Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Minor League Baseball Launches Hispanic-Focused Initiative Es Divertido Ser Un Fan

MiLB News Release
Multi-cultural fan engagement program includes new team identities, specialty uniforms and Hispanic-friendly ballpark experiences 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball® (MiLB™) today launched Es Divertido Ser Un Fan, a new multicultural fan engagement platform aimed at specifically connecting with Hispanic/Latino baseball fans in 160 markets throughout the U.S. and Canada. The program will debut this August in select MiLB markets, including Las Vegas, Charlotte, North Carolina; Kane County, Illinois; and Visalia, California, with a national expansion planned for 2018. 

The Es Divertido Ser Un Fan initiative expands MiLB’s fan-centric marketing campaign It’s Fun to be a Fan, unveiled in March. The Spanish-translated campaign provides teams with an additional option to better connect with and engage fans in culturally-relevant ways. 

The most recent ESPN Sports Poll report found that more than 18.2 million U.S. Hispanic/Latino individuals identify themselves as MiLB fans, or 17.2 percent of MiLB’s overall self-designated fan base. 

“One of the pillars of Minor League Baseball is to create an environment where all individuals feel welcome and included in our ballparks,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “It is important to us that our teams are reflective of the communities in which they reside, offering a memorable entertainment experience for all members of those communities.”

With years of research and quantifiable filters helping guide the strategic plan, MiLB targeted the four aforementioned communities as ideal markets to launch the initiative in 2017. Each participating team depicts a unique subset of the U.S. Hispanic/Latino population, with the four markets serving as a representative cross-section of the total U.S. Hispanic/Latino populace. 

To reflect the unique characteristics of their respective fan bases, participating teams have the option to showcase their communities’ distinctive personas through logos on caps and jerseys. 

The Las Vegas 51s will take the field as the Las Vegas Reyes de Plata (“Silver Kings”), celebrating the city and state’s pioneering history at the forefront of the precious metal mining business that continues to define the Silver State today. 

“The Reyes de Plata name plays off the fact that Nevada is the Silver State and embraces the impact and history that the Hispanic/Latino community had early in the precious metals mining industry that ultimately made Nevada state-worthy during the final months of the Civil War. The Tuesday re-branding that will occur during August games is something that is unique in professional sports and goes beyond one-off heritage nights,” said Las Vegas 51s General Manager Chuck Johnson. 

Per Nielsen and Pew Research, in the past 15 years, the 10 U.S. states with the fastest-growing U.S. Hispanic/Latino populations were home to 45 MiLB teams. One of those states is North Carolina, and Charlotte is one of the fastest growing emerging Hispanic markets in the country. 

“We look forward to introducing the Charlotte Caballeros, and fans will notice the Caballeros’ name and associated themes integrated in their experiences at BB&T Ballpark and in the community,” said Charlotte Knights’ General Manager Rob Egan. “We will feature special concession items, public address announcements in Spanish, player features on the video board and a festival with live music during our introductory weekend of August 18-20. Additionally, we will be strengthening our bond with the Latin American Chamber of Commerce Charlotte and the Puerto Rican Cultural Society of Charlotte, as well as volunteering and raising funds for Circle de Luz, a group whose mission is to empower Hispanic girls and young women through mentoring, programming and educational scholarships.” 

 Of the five counties surrounding Chicago’s Cook County, Kane County, Illinois, has the largest population of U.S. Hispanic residents. “Our goal has always been to provide affordable, family fun for all area residents,” said Kane County Cougars Vice President and General Manager Curtis Haug. 

“Our Spanish-language outreach will encourage even more families to enjoy Kane County Cougars baseball.” 

As the 14-largest U.S. Hispanic/Latino DMA, Visalia, California, boasts a prominent Mexican-American farming community, and a long-standing position as one of the premier dairy-producing regions of the world. The Visalia Rawhide, who will become the Visalia Toros (“Bulls”), saw this program as an opportunity to further engage their Hispanic/Latino fan base. 

“The team’s rebranding pays homage to California's Central Valley agricultural empire and the people who make it a wonderful place to call home,” said Jennifer Reynolds, General Manager of the Visalia Rawhide. “To kick off this year-long celebration, we will host Taquiza y Toros so that everyone can enjoy great family-friendly entertainment at our ballpark, no matter what language he or she speaks.” 

Fans can join the Es Divertido Ser Un Fan conversation, share their experiences and exchange stories using the hashtags #MiLBEsDivertido and #MiLBIsFun. 

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How a Gun Shot Impacted the Career of New York Yankees Pitcher Marshall Bridges

Hard-throwing left-handed pitcher Marshall Bridges toiled for six seasons in the minor leagues before earning a call-up to the major leagues at the age of 28 in 1959. He hung around for several years as a journeyman reliever before finding stardom as the closer for the 1962 New York Yankees. Unfortunately, a gunshot wound suffered at a bar during spring training the following year put a damper on what had been a late developing but promising career.

