Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Greg Cadaret Has Left His Mark On the Game

Left-handed pitchers are one of the most valuable commodities in baseball. Any southpaw with talent has a ready-made major league career ahead of them, which can bring them stardom, or at the very least, allow them to see a lot of the country. Former pitcher Greg Cadaret perfectly fit the mold of the quintessential lefty, which led to a lengthy playing career and a lot of great experiences.

Cadaret was an 11th-round draft choice of the Oakland Athletics in 1983 out of Grand Valley State University. He had mixed success in the minors but finally put everything together and made it to Oakland as a reliever in 1987.

Despite struggling in his rookie season by posting a 4.54 ERA in 29 games, he also had an impressive 6-2 record. His first major league strikeout came against the Detroit Tigers’ Darrell Evans on July 7, and he earned his first win a week-and-a-half later against Bob Stanley and the Boston Red Sox.

Cadaret had arguable his finest major league season in 1988, as he went 5-2 with a 2.89 ERA and three saves in 58 relief appearances. He was a key reliever on that “Bash Brothers” team that went on to famously lose the World Series against Kirk Gibson and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The lefty shone in the series, striking out three in two innings over three appearances.

Working as a reliever and occasional spot starter, Cadaret had a 10-year major league career with eight teams (the Athletics, New York Yankees, Anaheim Angels, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds). In 451 games (35 starts) he compiled a record of 38-32 with a 3.99 ERA and 14 saves.

He last appeared in a major league game in 1998 and retired following a brief minor league stint in 1999.

Since his playing days ended, Cadaret has coached and managed at the collegiate and independent league levels, while also working as a baseball analyst. He recently provided some insight about his playing career, which was as rich and varied as any player you will encounter in the game.

Greg Cadaret Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Al Kaline. I grew up in Michigan, and he was the epitome of a well-rounded, fundamentally-sound player with humility and integrity.

When did you start feeling confident that professional baseball was going to be a possibility for you?: My sophomore year in college.

Can you describe what your draft day experience was like?: It was before the Internet and TV coverage and I was playing summer ball for Sullivan's Furniture in Grand Rapids, I took the garbage out to the curb and when I got back in the phone was ringing and they hung up before I got there. I didn't know who it was. When a couple of my teammates got home from work they told me Bob Sullivan, the owner, told them I got drafted, but I didn't hear from Oakland until the next day.

What was it like playing for such well known teams like the Bash Brother Oakland A's and the New York Yankees?: It was fun. The game is always more fun when you are playing in the limelight, even though the Yankees weren't winning when I was there; it is still the big stage.

Which pitches did you throw, and which is your best?: I threw fastball, slider, curve, forkball and change. Everything started with the fastball for me.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Probably playing in and pitching in three games in the 1988 World Series.

Who was your favorite teammate and why?: One was Don Mattingly. He kept me sane in New York when the zoo got going. He led by example and reminded me that the game still had to be fun.

If you could do anything differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I don't live in the past. I am satisfied with my career. If I could have had one result it would have been nice to get four more outs when I took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in New York in 1989.

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

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for June 24, 2013: Take the Time to Appreciate Baseball History

Even though no players were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this year, the official start of summer is a good reminder that this jewel of a museum is a great place to visit. Whether it is taking the family on vacation or learning more about the National Pastime, Cooperstown, New York houses the definitive treasure trove when it comes to baseball history.

Leading the Hall of Fame in their pursuit to honor and preserve baseball is their president, Jeff Idelson. You won’t find a more well-versed or passionate ambassador to the game anywhere. Listen to his chat with the Podcast to be Named Later to get a sense of who he is and some of the baseball wonders he has to offer to fans from around the world.

On to the Baseball Historian notes for the week…

***The Dunn County News’ John Russell recently wrote an outstanding piece describing his induction into the armed services as a young man in 1943. On a bus trip to Milwaukee to take his official physical, he happened to sit next to Andy Pafko, another potential inductee, who had just completed his first major league season with 13 games as an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs.

