06 Feb

better than most

In recognition of Black History Month, take a moment to appreciate the career of Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, arguably the best all-around player the Magnolia State has ever produced. His 1996 season with the Colorado Rockies might be the best single season any Mississippi native has put up in the big leagues. Born in Vicksburg in 1964, Burks also lived in Jackson for a time before his family moved to Texas. He was drafted out of Ranger College, a Texas juco, in the first round of the 1983 January draft by Boston. He debuted in MLB in 1987 at age 22 — amid Willie Mays comparisons — and batted .272 with 20 home runs as a Red Sox rookie. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound outfielder’s career ended in 2004, when injuries limited him to a handful of games, none in the postseason, for the Red Sox in their historic World Series-winning campaign. In between, he made two All-Star games, won two Silver Slugger awards and received a Gold Glove. He is now a scout for San Francisco. In 1996, as one of Colorado‚Äôs Blake Street Bombers, Burks batted .344 with 40 homers, 128 RBIs, a league-leading 142 runs, 45 doubles, 211 hits, 32 stolen bases and a 7.9 WAR, earning third place in the National League MVP voting. Among Mississippi natives, Burks is first in career homers (352), second in runs, RBIs and hits and fourth in stolen bases and batting average. And note that injuries curtailed several of his 18 seasons. On the career WAR chart, Burks is second among Mississippi-born position players with a 49.8; Jackson native Chet Lemon had a 55.6, aided considerably by his defense. Surprisingly, Burks lasted just one year on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, getting just two votes in 2010. But make no mistake: He had an impact, on and off the field. In 2004, when the Red Sox arrived back in Boston after winning the World Series in St. Louis, it was Burks — at the suggestion of Pedro Martinez — who got the honor of carrying the championship trophy off the plane. P.S. Mississippi State alum Ethan Small has landed with San Francisco, traded for cash by Milwaukee which had DFA’d the left-hander last week. … Mississippi College product Blaine Crim has received a non-roster invite to Texas’ spring camp.

24 Dec

on your marks

While it’s anyone’s guess at this point who might become the next Mississippian to debut in the majors, mlb.com has offered up three players as top prospects to watch in 2024. Former Jackson Prep star Will Warren (New York Yankees), Biloxi High product Colt Keith (Detroit) and Southern Miss alumnus Hurston Waldrep (Atlanta) appear close to breaking through. Warren, a 2021 draftee out of Southeastern Louisiana, is the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) after posting a 10-4 record with a 3.35 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. The right-hander throws hard and features a wipeout sweeper/slider, per reports. Keith, a 2020 draftee, is Detroit’s No. 2 prospect and could crack the Tigers’ lineup at second base this spring. He hit .306 with 27 home runs last season between Double-A and Triple-A and had a memorable 6-for-6 game with a cycle. Right-hander Waldrep was the Braves’ first-round pick (24th overall) out of Florida back in July and put up a 1.53 ERA while pitching at four minor league levels, including a brief stop with the Mississippi Braves. The Braves are not shy about promoting young arms. … Also worthy of keeping an eye on is Justin Foscue, the ex-Mississippi State standout who ranks as the No. 6 prospect in Texas’ system and made the organization’s minor league All-Star team at second base. He hit .266 with 18 homers in Triple-A and posted a .394 on-base average, walking more times than he struck out. P.S. Boston recently announced that former MSU star Jonathan Papelbon will be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame next spring. He is Boston’s all-time saves leader (219) and won a World Series with the team in 2007. … Tampa Bay has signed Zac Houston, another State product, to a minor league deal. In the minors since 2016, the right-hander has a 3.18 career ERA in 230 games.

