At one point this past season, Justin Steele looked like a frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award. The former George County High star missed some time with an injury, had a few wobbles down the stretch and ultimately finished fifth in the voting revealed on Wednesday. Any disappointment he might have felt surely was assuaged by the $1 million bonus he received for that rank. Steele, a 28-year-old left-hander, went 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 30 starts in his third MLB campaign with the Chicago Cubs. He made the All-Star Game and threw a scoreless inning. He was one of the main reasons the Cubs stayed in the hunt in the NL wild card chase until the bitter end. For all those efforts, Steele is the 2023 winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the top performer among Mississippians (natives or school alums) in the big leagues. Steele, a Lucedale native, was drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2014, persevered through injuries and finally made The Show in 2021. Now a mainstay in the Cubs’ rotation, he gets the nod for the Bell over DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, the 2022 winner who had another big year for Atlanta.
He led the Atlanta Braves in home runs, slugging, OPS and WAR. He broke a team record for extra base hits held by Hank Aaron. He made his first All-Star Game and finished sixth in National League MVP voting. He also was rewarded with a 10-year, $212 million contract. Austin Riley’s 2022 season was an amazing one, making the DeSoto Central High product an easy choice for the annual Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the best performance in MLB by a Mississippian (native or school alum). In his eighth pro season — he spent parts of 2017 and ’18 with the Mississippi Braves — third baseman Riley batted .273 with 38 homers, 93 RBIs and 90 runs for the NL East champion Braves. He also has become a leader in the clubhouse. “The person he is, the player, the individual, it’s just everything that embodies the Atlanta Braves,” manager Brian Snitker told sbnation.com last summer. It’s the second straight year Riley has won the Bell, which honors the Negro Leagues legend who was the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Other winners include Tim Anderson (twice), Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. P.S. Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna won the Venezuelan Winter League’s Home Run Derby on Monday night with a dramatic clincher that set off a wild celebration in the stadium at Caracas. … Ex-Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty reportedly will sign with SSG Landers of the Korean Baseball Organization. McCarty, recently released by Cleveland, made his MLB debut in 2022 and posted a 4.54 ERA in 13 games for the Guardians.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, enjoyed a dream season with Atlanta in 2021. Not even assured of a starting job at third base in spring training, he became the team’s cleanup batter down the stretch, helped them to a World Series crown and earned a Silver Slugger Award. Riley’s season was clearly the best by any Mississippian in the majors, making him an easy choice for All Mississippi Baseball’s annual Cool Papa Bell Award. Previous winners of the award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Tim Anderson (twice), Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. Riley, in his third MLB campaign, batted .303 with 33 homers and 107 RBIs and played occasionally spectacular defense. He ranked in the top 10 in the National League in five key offensive categories. He also produced in big moments. In the Braves’ NL East-clinching sweep of Philadelphia in late September, Riley went 4-for-13 with a double, a homer, five RBIs and two runs. (For the record: Phillies star Bryce Harper, a finalist for NL MVP, went 0-for-11 with five punchouts in that three-game set.) Riley hit .277 in the postseason, with two homers, eight RBIs and seven runs in 16 games. He hit .320 in the World Series. All told, it was one of the best years ever by a Magnolia State product. P.S. Ex-East Central Community College star Marcus Thames has been hired as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach; he was recently fired by the New York Yankees after four years in the same role. … Kudos to Biloxi Shuckers alum Corbin Burnes for winning the NL Cy Young Award. Burnes, who pitched in Biloxi in 2017, went 11-5 with a 2.43 ERA and 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings for Milwaukee, which won the NL Central title. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn was a finalist for the AL Cy Young, which went to Robbie Ray.