Known as the Sheriff or Fox, Bridges was a veteran of the Negro Leagues before signing with the New York Giants in 1953. He pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds prior to joining the Yankees in 1962. He immediately grabbed the closer role for the eventual World Series Champions, going 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA and 18 saves in 52 relief appearances (spanning 71.2 innings). He permitted opposing hitters just a .194 batting average, including a .169 mark for lefties. New York manager Ralph Houk called him his “lifeline reliever.” “Some pitchers go all to pieces,” explained the skipper. “He just seems to growl and get tougher and madder.”

On February 14, 1963, Bridges was shot in the leg by 21 year-old Carrie Lee Raysor at a Ft. Lauderdale Elks Lodge bar. Accounts differed as to what led to the shooting. She claimed that the married 31-year-old father of three tried to “pick her up” and “put his arm around me and tried to pull me over and I didn’t like this kind of mugging.” She further claimed that he repeatedly offered to drive her home and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Bridges indicated he was nursing a solitary drink while waiting for a friend to pick him up for dinner when he was shot. Regardless of which side was telling the truth, she pulled out a handgun and fired a shot. A bullet lodged in the fleshy part of his left leg, broke a small bone and caused some muscle damage. He elected to leave the bullet in his leg, as this alternative to surgery shrunk his recovery time from the entire season to a matter of weeks.

Although the initial prognosis was that he would miss at least four weeks, Bridges downplayed the injury, stating it “feels good and I can walk now if they let me.”

 Houk even made light of the situation, telling his pitcher, “I’m going to have to get you a holster. You’re too slow on the draw.”

Raysor was arrested on charges of aggravated assault. While Bridges was interviewed he was ultimately not detained. He was not disciplined for his part in the incident and returned to action before the season was over, earning nicknames from his teammates like Bang Bang and Lead Leg. He was 2-0 with a 3.82 ERA in 23 games while striking out more than a batter per inning. He was replaced as the closer by Hal Reniff, who matched his 18 saves from the year before.

Despite it all, the Yankees were not happy. As the preeminent franchise in all of baseball, they were not fans of their players having brushes with the law. It also did not help that he was black at a time when non-white players were supposed to be seen and not heard. He was sold that offseason to the Washington Senators, for whom he pitched for two more nondescript seasons and two more for their Triple-A team) before retiring following after the 1967 season.

Bridges finished with a major league record of 23-15 with a 3.75 ERA and 25 saves in 206 games (five starts) over seven seasons.

(Perhaps for good reason) Bridges elected to not press charges against Raysor. What happened to her was not able to be found. Following baseball, Bridges worked as a handyman for the State Capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 59. While fruitlessly speculative, it’s nevertheless interesting to wonder how his career might have ended if he had not been in that bar on that night and found himself on the wrong end of the barrel of a gun. 

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Minor League Baseball Announces its June Players of the Month

For Immediate Release                                                                                    July 6, 2017 
      
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball today announced the Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 10 full season leagues for the month of June. Each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball in recognition of the honor. 

Rochester Red Wings (Twins) outfielder Zack Granite led the International League in average (.470), hits (55), extra-base hits (16), runs scored (23), total bases (78) and on-base percentage (.527). Granite recorded a base hit in 28 of his 29 games in June and posted 20 multi-hit games to go along with a 17-game hitting streak to start the month. Granite, 24, was selected by Minnesota in the 14th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Seton Hall University. 

In his first month at the Triple-A level, Albuquerque Isotopes (Rockies) third baseman Ryan McMahon led the Pacific Coast League in hits (50), extra-base hits (21) and total bases (85). He was second in the league in average (.427) and RBI (28). McMahon posted 15 multi-hit games in June, including a pair of five-hit games and a pair of four-hit games. McMahon, 22, was selected in the second round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. 

Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies) third baseman Mitch Walding led the Eastern League in home runs (13), RBIs (27), runs scored (21), total bases (78), slugging percentage (.848) and OPS (1.246) during the month of June, and tied for the league lead in extra-base hits (19). Walding recorded nine multi-hit games in June and ended the month on an 11-game hitting streak. Walding, 24, was selected by Philadelphia in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of the St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, California. 

Jackson Generals (Diamondbacks) infielder Kevin Medrano led the Southern League in average (.371), hits (36) and total bases (51) in June. Medrano recorded a 16-game hitting streak and posted 11 multi-hit games during the month. Medrano, 27, was selected by Arizona in the 18th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Missouri State University. 

Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros) third baseman J.D. Davis led the Texas League in home runs (seven), extra-base hits (15), total bases (64) and OPS (1.031), and was second in hits (35), RBI (23) and slugging percentage (.627). Davis batted .343 for the month and recorded 10 multi-hit games and a 13-game hitting streak from June 15-30. Davis, 24, was selected by Houston in the third round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Cal State Fullerton. 

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers) center fielder Yusniel Diaz led the California League in hits (40), extra-base hits (16), total bases (68), doubles (nine) and on-base percentage (.438) and was second in home runs (five) and OPS (1.111). Diaz posted 13 multi-hit games in June, including two four-hit games and four three-hit games. Diaz, 20, was signed by the Dodgers in November 2015 out of Havana, Cuba. 

