December 2009

Coast to Coast: Pro Baseball Comes to Cocoa

Over on my other blog Space Coast Baseball, I posted this morning an article about the first professional minor league team in Brevard County, two decades before the Space Age and the area became known as the “Space Coast.”

No Angels relationship whatsoever, but if you enjoy minor league baseball history click here to read the article.

FutureAngels.com Database Update

The FutureAngels.com Database is a project to build a complete database of Angels minor league statistics going back to the inaugural 1961 season. Not only would you be able to look up a player’s minor league stats, but more importantly we would be able to identify Angels minor league records that up to now no one knows about.

It’s very much a part-time project, but lately I’ve had enough free time to resume work.

Last week I finished entering offense data for the first five seasons, 1961-1965. That sample data will be used to build a few reports you can use to search for information.

The first report is online, the Top 10 Angels Minor League Career Records report. It reflects only data from 1961-1965, so these are not the “real” records, but as I enter data from more seasons this will automatically update.

One immediately apparent trend is that “career” record holders are not going to be top prospects, for the most part. To hold a career record, you have to be in the minors for a while. Because most top prospects move up quickly, they’re not in the minors long enough to, say, hold the career triples record.

You’ll see Darrell Darrow in several categories. He’s the lone player not from 1961-1965. He contacted me a couple years ago because he’d been told he held the Angels minor league career triples record. I went through each year’s statistics for his career and found he had 48 triples. I looked up a few players I thought might challenge him for that record but couldn’t find anyone. No one in the 1961-1965 timeframe came close.

Darrell is a good example, though, of the longevity factor. He shows up in many categories. That’s because he was in the system for most of the 1970s.

Top prospects might be more likely to show up in the four percentage categories — batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS (OBP + SLG). But I drew a line there, arbitrarily choosing a minimum of 1,000 career minor-league at-bats. There’s nothing magic about 1,000 other than it’s about two full minor-league seasons. We still see many names from other categories, e.g. Richard Simpson, Jack Hiatt and Carlos Bernier.

Bernier is one example of a major problem with these early stats. It’s not clear to me if he was under an Angels contract.

The minor leagues operated quite differently from today. Minor league teams could affiliate with one, more than one, or no parent club at all. They could sign and sell their own players. It wasn’t unusual to see local favorites stick around for years regardless of who was the parent club.

Bernier seems to fall into that category. He was a star in the old Pacific Coast League for most of the 1950s. Much of his career was spent with the Hollywood Stars, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate. When the Dodgers came to town in 1958, the franchise moved to Salt Lake City and Bernier went with them.

It appears that the Pirates may have traded him to Philadelphia in 1960, and he moved on to two other organizations before landing in Hawaii for 1961. The Islanders at the time were a Kansas City Athletics affiliate.

In 1962, the Islanders affiliated with the Angels, but Bernier remained. He was there for three seasons, 1962-1964.

Was he an Angels employee?

No one seems to recall.

Bernier doesn’t appear in any of the Angels Media Guides of the period, although those listed only major league spring training camp players, including a few non-roster invitees. Minor league players and stats weren’t included.

A few factors, though, might argue in favor of him being an Angels employee.

Rosey Gilhousen, the Angels’ lead scout in the early 1960s, had been a scout with the Pirates in the 1950s and associated with the Hollywood Stars. The Angels were fond of stockpiling old PCL players that fans might recognize as gate attractions, so it’s possible that Bernier was signed for that reason, although he was never called up.

He saw no major league team after 1953. The main reason appears to have been his volatile temper. He struck an umpire while with Hollywood in 1954 and was suspended for the rest of the season. So the Angels may have been reluctant to call him up.

Another reason is that he spent his final season in the Mexican League with the Reynosa Broncos in 1965.

My two primary resources for this project are the annual Official Baseball Guides published by The Sporting News, and Baseball-Reference.com. The latter doesn’t show Bernier at Reynosa in 1965, but the Official Baseball Guide and a Hardball Times article show he played 87 games for the Broncos.

