Friday, July 9, 2021

Charlie Gorin, University Of Texas Star And Milwaukee Braves Pitcher, Dies At 93

Charlie Gorin, former Milwaukee Braves pitcher from 1954-55, died February 21, 2021 at 93.

Coming out of the University of Texas, Charlie Gorin had a winner’s pedigree. Pitching under the legendary Bibb Falk's guiding eye, the left-hander propelled the Longhorns to consecutive College World Series titles in 1949 and 1950. Gorin continued that streak early in his minor league career; however, he could not translate that success to the major league level.

Gorin, who pitched seven games for the Milwaukee Braves from 1954-55, died February 21, 2021. He was 93.

The Waco, Texas, native enlisted in the Navy during World War II out of high school, delaying the start of his baseball career. After his discharge he enrolled at Texas, using the GI Bill at the urging of one of his Naval mates. He made good with Falk at a spring tryout, and a local legend was born.

The Boston Braves took notice of Gorin after his second CWS championship in 1950 and signed him to a minor league contract at Omaha on the spot. After a short stint at Triple-A Milwaukee, Gorin settled in with their Double-A club in Atlanta and led them to the playoffs with a 7-1 record.

Gorin entered the 1951 season with a fresh start at Milwaukee that eventually led to two championships in the span of a year. The 1951 Milwaukee club ran away with the pennant, showing how Major League Baseball organizations could benefit from having an integrated team. Former Negro Leaguers Bus Clarkson and George Crowe led the offensive charge with respective .343 and .339 batting averages, while starters Ernie Johnson, Bert Thiel, Virgil Jester, Murray Wall and Gorin all posted double-digit victory totals. They then toppled the International League’s Montreal Royals to win the 1951 Junior World Series.

Most pitchers would be exhausted after a long playoff season, but the lure of a paid winter to pitch in Puerto Rico was too much for Gorin to pass up. At the recommendation of teammate Luis Olmo, Gorin headed to winter ball.

“That was the only way to make money,” Gorin said during a 2008 phone interview. “There wasn't big money like now. I was married with two kids; that's how I saved money. They paid our way down with the wife and kids, and they paid room and board. Puerto Rico was a good place to play.”

After faltering early with Mayagüez, Gorin latched on with San Juan after the team owner came to the airport to stop him from going back home. He was determined to make Mayagüez realize its mistake.

Gorin reeled off 12 wins, leading San Juan to the league championship. He pitched two complete-game victories in the playoffs, punching their ticket to the 1952 Caribbean Series. Unfortunately, for Gorin, he couldn’t enjoy the fruit of his labors. A full year of pitching finally caught up with him, his body giving out after epic playoff run. Instead of representing Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series, he was sent home to recover.

“I had a chance to play in the Caribbean Series in 1952, but I had a muscle spasm in my back, and I just couldn't make the pitch,” he said. “They sent me home. I went to the doctor here. I had a chance to rest, and finally I worked out of it.”


Fresh off his incredible 1951 campaign, Gorin looked forward to competing for a spot on the Boston Braves. With the Korean War raging on, Uncle Sam had other plans for him that did not include the major leagues.

“I was called back to active duty in the Navy for Korea,” he said. “I went to Pensacola, because I had a degree in physical education. I was an instructor in the Naval school for gymnastics, physical education, swimming, and water survival. I had to stay two years.”

Gorin, like many of his contemporaries including Willie Mays, Don Newcombe and Ted Williams, lost prime years of his major league career to the Korean War. Unlike the aforementioned trio, Gorin could not regain the momentum he had going into his service upon his return to the pros.

The Braves honored his contract, keeping him on the roster for the 1954 and 1955 seasons. He pitched sparingly over the two years, making seven relief appearances for a 0-1 record with a 3.60 ERA.

Gorin continued to play in the minor leagues through 1962, settling into Austin towards the end of his career so he could make the move into teaching and coaching. Luckily, he found an opportunity with his former high school coach who was flexible enough to let him off to play professional baseball.