Buies Creek Astros left fielder Myles Straw was a tough out for Carolina League pitching in June, as he led the league in hits (36), walks (20), stolen bases (12), on-base percentage (.479) and runs scored (21), while batting .375 in 24 games. Straw posted 13 multi-hit games in June, including a stretch of seven straight from June 8-15. Straw, 22, was selected by Houston in the 12th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of St. Johns River State College. 

Lakeland Flying Tigers (Tigers) left-hander Matt Hall did not allow an earned run in 25.2 innings in June, as he held opponents to a .169 average and walked just six while striking out 31. Hall was 3-0 in June and allowed only 15 hits during his four outings, with just three of the hits going for extra bases (two doubles and a homer). Hall, 23, was selected by Detroit in the sixth round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Missouri State University. 

Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays) shortstop Bo Bichette destroyed Midwest League pitching in June, leading the league in average (.421), hits (40), extra-base hits (16), total bases (63) and doubles (12). His 1.198 OPS was good for third in the league. For the year, his .383 average and 32 doubles lead all of professional baseball (including Major League Baseball). Bichette, 19, was selected by Toronto in the second round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Lakewood Blue Claws (Phillies) first baseman Darick Hall led the South Atlantic League in home runs (eight), RBI (27), extra-base hits (18), total bases (64) and slugging percentage (.653) and was second in the league in doubles (10) and OPS (1.042). Hall had separate hitting streaks of five, seven and eight games in June and tallied five consecutive multi-hit games from June 23-27. Hall, 21, was selected by the Phillies in the 14th round of the 2016 First Year Player Draft out of Dallas Baptist University. 

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Minor League Baseball Attendance Tops One Million Again Over July 3-4 Holiday

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball (MiLB) today announced that 1,059,975 fans attended the 159 games played July 3-4, marking the second time in the last three years MiLB drew more than one million fans over that two-day span (also 2015). Additionally, 10 percent of MiLB teams set franchise records for single-game
attendance during the holiday.

The 14 U.S.-based leagues and 160 clubs that charge admission averaged 6,667 fans per game over the holiday period, drawing 521,020 fans for 79 games on July 3, and 538,955 fans for 80 games on July 4. Each MiLB team hosted a game in its respective community over those two days.

“Our ballparks provide fun, memory-making experiences for our fans all year long,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “The fact that more than one million fans spent their Fourth of July holiday in Minor League Baseball ballparks solidifies our teams’ prominence in their respective communities.”

Thirteen clubs set new franchise single-game attendance records on July 3 or July 4: Connecticut Tigers, Fort Myers Miracle, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Durham Bulls, Hartford Yard Goats, Johnson City Cardinals, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Missoula Osprey, Nashville Sounds, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Portland Sea Dogs, Richmond Flying Squirrels and Winston-Salem Dash. Additionally, three teams set new marks in renovated ballparks, including the Akron RubberDucks, Memphis Redbirds and Oklahoma City Dodgers.

The Buffalo Bisons drew the largest crowd among Triple-A teams, with 16,647 fans on July 3; the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp recorded the highest figure at the Double-A level (11,398 on July 3); while the Lansing Lugnuts posted the largest total at the Class-A level (11,449 on July 4) and the Spokane Indians drew the biggest crowd among Short Season level clubs (7,029 on July 4).

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pete Smith: Triple Play Maestro of The Boston Red Sox

Anyone whose time in the major leagues exceeds for than a season or two should consider themselves very lucky given the number of people who fail to even get a call up. For those who do make it but their time ends up being relatively short, packing in as many memorable experiences is exceedingly important. Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Pete Smith may have only had a brief cup of coffee as a big leaguer but created memories that could be envied by even the most grizzled veterans.

Born in Natick, Massachusetts, Smith must have been over the moon to sign in 1961 with his home team, the Red Sox, following his career at Colgate University. The right-hander progressed through the minor leagues quickly, earning a spot with Boston in September, 1962. In his lone appearance that year, he didn’t last past the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers; yielding eight runs and three home runs in a resounding loss.

Smith won 12 games in the minors in 1963 and earned another promotion to the Hub late in the year. Making a total of six appearances (one start), he posted an 0-1 record and 3.60 ERA across 15 innings.

He had no way of knowing it at the time but his final outing was the last time he would toe a big league rubber. Incredibly, the last time he officially touched a ball as a fielder during a major league game produced an incredibly rare feat. On September 28th, pitching in relief of an eventual 4-3 victory against the Los Angeles Angels, he came on in the seventh inning to protect a slim 3-2 lead. He promptly allowed a double to Charlie Dees and a walk to Lee Thomas. Looking down the barrel of possibly coughing up the lead, Smith instead grabbed a ball bunted off the bat of the next hitter, Felix Torres, and turned it into a triple play. The Sox went on to win the game and the hurler had his moment of a lifetime.

