On this date in 2005, former Mississippi State star Rafael Palmeiro infamously wagged his finger during a Congressional hearing and declared, “I have never used steroids. Period.” Less than two months later, while playing for Baltimore, he failed an MLB drug test for steroids and was suspended. Though Palmeiro has steadfastly denied using steroids, that incident has stuck to him and is the main reason he is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame despite having 3,000 hits and 500 homers over a 20-year career that ended in 2005. … On a somewhat lighter note, it was also on this date in 2010 that Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee, pitching for Seattle, was ejected from a spring training game – and subsequently fined and suspended – for throwing a pitch over the head of an Arizona batter. The fine and suspension, which would have been for five regular season games, were later rescinded. That incident is largely forgotten and is definitely not the reason Lee isn’t in the Hall of Fame despite 143 wins, a 3.52 ERA and a Cy Young award in a 13-year career. Lee was on the ballot for the first time for the 2020 election and promptly dropped off the ballot.
The list of first-timers on the baseball writers’ 2020 Hall of Fame ballot includes two notable names with Mississippi ties: Cliff Lee and Bobby Abreu, both of whom figure to get decent support. Neither, however, is likely to be named on 75 percent of the ballots to earn election. The real question is, will they get enough support to stay on the ballot for a second term? A player needs to appear on at least 5 percent of the ballots to do so — a bigger hurdle than you might think. Consider: Weir native and Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia were first-timers on the 2019 ballot, and none of them came close to making it for 2020. Both Lee, who pitched at Meridian Community College before going on to Arkansas, and ex-Generals star Abreu have some eye-catching numbers. Lee, a four-time All-Star and a Cy Young Award winner, went 143-91 with a 3.52 ERA over 13 seasons. Abreu, a two-time All-Star, batted .291 with 288 homers, 400 steals and eight 100-RBI seasons. But it’s a very crowded field. Still on the ballot is Billy Wagner, another ex-Gens star who has lasted five years. The little left-hander, who has 422 career saves (sixth all-time), got just 16.7 percent of the votes in 2019. The only Mississippi-connected players enshrined in Cooperstown are former Negro Leagues stars Cool Papa Bell and William Foster.
The results of the National Baseball Hall of Fame voting should not, by any means, diminish what Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Freddy Garcia accomplished in the game. Oswalt, arguably the best pitcher the state has ever produced, and former Jackson Generals stars Berkman and Garcia were among the 16 players who appeared on the ballot for the first time and didn’t garner enough support to appear again. It was a tad surprising how little support each received, but such is the nature of a process that had 35 names on the ballot, including the four truly great ones who were elected to Cooperstown. Each voter is limited to 10 picks. Oswalt got just four votes total. Berkman got five and Garcia none. It took 319 votes (75 percent) to get elected. Oswalt, from Weir and Holmes Community College, won 163 games, posted a 3.36 ERA and was a three-time All-Star. Berkman batted .293 with 366 homers, made six All-Star Games and won a World Series ring. Garcia won 156 games over 15 seasons, was a two-time All-Star and also won a ring. Though they’ll slip off the Hall of Fame ballot, Mississippi baseball aficionados won’t forget them. … Former Generals standout Billy Wagner, in his fourth year on the ballot, got 71 votes (16.7 percent), enough to stay on for the 2020 election. Meridian Community College alumnus Cliff Lee and Generals alum Bobby Abreu are among the players who’ll make their first appearance on the 2020 ballot.
Kept seeing and hearing Cliff Lee’s name pop up after Corey Kluber’s brilliant performance for Cleveland in Game 1 of the World Series. Former Meridian Community College star Lee, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2014, never won a World Series ring but did post some impressive postseason numbers that are worth recounting. The stoic left-hander was 7-0 in the postseason at one point and finished 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts; he struck out 89 and walked 10 in 82 innings. He was never better than in Game 1 of the 2009 Series, when he was pitching for Philadelphia against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Lee went nine, allowed six hits and a lone unearned run, struck out 10 and walked none. Excellent. He beat the Yankees again in Game 5 of that Series, but those were the only games the Phillies won. Lee won 143 games and a Cy Young Award (with Cleveland in 2008) over his 13 big league campaigns. He averaged 7.6 K’s and just 1.9 walks per nine innings for his career. Baseball America once wrote of Lee that he “will be remembered as a pitcher who had arguably the best control and command of any lefthander of this generation.”
