Top 100 Baseball Blog

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bruce Maxwell: The Oakland A's Next Big Catching Prospect

The Oakland A’s have a veritable collection of young catching prospects (Max Stassi, Petey Paramore, Nick Rickles and Derek Norris among others). However, the organization added another young backstop they are excited about to the fold last year, when they made Bruce Maxwell one of their top draft picks.

Maxwell is the rare left-handed hitting catcher that major league teams covet so highly. He parlayed an amazing college career, spent mostly in obscurity, into his high draft position.

A star at Sparkman High School in Alabama, Maxwell was a power-hitting first baseman with a lot of athleticism. He decided to attend college at Division III Birmingham-Southern College and ended up becoming the greatest player in the history of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC).

He played in 124 career games with Birmingham-Southern, hitting a blistering .430 with 38 home runs, 61 doubles and 166 RBI.

His value was magnified by his conversion to catcher following his freshman year. Even with the switch, he kept up his torrid offensive production, while holding down the most demanding defensive position on the field.

Maxwell saved his best season for his junior year. He batted .471 with 15 home runs, 25 doubles, 48 RBI and 59 walks, as his team went 38-9 and came within one win of taking the 2012 Division III World Series. He also won a bevy of awards, including SCAC Offensive Player of the Year, Division III first-team, and the American Baseball Coaches Association Rawlings National Player of the Year.

Despite his small school pedigree, Oakland took Maxwell in the second round (62nd overall selection) in last year’s draft. His combination of athleticism and hitting ability as a catcher was too much to pass up.

Maxwell, who just turned 22, had a mixed bag of results during his first professional season. He appeared in 67 games with Oakland’s Arizona League team and the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters. He hit a combined .277 with no home runs and 26 RBI, while trying to get the hang of catching in the pros.

It will be interesting to see where Maxwell starts the 2013 season. His offensive potential should carry him as he works to hone his catching skills. If he can continue developing, he could become one of the A’s top prospects. The upcoming season will determine a lot about his future, so make sure to follow his progress closely.

Bruce Maxwell Interview:

Who was your favorite player and team when you were growing up?: Growing up my favorite player was Ken Griffey, Jr. and my favorite team was the Seattle Mariners, of course.

How did you get into playing catcher?: I always did it when I was a kid, but when I got to college I played first base primarily. We needed a number two, and seeing how I bat left and throw right-handed, it was a great position for me to take up, and so my coaches converted me. Two years into it I got drafted as a catcher.

What was your draft experience like?: It was phenomenal, man. It was nothing like what my parents and my family had ever experienced. Getting a phone call from them telling you, ‘hey, we’re a professional baseball team and we just drafted you,’ it’s just phenomenal. I always dreamed about it as a kid, but it actually happened and was an unbelievable experience.

Coming from a Division III school, were you surprised you were drafted so highly, and how did you know Oakland was interested in you?: They called me 20 minutes before the draft started. I wasn’t projected to go until the third or fourth round. They called me beforehand, and when I was working at school it was always my goal. I didn’t expect to blow people’s minds like I did. I think I am the highest position player to ever get drafted out of Division three history. It was definitely good for me and my family.

What happened immediately after the draft; did you go to Oakland?: Actually, no I wasn’t. Since I was so far away I didn’t go up there. I think they only take the top first round. I was just at the house and everybody was calling me and coming over. We basically just had a big long get-together with friends and family.

Besides the travel, what has been the most difficult part of transitioning to professional baseball?: Every-day playing. You’ll hear a lot that this is more of a mental game than a physical game. Being prepared mentally, even though you might go oh-for-five, oh-for-fifteen, oh-for-thirty, you have to get back on that horse and get back on it every day. It’s hard and definitely a big transition, but it’s our job now. It’s fun and a different level of dedication.

What is one aspect of your game you are trying to work on the most?: Keeping my day-to-day approach. Right now I’ve gotten hot in the last week or two and need to keep being consistent with it. The biggest thing that separates big leaguers from minor leaguers is the mental grind and mental approach, and staying consistent day in and day out.

How difficult is it to deal with the scrutiny that comes with being a high draft pick?: It depends. It depends if you dedicate your time into buying into the hype that everybody is putting on you, or if you just let your game speak for itself. I was always raised to never to scrutinize anybody. When people ask me questions or want autographs, that’s fine. If people want to criticize me I’m going to let them because at the end of the day I am just going to play my game and let it speak for itself.


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Monday, January 28, 2013

Seattle Mariners' Prospect Scott DeCecco Talks Baseball

The Seattle Mariners have done well in recent years developing young pitchers, with Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister and Blake Beavan among those who have come up through their system. One of the pitchers from last year’s draft they hope can do the same is left-hander Scott DeCecco.

DeCecco was dominant at Middle Township High School in New Jersey. As a senior, he went 7-3 with a 0.75 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 48 innings. As a result he landed at the University of South Carolina Upstate, where he continued his growth as a pitcher.

He truly blossomed as a junior last year, going 5-3 with a 3.95 ERA. He also struck out 59 batters in 83 innings and intrigued scouts with his fastball that reached the low 90s.

