Top 100 Baseball Blog

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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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ed Scott, Pioneering Scout for the Boston Red Sox

Major League Baseball was segregated until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite that important first step, the trail blazing athlete was not a cure-all and the game only gradually and begrudgingly trudged towards inclusion. The Boston Red Sox were the last big league franchise to integrate, with backup infielder Pumpsie Green’s appearance on their 1959 roster making them the final team to field a black player. The franchise long battled a wretched reputation when it came to race (which persists to this day), and it might have been even worse if it weren’t for the work of Ed Scott.

An African American, Scott was born in 1917 and grew up in Mobile, Alabama. Like many young boys, he became fascinated with baseball, though at the time his only chance to play professionally would have come through the Negro Leagues. He was good enough to play as an outfielder for semi-pro and barnstorming teams before a lengthy stint with the Indianapolis Clowns (1940-1952). One of his proudest moments was winning a 32 piece dish set and barbecue basket by getting the first hit against Satchel Paige in a 1940 game. To make ends meet because baseball didn’t always pay the bills, he also had a 20-year career working for a paper company.

 Once he was no longer able to hold an on-field position he took up scouting, which would become his defining career. In a strange twist of irony, although baseball was slow to come around on integration, once black players began to be signed some teams began what amounted to an arms war to make sure they were not missing out on the new available talent pool. With segregation polluting the country, in the earlier days black scouts had better access and knowledge of black amateur players than their white scouting counterparts.

Scott scouted for Negro League and major league teams. His most famous find came early on, as he was able to secure the services of a young outfielder named Henry “Hank” Aaron for the Indianapolis Clowns. Not long after that the youngster was signed by the Boston Braves and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career as baseball’s “Home Run King.”

Scott’s son, Ed Jr., later explained that Aaron came to be signed when he was spotted playing in a Mobile softball game. “If that boy can hit a softball that far, how far he can hit a baseball,” mused Scott Sr.

Scott later explained that once he had secured Aaron for the Clowns, he sent a report to the team, indicating “Aaron was the greatest wrist hitter I had ever seen.”

Beginning in the early 1960s, Scott began working for the Red Sox in a scouting capacity after being recommended by former player Milt Bolling. Through the years he signed a number of players who went on to have outstanding professional careers, including George Scott, Oil Can Boyd, Andre Dawson and Amos Otis. Bolling went so far as to later say that if Boston had hired Scott earlier "we might have had Hank Aaron and Ted Williams on the same team."

So respected was the work of Scott that he remained on the Red Sox’s employee roll until the early 2000s, compiling a 34-year stint with the team. When he passed away in 2010 at the age of 92, he left behind a wife of 69 years, seven children, 27 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and an indelible mark on the game of baseball.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Attempting to Figure Out Boston Red Sox Pitcher Joe Kelly


The Boston Red Sox’s confounding power right-handed pitcher Joe Kelly is in his fourth season with the team. While boasting a stellar 2.12 ERA in 14 relief appearances, he is walking batters at a high rate and striking out even fewer. What’s the cause of this and what might his future hold? Let’s dig a little deeper to see if there are any answers.

After coming to Boston in a 2014 trade, Kelly worked exclusively as a starter until transitioning to the bullpen last year. The 28-year-old has long been lauded for his top-shelf stuff but the results, particularly with the Red Sox, have never matched. A great example of that was his 2015 season when he went 10-6 with a 4.82 ERA in 25 starts. It was perfectly acceptable stuff for a back-of-the rotation starter, but the former third round pick has long shown promise of more.

In his 17 innings this season (admittedly a small sample size), Kelly has permitted just 11 hits and four runs. However, he has walked nine while striking out just eight; an odd stat line for a pitcher who is one of the hardest throwers in the game. Indeed, the 98.7 MPH he has averaged on his fastball is the fastest of his career, and at least one stat service has him as the hardest thrower in the game this year. With such octane, one would think he would be fanning batters at a prodigious rate but a deeper look at the numbers show why he hasn’t.

It all starts with how frequently Kelly is utilizing his fastball. Strangely, he is throwing it just 56.2% of the time, which is by far the lowest mark of his career, and about 10% less than last year. For someone who threw the hardest pitch registered in Red Sox history earlier this year, the way he has increasingly abandoned the gas may seem inexplicable but it is paying off.

Kelly is coaxing an impressive 59.6% ground ball percentage on all balls put into play. This represents a career best (last year was 46.9%) and may be a combination of his heavy sinking fastball and batters waving at his darting slider.

Kelly’s slider, typically seen as his next best offering, is being thrown 27.2% of the time thus far—or almost double his previous career high. He still mixes in a curve (16.2%) but has all but given up on his changeup (0.3%). This combination of hard stuff with breaking balls has also led to career lows in line drive and fly ball percentages.

What is likely contributing to his lack of punch outs is his continued struggle to control his stuff. He has gone to a full count on a full quarter (17) of the 68 batters he has faced this season. He has surrendered eight walks and a base hit in such situations, representing a lion’s share of the damage he has permitted. He is throwing strikes just 59.3% of the time, which is well below his career rate of 61.3%.

It appears that even though he is in his sixth major league season Kelly is still figuring things out. His impressive ERA is reflective of a new approach and raw overall stuff. His control problems have prevented him from moving to the next level. Considering the strides he may still be able to make, especially when it comes to harnessing his arsenal, it’s easy to see why the Red Sox remain enamored with him. Time will only tell if he continues to put it together and blossom into the shutdown pitcher statistics suggest he is capable of becoming. In the meantime, he appears to be a different pitcher and is becoming a contributor, albeit one who can put people on the edge of their seats for the wrong reasons, for Boston, who desperately need whatever help they can get in their bullpen.

Statistics via FanGraphs and BaseballReference

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