Top 100 Baseball Blog

Friday, January 31, 2014

Former MLBer Ed Mickelson Talks Career and Satchel Paige

Baseball is a beautiful game that takes a significant amount of talent in order to play professionally. Although many players spend years honing their craft in an effort to get one of the golden tickets that is the chance to sign with a professional team, a select few come to the game by accident. Slugger Ed Mickelson was one of those players; a natural athlete whose first choice wasn’t the National Pastime, but ultimately drew him in like so many before.

Mickelson grew up in Missouri and excelled in basketball and football. He only really took up baseball after joining the service during World War II and playing with his fellow soldiers.
At 6’3” and 205 pounds, the right-hander was a large specimen whose size translated into impressive power. His acumen with a bat and ball was enough to earn a contract in the minor league system of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Playing primarily at first base, Mickelson suffered through some injuries but had an excellent 11-year career in the minors, hitting a combined .316 with 108 home runs in 1,189 games. In additional to the Cardinals, he also played in the systems of the St. Louis Browns, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.

His best minor league season came in 1954 with the Double-A Shreveport Sports in the Texas League (Browns). Appearing in 150 games, he hit .335 with 17 home runs and 139 RBIs.
Despite spending most of his career in the minors, Mickelson did get a few cups of coffee in the majors, appearing in brief stints with the Cardinals (1950), the Browns (1953) and the Cubs (1957). All told, he had three hits and three RBIs in 37 at-bats.

Mickelson does hold a place in major league history, although he was barely there. On September 27th, 1953, he hit an RBI single to right field off Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Billy Pierce, accounting for the last RBI ever for the Browns- who became the Baltimore Orioles the following year. More details about his playing career are available here.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mickelson several years ago, and he regaled me with fantastic stories from his playing career. Make sure to check out our conversation- as the former player came away from baseball with quite a lot of great memories.

Ed Mickelson Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: Well, actually, what I was interested in was basketball. That’s what I played all the way through junior high school and high school. I then went on to college and played basketball. I waited until my senior year.

I got a scholarship in football to Missouri, and I was a starter for them in football and basketball in 1944 and 1945. I was only 18 years old, but there were a lot of people in the war at the time.
But baseball, I didn’t play it until my senior year in high school, and only played in about 15 games. Then I played somewhat when I was in the service during World War II, when I was in Scottsdale and played for the base team. We played about 25 game games, so I was really a neophyte when it came to baseball.

When I signed up, I went down to Oklahoma A&M and played basketball after I got out of the service. The coach said ‘We don’t have any more basketball scholarships, but we have baseball scholarships.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a try.’ So, I think I was one-for-23, and I hit the heck out of the ball as long as it was a curve or a changeup

When I signed with the Cardinals, I went down there and worked out and hit some balls up into the bleachers because Del Wilber, the Cardinals catcher, was throwing them right down the middle about 75 miles an hour. I was laughing about it.

Playing with the Cardinals, I had to learn on the job really. I had to learn what the strike zone was. I knew what baseball was because I had watched a bunch of games.

Prior to college, you really didn’t play much baseball growing up?: Not at all. I was never on a team. I played softball, but never baseball.

What type of hitter were you?: I was a line drive hitter. I didn’t hit a lot of home runs, but I hit a lot of doubles, some triples, and every now and then I’d hit some home runs.

In 1950, when you earned your first major league promotion; how were you told?: My manager was Charlie Metro, and the last game of the season we played in Montgomery and I hit a home run over the scoreboard, and I was feeling good about that. Then he told me. He said, ‘The Cardinals want you to join them.’ So, I went home to get my stuff.

It took me about two days to get there, but I got there- in New York. The Cardinals were playing the Giants, and we were winning about 12 to 2, and Eddie Dyer put me in as a pinch hitter, with Larry Jansen pitching. I think he was going for his 19th victory. Anyways, I had a couple of good pitches to hit and then took a tall third strike, which I thought was a good three or four inches outside. But the umpire thought better about it and said, ‘Okay rookie, you gotta swing at those.’ So I got called out.

I didn’t play for four or five days, and then we went into Boston and we played the Boston Braves. I wasn’t playing at all; I was just sitting on the bench. Eddie Dyer came up to me and said, ‘Hey Eddie, Musial is back at the hotel with a 103-degree fever. He ain’t playing today. Warren Spahn is pitching.’ So he pitched a two-hitter that day, and they beat us 5-0, and I got one of the two hits. My first hit was off Warren Spahn.

