Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Pickles Dillhoefer: A Baseball Life

Have you ever heard of Pickles Dillhoefer? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t. He was a hustling catcher a century ago, who did little with his bat or his glove, yet managed to become one of the most popular players in the game. His untimely death at the age of 28 shocked the baseball world at the time, yet has gone largely forgotten with each passing year. This is his story. 

Born William Martin Dillhoefer in 1893 in Cleveland, he was orphaned by the time he was 14, but with his two brothers, was taken in by an aunt. He found himself in baseball, starring as a schoolboy player and later on industrial teams. He was a versatile player but stood out the most behind the plate.

He made his professional debut in 1914 at the age of 20 for the Portsmouth Cobblers of the Ohio State League. Making his mark as a consummate team player instead of standing out in the traditional aspects of the game, he progressed through the minor leagues steadily until being acquired by the Chicago Cubs in 1917.

Chicago President Charles Weeghman called his new acquisition a “coming star” and compared him to the young Ray Schalk, a catcher for the White Sox who went on to be a Hall of Famer.

Although he acquitted himself just fine with his glove, Dillhoefer struggled mightily on offense. Appearing in 42 games, he mustered just 12 hits and eight RBIs in 95 at-bats (a .126 batting average). Even by Deadball Era standards, that was not nearly enough to earn him more playing time.

Still just 24, something happened that offseason that wound up becoming the defining moment of his career. He, along with once-dependable pitcher Mike Prendergast and $55,000  were sent to the Philadelphia Phillies for star pitcher Grover Alexander and catcher Bill Killefer. Alexander went on to win 128 games for the Cubs, while Killefer was a regular for four seasons. Dillhoefer had a lone single in 11 at-bats for Philadelphia, while Prendergast won a total of 13 games—making it one of the most lopsided traded in history.

Part of the reason Dillhoefer had such limited playing time with the Phillies was that he was notified he was about to be drafted into service in 1918 for the United States’ efforts in World War I. Instead of waiting to be drafted, which he though indicated he was unwilling to serve, he chose to enlist. He explained, “I am happy to say I did not take a job in a munitions factory or a shipyard or something that would make me exempt. I want to do my bit and the sooner the better.” He eventually achieved the rank of sergeant before the conflict ended and he was able to resume his baseball career.

Dilhoefer was involved in yet another trade in 1919. He, pitcher Dixie Davis and infielder Milt Stock  were sent to the St. Louis Cardinals, which was a second-division team, but had an exciting 22-year-old infielder named Rogers Hornsby.

The deal ended up being a positive move for Dillhoefer’s, career. He settled in as the backup for catcher Verne Clemons. While he produced modest numbers (batting averages of .213 in 1919; .263 in 1920; .241 in 1921), he set himself apart by all the other things he brought to the team. In particular, he was an outspoken cheerleader, who grew popular with fans because of his constant pep. An article that appeared in the July 8, 1920 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a headline that blared, “Dilhoefer [sic] Usurping Hornsby’s Place as Cardinal Fans’ Idol.”

Referred to affectionately as “Pickles” and “Dill,” Dillhoefer loved to coach the bases and was even known to jump out of the dugout to give advice to his teammates on how to position themselves against certain hitters. He also shouted a steady stream of encouragement during games. The one the crowd loved the most was when St. Louis was down, and things weren’t looking good. “Only two down, Stockie give it a ride,” the backstop would bellow.

It looked like 1922 was going to be the year for Dillhoefer. The Cardinals had won 87 games the previous year and he started the new year in fine shape, marrying his sweetheart, teacher Massie Slocum in Mobile, Alabama on January 14th. The newlyweds immediately returned to St. Louis, where he fell ill on the 19th—to the point that he was taken to St. John’s Hospital suffering from typhoid fever. From there, he contracted pneumonia, which infected his gall bladder. Surgery proved futile and he deteriorated rapidly; finally succumbing on February 22nd. He was 28.

The news of Dillhoefer’s passing understandably hit his teammates hard. Team general manager Branch Rickey lamented, “I can hardly believe Dilly is gone. Of course, I knew he was very sick when I left St. Louis, but it is a shock to learn of his death.”