This was a no-brainer, really. Tim Anderson was the clear choice for the 2020 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the top performance by a Mississippian (native or college alum) in the major leagues. Former East Central Community College star Anderson, who also won the award in 2019, earned a Silver Slugger this season at shortstop in the American League, which, considering all the good players at that position, is quite an honor. In 49 games, Anderson batted .322 with 10 homers, 21 RBIs and a league-leading 45 runs. He helped the Chicago White Sox reach the postseason and went 9-for-14 in the wild card round. Anderson was the AL batting champion in 2019, a year when he also garnered a lot of attention for his demonstrative style, including some much-publicized bat flips. The White Sox have hired a new manager for 2021: Tony LaRussa, who is not just old at 76 but has a reputation as an old-school skipper. Anderson, for his part, said he won’t be constrained. “I won’t change my style, the way I play, for Tony. I will continue to be me,” he told reporters after winning the Silver Slugger award. We’ll see how that works out. … Previous winners of the Cool Papa Bell Award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. P.S. Kudos to Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams on winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. He is the first relief pitcher to be named the loop’s top rookie since former Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel in 2011.
As baseball has become awash in new-age statistics, batting average has somehow been devalued. Yet even in this era of WAR, OPS+, hard-hit rate, et al., there remains something special about a batting title. Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College standout, won one this year in the American League, adding his name to a list that includes, just from this decade, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts and Josh Hamilton. Good company. Myriad Hall of Famers own batting titles: Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Rod Carew and Wade Boggs, to name a few. There is nothing fluky about batting average. Anderson hit .335 in 2019, becoming the first Mississippian (native or college alum) to earn a batting crown since Dave Parker won the second of his two in the National League in 1978. The only others to do it: Buddy Myer (1935) and Harry Walker (1947). Anderson, a shortstop in his fourth MLB season for the Chicago White Sox, also hit 18 home runs, drove in 56 runs, stole 17 bases and scored 81 runs. For the record, he posted a 4.0 WAR. It was the kind of season that deserves to be recognized with a Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the most outstanding performance by a Mississippian in MLB. Previous winners of the award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan.
Corey Dickerson won his first Gold Glove earlier this month. That was sort of icing on the cake for the McComb native, who’s best known for his hitting and certainly did not disappoint in that phase of the game for Pittsburgh in 2018. In his first season with the Pirates, after strangely being cut loose by Tampa Bay, Dickerson batted .300 with a .330 on-base percentage. The Meridian Community College product hit 13 homers, 35 doubles and seven triples, drove in 55 runs, scored 65 and even stole eight bases. He helped keep the Pirates in playoff contention late into the season. Even after they fell off that pace, the lefty-hitting left fielder continued to rake, batting .385 over his last 15 games. It was an outstanding season by any measure and easily worthy of the 2018 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the best performance by a Mississippian (native or college alum) in the majors. There were some other noteworthy efforts: Tim Anderson had a 20-homer/20-steal season; Mitch Moreland had a good first half and made the All-Star Game; Hunter Renfroe enjoyed a late-season power surge. Dickerson was just better across the board. … It’s the second time Dickerson has earned the Cool Papa Bell Award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Previous honorees include Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan.
Hunter Renfroe is surging. Tim Anderson is on the brink of a special accomplishment. Mitch Moreland is a solid contributor on the best team in baseball. Corey Dickerson’s numbers are pretty darn good, and Brian Dozier has 20 homers and more RBIs than any other Mississippian in the big leagues. Picking All Mississippi Baseball’s Cool Papa Bell Award winner for 2018 is going to be tough. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe clubbed his 22nd homer for San Diego on Wednesday. He is batting .258, slugging .519 and has 48 runs and 60 RBIs in 102 games (he spent time on the disabled list and in the minors). He credits a new two-strike approach for this late-season bolt. “I’m letting the ball get deep, shortening up a bit, making sure I’m as short and quick to the ball as possible,” he said in an mlb.com article. Anderson, the East Central Community College alum, hit his 19th homer – a game-winner – for the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. With 26 stolen bases, he is a homer shy of becoming the ChiSox’s fifth 20-20 man. “I’m excited to be able to chase that,” he told mlb.com. Anderson is hitting .248 with 62 RBIs and 73 runs in 141 games. Unlike Renfroe and Anderson, former State standout Moreland plays for a playoff-bound team, the 100-win Boston Red Sox. An All-Star in July, he has scuffled of late but is still hitting .250 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs and playing a good first base. Meridian CC product Dickerson also has faded recently but is batting .291 with 11 homers, 49 RBIs, 57 runs and eight steals for Pittsburgh. That’s a productive year. Former Southern Miss star Dozier, winner of the last two Cool Papas, has slumped since moving from Minnesota to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are chasing a division title. Playing on a troublesome knee, he is hitting .219. Can he possibly muster a finishing kick? It’s going to be fun final couple of weeks.