Russell tells how he got to know Pafko better on their journey, as the two munched donuts given to the prospective soldiers. While Russell wound up in the Navy, Pafko was spared from service because of a childhood injury. He went on to have a 17-year major league career, which included a .285 batting average, 213 home runs and playing in four World Series.

***Here is a simple yet candid photo of Walter “Big Train” Johnson, one of the best pitchers in the history of the game. The picture was taken in 1928 when he was the manager for the Newark Bears of the International League, the year after retiring from a 21-year major league career.

Despite spending his entire playing career with the Washington Senators, who were frequently a second-division team, Johnson was an astounding 417-279 with a 2.17 ERA and a record 110 shutouts. The right-hander is still remembered as one of the most dominant pitchers of all time, even though he threw his last major league pitch nearly a century ago.

***Left-hander Rick Ankiel was one of the most ballyhooed pitching prospects in recent memory when he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997. He was in the majors two years later at the age of 20, and won 11 games while striking out 194 batters the following year. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious loss of control, was sent to the minors and last threw an official pitch in 2004.

Instead of giving up on his career, Ankiel transformed himself into an outfielder and returned to the major leagues in 2007. In addition to some power, he has been known for an excellent glove and throwing arm. In particular, these two amazing catches in the same game against the Colorado Rockies in 2008 show that while his career hit a major roadblock, he has been able to persevere and still be a special player in his own right.

***Ever been curious how Hall-of-Famers view each other and their talents? Wonder no more, as this scouting report on pitcher Tom Seaver, was filed by Tommy Lasorda in 1965, the year before the right-handed hurler was signed by the New York Mets.

Lasorda, a former pitcher, liked what he saw of the youngster, with various iterations of the word “good” appearing frequently throughout the report. It’s clear Seaver was destined for greatness before he ever signed his first contract.

Seaver reached the majors in 1967 and went on to win 311 games in 20 seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

Lasorda managed the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1976-1996, winning 1,599 games, four pennants and two World Series. His Hall-of-Fame enshrinement came in 1997.

No word if any scouting report exists in Seaver’s hand on the managerial tendencies of Lasorda.

***A rare 1919 World Series ring has come up for auction with a reserve price of $25,000. But it could be well worth it to collectors because of its rarity and the provenance of being connected to perhaps the most famous Fall Classic of all-time (when the Chicago Black Sox infamously “threw” the series to the Cincinnati Reds at the behest of gamblers).

The ring belonged to Reds’ manager Pat Moran. It’s a rare piece not only because it’s old and the only known example from that year, but also because World Series rings had not yet become popular, as many players refused such gestures because they viewed jewelry as effeminate.

The ring has actually been out of the possession of the Moran family for more than 50 years, as it was given by his family member to their milkman, who made it into their own family treasure. It looks like the auction, which closes on June 28th, will command a pretty penny. As long as they can afford it, the winning bidder will be getting an amazing part of baseball history.

***Finally, sad news last week that beloved actor James Gandolfini passed away unexpectedly at the age of 51 while travelling in Italy with his young son. Best known for his role as Tony Soprano on the hit HBO show “The Sopranos,” Gandolfini was a talented thespian with an iconic voice. He was also a lover of sports, and in 2002 gave baseball fans a treat by reciting Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech during a game at Yankee Stadium. It’s a great way for fans to remember the actor for something other than his amazing work on camera and the stage.

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for June 17, 2013: MLB and Their Hypocritical Stance on Brawls

Although a major brawl last week between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks resulted in eight suspensions and a dozen fines, the incident is yet another reminder of what a joke on-field fights and the subsequent reaction of Major League Baseball have become.

Tempers flared after Dodgers’ rookie sensation Yasiel Puig was hit in the face by a pitch, followed by a back-and-forth retaliatory actions by both sides.

