Monthly Archives: November 2010

Minor League Spotlight: Summer Wrap, Part 2

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

This is the second installment of the Summer Wrap for the Minor League Spotlight, Click Here for the first installment.

During the 2010 season, the Minor League Spotlight examined baseball all over the country, including the far reaches of the Alaska Baseball League. As we did in May, we checked in with Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball to see how the ABL’s 2010 season shaped up.

Michael Maher: You did fairly well with your predictions on where the teams in the ABL would end up at the end of the 2010 season, were there any surprises during the season with players, teams, or the league in general?

Jesse Jack: “I guess the biggest surprise was that I was as close on my predictions. Though one prediction I made didn’t pan out at all, which was that all the teams would finish the season fairly closely. I was way off on that one. The league was basically split; the Miners, Goldpanners and Oilers were all in the race down to the last few days, with the Miners and Goldpanners tied for first heading into the last game of the season. On the other hand, the Bucs, Fire and Glacier Pilots got beat up pretty badly all season long. I was afraid the Pilots wouldn’t even break into double-digit wins at one point. I was definitely surprised that those teams didn’t do better, but the nature of summer ball is such that next year it’ll be a whole new crop of players and anyone’s guess who will take the title.”

“One event that I thought was really awesome, that I had never done before, was the Scout’s Showcase. Of course there are plenty of pro scouts who make their way through Alaska during the summer, but honestly, it’s kind of off the beaten path. The league puts on the showcase to make it a little more convenient. Toward that end of the showcase, they set aside a three-day weekend where every team converges upon Anchorage for a round-robin style event. It’s set up so that you can see every team three times in one weekend, and though it’s geared toward the scouts, it’s a great value for fans, too. A single ticket gets you into the park for a full day for three baseball games. Somehow I talked my wife into letting me spend a whole Saturday at the park, and it was probably one of the coolest days of my life, no joke.”

MM: The player video coverage and analysis of ABL players on the blog is great content, any plans to expand next season?

JJ: ” I’m glad the readers enjoy it, and I think this is an angle I really want to run with. A couple of my goals with 49th State Hardball are to offer something that you don’t get in the local papers — the score, the stat line, etc. — and at the same time connect with people outside of Alaska. I think this really covers that well. For example, fans outside of the state who might follow a particular MLB team and want to know something about a certain draft pick or free-agent sign, and discover the ABL for the first time when they come looking for a scouting report. On the other hand, the local fans, the die-hards who might have seen a certain player even more than I have, get a chance to leave their comments regarding a player and create a sort of crowd sourced scouting report.”

“To answer your question, I’m hoping to expand it, particularly the video. I’ve always been all about reviewing the scouting reports and opinions and such, but the video was something I started about halfway through the season. I was reluctant to do it at first, because I was worried that it would be just one more thing to add to the list of stuff to worry about. But after I took the camera to one game I became aware of something that seems so obvious now. That is, if I get something on video, I don’t have to struggle to pick up on all the little details as they happen live. I can focus on the big picture, and then take the video home, replay it, slow it down, and analyze something like the break on a pitcher’s two seamer or how a batter’s hands move. The video makes other things easier. So next year, I think we can expect not only more videos on more players, but also better video. I’ll have more footage to choose from and I can throw out the clips where I sneeze or a mascot walks in front of the camera — and also scouting reports on more players as a consequence.”

MM: The ABL season ended more than a month ago, but your blog has been churning out tons of great insight into prospects from the ABL and where they’re heading in MiLB. Do you have any big plans for the off-season?

JJ: “I think the big thing this off-season will be the push toward the draft in the spring. Of course the scouting video and reports fall under that category, because many of those players will be drafted in 2011 and I think people will want to know about the players that their favorite team drafts, so I’m going to keep that content coming at a fairly regular pace. But I’ve also started compiling lists of draft-eligible alumni from each ABL club, which will culminate in a big list of draft-eligible players and hopefully a draft prospect ranking. The other side of the coin will be, of course, the players who are coming into the league, so as the recruiting rosters come out and solidify a bit we’ll start looking at those.”