Several Angels minor leaguers played for Reynosa in the mid-1960s. Roland Hemond, who was the Angels’ farm director during that period, told me he had an “informal working agreement” with Reynosa. He could “borrow” their players for evaluation with an Angels affiliate in the United States. They’d play for an Angels team, they’d wear Angels jerseys, but their contracts were held by Reynosa. It appears to have been a two-way arrangement, with American players spending some time in Reynosa.

It seems plausible that Hemond or Gilhousen might have found a place for Bernier with Reynosa. The Angels moved their Triple-A affiliation from Hawaii to Seattle for 1965; in fact, the Angels bought the Seattle franchise. But if he was an Angels property, why didn’t he go to Seattle? His age may have been the answer. He was 38 in 1965, and no doubt the Angels wanted to move up younger prospects.

That doesn’t prove Bernier was under Angels contract, but given the informality of the time it seems at least a possibility that they arranged a job for him in Reynosa.

Bernier is just one puzzle of many during those years. Where I think there’s at least a possibility the player was under an Angels contract, I include them in the database, and I’ll figure this out sooner or later.

My next objective is to enter pitching and fielding statistics for 1961-1965, so I can set up similar reports. Once that’s done, then it’s just data entry through present day. That’s when the real fun begins.

Prospect Retrospect: 2001


John Lackey was ranked #2 on the inaugural FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report in November 2001.

 

FutureAngels.com has published an Angels Top 10 Prospects report every November since 2001. It’s the longest running top prospect report of any Angels fan site, but then FutureAngels.com is also the longest running Angels fan site so there you are.

As with the amateur draft and player development in general, projecting prospects is always more art than science. Unlike in the fantasy realm where it’s all about adding up points, in the reality world we’re dealing with flesh-and-blood human beings who may have loads of talent but something doesn’t click when they get to the big leagues. Players who were drafted as an afterthought sometimes surprise and go on to fine major league careers. And then there are those destined for stardom, only to have an injury or unforeseen tragedy cheat them of their careers.

It takes at least five years to accurately evaluate if a draft was successful, and perhaps even longer when looking at high school draft picks. If an amateur is selected at age 17 or 18, he may seem like a “bust” to impatient fans demanding instant gratification, but the reality is most pro players don’t hit their prime years until at least 25 if not older. So that’s a good seven to eight years before we really even know if he’s going to have a substantive major league career.

Looking back over the FutureAngels.com Top 10 lists, I think I’ve done pretty well.

Over the first five years, 2001-2005, 45 of the 50 ranked players reached the major leagues. That’s 90%.

My reports come out in November, after the season ends. Baseball America will publish its annual Prospect Handbook in January 2010, so their equivalent to mine would be the 2002-2006 books. Their track record in that period? 45 out of 50. 90%.

So I’m in pretty good company.

When we get into the individual rankings, of course, it gets more subjective, and it may be many more years before we can judge the accuracy of the rankings. In 2005, for example, I had Kendry Morales #4 and Jered Weaver #6. BA had Weaver #5 and Morales #7. We both had Brandon Wood #1. How will those rankings look in 2015? In 2020? Who knows.

I write in the preface of every report that it’s only a snapshot in time, and this proves the point. As of December 21, 2009, Morales and Weaver are big league stars while Wood is waiting for a full-time job. But by 2015 the story may be different.

Over the next few weeks, the quietest time of year on the baseball calendar, I’m going to write a series of columns looking back at the 2001-2005 FutureAngels.com reports. I think enough time has gone by that we can judge how accurate those columns were.

My thinking each year changed, of course, based on the more I learned about baseball and also what were the Angels’ priorities. As I wrote in the prefaces, I take into account the parent club’s needs, whereas BA looks more at a player’s “ceiling,” i.e. how well he’ll do if given a big league job somewhere, sometime. I would tend to lower a pitching prospect on the list if the Angels’ starting rotation is stocked. On the 2009 list, Mark Trumbo moved up a couple notches once I found out the Angels intend to give him lots of right field experience at Salt Lake in 2010, because they’re really thin on power-hitting corner outfielders and such a move gets Trumbo to Anaheim a lot quicker than if he’s waiting for Kendry Morales to take his free agency in another four or five years. BA wouldn’t care about that, but I would because my list is exclusive to how the players fit into the Angels’ plans.

