Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New Man in Bham, Skippers, Nets, Dothan Update

Not much happening right now, but here is what I have collected over the past month or so....

The Rickwood Classic will be held on June 1st, obviously at Rickwood Field in Bham. It will feature Rollie Fingers as guest of honor. Chattanooga will be the opponent, though I would have been much happier to see the Biscuits take on the Barons in a rematch of the first ever game at the old ballpark.
Some things never change, like the parking at Rickwood - Opening Day 1910

The Barons announced their new manager would be Ryan Newman, a veteran minor league catcher turned manager Newman has skippered as high as triple-A.

Jamie Dismukes will be the Barons hitting coach and J.R.Perdue handles the pitching coach duty. Both Perdue and Dismukes are Southern league coaching veterans, getting another look courtesy of the White Sox.

The Biloxi Shuckers announced their coaches for the 2016 season, Mike Guerrero was named manager and his brother Sandy as hitting coach will make a family coaching tandem not seen in the Southern League - maybe ever!

Incoming skipper Mike Guerrero and outgoing manager Carlos Subero have traded roles for the Brewers, Subero will take over as the Milwaukee base coach for Mike G.

The pitching coach will be Chris Hook, a former SF Giant reliever Hook is familiar with the Southern league hotels from his time as pitching coach with Huntsville.

Dave Berg has been named as head of the Jacksonvile team - the former big leaguer with the Marlins and Blue Jays at second base, third base and shortstop returns to the dugout for the Suns.

Also returning are hitting coach Rich Arena, assistant coach John Pachot. The new guy is pitching coach Storm Davis. Davis won a world series ring with the Orioles in 1983, went 35w-14L in a two year stint 1988-89 and won over a hundred games in his major league career. The last time he saw the Southern League was 1981 when he pitched for Charlotte's O's.


The city of Dothan, satisfied with its recently completed feasibility survey, called on MiLB. City leaders were told flat out Dothan was not going to get a team anytime soon, be it Southern League or SALLY league.

League presidents of both circuits were asked directly by Dothan officials and were shut down completely. They were told the wiregrass area didnt offer enough people with finances to spend on baseball and lacked a corporate base to support the team.

The takeaway from this is multi-faceted. For starters, it means a city can no longer lure a team simply by offering a newly built ballpark. For a long time that was about the only requirement, but now there are higher expectations.

With places like Mobile and Jackson Tn scrambling to patch their parks to lure fans, there is a chance a team could be had, so secondly it sounds to me as though the Southern League has other ideas on potential host cities.


The Durham Bulls will update their nets as per request of major league baseball. Now a net will cover seating behind both dugouts, instead of just the home plate area.
DBAP netting design

Could this be in store for the Riverwalk Stadium too? No announcement as such has been made, but with the current trend being to shield inattentive fans at the cost of those actually watching the game, it could only be a matter of time.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Price West Doesn't Know Who You Are Either

Price C. West Jr. passed away on New Years Day, he was a former Montgomery player. I didn't know him before this, and he likely didn't know who I am. But I learned we should know him if we are to truly know Montgomery's baseball story.

I know he died because lists recently deceased players and I often check to see if the players have any connection with the Southern League. A look at his BRef page tells us that Price Charles West Jr. was on two teams in Montgomery in the 1950s.

Born in 1934, no birthdate listed, Bref says West appeared in just 21 games in two seasons, 7 games in the first in 1954 and 14 more in 1956, even those could have taken place when the team had moved to Knoxville. He did not appear to hit well in his short stint on the roster. Those two seasons are all that is listed of his professional baseball career.

When looking into a Rebels player history, it can be a tough search, since records are sketchy and info lacking. Its easy to skip past players who only appear in a weeks worth of games. However 1954 and 1956 are very notable seasons for the Montgomery team, so further reading ensued, even though West was only in a handful of games.

Quite fortunately there is an obituary on Mr.West that helped establish a few important facts about Price West Jr.

1954 was the season Montgomery put an integrated team on the field for the first time.

