On this date in 1942, Ellisville native Harry Craft struck out in the last at-bat of the last game of a big league career that sparkled early on before fizzling out rather quickly. The Mississippi College alumnus entered pro ball in 1935 and made the majors in 1937, hitting .310 in a brief stint with Cincinnati as a 22-year-old. He batted .270 with 15 homers and 83 RBIs as the Reds’ regular center fielder the next year. He slipped to .256 with 13 homers in 1939, then scuffled for a couple of years before bottoming out in ’42 at age 27. He was batting .177 when the Reds traded him shortly after that final game to the New York Yankees. He served in the Navy for three years during World War II and returned to play in the minors with the Yankees until retiring in 1949. But Craft stayed in the game, in some capacity or another, until 1991, four years before his death, and the highlights of his time are rather fascinating. To wit: He acquired two nicknames during his playing days, Popeye and Wildfire. … He led National League outfielders in putouts and fielding percentage in 1938. … He caught the final out of Johnny Vander Meer’s second straight no-hitter in ’38. … He hit for the cycle in a 1940 game, one of just a handful of Mississippians to accomplish that feat. … He won a World Series title with the Reds in 1940, though he played in only one game in the Series. … In 1949, he was Mickey Mantle’s first manager in the minor leagues. … He became the second Mississippi native (after Harry Walker) to manage a major league club in 1957 when he was hired by the Kansas City Athletics. … In 1961, he was one of the “head coaches” who took turns running games for the Chicago Cubs. … In 1962, he became the first manager of the expansion Houston Colt .45s, and they beat the Cubs 11-2 in their debut at old Colt Stadium.
Setting Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine for 90 years takes us to 1930, the year Ludlow native Hal Lee made his big league debut. There was an offensive explosion in the game that season, due in large part to a juiced ball. The average batting average was .294. Both leagues set records for home runs and runs. Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs, a record that still stands. Lee didn’t quite catch that wave. He only got 37 at-bats for the Brooklyn Robins in 1930 and hit .162. Two years later, with the Philadelphia Phillies, he redeemed himself. The right-handed hitting outfielder, nicknamed Sheriff, hit .303 with 18 homers, 45 RBIs, 42 doubles and 10 triples. Nice numbers. Lee was overshadowed on his own team, however, by the likes of Chuck Klein (.348, 38 homers, 137 RBIs, 50 doubles), Don Hurst (.339, 24 homers, 143 RBIs) and Pinky Whitney (.298, 13 homers, 124 RBIs). Yes, hitters generally flourished in the ’30s. Lee, who died in 1989, is one of six former Mississippi College players to reach the majors and is arguably the most accomplished. He hit .275 over seven seasons with 33 homers and 323 RBIs. He played in more games, hit for a better average, drove in more runs and scored more runs than the better-known Harry Craft, who batted .253 over his six seasons (1937-42).
Has Delta State found its footing? Hard to tell just yet. The Statesmen whipped Arkansas-Monticello 10-5 on Wednesday at Ferriss Field, fueled by hot-hitting leadoff batter Chad Ragland. DSU – 90-9 all-time against the Boll Weevils — has won three of its last five on the heels of a five-game losing streak. Nationally ranked in NCAA Division II early in the season, the Statesmen are 13-10 overall, 6-6 in the Gulf South Conference, which they were picked to win by league coaches. Ragland, a junior college transfer from Florida, has been a major bright spot. He is batting .449 with 21 runs and six steals. Darek Sargent, who homered on Wednesday, leads the club with three homers and has 16 RBIs. Hayden White and Jake Barlow also have been producing runs. Hunter Riggins, a 2019 All-GSC and All-America pick, has been solid, per expectations, but the other starting pitchers have been inconsistent. Moreover, new coach Rodney Batts’ team is 1-7 on the road heading into a GSC series at West Alabama this weekend. … The state’s other D-II program, Mississippi College, went on the road for the first time last weekend and lost two of three to Shorter. The Choctaws, nationally ranked in mid-February, are 11-9, 6-3 GSC; they were pegged for a third-place finish in the league. MC has another road test this weekend at West Georgia. MC is digging the long ball, with a GSC-best 24 home runs as a team. Chauncey Callier, a .357 hitter, leads the way with six bombs. Caleb Reese has five and Ken Scott four. The tradeoff for that power: MC also leads the league in strikeouts. That can be a problem.