My 2001 list was:

  1. Chris Bootcheck RHP
  2. John Lackey RHP
  3. Brian Specht SS
  4. Casey Kotchman 1B
  5. Nathan Haynes OF
  6. Bart Miadich RHP
  7. Bobby Jenks RHP
  8. Jeff Mathis C
  9. Joe Torres LHP
  10. Alfredo Amezaga 2B-SS

The BA equivalent was:

  1. Casey Kotchman 1B
  2. Bobby Jenks RHP
  3. John Lackey RHP
  4. Chris Bootcheck RHP
  5. Joe Torres LHP
  6. Alfredo Amezaga SS
  7. Francisco Rodriguez RHP
  8. Nathan Haynes OF
  9. Ervin Santana RHP
  10. Jeff Mathis C

BA had Specht at #11 and Miadich at #21.

Let’s look at each of my picks in retrospect.

1. Chris Bootcheck RHP — Chris was a far more polished prospect than John Lackey coming out of college. He was ranked one of the top college starters, and represented by Scott Boras. The Angels selected him with the #20 pick in the first round of the June 2000 draft. As with Jered Weaver in 2004, Bootcheck held out, but once he failed to return to college for his senior year he was backed into a corner and signed. Chris made it to Anaheim for parts of five seasons, primarily as a reliever, having never become the dominant starter he was in college. He spent 2009 with the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, and made it to Pittsburgh for thirteen relief appearances with an 11.05 ERA.

2. John Lackey RHP — Lackey was little more than a thrower when the Angels selected him in the second round of the June 1999 draft. He was primarily a first baseman in high school, and had been pitching part-time for only a year before the draft. Unlike Bootcheck, Lackey had a fierce competitive mentality that drove him into a successful big league career and a recent lucrative free agency signing with the Red Sox.

3. Brian Specht SS — Brian was ranked #3 by BA analyst Jim Callis in their early 2001 publications, but Josh Boyd had a different opinion one year later, after Specht suffered the first of what would become a series of injuries that finally derailed his career. We saw a glimpse of his potential when the Angels gave him the Fred Haney Memorial Award in 2004 for the outstanding rookie performance during major league spring training. Some of the others on that list are Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina, David Eckstein and Kendry Morales, but then there are also George Arias, Mike Fyhrie, Keith Luuloa and Dusty Bergman. A bad back finally ended Specht’s career, and he’s now in medical school.

4. Casey Kotchman 1B — Casey was one of the top high school hitting prospects in the nation when drafted in June 2001, and was the “hometown boy” because his father Tom is a longtime scout and minor league manager in the Angels’ organization. He was widely considered to be a future big league star, but has yet to manifest his potential at that level. Casey was traded in July 2008 to Atlanta in the Mark Teixeira deal, then was sent a year later to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche. Kotchman will be 27 in February, and he’s buried on the Boston bench, so it seems unlikely he’ll blossom into what was predicted for him when he started his pro career.

5. Nathan Haynes OF — Nathan was the top prospect acquired by the Angels on July 29, 1999 when they sent 2B Randy Velarde and RHP Omar Olivares to the Oakland A’s for Haynes, OF Jeff DaVanon and RHP Elvin Nina. The Angels got a lot more mileage out of DaVanon. As with Brian Specht, Haynes suffered a series of injuries that cut him down before he reached his prime. Nathan retired for 2004-2005 but returned to independent ball in 2006; the Angels re-signed him and he reached Anaheim for 40 games in 2007. The Tampa Bay Rays claimed him on waivers in the spring of 2008, and he passed through the Rangers organization last spring before being released.

