Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Breaking Radio Silence, Biscuits on the Move


After a few weeks with no posting, its time to break radio silence and get caught up on the latest.

BISCUITS ON THE MOVE
Taylor G.
Former Biscuit Taylor Guerrieri was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rays had placed the 2011 first round pick on waivers. Limited to just two starts this past season, Taylor is a good bet to turn in a bounceback season next year.



Another former Biscuit, catcher Curt Casali enters free agency. He's another great Rays catcher who will likely be playing their best baseball for another team while Tampa pays big bucks to veteran replacements at the major league level.

Former Biscuit Wade Davis also is a free agent, having completed his one year deal with the Cubs, pending his likely refusal of a qualifying offer.


OZZIE GETS NEW GIG
Timmons handles loudmouth drunks, a useful skill in MLB
In perhaps the best offseason news so far, Ozzie Timmons has been promoted to the big leagues as Tampa's new first base coach.

I, myself have said for years that Ozzie was a prospect first base coach and now its come to pass, we wish the best of luck to Timmons who will no doubt enjoy his new assignment!



MORE SKITZ NOTES
Former Biscuit pitcher Alex Cobb was given a qualifying offer of over $17m by the Rays. He can accept it or test free agency.

Also in the parade of old skitz, pitcher Bradin Hagens has said his goodbyes to Hiroshima Carp fans. Its unlikely he will return to Japan, but could find more work stateside.


STILL EMPLOYED
Yet another ex-Biscuit, Matt Moore had his option picked up by the SF Giants, bucking the trend of former Montgomery players looking for a job. Also in the "still employed" category, pitchers Scott Kazmir and Adam Liberatore were activated to the 40 man roster by the LA Dodgers.

Matt Moore with Biscuits



A THRONE SITS EMPTY
A favorite of many fans, Myron Noodleman had been battling cancer and recently lost his fight with the disease. Many people spoke out on social media with their support for his family and shared their appreciation of the longtime baseball clown, including former Biscuit Brent Honeywell.


Myrons shtick included variants of crowd entertainment that date back centuries and borrowed heavily from Jerry Lewis lovable characters. He will be missed in ballparks where he brought smiles to so many fans.

Emmett Kelly eating his breakfast from home plate
Baseball clowning is a lost art in many ways. Noodleman was the flagbearer for the cause, having been approved by the famed Max Patkin.

Patkin was the reigning Clown Prince of Baseball for decades, ascending a throne occupied in the past by the likes of Al Schact, King Tut, Germany Schaefer and the immortal Emmet Kelly.

Now that throne sits empty, awaiting its next monarch.


BAYBEARS SOLD
The Baybears franchise sale went through without a hitch, signaling the end of Mobile baseball. Next the owners plan to put forth a relocation proposal, which is where we will start to see the rubber meet the road. Included in that proposal the owners must reveal their proposed location and secure the needed ballpark arrangements.

Mobile's mayor says they will continue to fight to keep the team "as long as we can", which doesn't sound overly optimistic. And it shouldn't.

It is a shame though, as the Mobile-Montgomery rivalry is the oldest in the state, perhaps one of the oldest in all of baseball, with the two teams first facing off way back in 1867!



 RESEARCH - WHO THE HELL ARE THESE GUYS?

Unknown Grays Player
As baseball was often a back page item in the 1800s, I find it tough to come up with info on some of the local players in ages long past. I'm currently working on a list of players that fall into the "deep digging required pile".

Somehow, that stack just gets bigger and bigger. With just a last name (possibly misspelled) and sometimes a first initial (often erroneous) there is much work to be done in the archives this winter.



SWING AND A MISS
Other guys I can look up more easily, but what we find about them isn't baseball.
Fr'example... In historian John Thorn's book he discusses the early game and Alabama makes its entry pretty early.

In 1868 Alabama sent representatives to the national baseball meeting in New York to request that we be recognized as a sanctioned state association. Basic stuff, really, legitimizing our state championship, getting player contracts standardized, adopting the nationally recognized rules, etc.

However the two men sent to represent the state are a bizarre pair. From Montgomery, Alfred H. Moses and Mobile John A. Payne. The two men are well written about for their notable achievements, however history does not record their baseball activities beyond the fact that they were the ones chosen to travel to New York for the National Association meeting.

The results of the trip were successful, Alabama's twelve teams were recognized nationally and we began a long tradition with the national pastime.

But there isn't much more info on it. Local New York newspapers carried one whole line.
1868 news report on Montgomery baseball

A.H. Moses
The choice of Moses is easy to understand, he had been Court Clerk in the Montgomery district during the Confederacy and likely to comprehend the legalese encountered in formal documents.