The Mariners thought enough of DeCecco’s potential that they chose him in the 21st round of the 2012 MLB Draft. He signed almost immediately and was sent to short-season Everett to start his professional career.

DeCecco’s first taste of minor league ball had its ups and downs. He appeared in a total of 16 games (nine starts) and posted a 2-4 record with a 5.95 ERA. However, he also had 54 strikeouts in 56 innings.

The youngster may have experienced fatigue from the long season, as his was inflated nearly a full run just from his final four appearances of the year. More information on his statistics is available at

Check out what the Seattle prospect had to say when we recently exchanged emails.

Scott DeCecco Interview:

If you could sit down and pick the brain of any pitcher, current or former, who would that be and why?: Al Leiter. I grew up watching him when he was with the Mets in the late ‘90's and early 2000's. As my career moves on, I feel like he can be a pitcher I use to exemplify how to be successful in the big leagues. He wasn't overpowering, just like I'm not, but he controlled the game the way any pitcher wants to during a game. I would like to ask him about struggles in the minor leagues and how he managed his way to the big leagues. I would ask him about his daily routine and the way he prepared using some of his information as a guide.

Leading up to the 2012 MLB Draft, what kind of contact and recruiting were you getting from different teams?: Leading up to the draft I had been contacted by 15 different teams. Some of them seemed more interested than others, and some just sent questionnaires and I never heard from again. I didn't start receiving questionnaires and phone calls until after our college pro scout day, which is just an intersquad game.

I threw just an inning and after that I got nine of those questionnaires. I wasn't a highly scouted player, meaning not many scouts called me or met up with me, but as the draft got closer most of the 15 teams called to find out my sign-ability. It was a really hectic season last year and I tried not letting it creep into my head that one of my dreams can come true, so I just tried keeping focus on pitching as well as I could. 

Can you run through what Draft Day is like?: I was down in Asheville, North Carolina for summer baseball. On the first day I knew I wasn't going to hear my name, since I knew I wasn't going in the top-two rounds. But I had heard from a few scouts and my college coach that I could maybe find a way up to the 10th round by the Athletics, so the second day I was pretty anxious about hearing my name, so I was just following on my phone (even during a summer ball game) if anything happened.

 I also heard from several scouts that I could be around the 15th-20th round, and since day two lasted until I believe the 19th round, I was just focused on my phone. Nothing happened on day two, so I knew it was either day three or nothing at all.

You're still unsure if you will get drafted, so I was just really anxious and nervous on day three. My girlfriend flew down from New Jersey, and we went to a sports bar to eat lunch, just to get my mind of the draft, but it didn't work. My girlfriend and I were on our phones the entire lunch, just clicking the update button on You're waiting for a phone call and every time I hear my phone ring I'd kinda freak out.

My brother kept texting me, so I was starting to get annoyed with him. He kept asking me if I heard anything, and I kept telling him not if he kept texting me. So he eventually stopped and then one of my buddies from college called me, and that's when I got really upset because it was an actual phone call. I immediately hung up with him and looked up at my girlfriend and she had the biggest smile on her face, and I had no idea, so I just kept asking her, ‘What? What?’

She pointed down at her phone, and there it was, my name in the 21st round by the Mariners. It was an unreal feeling and I actually felt numb; I was definitely on cloud nine. The next time I will probably ever feel that feeling again is when I get the call up to the big leagues.

What pitches do you throw and which one do you hope to improve the most?: I throw four pitches. A four- seam fastball, two-seam fastball, knuckle-curve and a circle-change. As a lefty, I know how important it is to have a good changeup when I face right-handed hitters. So, through college and my first year of pro ball, I made sure I could virtually throw my changeup consistently well even with my eyes closed.

In college, I threw a slider which kind of acted like a slurve just because of my arm slot and the way I released it. When I got to Everett, my pitching coach, Rich Dorman, pretty much told me that my slider wouldn’t get the job done in the big leagues, so we began work on a curveball. I couldn't figure it out at first, since I had been throwing a slider for the past three years and I just wasn't used to actually throwing a curve. I managed to get through my first year with this bad breaking ball, and when I went to instructional league and had more time to work on it, I started figuring the pitch out. I started throwing it more consistently for strikes and the depth in the curve started getting bigger and sharper. It's not a big league pitch yet, so I would say that is the pitch I'd improve on the most.

How intense are negotiations after getting drafted?: For me, negotiations were very easy. When scouts asked me about my sign-ability, I told them a number that wasn't ridiculous, just because I knew I wasn't a million-dollar player. I didn't really know the process, but decided not to sign with an agency before the draft. When my scout called me right after I had been drafted, he asked me if I was still in for the number I gave before, and I said yes. We immediately agreed, and he sent the contract the next day.

What do you believe sets you apart from other pitching prospects in the Seattle organization?: This organization has so many great pitching prospects. What I believe sets me apart is my work ethic, being a lefty and the determination I have. I feel guilty if I'm not trying to find a way to get better every day. I'm in the gym almost every day or am trying to mentally prepare myself by reading books and studying myself through video.