6. Bart Miadich RHP — This ranking was back in the era where the Angels were finding discarded pitchers such as Brandon Donnelly, Ben Weber, and Al Levine to turn into effective major league setup relievers. The Angels signed Miadich as a minor league free agent at the recommendation of Don Wakamatsu, who had managed Miadich in the Diamondbacks’ system. “Wak” was the manager at Double-A Erie in 2000, so Miadich joined him with the SeaWolves and appeared to be on the fast track for the Angels’ bullpen. In 2001, Bart had a 2.44 ERA in 55 relief appearances with Triple-A Salt Lake and 27 saves. For whatever reason, he was never given an extended audition at the major league level, pitching just ten innings for Anaheim in 2001 and two innings in 2003. Miadich moved on to the Padres in 2004 and ended his career in the Marlins’ system in 2006. Wakamatsu now manages the Seattle Mariners.

7. Bobby Jenks RHP — Bobby was the personification of the Nuke LaLoosh character in Bull Durham, at least according to the pundits, but in comparison LaLoosh was Orel Hershiser. Jenks was overweight, he was uneducated, and had self-loathing issues that the public later learned about through an article in ESPN the Magazine. On April 19, 2004, Bobby left a Salt Lake game at Fresno in the second inning with an elbow injury after his velocity was down to the high 80s; FutureAngels.com was there, click here to watch the video. Pins were placed in his elbow to hold it together. During rehab, he got into a fight with a teammate, the latest in a series of disciplinary issues. The Angels tried to move him that winter off the 40-man roster to the Triple-A roster, but the White Sox claimed him on waivers. The Sox sent him back to Double-A in 2005 attempting to resurrect his career as a reliever, and it worked. Bobby is considered one of the better relievers in the A.L., although he posted a 3.71 ERA in 2009.

8. Jeff Mathis C — Jeff’s bat has yet to materialize, but defensively he’s already considered one of the best in the A.L. and also one of the best game callers. Manager Mike Scioscia highly values defensive catching skills, which is why Mathis remains in the lineup despite his poor offense. I remember writing my 2001 report thinking, “Jeff’s going to manage in the big leagues one day,” and I still think that, but that day is far off. Mike Napoli has the power bat, but Jeff’s defense keeps the two of them in a platoon situation reminiscent of the Dodgers’ Joe Ferguson/Steve Yeager platoon in the 1970s.

9. Joe Torres LHP — Joe was considered the top left-handed high school pitching prospect in the nation when the Angels selected him with the #10 pick in the June 2000 draft. Injury problems quickly disrupted his career, with first a shoulder problem in 2001 and then “Tommy John” surgery that cost him part of 2003 and all of 2004. The Angels let him go after 2006, and the White Sox tried to resurrect him as a reliever; unlike Jenks, there was no miracle for Joe. He was last seen pitching in relief for the Dodgers’ affiliate in Inland Empire this year, posting a 0.98 ERA at age 26 in High-A. Another career derailed by injuries.

10. Alfredo Amezaga 2B-SS — Back in 2001 I projected Alfredo as a utility player, and that’s been his career, although most of it has been with the Florida Marlins, who used him in center field along with all four infield positions. He was just non-tendered, making him a free agent. Alfredo has appeared in 544 major leagues with a career AVG/OBP/SLG of .251/.311/.341; I described him in 2001 as “pretty much a singles hitter” and that’s what he’s been. I’d love to see him back in the organization, but would only offer him a Triple-A contract and I’m sure he’s looking for more. Amezaga would add some infield depth with the departure of Chone Figgins, although he’s certainly not going to knock anyone off the big-league depth chart.

Why didn’t I rank Francisco Rodriguez or Ervin Santana as BA did?

With both of them, I was concerned that their mechanics would lead to injuries.

Frankie was headstrong, undiscplined, and let’s just say he was “rambunctious” off the field. He’d posted a 5.38 ERA at High-A Rancho Cucamonga that year, and suffered a forearm injury due to his bad mechanics. I’m still surprised he hasn’t broken down by now, although the move to the bullpen in 2002 probably has a lot to do with that.

As for Ervin, he wasn’t even Ervin at that time. He was Johan, having used a relative’s birth certificate to appear eleven months younger than he was when he signed. That came out a year later, but in any case he was only 18 (or 19, depending on which calendar you use) in November 2001 and had only thrown in fourteen Rookie-A games at that point. He tended to fly wide open in his mechanics back then, a problem later corrected, but if you’ve watched him pitch with the Angels in recent years you know it doesn’t take much for him to get out of whack. When he’s healthy and his mechanics are sound, he’s one of the best pitchers in the league.