Managers Don Mattingly and Kirk Gibson were banned for one game each, while Dodgers’ hitting coach Mark McGwire earned two games because of behavior which resembled an enraged rhinoceros. The punishments are more of a show than punitive in nature. It seems that MLB’s reaction to such incidents is really an unsaid acceptance that brawls are good for business because of the attention they draw. If baseball truly wanted to crack down on on-field fighting, they could do so very easily. Their insistence in staying with the status quo indicates a sanctioning of loosely-controlled violence that spices up games. No matter how egregious brawls are, suspensions and fines are generally light and often reduced upon appeal (although it is rare that an explanation is given in such cases).

Players and coaches will typically say brawls are the result of trying to protect themselves on the field. That’s hogwash. They are momentary flashes of anger that have no impact on future events. MLB should be the ones protecting the players by having stiffer penalties. Taking a page from the NBA would be a great start, with automatic punishments being meted out for players or coaches leaving their positions or the dugout, and escalating depending upon individual actions.

Brawls have as much place in baseball as they do in any workplace environment. People don’t put their co-workers in headlocks at the photocopier, and they shouldn't do it on a baseball diamond.

In particular, coaching staffs should be held to a higher standard, as they are paid to lead by example. If they are part of any brawls, they should be dealt with in the strictest of ways. Instead, baseball puts up a veneer of frowning upon on-field violence, while silently benefiting from each fight being the lead story on SportsCenter.

***No brawl in recent memory did more to impact MLB marketing than Game 3 of the 2003 American League ALCS, when Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez famously threw New York Yankee coach Don Zimmer to the ground. Despite some ugly and unnecessary aggression, MLB only issued a few fines and reaped the benefit of the spat escalating the teams’ rivalry to a fevered pitch, which generated huge interest from the public.

***MLB games still draw impressive crowds but fan enthusiasm isn't nearly what it was when the sport was at the height of its popularity. This picture of fans streaming into a New York Giants game at the old Polo Grounds in the early 20th century reflects the pageantry of attending a baseball game. Not only is that mostly gone, but so is this stadium, which was once one of the sport’s architectural shrines.

***Another example of fan enthusiasm is shown in the story of the steamship, the Frank E. Kirby, vessel that trolled the waters of the Great Lakes during the early 20th century. Some fantastic photographs show how some people used the transportation to travel to Detroit Tigers games, with huge numbers of passengers crowding the decks for the occasions.

***The 1939 World Series between the Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds occurred nearly a decade before the first Fall Classic was broadcast on televisions for the first time in 1947. No matter, this stunning color footage has surfaced showing some highlights from the Yankees’ four-game sweep. Of note are the overflow crowds, which seem to practically loom over the action on the field at a distance much closer than what is customary today.

***The Dodgers of the 1970s fielded some of the most entertaining teams of the decade. Unfortunately, their success didn't prevent internal strife from happening in their clubhouse. This article details an ugly physical locker room altercation between Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton and first baseman Steve Garvey in full view of teammates and press.

The fight stemmed from public comments Sutton made insinuating he thought Garvey was fake and took too much credit away from other players like outfielder Reggie Smith. After Garvey confronted him, Sutton jumped his teammate and engaged in a general scuffle. The fight was broken up by other players, and reporters never wrote whether or not the blood drawn by Sutton proved to him that at least some part of Garvey was real.

***In 1966, the longest uninterrupted game in professional baseball history was played between the Miami Marlins and St. Petersburg Cardinals in the Class-A level Florida State League.

The Marlins beat St. Petersburg, who was led by future Hall-of-Fame manager Sparky Anderson.

Only 740 fans turned out for the game, with many fewer remaining when it ended after five hours.

Charlie Sands, the Marlins’ catcher, caught all 29 innings and lost 15 pounds that night. His hard-working attitude no doubt contributed to him going on to play parts of six major league seasons.

