Top 100 Baseball Blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fred Rico: Kansas City Royals Outfielder

Every successful baseball team needs “glue guys.” These are players who aren’t stars, but are just solid in all aspects of the game. Fred Rico was one of those players. While his ability propelled him to a brief stint in the major leagues, he was never able to stick as a regular.

Born Alfredo Cruz Rico, he was signed as an outfielder out of Arizona in 1964 by the Baltimore Orioles. The smallish right-handed Rico was just 19, when he began his professional career. He debuted with the Fox Cities Foxes of Appleton, Wisconsin in the Midwest league, and had an impressive season. In 117 games, he hit .410 with 16 doubles, 11 triples, 7 home runs, and 88 RBI. Perhaps most impressive was his 66 walks, which contributed to his .410 OBP.

Over the next several years, Rico continued to progress through the Baltimore system, but as he moved up, his production fell. He made it as high as Double-A, playing there from 1966 to 1968, but hit only one home run in those three seasons combined.

Rico finally got a change of scenery when he was taken by the expansion Kansas City Royals in the Rule V draft in December, 1968. It turned out that the move reinvigorated his career and put him on a fast track to the majors.

Rico rebounded to hit .286 with 10 home runs and 84 RBI with Double-A Omaha in 1969. His performance was enough to earn him a September call-up by the hapless Royals, who were on their way to a 93 loss season. Rico got into a total of 12 games with the Royals. He had 6 hits and 2 RBI in 26 official at bats, and drew a surprising 9 walks.

Unfortunately, one of the areas of strength for the Royals was their young outfield, which included Lou Piniella, Amos Otis, and Pat Kelly. He returned to the minors in 1970, and was dealt to the Cardinals in June of that year. Over the next several seasons he played in the minor league systems of the Cardinals, Twins, and Pirates, but never made it back to the majors.

Rico retired following the 1973 season. He accumulated 1,150 minor league hits, good for a .282 batting average. More information about his career statistics is available at  Rico recently responded to a few questions about his career in baseball, which he still remembers fondly.

Fred Rico Questionnaire:

If you could do anything about your career differently, what would that be?: I should have signed out of high school!

What was the strangest thing you ever saw on a baseball diamond?: Bases loaded, winning run at third base; one out. Routine fly ball to left field. The throw accidently hit the runner and he in turn kicked the ball to the catcher for the out.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jack McKeon, who is the coach of the Florida Marlins.

Who was the most underrated player you ever played with or against?: Dave Parker. He should be in the Hall of Fame (my roommate in 1973- Pittsburgh).


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Monday, January 30, 2012

Jeremy Barfield Interview

Check out my most recent article for MLB Dirt. I had an opportunity to interview Oakland A's prospect Jeremy Barfield, who is also the son of former major league outfielder Jesse Barfield. For the full article, check out:


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seth McClung- Baseball's Big Red

Calling Seth McClung a big right-hander is an understatement. Listed at 6’6 and 280 pounds, and possessing his trademark fiery red hair, “Big Red” has always cut an intimidating presence on the mound. Coming out of Greenbrier East High School in Lewisburg, West Virginia, he knew that he possessed a lot of talent in his powerful right arm. Thus, he was disappointed that he slipped to the 5th round of the 1999 MLB draft and was taken by the Tampa Bay Rays, with whom he signed and started his professional career.

McClung debuted in the major leagues with Tampa in 2003. He pitched between the bullpen and the rotation, racking up a 4-1 record in 12 games (5 starts) with a 5.35 ERA. Since that time he has pitched five additional seasons at the big league level, 2005-2009, with Tampa and the Milwaukee Brewers. He has posted a 26-34 record during that time, with a 5.46 ERA in 177 games (51 starts). The best game of his career came on May 10, 2003, against the Detroit Tigers. He held them to just 1 run over 7 innings, while striking out a career high 9 batters. More information about his career statistics is available at

McClung was out of baseball in 2010, but mounted a comeback this past year, pitching for the Texas Rangers Triple-A team in Round Rock. He never got summoned to Arlington, but he has not given up on his career. He recently signed with the Brewers for 2012 on a minor league deal and will compete for a roster spot during spring training.

Even with the time and sacrifices required of a professional baseball player, McClung has found time for other pursuits. Always passionate about basketball, he became involved in coaching. From 2005-2007 he was an assistant coach with the University of Tampa women’s basketball team. He also accepted the position of head coach for the Pinellas Park High School girl’s basketball team prior to the 2010-2011 season. When he took over the team they hadn’t had a winning season since 1996 and suffered from low levels of interest. McClung has steadily rebuilt the program; after going 0-25 his first year, the team has already won 5 games in 2011-2012. It is clear that both McClung and the Pinellas Park girl’s basketball program have futures with the sport.

McClung has also begun coaching baseball. He founded Big Red Baseball (, whose slogan is "Better Prices than our competitors, experience beyond them." He provides pitching and team lessons to aspiring baseball players.

Given all of his interests, it’s not surprising that McClung is very connected with his fans. In addition to being very active on Twitter he recently did an interview with me. You have to check out what he had to say about his experiences in baseball.