“I’m also strongly considering doing some video blog type posts, but we’ll have to see if I can pull them off without it being ultra-cheesy, so no promises! Other than that, there will be a lot of the same types of posts that I’ve done in the past: covering players in winter leagues, tracking college transfers, maybe doing some “all-star” style awards at various levels, and looking back to the history of the league with stories on some of the legendary players who got their starts playing in Alaska. So, in other words, there’s plenty of irons in the fire and the only question is how much of it I can get cranked out by June.”

Be sure to check out Jesse Jack at 49th State Hardball throughout the off-season for great insight into baseball up north.

In early May, the Minor League Spotlight focused on the Rochester Red Wings, one of the most storied franchises in all of baseball. Jim Mandelaro, co-author of Silver Seasons and A New Frontier along with Scott Pitoniak, took some time out to answer a very important question following a dismal season for the Red Wings.

MM: The Rochester Red Wings had a remarkably disappointing season, yet they had several players who were capable of providing a great offense. What went wrong?

Jim Mandelaro: “If you look at the Red Wings’ lineup, you’d never guess they would finish with such a horrible record. It wasn’t Murderer’s Row, but it wasn’t the ’62 Mets, either. The pitching, however, was atrocious.”

“I’ve never seen a team with more underachieving players than the 2010 Red Wings. I’m not sure why; the team seemed to get along just fine. I feel like somewhere along the way, probably early June, the Red Wings decided they were a losing team and this became their persona. They accepted losing quite easily. Manager Tom Nieto never balled them out, to my knowledge, and I never saw a player knock off the postgame spread.”
“The Twins deserve a mulligan, because they’ve generally been pretty good for Rochester. But they will have to step out of character and sign some “4-A” free agents. They prefer to build through the farm system, but Double-A New Britain was even worse this year (if you can believe it). The 2011 season will be very interesting in Rochester.”
Thanks to Jim for taking time to answer a question about the Rochester Red Wings. You can follow his coverage of the Red Wings at his Extra Bases blog at the Rochester Democrat And Chronicle.
The final installment of the MLS featured the Frisco RoughRiders, a Double A team that had a major role in the Texas Rangers reaching the 2010 World Series. Chris Moore wrote about the Frisco RoughRiders for Examiner.com during the 2010 season and took some time to answer a question for the summer wrap up prior to the World Series.

MM: The Lee trade and a few other trades depleted the Texas Rangers organization(in particular the RoughRiders), but it also bolstered the big league club for their first postseason appearance in more than a decade. Do you think the moves by the team were good decisions in the long term, and if you had to guess, how far do you expect the Rangers to go on this run?

Chris Moore: “The Cliff Lee trade definitely had a major impact on the RoughRiders, as they went from a team that dominated the Texas League in the first half to one that lost the opening playoff round to a .500 team. It wasn’t just that trade, however. The Rangers made multiple deals leading up to the deadline, and it cost the Riders a number of key players, including their top two starting pitchers in Blake Beavan and Tanner Roark. Technically, Beavan was sent to AAA before the trade, but part of me wonders if that was done intentionally to up his trade value.”

“Of course, the Rangers organization’s primary objective has to be improving their own major league ball club, so they have to do what’s necessary. To be honest, I’m a bit concerned about whether or not the moves they made will pay off. Lee has not shown himself to be the anchor of the staff unless he’s pitching against the Yankees or another team that one would think he wants to sign with. There have been suggestions by some national media members that Lee is not happy in Texas, and while I don’t want to believe that, he hasn’t done a lot to disprove it.”

….

Thanks to Chris Moore, who covered the Frisco RoughRiders all season at Examiner.com which is worth checking out as the team had a rollercoaster season. As well, another thanks to all of the great writers that helped make the first season of the Minor League Spotlight a success. The minor leagues feature a plethora of great talent not only on the field, but with the people who follow, write about and work with these teams each summer.

