Michael Jordan in the Arizona Fall League in 1994

I knew about Michael Jordan’s time playing for the Birmingham Barons in 1994, but I hadn’t heard that he played in the Arizona Fall League that year as well. Here are a few stories on his time in the Fall League. This, from Scott Miller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press in December of ’94:

“In the first two years of the league, we’d get calls in the office from local people saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to play in the fall league,”‘ said Steve Gilbert, the league’s media-relations director. “They thought it was a semipro league.”

But then the Chicago White Sox placed Jordan in the league, and the national spotlight swung toward Arizona, and the calls from untalented locals trying to join stopped. Jordan finished his season with a .252 average (31 for 123), including 34 strikeouts, but he boosted the league’s ticket sales from last year’s total of 35,568 to more than 100,000.

“He’s been everything for this league,” said Dan O’Brien, the league’s director of baseball operations. “Everything. He’s the linchpin. He’s the primary focus who has really brought identity to the league. “As good as the league is – and it is good – the first two years it was just a rumor in the valley here.”

So far, one in every three players who passes through this league has made the majors for at least a short while. Each major league team must contribute six prospects. The White Sox petitioned the league to see, with Jordan, if they could place seven. “I don’t like to think of any of us as fools,” O’Brien said. “We know what he did for the Southern League. People just lose their minds when they see him.”

“He’s a very nice guy,” says a pitcher named Dan Carlson, a San Francisco Giants prospect. “He’s probably the biggest superstar in the world, compared to anybody, and he’s down to earth. You can talk with him and joke with him.”

Perhaps the most amazing thing so far is this: Despite his struggles, despite nearly 10 months of the daily baseball grind, despite no ticket to the majors in clear reach, Jordan is still at it.

“Right now, mentally, I’ve hit a wall,” Jordan said one night toward the end of the season. “There’s mental fatigue, but not physical. Earlier in my career, I hit a wall until I learned what was asked of me and how to deal with the season. But learning this will help me for next year. It will give me mental stamina for next year.”

And there will be a next year, Jordan vows.

“My offseason is very crucial to me,” he said. “It’s crucial to me more than most. That’s really when I am going to make my gains so that when the season comes around I am better than I was last year.” Which is why he has a stack of videotapes waiting nearby. He has not yet watched tapes of himself batting, but he will do so soon. “That’s the one thing I want to do in the offseason,” he said. “From Day One until now. It’s going to be crucial to me.”

One of the biggest hurdles along Jordan’s base line is driving the ball consistently. He is making more contact than he used to but still isn’t hitting the ball with authority. Jordan cooled off some at the plate because he didn’t see as many fastballs as he did earlier this fall. And therein lies Jordan’s biggest problem: He got fastballs early and was able to adjust and hit them. So pitchers adjusted and fed him more curveballs. Now, Jordan must make another adjustment. And if he does, pitchers will readjust and throw more smoke, and then can Jordan adjust again? The process will repeat itself over and over, and Jordan will not become a serious major league prospect until he can master it.

“He’s improved,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. “In the short amount of time I’ve seen him in spring training and in the short amount of time I’ve seen him here, he’s improved his reactions, his first-step quickness, his ability to make decisions on the bases. You can see it. That doesn’t cover the fact that he’s 32. He still needs at-bats to see various types of pitches – split-fingers, left-handed pitchers and what they have to offer, right-handed pitchers and what they do, relievers… he just needs at-bats.”

“I’m still tentative,” Jordan said. “I’m still trying to learn what a major league player is. Little by little, I’m getting better. I have to learn how to hit to the opposite field. I have to work on my fundamentals before I can even think about power. I see the ball well, but I’m still trying to learn how to stay back.”

If Jordan starts next season in Class AAA, as expected, he is close enough for a recall to the majors – particularly when rosters expand next September or, if Chicago either has the division clinched or needs to generate some late-season interest if it doesn’t win the division.

The White Sox still aren’t completely sure what to do with him, but they are amazed that Jordan has stuck with this as long as he has. “First of all, I couldn’t believe he would do it,” General Manager Ron Schueler said. “The impact he had in basketball – I don’t care how good he gets in this, he is not going to be as good as he was in basketball.”

But, according to Jordan, he can find here what he could no longer find in basketball.

“Getting to know the guys, seeing professional players before they are (major league) players,” he said. “There are a lot of great players on this team who are going to be greater players. To relive the stages I had to go through in basketball is very gratifying. That’s part of this whole dream. I’ve been to the top. Now, I want to see what the stages are in getting there.”

(more…)

Published in: on May 8, 2013 at 4:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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An Interview With Mike Pagliarulo About the ’95 Mariners, ’89 A’s, and Billy Martin

A few years ago, after I’d written some articles for a website, Dugout Central, that he owned at the time, I talked with Mike Pagliarulo, the ’80s and ’90s third baseman for the Yankees, Twins, and other teams, on the phone. The bulk of the interview was about the 1991 Minnesota Twins, and that part was published in a Twins season preview magazine. But we also talked about some other things I was interested in learning from Mike. Here are those exchanges, organized into three subjects:

The 1995 Seattle Mariners

Q: I wondered what you saw in the Mariners that year in September as they made their comeback, whether there was a sense of them having changed from earlier in the season.

Mike: Yes, we had, in the final series there in Texas, we stopped the Mariners from winning the division, won the last two games against them. Johnny Oates, God bless his soul, he was our manager. The Mariners, they were a very well-balanced team, power from the right side, the left side, good pitching, ran the bases very well, they really knew how to play the game. They had dangerous hitters, could score a bunch of runs in a minute.

Q: What was it like facing Randy Johnson, someone who, at 6-10, he’d be throwing the ball a half-foot higher up than most pitchers. Was it hard to change your eye level and pick up his pitches?

Mike: You have to change, make an adjustment according to the different pitchers, so you’ll see the ball better out of his hand. With a left-hander like Johnson, I’d try to hit everything off the left-field wall. You had to have a plan for the opposition.

Randy was very deceptive, with a lower arm slot, you fought to pick up the ball. There was always a battle going on, facing him. I’d come up, struggle to see how the ball’s moving, and all of a sudden I’d be saying hey, what the heck, what happened, I’m down 0-1, 0-2.

Q: That year, you were playing against Lou Piniella, one of your former managers with the Yankees. Could you say something about his qualities as a manager?

Mike: He’s a super guy, just one of the greatest. He’s one of the most brilliant men at teaching hitting mechanics. It was fascinating to play for him with the Yankees. I was fortunate to get the chance to learn from him.

The 1989 Oakland A’s and S.F. Giants

Q: To start off, I figured I’d ask if you remember the near-perfect game the A’s threw against the Yankees on May 26 in New York?

Mike: No, I don’t. What was that?

Q: The one guy to get on was Rickey Henderson, on an infield single, and then the very next hitter, Steve Sax maybe, hit into a double play. That was the only runner of the game.

Mike: Huh. That’s funny, I don’t know that game at all. We had an injury, someone-Winfield-was out with a bad back in 1989. That year my elbow was a mess. I tried to play, but it wasn’t fully recovered.

Q: What was your response when you learned of Rickey Henderson’s trade to the A’s?

Mike: In New York, we had all come up with each other in the Yankees’ tremendous minor league system. Played on the same teams, winning teams. And some guys from the organization, they had played with Rickey for 5 years. He was one of the guys, a great teammate, a phenomenal athlete, so it was hard to see people like him go.

Q: I was reading through some articles from the time, where the Yankees management was saying that Rickey’s legs were going, he wasn’t that great a player anymore. He’d been struggling a bit with the Yankees, but did you guys have any sense of him running down?

Mike: No, I wouldn’t say he was running down. When you play with a good teammate, you never want to see them go, whether they’re going well or not. You rely on each other day and day out, so you never expect someone to be traded. You never think in those terms. Rickey was a real impact player, he helped the whole lineup.

Baseball is the ultimate team game, your teammates affect how you play offense and defense, what kind of pitches you get to hit-look at the Red Sox this year [2008], J.D. Drew batting ahead of Manny Ramirez, and how well he did. There are so many variables, it’s hard to say which one it is that impacts whether you do well.

Q: What was your impression of Greg Cadaret and Eric Plunk? Because when I went through those articles about the trade I saw Cadaret saying that at least in New York he’d still be able to talk about hunting and fishing with Plunk in the bullpen. Were they out of place in the Bronx?

Mike: [laughs] Well, some players don’t feel very comfortable in New York. It can be a rude awakening for some players, they’re out of place. Some, they adapt, but I was always real comfortable there, didn’t have to get used to New York.

Q: What, for you, were the biggest reasons why the A’s were so good in ’88 and ’89?

Mike: The A’s, they had those two big guys (McGwire and Canseco) coming up. I was talking to La Russa one day not long after he got hired by the A’s. When was that, 1986 or so? (It was.) And he had a pretty good plan for what to do with the team. They had Ron Hassey, a good friend and teammate with the Yankees.

On the A’s, everyone knew their role, what their job was, and that’s a compliment to La Russa. He ran a pretty tight ship, everyone had a place they fit into, and there was a really good mix of young and old players. Every good team I’ve been on has had that characteristic. It’s a prerequisite for winning. And they had really good coaches.

Lansford, he was a steady, steady, steady player, a real tough out. Stewart, I don’t remember how I did against. But he was like Clemens: the ultimate challenge for a hitter. You want that so much-that challenge, and the great ones, they’re great challenges. The A’s were very prepared, they always gave their best game.

