Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Connie Mack: The Grand Old Man of Baseball- In His Final Years, 1932-1956: A Review

There have been more famous figures in baseball than Connie Mack over the years but few are still as recognizable as the tall thin man who spent over 60 years as a major league player, manager and team owner. A true pioneer of the game, the taciturn Hall-of-Famer had as much impact as anyone affiliated with America’s Pastime. With such a lengthy and noted career, he is a worthy subject for research and writing. You’ll find no better work on his life than Norman L. Macht’s Connie Mack: The Grand Old Man of Baseball- In His Final Years, 1932-1956 (University of Nebraska Press).

In His Final Years is actually the third volume in this exhaustive biography of Mack. With these final 25 years of the baseball legend’s life taking up 623 pages alone, it’s a safe bet that Macht has produced the seminal work on the subject.

For much of his life, Mack was Philadelphia baseball. As manager and owner of the Athletics, he experienced a variety of peaks and valleys during his lengthy tenure. In His Final Years covers the last quarter of his life, which unfortunately included the most challenging years of his career. Winning his last pennant in 1931, he spent the next 20 years helming a team that was usually in the second division and short on money and star power.

As Mack grew older, Macht details how he slipped as a manager, including his final years when he was little more than a figurehead kept on because of his executive power and the visibility he gave the otherwise moribund franchise. It got to the point where he sometimes couldn’t remember players’ names, and the team would ignore his suggestions because they didn’t fit the circumstance.

Family was something that strongly impacted Mack in his later life. His three sons were also involved with the team at various levels and were not always held in the highest regard by outsiders, which wasn’t helped by their frequent clashing over how to run things. There’s no better example of this than the meticulously detailed accounting of how the Athletics ultimately left Philadelphia for Kansas City.

This is not just a baseball book. The humanity of Mack is a prevalent theme that is explored in detail. Notorious for being tight with money, Macht dispels that notion with numerous examples of bonuses the skipper secretly paid out to high achieving players and the acts of charity he would do anonymously, and on a regular basis. His rocky relationship with his wife Katherine is also a sad reminder that this man, known for his leadership of others, did not always have the same success off the baseball diamond.

There is precious little one can criticize Macht for in this endeavor. He covers every imaginable aspect of Mack’s life. The research that must have gone into this project is staggering, and the results prove the work was worth the effort.

Connie Mack may not have been a swatter of home runs or a .300 hitter but he lasted in the game longer than just about anybody. He truly is a baseball legend and his entire story has just been written so thoroughly that it should be considered the final word on the subject.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free advanced copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

3 Questions Facing the 2016 Boston Red Sox

Mere weeks remain until players for the Boston Red Sox report to spring training in Florida as the kick off to the 2016 season. A flurry of high-profile offseason moves have the team presumably sitting in a much better space than last year, when they finished in the basement of the American League East. However, they are far from a finished product and still have some uncertainty facing them as they prepare for another season on the diamond. 

Here are three of the most looming questions:

Who will be the starting catcher?: Boston is blessed to have two highly regarded young receivers in Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. Vazquez is a classic backstop with a cannon arm and an adequate bat. He is also coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Swihart is the superior athlete and a switch hitter. He was an intermittent starter during 2015, and finished with a .274 batting average in 84 games, but caught only a pedestrian 28 percent of base runners attempting to steal. On the plus side, he hit .303 with a .805 OPS over his final 44 games. The former first round pick has the higher upside but is no guarantee to get the lion’s share of playing time over Vazquez (who has played in all of four Puerto Rican Winter League games since 2014).

The best guess here is that Vazquez will take a little extra time shaking off some rust. Beyond that, Boston may give both players regular starts but ride the hot hand when it comes to deciding a favorite. A starter and a backup should emerge from the pair (with veteran Ryan Hanigan also on the roster with one year remaining on his contract), and if needed one could be used as a valuable trade chip.

