From the Things Discovered While Looking Up Other Things file: Until fairly recently, baseball reference works listed Sam Jethroe — a Negro Leagues star of the 1940s and the National League’s rookie of the year in 1950 — as being born in 1922 in East St. Louis, Ill. At some point, additional research turned up the fact that Jethroe was actually born on Jan. 23, 1917, in Lowndes County, Miss. (Some sites say he was born in Columbus.) So, this means we can add Jethroe’s name to the impressive array of Mississippi natives who starred in the Negro Leagues before the game was integrated: Cool Papa Bell, Sam Hairston, Howard Easterling, Rufus Lewis, Luke Easter, Bob Boyd, et al. Jethroe, who died in 2001, was nicknamed “The Jet” and may have rivaled Hall of Famer Bell for pure speed. Former big league star Don Newcombe called Jethroe “the fastest human being I have ever seen,” and a Negro Leagues contemporary claimed Jethroe could “outrun the word of God,” per The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Leagues. He was a five-time All-Star for the Cleveland (Ohio) Buckeyes in the Negro Leagues and won a title in 1945 (teaming with Jackson native Buddy Armour). Jethroe also won a minor league championship with Montreal in 1949 and became the first African-American player on the Boston Braves in 1950 at age 33. In three years with that club, he batted .261 with 98 steals and 58 homers. He played a couple of games in 1954 with Pittsburgh, then returned to the minors and later to semi-pro ball.
While the world waits for Shohei Ohtani to pick a team, some here in the ‘Sip are just wondering when the local guys are going to sign. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn signed with St. Louis on Nov. 21. Since then … crickets. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson and MSU alum Chris Stratton (a World Series champ in 2023) were ranked among the top 89 available free agents by USA Today. They’re still out there. So are Brandon Woodruff (unlikely to pitch in 2024 after arm surgery), Dakota Hudson and Spencer Turnbull, a trio of quality pitchers who became free agents after USA Today published its rankings. Hunter Renfroe, the veteran slugger (177 career homers) out of Crystal Springs and MSU, hasn’t landed. (At one time, Atlanta was rumored to be interested, but the Braves have since filled — maybe — their left field void.) Other Mississippi connections with big league experience still looking for jobs include Billy Hamilton (326 career steals), Drew Pomeranz (289 career games pitched), Demarcus Evans, Chuckie Robinson, Mike Mayers and Jonathan Holder. Some of these guys may retire, but many surely want to play on in 2024. It feels like a wave of signings is coming soon.
There were a slew of big games on the major league slate on Sunday, and a slew of Mississippians came up big in some of the biggest. The most dramatic moment was produced by Matt Wallner, the Southern Miss career home run leader whose first big league walk-off homer in the ninth inning gave Minnesota a 5-3 win against Arizona. The two-run shot — off the Diamondbacks’ recently acquired closer Paul Sewald — was Wallner’s seventh homer of the year for the Twins and 70th off his pro career. He also made a great catch in left field. The Minnesota native has spent much of this season in Triple-A but appears to have secured a roster spot with the first-place Twins. “He’s a big boy and hits the ball so hard,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli told mlb.com. “It’s a controlled, violent swing.” The 6-foot-4, 220-pound lefty hitter is batting .268 (.304 in his last seven games) with 16 RBIs and 16 runs in 30 games. Sunday’s win was the Twins’ fourth straight and gave them a 4.5-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central. At Arlington, Texas, hot-hitting Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe slugged his 13th home run — a two-run shot off Sandy Alcantara in the third inning — to help Texas whip Miami 6-0, the first-place Rangers’ sixth straight win. Lowe is batting .351 with four homers and 17 RBIs since the All-Star break for a club that is 14-7 over that span. Ex-MSU star Chris Stratton, a trade deadline pickup from St. Louis, threw 1 1/3 innings Sunday, his third straight scoreless appearance for the Rangers. They maintained a 2.5-game lead in the AL West over Houston, which beat New York at Yankee Stadium 9-7. MSU alum J.P. France got the win for the Astros, working 3 1/3 innings (no earned runs) in his first relief appearance of the season. The rookie right-hander, who has made 15 starts, is 8-3 with a 2.75 ERA. In the National League, the surging Chicago Cubs beat Atlanta 6-4 at windy Wrigley Field as ex-George County High star Justin Steele picked up his 13th win, which leads the big leagues. Steele, not real sharp, allowed three earned runs with seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings against the powerful Braves, runaway leaders in the NL East. The Cubs moved to within 1.5 games of NL Central leader Milwaukee, which lost 4-1 to Pittsburgh in ex-State standout Brandon Woodruff’s return from the injured list (see previous post). In the Sunday nightcap on ESPN, former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn allowed one run (a homer) in six innings to pace the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers past San Diego 8-2. Lynn, 36, is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts since the Dodgers got him at the trade deadline. He was 6-9, 6.47, in 21 starts for the White Sox.
If you want to take a trip sometime without leaving your chair, click into Baseball Reference’s BR Bullpen, chose a date — like, say, Aug. 4 — and peruse the significant events down through the years. The trip never fails to satisfy. Many major league history buffs might recall Aug. 4, 1982, as the day that Joel Youngblood got hits for two different teams in two different cities, having been traded midday from the New York Mets to the Montreal Expos. Three years later, Tom Seaver won his 300th game and Rod Carew notched his 3,000th hit, a remarkable coincidence for the two Hall of Famers.
