15 Jan

totally random

Culley Rikard is among that passel of Mississippians whose big league career was brief and relatively obscure. The Oxford native and Olive Branch High alum played in 153 games over parts of three seasons, breaking in with Pittsburgh in 1941, a year noteworthy for DiMaggio’s 56 and Williams’ .406 but not so much for Rikard. He had just 20 at-bats. He got a few more ABs in 1942, spent three years in military service and returned to the majors with the Pirates in 1947, a year noteworthy for the debuts of Robinson and Doby but not really for Rikard. He batted .287 and scored 57 runs as the occasional leadoff batter for a really bad Pirates club. That was his final fling in the big leagues. But the tale of Culley Rikard would not be complete without recounting the incident of June 5, 1947, which mostly involves another player and takes up a significant portion of Rikard’s Wikipedia entry. Rikard hit a fly ball that was caught by Pete Reiser in center field at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Reiser, famous for crashing into walls, did so on this occasion, knocking himself unconscious and actually receiving last rites before recovering in a hospital. P.S. Kudos to Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State standout who received a $10.8 million contract from Milwaukee as the sides avoided arbitration. Woodruff, who has become one of the National League’s best pitchers, went 13-4 with 3.05 ERA in 2022 and is 41-25 career for the Brewers.

08 Dec

change of address

Add Jake Mangum’s name to the list of former Mississippi State outfielders changing teams this off-season. Miami has acquired Mangum from the New York Mets to complete an earlier trade. The 26-year-old Jackson Prep alum is a .284 career hitter over three minor league seasons with 13 homers (in 807 at-bats) and 45 steals. A switch hitter with center-field skills, he hit .333 in Triple-A in 2022, missing some time with a back injury. “He’s got a lot of tools,” Marlins general manager Kim Ng told mlb.com. “(P)retty happy about it.” Mangum was eligible to be taken in Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft since he was not on the Mets’ 40-man roster but wasn’t selected. He isn’t on Miami’s 40-man either but likely will get a shot at making the big league team in spring training. P.S. In other news: Justyn-Henry Malloy and Jake Higginbotham, both of whom played for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in 2022, were dealt to Detroit on Wednesday for big league reliever Joe Jimenez. … Former Jackson Generals manager Rick Sweet was named the winner of Minor League Baseball’s Mike Coolbaugh Award, given “to an individual who has shown outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game and skill in mentoring young players on the field.” Sweet, the Gens’ skipper in 1991-92, managed Milwaukee’s Triple-A club in 2022. … Chuckie Robinson, the former Southern Miss star who made his MLB debut with Cincinnati in 2022, re-signed as a minor league free agent with the Reds. … MSU product Jonathan Holder, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2020, signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Angels. The injury-plagued right-hander pitched limited innings in the Chicago Cubs’ system the past two seasons. … Former Northeast Mississippi Community College standout Tyler Samaniego was named as the relief pitcher on Pittsburgh’s 2022 Organization All-Star team by milb.com. Other Organization All-Stars from Mississippi named thus far include Mangum (Mets), Blaze Jordan (Boston), Matt Wallner (Minnesota), Colt Keith (Detroit) and Jordan Westburg (Baltimore). … MLB, in association with the players association and Ken Griffey Jr., will hold the first HBCU Swingman Classic next summer as part of the All-Star Game festivities in Seattle. Fifty players from NCAA Division I HBCUs will be invited for what is described as an “All-Star experience.”

23 Nov

new angel in outfield

The Los Angeles Angels’ 2023 quest to end their eight-year playoff drought will include Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State slugger whom they acquired in a trade Tuesday with Milwaukee. Renfroe, who hit 29 homers for the Brewers last season, joins an Angels lineup that features Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, and he’ll be working with new hitting coach Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star. Renfroe, 30, is a .240 career hitter with 157 homers since his 2016 MLB debut and is regarded as an excellent right fielder. “He’s got the total package,” Angels GM Perry Minasian told mlb.com. “We felt like he was a really good fit for us.” The Brewers receive three young pitchers in the trade. The Angels will be Renfroe’s fifth team in five seasons. He has been on two postseason clubs: 2020 Tampa Bay and ’21 Boston. The Crystal Springs native was the 13th overall pick out of Starkville in 2013. P.S. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner, who made his big league debut in September, is pegged by mlb.com as Minnesota’s best rookie of the year candidate for 2023. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .228 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 18 games for the Twins. He put on a power show last year, blasting 27 homers between Double-A and Triple-A and homering in the All-Star Futures Game and in his first MLB game. … USA Today ranks former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson No. 87 among the 87 best available free agents this off-season. The veteran outfielder, 33, had an inconsistent year with St. Louis, hitting .267 with six homers and 36 RBIs and missing a chunk of time with injury. … Kirk McCarty, ex-USM star from Hattiesburg, was released by Cleveland after being designated for assignment earlier this month. McCarty, a left-hander, made his MLB debut with the Guardians this past season (see previous post).

