Top 100 Baseball Blog

Saturday, August 24, 2019

From Pizza Delivery to the Big Leagues: Jim Rushford and His Amazing Journey Through Baseball

Research shows that only about 0.5 percent of high school seniors who play baseball will get drafted by a baseball team; and less than 11 percent of varsity baseball-playing college seniors will get the call. Of those few that become a draft pick, less than one in five will eventually play in the majors. These numbers all make what Jim Rushford did all the more special.

Growing up outside Chicago, Rushford was a huge fan of baseball. A solid high school career landed him an opportunity to play collegiately with San Diego State University. The left-handed thrower and hitter was a versatile asset for the Aztecs, playing outfield and pitching. Sometimes, he would play right field, be brought in to pitch to a left-handed batter and then be sent back to the outfield. There was even a stretch during his senior year where he filled in for injured star first baseman Travis Lee, who went on to be the first overall pick in the 1996 draft.

After going undrafted and spending some time working in the “real world,” Rushford was signed to play ball for the Dubois County Dragons of the independent Heartland League.  Pitching and playing a little outfield and first, he hit .341 and posted a 4.35 ERA, proving that he had more than enough talent to play professionally.

Rushford became an independent league star, culminating in 2000, when he hit .329 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs for the Duluth-Superior Dukes of the Northern League. His hard work was drawing attention and it all paid off when he was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers after the season when he was 27.

Despite his unorthodox path, Rushford immediately showed he belonged. In 2001, his first season in the Milwaukee system, he played half a season at High-A and the other half at Double-A, hitting a combined .354 with 21 home runs, 91 RBIs and 103 runs scored in 122 games.

Hitting .316 in 2002 at Triple-A, Milwaukee decided to give Rushford a big-league shot. Called up in September, he played regularly for the remainder of the season, appearing in 23 games, hitting .143 (11 hits in 77 at-bats) with a home run and six RBIs.

Although he did not get another chance at the majors, Rushford went on to play professionally through the 2010 season, working in the minors, Mexico, Venezuela and spending his final two seasons back in independent ball. He also played in the systems of the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies. He finished his 14-year professional with a career batting average of .296 in the minors and .322 in the independent leagues. Not bad for someone who went undrafted out of high school and college and more than once thought his baseball journey was over.

Keep reading for more, as Rushford generously shared memories of his time in baseball.

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I used to throw a rubber ball against the brick wall of my house between two sets of windows. This gave me great control because there was so much riding on each throw. I loved the pressure and the adrenaline it gave me.

I used to pretend I was Nolan Ryan (Astros) blowing fastballs by people. I'd go all nine. I loved that he could power his fastball by anyone for nine innings.

My other favorite pretend scenario was that I was Steve Carlton (Phillies), because he was left-handed like me. I would go eight innings and then Tug McGraw (Phillies), also a lefty, would come in pounding his glove like he used to do and close out the ninth.

Then I would pretend I was Ozzie Smith (Cardinals) playing shortstop and making acrobatic game-saving plays. I always wanted to be the first major league left-handed short stop. There was always something about the soft hands and footwork of the middle infield I enjoyed.

I always admired Pete Rose (Reds & Phillies) for his hard-nosed aggressive play. Nobody ever played with greater intensity than Charlie Hustle. The best player ever would have to have that ingredient as a part of his game.

Lastly, I grew up a Cubs fan in a northwest suburb of Chicago. I liked Bill Buckner, and later, Leon Durham, because they were great left-handed hitters. I also liked the acrobatic Ivan De Jesus at shortstop, the always great and consistent Ryne Sandberg at second base, and big Lee Smith coming out of the pen to close the game out.

How disappointed were you to not be drafted and how did you come to play in independent ball?: It was a little hard to take not being drafted. I wasn't sure what to do with myself next other than finish school. I had plenty of warning that it wasn't going to happen. I wasn't drafted my junior year and I barely played my senior year. I wasn't being contacted by anyone showing any sort of interest. But you still sort of hope that by some crazy fluke, some team takes you in a late round or contacts you after the draft about signing as a free agent or something.

I initially was sent to Salinas, California to play in the Independent Western Baseball League by Coach Jim Dietz at San Diego State. I made the trip up to NoCal, but never signed the contract. I figured it was over for me and I should just move on with my life. I ended up working as a roofer in San Diego for $7 an hour all that summer.

The following year, I realized that I had made a big mistake and that independent ball was not necessarily a dead end. I tried out for the Springfield Capitals in the Frontier League as an outfielder. I made it to the final cut but didn't make the team.

Next, I headed up to Chicago where I grew up to visit some old friends. We were drinking beer in a bar and watching Sports Center. They were showing highlights of home runs that were hit that night. I looked at my friends and said, ‘I can do that.’

The very next day I started calling every old baseball contact I could think of. Through an old collegiate summer ball coach, Coach Rich Hinzo from Southwestern Junior College in San Diego, I was put in touch with a player he once had, catcher Donnie Diffenbough, who was playing in southern Indiana for the Dubois County Dragons in the Heartland League. Donnie put me through to the manager, RC Lichtenstein. I quickly told RC that I was a very capable left-handed pitcher and I'd like to play for him. He invited me down to tryout and the next morning I drove from Chicago to Jasper/Huntingburg, Indiana and pitched an inning. RC liked what he saw, and I was put on the roster as an additional pitcher. I soon talked RC into letting me hit. I pitched and hit for the Dragons and put up some good numbers which became my de facto baseball resumé. It was a great summer!