Will anyone lock up the first base position: Last year, the Red Sox trotted out a number of players who put in time at first, with rookie Travis Shaw emerging as a solid player over the final two months of the season. Shaw will likely see some time there again in 2016 but does not figure to be the regular. That role should be handled by Hanley Ramirez, who is coming off an injury-plagued and defensively embarrassing 2015 campaign.

Having played shortstop and third base in the majors for a decade, Ramirez may not be the best defensive first baseman but he should be perfectly adequate, as opposed to his adventures in the outfield. A career .296 hitter with power, the 32 year-old doesn’t need to turn into a Gold Glover in order to make this newest transition work. He just needs to make sure he isn’t negating his lumber with his leather.

Can anyone step forward as the heir apparent of lineup anchor in place of the retiring David Ortiz?: The slugging Big Papi has been an offensive stalwart in Beantown for the past 13 seasons. He announced this offseason that 2016 will be his last year, and naturally his departure will create a huge void. Although the team may go after a trade target or free agent to ultimately replace him, there are also candidates already sitting on the roster.

At 23, outfielder Mookie Betts has already proven he can excel in all facets of the game. While he will likely only get better as he continues to get experience, shortstop Xander Bogaerts may be the most plausible internal pick to be Boston’s new face of the offense when their beloved DH leaves.

Also 23, Bogaerts finished second in the American League with a .320 batting average last season. The right-handed hitter has hit a combined 19 home runs combined over the past two years but many think a lot more power is yet to come. As proof, he saw his OPS rise nearly every month in 2015, culminating with a season-best .876 in September/October. With his youth, prior results and the way the ball jumps off his bat, he could be the superstar in waiting the team is looking for.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Actor Dwier Brown Still Impacted By Iconic Role in Field of Dreams

The film Field of Dreams hits all the notes artistically, emotionally and as entertainment. It’s not just a baseball movie—it’s also as much about redemption, following dreams and the complicated relationships between fathers and sons. A significant character instrumental in tying the whole story together was played by actor Dwier Brown, who going on 30 years later, is still deeply impacted by his iconic role and the catch he played with Kevin Costner.

For the two or three of you who may not have yet seen the movie, Field of Dreams is about farmer Ray Kinsella, an Iowa corn farmer with a young family and a significant amount of regret. He loves baseball and talking about Shoeless Joe Jackson, the exiled and disgraced former outfielder, who was the subject of frequent stories he was regaled with by his father. However, as he got older, Ray fell out with his father and inflicted a final parting shot of refusing an offer to have a catch together. They never spoke again, and his father passed away shortly thereafter. Years later, Ray discovers that his corn field not only has the magical ability to re-connect him to baseball but may also help facilitate redemption in amazing ways.

Released in 1989, Field of Dreams was based on W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe. Starring Costner and James Earl Jones, one might think that the movie is dominated by its stars—but they would be wrong. The entire film is a wonderful ensemble effort, and Brown, who only appears in the final five minutes as John Kinsella, Ray’s father, steals the show with an emotional scene that can elicit tears from the gruffest of individuals.

Watch that scene here (SPOLIER ALERT): 

Not yet 30 when the film was made, Brown was already a veteran actor, having worked on notable projects like The Thorn Birds and The Twilight Zone. His experience was put to good use in making a role with so little screen time into one that will be remembered forever. Paired with Costner, he matches the legendary actor beat for beat with the result being an amazingly powerful and emotional scene.

Brown continues to act, both in television and movies. He has also published a book titled If You Build It...: A book about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams. It’s a memoir of his life, working on the film and how that ended up impacting him in powerful and unexpected ways.

Keep reading for more about Dwier Brown and his once-in-a-lifetime movie role, and how to connect with him online and through social media.

Dwier Brown Interview

What was your experience with baseball growing up?: My father taught me how to catch with his split-fingered glove from the 1930’s. I was involved in Little League as a kid and played catch endlessly with my older brother and other kids from neighboring farms in Ohio, where I grew up. I was a good fielder but struggled for a long time with hitting. I was very sad when I didn’t make the cut for my freshman baseball team. But I sometimes tell my friends who were stars of that baseball team that I had the last laugh—it’s my picture that ended up in the Baseball Hall of Fame (from the movie).

