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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dennis DeBarr


New expansion teams can often be a major opportunity for minor league players who are on the cusp of making it to the Big Leagues. Each new franchise means that for their first year there are an additional 25 open roster spots for the taking. Many players who are in the high minors, and bumping their head on the glass ceiling, but unable to break through, can seize such opportunities and move on to the next level.

Lefty pitcher Dennis DeBarr is one player who first made the Major Leagues with an expansion team. He was an inaugural Toronto Blue Jay in 1977, after having spent the previous six seasons in the Detroit Tigers farm system. Taken in the 2nd round of the 1972 MLB Draft, the Tigers moved DeBarr aggressively, even having him pitch in a Triple-A game during his first season as a 19 year old. 

The Tigers never had a consistent plan on how to use DeBarr, as he started and relieved, without rhyme or reason. Despite the waffling of the Tigers, he always did well wherever he pitched, producing a 3.47 ERA for his minor league career. Regardless, by the end of the 1976 season, he was still stuck in Double-A, and Detroit made him available in the 1977 expansion draft, where he was chosen by the Blue Jays as the 26th overall pick.

DeBarr made his Major League debut with Toronto on May 14, 1977, mopping up in a 13-3 loss to Minnesota. His first strikeout came in his next appearance, June 1st, against Freddie Patek and the Kansas City Royals. 

DeBarr made a total of 14 relief appearances with Toronto, posting an 0-1 record with a 5.91 ERA. He was sent down to the minor leagues in late July after a disagreement with manager Roy Hartswell. DeBarr never made it back to the Majors and was out of professional baseball following the 1979 season. More information on DeBarr’s career statistics are available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/debarde01.shtml.

In an interesting side note, although DeBarr never played again in the Major Leagues after being sent down by Toronto, he was part of two trades. In March, 1978 he was sent to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for aging slugger Rico Carty. Then in June of that year, DeBarr was traded to the Cubs for relief pitcher Paul Reuschel. In our interview, DeBarr explains how he once tried to get back into baseball a few years after retiring, with interesting results. It may not have worked out for him the way he had hoped, but he was able to play in the Major Leagues and will always be part of baseball history.

Dennis DeBarr Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I guess my older brother. He was just two years older than me. I remember when there was Little League. I couldn’t play and my Dad was in the military and I guess you really couldn’t start until you were nine at the time. And so I was seven and my brother was nine; and I was watching him pitch, and then he would play catch with me when I would come home. I guess that I probably got it from him. And then as time when on he got more into girls instead of baseball, but I always stuck with baseball after that, so that’s probably how I got started.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: Actually when I was growing up, it was the Dodgers. I loved Sandy Koufax. I’m a left-handed pitcher, so I always loved Koufax.

What was getting drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2nd round like? Did you employ an agent?: At that time agents were just beginning to get in the game. I certainly didn’t have an agent. I didn’t think the Detroit Tigers… Being out in California I was hoping Oakland or Giants or something. It surprised me that Detroit drafted me. I was totally shocked that Detroit drafted me, of all the teams. At that time, I didn’t have an agent. I just wanted to sign and they knew that. 

I did have a scholarship at Stanford. I had people looking at me at Stanford and so forth, but always wanted to play baseball. For me I decided that four years of college would be four years longer making it to the Big Leagues. There’s four years chance of getting hurt, so that’s the reason why I signed out of high school. But I didn’t have an agent. I wish I did!

How was your experience in the minor leagues?: When I got in, of course you play rookie ball no matter how high of a draft pick you are. I wasn’t used to people hitting my fastball because I had averaged like two and half strikeouts an inning and had no problem. And so when I did go to rookie ball, I remember the first game I got in pitching, there were like three straight base hits, and so I overthrew the ball and kind of hurt my shoulder a little bit. It limited my rookie ball season. I actually went home early and they gave me cortisone and all that. 

But my very first year in A-ball, after that, I went from A-ball to Double-A to Triple-A. It was a good experience and I thought ‘well this is going to be quicker than I thought getting to the Big Leagues.’ I did well in Double-A and Triple-A, but it was just short, like maybe a couple of innings or something like that. 

The thing about my minor league experience, I played a lot of years in the minors, but probably won four or five championships. I won at Triple-A with Evansville, and then we won two championships in Double-A in Montgomery, Alabama. And then I won at Bristol, Tennessee, the very first year. I had a very successful experience in the minors, that’s for sure.