***And finally, this week’s moment of Zen. Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith regularly dazzled in the field, whether he was making his patented back flip or executing a breath-taking play. This clip has the “Wizard of Oz” talking about a jaw-dropping play he made against Jeff Burroughs and the Atlanta Braves when he was a member of the San Diego Padres. This has been called the greatest defensive play in history by some, which is quite the compliment given his impressive resume with the leather.

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013

MLB's Most Over and Underrated Players

Discussing the most over and underrated players in baseball is an annual exercise that creates a lot of spirited debate and reaction. There’s no scientific formula to determine or verify who falls where; just opinion, eye-tests and carefully manipulated stats to prove points. That being said, the best reason to do it is because it’s fun. 

Here are some players I believe are among the most over and underrated in the game today.

Pitcher Adam Wainwright, Underrated: Other than missing the entire 2011 season because of Tommy John surgery, the big 31-year-old right-hander has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.

He won 78 games with a combined 3.14 ERA over his last five full seasons, and is 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA this year; leading the league in wins, complete games and shutouts. He has already logged two top-three Cy Young ballot finishes in his career, and is well on his way to a third, if not winning the whole damned thing this year. Despite the numbers, he has made just one All-Star team and is rarely mentioned as a candidate as one of the best pitchers in the National League, which is exactly what he is.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, Overrated: There is no denying that the Chicago Cubs’ 23 year-old shortstop is talented but his accolades heavily outweigh his actual performance. Although he is a career .289 hitter, he has never drawn more than 36 walks in a season and has occasionally had problems with hustling on plays. His poor decisions are also seen on the base paths, as he has 60 career stolen bases, but has also been thrown out 31 times.

In the field, Castro often looks disinterested, lackadaisical, or both. He could be a star one day, but shouldn’t have the title handed to him on a silver platter before he has actually earned it.

Outfielder/First Baseman Mark Trumbo, Underrated: He stinks defensively, but Trumbo keeps getting better and better as a hitter. The right-hander has always been able to hit for power, with 61 home runs in his first two full major league seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. However, he was impatient at the plate and had way too many poor at-bats.

Something has clicked with the 27-year-old this year. He has maintained the power (15 home runs) while honing a much better batting eye. The 30 walks he has already drawn are closing in on his career high of 36. If this is a trend he can continue, he should be an offensive force for years to come. However, the team will hopefully put him out of his leather-induced misery and settle him into the designated hitter role.

Pitcher Jeff Samardzija, Underrated: The Chicago Cubs’ floppy-haired right-handed pitcher passed on a football career out of Notre Dame to concentrate on baseball. After struggling for several years in Chicago’s bullpen, he finally found his groove in 2011, before becoming a starter last year.

Since the start of the 2011 season, he is just 20-24, but has a combined 3.44 ERA while striking out 9.45 batters per nine innings. His numbers would likely be even better if he were playing anywhere else but for the hapless Cubs.

Pitcher Phil Hughes, Overrated: The right-hander was once a highly-regarded prospect but has really never been anything more than mediocre at the major league level. Although he won 18 games in 2010 and 16 last season, his win totals have always been inflated by playing on the consistently contending New York Yankees.

Hughes has a career record of 55-41, but his 4.44 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 1.3 home runs allowed per nine innings show he is nothing special. He will be a free agent after the season, and if he ends up leaving New York, his numbers could take a real dip once he is pitching for a team with a lesser pedigree.

Third Baseman Aramis Ramirez, Underrated: Now in his 16th major league season, and his second with the Milwaukee Brewers, the 35-year-old Ramirez is one of the criminally unsung players in the game. He owns a career .286 batting average with 345 home runs and 1,245 RBI. He is also at 1,994 hits and has had at least an .871 OPS in eight of his past nine seasons. Never a great fielder, he has become below average in the waning years of his career.

Despite his consistency, Ramirez has made only two All-Star games and won just one Silver Slugger award. When it’s all said and done, his numbers should compare favorably with the best third basemen of all-time. Unfortunately, hardly anyone will have noticed how he got there.