How did you become interested in acting?: Having grown up on a farm, my brother and sister and I were always looking for fun things to do that didn’t involve work. My sister started acting in school plays, then my brother created a little community theatre group and I started performing in their productions. I enjoyed pretending to be someone else and making people laugh. My sister and brother eventually gave it up, and I continued performing in college and then moved to Chicago to get involved in plays and improvisational theatre.

Please explain how you happened to land the role of John Kinsella in Field of Dreams.: The audition was one like any other that was scheduled for me by my agent. I had already read the book Shoeless Joe, on which the movie was based, and really loved it, so I worked very hard on the audition (which consisted of the last five pages of the script). I tried to create as much magic as I could in the tiny casting room, but I knew they were auditioning a lot of actors for the role (maybe 200-300 guys). It took them a long time to get back to me so I had pretty much given up hope by the time they finally told me that I was going to Iowa!

What's your favorite memory from the shoot?: Because I had been such a fan of the book Shoeless Joe, one of my sweetest memories of the shoot was driving down the long driveway of the Lansing farm location for the first time and seeing that perfect baseball diamond in the midst of cornfields like the ones I had grown up surrounded by. It really did feel like Heaven! There I was, merging my childhood on a farm with my impossible dream of becoming an actor, by shooting this magical movie on this beautiful farm. (Meeting James Earl Jones was pretty amazing, too, but you can read about that in the book).

How many takes (and how much catch did you have to play with Kevin Costner) for the closing moments of the movie?: Because director Phil Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley decided to shoot the final scene at “magic hour” (those fifteen minutes of golden light just after sunset), we shot a piece of that scene almost every night for two weeks. We would shoot as much as we could until it was too dark, then do a different angle the next day. One of the biggest challenges in the scene for me was trying to re-create the delicate emotional pitch of that final moment day after day so it would look like continuous action. For the final catch sequence, between the helicopter, the waning daylight and the 3,000 extras in their cars, we figured we would have just one take. It was very tense. The first take didn’t look right, so we tried another. It still didn’t look right so Phil made a small adjustment and we tried a third time. By then it was too dark to try another. Fortunately, the third take worked, because when they got the film back from the lab, the first two takes were black. Playing catch was the easy part. But I have to admit, I was never so nervous about dropping a ball…

When did you first know that you had something special with this movie?: For most of us involved with the movie, I think that happened at the cast and crew screening about a week before its release. It had been almost a year since we’d filmed in Iowa and most of us had worked on several other projects in the meantime. From the beginning, you could tell the movie had come out well—beautiful cinematography, tight editing, great score and wonderful performances. Crew members tend to be a little silly at these events—laughing at awkward moments remembered from the shoot and teasing each other with “inside” jokes. But as the ending approached, an extraordinary quiet fell over us as we got lost in the story. Despite the fact that we had all worked on the film and knew exactly what was going to happen, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

What is the most common reaction/question that you get from fans?: What is Kevin Costner like?

That final scene became a poignant icon for fathers and sons. How has that impacted you?: Since the film’s release in 1989, I have been recognized by dozens of fans who have told me touching stories about their relationships with their fathers and how that movie changed their lives. In many cases, they tell me stories of guilt or regret or joy with tears in their eyes, all while we are standing together in the airport or the grocery store. I sometimes feel like a priest who takes confessions on the street. Since my own father died unexpectedly a month before we shot the movie, I have come to think of it is my father’s way of remaining present in my life. It’s my own little traveling cornfield, where people get a second chance with their dads.