Was your first hit against Spahn your favorite moment from your playing career?: I don’t think so. My favorite moment was in 1972. A kid I coached in high school, Ken Holtzman, pitched his first game in the World Series. I called Bing Devine, and said, ‘Hey Bing, you owe me one.’ He said, ‘Okay, you got my tickets.’ So I went to Cincinnati and saw the opening game of the 1972 World Series.

Kenny was pitching and I got to yelling at him while he was warming up. The first pitch he threw was a strike to Pete Rose. That was probably the most thrilling moment of my career.

Did you ever play against any Negro League teams?: Yeah, in the fall of 1949 I played a couple of games against some barnstormers. And that was it. I played with Satchel Paige. I played in a game that he pitched once.

What was Satchel Paige like?: He was one of a kind; absolutely one of a kind. He could back up just about anything he said he could do. Of course he was the best public relations man; Satchel himself. He would say anything to make people make a mess of themselves. As you may know, he could throw a ball 100 miles an hour and put it exactly where he wanted to.

How do you think he would have done if he could have played his entire career in the majors?: Bob Feller said he was the best pitcher he ever pitched against. Joe DiMaggio said he was the best pitcher he ever faced. Satchel, when he used to warm up before a game; now this was in ‘53 and he was with the Browns and I was with the Browns. Babe Martin was the third string catcher. Babe would tell me that Satchel wanted a chewing gum wrapper on home plate so he could hit the inside and outside corners of a chewing gum wrapper. When you can throw the ball 100 miles an hour and exactly where you want to, they aren’t going to hit you. He had a whole bunch of different pitches too.

I think I went to a Negro League All Star game around 1935 or 1936. There was always a feud between him and Josh Gibson. Satchel would tell him that if he came up to the plate again he would strike him out.
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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, January 27, 2014

Blather Up: Boston Red Sox Spring Training Preview Podcast

I thought I would give you something a little different to chew on as we get closer to spring training.

I had the pleasure of recording a podcast with Ron Juckett, the editor for Red Sox 101, a site with tremendous regular coverage of all the news and rumors concerning the Boston Red Sox.

It was decided, rather hurriedly I may add, to call our endeavor: Blather Up: Red Sox Chat. In our first installment, we discussed the team’s offseason, the best and worst moves the team made since winning the 2013 World Series, David Ortiz’s contract situation and our thoughts on some of the pressing questions as camp is about to open.

Check out the podcast HERE (right click to download).

For more, make sure to follow Ron on Twitter at @RedSox_101 or his personal account of @ronjuckett. Of course, you can also find me @historianandrew and through my work with the Yahoo Contributor Network.

We hope to make this a regular thing, so keep an eye out for future episodes once the 2014 season gets underway.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Former New York Yankees Pitching Prospect Jack McMahan Recalls His Career

It’s hard enough to forge a professional baseball career today, so just imagine what it was like decades ago when there were fewer teams and not nearly as many ways to get noticed. Accordingly, the stories of players from decades gone by tend to have quite a bit of substance to them.

Right-handed pitcher Jack McMahan didn’t have a lengthy career but he made the majors, which is more than the vast majority of players can say. His time in the big leagues may have been brief but he came away with a lot of good memories.

McMahan was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1932. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1952, and while he pitched effectively in the minors, he couldn’t break through to the big leagues because the franchise was so stacked with talent.

In 1955, he was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule-5 draft, which turned out to be the move that changed his career.

Because of his draft status, McMahan started the 1956 season on the Pittsburgh roster. He made his debut on April 18, pitching 1.2 innings of middle relief in a 5-4 loss to the New York Giants. However, he did strike out the first batter he faced, first baseman Gail Harris, providing an initial highlight right off the bat.

His stint with the Pirates didn’t last long, as he was traded with infielder Curt Roberts to the Kansas City Athletics on June 23 in exchange for infielder Spook Jacobs.

Unfortunately, McMahan’s major league career came to an end after that year. He finished with an 0-5 record and a 5.04 ERA in 34 games (nine starts) between the two teams. He was plagued by poor control, as he struck out just 22 batters while walking 40 in 75 innings.

Although the Yankees traded to get McMahan back in 1957, he never returned to the majors, and retired from professional ball following the 1959 season.

In addition to his major league service, he had an excellent minor league career, going a combined 50-39 with a 3.65 ERA in seven seasons, pitching as both a starter and reliever. More information about his playing career is available at: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mcmahja02.shtml.

In 2011, I had an opportunity to chat with McMahan and ask some questions about his career. It was fascinating listening to him reminisce, and I invite you now to have that same pleasure.

Jack McMahan Interview:

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Well, it’s hard to determine what it would be because I only played one year in the major leagues. I didn’t have a lot of success, but I did play several years in the minor leagues. I had a lot of moments at different times. Probably, one of the biggest thrills is that I saw the first major league game I had ever seen at the opening of the 1956 season, playing the Giants at the old Polo Grounds. I had never seen a major league baseball game before that time.