I remember when I was back down in Double-A again. I was traded to Cleveland and they had six lefthanders on their Major League club. And so when they traded me for Rico Carty, I thought well this was a good deal’ initially and then when it turned out, they were probably trying to get rid of a million dollar ball player, a world famous designated hitter for me. So I didn’t accept it very well. They sent me back to Double-A. 

I got traded again to the Cubs, and they sent me to Triple-A. I never had such a high earned run average. They started me in Triple-A with Wichita. I think my earned run average was probably either a four or a six. I can’t remember exactly, but it was so high I went to the manager and said, ‘you might as well leave me,’ cause I thought I was going to go bad. And he turned around and said at that time the average in the league was a ‘four point something.’ But I was never used to it, so it was a big adjustment.

What type of pitches did you throw?: Well obviously when I first signed, a fastball I threw most of the time. So I had about mid 90’s. Then when it came down to it, I had a curve that was so roundhouse, it broke a whole lot. When I was in Double-A I guess, my coach there told me to shelf that pitch. The hitters would lay off it. He showed me a forkball. And when he showed me that forkball, or a split fingered fastball, that’s when my career started changing. Then I became a relief pitcher and what really turned everything around for me was the forkball. 

What happened was, when I got to the Major Leagues, I forgot how to throw that forkball, because you’re in Toronto and when you warm up, it’s on the left field foul line and if you’re throwing a breaking ball when you’re warming up you get it off the plate. And so I wouldn’t throw many breaking pitches on the sideline. And somewhere along the road I lost the feel of it. I should have went to my manager and talked to him.

What is the favorite moment from your playing career?: Well once again Reggie Jackson, He was standing out in the outfield when we were playing the Yankees, during batting practice. I was doing my usual warm-ups. He said, ‘hey rookie, come here.’ He told me ‘there’s no difference between you and me. We put our pants on the same way. I might be making a couple of million, you might be making minimum salary, but there is no difference.’
And so in that game, he had already struck out three times. They put me in to pitch against him and I struck him out on a slider. He looked at me, and I looked back at him. He stared at me and gave me a nod, and to me that was like welcoming me to the Big Leagues. And I think that’s probably the biggest one because I keep telling that story over and over.

What was it like playing for the inaugural Toronto Blue Jays?: When you’re playing baseball, your whole goal is to get to the Major Leagues. You don’t care who you play with. But I think as I look back on it, it was a bad thing for me because Detroit was a great organization at the time. It was very hard to move up in that organization because they had winning teams at every level and it was hard to get brought up. 

Toronto, they only won 50 something games as a club that year. As a short man, you’re not going to get too many chances. The manager, Roy Hartwell, said to me at one point, ‘young man, you’ve proven to me that you can pitch up here and you’re going to have a long career.’ Cause I had maybe seven innings or so that I had given up no runs or anything. Finally I did get in a game, and I was begging to get in the game because I hadn’t pitched for a while. I guess I gave up four runs in about an inning and two thirds. He came out to take me out and I said, ‘Why waste a pitcher? You might as well let me pitch some innings and get some work.’ And he says, ‘Young man, I’ve made up my mind.’ 

I got frustrated and I then I threw my glove in the dugout and actually left the game before it was over with. I get a phone call from him that night or the next day saying, ‘we’re going to send you to Triple-A, but we’re going to bring you back up in September because we just aren’t facing a lot of lefthanders.’ Obviously that wasn’t true. 

Did the Blue Jays ever bring you back up?: No they never did. But during spring training they showboated me quite a bit. I think at that time they were wanting to trade me, and that’s what they ended up doing. 

There is more about that. You know, after I got out of the game… I was probably out of the game for two or three years, I called them. Each player that they got in expansion was worth $175,000 to that club. And so I said to Triple-A, ‘Why don’t you come out and take look at me to see if you might have a spot for me in Triple-A and possibly give me another opportunity to pitch for you?’ 

They did come out. Pat Gillick and their Major League scout came out, but he said they were there to look at this kid named Barry Bonds. They asked if I would throw batting practice to him. He was still in high school I guess. I thought after batting practice I would show what I could do, and it turned out they said, ‘Well what do you do for a living?’ And I said ‘Construction,’ and ‘you might as well stick it,’ is what they said. So, that was the end of my baseball pursuits.

