Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Pitcher Dave Davenport Fought His Way Out of Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, June 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Matt Miller: Baseball's Side-Armed Pitching Dynamo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Miller Interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Minor League Baseball Announces its May Players of the Month

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball today announced the Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 10 full season leagues for the month of May. Each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball in recognition of the honor. 

Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies) right-hander Tom Eshelman was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and two complete games in five starts and led the International League in innings pitched (38.2) despite making his first start of the month with Double-A Reading. In his first month at the Triple-A level, Eshelman worked seven or more innings in four of his five starts (worked 6.2 innings in the other) and struck out 25 batters while walking four. Eshelman, 22, was originally selected by the Houston Astros in the second round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton. 

Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals) right-hander Luke Weaver was named Pacific Coast League Player of the Month after posting a league-best five wins. Weaver’s 2.19 ERA and his 37.0 innings pitched were good for second in the PCL and he struck out 37 batters in May while issuing just six walks. Weaver, 23, was selected in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State University. 

Reading Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery batted .325 in May and led the Eastern League in home runs (10), runs (30), total bases (84), extra-base hits (20), OPS (1.055), slugging (.667) and stolen bases (eight). He posted 13 multi-hit games in May, including six straight from May 25-30. Kingery, 23, was selected by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Arizona. 

Chattanooga Lookouts (Twins) shortstop Nick Gordon led or tied for the Southern League lead in runs (22), total bases (58), extra-base hits (17), doubles (11) and triples (three). Over half of Gordon’s hits for the month (17 of 32) went for extra bases and he recorded nine multi-hit games. Gordon, 21, was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida. 

Springfield Cardinals right-hander Matt Pearce was brilliant in five May starts, leading the Texas League in wins (five), ERA (0.69), innings pitched (39.0), complete games (two) and shutouts (one). Pearce held opponents to a .194 average and allowed just two earned runs over his last 33.0 innings. Pearce, 23, was selected by St. Louis in the 13th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Polk State College. 

Lancaster JetHawks (Rockies) shortstop Brendan Rodgers led the California League in average (.409), hits (47), extra-base hits (21), total bases (86), home runs (eight), RBI (29), slugging (.748) and OPS (1.182) in May. His 21 extra-base hits and 86 total bases led the minors in May. Rodgers notched 14 multi-hit games in May (seven straight to end May) and posted a 13-game hitting streak from May 2-15 and finished the month on a 10-game streak. Rodgers, 20, was the third overall pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft by the Rockies out of Lake Mary (FL) High School. 

Salem Red Sox third baseman Michael Chavis destroyed Carolina League pitching in May, leading the league in average (.368), hits (42), runs (24), doubles (12), homers (seven), RBI (30), extra-base hits (20), total bases (77), slugging (.675) and OPS (1.101). He recorded 14 multi-hit games and posted two seven-game hitting streaks and a six-game streak. Chavis, 21, was selected by Boston in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of the Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia. 

Daytona Tortugas (Reds) second baseman Shed Long batted .359 in 27 games in May to claim Player of the Month honors in the Florida State League. Long recorded 14 multi-hit games during the month of May, including five games with three hits. Long, 21, was selected by Cincinnati in the 12th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Jacksonville (AL) High School. 

Kane County Cougars (Diamondbacks) right-hander Jon Duplantier was dominant in the Midwest League in May, going 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA in six starts. Duplantier allowed just one unearned run over his last five starts (29.0 innings). He scattered 17 hits over his 34 innings of work in May, holding opponents to a .149 average and his 34 strikeouts in May were third-best in the league. Duplantier, 22, was selected by Arizona in the third round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Rice University. 

Lakewood Blue Claws (Phillies) left-hander Nick Fanti handcuffed the South Atlantic League in four April starts, going 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA and held opponents to a league-best .136 average. Fanti did not allow more than one run in any of his outings and worked the first 8.2 innings of a May 6 no-hitter at Columbia. Of the 12 hits he allowed over 25.2 innings in May, only three went for extra bases (two doubles and a triple). Fanti, 20, was selected by the Phillies in the 31st round of the 2015 First Year Player Draft out of Hauppauge (NY) High School. 

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