Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Interview with Pittsburgh Pirates' Pitcher Nick Kingham

This interview originally appeared in 2012 in

Stockpiling quality young pitching is always a priority for a losing team trying to change their fortunes and culture. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who last had a winning season in 1992, have recently drafted highly touted arms like Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole to jump-start their rebuilding process. However, the team is also high on Nick Kingham, another recent draftee, who they believe has a bright future in Pittsburgh.

Kingham, a tall right-handed starter, was taken in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of high school in Las Vegas. According to Pirates prospect site Buried Treasure, Kingham was planning to attend the University of Oregon, but was convinced to turn pro when Pittsburgh offered him a generous signing bonus.

About to turn 21 later this week, Kingham possesses a low-nineties fastball and promising secondary pitches. He impressed in his first two professional seasons in short-season ball, combining for a 2.07 ERA. This past year he made 27 starts in Class-A, and held his own, posting a 6-8 record and 4.39 ERA, while striking out nearly a batter an inning. More information on his statistics is available at

Last year I had a chance to interview Kingham and get to know the up-and-coming Pirates prospect a little better.

Nick Kingham Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: My parents; my Dad grew up playing high school ball. He never played college, but he got me my first interest in it. I started playing it and stuck with it.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: Nope. No favorite team and no favorite player. I was just a fan of the game.

Do you model yourself after any current player?: (Josh) Beckett would be the closest now. I mean it is who I like the most now, but it is pretty hard to emulate somebody that great. I try.

How did you know the Pirates were interested in drafting you?: My scout called me when I was at work with my Dad. He called to tell me that they had drafted me and that they would be in touch. I heard from them two weeks later.

After you signed, did you do anything special for yourself or your family?: We had a few people over two nights before I left, but nothing too special.

What type of pitches do you throw?: Just a fastball, curve and change right now. The fastball is definitely the most important pitch. It’s sitting 91, 92, but reaching 94 or 94.

How has minor league life been?: It’s different. It’s a grind, but no complaints at all. You have to love what you do. 

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Evar Swanson, the Fastest Player in Baseball History

Speed is a quality in baseball that can achieve the swiftest of the swift legendary status. From Hans Lobert racing a horse, to Cool Papa Bell allegedly being able to turn off the lights and be under the covers before the room got dark, there are scores of examples of players showcasing blinding speed. However, the fastest man the game has ever seen may well be little-known outfielder Evar Swanson, who circled the bases in 13.3 seconds between games of a double header in 1929, which is a record that still stands to this day.

Swanson was a freakishly good athlete, who grew up in Illinois, graduating from DeKalb High School around 1920. He starred at Lombard College in baseball, football, basketball and track. After he graduated, he played several years in the fledgling National Football League as a running back between 1924 and 1927.

A right-handed hitter, he was such a good baseball player that he made it to the major leagues in 1929 with the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 26 after having been largely away from the game for several years. He played a total of five years with them and the Chicago White Sox, hitting a combined .303 with 7 home runs, 170 RBIs and 69 stolen bases in 518 games. He played for some terrible teams, with his highest finish being the White Sox and their sixth-place finish in 1933. As a consequence, he is not remembered widely years after his career. However, he should be.

On September 15, 1929, Swanson’s Reds were playing two against the Boston Braves. In an effort to keep fans entertained and sticking around for the second game, the rookie was part of a race to circle the bases with several other players (including teammate Ethan Allen, himself a former track star) between contests. He started from a sprinter’s crouch by home plate and won easily, accomplishing the feat in 13.3 seconds. This not only beat Lobert’s previous record of 14.3 seconds by a full second, but it also earned him a $75 prize and a five-foot tall trophy.

Swanson was always modest about his feat, indicating that speed wasn’t the sole criteria that allowed him to set the record. “You’ve got to hit the bases just right and not take big turns,” he recollected in later years.

Although a number of players have come close over the years, the only person to break that record was Swanson himself, who circled the bases in 13.2 seconds in 1932, while he was playing for Columbus in the American Association. It’s fair to say that such time measurements may have been mire rudimentary during that time, but nobody was ever times better, including a number of players who were widely hailed for their speed. Mickey Rivers attempted to break the record for the Guinness Book of World Records in 1971, but slipped a bit approaching home and finished at 14.3 seconds.

Swanson had an interesting life post baseball. He played semi-pro basketball, ran a grocery store, served in his hometown’s (Galesburg, Illinois) government and was a postmaster. He passed away in 1973 at the age of 70. More than 20 years later his high school Alma Mater began awarding an annual scholarship in his name.

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

Monday, April 9, 2018

Did a Young Robin Yount Almost Quit Baseball for a Career in Professional Golf?

Robin Yount forged a 20-year Hall of Fame career with the Milwaukee Brewers as a shortstop and then outfielder. He accumulated over 3000 base hits and won two Most Valuable Player Awards. However, that almost didn’t happen, as he threatened to quit baseball at the age of 22 to go join the PGA as a professional golfer.