There actually aren't that many lefties in the Mariners’ organization, so I believe that is another thing that sets me apart, just because I know how important left-handed pitchers are in professional baseball.

If the Mariners want me to be a starter, I will. If they want me to be a lefty specialist, I will. I’ll do anything that can help win. I wasn't a high draft pick, so I'm not automatically on anybody's prospect watch list, but I'm determined to get there. I know I'm going to have to work harder than the guys who are ahead of me, and I know it's possible. I just try to keep my head down and keep grinding and hopefully one day someone seems something in me that can help the big league team win, and win for a while. 

What is one thing that you have been asked to work on the most?: I tend to get mentally lost when I'm on the mound, and I start rushing myself and get out of control with my mechanics. I was asked to slow my tempo down and learn to focus on the catchers’ mitt and the next pitch I'm going to execute. I'm starting to get it as I get older and get more experienced. I know that if I keep trust in myself and worry about what I can only control, I will get hitters out. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?: In my spare time I like to just relax and hang out with anybody I can. I'll play video games when I'm bored, and I'll also watch TV when there's nothing else to do. I try not to sit around all day when I'm not working out or at the field, so when anything comes up I jump right on it. I look at Twitter most of the day because that's where I usually get my information from. 


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Friday, January 25, 2013

Chicago Cubs' James Pugliese: Dominant Closer to Starting Pitching Prospect

Most top baseball pitching prospects starred as their high school ace before being drafted; no matter what role they ultimate assume in pro ball. Not James Pugliese.

The right-hander grew up in New Jersey and attended Steinert High School. Instead of starting, he was the team’s dominant closer.

Following graduation, Pugliese enrolled at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey. His talent was so apparent that the team decided to convert him into a starter. It turned out to be a great decision for everyone involved.

Pugliese spent just one season with Mercer, but it was one for the ages. He went 6-2 in 65.2 innings with a 1.51 ERA in 2011. He also struck out 77 batters while walking 25. He seemed to get stronger as the season went on, as during one 40.1 inning stretch, he allowed just 16 hits and three earned runs.

Pugliese’s college repertoire included a low-90s fastball, changeup, slider and, surprisingly, a knuckleball.

Although he had a scholarship to attend St John’s University in 2011, his success with Mercer also attracted pro scouts. He had two pre-draft workouts—one at Yankee Stadium and the other at Citi Field. He was impressive during those showcases and ended up being drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 draft by the Chicago Cubs.

After signing, Pugliese was sent to the Cubs’ instructional team in Arizona, where he pitched in 15 (nine starts) games in 2011. He went 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA, and showed that he had a future as a starter.

This past season, Pugliese appeared in 15 games (11 starts) with Boise in short-season ball. He was only 1-5 with a 5.37 ERA. However, his ERA was greatly inflated by a July 22 game against Eugene, where he allowed seven earned runs in four innings. Without that outing, his ERA would have been 4.63 on the year. More information on his statistics is available at

With the Cubs in full rebuilding mode, Pugliese figures to have a great opportunity to develop as a pitcher and have a shot to move through the organization. I had a chance to ask him some questions last year and found him to be very focused on what lies before him. Take a moment and get to know the Chicago prospect a little better.

James Pugliese Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player growing up?: I never had a favorite team or a favorite player until I was drafted. My favorite team now is obliviously the Cubs.

What pitches do you have in your arsenal, and which one do you think you need to improve the most?: I have four different pitches in my arsenal.  My curveball needs the most improvement.

Can you run through what your 2011 draft experience was like?: Overwhelming. The draft was very overwhelming due to the amount of scouts calling me at the same time.

Do you believe your future lies in starting or relieving, and why?: I am in the starting role as of now. But I am able to pitch in any role the organization needs me to be in. I enjoy them all.

You were throwing a knuckle ball a little bit prior to the draft. Is that something you are continuing with?: I wish! Haha, but no I am not throwing the knuckleball anymore.

After you signed your first contract, did you do anything to treat yourself or celebrate with friends and family?: I signed my first contract and then left New Jersey and headed to Arizona four days after signing. I was only able to have a going away party with my family and friends at a local restaurant.
How does the Cubs adding a front office person like Theo Epstein impact minor league prospects such as yourself?: It’s great how he is building throughout the organization and not just focusing on the Big team. What they teach us in our workouts is the same from the top to the bottom of the organization, which is definitely something that’s going to improve the entire organization.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Baseball Notes for January 21, 2013

With just three weeks until pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training locations, the baseball offseason is winding down, but it’s not ending with a whimper. This has been one of the more eventful offseasons in recent memory, with constant activity, surprises, and even some quality free agents like Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn still available at this late date.

If the 2013 season can be half as eventful as this winter has been, fans should be in for quite a treat.

Unfortunately, this past week ended with some truly sad news about two baseball legends; considerably darkening this installment of notes.

***The Milwaukee Brewers were dealt a major blow when it was announced that starting first baseman Corey Hart will miss three-to-four months with an injured knee that will require surgery. The mammoth right-handed slugger made a successful transition to first from the outfield last season, hitting .270 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI.