06 Oct

leading men

In what was a deflating season for his team, Nathaniel Lowe might draw some small consolation from the fact that he had a bust-out year. The Mississippi State product led all Mississippians in the majors in batting with a .302 average while hitting 27 homers and driving in 76 runs in his second full MLB campaign. Texas, which spent a lot of money in the off-season, finished 68-94 and saw its manager fired during the year. But the Rangers got plenty of bang for their buck ($700,000 in 2022) from Lowe, acquired from Tampa Bay prior to the 2021 season. In the other major offensive categories, DeSoto Central High alumnus Austin Riley of Atlanta topped all Mississippians with 38 homers, 93 RBIs and 90 runs. Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star, led in stolen bases with 13; he played only 79 games for the Chicago White Sox because of injuries. Brandon Woodruff, the former State standout from Wheeler, was the top pitcher from the state, posting 13 wins, a 3.05 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 190 strikeouts for Milwaukee. Woodruff, who spent some time on the injured list, pitched 153 1/3 innings, falling short of qualifying for the official MLB leaderboard. Kendall Graveman, another ex-Bulldogs star, posted six saves for the White Sox. Chris Stratton, a State alum from Tupelo, had two saves for Pittsburgh, none for St. Louis, where he finished the season. It’s worth noting that a number of Mississippi-connected pitchers were impacted by injuries in 2022, including Lance Lynn, Justin Steele, Chris Ellis, Spencer Turnbull, Garrett Crochet and Drew Pomeranz. P.S. The most interesting stats from a Mississippian in 2022 were produced by Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton. The 10-year vet went 1-for-20, striking out 12 times, but managed to score 13 runs and steal 10 bases. Playing for Miami and Minnesota, Hamilton was used primarily as a pinch runner.

04 Oct

around the horn

Hunter Renfroe would not go down without a fight on Monday night. The former Mississippi State standout from Crystal Springs homered as part of a three-run rally in the ninth inning, then drove in the game-winning run with a 10th-inning single, sparking a celebration by his Milwaukee teammates. The good feeling didn’t last. A short time later, Philadelphia beat Houston and eliminated the Brewers from postseason contention. Milwaukee, which had made the playoffs four straight years, led the National League Central into the summer before swooning and getting run down by St. Louis. Acquired from Boston in the off-season, Renfroe has been productive, batting .257. His homer Monday against Arizona was his 29th and the game-winning RBI his 72nd. Fellow MSU product Brandon Woodruff delivered a quality start (six innings, two runs) against the Diamondbacks; he was 4-1 with a 2.42 ERA in his last seven starts. It wasn’t enough. … Atlanta, needing a win to clinch the NL East, went down with a whimper at Miami, losing 4-0 while striking out 14 times. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley wore a golden sombrero, fanning four times in four at-bats and stranding four baserunners. … Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters hit a game-deciding three-run homer for Kansas City, taking Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty deep in the 10th inning at Cleveland. Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP traded away by Atlanta this summer for a draft pick, is batting .261 with five homers and 18 RBIs since being called up by the Royals. … Ex-Biloxi High standout Colt Keith went 2-for-4 with an RBI for Salt River on opening day in the Arizona Fall League. The Detroit Tigers prospect hit .301 with nine homers in an injury-curtailed season at the High-Class A level. Also debuting in the AFL Monday was 2022 M-Braves outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy, who went 0-for-2 with three walks for Scottsdale. Malloy hit 17 homers over three levels this past season, six for the M-Braves and one (in his first game) at Triple-A Gwinnett. … Trivia time: When Tony LaRussa began his Hall of Fame managerial career with the Chicago White Sox in August of 1979, who did he replace? Answer: Don Kessinger, the former Ole Miss standout, was player-manager for the ChiSox for the first 106 games of the 1979 season, resigning on Aug. 2 with a 46-60 record. That was the last of Kessinger’s 16 seasons as a player. LaRussa, on leave from the White Sox since late August with medical issues, retired on Monday.