What was the best and/or strangest off-season job you had when you were a player?: I laid concrete, built the roof on a new Kmart, delivered pizzas, was a fitness trainer at a gym, was a bus boy, bouncer, and bar back at a high end bar in downtown San Diego (Croce's), worked as mover for a moving company, and was a stagehand for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. I also did baseball camps and private hitting instruction. Some were off-season jobs, and some were failed attempts to start a new career path.

The moving job was by far the worst. It was physically grueling and a very negative environment. Pizza delivery and the gym were by far the most fun. I love fitness and weight lifting and who doesn't like pizza. It was a fun positive environment for both.

How did you find out you were going to be signed by the Brewers, and did you believe that you were going to end up in the majors one day?: In the fall of 2000, my old Dubois County Dragons manager, RC Lichtenstein called me. He said he had been following my baseball career and he was now a pitching coach in the Brewers organization. He told me that the Brewers were cleaning house and revamping their farm system. They had a spot for a guy like me. They wanted a more experienced player who could play well and set a good example for their young prospects.

First of all, I had already had so many occasions where my hopes had been high only to be disappointed in the end. It was hard to imagine this time being any different. Yet, it did seem different. It was going to really happen this time I thought. But I proceeded with cautious optimism.

Reading between the lines, I wasn't on their radar to be a future Major Leaguer at all. But still, this was the one seemingly insurmountable obstacle in my baseball career... A chance with an affiliated team.

Greg Riddoch, the farm director, later called me and then I knew it was real. But still, I didn't tell anyone until the contract was mailed to my house and I had signed it. I even kept checking the transactions just to make sure it was real. I was just waiting for the catch in all of this and the disappointment to come and blind side me.

What an incredible exciting moment when I really felt thoroughly convinced that this was really happening. I had a real Major League organization that I belonged to. Forever I could say that the Milwaukee Brewers had signed me! They might not have had big plans for me, but I was going to take my opportunity to turn heads and change minds.

What do you remember most about your major league debut (against the Chicago Cubs)?: I was very nervous. I had never really even spent any time in a big-league clubhouse including spring training. I didn't know how things worked up there. So, I was struggling to feel my way around. I wasn't sure how to get into the stadium or what to wear or any of the etiquette involved. I didn't know the players either.

When I stepped foot out onto the field, and it was a mix of thrill and excitement along with fear and uncertainty. The Cubs were taking batting practice and Sammy Sosa introduced himself to me. I said, ‘Nice to meet you. and he said, ‘The pleasure is mine,’ as if I was the superstar!

We started taking batting practice, and I guess I had a ton of adrenaline, because one of the coaches, Cecil Cooper, who knew me fairly well from the minors, kept telling me to dial my swing down a notch. I remember hearing a ball clang around in the bleachers after one swing I took, but I'm not entirely sure if I had hit it out of the park or if it was some other ball. The tempo of BP pitches was coming at me too fast, one after another, to be able to look. I grew up in Chicago as a Cubs fan. I used to go to Wrigley Field all the time as a kid. It would have been nice to know if I had actually hit one out of there that day.

After BP, one of the coaches, Gary Allenson, took me out to left field and made me run down a few dozen balls off his fungo. I had just had a minor groin pull in Triple-A Indianapolis, which almost cost me my call-up. I realized that they were testing my groin out to make sure that they weren't putting an already injured player on the major league roster. I wasn't certain at all that the groin wouldn't pop at any second, but I made it through the test without raising any red flags. It wasn't until after all of that, I went into the clubhouse and signed a mountain of paperwork which I assume was my big-league contract.

Matt Clement pitched that night. I was playing left field. I remember feeling very uneasy about it because I had always only played right field. Between my iffy groin, playing out of position, and it being my major league debut in my childhood hometown I was very nervous.
In my first at bat, I figured I'd take my usual patient approach and see a pitch or two first to size it up. Clement laid the first pitch fastball right down Main Street and I took it all the way for strike one. I'll always regret not taking a big healthy hack at that first pitch. What if I had deposited the first major league pitch thrown to me in the bleachers of Wrigley Field? How cool would have that been!? It would have taken so much pressure off of me right away too. After that, the pitches just got nastier and nastier. I managed to avoid striking out and hit a grounder to short resulting in a fielder's choice.

Out in left field, I was every bit as nervous. There were dozens of people I had known from growing up in Chicago who had just happened to be at the game that night. The bleacher creatures were ruthless, and I was now on the enemy team.

The starting pitcher, David Pember, was also making his MLB debut. In the first inning, Fred McGriff hit a high fly down the left field line into foul territory. It was dusk and very hard to see the ball. I had to run a good distance and deal with the bullpen mound in the field of play. There was a runner on third tagging. Fighting to track the ball, I ran up the front of the bullpen mound and caught the ball on the run. Then I stepped down the backside of the mound, set my feet, and delivered a perfect one hop long hop strike to home plate. It was a bang bang play, but the runner was called safe. Jerry Royster, the interim manager named after Davey Lopes was fired, came out to argue. Not an easy play at all, but I was just relieved that I came through.

