16 Nov

select company

It’s a very exclusive club that Buck Showalter joined on Tuesday when the former Mississippi State standout claimed the National League Manager of the Year Award. He is one of just three managers to win the top manager award four times — and the first to do it with four different teams. “Very humbling, very honored,” he told mlb.com. Of course, four-time winners Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa have something that Showalter still lacks: a World Series ring. In his first season with the New York Mets, Showalter guided his club to 101 wins, a 24-win improvement over the previous season. However, they squandered a big division lead to Atlanta, lost a late showdown for first place in the National League East and made the postseason as a wild card, where they lost to San Diego. Showalter’s postseason record is 10-16 over six appearances. The BBWAA voting, which doesn’t take into account the postseason, was close in the NL race. Showalter got eight first-place votes, same as Los Angeles’ Dave Roberts and just one more than Atlanta’s Brian Snitker. Showalter’s total points were 77 to Roberts’ 57 and Snitker’s 55. Showalter became the first Mets manager to win the award; somehow, Davey Johnson, the ex-Jackson Mets skipper, did not prevail in 1986 despite winning 108 games with the team that went on to win the World Series. (Houston’s Hal Lanier won the ’86 award.) Showalter will be back with the Mets in 2023 for his 22nd season as an MLB manager.

15 Nov

noteworthy

Michael Harris II, who had never played a game in Double-A before this season, has become the third former Mississippi Braves star to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. The outfielder made the jump from Pearl to Atlanta in late May and batted .297 with 19 homers, 64 RBIs, 20 steals and 75 runs in 114 MLB games. He also excelled in center field for the NL East champs. Harris joins Ronald Acuna (2018) and Craig Kimbrel (2011) as former M-Braves to win the BBWAA award. Right-hander Spencer Strider, another M-Braves alum, was one of the three finalists this year. Two other Magnolia State minor league alums have won the ROY: ex-Jackson Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry in 1983 and former Biloxi Shuckers pitcher Devin Williams in 2020. Chris Coghlan, an Ole Miss product, won the 2009 NL rookie award and is the only state native or college alum to have claimed the honor. … A bundle of Mississippians have become minor league free agents, including several who have big league experience. The list: Ti’Quan Forbes, Trent Giambrone, Jonathan Holder, Wyatt Short, Delvin Zinn, Chuckie Robinson, Zac Houston, Dalton Moats, Cody Reed, Jack Kruger and Demarcus Evans. Corey Dickerson, Billy Hamilton and Adam Frazier were 2022 major leaguers who elected free agency. … A belated congrats to Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College standout, on being named the Los Angeles Angels’ hitting coach. He spent last season with Miami after four years with the New York Yankees. The Angels, despite the presence of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, were one of the worst hitting teams in the majors in 2022. … On a sad note, former JaxMets outfielder Chuck Carr has died. He played at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1989-90 and spent eight years in the big leagues, stealing an NL-best 58 bases with Florida in 1993.

03 Nov

touching the bases

The jaw-dropping no-hitter by Houston in Game 4 on Wednesday night — following Philadelphia’s jaw-dropping five-homer game on Tuesday night — ensures that there will be a Game 6 in Houston on Saturday night. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale is scheduled to be the home plate umpire for that game. Barksdale, who worked first base in Game 4, has been umpiring in MLB since 2000 (full-time since 2006) and is highly rated by those who rate such things. He was 18th in overall accuracy out of 96 umps who worked behind the plate in 2022, per umpscorecards.com. He has received a number of major assignments: the World Baseball Classic, the All-Star Game and multiple postseason series, including two World Series. He was behind the plate for Game 5 of the 2019 Series between the Astros and Washington (and made a couple of memorable ball-strike calls). … The Astros have thrown 15 no-hitters in their 61-year history. Among them are a combo effort in 2003 that was started by Weir’s Roy Oswalt and finished by former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner and a true no-no in 1986 by ex-Jackson Mets ace Mike Scott. … Oswalt, incidentally, pitched for both the Astros (10 seasons) and Phillies (two) and aided in postseason runs by both clubs. A Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, he won 163 games, second only to Guy Bush among state natives, in a stellar big league career. … Today is the 69th birthday of Sunflower native Larry Herndon, who played 14 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with Detroit in 1984. Herndon, who went to high school in Memphis and attended Tennessee State, batted .274 with 107 homers and 92 steals as an outfielder with St. Louis, San Francisco and the Tigers. In Game 1 of the ’84 Series against San Diego, Herndon hit a go-ahead two-run homer that propelled the Tigers to victory. He went 5-for-15 in the five-game series. He coached in the Detroit system in 2022. … Props to former Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Max Fried and Biloxi Shuckers alum Trent Grisham for winning National League Gold Gloves. … Chris Ellis, the ex-Ole Miss and M-Braves standout, has elected free agency after being dropped from Baltimore’s 40-man roster. Ellis, 30, missed virtually the entire ’22 season with a shoulder injury.