“In 1959, I was in Austin, and they wanted to send me to Atlanta,” he said. “I said, ‘Keep me in Austin, that's my hometown, they have a AA team and I could make the transition between baseball and teaching school.’ My high school coach was the athletic director here, so when I got here, he got me on as a coach and teacher. Then he let me off to go play ball. One year I went to Mobile, then back to Austin. I was married with two kids, and I needed the extra money. We made more than teachers, that's for sure.”

He wrapped up his baseball career in 1962 and went full-time into education. He coached football and baseball for over 20 years and became an assistant principal at John Reagan High School in Austin. He retired in 1990 and enjoyed playing golf with his family and friends.

Speaking with Gorin in 2008, he was proud of his baseball career; however, he was quick to note the changes he observed over the 60 years since he started.

“Things have changed,” he said. “The young players don't know how nice they have it. … It's a different game, if the ball hits the ground, it gets put out of the game. You wanted that ball that was hit on the ground, so it was rough, and you could do something with it.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Farwell Mudcat Grant: 1935-2021

Jim "Mudcat" Grant was determined to spread the Black Aces legacy for as long as he could, similar to how Buck O'Neil preached the gospel of the Negro Leagues well into his 90s. Walking with the aid of a cane, Grant traveled across the country to baseball events as a septuagenarian to tell the story of baseball's Black 20-game winners. It was a subject where Grant was an expert; he was the first Black pitcher to win 20 games in the American League.

Grant used his platform to share how Black pitchers faced an uphill battle their entire careers, often questioned by an establishment who doubted whether Black pitchers were "equipped" to outsmart big league hitters. His 2005 book, The Black Aces gave this brotherhood of 13 Major League Baseball pitchers (at the time of publishing) the opportunity to put their untold stories on record about how they succeeded against insurmountable odds.

Grant died June 11, 2021, in Los Angeles, leaving behind a legacy for many to discover. I profiled Grant's life and career for my Forbes Sports Money column, which includes Grant's own words from an interview I did with him in New York. His book and continuing efforts to promote this select group's legacy will continue to inspire future generations of Black athletes to follow his lead on the mound.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Top 3 Breakout MLB Stars This 2021 Season

Things aren’t quite back to normal in the MLB just yet, but we are getting closer to some semblance of sports as we knew them before the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the United States. While it may still not be all that of a typical season, all of the main elements still exist, such as the yearly introduction of new stars as they go through their breakout periods.

It’s been quite an exciting season, despite the alarming rate of no-hitters. We have seen a good few players emerge as players who could greatly influence MLB scores with stellar performances on any given night.

We’ll take a look at three of these players in the list below. While there’s still a lot of time in the season as it pertains to things changing, the players noted below certainly have the looks of performers who could keep things going for as long as their teams are involved.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was considered a player to keep an eye on prior to the start of the season. He’s leading the MLB in swing/take runs at 29, and is considered to be the best hitter in the league at the moment. It was thought that he would do much better if he put some height on the ball and it appears he’s been doing just that, registering a lower ground-ball rate, a higher average launch angle, and a higher sweet spot rate.

Guerrero Jr. has nearly doubled his career-best with a 16.1% barrel rate, but his composure at the plate is what’s really brought the best out of him this season. He has been swinging less, but the swings he takes are more valuable. As previously mentioned, he has 29 swing/take runs - the analytic concept places run values to each pitch and can measure a player’s value in various parts of the strike zone.

The 22-year-old is doing less chasing while making the most of the pitches he's seen. His 21 swing/take runs in the middle of the zone are the most in the MLB this season and, should he keep up that sort of discipline, we anticipate a bright future.

Carson Kelly

The Arizona Diamondbacks catcher has only played 28 games this season, having suffered a broken toe, but he ranks in the top 10 in batting average with .381 for players with at least 100 appearances at the plate. He also ranks in the top 10 for slugging percentage with .613, and OPS at 1.103. Kelly leads the league in on-base percentage with .491, besting Mike Trout.

