Archive for the ‘American Association’ Category

2009 Bus Leagues Independent Awards

Andrew approached me last week with a complaint: in compiling the list of nominees for the Bus Leagues Player of the Year award, I had neglected to include representatives from any of the independent leagues.

You could argue that this was an inexcusable offense for someone with my background; I prefer to imagine that it was my way of protesting the likely death of independent baseball in Nashua (note: it was the first reason).

In the end I figured it was worth it to go through each of the independent leagues that played in 2009 and try to find some of the top performers.  And was I ever glad that I did, because there were some crazy numbers posted around the independents this year.

(A note on the selection process: rather than pester the guys who voted for the affiliated Player and Pitcher of the Year awards, I decided to just make this call on my own, with some input from Andrew.  It just figured to be easier that way.  I also added a Reliever of the Year award as a nod to those who didn’t like the fact that all pitchers were combined for the affiliated award.)

Independent Player of the Year
Joey Metropoulos, Southern Illinois Miners (Frontier League)

joey metropoulosCutting the list of offensive players down to about ten names was easy.  Getting it to six was tough, but doable.  Picking a winner was damn near impossible.  Finally, in a fit of “I just don’t know what to do,” I decided to take drastic measures, reading each player’s name to my wife and grading based on her reaction.  The first few were lukewarm: “eh”, “maybe”, and one flat-out “no”.  Then I got to Joey Metropoulos, who was greeted with such an enthusiastic “YES!” that I was, quite frankly, a little concerned.

So Metropoulos had the benefit of having a great name, one that is strong and lends itself well to a variety of nicknames (the one I’m using right now is “Captain Metropoulos”).  That got things off to a good start.  As luck would have it, he also had a tremendous offensive season, hitting .317 with 31 homeruns, 82 RBI and a 1.061 (.651 SLG/.410 OBP) OPS.  Just for kicks, I figured out what his numbers would have been over the course of a 162 game season (he actually played in 96 games) – how does 52 homeruns and 138 RBI sound?

For Metropoulos’ troubles, he won the Frontier League’s Most Valuable Player award and earned a spot on Baseball America’s postseason All-Independent Leagues First Team.

Honorable Mention
Ernie Banks, River City Rascals (Frontier League): 24 HR, 75 RBI, .353/.668/.437
Nelson Castro, Calgary Vipers (Golden Baseball League): 11 HR, 81 RBI, 33 SB, .410/.647/.460
Jason James, Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier League): 14 HR, 48 RBI, .374/.571/.455, 40-game hitting streak
Charlton Jimerson, Newark Bears (Atlantic League): 21 HR, 62 RBI, 38 SB, .335/.567/.387
Greg Porter, Wichita Wingnuts (American Association): 21 HR, 86 RBI, .372/.617/.453

Independent Pitcher of the Year
Kyle Wright, Rockford Riverhawks (Frontier League)

kyle wrightKyle Wright was, after much deliberation, my first choice for Independent Pitcher of the Year.  Then new information came to light and I decided that he didn’t deserve the award.  Then I thought about it some more and realized that even though my original information was bad, Wright was still pretty good.  So he wins.

From the glazed look on the collected face of our readers, I gather that further explanation is required.  Very well – Wright’s season stat line went as follows: 10-6, 2.24 ERA, 129 strikeouts, and 144 innings in 20 games (all starts).  More digging revealed that he had enjoyed both a lengthy winning streak and a lengthy losing streak this season, so I found some box scores on the Frontier League web site and plotted out his game-by-game numbers.

I went over the numbers three times and arrived at the same result each time: Wright allowed 143 hits, 52 runs, and 41 earned runs in 2009.  His ERA was 2.56.  The problem is that those numbers differ from the ones on his “official” stat line: 140 hits, 50 runs, 41 earned, and a 2.24 ERA.  This discrepancy, which I can’t seem to figure out, significantly tightened the Pitcher of the Year race.  Wright’s closest competition, Ross Stout, was 13-5, 2.94, 138 strikeouts in 143 innings (assuming his dailies are more on the level than Wright’s).  10-6/2.24/129 seemed more impressive than 13-5/2.94/138; the ERA was what really did it for me.  The stat adjustment gave Wright a .32 increase in his ERA, which made me question just how significant the new gap was.