What are the current projects you are working on?: Since I released my book, If You Build It… A book about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams a year ago, I have been asked to make appearances and speeches in boardrooms and in ballparks all over the country. I have met fans and thrown out first pitches at Fenway and Kauffman, met dozens of Hall of Famers and All-Stars, and talked with hundreds of fans about their fathers, sons and daughters. You can get more details about my adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @DwierBrown or on my website. Meanwhile, I continue to field offers in film and television and am currently working on a movie called, The Rain.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, January 18, 2016

Prospect Jordan Weems Trying To Catch On With The Boston Red Sox

With Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, the Boston Red Sox have two of the most highly regarded catching prospects in baseball. Now that they have both reached the majors, fans and the media continue to debate the merits of each. However, team’s organizational depth at the position does not end with them. There are other young receivers who have the talent to potentially contribute to the big league club one day, including 23-year-old Jordan Weems.

Born into a baseball family, Weems proved his own worth, hitting .443 and winning a state championship for Columbus High School in Georgia as a senior in 2011. With such a high profile, he shot up draft boards and was selected in the third round by the Red Sox that year. Passing up a chance to attend Georgia State, he instead signed with Boston and began his professional career.

The left-handed batter has been brought along slowly after breaking into the professional ranks as an out of high school, making it as far as Double-A as of the end of the 2015 season. In his five minor league seasons, he has accumulated a .214 batting average with three home runs and 80 RBIs in 283 games. His patient eye is a real positive, as he has drawn 126 walks. Unfortunately, his ability to stay on the field because of injuries has impacted his progression.

Behind the plate, Weems remains a work in progress. He has caught 20 percent of base runners attempting to steal in his career. He was very up and down in 2015 in that regard, catching 31 percent of runners in High-A Salem but fell off to 9 percent with Double-A Portland.

2016 will be a proverbial big season for Weems. Having reached the upper levels of the minors, he will now seek to prove that he is a prospect worthy of a big league look. You can keep up with him on Twitter, and keep reading to find out more about the young catcher.

Jordan Weems Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team was the Red Sox because of their awesome history and great players! Favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr. because he was exciting to watch play.

How did you get into catching?: My father was a catcher in the minor leagues, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps and when I first started catching I loved it so I stuck with it!

Your father (Rick) and brother (Chase) were both drafted and played minor league ball, what kind of advice were they able to give you as you entered the draft?: It was very helpful to know what I was getting into and how the minor league life truly was before I chose to sign! 

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: I found out they were first interested when they started to come to a lot of my games and wanted to visit me and my family! Draft experience was awesome... Especially when I got to go to a workout in Fenway Park.

Your stint with High Single-A Salem in 2014 was your best production in pro ball to date. What clicked for you?: I think the new scenery helped a lot, but also just being able to relax and play the game like I know how! Focusing on having fun and doing what I love while trying to get better each and every day.

What is the one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: Being more consistent in all aspects of the game.

Who is one pitcher from any time in baseball history that you would like to face, and how would you approach the at-bat?: Randy Johnson. Try to be aggressive and hit a fastball in my zone while taking a middle of the field approach. Wouldn't try and do too much with a guy like that.

Can you give the readers a little bit of an idea about the physical tolls on a catcher?: Playing professional baseball is already a physically demanding sport, so being a catcher takes that much more of a toll on your body. Catchers not only have to catch most every night but they also have to catch bullpens and get their work in everyday before each night’s game. Whether that's blocking, throwing, receiving, or defensive fundamentals, it all starts taking a toll on your body after awhile. Especially in late August when you're starting to get into the real grind of the season. You have to make sure you're eating right and doing what is necessary to keep your body strong in order to stay at your peak performance.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ira Flagstead:The Boston Red Sox's Unknown Hall-of-Famer

Earlier this week it was announced that the Boston Red Sox had selected four new members for their Hall of Fame. Fans should have little trouble recognizing the first three inductees, former players Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, and former front office man Larry Lucchino. However, the fourth honoree, former outfielder Ira Flagstead, will likely leave many scratching their heads. Despite his anonymity, he is worthy of the honor and is someone whose career all Boston fans should become more familiar with.

Here is what you need to know about the newest and most unknown of the Boston Hall of Famers:

-Born Ira James Flagstead, he went by the nickname “Pete.”