A few innings later, Moises Alou hit a liner over my right shoulder with two outs and runners on base. I took a good route back but put my glove up an inch or two off the mark from the hooking liner. The ball deflected off my glove and rolled all the way back to the wall. Two runs scored on the error. The fans in the left field bleachers were turned up their heckling to a level 10 and absolutely started wearing me out. I wanted to dig a hole and climb in it.

I just remember looking at the scoreboard saying it was only the third inning and then looking at the clock indicating we were only an hour into the game. I felt like it had been 6 or more hours since the game had started, and I was absolutely exhausted. I was so nervous that my entire perception of time was completely distorted. Not a good mental state to be in for baseball. The problem was that I had always been the underdog with something to prove and someone to prove wrong. I was the man with nothing to lose. Now, all of a sudden, I had everything and felt I only had everything to lose... or at least so I thought. This was completely new territory for me. I didn't know how to deal with it mentally.

A couple of innings later, a soft shallow liner was served out to left in front of me. Remembering my earlier faux pas, I desperately wanted to make amends. I charged the ball aggressively. Seeing that I was going to come up a hair short, I left my feet towards full extension. I gained just enough distance with the dive to cover the needed ground and made an absolute web gem.

I didn't get a hit in the game and we lost. I actually didn't get my first hit until my 12th at-bat. My error and my diving catch were re-played on Sports Center and Baseball Tonight for the rest of the 24-hour news cycle. It really hit me how everything in the majors is under a microscope and meticulously scrutinized. The pressure can be enormous if you don't know how to handle it right.

Were there any pitchers who were active when you were in the majors that you would have liked to face, but did not get the chance to do so?: No. I didn't play the day Randy Johnson threw against us. It would have been cool to face him for the novelty, but I think they did me a favor not putting me in that situation.

I faced many big-name pitchers between the minor leagues, winter ball, and major league spring training though.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: There were so many great memorable moments during my baseball career. The ones that stand out to me the most were getting signed by the Milwaukee Brewers, winning the single season minor league batting title, and hitting my one and only major league home run.

Getting signed by the Brewers was completely exhilarating. I had done so much and failed so many times that it seemed as though the impossible had just happened. I had spent years in independent ball, went to scout league games, tryout camps, and you name it for years without any success. A number of times I had been extremely hopeful about a possible opportunity only to be disappointed in the end. Many other times, nobody was interested in me at all. Sometimes the scouts would flat out tell me I wasn't good enough. So signing that first contract with an affiliated team, the thought that I could say that I played with the Milwaukee Brewers organization for the rest of my life, and knowing that I was going to get a real shot to prove myself within an affiliated organization charged me up with nuclear-sized energy that lasted all the way through that first year with the Brewers.

My next best and proudest moment was when I realized I had won the single season minor league batting title in 2001. I had a phenomenal first year with the Brewers organization, batting .363 in High Desert (A+) and then .342 in Huntsville (Double-A) with 21 home
runs and a combined .354 batting average.

I was reading a Baseball Weekly publication at the end of the regular season and they did a feature on the 2001 minor league batting champion, Rangers top prospect Hank Blalock. I went back and calculated my stats and realized that I had hit .354. I then double checked to see what the criteria was to be eligible and I couldn't find any reason that I shouldn't have been declared the winner. I called my agent, Pat Arter, who then called Baseball Weekly and it was determined that they had made a mistake. To make it up to me, they did a feature spread on me in a subsequent fall issue.

I consider winning the batting title that season my single greatest baseball accomplishment ever, because it required an entire season of grinding it out and staying hot from start to finish. Anybody who has ever played a full season of professional baseball understands how difficult that is to do. It doesn't happen without an enormous amount of effort. You have to earn that for sure.

Lastly, the moment I wouldn't trade for the world and the moment that made it all worth it, was when I hit my one and only major league home run on Friday, September 13th in Arizona. I was battling Rick Helling with two strikes. I spoiled five pitches or so fouling them off. Then he left one where I could handle it. It was a hanging curve that didn't quite make it all the way down and in. I met it well enough to know it would have the distance to clear the fence, but I had pulled it directly down the right field line and it was questionable whether or not it would stay fair. I started running and watching the ball, just holding my breath. As I was rounding first base, I saw the ball hit the inside of the foul pole and carom into the right field bullpen. The base umpire signaled fair ball and that it was a home run.

At that moment, I felt the weight of the entire world lift off of my shoulders. All of the hard work, disappointments, failures, successes; they all had culminated into this one moment. No matter what, the stats would show that I hit one home run in the major leagues for the rest of eternity and nobody could erase it even if they wanted to.

Getting called up to the majors was huge, and getting my first major league hit was bigger, but nothing even came close to hitting a dinger in the Show. I finished that game 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. I did a TV interview on the field after the game and the Phoenix paper's sports section headline read 'Pizza Man Delivers Brewers Over Helling, Diamondbacks'. For one day in time, I stood at the top of the tallest mountain. I saw the view and it was amazing!!!

You played professionally in different countries, which non-US country was your favorite and why?: I played in Puerto Rico (US), Venezuela, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. I enjoyed all of them. Venezuela was by far the most exciting for me. The atmosphere at the games was like what you would expect at World Cup soccer matches.