03 Oct

as the dust settles

Fortunes rose and fell for a handful of Mississippians on an eventful Sunday in the big leagues. In Atlanta, the Braves completed a stunning sweep of the New York Mets with former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley playing a key role in a pivotal third inning. In Milwaukee, Mississippi State alum Hunter Renfroe gave the desperate Brewers life in the ninth only to see their playoff hopes virtually crushed by Miami in the 12th. In San Diego, ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn, playing a spoiler role for the Chicago White Sox, beat the Padres — but only after the Brewers’ defeat had locked up a playoff berth for the Pads. … Powered by homers from Mississippi Braves alum Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson, the Braves beat Buck Showalter’s Mets 5-3 to virtually clinch the National League East. “If I know these guys, they’ll rebound and look to make somebody feel their pain,” Mets manager Showalter, the former MSU star who is also feeling that pain, told mlb.com. The Mets had taken a 3-1 lead in the third and had runners at the corners with no outs when Mark Canha hit a roller down the third-base line. Riley charged and made a split-second decision to let the ball go. It hopped foul. Had Riley fielded it, the runner at third would have scored. Had it stayed fair, at least one run would’ve scored. None did. Charlie Morton, the veteran ex-M-Braves right-hander, retired Canha and the next two hitters. In the bottom of the third, Riley reached on an HBP that loaded the bases with two outs, and he ultimately scored the go-ahead run on a Travis d’Arnaud hit. Braves relievers locked down the win, reducing the defending world champs’ magic number to claim the East to one with three games left at Miami. “You come at the kings, you better not miss,” said Madison native Ben Ingram, the Braves radio voice. … The Brewers trailed 2-1 in the ninth when Renfroe doubled with one out and scored the tying run on a Kolten Wong knock. Alas, Milwaukee fell in the 12th. Coupled with Philadelphia’s win against Washington, the Brewers’ elimination number is now one. They’ll send ex-MSU standout Brandon Woodruff (13-4) to the bump today against Arizona. The Phillies face Houston on the road. One Brewers loss or one Phillies win in the final series eliminates Milwaukee from the NL wild card chase. … At San Diego, Lynn (8-7) pitched great (seven innings, one run) in the final outing of what as been a disappointing season for the big right-hander and his Chicago team. After the game, a 2-1 Chicago victory, the White Sox had to watch the Padres and their fans at Petco Park celebrate a wild card berth. P.S. Former Delta State star Dalton Moats celebrated a Triple-A championship Sunday after the Durham Bulls, Tampa Bay’s affiliate, beat Reno 10-6 in Las Vegas. The lefty reliever, who didn’t pitch in the finale, had a 3.60 ERA in 51 games this season, his sixth in pro ball.

01 Oct

a long-awaited party

They partied like it was 2001 in Seattle on Friday night when the Mariners clinched their first postseason berth since that storied season. Pause here for a brief trip down memory lane. The ’01 Mariners won a record 116 games with a team that included Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, Jamie Moyer and three former Jackson Generals who were part of a blockbuster trade in 1998. At the trade deadline that year, the M’s sent Randy Johnson to Houston for three players on the Double-A Generals’ roster: shortstop Carlos Guillen and pitchers Freddy Garcia and John Halama. In 2001 — by which time Johnson was in Arizona — those three were integral pieces in Seattle’s success. Guillen hit .259 as the regular shortstop, Garcia was 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA and Halama went 10-7. The ’01 Mariners went out with a whimper, losing to the New York Yankees in five games in the American League Championship Series. (The Yanks were later vanquished by Johnson and the Diamondbacks in the World Series.) The ’22 Mariners clinched with a walk-off 2-1 win against Oakland. Former Mississippi Braves shortstop Dylan Moore, who also played briefly in Biloxi, scored the M’s first run in the first inning after leading off with a single and stealing second, his 21st bag. Moore is batting .219 while playing seven different positions. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier, Seattle’s usual second baseman, didn’t play in Friday’s game. He has had a down year (.235, 38 points under his career average) but will be going to the postseason for the first time in his seven MLB campaigns. P.S. Another ex-M-Braves shortstop, Dansby Swanson, hit one of the three homers Atlanta got against Jacob deGrom in the 5-2 win on Friday that moved the Braves into a tie with the New York Mets atop the National League East. Swanson’s bomb was the 100th of his career. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley hit his 38th homer of the season and third career against deGrom. … Former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers Corbin Burnes and Devin Williams combined on a five-hitter as Milwaukee beat Miami 1-0 and stayed a half-game back of Philadelphia in the battle for the third NL wild card. (San Diego, which has lost three in a row, hasn’t clinched a wild card, either.) Burnes (12-8) went eight innings, and Williams (15 saves) survived a wobbly ninth (a hit and two walks) by striking out the side.