The off-season will not have weekly installments, but there will be occasional Spotlights for readers to enjoy. First up, a review of “Time In The Minors”, a documentary by Tony Okun about two minor leaguers with big league dreams. Be sure to check out Baseball Digest.com’s affiliate website, I70 Baseball, and their recent interview with the director on I70 Baseball’s Radio Show. The Minor League Spotlight on Tony Okun and “Time In The Minors” will appear on BaseballDigest.com next Tuesday, so check back here for a full review.

Minor League Spotlight: Summer Wrap, Part 1

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The 2010 season was the debut season of the Minor League Spotlight,with profiles of the minor leagues and independent leagues, along with teams and people that make up these organizations. Part of the success of the MLS can be attributed to the numerous writers that contributed their voices to the series throughout the season. Several of them took some time out after the season to talk about the teams they cover and how the season shaped up for them. Due to a large response, the Summer Wrap for the Minor League Spotlight will be a two part series. Keep an eye out for the second installment on November 16th.

The first article of the Minor League Spotlight featured the great writing staff of Bus Leagues Baseball, one of the top sources for original minor league baseball coverage.

Michael Maher: Can you tell us a little bit about how your season shaped up at Bus Leagues?

Brian Moynihan: “We had an interesting, busy season. One of our writers, Chris Fee, saw Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman when they passed through the International League, and another, Jordi Scrubbings, went to the Florida State League All-Star Game. We also had the opportunity to do a number of interviews with players, writers, and executives from around the game, which was very cool.Right now, we’re wrapping things up with our 2010 Player of the Year awards.”

“We typically don’t post much during the offseason, but you never know. Our guys are always coming up with good ideas to keep us moving forward, and I don’t expect the next few months to be any different. As far as what’s on tap for next season, more of everything, hopefully – more interviews, more ballpark visits, more book reviews. Just more interesting stories in general.”

Eric Angevine: “I had the chance to go to the Richmond Flying Squirrels opening day game, which was great. Will Georgantas was with me, and we posted some fun video on our YouTube channel. I also got to stop by the Akron Aeros a couple of months ago while I was on my way to Cleveland to see an Indians game.”

“Brian took our player interviews to a whole new level this season, for which I have been eternally grateful. He spent time with Kyle Drabek and Mike Moustakas this season, and got some excellent insight into how they approach the game. They obviously ended up being two of the best MiLB players of the season.”

“Jordi has been writing some wonderful pieces about his experiences in that hotbed of minor-league ball, Florida. I especially liked his write-up of cub scout campout night – it really captured the nostalgic feeling of being at a ballgame with kids. The way kids look at the game at any level takes a lot of the cynicism out of our adult way of looking at things.”

Be sure to take a look at all of the coverage over at Bus Leagues. They were incredibly helpful during the first season of the Minor League Spotlight!

During the season, I received a great insight into the every day life of working in the business through the Birmingham Barons Clubhouse Manager, Jeff Perro. Like earlier in the year when I wrote about the Birmingham Barons, he was a great source when I asked him about his season.
MM: With a 53-87 record, the Birmingham Barons slumped to a last place finish. As the Clubhouse Manager, how would you describe the season finished professionally and as someone who spends a great deal of time with the players?


Jeff Perro: “It was a tough season, but it was fun! This season was different for me than any other in my career, it was the first time my team hasn’t at least made the playoffs. Even though we didn’t quite put it together on the field, we had a very good team in the clubhouse. It was, without a doubt, the best group of guys that I’ve had. It was just a fun, easy to get along with group. I’ve heard stories of clubhouses and locker rooms being tense places to be when a team is not performing. It wasn’t like that at all, there was no finger pointing or any drama of the sort. I think everybody just decided to grin and bear it.”

“Most of the players and staff were glad to see the season end. Not only because we lost a handful of games, but because they got to go home, see their families and loved ones, and just relax. I, however, never want baseball season to end. Sure, there are crazy long hours during baseball season, but it beats the long off-season. I typically take a two to four week vacation after the season before I find something for the time between seasons.”


“I would say that there is a 95% chance that I will be back as the Home Clubhouse Manager of the Birmingham Barons next year. This is what I want to do and this is the town that I want to do it in. It would take something pretty special to drag me away from it. By special I don’t mean “well-paying,” I mean “fun and baseball related.” This is not a profession to get into to get rich, you have to be beyond passionate about the sport.”