What was the strangest thing you ever saw on a baseball diamond?: I was playing for the Pirates in the games when Dale Long hit his eight home runs (over two consecutive games).

What were the reactions like from fans and opposing players as Long’s streak grew?: Of course there was a lot of excitement. We were not one of the top clubs at that time. There weren’t very big crowds, maybe seven or eight thousand. But for somebody to be on a hot streak like that; there was a lot of enthusiasm among the press. Dale was not known as a long ball hitter, which is why it was an unusual feat.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Phil Page and Vern Hoscheit.

What was it about them that made them your favorites?: Hoscheit, I played for in the “Three-I” League. He had been a catcher and he caught me a few innings one time to try to help me learn a little bit about pitching. I had had some success, but needed to know a little bit more about throwing the slider. I was trying at that time to learn to throw the slider, and he worked with me a little bit along that line. He was always quite encouraging and giving me compliments, which I needed to have.

Phil Paige didn’t have a whole lot to say but I definitely had a good year with him in the Southern Association. He had a lot of confidence in me, and at that time they weren’t counting saves, so I don’t know how many games I may have saved, but I pitched I think in 47 games. A lot of them were saves, where I would come in anywhere from the last two innings. When I came into the game he would just give me the ball and say, ‘Lefty, you know what you need to do. Let’s get them out and go home.’ That made me feel good that he had that much confidence in me.

What was travel like between games in the minor leagues?: In the Southern Association, we went by train a lot. In the Majors, we flew. I enjoyed both.

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: I would have gone to college.

What have you done since you retired from baseball?: When I came back to Arkansas after I got out of baseball, I came home and had a liquor store with my brother, and coached an American Legion baseball team. After four or five years I went to work for a company that sold golf course equipment. At that time, Arkansas was starting to get a lot of retirement business. Our business was quite good, and I had a good career in the golf course related field.

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why I'm Looking Forward to the 2014 Boston Red Sox’s Spring Training

The cold temperatures do a nice job of breaking a man’s spirit. However, even frigid conditions can’t temper the excitement over the dawning of a new baseball season, which for Boston Red Sox fans will kick off on February 15th when pitchers and catchers report to camp in Fort Myers, Florida. From there, it will all roll downhill until the regular season officially starts when the team visits the Baltimore Orioles on March 31st.

Spring training is a time to get to know the team. Sure, the roster is returning a lot of familiar faces but the attitude and feel of the squad changes from year to year. Heck, some seasons it even changes from week to week.

Personally, I like spring training. The games are glorified practices, and wins and losses really (or lack thereof) and what they can potentially bring, and in the worst cases, what they might take away from the team.

With less than a month remaining until spring training kicks off, here is what I am looking forward to most about the Red Sox’s camp:

-The kids. Boston recently placed nine players on MLB.com’s 2014 top-100  prospect list. Having nearly 10 percent of the top prospects in baseball in the organization is an embarrassment of riches, and there are a lot of talented youngsters who didn’t even make the rankings. A good chunk of Boston’s future will be on full display this spring, although only a few will actually break camp with the team.

-The 2013 team had some of the best camaraderie seen in the majors in recent memory. Although key members of that unit, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew (for now) won’t be there, it will be interesting to see if they can continue the brotherly love. Win, lose or draw, the games are always more fun to watch if the players come across as enjoying themselves and playing together.

-In 2013, the ongoing team gimmick was the magnificent beards grown by a large portion of the roster. It appears that will largely be a thing of the past, as outfielder Jonny Gomes has already indicated the facial hair was so last year.

What will be planned for 2014? Perhaps nothing, but if another trend emerges, my vote would be for big belt buckles—assuming those pass MLB regulations muster. Fans should stay tuned on the edge of their seats because if there is something new, it will likely be fodder for popular t-shirt designs later in the season.

- Every spring training, an “It” player becomes the talk of camp. Last season, it was outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who seemingly hit around .850 and walked on water.

Although he went on to hit just .189 in 37 games in Boston during the regular season, his otherworldly performance before the games mattered, developed his reputation and solidified his stock as one of Boston’s most prized prospects.

With all the kids getting kudos on current prospect lists, any number of candidates might be this year’s Bradley. Seeing who pulls ahead around early March will be fun to say the least.

-The signing of outfielder Grady Sizemore may not have made big waves outside of Boston but his arrival is now being eagerly anticipated by the Fenway Faithful. Time and injuries have ravaged the 31-year-old but he is supposedly as healthy as he has been in years. He last played in 2011 and has since had major knee surgeries, and it remains to be seen what he has left in the tank.

