Showing posts with label Cincinnati Reds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cincinnati Reds. Show all posts

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Dave Hillman | Oldest Living Mets and Reds Player Dies At 95

Darius Dutton “Dave” Hillman, a former major league pitcher and the oldest living member of the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets, died Sunday, November 20, 2022 in Kingsport, Tennessee. He was 95.

In eight big-league seasons spanning from 1955-1962, Hillman pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Reds and Mets, compiling a won-loss record of 21-37 with a 3.87 earned run average.

Hillman’s best season with the Cubs was in 1959 when he posted an 8-11 mark and 3.58 ERA, completing four games and pitching seven or more innings in nine others. He tossed a two-hit shutout against the Pirates; struck out 11 in seven innings of relief to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers; and in the next-to-last game of the season stopped the Dodgers in their bid to wrap up the National League pennant. The Dodgers were one game ahead of the Milwaukee Braves with two to play. A win over the Cubs and Hillman clinched a tie.

“I went out there, honey, and I’ll never forget the control that I had,” Hillman recalled. “I could thread a damn needle with that ball. I was just sitting back and sh-o-o-o-m-m-m…throwing that thing in there.”

Hillman scattered nine hits and struck out seven in the Cubs’ 12-2 win. The Dodgers ended up beating the Braves in a playoff and winning the World Series. It took Hillman six years to work his way up through the minors to the majors.

Dave Hillman (r.) with Ernie Banks (l.) / Author's Collection

He started his professional baseball career in 1950, winning 14 games at Rock Hill, South Carolina, in the Class B Tri-State League. He won 20 for Rock Hill in 1951, one of them a no-hitter. He also led the league in strikeouts with 203.

Hillman won only eight games the next two seasons, but he notched another no-hitter in 1953, playing for the Springfield, Massachusetts, Cubs in the Class AAA International League. A 16-11 record in 1954 for a seventh-place team, Beaumont, Texas, in the Texas League, earned him a shot with the Cubs.

A sore throwing arm nagged Hillman in 1955 so the next year the Cubs sent him to their Pacific Coast League affiliate, the Los Angeles Angels. Despite missing the first month of the season, his 21-7 record, 3.38 earned run average, three shutouts and 15 complete games paced the Angels pitching staff. 

“Dave Hillman was Mr. Automatic,” said Dwight “Red” Adams, a ’56 Angels teammate who went on to become a highly respected pitching coach for the Dodgers. 

After the 1959 season, the Cubs traded Hillman to the Red Sox in Major League Baseball’s first inter-league trade. He pitched primarily in relief for the Red Sox in 1960-61 before ending up with the Reds and Mets in 1962.

Hillman appeared in 13 games for the Mets, with no decisions, one save and a 6.42 ERA. When the Mets optioned him to the minors in late June, he headed home to Kingsport to work in a men’s clothing store owned by an uncle. He figured selling shirts and shoes was better than being with the hapless Mets and getting kicked in the pants every time he pitched. 

Hillman was born in Dungannon, Virginia, on September 14, 1927, the fifth of seven children. He married his high school sweetheart, Imogene Turner, in 1947 and relocated to Kingsport in 1952.

Hillman is survived by a daughter, Sharon Lake of Portland, Tennessee, three grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His wife, Imogene, died in 2011 and their son, Ron, in 2017. 

*This obituary was written by author Gaylon H. White, who featured Hillman in his book, The Bilko Athletic Club: The Story of the 1956 Los Angeles Angels.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Chuck Harmon tells how a wild week in the Negro Leagues unexpectedly opened his door to the majors in 1947

Chuck Harmon’s name may not resonate with baseball fans when discussing the sport’s color barrier in the same way as trailblazers Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby; however, the talented multi-sport athlete followed his counterparts into baseball in 1947 to ultimately carve out his own niche in baseball’s record books.

The University of Toledo basketball star who became the first African-American player ever for the Cincinnati Reds died March 19, 2019, at his Cincinnati home. He was 94.

1955 Topps Chuck Harmon / Topps
Harmon initial athletic fame came from his achievements not on the baseball diamond, but on the hardwood courts across Indiana. He was a basketball star at Washington High School, leading the team to consecutive Indiana state championships in 1941 and 1942. Upon graduating, he played one year at the University of Toledo before he was whisked off to serve in the Navy during World War II.

University of Toledo Basketball Stardom

Harmon had his first taste of stardom when the All-American helped to lead Toledo to the 1943 NIT championship game against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. He scored six points in their 48-27 loss. It was there where he caught the attention of Abe Saperstein, the legendary owner of both the Harlem Globetrotters.

“My freshman year in college basketball we went to the final game in the NIT,” Harmon told Baseball Happenings via telephone in 2008. “St. John’s beat us in the final game. Saperstein was trying to get us. Back then, the NIT was the big tournament.”

While Saperstein’s interest was deferred by Harmon’s military duties, local scouts kept him on their radar. After returning to Toledo in 1947 to star for their basketball and baseball teams, local scout Hank Rigney took notice and offered the collegian a spot with the Indianapolis Clowns.

“I was at the University Toledo and it was summer vacation,” Harmon said. “I was hanging around school and was supposed to get a recreation job with the city. I was waiting on that to come through. Meanwhile, Hank Rigney, an old scout for the Browns, ran the concession stand at the school. He was an all-around go-getter, baseball scout, football scout, and basketball scout. He was scouting the Clowns, so he knew about me playing basketball and baseball at Toledo.

“He asked me one day if I wanted to play with the Clowns. I was still waiting for the job around school. I was tired of waiting around, so I didn’t know if it was going to come through with the playgrounds or recreation, so I told him yeah. He said, ‘I’ll sign you up with the Clowns.’ I said, ‘Anything to get out of here, I’ve been waiting here doing nothing.’”

A Chance in the Negro Leagues

Suddenly, Harmon went from being an unemployed college student to a member of one of the Negro Leagues most storied franchises. Rigney sent him right into the fire as the Clowns prepared to face the formidable Kansas City Monarchs.