You can follow Jeff Perro all season(and off-season) long on Twitter, @MiLBClubbie. He was incredibly helpful with providing an insider’s view for the Minor League Spotlight this past season.

One of my go-to reads on Twitter has been @HeelsOnTheField, the Twitter feed for Jessica Quiroli. She covers the Trenton Thunder, New Jersey high school sports, and writes on her own blog, High Heels On The Field. In July, she answered a few questions for the Minor League Spotlight, and offered a few tidbits of insight as we enter the long off-season.

MM: How did this summer compare to previous seasons covering the MiLB/Indy scene?

Jessica Quiroli: “I’m just learning more and more, and I’m always seeing something new. This year was different from the last, because I gained even more experience. Which is what any writer hopes for with each passing season. Or at least, the ones who don’t get in the frame of mind where they start to just feel like experts. Those types are stale to me. They have no inspiration, but plenty of ego and a desperation to feel they’re better than the guy next to him in the press box. I think Jayson Stark’s a great example of a guy who’s seen it all and there’s still so much energy in his writing. There’s a youthful, awestruck quality to his tone. I hope to keep that kind of curiosity my whole career. If I dig a little deeper, I’d say that the players recognize me more and there’s more respect than before. I value that more than anything.”

MM: The Trenton Thunder reached the playoffs this season, had you covered postseason games before? Do you notice any difference in coverage aside from the obvious excitement of the playoffs?

JQ: “I had covered the Trenton Thunder in 2008 during the post-season, but it was very odd. No one knew me and I just kind of breezed in for a few days for The Trentonian and that was that. I didn’t really have any kind of feel for the team or what that felt like for them. The atmosphere was exciting, but it was just a job that week. This year was completely different. I had been around a lot of those guys all last year and the new guys for a full season, so I cared more and felt their triumph and struggles more. I was also, obviously, able to see firsthand who made progress throughout the season. I got to see Brandon Laird go on a remarkable run. I was able to watch Austin Romine firsthand, after hearing all the hype. It was clear to me why he commands such respect as a catcher. When you just hear reports and are told to write about the player, it’s not the same. While you’re not supposed to root for anyone, watching them get to the post-season and all the work that went into it was very meaningful to me.”

MM: Do you have any plans for the off-season in covering MiLB/MLB/Indy baseball or another sport? 2011 is far off, but any changes for next season?

JQ: “I’ve covered high school cross country the last two baseball off-seasons and have enjoyed that a lot. I love writing about high school sports. I was hired by Ultimate Athlete magazine which covers high school sports in New Jersey and New York this season for feature work. I’d like to continue to cover the Thunder in 2011 and also continue covering the Eastern League. It’s always stocked with so much talent and I find that exciting. What I get at Trenton is the chance to cover one team regularly, while also doing stories on the visiting team, so there’s still a freedom there. I value my relationships with the Thunder, particularly with manager Tony Franklin who teaches me something everyday I sit in his office. I also hope to give my collection of Minor League short stories to a publisher. I’ve been working on them for seven years. My hope is to be known as a Minor League baseball writer and all I want is to add to that next season. It’s where I always want to be.”

Jessica Quiroli is a must read for MiLB coverage, and one of the best sports writers you’ll find on Twitter.
Look for the second installment of the Summer Wrap on November 16th, as it will include the Q&A with a few more of the great writers featured in the Minor League Spotlight, including Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball and Chris Moore of Examiner.com.

George “Sparky” Anderson, 1934-2010

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

When Sparky Anderson took over as manager of the Cincinnati Reds on October 8th in 1969, the newspaper headlines blasted “Sparky Who?”. A year later, as the team prepared for the first of four World Series appearances under his guidance, there was little doubt as to who Sparky Anderson was in Cincinnati, Ohio. Twenty six years, over two thousand victories and three World Series titles later, there is no doubt that George “Sparky” Anderson has left his mark on Major League Baseball history.