FutureAngels.com Database Update

Last year I started work on the FutureAngels.com Database, which when completed will be the authoritative reference for Angels minor league statistics since the organization began play in 1961.

The project was sidelined for most of this year as I prepared to move to Florida. Now that we’ve settled in, I’ve resumed work on entering records. I’m entering records using reference books such as old Official Baseball Guide books published by The Sporting News.

The genesis of this idea came in 2005 when Brandon Wood hit 43 home runs for Rancho Cucamonga. As Woody hit dinger after dinger, I wondered what was the Angels’ minor league record for most homers in a single season. Unlike the big leagues, where numbers are easily available, minor league statistics until recently have been scattershot at best.

Looking through the books on my shelf, I figured out that Dick Simpson hit 42 for San Jose in 1962, so that appears to have been the record until Wood hit 43. Dallas McPherson hit 40 in 2004 between Rancho and Arkansas, but no one gave a thought to whether Dallas was chasing a record simply because the statistics werent available.

When done, you’ll be able to look up all sorts of records through easy drop-down list options. Want to know which pitcher has the most career minor-league strikeouts? Who stole the most bases? You’ll be able to find out.

The first objective is to enter stats for the first five seasons, 1961-1965. I’m entering batting statistics first, and I’m up to 1964. Then I’ll do pitching and fielding. Once that’s all in the database, I’ll start working on reports you can query. That will put the basic structure in place and I’ll resume entering records.

Minor league baseball was very different in the early 1960s from what it is now. Minor league teams could have an affiliation with one team, more teams, or nobody at all. They could sign, sell and trade their own players. Parent clubs and minor league teams often loaned players to other organizations.

In 1961, the Angels’ first year, they had only two minor league affiliates (Dallas-Ft. Worth and Statesville) so they sent a number of prospects to other organizations, whereever they could find an open roster spot. The Angels also had a working agreement in the mid-1960s with Reynosa in the Double-A Mexican League, so some players under Angels contract toiled alongside native Mexicans and former Negro Leaguers who were independent.

My rule has been that only players under contract to the Angels should be in the database, but even that gets foggy. Ed Thomas, for example, was an independent player with Statesville in 1961. After the season, the Angels signed him and he played three years at Triple-A for us. Under the rule, Ed’s 1961 season shouldn’t count but 1962-1964 should count. There were other independent guys with Dallas-Ft. Worth who appeared to be Angels property at one time or another, but they would be shipped out to other organizations and returned. But the Rangers also had an affiliation with the Phillies, and got some players from the Twins, White Sox and A’s. One D-FW player told me that some guys didn’t even know who owned their contract.

So I don’t expect the database to be exact, but it’s the closest we’re going to get.

Marks, Part 2


John Lackey

 

On December 5, I published a column titled “Marks” which dared to suggest that baseball owners expolit naive fans by encouraging their mythological beliefs towards their team in order to extract money from them.

For my trouble, I was called a liar, a “pompous ***,” and various other insults on fan boards, although no one attempted to actually prove that what I wrote was wrong. They seemed to be more offended that I told the truth. Heavens.

Orange County Register columnist Jeff Miller picked up the theme in today’s edition. Citing online fans who’ve labelled John Lackey a “traitor” for having the audacity to accept a better offer, Miller called them “idiots” and dismissed them as a “vocal minority.”

It amazes that there are still fans clinging to the decayed notion of loyalty in sports, as if the games other people play are about anything other than business.

Folks, loyalty in pro sports died about the time kids stopped putting baseball cards in their bicycle spokes.

Near the end of the article, Miller adds:

Calling Lackey a traitor is juvenile and comical, which explains why most of this nonsense is unfolding on the Internet, a place where farting is considered a second language.

The Internet has given a public voice to people who never had one in the past. That’s a great thing, especially in an era where giant corporations try to control what we think and hear. But it also means that clueless self-centered people no longer have to stand on street corners to rant and rave.