It was only about five years ago he was considered one of the best players in the majors; a true five-tool player on the cusp of superstar status. Then things unraveled quickly.

Of course, the odds are stacked against Boston’s newest hero, but until he absolutely proves otherwise, there’s no reason to count him out before he even takes the field for the first time in a Red Sox uniform. Although his comeback may go off the tracks at any time, as long as he has a bat and a glove, and is still able to stand upright, there is always a chance he could go all Roy Hobbs.

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seth Conner: Toronto Blue Jays' Catching Prospect Enjoying His Baseball Journey

In baseball, the glitz and glamour of major leaguers can sometimes make the profession appear to be both charmed and carefree. However, for the majority of professional players, that’s far from the case. Many play for the love of the game, hoping that one day they might get an opportunity to attain the highest level of their craft.

Toronto Blue Jays’ catching prospect Seth Conner is one of the young players currently on his baseball journey; putting in the work and obtaining the experiences necessary to hopefully one day get him to the majors.

Conner was a 41st-round draft pick of Toronto in 2010 out of Logan-Rogersville High school in Rogersville, Missouri.

In three seasons since joining the Toronto organization, he has reached as high as Single-A (in 2013) and combined to hit .248 with six home runs, 66 RBIs and a .359 OBP in 152 games. More information on his statistics can be found here.

Originally an infielder, he was converted to catcher in 2012 and has made steady progress at his new position.

Last spring, Conner answered some questions about his career. He is very reflective of his baseball experiences, and his answers are well worth the read. If you want to continue following this Toronto prospect as a new season dawns, make sure to find him on Twitter. He is definitely somebody worth rooting for.

Seth Conner Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up had to be Albert Pujols. Growing up as a Cardinal fan in southwest Missouri, I quickly became a fan of Pujols, the Redbird slugger, when he came up in 2001 when I was 9. He was my favorite player not only because of his on field stats, but also because of his off the field character and reputation. I also identified with him when I read that he used his draft position as motivation to work harder and succeed.

How much influence did your family have on you becoming a baseball player?: My family is great! They are a huge part of why I've had success growing up playing, and why I have success now. Since I was two, my dad (Terry) has had a bat in my hands, and my mom (Corinne), and brother (Christian) have been there cheering me on along the way.

The great part about my family is I know they love me unconditionally, regardless of whether I'm playing baseball or not.  They taught me that my faith in Christ is the most important thing in this life, but gave me every opportunity to succeed and play as long as I loved the game and remained passionate about it. They cared more about my character and that I would work hard and do my very best whatever I set out to do. I had hitting lessons growing up and eventually, once I was in high school, was selected to play for the Midwest Nationals coached by Randy Merryman, who helped me get my foot in the door.

Can you describe what your draft experience was like?: My draft experience was a little bit of a crazy one. The start of my senior year of high school, I wasn't even thinking about professional baseball or getting drafted. I signed with Jefferson County Community College and working to get a Division-One scholarship, not getting drafted.

Coach Merryman was a bird dog scout for the Texas Rangers and had a good relationship with some of the professional scouts in the area. After doing a couple of showcases, the idea of me being potentially drafted became real and not just a dream.

My three big teams were the Blue Jays, Giants, and Royals. A cross-checker with the Blue Jays, named Brandon Mozely, lived in my area and had watched me play since my sophomore year and liked me. That helped, since he was higher than an area scout and going to be in the draft room on draft day. I really thought I was going to go somewhere in rounds 15-30, but slipped all the way to the 41st round and was drafted by the Blue Jays.

I was honored to just be drafted but honestly thought I was going to go to college. When I got the phone call that I had been drafted, I was in a local sporting goods store searching for an aluminum bat for summer ball.

I actually signed with the Blue Jays seven minutes before the twelve o'clock deadline on August 17th. The Blue Jays were trying to sign their higher top-ten round picks, and were waiting to see if they had any money even available. I was blessed to have the opportunity to sign and I am very thankful the Blue Jays gave me the chance to pursue my dream. So, my draft process was a little hectic, but it worked out in the end and I am a proud Toronto Blue Jay.

In hindsight, how do you feel about your decision to go pro rather than continuing with school?: You always wonder a little bit if you made the right decision (especially if things aren't going well), but for me, choosing to go pro was the right choice and what I wanted to do. I have buddies who are in college, and while I do hope to go back and get my education, I think from a development side pro ball was definitely the right choice. It is also much easier to focus on the baseball side of things rather than trying to juggle school and baseball. I give a lot of credit to student athletes because that takes a tremendous amount of dedication and work, and I really tip my hat to them. For me though, pro ball is right where I want to be.