“The Clowns were in Indianapolis playing,” he said. “Hank Rigney gave me a letter to give to the manager of the Clowns. I went over there, signed, and started playing with them. I wouldn’t call it playing with them; I signed with them. On a Wednesday, they had a game that night against the Kansas City Monarchs. I got over there that afternoon, dressed, and played that night. Of course, I didn’t play. I was there; you know trying out, whatever they called it. They were picking up guys as they went along. It wasn’t nothing real formal.”

While the tryout process lacked formality, Harmon assumed the name Charlie Fine to preserve his amateur status while playing with the Clowns. Once the travel rigors of Negro League Baseball set in, Harmon quickly discovered the ride was not as glorious as promised.

“It was one of them deals, we climbed in the bus to go to Michigan to play,” Harmon recalled. “We played up there, and after that game, the next day we went to Michigan City, Indiana. We played that night. You get off one bus, get on another bus, and go for 300 miles and play; you don’t sleep. When we got to Fort Wayne to play a team, it got rained out, so we stayed all night there. We stayed in private homes, that’s where we stayed all the time when we [went] to those towns.”

Due to the barnstorming nature that fed the Negro Leagues, teams did not have the luxury of rescheduling rained out contests. Harmon walked right into the middle of one of the miseries of road life that was markedly different from the first class treatment he experienced while playing college basketball.

“We got rained out in Michigan City and Fort Wayne, and when we went to Chicago — that was the first night we stayed in a hotel. I think we had a Sunday doubleheader. I dressed there. To this day, I don’t think I got into a game at all from Wednesday to Sunday. That was too much for me [coming from] playing in college, staying in hotels, and eating in the fine restaurants. Playing in Toledo, we stayed in the best hotels and played in Madison Square Garden.”

Harmon thought that he could parlay his experience with the Clowns to stay on with Saperstein’s Globetrotters. After his miserable week with the Clowns, he decided to pivot and return to Toledo for the summer.

“I don’t remember getting in a game or not because we had four or five games, we played two, the first night and the night in Chicago, and then we got rained out,” Harmon said. “I said to myself, ‘This isn’t for me.’ In my mind, what was going to happen was, the Globetrotters [would take] me and another guy. He had been trying to get us to play with them anyway. The basketball was probably worse traveling than the baseball. Traveling on the bus and sleeping in private homes if you could. I told him no thanks.”

A Door Opens with the St. Louis Browns

Back in Toledo from his brief foray into the Negro Leagues, Harmon waited on the city for his recreation job. By that time, the St. Louis Browns signed both Hank Thompson and Willard Brown to major league contracts. With the organization’s door open, Rigney jumped at the opportunity to get Harmon into the fold.

“A couple weeks later after being back there, the job with the city still hadn’t come through,” Harmon said. “Finally, he came over to school and [told me] they wanted me at the [Toledo] Mud Hens office [because] St. Louis wanted to sign me to a contract. That was like going to the World Series hearing that. Going with a major league team, as they always said, that was ‘organized ball.’”

While Brown and Thompson are often touted as Major League Baseball pioneers, Harmon was part of a select group who quietly pried opened doors at a time when only a few teams embraced integration. Standing in those offices, he saw the hope that was newly available to African-American ballplayers.

“We went to the office there in Toledo,” he said. “I didn’t have any idea of signing a Triple-A contract, but still that was a step to the major leagues. They wanted to send me to upstate New York, to the Canadian-American League, Class C. They sent me up to Gloversville [New York]. It was organized ball, and you could see the footsteps to major league ball if you were good enough.”

During our talk, Harmon chose not to focus on struggles with Jim Crow segregation, but the joy of being paid to play baseball. He thrived in his new environment.

“I did pretty good and finished the season out there,” he said. “I played 50 something games, and I was on cloud nine. You didn’t care [because] you saw them checks! The first time you saw a check, you got paid. Some guys played week to week. They played and spent it. Being in organized ball, we got paid and stayed in hotels. It was a glory road for me.”

Harmon returned to Toledo to play basketball for the 1947-48 school year. He put his minor league dreams on hold to play for the Fort Wayne General Electrics in 1948 while finishing his college basketball eligibility. With his college basketball career behind him, Harmon came back to the Browns, even after they sent him down a level in the minor leagues.

“Gloversville bought my contract and they sent me to Olean, New York in Class D,” he said. “Up there I was hitting about .370-.380 each year. When Gloversville sent me up there, I started hitting, and I got married. My wife was expecting, and I told them that when they sent me down. That’s when I really started wearing the ball out there. I talked to Gloversville and my wife was expecting, so I told them if I was hitting over so-and-so, would [they] bring me back to Gloversville. That incentive helped. Meanwhile, the Browns were having money problems, moving their clubs, and getting rid of players. During the winter, they sold the teams to independent buyers, and Olean bought my contract.”

A Cincinnati Reds Courtship

Unbelievably, it took two years of Harmon hitting .374 and .375 with Olean before the Reds bought his contract in 1952. He jumped to their Double-A team in Tulsa in 1953 and those footsteps he saw in 1947 were finally starting to lead on the right path.

“I went to Tulsa next year and I was leading the team in everything,” he said. “I was driving in all those runs. I had a bad day if I just got three hits. If I got two hits, it was bad.”

Harmon spent that winter sharpening his skills in Puerto Rico by playing for the Ponce team. He tore through the league and finished second in hitting, just below Luis “Canena” Marquez, and three points ahead of a young Hank Aaron. On the cusp of realizing his major league dreams, Harmon sensed that being in the presence of young talent and hardened Negro League and Puerto Rican veterans primed him for the next step.

“They had a lot of great players in winter ball,” he said. “You knew they were going to make it.”

Making History in the Major Leagues

He made the Reds out of spring training, and on April 17, 1954, against Aaron’s Milwaukee Braves, Harmon made history. His seventh-inning pinch-hitting appearance minted him as the first African-American to appear in a game for the Reds. Historians have argued that Nino Escalera, a Puerto Rican who batted right before Harmon, was the first black player for the franchise. Almost 65 years later, Harmon was more concerned with being on the team than being first.

“All that didn’t faze me a bit,” he said. “You knew you were good and that you were one of the best. That’s all you thought about. Not being the first black. It didn’t dawn on me at all. You know, all the players down there, you’re just trying to beat them. You’re trying to be better than them so that you get picked. You didn’t think that you would get picked before this guy or that guy, all you thought about was being on the team.”