 "I purposely misplayed a bunt attempt by the Angels’ Felix Torres with runners on first and second,” explained Smith years later.

"Instead of catching the bunt [on a fly] I let it drop to the playing field, quickly fielded it and turned it into a triple play — bang-bang-bang."

Smith missed the entirety of 1964 and pitched in just two minor league games in 1965 because of injury. Unfortunately, he was not able to go forward any further and ended his playing career. Although his big league career consisted of a less than modest 6.75 ERA across seven appearances, he left with memories and stories worthy of a player with much more experience.

Pete Smith Interview:

What was the strangest baseball play you ever saw?: When Felix Torres of the Los Angeles Angels stood at home plate as he was trying to sacrifice runners on first and second. His pop-up bunt was turned into a 1-6-5-4 triple play.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: I had two favorites; Johnny Pesky and Mel Parnell.

Who was your toughest out?: My toughest out was Jose Cardenal. He probably hit .800 off me and I was probably the reason he got to the big leagues.

If you could do anything about your career differently, what would that be?: I wouldn’t have thrown curve balls so soon in January of 1964. I threw my arm out then.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Aaron Guiel's Amazing Baseball Journey

With every major league team having more than 100 players at any given time in their minor league system, it can be extremely difficult to not only stand out but also rise to the level of being considered for the parent club. This struggle is only exacerbated with each passing year the call doesn’t come.Aaron Guiel toiled for 10 years in the minors before finally playing in his first big league game. He went on to a near two-decade professional career, which helped pay off his hard work.

After being a 21st round draft pick of the California Angels in 1992, the left-handed hitter made steady progress through the minors, culminating in a .333 batting average and 23 home runs in Double-A in 1997 (He split time at that level that year for the Angels and the San Diego Padres, who acquired him in a trade for Angelo Encarnacion). A second baseman, he eventually transitioned to the outfield. Despite producing at a level any team would want to see from a top prospect, he returned to the minors year after year, even spending part of the 2000 season in Mexico.

Finally, in 2002 and part of the Kansas City Royals organization, he was given a shot at the majors. Called up in late June, he split time with Michael Tucker in right field the rest of the way. Appearing in a total of 70 games, he hit just .233 but chipped in four home runs and 38 RBIs.

Approaching the wrong side of 30, most minor league players in Guiel’s shoes only get a cup of coffee if they’re lucky. Instead, he made sure it counted. He platooned again the next year, but raised his play, hitting .277 with 15 home runs in 90 games. He stayed with the Royals until mid-way through the 2006 season, when he was picked up by the New York Yankees off waivers. The team went on to win the World Series, although he did not make their postseason roster.

Guiel headed off to Japan in 2007, embarking on a five year stint with the Yakult Swallows. He hit 90 home runs during his time and retired from playing following the 2011 season at the age of 38.

During his major league career, Guiel appeared in a total of 307 games, hitting a combined .246 with 35 home runs and 128 RBIs. He was particularly effective against right-handed pitching, contributing a .767 OPS and 108 OPS+ against them. His final home run was a game-winning two-run shot against James Shields and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on September 22, 2006.

All told, Guiel compiled 1,860 hits, 331 home runs and 1,162 RBIs during his professional career. His perseverance paid off, as he was able to do a little bit of everything and experience many different teams and environments. He may not hold a litany of records or be a candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame, however, he had a wildly successful career that very few can dream of matching what he accomplished.

Aaron Guiel Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?:Being in Canada and only having a Canadian team on television, my favorite player was Gary Carter  with the Montreal Expos. 

On the one hand he played for a Canadian team so we always get a chance to watch on TV. Plus, the first glove that was given to me by my grandfather was a catcher’s mitt, so it was a natural fit.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Angels in 1992?:The whole situation moved fast. I never expected to be drafted so when I was I had no expectations.

Being a Canadian, a visa was required to play in the United States.Because no immigration visa was available at the time, I had to stay in Vancouver and train with the Triple-A team until one opened up a couple months after the draft.I expected to stay for a couple months, but couldn't be more wrong with how the path took me.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?:After spending nine years in the minor leagues, I was pretty nervous when I was told I was going to the big  leagues.Some pretty special guys and teammates in Triple-A, along with my long-time manager Mike Jirschele, gave me the news so I was a very special moment.

I joined the team for interleague play against the New York Mets. I do remember striking out my first at bat.I tried as best I could, to slow things down, but as any player will tell you, it's easier said than done.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?:The most talented player that I played with who is Carlos Beltran. He was a bona fide five tool player. He also carries himself with a quiet confidence; it made you believe he had the ability to do something special every night.Pretty humbling playing next to a guy like that…

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?:My favorite moment has to be getting called up for the very first time in a while playing in Fresno California for the Omaha Royals.After so long in the minor leagues, it was a special time to celebrate for me and my family.