George Handy
Price West was among those to wear a Rebels uniform that year and along with veteran Negro Leaguers Johnny "Piper" Davis & George Handy, helped erase the color line in Montgomery.

Price West Jr's 7 games in '54 are a lot more significant than the mere numbers imply.

The obituary is short but it tells us much that Bref doesnt, that Price was a Montgomery native, born in February 1934. It also tells us he was known as "Pie" and briefly describes his baseball past, shedding light on an important event in Montgomery that transcends the game.

Price West was integrating his own hometown team at just twenty years old, a prospect shortstop starting a bright career in 1954. He didn't play much but got noticed, he went from Montgomery Rebels straight to the big time - playing in Yankee Stadium for the New York Black Yankees of the Negro National League. And seeing the country on barnstorming tours, of course.


Price West considered his career highlight to be a home run hit off Satchel Paige, hard to argue with that. But it was hardly the only high point for the Montgomery slugger.

West played for the legendary N.Y Black Yankees, the equally legendary KC Monarchs and illustrious Detroit Stars in his Negro Leagues career. Even his military service in Korea featured his appearance at shortstop with the 24th Infantry Division team.

1955 Black Yankees, #21 Price West on far right
Price West is described as one of the top hitters for the Black Yankees in '55 before being sold back to Montgomery as an outfielder for 1956. Negro teams were in the business of dealing talent in the mid-1950s and Dick Lundy's Black Yankees sold a handful of stars that summer, obviously Price West was among the prospects being offered.

The Center for Negro League Baseball Research lists top individual season stats for each year, the 1958 leaders include Price West with Detroit. West was 4th in batting average at .298, his 37 RBI were third in the league.

His teams should be listed as:
1954 Montgomery
1955 NY Black Yankees
1956 Montgomery/Knoxville - Price obit names Knoxville
1957 Army 24th I.D.
1958 Detroit Stars (aka Detroit Clowns)
1959 Rochester Yankees
1960 KC Monarchs

After West played for the first integrated Montgomery Rebels team in 1954 he went to New York and was touted a prospect for one full season before being sold back to the Rebels in 1956.

Probably not...

The Montgomery team was in transition after the death of owner Hoke Vandigriff, essentially run out of town in favor of segregated D-League ball. Price Wests obit lists Knoxville as a team he played for, the Rebels moved from Montgomery to Knoxville in midsummer and likely welcomed Price West back after leaving Alabama.

Two years in the military for Korea took one season away from the pro career but West signed quickly with the famous Detroit Stars upon his return. The Rochester Yankees picked up the outfielder for 1959 and in 1960 Price plays for the legendary KC Monarchs.

Price West wound his career up early after 1960 - he met Shirley, leaving the Monarchs and baseball to find another slugger. Price West Jr. would start a family as well as several businesses, had his own tv show and once ran for mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Predicting the Skitz 2016

Every New Years we take a look at who will be a Biscuit and again it is that time when we employ the black arts and take a peek into Stengels Magic Orb at the roster of the future!

Signed with the Tampa Rays thru 2018, Montgomery will again see some good players moving up the chain, particularly from the rich crop of draft picks made in 2011.

Are you excited about Biscuits baseball yet?
If not, well, its okay. I will let you slide at least till spring training starts!
However its a great time for a little excitement, the team is coming off a playoff appearance and has banished the belief that Montgomery can't win at home. The future is bright.

There are alot of things that have yet to come into view, and of course one can never predict trades or injuries, yet there are some favorable influences and auspicious omens pointing to good things for Montgomery in the season ahead....

It was announced that the coaching staff would be Brady Williams, RC Lichtenstein and Dan DeMent, just as predicted on 12/21, the winter solstice, just after the 12th Biscuits season.A fine start to our prognostication!

These Biscuits should be even better than last years fine team, I expect them to win nearly ten more regular season games than last summers 77 victories.

On paper, these Biscuits have the talent to be a force in the North Division - we could see Montgomery win both halves of the season, if the stars maintain their current alignment.