Seth McClung Interview:
Who were your favorite team and player growing up and why?: I lived in two places growing up, Ronceverte West Virginia and Cramerton, North Carolina. I didn't really have a favorite team growing up; I just liked baseball. I knew the Yankees were good and the Braves were on TBS every night, so those two teams were the two that I paid more attention to than the rest. 
What coach or manager has been most influential on you so far?: Lou Pinella, I would have to say. He was loud, mean, to the point, and most of all, honest. If you sucked he told you that you sucked. I can handle the old school approach. Some managers I have played for never came out and told you what you needed to hear, only what you wanted to hear. One manager I had never took responsibility for anything. He was always quick to pass off his mistakes on some stat or just plain blaming the player. Lou though didn't care what people thought about him, inside the game or out. He just wanted to win. I respect that.

Can you run through what your draft experience was like with Tampa in 1999?: Well, for me it wasn’t good. I was drafted in the fifth round, however I was projected as high as the first or supplemental round. The Braves scout told me they had their first pick in the second round and they were going to grab me. The scout then said he did not expect me to be on the board though. I had heard this from many clubs, so my expectations were high.

I was contacted by the Pirates in the third round and they asked if I would take $150,000. I told them no. I was contacted by the Marlins in the fourth round and they asked If I would take $400,000, and I said $700,000. I was then drafted by the Devil Rays in the fifth round. I did not receive word of this until 8:00 p.m. that night. I thought I had slipped to the second day of the draft and I was devastated. Once I found out I was drafted my immaturity took over and the chip on my shoulder that I have played most of my career with was created. 

What has been your favorite highlight from your career so far?: I guess pitching in the NLDS with the Brewers. A lot of things leading up to that point are highlights. 2008 was a great year for me. I will always remember it fondly. 
How have you been told when you have been called up, sent down, or released?: Yeah, called up and sent down so many times its hard to remember them all. Being sent down is hard. It is never fun, you just feel worthless when that happens. Being called up no matter when, how, or why is always an explosion of joy. You reach your dream and you have this great rush of happiness. Being released you feel anger. Every time I have been let go you want to just be a force of destruction and anger on your way out of the office, but you must remain composed and handle it well. You never know who you will need in the future. 

How does the experience of being a major league player compare to how you envisioned it as a kid?: Well, I always envisioned myself being the best of all time and winning many championships. I have fallen far from those lofty expectations. I do still see myself being a major league baseball player; I just have realistic expectations of myself. I just want to continue to compete and make a great living to take care of my family. 

If you could do anything differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I would have spent more time perfecting my craft as opposed to just throwing hard. I have been clocked as high as 103 (Toronto) but I never really knew where it was going. I would have also liked to have played for a different organization coming out of high school. Nothing against the Devil Rays; I was blessed to play for them and be in the big leagues at 22 years old, but had I been in a organization that had pitching, I would have been forced to learn more. I would have had to be better to get and stay in the bigs. This I feel would have helped me in the long run. 
What are your baseball plans for 2012?: I want to compete and help a team win a championship in the big leagues. I also want to do a book about this year and fighting my way back. I fancy myself a bit of a photographer, and I hope to take some pictures and do a book from a unique prospective.


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Les Mueller

Although he only appeared in 26 major league games, right-handed pitcher Les Mueller made quite an impression. Big things were predicted ever since he was a lanky high school sensation from Illinois. As a senior in 1937, he averaged 18 strikeouts per game, which were 7 innings each. Many teams were interested in him, but he chose to sign with the Detroit Tigers because they offered a $5,000 bonus.

Like any good prospect, Mueller steadily progressed through the minors, peaking with an 18-11 record and 2.81 ERA in 1940 for the Beaumont Exporters in the Texas League. He was one of the rare players who wore glasses while playing; something he felt improved his ability to control his pitches. It also likely served as a form of intimidation for batters who always hate stepping in against pitchers who may not be able to see where they are throwing very well.

Mueller went to Beaumont the following year, slipping to 6-16, but his 2.36 ERA indicated he pitched much better than his record. His steadiness earned him a late season call-up to Detroit, where he debuted on August 15, 1941. He got into four games before the end of the season; all mop-up jobs, and pitched well enough to indicate he had a future with the Tigers.

Mueller began 1942 with Beaumont, and was pitching very well again, when he decided to enlist in the army like many players of the time because of WWII. He spent the rest of 1942 and all of 1943 and 1944 in the service. He continued to play ball while enlisted, which undoubtedly helped keep him in shape. However, when he was given a physical to be shipped overseas, a hernia was discovered and he was medically discharged in late 1944.

The Tigers thought enough of Mueller’s abilities that they made him part of the major league roster for the 1945 season. He worked in the back of their rotation, helping occasionally out of the bullpen, and was generally effective in both roles. His first major league win was a doozy; a 2-hit shutout of the New York Yankees.

Mueller’s best work came in a historic tie against the Philadelphia Athletics. On July 21st, he went the first 19.2 innings of a 24 inning tie. When he came out with two down in the 20th inning, he had only relinquished 1 unearned run and 13 hits, while facing a staggering 74 batters. He later estimated that he threw 370 pitches in the herculean effort.  When Tigers manager Steve O’Neill came out to pull him for a reliever, Mueller reportedly said, “Gee, Steve, the game isn’t over, is it?” No major league pitcher has ever thrown as many innings in one game since.

The game was called for darkness, even though the stadium had lights. League rules at the time prohibited the use of lights during day games. Since the contest had started so much earlier in the afternoon, it was still bound by day game rules.

Mueller ended 1945 by going 6-8 with a 3.68 ERA in 26 games. His versatility was integral to the success of the team, which went 88-65 and beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Mueller pitched the final two innings of a Game 1 loss, and other than allowing a walk, was perfect in his outing. It turned out to be his last major league game.