In Hart’s absence, oft-injured Mat Gamel will assume primary first base duties. With Milwaukee already sending 14 players off its 40-man roster to the WBC, losing another veteran only puts the team behind in building its roster and chemistry. The NL Central is no picnic, so hopefully the team can weather the absence of Hart.

***Chicago Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts indicated he is open to reaching out to former team star Sammy Sosa to see if relationships that were fractured when he left the team in 2004 can be mended.

In addition to his connection with PEDs, Sosa left the Cubs on poor terms that saw him arguing with team officials and embroiled in a corked bat controversy. Despite the negativity, his 609 career home runs rank 8th all time, and he is one of the greatest players in Chicago history.

Sosa may not find the forgiveness necessary to land a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame any time soon, but reuniting with the Cubs could be a good first step in repairing his tarnished image. Mark McGwire has found post-scandal success as a major league hitting coach. If he, one of the primary faces of the PED era, can find some measure of redemption, there’s a good chance Sosa can do the same by being drawn back to the Cubs.

***Nearly two months after verbally agreeing to a three-year, $39 million dollar contract with the Boston Red Sox, Mike Napoli finally completed the deal—except now it’s only for one-year and $5 million guaranteed.

After the original agreement, The Red Sox became concerned with Napoli’s hip after he took his team physical. Although he is currently healthy, Boston believes there’s a possibility a hip condition could emerge over time. Weeks of renegotiations took place, with the final result being last week’s resolution.

It’s hard to imagine that Napoli isn’t bitter about losing $34 million. The fact that he agreed to such a reduced deal is indicative he didn’t believe he could do any better by going back out on the open market.

Napoli will enter 2013 as the starting first baseman for the Red Sox. He is able to make up to $13 million for the season if he stays off the disabled list because of hip injuries. It will be interesting to see if he is driven to prove the team wrong and comes out swinging for a monster season, or if the politics of the negotiations soured him on Boston before he ever donned their jersey for the first time.

***While on a Caribbean cruise affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, their former long-time manager, Earl Weaver, sadly passed away at the age of 82.

The 1996 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee managed the Orioles from 1968-1986, winning four AL pennants and the 1970 World Series. He had a career record of 1,480-1,060, and his .582 winning percentage is the fifth-best of all 20th century managers with at least 10 seasons of experience.

Perhaps best known for his fiery temper, especially with umpires, Weaver was much more than a baseball side-show. He was one of the first managers to make extensive use of statistics to create platoons and favorable matchups. He also was an proponent of computers and radar guns to track player performances.

Weaver was conditioned for success, with his teams winning more than 100 games five times during his career. His first losing season in the major leagues was his last season. He was one of the most successful and memorable figures in the game and will be missed by Baltimore and baseball fans alike.

***Later in the day, it was found out that baseball lost another of its legends, as Stan Musial’s family announced Sunday that the all-time St. Louis Cardinals great had died peacefully at home at the age of 92.

During a 22-year major league career spent entirely with the Cardinals, the left-handed Musial was the National League’s answer to Ted Williams, hitting .331 with 475 home runs and 1,951 RBI. He won three MVP awards, seven batting titles, and after his rookie year, was named an All-Star for 20 consecutive seasons. He is in the top-10 all time in WAR, games played, hits, doubles, runs scored, total bases and RBI.

Musial was also known for his consistency. Of his 3,630 career major league hits, 1,815 came at home and 1,815 were on the road.

Unlike Williams, Musial was renowned for being a nice guy. His nickname of “The Man” was for a reason. Popular among fans and fellow players alike, he once even bought a former coach a house to thank him for saving his baseball career when he was a struggling minor league pitcher. Words like “legend” and “titan” shouldn’t be casually tossed around, but those aptly describe Musial. It’s a terrible loss for the game.

***Former major league pitcher Mudcat Grant is also a wonderful singer, and he serenaded Harmon Killebrew at his memorial in 2011 with a rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”It seems rather appropriate to post it again to close out this week’s Baseball Notes in honor of the all-time greats baseball lost this past week. 


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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mike Napoli Finally Signs with Boston Red Sox

It's official! Mike Napoli finally signed with the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately for him, instead of the $39 million he originally agreed to, he will now be getting much less. Check out the full story here.


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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dennis Bennett: The Quintessential Left-Handed Pitcher

Over time, left-handed pitchers have acquired the stereotype of being an eccentric bunch. From quirky exploits on the field to adventures off the field, southpaws are a breed unto themselves. One of the best was Dennis Bennett, who sadly passed away last year.

Bennett signed with the Philadelphia Phillies out of Shasta Junior College (California) in 1958. He pitched well in the minors, but saw his 1961 season cut short because of an ill-conceived somersault race. Fortunately, he was able to recover and made his MLB debut with the Phillies the following year, winning nine games for the seventh place team.

A tragic car accident in the winter of 1963 in Puerto Rico nearly ended Bennett’s career and his life. Remarkably, he recovered in time to assume his place in the Phillies’ rotation by late June of that year, and finished 9-5 with a 2.64 ERA.