Massie, Dillhoefer’s bride of less than six weeks, never remarried and lived until 1985.The catcher was buried in Mobile with military honors, with pall bearers than includes Stock (his roommate and best friend), Clemons and Rickey.

In 247 career major league games, Dillhoefer batted a combined .223 with 48 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. He threw out 43 percent of would-be base stealers and was a quintessential backup catcher. Although his statistical footprint on the game is small, he has one of the more unique stories and better nicknames in baseball history.

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, October 19, 2019

How the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets Could Be Perfect Partners on a Mookie Betts Trade

As I have previously written, under no circumstances should the Boston Red Sox trade Mookie Betts this offseason. However, if the team is as dedicated to getting their payroll under the luxury tax as they claim to be and the 2018’s departure is inevitable, there’s one team in particular, that might be a perfect trade partner—the New York Mets.

Betts, coming off a season where he made $20 million, will only see that figure rise in 2020—before hitting free agency in 2021. Despite the likelihood of him signing a massive contract once he becomes a free agent, he figure to be highly coveted if he is made available this offseason. Given the current financial state of the team and the bleak outlook of their farm system, which is widely considered to be bereft of top-flight young talent, the Red Sox would need to receive a package of prospects and/or affordable young talent if they were to pull the trigger on a deal. Enter the Mets, who have some pieces that could be an intriguing match for Boston.

There is no guarantee that Betts will re-sign with whichever team he is playing on in 2020. Any trade made has to be done under the assumption that it’s a one-year rental with the chance to indoctrinate him into new team culture to make a run at signing him long-term.
The Mets narrowly missed out on the 2019 playoffs with a team led by young hitters like Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, and a solid starting pitching staff headlined by the superb Jacob deGrom. Adding Betts could go a long way to rounding out their lineup and making them a valid postseason threat in 2020.

In particular, there are two players that Boston should target if the Mets let it be known they want to do the dance. The first is 24-year-old first baseman Dominic Smith. Long a top prospect, he has never been able to seize a starting spot in New York. Alonso and his 53 home runs this season means there is only room for him off the bench or in a corner outfield position, where he is not well suited.

Smith is actually a solid defensive first baseman, who has hit for power and average in the minors. He disappointed in stints at the major league level in 2017 and 2018, but flashed his potential this in 2019, producing an .881 OPS and 134 OPS+ in 89 games (197 plate appearances). He is not eligible for free agency until 2025 and could become an immediate starter in Boston, where veteran 34-year-old free agent Mitch Moreland is likely to not return.

If Smith, a three-time top-100 Baseball America prospect, produces in a starting role anywhere close to how he did this year, he would be an excellent complement to a young Boston infield that already boasts stars like shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers. He’s young, inexpensive and a potential impact left-handed bat, which would play very well in cozy Fenway Park. He checks a lot of boxes of what a team trading their best player would want as part of the return.

A second player the Red Sox could target from the Mets is closer Edwin Diaz.  After a stellar 2018 that saw him post 57 saves and a 1.96 ERA with the Seattle Mariners, he was dealt to the Mets and promptly imploded. The right hander, who possesses a wicked slider and an upper-90s fastball, was wild and extremely homer prone this past season. In 66 games, he saved 26 games and struck out 15.4 batters per nine innings, but he also had a 5.59 ERA, gave up 15 gopher balls in just 58 innings, while walking 22.

Still just 25, and not eligible for free agency until 2023, the right-handed Diaz is an excellent reclamation project, who could slide into a the closer role in Boston, which has not been right since the departure of Craig Kimbrel following the 2018 campaign.

Diaz threw harder than ever in 2019, according to FanGraphs. His struggles after three excellent seasons to start his career are therefore more attributable to approach rather than health or decline. With Boston desperately needing an upgrade in their bullpen that had a 4.40 ERA this season, prying away a reliever so young, affordable and full of potential would be a coup.

It remains to be seen specifically what the Red Sox might be seeking in a trade for Betts. New York is not a great fit if they are hoping for major league-ready top-flight minor league talent. The trade that brought Diaz to the Mets made a major dent in their system with disappointing returns. However, a package starting with Smith and Diaz might well get Boston’s attention because of how it would present an opportunity to fill some major holes. Perhaps some not-yet-ready youngsters on the New York farm could help sweeten and round out a deal as lottery tickets. Of course, if the Mets were able to then re-sign Betts long-term, it would go a long way towards erasing the bad taste they have of losing out on the last big trade plunge they took.