While there has been no shortage of hitting heroics around the state in the young college season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impactful batter than Mississippi College’s Chauncey Callier. The senior outfielder from Alabama is 11-for-30 (.367) with four home runs, eight RBIs and seven runs through nine games. The Choctaws are 6-3 and 3-0 in the Gulf South Conference coming off a weekend sweep of West Alabama. Callier hit .270 with eight homers in 2019 and was a second-team All-GSC selection. Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo splashed numbers all over the box scores during the Rebels’ series win against top-ranked Louisville; the junior shortstop from Florida was 5-for-10 with three walks, an HBP, a homer, three RBIs and three runs. Jackson State is 1-3 but don’t fault Jaylyn Williams; the senior from Greenville went 9-for-16 with four RBIs and three runs in the opening weekend. Mississippi State, 3-0 out of the gate, got five hits, two walks, three RBIs and four runs from junior outfielder Rowdey Jordan, and sophomore Charlie Fischer – another Minnesota import in Hattiesburg – banged out seven hits, walked twice, drove in four runs and scored two for Southern Miss in its weekend sweep. At Delta State (6-3, 1-2 GSC), Jared Cramer, a senior catcher out of DeSoto Central High, is off to a sizzling start at .448 with two homers, six RBIs and 11 runs. Other hot hitters of note: William Carey’s Jordan Szush (.359, eight RBIs, seven runs); Blue Mountain’s Anthony Lipsey (.387, eight RBIs, six runs); Millsaps’ Jimmy Johnstone (.350, four RBIs, two runs); and Belhaven’s Logan Walters (4-for-10, four doubles, six RBIs, two runs).
Rodney Batts checked off wins Nos. 1 and 2 as Delta State coach over the weekend and, perhaps, relaxed a little bit. There are tough acts to follow, and then there’s the Delta State job. Batts took the reins from Mike Kinnison, recent American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee who won 981 games and a national championship at the NCAA Division II school in Cleveland. No. 2 on the DSU wins list is Dave “Boo” Ferriss, another ABCA Hall of Famer who won 639 games and is immortalized by a bronze statue that stands in front of the DSU playing facility that bears his name. No. 3 on the DSU wins list is the coach whose eight-year tenure bridged the Ferriss and Kinnison eras: Bill Marchant, who won 283 games, including a school record 53 in 1996, and made two trips to the College World Series. Batts played for Marchant. Batts’ first DSU team entered the season ranked as high as 11th nationally and pegged to win the Gulf South Conference. Go get ’em. After splitting a Saturday doubleheader with East Central (Okla.) in Cleveland, the Statesmen took Sunday’s rubber game 8-6 as Wyatt Pratt went 4-for-5 with three runs and Kevin Granger homered. In other opening acts: Mississippi College took a series from Harding in Clinton, getting quality starts from Luke Files and David Dunn in Saturday’s twinbill sweep and some hot hitting from Caleb Reese, who was 5-for-9 with a homer, four RBIs and two runs in the series. … William Carey took a pair from Missouri Baptist in Hattiesburg on Saturday, outscoring the visitors 18-2. Sloan Dieter and Jay Simpson picked up wins with dominant starts, and Quartez Brown went 5-for-8 with four runs. … Blue Mountain is 0-4 after losing two doubleheaders to visiting William Wood.