In ’89, we had a coach, Dallas Green, we went outside the organization to get him, and people said, “this guy’s not a Yankee”-he wasn’t Billy (Martin) or Piniella or Yogi Berra. So it was different: he had some trouble adjusting, it wasn’t easy there.

Q: And then you got traded to the Padres not long after Rickey went to Oakland. What did you remember from playing against the Giants late that year? You guys in San Diego were running right alongside the Giants for the division title.

Mike: I remember Matt Williams having a great year, and that guy in left field, Mitchell, just everything they had (offensively). You’d look up and boom! there’s the ball flying out of the yard. The Padres had a tremendous team, one of the most talented sets of players I’ve seen. We had Jack Clark, Bip Roberts, Alomar, Santiago, Gwynn, but we were missing one pitcher.

Billy Martin’s death on Christmas day, 1989

Q: How did you respond to Billy Martin, first as your coach on the Yankees, and then upon learning of his death?

Mike: I loved Billy Martin. That was a very sad day for me. I burst out crying when I heard the news.

He was the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought of you. If I got one hit in a game and hit a couple other balls well, but they were caught, what he’d say to me was, “You dumb-ass dago, you can’t get more than one hit.” Billy was very honest.

I remember one day, a game against the Angels. It was 1985, my first full season. In the eighth inning I fielded a bunt, threw the ball to second, and the throw pulled the man off base. When I got back to the dugout, Billy was waiting on the top step, screaming at me, “What the hell were you thinking out there? That wasn’t the right play.” I didn’t back down; I told him, “It was the right play, I just didn’t make the throw.”

A little while later Clete Boyer, our third base coach, says Billy wants to see me in his office. I’m thinking I’m going to get sent down, but Billy said, “Hey look, maybe you were right about that play.” He didn’t say “You’re right,” but he said maybe I was right. He was willing to admit he was wrong. Of course he added, “You dago son of a bitch, I’m only saying this because you’re Italian.”

Billy could see the field so completely; he knew what everybody was doing. My manager with the Twins, Tom Kelly, was like that. One day I made a step on third and throw to first double play, and back in the dugout T.K. said, “Maybe you should have stepped on the base with your other foot, it would have put you into better position to make the throw.” T.K. did the same kind of ribbing as Billy, just a little quieter. I’m half-Irish, and it’s funny, one day T.K. said the exact same thing Billy had: “I’m only saying this because you’re Irish. Now get the hell out of here.” Billy and T.K., they noticed everything. Sometimes you didn’t necessarily like it, but they noticed everything.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 8:42 am  Comments (2)  
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A Glance at the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates

This quick post was going to celebrate the end of the Pirates’ .500 drought after 20 years. It sat as a draft for weeks, while the team went from division leader to wild-card contender to .500 team to below .500 team. Now that the team has again settled in below .500 for the 2012 season, I guess this post could serve as a tombstone for the hopes of Pirates fans. Anyway, here are some facts about the ’92 Pirates:

The oldest 1992 Pirate was reliever Dennis Lamp, born September 23, 1952. The youngest player: reliever Miguel Batista, born February 19, 1971.

The full roster:
Pitchers
Miguel Batista
Stan Belinda
Victor Cole
Steve Cooke
Danny Cox
Doug Drabek
Jerry Don Gleaton
Danny Jackson
Dennis Lamp
Roger Mason
Paul Miller
Blas Minor
Denny Neagle
Vicente Palacios
Bob Patterson
Jeff Robinson
Zane Smith
Randy Tomlin
Paul Wagner
Tim Wakefield
Bob Walk

Catchers
Mike LaValliere
Tom Prince
Don Slaught

Infielders
Jay Bell
Steve Buechele
Carlos Garcia
Jeff King
Jose Lind
Orlando Merced
Gary Redus
John Wehner
Kevin Young

Outfielders
Barry Bonds
Dave Clark
Alex Cole
Cecil Espy
Kirk Gibson
Al Martin
Lloyd McClendon
Will Pennyfeather
Andy Van Slyke
Gary Varsho

Each player who earned at least $1 million in 1992:
Barry Bonds $4,800,000
Doug Drabek $4,500,000
Andy Van Slyke $4,350,000
Steve Buechele $2,600,000
Zane Smith $2,525,000
Bob Walk $2,025,000
Jose Lind $2,000,000
Kirk Gibson $1,950,000
Mike LaValliere $1,850,000
Don Slaught $1,691,667

Three notable players among those who earned low salaries:
Orlando Merced $150,000
Denny Neagle $110,000
Tim Wakefield $109,000

Awards and honors for the ’92 Pirates:

Barry Bonds, National League Most Valuable Player Award
Jim Leyland, National League Manager of the Year Award
Randy Tomlin, National League Pitcher of the Month, June
Tim Wakefield, National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year
Andy Van Slyke, All-Star Game Starter
Barry Bonds, All-Star Game Starter

Two notable Pirates transactions in ’92:
May 5: Kirk Gibson was released by the Pirates two months after being acquired from the Royals in a trade for Neal Heaton.
July 31: Tim Wakefield called up from AAA Buffalo.

You can learn some more about the ’92 Pirates at Baseball-Almanac.

Published in: on October 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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1995: The Beginning of Internet Baseball Broadcasts

Here, from the Seattle Times of Thursday, August 31, 1995, is a preview of the first online MLB game:

The day when a sports fan can listen to a live game broadcast from anywhere in the world, through a personal computer, is coming.

Next Tuesday, specifically.

That’s when the Seattle Mariners’ game against the New York Yankees will be sent – live – over the Internet, via a new technology developed by a Seattle company.

Basically, it puts live radio on the Internet. It means that for the first time, regardless of whether you live in Montlake or Madrid, you can follow a pennant (or at least wild-card) race as it develops.

ESPN SportsZone, a Bellevue-based service, will carry the game, as well as other major-league broadcasts in the future. SportsZone has been a leader in providing on-line sports information, through its association with ESPN and funding by owner Paul Allen.

“We are thrilled to provide fans with a real-time broadcast of this game,” said Mike Slade, president and chief executive officer of Starwave, the company that owns the Zone. “SportsZone will continue to use cutting-edge technology to provide fans with comprehensive, up-to-the-minute game information.”

The technology was developed by Progressive Networks, whose president and CEO is Rob Glaser, a part owner of the Mariners. The company created “RealAudio,” which allows users to listen to sounds instantly, without the normal time it takes to download audio files.

The update to the product is called “Live RealAudio System,” because it adds the live element. It does that by taking an audio signal, encoding it into RealAudio format. Computer users can download a copy of the decoding software from RealAudio’s Internet site.

The sound quality will be inferior to that of the radio broadcast, and only a few hundred people will be able to receive the initial games, said Kevin Mason, a Mariner official. But the team likes the product because it helps them reach fans in areas outside their market, he said.

The club also wants to “continue to be seen as a leading-edge” company, he said. The Mariners were the first team to set up a site on the World Wide Web, a graphically appealing part of the Internet.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which would later kill its print edition in one of the signs that web media had overtaken non-web media, reported at the same time:

Next week the Mariners won’t play only on the road. They’ll be on the information superhighway, too.

The Mariners will make Internet history when two games against the New York Yankees hit the worldwide computer network. The games, Tuesday and Wednesday in Yankee Stadium, will be Major League Baseball’s first foray into live Internet broadcasts.

The feed that goes out on the 30-station Mariner radio network will be available to subscribers of ESPNET SportsZone, an online sports information service operated by Starwave Corp. of Bellevue.

The prime target of the service will be fans worldwide who don’t have access to radio or TV broadcasts of a favorite team but can hook into the Internet, said Kevin Mason, the Mariners’ manager of financial and administrative systems. . . .

The experimental simulcasts will be available to anyone who has a computer with sound capability, access to the Internet’s World Wide Web and a subscription to ESPNET’s new premium service, which costs $4.95 a month.

Last year the Mariners became the first baseball club to become part of the Internet, making photos, news releases and information about the team available to fans beyond the Northwest.

The Web is a rapidly growing section of the Internet enlivened by pictures, sound and video.

Technical limitations will allow only several hundred people around the world to access the broadcast simultaneously, said John Sage, vice president of marketing for Starwave.

The broadcasts will be transmitted over the Internet using RealAudio technology from Progressive Networks. Fans who log in will be able to perform other tasks on their computers while they listen to the game in the background, Sage said.

Plans for the introduction of baseball to the Internet came out of an agreement involving KIRO Radio, the Mariner network’s anchor station, Starwave and Progressive Networks.

Several major colleges also are experimenting with the Internet as a way to tap into a geographically dispersed base of fans.

Officials at the University of Oregon in Eugene said they will become the first to report a live college sports event via the Internet Sept. 9 when the Ducks play the University of Illinois in football.

Rob Glaser, a Mariner shareholder and president and CEO of Progressive Networks, predicted an important future for Internet live audio broadcasts. “This is clearly groundbreaking technology that takes us further along the path toward making RealAudio an industry standard,” Glaser said.

The broadcast did happen. The Tampa Tribune (of all newspapers, one from the city that could have become the Mariners’ new home) reported on Monday, September 11, 1995:

On Tuesday, a new era started with the first live broadcast via the Internet worldwide computer network of a Major League Baseball game, the 6-5 Seattle Mariners’ victory over the New York Yankees.

While the computer, telecommunications and cable industries are racing to be the first to bring video into America’s homes, a revolution in cyber- radio is already here.

So far, more than 300,000 people have downloaded the free software necessary to listen to radio over the Internet. With the click of a mouse button, through a computer’s speakers, they can listen to ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings, music, talk shows, or more than 100 other radio or television programs.