In an ideal world, Betts will spend the remainder of his career in Boston. Unfortunately, finances may force one of the best players in the game out of town. If that happens, the team should try to leverage their misfortune in the present into a deal that could help them in the long term. The team with the players who can help them accomplish that the best is the Mets. 

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, October 15, 2019

Minor League Baseball Names 2019 Rawlings Gold Glove Award® Winners

Ke’Bryan Hayes becomes second Minor League player to win three straight Gold Glove Awards  

 ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Oct. 14, 2019 — Minor League Baseball™ and Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, Inc., today announced the nine recipients of the 2019 Rawlings Gold Glove Award® for defensive excellence. The winners at each position were selected from players in the 10 domestic-based, full-season Minor Leagues. Each player will receive his own Rawlings Gold Glove Award, modeled after the iconic award given to Major League Baseball’s top defensive players, during the 2020 season. 
“We congratulate the 2019 Minor League recipients of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award® for their defensive excellence displayed throughout the duration of the season,” said Mike Thompson, chief marketing officer for Rawlings. “We’re proud of the relationship we’ve built with Minor League Baseball over the years and we both maintain a shared commitment to recognizing and rewarding athletes’ defensive skillsets at the highest levels of game play.”  

 “These nine men were the gold standard for defensive excellence in Minor League Baseball in 2019 and I am pleased to honor them with a Rawlings Gold Glove Award®,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “On behalf of Minor League Baseball and our tremendous partners at Rawlings, I congratulate each of them on their outstanding seasons.” 

 The 2019 Minor League Baseball recipients of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award® are as follows: 
1B Will Craig Indianapolis (AAA) Pittsburgh 
2B Nick Madrigal Winston-Salem (A), Birmingham (AA) Charlotte (AAA) Chicago (AL) 
SS Donnie Walton Arkansas (AA) Seattle 
3B Ke’Bryan Hayes West Virginia (A), Indianapolis (AAA) Pittsburgh 
LF Mark Contreras Fort Myers (A), Pensacola (AA) Minnesota 
CF Victor Victor Mesa Jupiter (A), Jacksonville (AA) Miami 
RF Jesus Sanchez Montgomery (AA), Durham (AAA), New Orleans (AAA) Tampa Bay, Miami 
C Jhonny Pereda Tennessee (AA) Chicago (NL) 
P Matthew Kent Portland (AA), Pawtucket (AAA) Boston   

Indianapolis Indians (Pirates) first baseman Will Craig posted a .999 fielding percentage in 886 total chances. Craig played 111 games at first base and recorded 828 putouts and 57 assists while committing only one error. Craig, 24, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Wake Forest University. 

Charlotte Knights (White Sox) second baseman Nick Madrigal recorded a .992 fielding percentage in 108 games between Class-A Advanced Winston-Salem (28 games), Double-A Birmingham (39 games) and Triple-A Charlotte (41 games). Madrigal handled 488 total chances and helped turn 95 double plays while making only four errors. Madrigal, 22, was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the first round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft out of Oregon State University. 