Can you talk a little bit about how it was decided that you would convert to catching?: Well, I had caught a little bit in high school, and then after I was drafted, the Blue Jays did a draft and follow. They would come and watch me play during the summer and intrigued the idea of catching, and that's where I believe the whole catching thing started.

My first instructional league in 2010, I caught last two weeks of our five week program and that was my first introduction to catching in pro ball. My second year and first full year, I caught in spring training then just played third and first throughout extended and the Gulf Coast League and again at instructs I caught the last week.

The real transition started in 2012. In spring training, all I did was catch, and the same throughout extended spring training and into the beginning of the Gulf Coast League and my first couple weeks in Bluefield in the Appalachian League. I ended up playing a lot of first base in Bluefield because our first basemen, Art Charles, got moved up to Vancouver. I then would still catch, but only once, and at the most twice, a week.

I again caught all instructional league, and went down to our facility in the Dominican to get an extra three weeks of work.  I still enjoy playing infield and that’s where I've played my whole life, so the transition was tough, but that’s where the Blue Jays and my minor league field coordinator Doug Davis believe I will excel, and they know much more about this game than I do, so I'm going to work my tail off and try and become the best catcher that I can be. I have a lot of respect for catchers now just because I know how much work it takes to be good at it. I'm very impressed with catchers who not only catch well, but can hit also.

What was the most difficult part about the life of a professional player to get used to besides the travel?: I think the most difficult part about playing minor league baseball is actually two things; one being away from home, and two learning how to fail.

The first one is kind of self explanatory. For a kid from a small farming town (Rogersville, MO), who loves being around his family, being gone for seven months in a completely new environment was a little bit of a transition.

The second one I think is the most vital and the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my short professional career. Most high school draft kids that come into pro ball were standouts at their various programs, but as you come into pro ball everyone is on more of a level playing field. Everyone is good. I am speaking generally. You have your standouts; the Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts of the world, and those guys are unbelievably gifted. For a lot of guys though, they come in and have never failed and don't know what that is like to fail, so it is very difficult for them to get out of that along with the pressure of people who can look up your stats, writers write about you, critics, fans, and so forth. So for me, I had a terrible start to my first full season but battled out of it, and looking back, failure was such a gift for me that year because I know what it's like and how to handle it.

What does it take for a prospect to stand out in an organization full of young players?: For me this question is summed up by one guy, Kevin Pillar. I think he is an inspiration to a lot of players including myself. You look at the guy and he was a 32nd rounder senior sign out of a D-II college in California.  I think he is going to be a great big leaguer in the very near future. He won the Appy League batting title his first year and pretty much hasn't stopped hitting since.  He led the Blue Jays’ minor league system in a lot of offensive categories, steals bases, is a great outfielder and most of all a great teammate.

Honestly though, I think hard work, production, numbers, and what kind of teammate you are all factors that help you stand out. In the end, the be-all category is about your numbers. You put numbers up, you’re going to stand out and get moved. You work hard; that gets noticed. What kind of teammate and clubhouse guy you are, I think that gets noticed as well.

What do you consider your best attribute as a player, and which one do you think you need to work on the most?: I consider my best attributes as a player to be hard work and my mental approach to the game. Hard work is the way I was raised, and I take pride in my job and trying to get better a little each day. The mental approach and just knowing situations in games, and like I said, learning to fail and compete each and every day.

I do feel like I have a huge focus on catching right now. Learning how to handle a pitching staff, calling pitches, controlling a game, getting better in all facets defensively, etc... I think you’re always learning and trying to get better though in all areas of your game. When you think you have it all figured out, I think that would be a scary place to be.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ty Cobb’s Failed Turn as a Stage Actor

Ty Cobb was one of the greatest baseball players to ever grace a diamond. During a 24-year major league career, he hit .366 with 12 batting titles, both the highest marks of all-time, and was ultimately inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

He was also a complicated man, known for his intolerance  and ferociousness, both on and off the field. When he died in 1961, he was incredibly wealthy, yet essentially alone—having lived an incredible life but not maintaining the relationships befitting his station.

Cobb wasn’t just baseball and controversy. There were many facets to him, with one of the least well-known being a brief bit of stage acting he did following the 1911 season.

Although Cobb was one of the best-paid players in baseball during his career, it was common practice for most major leaguers to barnstorm or have a second job during the offseason. The star outfielder was no exception.

In 1911, Cobb was 25 and coming off a season that saw him hit an amazing .420 for the Detroit Tigers. He was the face of baseball and in a position to capitalize on it.