But why would anyone want to listen to radio on a computer when there’s a perfectly good radio in the car?

“It’s audio on demand,” said Richard Liebhaber, managing director of the investment research firm, Veronis, Suhler & Associates in New York. “The Internet is becoming the ultimate special interest magazine.”

Cyber- radio could end up being a passing fad or could be a significant new form of communications. While Internet broadcasts are now commercial-free and designed to market regular shows, the broadcasts could ultimately be commercially viable for advertising to millions of people.

In any event, radio via computer is a tangible demonstration of the convergence of communications that is fast-arriving as the lines between computers, television, radio and other media are being blurred. Tomorrow’s radio and television could be your home computer.

Special software made available by Progressive Networks Inc. has been placed on the Internet free for consumers to download. Once they have it in their computers, the program sets itself up, discovers on its own which software you are using to navigate the Internet, and then awaits to be called up anytime it runs into radio programming on the Net.

“Putting Seattle-New York on the Internet is not that big a deal,” said Dennis Duke, director of the Supercomputer Computations Research Institute at Florida State University. “We already have a pretty good [radio] infrastructure for broadcasting games. What is a big deal is that this means a beginning for radio on demand.”

Being able to selectively tune in to what you want to hear when you want to hear it, Liebhaber said, opens a broad range of new opportunities for business, advertising, and world communications.

It means a soldier stationed in Europe may one day catch a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game over the Internet, even if it’s not televised. . . .

Maria Cantwell, marketing vice president for Seattle-based Progressive [the same Cantwell who's become a longtime senator representing Washington], said the Internet radio audience is restricted to roughly 300,000 people who have so far downloaded the free RealAudio software. However, she expects that more people will try it when they hear about it, considering that the software is free and for the time being, so are the virtual radio programs.

Soon, there could be millions of people tuning in, analysts said. That’s because Progressive expects to announce within days an alliance with Netscape Communications Inc., the public corporation that promotes the most popular software for browsing the Internet. It will soon include RealAudio built into the Netscape Navigator software, Cantwell said. . . .

“The buzzword for all of this is convergence,” Duke said. “The direction we are going is audio, video, text, all combined with interactivity between all of them. This is not necessarily bad for radio. In fact it’s good. It’s a wider audience.”

It’s a message that is just now reaching the vast radio industry, which in some cases is scratching its collective head, wondering whether cyber-radio is a competitive challenge or an opportunity. . . .

“While people are waiting for video on demand, there are lots of multimedia experiences that are being developed right now on the existing national infrastructure,” said Cantwell, the Progressive marketing vice president.

With the view of someone who looks at technology in distances of 10 years or more, Duke, at FSU, said he believes audio on demand shows much promise, particularly in the area of programming archives.

“Audio is much less demanding on bandwidth [than video] and there is a very good chance it will be more successful sooner than video on demand,” Duke said.

“You have to think of the big picture of convergence,” Duke said. “We are literally just around the corner from starting pilot projects across the nation offering Internet access over cable TV. That’s going to blow things totally out.”

Published in: on September 10, 2012 at 7:30 am  Comments (2)  

The Early Stages of Australian Pro and Olympic Baseball

At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted of baseball in Australia:

The Japanese have long had their hearts set on catching up with American major-league baseball, and Korea of late has been trying to catch Japan. And it isn’t terribly difficult to imagine Canadians playing baseball, now that Toronto and Montreal have major-league franchises.

But Holland and Australia, those hotbeds of soccer and cricket, respectively, were the fascinating teams of this tournament, while they were in it.

Both missed semifinals, but barely. Australia fell a game short with a 2-1 loss to Korea on Friday, and Holland was knocked out 6-1 by Japan on Saturday, also one game short of the medal rounds.

That Australia and Holland made the Seoul field of eight teams at all is indicative of the worldwide upswing in baseball interest and prowess.

” Baseball ‘s going to be one heck of a big game around the world in the next 10 years,” says [Mike Young, the Australian coach]. “It’s gonna be rocking and rolling.”

Baseball becomes an official Olympic sport at the Barcelona Games of 1992, and by then, Young believes the tournament will be truly balanced.

“I haven’t seen any major-league prospects, but we have a couple of good young kids on this team,” Young says of the Aussies.

More than 100,000 Australians play baseball, from peewee leagues to adult clubs.

“There’s some kids that can play,” says Young. Some organizations, including the Atlanta Braves, are doing some limited scouting in Australia.

“But because Australia is so far away, the scouts don’t see them very often or for any length of time,” says Young. “The Australian kids who do get to the States just jump – their tools develop very quickly with American coaching.”

Young’s pitching coach on this team, Phil Dale, is an example. Dale visited Georgia Southern College for a baseball camp and wound up with a scholarship to play there in the early ’80s. He is now a pitcher with Chattanooga of the Class AA Southern League.

Not quite four full years later, the Syracuse Post-Standard checked in on Young again:

When Mike Young started playing baseball in Australia in 1981, the games were played on pastures, not fields.

The bases were marked by rubber cones, and spikes were hammered into the ground to simulate a home-run fence. Between innings the players sat on picnic benches.

Now turn the clock ahead to the Australian summer of November to February 1991-92. The Australian Baseball League operated with eight teams representing five of the six territories, or states, in a country that is roughly the size of the United States.

The games were played in stadiums, and in some of the larger cities like Melbourne and Sydney the crowds often reached 6,000. Most of the teams traveled by air, and they all stayed in five-star hotels when they were on the road.

Americans have taken notice of the ABL’s success. Ten major-league clubs, including the Toronto Blue Jays, have agreed to supply two to four players to each ABL club during the 48-game season, making the ABL another winter league for American players.

“I would say that without a doubt, it’s the best winter league in all the world,” said Young, a coach for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings who manages the Perth entry in the ABL. “I can’t say the standard is of the quality of the Dominican Republic, but the travel, accommodations, climate, environment, fans, media – all of that is major league.”

One man’s vision

Through the 1987-88 season, Australian baseball players spent their weekends competing in a loosely connected collection of amateur leagues. Young, the manager of the 1988 Australian Olympic baseball team, wanted to start a professional league, and he went toe-to-toe with less ambitious baseball officials.

In what amounted to a strike, there was no organized baseball played in 1988-89 as the two sides dickered.

“I felt if somebody didn’t stand up and say what was needed to be said, the baseball would stagnate,” Young said. “I said, `This is what needs to happen and this is why.’

“A lot of people followed me, a lot of people didn’t. But by me standing up, it made people take notice and it turned the boil up.”

It worked. The ABL was formed out of the conflict, and in three years it has started to rival cricket as the most popular summer sport (Australian rules football is still No.1 overall).

The use of American players has created great interest in the ABL. Clubs are allowed to import four players – almost always Americans – none of whom has played above Class-A.

“We hadn’t seen people who can throw the ball 90 miles an hour, or hit and field the way that these players do, so it has improved our baseball,” said Australian Graeme Lloyd, a Toronto farmhand who’s now pitching at Double-A Knoxville.

The benefits are mutual for the Americans, who otherwise would be shut out of the more experienced winter leagues in Latin America. Besides, where else can a Class-A player be treated like a hero?

“They’re real receptive to Americans; they kind of admire us,” said New York Yankees farmhand and Liverpool native Pat Morphy, who pitched for Sydney last winter. “A lot of guys I talk to ask if I would recommend it, and I say definitely.”

Americans must also adapt to speed-up rules designed to keep Australians who are used to football and rugby into the game. For games in Adelaide, Morphy said pitchers and hitters have 10 seconds between pitches, and a ball or strike can be called automatically if either player violates the rule.

In other cities, the public address announcer gives play-by-play descriptions of the game. That serves as a supplement to a manual distributed at all parks called “Understanding Baseball.”

It’s going to take a while before baseball is ingrained in the Australian consciousness the way it is in America, but already there are signs that Australia can produce major-league talent. Milwaukee Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson, Young’s protege in Australia, led all minor-leaguers with a .366 batting average last season, and earlier this year he became the first product of the ABL to play in the majors (Australian shortstop Craig Shipley also played in the majors, but he was the product of a U.S. college).

Lloyd, who will probably pitch in Syracuse next season, said baseball was a hobby when he was growing up in Melbourne, and the only sports played in grade school were cricket and football. But T-ball, where children hit off tees instead of facing live pitching, is taking hold, and the trick now is keeping the children interested until they’re old enough to play in the ABL.

“They kind of move off to the other sports after T-ball, but hopefully now that baseball is getting a higher profile the kids might stay with it,” Lloyd said.

They better. If they don’t, they’ll miss out on the fastest-growing baseball league in the world.

What seems to be the best overall portrait of early pro baseball in Australia was written by Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune in March 1993. Here is quite a bit of his long feature on a tour of the country’s baseball culture:

We arrived late because the ballpark was supposed to be in Altona and we got off the train at the Altona station. After walking around for 30 minutes and finding no baseball stadium, we asked a taxi driver. Oh, he said, the baseball stadium is closer to Laverton. Another five miles.

We got there in the bottom of the seventh inning, there being an AstroTurf infield and grass outfield and chainlink fence and dirt parking lot in a marsh not far from a chemical plant. A team wearing gray pants and gray jerseys with blue undershirts was playing a team wearing gray pants and gray jerseys with blue undershirts.

The public-address announcer was explaining the basics of the ground-rule double, why the runner who’d been on first base had to return to third despite crossing home plate. No one seemed to get it.