21 Oct

a dose of history

The Houston Astros, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this season, gave a nod to their first World Series team by having a star pitcher from that club, Mississippi native Roy Oswalt, throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Thursday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Oswalt, the ex-Holmes Community College standout from Weir, was a 20-game winner for the 2005 Astros, who won the National League pennant — Oswalt won the clincher vs. St. Louis — before falling to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. That it took 43 years for Houston to make that first Fall Classic seems hard to fathom now. Up 2-0 on the New York Yankees in the current ALCS, the Astros are on the cusp of a fourth World Series appearance since 2017, when they won their first and only championship (under controversial circumstances). They’ve been in the ALCS six straight years. Yet this franchise had an inglorious start. Houston’s first team, the expansion Colt .45s, were managed by Ellisville native and former big leaguer Harry Craft. They went 64-96 in ’62. Craft was dismissed late in the 1964 season with a 191-280 record. The team became the Astros in 1965, moving into the Astrodome, and finally posted a winning season in 1972. Pascagoula native Harry Walker was the manager of that team — until he was fired in August despite having a winning record. In 1980, the Astros finally made the playoffs for the first time. Houston’s Double-A team, the Jackson Generals, took up residence at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1991 and helped fuel the Astros teams that won four NL Central titles in a five-year stretch (1997-2001) before finally reaching the World Series in 2005. They didn’t make the postseason again for 10 years, going through a rough rebuilding process that is now bearing fruit year after year. P.S. On this date in 1986, former Jackson Mets star Lenny Dykstra led off Game 3 of the World Series at Fenway Park with a home run off Meridian native Oil Can Boyd. The New York Mets, down 0-2 in the Series, won the game 7-1 over Boston and ultimately won the title in seven games. Boyd allowed six runs in seven innings in his only Series appearance.

18 Oct

taking stock

The 2021 champions of the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves didn’t produce another trophy in 2022, finishing well off the pace in both halves of the Southern League season. What the M-Braves did produce were two players who made significant contributions in Atlanta’s playoff charge: likely National League rookie of the year Michael Harris II, who made the jump in May, and Vaughn Grissom, who followed in August. And that’s what the minor leagues are really all about. All told, nine M-Braves alums debuted in the big leagues in 2022 (not all with Atlanta): Harris, Grissom, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers, Freddy Tarnok, Joey Meneses, William Woods, Bryce Elder and Joey Wentz. A 10th, Alan Rangel, was recalled in late September but did not appear in a game. In total, more than 160 have made their MLB debuts since the M-Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005. While the team limped in with a 62-74 overall record under first-year manager Bruce Crabbe, six 2022 M-Braves made Atlanta’s organizational All-Star team as selected by milb.com. First baseman Drew Lugbauer, a fringy prospect, opened eyes with his 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. However, he batted just .213 and struck out 212 times. Cody Milligan was the pick at second base, Justyn-Henry Malloy at third (though he played mostly left field in Mississippi), Andrew Moritz in the outfield and Jared Shuster and Justin Yeager as pitchers. The top hitter, statistically, on the ’22 club was shortstop Cade Bunnell, who seemingly came from out of nowhere to bat .301 with eight homers. Shuster, a highly rated prospect who finished the season in Triple-A, posted a 2.73 ERA, best among the M-Braves’ starters. Tanner Gordon led in wins with nine and Justin Maese in saves with 11. Looking to next year, shortstop Cal Conley, currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, is a name to know. The Texas Tech product hit .251 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and 36 steals at High-Class A Rome. Another key player in 2023 figures to be outfielder Jesse Franklin, who began the year with the M-Braves but missed virtually all of the season with an injury. The M-Braves open the ’23 season on April 7 against Biloxi at Trustmark Park. P.S. The last time Philadelphia was in the National League Championship Series, back in 2010, former Weir High and Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt was one of the three (four?) aces on the Phillies’ pitching staff. Acquired in a midseason trade from Houston, Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch for the National League East champs. The staff also featured Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, but the Phils were knocked out by San Francisco. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier, who helped Seattle end its 21-year playoff drought, will be a free agent after the World Series. A 2021 All-Star in Pittsburgh, the lefty-hitting second baseman had a down year in 2022, batting .238. … Former Jackson Mets standout Dave Magadan is out as hitting coach in Colorado, which has had four straight losing seasons. Magadan was the third baseman on the JaxMets’ 1985 Texas League championship club.