Moses was well known, he received a death sentence for his work in the Confederacy but was pardoned by President Jackson. Later he would finance Montgomery's first skyscraper and help found the city of Sheffield, Alabama.

Yet it could benefit us to have a keener knowledge of how Moses was chosen to represent baseball and what his connection to the early team was.


John A. Payne
John A. Payne
More of a mystery is the Mobile representative.

John A. Payne is also a Confederate, a survivor of the first sinking of the CSS Hunley submarine (it sank more than once, few survived). Most of his wartime career is spent in and around Virginia. His military career is well documented by Civil War buffs, but there is not much on his life after the war.

It is not known why he was in Mobile, what his connection to baseball might be or how he came to be selected for the trip to legitimize Alabama baseball.



Great info on two men with interesting stories, but not a word about baseball!


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Baybears Sale Leaves Mobile With History But No Team



Not much going on in the Biscuit scene but there is a bit of Southern League news to pass along. This info comes from local news reports and internet media coverage with some assembly required.


The BayBears transaction is moving forward, quietly. Though you won't hear anyone openly say as much, its practically a done deal and the team will have a new home in 2019 leaving the Hank vacant and Mobile without affiliated baseball.

The lack of honesty and forthright sharing of information that pervades baseball front offices and league executives frustrates fans who support said teams and leagues, but it doesn't prevent us from learning what is going on. Thank you, freedom of the press.


ALREADY SOLD ONCE - ALMOST

Local reports from various cities show that a previous sale of the BayBears had fallen through. The team was to have been sold and relocated to Baton Rouge, but for unknown reasons that purchase was not completed. The potential ownership group was not named and is apparently no longer a factor in the sale of the Mobile franchise.


Yet now a new group of potential owners has stepped up and signed an agreement of purchase with MiLB for the only double-A team available for relocation. This group has been given written assurances by three different cities that a new ballpark will be built if the team will come.


 In related news....
The city of Madison, Alabama has approved a zoning change that opens up an area for "multi purpose venue" in the form of a "stadium or ballpark". When asked back in July about the Mobile sale league prexie Lori Webb refused comment on what she called "a private business matter".


However, public filings show that back in July the Baybears potential new owners, BallCorp LLC headed by Ralph Nelson of Arizona, reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission that they were seeking backings with $20M capital. The same documents state that BallCorp would only be investing short-term, with a goal of selling the team in five or six years.


PART OF THEIR BIG PROJECT
 The potential ballpark is likely part of the "Town Madison Project" that includes a half-million dollar mixed use space near Interstate 565. The planned project boasts of being over 500 acres. Of course luxury hotels and apartments are included in the plans, as well as retail and restaurant space.

Its an ambitious plan by Madison officials, who have been working behind the scenes to put their project into action for more than two years.

Madison officials reportedly assured BallCorp that the new ballpark would be state of the art and ready for opening day 2019. However the BayBears have a lease with the city of Mobile that runs through 2020.




MOBILE EDGED OUT
All summer rumors persisted that the sale was pending, with likely destinations being Baton Rouge, Savannah or Madison. Madison is located just about fifteen miles outside of Huntsville.

Once new ballparks were located in nearby Pensacola and Biloxi the Mobile facility was essentially rendered obsolete and it became obvious that investors were lining up potential cities behind the scenes to relocate the BayBears. Vultures have been circling "The Hank" for at least three seasons, with Mobile trailing in attendance despite fielding solid teams over the past decade or so.

Even the BayBears Gm was recently quoted as saying the rumors of the move "have more meat to them" than in the past.



HUNTSVILLE CONNECTIONS
As assistant to Southern League president Don Mincher, current prez Lori Webb has much familiarity with Huntsvilles history in the league.

 Its a possibility that familiarity has influenced the chances for the Huntsville area to regain its team and in addition, a new ballpark that was unattainable when the Stars were forced out after the 2014 season.




MOBILE HAS LONG HISTORY

If 2018 is to be the last Mobile team, its a sad end for the city. And its one that doesn't bode well, the last time a team moved from the Little Easy it took almost thirty years to replace them.


Satchel Paige, Mobiles Greatest Pitcher
A rarity among southern towns, Mobile has long been known as a baseball city. Volumes have been written about the famous players Mobile has birthed. From Hank Aaron to Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Double-Duty Radcliffe the Mobile baseball pedigree runs deep and all the way to Cooperstown.


Mobile fielded the very first known baseball team in Alabama in 1867, just weeks ahead of Montgomery's first game. When baseball held its first post-civil war national convention, Mobile sent a representative on behalf of the players in that area.