“Each runner is allowed only two bases on a ground-rule double . . . “

After an intentional walk (the fans didn’t get that, either, and booed heartily), the guy with the dark blue batting helmet with “Texas Instruments” written across it bounced to the shortstop. The throw to first was in the dirt, and the umpire with the MasterCard logo on his back signaled safe.

The visiting manager sprinted from the dugout, which consisted of two rows of numbered stadium seats with a protective net in front. He argued, threw his cap on the ground, kicked some dirt. The first-base umpire jogged down the line and consulted with the plate ump.

And changed his call. Out.

The inning ended with the home team scoring four runs to take a 5-2 lead. “And every time the Monarchs have a big inning,” blurted the announcer, “we get the Monarch Dancers, part of the great Monarchs entertainment package . . . “

Four teen-age girls in satin hot pants and sequined bikini tops, holding pom-pons, began gyrating every joint in the human body to the beat of Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.” Ben Hammer, after all, had scored the go-ahead run.

Now the home pitching coach was looking to the bullpen. “If they bring in the guy who throws underhand,” said a woman in the stands, “you’ll really see something different.”

Welcome to the ABL, the Australian Baseball League. Something different.

There is no seventh-inning stretch in Australia. They tried it. Didn’t work.

One problem was that no one knew exactly when to have it. Some teams stretched in the sixth inning, some in the eighth. Some fans didn’t want to stretch at all.

Another, stickier, problem was the song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Seems in Australia the colloquial meaning of “root” is to have sex, and ABL management felt promoting orgies with the home team was an inappropriate message.

But no worries, mate. Here, there are plenty of other attractions to America’s national pastime, which is actually a derivative of Australia ‘s national pastime. American Rules cricket, if you will. In the land Down Under, you play baseball from November to February. And there are cheerleaders. This season, Melbourne and Brisbane played a triple-header.

In Australia, you play on cricket ovals and Australian Rules Football grounds and rugby fields with bases stuck in the grass. Dugouts sometimes are a row of lawn chairs with beach umbrellas and a water cooler. One field has a stiff warm wind that converts pop-ups to home runs; another has a stiff cold wind that renders 450-foot shots shallow fly balls; another measures 240 feet to right field.

In Australia, if the batter isn’t ready and the pitcher is, it’s an automatic strike. (Said Melbourne Monarchs outfielder Pookie Wilson, of Sylacauga, Ala.: “I was like, ‘Damn, I never had this happen to me before.’”) If the pitcher isn’t ready, it’s a ball. If the catcher reaches base with two outs, he must be replaced by a designated runner so he has time to strap on his gear before the next inning. If you’re ahead by 10 runs after the fifth inning in a double-header, game’s over, you win.

In Australia, you can’t chew tobacco, but you can use aluminum or wood bats.

In Australia, there are 48 games in the regular season, followed by best-of-three playoff series at the higher-seeded team’s home park. Practice is occasional and sometimes optional.

In Australia, 39-year-old infielders bat against 16-year-old pitchers.

In Australia, managers can and do play. This season, a general manager led the league in innings pitched.

In Australia, you hit a home run to centre field with an aluminum bat in the fifth dig to take a 1-nil lead in the first match of a double-header.

Baseball has existed here since the 1850s, when Americans came to Ballarat in search of gold and left behind Abner Doubleday’s game. Professional baseball has existed since 1989.

In between, baseball was mainly a club sport. Until the late 1960s, you played during the winter, or the North American summer, so you wouldn’t bump caps with beloved cricket. Until recently, you played on weekends in a local park and never practiced.

Until recently. Basketball was the first “fringe” sport to break the stereotype that cricket, rugby and Australian Rules Football would always rule. The National Basketball League was formed a decade ago; crowds of 15,000 are common now. Baseball, even the basketballers admit, is further along in four years than they were.

Already, major-league teams own the rights to 24 Australians in a country of 17 million people, roughly the equivalent of Southern California. Already, American farm systems are talking about the ABL replacing Latin America as the premier “winter” league, a place where there is no language barrier or military junta.

There are eight teams in the ABL, scattered across a country the size of the U.S. mainland (we’re talking serious road trips), and each is affiliated with a major-league club. The Padres were married to the Brisbane Bandits but divorced shortly before this season as part of franchise-wide budget cuts. The New York Yankees replaced them. Toronto, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Houston and the Florida Marlins also have affiliates.

In the States, the minor leagues are divided into five general levels: rookie ball, low A, high A, AA and AAA. Most players and scouts agree the ABL is equivalent to high A and is knocking on the door of AA.

Four Americans — “imports,” they’re called — are allowed to play on each team, and no more than two may be pitchers. Some Americans, such as Melbourne Monarchs outfielder Ron Carothers, never went home. Carothers, who attended high school in East St. Louis, Ill., with Jackie Joyner-Kersee, became an Australian citizen in 1991.

Predicted Carothers: “In the next five or 10 years, Australia is going to become THE place to play in the (major-league) off-season.”

[In the Australian Baseball League] half the eight teams are said to be on solid financial footing. For two, it’s kind of marshy. For two, we’re talking Everglades. There have been crowds as large as 11,444, but average attendance at several stadiums is less than 3,000 per game.

The ABL salary cap is 42,000 Australian dollars, which computes to about $28,500 in the United States. That excludes the four imports, whose salaries and expenses are paid by their parent clubs. The highest-paid player in ABL history reportedly got $5,400, or slightly more than $100 per game. Barry Bonds, by contrast, will make roughly $37,600 per game for San Francisco this season.

The umpires get $21.50 in the field and $35.50 behind the plate, which might be a large part of the problem. Umpires in San Diego’s adult weekend leagues make $40 each.

Translation: Get a day job.

The ’92-93 champion Melbourne Monarchs have bankers and teachers and firemen and car salesmen. Each team has a 30-man roster but can suit up 20 for any particular game. On road trips, even that is sometimes a problem, because a guy making $1,500 for 48 games can afford only so much unpaid leave.

Leigh McIntyre, 45, who played on the Australian national team for six years and now is a Monarchs coach, is a draftsman by trade. In the current Australian recession, he drives a garbage truck. Like everyone else in the ABL, McIntyre watches the occasional major-league game broadcast on Australian TV, sees the 40,000 fans and multideck stadiums and multimillion-dollar players.

And thinks, “What if?”

“Yeah, you get a little frustrated sometimes. You think about it,” McIntyre said as he walked across Altona’s dirt parking lot after a late-season double-header. It was nearly midnight. He had to be behind the wheel of the garbage truck at 6 a.m.

“But no worries. I have a young family. I’m happy. I have a couple of cars. I have a house. I just enjoy baseball. That’s the only reason anyone is playing here, because they love the game.”

Australia would win the silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics; there are now a handful of Australians in major-league baseball. The Australian Baseball League collapsed in 1999 but was reborn in 2010, with six teams and primarily funded by MLB. Their website has a sizable history section that explains “baseball was brought to Australia by American gold miners and played on the gold fields of Ballarat for fun on their rest days in the 1850s.” David Nilsson is the unquestionable key figure in Australian organized baseball from the late ’80s on to today, as player, organizer, owner, and manager.

Published in: on August 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Few Notes on Ozzie Guillen, White Sox Shortstop

In July 1986, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times profiled Guillen at a time when, as he wrote:

The mere mention of the name “Ozzie” stirs images of a shortstop diving to his right to snag a line drive or ranging far to his left to field a grounder and throw a runner out.

Guys named Ozzie are defensive wizards. They make the spectacular plays seem ordinary. They save as many runs with their gloves as they knock in with their bats.

But with the name comes the responsibility. If your name is Ozzie, you’d better be good.

That’s what the Chicago White Sox organization figured when it packaged second-year shortstop Ozzie Guillen on the cover of its 1986 media guide with former White Sox Hall of Famers Luke Appling and Luis Aparicio.
Guillen was coming off a fine 1985 season that included a .273 batting average, just 12 errors in 150 games, and rookie-of-the-year honors in the American League.

It was Guillen who led all major league shortstops with a .980 fielding percentage last season.

He was at it again Monday night. In the fourth inning, Guillen fielded Rob Wilfong’s one-hop smash to his right and, from the outfield grass, threw Wilfong out.

After Dick Schofield walked, was balked to second and stole third, Bob Boone ripped a grounder that was headed for the hole between Guillen and third baseman Wayne Tolleson, who were playing in. But Guillen dived to his right to stop the ball, got up, and threw Boone out, holding Schofield at third. Ruppert Jones then flied out to end the inning.

With the Angels trailing, 4-3, Wilfong led off the eighth with a shot up the middle, but Guillen fielded it behind second base and threw Wilfong out.

“I saved a few runs and killed some rallies tonight, but no one can see that but management,” Guillen said. “They say Ozzie Smith only has 30 RBIs a year, but they don’t know how much he helps the team with his defense. I can help this team a lot more with my glove than with my bat.”

His bat didn’t hurt Monday night. Guillen, with Chicago trailing, 2-1, cleared the bases with a triple to center field off Kirk McCaskill in the fifth. The ball sailed well over the head of Gary Pettis, who was playing Guillen shallow and toward left-center field.

“I think he played me in a good spot,” said Guillen, who moved from the No. 8 spot in the order to No. 2 when Fregosi became manager eight games ago. “I got lucky and hit the ball in the gap. There was nothing he could do.”

Julio Cruz, Chicago’s second baseman, said: “He has this aura about him. He plays like a guy who has been in the big leagues for 10 years. He has this air of confidence. He’s cocky in his own way, but he doesn’t show it to opponents.”