Mueller made the 1946 Tigers out of spring training, but moments before the first game of the season, he was summoned from the dugout to the GM’s office. To Mueller’s shock, he was informed of his immediate demotion to the minors. He pitched in the minors for the Tigers and Yankees through 1948, but because of injury he never regained the success he had enjoyed previously. He won 77 career games in the minors. In the majors he was 6-8 with a 3.78 ERA in 30 games. More information about his career statistics is available at

Many years after he retired from baseball, Mueller is still remembered for his contributions to the game. He is a classic example of a player who had the talent, but was unable to find a niche to allow him to enjoy prolonged success. Such is the game of baseball.

Les Mueller Questionnaire:

What types of pitches did you throw?: Fastball, curveball, changeup. Both side-arm and overhand.

What was your favorite city to play in?: St. Louis was. My home in Belleville, IL was only 10 miles away.

What was your favorite moment as a ball player?: The 1945 win over the Cubs; a World Series win and ring.

What did you think of Pete Gray?: He was very good for his handicap. *Editor’s note- Mueller gave up Gray’s first major league hit.

Who did you hit your only Major League home run off?: Haynes (Joe Haynes) of the White Sox.

Do you still follow professional baseball? If so, what do you think of the game today?: Yes, will always be a great game.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prince Fielder's Deal With Detroit Is Enormous Risk

When finding out something shocking, it is often the best policy to take a step back and exhale before making any judgments. Unfortunately this is something I have never been able to do when it comes to baseball. I was appalled to learn that the Detroit Tigers are on the verge of signing free agent slugger Prince Fielder to a 9 year, $214 million contract this afternoon. It is a deal that makes little sense and has the potential of burdening the franchise for years to come.

The Tigers took a hit this past week when they learned it was likely that catcher/DH Victor Martinez would be lost for the entire 2012 season with a knee injury. His absence from their lineup was going to be an issue for sure, but the solution they have found may cost them even in the future.

Currently, Fielder is a great hitter and one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. However, in paying him $214 million over the next nine years, the Tigers will not be getting optimal value. Unless something drastically changes, their current first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, who is in the midst of his own 8 year, $152 million deal (that runs through 2015) will relegate Fielder to being the most expensive designated hitter in all of baseball.

Some people have already suggested that Cabrera, having played third base and outfield earlier in his career, could have his position switched, but he has never been a good defensive player at any position he has manned. Fielder is no Gold Glover either, so unless one of them is the fulltime DH, the Tigers would have to subpar defenders in their everyday lineup. You also have to keep in mind that when Martinez returns in 2013, he will give them yet another expensive player (3 years and $38 million remaining on his current deal) who can’t play defense.

It has been hammered to death, but the issue of Fielder’s conditioning has to be considered when evaluating this deal. He already plays at over 300 pounds (what is printed in the team guides is his DMV weight) and will be 36 by the time this contract ends. Jim Bowden of ESPN has reported that there are no opt-out clauses in the deal, so for better or for worse, Fielder is almost certainly going to be in Detroit through the 2020 season. He is still in his prime, but is a better bet to see his decline come sooner and more suddenly than most. His father, Cecil, had a similar body type and suffered his own physical regression by about the time he was 33. The odds of Fielder coming close to justifying the extent of this contract are minuscule.

In the immediate future Fielder makes the Tigers a better team. Pairing him with Cabrera gives the Tigers two mashers in the middle of their lineup, who are as formidable as any one-two punch in either league. However, as time goes by, it is going to be increasingly difficult to justify the amount of money being allocated to their DH position.

The Tigers have ace pitcher Justin Verlander locked upon through 2014, but will certainly want to keep him past that if he continues producing at such a high level. If you add up the current contracts of Verlander, Cabrera, and Fielder, the Tigers have nearly a half a billion dollars committed to just those three players. There are noticeable deficiencies in the rest of their starting rotation and outfield that have yet to be addressed. The money being spent on Fielder would have gone a long way to address several holes in those areas.

Mike Ilitch obviously has a lot of money. He owns both an MLB and an NHL team, in addition to the Little Ceasars’ pizza chain. But he is also a businessman and there has to be a point where the Tigers are reasonably solvent for him to continue to want to spend and improve the team. With the lackluster economy hitting Michigan and the Detroit area especially hard, one can imagine that the Tigers are not the most profitable team in the majors (they finished 6th out of 14 American League teams in attendance in 2011). Even notorious spenders like the Red Sox and Yankees have recently shown there is a limit to how far even they will go when doling out cash.

The 2012 outlook for the Tigers looks bright, but projecting out a little further gives reason for distress. The Fielder deal could turn out to be downright Alfonso Soriano-esque; an albatross the likes of which could handicap the team for years. Detroit fans should hope that their team can make hay while the sun shines- which should be over the next several years. Beyond that is a lot of uncertainty punctuated by dollar signs.


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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fenway 1912: Glenn Stout's Fascinating History of Fenway Park and the 1912 Red Sox

Fenway Park is one of the most historic and well known landmarks in all of baseball and Boston. Despite its modern notoriety, the home of the Red Sox is the oldest major league stadium still in play, and is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary later this spring. Professional sport venues typically have lives that are measured in decades, but with Fenway’s birthday coming up, they will move into the territory of centuries, with no sign that their doors will close any time soon.

Best known for its iconic “Green Monster” left field wall, Fenway is much more than it’s most identifiable feature. Not surprisingly, there is a fascinating history of the park and its surrounding area that until recently remained largely uncovered.

