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.”
Happy 44th birthday to Eli Whiteside, the former All-America catcher at Delta State who played parts of six seasons in the major leagues. New Albany native Whiteside, drafted in the sixth round by Baltimore in 2001, played in 216 MLB games, batting .210 with 10 homers, and got two World Series rings despite never playing in the postseason. Whiteside, backing up Buster Posey, hit .238 for the 2010 San Francisco Giants and was on their Series roster but didn’t get in a game as they beat Texas 4-1. He also spent part of the 2012 season with the Giants but didn’t make the postseason roster for a club that won another Fall Classic. After he retired in 2015, Whiteside served for a time as a bullpen catcher for the Giants and a roving instructor. Whiteside’s first career homer was a grand slam for the Giants in 2009, and he also caught a Jonathan Sanchez no-hitter that year. He is one of nine Delta State alums to have made The Show. Others on that list: Barry Lyons, Stewart Cliburn and Jim Miles (the first in 1968).
The Houston Astros, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this season, gave a nod to their first World Series team by having a star pitcher from that club, Mississippi native Roy Oswalt, throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Thursday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Oswalt, the ex-Holmes Community College standout from Weir, was a 20-game winner for the 2005 Astros, who won the National League pennant — Oswalt won the clincher vs. St. Louis — before falling to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. That it took 43 years for Houston to make that first Fall Classic seems hard to fathom now. Up 2-0 on the New York Yankees in the current ALCS, the Astros are on the cusp of a fourth World Series appearance since 2017, when they won their first and only championship (under controversial circumstances). They’ve been in the ALCS six straight years. Yet this franchise had an inglorious start. Houston’s first team, the expansion Colt .45s, were managed by Ellisville native and former big leaguer Harry Craft. They went 64-96 in ’62. Craft was dismissed late in the 1964 season with a 191-280 record. The team became the Astros in 1965, moving into the Astrodome, and finally posted a winning season in 1972. Pascagoula native Harry Walker was the manager of that team — until he was fired in August despite having a winning record. In 1980, the Astros finally made the playoffs for the first time. Houston’s Double-A team, the Jackson Generals, took up residence at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1991 and helped fuel the Astros teams that won four NL Central titles in a five-year stretch (1997-2001) before finally reaching the World Series in 2005. They didn’t make the postseason again for 10 years, going through a rough rebuilding process that is now bearing fruit year after year. P.S. On this date in 1986, former Jackson Mets star Lenny Dykstra led off Game 3 of the World Series at Fenway Park with a home run off Meridian native Oil Can Boyd. The New York Mets, down 0-2 in the Series, won the game 7-1 over Boston and ultimately won the title in seven games. Boyd allowed six runs in seven innings in his only Series appearance.
The Chicago White Sox, the heavy favorite in the American League Central entering the 2022 season, signed Kendall Graveman last off-season to bolster their bullpen as a set-up man. The former Mississippi State standout has done well. The White Sox, due in part to injuries, have not. Graveman has a 2.34 ERA, 13 holds, five saves and a 2-1 record in 33 games for the White Sox, who are 37-39 and in third place in a relatively weak division. Pressed into duty as a closer when Liam Hendriks went down with an injury on June 14, Graveman went 3-for-3 in saves and allowed just one earned run in six appearances. That came on Saturday, when, pitching for the second straight day at San Francisco, Graveman allowed three hits and a score while protecting a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning. Now in his eighth MLB season, Graveman broke in as a starter, moved to closer in 2020 with Seattle and became a set-up man with Houston last season, helping the Astros reach the World Series. Making a return trip to the Fall Classic with the ChiSox might have seemed very realistic when Graveman signed, but it doesn’t look that way now, through no fault of his own. P.S. Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett has announced that he’ll throw his final pitch on July 4, ending a pro career that goes back to 2010 and includes 95 MLB appearances. Barrett overcame numerous injuries to pitch in 2019 for Washington and subsequently earn a World Series ring. Now 34, he is currently with Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley team.