Was it difficult to transition from a professional athlete to the private sector?: Yeah it I because I really thought I would be connected with baseball in one way or another forever actually; either coaching or scouting afterwards.

I got out of the game not because I couldn’t pitch. I got out of the game because my mouth kind of got in the way. You don’t really cherish things until after you are out. I do miss it.


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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Sad Passing of Hideki Irabu



It was reported earlier this week that former Japanese baseball and Major League pitcher Hideki Irabu was found dead on July 28th, at age 42, of an apparent suicide. A star pitcher in Japan who moved on to the Major Leagues, Irabu was disliked and ridiculed for much of his American playing career. His tragic death is a sad reminder of how the once promising pitcher was turned into a pariah by the baseball world, after a series of controversies, and his failure to live up to lofty expectations. 

Irabu was a well known pitcher in the Japan’s Pacific League. He was a power pitcher who threw a fastball that reached as high as 98 MPH, and led his circuit in a variety of statistical categories between 1988-1996. However, in looking at his career in Japan, he was not the superstar many believed him to be. He went 72-69 with a 3.55 ERA and 1282 strikeouts in 1286.1 innings. He was solid, but not dominant. The big fastball and strikeout numbers are what intensified interest from American clubs. The success of Hideo Nomo with the Dodgers had opened the door for other Japanese pitchers, and a number of Major League clubs explored the possibility of signing the right-handed Irabu.

Because of his fastball and stocky build, Irabu was heralded as the “Japanese Nolan Ryan,” a nearly impossible comparison to live up to. In 1997 the San Diego Padres bought his contract from the Chiba Lotte Marines for nearly 13 million dollars. Irabu immediately began attracting bad press after he refused to sign with the Padres, insisting that he would only play in the United States for the New York Yankees. His public perception never seemed to recover from that stance, as many believed that he did not have the right to make such demands, and saw his actions as arrogant.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner must have been very pleased when he heard that Irabu would only play for his team. The Yankees had just started their resurgence as annual championship contenders, and Steinbrenner was invested in stocking the franchise with premium talent. Having them demand to play for the Yankees like Irabu did was like a fisherman having fish jump into the boat. Thus, it was not a surprise when a trade was worked out that brought Irabu to the Yankees two months into the 1997 season.

Despite averaging better than a strikeout an inning, Irabu’s rookie season with the Yankees in 1997 was a disaster. He went 5-4 with a 7.09 ERA, and was particularly vulnerable to the long ball, giving up 15 home runs in just 13 games (9 starts). Over the next two seasons Irabu did pitch a little better, reaching double digits in wins in both 1998 and 1999, but never turned into the star that many believed he would become.

The New York media were brutal on Irabu because of his disappointing career with the Yankees combined with his perceived attitude. It seemed that anything that could possibly be construed as negative was jumped on by the press when it came to covering Irabu. Every minutiae was picked apart, most noticeably his weight, and the perception that he did not go hard on every play. His reputation was sealed during spring training of 1999 when Steinbrenner referred to him in the press as a “fat pussy toad,” after he had failed to cover first base on a play. 

The Yankees knew after three seasons that Irabu was not going to pan out as they had hoped, and the environment he was playing in was never going to allow him to flourish. They traded him to the Montreal Expos, and he played for them in 2000 and 2001 with little success, before finishing his Major League career with the Texas Rangers in 2002. Irabu’s career totals of a 34-35 won/loss record with a 5.15 ERA were indicative of his mediocre American career, and seemed to justify all of the scrutiny he received while he played. 

What didn’t show up in Irabu’s final stat line was a legacy built by the media to portray him as a caricature. He failed so miserably at cultivating his image as the “next great player” that he transitioned into more of a punch line in the baseball world. Unfortunately he played right into the media’s hands. His disappointing results, lack of hustle, perceived arrogance, and a number of run-ins with alcohol, seemingly reinforced the public disapproval that originated through the media. Irabu was climbing uphill from the moment he refused to pitch for the Padres. The only way he would have been able to overcome his initial impression on American baseball was to live up to the Nolan Ryan comparisons, which were unfair and inaccurate to a ridiculous degree.

