07 Nov

next stop, chi-town

Marcus Thames’ whirlwind tour of MLB’s big markets reportedly will resume. The Louisville native reportedly has been hired as hitting coach for the Chicago White Sox. Thames, who hit 115 homers over a 10-year big league career that ended in 2011, was the hitting coach with the New York Yankees for several years, took a detour to Miami’s staff in 2022 and then spent 2023 with the Los Angeles Angels, who fired manager Phil Nevin after the season. Thames is a well-respected hitting coach, and the Angels’ offensive numbers in many categories improved under his watch. He will not get a chance to work in 2024 with fellow East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson. The White Sox recently declined an option on the veteran shortstop’s contract, making him a free agent. Anderson signed a seven-year deal ($37.5 million) after a promising rookie campaign in 2016, won a batting title and made two All-Star teams before suffering a dreadful 2023 season, batting .245 with one home run, 25 RBIs and a negative WAR. The outspoken Alabama native is also a lightning rod for controversy. P.S. Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter, dismissed by the Mets after his second year as manager, reportedly is a candidate for the Angels job, as is former Jackson Generals star Ray Montgomery. … Lance Lynn, the veteran pitcher out of Ole Miss, became a free agent after the Dodgers declined an option in his contract. Lynn had a tough year (5.73 ERA) that ended when he gave up four home runs in one inning in a playoff game against Arizona. … Kudos to ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe on winning a Gold Glove at first base for world champion Texas. Mauricio Dubon, who passed through Biloxi on his way to The Show, earned a Gold Glove as a utitity player for Houston. … Oakland outrighted Ole Miss product Chad Smith to Triple-A; he had a 6.59 ERA in 10 games for the A’s. … Olive Branch native Kendall Williams, a Dodgers prospect, pitched in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game on Sunday and yielded a 433-foot home run to Kyle Manzardo.

10 Jun

sudden impact

On this date in 2002, Marcus Thames, a New York Yankees rookie, stepped to the plate in Yankee Stadium for his first big league at-bat and, on the first pitch he saw, blasted a home run off Randy Johnson, then pitching for Arizona. It was the first of 115 homers for Thames, a Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star who had a nice MLB career. It’s a cool memory, for sure, but Thames no doubt has other things on his mind today, namely the five-game win streak by the Los Angeles Angels that has pushed their record to 35-30, within 6.5 games of first place in the American League West. Thames is in his first year as the Angels’ hitting coach, and he has had a positive impact. The Angels’ offense was a mess in 2022, despite the presence of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. They went 73-89 and finished 26th in the majors in on-base percentage, 25th in runs and first (as in worst) in strikeouts. Under Thames’ direction, their OBP (.333) as well as batting average (.256) are up, and they are averaging more runs per game (4.8) and fewer strikeouts (8.7). Thames, widely regarded as a good coach, was the victim of staff purges by the Yankees and Miami the last two years. He quickly found work with Phil Nevin’s Angels and promised an “aggressive in the zone” approach. It appears to be working, much like it did for him on that memorable first AB 21 years ago. … Things are not going so well for Buck Showalter’s New York Mets, who have lost seven in a row and tumbled to 30-34, 9.5 games out in the National League East. They’ve also lost slugger Pete Alonso to the injured list. Showalter, the ex-Mississippi State star in his second season as manager of the Mets, is already rumored to be on the hot seat despite winning manager of the year honors with a playoff team in 2022. He said he remained proud of his current club after they blew late leads and lost three times to the archenemy Atlanta Braves. They then lost to the low-budget Pittsburgh Pirates 14-7 on Friday. (Ke’Bryan Hayes — son of Hattiesburg native Charlie — went 5-for-5 with four RBIs for the Bucs, who are 33-29.) The Mets have the largest payroll in baseball; owner Steve Cohen can’t be happy with what has happened this season.