Pitcher Brett Anderson, Overrated: It may not be nice to pick on an injured player (Anderson is currently on the DL with a fractured foot) but I am going to anyways. Despite a relative lack of production, it seems that the left-handed starter is annually on the list of up-and-comers.

Granted, Anderson is still just 25, but his numbers don’t lend to his reputation as a top young pitcher. Now in his fifth major league season, he is just a combined 26-29 with a 3.74 ERA. More importantly, he has dealt with a rash of injuries that have prevented him from pitching in more than 19 games in any one season since his rookie year in 2009. If he could stay on the field, he might live up to all the hype. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done so yet, and he is already well on his way to missing a major portion of the 2013 season.

Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, Underrated: Following a seven-year career in Japan, the right-handed starter made few headlines when he signed with the Seattle Mariners prior to last season. He wound of having an excellent rookie campaign, going 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 30 games.

Perhaps having last year chalked up to luck, he entered this season with equally little fanfare but has been even better. He has gone 7-1 with a sparkling 1.79 ERA and league-leading 0.82 WHIP in 14 starts. Batters are hitting a measly .190 with a .545 OPS against him. Since he is already 32, Iwakuma won’t get the same attention as young studs like Matt Harvey, but he has been every bit as good, if not better this year.

Third Baseman Brett Lawrie, Overrated:
Toronto’s young third baseman is the hitter’s equivalent of Anderson. He arrived in the major leagues in 2011 as one of the best prospects in baseball but has seen his production fluctuate wildly since then. He has also been a magnet for injuries, and currently sits on the DL with a sprained ankle.

Lawrie is supposed to be a five-tool player, but has yet to have a break-out season. On the plus side, he has become an outstanding defender after switching from second base in the minors. To date, his glove isn’t enough to save his dwindling reputation. If he is going to live up to his lofty expectations, he will need to be able to stay on the field and start doing some damage with his bat.

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

MLB Power Rankings for June 10, 2013

Check out the Podcast to be Named Later MLB power rankings show:

You can also follow the podcast on Twitter at: @P2BNL_Podcast

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

The Baseball Historian's Notes for June 10, 2013

The big news of the week in baseball was an ESPN Outside the Lines report that Major League Baseball is seeking to suspend 20 or more current players for their involvement with the now defunct Biogenesis of America clinic. Tony Bosch, the company’s founder, agreed to provide MLB with documents to help their cases. Players including Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera are all reported to be those in the crosshairs, with more details of the whole mess still to come.

The report indicated that suspensions could be as long as 100 games if MLB gets its way. However, want and reality could be two completely different things. The MLB Player’s Union immediately issued a statement declaring their intent to vigorously defend the players in the investigation, and will use their considerable power to minimize any punitive damage. It’s a situation that is highly unlikely to be determined quickly, but will probably play out in courtrooms and boardrooms for an indeterminable amount of time.

Regardless of the length of possible suspensions, the damage has already been done to the reputations of the players involved in the scandal. No matter how much you believe or don’t believe steroids and PEDs are cheating, the amount of lying and general scumbaggery (I made this word up specifically for this situation) on the part of these players has completely impugned their character. No matter how far they can hit a ball or fast they can throw a pitch, their greatest attribute as players and human beings has been irrevocably shattered.

***Speaking of suspensions and being banned from baseball, consider the curious case of Ray Fisher. He was a solid right-handed pitcher who had a record of 100-94 with a 2.82 ERA in 10 major league seasons in the early part of the 20th century.

Following the 1920 season in which he won 10 games for the Cincinnati Reds, Fisher decided to retire as a player to become the University of Michigan’s coach. Because he gave his club seven days notice instead of the 10 dictated by his contract, he was placed on baseball’s ineligible list- effectively banning him. Although he later appealed to commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the decision was upheld.

Fisher went on to have a marvelous 37-year coaching career with Michigan but was part of baseball’s notorious list of banned players; lumped in with the likes of the Black Sox and others who ran afoul of the game.

