09 Jun

a case for cooperstown

Today is Dave Parker’s 73rd birthday, which makes it a good time to ask, Why is he not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame? There is only one native Mississippian in Cooperstown: Starkville’s Cool Papa Bell, a star in the Negro Leagues. Parker, born in Grenada, should be there, too. He was a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time batting champion, two-time World Series champ and one-time National League MVP. He was drafted out of a Cincinnati high school in 1970 and played in the majors from 1973-91, batting .290 with 2,712 hits, 339 home runs and 1,493 RBIs. He had one of the best right-field arms in the game in his prime. Nicknamed “The Cobra,” he was baseball’s first million-dollar-a-year player. He had a controversial side. He endured weight problems and injuries at various times and was embroiled in the cocaine scandal of the early ’80s. That’s probably what hurt him with the BBWAA voters; he fell off that ballot in 2011, never coming close to election. His fate now rests with the special selection committees. Parker, who is battling Parkinson’s, is in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame. He really ought to be in Cooperstown. P.S. Hurston Waldrep is set to become the 22nd Southern Miss alumnus to play in the big leagues. The right-hander is slated to start for Atlanta today at Washington. Waldrep, the Braves’ top draft pick in 2023 and current No. 2 prospect, pitched at USM in 2021-22 before finishing his college career at Florida. … Former USM standout Justin Storm, a seventh-round pick by Miami last summer, is having a fine season at Low-Class A Jupiter. The Madison Central High alum, a 6-foot-7 lefty, is 3-1 with a 0.55 ERA in 10 games. The lone run he allowed in a three-inning stint on Saturday against Lakeland was a homer by former William Carey standout Patrick Lee, who recently signed with Detroit as a free agent. … Ex-Madison Central star Braden Montgomery suffered a broken ankle Saturday in Texas A&M’s win against Oregon in the NCAA Super Regional. He is done for the season. Montgomery — a likely first-round MLB draft pick next month — hit .322 with 27 homers for the Aggies.

17 May

championship mettle

Among the most impressive aspects of James “Cool Papa” Bell’s career is the number of championship teams he played for during his Hall of Fame career. Bell, born on this date in Starkville in 1903, was a member of 11 teams that won — or claimed — league championships during his 25-year pro career. Known as one of the fastest players ever to suit up, Bell batted .325 for his career and is credited by baseball-reference.com with 285 steals in official Negro League games. Including exhibition games, winter league games and foreign leagues, his career steals total is likely double that and more. An eight-time All-Star, he was a leadoff batter and center fielder for three of the greatest franchises in the old Negro Leagues, winning nine pennants with the St. Louis Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays between 1922 and ’46. The Grays won two World Series titles with Bell. Bell also was on a championship team in the Dominican Republic in 1937 and the pennant-winning team in Mexican League in 1940. Bell, at age 37, won the league’s Triple Crown that year, batting .437 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs; he also stole 28 bases. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1974 and passed away in 1991. … On the subject of championship teams, Jackson Prep — led by the dynamic pro prospect Konnor Griffin — won its seventh straight title in MAIS, beating Presbyterian Christian for the 6A crown on Thursday night. P.S. On this date in 2010, at Yankee Stadium, former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames hit a walk-off two-run homer against ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon, giving New York an 11-9 win over Boston. It was the only walk-off bomb Thames hit among his 115 career homers, according to Baseball Almanac.

24 Jan

wait till next year?

Billy Wagner, the former Jackson Generals standout, is down to his last strike. In his ninth and next-to-last year on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, the left-hander fell just short of the 75 percent threshold needed to make it to Cooperstown. With five more votes, Wagner would have been the first player from the Jackson Mets/Generals era (1975-99) to make the Hall. A first-round pick by Houston in 1993 out of NCAA Division III Ferrum College, Wagner reached the Double-A Generals in 1995. He went 2-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 12 starts, fanning 77 batters and walking 36 in 70 innings. He debuted with the Astros later that year, launching a 16-year MLB career. Pitching exclusively in relief, he was a seven-time All-Star who registered 422 saves (sixth all-time) with a 2.31 ERA. He ranks first all-time (live-ball era) in opponents batting average (.187), hits allowed per nine innings (6.0) and strikeouts per nine (11.9). Those are mighty strong credentials. P.S. Cool Papa Bell, former Negro Leagues star, is the only Mississippi native in the Hall, and fellow Negro Leagues alum William Foster, a former Alcorn State player, coach and administrator, is the only other state-connected player to be selected. Dizzy Dean, an Arkansas native, retired to Mississippi and is buried here. Red Barber, a Columbus native, is in the broadcasters wing of the Hall.

23 Jan

poll positions

To the list of life’s certainties, you can add this: When an NJCAA poll comes out, several Mississippi schools will be near the top. The Division II preseason poll was released Monday and three state jucos are ranked in the top 13: Pearl River Community College is No. 3, East Central No. 10 and Meridian No. 13. PRCC went 45-13 in 2023 and returns left-hander Conner Ware, an LSU signee, and Jonah Katsaboulas, an infielder who hit .292 last season. The Wildcats open Jan. 30 in Poplarville against Coastal Alabama South. ECCC won the state and Region 23 championships last year and welcomes back second-team All-America Mo Little, who hit .340 with 12 homers as a freshman. … Preseason polls can and often do miss the mark. Case in point: William Carey University wasn’t ranked in the NAIA coaches preseason poll in 2023 but went 49-11 and reached the World Series. The Crusaders are ranked fourth in the 2024 preseason poll, which was released back in the fall. … Neither Ole Miss nor Mississippi State, both coming off rough years, appears in the d1baseball.com Top 25. But, in the site’s 2024 transfer class rankings, UM checks in at No. 7 — ex-Arizona State shortstop Luke Hill being the most notable newcomer — and State at No. 24. In the site’s freshman class rankings, State is No. 9 and UM No. 15. … Jackson State is ranked No. 5 in Black College Nine’s HBCU large school rankings and Rust College is No. 3 in the small school class. JSU finished 28-25 in 2023. Rust, an NAIA member, went 25-25 and won the regular season title in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. P.S. The new National Baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced today, and there is a decent chance that former Jackson Generals pitcher Billy Wagner will make the cut for Cooperstown.

06 Dec

changing course

Having stalled in the low minors in Milwaukee’s system, ex-Hattiesburg High star Joe Gray Jr. will get a fresh start in 2024 with Kansas City. The 23-year-old outfielder was the first pick in the minor league phase of today’s Rule 5 draft. A second-round pick in MLB’s amateur draft in 2018 and a top 10 prospect with the Brewers as recently as 2022, Gray has batted .218 with 51 home runs and 66 steals in five pro seasons, only briefly reaching Double-A. Promoted to Biloxi in May of this past season, Gray went 2-for-37 with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 10 games before being sent back to A-ball. Gray is listed on Kansas City’s Triple-A Omaha roster but is likely to be tested at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in the Texas League next season. … Former Southern Miss star Dustin Dickerson and Magee High product Brennon McNair played in A-ball in the Kansas City chain in 2023. P.S. Former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout Tony Sipp is among the ex-major leaguers already committed to play in The East-West Classic: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game in Cooperstown, N.Y., next May 25. Scott and Jerry Hairston Jr., grandsons of Crawford native and former Negro Leagues star Sam Hairston, also are on the initial rosters. The National Baseball Hall of Fame will open “The Souls of the Game: Voices of Black Baseball” exhibit on Memorial Day weekend.