22 Jul

drought conditions

It isn’t Marcus Thames’ fault, of course. But the Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star is the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach, so he no doubt will come under scrutiny over the team’s recent offensive malaise. The Marlins were shut out for the third straight game on Thursday, losing at home to Texas 8-0, their fourth straight loss. The Marlins (43-49) haven’t scored in their last 34 innings. They haven’t hit a home run in nine straight games. They rank 22nd in MLB in batting (.237) and 24th in runs (371). This is Thames’ first year with Miami, which simply isn’t a very good team. A longtime big leaguer, Thames spent four years as the New York Yankees’ hitting coach. Loaded with talent, the Yankees were winners every year. But in 2021 they had problems with situational hitting and didn’t score a lot. They also didn’t win a World Series, a drought that goes back to 2009. Championships are the standard in the Bronx. Thames, very popular with the players, was axed along with several other coaches. Hired by the Marlins, he joined a team that won just 67 games in 2021. They’ve got some good, young pitching, but they didn’t hit last year and they’re not hitting this year. Now, they have fallen into an awful scoreless drought. This isn’t Thames’ fault. But he is the hitting coach.

01 Jun

pinstripe panic?

The New York Yankees are slumping again. Two months into a six-month season, fans and media types are expressing concern that the Yanks (29-25) might do the unthinkable: Miss the postseason. Panic much? That’s how it goes in Pinstripe Nation. It’s only natural to wonder if Louisville native Marcus Thames, the team’s hitting coach, is feeling any heat. After all, the New York Mets fired hitting coach Chili Davis in early May, 23 games into their season. Here’s what Thames said (to northjersey.com) in late April, when the Yankees were also scuffling: “I’m in every at-bat with those guys. I’m in every at-bat, every pitch, every swing. I’ve got to stay the same. I’ve got to keep my body language the same because they’re watching and I just have to make sure that I stay positive, let them know that you’re going to come out of this.” They did. They won 16 of their first 21 games in May. But the last seven saw the hitters go cold again. They went 4-for-33 with runners in scoring position while losing six of the seven. They managed just 13 runs over that span. They’re in third place in the American League East, with the two teams ahead of them (Tampa Bay and Boston) in town this week. It could be a pivotal stretch. Thames is in his fourth season as the head hitting coach, and while the team has made the postseason each of the first three years, it has fallen short of the World Series. That’s the standard in the Bronx.

17 Sep

behind the scenes

Suddenly, it seems, the New York Yankees are hitting like the Bronx Bombers of old. Better, actually. The Yankees, who’ve won seven straight games after a major swoon, hit seven home runs Wednesday in a 13-2 win against Toronto at Yankee Stadium. They hit six homers on Tuesday. It’s the first time in franchise history – a history that includes Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, et al. – that the Yanks have hit six-plus bombs in back-to-back games. New York is 28-21 heading into tonight’s game vs. the Blue Jays and has climbed to within 3 games of first-place Tampa Bay in the American League East. The Yankees, despite a spate of injuries, lead the league in homers and are second in runs and slugging. Some credit here has to go to hitting coach Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and former East Central Community College star who was a pretty good slugger in his MLB time. A big league hitting coach puts in a tremendous amount of work each day, from preparing scouting reports on the opposing pitchers to helping scuffling hitters make adjustments. In a Yankees Magazine article from 2018, Thames said he also plays the role of a mental coach. “Baseball is a game of failure, and guys need somebody to lean on,” he said. “Sometimes you come to the cages, and it’s not all about baseball; you talk about other things, too.” Evidence suggests Thames, in his third year in the job, is doing some good work here lately. “I would say the confidence has grown with every run that we put on the board,” outfielder Clint Frazier, who homered in Wednesday’s rout, told mlb.com. “We have 33 runs in the last two games. I think that speaks for itself.”

10 Jun

welcome to show

It has only happened 30 times in major league history. First career at-bat. First pitch. Home run. Louisville native Marcus Thames did it on this date in 2002. And he did it against a future Hall of Famer, no less: Randy Johnson. Thames was batting ninth for the New York Yankees before a crowd of 45,000-plus at Yankee Stadium. Johnson was pitching for Arizona in an interleague rematch of the 2001 World Series. Johnson threw a fastball up and over the middle and the right-handed hitting Thames deposited it over the left-center field wall. The two-run bomb in the third inning gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead – yes, Thames got a curtain call from the amped-up crowd — and the Yanks went on to beat the Diamondbacks 7-5. Thames, now the Yankees’ hitting coach, wasn’t drafted out of high school and wasn’t picked until the 30th round out of East Central Community College by the Yankees in 1996. Defying the odds, he went on to play parts of 10 MLB seasons. And that show of power on June 10, 2002, was no fluke. He hit a bunch of big home runs, 115 all told in the big leagues on top of 147 more in the minors. … Other notables on the list of batters to homer on the first pitch they saw: Bert Campaneris, Jay Bell, Kaz Matsui, Starling Marte and Willson Contreras, the last to do it in 2016.