Though just 35 years old when handed the reigns to the Reds, Anderson led one of the greatest lineups in baseball history to postseason berths five times during his nine year tenure with Cincinnati. Blessed with an ability to gain the trust of his players and coaches, Sparky Anderson guided the eventual all time leader in hits, Pete Rose, and three future Hall of Famers in Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan along with the rest of the Big Red Machine during the 1970’s.

Anderson’s first season in 1970 took the Reds to the top of the National League and to a loss against the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. The season set the pace for Anderson’s tenure, as they reached the World Series again in 1972 and took the Division Title in 1973. The 1975 season saw what is arguably the greatest World Series in history as the Big Red Machine took the Boston Red Sox to a 7 game finish. The 1976 season was a near repeat performance, except the New York Yankees were the victims of the Big Red Machine. Between 1975 and 1976, the Cincinnati Reds won 210 games, lost 114 and had a 14-3 postseason record against four opponents.

After being fired by the new Reds general manager Dick Wagner following consecutive seasons where the club failed to reach the playoffs with an aging lineup, it was not long before the white haired “Captain Hook” found a new home in Detroit.

Before Sparky Anderson, the Detroit Tigers were meddling near the bottom of the American League East and a great distance from the glory days of their last World Series title and the days of Billy Martin and battling the Oakland Athletics for the American League pennant in 1972. The arrival of Anderson caused a turnaround for a stumbling organization, and gave credibility to the Tigers powerhouse that was developing.

Check out a classic Baseball Digest Magazine article featuring Sparky Anderson from the October, 1984 issue!

With a 25 year old Jack Morris leading the pitching staff and double play team Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker leading the offense, Anderson’s Tigers almost immediately turned things around for the organization. By 1982 the team reached second place for the first time in more than a decade and set the stage for their first World Series title challenge since 1968.

On the backs of strong pitching, power in the lineup, and key bench players, the Detroit Tigers started out hot during the 1984 season and never let up on their way to a historic season. The World Series title answered any remaining questions to the ability of Sparky Anderson to drive a team to a championship.

Despite an evolving team with the 1988 departure of Kirk Gibson and the 1989 103 loss collapse, the additions of several newcomers like slugger Cecil Fielder over the ensuing years helped Anderson steer the club to a brief resurgence in the early 1990’s. However, by 1994 the team had changed ownership, general managers, and had fallen swiftly in the standings.

There are numerous quotes from stories of the fiery manager criticizing players or propping up his personal favorites with high praise. Whether it was pinch hitting his own player in the first inning or claiming his player was superior to another team’s player within earshot, he didn’t mince words or actions with anyone. It is worth noting that he was a player’s manager always. Sparky Anderson was the only manager in the major leagues to publicly and fiercely oppose the use of replacement players during spring training in 1995 as the player’s strike continued. Refusing to manage replacement players may have marked the beginning of the end for him in Detroit.

1995 turned out to be the final season in Anderson’s long career. He finished with a win loss record of 2,194 victories to just 1,834 losses. At retirement, he ranked third all time in victories. 15 years later, he has been surpassed by only Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. Only five managers in history have won more titles than Sparky Anderson, and no manager with as many titles as him has won at least one in both leagues. It came as no surprise then in 2000 when he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee.

Anderson brought a style of play to both the Reds and Tigers that became a signature unmatched. Though a number of teams have overcome great deficits to finish seasons strong, nobody did it quite like Anderson. Nor were managers able to duplicate their successes. With his 1973 Reds and 1987 Tigers, he was the only manager to lead two different teams to overcome at least an eleven game deficit to finish in first place.

After retirement Sparky Anderson stayed busy, working as a television commentator and involving himself with the charitable organization CATCH (Caring Athletes Teamed for Children’s and Henry Ford hospitals), which he founded in 1987. Many reports throughout the media indicate Anderson was a force even in his later years. He passed away due complications of dementia November 5, 2010 at the age of 76, just a day after his family announced he was entering hospice care.

Whether he is remembered as the crank of the Big Red Machine or the ageless leader during the “Bless You Boys” era and as the manager of the “Roar of ’84” Detroit Tigers, the legacy of George “Sparky” Anderson is secure in baseball lore.