Author and historian, Glenn Stout has remedied the lack of detail about the history of Fenway with his most recent book, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year. He traces the construction of the park and first year of existence (which resulted in a Red Sox World Series victory) in painstaking detail. From the tense relationships between Catholic and Protestant players on the 1912 Red Sox, to overflow crowds watching games on the field, literally feet from the foul lines, Stout has made a great story out of history.

Fenway 1912 is a must-read for any baseball fan because of the new ways it allows the reader to view one of baseball’s most beloved ballparks. You can find out more about this book at or by going to most mainstream bookstores.

I recently had a chance to ask Stout some questions about how he came to write Fenway 1912 and what he was able to take away personally from the experience. His answers are a great lead-in to the book, so make sure to check out both because you won’t be disappointed.

How did you decide to write about the history of Fenway Park and the 1912 Red Sox season?: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a thing for ballparks – I used to draw diagrams of them all the time. I moved to Boston in 1981 after college because I wanted to be in a city with an old ballpark.  When I began free-lancing in the mid-1980s, I was soon lucky enough to get an assignment to write the official 75th anniversary history of Fenway for the yearbook. I did a decent job – better than anyone else has ever done with the history of the park, but even then I realized that there were still basic questions without answers – what architectural style was used, how the park was built, who built it, why was it built the way it was built – almost everything. Most previous Fenway histories had just told a thumbnail history of the team, not really a history of the park.

I sort of thought someone would eventually answer those questions – I answered a few in a bit more depth in Red Sox Century – but no one else ever took it farther. So with the anniversary approaching, it was a natural. I wanted to answer those basic questions and see how Fenway Park revealed itself over the course of its first season, to see if the essential character of the park was present from the beginning.

With all the intricate detail in this book, the scope of research must have been enormous. How do you go about tackling such a huge project?: I basically approached it like I knew nothing about the park. I tried not to accept any preconceived notions. My experience in researching baseball history is that very often people accept as common knowledge things that simply are not true. I don’t, and that’s how I exposed all the fallacies surrounding the spurious “Curse of the Bambino,” for instance. Common knowledge usually contains a great deal of errors and half truths

I try to start from scratch. I use previously published work only as a basic road map, at best, and try to use more primary resources. In this case, that’s primarily newspapers – not just the Globe, but the half dozen or so papers published in Boston at the time, plus those from other cities, and magazines like Sporting Life, The Sporting News, Baseball Magazine, engineering magazines, city directories, census records, etc. Over time, you begin to build a body of knowledge, and learn to balance various accounts of the same events. But even that is often not enough. Here’s one example: I had read elsewhere – and then written myself -that the architectural style of Fenway park was known as “Tapestry.” Well, I did some architectural research and upon examination, there is no such style. I found out that “Tapestry” was simply the brand name of the kind of brick used in the park. By researching that style of brick, I discovered it was often used in Arts and Crafts buildings, which was a relatively new style of architecture at the time. I then consulted with some architectural historians, explained what I found and shared some research. They told me that while it would be incorrect to say that Fenway is an “Arts and Crafts” building per se, it does exhibit Arts and Crafts influences.  

What was the most surprising thing you personally learned while you were working on this project?: I hardly know where to start – the book utterly re-writes the early history of the park. But I think more people will really be surprised to learn that the park that opened in April of 1912 had already been drastically changed by October, for the World’s Series. Over 11,000 additional seats were built in September while the Red Sox were on a road trip. Those additional seats enclosed the park with seats for the first time gave the field its now familiar footprint. Fenway is not the shape it is because it was “squeezed” in between streets. It was like Kansas around the park when it was built and the plot of land was more than sufficient for the way the game was played in the Dead Ball Era. Over time, however, the game got bigger, and the park grew inward, from the borders of the property. That basic footprint stems from the rushed construction of those stands that September. Subsequent construction simply preserved that pattern. Had anyone wished for Fenway to have been more symmetrical and less quirky, it could have easily been built that way. And here’s an interesting tidbit – those new seats built for the World Series included seats on “Duffy’s Cliff” in left field, which decreased the distance to the temporary short fence that was built in front of the cliff. So during the World Series there was a ground rule that turned any ball hit into the stands on the cliff – or off the wall – into a double. That also meant that any ball hit over the left field wall would also have been a double. It didn’t happen, but could have.

Which impacts the other's identity more; the Red Sox or Fenway Park?: It’s awfully hard to separate the two. But my experience in writing this book, and now that it has been published, in going around New England and speaking with literally thousands of people about Fenway, has underscored something I already sensed; there are a great many Red Sox fans, but there are even more fans of Fenway Park. That’s why people don’t say ‘We’re going to see the Red Sox. They say “We’re going to Fenway.’ 


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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Marco Scutaro Trade Seems Desperate

News just hit that the Boston Red Sox have traded projected 2012 starting shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortenson. It is a classic salary dump and another curious move by new general manager, Ben Cherington. While the move frees up about $6 million for 2012, allowing the Red Sox to do a little more shopping and avoid the luxury tax, it also creates more questions on a team that seems to be accumulating them at an alarming rate over the past few months.

Scutaro is 36 and has never been a star, but his .299/.358/.781 line and slightly below average defense from last year showed that he is a more than adequate shortstop. Now that he is gone, it appears that Boston will fill shortstop with some sort of platoon between Nick Punto, Mike Aviles, and possibly Jose Iglesias. Combining this reality with Ryan Sweeney likely being the starter in right and Carl Crawford possibly not being ready for the start of the year, and the Red Sox suddenly have some real holes in their lineup.