21 Aug

getting up to speed

An injury and subsequent surgery stalled Reed Trimble’s pro career just as it was getting started. After months of rehab, the former Southern Miss star got back in the game in July, and it appears things are starting to hum. Playing at Low-Class A Delmarva in the Baltimore organization, Trimble hit a leadoff home run on Saturday — the first homer of his two-year pro career — and added another hit to boost his average to .260 in 19 games. He has seven RBIs and 11 runs. The Northwest Rankin High product spent two seasons at USM, batting .345 with 17 homers and 12 steals as a switch-hitting center fielder for an excellent team in 2021. The Orioles drafted him 65th overall. In an interview with a Baltimore radio station shortly after he was drafted, Trimble said this about his affinity for baseball: “So I think it’s the simplicity of it, the purity of it and the ups and downs that come along with it that I love so much.” He experienced some downs right out of the chute, batting just .200 in 22 games across two levels last summer. Then in December, he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The recovery time was reported as 6-9 months. He made it back on July 14, playing the first of two games in the rookie Florida Complex League before moving up to Delmarva on July 22. Trimble takes a seven-game hit streak into the Shorebirds’ game at Salem today. He is hitting .273 this month. He has yet to show much power (five extra base hits) or speed (no steals), though that’s understandable in light of his recovery timeline. Trimble fell out of Baltimore’s latest Top 30 prospect chart after trade and draft acquisitions were filtered in, but he’ll no doubt climb back in soon. P.S. Kudos to former Jackson Mets infielder Ron Gardenhire, who was inducted into the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame on Saturday. In 13 years as the Twins’ manager, Gardenhire won more than 1,000 games and six American League Central titles.

31 Jul

officially famous

The baseball branch of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is quite impressive, featuring major league Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, William Foster and Dizzy Dean plus an array of other stars who could form a juggernaut of a dream team. That roster added a pair of luminaries on Saturday, when Barry Lyons and David Dellucci were formally inducted into the state shrine. Lyons, a catcher, was a standout at Biloxi High and Delta State (under the legendary Boo Ferriss) and with the Double-A Jackson Mets on his path to the big leagues. He was the proverbial aircraft carrier for the 1985 Texas League champion JaxMets. He debuted with the New York Mets in 1986, when they won their second World Series, and played parts of six more years in the big leagues. What’s more, he is one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. Dellucci, an outfielder and also a very personable fellow, played four years at Ole Miss, earning All-America recognition and winning an SEC batting crown in 1995. He would go on to play 13 years in the big leagues, batting .256 and winning a World Series ring with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, the team built (though not managed) by Buck Showalter. Dellucci now works for the SEC Network. Lyons and Dellucci join a Hall of Fame team that includes Guy Bush and Buddy Myer, Will Clark and Jeff Brantley, Don Kessinger and Joe Gibbon, Jim Davenport and Roy Oswalt, plus many more. Those are names to know. And if you don’t know them, perhaps you should visit the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson. You’d be impressed. P.S. On Saturday in San Francisco, Will Clark’s No. 22 was retired by the Giants in a big pregame ceremony. The former Mississippi State star was drafted No. 2 overall by the Giants in 1985 at a time when the club was struggling. Two years later, they won the National League West. Two years after that, they went to the World Series. Clark “made it cool to be a Giants fan again,” a teammate said. No. 22 jerseys and T-shirts were all over Oracle Park on Saturday. Clark was a five-time All-Star during his eight seasons with the Giants and still ranks among the franchise leaders in numerous hitting categories.

24 Jul

summer of straw


In the summer of 1982, Cal Ripken started his consecutive games streak and Gaylord Perry won his 300th game. Dale Murphy and Robin Yount were putting up MVP numbers for postseason-bound teams in the big leagues. Forty years ago, Oil Can Boyd was blowing away hitters in the Eastern League, Buck Showalter was cranking out hits in the Southern League and Brian Snitker was managing his first team in Anderson, S.C. In Jackson, Miss., at Smith-Wills Stadium, 1982 was the Summer of Straw. Darryl Strawberry made his Double-A debut with the Jackson Mets that season. He was 20 years old, a California kid starting just his third pro season in the New York Mets’ system. No one really knew what his future held — but a lot of folks thought it would be special. “There was a tremendous amount of hype when he arrived,” said Bill Walberg, longtime radio broadcaster for Jackson’s Double-A teams. “He was the No. 1 overall pick (in the 1980 MLB draft). The unusual name was another thing that attracted attention. Plus, he was tall (6 feet 6), he hit with power, he could run and he was a plus-defender in the outfield. … Clearly, he was as hyped as any player who ever came into Jackson in the Texas League era.” Strawberry’s numbers at Class A Lynchburg in 1981 weren’t jaw-dropping: .255, 13 homers, 78 RBIs, 31 steals. And he was joined in the 1982 JaxMets outfield by two other former first-round picks and well-regarded prospects, Billy Beane and Terry Blocker. But Strawberry, presaging his impact in New York a few years later, immediately became the straw that stirred the drink. He hit for the cycle in his first Double-A game. Jackson’s home field, Smith-Wills, had a reputation as tough park for hitting home runs. It was no problem for Strawberry. “He hit these towering home runs,” Walberg said. “People might remember the old Marlboro Man sign out in right-center field. He came close many times to hitting the man in the head. Another player told me that Strawberry had heard the ball didn’t carry at Smith-Wills and he wanted to prove he could make it carry.” Strawberry finished that season with a franchise-record 34 homers that still stood when the team moved to Texas in 2000. He also set a record with 45 steals, batted .283, hit nine triples, drove in 97 runs and walked 100 times. He was named the league MVP. The next year, he won National League rookie of the year honors with the big Mets. At a recent reunion of JaxMets players in Jackson, Strawberry acknowledged that the summer of ’82 was when his pro career took off, when he really developed the confidence he could play in the majors. He would go on to be an eight-time All-Star, a three-time World Series champ, a seven-time Sports Illustrated cover boy. “I found him to be a likable, very mature person with immense potential as a player that he realized,” Walberg said. Strawberry had some highly publicized off-field problems during his career which he overcame through his religious faith, and he is now a widely sought-after motivational speaker. During that reunion at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, which featured a bunch of former JaxMets heroes, Strawberry was the main attraction among fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Forty years after the Summer of Straw.

