Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, May 22, 2017

Jeoff Long: The Two-Way Player

In baseball, it’s hard enough to make it to the major leagues playing the position you were signed for, let along doing so after shifting from pitching to hitting full time. Nevertheless, some players are talented enough to make the switch, including Jeoff Long, whose possible stardom was derailed by an injury in his early 20s.

Long grew up as a talented multi-sport athlete in Kentucky. Playing basketball, football and baseball, he excelled at all three until he suffered a knee injury during his junior football season.

The right-hander hit .590 during his senior baseball season but was nearly flawless on the mound, leading to being signed for around $70,000 by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959—when he was just 17 years old. He was sent to the low levels of the minors but his 2-14 combined record over the ensuing two seasons led the team to realize that his future was likely to be more successful with a bat in his hands instead of a ball.

If Long’s transition was difficult, it was difficult to tell by the numbers. In his first full season as a hitter the first baseman/outfielder hit 21 home runs in just 92 games and by 1962 he put up a .284 batting average with 30 home runs for the Cardinals’ Double-A team in Tulsa.

In 1963, at the age of 21, he was brought up to the Cardinals for a cup of coffee, appearing in five games. He managed a lone single (off Jack Sanford of the San Francisco Giants) in his five at-bats. He was brought up again the following year but was sold to the Chicago White Sox mid-season. All told, he played in 51 big league games that season, hitting a combined .192 with a home run (Against the Milwaukee Braves’ Bobby Tiefenauer) and nine RBIs. With the 1964 Cardinals winning the World Series, Long picked up a half a winner’s share for his 43 at-bats with the team.

Long suffered through a series of nagging injuries to start the 1965 season before his old knee injury flared up.  He wound up having surgery but did not heal properly and missed the next two seasons. Although he returned in 1968 (in the minors for the Cardinals) he could not get himself back on track over the next couple of seasons. After the 1969 season, he retired from professional baseball, still just 27.

Following his playing career he went into the family business (Cincinnati Drum Service). Now 75, he is retired but still a fan of baseball. Keep reading to see what he had to say about his playing career.

Jeoff Long Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: I would have never had knee operation in fall of 1965. It failed.

What was the strangest play you ever saw on the baseball diamond?: No strange plays, but saw a lot of great plays.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Whitey Kurowski, Grover Resinger, Harry Walker, and Eddie Stanky.

Did you ever get another player’s autograph during your playing career?: No autographs while playing. Did get some team baseballs. Got autographs when retired at old timers’ get-togethers.

For your info, I loved the game and all the people in it. It was an honor to play in the major leagues and be a part of the greatest game. Met and played with some of baseball’s best. Biggest thrill was signing with the Cardinals out of high school. Mo Mozalli signed me along with Eddy Lyons.

I had arm trouble and switched from the mound to first base and outfield. 

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ed Scott, Pioneering Scout for the Boston Red Sox

Major League Baseball was segregated until 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite that important first step, the trail blazing athlete was not a cure-all and the game only gradually and begrudgingly trudged towards inclusion. The Boston Red Sox were the last big league franchise to integrate, with backup infielder Pumpsie Green’s appearance on their 1959 roster making them the final team to field a black player. The franchise long battled a wretched reputation when it came to race (which persists to this day), and it might have been even worse if it weren’t for the work of Ed Scott.

An African American, Scott was born in 1917 and grew up in Mobile, Alabama. Like many young boys, he became fascinated with baseball, though at the time his only chance to play professionally would have come through the Negro Leagues. He was good enough to play as an outfielder for semi-pro and barnstorming teams before a lengthy stint with the Indianapolis Clowns (1940-1952). One of his proudest moments was winning a 32 piece dish set and barbecue basket by getting the first hit against Satchel Paige in a 1940 game. To make ends meet because baseball didn’t always pay the bills, he also had a 20-year career working for a paper company.

 Once he was no longer able to hold an on-field position he took up scouting, which would become his defining career. In a strange twist of irony, although baseball was slow to come around on integration, once black players began to be signed some teams began what amounted to an arms war to make sure they were not missing out on the new available talent pool. With segregation polluting the country, in the earlier days black scouts had better access and knowledge of black amateur players than their white scouting counterparts.