The Mobile Swamp Angels joined the Southern League in 1887, the bay city was a stalwart of the league through the 1890s.

In the 1900s Mobile, like most southern teams, bounced around several different circuits and levels but always managed to get a club together and compete.

In the state of Alabama, only Birmingham has fielded more teams than Mobile. Mobile has put a total of 89 teams into competition since 1886, most often appearing in the Southern League or Southern Association.

Mobile was a force in the 1930s and 40s, between 1937 and 1942 the Mobile Shippers played in five championship series and three times emerged league champs.

With names like the Swamp Angels, Shippers, Bluebirds, Blackbirds, Seagulls, Red Warriors and Acid Iron Earths the Mobiles were first dubbed the Bears in 1918. They became the BayBears in 1997 when Mobile returned to affiliated baseball after a twenty-seven year absence from affiliated baseball.

However, it looks like time is running out on the Little Easy and its baseball fans as MiLB has decided that baseball is done in Mobile - at least for the foreseeable future.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Biscuits Lose - How It Happened


With just three outs between the Biscuits and their first championship in a decade, fans were crushed to hear as the Montgomery squad was defeated by the Lookouts in the final inning of the last game.

For the Lookouts, it was a storybook finish. A walkoff homerun in front of the hometown fans to win the pennant. For the Biscuits it was a painful snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.


Here is how it happened:

Relief pitcher Ian Gibeaut took the hill for the save, nursing a one-run lead.

The leadoff hitter singled with a grounder off the glove of Biscuits shortstop Jake Cronenworth. Though the fielder was able to get to the ball but didnt manage a throw, it was an infield hit all the way.

Then Jonathon Rodriguez dispatched Ian Gibeaut's first pitch over the left field fence for a two run homerun, sending the Biscuits to defeat.

And that was it.


CIUFFO CALLS IT
"When we win, I have smart fingers. But when we lose, I have really dumb ones!" Nick Ciuffo told me earlier this season.

Before the Biscuits left for Chattanooga, I had a chance to chat with Skitz catcher Nick Ciuffo about how he handles pitchers and opposing hitters.

We talked briefly about pitch selection and he told me that he tries to call for pitches that mix up hitters, changing speeds and location, based on what he felt a hitter was unable to handle.

Ciuffo also told me that experience was a big factor in what pitch he signals for. "The more I see a guy, you know, the better I know what he can and can't get to."

However, he made mention of one Biscuit pitcher by name in the conversation. "When you have a guy like Gibeaut, someone who throws like, a hundred miles an hour... there just isn't a lot that needs to go into pitch selection. Just throw it until they show they can hit it."



YOU JUST KNEW IT
If you have been watching Biscuits baseball for the past season or three, you knew the Lookouts were a tough opponent.

You also knew that Ian Gibeaut was probably going to throw a hundred mile an hour heater. You also probably knew that Jonathon Rodriguez knew it too.

And you probably weren't that surprised when the Lookouts stormed the field and celebrated winning the 2017 Southern League Co-Championship.




SUMMARY
For the Biscuits as a team though, its nearly a total win, lacking only a pennant. Fans may not see it right away, but it can't be anything else.

Third straight postseason appearance.

Got deeper into the playoffs than any Biscuits team since 2007.

Scared the HELL out of Lookouts fans, who went into the series expecting a three game sweep.

Thrilled Montgomery fans who went into the series expecting a three game sweep.

 Came within three outs of shocking the league and proved to be more than anyone expected.



BEST PART IMO
There is no blame to assign. It's not Ian Gibeaut's fault, or Nick Ciuffo, or Brady Williams or Bill Buckner. No bad calls, no missed opportunities or men left on base.

 The Lookouts won it honorably, beating perhaps the hardest thrower on the staff in a real mano-a-mano faceoff. Serious baseball for all the marbles and no crying when its over. We threw our best pitch and they hit it.

Good game, Lookouts.



GOT NO BIZNESS BEING THERE...
BUT THERE THEY ARE
Sometimes you just grab it
This team fought its way into relevance when it had absolutely no business playing for a pennant.

They didn't win the division in either half. If they played in the South Division, they wouldn't have won there either. They didn't have the best home record, they didn't have the best road record.

The few top prospects on the team were quickly promoted. The star centerfielder was traded mid-season. Only one hitter reached double digits in homers. Only one pitcher topped 100 innings pitched.

The team struggled to hit home runs, giving up nearly twice as many as they hit.

Also, the team changed owners during the season, providing off field distractions. There were many reasons to expect the Biscuits would not even make the playoffs, much less threaten to steal the pennant from the 90-win Lookouts.