Finally, in 1980, when he was 93, Fisher was officially reinstated by commissioner Bowie Kuhn, following 59 years of being cast out from Major League Baseball. If a good guy like Fisher gets that kind of treatment, just think what could happened with the Biogenesis players…

***Babe Ruth probably has more anecdotal legends connected to his name than any other player in baseball history. One theme that recurred throughout his career was the way he visited and reached out to sick children. Here is some photographic proof that the Babe was a great humanitarian, who did indeed frequent juvenile sickbeds.

Unidentified, the sick child is not Johnny Sylvester, who was the famous recipient of three home run promises from Ruth. Regardless, his day was certain to have been made better by being able to meet the best player of his day, and perhaps of all time.

***The Boston Globe’s Stan Grossfeld recently wrote the story of Mary Trank, who served as former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s personal secretary for years. Still living in Massachusetts, the 92-year-old recounts a treasure trove of stories, including how Ted Williams used to shoot pigeons at Fenway Park; the advice he would ask her about his love life; her visitation of Jimmy Piersall when he was confined in a mental hospital; and her disdain for Jean Yawkey, the wife of her boss. Although she may not identify herself in this way, she is a baseball historian, who can tell as many stories about the players off the field as their stats can illuminate what occurred on the diamond.

***Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly was also a fine player, and considered one of the most exemplary figures in the game during his career with the New York Yankees.

Proving that even the most gentlemanly of players can have slips of integrity, check out this clip of Mattingly drifting into the stands after a foul ball and emerging with some covertly pilfered popcorn. You’ll never look at him the same again. Talk about having butter fingers…

***One of the negatives that evolved out of baseball over the years has been the pronounced use of smokeless tobacco. This slide show gives a brief but informative overview of how chew became part of the game. With all the major health concerns over its use being more widely publicized, tobacco’s use has slowly receded but has still not been eradicated. While adult players can make decisions for themselves, there should be no room in the game for the nasty habit with all the young people who look up to them.

***A glove believed to have been used by Jackie Robinson during the 1955 and 1956 seasons recently sold for a whopping $373,000 at auction. The sale was conducted by the New York-based Steiner Sports, which has put the $ in baseball memorabilia over the past decade or so.

The mitt is a wonderful piece of history if the provenance is accurate. At such a high price, it is almost certainly going into a private collection, which is a shame since such an iconic item should be available to be seen and appreciated by all who love baseball.

***And now, your moment of Zen for the week. The mid-1980s were a heady time. Oversized boom boxes and pastel leg warmers were all the rage. In 1986, the New York Mets were the best team in baseball, going 108-54 and eventually beating the Boston Red Sox in the World Series in historical fashion. In addition to their fine play on the field, the Mets were also doing work off it. “Get Metsmerized” is one of the earliest examples of athlete-produced hip-hop music. The song, which was organized by outfielder George Foster, includes the vocal stylings of teammates Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Rafael Santana, Howard Johnson, Tim Teufel, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell and Rick Aguilera. After listening to their off-key screeching, you will understand why they decided to stick with baseball.
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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

O'Koyea Dickson is Powering His Way to the Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been in the news as much as any baseball franchise over the past year-plus. Following a highly-publicized team sale and offseason spending spree, they have stumbled out of the gate and looked lost so far during the 2013 season sitting in last place in the National League West. While things look bleak at the big league level, there are reasons to be optimistic when considering their minor league system. Rising slugger O’Koyea Dickson is one of those bright spots, as he is starting to emerge as one of the team’s best prospects.

The 23-year-old Dickson is a powerfully built 5’11” right-handed hitter, who has played primarily at first base during his professional career. He grew up in the Bay Area and got his start in the game from the First Base Foundation, which serves minority youth in that region.

Although Dickson came from modest amateur origins, he is proving himself to be a player to watch. He was a 12th-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2011 out of Sonoma State University in California. His stock rose considerably that year after a junior season that saw him hit .341 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI.