This was a close call. Drew Pomeranz went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA last season and was a key player in Boston’s drive to a division title. But Brian Dozier, who also had sparkling numbers, was arguably THE key player in unheralded Minnesota’s drive to a wild card berth. On that basis, the former Southern Miss star is a repeat winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the best performance by a Mississippian in the majors. Dozier, who also won the 2016 award, batted a career-high .271 (.359 on-base) with 34 homers, 93 RBIs, 106 runs and 16 steals in his fifth full season with the Twins. He was a regular on the highlight shows for his defense at second base. What’s more, he led off the American League wild card game against New York with a home run, though the Twins couldn’t hold the lead. No disrespect to Pomeranz — or for that matter Zack Cozart, Corey Dickerson, Jarrod Dyson, Lance Lynn and Adam Frazier, each of whom had a very good season – but Dozier was simply a cut above. … The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Previous honorees include Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan.
Brian Dozier. Hands down. The former Southern Miss star is the winner of the 2016 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the Mississippian (native or college alum) who had the best season in the big leagues. The 29-year-old Dozier, in his fifth MLB campaign with Minnesota, hit .268 with 42 homers, 99 RBIs, 104 runs and 18 steals in 155 games. He also played a solid second base (eight errors, .989 fielding percentage). Several Mississippians had nice years – see Drew Pomeranz, Kendall Graveman, Tim Anderson, Billy Hamilton, Seth Smith — but none approached Dozier’s numbers or impact. The Twins announced on Oct. 19 the winners of their annual Diamond Awards, and Dozier took three of them, including the Calvin R. Griffith Award as the Most Valuable Twin. He was also the recipient of the Charles O. Johnson Award for Most Improved Twin and the Bob Allison Award given to the Twins player who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership both on and off the field. … Dozier follows Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan as Cool Papa Bell Award winners. The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
For a hitter, this number isn’t good: .222. “You can’t really focus on the numbers,” Mitch Moreland told The Associated Press after Sunday’s game in Arlington, Texas. OK, but there are a few worth mentioning. Ex-Mississippi State star Moreland’s sixth home run of the season, which sailed an estimated 440 feet into the upper deck at Globe Life Park, helped spark Texas to a 6-2 win against Pittsburgh and moved the Rangers into first place in the American League West. Watch out for this team, especially if Moreland is heating up. The lefty-hitting first baseman snapped a 1-for-27 slump with a home run on Saturday. He now has 21 RBIs and 18 runs in 45 games. Moreland is coming off a season in which he hit .278 with 23 homers and 85 RBIs (and earned AMB’s Cool Papa Bell Award). Here’s another number of note: $5.7M, which is the contract Moreland agreed to for 2016; he’s a free agent after this year. … Also bolting into first place on Sunday was Ned Yost’s Kansas City Royals, who now lead the AL Central. The defending world champs, who’ve won 12 of 17, rallied to top the Chicago White Sox 5-4, with McComb’s Jarrod Dyson scoring the go-ahead run in a three-run eighth. Dyson, coming back from a spring training injury, is batting .264 with 12 runs, eight steals, seven RBIs and five outfield assists in 30 games. He does a lot of little things you gotta love.