Bennett pitched in seven major league seasons, always displaying his free-spirited ways. He became known for bringing a small arsenal of guns with him on road trips, thus cementing his legacy as the quintessential lefty. He finished his career with a 43-47 record and 3.69 ERA. In addition to the Phillies, he also pitched for the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, and California Angels. More information about his career statistics is available here.

This past January, I had a chance to speak with Bennett. Even though he had just received a diagnosis of cancer, he enthusiastically chatted with me for nearly 45 minutes and was optimistic in his outlook. Unfortunately, he lost his fight on March 24 at the age of 72. Baseball lost one of its great characters and pitchers, and he will be sorely missed.

Dennis Bennett Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I started playing Little League, and my dad, he played in the Coast League. When he was young he was a knuckleballer. He played for the Los Angeles Stars and I think, the Oakland Oaks. When we moved towns we didn’t have any baseball for kids at all, so he started a Little League. Then when I outgrew Little League he started Babe Ruth. When I outgrew Babe Ruth at 15 there was no other baseball because we didn’t have enough kids for an American Legion team and they didn’t have senior Babe Ruth at that time…

Once I got out of Babe Ruth I was only 16 and I had no place to play, so I started playing semi-pro for a team from Scott Mountain. Our own town team, they had a pitcher by the name of Butch Darymple. They were giving him $100 every Sunday, so I had to go to Scott Valley to pitch. But I started every Sunday.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: No, because I was growing up in the ‘50’s. The 40’s and the 50’s on the west coast, we didn’t have any baseball. That was something they played back east. The only time we would do anything was when we listened to the World Series, and I didn’t even really do that because I was usually busy doing something else; you know, spending a lot of time outside. So I didn’t have a favorite team and I didn’t have a favorite player.

Can you talk a little bit about your experience in getting signed by the Phillies in 1958?: Well, I could have signed with St. Louis in 1957 when I graduated from high school. My buddies, they wanted to go to school, so I tried to go with them. I had a free ride, but my buddies were going to a JC, so I went with them. We didn’t want to split up. There were three of us. We were all like brothers and still are. So I went down there and played baseball, and all of a sudden I came home one day and they were packing. I said, ‘what’s going on’ and they said, “we’re going in the Army; you want to go?” I said, ‘No, that’s the last place I want to go.’

In between there a scout called. He was a scout with the Phillies. He said, “Hey Dennis, you ready to go play?” I go, ‘Well yeah.’ He said, “Okay, we’ll meet you at your dad’s house tomorrow.” So I went back home and he came up and I signed. I didn’t even know anything about the minor leagues. Like I told him, ‘I don’t want to go too far from home.’ He said, “Of course. We’ll send you to Bakersfield.” I was in Bakersfield for three days and then they shipped me to Johnson City, Tennessee. I ended up quite a ways from home.

I didn’t really think about the big leagues for the first couple of years I played. I was just getting paid to do something I loved. I wasn’t much; I made a whole $250 a month when I first signed. I made $7,500 my first year in the big leagues. We made big bucks. You talked to players who played in the ‘40’s and ‘50s and they’d say, “God, you guys make a lot of money now-a-days.” They were making three or four hundred a month. The game has changed a lot, but that’s how I got started.

What type of pitches did you throw?: I guess it was just a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. Back when I first signed I only had the fastball or the curveball. When I went to Johnson City there was an old boy there by the name of Ben Tincup, a pitching coach, and he taught me a changeup, or actually a palm ball. I didn’t throw the circle change; I threw a straight palm ball. So, when I got to the big leagues, those were the only three pitches I had.

In 1963, my second year, my pitching coach, Al Widmar taught me a slider, and I started throwing the slider, but I didn’t really use it that much.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Probably it was one of my first big league starts. I shut out the Dodgers and struck out 11 (This was his first major league win and came on June 22, 1962. He beat the Dodgers 7-0). That’s kind of a highlight; my first win, and you know, almost winning the pennant in ’64. We had a 6.5 game lead with 12 left to play and lost 10 in a row. That was a high moment and a low moment. We had finished dead last in ’62 and ’63, and then we led the National League from opening day to the last day. We finished second by a game.

Getting traded to the American League to Boston, and I loved Fenway Park. I got my first win at Yankee Stadium. I mean, I think every ball player secretly wants to be a Yankee. It was great to walk into Yankee Stadium and look at all of the tradition, and the same way with Fenway and Wrigley.

What was your impression of Boston owner, Tom Yawkey?: He was great. I got in a car wreck in 1962 in Puerto Rico, after my first year. I got really banged up and spent three months in the hospital. I had cracked my shoulder blade, but nobody knew.