The energy at the Magallanes vs Caracas games was complete pandemonium. It was the equivalent of a Yankees-Red Sox World Series matchup. M-80s would be blown off in the stands the entire game. I even had a few thrown at me out in right field that exploded very close to me. The fans would do the wave and throw their Polar beer up into the air, showering everyone around them. Between innings, a dozen or more armed security guards with AK-47s and German Shepherd guard dogs would circle the perimeter of the outfield for protection. It was so deafeningly loud that you couldn't hear the person directly next to you and I even lost my sense of balance due to my equilibrium being thrown off from the excessive noise. They would play loud music between every pitch and the Pepsi girls would dance suggestively in the stands wearing tight blue spandex outfits.

I was paid well and treated like royalty. The U.S. dollar goes a very long way in Venezuela, so I lived like a king. There was a very exciting night life and great restaurants. It was fun, scary, and exciting all at the same time. I did very well there too, which always makes a difference. Looking back on it, playing winter ball in all of these countries gave me invaluable playing experience and offered a great opportunity to see other places and cultures.

What, if anything, would you have done differently in your baseball career?: Despite always giving 100% and doing what I thought was best at the time, there are many things that I wish I had done differently.

I regret every time I ever threw my equipment or had a meltdown on the field. It does no good and it just draws attention to your mistakes and makes you look bad.

I didn't understand the business aspect of baseball. I didn't know how to sell myself to the organization, the fans, and the media. I didn't understand how important the social and political aspects of the clubhouse could be. I just didn't see the big picture. I was a real Forrest Gump. I just put my head down and went hard all of the time and I thought that would be enough. Good performance is mandatory, but the whole package matters a lot too.
I mostly wish I could have done my time in the major leagues with the wisdom and experience I had at the end of my career.

What are you up to these days?: I live in Sahuarita, Arizona with my wife of 22 years, Danielle. We have 3 children, Kelly (17), Milo (15), and Mia (12). I drive a haul truck at a copper mine and Danielle is a medical bill coding manager. Kelly is an accomplished ballerina, Milo is an up and coming baseball player, and Mia is an excellent horseback rider.
I was a volunteer coach for Milo's varsity high school baseball team this spring and I managed his varsity team this past summer.

We are a host family for an Independent League player who is playing for the Tucson Saguaros in the Pecos League. The Pecos League is very similar to the type of Independent league that I got my start in professional baseball in.

I'd like to find some sort of employment in baseball in the next few years. I'm probably most qualified to be a coach or a scout, but I'd be open to anything baseball related.

I like to lift weights and run. I also have found a passion for economics. Most people's eyes glaze over when the discussion turns towards economics, but I find the subject very exciting. Maybe that is related to my fascination with baseball statistics. I'm really into MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) which is a heterodox (non-mainstream) subset of post-Keynesian economics. I've probably read enough economics literature to have a PhD in it by now.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) on topics of baseball that are available on Amazon.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Last At-Bat of Legendary Baseball Hitters

Major League Baseball is defined by its legends; players who are still remembered decades after their last appearance in a game and their ultimate deaths. Despite the amazing feats some of these players accomplished, when the bell finally rang to signal the end of their careers, their swan songs were lackluster by comparison.

In particular, here are twelve of the greatest hitters of the first half of the 20th century. Their final big-league at-bat were quiet departures from the game that had made them so famous and caused them to become part of its collective memory for all time.

Honus Wagner- September 11, 1917: Playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he pinch-hit for rookie second baseman Jake Pitler. Facing St. Louis Cardinals’ rookie pitcher Oscar Horstmann, he struck out. The Pirates wound up losing 5-2.

Ty Cobb- September 11, 1928: Playing for the Philadelphia Athletics, he pinch-hit in the top of the ninth for third baseman Jimmie Dykes against Hank Johnson and the New York Yankees; popping out to shortstop Mark Koenig in a 5-3 loss.

Tris Speaker- August 30, 1928: Playing for the Athletics, he pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth for Joe Boley against the Boston Red Sox. Facing reliever Ed Morris, he struck out for the second out of the inning in what ended up being a 3-2 loss.

Eddie Collins- August 5, 1930: Playing for the Athletics, he pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth for Joe Boley against the Red Sox. Facing reliever Danny MacFayden, he grounded out to second baseman Otis Miller for the final out of a 4-3 loss.

George Sisler- September 22, 1930: Playing for the Boston Braves, he pinch-hit for second baseman Freddie Maguire in the top of the fifth inning against Guy Bush and the Chicago Cubs. He hit a grounder to first baseman George “High Pockets” Kelly, who fed Bush for the out. Boston went on to lose 6-2.

Babe Ruth- May 30, 1935: Playing for the Braves, he grounded out in the top of the first against Jim Bivin and the Philadelphia Phillies. He then walked out of the ballpark through the outfield fence after the bottom of the first, never to play another game again. He was replaced in the lineup by Hal Lee, who banged out three hits later in the game. The Braves still lost 11-6.

Mickey Cochrane- May 25, 1937- Playing for the Detroit Tigers, and playing catcher, he was hit in the head by a pitch from Bump Hadley of the New York Yankees in the top of the fifth inning. He was pinch-ran for by career back-up catcher Ray Hayworth (who stole a total of two bases in 15 major league seasons). The Tigers went on to lose 4-3.