We didn’t pay attention to those people when they stood on street corners. It should be the same on the Internet.

According to media reports, the Angels are about to sign Yankees DH Hideki Matsui to a one-year deal for $6.5 million.

You could frame this week’s transactions as a three-way trade.

What if I said that the Angels traded John Lackey to the Boston Red Sox, got Hideki Matsui from the Yankees in return, and the Red Sox threw in $76 million to the Angels spread over the next five years?

Because that’s basically what just happened.

Lackey reportedly will sign a five-year contract with Boston worth $82.5 million.

That’s $82.5 million the Angels won’t be paying him.

That’s $82.5 million the Angels can spend elsewhere.

So tell me why this is a bad deal.

From L.A. to Statesville to Dallas-Ft. Worth

Steve Hill, the collector who sent along the photos of Statesville Stadium, e-mailed the below scan of a March 1961 letter sent by Angels farm director Roland Hemond.

 

George Trautman was the president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues from 1947 until his death in 1963.

The Angels had two minor league affiliates in 1961 — a Triple-A team in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a Class D team in Statesville.

The letter indicates a $3,000 check was being sent to the NAPBL to cover $1,500 owed D-FW for their working agreement, and another $1,500 owed D-FW for spring training costs.

I can understand the spring training costs, because back then Dallas-Ft. Worth held its own independent spring training. Their 1961 spring training camp was in Riverside, as I documented in December 2008. Any Statesville players under contract probably went to Riverside before reporting to Statesville.

Why Statesville would owe D-FW $1,500 for a working agreement is beyond me. I’ve sent the document to Roland. Perhaps he can explain.

John Lackey Memories


John Lackey pitches for Boise at Salem-Keizer, August 20, 1999.

 

The first time I saw John Lackey pitch, it was billed as a matchup of top major league pitching prospects.

Lackey had been selected by the Angels in the second round of the June 1999 draft, their first round pick gone to Boston as compensation for signing Mo Vaughn.

Jerome Williams was chosen by the Giants with a supplemental first round pick.

Of the two, Williams was considered the better prospect. When their Top 10 prospect lists came out next winter, Baseball America had Williams ranked #4 on the Giants’ list. Lackey wasn’t ranked at all, although Lackey’s headshot appeared in the Angels review with the caption, “Good Stuff.”

There was good reason to rank Williams over Lackey. Jerome, drafted out of high school, had been a pitcher during his amateur days. BA analyst David Rawnsley wrote, “Williams might have the highest ceiling in the organization if he physically matures as the Giants think he will and maintains his extreme athleticism.” Lackey was a quarterback in high school, and played first base on the baseball team. He’d been drafted out of Grayson County College in Denison, Texas. The Vikings won the Junior College World Series that summer, and Lackey had been an important part of that team — hitting two homers as a first baseman.

But Lackey had started pitching too, exploiting that quarterback arm, learning the rudiments of pitching mechanics. Scout Kris Kline saw something he liked, and the Angels drafted the tall Texan despite his inexperience.

Lackey and Williams faced off on August 20, 1999 at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, Oregon, near Salem. The Giants’ affiliate was called the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. I had friends who lived near Salem, and the Angels’ Short-A franchise back then was the Boise Hawks, so I timed a visit to see Boise face Salem-Keizer.

It was also the first time I met Tom Kotchman, who was managing the Hawks, but that’s a story for another time.

The Volcanoes triumphed that day. Lackey worked six innings, giving up seven runs (six earned) on eight hits, striking out four and walking five. Williams pitched four innings, allowing two runs on five hits.

John finished his first half-season of pro ball with a 4.98 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 50 walks in 81 1/3 innings. (For those into WHIP, his was 1.61.)

Lackey began 2000 at Low-A Cedar Rapids, but was so dominant (2.08 ERA in five starts) that he moved up in May to High-A Lake Elsinore and in August to Double-A Erie.

It was at Lake Elsinore that his teammates hung the nickname “Hank” on him.

A Jim Carrey film titled Me, Myself & Irene was popular in theaters that summer. Carrey’s character was a meek man named Charlie who was so abused that he developed a split personality named Hank who was violent and rude.