Harmon played in the majors for four seasons from 1954-1957, batting .238 in 592 at-bats with the Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, and Philadelphia Phillies. He continued to play in the minors until 1961. He made one last Negro League connection in 1958 when the Phillies sent him to their Triple-A team in Miami with Satchel Paige.

“He could throw that ball,” Harmon said. “I’m just glad I didn’t have to face him, at 52! ... You just couldn’t believe that old what he could do in there. You were in awe of him more than trying to figure him out.”

He remained in the game for a few years as a scout with the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians before settling in as a clerk for the Hamilton County Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The Reds honored him in 2015 with a statue at their Youth Baseball Academy in Roselawn, Ohio.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lee May, three time All-Star dies at 74

Reports have surfaced that three-time All-Star Lee May passed away Saturday July 29, 2017 in Ohio. He was 74.

May played 18 seasons in the major leagues for four teams, hitting 354 home runs with 1,244 RBIs. He made the All-Star team twice with the Cincinnati Reds (1969, 1971) and once with the Baltimore Orioles (1972).

Lee May

Friday, January 1, 2016

Vern Rapp | Former St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds manager dies at 87

Vern Rapp, former major league manager with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, passed away Thursday December 31, 2015 in Colorado. He was 87.

Rapp, who spent parts of two seasons at the helm of the Cardinals (1977-78) and the Reds (1984), started out as a catcher in the Cardinals minor league system in 1946. After surviving a beaning during his second season, Rapp found himself starting in the playoffs for the Cardinals AAA team in Columbus in 1948 just one step away from the big leagues.

“We had a pitcher by the name of Clarence Beers,” Rapp recalled in 2008. “He could throw all kinds of pitches; he threw knuckleballs, everything. I’ll never forget in the playoffs, we had an old-time umpire by the name of Moore. Clarence threw a knuckle ball to the right and I just stuck out my bare hand and caught it. He said, ‘Well, that’s the first time I ever seen that done.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s done!’”

Vern Rapp 1978 Topps Card / Topps
The promising start for the young catcher was derailed like many others of his era by Uncle Sam. In 1950, Rapp was drafted into the United States Army. He lost two years of his career to his military service, something that he couldn’t recover from.
“I was in the service for two years,” he said in 2008. “They either remember you or forget you. I went in 1950 into the Korean War. Someone else comes along and they forget about you. I had a good chance. You make your own way. The game got different. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I stayed in the minor leagues until I was 32 and then I went into managing. Those two years, you lose a lot of things. Even though I didn’t go over [seas], I was lucky.”
He played at the AAA level until 1960, but spent most of his remaining time in the minors as a player-manager starting in 1955 with Charleston. At only 27 years old, Rapp was offered the job halfway through the season to replace Danny Murtagh. He quickly asserted himself as the manager, ruffling the feathers of many of the veterans, including the 39-year-old legendary slugger Luke Easter.

“We were in Minneapolis one night and Monte Irvin was with Minneapolis,” he said. “Back in those days, you didn’t talk to the other team before the game, it was always a war.

“We got in to this game in the old Nicollet Park. We had it won about 10-4 and they came back and beat us. I was a tough loser. I blew up in the clubhouse and Luke had a contract with Danny if he hit 30 home runs, he got bonus money. We got into an argument. I was talking about all the fraternization, I don’t buy that. If you are going to be a winner, you think about winning, you can’t be buddy buddy [with the opposition]. You can be buddies off the field, but not when the gates opened. I wasn’t against either one of them, but Luke got all upset. … I said, ‘If you don’t like what I’m doing, I can take care of that real easy.’ He said, ‘I don’t like it.’ So I said to the trainer, ‘Get him a ticket back home, you’re suspended for insubordination.’ He was off the team for three days and we got back to Charleston and the GM said you’ve gotta straighten it out with him. … At the end of the season, they were going to choose the MVP; the writer was going to choose Woody Smith. I said, ‘You can’t do that, this guy hit 30 homers and drove in over 100 runs. If you’re gonna have a MVP on the last place team, you’ve gotta put Luke’s name.’ He did. Luke put his arm around me and said, ‘You might have been mad, [but] you the man.’”
Rapp managed in the minors until through the end of the 1976, even getting a base hit at the age of 48 during that season with Montreal’s Denver farm club. During our interview in 2008, he recalled how and why he put himself in the lineup that day.

“We had a kid that was going to play every position so I started out as a catcher to save a spot in the lineup,” he said. “Hank Edwards was managing the other club and he kind of set me up with a good pitch and I hit a line shot up the middle. I threw a guy out that game. I stayed in shape; I threw batting practice two hours every day.”

In 1977, he replaced the easy going Red Schoendienst as manger of the St. Louis Cardinals. Tactics he used in the minor leagues to his players' actions didn’t fare well for him at the major league level. Enforcing strict rules about how the players dressed and forcing players like Al Hrabosky to remove his trademark mustache caused tremendous dissent among the ranks. Shortly after a public spat with catcher Ted Simmons where Rapp referred to him as a “loser,” General Manager Bing Devine fired Rapp after 17 games into his second season.

“The climax could have been averted, but it did appear more or less inevitable,” Devine said in a 1978 Associated Press article. “Frankly, it was a problem, a continuing problem. When it became apparent, we decided, ‘Why wait for something you can’t solve any other way?’”

Rapp quickly got back on his feet, joining the Montreal Expos as a coach from 1979-1983. Just as he was going to retire, the Cincinnati Reds hired him as their manager to start the 1984 season. One of his prized pupils was John Franco, who currently holds the major league record for saves by a left-handed pitcher. Rapp helped encourage Franco’s transition from a starter to a reliever during his rookie season.

“I made him into a relief pitcher,” Rapp said. “I asked [Roy] Hartsfield, how come he couldn’t go past five innings. He said, ‘He’s great a pitcher for five innings.’ I got information. When I saw him in the spring, I could understand. His stature, he wasn’t a big man. He was short and about 170 lbs. I pulled him aside, ‘How about giving it a whack as a short reliever?’ Well, he became a great short reliever. He knew how to pitch inside and wasn’t afraid to.”