Many also remembered a home run Dickson hit as a high school sophomore in 2006 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. His team was playing in the stadium for a title game, and his shot completely left the park, which was believed to be only the second time a high school player achieved the feat at a major league stadium. Such raw power sticks by scouts, and even though he played for a small school, it helped carry him into the draft.

Since signing with the Dodgers, Dickson has done nothing but rake. He pounded the Pioneer League for a .333 batting average, 13 home runs and 38 RBI in 48 games in 2011. He belted another 17 home runs last year in Single-A.

This year, Dickson is playing for advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. In 56 games, he is hitting .276 with 17 doubles, eight home runs and 39 RBI. Such numbers could put him on the fast track for a promotion, which would have him on the cusp of the major leagues.

During this past offseason, Dickson took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions. It’s highly recommended that you take a look and get familiar with this rising prospect.

O’Koyea Dickson Interview:

What's the best part about being a professional baseball player?: The best part of being a professional baseball player is just being able to live out your dream! I put on the uniform each day wanting a shot to play at the major league level. I have one goal in mind, and that's to be an established major league baseball player.

As a high school sophomore you hit a home run out of San Francisco's AT&T Park; what was that experience like?: Hitting a home run out of AT&T Park was kind of like my breakout game as a baseball player at a young age. I showed myself that I'm capable of hitting with power, and since that day I've taken baseball so much more seriously. When I was younger I was just playing the game to just play. Being a Giants fan it was really a special moment in my career.

What was your draft experience like?: Everything happened so fast during the draft process. A lot teams contacted me and leading up to the draft I really had no idea which team was going to draft me. No one really had me high on their list. I was chilling at my auntie's house and the 12th round hit and I was getting anxious cause a lot of scouts said I would go in the 6th-10th rounds. As I heard my name being called the computer froze and I wasn't sure which team selected me. My best friend called me and said, ‘Are you kidding me? The Dodgers?’ It was a crazy feeling getting selected by the Dodgers and being a Giants fan. But I love being a Dodger. Royal blue is my favorite color!

What have your thoughts been about the change in Dodgers ownership and having such a high profile group now leading the franchise?:
I think the Dodgers are heading in the right direction. Having new ownership sets the bar a little higher for the players. I am looking forward to possibly being in the movement of upside here in the future.

What do you think you have improved on most since being signed?: The biggest thing I've improved on since I signed is how to carry myself as an professional player and preparing myself for each game. It's grind playing 140 games.

Can you please talk a little bit about your work mentoring at-risk kids?:
Back in high school I was President of a group called AIMS, where we worked with the children at their elementary schools. We went and talked with the kids every week, sharing with them our experiences we had when we were younger. We played basketball and baseball together. Just giving back to the kids and showing them our love and support and giving them someone to look up to. It was a really great experienced and I want to open up my own after school program once I make it to the big leagues.

What do you think about the declining number of African American youth playing baseball?: A lot of African Americans are athletic and they like to play football and basketball, but what they don't understand is that all the money is in baseball. Basketball and football are more exciting sports to play and that's what they love to play. As you know, if you don't start playing baseball at a young age it's tough to pick it up when you’re in high school. Hopefully one day kids will realize baseball is the best game you will ever play.

If you could have dinner with one baseball player, from the present or past, who would that be and why?: I would love to meet Willie Mays. I truly believe he's the best player to ever put on a baseball uniform. I would love to pick his brain about everything he went through in his life. The things he did on the baseball field were unbelievable. He has so many baseball years under his belt. He played the game the right way, which was hard, and he played with so much energy.


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Monday, June 3, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for June 3, 2013

One of baseball’s all-time heroes officially returned to the game this week. The slumping Kansas City Royals hired Hall of Famer George Brett, the greatest player in franchise history, to be the team’s new hitting coach.