-The right-handed outfielder made his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers in 1917. He spent parts of six solid yet unspectacular years with them before being traded to the Red Sox in April, 1923 in exchange for minor leaguer Ed Goebel and cash.

-Playing with Boston until midway through the 1929 season, he accumulated a .295 batting average, 27 home runs, 299 RBIs and 51 stolen bases in 789 games.

-He had a great batting eye, walking twice as often as he struck out (335 walks to 168 strikeouts) as a member of the Red Sox.

-A tremendous defensive center fielder, he led the league twice (1925 and 1927) in assists and finished with 95 in his career from that position, which is still good for 41st all time. Additionally, his career range factor of 2.80 as a center fielder is 23rd all time.

- He tied a major league record on April 19, 1926 (Patriots Day) by starting three double plays from the outfield. Two of these plays came from throwing runners out after making the catch. The third was a 8-5-4-2 twin killing he started.

-Despite never putting up monster numbers, Flagstead finished in the top 25 in American League MVP voting every year between 1924-28, finishing as high as seventh place in 1925.

-Flagstead played for some putrid Red Sox teams. In fact, only once did Boston finish higher than eighth (last place) in the American League during his tenure. That came in 1925, when they finished seventh, a half game in front of the last place Chicago White Sox.

-He was so popular with Red Sox fans that he was given his own day in 1928 and showered with gifts, including $1,000 and a new car.

-The Red Sox Hall of Fame is actually the third time he has been honored in such a way. He was previously inducted in the Washington Sports and the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fames.

-He was drafted into the military during World War I and was about to be sent overseas when peace came and allowed him to resume his civilian status.

- Flagstead died in his sleep on March 13, 1940 at the young age of 46—10 years after he finished his major league career.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Slow Death of Phil Reccius From Baseball

A sad footnote in the annals of baseball history is the passing of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920 following being struck in the head with a pitch. Although he remains the only major leaguer to have died as a result of a play on the field, there are unfortunately other professional players who have suffered similar fates. This includes Phil Reccius, who succumbed in an insane asylum to his baseball injury in 1903—a full nine years after being struck by a ball during a game.

Born on June 7, 1862 in Louisville, Kentucky, Reccius entered the world during the infancy of baseball but he immediately became steeped in the game. He and his brothers Bill and John grew up playing ball and later played and managed professionally. They were also childhood friends with the likes of Pete Browning, who became one of the greatest baseball stars of the 19th century. Browning, who was illiterate, was said to have hidden his schoolbooks provided by his mother under the steps at the house of his friends, Phil and John Reccius, so they could then go out and play ball. He had the best baseball career of them all but suffered from alcoholism and was committed to an insane asylum himself in 1905, shortly before his untimely death at the age of 45.

Phil Reccius was a jack of all trades on the baseball diamond. He started his professional career in 1882 with the hometown Louisville Eclipse of the American Association. He played for them for the next seven years (he also played in 62 games for the Cleveland Blues in 1887 and one game for the Rochester Broncos in 1888), switching between the infield, outfield and pitching.

Playing for Louisville, Reccius was never a star, as that was covered by Browning, who was the most feared hitter in the world at the time. Even so, he contributed grit, good defense and a positive presence on their teams that were so popular that they inspired a business to start making Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

An April 21, 1886 article in the Courier Journal out of Louisville went out of its way to compliment what Reccius meant to the team, stating, “Phil Reccius ought to be complimented on his fine fielding in the three championship games which has been played. He leads the club in that respect, and has made more runs than any other player in the team. Phil takes desperate chances, and therefore makes an occasional error, but he cuts off many a base hit. He is fleet of foot, a sure stop, fine thrower, and besides covers a great space of territory. At the bat he is a good man.”

Judging by his stats he was more of a scrappy utility man than a star. In 261 major league games as a hitter, he produced a .231 batting average with four home runs and 99 RBIs. As a pitcher, he was 6-12 in 27 games with a 3.26 ERA. Of courses, not only were rules and equipment different, but record keeping was spotty, so this is more like an approximation than an exact record of his accomplishments.