His work with Franco was one of his few highlights of his time with the Reds. After posting 50-71 record in which he used 101 different lineups, Pete Rose replaced him in August. Rose was acquired from the Expos as a player-manager. It spelled the end of Rapp’s managerial career. He finished with a 140-160 record in parts of three seasons in the majors.

Despite his reputation as a strict manager, Rapp felt a tremendous obligation towards the fans. Well into his retirement he continued to receive autograph requests sent to his home and he proudly fulfilled every one of them.

“I was taught in the old school that you take care of the fans first,” he said.

Some sixty years later, Rapp continued to look at the game through the his managerial lens. He noted how the minor league system has experienced an upheaval in almost every regard possible.

“When I was managing in the minor leagues it was just me,” he said. “Now they have five coaches and they still can’t do it. In those days, you only had nine pitchers. What are you going to do? You can’t take them out every day. Back then, you had a four man staff. Once they gave money to the pitchers, that’s when it changed. We’ve got $2 million in this guy, what are you going to do, wreck his arm? Then there was the development thing; that’s when it changed. They were making decisions on guys 20 innings. How can you judge on 20 innings? In my day, they’d play two-to-three years and pitch over 100 innings to find out if he’s going to be a prospect.”

The million dollar salaries that Rapp felt were affecting player development were a far cry from the peanuts he made at the lowest level of minor league baseball in 1946. The struggles he had to make a dollar stretch during those years ultimately fostered a deeper love for a game that gave back to him for almost the next 40 years.

“I got $150 per month if you were lucky,” he recalled. “We used to get $1 per day in meal money. We used to go to Walgreens for $.35 for breakfast. That was about the only place you could go on the road.

“When I was in Marion, because I wasn’t old enough, a guy from the bar invited me into the kitchen. He gave me a big platter of spaghetti. I’d eat my garlic bread and spaghetti and he’d charge me $.50. You were always looking for ways to get through because you had no money. They had signs in left field and they would give you $5 if you hit it over the sign, and they [home runs] always seemed to come before payday. I had about 15 home runs, five over the signs. I’d go and take guys for breakfast. That was the love of the game. We didn’t even have showers at the ballpark so we’d go back to my home; I was about 10 blocks from the park. We’d used to just do anything to play the game.”

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pete Rose’s longtime third base coach sees nothing wrong with an old-school slide into — or near — second base

Sometimes in baseball, it’s the third base coach that has one of the best perspectives of watching a play develop on the field. For over 25 years, Alex Grammas manned that position, primarily for Sparky Anderson’s Big Red Machine in the 1970s and later again with Anderson for 12 years in Detroit. A ten-year career as a shortstop in the major leagues put him up close and person with many collisions at second base, but none as famous when he watched from the coaches box as Pete Rose upended New York Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson during the 1973 NLCS.

“I can remember him sliding in there and the fight that developed after that,” said the 89-year old Grammas, speaking recently from his home in Alabama.

Grammas wearing number 2, pictured as the Cincinnati Reds third base coach along with Pete Rose and George Foster / Topps

While the fight details and its aftermath from 42 years ago are a little blurry for Grammas, who rushed in from third base to defray the fracas that ensued, he was clear on why Rose went in with such aggression.

“He [Rose] played as hard as a guy could play, no question about it,” he said. “He wanted for the team to win and that was his aim. In that All-Star game when he ran over that guy at home plate [Ray Fosse], I saw it on film and you just figure out a guy is doing things to win ballgames and some are a little tougher at it than others. Pete was as tough on that as you would run into.”

Looking at Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Chase Utley’s slide on Ruben Tejada of the New York Mets during Game 2 of the NLDS, Grammas tried to put it in a perspective from when he was a player sixty years ago. He thought that every player approaching second base was going to try to make it hard for him to finish the job.

“I had to assume that whoever was coming into second base to break up a double play, I don’t care who they were, they were going to try to get you out of it,” he said. “They weren’t trying to break your leg or anything; they were just trying to get your momentum slowed down and get it to a point where you didn’t have the accuracy if you weren’t touched.

“When you’re on that field and you’re thinking we’ve gotta win this game to help us get to the World Series, a lot of things go through your mind. You don’t try to hurt anybody but you go in pretty hard and just hope that they can’t turn it into a double play, which is what you’re sliding for. The slide that fellow [Utley] made the other night wasn’t that far off the bag really. Now if you would have gone out there to the right 8–10 feet, now it would be different. This thing here, he could touch the bag even though he’s knocking this guy out of it. I guess it depends on which team you want to win is how you feel about it.”

Even though Tejada had no away to avoid Utley’s slide, Grammas felt that these types of collisions are just part of the intense competition of playoff baseball. That’s not to say that he didn’t drop some old school methods of exacting revenge on the field.

“Tejada didn’t [have a chance], he was there to be nailed,” he said. “I’ve gone through situations like that and there is really not a heck of a lot you can do about it because you know what they’re attitude is and you know what yours is. They’re trying to win a ballgame and so are you. The next time he slides in there and he’s a little open and he tries to nail me, there’s no telling where I’m liable to come down on him. You just don’t forget things like that. If you really give it a deep thought, these guys are trying to make it to the World Series and you can understand why they do things like that.”

As MLB mulls over possible rule changes regarding take-out slides at second base, Grammas, who spent 48 years in the major leagues as a player, coach, and manager, feels that any adjustment will have too large of an impact on the outcome of a game.

“I don’t think there needs to be a change in the rules,” Grammas said. “If you’re going to do that, you’re just giving people a chance to turn a double play that maybe they would have stayed out of. Maybe that [slide] would help your team win the ballgame, that what that’s for. If they felt like they could help stop him from making a double play, then that’s our chance to win the ballgame. That’s how you think as a ballplayer.”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mario Picone, pitcher for the 1954 New York Giants World Series team, dies at 87

Mario Picone, a pitcher for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds from 1947-1954, passed away October 23, 2013 in Brooklyn, New York. He was 87.