I also expect that should the Skitz punch a playoff ticket, the team will post more than the one victory the 2015 Biscuits mustered,

There will be several returning Skitz from last year, after making a playoff run this next batch of Biscuits may rise even higher. We should look for top prospects at shortstop, second base, as well as in the outfield, in the starting rotation and the bullpen.

1b Mike Marjama
2b Kean Wong
3b Patrick Leonard
SS Willy Adames
C Justin O'Conner
RF Jake Bauers
CF  Braxton Lee
LF Granden Goetzman

2b Tommy Coyle
Of Marty Gantt
C Armando Araiza
2b/ss/mi Andrew Velazquez
UT Pat Blair

SP Brent Honeywell
SP Chris Kirsch
SP Buddy Borden
SP Chih-Wei "Robin" Hu
SP Taylor Guerrieri

RP Ryne Stanek
RP Jeff Ames
RP Josh Kimborowicz
RP Issac Gil
RP Steve Ascher
RP Kyle McKenzie

other possibles:
RP Kyle Bird
RP Brian Miller
SS Jake Hager
3b Jace Conrad

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Bob Dustal Passes, Was Mgm Pitcher

Former Montgomery Rebels pitcher Bob Dustal passed away in November - Bob was with the Rebs in 1967 and '68. Bob Dustal pitched in 50 games during his time in Montgomery posting an 8-5 record. Dustal's sub-1.00 WhIP ratio as a Rebel is evidence of excellent control and minimal baserunners by the veteran righty, a hallmark of his career as a pitcher.

Bob got to the bigs with Detroit in early 1963, appearing in seven games as a reliever before being sent down in May. Dustal's lone MLB decision was a loss, one in which he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Everyone wants a chance to play in the majors... Unfortunately...I just didn`t get anyone out.

Dustal Rookie Card 1963
The surprise was that he registered a decision at all for the Tigers, every game he was in resulted in a defeat for the Motor City Kitties. Most of his work was in a mop-up role and he hadn't been pitching well so it was only in emergency situations that he would pitch with the game on the line.

Of course its baseball, that is exactly what happened.

Bob's only chance at participating in a Tigers victory was snatched away at Fenway on April 20th, 1963. Dustal was pitching in relief that day, as he had the day before when he worked a total of three innings in both ends of a doubleheader.

So with a run one lead and already two out in the fifteenth inning Bob was called on, needing only one out to pick up the save. But he was unable to close the door. The Tigers fell 4-3 as Dustal gave up back-to-back hits and took the loss on a Roman Mejias' 15th inning, two-run walk-off double.

As a minor league pitcher, Dustal saw much more success. He posted 111 wins to 76 losses and an ERA of 3.06 in just under 500 games over 15 seasons. The New Jersey native had worked his way thru the minors, from low-D level ball, posting a winning record at every level in cities such as Jamestown, Durham, Knoxville, Birmingham, Denver, Syracuse and others.

Described as "rubber armed", Dustal bragged that he once pitched 119 games in a single year, throwing from January to January in combined league campaigns. Indeed, he was named MVP of the Puerto Rican league and given a $500 watch in an era supposedly before "specialty relief pitching".

Bob Dustal is a member of the Syracuse Chiefs "Wall Of Fame" and is remembered as much as his great relief pitching as for leaving a prize fishing catch in a hidden trashcan, where it created a legendary stench in the clubhouse.

1968 was a busy year for Bob, he opened with the Montgomery Rebels, where he would earn the last three of his 111 career victories. Dustal was released after a dozen games but reassigned by Detroit as manager for Batavia in the NYPL.

Bob's last appearance as a player was in 1971 for Key West, where he was managing when pressed into duty by the team as a pitcher in two games.


Bob Dustal was 80 years old when he passed away in Florida. After baseball, Dustal enjoyed managing a team in the Keys before buying a restaurant and "tiki bar" known as The Bacchus By The Sea.

"It seems like every baseball player wants to own a bar. So here I am." Bob said in an interview in the 1990s.

I found a write-up of the bar in Conde Nast Traveler which described the owner as "a lean, brown, soft spoken man with suggestions of the status he'd enjoyed as a pitcher..."