My arm started bothering after my last start in ’64. And so in ’65 it bothered me the whole year and I was like 5-7 for Boston, and I had got traded to Boston for Dick Stuart, so I had been traded for a pretty good player. In ’66 I went to spring training and my arm was so bad I couldn’t even throw. Billy Herman was our manager and said, “We’re going to send you down to Toronto, so you can go down to Triple-A and see if you can work out your problems.” I knew if I went to Toronto I was done, so I said, ‘I’m going to fly back to Boston and get another opinion.’ So I flew back and Dr. McGillicuddy in Boston finally found that in that wreck I had cracked my shoulder blade and calcium had built up on it. I went back to the ball club and talked to Herman and he said, “we we don’t allow players to have operations.” The doctor had said I had about a 50-50 chance of pitching again with the operation. I had no chance without it. So, I was arguing with him, and he’d say “no,” especially since they would be cutting on the back of the shoulder. We were talking about it and Mr. Yawkey walks in and he looks over and said, ‘Dennis, what are you doing here’ and I explained everything to him. He just looked at the doctor and said, ‘If the kid wants an operation, give him an operation.’ At that point I had an operation and went on to pitch for another six years. That was the type of person Mr. Yawkey was. He was a fantastic owner and a fantastic person.

If you could do anything about your career differently, what would that be?: Sure! I wouldn’t have gotten in that wreck. That set the tone for my whole career. When I first came up in ’62 they were comparing me to Koufax; I was one of the up and comers. I was 9-9 on a last place ball club and then got in that wreck. We were going to the ballpark for the game that night, the only ball club to drive in. I was sitting in the front seat and my pitching coach (Art Widmar) was sitting in the back seat, and another player (Joel Gibson) and his wife were in the back seat. The driver had a heart attack and died at 40 mile per hour. We hit a bridge and I went flying through the windshield and I ended up in the hospital for three months. They told me I might have trouble walking, let alone pitching, but I overcame all of that though I couldn’t overcome the shoulder. If I had it to do all over again I wouldn’t have gone to Puerto Rico!

As it was I loved every minute of it. My last four years I was a player/coach for Triple-A for the Angels. I spent three years with Hawaii and two years with Salt Lake. I really enjoyed that. They wanted me to travel because they wanted me to go to winter ball. I wouldn’t do it, so they released me. I was married and had four kids and had to wait for them all season long and I wasn’t about to be without them all winter too. I told them (Angels) I would go to Florida or to Arizona, but they wanted me to go to the Dominican.

Playing for the Red Sox during the 1960’s, what was your perception of the city and the team when it came to issues of race?: Well they were really one of the last teams to get colored players. When I was there we had Earl Wilson and Pumpsie Green. Then they traded Pumpsie.

I had never seen segregation until I signed and ended up in Tennessee. Every time the players went to a hotel, the colored players would have to go to a different section of town. 14. We didn’t have it (segregation) out here in California.

In spring training, the first year we went to Winter Haven, Florida, and Earl Wilson, and I, and Dave Morehead went to Lakeland to do something with the Detroit players or something. We stopped at this bar for a drink. We walked in and sat down. The bartender says, ‘I’ll serve you two, but I ain’t serving no niggers.’ I thought Earl was going to kill him, which is why we got him the hell out of there. Of course it got in all the papers.

I never had any problems. Richie Allen was one of my best friends. Like I said, when I was growing up we didn’t have any colored guys in town, let alone school. Even when I was in college none of them played sports.

From your perspective, were the Red Sox supportive of Wilson after the incident in the Lakeland bar?: I really can’t talk for Earl but I thought they were supportive. Boston was [known] for its cutthroat writers… Those guys were after all the scandal and dirt they could get. They really cut up the ballplayers. Of course, we had such a horses&%$# team, you know? In ’65 and ’66 we finished dead last. Then in ’67 we won the pennant. But I don’t think the Red Sox did anything wrong about Earl. I guess they decided to trade him; I forget who we got for him. I know they traded him in either ’65 or ’66…

Who is someone you played with or against who you believe was underrated and didn’t get the recognition they deserved?: Richie Allen was a hell of a player and he probably got recognized. Johnny Callison of the Phillies… I’m trying to think, but most of them got recognized. There was Yaz and Lonborg. He got recognized and was a hell of a pitcher when he came around. I can’t really think of anybody except for maybe Johnny Callison. He only had that one good year and he got traded around. In Boston I can’t think of anybody except for Reggie Smith. He went on and had a pretty good career for himself, but Boston had him underrated.

What have you been up to since you stopped playing baseball?: The only thing I knew was the bar business, so I moved here to Klamath Falls, Oregon and built a bar/cocktail lounge/steakhouse. I had it for about seven or eight years and then I sold it and opened up a boutique shop for my wife and a music store for me. I found out that wasn’t my gig. Then I really didn’t do anything for six or seven years.

I opened up another bar in ’94, and kept that until ’98. I then bought a four story building for my wife, so in ’98 I sold my interest in the bar and went to develop the building. On the first floor she had the boutique shop, and she also had a home interior store, where she sold linoleum, carpet, wood, and tile. On the next floor I have a bar and a back room that holds about 100 and has a dance floor. On the third floor I have a poker room, a pool room, another bar, and a big banquet room that holds about 400. Then I have a separate supper club type thing. I haven’t developed the top or the bottom; the top floor or the basement.