12 Dec

sounds like a plan

Kansas City, which hasn’t had a winning season in eight years, is stockpiling bullpen arms for 2024 and has added free agent Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State ace from Tupelo, to that mix. Veteran right-hander Stratton, 33, reportedly has signed a two-year deal with the Royals: $3.5 million in 2024 with a player option for $4.5M in ’25. Stratton had a 3.94 ERA between St. Louis and Texas last season, earning his first World Series ring with the Rangers. In 302 career big league games, most of them as a reliever, he has a 4.34 ERA, a 37-24 record and 12 saves. The Royals tied for the fewest saves in MLB last year with 28 (in 53 opportunities) and posted a staff ERA of 5.17 while going 56-106. In addition to Stratton, the club recently signed Seth Lugo and Will Smith and traded for Nick Anderson in an effort to improve its relief corps. Former Ole Miss star James McArthur emerged as a potential closer last season, putting up a 0.00 ERA and four saves in 12 games in September and October as a 26-year-old rookie. The Royals won the World Series in 2015 but have not sniffed the postseason since.

03 Nov

news and notes

Hunter Renfroe, who still has power in his bat and his arm, is rated the 24th-best free agent available in the new crop, per mlb.com. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State standout has been without a team since mid-September, when he was released by Cincinnati. The Reds had gotten the 32-year-old outfielder in a deadline trade with the Los Angeles Angels. Renfroe hit .233 with 20 homers last season and has 177 career bombs since 2016. Originally drafted by San Diego, he has bounced around quite a bit in recent years despite his power numbers. … Also hitting the market Thursday were ex-State star Adam Frazier (.240, 13 homers in one year with Baltimore); fellow Bulldogs alum and World Series champ Chris Stratton (3.94 ERA with St. Louis and Texas); and former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, who last pitched in the majors in 2021. … McComb native Corey Dickerson is also a free agent after being released by Washington in August; he is a .280 career hitter who got his 1,000th knock last season. … Ryan Rolison, a first-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2018 by Colorado, was recently removed from the Rockies’ 40-man roster and assigned to the minors. Rolison, yet to make the majors, has pitched in just four games since 2021 because of injury issues. … Ex-DeSoto Central High and current Atlanta star Austin Riley, already a Gold Glove finalist at third base, is also a Silver Slugger finalist. Five other former Mississippi Braves are up for Silver Sluggers, as is ex-MSU standout and World Series champ Nathaniel Lowe, also a Gold Glove finalist at first base. … MSU alum Eric Cerantola, now in Kansas City’s system, got his second win in the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, punching out five in two hitless innings for Surprise. Cerantola has a 3.75 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 12 AFL innings.

02 Nov

make that seven rings

The list of Mississippi State alumni to win World Series rings grew to seven Wednesday night with the addition of Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton of the Texas Rangers. The others, who won one World Series title each, are: Hughie Critz, New York Giants, 1933; Del Unser, Philadelphia Phillies, 1980; Jay Powell, Florida Marlins, 1997; Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox, 2007; and Mitch Moreland, Red Sox, 2018. Critz, a Starkville native, went 3-for-22 in his lone Series appearance. Unser was 3-for-6 with a pair of RBIs and a pair of runs for the Phils. Powell, from Collinsville, pitched a scoreless 11th inning — his fourth appearance in the seven games — and got the win when the Marlins walked off Cleveland in the ’97 Series. Papelbon saved three of the Red Sox’s four wins in their 2007 sweep of Colorado and punched out ex-Ole Miss star Seth Smith for the final out of the clincher. Amory native Moreland had just one hit in the ’18 Series but it was a three-run homer. Moreland was on the 2010 and ’11 Texas teams that lost in the Fall Classic, the franchise’s only appearances before this year’s amazing title run, which culminated with a 5-0 victory at Arizona in Game 5. The Rangers went 11-0 on the road in winning four postseason series. Lowe, a fifth-year big leaguer, had a hit and scored a run in the four-run ninth inning Wednesday. He hit .212 with three homers in the postseason and was 3-for-17 with three walks in the Series. Tupelo native Stratton, an eight-year MLB vet acquired by Texas at the trade deadline, pitched in four postseason games and made two Series appearances, yielding two runs in 1 1/3 innings. … Incidentally, Lowe is the fifth ex-State star to play first base for the Rangers since they moved to Arlington in 1972. He followed Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Jon Shave and Moreland; all but Shave were regular first sackers for the club.