I also found a great description of the old bar and grille, though under different ownership when this word-picture was crafted. I felt it was a sweet snapshot of the life Bob may have enjoyed.

"....a very nice restaurant called Bacchus By The Sea located down near the Seven Mile Bridge. The front of the restaurant had an Old World feel and was very formal with linen tablecloths and beautifully set tables. But in the back, along the waterfront, the atmosphere dropped a few degrees.

Here, shrimpers who had been out trawling for two weeks at a time came in to shake off the saltwater, find their favorite stool and catch up with their shrimpmates at an open air tiki bar right at the docks.

Seven Mile Bridge
Pelicans perched along the dockposts, and shrimp boats lined up neatly in their port. It was a privilege to enjoy the most beautiful sunsets each evening, and I always tried to savor the fiery ball as it dipped and reached to touch the indigo horizon.

Quickly then, it would slip away from sight as dusk settled in and the tiny white lights strung between the posts behind the bar twinkled and shined down on the deeply tanned and weathered faces of fisherman and their girlfriends or wives, ready to blow off some steam on a Friday night. The thump-thump beat of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothin’ sailed out on an invisible current disappearing over the night’s black ocean. There were quite a few characters that hung out there. It has always been said that if you want to disappear or hide, go down to the Keys. I guess that’s why they were all there. Or maybe no one would have them.

Fights often broke out once the beer and rum began flowing. There really was a Mudsucker, Shrimper John and other bizarrely-named shrimpers who frequented the waterfront bar. Near the tiki bar were outdoor dining tables for customers who wanted to enjoy the ocean view with their dinner. Usually the clientele at the restaurant were upscale tourists, as well as the infrequent celebrity such as Ted Turner, who occasionally seemed horrified at the display of obscenities and violence that they may have accidentally sat near, too close to the tiki bar revelry. It was always worth a chuckle or two."

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last of 15, Biscuit Voice Changes, Willie Mays Night

While no formal announcement has been made, I am confident in saying that one of the most noticeable changes with the Biscuits next year will be heard more than seen. Chris Adams-Wall will take over play by play announcing on the radio from Aaron Vargas.

What basis do I have?
Also that Aaron V's twitter profile no longer has anything related to Biscuits, but he does mention that he is engaged. Also, Aaron no longer appears on the Biscuits website. A sure sign of change.
So, hey, say "Hello!" to the new voice of the Skitz!

Just have a few notes to share before the calendar flips, but first I wanted to thank everyone for a fantastic 2015. It was a great season to watch Biscuit baseball as Montgomery made it back to the postseason for just the third  fourth time in the last 35 years or so. A lot of people helped out with the blog, supported and encouraged, answered questions, made it a lot of fun and didn't even once throw a punch at me. 

Thanks to you all, I know we are looking forward to 2016 being even better!

The Pensacola Wahoos announced their field staff, manager Pat Kelly returns to skipper the 'Cola's. Kelly is currently busy heading the Indios de Mayaguez to the Puerto Rican league playoffs.

Attending the pitching coach duties for P'cola will be Danny Darwin, the former bigleaguer known as "Dr.Death" is back in the SL after five seasons away. Darwin coached for the Suns and Lookouts previously, now he replaces Jeff Fassero who moves to a roving gig with the Reds.

As hitting coach the 'Hoos will employ Alex Pelaez for the third straight campaign.

Every January there is a high school coaches assoc dinner here in Montgomery, this year the keynote speaker will be Fred McGriff. Its a great event held at the RSA Activity Center and I suggest you look into attending!

Former Biscuit Alex Torres signed a minor league deal with the Braves.


Coming in 2016 the blog will introduce a handy new stat to rate Southern League teams at a glance, better coverage of the other TB Rays affiliates, LOTS more history, much deeper Biscuits team info, better quality original photos, rarer historic Montgomery adverts, better road coverage of the Biscuits, guest columns and lots more!