Scott scouted for Negro League and major league teams. His most famous find came early on, as he was able to secure the services of a young outfielder named Henry “Hank” Aaron for the Indianapolis Clowns. Not long after that the youngster was signed by the Boston Braves and went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career as baseball’s “Home Run King.”

Scott’s son, Ed Jr., later explained that Aaron came to be signed when he was spotted playing in a Mobile softball game. “If that boy can hit a softball that far, how far he can hit a baseball,” mused Scott Sr.

Scott later explained that once he had secured Aaron for the Clowns, he sent a report to the team, indicating “Aaron was the greatest wrist hitter I had ever seen.”

Beginning in the early 1960s, Scott began working for the Red Sox in a scouting capacity after being recommended by former player Milt Bolling. Through the years he signed a number of players who went on to have outstanding professional careers, including George Scott, Oil Can Boyd, Andre Dawson and Amos Otis. Bolling went so far as to later say that if Boston had hired Scott earlier "we might have had Hank Aaron and Ted Williams on the same team."

So respected was the work of Scott that he remained on the Red Sox’s employee roll until the early 2000s, compiling a 34-year stint with the team. When he passed away in 2010 at the age of 92, he left behind a wife of 69 years, seven children, 27 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and an indelible mark on the game of baseball.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Attempting to Figure Out Boston Red Sox Pitcher Joe Kelly

The Boston Red Sox’s confounding power right-handed pitcher Joe Kelly is in his fourth season with the team. While boasting a stellar 2.12 ERA in 14 relief appearances, he is walking batters at a high rate and striking out even fewer. What’s the cause of this and what might his future hold? Let’s dig a little deeper to see if there are any answers.

After coming to Boston in a 2014 trade, Kelly worked exclusively as a starter until transitioning to the bullpen last year. The 28-year-old has long been lauded for his top-shelf stuff but the results, particularly with the Red Sox, have never matched. A great example of that was his 2015 season when he went 10-6 with a 4.82 ERA in 25 starts. It was perfectly acceptable stuff for a back-of-the rotation starter, but the former third round pick has long shown promise of more.

In his 17 innings this season (admittedly a small sample size), Kelly has permitted just 11 hits and four runs. However, he has walked nine while striking out just eight; an odd stat line for a pitcher who is one of the hardest throwers in the game. Indeed, the 98.7 MPH he has averaged on his fastball is the fastest of his career, and at least one stat service has him as the hardest thrower in the game this year. With such octane, one would think he would be fanning batters at a prodigious rate but a deeper look at the numbers show why he hasn’t.

It all starts with how frequently Kelly is utilizing his fastball. Strangely, he is throwing it just 56.2% of the time, which is by far the lowest mark of his career, and about 10% less than last year. For someone who threw the hardest pitch registered in Red Sox history earlier this year, the way he has increasingly abandoned the gas may seem inexplicable but it is paying off.

Kelly is coaxing an impressive 59.6% ground ball percentage on all balls put into play. This represents a career best (last year was 46.9%) and may be a combination of his heavy sinking fastball and batters waving at his darting slider.

Kelly’s slider, typically seen as his next best offering, is being thrown 27.2% of the time thus far—or almost double his previous career high. He still mixes in a curve (16.2%) but has all but given up on his changeup (0.3%). This combination of hard stuff with breaking balls has also led to career lows in line drive and fly ball percentages.

What is likely contributing to his lack of punch outs is his continued struggle to control his stuff. He has gone to a full count on a full quarter (17) of the 68 batters he has faced this season. He has surrendered eight walks and a base hit in such situations, representing a lion’s share of the damage he has permitted. He is throwing strikes just 59.3% of the time, which is well below his career rate of 61.3%.

It appears that even though he is in his sixth major league season Kelly is still figuring things out. His impressive ERA is reflective of a new approach and raw overall stuff. His control problems have prevented him from moving to the next level. Considering the strides he may still be able to make, especially when it comes to harnessing his arsenal, it’s easy to see why the Red Sox remain enamored with him. Time will only tell if he continues to put it together and blossom into the shutdown pitcher statistics suggest he is capable of becoming. In the meantime, he appears to be a different pitcher and is becoming a contributor, albeit one who can put people on the edge of their seats for the wrong reasons, for Boston, who desperately need whatever help they can get in their bullpen.

