What do Fred Lewis and Del Unser have in common? Both played college ball in Mississippi, both got a hit in their first major league game — and both were born on this date, 36 years apart. Lewis, who turns 41, was born in Hattiesburg, played high school ball at Stone County and juco ball at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before moving on to Southern University. Drafted in the second round in 2002 by San Francisco, the lefty-hitting outfielder played parts of seven years in the big leagues and produced at least one game that Giants fans will never forget. On May 13, 2007, Mother’s Day, in just his 17th big league game, Lewis hit for the cycle at Colorado’s Coors Field. The homer he hit that day was the first of his career, a rare feat. He would hit 26 more and finish his MLB career in 2012 with a .266 average. Unser, who turns 77, is an Illinois native who played at Mississippi State in the mid-1960s, was drafted three times while in Starkville and ultimately signed with Washington after being a first-round pick in 1966. Unser enjoyed a 15-year career with five different clubs. He pounded out 1,344 hits — good for a .258 career average — and won a World Series ring with Philadelphia in 1980, going 5-for-11 with three RBIs and four runs in that postseason. … Also born on this date: former Jackson Generals third baseman Chris Truby, now 48, who played four years in the majors. P.S. Former MSU star Buck Showalter interviewed for the New York Mets’ manager job on Wednesday and team officials were “pretty impressed,” according to the New York Post. Showalter, 65, won 1,551 games as manager of four different MLB clubs between 1992 and 2018 and was a three-time manager of the year. He last managed with Baltimore in 2018, when a gutted Orioles team finished 47-115.
The lovely weather in San Diego notwithstanding, the Padres are in a gloomy place and the club’s Mississippi connections have faltered. Heading into a big series at Petco Park with fellow playoff contender Philadelphia, the Pads have lost seven of eight and are clinging to the second wild card in the National League. They are 12 games back in the NL West, 9.5 back of the first wild card with four teams hot on their heels. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, who had been an effective reliever when healthy, is out for the season after arm surgery. Mississippi State product Adam Frazier, a 2021 All-Star added at the trade deadline, hasn’t produced as hoped. Frazier, hitting .324 for Pittsburgh, is at .241 in 20 games for San Diego. He is batting just .143 in his last seven games. He has two RBIs and 11 runs in a Padres uniform. After using Frazier in the 2-hole for a spate of games, manager Jayce Tingler put the lefty hitter back in his more familiar leadoff spot Tuesday and Wednesday. His old-school approach seems ideal for that role. “Don’t swing too hard, try to get a mistake pitch to hit and hit it,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s the way I’ve hit my whole life.” It didn’t help initially, but maybe the move up will get Frazier – and the team – out of the doldrums. P.S. Baltimore apparently was impressed with Chris Ellis, the ex-Ole Miss standout who threw four scoreless innings against the Orioles on Tuesday. The O’s have claimed Ellis off waivers from Tampa Bay. Ellis has two MLB appearances on his ledger.
Former Ole Miss standout David Parkinson, now a Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer, got a major monkey off his back on Wednesday. The 25-year-old lefty worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs, and got the win as Lehigh Valley beat Rochester 5-3 in the Triple-A East. It was Parkinson’s first win since 2019. He is now 1-7 (with a 6.36 ERA) over 15 appearances in his first Triple-A campaign. A 12th-round draftee in 2017, he was the Phillies’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, going 11-1, 1.45 at two levels of A-ball. He wasn’t as sharp in Double-A in 2019 and didn’t pitch at all last year. Parkinson reportedly has a tendency to dwell on bad outings, of which he has had several in 2021. “One thing about Park is that he’s very cerebral, analytical,” LV pitching coach Aaron Fultz told The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., earlier this season. “The biggest advice I can give to him is that this game is very, very hard.” Wednesday’s win was a nice reward for his perseverance. … Also admirably soldiering on is Anthony Alford, the Columbia native and former Petal High two-sport star now in Triple-A in Pittsburgh’s system. Alford was 2-for-3 with his 10th homer of the season for Indianapolis on Wednesday. Alford’s latest big league trial ended on April 21, when Pittsburgh took him off its 40-man roster after a 2-for-24 start. He was assigned on May 1 to Indianapolis, where he struggled initially. Batting .175 on June 1, Alford is currently hitting .302, batting third and playing center field. He is 27 now – a long way from his days as a highly rated Toronto prospect — and owns a .150 career average in the big leagues. But he’s still wearing a uniform and trying to remain relevant.