11 Jun

story time

If you could gather together in some astral realm all the Mississippi natives who’ve ever played in the big leagues, oh, the stories they could tell. Willie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth in his first at-bat. Gee Walker cycled on opening day. Claude Passeau threw a one-hitter in the World Series. Dave Parker was an All-Star Game MVP. Jay Powell won a Game 7 in the Series. Billy Hamilton stole four bases in his first start. But for sheer shake-your-head wonderment, it’d be hard to top Marcus Thames’ tale of his first major league at-bat. Sixteen years ago Sunday – June 10, 2002 – Louisville native Thames, playing for the New York Yankees, walked to the plate at Yankee Stadium to face Arizona’s Randy Johnson, reigning Cy Young award winner, and smashed the first pitch he saw for a home run. Thames, a 30th-round pick by the Yankees in 1996 out of East Central Community College, took a while to reach The Show but was not a one-trick pony. He hit 114 more MLB bombs – including seasons of 26 and 25 – over his 10-year career and averaged one homer per 15.9 at-bats, which, a Cut4 article on mlb.com points out, is one of the best ratios in history. Thames is now the Yankees’ hitting coach. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff returned to the majors with Milwaukee on Sunday and, sans red beard, threw four strong innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in a game the Brewers would lose to Philadelphia. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, back up for a seventh stint this season with St. Louis, worked 2 1/3 innings in two games over the weekend. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton contributed a triple, two runs and two outfield assists in Cincinnati’s win against the Cardinals on Sunday. A two-week slump has seen Hamilton’s average dip to .193. … Former State standout Adam Frazier was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis by Pittsburgh, presumably to get regular at-bats. In his third big league season, Frazier is batting .237 in 135 ABs.

06 Feb

congratulations are in order

Congratulations to Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star from Louisville who was named hitting coach of the New York Yankees on Monday. Thames, 40, was the club’s assistant hitting coach the past two seasons. A 30th-round draft pick out of Texas State in 1996, Thames played 10 seasons in the big leagues and homered 115 times in 640 games with a batting average of .246. One of his career highlights came on the first AB of his career. On June 10, 2002, playing for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, he homered on the first pitch he saw from the great Randy Johnson, then with Arizona.

16 May

making a list

Marcus Thames, the slugger from Louisville, is on a list that is both short and long at the same time. In its current issue (May 18), Sports Illustrated highlights the players who homered on the first pitch they saw in the big leagues. Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario became the 29th to achieve that feat on May 6. Just the 29th. And yet, it seems crazy that it has happened 29 times! First pitch. Home run. Thames did it on June 10, 2002. The former East Central Community College star, debuting for the New York Yankees, took Randy Johnson deep at Yankee Stadium. Thames, now a coach in the Yankees’ minor league system, is one of the few players on the list the casual fan might actually have heard of. There’s Bert Campaneris, Junior Felix, Adam Wainwright (yes, the pitcher), Starling Marte, Daniel Nava and Jay Bell. Bell went on to hit 194 more homers and has the most of any player on the first-pitch-homer list. Thames is second with 115. He hit just .246 over his career, but he did have some thump, averaging a home run every 15.4 at-bats, a remarkable ratio. P.S. Kudos to Oxford High’s Jason Barber, who is featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd, which makes note of his 0.00 ERA and two no-hitters this season. … Kudos also to former Mississippi Braves star Todd Cunningham, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs in his first big league start, sparking Atlanta’s 5-3 win at Miami on Friday night. … Former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart and Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton homered for Cincinnati, the only runs yielded by Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco’s 10-2 rout of the Reds. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier went yard (on his 28th birthday) for Minnesota, and ex-UM standout Seth Smith homered for Seattle. Cozart leads all Mississippians in the majors with six homers.