Got all that?

In the end I decided to keep Wright in the top spot, even though his numbers didn’t add up and he lost five decisions in a row to close out the season.  Fact is, he was 10-1 with a 1.74 ERA on August 5 and while he didn’t light the world on fire over the last month, he was good enough at times that his team could have put another victory or two on his resume.  That’s enough to keep him just ahead of the field, in my book.

Honorable Mention
Brian Barr, Texarkana Gunslingers (Continental Baseball League): 9-3, 2.54 ERA, 80 strikeouts, 88.2 innings
Jim Magrane, Somerset Patriots (Atlantic League): 15-4, 2.70 ERA, 134 strikeouts, 183 innings
Dan Reichert, Bridgeport Bluefish (Atlantic League): 14-9, 3.53 ERA, 126 strikeouts, 193 innings, 7 complete games, 3 shutouts, 21 hit batsmen, 10 wild pitches
Ross Stout, Windy City Thunderbolts (Frontier League): 13-5, 2.94 ERA, 138 strikeouts, 143 innings

Independent Reliever of the Year
Rusty Tucker, New Jersey Jackals (Canadian-American Association)

rusty tuckerTucker was the Can-Am League’s Reliever of the Year after a season in which he went 5-2 with a 2.40 ERA, 24 saves, and 56 strikeouts in 41.2 innings.  He was also named the league’s Pitcher of the Week twice.

2009 was Tucker’s third consecutive season with the Jackals, the first in which he didn’t spend some time with an affiliated organization.  This year was almost a disappointment compared to the previous two:

2007: 0-1, 1.48 ERA, 14 saves, 37 strikeouts, 24.1 innings
2008: 3-3, 1.85 ERA, 21 saves, 54 strikeouts, 47.1 innings

That’s 59 saves, 113.1 innings, and 147 strikeouts.  And he’s only still only 29, which means he could still be coming to an organization near you.  Not too shabby.

Honorable Mention
Hunter Davis, Pensacola Pelicans (American Association): 3-1, 1.79 ERA, 22 saves, 40 strikeouts, 40.1 innings
Justin Dowdy, Wichita Wingnuts (American Association): 0-4, 2.25 ERA, 17 saves, 52 strikeouts, 44 innings
Bret Prinz, Somerset Patriots (Atlantic League): 1-2, 2.04 ERA, 21 saves, 51 strikeouts, 39.2 innings
Kris Regas, Sioux Falls Canaries (American Association)
: 2-0, 1.19 ERA, 15 saves, 25 strikeouts, 22.2 innings

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This Week in Bobbleheads – Week 6

What a week this has been!  Alex Rodriguez has a dramatic return from his injury with a first pitch homer on 5/8/09 and Manny Ramirez shows his feminine side by being the latest superstar to test positive for PEDs.  Still though, bobblehead promos are front and center on my end of this blog.  Here’s the lineup this week:

San Francisco Giants 5/12/09 Lou Seal (Chinese) (Mascot) – Part of a Chinese Heritage Night Promotion.  Although a Seal as a Lion Dancer is quite intriguing.

Chicago Cubs 5/12/09 Ernie Banks – First 10,000 – Cubbies go retro with his second giveaway.

Memphis Redbirds 5/12/09 Keith McDonald – First 1,000 – Another in the Redbirds alumni series.

Trenton Thunder 5/13/09 Joba Chamberlain First 2,000 6 and over – Last year they gave out a Joba for plan holders only. This time a straight giveaway.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans 5/15/09 Chris “Butter” Ball – First 1,000 – It’s time for the Pelicans to honor their groundskeeper following in the footstep of Trenton and Clearwater. He also boasts the title of 3-time consecutive winner of the Carolina League field of the Year!

Lansing Lugnuts 5/16/09 Carlos Zambrano – Lansing chooses to honor a no-hitter by a Cubs alumnus even though they are a Jays farm team.