Yount was a legend in Milwaukee during his career (1974-1993). He was a career .285 hitter with 251 home runs and 1,406 RBIs. He was also tremendous defender, especially as a shortstop. A first-round pick, he debuted in the majors at the age of 18 and not surprisingly it took him a few years to adapt into an impact player.

During spring training in 1978, Yount was 22 and had been battling through various injuries. Although he had hit a career high .288 in 1977 he had totaled only 17 home runs through his four major leagues seasons and was nowhere near the impact player he’d one day become. It was also alleged that he was unhappy the Brewers had spent their 1977 first-round pick on hotshot shortstop prospect Paul Molitor, who played his same position, was ready for the majors and might force Yount to the outfield.

Finally, and definitely not least, Yount was supposedly not that happy with his contract, which had paid him $80,000 in 1977. He told the Milwaukee Journal, “I can’t say I’ve enjoyed baseball that much. It’s not as much fun as it should be.”

Yount’s frustrations mounted to the point that he walked out of spring training, saying “I have no idea when I’ll be back. When I’m ready, I’ll talk.” It was reported that he had plans to make the dramatic change in careers and become a professional golfer. Since he had a sore foot, he was placed on the disabled list while he mulled his future.

The Brewers still believed in him and hoped to lock him into a long-term contract even though he had not yet free agency. Yount was still skeptical, telling the Milwaukee Journal, “I’m thinking. I’m just thinking about it. I’d like to sign, I guess. But I’m still thinking. I haven’t made up my mind.” 

Some of his teammates started anonymously confiding to the press that they believed he was going to leave baseball for good. Although Molitor was just 21, he was brought up to be the team’s Opening Day starting shortstop.

It was rumored that Yount was going to stay of the baseball diamond for good in 1978 to give professional golf a try. He later denied he ever talked about it seriously, but the speculation swirled nevertheless. It all came to a head in early May, when he suddenly appeared in Milwaukee and announced he was returning to the Brewers and would be ready to play within a week. Molitor soon shifted the second and team gelled with the return of their prodigal son.

Yount had the best season of his career to date in 1978 and went on to bloom even further, teaming with Molitor for 15 seasons (who left via free agency following the 1992 season). He signed a long-term extension with Milwaukee and remained with them until his retirement following the 1993 season (20 years!). The Brewers benefitted from the presence of their two stars, winning a pennant in 1982 being consistently competitive during their time with the Brew Crew.

When you’re young it can sometimes be difficult to see the trees through the forest. Yount was a baseball ingĂ©nue but came to realize the totality of his talents over the course of years instead of all at once. He experienced some frustrations that nearly steered him out of the game at an age when most people are graduating from college. Fortunately he stayed the course and turned in a legendary career that led to his enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Chance Sisco's Violation of One of Baseball's Dumbest (Unwritten) Rules

The 2018 major league baseball season is not even a week old and there is already a strong candidate for the dumbest story of the year. With his team trailing 7-0 in the ninth inning on April 1st, Baltimore Orioles’ rookie catcher Chance Sisco laid down a bunt for a single against a shift employed by the Minnesota Twins to take away holes for his left-handed swing. After the game, the Twins made it abundantly clear their belief was that one of baseball’s “unwritten rules” had been broken by this action. This type of thinking is not only absurd, but is out of date and needs to stop.

According to an article on the story by ESPN, Minnesota pitcher Jose Berrios (who ended up winning that game by complete-game shutout) was quoted as saying "I don't care if he's bunting. I just know it's not good for baseball in that situation. That's it.”

Meanwhile, Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier weighed in. "I could've said something, but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there… I'm sure they'll address it and move forward."

Let’s examine the utter stupidity of suggesting that a player should not be trying simply because his team is behind late in a game.

-While a 7-0 deficit in the ninth inning is an unlikely scenario to come back from, it is far from impossible. As recently as 2016 the Seattle Mariners came back from 10 runs down to beat the San Diego Padres. There are numerous other examples of improbable victories. It’s early in the season, but a win can make a major difference by the end of the year. This is especially true for a team like the Orioles, who operate with a minuscule margin of error because of their existence in the annually strong American League East.

-Why is it a violation of the unwritten rules that Sisco tried to get on base during a late, out of hand game, but the Twins were in the right by shifting their fielders in an effort to get him out more easily? There is always concern in major league sports that teams are putting out maximum effort (see history of gambling, tanking, etc…). If anything, MLB should crack down on such talk that suggests that a player or team should effectively stand down because they happen to be losing by a wider margin.

-This story also comes down to dollars and cents. Players have a relatively defined period of time to make their money. For the small percentage of players who are signed by professional teams and ultimately make the majors, the average length of their career as a big leaguer is just 5.6 years. A player’s ability to get an extra base hit or two; potentially hit a home run serves to pad their stats and by proxy potentially their earnings.

Chance Sisco did nothing wrong by trying to get on base with his team losing by seven runs in the ninth inning. In baseball, the team on offense is trying to score as many runs as possible, while the team pitching and on defense is attempting to stop them by all means possible. It should literally be that simple with no in between, baseball’s unwritten rules be damned.

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