Kelly’s hitting was not very impressive in his first two seasons with the Diamondbacks, but he has made improvements to his game by chasing less balls out of the strike zone. He’s walked in 20.9% of his plate appearances, a huge improvement on the 4.7% from last year. And, while he still doesn’t hit as aggressively, he’s swinging at his pitch more often, which has caused his barrel rate to go up from 4.3% to 13.4%.

His batted-ball data also backs up his numbers, given he’s swinging at pitches he can barrel up while leading MLB with an .458 on-base average. 

Freddy Peralta

Freddy Peralta is having a great season as he leads the Milwaukee Brewers in strikeouts this season and has the fewest hits per nine innings at 4.3 among qualified pitchers. The 24-year-old wasn’t guaranteed to be a starter until a few days before the start of the season, but the Brewers can hardly regret the decision given his performances. Peralta is missing a whole lot of bats and attracting low-quality contact in the air. Thirty-nine of the 96 batted balls he’s allowed this season have been weakly-hit fly balls, which is one of the league’s highest rates at 40.6%, with opponents batting just 1-39 on such pitches.

Peralta was inclined to throw a curveball for his breaking pitch in the past and, while it was effective, he’s opted to use a slider more often, throwing those 32.7% of the time. He’s still throwing the four-seamer but the slider has allowed him to use his curve a bit less. The change has resulted in him allowing a .140 average with 72 K’s in 157 at-bats that end on a slider or four-seamer. 

As teams adjust to a full-season after a pandemic-shortened 2020, young stars will have a chance to make a few trips around the league, showcasing their talents to a fan base that is hungry to anoint baseball's next superstar.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Year Of The No-No? The MLB Could Set A New No-Hitter Record This Season

This MLB season seems to be on course to make light of the record for the most no-hitters in a single campaign, with six thrown so far. It has been a great season for pitchers, who have been salivating at the opportunity to jot their names down in the record books but, on the other end, we also see a few teams that are close to getting their names in the books for shameful reasons.

The Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, and Texans Rangers have all delivered two no-hit games this term. Given there are still four months to go, it’s very likely that one of them could end the season as the team with the unwanted record of most no-hitters thrown against them.

With a total of six such games have been seen this season, the no-hitter odds offered by some sportsbooks have become very attractive. Considered a bit of a sucker’s bet in the past, the trend has made it so that bettors could strike it big off a game in which zero strikes are hit. Of course, it has also cost them money but there are plenty of ways in which one can recoup lost funds as the season continues, so why not put that moneyline calculator to work?

The MLB’s record for no-hitters in a single season stands at seven, at least since 1900. It first happened in 1990 and was repeated in 1991, 2012, and 2015.

Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres threw his team’s first-ever no-hitter against the Rangers on April 9 and just five days later, the Chicago White Sox’s Carlos Rodón left Cleveland nursing their own. Baltimore’s John Means recorded a no-hitter against the Mariners on May 5, Wade Miley registered his against the Indians on May 7, and the Mariners got their second no-hitter courtesy of the Detroit Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull on May 18.

The Rangers suffered another no-hit contest via Corey Kluber of the New York Yankees.

Baseball fans have seen six-no-hitters in the space of just 42 days. Something similar happened way back in 1917 when five were thrown in just 23 days. A sixth no-hitter came around a month later to tie a record set in 1908.

What makes this season’s more impressive is the fact that Musgrove, Rodón and Kluber were one batter away from perfect outings. Musgrove and Rodón hit batters, while Kluber walked one.

As to why this season has thrown up as many no-hitters is left to debate, but it could be because pitchers are simply becoming more dangerous, although all of the no-hitters thrown so far have not come from pitchers considered to be among the league's elite.

There have been changes to the baseball itself. The league has admitted that certain alterations have affected the flight of the ball, which has, in turn, led to fewer home runs. Pitchers also agree.

Batting averages have been lower this season, making it all the more likely that no-hitters are thrown on a nightly basis.