Born July 5, 1926, the Bensonhurst native grew up playing sandlot ball at the fabled Parade Grounds for a team called the “Chiros.” It was on those fields where Picone, who didn’t play for his high school team, earned the attention of Giants scouts just before his 18th birthday in 1944.

Mario Picone
“I grew up in the Parade Grounds,” he said in a 2008 phone interview from his residence in Florida. “Someone [from the Giants] spotted me there. They had me for tryouts in Jersey and they signed me.”

The Giants sent Picone to Bristol, Tennessee to play for their farm team in the Class D Appalachian League. The rookie phenom wasted no time making an impression. On June 15, 1944, he struck out 28 batters in a 19-inning victory over Johnson City, setting a professional record at the time. It was a feat that Picone almost didn’t have a chance to achieve if his manager Hal Gruber had his way that evening.

“In those days, you tried to finish everything,” he said. “It got to be the 9th inning, 10th inning, 11th inning … It was a 2-2 tie. Hal Gruber was the manager. He came to me and said, ‘I’m going to take you out.’ I said, ‘No you’re not. I’ll stay right here. If you take me out because you think I’m tired, I’ll be on the bus tomorrow and I’ll go home.’ Sure enough he left me there. We went 19 innings. Art Fowler came in the bottom of the 19th and pinch hit for me, he got a single, we scored the run and we won 3-2.”

Picone was a rising star in the Giants organization, skipping a level of minor league ball the next season to play with Class B Richmond in 1945. He led the league with a 19-6 record and 202 strikeouts. This earned him a promotion to AAA Jersey City in 1946, one step closer to the major leagues and a front row seat for one of baseball’s most historic moments.

In 1946, the Jersey City Giants opened their season against the Montreal Royals. Playing second base for the Royals was Jackie Robinson. Picone watched in amazement from the bench as Robinson started in his quest to break baseball’s color barrier.

“The first game that Jackie Robinson played in 1946 in Jersey City, I was there,” he said. “He had a bad day (laughs). He had a single, a double, a triple, a home run, and I think he walked. Isn’t that something? He was great. Exactly the way he broke in.

“It seemed like the people were watching, yet they didn’t know what to expect. He showed them. He sure did!”

Picone made his major league debut at the end of Robinson’s historical 1947 campaign. The Giants called him up in September, appearing in two games against the Philadelphia Phillies, starting the first and relieving the second. While Picone didn’t earn a decision in either contest, he ended the season with a .500 batting average, roping a hit in his first major league at-bat.

“I got a double off of the right field wall against Schoolboy Rowe,” he said. “He was in the twilight of his career and he didn’t throw that hard. I was fortunate enough to swing and I got into one.”

Picone had two more trials with the Giants in 1952 and 1954, making the team out of spring training during the latter. In his extended look in with the Giants 1954, Picone managed a 5.63 ERA in 24 innings and was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds sent him to the minor leagues after 16 days on their major league roster. He never returned to the big show, ending his career with a 0-2 record with an ERA of 6.30 in 13 appearances. He retired shortly after the start of the 1956 season.

“I gave it up in 1956,” he said. “I went into the home improvement business.”

Even though Picone only pitched in nine games for the Giants’ 1954 World Series championship team, the Giants included Picone in their 50th anniversary celebration at AT&T Park. They flew him and his wife out to San Francisco, providing them with a VIP treatment that included a limousine and first class accommodations.

While Picone languished during his trials in the major leagues, he took great pride in his ability to pitch complete games, something that definitely fueled the 19-inning effort at the beginning of his career.

“If I had to pitch every fifth day and pitch five innings,” he said, “I would have been pitching today with the arm I had. I can honestly say this. One guy for one inning, another guy and then comes the closer. That’s how you figured you were going to a higher grade. You had to finish a complete game. It was as good as winning.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rogelio 'Borrego' Alvarez, 74, Cuban baseball star and Cincinnati Reds first baseman

Rogelio "Borrego" Alvarez, former first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds and Cuban Winter League star, died Friday evening in Hialeah, Florida due to complications from kidney failure according to a former teammate who wished to remain anonymous. He was 74.

Rogelio Alvarez
Alvarez was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 out of his hometown of Pinar del Rio, Cuba. I interviewed Alvarez at his home in February 2011, and he vividly recalled his tough transition from Cuba to the United States.

“I was 17 and a half,” Alvarez said. “That year, we came about eight of us all together to Douglass, Georgia. It was a little town, and we went there to train.

“I didn’t know it was so bad, the colored people couldn’t go no place. The white people stayed in the good hotel, we had to go to the black community and stay in a house, stuff like that. We didn’t understand the bad words, so we didn’t know what they said.”

Even worse for Alvarez, he didn’t speak English, and was quickly separated from his Cuban counterparts. The social isolation weighed heavily on the new arrival.

“We had two blacks, me and Leo Cardenas,” he said. “They had 14 teams and they didn’t want colored people. Cardenas got signed and went to Tucson in the Arizona Mexican League. They [Tucson] said, ‘We like you too, but we have a first baseman.’ They left me in Georgia. That broke my heart, to see everybody going and I’m going to stay by myself with no English. Nobody else spoke Spanish.”

Approximately a month later, Alvarez was assigned to the Reds’ affiliate in Port Arthur, Texas. It was another wild journey for the young Cuban on his ascent to the major leagues.

“After a month being on my own there, they called me one day and send someone with a letter, they wanted me to go to Port Arthur,” he said. “They took me to the bus station. I went to Atlanta and changed planes without speaking in the airport. They told me, ‘Everywhere you go, you show this letter.’ If I lose this letter, I can’t find nobody. The letter said, ‘This man is a ballplayer for Cincinnati, and doesn’t speak English. He’s going to Port Arthur; please help him out, Cincinnati will pay any charges.’”

As soon as he arrived, the face of Jim Crow loomed large. Armed with only the letter from the Reds, he watched yellow cabs pass him by until finally a black cab stopped to take him to his destination.

“When I got to Port Arthur, there were two cabs, a yellow cab and another cab,” he recalled. “I wanted a yellow and they said no, you take the black cab. I showed them the letter, and they took me to the little town in Port Arthur, the black community.