Rogers Hornsby- July 20, 1937: The manager of the St. Louis Browns played himself sparingly as he saw fit. His last at-bat came pinch-hitting for second-baseman Tom Carey against Monte Pearson and the Yankees. In the bottom of the 10th inning, he popped up to catcher Bill Dickey in a 5-4 loss.

Lou Gehrig- April 30, 1939: Playing for the Yankees, he went 0-for-4 in a 3-2 loss to the Joe Krakauskas and the Washington Senators.

Jimmie Foxx- September 23, 1945: Playing for the Phillies, he struck out in the top of the fifth inning against Tom Seats of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was later lifted for pinch hitter Tony Lupien, as Philadelphia drops the contest 4-3.

Mel Ott- July 11, 1947: Playing for the New York Giants, he pinch hit for pitcher Larry Jansen in the bottom of the eighth inning against reliever Ken Burkhart and the St. Louis Cardinals. He grounded out to first baseman Stan Musial to end the inning, and the game concluded shortly thereafter in a 4-3 St. Louis victory.

Hank Greenberg- September 18, 1947: Playing first base for the Pirates against the Dodgers, he faced reliever Clyde King with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Although he popped up to second baseman Eddie Stanky, the very next batter, Wally Westlake, hit a walk-off solo home run to give his team the 8-7 victory.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) on topics of baseball that are available on Amazon.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Minor League Baseball Announces July Uncle Ray’s Players of the Month

15 organizations represented by July winners 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Aug. 6, 2019 — Minor League Baseball today announced the Uncle Ray’s Player of the Month Award winners for each of the 16 leagues for the month of July. In recognition of the honor, each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball and Uncle Ray’s, the “Official Potato Chip of Minor League Baseball.” 

Rochester Red Wings (Twins) right fielder Jaylin Davis led the International League in home runs (11), RBI (27), runs (30), hits (39), total bases (80), slugging percentage (.755) and OPS (1.197). He was third in average (.368) and on-base percentage (.442). He recorded 14 multi-hit games and started the month with a nine-game hitting streak that included seven multi-hit affairs. Davis was traded to the San Francisco Giants on July 31 in exchange for right-hander Sam Dyson. Davis, 25, was selected by Minnesota in the 24th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Appalachian State University. 

Oklahoma City Dodgers shortstop Gavin Lux led the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.435), runs (29), on-base percentage (.519), OPS (1.356) and triples (four) and was second in hits (40), third in slugging percentage (.837), fourth in total bases (77) and sixth in RBI (26). Lux recorded 12 multi-hit games in July and posted hitting streaks of 13 games (July 1–19) and eight games (July 21–31). In a four-game series at Iowa July 15–18, Lux went 12-for-18 (.667) with two doubles, five homers and 11 RBI. Lux, 21, was selected by Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Indian Trail High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox) left-hander Daniel McGrath went 2-0 in six July starts, leading the Eastern League with a 0.24 ERA. He finished second in innings pitched (37.0), batting average against (.151) and WHIP (0.89) and fourth in strikeouts (35). McGrath did not allow an earned run in five of his six starts. In his four no-decisions, he left one game with the lead and left the other three in scoreless games after six, seven and eight innings respectively. McGrath, 25, was signed by Boston as an international free agent on Feb. 7, 2012, out of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. 

Jackson Generals (Diamondbacks) first baseman Pavin Smith led the Southern League in average (.341), RBI (18), total bases (55), slugging percentage (.604) and OPS (.998). He finished second in hits (31) and fourth in on-base percentage (.394).He recorded a nine-game hitting streak July 6-19 and finished the month on a seven-game streak that began on July 25. Smith, 23, was selected by Arizona in the first round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Virginia.  

Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros) left fielder Seth Beer batted .337 in July and led the Texas League in home runs (nine), runs (24), total bases (63), on-base percentage (.462), slugging percentage (.663) and OPS (1.125), and finished second in RBI (24). On July 31, Beer was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Zack Greinke trade and is currently playing for the Jackson Generals in the Southern League. Beer, 22, was originally selected by Houston in the first round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Clemson University. 

Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernardino (Angels) center fielder Gareth Morgan batted .310 in July and led the California League in home runs (12), RBI (28), total bases (77), slugging percentage (.664) and OPS (1.014), and was second in runs scored (21) and third in hits (36). Morgan posted two six-game hitting streaks, a seven-game streak and 10 multi-hit games in July. Morgan, 23, was originally selected by Seattle in Competitive Balance Round B of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of North Toronto Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Ontario. 

Down East Wood Ducks (Rangers) first baseman Curtis Terry led the Carolina League in home runs (five), hits (37), total bases (60), slugging percentage (.600) and OPS (1.002). He finished second in batting average (.370) and fourth in runs (17) and on-base percentage (.402). Terry recorded 10 multi-hit games in July and hit in eight straight games July 10–18. Terry, 22, was selected by Texas in the 13th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia. 

Bradenton Marauders (Pirates) shortstop Oneil Cruz led the Florida State League in home runs (six), total bases (53), slugging percentage (.596) and OPS (.958), was second in average (.326) and third in runs scored (16). Cruz hit safely in 19 of 23 games with 10 multi-hit efforts for the Marauders in July before a July 29 promotion to Double-A Altoona. Cruz, 20, was originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers  out of Nizao, Dominican Republic, on July 2, 2015. 

Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals) third baseman Brendan Donovan led the Midwest League in batting average (.390), on-base percentage (.489), slugging percentage (.675) and OPS (1.164), while finishing second in runs (24) and third in doubles (nine) and triples (two). Donovan recorded 10 multi-hit games in July, including five straight from July 17–21, which helped raise his season average from .227 to .268. Donovan, 22, was selected by St. Louis in the seventh round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of South Alabama. 

Augusta Green Jackets (Giants) pitcher Seth Corry led the South Atlantic League in wins (six), ERA (0.54), WHIP (0.57) and batting average against (.123) and was second in strikeouts (43). He did not allow an earned run in five of his six starts, allowed more than two hits just once and walked more than one batter only once. Corry, 20, was selected by San Francisco in the third round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah. 

Staten Island Yankees second baseman Ezequiel Duran batted .333 and led the New York-Penn League in hits (36), runs (23), total bases (68), home runs (seven), slugging percentage (.630) and OPS (1.022), while finishing second in RBI (20) and triples (two). He recorded 16 extra-base hits and posted 12 multi-hit games, including five straight games from July 13–18. Duran, 20, was signed by New York out of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic, on July 2, 2017. 

Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Giants) right fielder Franklin Labour batted .314 in July and led the Northwest League in home runs (nine), runs (22), total bases (70), slugging percentage (.667) and OPS (1.062). He finished second in hits (33), third in doubles (eight) and fourth in RBI (20). Labour hit safely in 16 straight games July 1–19 and recorded 18 extra-base hits and 10 multi-hit games before an August 1 promotion to Class-A Augusta. Labour, 21, was signed by San Francisco out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on July 2, 2015. 

Burlington Royals catcher Logan Porter led the Appalachian League in batting average (.382), on-base percentage (.520), slugging percentage (.724) and OPS (1.244). He finished second in total bases (55) and third in doubles (eight). He reached base safely in 12 straight games July 4–20 and recorded 14 extra-base hits. Porter, 24, attended Dixie State University and was signed by Kansas City as a free agent on June 18, 2018. 

Grand Junction Rockies shortstop Christian Koss led the Pioneer League in RBI (29), total bases (66), on-base percentage (.482) and OPS (1.207) and was second in batting average (.374), hits (34), home runs (seven) and slugging percentage (.725). He finished third in the league in runs (20) and triples (two). Koss posted 12 multi-hit games, including six straight from July 5–12. Koss, 21, was selected by Colorado in the 12th round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of California-Irvine. 

AZL Padres shortstop CJ Abrams batted .367 in July and led the Arizona League in hits (33) and triples (six), and he finished second in total bases (62) and slugging percentage (.667). Abrams finished third in doubles (nine) and sixth in runs (21) and OPS (1.075). Abrams posted 11 multi-hit games in 20 July contests and hit in 10 straight games July 1–14. Abrams, 18, was selected by San Diego in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Georgia. 

GCL Nationals shortstop Junior Martina led the Gulf Coast League in on-base percentage (.488) and OPS (1.039) and was second in batting average (.362). He finished third in runs (17), hits (25), total bases (38), triples (two) and slugging percentage (.551). Martina reached base safely in 18 of the 20 games in which he had a plate appearance. Martina, 21, was selected by Washington in the 16th round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of Western Oklahoma State College.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) on topics of baseball that are available on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Chris Sale: Diagnosing the Troubles of the Boston Red Sox Ace

One of the biggest questions of the 2019 baseball season is the speculation of what’s wrong with Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. With a 5-11 record and 4.68 ERA in 23 starts; his production to date is a far cry from the expectations he has built over the previous seven years as an annual Cy Young Award contender. Taking a deeper look at his stats for this season may yield some answers.

The wonderful sites and Baseball Reference have an abundance of data available that allows players to be micro-examined down to their every movement. Having gone 103-62 with a 2.89 ERA entering the 2019 campaign, there is obvious reason for concern for the rapid downfall of the 30-year-old southpaw. Fortunately, these sites have dutifully logged a trove of information that may help us understand what’s going on.

From the beginning of this season the alarm bells sounded over an apparent sharp down-tick in velocity in Sale’s fastball. Although he has seen the average speed of his heater rise as the year has progressed, the pitch is still averaging 93.7 MPH, which is a full two MPH less than last year (when he was 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA for Boston).

Known primarily for a devastating fastball/slider mix, which results in a lot of strikeouts, Sale is averaging an American League-leading 13.1 punchouts per nine innings, which is just a shade below his career-best mark of 13.5 last year. He has already recorded a dozen games with at least 10 strikeouts in a game this year, with a high of 17 on May 24th against the Colorado Rockies. The evidence shows that he still has that good, devastating stuff, but his command has flashed in and out like a distant radio station.

The inconsistent command is evident in two primary areas.  First, he is walking more batters than he has since his days as a raw, undisciplined thrower in the bullpen of the Chicago White Sox during the earliest days of his career. His walk rate of 2.4 free passes per nine innings is nearly 30 percent higher than his typical allowance in recent years.