"It's great for your team when a guy throws a no-no, it's great for that guy, it's a great accomplishment,” Yankees legend and current Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly was quoted as saying recently. "But, when there's so many, so early, strikeouts are at an all-time high, things like that. It tells you that there are some issues in the game that need to be addressed."

No MLB team has ever been no-hit three times in a season, but the Indians, Mariners and Rangers are all one no-hit away from having what would be a pretty poor record. The last two sides to collect double no-hits, the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, went on to win their divisions in 2015. The Mets also won the National League before bowing out to the Kansas City Royals ahead of the World Series that year.

This sort of puts things in a better light for the aforementioned trio of teams but they certainly do not have the look of contenders where the World Series is concerned.

Out of the seven no-hitters from 2012, three of them were perfect games. Chicago right-hander Philip Humber, San Francisco Giants right-hander Matt Cain and Mariners icon Felix Hernandez all threw perfect games that season. Musgrove, Rodón, and Kluber came very close to the feat, which would have seen to the 24th, 25th, and 26th perfectos in MLB history. The current nine-year wait is the longest since Catfish Hunter’s perfect game in 1968 and the one thrown by Len Barker in 1981.

We’re very likely to see the record surpassed this year and we imagine a good few wagers are already in play in that regard. As to whether a no-hit game should be cause for excitement has been a subject of debate for several years. This season might just be the one to provide the answer. We already know Mattingly is not impressed.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Phil Lombardi, Former Yankees and Mets Catcher, Dies At 58

Phil Lombardi (l.) a former MLB catcher with the New York Mets and Yankees died May 20, 2021 from brain cancer surgery complications.

Phil Lombardi
, a major league catcher who played parts of three MLB seasons with the New York Mets and New York Yankees from 1986-1989, died May 20, 2021 from complications due to brain cancer surgery. He was 58.

Lombardi was a third round draft pick of the Yankees in 1981. He played mostly as a September call-up during the 1986 and 1987 seasons with the Yankees. They traded him during the 1987 off-season to the New York Mets for shortstop Rafael Santana. 

Injuries plagued Lombardi throughout his career. Years of catching took a toll on his knees, with Lombardi enduring two knee surgeries by the time he was traded to the Mets. He had a third surgery in 1988 and recovered enough to play 18 games with the Mets in 1989. 

“When I was with the Mets, (catcher) Todd Hundley watched me behind the plate one day,” Lombardi said to the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “He could tell I was hurting and noticed that I had all my weight shifted onto my right leg to alleviate the pain. Then he told me his father (longtime major league catcher Randy Hundley) had the same type injury to his left knee when he had been catcher, and shifted his weight onto his right side too. 

“The result was that his father’s hips were thrown out of alignment and at the age of 50 he had to have a hip-replacement operation. Right after he told me that story, my hips started to hurt. I swear.”

The Braves invited Lombardi to spring training in 1990 with the promise of being their third catcher, but the thought of getting behind the plate for another season was too painful to bear. Instead of signing on with Atlanta, Lombardi retired. He was only one of five players to spend their entire MLB careers with the Mets and Yankees.

“I had idols like Johnny Bench and Pete Rose because I thought I could have a career like they did,” Lombardi said. “Instead, I became a so-so player, in all honesty. My career was one step forward and one step backward. A lot of things happened, but in the end, my injuries wiped me out.”

Lombardi turned to real estate, launching a successful career with Pinnacle Estate Properties in Valencia, California. As a parent of three daughters, he also turned to coaching softball. He lent his MLB expertise to hundreds of girls throughout the years, including his children.

His two eldest daughters played college softball at Long Beach State, while his youngest, Gianna, is currently playing for Cal State University-San Marcos

Looking back at his injury shortened baseball career, Lombardi acknowledge the pain of knowing he never reached his full potential. 

“All I’ve got left is my baseball card,” he said. “Really, I was just a common player. My card isn’t worth a nickel. And it hurts, because I know I could have been so much more.”