After the Major Leagues, Irabu occasionally appeared in the news because of his run-ins with the law, and he even pitched briefly in the independent leagues in 2009. He was obviously troubled, and was never able to get past not living up to the huge expectations placed on his shoulders. Irabu certainly played a significant role in how he was portrayed in the media, but his is a cautionary tale about what can happen when a player is not ready for the spotlight. His legacy in baseball cannot be changed, but hopefully now Hideki Irabu can finally find some peace.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Jason Garcia



                I love keeping up with Boston Red Sox prospects. Boston has relied heavily on its farm system during their recent period of dominance. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jonathan Papelbon are among the homegrown products that have been raised from the draft over the past decade. The bonds they formed from playing together for many years, in some cases going back to their time in the minors, has undoubtedly had a positive impact on the Big League club.


                The majority of players who get drafted will never make it to the Major Leagues, but the core of the current Red Sox team prove that gems can be mined from a well-run player development program. Boston has also used top prospects to obtain more established talent from other teams. Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez came over in exchange for prospects that included Hanley Ramirez, Casey Kelly, and Anthony Rizzo. Essentially, prospects are used as another form of currency in baseball, and can make or break a team.


                Some prospects fly under the radar more than others. I believe that right-handed pitcher Jason Garcia is one of those players. He was drafted in the 14th round of the 2010 draft out of high school. All the scouting reports I saw indicated that Garcia was a decent, but unspectacular pitcher. Being very young, there is plenty of time for him to grow, but no huge expectations of how Garcia will develop. With less pressure on him than a lot of prospects, Garcia has started to blossom into a player worth watching.


                Still just 18 years old, Garcia has pitched very well since being drafted, with a 3.28 ERA and no home runs allowed in 60.1 innings. He has statistically been the best starting pitcher this season for the Low-A Lowell Spinners. More information about his statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=garcia002jas.


                If you don’t believe me about Garcia being an intriguing prospect, consider this. Before one game I attended, I was asking a person in the Boston organization about another pitcher on the Lowell team. The person answered my questions, but then told me that if I was interested, I should check out Garcia, because he was hands down the best pitcher on the team. Going off that tip, I conducted an interview with Garcia, and found out a little more about the pitcher that many believe is going to be one of Boston’s next top prospects. 


Jason Garcia Interview:


How did you first become interested in baseball?: Growing up, my parents introduced me to a lot of sports, and as I got older I started to play baseball and football a lot. When I was around 11 we moved to Florida and I decided to just stick with baseball, and my parents stuck by me with whatever I wanted to do. So, around the age of 12 we moved to Florida and I saw baseball was year round, and so I fell in love with it.


Did you have a favorite team growing up?: Growing up, my uncle had season tickets to the Mets, so I grew up in Shea Stadium a lot. That was my team growing up.


What was the draft process like and how did you know that the Red Sox were interested in you?: Around halfway during my senior year I started to get a lot of interest, a lot of questionnaires from a lot of pro teams. The Red Sox contacted me, and it’s actually a funny story. The scout was actually supposed to come on Thursday, and I had a practice on a Wednesday night, and he got the dates mixed up. He was waiting in my house for about six hours with my Mom, while I was at practice. So, he stayed at the house for a while, and ever since then we kept in contact a lot. He’s a really nice guy; Anthony Turco. He always came to practices to watch me throw.


After you signed with the Red Sox, did you do anything special for you or your family?: No, we had a couple of friends and family over and had a nice little barbecue before I left. I signed right away and left a week after graduation, so it was kind of just a quick thing.


What type of pitches do you throw?: I throw a four-seam, a two-seam, a slider, and a circle change.


You are typically in the 91-93 MPH range with your fastball?: Yeah, last year I was around 88 to 91. I came to spring training and been getting it up to 94. Actually in my last start, I got it up to 95.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

What To Do About Jerry Meals

I feel compelled to write a few thoughts about the controversial call made by 14 year umpire Jerry Meals in the 19th inning of the Braves and Pirates 19 inning game that concluded early in the morning on July 27th. Baseball has had an ongoing debate about the use of instant replay and the reliability of umpires. This play is the latest incident to bring the issue back into the public eye.