The Mississippi Braves are surging. Sorta. Having limped in last Saturday after a rough road trip, the M-Braves have won five of six during the current homestand. But … they’ve gained no ground in the Southern League South during this stretch. At 23-18, the M-Braves are 3 games behind Jacksonville, which has displaced Mobile at the top of the standings. Still, Thursday’s 7-4 win over Mobile was significant. The BayBears, first-half champs in the division, took a series at Trustmark Park in mid-July, winning three straight after dropping the first two. In the opener of the new series on Thursday, the M-Braves got home runs — a rarity at the TeePee — from Cedric Hunter and Rich Poythress and some nice pitching — a regular occurrence — from J.R. Graham and Jason Hursh. Hunter, a one-time big leaguer, leads the M-Braves with 12 bombs. Poythress, the big first baseman signed recently to replace injured slugger Seth Loman, hit his first homer with the club. Graham, still on the mend from arm issues, threw two scoreless innings before giving way to Hursh, who worked six strong to get the win. The 2013 first-round pick by Atlanta out of Oklahoma State is now 10-6 with a 3.56 ERA. His future looks bright. P.S. Philadelphia did make a move on Thursday with ex-Meridian Community College star Cliff Lee. The Phillies put the veteran left-hander back on the disabled list after he experienced elbow discomfort during his start against Washington. Lee only recently returned from a two-month stint on the DL with the same problem. The chances he might be traded now look rather slim. In fact, his season may be over.
Trying to picture Cliff Lee in an Atlanta Braves uniform. … Not seeing it. The former Meridian Community College star would certainly be an upgrade for the Braves’ rotation, taking the spot of either struggling Mike Minor or young swingman Alex Wood. Atlanta is one of the nine teams Philadelphia can send Lee to without the left-hander’s approval. (Washington is another.) And the Braves have some expendable prospects they could deal, including former or current Mississippi Braves like Elmer Reyes, Aaron Northcraft, Kyle Kubitza, Phil Gosselin and Todd Cunningham. But Lee makes a lot of money, and the Braves just swallowed Dan Uggla’s big contract. That’s a snag. Lee is going to go somewhere, just don’t see Atlanta as a destination. Lee, 35, has already been traded four times in his 15-year pro career and been with five organizations, including Montreal, which drafted him out of Arkansas in 2000. That’s a lot of movement for a pitcher with his pedigree. Lee had a rough return Monday from a two-month stint on the disabled list, but his career record is 143-91 with a 3.52 ERA. He is 7-3, 2.52 in 11 postseason games, including two wins in the 2009 World Series, which his Phillies lost to the New York Yankees. Lee is going to go somewhere — and he is going to help somebody make a run at the playoffs.
The Mississippi matchup of veteran left-handers at Dodger Stadium on Monday night proved to be a letdown. Well, Cliff Lee, the ex-Meridian Community College star, was brilliant for Philadelphia, but Mississippi State product Paul Maholm fizzled for Los Angeles. Lee (3-2, 3.09) went eight innings, allowed four hits and no walks and struck out 10 in the 7-0 victory. The Dodgers were blanked at home for the first time in 2014. Maholm, trying to secure a rotation spot in his first year in Dodger blue, lasted just five innings and allowed eight hits and four earned runs, including a home run to Ryan Howard. Maholm is now 0-2 with a 5.60. He also committed an error that led to a run. … Elsewhere in The Show on Monday: Corey Dickerson, another Meridian CC product now back up with Colorado, belted his first homer of the year while going 3-for-4 in the Rockies’ 8-2 win against San Francisco. Dickerson is batting .375. Former Ole Miss star Alex Presley went 3-for-4, including a triple against Felix Hernandez, as Houston beat Seattle 7-2. Presley is batting just .200 for the Astros, who picked him up on waivers from Minnesota late in the spring. Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson returned from the bereavement list and started in center field for Kansas City, going 0-for-1 with a sac and a run in a 4-3 loss to Cleveland. Dyson is hitting .111 in just nine at-bats. The Royals say they plan to platoon the lefty-hitting Dyson with Justin Maxwell while starting center fielder Lorenzo Cain is out with an injury. Props to ex-Mississippi Braves standout Evan Gattis on his first career walk-off homer for Atlanta, which beat Miami 4-2 in 10 innings. Still can’t figure why Gattis is batting seventh in the lineup.