Top 100 Baseball Blog

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Aaron Guiel's Amazing Baseball Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Guiel Interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Pitcher Dave Davenport Fought His Way Out of Baseball


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Matt Miller: Baseball's Side-Armed Pitching Dynamo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Miller Interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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