In addition to his pitching, he was known as a patient hitter. An 1887 Sporting News article opined, "'Who is that ballet dancer?' asked one of the boys when Reccius waltzed up to the plate and waltzed away again as every ball was pitched. Phil Reccius is a great fellow to wait for his balls and he tried to tease a base out of every pitcher he faces.” 

Once his major league career concluded, Reccius continued playing in the expansive reaches of the minor leagues of the time. At various times he suited up for teams in locations like Terre Haute, Indiana; Memphis; Macon, Georgia and Spokane. He also was a well-respected manager, working in the same circuits as he did as a player.

It was reported in 1902 that Reccius, at the age of 40, had been committed to the insane asylum at Lakeland due to an injury he had received while playing with Spokane in a game against Seattle. He was struck by a batted ball while pitching. He somehow managed to scramble to the ball, got the man out and retired the side but lost consciousness upon returning to the dugout. The report explained that since that time he had been prone to sudden “mental attacks,” which culminated in his commitment. Even so, he managed to log time with four different minor league teams over four years after that incident before finishing his professional playing career in a stint with the Henderson squad of the Pennyrile League in 1896.

Some accounts place the date of his injury, speculated as a skull fracture, in 1890, while others pegged it as 1894. However, records show he was actually playing with the Rochester Broncos and Terre Haute in 1890. He did suit up for Spokane until two years later.

Late in 1902, the toll of the injury had clearly taken its toll on Reccius, as he was committed to the Kentucky Asylum for the Insane at Lakeland—the same institution his childhood friend Browning would end up in just a couple of years later. He was unmarried at the time, so it is unclear what he did to precipitate such steps, or if he simply didn’t have anyone able to care for him. Just months later, on February 15, 1903, his death was reported around the country. The Daily Tribune out of Terre Haute recalled his best game coming in 1890, as he took to the mound and defeated defending “world champion” Detroit 3-0.

A simple marker in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville is the final resting place of Reccius (along with that of his brothers John and Bill, and Pete Browning). His time in baseball is largely forgotten, which is all the more tragic given his untimely demise was a direct result of his efforts on the field.

Statistics via

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Carl Scheib, the 16-Year-Old Major League Bullpen Pitcher

Appearing in 267 games during an 11-year major league career, pitcher Carl Scheib had a solid yet unspectacular showing as a big leaguer. However, he would likely have never gotten the change if not for a traveling salesman, who wrote Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack to recommend the high school phenom— resulting in a 16-year-old Scheib working as the team’s batting practice pitcher in 1943 and making his debut before the year was over.

Born in 1927, Scheib grew up in tiny Gratz, Pennsylvania, a rural town outside of Harrisburg. A community known for farming and coal mining, his father did both, leaving few options as to what the youngsters’ future held when he came of age.

Scheib’s parents encouraged him to play baseball and by the time he was a teenager he had become an all-around player and right-handed pitcher of some local renown. As a 15-year-old, he was larger than most full-grown men and his success pitching for an American Legion team often made him the topic of town chatter, as they relived his exploits. This ended up changing the direction of the youngster’s life forever.

In 1942, Gratz grocer Hannah Clark waited on traveling salesman Al Grossman and started talking up the teen hurler. Although he didn’t work in baseball, Grossman did have friends in the Athletics organization and shortly after this encounter wrote a letter to legendary manager Connie Mack to make him aware of the promising prospect residing within state limits. Before the days of easy coast-to-coast travel and social media, baseball teams relied on tips like these almost as much as their own scouting to get the inside dope on such up-and-comers. Otherwise, tops rural athletes like Scheib had little recourse to get noticed and pursue a professional career.

At the time of Grossman’s letter, the team was in the midst of its eight consecutive year of residing in the second division. In particular, the team struggled mightily to find consistent pitching. Known for frequently gambling on young players, Mack couldn’t resist looking into this tip further, despite the kid’s age.  That September, Scheib was driven by his brother to Philadelphia, where he nervously went through his paces in front of Mack and a coach.