The Mississippi Braves, who begin a six-game homestand tonight at Trustmark Park, are 8-13, and one doesn’t have to dig too deep into the numbers to uncover a reason for the poor start. The team ERA is 4.78, which ranks sixth in the eight-team Southern League. The WHIP is 1.46, second-worst in the league. This is highly unusual for the M-Braves, who ranked second, first and second in the league in ERA in the past three seasons. Maybe the ERA will improve as the team plays more games at the TeePee, one of the best pitchers’ parks in the minors. Maybe it starts this week against Pensacola, one of the weakest hitting and lowest scoring teams in the SL. Darius Vines starts tonight’s opener; he is a rated prospect who is better than his numbers: 1-1, 5.50 ERA. Wednesday starter Jared Shuster, Atlanta’s No. 10 prospect, has been outstanding: 2-2, 1.88, 28 strikeouts, five walks in 24 innings. But none of the other scheduled starters in the series has an ERA under 5.17. Closer Justin Maese is 3-for-3 in saves but has an ugly 7.27 ERA. Middle reliever Hayden Deal has a 1.06 and has been a key bullpen piece. The M-Braves have some hitters. Top prospect Michael Harris II has been as good as advertised: .333, four homers, 19 RBIs, 16 runs. Drew Lugbauer has slugged seven homers with 15 RBIs and 18 runs. Riley Delgado (.333), Luke Waddell (.296) and C.J. Alexander (.293) also have swung it well. … The World Series trophy won by the parent Braves last fall will make an appearance at the ballpark on Friday night. P.S. Anthony Alford, the ex-Petal High star, has signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and will report to Triple-A Columbus. Alford, previously with Pittsburgh, recently became a free agent (see previous posts).
It is guaranteed that a Mississippi product will get a ring after the 2021 World Series. Either former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley or Mississippi State alumnus Kendall Graveman will be celebrating when the series ends. “This is why you play the game …,” Houston reliever Graveman said in an MLB Network interview. “I’m ultimately honored and blessed to be in this position, to play the game at the highest level but also on the biggest stage in baseball.” Atlanta third baseman Riley said in an interview with an Atlanta TV station that he was happy to see longtime Braves star Freddie Freeman and manager Brian Snitker make the Series. “I’ve been very blessed to be along for the ride,” said Riley, who made some pretty strong contributions to the trip. This October marks the 10th anniversary of a World Series that also featured Mississippians on opposing sides, and fans can only hope this year’s Fall Classic produces similar drama. St. Louis beat Texas in seven games in the 2011 Series, with Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn earning a ring and ex-MSU standout Mitch Moreland coming up empty. That Series is best remembered for Albert Pujols’ three-homer game, a Cardinals bullpen mix-up in Game 5 and David Freese’s walk-off homer in Game 6 that capped an incredible St. Louis comeback. Lynn and Moreland had their moments. Lynn, a rookie reliever, pitched in five of the games, getting a win in Game 3 with 2 1/3 strong innings and pitching a clean eighth in Game 7, a 6-2 victory. Moreland, in his second MLB season and second Series, was just 1-for-10 but homered in Game 5, a 4-2 Texas win that put the Rangers up 3-2 in the series. … It was 20 years ago that Arizona stunned the New York Yankees in another seven-game classic, winning on Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off hit against Mariano Rivera. Former Ole Miss star David Dellucci was a reserve outfielder on that Diamondbacks team, which had been largely constructed by former State star Buck Showalter, the first manager of the 1998 expansion team. He was fired after the 2000 season, reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. “I would think that this is killing him,” an anonymous source told the New York Times after the Series. … Twenty-five years ago, the Yankees beat the Braves in six games, famously overcoming a 2-0 deficit. Hattiesburg native and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, New York’s third baseman, caught a foul pop for the final out that year. … Thirty years ago, Minnesota beat Atlanta in a classic seven-game series that featured two worst-to-first clubs. Former Jackson State standout Marvin Freeman was a reliever for the Braves back then, and five — count ’em, five — Jackson Mets alums pitched for the Twins that season: Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, Terry Leach, David West and Tom Edens. … The 1961 Yankees, featuring home run king Roger Maris, won the Fall Classic that year over Cincinnati. Silver City native Jack Reed appeared in three games for the Yanks as a defensive replacement, which had been his primary role that season. He didn’t get an at-bat — but did get a ring. Corinth’s Don Blasingame batted .143 in the five games as the Reds’ leadoff batter. … Eighty years ago, in the 1941 Series made famous by Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike, Morton native Atley Donald helped the Yankees beat Brooklyn in five games. Donald was the starter in Game 4, yielding four runs in four innings, but was bailed out when Owen’s misplay in the ninth extended the game and fueled New York’s 7-4 comeback.