The Royals, who spent big to bring in veterans like James Shields and Ervin Santana during the offseason, entered the year with playoff aspirations. However, after an 8-20 May, they are back in last place in the AL Central. Brett is being brought in to not only try and provide a spark, but to also buy the team some time. Royals’ fans admire nobody more than Brett. He may be able to create some good will while the team tries to get back on track and salvage their season.

***Speaking of Brett, he was mentioned for his kindness in a recent story about “Door George,” an aging Cleveland-area strip club bathroom attendant.

In 1987, Brett and teammate Bill Buckner went to a club that “Door George” was working. Fresh off the 1986 World Series, Buckner was taking some ribbing from other customers. “Door George” sprang into action and relocated the ballplayers to a private table, so they could better enjoy their lascivious experience. Brett appreciated the gesture so much that he set the attendant up with two tickets to the next game, a limo ride to the game and $100. Not only that, but the same package promptly appeared every time Kansas City visited Cleveland until Brett retired following the 1993 season. The story may not stand with tales of other players’ charitable exploits, but is heartwarming nonetheless.

***Although the majority of major league baseball games take place at night, enough are still played during the day to necessitate the widespread use of sunglasses. Few know that the flip-up variety were invented by Hall of Fame outfielder Fred Clarke, who played for the Louisville Colonels and Pittsburgh Pirates from 1894-1915.

Clarke only played in day games during his career, so the ability to shade his eyes was important. There may be many different models and brands now available, but the standard design remains relatively unchanged, reflecting the brilliance and utility of the invention.

***Here is a great picture showing an early version of the flip-up sunglasses. It was taken in 1915 and depicts Brooklyn Dodgers’ right fielder Casey Stengel. He may have gained more fame as a manager, but he was an excellent player who logged parts of 14 major league seasons, and was apparently very fashionable whenever he took the field.

***Some of baseball’s greatest players came from humble origins. Count New York Yankees’ legend Mickey Mantle as part of that group. The Hall of Fame outfielder grew up in Oklahoma during the Dustbowl years in the 1930’s. Although it is long uninhabited, his childhood home still remains. It’s a fascinating reminder of how far Mantle came in becoming the toast of New York City, and an icon in the most storied franchise in baseball history.

***First baseman Mark Grace crafted an outstanding 16-year major league career with the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks, collecting 2,445 hits and a .303 cumulative batting average. His success wasn’t really a surprise, as he was a highly regarded prospect.

Jim Essian wrote this pretty spot-on scouting report of Grace in 1987 when the youngster was playing for Double-A Pittsfield. The report concluded Grace was a “Team leader. Nothing but class. Rarely strikes out. Hits line to line with power.”

Interestingly, the report also included the comment, “the brothers love him.” This was a reference to his ability to get along with black players. It was not a facetious remark, but rather reflected that team race relations were an important area of concern so recently.  

***Described by Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey as an “escaped divinity school student,” Eddie Basinski and his bespectacled slim body didn’t look much like a typical baseball player. Looks can be deceiving, and Basinski proved that was the case when it came to his career.

Although the infielder played in only 203 major league games, he forged a 15-year Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame career, primarily with the Portland Beavers.

Despite never playing baseball in high school or college, and just a partial season as a semi-pro, Basinski made his major league debut in 1944. He didn’t hit much in the big leagues, but was an excellent fielder, and was nicknamed “Bazooka” by Leo Durocher because of his keen ability to turn double plays.

David Eskenazi recently profiled Basinski, which extended well beyond the baseball diamond. The former player also holds a degree in mechanical engineering and was a violin virtuoso. He was one of the most well-rounded individuals to ever play the game, and by proxy, one of the most interesting.

***As a popular television commercial once proclaimed, “Chicks dig the long ball.” As it turns out, everyone likes home runs, especially when they are of the longer variety. To close out this week’s notes, this collection of clips of the longest home runs of the past 30 years or so should give all aficionados of titanic taters more than their fill of majestic moon shots.

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