Statistics via FanGraphs and BaseballReference

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Minor League Baseball Announces its April Players of the Month

For Immediate Release                                                                                                                       May 8, 2017

Minor League Baseball Announces its April 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 April. Each winner will receive an award from Minor League Baseball in recognition of the honor.

Durham Bulls (Rays) third baseman Patrick Leonard led the International League in batting average (.412), hits (35), RBI (17), runs scored (17) and on-base percentage (.474). Leonard recorded 10 multi-hit games in April and posted a five-hit night on April 27. Leonard, 24, was originally selected by the Kansas City Royals in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of St.Thomas High School in Houston, Texas.

El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres) first baseman Jamie Romak was named Pacific Coast League Player of the Month after leading all of Minor League Baseball in home runs (11), extra-base hits (19), total bases (74), slugging percentage (.860) and OPS (1.274). He also led the Triple-A level in runs (23) and RBI (25). Romak, 31, was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the fourth round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of A.B. Lucas Secondary School in London, Ontario.

Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies) infielder Ryan McMahon led the Eastern League in hits (30), total bases (54) and RBIs (20) in April and tied for the league lead in triples (2). He was second in extra-base hits (14), OPS (1.097) and doubles (8), while his
average (.375) and slugging percentage (.675) were third-best in the league. McMahon, 22, was selected by Colorado in the second round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California.

Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Reds) right-hander Tyler Mahle dominated the Southern League in April and threw the league’s first perfect game in 47 years on April 22 against Mobile. Mahle needed just 88 pitches to blank the BayBears and took perfect games into the fifth inning in three of his five April starts. Mahle led the Double-A level in innings pitched (32.2) and WHIP (0.52) and led the Southern League in ERA (0.55) and opponents’ batting average (.104). Mahle, 22, was selected by Cincinnati in the seventh round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Westminster (CA) High School.

Springfield Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty was dominant in the first month of the Texas League season, going 4-0 with a 0.56 ERA in five starts. He led the league with 32.1 innings pitched and his 28 strikeouts were one shy of the league lead. Flaherty held batters to a .191 average (allowed just three extra-base hits: one homer, a triple and a double) and left his only no-decision of the month with a 9-1 lead. Flaherty, 21, was selected by St. Louis in the first round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City, California.

Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres) first baseman Josh Naylor led the California League in RBI (23), extra-base hits (11) and total bases (52) in April. His 30 hits were one shy of the league lead. Naylor posted hitting streaks of seven and eight games in April,
including a stretch of five consecutive multi-hit games April 24-28. Naylor, 19, was originally selected in the first round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft by the Miami Marlins out of Saint Joan of Arc Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario.

Lynchburg Hillcats (Indians) left-hander Thomas Pannone dominated the Carolina League in April, allowing just seven hits (four singles and three doubles) over four starts (20.2 innings). The only run he allowed was unearned, while his WHIP (0.68) and average against (.106) led the league. Left-handed batters were 1-for-19 (.053) against Pannone, who was promoted to Double-A Akron on May 5. Pannone, 23, was selected by Cleveland in the ninth round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of the College of Southern Nevada.

Lakeland Flying Tigers (Tigers) right-hander Beau Burrows went 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA in five starts in April to claim Player of the Month honors in the Florida State League. Burrows did not allow a run in three of his five starts and allowed just four earned runs
over 27.2 innings. He left with a lead in both outings in which he did not factor in the decision. Burrows, 20, was selected by Detroit in the first round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft out of Weatherford (TX) High School.

Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays) first baseman Bradley Jones led the Midwest League in home runs (six), RBI (23) and total bases (58), while finishing second in average (.372), hits (32), slugging (.674) and OPS (1.089). He recorded 10 multi-hit games and
separate hit streaks of seven and eight games in April. Jones, 21, was selected by Toronto in the 18th round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of the College of Charleston.

Columbia Fireflies (Mets) right-hander Merandy Gonzalez dominated the South Atlantic League in four April starts, going 4-0 without allowing a run in 28.1 innings. Gonzalez allowed just 15 hits (11 singles, three doubles and a triple) and walked three
while striking out 23 as opponents batted just .160 against him in April. Gonzalez, 21, was signed by the Mets out of Cotui, Dominican Republic, in 2013.

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