Although some reporters are talking about the Red Sox viewing Mortensen as a starter, I believe he was just a minimum wage guy they could take back to make the trade work. Mortensen is a former first round pick, but has never developed into a consistent big league pitcher. In all likelihood he will be in the Pawtucket rotation this year, with an outside shot to be the 6th inning guy in the Red Sox bullpen, or a temporary starting fill-in if a couple of starters get injured. I am sure Boston will be ecstatic if they get anything out of Mortensen, but I also don’t believe that they have any real expectations.

Allegedly, the true motive of this trade was to give Boston more financial flexibility so they can pursue free agent starter Roy Oswalt. Cherington really seems to be scrambling now that the New York Yankees’ acquisitions of Michael Pineda and Hideki Kuroda announced that there was an arms race in the American League East. Oswalt has been very good during his career, but had some injuries last year, and at the age of 34, is not the pitcher he once was. With his recent back issues, the Red Sox would be entering into a high risk/high reward type situation if they are able to sign him.

I would much rather see the Red Sox try to be more creative and make a run at a player like disgruntled Miami shortstop, Hanley Ramirez. While he struggled last year and is one of the most renowned head cases in baseball, he is also a top 5-10 player in the game when right, and looks like he desperately needs a change of scenery. He is also signed to a reasonable deal for a player of his stature through 2014 (3 years and about $46.5 million left), and putting him at shortstop in Boston would be an absolute coup.

The main reason this trade bothers me is because in recent years the Red Sox moved aggressively in free agency and trades. This past off-season they have appeared decidedly reactionary to the moves of other teams, which is never a good sign for a team that is supposed to be an annual championship contender. Maybe it will all work out and maybe it won’t, but this trade reeks of desperation, and Red Sox fans have come to discover that is not something they will gladly suffer any more.


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Friday, January 20, 2012

Hi Bithorn: Puerto Rico's Baseball Pioneer

More than 225 players who were born in Puerto Rico have played major league baseball, representing a staggering amount for such a small country. Their successes were paved by right handed pitcher Hiram “Hi” Bithorn, who was the first of them to debut, with the Chicago Cubs in 1942. Bithorn is not well-remembered today because of an abbreviated playing career and life that ended at the age of 34 under bizarre circumstances.

Bithorn was born in 1916 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He grew up playing baseball and was signed by the New York Yankees in 1936. Some initially thought that Bithorn was black, but his mother was Danish and his father was Puerto Rican, enabling him to avoid baseball’s segregation.

Bithorn played in the Yankees’ minor league system for several years with good success, even having 17 wins and a 1.94 ERA in 1937. However, there was little room for him to advance because of all the top talent possessed by the best team in baseball. He eventually wound up in the New York Giants’ system before getting his big break in the autumn of 1941.
On September 30, 1941, Bithorn was taken by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs were coming off a sixth place finish that year and were in dire need of pitching, as evidenced by 42 year old Charlie Root having held down one of their rotation spots for much of the season.

Bithorn made the 1942 Cubs and contributed 171.2 innings that season. His 9-14 record was made a little better by his 3.68 ERA. He really blossomed the following year, going 18-12, with a 2.60 ERA and a National League leading 7 shutouts. Despite his success, he was not a strikeout pitcher, notching just 86 in 249.2 innings, but he also gave up only 8 home runs.

Even though World War II was underway when Bithorn debuted with the Cubs, he was initially able to stay out of the service because of his role in supporting his mother and his sister’s education. His exemption ended in 1944 and he enlisted in the Navy, missing the next two baseball seasons as a result.

When Bithorn returned to the Cubs in 1946, he was not the same pitcher, and injuries hastened the end of his major league career in 1947. In 105 career major league games, Bithorn had a 34-31 record and 3.16 ERA. He bounced around the minors and abroad for a few years, but was unable to make it back to the big leagues.

It was in the midst of his efforts to get back to the major leagues that Bithorn met his untimely death in 1951. He was shot by police officer Ambrosio Castillo Cano in front of a bus station in Almante, Mexico, on December 27, 1951, while attempting a comeback in the Mexican Winter League. Cano tried to explain his actions by stating, “I was afraid he was going to kill me. Without warning or provocation, he suddenly struck me in the face with his suitcase and started to leap upon me as I lay in the street.” Bithorn lingered into the next day, but ultimately died from the gunshot wound he had received to his stomach.

The circumstances surrounding death were immediately suspicious. District Attorney Jesus Govea announced Bithorn had been arrested after he was discovered trying to sell a 1947 Buick for $350 without the proper documentation. Police said Bithorn was shot when he attacked officers who were escorting him back to Mexico City, where he had promised he would produce papers for the car.

The story was made even more bizarre when Cano and other witness claimed that after he was shot, Bithorn gasped “I am a member of a communist cell on an important mission.” Waldemar Bithorn, Hi’s brother, denied the pitcher was a communist and roundly disputed all aspects of the story.

Mexican police tried to keep the blame on Bithorn’s death focused on the pitcher himself. Cano and other witnesses claimed that as Bithorn lay dying, he admitted he was the one at fault, whispering, “I have only myself to blame for getting shot.”

 Fidel Garza, Commandant of Police, announced, “It is very mysterious. He had $2,000 in American currency in his pocket when he was picked up. He could not have been selling the car because he was out of money. Why was the car without license plates? Why did he have no papers? And what was the Communist connection?”