27 Oct

classic anniversaries

With a pair of Mississippians — Mississippi State alumni Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton — on the Texas roster for the 2023 World Series, here’s a quick review of some Series anniversaries and Magnolia State products who were involved. … Ten short years ago, in the 2013 World Series, former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn made the second — and final — Series appearance of his still active career. Lynn got a ring as a rookie with St. Louis in 2011 but in 2013, the Cardinals lost to Boston in six games. Lynn had a 4.76 ERA in two games. He has appeared in five postseasons since — and pitched for six different teams all told — but hasn’t gotten back to the Fall Classic. … Thirty years ago, in the Series widely remembered for Joe Carter’s walk-off homer for Toronto, there were a couple of Mississippi college products on the losing side. Ex-Jackson State star Wes Chamberlain and Mississippi State’s Bobby Thigpen played for Philadelphia in the ’93 Series, though neither had much of an impact as the Phillies fell in six games. That was the only World Series appearance for either Chamberlain or Thigpen. … This year marks the 80th anniversary of a classic Negro Leagues World Series between Homestead and Birmingham. The Homestead Grays, who won the Series 4-3 (there was also a tie), featured a pair of Mississippi natives: Starkville’s Cool Papa Bell, the Hall of Famer who, at age 40, batted .308 in the Series, and Mt. Olive’s Howard Easterling, a five-time All-Star in the Negro Leagues who batted .327 and drove in seven runs in the ’43 Series. Homestead’s lineup also included Hall of Famers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. … In the 1933 World Series, a pair of Mississippi natives squared off as the New York Giants beat the Washington Senators in five games. Starkville’s Hughie Critz was the second baseman and 2-hole hitter for the Giants; he went just 3-for-22 with a couple of runs but did get to celebrate a championship in his only Fall Classic appearance in a 12-year career. Myer, from Ellisville, was one of the few Senators hitters who had a good Series; the second baseman and leadoff batter was 6-for-20 with two RBIs and two runs. In the only game Washington won — Game 3 — he went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. That ’33 Series was his second and final appearance in a Fall Classic; he was also on the losing side in 1925. P.S. Columbus native Red Barber, named this week as a member of the 2024 class of Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductees, did national radio broadcasts of nine World Series and TV broadcasts of two Fall Classics between 1937 and 1952, according to information on Wikipedia. The late Barber, also in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, has been called baseball’s “play-by-play pioneer.”

25 Oct

amazing arizona

Twenty-two years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks did something amazing. They scored twice in the bottom of the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera and beat the mighty New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. On Tuesday night, the D’backs did something amazing again. They beat mighty Philadelphia — at Citizens Bank Park, for the second straight night — to win Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and reach the second Fall Classic in their 26-year history. The franchise was just four years old when the ’01 team, which included former Ole Miss star David Dellucci, won the championship. That club had been largely constructed by Mississippi State alum Buck Showalter, who was fired as manager after the 2000 season reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. Originally drafted by Baltimore, Dellucci was plucked by Arizona (and Showalter) in the expansion draft in the fall of 1997. He hit .260 with a league-best 12 triples in 1998 and was still a reserve outfielder on the 2001 club. He played in two World Series games, including a pinch-running appearance in the fateful ninth inning of Game 7; he was erased on a fielder’s choice for the first out. Interestingly enough, Dellucci also played for Texas, which will face the D’backs in the Fall Classic that begins Friday in Arlington. Showalter was manager of the Rangers when Dellucci was with the team (2004-05).

24 Oct

return engagement

The Texas Rangers ended a somewhat grueling 12-year wait to get back to the World Series, beating Houston 11-4 Monday night in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. There was a Mississippi State product on that 2011 Texas team, which lost in seven games to St. Louis after leading 3-2; Mitch Moreland went 1-for-10 in the Series. Coincidentally, two former Bulldogs stars are on the current Rangers roster: first baseman Nathaniel Lowe and reliever Chris Stratton. Lowe went 7-for-27 in the ALCS with two homers, including a two-run blast in the sixth inning of Game 7. Stratton pitched in Games 3 and 4, giving up a couple of runs in his first outing, working 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his second. This Rangers team bashed its way through the regular season, leading the league in runs, home runs, batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. And they bashed their way to victory at Minute Maid Park on Monday: 15 hits, four walks, four homers, two by the polarizing Adolis Garcia. On the receiving end of some of that bashing was MSU alum J.P. France, the 28-year-old rookie who had pitched so well for Houston during the season (11-6, 3.83 ERA) and in his Game 2 appearance (2 1/3 scoreless). The fourth pitcher called on by Dusty Baker, France came on in the fourth with the Astros down just 4-2. It was 8-2 when he was finally pulled with two outs. The game essentially got away from Houston as France was left twisting in the wind. Six of the eight batters he faced reached, and he threw only 13 strikes among his 28 pitches. Texas, which will face the winner of tonight’s Arizona-Philadelphia Game 7 in the World Series, has never won a championship, though manager Bruce Bochy can claim three.