I don’t remember this cockiness being expressed when Guillen was a player, but then, I wasn’t paying much attention. In March 1986, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson was quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times article:

“Ozzie may be the most unique player I’ve ever encountered in this game, and I’ve encountered all kinds. With Ozzie, it’s, `There’s the field! There’s the ball! Go play!’

“He doesn’t need instruction, but don’t ask me why.”

Looking toward heaven, Harrelson added, “Maybe He said, `I’m going to bless this kid from Venezuela.’ Or maybe his mom and dad had something to do with it.

“Whatever, he’s an enigma, and I use that word in the most positive way. To me, enigma means someone who should be able to do something, but for some reason, can’t or doesn’t. Ozzie already can and does.”

Late in the season, Harrelson said Fernandez was the only league shortstop physically better than Guillen, and he included Detroit’s Alan Trammell and Oakland’s Alfredo Griffen.

“But I wouldn’t trade Ozzie for Fernandez,” Harrelson said. “He has the best over-all talent at shortstop I’ve ever seen.”

Better than Luis Aparicio, whose uncle Ernesto taught Guillen the fine points of shortstop? Off rookie seasons, yes. Aparicio committed 35 errors as a freshman.

“With his skill, instincts and attitude, and with the Good Lord willing, he can only get better,” Harrelson said.

“Suppose you get a shy, retiring type who doesn’t have the confidence Ozzie has,” LaRussa said. “A kind like that would get buried.

“Now take Ozzie. He’s going to be a real treat if he doesn’t change. You know he won’t.”

Sox coach Eddie Brinkman calls Guillen’s freshman year “exceptional.” “To be that poised that young stuns me,” Brinkman said. “Ozzie keeps his feet on the ground when he throws, and he’s accurate from all over the field. Usually, a shortstop going into the hole has to throw in the air, but somehow, Ozzie gets his feet planted.

“It didn’t take him long to learn runners’ speeds, and he knows what to do with the ball before it’s even hit to him. And sneaky? I’ve seen him sneak in behind runners who have no idea he’s there. They never hear him – until it’s too late.”

For all his range and instincts, Guillen does not have a classic shortstop arm. To make up for it, he plays shallower than most.

“I don’t think I ever saw him throw one to first base that wasn’t a rainbow, but somehow, he always got his man,” said Tim Hulett, whose 23 errors at third base almost doubled Guillen’s total.

“Oz can make anybody look good. He brings out the strong points in you. Besides, he loves to play the game. He makes it fun for everyone around him.”

Just before winning his 300th lifetime game last summer, Tom Seaver was asked whom he would think about on the last out. He said his parents and family, some coaches and managers, and Ozzie Guillen.

“The first day of spring training last year, this kid ran up and said, `I’m going to make the last out of your 300th game, and I’m not going to give you the ball.’ And he ran away.

“I didn’t even know who he was, but it didn’t take long to find out.”

A few years later, in 1990, Guillen offered some quotes to the San Diego Union:
“I hope to try to be a matador after my career is over. I want to learn. I don’t know if I have the guts to see the bull in the face and do it. But I just want to dress like that and be in the bullring. Bullfighting is, how do you call, real elegant. It’s something real nice to see.

“A lot of people play third base; it’s tough. You’ve got to be tough to play third base. In the outfield, you’ve got to be big and quick. And catcher, you’ve got to be an animal. To be a pitcher, you’ve got to be mean.”

“Shortstop is kind of nice. You have to do everything relaxed to be good. It’s elegant.”

“Should I be an All-Star? Of course.”

“I can be from the best to worst in one inning, maybe two pitches. I can go out and make plays that Ozzie, me and Templeton can’t even make in the big leagues and then, after that, they hit me a ground ball anybody can catch and I miss it.

“I like volleyball better than baseball when I grow up. That’s why I make so many errors then, because I really don’t care about baseball that much.”

Finally, there’s this interesting note in the Chicago Sun-Times of July 14, 1991:

White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen can’t become a free agent until after the 1993 season. But he knows where he would go if he could.

“If there’s any place I want to go if I leave Chicago, Miami would be the first one,” the All-Star shortstop said.

Miami will start play in 1993 as a National League expansion team and Guillen, the native Venezuelan, says the area has very good Latin American ties.

“It’s too early to talk about (leaving) right now,” he said. “That is in (board chairman) Jerry Reinsdorf’s hands. I feel comfortable in Chicago, but when you’re in baseball, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Robin Ventura’s Record-Breaking NCAA Hit Streak, and His Mets Playoff “Grand Slam” in 1999

One of the most popular posts on this blog has been the description of Robin Ventura’s fight with Nolan Ryan. That humbling moment is now a caricature of Ventura’s career, and to go beyond that caricature, here are descriptions of probably Ventura’s two best feats as a ballplayer. First, the AP describing his hitting streak at Oklahoma State in 1987:

OMAHA, Neb. — Robin Ventura had no complaint about an official scorer’s ruling that brought his NCAA-record 58-game hitting streak to an end.

“It was an error. I knew right then it wasn’t a hit.’ Ventura said of his final-at bat, in the ninth inning of Oklahoma State’s 6-2 victory over Stanford on Thursday night.

Ventura , Oklahoma State’s sophomore All-American third baseman, was 0-for-4 when he came to bat for the final time. Ray Ortiz singled with two out off Stanford reliever Al Osuna to give Ventura a fifth chance to extend the streak .

The left-handed- hitting Ventura hit a hard one-hopper to Stanford second baseman Frank Carey, who knocked the ball down, then threw wildly to first base.

Lou Spry, the NCAA’s official scorer, said he delayed a decision on the play because of the one- or two-error call. He elected to rule the play one two-base throwing error.

While he was making the decision, a crowd of 14,408 at Rosenblatt Stadium chanted “hit, hit, hit’ until the scoreboard flashed “error.’ Then a chorus of “boos’ rang out. That was followed by applause in appreciation of Ventura ‘s streak .

Ventura had flied out to center, flied out deep to left-center, hit a soft liner to third and flied out to short center his first four times up against Stanford starter Jack McDowell.

McDowell, a hard-throwing right-hander, was the fifth player taken in Tuesday’s Major League amateur player draft. The Cardinal All-American was selected by the Chicago White Sox.

“Jack McDowell is a good pitcher and I swung at some pitches that I shouldn’t have,’ Ventura said. “I’ve still got to go out and play the game tomorrow. It doesn’t matter that my streak was broken because we’re not playing for the national title.’

The victory assured the Cowboys, the only unbeaten team in the competition, of a berth in the championship game, either Saturday or Sunday.

Ventura entered the game with a .432 batting average, tops for Oklahoma State.

“I’ve very proud of Robin Ventura and his accomplishments and the manner he has conducted himself during the streak ,’ Oklahoma State Coach Gary Ward said. “His courage and attitude in handling the situation is more impressive than the streak itself. I’m sad to see it end.’

Ventura this spring smashed his own school-record- hitting – streak of 24 games set as a freshman a year ago. He hit .469 on the season and .600 in the College World Series last year.

In the Big Eight post-season tournament last month, Ventura snapped the old NCAA hitting streak record of 47 games by Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson.

Ventura had hit safely in all but four games in which he has played this season. He had three hits in eight at-bats in two previous CWS games this year.

“It doesn’t matter that my streak was broken because we’re now playing for the national title,’ Ventura said after his 0-for-5 performance Thursday night when Oklahoma State defeated Stanford 6-2 on the eighth day of the College World Series.

The Cowboys are 3-0 and the only undefeated team left in the double-elimination tournament. They are guaranteed a spot in the championship game, which they will play Saturday or Sunday against either Stanford, Louisiana State or Texas, all 2-1.

Ventura has been the center of attention during the series, and he even got a compliment earlier in the week from Joe DiMaggio, the New York Yankees star whose major-league hitting streak record of 56 games, set in 1941, still stands.

“I don’t care what league you’re in, it’s not easy hitting in 58 games in a row,’ DiMaggio said in New York.

In late May 1987, the Dallas Morning News had profiled Ventura when his streak was at 56:

It started innocently on March 17th against North Carolina. And it began climbing. No big deal. Ventura , a sophomore, had enjoyed hitting streaks in the past. He set an Oklahoma State record with 24 as a freshman. He came into the season with a 14-game streak , but went he hitless in the opener.

This year, the hits kept coming. Usually in the early innings — only twice in his streak did Ventura wait until his last at-bat.

“At Kansas, when it was around 32 or something,’ Ventura said. “I came up to my last at bat, got a 3-2 count and singled. That’s probably the closest.’

When the Cowboys beat Oklahoma in the Big Eight championship game, Ventura extended his streak with an 11th-inning single.

Ventura broke the NCAA record of 47 by Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson. He tied the most famous hitting – streak — Joe DiMaggio’s major league-record 56 for the New York Yankees in 1941 — on Monday when Oklahoma State beat Texas A&M in the Mideast Regional final. He did it with a home run in his first at-bat.

Ventura will try to extend it Friday when the Cowboys open the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

He still has several streaks ahead of him. DiMaggio had a 61-game streak in the minors. And in 1919, Wichita’s Joe Wilhoit set the pro record by getting hits in 69 consecutive games.

“I’m much more interested in us winning than in keeping a streak going,’ Venutra said. “The streak takes so much luck. You have to hit the ball hard, but even then you can hit it right at somebody.

“But as long as we win, I’d go 0-for-1 and walk four times. The only thing that would bother me about it stopping is that it would mean I went a game without a hit. I don’t like to do that.’