Interestingly, the news of the shooting was not reported until New Years Day, 1952, leading many contemporary sources to cite that as the day Bithorn was actually killed. Because of Bithorn’s status as a relatively well-known athlete, a perfunctory evaluation was made on the shooting. District Attorney Govea announced on January 2nd that Cano had acted properly. He said that the officer was still being investigated, “but the belief is that he only defended himself from his aggressor.”

Bithorn’s family refused to let the matter rest. His sister went to Mexico in light of the shooting looking for answers, stating, “The accident looks very suspicious.” Ultimately, her suspicions proved to be right and Cano was charged with homicide on January 7, 1952, after an investigation had been ordered by state governor. The case went before Judge Ismael Benavides, who automatically held Cano over for trial.

Details about what actually transpired are sketchy at best. Evidently, some sort of argument transpired between Bithorn and Cano, and after the baseball player was shot, a story was concocted to shift the blame. The claims of selling the car and ties to communism represented broad generalisms about Americans, and do not appear to have any truth in them.

Showing the lack of American press coverage on the investigation and trial of Bithorn’s murderer, many modern sources claim that his death went unsolved. However, an article appeared in the October 3, 1952 issue of the New York Times, reporting that Cano was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The article failed to mention if the trial determined what motive, if any, instigated the slaying.

Since that time, Bithorn has slipped even further from the memory and consciousness of American baseball, although he is still revered in his native Puerto Rico. Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda considers Bithorn to be one of his heroes. “He was the first person from Puerto Rico to make it to the major leagues. He did so much for the island.”

Even current players like Javier Vazquez were inspired by the trail blazing Bithorn. Vazquez explained “Being a ballplayer, we all knew about him and what he meant to Puerto Rico. He was the first, and that’s history right there. But a lot of people, I don’t think they know who he was.”

As the ultimate tribute, Hiram Bithorn Stadium was built for, and eponymously dedicated to him in San Juan Puerto Rico in 1962. It is still the largest stadium on the island and hosts many important baseball games every year.

His life cut short by a bizarre murder, Bithorn is not well known today in the United States, but continues to inspire generations of baseball players in his native Puerto Rico. He may not have experienced great success during his playing career, but the number of players whose lives he subsequently touched far outweighs the contributions most make to the game, and qualifies him as a baseball legend.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Anthony Ranaudo: Boston's Top Pitching Prospect Checks In

Much has been made over the past few months about the perceived deficiencies in the starting rotation of the Boston Red Sox. The existing group shouldered the bulk of the blame for the late-season collapse of the 2011 team. Regardless of the truth of such assumptions, help is on the way, primarily in the form of the team’s top pitching prospect, Anthony Ranaudo.

 At 6’7 and 230 pounds, the right-handed Ranaudo cuts an imposing figure on the pitching mound. He was a high school star in New Jersey- posting a 21-4 career record and a 1.44 ERA- who was taken in the 11th round of the 2007 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, but declined to sign in order to take a baseball scholarship with LSU.

Ranaudo played three seasons at LSU, experiencing great triumph that was sandwiched between injuries during his freshman and junior years. In 2009, as a sophomore, he was at his healthiest and showed what a weapon his right arm can be. He went 12-3, with a 3.04 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 124.1 innings; helping LSU to the National Championship title. His performance made his draft stock skyrocket, and even though he suffered through an injury plagued 2010, he was still widely regarded as the best pitcher in that year’s draft.

Although Ranaudo’s injuries made some teams wary going into the 2010 draft, those that did their homework on him knew his potential. The Boston Red Sox decided they couldn’t pass up such talent and landed him with the 39th overall selection in the first round. In the tough American League East, pitching is a precious commodity seen as having the most impact when it comes to the pecking order in the standings. Boston made a big strike in picking up Ranaudo to help shore up their staff in the future.

The Red Sox handled Ranaudo cautiously during his first professional season in 2011. Although he made 26 starts at two different levels, he was on an innings limit, throwing just a total of 127, but pitched very well. He had a 9-6 record, with a 3.97 ERA and 117 strikeouts. More information on his statistics is available at

With the trade of Casey Kelly prior to the start of the season, Ranaudo is unquestionably the top pitching prospect in the Boston system. Now that he has a full professional season under his belt, he will be under close scrutiny as he gets closer and closer to Boston, which could happen as soon as late 2012 or 2013.  You can find Ranaudo out on Twitter, and can also find out more about the pitching prospect by checking out the interview he recently did with me.

Anthony Ranaudo Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player growing up and why?: Favorite team was the Yankees, being from New Jersey. I always loved watching Derek Jeter play because of his leadership and because he looked like he was enjoying every minute of every game. 

What pitches do you have in your arsenal, and which one do you think you need to improve the most?
: I currently throw a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, changeup and curveball. I have to keep throwing my changeup more often and develop more consistency with the pitch. 

Can you run through what your 2010 draft experience was like?
: Chaotic. It was crazy hearing all kinds of rumors of where I would be drafted, and then after my injury it got really wild, but overall a great experience and something I will always remember. 

How has your reception been thus far from the Boston organization and their fans?: So far it has been everything it was hyped up to be and more. I heard a lot about Red Sox Nation and how supportive their fans are. From the day I signed, I received a lot of positive support and excitement from them, and they have been motivating me ever since to get to Fenway as soon as possible

If you could do anything about the 2011 season differently, what would that be?: I would say just being a little stronger going into the season. It was my first off-season last year and I did not really know what to expect from such a long season. As a result, I think I might have taken things a little too easy as far as weight training and conditioning, trying to pace myself. After a full season of experience, I know I am going to be as prepared as I ever will be for 2012.