"The old lady there, she didn’t say nothing. They got a Cuban guy, I didn’t know how they found him, but he came. He talked to me and he told the lady who I am and showed her the schedule that I go week in and week out, and I needed the room. I go downstairs to the kitchen and eat. I sit down and they come with a menu. I can’t read it or talk. She asked what I want, grabbed my hand, and went to the kitchen. They opened the pot; they [pointed to each] and said, ‘Stewed beef, rice, red beans, and cornbread.’ I ate that meal for a whole month.”

Alvarez’s first day at the park was no picnic either, as he found himself isolated in more ways than one. Even in the locker room, the club found a way to segregate Alvarez from his teammates.

“When I came to the ballpark the first day, I was the only black of 16 ballplayers,” he said. “There was no seat for me. I had to change in the bathroom. The bathroom was my locker. The manager threw me a uniform and it didn’t fit me right. I only weighed 185 lbs.”

Eventually with the help of a local young girl, Alvarez was able to pick up the language and adjust to life in the United States. Over fifty years later, he still was taken back by how quickly he took to speaking English.

“A little girl asked me to see a movie and in three months, I learned what I know,”  he said. “I learned fast; it was unbelievable. They were surprised how fast I learned.”

Despite all of the off-the-field adjustments he had to make, he batted over .300 for Port Arthur. Alvarez returned to Cuba in the off-season, but struggled to get on with one of the four main clubs.

“It took me three years to get on with a team in Cuba,” he said. “My first year, I was a reserve with Cienfuegos. They were people ahead of me, Frank Herrera and Chiquitin Cabrera. I had to go to Nicaragua in the winter because I didn’t play regularly in Cuba.”

Fortunately for Alvarez leaving Cuba to play winter ball proved invaluable to sharpen his skills. Playing in Nicaragua provided him with an opportunity that was far greater than any home run he could hit; he met his future wife there too.

“That’s where I met my wife in 1957,” he said. “I had a good year there. I was second in home runs in the league and after that year, I went back to the Sugar Kings. Then I went back to the reserve and played a little bit more. In the winter of 1959, I played regularly.”

His play in the winter of 1959 when he batted .333 with two home runs in the Caribbean Series, contributed to the mighty success of the Cienfuegos team. They swept the Caribbean Series in six games.

“We won the Caribbean Series and we won six out of six," he said. “We had Pedro Ramos, Camilo Pascual, Joe Azcue, Ossie Alvarez, Leo Cardenas, Chico Ruiz, Roman Mejias, Ultus Alvarez, Cookie Rojas, and I. We beat everyone in Cuba.”

Rogelio Alvarez (r.) with George Altman (l.) and Pedro Ramos (c.) with Cienfuegos / Author's Collection
Nineteen-sixty marked a period of turmoil during the Cuban revolution, one that Alvarez found himself dangerously close to. While playing with the Havana Sugar Kings, shots broke out during a game against the Rochester Red Wings.

“It happened in Cuba stadium,” he said. “That was the last game we played there. We played against Rochester. Frank Verdi was on third base. There were at least 20 police in the stadium watching. You heard, ‘Clack! Clack!’ and one of the bullets came down and hit Frank Verdi. They said we don’t play no more, so we had to move. We found Jersey City.”

Rounding out the rest of the year in New Jersey, Alvarez was all packed and ready to go to Cuba when his plans were suddenly altered.  His call to the show finally arrived.

“Orlando Pena and I were playing for Havana / Jersey City,” he said. “We ended the season in Columbus. Right after the game, we didn’t know that we were going to go; I packed my stuff, ready to go to Cuba to see my people.”

He went one-for-nine during his September call-up with the Reds. The adjustment to the pitching during his first stay in the major was tough.

“I wasn’t ready when that happened,” he said. “I didn’t see that many good pitchers [in the minors]. You went up there and they had four good starters. You’ve gotta be ready, and I wasn’t ready.”

He played one more season for Jersey City and then was sold to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League in 1962. After having a banner year, batting .318 with 18 home runs, the Reds called once again.

“We won the pennant [in San Diego], that’s why they didn’t bring me up before, because we were fighting for the pennant,” he said. “The manager was crazy for me. He gave me the Most Valuable Player. The manager Don Heffner, after we won the pennant, we came back to San Diego. He called me to the office to come see him. He said, ‘Here, take a beer with me. You’re going to Cincinnati tomorrow.’”

Fresh off of his best minor league season, Alvarez's confidence skyrocketed. This time, he had no questions about his readiness for the majors.

“Oh my goodness! I wanted to go to Cincinnati,” he said. “They waited for me in the airport. They took me right to the stadium, dressed and I went to play. I didn’t play because it was a right handed pitcher. I didn’t do too good, but I was ready then.”

He was sold to the Washington Senators after the 1962 season, but the deal was complicated by his return to Cuba. Ignoring the advice of many, a stubborn Alvarez went home despite the many restrictions on travel to and from Cuba.

“After the season I went to Cuba, I didn’t listen to nobody,” he said. “My idea was made and I went. That was a mistake. They sold me to Washington. I didn’t know they were going to send me.” 

According to an Associated Press report in 1963, Alvarez could not get permission to leave Cuba to report to the Senators. While San Diego general manager Eddie Leishman refused to comment on how Alvarez finally arrived there, Alvarez, almost 50 years later filled in the details.

“I went through Mexico to get back to San Diego,” Alvarez revealed.

The story of Alvarez’s return to San Diego in 1963 after missing all of spring training and almost the first two months of the season, is one that everyone who has ever played baseball has wished they could have lived to tell. 

“That day I can never forget. I get there, and they came back that night. In the morning, I went to practice. The owner said, ‘I’m going to try some kids. You get some balls, hit, and run, and then in the afternoon you come back with the big team.’ I practice, took a shower, and drank a couple of beers. I figured they would give me a week to practice,” he said.

His manager Don Heffner, however, had different plans. As long as Alvarez was in uniform, no matter how rusty he was, Heffner wanted him available on the bench.

“The manager Heffner said. ‘Hey where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to sit in the stands.’ He said, ‘No, come put your uniform and come to the dugout.’ I said, ‘I’m not in shape.’ He said, ‘I want to see you in the dugout.’ I didn’t go to the dugout, I stayed in the bullpen. All game, I was with the pitchers, talking with Jim Maloney,” he said.