One reason, Ventura came to Oklahoma State, though, was the attention given the Cowboys’ strong program. He has fit in nicely.

He even exhibits an OSU trademark — taking a long time at the plate. Coach Gary Ward stresses that a hitter needs to have a relaxed concentration at the plate — even if it takes a few seconds.

Ventura takes 13. His ritual — smooth the ground with his foot, tap both shoes with bat, take two practice swings, touch helmet and spit on his batting gloves. He does it before every pitch.

Ventura has carried a reputation as a hitter to be feared since he was at Righetti High School in Santa Maria, Calif. He was even intentionally walked with the bases loaded. He had 30 walks in 20 games — 17 intentionally.

A California friend, former OSU player John Duvall, suggested Ventura look at the Cowboys.

“I liked Oklahoma State as soon as I visited and saw a couple of games,’ Ventura said. “I had just visited UCLA, and I think I was the only one in the stands.’

Ward has established a successful pipeline to California that has also brought Rangers left fielder Pete Incaviglia from Pebble Beach to Stillwater.

Ventura ‘s .469 batting average last season broke Incaviglia’s single-season record of .463 set in 1985.

Even with his hitting streak , Ventura ‘s average is down this season — all the way to .434. He has 21 homers, 107 RBIs, 23 doubles and 108 hits.

While he’d seem to be a candidate for a collegiate walk record, he’s had only 61. The Cowboys make that a poor strategy by surrounding him with eight other hitters who possess a .300 average or better. Eight of the Cowboys’ nine starters have 10 or more home runs.

And, here is the AP article on Ventura’s grand slam single on October 17, 1999:

There was confusion about the score, but one thing was certain after one of the wackiest – and greatest – games in playoff history: The New York Mets are still alive in the NL championship series.

Robin Ventura ‘s grand slam -turned-single drove home the winning run in the 15th inning and gave the Mets an improbable 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5, capping baseball’s longest postseason contest.

“If we come back and win this series, this will go down as one of the great games in history,” Orel Hershiser said after the 5-hour, 46-minute epic. “One of the ones they show on the sports classic channel and cut out some of the dry parts, although there will be hardly any.”

The 482-pitch game ended in confusion, with two runners crossing the plate while Ventura was mobbed by teammates before he could get to second base. Workers pulled up the bases, the umpires left the field, and no one knew the score: 4-3, 5-3 or 7-3.

“I never saw it go out. Did it?” Mets manager Bobby Valentine asked as reporters told him of the confusion about the score. “Then it’s a grand slam. But he never touched the bases? I’ll be doggone!”

About 10 minutes after the game, official scorer Red Foley announced that Ventura was credited with a run-scoring single and the final was 4-3. But the umpires insisted the score was 5-3, counting both runners who came home before the celebration. Finally, the NL ruled it 4-3, saying Foley and the Elias Sports Bureau were responsible for the final decision.

“The game ends in sudden death when the winning run scores,” Elias spokesman Steve Hirdt said. “The only exception is on a home run, assuming the player rounds all the bases. He never rounded the bases.”

It didn’t matter. The Mets forced a Game 6 in Atlanta on Tuesday night.

“I’m just glad we’re actually going back after getting down 3-0,” Ventura said.

The Braves still lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, but this was another devastating blow after losing the previous night 3-2 on John Olerud’s two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning.

Atlanta was three outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1996 after Keith Lockhart’s two-out, run-scoring triple in the top of the 15th broke a 2-2 tie – the first run scored in the game since the third.

But the Mets, who had to win their final four games of the regular season to make the playoffs, would not die.

After fouling off pitch after pitch, Shawon Dunston led off the home half of the 15th with a single to center against 22-year-old rookie Kevin McGlinchy, who then walked pinch-hitter Matt Franco.

Edgardo Alfonzo bunted the runners to second and third before McGlinchy walked Olerud intentionally to load the bases. Todd Pratt, who entered the game in the 14th after Mike Piazza suffered a strained right forearm, walked on five pitches to force in the tying run.

With the Shea Stadium crowd drowning out the sound of jets taking off from nearby LaGuardia airport, Ventura, who was 1-for-18 in the series, drove a 1-1 pitch over the right-field wall for an apparent grand slam.

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Mike Piazza in High School Near Philadelphia

One of the occasional features on this blog has been the story of a late-round draftee who became an MLB great. Here, from the Philadelphia Inquirer of Sunday, May 26, 1985, is a look at Mike Piazza:

There he was, down in the Veterans Stadium tunnel under left field last weekend, rubbing shoulders with Mike Marshall and Greg Brock, stroking batting-practice pitches from Manny Mota, bleeding the same shade of blue as Tommy Lasorda.

Mike Piazza blinked, just to make sure he hadn’t died and gone to Dodger Heaven.

Piazza, a junior at Phoenixville High, reacted to all this heady company he was keeping the way your average 16-year-old would. He was a bit in awe. But, really, there was no reason for him to be starstruck, because he’s having a better year than Marshall and Brock.

A 6-foot, 2-inch, 180-pound first baseman, Piazza, who doubles as the Dodgers batboy when they’re in Philadelphia, has already developed into one of the area’s most damaging sluggers, even though he’s one of the youngest in his junior class.

“Mike should really be a sophomore,” Phoenixville coach John “Doc” Kennedy said of Piazza, who won’t turn 17 until Sept. 4.

There is a stable full of pitchers who are happy he’s not, because Piazza this season torched them for 12 home runs, six doubles, three triples and 38 RBIs in 21 games (Phoenixville’s season ended Friday with a 3-2 loss to Sun Valley in a District 1 playoff game). His batting average was .514 (37 for 72) and his slugging percentage an incredible 1.181. Pitchers don’t need that kind of abuse for two more years.

Piazza had seven three-hit and two two-homer games, and he scored 28 runs. Five of his homers sailed over Phoenixville’s center-field fence, which stands 385 feet from home plate. He has also blasted a couple to the opposite field, where the fence is about 310 feet away.

“I’ve never had more respect for a hitter,” said Boyertown coach Dick Ludy, whose program has easily been the area’s most dominant over the last decade. “He’s hit two homers against us that would have gone out of any park in the big leagues, one at our place that went close to 400 feet. He was the top pick on our all-Ches-Mont League team.”

Said Kennedy: “He totally amazes me with his quick hands. Everything Mike hits is really stung. He drives the ball to all fields. And he’s a very good first baseman. He’s made only two errors. He’s dedicated a lot of time to hitting, and it shows.”

If you’ve been to Veterans Stadium for a Phillies-Dodgers game during the last three years, you probably saw Piazza as the Dodgers batboy. (Who said this kid couldn’t carry Pedro Guerrero’s bat?)

Piazza’s father, Vince, became friends with Lasorda when they were youngsters growing up in Norristown. Lasorda is godfather to Mike’s 2-year-old brother, named Tommy, of course.

“Three years ago Tommy called me and asked if I’d like to be the Dodgers’ batboy,” Mike said. “I couldn’t believe it. Two years ago he even took me on a road trip to New York for a five-game series against the Mets. And Tommy always lets me take a few swings in the batting cage under the tunnel at Veterans Stadium.

“Tommy and Manny Mota give me a lot of tips on hitting, and I can’t thank them enough for it. Manny noticed that I was uppercutting a little too much, something that a power hitter tends to do. He told me to keep my head down and try to swing down on the ball.

“I’m really lucky to get this kind of help,” Piazza added. “A lot of kids my age would give their right arms to be a batboy and get tips from people like that.”

Asked if Lasorda was aware of the kind of season he’s having, Piazza laughed and said: “Yeah, he knows. He said he wants to be my agent.”

For Piazza, there are no secrets to hitting. He has it stripped down to its basics.

“I don’t go up there thinking home run,” he added. “I just look for a good pitch, keep my hands back until the last possible moment, and relax. I haven’t thought about next year or beyond that, but I think I’d like to go to a college with a good baseball program. A lot more big-league players are coming out of colleges these days, and I’d like a good education. So far, though, things are going pretty well.”

I had heard about Piazza being drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round in 1988 as a favor to Lasorda, but the above shows that is not quite the whole story. In June 1985, the Inquirer said Piazza was “the area’s most-feared long-ball hitter, this 6-2, 180-pounder batted .514 with 12 home runs, six doubles, three triples and 38 RBIs in 22 games. . . . Had seven three-hit games and two two-homer games, and collected 37 hits in 72 at-bats. . . . Hit five homers over Phoenixville’s center-field fence, 385 feet away.”

Six years later, in June 1991, USA Today briefly profiled Piazza:

There’s a guy leading the California League with 20 home runs, and he’s a catcher. Really.

Well, sort of.

His name is Mike Piazza and he plays catcher for the Bakersfield Dodgers, but it’s a new position for him. In fact, he didn’t catch until he joined the Dodgers’ organization.

“I was a first baseman in junior college,” Piazza said. “As soon as I signed, the Dodgers converted me to catcher.”

The fact he is still learning the position is the chief reason why he’s still at the Single-A level despite 20 homers and 52 RBI.

“The feeling is that they (the Dodgers) want me to have a full year here and work on some of my defensive shortcomings,” he said.

While the parent club has the omnipresent catcher Mike Scioscia, Piazza said it converted him to catcher due to the number of first basemen in the organization.

“At the time, the Dodgers were really loaded with really good-hitting first basemen,” Piazza said. “It was just the best thing for me because there was more or less a logjam at first base.”