On his off days, “Lack” was the easiest going guy you’d ever meet. He was Charlie. But on pitching days, he was Hank, and you didn’t want to cross his path, much less try to strike up a conversation.

John was on the fast track to the big leagues. He began 2001 with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. I went out to Little Rock in May to shoot photos, and recorded an interview with Lackey. Click here to listen to the May 13, 2001 interview. (Windows Media Player required.)

John Lackey pitching for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers in May 2001, and the Triple-A Salt Lake Stingers in July 2001.

 

Lackey was scheduled to return to Salt Lake in 2002. By then, he was ranked the Angels’ #3 prospect (behind Casey Kotchman and Bobby Jenks) by Baseball America. In March, I filmed footage at the Angels’ old minor league complex in Mesa, called Gene Autry Park (commonly known as “The GAP”), for an online documentary called A Day at the GAP. I filmed Lackey in a bullpen workout with his coaches, which is part of the documentary. Click here to watch the documentary. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

(It was my first attempt at a video documentary. I got better.)

In 2002, John made his major league debut in Arlington, Texas, near his hometown. He gave up a home run to Alex Rodriguez, but then he’s not alone in that category. By the end of the year, he was the starting pitcher for Game #7 of the World Series, leading the Angels to the title.

Next spring, I was down on the minor league fields shooting photos when a big hand slapped me across the shoulders. “Hey Steve, whassup?!” It was Lack, acting as if nothing important had happened since the last time I’d seen him, but that was “Charlie.”

Once the kids reach the big leagues, we drift apart because we no longer travel in the same circles, and it was no different with John, but we would cross paths now and then.

The last time I saw him was in April, when he was on rehab assignment at Tempe Diablo for a forearm injury suffered during spring training. There was a lot less “Charlie” in John than years ago, because he’d grown up and become a multi-million dollar commodity. But he knew me and trusted me enough to let me follow him around with a camcorder, recording his bullpen session. Click here to watch the bullpen session. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.

We talked a little afterwards. I knew free agency was in his future, and wanted to say goodbye if this was really goodbye, but held back because that was business and I didn’t want to let business get in the way of our relationship. So I left him to chat with Tom Gregorio, his catcher that day ten years ago in Keizer, who’s now the Angels’ minor league catching instructor.

Although I’d hoped he’d sign with the Angels, deep down I knew he’d probably go elsewhere. John is a competitor, a competitor among competitors, so I figured he’d be out there looking for the best dollar figure he could find, in the most challenging environment. My bet was on the hometown Texas Rangers, but they’re in financial turmoil so they didn’t enter the bidding.

For John’s personality, the Red Sox will do.

I’m sad to see him go, I hoped he’d retire an Angel, but that’s not how the business of baseball works.

So I’ll just say goodbye, Lack. Enjoy your new life.

Oh, and as for Jerome Williams … He was traded to the Cubs for LaTroy Hawkins in May 2005. After the Cubs, he was with the A’s, Nationals, Twins, independent ball, Dodgers, and the A’s again. He’s appeared in 76 major league games with a career ERA of 4.25. In 2009, he pitched for the A’s Triple-A franchise in Sacramento, posting a 5.58 ERA. Jerome was given his free agency at season’s end.

Statesville Stadium

Regular readers of this blog known I’ve written several articles about the Statesville Owls, one of two Angels minor league teams in their inaugural 1961 season.

On September 25, we reunited many of the surviving Statesville players at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe, Arizona. The Statesville Record & Landmark published an article on November 15 about the reunion.

Statesville resident Steve Hill contacted Jerry Fox, an Owls outfielder in 1961, to send some photos from his collection of Statesville Stadium as it looked in that era. Jerry sent the photos to me. Here are two angles of the park:

 

The stadium structure no longer exists, but the field remains as it’s used by the adjacent Statesville High School baseball team. Here’s a satellite image of how it appears today:

The neighborhood doesn’t appear to have changed that much.

Note in the top photo that the park has an all-dirt infield. I’m told that only four ballparks in the minor leagues still had all-dirt infields in 1961.