Friday is the day MLB clubs set their 40-man rosters heading into the winter meetings. It’ll be interesting to see whether ex-Ole Miss star David Parkinson makes the grade with Philadelphia. As a 2017 draftee, the 24-year-old left-hander would be eligible to be chosen by another team in the Rule 5 draft if he isn’t protected on the big league roster. He was the Phillies’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2018 after posting a sparkling 11-1 record and 1.45 ERA as a starter at two levels of A-ball. But he had some struggles in 2019 in Double-A and then did not make the Phillies’ 60-man roster for the truncated 2020 season. He is currently rated the Phils’ No. 21 prospect by MLB Pipeline. After the 2019 season – when he posted a 4.08 ERA and .247 batting average against at Reading – Parkinson reportedly worked hard that off-season to get stronger. “I’m not saying it was all about seeking velo,” he told The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., in August, “but it was a big part. I wanted to change the perception of me being a crafty lefty to someone who can compete at the big-league level.” He threw harder in big league camp last spring but made just one official appearance before the shutdown. The lost season could significantly impact Parkinson’s chances of making the majors. Friday might tell a lot about where he stands. P.S. Former Southern Miss standout Bradley Roney signed as a minor league free agent with Arizona, and Mississippi State product Ben Bracewell re-signed as a minor leaguer with Oakland. Roney put up a 1.94 ERA coming back from injury in 2019, when he spent part of the season with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. Bracewell spent most of 2019 at Triple-A Las Vegas in the A’s system.
Good story now posted on milb.com about former Ole Miss star Grae Kessinger, now in the Houston Astros’ system, and the legacy he carries. Kessinger, a second-round pick by the Astros in 2019, is the grandson of ex-MLB All-Star Don, nephew of former big leaguer Keith and son of ex-minor leaguer Kevin. Grae leans on that family history. “It’s something that I think motivates me,” he said in the milb.com piece. “I think it motivates me that I know these people in my family, they gave it all they got every single day. They tell me about it and that makes me want to do it even more.” A .283 career hitter in Oxford, he played at two pro levels last summer, batting .224 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 50 games at low Class A Quad Cities. He played mostly shortstop — his UM position — but the 6-foot-2 Oxford native also got work at second and third base last season. He went 0-for-9 with a walk in big league spring action before the shutdown. P.S. Jordan Fowler, a former Ole Miss pitcher who played at Central Missouri this season, signed with Philadelphia for the $20,000 bonus available this year to eligible players not picked in the five-round draft. … The Tupelo Thunder sits atop the Cotton States League standings with a 5-0-1 record, led by Itawamba Community College alum Riley Davis (.538, four RBIs) and Blue Mountain College’s Easton Williams (2-0, 1.12 ERA).
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).
“The best free agent that no one is talking about” is, according to an mlb.com story published Thursday, former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson. That headline is a bit of hyperbole, of course, because there is little doubt people are talking about Dickerson, a lefty-hitting outfielder with a career .286 average on his baseball card and a Gold Glove in his trophy case. He has hit .300 or better in five of his seven big league campaigns. Injuries limited him to 78 games in 2019, which he split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. A scout recently told yahoo!sports about Dickerson: “He really produced in a short time in Philly, but with McCutchen and Harper there, where’s he going to play? He’s more than a bench bat. He’ll be somewhere.” The mlb.com story speculates that Cincinnati, Miami and St. Louis are the favorites to sign Dickerson, one of several notable Mississippians (see Brian Dozier, Mitch Moreland, Billy Hamilton) still on the market. The 30-year-old McComb native made $8.5 million last year. P.S. Tim Dillard, the ex-Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College standout, has signed on for an 18th season of pro ball. Dillard, 36, signed a minor league contract with Texas; he put up a 4.75 ERA in 33 games (21 starts) for Triple-A Nashville in the Rangers’ system in 2019. Dillard, son of Ole Miss product and ex-big leaguer Steve Dillard, has made 619 appearances, 73 in the majors (all with Milwaukee). The Brewers drafted him twice, out of Saltillo in 2001 and ICC in 2002.