As Scheib later recalled, “I had no glove or shoes or uniform, so they had to go around the clubhouse and collect them for me. I went down to the bullpen and all the coaches and big wheels were there. I threw to Earle Brucker and Mr. Mack said, ‘You hurry back next year as fast as you can.’”

Next April, Scheib discussed his options with his family. Knowing that a likely alternative was the farm, the coal mines or both, they came to the consensus that it would be a good thing for him to leave school two years early to pursue professional baseball. True to his word, Mack hired him as a batting practice pitcher. Soon, his repertoire impressed enough people that he started going out on road trips with the team and making appearances in exhibition games.

Unfortunately, it was not an easy for the pitcher to acclimate to being with a big league team. He later explained, “In those days those teammates didn’t tell you much. Coaches? They didn’t work with you. They just went out to third base and directed traffic. It was hard to get used to. I was intimidated. I was a bashful, shy kid coming out of the sticks. It was pretty hard.”

The combination of Scheib’s talent; the watering down of major league talent because of World War II; and the putrid state of the Athletics (they lost 105 games in 1943) all contributed to the youngster being given a player’s contract in September. Mack offered him $300 for the remainder of the season, gave him another $500 for signing and also provided a $1,000 check to his father (who had to co-sign the deal because his son was under the legal age of consent at 16 years, nine months and seven days). The venerable skipper then told the young player, “Now you go down to the clubhouse and get a uniform so you can be indentified.”

On September 6th, he pitched the final 2/3 of an inning in an 11-4 loss to the New York Yankees in the second game of a doubleheader at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, becoming the youngest player in the history of the American League. He gave up two hits and a run but retired veteran stars Joe Gordon and Frankie Crosetti to close out the game.
Scheib made a total of six relief appearances before the season ended, going 0-1 with a respectable 4.34 ERA. He struck out just three in his 18.2 innings (including Bob Muncrief for his first career punch out) but only walked three and generally acquitted himself admirably for the basement dwellers.

Youth and a stint in the Army limited his opportunities over the next few years. However, he became a regular on the Athletics’ pitching staff in 1947 (his first major league win was a seven-hit shutout of the Detroit Tigers on June 11th) and went on to play with them midway through the 1954 season when he was sold to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was later returned to the Athletics but never pitched in the majors again, spending the next three years pitching in the minors before retiring following the 1957 season at the age of 30 because of injuries.

In his parts of 11 years as a big leaguer, Scheib was a combined 45-65 with a 4.88 ERA in 267 games (107 starts). He was not a strikeout pitcher, as evidence by his 290 strikeouts (against 493 walks) in 1,070.2 innings. His best season came in 1947, when he was 14-8 with a 3.94 ERA and 15 complete games for a team that won 84 games.

In later years, he expressed frustration that he was shuffled between the bullpen and rotation so indiscriminately throughout his career. “I just wished they used me as one or another. I think it affected my arm. We had quite a few pitchers that had sore arms.”

Schieb never became a full-fledged star but had a professional baseball career that should make most envious. After throwing his final pitch, he became successful operating a car wash and installing related equipment. It’s amazing to think about how a chance encounter by two people engaged in idle chatter changed the course of his life forever and allowed him to have a life that at one time may have seemed impossible.

Statistics via

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Friday, January 1, 2016

5 Big Questions and Predictions for the 2016 Boston Red Sox

As the last notes of Auld Lang Syne evaporate into the atmosphere, and 2016 stretches its wings for the first time, the realization that spring training is mere weeks away starts to settle in. Although the Boston Red Sox made a significant splash this offseason to upgrade their roster after consecutive disappointing seasons, they are still a work in progress. Let’s take a look at five of the biggest questions facing the team, and some predictions of how it will all play out.

How will David Ortiz finish his career?: Earlier this offseason, the Boston slugger announced that 2016 will be his 20th and final major league season. Even at 39 this past year, he was still the most valuable Red Sox hitter, contributing a .273 batting average, 37 home runs and 108 RBIs. Barring injury, there’s little reason to believe that he won’t go out on a high note.