With Game 1 of the World Series on tap tonight, the time is right to highlight some significant anniversaries with a quick trip through Fall Classics past. Ten years ago, in the 2009 Series, Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee made two starts for Philadelphia and notched the only wins the Phillies managed against the New York Yankees. Left-hander Lee threw a complete game in Game 1, a 6-1 victory, and pitched seven-plus in Game 5, an 8-6 win. He had a 2.81 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings. Lee won 143 games in his career and went 7-3 in the postseason, though he never won a ring. Twenty years ago, a Mississippi native appeared in the box score of Game 1 of the Yankees’ sweep of Atlanta. Ocean Springs’ Howard Battle was announced as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning but was replaced (by Keith Lockhart) when New York changed pitchers (bringing in Mariano Rivera). That would be the final MLB “appearance” for Battle, who played a couple more years in the minors. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Earthquake Series, a sweep by Oakland vs. San Francisco that involved three Mississippi-connected players. Grenada native Dave Parker, at age 38, went 2-for-9 with a homer (in Game 1) for Oakland. Will Clark was 4-for-16 for the Giants, and his former Mississippi State teammate Jeff Brantley posted a 4.15 ERA in three relief appearances. Ten years prior, Parker had a big impact in the ’79 Series, helping Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in seven games. He had four hits in Game 1 – a Pirates loss – and finished with a .345 average, four RBIs and two runs. Sixty years ago, West Point native and former Southern Miss two-sport star Bubba Phillips went 3-for-10 for the Chicago White Sox as they fell in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eighty years ago, in the ’39 Fall Classic, Harry Craft, an Ellisville native and Mississippi College alum, went 1-for-11 for Cincinnati in a four-game sweep at the hands of the mighty Yankees. Craft would win a ring with the Reds the next year but got only one at-bat in that Series. In the 1929 Series, Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, started and won Game 3 for the Chicago Cubs, who lost in five games to the powerful Philadelphia A’s. Bush also made a relief appearance in that series and finished with an 0.82 ERA. Two Mississippi natives – Fulton’s Brian Dozier, a second baseman for Washington, and Brookhaven’s Lance Barksdale, an umpire – will be suited up tonight in Houston. Something significant involving one or both seems almost bound to happen.
A couple of Mississippi products took star turns on Tuesday night in Boise, Idaho, when the Pioneer League and Northwest League All-Stars faced off in the annual clash of rookie-level circuits. Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and earned Top Star honors for the NWL squad. He was upstaged a bit by Sam McWilliams, a Meridian Community College alum from Magee who hit a two-run homer, one of the four homers mashed by Pioneer stars in their 11-7 victory. “It was great to be here with the best guys around the league and just have fun for a night,” Crim told milb.com. “Definitely worth the trip.” Crim, the Gulf South Conference player of the year in 2019, was a 19th-round pick by Texas in June and is having an excellent season at Spokane. The first baseman/DH is hitting .341 with four homers and 24 RBIs. McWilliams, a 19th-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 off a loaded MCC club, is batting .291 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs at Ogden. A second baseman, he hit .276 in the Arizona League last season. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, both promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday, made smashing debuts on Tuesday, Waters going 3-for-5 with an RBI and Pache 2-for-5 with an RBI. Pache is the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, Waters No. 2.
4 – Runs accounted for by Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland, who had two RBIs and scored twice for Boston, which scored its most runs ever against the New York Yankees in a 19-3 romp on Thursday night.
9 – Holds this season by Tony Sipp, the ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star; his Washington team ultimately lost to Colorado 8-7 on Thursday.
5 – Hits in two games by East Central Community College product Tim Anderson in his rehab stint at Triple-A Charlotte in the Chicago White Sox’s system.
7 – Consecutive strikeouts by Mississippi Braves right-hander Ian Anderson, who collected nine K’s all told in the Double-A M-Braves’ win at Jackson (Tenn.); Anderson leads the Southern League with 138 strikeouts.
4 – Hits in 25 at-bats (.163) for Gulfport native Bobby Bradley since he returned to Triple-A Columbus following a big league stint with Cleveland.
3 – Saves in his last three appearances for Petal’s Demarcus Evans, who has a 1.21 ERA for Double-A Frisco in the Texas system.
5 – Hits in Thursday’s game by Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim, who is batting .340 with four homers for short season Class A Spokane in the Texas system.