Look down near the right field foul pole. You’ll see a standalone bleacher structure. That was where African-Americans had to sit. It was still the era of segregation in the Deep South. I’ve written in past blogs about the indignities suffered by the Black players on the team.

At the reunion, one Black player recalled a contest sponsored by a local clothier. A Statesville player who hit a home run could come in and get a suit. The problem was the Black players weren’t allowed in the store! So the contest meant nothing to them.

Steve also sent along a photo of Owls franchise owner Fleete McCurdy:

Rumor has it McCurdy was very tight with his money, but given the primitive conditions I can’t imagine where he’d find the money to provide the players with a state-of-the-art clubhouse and new uniforms.

Despite it all, the Statesville alumni say they had a ball, and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Pitch & Hit Club to Honor Henry Gigeous


Jacobs High School baseball players honored Nick Adenhart, the half-brother of their teammate Henry Gigeous, with NA 34 on their mound during their first game after Nick’s death. Photo courtesy Jacobs coach John Sarna.

 

Henry Gigeous, Nick Adenhart’s stepbrother, will be honored January 17th by the Pitch & Hit Club.

Henry and Nick are the sons of Janet Gigeous. The Gigeous family currently lives near Chicago.

To quote from a press release:

The Pitch & Hit Club, founded in 1942 by a group of Chicago area baseball scouts, has held the annual banquet for more than six decades to honor baseball people at all levels, including players, coaches, umpires, executives and members of the baseball media. It is the oldest, longest running and only industry-wide winter baseball banquet in the Chicago area. Proceeds from the dinner go to benefit worthy baseball causes including Cubs Care, White Sox Charities and the Professional Baseball Scouts Association.

Henry will receive the Bo Jackson Courage Award. The Chicago Daily Herald profiled Henry on May 14. Although he was only 15 at the time Nick died, Henry has quietly shouldered much of the burdens his family has suffered since the accident.

Henry attends H.D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin, Illinois. His coach, John Sarna, sent me the above photo taken on April 11, just two days after Nick died. Henry’s teammates spray-painted “NA 34″ (Nick’s uniform number) on the back of the mound before their first game after Nick’s death.

Like his older brother, Henry is a pitcher. There’s a photo of Henry pitching in the above linked Daily Herald article. He’ll be a sophomore this year for the Jacobs Golden Eagles.

Attention, Angels scouting department: he’ll be eligible for the amateur draft in June 2012.

Angels Lose Two in Rule 5 Draft



Bobby Cassevah


David Herndon

 

The Angels lost two minor league pitchers in today’s Rule 5 Draft. Both spent 2009 in the Arkansas Travelers bullpen.

The Oakland A’s claimed right-hander Bobby Cassevah with the ninth pick in the first round. Selected by the Angels in the 34th round of the June 2004 draft, Bobby was one of two “high-risk, high-reward” amateur pitchers selected that year. Cassevah and 14th rounder Nick Adenhart were both recovering from “Tommy John” elbow ligament surgery. Cassevah had a 3.68 ERA in 57 relief appearances with four saves. He had a 45/37 SO:BB ratio in 73 1/3 innings. After the All-Star Game, his ERA was 5.81.

With the 17th pick in the first round, the Philadelphia Phillies claimed David Herndon, who had a 3.03 ERA in 50 relief appearances with the Travs, notching 11 saves. He had a 35:14 SO:BB ratio in 65 1/3 innings. Herndon was selected by the Angels in the fifth round of the June 2006 draft.

It should come as no surprise that both pitchers were originally scouted and signed by Tom Kotchman.

As noted in yesterday’s blog, the claimant team must protect the drafted player on the 25-man roster all next year or offer him back to the Angels for half-price, i.e. half of $50,000.

The Phillies have made a habit of claiming Angels players in recent years.

In December 2006, they claimed catcher Ryan Budde, but returned him to the Angels in April 2007. He made his Angels debut later that year.

In December 2008, the Phils selected pitcher Robert Mosebach. “Moose” returned him to the Angels at the end of spring training, and he made his major league debut with the Halos on July 25.

By the way, Mosebach was another Tom Kotchman signing.

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