Piazza, 20, was drafted on the 62nd round by the Dodgers out of Miami Dade North College in the 1988 free-agent draft. He hit eight home runs in 198 at- bats at Salem (Ore.) in 1989, and had six homers in 278 at-bats at Vero Beach (Fla.) last season.

Published in: on February 6, 2012 at 7:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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Billy Beane’s First Months as the A’s General Manager

To mark the release of the movie version of Moneyball, I thought I’d gather up some items on Billy Beane in his first year as A’s gm, at a time when very few people were paying much attention to him.

Here, from a Sacramento Bee story on October 18, 1997, are, mostly, some comments from Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane on Beane taking over at the A’s general manager:

“I’m very proud of what Billy has done as a player, a scout and as my assistant,” Alderson said. “He has demonstrated all of the qualities and capabilities of filling the job. He will bring energy and insight to the position.”

At 35, Beane will be among the youngest general managers in baseball. Beane said he’s ready to accept the responsibility.

“This is something I’ve looked forward to doing since I was 18,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to run a ballclub. It’s been a great situation here as a player and a scout. To be around people like Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan and then segue to the front office with Alderson, who I believe is the best in the business, has been a great training ground.

“I feel totally prepared. But as you well know, there’s a lot of work to do.”

Beane will oversee a continuing rebuilding process in Oakland , which has seen the A’s rush through young talent and lose established veterans en route to three straight second-division finishes in the American League West.

Alderson, who guided the A’s to the World Series in 1988-90, said, “the demolition phase is over,” in referring to the losses of such veterans as Dennis Eckersley, Terry Steinbach, Mike Bordick, Mark McGwire and Geronimo Berroa over the last two seasons.

“Now, we can be aggressive and can concentrate on rebuilding. We need someone devoting full attention to the acquisition of players. And with the other duties of my job, I couldn’t do that any longer.”

“We need starting pitching,” [Beane] said. “We’ve got kids who showed last season they can be – like (Jimmy) Haynes and (Brad) Rigby. But they need to be put in a position in the tail-end of rotation.

“We need starters who have had success and shown durability, to carry the load and take pressure off the young guys.”

By trading Berroa and McGwire, the A’s ended up with a 1997 payroll of slightly more than $14.3 [million], the second-lowest in baseball. Beane also said it is “highly unlikely” that Jose Canseco will be back in 1998, which will free up an additional $5 million for next season.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in a process that started a couple of years ago,” Beane said. “I see a bright future on the field in the next couple of years.

“This will be the first winter in the last four we can actually look to add players instead of worrying about who’s next to leave.”

The next February, in 1998, Beane talked in a San Francisco Chronicle article about how his job was the fruition of a longtime goal:
“It was two weeks into my playing career, when I was 18. Frank Cashen was general manager of the Mets at the time, and he came up to see us minor- league players. He came in with his bow tie and monogrammed shirt and talked to us.

“Everybody was trying to impress our manager. And I said, `You got it wrong. This is the guy you want to be, right there.’ It was just the aura he had.”

“I was always a fan of the game. And this is the greatest outlet as far as being a fan. You are getting paid for being in a rotisserie league. This is a passion of mine, and now I’m looking at it as a passion I get paid for.”

Beane added that growing up in San Diego, he and his friends “were doing that sort of thing [fantasy baseball] before rotisserie became the rage. We were drafting players, getting points on how they did.

“I like evaluating players. I like the idea of putting together pieces and making your mark on the organization.”

Beane said of his baseball career: “I was always probably a better athlete than I was a baseball player. There are a lot of things from a skills standpoint that kept me from being a better player. I was a better athlete than most of the players, but wasn’t as good (at baseball) as they were.

“I’m a hyperactive guy, and I don’t handle failure real well. It’s a worn-out line, but it’s true that the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time. I couldn’t deal with that. I was much too reactive and high-strung. I would have one bad game, and that would stretch into three or four.”

He explained how he became an A’s advance scout in 1990: “The A’s were looking for an advance scout to free Ron Schueler up for other things. “He suggested that I might be interested in doing that job someday. The next day I said, `How about now?’”

“I was real lucky as a player. The GMs I was under — Cashen, Andy MacPhail, Bill Lajoie and Sandy — each was one of the most successful of his era. And all those guys had different personalities and different approaches.

“I was never afforded the opportunity to see the wrong way to do it. Every one of those guys rebuilt a franchise from the bottom up.”

And here are excerpts from a Sacramento Bee article in late March of ’98 previewing the A’s and Beane’s work as gm:

“This is the greatest job in the world,” he said. “It’s like getting paid for being in a rotisserie league.”

[In 1997] the A’s finished 32 games under .500, giving the 35-year-old Beane nowhere to go but up. And he started constructing.

With McGwire and Berroa gone, Beane continued to slice salaries, trading Scott Brosius to the Yankees and cutting loose expensive Jose Canseco.

When the cupboard was bare, he went to work in all areas. Between free agents and trades, he added starters Kenny Rogers and Tom Candiotti, relievers Mike Fetters and Doug Bochtler, infielders Kurt Abbott and Mike Blowers, outfielders Rickey Henderson and Shane Mack, catcher Damon Berryhill and potential designated hitter Kevin Mitchell.

Much as Brian Sabean did with the Giants in ’97, Beane has ended up with a collage of medium-priced veterans who have been through the wars. He’s banking on them to pass on their vast experience to the next generation.

“This reminds me of when I came up in ’79,” the 39-year-old Henderson said. “After all those great teams of the ’70s, they were rebuilding. I was one of the young guys then, just trying to earn a job. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot.

“When I go out there now, I hope the young guys look at me. I want them to do what I did. I want them to ask questions about what it takes to be a winning ballclub and a winning player. I want them to know what it takes to be successful.”

It’s that youth working in the bullpen, around second base and behind home plate that will determine the direction the A’s franchise will take under Beane.

Kids like Ben Grieve, A.J. Hinch, Scott Spiezio, Miguel Tejada, Brad Rigby and Jimmy Haynes. They’re the future, and the A’s recognize it. Beane did his part by bringing in veteran players to help ease the growing pains and to provide guidance. Howe and his coaching staff took great measures to remove as much pressure as they could all spring.

When the 21-year-old Tejada is ready, the A’s feel their double-play combination will be set for years to come. And it may come sooner than expected.

Spiezio, the lead singer for his garage band Spastic Dysphonia, removed all notions about the A’s needing a second baseman. In his rookie year, he made the transformation from third base by leading the A.L. in fielding while hitting 14 home runs.

In a 26-game September call-up, Tejada showed glimpses of the future. Though he batted just .202, he showed he could hit in the clutch and showcased such a powerful throwing arm that first baseman Jason Giambi was tempted to wear a batting helmet in the field.

“In a perfect world, we’d like to give him a full year at Triple-A,” Howe said. Kurt Abbott, who grew up in the A’s system, figures to keep the job warm only until Tejada is ready.

The Natural

Not since Will Clark hit town over a decade ago has the Bay Area seen as sweet a left-handed swing as Grieve’s.

He knocked in 160 runs in 151 games last year and batted .312 in September in Oakland. Though he’s still only 21, he already carries himself with that confident swagger that accompanies pure hitters. The A’s have a hard time not blubbering when his name comes up.

“With Ben, you have to watch yourself,” Beane said. “I can get carried away sometimes myself. I’d be a liar if I said it’s not difficult to temper some of the things I say about him. But from the first time I saw him, I always felt there was something special about him.”

Grieve is a dream pupil to hitting instructor Denny Walling.

“He’s a natural, a picture hitter,” Walling said. “The thing is that he doesn’t swing at bad pitches. He gives himself a chance to be successful because he knows his strike zone better than most guys who’ve been in the league four to five years.

“He wants to work. As good as he is, he wants to be better. He’s just a great kid.”

In his fourth incarnation with the A’s, even the crotchety Henderson has been swept up by the kids. As his career winds down, he says now he wants to help the next generation the way he was helped coming up.

“All I can do is share what I know,” he said. “Then, all you can do is hope they catch on to the things they are capable of doing.”

Key young members of the ’98 A’s included Tejada, Jason Giambi, and Eric Chavez, who played in 16 games. Ben Grieve had a decent season too, and the A’s went 74-88.

On the other hand, the team also had Mike Macfarlane, Dave Magadan, Bip Roberts, Shane Mack, Ed Sprague, Kevin Mitchell, Henderson, Tom Candiotti, and a 36-year-old closer named Billy Taylor.

Published in: on September 25, 2011 at 11:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Massive Brawl Between the Durham Bulls and Winston-Salem Warthogs on May 22, 1995

I had never heard of this ugly scene until a couple years ago, when I found it on an ESPN.com list of infamous brawls while looking for material for my post on the Marichal-Roseboro brawl. Here’s some of the Durham Herald-Sun’s account of the game:

The hostilities began in the first inning when Bulls leadoff man Andre King cracked his second first-inning homer in as many nights and shortstop Danny Magee was hit — on the second try — by Warthog pitcher Jason Kummerfeldt.

After Bulls starter Jamie Arnold plunked the Warthogs’ Aaron Boone in the top of the third, Kummerfeldt hit Magee for the second time.

Durham responded with homers by Gator McBride and Randall Simon on back-to-back pitches, and Kummerfeldt drilled Johnny Knott in the right shoulder with the next pitch.

Knott made a lightning fast charge to the mound, and all hell broke loose.
By the time it was over, Kummerfeldt and Knott were ejected along with Winston-Salem catcher Paul Bako, outfielder Mike Meggers and shortstop Ricky Magdaleno, and Bulls Andre King, Ken Warner, Manny Jimenez, Jason Green and Scott Pagano.