Meals ended the game by calling Atlanta runner Julio Lugo safe, when he was clearly tagged out by Pittsburgh catcher Mike McKenry, several feet before reaching home plate. It was not one of those calls where the umpire had a bad angle, or the play was too close for the human eye to catch. This was a simple call; completely black and white, and the umpire missed it. Even Lugo looked momentarily shocked by the call, until realizing he had been called safe, and then rushed off to celebrate with his teammates.


Now that the Pirates are relevant after the All Star break after years of being doormats, this blown call could end up hurting them a lot. After the game they are now one game behind the National League Central leading St. Louis Cardinals. This one game swing against the favor of the Pirates has the very real possibility of impacting their post season chances. It will be a complete shame if at the end of the season this game has any impact whatsoever on the Pirates and their chances of making the playoffs.


Baseball needs to do the right thing and replay the end of the game. Meals’ call was so bad that it goes beyond contradicting the judgement of an umpire. This isn't like the infamous Jim Joyce blown perfect game from last year, where he missed a call on a bang-bang play at first. Meals' safe call was an outright catastrophe that defied logic. There should have been no other verdict than calling Lugo out. It was the equivalent of somebody looking up at a blue sky and announcing that it was yellow.


Despite this latest controversy, I am still unsure if instant replay is necessary in baseball, but am starting to lean towards being for it. A big part of me says, why not? The game utilizes just about every other advantage, from conditioning (legal and other methods) to equipment made out of advanced materials. If technology exists that can make the game better, safer, and more modern, it makes sense to give it a shot. Instant replay would not change the essential rules of the game. If baseball and its fans are willing to accept the designated hitter rule and interleague play, then why should instant replay be any different?


The downside of instant replay is lengthening games that are already too long in the context of professional sports. Ideally, two hours would be a perfect length of time for an audience that has an increasingly shrinking attention span. At approximately three hours per game, baseball is already well over that ideal. Perhaps if instant replay were implemented, it could be done in a similar fashion to how it is used in the NFL, with only certain plays being eligible for review, and only a certain number of challenges per game for each team.


If baseball is wary about instituting instant replay, how about letting teams have a certain number of plays per game where they can appeal to a second umpire? This would keep the flow of the game going and not significantly lengthen games, but allow a second set of eyes to weigh in on close plays. It might not be a perfect solution, but would give some recourse on incorrect calls if baseball is unwilling to use instant replay.


Although I am not calling for his firing, Jerry Meals must be disciplined in some way for what happened. Nothing suggests that his call was malicious or ill intended, but at best it was lazy. If this were the NBA, such a call would be under even heavier scrutiny, given the sensitivity of controversial officiating calls now that the Tim Donaghy scandal has unfolded. Umpires who have reached the Major Leagues are supposed to be the best of the best, yet Meals' safe call was the worst of the worst. To protect the integrity of baseball officiating, the best thing to do would be to constructively discipline Meals and make sure that he either move forward as a productive umpire, or decide that he is ill suited to continue in that career track.


The final thought I have about this situation is perhaps the most important. Various news outlets have reported that Meals and his family have been receiving threats and harassment over the past 24 hours. ESPN even reported that they found at least two internet message boards that had published his personal contact information. 


Jim Joyce received similar treatment last year when he was in the news. This type of behavior must stop. No amount of harassment will change what happened, and most importantly, it’s not right. Everybody makes mistakes at work, but nobody deserves to pay for those errors in their personal life. Hopefully the blockheads who apparently have nothing better to do than pester a family, will receive their own just punishment in due time.


Ultimately, life will go on and baseball will continue. Meals’ inexplicable miscue will eventually pass into the annals of bad umpiring calls. Before this happens, I hope baseball takes notice and turns this into a lesson learned. Doing that will turn this from an unfortunate incident into something that could improve baseball for years to come.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tyler Vail


Recently, it seems that the forte of the Oakland A’s has been their starting pitching. In the past decade, a steady stream of starters like Tim Hudson, Dan Haren, Mark Mulder, Trevor Cahill, and others have appeared on an Oakland pitching mound. For the most part these are homegrown pitchers, a testament to the development skills of the organization. 

Tyler Vail is a candidate to eventually become part of the Oakland pitching tradition. Vail was drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 draft out of Notre Dame-Green Pond High School. His senior season is what put him high on the draft board. He went 6-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 93 strikeouts, while also starring as a hitter. He had been poised to attend the University of Maryland, but chose instead to sign with Oakland and start his professional career.