 Arkansas Travelers (Mariners) infielder Donnie Walton posted a .990 fielding percentage in 103 games at shortstop. Walton handled 381 total chances, had a hand in 44 double plays and finished with 273 assists at shortstop. Walton was promoted to Seattle on Sept. 10, and played seven errorless games for the Mariners. Walton, 25, was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of Oklahoma State University. 
Indianapolis Indians (Pirates) third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes became the second player to win a Rawlings Minor League Baseball Gold Glove three years in a row (joining third baseman Ramon Conde, 1959–61) as he led Minor League Baseball third basemen with a .989 fielding percentage in 107 games at the hot corner. Hayes appeared in 104 games for Indianapolis and three for West Virginia on a rehabilitation assignment and totaled 287 chances (216 assists and 68 putouts) while making three errors. Over his last three seasons, Hayes has made just 17 errors in 331 games (872 total chances). Hayes, 22, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Concordia Lutheran High School in Tomball, Texas. 
Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Twins) left fielder Mark Contreras appeared in 94 games in the outfield with the majority of those starts in left field. He handled 182 total chances without an error and recorded 13 outfield assists. The Minnesota Twins selected Contreras in the ninth round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of California-Riverside. 
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins) center fielder Victor Victor Mesa recorded a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage and 11 outfield assists in 102 games between Class-A Advanced Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville, handling 239 total chances. Mesa, 23, was signed by the Miami Marlins as a free agent out of Santa Clara, Cuba, on Oct. 22, 2018. 
New Orleans Baby Cakes (Marlins) right fielder Jesus Sanchez recorded 10 outfield assists and a .990 fielding percentage in 103 games for Durham (15 games), Montgomery (72 games) and New Orleans (16 games). Sanchez made only two errors in 212 total chances over 881.2 innings. Sanchez, 21, was originally signed by the Tampa Bay Rays as a free agent out of Higuey, Dominican Republic, on July 2, 2014. 
Tennessee Smokies (Cubs) catcher Jhonny Pereda posted a .996 fielding percentage in 85 games behind the plate, as he handled 833 chances over 743.2 innings while making three errors. Pereda threw out 33% (44 of 132) of would-be base stealers. Pereda, 23, was originally signed by the Chicago Cubs as a free agent out of Aragua, Venezuela, on April 1, 2013. 
Pawtucket Red Sox left-hander Matthew Kent posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage while handling 38 total chances in 152.1 innings pitched over 28 games (24 starts) for Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. Kent, 27, was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas A&M University. 

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, October 5, 2019

Mike DeJean: Tales of a Relief Pitcher

Pitching prospects have it hard enough when trying to prove themselves without having to deal with the added pressures of pitching regularly in Denver for the Colorado Rockies, where the ball jumps off the bat. Right-hander Mike DeJean was not only drafted in the middle rounds, he spent six seasons in the minors and came up with the Rockies. However, he persevered to have a successful 10-year big-league career.

A shortstop while attending and playing for the University of West Alabama (Livingston), DeJean had a strong arm and successfully retired two batters in a pitching appearance during the Division II College World Series. Taking a chance on his potential on the mound, he was taken in the 24th round of that year’s draft by the New York Yankees and converted to relief pitcher.

DeJean made steady progress through the Yankees’ system as a closer, notching 65 saves in his first four seasons. His big break came after the 1995 season when New York traded him to the Rockies for veteran catcher Joe Girardi. The team had just finished their third year of existence and were still building a roster that had already seen them make the playoffs.

The time finally came for DeJean in 1997, as he made the big-league roster for Colorado. He finished with very solid numbers of a 5-0 record, two saves and a 3.99 ERA in 55 relief appearances.

Pitching to contact earlier in his career, the right-hander garnered more strikeouts as his career continued. After four years with the Rockies, he went on to pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, New York Mets, and finished his career back in Colorado.

His greatest success came with the Brewers, where he served as their closer in 2002 and 2003. 2002 was his best season, as his 27 saves and 3.12 ERA in 68 games was a bright spot on a team that won only 56 games.

All told, DeJean enjoyed a 10-year major-league career. In 565 games (all but one in relief), he had a combined record of 30-33 with a 4.30 ERA and 52 saves. Keep reading, as she shares some additional information about his career and background.

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Ron Guidry. He was Louisiana Lightning.

Can you please describe what your draft experience was like, being taken in the 24th round by the Yankees in 1992?: Very unreal. I was glad I was a Yankee.

What kind of impact do you believe being traded to the Rockies for
Joe Girardi have on your career?: It got me to the big leagues quicker.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: How loud Coors Field was.

Which one hitter intimidated you more than any other, and why?: Barry Bonds. His power and he had a great eye. (Bonds was just 3-for-12 against him with no home runs and three strikeouts in his career.)

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: St. Louis, in the first game back after 9/11.

Can you explain what, if any, difference you felt as a pitcher when pitching in Colorado?: It was dry and hard to grip the baseball.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and what made them your choice?: All of them.

What, if anything, would you have done differently in your baseball career?: Enjoyed the cities I visited more.

What are you up to these days?: Coaching baseball, hunting, fishing and raising six boys.

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.