Such as:
Remember that time Willie Mays and Larry Doby played at Paterson Field in an MLB All Star Game?  It was Willie Mays Night at Paterson Field!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dement Confirmed, Dothan-BayBears Marriage? Coaches Caravan

Some coaching assignments are being announced for other teams in the league, but no "official" word from the Rays about Montgomery's coaches yet.


For a few weeks now there have been rumors flying that former Biscuits player Dan Dement will take over the hitting coaches duties with Ozzie Timmons promoted to Durham.

Sources I have talked with confirm that the rumor is true, Dement will join the Skitz coaching staff, along with RC Lichtenstein, under manager Brady Williams.

Dan Dement attended the University of Alabama and was a member of the inaugural Biscuits squad in 2004. Dan hit .256 in 98 games that summer, swatting eight homers which was good for fourth among Montgomery sluggers that first season. Dement appeared at second base, third base and, more often, in the outfield.

MsBraves new MGR

Over in Mississippi, the Braves have brought Luis Salazar to skipper the team. Pitching coach Dennis Llewallyn returns along with Gary Ingram as hitting coach.

Salazar was hitting coach for the Suns in 2008 and Chattanooga in 2009, so he is no stranger to the Southern League.

Luis lost his left eye in 2011 when he was drilled by a foul ball but obviously has not let that slow him down at all. He most recently managed at Lynchburg for four seasons and will likely pass the 600 wins mark as a manager this year. 


The Smokies announced their new manager would be Mark Johnson, a former big league catcher with the WhiteSox, Cards and others. Johnson is a Georgia native and played in the Southern League as a minor leaguer in the 1990s, so it will be interesting to hear his take on how things have changed since his last look around the league.
Mark L. Johnson, catcher and big league brawler

For the Smokies, Desi Wilson returns as hitting instructor but a new pitching coach arrives in the form of Terry Clark. Clark spent six season in the majors, mostly as a reliever, with teams like Houston, Atlanta, the Orioles and Angels.

While it is likely Brady Williams returns to the helm of the Biscuits, a rematch between the Skitz skipper and Carlos Subero will have to wait. The Shuckers manager has been assigned to first base coaching duties at Milwaukee this summer.

Mobile is considering a new ballpark and a good play-by-play on the situation can be found in an article by Jon Sharp. It includes a ton of links to past articles on the Mobile baseball saga as well as current info, including that the Baybears finally made a $25K payment on their rent, for the first time in years.

2nd half Champion Biscuits celebrate at The Hank in Mobile
The article generated a ton of comments, but if you don't want to wade into the writing here is the jist:

Mobile owns the Hank and doesn't owe any debt on it.
The BayBears are signed at the Hank thru 2022.
The BayBears are signed with the Dbax thru 2016.
The Hank is the oldest park in the league and draws the fewest fans per game.
Mobile needs to put at least $100K into the field drainage now and will need to spend $1 million overall to get the park into shape.
New parks cost $20+ million, but the city will discuss a new park at an upcoming City Council meeting.

Its a bad situation and the city knows it. Without any guarantees past the 2016 season, look for the BayBears to bolt unless Mobile either puts up money to repair the Hank or agree to build a new park.


1951 Dothan Browns, AFL Champs
I made a contact last week that gave me info on the situation in Dothan. The city got good results from their feasibility study and now will look to drum up local support - including a corporate backer to share the cost of the new ballpark.

A Southern League team would "be a good fit" if a team becomes available my source told me. The only stumbling block at this point is getting the community on board with luring baseball to the wiregrass, a plan backed by the Dothan Chamber of Commerce.

From the looks of it, a Dothan-BayBears matchup is building momentum.

On July 16th of this coming year, Bill Plott will be speaking on the Negro Southern League at the Dept of Archives as a part of their "Food for Thought" lunchtime lecture program. Plott is perhaps the most knowledgeable source for Negro Southern League history anywhere.

You can be sure I am looking forward to this lecture, having heard him speak previously at the annual Southern Association history conference. Plott is a noted historian and author, as well as being a distinguished journalist - he was a sports writer for the Montgomery newspaper for much of the Rebels best years and can be found as author of many history related articles used as references in this blog.