How difficult is it to stay grounded when dealing with the reality of being a top MLB prospect from high school, through college, and now to the pros?: Fortunately I was raised by two humble parents who taught that to me at a young age, and growing up I had high goals for myself, so I was never satisfied, and still am not to this day. It’s easy to stay grounded when you have bigger goals ahead that you would like to achieve. 

What do you believe you need to work on most in 2012 in order to continue progressing through the Red Sox system?: Getting better each and every day so I can develop more consistency to each and every start. 


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Monday, January 16, 2012

Greg Swindell: Representing the Best of Texas

Texas is best known for producing great beef and the best football in the world, but they have another commodity that they export with similar regularity; pitchers. Highlighted by the likes of Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux, the Longhorn State has had 431 pitchers appear in a major league game. One of the best left-handers in that group was Greg Swindell, who enjoyed a 17 year big league career and is still closely connected to his home state.

Swindell followed up a stellar high school career by attending the University of Texas, for all intent and purposes replacing Roger Clemens, who left for the pro ranks after the 1983 season. The three seasons (1984-1986) that Swindell played at UT rank amongst the most dominant of all time in college baseball. He posted a sparkling 43-8 record in 77 games, with a 1.92 ERA and 501 strikeouts. He was the National Player of the Year as a sophomore in 1985, and still holds many Texas and NCAA records.

Given his collegiate success, it is little wonder that Swindell was one of the most highly sought after players in the 1986 MLB draft. He was taken with the second overall pick in the first round by the Cleveland Indians, who had gone just 60-102 the year before, and had one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.  The Indians wasted little time in using their new weapon, as they gave Swindell all of three minor league starts before bringing him up to stay in 1986.

Swindell spent the first ten years of his career as one of the most dependable starters in the game. However, in 1996 he made a successful conversion to relieving, and became a stalwart in that role as well. All told, he pitched for the Indians, Astros, Twins, Red Sox, and Diamondbacks before hanging it up following the 2002 season. He compiled a 123-122 career record in 664 games, with a 3.86 ERA, and 12 shutouts and 7 saves. More information about his career statistics is available at

Swindell was integral as the left-handed specialist on the 2001 Diamondback team that shocked the New York Yankees in the World Series. He was unscored upon in his three Series appearances, including 2 holds and closing out a Game 1 win that set the tone for the entire series. His last appearance on a major league mound came during the 2002 NLDS, a fitting end to a fantastic career.

These days, while Swindell is primarily a family man, he is also still heavily involved in sports. He was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, and has worked as an analyst for major league baseball, the Little League World Series, and most recently was added to the Longhorn Network team. Despite his busy schedule, he recently took the time to answer some questions I had about his time in baseball.

Greg Swindell Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I was a six-year old bat boy for my brother’s team; Sharpstown Little League in Houston. Lived it ever since.

What was your experience like in being the 2nd overall pick in the 1986 draft?: Had no idea where I would be drafted. To be the second overall was very humbling. I was excited to start my professional career.

What was your experience like on the 1984 Olympic baseball team?: I didn't make it to Los Angeles. I had to go to summer school and pass a class. But the tour and being with all those great players was an experience that helped me in my college career.

How did you feel about getting called to the major leagues after just three games in the minors?: It was a dream come true. I never thought it would happen so quick; and when it happened it was surreal

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Winning!!! And being able to pitch in a World Series.

Who was the toughest hitter you ever faced?: Marquis Grissom. He owned my ass. He knew it and I knew it!

How much pressure did you face following Roger Clemens at the University of Texas?: I never felt pressure. Actually the pressure came from just pitching at UT. The tradition speaks for itself.

How difficult was it to transition to relieving after so many successful years of starting in the majors?: My arm bounced back pretty easy, so relieving came natural. I lived it, and it gave me a chance to pitch almost every day.

Who was your most influential/favorite coach or manager?: I liked all my coaches and managers, but probably Charlie Manuel. He was a hitting coach, but awesome to be around because of his knowledge of the game.

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: I would probably have taken or had someone take pictures, and collected more things from my career. 

As far as playing; not a thing. I feel I respected the game and played the game as professional as I could!


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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mariners Win With Montero Trade Too...

Last night saw the rare exchange of top young players, when the New York Yankees traded catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. So far the reaction seems to be focused on what a terrific deal this was for the Yankees, and how it has catapulted them back into the discussion for top team in 2012. As it turns out, it was a pretty good deal for the Mariners too.

In Montero, the Mariners have gotten back as good a hitting prospect who exists in baseball. For the offensively moribund Mariners, he can be the first step towards rebuilding a lineup that has finished last in runs scored in the American League for the past three seasons, and second to last the year before that. While Montero has all of 61 major league at bats, he has the ability to become Edgar Martinez 2.0 if he develops as expected. His ability to hit, hit for power, and the approach he already displays as a 22 year old, all point positively towards a bright future.

Much has been made about the belief that Montero, who came up through the minors as a catcher, will not be able to play there in the majors. That may be true, but it really doesn’t matter to the Mariners. If Montero works out at catcher for them, then great. But he is just as valuable to them if his bat produces at first base or designated hitter. Now that the aging Ichiro has finally started to decline, the Mariners are starting to rebuild their lineup around young hitters. Montero and Dustin Ackley gives them an inexperienced, yet potential-laden one-two punch for years to come.