Who was your favorite manager or coach during your career, and why?:My favorite manager that I played for was Mike Jrtschele in Triple-A Omaha for the Kansas City Royals. Even though he was a minor league manager, he spent so many years in the minor leagues. He was easy to relate to and created a great culture for the AAA players at that level.It's been great to see him move up to the major leagues and be rewarded for all his hard work.

If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?:There's nothing that I would change. I believe that everything happens for reason, and you can't play with regret.I'm content because I know that I gave everything I had every year that I played.

What were some of your favorite and least favorite things about playing in Japan?:I really enjoyed my time in Japan. Great people, cities, food etc… Just a great place to play baseball, and an amazing place to live with your family.
The timing was perfect because I had got to a point where I didn't think I was going to be an everyday player in the big leagues, so Japan was a perfect place for me.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?:After retiring in 2011, I took a minor-league coaching job with the Kansas City Royals rookie league tea It was a good experience to be around the game and the young players. Since then I've just enjoying my time with my family in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Pitcher Dave Davenport Fought His Way Out of Baseball


Fighting with your boss is usually a losing proposition, no matter who is on the right side. Nobody learned this harder than former right-handed pitcher Dave Davenport, who literally saw his professional career come to an end after a skirmish with his manager with the St. Louis Browns in 1919.

At 6’6” and 220 pounds, Davenport was positively massive in size for the era. A native of Louisiana, he had three brothers who also played professional ball, including younger brother Claude who pitched two innings for the 1920 New York Giants. 

Davenport came into his professional career after being discovered after throwing five no-hitters for a semi-pro team out of Runge, Texas. After winning 15 games for the San Antonio Bronchos in the Texas League in 1913 he was sold for $4,000 and made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds the following year. He won two games and saved two others (in 10 appearances) during his rookie campaign with the Reds but jumped to the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League midyear with teammate Armando Marsans after their demands for a raise was quickly dismissed by manager Buck Herzog.

The Cincinnati Times-Star was less than flattering in their farewell to the pair, writing, “The prospect of being on a winning team seems to have meant nothing to Marsans and Davenport. Offered a few additional dollars, they were off, apparently without a thought for the team or the Cincinnati fans, who had backed them up so loyally. The fans have plenty of sporting spirit. They have a right to expect at least a little of it from the players.”

The big righty truly broke out with the Terriers in 1915, winning 22 games with a 2.20 ERA in a league-leading 55 games. He also led the league with 46 starts, 30 complete games, 10 shutouts, 229 strikeouts and 392.2 innings. Just 25, he became a scorching hot commodity over night, which was good because he lost his job with St. Louis.

Since the Federal League folded up shop after the 1915 season, Davenport jumped to the Browns in 1916. He led the American League in pitching appearances that year with 59. While he was a solid hurler (mostly as a starter) over the next four seasons, he never approached the level of success he had attained.  

A major reason for the pitcher not becoming a full-fledged star was likely his trouble staying away from the bottle. A notorious hard drinker, his frequent dalliances with nightlife curbed his immense talent and brought him an unflattering reputation. He was not seen as a partier as much as a man who had his problems and kept largely to himself. H.R. Hoefer of Baseball Magazine called him “a man of few words, and between moody, taciturn, and glum most people would call him a casual acquaintance.”

In 1919, Davenport was wallowing through his worst season as a professional. A 2-11 record and 3.94 ERA in 24 games (16 starts) had him on the verge of losing his job anyways. Skipping his September 2nd start without explanation led to his immediate suspension for the rest of the season without pay. He subsequently confronted and got into a physical confrontation with two team officials, even reportedly pulling a knife on the two men. He never pitched in another big league game again.

Davenport finished up with a major league record of 73-83 with a 2.93 ERA in six seasons; on the sidelines at the young age of 29. He was unofficially blacklisted, with many holding a very negative impression of him. “The attitudinous [sic] Dave has the temperament that is supposed to go with a star without being a stellar performer, wrote the Washington Post’s J.V. Fitzgerald in 1920, the year after the banishment.

Unbelievably, Davenport's fight with his Browns’ manager may not even be the strangest way he was released from a team. In 1921, he was pitching for the Ogden Gunners in the Northern Utah League when he was fired for being too good. At 7-0 with 112 strikeouts in 63 innings in seven starts (all complete games). He was told “They (opposing teams) were defeated before they went onto the playing field.”

Davenport continued playing on the semi-pro circuit into the late 1920s. He became the property of the New York Yankees in 1921 but never made it anywhere with them besides on paper. Married to his wife Lillian, he passed away in El Dorado, Arkansas in 1954 at the age of 64 following a lengthy illness. One of baseball’s tragic tales, yet largely a victim of his own doing, he was once one of the most promising young players in the game but quickly receded to the shadows of anonymity because of his own bad behavior.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Minor League Baseball Announces its Top 25 Teams in Licensed Merchandise Sales

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Minor League Baseball today announced its list of Top 25 teams in licensed merchandise sales for 2016, with the combined totals of all 160 teams setting a Minor League Baseball record with more than $68.3 million in retail sales. The $68.3 million total marks a 5.06 percent increase over 2015’s total of $65.1 million, which had been the highest total recorded since Minor League Baseball’s licensing program began in 1992. The numbers are based on total licensed merchandise sales from January 1 – December 31, 2016, and include the 160 teams in the domestic-based leagues that charge admission to their games. 