The long ball has also been a consistent issue for Sale in 2019. He has already coughed up 22 gopher balls in just 132.2 innings, which is on pace for a spike of nearly 40 percent more than his previous season-high. He has given up at least one home run in 16 of his 23 starts.
In the seven starts where he has kept the ball in the yard, he is a 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and a ridiculous 71 strikeouts in 46 innings, with 28 hits and five walks allowed. He has also struck out double digits in six of those seven starts.

In the 16 starts that have yielded at least one ball over the fence, he is 1-10 with a 6.38 ERA. In those 86.1 innings, he has struck out 122, but has walked 30 and given up a total of 88 hits.

With a very good batting average against of .227, the number suggests that Sale is suffering more from inconsistent stuff or even “bad luck” than an overall decline of ability. His .319 batting average against on balls in play strengthen that argument further, as it is a rather high number for a pitcher, who still generates extreme swing and miss tendencies.
Not surprisingly, he is generating more harder-hit balls and fewer weakly-hit balls. His 16.1% soft contact rate is his worst since 2013, and his 35.6% hard-hit ball rate is the highest of his career.

If command isn’t the primary issue for Sale, is it possible he is tipping his pitches or game plan in some way? The first time through a lineup, he has been nearly unhittable in 2019, as hitters have mustered just a .171 batting average and .551 OPS at first blush. However, the second time around, those numbers skyrocket to .319 and .976. That should generate a strong suspicion that hitters are contemplating his arsenal in the early innings and sitting on something specific the next time up, and doing something with it. That something specific appears to chiefly be his fastball, which has seen a precipitous dip in runs above average this season (-2.6 compared to 13.6 in 2018 and 26.3 in 2017). This could be related to velocity, location, or both.

Much has also been made about Sale needing veteran catcher Sandy Leon catch all of his games in order to get him back on track. While it’s true he has struggled mightily in his six starts with Christian Vazquez calling the game (6.68 ERA), he has been far from perfect with Leon (4.07 ERA).

Having inked a massive five-year, $145 million contract extension this past off-season, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the state of Sale’s pitching ability. The good news is that the left-hander is far from being void of talent. On the other hand, it does look like he is pitching with a diminished fastball, both in velocity and effectiveness, and hasn’t yet figured out how to compensate for that and readjust accordingly.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) on topics of baseball that are available on Amazon.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Nick Hagadone: Baseball, Coffee and Hard Work

It takes a great deal of confidence for a professional baseball player to succeed. There are few things that can better help tap into potential. Throughout his career, pitcher Nick Hagadone bet on himself and his talent and has seen it pay off again and again.

Growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, Hagadone loved the Mariners and quickly developed as a player. Coming out of high school, the left-handed hurler was good enough to be selected in the 36th round by his hometown team in 2004. The temptation to sign with them and live out his childhood dreams must have been overwhelming, but he elected to go to college; ending up at the University of Washington.

The decision to hone his game in college was a wise one. He became a dominant closer; teaming up with dominant teammate Tim Lincecum. The pair even combined for a no-hitter in 2006.

Hagadone went 6-1 with a 2.77 ERA and 11 saves in 25 appearances in 2007. His success propelled him into the conversation as one of the top prospects in the country. The Boston Red Sox pounced on him in the first round (55th overall selection) of that year’s draft.

Although injuries prevented him for fully showcasing himself, he steadily progressed and didn’t post an ERA above 2.52 in his first three seasons. However, mid-way through the 2009 season, he was a key piece in a package that saw him get shipped to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Victor Martinez.

Cleveland obviously had big plans for him, and he debuted in the big leagues in 2011. He spent parts of the next five seasons pitching for the Indians. Injuries continued to pump the breaks on his progress, but he established himself as a valuable reliever. His best season was in 2014, when he posted a 2.70 ERA in 35 appearances while striking out better than a batter per inning.

He left via free agency and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. He never pitched for them at the big-league level and moved on to the Mariners in 2017, bringing his career full circle to its initial starting point. He pitched well for them at Triple-A, but never got the call and called it a career at the end of the season.

In his five major league seasons he was a combined 3-2 with a 4.72 ERA in 143 relief appearances. He also recorded a save and struck out 122 batters in 118.1 innings.

Post playing career, Hagadone has doubled down on himself yet again. He still maintains ties to baseball and is involved in new and exciting business ventures. Keep reading for more from the lefty.

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up my favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr. I lived about an hour away from Seattle and was a huge Mariners fan. As a kid, I always tried to mimic his hitting style and loved to watch him play.

Can you please describe what your draft experience was like, being taken in the 1st round by the Red Sox in 2007?:
Draft day 2007 was a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was the day that my childhood dreams became reality and also the day I knew that my life was going to change forever.

I remember sitting in my college apartment with my entire family around me. This was before the draft was televised, so we were all huddled around the computer waiting for my name to pop up. I’d heard that I could go anywhere from pick  number 31-on, but I also knew that the draft is unpredictable, and that anything could happen.

As each pick went by, I found myself getting more and more anxious. Was I going to get picked? Would I slide way down due to some factor that was outside of my control?