Pittsburgh Pirates 5/16/09 Nate McLouth – Pirates annual All-Star bobblehead.

Tampa Bay Rays 5/16/09 Evan Longoria Figurine – This is probably the only way you can get this hot hitter to stand still, other than an upcoming bobblehead of course!!!

Texas Rangers 5/16/09 Josh Hamilton – The Rangers honor the defending HR derby champion.

San Francisco Giants 5/17/09 Tim Lincecum – First 20,000 – The Giants give the reigning NL Cy Young champ his due.

St. Louis Cardinals 5/17/09 Lou Brock Statue – First 25,000 16 and older – Continue your collection in the Cardinals bronze statue series with this one-of-a-kind replica of the Hall of Famer, just like the one that stands on the corner of 8th and Clark.

Toronto Blue Jays 5/17/09 Alex Rios – First 10,000 – This bobblehead is one of the first I’ve ever seen with a weight around the bat.

This week’s bobblehead travels take me to Trenton for the Joba bobblehead night on Wednesday. Don’t be chicken, Don’t be shy, come around and just say hi.

OBAMA CONTINUES BOBBLECTION DOMINANCE

Barack Obama continued his dominance of Bobblection Week 2008, collecting nearly 60% of the vote on Sunday at Sioux Falls Stadium. Obama bobbleheads were selected over John McCain bobbleheads by a margin of 500 to 405, as Obama won for the fifth consecutive Bobblection. Obama has won all five states, and leads McCain 3,500 to 2,846 in total bobbleheads

Bobblection Week 2008 began on Wednesday night in New York at the home of the Hudson Valley Renegades. Obama won the first Bobblection in a narrow margin, 750 to 719. In an even closer vote on Tuesday, Obama made it two in a row, winning in Massachusetts as Brockton Rox fans gave him a 500 to 456 win. The first decisive victory for Obama came on Friday night in South Carolina when the fans of the Charleston Riverdogs overwhelmingly selected the democratic nominee 500 bobbleheads to just 360 for McCain. Obama clinched a victory in states won with a win in Minnesota on Saturday. The fans of the St. Paul Saints, despite being in the city of the Republican National Convention, selected Obama to the tune of 1250 bobbleheads to 906.

Bobblection Week 2008 will conclude with one final vote on Monday night at the Fort Myers (FL) Miracle game.

Here are the stats through the first 5:

TEAM OBAMA McCAIN

Hudson Valley, NY 750 (51.3%) 713 (48.7%)

Brockton, MA 500 (52.3%) 456 (47.7%)

Charleston, SC 500 (58.1%) 360 (41.9%)

St. Paul, MN 1250 (58%) 906 (42%)

Sioux Falls, SD 500 (55.2%) 405 (44.8%)

TOTALS 3,500 ( 55.2%) 2,846 ( 44.8%)

I Know Phillip Wellman – You, Sir, Are No Phillip Wellman

When I read this article about the excellently named Kash Beauchamp (kudos to your parents, sir), the manager of the independent American Association’s Wichita Wingnuts who was ejected and later suspended following a profanity-laced on-field tirade on Wednesday, I was impressed with the man’s work.  Read the story – that’s an impressive sounding display, is it not?

Here’s the video:

Call me crazy, but I expected more.  Yes, Beauchamp was clearly pissed off (the Bobblehead Maneuver was a bit impressive – as he said later, “I didn’t realize my head was bouncing around like that.  I’m lucky I didn’t dislocate my freakin’ neck.”) and announced his presence with authority, but taking the shoes off?  Making the umpire smell your armpit?  Mildly impressive, but worth no more than a 1.4 on the Mikulik-Wellman Scale, if that.

On a personal note, because that’s what we’re all about here: our condolences to Beauchamp, who lost his father over the winter and spent significant time in the days before the tirade in the hospital with his seriously ill grandmother.  Stuff like that can put anyone in a bad frame of mind.