The Top 25 list includes (alphabetically, with Major League affiliate): Charlotte Knights (White Sox), Columbia Fireflies (Mets), Columbus Clippers (Indians), Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros), Dayton Dragons (Reds), Durham Bulls (Rays), El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres), Fresno Grizzlies (Astros), Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers), Indianapolis Indians (Pirates), Iowa Cubs, Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres), Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies), Louisville Bats (Reds), Nashville Sounds (Athletics), Oklahoma City Dodgers, Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals), Portland SeaDogs (Red Sox), Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants), Sacramento River Cats (Giants), Salt Lake Bees (Angels), South Bend Cubs, Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners), Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) and Trenton Thunder (Yankees). 

The Columbia Fireflies, Corpus Christi Hooks, Fresno Grizzlies, Iowa Cubs, Omaha Storm Chasers, Portland Sea Dogs and Richmond Flying Squirrels made the list for 2016 after not making the Top 25 in 2015. Twenty different major league organizations were represented by teams on the list, with only the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres placing two affiliates in the Top 25. 

The only teams to make the list using the nickname of their major league affiliate were the Iowa Cubs, Oklahoma City Dodgers and the South Bend Cubs. 

“Minor League Baseball team names and logos continue to be some of the most creative and fun in all of professional sports and are valuable marketing tools for their clubs,” said Sandie Hebert, Minor League Baseball’s Director of Licensing. “Each year a few teams choose to create new identities and it’s always interesting to see the fan reaction and how that translates into merchandise sales.” 

In addition to strong online sales, Minor League Baseball has also expanded its retail line into stores across the country, featuring items from MiLB licensees such as New Era Cap, 47 Brand, Bimm Ridder, Original Retro Brand, Outdoor Cap, Gear for Sports’ Under Armour line and Nike. “In addition to buying merchandise at the ballpark or online, you can now find Minor League Baseball products in many popular retail locations around the country,” added Hebert. “The ever-increasing popularity of Minor League Baseball has helped create another year of record-breaking sales and further solidifies the Minor League Baseball brand as a fan favorite.”  

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Matt Miller: Baseball's Side-Armed Pitching Dynamo

The sheer thrill of playing professional baseball must be enormous. Imagine the feeling one would have after making the major leagues after toiling for seven years in various levels of independent and minor league ball. Former pitcher Matt Miller is someone who is very familiar with this, as he had a lengthy, yet ultimately satisfying journey through his baseball career.

Following high school in Leland, Mississippi, the right-handed Miller bounced around the college scene, attending Delta State University, Mississippi Delta Community College and the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He went undrafted, yet signed on with the Greenville Bluesmen of the independent Big South League in 1996 at the age of 24.

Throwing from a unique side-arm angle, Miller struggled in his first season, shuttling between the bullpen and starting (posting a 6.07 ERA in 19 games).  However, the next year was a completely different story, as his 12-3 record and 2.26 ERA in 15 starts earned him recognition as the league’s pitcher of the year and a contract with the Texas Rangers in 1998.

Once he joined the pro ranks, Miller moved exclusively to relief. Over the next six seasons he pitched in the minors for the Rangers, San Diego Padres, Oakland A’s and Colorado Rockies. He posted solid numbers but nothing that would get a pitching prospect on the wrong side of 25 any real consideration.

In 2003, at the age of 31, Miller had the season of his life, which propelled him to the majors. Appearing 61 games for the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate, he was 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. His dominance resulted in a brief call-up in the middle of the season, spanning four games, where he posted a 2.08 ERA. His major league debut came on June 27th against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He threw a scoreless sixth inning in a 5-3 loss—with a strikeout of Kevin Young and picking off Jeff Reboulet from first base being the highlights. 

Granted free agency that offseason, Miller signed with the Cleveland Indians and spent parts of the next four years as part of their bullpen. In a combined 96 appearances with the Tribe, he was 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA and two saves. A potential career year in 2005 (1.82 ERA in 23 games) was derailed by an elbow injury that kept him out of the majority of the season and ultimately hampered him the rest of his career.

Following a final season with the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate in 2008, Miller hung it up at the age of 36. He now owns a baseball player development business in Mississippi and thus remains close to the game that he worked so hard to master and raise himself to its highest peaks. Keep reading for Miller’s responses to questions about his playing career.

Matt Miller Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player was Roger Clemens. Regardless of the steroid allegations, he was the first player that really got me interested in taking my game to another level.

Can you describe how you came to be signed after independent ball?: I was signed by the Texas Rangers after winning the Pitcher of the Year Award in the Big South League in 1997. I think they signed the Hitter of the Year also, so it wasn't as much about scouting me out, but probably more about let’s take a chance, lol.