11 Jul

it’s on: mets-braves

New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves. Three-game series at Truist Park. Mets lead the Braves by 1 1/2 games in the National League East. This is going to be so much fun to watch, especially for Mississippi baseball aficionados. The Mets, after a late collapse in 2021, have been reinvigorated by manager Buck Showalter, the former Mississippi State star from the 1970s. The Braves, world champs in 2021, are back in championship form, led by former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker and an armada of ex-M-Braves stars. All three of Atlanta’s scheduled starting pitchers for the series cut their teeth in Pearl. All-Star Max Fried (9-2, 2.52 ERA), who goes tonight, pitched for the M-Braves in 2017 and briefly in 2018. Flame-throwing Spencer Strider (4-2, 2.60, 102 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings) pitched at Trustmark Park just last season, going 3-7, 4.71, but fanning 94 in 63 innings. And veteran Charlie Morton (5-3, 4.21) helped the 2007 M-Braves reach the postseason in the Southern League. Atlanta has five players picked for the All-Star Game, including M-Braves alums Ronald Acuna, William Contreras and Dansby Swanson. Former Braves star Mark DeRosa said on MLB Central today that it’s “a sin” that Austin Riley didn’t make the Midsummer Classic. The third baseman out of DeSoto Central High, also a former M-Braves standout, is batting .282 with 23 homers and 56 RBIs. DeRosa marveled over Riley’s at-bats in Sunday’s win against Washington; Riley went 3-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs, including the game-winner. The Braves, whose Double-A club has been in Pearl since 2005, have plenty of followers in the Jackson metro. But there are some Mets fans around, too, holdovers from the Jackson Mets era (1975-90) that produced so many big league stars and three Texas League pennants at Smith-Wills Stadium. P.S. The Braves have traded M-Braves alums Drew Waters, C.J. Alexander and Andrew Hoffman (who just joined the team on July 8) to Kansas City for the 35th pick in the upcoming draft. Waters, who was at Triple-A Gwinnett, won the Southern League batting title in 2019. Alexander was one of the best players on the current M-Braves club.

03 Apr

memory lane

The scene was reminiscent of the final act in the movie “A League of Their Own.” A group of ballplayers, a little worn down by time, wandered onto their old playground again, rekindling memories of days gone by. It was a sight to behold. A large number of former Jackson Mets players, back in town for a special reunion, made the short trek over to Smith-Wills Stadium on Saturday from the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, where a bunch of fans had come out to greet them. The JaxMets played the last of their 16 seasons at Smith-Wills in 1990, and most of the players here Saturday were from seasons well before that. Clearly, they have not been forgotten. There was Darryl Strawberry, perhaps the most accomplished of all the old JaxMets. Mississippi’s own Barry Lyons was there. And Randy Myers, Calvin Schiraldi, Rusty Tillman, Ed “Smoke” Pruitt, DeWayne Vaughn, Bill Latham, Al Carmichael, Mickey Weston and Joe Graves, to name a handful. Sam Perlozzo, manager of the Texas League championship teams of 1984-85, was there. Mike Feder, the longtime GM, was there with his son, Nate, who had the run of the ballpark as a kid back in the ’80s. Museum director Bill Blackwell is also a former JaxMets GM. Former franchise owner Con Maloney was there, and longtime radio broadcaster Bill Walberg and team trainer Rick Rainer, also. Several former Smith-Wills office staffers and press box workers turned out. One old sportswriter even showed up. Fans of a wide variety of ages brought old scorebooks and team photos and the like for signing. The air in the museum was thick with nostalgia. Players and fans swapping old stories is one of the things that makes baseball so very special.