Surprisingly, there seems to be a great deal of wailing coming from Mariner fans about having to give up Pineda and Campos to obtain Montero. It is true that Pineda is one of the best young pitchers in baseball and that the 19 year old Campos could turn out to be just as good a prospect. However, in baseball, teams who want to acquire a young hitter of Montero’s pedigree are going to give up top notch pitching. That’s just a reality of the market. The Mariners have no hitting prospects that even come close to comparing to Montero, and any free agent signing of consequence will cost big bucks, so this trade made the most sense. They will get six years of team control to figure out if Montero is the hitter that so many think he is, and while Pineda had an excellent rookie season last year, neither he or Campos come with any guarantees.

Mariner fans should also be careful to not overlook Noesi. He is the definition of a sleeper prospect. He has the ability to be a good number three of four major league starter, which isn’t the ceiling of Pineda or Campos, but is still pretty darn valuable in today’s game. The right-handed Noesi cut his major league teeth in 30 games with the Yankees in 2011, showing he could hang; sporting a 4.47 ERA and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The Mariners should be able to slide him into the back of their rotation in 2012 and see what he can do.

The Mariners wisely held on to proven ace Felix Hernandez and have 2010 first round right-hander Taijuan Walker quickly marching through their minor league system. Their pitching staff will be fine, and while they gave up a pretty penny to get him, in Montero they now have a centerpiece to rebuild their lineup around. The Yankees are being lauded as the big winners of this trade because of how it positions them right now, but the Mariners didn’t do too shabby in how they have set themselves up for down the road.


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Friday, January 13, 2012

Chatting with Grantland's Andy Greenwald

ESPN’s pop culture and sports guru extraordinaire, Bill Simmons, realized a major goal this past year with the creation of Grantland. As Grantland has gotten its feet underneath them, it has started to churn out a daily offering of commentary on sports, television, movies, and everything in between in the world of entertainment. The site serves as a stable for young, talented and handpicked writers who fit the sensibilities of a typical Simmons’ reader. One of the Grantland writers who have emerged as one of the best is Andy Greenwald.

Greenwald grew up in Philadelphia and attended Brown University. Although he is just 34, he has already compiled an impressive writing resume. In addition to authoring several books, he has also written for mainstream publications like Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and the Washington Post.

I first came to appreciate Greenwald’s work at Grantland because of his analysis of television shows such as The Walking Dead and Homeland, which was just as entertaining as the dramas themselves. In fact, I never would have sought out Homeland if it wasn’t for reading one of Greenwald’s articles, which led to me watching the entire first season and realizing it was one of the best shows on television this past year.

While Greenwald mainly writes about entertainment subjects for Grantland, he is a longtime baseball fan, rooting for his hometown Phillies, so he is a perfect fit for the site. I must admit that he makes me totally envious because I want his job. Despite my jealousy, it is not mean spirited, and how could it be with Greenwald being such a nice guy? It was pleasantly surprising to find such a busy writer so accessible and willing to answer my questions. The result is this interview where Greenwald shares more about his background and his insights on writing.

Andy Greenwald Interview:

How did you first become interested in writing?: Not sure if there’s an easy answer to this question! I think all writers begin as readers and that’s certainly how I spent a worrying amount of my childhood. By the time I was in college, I had gravitated towards writing in all forms: creative, academic, and, more than anything else, telling people my opinions about records and bands.

What has led you to write about the topics you do (social commentary, music, TV, baseball, etc...)?: I think the best writing comes from passion and those are certainly subjects I feel strongly about. When I was younger, music was not only a primary interest it was also the one topic a novice could plausibly write about professionally without a single shred of expertise. Over time, I’ve turned away from music and more towards television. I realized that, while I love listening to music, I no longer have much interest in how that particular sausage is made. Call me jaded, but, twelve years on, the insights of 22-year-old drummers don’t hold the same allure. In contrast, the business and art of storytelling fascinates me, especially as I endeavor to do my own writing for the small screen.

The baseball writing is really just cheaper than therapy. The bills can add up as a Phillies fan, despite the success of the last few years.

How did you come to write for Grantland?: I feel extremely fortunate about how it all worked out. I knew about the site well before it was announced because a number of friends of mine, including Chris Ryan and Chuck Klosterman, were involved. But it wasn’t until April when Lane Brown, my former editor at New York Magazine’s Vulture blog, got in touch and asked me if I’d be interested in coming aboard as a contributor.

With the marked decline of print media, where do you see the future of writing heading?: I’m not sure I’m qualified to opine on the future of writing. The rise of the web has certainly provided a venue for more writing than the world has ever seen. Good writing, though, and writing that is well-compensated ... those are still in flux. My experience with Grantland has, however, restored my faith in the notion that it’s possible to find outlets that treat writers with respect and can attract an opinionated audience willing to read – and wildly disagree with! – longer-form pieces.

How much of a baseball fan are you? What is your background with the game?: I’m a dangerous baseball fan as I’m both wildly obsessive and painfully sensitive. During the season I live and die with every pitch – and that’s even when my team is forty games above .500.

I grew up conditioned either to love or loathe the game as my father is a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan (despite hailing from Pennsylvania); the soundtrack of my childhood was the voice of Jack Buck occasionally breaking through the oppressive static of KMOX as my dad desperately tried to tune in from the east coast. By the time Joe Carter broke my heart into a billion pieces in 1993 I was a scarred Phillies fan for life. Is it time for pitchers and catchers to report yet?

Do you think baseball (and all sports) can benefit from the more honest approach Grantland takes to writing?: In general, I think all writing can benefit from an honest approach; dishonesty tends to leave an unpleasant aftertaste whether you encounter it on the sports page or on an episode of your favorite TV show.


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