How did you come to your signature side-armed throwing motion?: I started throwing side arm during my sophomore year in junior college. My coach, Terry Thompson, suggested it one day and I immediately thought he was giving up on me. Little did I know it changed the course of my life!

You debuted in the majors in your eighth professional season. Did you ever come close to giving up?: My wife and I decided to play until I was no longer offered a contract so I would never be able to wonder, ‘what if?’

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: My favorite moment was probably getting a save in Anaheim and facing Troy Glaus, Vladimir Guerrero, and Tim Salmon to do it (note from Baseball Historian- Miller actually retired Jeff DaVanon, Tim Salmon and Jose Molina to notch the save that day). Didn't get many save opportunities, so that was special.

Can you give a little insight about what it was like to fight for an MLB roster spot year after year?: I only went to camp a couple of times feeling like I had a guaranteed job, so I had to always go in ready to compete. It’s a tough spot to be in sometimes because in order to make a roster, friends may have to fail. I never rooted for my teammates to fail, but on occasion their failure may have secured a spot for me or others.

If you could do anything differently in your playing career, what would it have been and why?: I am very satisfied with my career, but if there is one thing I would have changed it would have been my physical conditioning. We have added more focus in that area with my business and I can see the results in some of our athletes.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I own 59 Baseball and Fitness in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I tried a few other things but felt like something was missing and decided to stick with what I know.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Minor League Baseball Announces its May Players of the Month

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball today announced the Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 10 full season leagues for the month of May. Each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball in recognition of the honor. 

Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies) right-hander Tom Eshelman was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and two complete games in five starts and led the International League in innings pitched (38.2) despite making his first start of the month with Double-A Reading. In his first month at the Triple-A level, Eshelman worked seven or more innings in four of his five starts (worked 6.2 innings in the other) and struck out 25 batters while walking four. Eshelman, 22, was originally selected by the Houston Astros in the second round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton. 

Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) right-hander Luke Weaver was named Pacific Coast League Player of the Month after posting a league-best five wins. Weaver’s 2.19 ERA and his 37.0 innings pitched were good for second in the PCL and he struck out 37 batters in May while issuing just six walks. Weaver, 23, was selected in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State University. 

Reading Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery batted .325 in May and led the Eastern League in home runs (10), runs (30), total bases (84), extra-base hits (20), OPS (1.055), slugging (.667) and stolen bases (eight). He posted 13 multi-hit games in May, including six straight from May 25-30. Kingery, 23, was selected by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Arizona. 

Chattanooga Lookouts (Twins) shortstop Nick Gordon led or tied for the Southern League lead in runs (22), total bases (58), extra-base hits (17), doubles (11) and triples (three). Over half of Gordon’s hits for the month (17 of 32) went for extra bases and he recorded nine multi-hit games. Gordon, 21, was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida. 

Springfield Cardinals right-hander Matt Pearce was brilliant in five May starts, leading the Texas League in wins (five), ERA (0.69), innings pitched (39.0), complete games (two) and shutouts (one). Pearce held opponents to a .194 average and allowed just two earned runs over his last 33.0 innings. Pearce, 23, was selected by St. Louis in the 13th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Polk State College. 

Lancaster JetHawks (Rockies) shortstop Brendan Rodgers led the California League in average (.409), hits (47), extra-base hits (21), total bases (86), home runs (eight), RBI (29), slugging (.748) and OPS (1.182) in May. His 21 extra-base hits and 86 total bases led the minors in May. Rodgers notched 14 multi-hit games in May (seven straight to end May) and posted a 13-game hitting streak from May 2-15 and finished the month on a 10-game streak. Rodgers, 20, was the third overall pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft by the Rockies out of Lake Mary (FL) High School. 

Salem Red Sox third baseman Michael Chavis destroyed Carolina League pitching in May, leading the league in average (.368), hits (42), runs (24), doubles (12), homers (seven), RBI (30), extra-base hits (20), total bases (77), slugging (.675) and OPS (1.101). He recorded 14 multi-hit games and posted two seven-game hitting streaks and a six-game streak. Chavis, 21, was selected by Boston in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of the Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia. 

Daytona Tortugas (Reds) second baseman Shed Long batted .359 in 27 games in May to claim Player of the Month honors in the Florida State League. Long recorded 14 multi-hit games during the month of May, including five games with three hits. Long, 21, was selected by Cincinnati in the 12th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Jacksonville (AL) High School. 

Kane County Cougars (Diamondbacks) right-hander Jon Duplantier was dominant in the Midwest League in May, going 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA in six starts. Duplantier allowed just one unearned run over his last five starts (29.0 innings). He scattered 17 hits over his 34 innings of work in May, holding opponents to a .149 average and his 34 strikeouts in May were third-best in the league. Duplantier, 22, was selected by Arizona in the third round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Rice University. 