Winston-Salem pitcher Glenn Cullop got the worst of it all and was taken to Durham Regional Hospital to undergo a CAT scan.

That was the worst news of the night for the visitors.

The worst news for Durham came in the ninth inning, when the Warthogs’ Robbie Robertson hit a three-run homer to right off usually steady closer Matt Byrd (2-1) to give his team a 10-8 victory.

Bulls manager Matt West said after the game he didn’t want to discuss the fight, the ejections, or any aspect of the job done by umpires Jeff Head or Mike Fichter.

Warthogs manager Mark Berry said Kummerfeldt wasn’t throwing at any Bulls batters.

“Believe it or not, none of those hit batters were intentional, but I can understand they may have felt that way,” Berry said. “Unfortunately it takes away from a great comeback by us, and it’s too bad we had this brawl.”

Kummerfeldt also said the plunks were unintentional.

“I had no control and no command of my pitches,” Kummerfeldt said. “I kept trying to go inside. I hate the fact that I hit three or four batters, or whatever it was.”

Kummerfeldt said he expected Knott to charge the mound.
Knott had no surprises for him.

“I don’t even remember where the ball hit me,” Knott said. “The adrenaline was coming too fast — I could see the whole thing coming. I’ve never charged the mound in my pro career or as an amateur, and I might have been justified in doing it a couple of times before. But this one was obvious.

“I guess I got in a few good licks. We didn’t do anything to upset those guys, and Andre was quiet after his home run. I just wish somebody had been warned after he hit Danny.”

Magee, who was icing his elbow after the game, said he figured the Warthogs were upset with King for something and took it out on him.

“I thought [Kummerfeldt] thought Andre showed him up by hitting an 0-2 fastball in the first inning and hit me,” Magee said. “I don’t even think the second time he hit me was on purpose.”

And here’s the account of that third inning:

Durham 3rd: With one out, Warner hit a ground-rule double down the first-base line. King struck out swinging. Magee was hit by a pitch. McBride blasted a 3-0 pitch over the Blue Monster and into Jackie Robinson Place. Simon ripped the next pitch onto the hill behind the center-field fence. Kummerfeldt’s next pitch plunked Knott in the helmet, precipitating a charge of the mound and a bench-clearing brawl to start a 32-minute delay. There were seven ejections, with Magre relieving Kummerfeldt and Arnold coming on to run for Knott. Correa reached on an error by new shortstop Lofton. Wieser hit an RBI single to right and took second on the throw home. Pinch-hitter Weaver fouled out to first. Durham 7, Winston-Salem 2.

The game story underrated the seriousness of the fight. A few days later the Herald-Sun noted that every active player for both teams who were on the field had been suspended and fined: Micah Bowie of the Bulls and Curt Lyons of the Warthogs were in street clothes in the stands charting pitches, so they were the only two to avoid punishment. The worst of it was this:

Earl Nelson’s suspension for six days with a $300 fine was the worst punishment meted out for Monday night’s nationally publicized brawl between the Durham Bulls and Winston-Salem Warthogs at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The injury was inflicted by Nelson, who videotapes showed kicking Warthog pitcher Glen Cullop in the head as Cullop was on the ground.

Cullop was taken to Durham Regional Hospital with a concussion, a broken jaw and five missing teeth. Surgery to repair the jaw was done Wednesday morning, and Cullop left for his Johnson City, Tenn., home Thursday. He will be on the disabled list indefinitely.

Sources said Nelson would not be making the trip when the Bulls visit Lynchburg for a three-game series beginning tonight and will get further discipline from the Atlanta Braves organization when his league suspension ends Tuesday.

In June, Cullop filed charges against Nelson, as the Austin American-Statesman reported:

“We’re definitely keeping all doors open,” Cullop said Thursday from his home in Johnson City, Tenn., where he is recovering from his injury. He hopes to resume playing baseball by late next month.

The bench-clearing melee occurred May 22 during a game between the Winston-Salem Warthogs and Durham Bulls of the Carolina League.

Cullop, who plays for the Warthogs, filed the misdemeanor charge last week in North Carolina against Earl Nelson of the Bulls.

Videotape of the fight showed Nelson kicked Cullop under the chin. Cullop remained motionless on the ground for several minutes, unconscious.

“What he did, I don’t feel like that belongs in the game of baseball, or anywhere on the streets for that matter,” Cullop said.

Cullop, 23, said he received a letter of apology from Nelson but didn’t think it was sincere.

The charge, assault inflicting serious injury, carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine.

Cullop said he also is considering other action against Nelson, the Bulls and their parent club, the Atlanta Braves.

“I’m going to wait until after the medical treatment and see how the future looks for me,” he told The News & Observer of Raleigh. . . .

Authorities probably would not make an arrest because Nelson has left the state, the newspaper reported.

Nelson had been released by the Braves about a week after he kicked Glen Cullop in the head: again, the damage to Cullop was a concussion, a broken jaw, and five missing teeth, requiring surgery and a three-night hospital stay, as well as a summer worth of trips to the dentist and doctor.

What’s ridiculous about the end of this story is that Nelson, who not only escaped jail time but served just a six-day suspension, and paid a $300 fine, left Durham with extensive praise from his teammates. Thirty years earlier, Dodgers players complained that National League president Warren Giles was being too lenient when he fined Juan Marichal $1750 and suspended him for eight games. Marichal also made a reported payment of $7500 to settle a lawsuit by Johnny Roseboro, but it took Marichal years to get fully rehabilitated and inducted into the Hall of Fame after reconciling with Roseboro.

It apparently took Nelson about a week to get rehabilitated after a much worse attack on a player. Here’s the Durham Herald-Sun reporting on the response to Nelson’s release on the last day of May:

By all accounts, Nelson was a pretty popular guy on the team. His former teammates aren’t saying they’re bitter about what the organization did, but they just wish the whole thing hadn’t happened.

Outfielder Gator McBride and infielder Ken Warner had been Nelson’s roommates since they played together in Macon last season.

“I’ve known Earl for about three years, and we’d gotten to be pretty close,” McBride said. “Earl and I had planned a trip to Mexico together after the season, and we’re still going to do it — just hang out down there.

“We got to be good friends my first year at Idaho Falls [1993], and we stayed in contact during the off-season. He’s just a great guy. I was surprised Earl did what he did, but when I went out there I didn’t know what I was going to do myself.”

Warner said Nelson is the kind of guy who was just fun to be around.

“He’s one of my greatest friends, and I think of him as sort of a big brother,” Warner said. “When he got released, it was sort of like a part of me was released too. I’m hurting on the inside because he’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known.

“We talked about [the fight] a couple of times after it happened. He didn’t go out there wanting to kick somebody, and he’s sorry about it. It’s just that when you get in a fight that big, you just don’t know what you’re going to do. Nothing makes any sense. . . . He’s a great pitcher and I know he’ll get another job. I just hope I’ll never have to hit against him.”

Outfielder Scott Pagano emerged as a clubhouse leader during the Bulls’ recent losing streak. He said Nelson had become a good friend during their short time on the same club.

“I really can’t say whether I agree with [the release] or not, but I guess they thought the punishment fit the crime,” Pagano said. “Earl’s a great guy. He just made one big mistake.

“Really, he took the [release] much better than I expected him to. He didn’t seem to be surprised, though. We’re all going to miss him. He was really a fun guy to be around. I’m sure he just wishes he could take back those five seconds of his life, but he’s got to move on with it. I don’t expect him to do anything like that again.”

Pagano, who received a four-day suspension for his role in the brawl, said there just isn’t much thinking going on during a baseball riot.

“You don’t really know what’s happening to you, the adrenaline’s flying so fast,” he explained. “But the first guy you run into in that situation, for that second you hate him and he hates you. And people do things they’re sorry about later.”

Infielder Kevin Webb said he felt awful about the whole situation.

“I feel bad for Earl and I feel bad about what he did on the field,” Webb said. “I’m sure he’s been over the thing a thousand times in his mind, and he’d take it back if he could.
“He’s a great guy who always works hard out there. He’s got great ability and everybody seemed to like him. He’d give you the shirt off his back. I just hopes he gets a job with another team.”

Shortstop Danny Magee played with Nelson last season in Macon.

“He’s great, and we had a lot of laughs together,” Magee said. “We were always picking each other up when we were down. We’re all going to miss him.”

Bill Slack, the Bulls’ pitching coach, said watching Nelson’s recent troubles has been watching like one of his own children in a jam.

“I’ve got four kids, and they’ve all had scrapes and problems,” Slack said. “I think Matt [West] and [coach Brian Snitker] feel the same way, too. We don’t agree with what he did, but basically he’s a good kid who was involved in an unfortunate incident.

“We hope he gets a job with another club. He’s got a lot of ability. He had been losing weight lately, and he’s got his fastball up about 89 [mph]. When he was throwing good, he might have had the best curve ball and the best fastball on the club.”

Cullop, as far as I know, received no such send-off from either Winston-Salem or Durham. I am not sure what Cullop is doing now, but his baseball career ended in 1995. Aside from Nelson’s assault on him, Cullop is probably best known, as a pitcher anyway, for giving up the last home run of Michael Jordan’s baseball career. Jordan homered for the Birmingham Barons for the third time, at home, on August 20, 1994, vs. Chattanooga: Cullop gave up Jordan’s solo homer to left field to lead off the 7th inning of that game. I don’t know what’s happened to Earl Nelson, but 1995 was the end of his baseball career as well.

Published in: on September 23, 2011 at 3:58 am  Comments (3)  
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