ex-big leaguer, batting .147 for the Dirty Birds. Braxton Lee, the ex-Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss star, lifted his average to .378 with a 2-for-3 game and drove in three runs in a win for Southern Maryland; Jacques Pucheu, an East Mississippi CC alum, made his fourth straight scoreless relief appearance for the Blue Crabs. … Tyler Tolve, an Atlanta catching prospect, went 0-for-4 with a walk and a run in his Double-A debut Wednesday in a win by the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park. Tolve hit .261 with 12 homers at High-Class A Rome in 2022. … Former Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr. went 0-for-4 for Double-A Biloxi at MGM Park and saw his average dip to .038 (1-for-26) in six games since Milwaukee promoted him to the Shuckers. … Jackson Prep product Will Warren, a New York Yankees prospect, leads the Double-A Eastern League in strikeouts with 37. He is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts for Somerset. Ex-Ole Miss star Tim Elko (White Sox system) leads the Class A Carolina League in homers with 10, and ex-South Panola High standout Emaarion Boyd (Philadelphia system) tops the Class A Florida State League with 18 stolen bases. Davis Bradshaw (Miami system), a Meridian CC and McLaurin High alum, had three hits Wednesday to raise his average to .378, second in the Class A Midwest League. … The first-round pairings are set for Monday’s NJCAA Divison II Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La. State champion East Central will play Itawamba; defending national champ Pearl River draws Meridian; and Northeast gets No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The winner of the double-elimination tourney goes to the juco World Series in Enid, Okla.

07 May

welcome back

The Mississippi Braves’ lineup got a little stronger on Saturday when Jesse Franklin V made his 2023 debut. Batting third at Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium, Atlanta’s No. 14-rated prospect struck out in his first two at-bats but homered to center in his third, possibly a good sign for a power hitter who missed more than a year after elbow surgery. Franklin, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound, lefty-swinging outfielder, is considered the top power hitter among the Braves’ prospects. Drafted in the third round out of Michigan in 2020, he blasted 24 homers at High-Class A Rome in his pro debut in 2021 and hit two more in 15 games for the Double-A M-Braves before going down with his injury in April of last year. He also stole 19 bases at Rome and got two bags last year, so he’s not a one-tool pony. Despite Franklin’s homer and another by veteran slugger Drew Lugbauer, the M-Braves lost 3-2 at Pensacola and fell to 9-17. They conclude their two-week road trip today and return to Trustmark Park on Tuesday. Franklin fortifies a lineup that also includes No. 13 prospect Cal Conley, off to a slow start; Justin Dean, a former Top 30 prospect who played center field for the 2021 Southern League title team; and Lugbauer, who has 51 homers in three years with the M-Braves. The M-Braves also have added No. 4 prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, a right-hander whose Double-A debut Friday was cut short by rain after two (shutout) innings. This team ought to get better. … At High-A Rome on Saturday, former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Brandon Parker hit his first home run of 2023 and is batting .255 for the R-Braves. He hit 10 homers at Low-A Augusta last year. An NJCAA Division II player of the year at Gulf Coast, Parker, an outfielder, hit 38 bombs while at Perk. P.S. Props to J.P. France, the Mississippi State alum who threw five shutout innings for Houston against Seattle in his big league debut. … In something of a surprise move, Detroit optioned Spencer Turnbull to Triple-A Toledo today, presumably for some fine-tuning at a lower level. The Madison Central High alum has a 7.26 ERA over seven starts.

06 May

join the club

J.P. France, who pitched one season at Mississippi State, is scheduled to start tonight for Houston, which would make the right-hander the first Mississippian (native or school alum) to debut in the big leagues in 2023. France, whose college career began at Tulane, will become the 21st state-connected player to appear in an MLB game this season when he faces Seattle. Drafted in 2018, France made the Astros’ 40-man roster in the off-season and began this year at Triple-A Sugar Land. He is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA over five appearances (three starts) and 20-17, 3.73, career. … Braden Shewmake joined the looong list of Mississippi Braves alums to advance to the majors when he debuted at shortstop for Atlanta on Friday night, going 0-for-4 in the loss to Baltimore. Shewmake spent parts of the 2019 and ’21 seasons in Pearl. He played five sports in high school in Texas before moving on to Texas A&M; the Braves drafted him in the first round in 2019. He joins a looong list of M-Braves shortstops to play in the majors. That list includes: Vaughn Grissom, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Luis Hernandez, Yunel Escobar, Diory Hernandez, Brandon Hicks, Brent Lillibridge, Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons, Ed Lucas, Daniel Castro and Dylan Moore. … Numbers of note from Friday’s big league games: ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn got his first win (in seven starts) of 2023 for the Chicago White Sox; George County High product Justin Steele got his fifth win for the Cubs; and former MSU standout Brent Rooker hit his 10th homer for Oakland. … Happy (sort of) anniversary to MSU product Jack Kruger, who made his lone big league appearance on this date in 2021, his sixth year in pro ball. He entered as a defensive replacement at catcher for the Los Angeles Angels and didn’t get an at-bat. Kruger spent last season in Triple-A with Texas and is now a free agent. P.S. College stuff: William Carey University eliminated Blue Mountain Christian on Friday in the SSAC Tournament; Millsaps bowed out in the SAA Tournament, losing its second game of the day; Delta State lost its opener in the GSC Tournament; and Belhaven, 1-0 in the CCS Tournament, plays its second-round game today. … Meridian Community College, Pearl River, Itawamba and Northeast all won Friday to advance to next week’s NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament in Eunice, La.