On this date in 2013, Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his first big league start for Cincinnati and flashed the skills that had so many in baseball excited about his future. Hamilton, who had already stolen five bases as a pinch runner before he got his first start, went 3-for-4 with a double, two walks, two runs, an RBI and four stolen bases as the Reds beat Houston 6-5 in 13 innings at Minute Maid Park. Hamilton led off the 13th with a walk, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jay Bruce’s two-run double. Though he now has 298 steals – most ever by a Mississippi native – Hamilton’s inability to hit consistently (.242) has dogged his career. He is currently filling a role – and filling it well — as a pinch runner/defensive replacement for Atlanta. … With a 4-for-6 effort on Tuesday, East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson moved into the major league lead with a .336 batting average. The Chicago White Sox shortstop hit his 17th home run in a loss to Minnesota. The last Mississippian (native or college alum) to win a batting title was Grenada native Dave Parker, who won the National League crown in 1978 with Pittsburgh. … Corey Dickerson may have played his last game for Philadelphia. The Meridian Community College alum from McComb, a free agent after this season, went on the injured list for the Phillies on Tuesday with a broken foot. He hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 34 games for Philly. Dickerson, a .286 career hitter, also missed a lot of time early in the season with Pittsburgh because of a shoulder injury.
The South Bend Cubs got to use a “ringer” as their starting pitcher in Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship Series, and former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman gave them the type of performance they might have expected. Veteran big leaguer Graveman, on an injury rehab assignment for the Class A Cubs, worked 3 2/3 innings, allowing a run on three hits, and South Bend beat Clinton 3-1 on Wednesday night. Graveman, 28, made his fourth rehab start – each one at a different minor league level — as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery last summer. In 13 1/3 innings, the right-hander has a 2.03 ERA and 16 strikeouts. Graveman signed with Chicago as a free agent after being a fixture in Oakland’s rotation for most of the previous four seasons. P.S. Hot-hitting Corey Dickerson left Philadelphia’s game – a 3-1 loss — against Atlanta on Wednesday with a sore left foot that the Meridian Community College alum described as “pretty painful.” … Ex-State star Brandon Woodruff threw live batting practice for Milwaukee on Wednesday and the All-Star righty appears close to returning to the club’s rotation. The Brewers, smarting from the loss of MVP candidate Christian Yelich, won their sixth straight Wednesday to move into a tie with the fading Cubs for the second wild card spot in the National League.
Corey Dickerson, who hasn’t yet played a postseason game in his seven-year big league career, is playing like a man on a mission for a Philadelphia team battling for a wild card berth in the National League. The former Meridian Community College star from McComb hit two home runs on Tuesday night, propelling the Phillies to a huge 6-5 win against visiting Atlanta. Philly is 2 games out of the second wild card spot. Since joining the Phillies at the trade deadline, Dickerson has batted .300 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 33 games. “I’ve loved it here,” he told mlb.com. For the year, including 44 games with Pittsburgh, Dickerson is batting .307 with 12 bombs and 59 RBIs. … Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, has been out of the San Diego lineup for several days and apparently will be out for quite a few more as he rests a sore ankle. The ankle issue, coupled with an elbow problem, helps to explain Renfroe’s woeful second half. (He never publicly complained about either injury.) He is batting .169 with four homers and 13 RBIs since the All-Star break. He has two homers since the start of August. On the year, Renfroe has 31 homers with a .222 average and 143 strikeouts in 414 at-bats. P.S. Down on the farms: Harrison Central High alum Bobby Bradley hit a three-run homer to help Columbus beat Durham 8-3 in the opener of the Governors’ Cup, aka the International League Championship Series. It was the second postseason clout for Bradley, who hit 33 homers for the Clippers in the regular season, plus one in MLB with Cleveland. … Ex-State star Jake Mangum singled and scored the tying run in the seventh inning as Brooklyn rallied past Lowell 4-3 to win the New York-Penn League championship. Mangum, a 2019 draftee of the New York Mets, batted .247 with 18 RBIs and 29 runs in 53 games for the short season Class A Cyclones.