29 Sep

it’s that time

The big league season is winding down, and Brandon Woodruff is ramping up. “This is my favorite time of year,” the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout told mlb.com on Wednesday. Woodruff had just thrown six shutout innings to beat St. Louis, setting a Milwaukee Brewers record by fanning 10 or more batters for the fourth straight outing. The Brewers’ 5-1 win against the National League Central champs moved them within a half-game of slumping Philadelphia for the third wild card in the NL. Woodruff, 13-4 on the season, is 4-0 with 42 strikeouts over 26 innings in his last four starts. He has 183 K’s in 147 1/3 innings on the year. One Brewers infielder jokingly remarked that it’s been no fun to play behind Woodruff because he strikes everybody out. Former MSU star Hunter Renfroe drove in the Brewers’ first run on Wednesday, boosting his season RBI total to 70. Milwaukee hosts Miami today, while Philadelphia, in a four-game skid, plays the Cubs in Chicago. P.S. In case anyone was wondering, two of Aaron Judge’s American League record-tying 61 home runs have come against Mississippi products. He got MSU alum Kendall Graveman for No. 15 and Ole Miss’ Mike Mayers for No. 51. … Minnesota has to be pleased with what it has seen from ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner in the first 12 games of his MLB career. The lefty slugger, who had two hits and three RBIs in a win on Wednesday, is batting .275 with two homers and nine RBIs. … MSU product Nathaniel Lowe continues to crank out hits for Texas, getting two more Wednesday to boost his average to .305, with 25 homers and 73 RBIs. He has 173 hits on the season — tied for seventh-most in the majors — and 39 knocks in his last 30 games (a .345 average).

26 Sep

party time

There was another celebration in MLB on Sunday — the fifth in a seven-day stretch — when Cleveland clinched the American League Central with a 10-4 win at Texas. Former Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty, one of the record 16 rookies to suit up for Guardians in their title run, threw two scoreless innings in relief, trimming his ERA to 4.28 over 11 appearances. Fellow rookie Konnor Pilkington, the Mississippi State product, wasn’t on the active roster Sunday but also contributed this season, as did ex-USM standout Nick Sandlin, a second-year player who was in uniform and in the clubhouse for the after-party. … MSU alum Kendall Graveman took the loss against Detroit for the Chicago White Sox, whose sixth straight defeat officially eliminated them from the AL Central race. The ChiSox, the preseason favorite in the division, are still in the wild card chase but barely. … Seattle, an AL wild card contender, blew a nine-run lead and lost to Kansas City 13-12. Ex-State star Adam Frazier went 1-for-2 with an RBI for the Mariners but was on the bench when the Royals scored 11 runs in the sixth inning. … Milwaukee, bidding for a National League playoff berth, saw its five-game win streak snapped in a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati. Former MSU standout Hunter Renfroe’s 28th homer accounted for the Brewers’ lone run. He homered and drove in five runs all told in a 10-2 win on Saturday. … Don Mattingly is out as Miami manager after this season, which means former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames, the Marlins’ first-year hitting coach, probably will be out, as well. Miami has scuffled with the bats this season. P.S. Last week was filled with memorable events in addition to the postseason clinchings, and Mississippians were front-and-center for several. When the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge hit his 60th homer on Tuesday, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes — an ex-Yankee — was in the house after a first-pitch ceremony with his son Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh’s third baseman. Ex-MSU star Buck Showalter, the Mets manager, sarcastically called for the ball when his club suffered its MLB-record 106th hit batsman on Wednesday. When Albert Pujols hit home runs No. 699 and 700 for St. Louis on Friday, Mississippi college products Dakota Hudson, Chris Stratton and Corey Dickerson, fellow Cardinals, had front-row seats at Dodger Stadium.

22 Sep

must-win mode

Being in must-win mode, Milwaukee must feel pretty good today with Brandon Woodruff going to the mound at Cincinnati. The former Mississippi State star from Wheeler is coming off one of his best starts of 2022, a 4-1 win against the mighty New York Yankees on Saturday, and is 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three starts. The Brewers aren’t likely to catch St. Louis in the National League Central — they’re 7.5 games back — but they are just 2.5 games back of Philadelphia for the final wild card berth. Woodruff (11-4, 3.26) worked eight innings against the Yankees, allowing five hits and one walk while fanning 10. He got Giancarlo Stanton four times and Aaron Judge once. Judge, the likely MVP of the American League, said Woodruff’s combination of fastballs and off-speed stuff “makes for a tough day trying to pick your poison.” Woodruff should have his way with lowly Cincinnati, even at the hitter’s haven that is Great American Ballpark. The Reds will counter with the flame-throwing Hunter Greene (4-12, 4.97). … At Chicago on Wednesday, the White Sox — also in must-win mode — were counting on a strong outing from ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn against Cleveland, but they didn’t get it. Lynn was knocked around for six runs (three earned) in six innings as the ChiSox lost to the Guardians 8-2. Chicago fell 6 games back of first-place Cleveland in the AL Central, and Lynn fell to 7-6, 4.02.