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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Willie Mays Aikens: Hard Living, Hard Times and Hard-Cover Books

Willie Mays Aikens once had a promising major league baseball career that came to a premature end in 1985 because of his personal demons. Although his problems robbed him of his career and led to serving a 14-year prison sentence, he pushed through and is finally back on track after a detour that lasted more than two decades.

Aikens grew up in difficult circumstances in South Carolina. He attended South Carolina State University, but when the school dropped its baseball program after his freshman year, he wound up playing semi-pro ball. His talent saw him through, and in 1975 the California Angels made him the second overall selection in that year’s draft.

A left-handed hitting and right-handed throwing first baseman, Aikens made his MLB debut in 1977 and went on to have an eight-year major league career with the Angels, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. He hit a combined .271 in 774 career games with 110 home runs and 415 RBI. His best season came in 1983, when he hit .302 with 23 home runs and 72 RBI for the Royals.

Aikens was also the star of the 1980 World Series, hitting .400 with four home runs in a six-game loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite the great numbers, 1983 ended horribly for Aikens. Following the season, he and teammates Jerry Martin and Willie Wilson pled guilty to attempting to buy cocaine, and were sentenced to three months in prison.

Aikens never played for the Royals again. Following his incarceration, he was traded to the Blue Jays and spent parts of two seasons there before finishing his playing career with six excellent seasons in the Mexican League.

In addition to his legal problems, Aikens developed a self-confessed daily cocaine addiction and was an unrepentant womanizer. By 1994, his life was out of control and he wound up being arrested for selling 2.2 ounces of crack cocaine to an undercover police officer in his home in Kansas City, Missouri.

Because of the tougher federal sentencing guidelines for crack at the time, Aikens was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted on four charges related to distribution. He received just over 15 years on the drug charges and had an additional five years tacked on to his sentence because of having a loaded gun in the room where the drugs were sold to the officer.

Many lesser men would have spiraled even further down following such a blow, but Aikens saw a chance to change his life. He got himself clean for the first time in years and was able to reflect on the wrong turns that had landed him in a federal penitentiary.

In 2008, after serving 14 years of his sentence, Aikens was released from prison. Hal McRae, a former teammate, helped him find a construction job, but before long bigger and better opportunities presented themselves.

In recent years, Aikens has become an inspirational speaker, telling crowds of his travails. He was also hired as a minor league instructor by his former team, the Royals.

And of course, there is the book.

Last year, Gregory Jordan wrote Willie Mays Aikens: Safe at Home. It has been described as a starkly honest account of Aikens’ life, including openly discussing his most painful experiences.

Recently, Aikens and Jordan were guests of Williams College to discuss their book and take questions. Aikens’ journey is truly remarkable and one that any fan of baseball or a comeback story should explore.

For more information on obtaining an autographed copy of the book you can contact Aikens via Twitter or email him at

Aikens stands out as a memorable figure in a sport that is littered with captivating storylines. It’s great to see the success he has achieved and hopefully his book will be a springboard to even bigger and better things.

Willie Aikens Interview:

As you neared your release from incarceration, what plans did you have in place about what you were going to do with your life on the outside?: My original release date was May of 2012, so when I was released in June of 2008, it came as a total shock to me. I had already started to communicate with Gregory Jordan, who is the author of my book. I had plans to finish my book with Gregory and hopefully find a publisher. I had made plans to marry Sara, who was the mother of my second-oldest daughter. I truly wanted to get back into baseball in some kind of way. I wanted a better relationship with my daughters. I wanted to experience a spiritual life away from prison, where more temptations were at. I wanted to do speaking engagements and share my testimony to help other. By the grace of God, all these plans I had before I left prison are realities now. Praise God.

How difficult was it for you to have your whole life laid out in a book- warts and all?: It was very difficult at first. I had to be honest about things that happened in my life. I had to be honest talking about my family. Some of the things I said about my mother were truly painful. My daughters didn't want me to write about them in my book. Neither one has read my book to date. They didn't want to read about how they treated their father. I had to be honest about things I did, being a dead-beat dad. Making bad decisions that made me lose years being separated from my daughters. Going back over my baseball career and seeing how my baseball career was cut short because of stupid choices I made. As time has passed, things have gotten better.

What has the response to your book been like so far?: Most people that have read my book have enjoyed it. I get comments all the time from people that have read my book and have gone through problems like mine. Some are still facing those problems and my book has given them the confidence that they can overcome those problems. Hopefully a movie will be made one day. The responses have been positive and uplifting.

What do you miss the most from playing professional baseball?: Being in the spotlight and having plenty of money. I really don't miss all the female companions and all the drinking and drugging I used to do. I know these are material things, but that is what I enjoyed most about being a professional baseball player. Also, my relationship with all my teammates, and just being with a great bunch of guys on a daily basis. That lifestyle would have been better with a spiritual life, but it didn't happen that way. I do miss those things, but as time goes by, we adjust to getting older. Just being back in baseball now and coaching the young players is a tremendous blessing for me. Being a part of baseball and doing something I enjoy is the place where I want to be.