According to Rob Edelman, who wrote about Cobb’s acting for SABR, Cobb was invited to try his hand at the stage by Vaughan Glaser, an actor-director who oversaw a Georgia-based theater company.

Dan Holmes wrote in Ty Cobb: A Biography, that Glaser reportedly offered Cobb in the neighborhood of $8,400 to play the part of Billy Bolton, a fourth-year freshman college football player, in the production of The College Widow. It was a popular comedy of the time and would be later made into the Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers.

The play was a travelling show, going all over the country during the late fall and early winter months. Because of the nice payday and the promise he would receive acting coaching, Cobb accepted.

He wasn’t the only major leaguer in the troupe at first. He was joined by Shoeless Joe Jackson, an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians and his closest equal as a hitter. However, the quiet South Carolinian quit his supporting role shortly after the tour began and returned home.

When the production reached Nashville, Cobb suited up and practiced with the Vanderbilt football team—apparently trying his hand at method acting.

His arrival in the land of country music and barbeque was eagerly anticipated. Bill Traughber cited a newspaper account, which was impressed by his thespian abilities. "On the stage Mr. Cobb is maintaining the same high average that has marked his work on the diamond. Although the footlights are new to him, he declares he never had stage fright and likes the work.”

Not everyone appreciated Cobb’s acting, according to a June 13, 1915 article in the New York Times. The ballplayer received very marked criticism from the editor of The News in Birmingham, Alabama. The two exchanged heated letters, including Cobb telling him, “I am a better actor than you are, a better sports editor than you are, a better dramatic critic than you are. I make more money than you do, and I know I am a better ball player—so why should inferiors criticize superiors?”

Being a professional sports star, Cobb apparently took to the pressures of acting naturally. Edelman quoted him as explaining, “Much to my surprise, I managed to get through my first night on the stage without that awful bugaboo, ‘stage fright,’ attacking my heart and dropping me in my tracks. But I had been warned so much regarding such an attack that I made every preparation to guard against it. It was just like figuring out what kind of a ball a pitcher was going to put over. I knew it was coming and waited for it. A few appearances on the stage gave me reassurance and now I am perfectly at home. I find stage work wonderfully interesting and I like it.”

The show was a success wherever it went, as people piled into seats to see the famous baseball deliver a comedic performance. However, despite the success, Cobb unexpectedly decided to pull a diva move.

According to Edelman, Cobb explained, “Here I am at the end of several months on the boards four pounds under my playing weight when under . . . more natural conditions I should be from five to ten pounds over that notch. I am becoming nervous and I miss my regular sleep. It was my ambition . . . to become a good actor, but in attaining that object I see that my usefulness as a baseball player is bound to suffer and so I have decided to cut out the stage for the pastime which first made me the reputation I enjoy.” 

After nearly 10 weeks travelling all over North America as an actor, Cobb returned home and spent the next several weeks with his family before heading off to start a new baseball season.
There were possible other reasons why Cobb didn’t finish his full run of shows. Dennis Abrams wrote that the crusty player felt uncomfortable kissing his female on-stage co-star and also worried that the bright production lights would possibly damage his refined batting eye. He also intensely disliked not being thought of being the best at whatever he did. Even though the show was popular, and he had displayed great bravado in defending himself to the Birmingham critic, he also must have known that his presence was primarily that of a novelty.

Although he cut his first acting gig short, The College Widow wasn’t his only brush with show business. He later acted in at least one silent film, and also appeared on some television quiz shows.

Show business was big business, and for a man who proved himself incredibly intelligent at amassing a fortune, it’s not a great surprise he continued to go back to the well to capitalize on his reputation and celebrity.

Just think how odd it would be to see Mike Trout in an off-Broadway production of Cats. The same would have applied when Cobb tested out his acting chops. He brought out the lookie-loos, and made good money, but ultimately knew baseball was where his bread was buttered. Nevertheless, it is yet another fascinating chapter in the life of one of baseball’s most interesting figures.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lance McCullers Jr.: Houston Astros Prospect Taking Up the Family Business

Make no mistake about it. The Houston Astros may have lost 111 games in 2013 but they are definitely a franchise on the rise. Led by an overhauled front office and an impressive farm system that has been getting better by the year, the team will be back in contention in short order.

One of the young players who appears to have a bright future with the club is right-handed pitcher Lance McCullers.  Having just completed his second professional season, he is still a ways away from the big leagues, but with his talent and pedigree he should make it there in short order.

If the 20-year-old’s name sounds familiar, that’s because it should. His father, also named Lance McCullers, was a major league pitcher for seven years for the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers. From 1985-1992, he compiled a 28-31 record with a 3.25 ERA and 39 saves in 306 games (all but nine in relief).