Of course, there are, as you might suspect, quite a few notable Aug. 4 events with Mississippi connections. To wit:
In 1945, Tom McBride, who had played for the minor league Jackson Senators before making the majors, drove in six runs in one inning for the Boston Red Sox against Washington.
In 1966, former William Carey College star John Stephenson hit a pinch home run — his only homer that year in 143 at-bats — off Juan Marichal as the New York Mets rallied late to beat San Francisco.
In 1996, Negro Leagues star William (Bill) Foster, who grew up in Rodney and played and coached at Alcorn State, was inducted posthumously into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
In 1998, Southern Miss product Kevin Young went 4-for-4 with four runs and four RBIs in a game for Pittsburgh, and ex-Jackson Mets star Darryl Strawberry hit his second pinch grand slam, an American League record, for the New York Yankees.
In 2001, former Ole Miss standout David Dellucci, playing for Arizona, had the misfortune to be hit by a batted ball, making the final out in a 4-2 loss to the Mets.
In 2002, Chad Bradford — a Hinds Community College and USM alum — was part of a four-man one-hitter for Oakland — the Moneyball A’s — against Detroit. The Tigers’ lone hit was delivered by Hattiesburg native and Pearl River CC product Wendell Magee.
In 2005, the Baltimore Orioles fired former JaxMets standout Lee Mazzilli as their manager and named former JaxMets skipper Sam Perlozzo as his replacement.
In 2011, Meridian CC alum Cliff Lee — who would win 17 games for the NL East champs — tossed his fifth shutout of the year for Philadelphia, beating San Francisco 5-0.
Possibly the most significant Mississippi-related event on Aug. 4 occurred in 1915, when Luke Easter was born in Jonestown, up in the Delta. Easter would become, on Aug. 11, 1949, the first black Mississippi native to play in the major leagues.
Disappointing — isn’t it? — that no Mississippians are competing in tonight’s Home Run Derby. Austin Riley (DeSoto Central High) and Brent Rooker (Mississippi State), both in Seattle as All-Stars, are capable of a show of power, not to mention Hunter Renfroe (MSU/Crystal Springs), the active leader in career homers by Mississippi natives. Mississippi’s last representative in the contest was Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss product from Fulton who competed in 2014. The only other natives to participate are Grenada’s Dave Parker (1985 — when he won — and 1986) and Vicksburg’s Ellis Burks (1996). MSU alum Rafael Palmeiro took part in 1998 and 2004. The Magnolia State has produced some legendary sluggers who never got a crack at MLB’s Home Run Derby. It would have been something special to see Luke Easter take his hacks in a home run contest. The Jonestown native hit 93 homers in the 1950s in a short big league stint and another 247 in the minors; he would have been a Statcast hero had he played in the current era. He reportedly hit a 500-foot bomb in Buffalo’s old Offermann Stadium. Another legendary slugger who never got the chance in an MLB derby was Laurel’s Jack Pierce, who had a brief career in The Show. He hit eight big league bombs back in the 1970s but topped 400 overall in pro ball, most of those in the Mexican League. He is in the Hall of Fame there. George Scott, the “Boomer” from Greenville, also had a knack for the long ball, blasting 271 of them in a 14-year MLB career from 1966-79. And then there’s John Lindsey, a renowned masher from Hattiesburg who never got much of a shot in the big leagues. He reportedly belted 377 homers, many of them tape-measure shots, in his long and winding pro career starting in 1995. Maybe someday in the near future we’ll see Southaven’s Blaze Jordan in the Derby; he made a name for himself as a kid winning home run contests at national youth events. Now 20, he is now in the Boston Red Sox’s system, expected to make his Double-A debut this week.
Mississippians do love fireworks. And Mississippians in the majors did their part to contribute to the noise on the Fourth of July, cracking out eight hits on the day, two of them bombs, and getting some sizzle from the mound, as well. Eight Magnolia State-connected position players got into games on Friday and collectively went 8-for-26 (.308) with the two home runs, three RBIs and nine runs. A pretty good day to be sure, and consider that the state’s best hitter, Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson (.337), did not play for Colorado, the left-handed slugger sitting against Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw. Itawamba CC’s Desmond Jennings sparkled with a three-hit game, and he also scored three times for Tampa Bay. Ole Miss product Chris Coghlan scored three for the Chicago Cubs and went 2-for-4, raising his average to .219. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier smoked a home run (No. 16) for Minnesota, and Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton lit off one (No. 5) for Cincinnati. Former Ole Miss standout Seth Smith went 1-for-3 with a run for San Diego. UM alum Zack Cozart of the Reds had the only real dud of a day, going 0-for-4 — though his team did win its game. Former Rebels star Alex Presley was 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter for Houston, and Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson got in late for Kansas City, as he often does, as a defensive replacement. Ex-Ole Miss ace Lance Lynn provided the pitching sparks, throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings for St. Louis in a victory over Miami. Lynn has nine W’s on the year. For the day, this Mississippi nine helped their clubs go 6-2. Now that’s a blast.