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Monday, January 7, 2013

Baseball Notes for January 7, 2013

It’s now less than two months until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. We’ve finally gotten to the point of the offseason where teams are starting to scramble to fill the final holes on their rosters. Because the majority of the big-name free agents have already signed, the depths of the available player pool are starting to be plumbed. This makes the weeks leading up to spring training some of the most interesting to watch for diehard baseball fans.

***The Texas Rangers added another bat to their lineup by agreeing to a one-year contract with free-agent first baseman Lance Berkman. The switch-hitter will be 37 before the start of the season and played in only 32 games last year with the St. Louis Cardinals because of injuries.

Berkman will be paid $10 million, with a chance to earn an additional $1 million in incentives. If he can stay healthy, it will probably end up being a good deal for the Rangers. Berkman is the definition of a professional hitter. He takes a lot of walks and his .953 career OPS is 21st all-time in major league history. Having spent the majority of his career playing for the Houston Astros, he is used to playing in the summer heat of Texas and could thrive in the hitter-friendly confines of Arlington.

Berkman is slow and lumbering on defense, but Texas can hide and preserve him physically by giving him the majority of his at-bats as a DH. He can occasionally spell Mitch Moreland at first, but will be most effective if the Rangers take and hide his glove.

***Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of baseball, announced he is 95 percent back in his recovery from a knee injury that robbed him of most of the 2012 season. Although he is 43, there is little reason to bet against him making a full recovery and having a fantastic farewell season in 2013. Instead of declining, he has aged like fine wine, posting a combined 1.72 ERA since the start of the 2008 season. You don’t have to be a Yankees fan to root for Rivera; just a fan of baseball and good people.

***Proving that left-handed pitchers have nine lives (at least), the Chicago Cubs agreed to a minor league contract with Dontrelle Willis. Since going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA in 2005 with the Florida Marlins, it’s all been downhill for Willis. Suffering from control problems and an anxiety disorder, he has pitched for five different organizations since the start of the 2010 season. He appeared in just four minor league games in 2012 with the Baltimore Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, posting an 0-3 record and 8.53 ERA.

Although he has seemingly been around forever, Willis will only be 31 when he has his next birthday later this week. With Chicago being in rebuilding mode, there is little risk in taking a chance on the southpaw and seeing if he has anything left. As another player who is well-liked and respected around baseball, it would be great to see the affable Willis get his career back on track.

***The Los Angeles Dodgers continue to spend like drunken sailors, reeling in left-handed reliever J.P. Howell on a one-year deal for $2.85 million plus incentives. Howell had been with the Tampa Bay Rays since 2006 and alternated between struggling with injuries and being an effective piece in their bullpen. He had a 3.04 ERA and held left-handed hitters to a .200 batting average in 55 appearances last season. Although he has been nearly as effective against righties in his career, it’s likely that he will serve as a lefty specialist with the Dodgers.

Howell’s signing represents another move by Los Angeles that seems driven more by their limitless resources than an actual pursuit of chemistry. Their roster is populated by many highly paid (many would say overpaid) players who have a lot of baggage. Carl Crawford, Kenley Jansen, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Beckett are among those who have previous injury or behavioral issues that have the potential to derail a team.  The 2013 Dodgers’ roster seems more like a Frankenstein creation that one that was put together with deliberation and care. It will be interesting to see if that approach is a winning formula.

***San Francisco Giants reliever Sergio Romo was cited for a recent disturbance at a Las Vegas airport after authorities say he refused to provide TSA agents with a proper id, which developed into an argument. The slight right-hander has been one of the most important bullpen pieces for the Giants in recent seasons, going 20-9 with a 2.20 ERA in 276 games since he began his major league career in 2008.

Romo is no stranger to bucking authority, as the t-shirt he wore in last year’s World Series celebratory parade, decrying recent immigration laws, got a lot of attention. However strange it may sound, it’s refreshing to see an MLB player getting in trouble for exercising their rights instead of being involved in crimes connected to drugs, alcohol or violence. While no distractions are good distractions, Romo is not the kind of person who is going to be a negative influence on a team.

***The Boston Red Sox were recently reported to have worked out two players who many may think are past their primes.

Outfielder Bobby Abreu did some drills in front of team officials in Venezuela, including taking grounders at first base; a position he has never played before professionally. The 17-year major league veteran has been in steady decline for several seasons, culminating in last year’s punchless .242 batting average with the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers. It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox view Abreu as anything more than depth value to bring into spring training on a minor league contract. So far, there has been no indication that they will attempt to sign him.

Boston has also scouted veteran right-handed starting pitcher Javier Vazquez in the Puerto Rican Winter League. The 36-year-old Vazquez is 165-160 with a 4.22 ERA in a 14-year major league career. He last pitched in the majors in 2011 with the Florida Marlins, going 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA and 162 strikeouts.

Vazquez’s Winter League general manager is former Boston super-sub Alex Cora, who indicated Vazquez is still impressive, hitting the low-90s with his fastball. In the past, Vazquez hasn’t been nearly as good pitching in the AL, if you compare his 4.65 ERA to his NL mark of 3.99. The Red Sox have not been reported to have made any official offer and their scouting at this point is simply doing due diligence on any possible option that could help improve their team.


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