(I forget where I originally saw this.  It wasn’t at SI – I think it might’ve been The Big Lead)

Indy Spotlight – The Ballparks

Minor league ballparks have always been a source of fascination for me.  One of the most interesting things about working for the Nashua Pride (how many more mentions can I make of that job before the hate mail starts rolling in?) was “Historic” Holman Stadium, a city-owned ballpark that played host to a number of amateur activities (including, for many years, high school football) as well as the various professional baseball teams that rolled through the area over the years. 

Holman Stadium was, by far, the oldest ballpark in the Atlantic League; I’m fairly certain that the league’s six other venues were all built in 1998 or later.  But one thing that I always liked about Holman, and this may just be the home team bias talking, was the history that had taken place there.  It was the place where Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe had played in 1946, to become the first black ballplayers to see action for a professional team based in the United States.  Sure, the layout is terrible – the field of play isn’t visible from the main concourse, for example, so on a busy night, you could go for a hot dog and miss three innings – but there was, and still is, a certain charm to the place. 

But don’t take my word for it.  I still get all misty when I visit Fenway Park.

There are 62 independent teams in action this season, 61 of which have home stadiums.  Wikipedia lists the cost information for 20 stadiums, the year opened for 55 stadiums, and the capacity for 60 stadiums.  Using that, I put together a few lists – oldest and youngest ballparks, biggest ballparks, most expensive, yadda yadda yadda.  It’s interesting stuff, but take it with a grain of salt.  For one, the information is from Wikipedia, and two, the listed capacities aren’t always accurate.  For instance, Lancaster’s Clipper Magazine Stadium is noted as having a capacity of up to 7,500.  On Opening Night, however, they set an Atlantic League record by packing 8,485 fans into the place.  Obviously, there’s a slight difference there, probably due to standing room, but still – grain of salt.

Five Oldest Independent Ballparks
Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field (Worcester Tornadoes, Can-Am League) – Opened in 1905
Bosse Field (Evansville Otters, Frontier League) – Opened in 1915
Bringhurst Field (Alexandria Aces, United League) – Opened in 1933
Lawrence-Dumont Stadium (Wichita Wingnuts, American Association) – Opened in 1934
Holman Stadium (Nashua Pride, Can-Am League) – Opened in 1937

Four Newest Independent Ballparks
QuikTrip Park at Grand Prairie (Grand Prairie AirHogs, American Association) – 2008
Regency Furniture Stadium (Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, Atlantic League) – 2008
Sovereign Bank Stadium (York Revolution, Atlantic League) – 2007
Rent One Park (Southern Illinois Miners, Frontier League) – 2007

Five Most Expensive Independent League Ballparks
U.S. Steel Yard (Gary SouthShore RailCats, Northern League) – $45 million
Sovereign Bank Stadium (York Revolution, Atlantic League) – $32.5 million
Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium (Newark Bears, Atlantic League) – $30 million
Haymarket Park (Lincoln Saltdogs, American Association) – $29.53 million
Silver Cross Field (Joliet JackHammers, Northern League) – $27 million

Five Largest Independent League Ballparks (in terms of capacity)
Desert Sun Stadium (Yuma Scorpions, Golden Baseball League) – 10,500
Ottawa Stadium (Ottawa Rapids, Can-Am League) – 10,332
Telus Field (Edmonton Cracker-Cats, Golden Baseball League) – 10,000
Cohen Stadium (El Paso Diablos, American Association) – 9,725
Haymarket Park (Lincoln Saltdogs, American Association) – 8,500

Oldest Average Ballpark Age By League
United League Baseball – 41.4 years
Can-Am League – 37.375 years
Golden Baseball League – 30 years
American Association – 26.2 years
Frontier League – 21 years
Northern League – 7.83 years
Atlantic League – 5.875 years
Continental Baseball League – 5.5 years

Largest Average Capacity By League
Northern League – 6,078
American Association – 5,833
Atlantic League – 5,678
Golden Baseball League – 5,367
Can-Am League – 4,866
United League Baseball – 4,840
Frontier League – 4,647
Continental Baseball League – 2,107

It’s Never Too Late To Learn A Knuckleball

It’s embarassing, really, to be one of the writers for a blog about minor league baseball – a writer who has taken it upon himself to follow the numerous independent leagues this season – and to realize after checking your RSS feed that you have been beaten to the punch (by seven hours) on a pretty cool little story.  Damn you, Will Leitch!