The hard throwing Vail has had an uneven start to his career thus far. He has made it as high as A level, but is currently with the Vermont Lake Monsters in Low-A. To date, he has gone 1-8 with a 4.66 ERA since being drafted. You can find more information on his statistics by going to http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=vail--001tyl

Vail has a lot of potential and plenty of time to advance, as he will not even turn 20 until after the conclusion of the 2011 season. I have seen him pitch in person and like what I see. It is uncommon for pitchers his age to have the type of arsenal he already possesses. Queue him up in your prospect databank, and sit back and wait to see what happens. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pitching on an Oakland mound in a few years.

Tyler Vail Interview:

How did you first get interested in baseball?: My cousin got me interested. He was a real good player in college. He was going to get drafted, and he didn’t. He told me that hard work and drive will pay off, so that’s what happened.


Did you have a favorite team or player growing up?: Yankees are still my favorite team; and Derek Jeter. He was always my favorite player.

What is it about Jeter that makes him your favorite player?: His hard work. He always gets to the field early. He always has the same determination to win, and even if he gets that 3000 hits, he’s still going to win that sixth World Series.

What was the draft process and picking an agent like for you?: I didn’t have an agent. Through the draft it was just my parents and I. So the process is pretty hectic because starting all from the 1st through the 5th I was getting phone calls and text messages. So I didn’t really know where I was going to go. When I got picked, it was a big stress relief for all of us because now I am ready to play professional baseball and get out of my hometown.

What pitches do you throw?: I throw a fastball, two seam, two seam fastball, four seam, changeup, and curveball.

What has life been like so far in the minor leagues?: The only thing hard to get used to is the bus rides. I mean the stadiums are great; the fans are great; signing autographs for little kids is great. It’s just the bud rides that really get me.

What has been the toughest thing to adapt to on the field?: I think being mentally strong. That’s why I think I was sent down here from Low-A, to get mentally strong and to work on my secondary pitches. And to just go out there and try to have fun and not lose sight that baseball is all about having fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sam Horn: The Boston Bomber



               When I was growing up my favorite type of baseball player was a slugger. Players that exhibited other baseball skills were fine, but I was geared towards the guys who posted big home run and RBI numbers. I was fascinated by guys like Pete Incaviglia and Joey Meyer, and took a lot of pleasure in marveling over the stats on the backs of their baseball cards, and pretending to be them in my yard, with a whiffle bat and ball.


                As a Red Sox fan, I was very excited when Sam Horn emerged as a top prospect for my favorite team during the mid to late 1980’s. Sam not only put up big power numbers, he looked the part of a slugger. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, he appeared even larger on my baseball cards and in my Red Sox yearbooks. I think I was probably also drawn to him because I was a big kid, and he was a role model who showed me that someone my size could do great things on a baseball diamond.


            Sam earned the right to be given a chance as a starter in Boston. He was drafted in the first round of the 1982 MLB draft and blasted his way through the minor leagues. He finally forced himself on the Boston roster in 1987 after hitting .321 with 30 home runs and 84 RBI in a half season (94 games) with Triple-A Pawtucket.


I thought then, and I still think now, that it was a great shame that Sam was not given more of an opportunity to play on a regular basis in Boston. He came up as a designated hitter in 1987 and proved his offensive potential immediately, hitting .278 with 14 home runs and 34 RBI in 46 games. His home runs were typically majestic shots, as when he really laid into a pitch, he could hit it a far ways.


Sam played sporadically in 1988 and 1989, as the Red Sox preferred to trot out aging former stars like Don Baylor and Jim Rice at the DH position, instead of giving Sam more of a chance. Young players need to play consistently in order to develop, but Sam did not get that needed experience. Over time, the strategy to go with older veterans instead of developing young talent, left Boston with a team that was very light on offense and difficult to watch by the early 1990’s.


                Unfortunately, when Sam was with them, the Red Sox organization was not the same franchise it is today. At that time, the team was headed by Jean Yawkey, the widow of long time owner Tom Yawkey. Jean was not an experienced baseball person, and the team suffered because of it. Additionally, Boston was continuing to come to terms with a past that struggled with racism, both as a city and as a baseball team. 