Lakewood Blue Claws (Phillies) left-hander Nick Fanti handcuffed the South Atlantic League in four April starts, going 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA and held opponents to a league-best .136 average. Fanti did not allow more than one run in any of his outings and worked the first 8.2 innings of a May 6 no-hitter at Columbia. Of the 12 hits he allowed over 25.2 innings in May, only three went for extra bases (two doubles and a triple). Fanti, 20, was selected by the Phillies in the 31st round of the 2015 First Year Player Draft out of Hauppauge (NY) High School. 

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Topps, MiLB.com Partner for Special 15-Card Insert In Pro Debut Set

 The Topps Company and MiLB.com, the official site of Minor League Baseball, have announced the release of a first-of-its-kind "Ben's Biz" insert set highlighting the adventurous travels of MiLB.com reporter Benjamin Hill. The 15-card set is part of the Topps® 2017 Pro Debut set that was released yesterday. 

 During his decade-plus of covering Minor League Baseball for MiLB.com, Hill has traveled to nearly 150 Minor League ballparks, experiencing America through the lens of these communities. Along the way, he has met some of the nation's "superfans," participated in crazy on-field stunts and contests and experienced some the of the Minors' renowned ballpark fare. 

 “We love that the Ben’s Biz cards represent the heart of Minor League Baseball showcasing not only the great game, but also the entertainment that occurs off the field that bring families to the ballpark,” said Topps Brand Manager Zvee Geffen.  

“Growing up, I was obsessed with Topps® baseball cards and they played a huge role in my evolution as a fan. To now partner with Topps is, quite literally, a dream come true,” said Hill. “The Ben’s Biz insert set is unique, and often quite weird, and my hope is that it inspires others to explore America through Minor League Baseball.” 

 All of this and more are featured within the 15-card Ben's Biz insert set. Hill will be providing context and background to each card at MiLB.com, through his blog (https://bensbiz.mlblogs.com/) and on Twitter (@bensbiz). Check back regularly for more content related to this groundbreaking insert set. 

 2017 Topps® Pro Debut features a 200-card base set of players from throughout Minor League Baseball. Baseball fans will have a chance to explore the world of MiLB through the various insert sets in addition to the Ben’s Biz cards, including cards dedicated to special promo nights uniforms and Fragments of the Farm relic cards, which contain a unique item found at various ballparks embedded in them. 

 Find 2017 Topps Pro Debut at local hobby stores, Target, Walmart, online retailers and select Minor League ballparks.  

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Jeoff Long: The Two-Way Player

In baseball, it’s hard enough to make it to the major leagues playing the position you were signed for, let along doing so after shifting from pitching to hitting full time. Nevertheless, some players are talented enough to make the switch, including Jeoff Long, whose possible stardom was derailed by an injury in his early 20s.

Long grew up as a talented multi-sport athlete in Kentucky. Playing basketball, football and baseball, he excelled at all three until he suffered a knee injury during his junior football season.

The right-hander hit .590 during his senior baseball season but was nearly flawless on the mound, leading to being signed for around $70,000 by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959—when he was just 17 years old. He was sent to the low levels of the minors but his 2-14 combined record over the ensuing two seasons led the team to realize that his future was likely to be more successful with a bat in his hands instead of a ball.

If Long’s transition was difficult, it was difficult to tell by the numbers. In his first full season as a hitter the first baseman/outfielder hit 21 home runs in just 92 games and by 1962 he put up a .284 batting average with 30 home runs for the Cardinals’ Double-A team in Tulsa.

In 1963, at the age of 21, he was brought up to the Cardinals for a cup of coffee, appearing in five games. He managed a lone single (off Jack Sanford of the San Francisco Giants) in his five at-bats. He was brought up again the following year but was sold to the Chicago White Sox mid-season. All told, he played in 51 big league games that season, hitting a combined .192 with a home run (Against the Milwaukee Braves’ Bobby Tiefenauer) and nine RBIs. With the 1964 Cardinals winning the World Series, Long picked up a half a winner’s share for his 43 at-bats with the team.

Long suffered through a series of nagging injuries to start the 1965 season before his old knee injury flared up.  He wound up having surgery but did not heal properly and missed the next two seasons. Although he returned in 1968 (in the minors for the Cardinals) he could not get himself back on track over the next couple of seasons. After the 1969 season, he retired from professional baseball, still just 27.

Following his playing career he went into the family business (Cincinnati Drum Service). Now 75, he is retired but still a fan of baseball. Keep reading to see what he had to say about his playing career.

Jeoff Long Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I would have never had knee operation in fall of 1965. It failed.

What was the strangest play you ever saw on the baseball diamond?: No strange plays, but saw a lot of great plays.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Whitey Kurowski, Grover Resinger, Harry Walker, and Eddie Stanky.

Did you ever get another player’s autograph during your playing career?: No autographs while playing. Did get some team baseballs. Got autographs when retired at old timers’ get-togethers.

For your info, I loved the game and all the people in it. It was an honor to play in the major leagues and be a part of the greatest game. Met and played with some of baseball’s best. Biggest thrill was signing with the Cardinals out of high school. Mo Mozalli signed me along with Eddy Lyons.

I had arm trouble and switched from the mound to first base and outfield. 

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