Here’s the deal: the American Association’s St. Paul Saints, an organization that is presided over by the legendary Mike Veeck (of the legendary Baseball Veecks), planned on holding two days of open tryouts this week.  Mother Nature did not approve of the schedule ahead of time, however, and both days ended up being cancelled. 

This might have been enough to convince most people that it just wasn’t their day and they should consider postponing the dream until the next time the Saints offered such an opportunity.  Not Jon Secrist, a 53-year-old knuckleballer who appeared in a couple games for the Saints nine years ago and who would not be denied on this day.  He threw for the manager, George Tsamis, and was rewarded with an invitation to spring training.  26 players will be in camp for the Saints, two of which will be cut before the start of the season.  Two more will be let go after the first week, when the team must drop down to its in-season limit of 22.

What we have here is a walking, breathing example of what makes the independent leagues so great.  Only in that environment can a guy who is two years away from earning the senior discount at McDonald’s walk onto the field and impress the coaching staff enough to receive even a chance at making the team.  It’s not happening in Pawtucket, or Greenville, or Albuquerque.  But in St. Paul?  “We like the way you throw and you’re a great story.  Come on down to spring training and we’ll see what happens.”  You’ve gotta admit, that’s pretty cool.

Photo: St. Paul Saints

Indy Spotlight – Holding the Flavor of the Month’s – Ahem – in the Bus Leagues

When I promised last week to provide a relatively accurate list of former major leaguers that are currently listed on independent rosters, I had no idea what a task it would become.  Did you guys know there are like eight independent leagues out there?  Eighty or so teams?  Somewhere in the vicinity of 1,600 players?  That’s a lot of players.  Throw in a vicious flu/bronchitis that hit on Monday morning and it’s a miracle we’re here today, only one day behind schedule.

The list below isn’t perfect.  There have been some signings since I copied all the rosters into Word, the most obvious of which I accounted for, but I didn’t go through and enter every name into BR to see if somebody had four games of experience in 1999. 

Not surprisingly, the Atlantic League dominates this list, with 56 former big leaguers under contract thus far.  The ALPB has been one of the top independent leagues in the country for ten years now, the place where high-level talent goes when they have something to prove.  In 2001, Jose Canseco started the year with the Newark Bears (including a record crowd of over 4,800 on Opening Day in Nashua) before finishing the year (and his major league career) with the Chicago White Sox.  Two years later, Rickey Henderson took the same route, playing for Newark (literally an hour into my first day as an intern with the Pride, I tagged along with another intern who had been assigned to meet Henderson at his car) before the Dodgers came calling for the last thirty games.  And my personal favorite?  Dante Bichette, who joined the Pride in late July of 2004 after skipping two full seasons, took about a week to shake the rust off, then put on a clinic over the final month.

Will any of the guys on this list follow in the footsteps of Canseco, Henderson, Brendan Donnelly, or any of the other guys who used the independent leagues to get one more shot at the big time?  Too early to tell, but we’ll try to keep an eye on it as the season progresses.  (Some of the more interesting names are in bolded italics.  Guys that I’m not 100% certain about are listed as “possible”.)

American Association (A – AA)

Lincoln Saltdogs
Felix Jose (OF) – 1988-95, 2000, 2002-03 – Jose was the Atlantic League’s Co-MVP with the Nashua Pride in 1998.

Pensacola Pelicans
John Webb (P) – 2004-05

Sioux City Explorers
Dusty Bergman (P) – 2004

Sioux Falls Canaries
Pat Mahomes (P) – 1992-97, 1999-03

Wichita Wingnuts
Kevin Hooper (IF) – 2005-06
Dustan Mohr (OF) – 2001-07

Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (AA – AAA)

Bridgeport Bluefish
Adam Greenberg (IF) – 2005 – Greenberg had one of the craziest careers ever, taking a pitch off the head during his first major league at-bat.  He left the game and has not appeared in a big league uniform since.
Alex Prieto (IF) – 2003-04
Tim Drew (P) – 2000-04 – The middle of the three baseball-playing Drew brothers, Tim and J.D. played together on the 2004 Atlanta Braves.
T.J. Tucker (P) – 2000, 2002-05
Eric Dubose (P) – 2002-06
Matt Ford (P) – 2003