Alvarez, who figured that he wouldn't be put in the game after such a long layoff, was lounging the in the bullpen the entire game. He was totally unprepared for what happened next.

“In the 9th inning, the bases are loaded, and Tommy Helms comes to hit,” he said. “The manager calls timeout [and] points to the bullpen. The pitchers said, ‘Heffner called you.’ The game was tied. I said, ‘Me, nah, that’s for you.’ They said, ‘That’s gotta be you.’ I face him [Heffner] and said, ‘Me?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’

"When I go, people start clapping. Everybody stands up and all of the people go crazy. The pitcher was Lew Krausse; he had good stuff. The first pitch, what I saw was woosh! They called a strike! I didn’t see it. He threw hard. After that, he threw me a curveball. Crazy! As a right handed hitter, I didn’t play ball for six months, keep it fast! He threw a breaking pitch; he gave me a chance to see [it]. When I saw the pitch, it stopped, and it stopped breaking. I go with it, and it was a home run! First swing, home run with the bases loaded. Oh my goodness! I was like a king. It was in the papers, headlines, ‘Fat Borrego wins the game with a home run for the Padres!'” 

Alvarez played through 1967 in the Reds system, swatting 226 home runs in 12 minor league seasons. He then played an additional six years in the Mexican League before ending his career in 1973. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Cuban Baseball Players in Exile in 1998. Alvarez was also honored earlier this year in February at a ceremony for the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame at the Big Five Club in Miami.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Franco continues to represent as an ambassador for the New York Mets

John Franco is the epitome of New York baseball. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the Lafayette High School graduate went on to play at St. John's University in Queens before being drafted by the Dodgers in 1981. Little did he ever imagine that he would play 15 years in the major leagues with the New York Mets and earn a spot in their Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, Franco was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in a wonderful ceremony at Citi Field. A few months later, he’s still amazed at the honor.
John Franco Signing Autographs / N. Diunte
“If you would have told me as a kid growing up that I would be in the Mets Hall of Fame, I’d say you were crazy,” said Franco at his Tuesday afternoon appearance at Citibank in Tarrytown, N.Y. “It’s a great honor to be on that wall and [have] my plaque next to great players like Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson, Tommie Agee, all my heroes growing up. ... It’s a great honor, I’m humbled and I’ll truly cherish it.”

The subject of the Hall of Fame this year for Franco is one that hits close to home, as his former Cincinnati Reds teammate Barry Larkin was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame a few weeks ago.

“Barry, you knew he was going to be something special when he came up to the big leagues early," Franco said. "He had a five tools [as a] player, speed, he could hit with power, a great fielder, great arm, and [was] very very smart. It was just an honor to play with Barry and I’m happy that he got into the Hall of Fame; he deserved it.”

Franco, like many of his Brooklyn brethren, honed his skills at the famous Parade Grounds. Even though the diamonds were a little rough, they still provide Franco with the opportunity to develop and mature as a player.

“Back then, the fields weren’t in great shape, but there were always games going on," he said. "There were seven or eight diamonds, and at every field, a game was going on. You’d start at nine in the morning and sometimes play until three in the afternoon. You’d go from field to field or play doubleheaders. It was a great experience, great baseball in the New York City area. We had some great teams from all over Brooklyn and it was very competitive.”

Currently, Franco works as an ambassador for the Mets and keeps busy by making appearances all over the city.

“This is my 3rd year with the Mets [as] one of their ambassadors," he said. "What I do, I go around to the various [Citi] branches … and they have these branches that myself and other veteran, retired players who are involved with the Mets go around and do some signings. I get to meet and greet the fans and talk a little bit about baseball. I go into the community, do some community service, some baseball stuff, some announcing, and some TV stuff; a little bit of everything.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Astros J.D. Martinez first home run riles up his hometown supporters

Moments after J.D. Martinez hit his first major league home run, the action at Casanova's Baseball Academy in Hialeah came to a screeching halt. His first-inning blast off of Dontrelle Willis had the phone ringing off the hook. Former major leaguer Paul Casanova picked up the call and excitedly shouted, “Flaco did it! He hit his first home run!” All of the players working out stopped and cheered for the hometown rookie.

“Flaco” is the nickname which most of the people at the baseball academy call Martinez. Trained under the watchful eyes of major league veterans Casanova and Jackie Hernandez, Martinez built his legend right in Casanova's backyard, literally.

Casanova runs a training facility out of the backyard of his home, complete with pitching machines, batting cages and video recording equipment. Martinez has been faithfully attending sessions at the academy since he was a budding superstar at Miami's Flanagan High School. He was called up less than a week ago to replace Hunter Pence after his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies.


Both ex-major leaguers had ear-to-ear grins as the calls poured in and the highlights flashed on the MLB Network.

“He's been coming here since he was a kid," Casanova said. "Everyone down here knows he was working with us and we are just happy to see him do it.”

As Martinez topped off the rest of the game with two doubles, one of which narrowly missed being a home run, Hernandez confidently asserted that this will be a normal occurrence for Martinez. “He's been doing this everywhere he's been. Every level, he's hit. We will see him in left field for many years to come, just watch.”

While the cheers in Houston may have been plentiful for Martinez, they were just as loud in Hialeah, as the hopefuls watched one of their own begin to build his legacy in the majors.

“All of Hialeah is pulling for him.” Casanova said.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Barry Larkin leaving the MLB Network?