In 1959 the Red Sox were the last Major League team to integrate, and for a number of years after that, they had a low number of black players on the Big League team and in their minor league system. There were also high profile racial incidents that the club was involved with which made headlines. The time when Sam was with the Red Sox was very much a transitional period for the franchise.


                I was disappointed when the Red Sox released Sam following the 1989 season. They had given him less than 75 at bats in both 1988 and 1989, and decided to give up on him despite him being only 26 years old. He went on to play five more Major League seasons with the Orioles, Indians, and Rangers, and hit .240 with 62 home runs and 179 RBI in 389 career games. He was dominant is his minor league career with 226 home runs in just 1187 games. More information about his career statistics can be found at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hornsa01.shtml


                Since he stopped playing he became a fixture in Boston, working for the Red Sox, their television network NESN, and being part of the eponymous website http://sonsofsamhorn.net, perhaps the largest and most respected baseball fan site in the world. In 2007 he even ran for President of Red Sox Nation, but lost to Jerry Remy. I get the feeling Sam will always be connected with the Red Sox and baseball in one way or another.


Even though he never became a star with the Red Sox, I have to admit that last week, more than 20 years after he last played for Boston, I was incredibly excited to be able to meet Sam. He didn’t disappoint, and even looked like he could still hit a few over the fence. It was a great pleasure being able to chat with him for a few minutes, and he answered some questions I had about his career and, his thoughts on baseball.


Sam Horn Interview:


How did you first become interested in playing baseball?: Basically, one of my friends at school came home with me one day, and asked my Mom if I could play ball. The next day at school, we went to practice and I didn’t have a glove, a bat, or anything. So when we went to the practice, the coach said ‘just go on the field and let the ball hit the ground and throw them in.’ I tried to throw them over the backstop and everywhere else I could, and he said ‘take it easy.’


After everyone finished hitting he said, ‘you shagged, your turn to hit.’ I hit a couple of home runs and the guy said, ‘hey, we maybe want you to play on our team.’ So, all of the kids said, ‘who is the fat guy?’ A couple of days later, after I had played a couple of games, they said, ‘we want the fat guy on our team.’ That’s basically how I became a baseball player.


You were drafted in the first round by Boston in 1982. How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: I did not know that they were interested in me. The day that I got drafted I tried not to pay that any attention, cause nobody knows what is really going to happen. 


At school, my principal actually sent for me to come to the office. I came into the office and he said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been drafted by the Boston Red Sox.’ And not to sound too crazy, but I didn’t know where Boston was. So that was pretty funny.


How different would you say the Red Sox organization is now compared to when you played for them?: I would just say basically, right now the new management, the manager Terry Francona, is a guy who came up at a good time and has been around players of multiple races, or whatever. So, it wasn’t a situation as when I came in where it was basically only black or white. We basically had to take a back seat to most players. 


Now, when you look at all teams, they try to, more or less, let everyone contribute to a win or a loss. When I played, they more or less said ‘we have to pay this player’ or ‘this person has to play because they’re making X amount of dollars.’ And it wasn’t all about necessarily winning because the Red Sox have always had a lot of history and the owners had a lot of money, so they really wasn’t worried about all that.


I did my graduate school thesis on the Red Sox and race. Was it difficult playing in Boston in the late 1980’s?: I enjoyed playing. It was great playing there. I don’t really have much to say about the race part, but you said you’re a historian of that, so you know they were the last team to have a black person on their team. So I think that speaks volumes, but at the same time this is 2011, so you’ve got to kind of overlook it and just say the ownership at that time wasn’t interested in having a black on their team, and they thought they could win without them, and maybe that’s why they suffered for 86 years.


Is there anything differently you would do about your career?: I would have maybe asked to be traded to a team that would have utilized my talents a little bit better. Because, being in the situation that I was in, I think that I did a lot of things for the game as far as being a Triple Crown player coming to the Big Leagues, but then not having a chance to play as frequent. Where they have players now, and I’m not going to say any names, but you just look at the players, and not just the Red Sox organization, but the players in the minor leagues. Look at their resumes that got them to the Major Leagues, and then go back in history and look at the players and what they used to have to do just to get to the Majors, compared to now, they are just given opportunity. You learn in the Majors, where when I came up, you had to not learn in the minors, but you had to succeed in the minors before you even got a shot in the Majors. Now they’re learning and they’re getting chances in the Majors.

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