1 – Career minor league homers by Grae Kessinger, the Ole Miss product – and second-round draftee — who went yard Thursday for Class A Quad Cities in Houston’s chain.
1 – Minor league appearances to date by ex-MSU star Ethan Small, drafted in the first round last month by Milwaukee; he worked a clean inning with two strikeouts on July 19 for a Brewers rookie club.
2 – Scoreless innings pitched Thursday by former State standout Jacob Lindgren in his first appearance for Class A Winston-Salem in the White Sox’s system; Lindgren, a one-time big leaguer, is trying to come back from two elbow surgeries.
12 – Current hitting streak by Cole Zabowski, the Ole Miss alum who is batting .344 with a Detroit rookie league team.
A showdown between the top two teams in the Cotton States League turned into a run-rule rout, with the North Delta Dealers beating the Tippah Tribe 16-3 in four innings Sunday at BNA Bank Park in New Albany. Both are now 10-6 with three games left in the college summer league’s regular season. Tripp Benson, a Belhaven University alum, went 3-for-3 with a homer and five RBIs in Sunday’s game. Connar Gardner (Itawamba Community College) and Ian Biblioni (Lakeland native) drove in three runs each, and Markarius Lee (Mississippi College) scored twice. Lee, batting .373, leads the league in runs with 19, and Benson (.346) is tied for the lead in RBIs with 17. Biblioni (.378) and Gardner (.348) also rank among the top 12 in batting. The Dealers play again tonight against the Golden Triangle Jets. The Tribe is back in action Thursday against the Tallahatchie Rascals. … Sam Williams, a Magee High product, leads the Tribe in hitting at .359, and teammate Braden Quesinberry tops the CSL in wins with four and sports a 1.85 ERA. … The league’s top hitter is Nathan Herron (Belhaven) of the GT Jets at .419. Klay Houston, a Fulton native who pitches for Angelo (Texas) State, has an impressive 38 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings for Tallahatchie. P.S. Mississippi State’s Jordan Westburg extended his hitting streak Monday to seven games for Hyannis in the Cape Cod League. Westburg is 23-for-63 (.365) with three homers and 11 RBIs in 15 games.
After getting cut from USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team roster, Mississippi State infielder Jordan Westburg has taken the Cape Cod League by storm. Playing for Hyannis in the prestigious summer league, Westburg notched his fifth straight multi-hit game on Tuesday and is batting .600. He has three homers – two in his July 5 debut – and eight RBIs in five games. Westburg hit .294 for State during its College World Series run this season. Also on the Hyannis roster are State’s Rowdey Jordan (.098 in 12 games) and Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo (.164 in 17 games). UM’s Tyler Keenan has swung a hot bat for Harwich: .300, a homer, four RBIs in 10 games. … The Collegiate National Team, with State’s Tanner Allen and Justin Foscue and the Rebels’ Doug Nikhazy in tow, is currently playing a series in Taiwain after taking four of five games from Cuba last week in North Carolina. Allen is batting .368 for Team USA and Foscue, 2-for-4 with an RBI in Tuesday’s loss to Chinese Taipei, is at .300 with four RBIs. Both were .300 hitters for the Bulldogs in 2019. Nikhazy, the Rebels’ star freshman lefty, pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings against Cuba on Saturday. … Ole Miss shortstop Justin Bench and Mississippi College third baseman Dylan Duplechain recently were named as starters in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League’s All-Star Game, set for July 16 in Saugerties, N.Y. … Closer to home, in the New Albany-based Cotton States League, Belhaven’s Nathan Herron is leading the loop in hitting at .432 with a homer and 11 RBIs for the Golden Triangle Jets. Herron, from Batesville, hit .241 as a freshman at BU this season. Former Hinds Community College and MSU player Trey Jolly, currently on Southeastern Louisiana’s roster, is at .410 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 11 steals for the Tupelo Thunder. The Tippah Tribe leads the league with an 8-4 record, sparked by the pitching of Harding (Ark.) alum Braden Quesinberry, who is 3-1 with a 1.00 ERA.