Despite his climbing age, Ortiz has remained remarkably consistent, posting an OPS+ of at least 140 for the last five years. Not only did he play in 146 games in 2015, but he even got stronger as the season wore on, as evidenced by his .231/.326/.762 and .325/.401/1.102 batting average/OBP/OPS splits for the first and second halves, respectively. A continuation of such production will be important since he represents the only true masher in their lineup, and barring injury, there’s little reason to think it won’t happen. He is also a fiercely proud man who has always taken extreme pride in his numbers. One final typical season could leapfrog him from his current position of 27th all time in home runs (503) to inside the top 20—including passing Red Sox legend Ted Williams (521).

Can Rusney Castillo live up to his $72 million contract?: To say that the first two seasons for the 28-year-old Cuban outfielder have been a disappointment would be an understatement. During that time he has appeared in just 90 major league games, hitting a combined .262 with 7 home runs and 35 RBIs. He has also battled injuries and equally uninspiring production in the minors. He enters 2016 projected to receive significant playing time, though he may share duties with the likes of Chris Young and Brock Holt.

Unfortunately, there is no true road map to what Castillo’s future should be. Scouting reports like his tools but have mostly shied away from pegging him as a star. Although his career to date provides a relatively small sample size, there is the alarming possibility he may just be a platoon player. The right-handed batter has produced a .239/.283/.631 split against right-handed pitchers but has looked much better versus lefties at .313/.343/.791. Anything is possible but the likelihood is that he has already largely shown what he is—a toolsy but not great player. There’s nothing wrong with that but it also doesn’t reconcile well with his big contract.

Will shortstop Xander Bogaerts find his power?: The young right-handed hitter is coming off a great season by any measure, finishing second in the American Leaguer with a .320 batting average. Perhaps the only thing that may have had any tinge of disappointment was that he hit just seven home runs, which was far less than his projections would have you believe he is capable of.

Although he may not have put many over the fence last year, the signs are positive that Bogaerts is not only one of the best young hitters in the game, but that his power is still developing. From April through the end of the season, his monthly OPS trended positively (.694; .705; .771; .795; .761; 876). Saving his best for last, he banged out three homers and nine doubles over the final 29 games. He may not hit 30 home runs in 2016 but it would appear that he is primed to take a big step forward in the power department.

What player will take the biggest step forward in 2016?: With the team having so many young players, there are many possibilities. However, right-handed starter Rick Porcello appears to have the inside track if his finish this past year is any indication.

Coming over from the Detroit Tigers last offseason, there were big expectations for the hurler, but he disappointed, contributing a 9-15 record and a 4.92 ERA. Then why the optimism you might ask? There are actually two compelling reasons. The first is that with David Price being signed last month to anchor the rotation, there is no longer any need for him to play the ace—a role for which he did not seem well suited. Additionally, Porcello was actually very good down the stretch, posting a 3.53 ERA in his final 11 starts, and struck out nearly a batter per inning (70 punchouts in 71.1 innings), which was a career-best clip. Now that he has experience pitching in the Hub, and some of the pressure has been removed, the 27-year-old may be a very pleasant surprise in 2016.

Who will be the fifth starter?: The first four spots in the rotation seem fairly set in stone, with Price, Porcello, Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez leading the charge. There are several candidates for the final slot (Joe Kelly, Henry Owens and Roenis Elias) but without them even stepping on a spring mound, the favorite should be Owens.

The 22-year-old southpaw had a reasonable rookie campaign this past year, going 4-4 with a 4.57 ERA in 11 starts. Long a top prospect, he has the most upside of the three and has shown he deserves an opportunity to build on his debut season. Elias looks like a good fit as a sixth starter/long man if he makes the team, while Kelly has been riding a recent swell of opinion that believes he could flourish as a reliever. At the very least, the team has options—and decent options at that—which is different than what could be said at this time last year.

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