Since the freshly crowned Los Angeles Dodgers’ previous World Series title in 1988, a handful of Mississippians have worn Dodger blue and experienced, to some extent, the franchise’s frustration. Maybe some of them are smiling today in the afterglow of that long-awaited celebration on Tuesday night, when the Dodgers finished off Tampa Bay in a compelling Game 6. Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton, was on the 2018 Dodgers team that lost in the Fall Classic to Boston. Greenwood’s Louis Coleman pitched for the 2016 team that fell in the National League Championship Series to the Chicago Cubs. Louisville native Marcus Thames was on the 2011 team that didn’t make the playoffs, and Hattiesburg’s John Lindsey played briefly for the 2010 club that also fell short of the postseason. Brent Leach, the former Brandon High and Delta State standout, pitched for the 2009 Dodgers, who lost in the NLCS to Philadelphia. Gulfport native and Mississippi State alum Gary Rath pitched for an also-ran L.A. team in 1998. Dave Clark, the ex-Shannon High and Jackson State star, was a pinch hitter for the 1996 Dodgers, who lost in the division series to Atlanta. Biloxi native and DSU product Barry Lyons got into a handful of games with the Dodgers in 1990 and ’91. The lone Mississippi link on this year’s title team is Alex Wood, a former Mississippi Braves star who pitched brilliantly (six up, six down) in Game 6. A little research finds that, oddly enough, there has never been a Mississippi native or college alum on any of the Dodgers’ seven world championship teams. On the short list of those who have played for the franchise in any season, from Brooklyn to L.A., are Cleo James, Tommy Dean, Hal Lee, Jim Roberts and Dolly Stark.
World Series anniversaries of note: Ten years ago, Eli Whiteside, the Delta State product from New Albany, won a ring with the San Francisco Giants without playing in any of the five games. Whiteside was the backup catcher for the great Buster Posey, who started every game against Texas. Whiteside hit .238 in 56 games during the season. On the losing side that year were ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland and Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee. Moreland, a rookie, went 6-for-13 with a homer, while lefty Lee was 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in two starts. … Forty years ago, former MSU star Del Unser sparked Philadelphia past Kansas City in the pivotal fifth game of the Fall Classic. Unser, a 13-year vet at the time, delivered a game-tying pinch double off Dan Quisenberry in the ninth inning and then scored the go-ahead run in the 4-3 victory. The Phillies took the series in six. Unser went 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs overall. On the losing side in 1980, Greenville native Frank White, who had been the American League Championship Series MVP, had a World Series to forget: 2-for-25 with three errors at second base. … Sixty years ago, Magnolia State natives Joe Gibbon and Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell won rings with Pittsburgh thanks to Bill Mazeroski’s legendary walk-off homer in Game 7 vs. the New York Yankees. Gibbon, from Hickory and Ole Miss, yielded three runs in two appearances, and Leakesville’s Mizell took the loss as the starter in Game 3 and had a 15.43 ERA over two games.
Though he has yet to pitch in a World Series game, Mississippi native Tony Sipp, a free agent since August, figures to collect a second World Series ring in the last three years as a result of the Washington Nationals’ stunning takedown of the Houston Astros. Sipp, a veteran left-handed reliever, was a member of the Astros — but not on their postseason roster — when they won the 2017 title. He appeared in 36 games for the Nationals this season but was released in August when they restocked their bullpen at the trade deadline. The former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star had an uneven season, posting a 4.71 ERA. He had signed with Washington as a free agent coming off a resurgent 2018 season with the Astros, for whom he pitched in the playoffs. In 2017, Sipp endured the worst of his 11 big league campaigns (5.79 in 46 games) and was left off Houston’s postseason roster. Still, he got a ring – his first – after the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Series. At age 36, Sipp’s playing days may be behind him.
There are always many storylines that develop in any World Series game, and umpires do not want to be one of them. In Game 5 on Sunday night, there was a missing ace, an ace on a mission, three big home runs and a clutch double play. There were also issues with balls and strikes. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale was behind the plate at Nationals Park in Washington, where Houston completed a three-game sweep with a 7-1 victory that takes the Astros back home with a 3-2 series lead. The two most contentious ball-strike calls came in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was 4-1 with two outs, and Astros starter Gerrit Cole, very sharp on this particular night, went to a full count on Ryan Zimmerman. The 3-2 pitch was high and away but appeared, on replay, to be a strike. Cole and catcher Martin Maldonado certainly thought so. Barksdale called it a ball. Cole again went full to Victor Robles. The 3-2 pitch again was high and away — but this time, on replay, was clearly a ball. Barksdale emphatically called it a strike, ending the inning. Robles couldn’t believe it and jumped in the air. The Nationals bench went nuts. If it had been a regular season game, people likely would have been ejected. It was Cole’s final pitch — and his ninth punchout — and the Nationals never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The Astros put the game away with a run in the eighth and two more in the ninth. No one blamed Barksdale for Washington’s loss. You give up three two-run bombs, you’re going to lose most of the time. But there has been lots of buzz about the ball-strike calls and how much they can impact the game. Pedro Martinez made some excellent points on the issue on MLB Network’s postgame show. Some are saying it’s time to institute an electronic system for calling balls and strikes, which would be a fundamental change in the grand old game. Will we look back someday on Game 5 of the ’19 Series — the Barksdale game — as the tipping point in that debate?