Clearly baseball is in the McCullers’ genes. The younger Lance starred for Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida. According to the Tampa Bay Times’ Laura Keeley, he was a perfect 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA as a senior, winning the Gatorade Player of the Year and developing a major reputation as a national prospect. He struck out 140 of the 310 batters he faced that year, and had fielded scholarship offers from major schools for years leading up to that point.

McCullers wound up being drafted by the Astros with the 41st overall pick (supplemental round) in 2012. Ironically, it was the exact same spot his father had been drafted in 1982 by the Philadelphia Phillies.

During his first two seasons, the younger McCullers has done nothing to tarnish his reputation as a top prospect. Pitching across three levels, he has combined to go 6-9 with a 3.24 ERA in 33 games (27 starts). Flashing a powerful arsenal, his 146 strikeouts in 130.2 innings are a good sign of his future ability to be an excellent major league starter.

During this offseason, McCullers answered some questions about his career. Make sure to read on to find out more about this important piece of the Astros future. Also, give him a follow on Twitter to keep up with him as he prepares for another season and another opportunity to get closer to the big leagues.

Lance McCullers Jr. Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player was Mariano [Rivera]. I had such a deep respect, like many others do, for the way he handled himself. He was a superstar through and through but was so humble and professional about his game. He is someone I idolize as a player and a person. 

How did having a dad who played major league baseball impact you?: Tremendously. He helped me in ways I don't even know yet. I think baseball is in my veins. I love the game and have a deep appreciation for it.  It's unlike any other sport, and my father, from a young age, taught me how to always respect the game. 

How did you first find out that the Astros were interested in you?: I had a pre-draft meeting with the club and knew they were at a couple of my games, but the Astros came out of nowhere on draft day and scooped me up.

What pitches do you throw and which do you think you need to work on the most?: I throw both a four-seam and two-seam fastball. I also throw a power curveball and a four-seam and two-seam changeup.

As a ball player, especially a pitcher, you are always working hard and trying to find ways to reinvent/improve your game. I think I just need to work on trusting all of my pitches and being as consistent as possible with them in all counts and situations.

What do you consider to be the primary strengths of the Houston organization?: Depth. Everywhere I look I see big league talent. 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?: To battle every inning and throw every pitch as if it were your last because once the game passes you by, you are going to want it all back. 

What are your personal goals for 2014?: Stay healthy and carry a heavier work/innings load. I will work on attacking the zone, forcing early contact and going deep into starts. 

If you could go toe to toe with any major league hitter, past or present, who would it be and why? How would you pitch to him?: Pete Rose. He is the Hit King, plain and simple. I would come in hard, maybe brush him back a little. Then, come back with a good curveball for a strike. Then I would challenge him with a fastball or two on the outer half and hopefully he was out by then. 

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Boston Red Sox’s All-Day Prospect: Outfielder Forrestt Allday

There is nothing like a baseball player with a great name. The likes of Rusty Kuntz and Razor Shines have graced diamonds of years gone by and will be succeeded by those with even more majestic monikers.

Although Boston Red Sox minor leaguer Forrestt Allday is part of the cool name club, that pales in comparison to what he brings on the field. The 22-year-old is a well-regarded outfield prospect and is starting his ascent up the ranks in the top-notch Boston player development system.

The left-handed Allday was a star at Friendswood High School in Texas. He went on to junior college, accumulating an amazing on-base percentage of .554 in 2011, according to OvertheMonster.com’s Ben Buchanan.

Allday’s strong play earned him a spot with the University of Central Arkansas. In 2012, he hit .324 with 49 runs scored and a .486 on-base percentage, according to the school’s athletic site.
Last season, he went out on top in a Bear uniform, hitting .365 with a .503 on-base percentage and 59 runs scored. He ranked near the top in most Southland Conference offensive categories and set himself up as a very desirable prospect for the draft.

The Red Sox took Allday in the eighth round (233rd overall pick) in 2013. After signing, he played his first professional season with the Lowell Spinners in the New York-Penn League. Appearing in 38 games, he kept up his reputation as an on-base machine, hitting .267 with 11 RBIs, eight stolen bases and a .418 on-base percentage.

Although he isn’t a power hitter, his ability to get on base will only become magnified as he continues to hone his line-drive potential. He also is capable of playing all three outfielder positions, making him a very valuable prospect that could really pay off if his development continues to go well.

To find out how Allday wound up in the Boston organization, check out the interview he recently did with me. If you want to see how he fares in 2014, it won’t be difficult to remember his name. Make sure to also give him a follow on Twitter, and give him the full support of Red Sox Nation.