Camden Riversharks
Kevin Walker (LHP) – 2000-05
Jason Phillips (1B/C) – 1999, 2002-03
Josh Rabe (OF) – 2006-07
Mike Vento (OF) – 2005-06

Lancaster Barnstormers
Matt LeCroy (C-1B) – 2000-07
John Nelson (SS) – 2006
Sendy Rleal (P) – 2006

Long Island Ducks
Tom Martin (P) – 1997-07
Jason Simontacchi (P) – 2002-04, 2007
Joe Valentine (P) – 2003-05
Brent Abernathy (IF) – 2001-03, 2005
Donaldo Mendez (IF) – 2001, 2003
Pete Rose, Jr. (IF) – 1997
Carl Everett (OF) – 1993-2006
Damian Rolls (OF) – 2000-04
Jamal Strong (OF) – 2003, 2005

Newark Bears
Bobby Hill (IF) – 2002-05
Ramon Castro (IF) – 2004
Randall Simon (IF) – 1997-99, 2001-06
Cory Aldridge (OF) – 2001
Keith Reed (OF) – 2005
Ruben Mateo (OF) – 1999-2004
Jose Herrera (OF) – 1995-96
Al Levine (P) – 1996-2005
Benito Baez (P) – 2001
Edwin Almonte (P) – 2003
J.J. Trujillo (P) – 2002
Will Cunnane (P) – 1997-2004

Somerset Patriots
Michael Ryan (OF) – 2000-05
Jeff Duncan (OF) – 2003-04
Brandon Knight (P) – 2001-02
Scott Wiggins (P) – 2002
Bret Prinz (P) – 2001-05, 2007
Andy Van Hekken (P) – 2002
Brian Reith (P) – 2001, 2003-04

Southern Maryland Blue Crabs
Jeff Farnsworth (P) – 2002
John Halama (P) – 1998-2006
Adam Johnson (P) – possible – 2001, 2003
Jason Pearson (P) – 2002-03
Carlos Perez (P) – possible – 1995, 1997-2000
Dan Reichert (P) – 1999-2003
Damian Jackson (IF) – possible – 1996-2006
Greg Blosser (OF) – 1993-94 – Anyone else surprised that Blosser only played 22 games in the majors?
Eric Crozier (OF) – 2004

York Revolution
Wayne Franklin (P) – 2000-06
Pete Munro (P) – 1999-2000, 2002-04
Aaron Myette (P) – 1999-2004
Aaron Rakers (P) – 2004-05, 2007
Corey Thurman (P) – 2002-03
Dave Veres (P) – 1994-2003

Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball (A)

New Jersey Jackals
Joel Bennett (P) – 1998-99
Luke Allen (OF) – 2002-03

Ottawa Rapids
Napoleon Calzado (OF) – 2005

Sussex Skyhawks
Yohanny Valera (C ) – 2000
Walter Young (1B) – 2005

Golden Baseball League (AA)

Edmonton Cracker-Cats
Augustine Montero (P) – possible – 2006
Hector Ramirez (P) – possible – 1999-2000

Yuma Scorpions
Pascual Matos (C ) – 1999

Northern League (A-AA)

Gary SouthShore RailCats
Tony Cogan (P) – 2001

Joliet JackHammers
David Moraga (P) – 2000
Juan Carlos Diaz (INF) – 2002

Schaumburg Flyers
James Lofton (INF) – 2001 – I have an absolutely awesome story that features Lofton as the central figure.  I’ve been meaning to write it up for about two years now – maybe this blog will give me the momentum to do so.
Rontrez Johnson (OF) – 2003
Jermaine Allensworth (OF) – 1996-99
Bo Hart (INF) – 2003-04

United League Baseball

Laredo Broncos
Edgard Clemente (OF) – 1998-2000

San Angelo Colts
Matt Duff (P) – possible – 2002