At first, I had my hopes up that Seattle would pick me. They had the 52nd pick that year and I’d talked to them a few times during the season. But they ended up passing and I had to accept the fact that I’d most likely be leaving home to pursue my career.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the Red Sox drafted me 55th overall. When my name popped up next to the Red Sox logo I jumped up and hugged both my parents and my girlfriend (who’s now my wife). Tears came to my eyes; all of the anxiousness left and was replaced with an ecstatic feeling.

That night I did an interview with some of the Boston media and reality set in. I was going to be part of one of the most storied organizations in baseball and I was going to have the opportunity to earn my way to the big leagues. From then, I knew that I would work as hard as possible to make that a reality.

How receptive were you to converting to relief from starting?: I was converted to relief during the middle of the 2010 season when I was in Akron. It was my first stint in Double-A and at the time I was struggling to throw strikes consistently. After Tommy John surgery in 2008 my mechanics had gotten severely out of whack and I was battling to return to my pre-surgery form.
I was actually the one who suggested the move from starting because I knew that being a reliever was a faster track to the big leagues. On the other hand, I also knew that I could get away with only having two pitches and that I didn’t have to have exceptional command. Most people would have looked at it as a demotion, but I framed it as an opportunity to take on a role that suited me better.
What do you remember most about your major league debut (against the Oakland Athletics?: The feeling of running onto a big-league field for the first time is something that I will never forget. As I made my way from our center field bullpen I couldn’t feel my body, it was almost like I was floating. My mind was calm, but I had so much adrenaline that the feel was gone.
I came into the game with bases loaded and nobody out. Our ace at the time, Roberto Hernandez, had struggled and I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t cash in 3 more of his runs to make the day worse.
I faced Coco Crisp, Hideki Matsui and Brandon Allen and made it out of the inning only giving up a sacrifice fly. I also recorded my first strikeout on the last hitter, he swung at a fastball that was nowhere near where I wanted it to be and I walked off the field feeling like I was there to stay.
Which one hitter intimidated you more than any other, and why?: I can honestly say that I have never been intimidated facing any hitter. When I would face the bigger named guys, I would default to being more aggressive because I knew that if I made mistakes they would capitalize on them and I’d get hurt.
What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: My favorite moment from my baseball career came in 2015 when we were in Seattle playing the Mariners. I came into a close game in the seventh inning with the bases loaded to face Kyle Seager who was one of their better hitters at the time. We knew that he was probably sitting on a fastball, so we started him off with a first pitch cutter for strike one. Then I threw him a fastball that he fouled off and a curve ball that he swung and missed at for strike three.
The thing that made this my favorite moment wasn’t necessarily that I’d struck someone out with the bases loaded, it was the fact that I was in my hometown playing against the team I’d watched since I was a young kid. I had my whole family at the game and there were a bunch of other people that I knew growing up who’d decided to come and watch.
Being able to have a moment like that, in front of friends and family is something that I will never forget. Thinking back, I can replay the images from that almost as vividly as I could right after they happened.
What was your reaction to being traded to the Cleveland Indians from Boston?: Getting traded to the Indians was a bit of a shock for me because I’d only been healthy for about a month. I was coming off of Tommy John surgery and not quite at full strength. But, I decided to look at it as an opportunity to succeed in a new setting. I was part of the package that the Indians had gained in exchange for Victor Martinez, so I knew that they valued my potential as a pitcher.
If anything, it was more motivation for me to continue working hard and developing my skills. I wanted to prove them right in taking a risk to acquire me.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and what made them your choice?:
Terry Francona was far and away my favorite manager for a couple of reasons:
First, he’s very good at putting his players in situations where they are likely to succeed. This was especially true for how he utilized the bullpen; he was always bringing us into games where there was a favorable matchup and we knew that he trusted us to get the job done.
Second, and more importantly, he’s a world class leader and knows how to get the best out of his players. He was definitely a player’s manager, but there were expectations set from the beginning and we all did our best to exceed them. I appreciated the fact that we knew he had our backs at all times and that he had our best interests in mind.
What, if anything, would you have done differently in your baseball career?: Looking back, I can truly say that I wouldn’t have done anything differently throughout my career. I gave everything I had every day that I showed up to the ballpark and for that reason I live with no regrets.
Sure, I wish I threw more strikes, gave up less home runs and had a longer injury free career, but those things just weren’t in the cards for me. However, I can say that during my 10-year pro career I never skipped a rep, went half speed on a drill or took even one day for granted. I sleep well at night knowing that I did everything possible to put myself in the best position to succeed.

It wasn’t easy for me, but I look at the struggles that I endured throughout my career as lessons learned that can now be applied in my everyday life.

What are you up to these days?: These days I’m enjoying more time at home with my wife and two children, who are six and four. I love spending quality time with my family and watching them grow up.

Career wise, I’m doing a bunch of different things:

·    Recently my wife and I started an online coffee company called Launch Coffee Company ( and @launchcoffeeco on Instagram & Facebook). We’re both passionate about good coffee so we decided to build a company that’s focused on delivering it to both households and businesses around the country.

·    I work for a company called E|L1 (Elysian One) who’s mission is to change youth sports for the better. We have several baseball facilities in Washington and California and I work on the baseball side of our operation.

·    I also have a real estate business that I formed with my good friend and a former ballplayer, Troy Martin. We do both traditional realty and own investment properties.

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

I have also authored a number of books (eBook and paperback) on topics of baseball that are available on Amazon.