Forrestt Allday Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up had to be Ken Griffey Jr. He was the most exciting player to watch in baseball, and I wanted to be just like him.

How did you end up choosing to attend the University of Central Arkansas?: Well I went to a junior college out of high school (Alvin Community College) for two years, and my coach Bryan Alexander knew the Central Arkansas coach, Allen Gum, really well. Coach Alexander told me, ‘If I had to send my son somewhere to play right now, it would be to play for Coach Gum at UCA.’

At first, I was honestly a bit skeptical of going all the way to Arkansas to play baseball. But when I met Coach Gum, I knew this was the place for me. And it paid off as, we had a 40+ win season and went to an NCAA Regional before losing to Mississippi State in the Regional final of the winner-take-all Championship game.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you?: Well, during the college season, a lot of scouts were coming to our games. I met a guy named Chris Mears, who is a scout for the Red Sox. He expressed their interest in me and kept contact with me up until the draft.
What was your draft experience like?: Anxious, excited, nervous, etc…  It was a lot of emotions all at once. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I wouldn't change it for the world. My family and friends were over and we watched the draft on the TV. It was an incredible day that I'll never forget and I'm so blessed to be a part of the Boston Red Sox organization.

What current player would you say your style/type of skills is most similar to?: I'd say Jacoby Ellsbury because he can do it all. Hit to all parts of the field, bunt and steal bases. That's the kind of player that I try to emulate when I step on to the baseball field.

What is one part of your game that you hope to improve on the most?: I'd say all parts. This game isn't easy and you can always get better at something. That's my goal; to get better each and every day even if it's a little bit.

A number of major leaguers (Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Brayan Villarreal, etc) were on rehab with the Lowell Spinners this year. What was your experience with them?: It was great to see guys like this come to our team and show us what it's like to be a big leaguer. These guys have such a great work ethic and craft to the game of baseball. Obviously, we are striving to be like them, and hopefully one day we will be.

What are some things you like to do away from baseball?: I enjoy many things outside of baseball such as hanging out with my family, playing with my dogs, working out, etc…

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Friday, January 3, 2014

An Interview With Chicago Cubs Pitching Prospect Corbin Hoffner

The Chicago Cubs seemingly can’t be mentioned in a media report without also bringing up the fact they haven’t won a World Series since 1908—a mere 105 years ago and counting. The current iteration of the franchise is hoping their 2011 hire of wunderkind Theo Epstein as team president will help turn that around.
One of the things the new prez places an emphasis on is developing talent from within, so the team’s farm system has been a top priority since he assumed his role. There are many young players vying to earn the right to one day play in Wrigley Field, including right-handed pitcher Corbin Hoffner.
The big (6’5’, 235 pounds) hurler was a 14th-round selection out of St. Petersburg College in 2012. He only played one year of college ball, but it was a strong one, as he compiled a 2.52 ERA and had 73 strikeouts in 71 innings.

Now 20 years of age, Hoffner just finished his second season in the Chicago system. With an arsenal reported to include a low-90s fastball and a developing slider, he seems to have the makeup of an effective reliever—a role in which he has pitched almost exclusively as a pro.

He has made it as high as short-season Boise (this past season) and has pitched extremely well in his limited exposure. In a combined 23 games (one start) over his first two seasons, he has gone 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA and a save. He has also fanned 55 batters in 59.1 innings and is poised to start 2014 on a full-season roster.

I was able to catch up with the Cubs prospect last offseason. He graciously took the time to answer a few questions about his career. In addition to learning more about him, you can also follow him on Twitter to see where he takes his career in 2014 and beyond.

Corbin Hoffner Interview:
If you could sit down and pick the brain of any pitcher, current or former, who would that be and why?: Someone I would like to sit down with would probably be Roger Clemens because I love the way he went at hitters, and it would be neat to hear what he would say.

Leading up to the 2012 draft, what kind of contact and recruiting were you getting from different teams?: I got letters and calls from about 15 to 18 teams but talked to White Sox, Blue Jays and the Cubs in the days leading up to the draft.

Can you run through what draft day was like for you?: Draft day was very exciting. Having the great opportunity to play pro ball was a blessing.

What pitches do you throw and which one do you hope to improve the most?: I throw a fastball, slider and changeup. There is always room for improvement with them all.

What was one thing you were looking forward to the most about your first spring training?: Spring training is something I'm excited about to see how it is just to experience it.

How overwhelming were the first few days or weeks of your pro career and how did you handle that?:
I did not know what to expect going out to Mesa, Arizona, but it was a great experience and I loved every moment of it and I can't wait to get started here soon. 

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