Baseball barry larkin 2004An anonymous source told us that Barry Larkin will be leaving his post at the MLB Network for ESPN. The 1995 National League MVP was part of the Hot Stove crew that debuted the flagship program for the station in 2009. Larkin made an excellent "double play" combination with Harold Reynolds, often providing excellent insider commentary on the "how-to's" of the game.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Johan Santana homers enroute to a complete game shutout against the Cincinnati Reds

New York Mets Johan Santana and Henry Blanco react after Blanco hits a 2-run homer in the second inning against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field in New York City on June 10, 2010.  UPI/John Angelillo Photo via Newscom
Johan Santana hit his first major league home run last night for the New York Mets, capping a 3-0 shutout victory against the Cincinnati Reds. He was the first Mets pitcher to homer since John Maine in 2007 and the first lefty since Sid Fernandez in 1989. Click here to see video of Santana's home run and highlights from the game.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ken Griffey Jr. announces his retirement reports that Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement Wednesday night. The 40-year-old Griffey Jr. was batting .184 with zero homeruns and seven RBI's in 33 games for the Mariners this season. He played 22 seasons with the Mariners, White Sox and Reds, retiring with 630 homeruns, which puts him fifth all-time. Griffey is also only a handful of players to play in three different decades, debuting in 1989 and retiring this year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paul LaPalme, 86, 1923-2010; Former MLB Pitcher with the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds and White Sox

Paul LaPalme, died in Leominster, MA on Sunday February 7, 2010 at the age of 86 after battling a long illness. LaPalme was a left-handed knuckleball pitcher, who pitched seven seasons with four major league teams including the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds and White Sox. He made his debut at the age of 17 in 1941 with Bristol of the Appalachian League, posting an impressive 20 wins. After moving up to Erie the next season, he lost three years of his career due to his World War II service from 1943-1945.

Upon his return from military service, he clawed his way from Class D ball in 1946 to the big show with the Pirates in 1951. He made an immediate impact, pitching a shutout in his first MLB game, but could not duplicate his hot start, finishing with a record of 24-45 in seven seasons. He retired after the 1959 season with Montreal. After baseball, he entered the engraving business, where he owned and operated LaPalme Engravers in Leominster.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Aroldis Chapman signs with the Reds reports that Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman has signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Chapman made headlines at last year's World Baseball Classic where he routinely hit 100 mph on the radar gun. The lefty fireballer was able establish residency in Andorra after he defected from the Cuban National Team in July. Since that time, he has switched agents and been a coveted target for many teams, with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Marlins all making offers to Chapman in the winter months.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rogers Hornsby - My War With Baseball

Right before he started the 1962 season as a batting coach with the inaugural New York Mets team, Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby collaborated with Bill Surface to put his 48 years in baseball down on paper. Hornsby goes full steam ahead on baseball, witholding nothing back in this 250 page classic. Read the review of "My War With Baseball," to find out why this book is widely sought after by fans and historians.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Howie Schultz, former Brooklyn Dodger and Minneapolis Laker dies at 87

Howie Schultz, pictured second from left with Jackie Robinson two spots to his right, passed away on October 30, 2009 at the age of 87. Schultz was the Dodgers first baseman for four seasons until Robinson arrived in 1947. Schultz played in one game at first base after being displaced by Robinson. He was sold to the Phillies a month later.

"I'm a footnote in history -- the guy who was benched to allow baseball to be integrated," he said in a 2004 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Schultz compiled a lifetime batting average of .241 in siz seasons in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers, Phillies and Reds.

Schultz also played professionally in basketball, playing three seasons in the NBA after an All-American career at Hamline University. Schultz was a member of the 1951-52 and 1952-53 NBA Champion Minneapolis Lakers which included four Hall of Famers: George Mikan, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, and Jim Pollard.

After finishing his basketball career, he taught physical education and coached high school basketball in the St. Paul area as well as at Hamline University. To read a more detailed description of Schultz's career, check out Stew Thornley's SABR Bio of Howie Schultz.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lonny Frey, 99, Former Brooklyn Dodger 1910-2009

It is with a sad tone that I bring you the news of another Brooklyn Dodger passing. Former infielder Lonny Frey died Sunday at the age of 99 according to the Seattle Times. There are conflicts about his age, as the obituary lists 98, but lists his birth year as being 1910, which would make him 99. I had received written correspondence from Frey approximately a month ago and he seemed in good spirits. It is never a good feeling to hear the news of someone passing after receiving such recent communication.

Frey played 14 seasons in the Majors from 1933-1948 with Brooklyn, Cincinnati, The New York Giants and Yankees. He lost two seasons due to his service in World War II between 1943 and 1945. He was a three-time All-Star and played in three world series, two with the Reds and one with the Yankees. Frey gained recognition later in his life as he began to outlive the majority of his contemporaries. The New York times published an interesting 2008 article with Bob Feller and Frey, as they were the last two players alive from the 1939 All-Star game at Yankee Stadium.

Some of Frey's baseball memorabilia was profiled on an episode of Antiques Roadshow, where his son had his World Series and All-Star mementos appraised.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ed Blake, Former Reds and Athletics Pitcher, 83, 1925-2009

Former Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Athletics pitcher Ed Blake passed away at age 83 on April 15, 2009 in Swansea, IL after battling an extended illness. While only pitching 8 innings in the Major Leagues, Blake carved out a 15 year minor league career that included a stint as batting practice pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1943 World Series. Blake would later go on to say that experience was the most memorable of his career. Blake was fortunate enough to have a baseball card in arguably the most popular baseball card set ever, the famed 1952 Topps set. Up until his death, Blake still received many requests for his autograph on the eminent card. In addition to his baseball career, Blake proudly served in the United States Army during World War II. His son Eddie Blake Jr. was a minor league pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles system in the early 1970's.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Now Pinch Hitting, The Pitcher! Micah Owings Does Double Duty

Imagine your feelings after you have spent your entire professional career honing your craft as a position player, only to find out that the manager looks past you on the bench to call on a pitcher for a pinch hitter! Such has been the case this season for the Cincinnati Reds, using pitcher Micah Owings twice in this fashion during the first four games. A throwback to the likes of Don Newcombe and more recently Brooks Kieschnick, Owings has proved valuable as both a pitcher and a pinch hitter Owings versatility has effectively freed up another roster space for Dusty Baker to use. Owings has been penciled in as the team's fifth starter, leaving him available to pinch hit the other four days in which he is not pitching. Owings is batting .322 in 118 career at-bats with five home runs. Now does this situation speak to Owings prowess as a hitter, or lack of depth on the bench? A full season as a pinch-hitter will give us a better idea of how Owings rates once the book begins to circulate on him. If this plan is successful, it could become a trend within the major leagues as management looks to maximize the value of the players on their rosters. Another candidate for this role is Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Marquis who is 6-for-26 in his career as a pinch hitter.