21 Oct

sudden change

Grae Kessinger, rookie infielder for Houston, watched the first eight games of the Astros’ postseason run from the dugout. The ex-Ole Miss star got quite a different view of the proceedings in the ninth inning Friday night, watching from first base as a pinch runner when Jose Altuve launched a momentum-shifting three-run homer that carried the Astros to a 5-4 win over Texas in a wild, wild Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Kessinger went in at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth and, with two runners on, made a leaping snag of a line drive for the first out. Two outs later Houston had swept the three games at Globe Life Field to go up 3-2 in the best-of-7. The defending champs can earn yet another trip to the World Series with a win in Game 6 at home on Sunday. The grandson of longtime big leaguer Don Kessinger — who never made a postseason appearance in 16 years in The Show — Grae was a midseason call-up by the Astros this year and played sparingly, batting .200 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Houston kept the versatile Kessinger on the postseason roster but didn’t get him into a game before Friday. It was one that won’t soon be forgotten, by Kessinger or anybody else who watched. Before Adolis Garcia’s dramatic three-run homer for Texas in the sixth inning and the benches-clearing kerfuffle he instigated in the eighth, former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe put the Rangers on the board with an opposite-field homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. It was Lowe’s second homer this postseason, and he is now 5-for-19 in the ALCS. … Meanwhile, in Arizona, things got a little wild also in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks, summoning a rally for the second straight day, scored three times in the eighth inning, handing ex-Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel the first blown save of his postseason career and beating Philadelphia 6-5. The series is square at 2-2. The big blow against Kimbrel (now 10-for-11 in saves) was a two-run, game-tying bomb by pinch-hitter Alek Thomas. A subsequent single and walk knocked Kimbrel out of the game, and the go-ahead hit came from Gabriel Moreno against Jose Alvarado. The Phillies struck out three times in the ninth. Of note: Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is slated to be behind the plate for Game 5 tonight at Chase Field, which will feature aces Zack Wheeler and Zac Gallen.

19 Oct

the wait is over, but …

After eight years in the big leagues and 302 regular season appearances, Chris Stratton got in a postseason game for the first time on Wednesday night. It wasn’t an outing the former Mississippi State ace from Tupelo will remember fondly. Stratton yielded two hits and a walk and was charged with two runs in an inning of work during Texas’ 8-5 loss to visiting Houston in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. An effective reliever for the Rangers much of the season (3.41 ERA in 22 games after being acquired in a trade), Stratton was idle for the first seven playoff games. The 33-year-old right-hander entered Game 3 in the sixth inning with the Rangers down 5-2. He got the last two outs of that inning and the first of the seventh before a couple of singles chased him from the game. Will Smith relieved, walked the bases loaded and gave up a two-out, two-run knock to Yordan Alvarez. Stratton, 33, was the 20th overall pick by San Francisco in 2012 after winning SEC pitcher of the year honors — and the Ferriss Trophy — at MSU. He made the majors in 2016 and won 10 games (with a 5.09 ERA) for the Giants in 2018. Traded twice in 2019 and converted to the bullpen, he became a solid reliever, winning 30 games, registering 21 holds and notching 10 saves from 2019-22. He pitched well for St. Louis as a trade acquisition last year, and the Rangers added him to their pen at the deadline this season. The Rangers lead the ALCS 2-1 but the series appears far from over. Stratton may well get another shot, which he surely covets.