Yet there they were, carrying a one run lead into the last inning of the last game of the year.



NO QUIT IN BISCUITS
What they didn't have was QUIT in their vocabulary.
Refusing the be turned away, the Biscuits vanquished every other foe in the division and forced a rematch with their nemesis Lookouts. That the final inning didn't include a double-play and a popup resulting in a Biscuits championship is the only blemish on a stellar season.


BRADY ASKED
"How does this team compare to the other teams in Montgomery history?" Biscuits manager Brady Williams asked me at the final homestand.

Best team in ten years, at least. Maybe more.


AROUND THE HORN
A few notes I picked up....

Reliever Kyle Winkler indicated he might not play next year.  The Texas righty has spent six seasons in the minors and while his fastball is fantastic, the thought of another summer of bus trips and locker room antics might appeal to him just a little less than having "Wink Day" every day with his beautiful wife and equally beautiful daughter. Voted "Cutest Couple" (by me, of course) the Winkler family was one of my favorite experiences this summer, catching occasional glimpses of people being real is always a treat. Best of luck to them, no matter they decide to do.


Catcher Mac James and reliever Jordan Harrison are not convinced the stories of 1909 Detroit Tigers catcher Charley "Boss" Schmidt are true. When they heard about Boss driving nails into the floor and pinning a circus bear in a wrestling match, James asked me "Ever hear of Paul Bunyan?"

Yes, Mac, I have. But even Paul Bunyan didn't manage to beat Ty Cobb to a pulp.



Gary Redus
REDUS LIKELY TO RETURN
Coach Gary Redus told me he expects to return to the Biscuits next season. Redus lives in Alabama and enjoyed being close to home, as well has getting a chance to take in the area golf courses.

I found Redus to be a brilliant defensive strategist, his positioning of Biscuits outfielders was a mostly unnoticed strength of the team. He got along well with the fans and brought big league respectability to the coaching staff. 

Also expected to return is radio announcer Chris Adams-Wall. Chris has provided a steady, reliable voice to the team broadcast and has built a nice rapport with fans. Chris has praised my defensive ability, which shows he does still have much to learn about baseball, but is a great broadcaster nonetheless.


HAIR STYLIN

Jonny Venters is jealous of the flow.

Jonny Venters
I learned this at the last homestand, during a quiet night game while hanging around the bullpen. As we sat there watching the middle innings unfold with little action, the relievers started talking. Partly with me and partly among themselves.

One of them asked how long I had been growing my prodigious mane, and I gave my stock answer which comes in the form of a question.

pitcher "When's the last time you cut your hair?"
me "What year were you born?"
pitcher "1995"
me "It was before that."

This launched the players into a conversation about their own hair, what product they used, who had the longest hair and who left it laying in the shower. Real manly stuff.

Ian Gibeaut and his flow
Veteran hurler Jonny Venters quickly judged Ian Gibeaut as the longest hair and started razzing him about ponytails and hair clips. The rookie was quiet against the verbal ribbing from his mlb-AllStar teammate but as I am a long time longhair I spoke up.

"Don't listen to him, he's bald as a cue ball. Dude is just jealous of a good flow."

A hush fell over the bullpen and I tried to decide if it was because five of the seven guys were shaved bald or if it was that I had just backtalked the big leaguer.

Venters broke the silence with a laugh, saying "Well, yeah, you bet I am!"




Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Biscuits-Lookouts Playoff Preview


The 2017 Biscuits are one of the better teams to don Montgomery raiment since the franchise arrived in 2004. The three-peat of postseason appearances matches the 1970s-era Rebels teams, though those Rebs brought home more pennants.

Dalton Kelly & Nathan Lukes
This squad is one I am very fond of, these guys are a good group of young men learning their craft and doing a really fine job of it.

As individuals, its tough to not like the Biscuits players and coaches. They are honest, hard working blue collar guys. Combined they have shown a steady upward learning curve that has culminated in a chance to force their way into a pennant.


And force it they must, if they are to have it at all.



NOTES AND QUOTES
After being swept at the Lookouts park, where four of the five possible playoff games would be played in the first round, Montgomery fans can only hope the team was pulling its punches ahead of the playoffs. However its doubtful that was the case.


Asking Brady Williams what would happen in those five games, he made no indication of pulling punches or making plans to hide any surprises. "We are just going up there and play some baseball," he told me.



Biscuits radio announcer Chris Adams-Wall had his own opinion about it when I talked with him as the team headed off to Chattanooga. "A five game staring contest before the playoffs? Its gonna be weird!" he said.

And weird it was indeed.
Last week I called the five game series meaningless and was shown incorrect when the Biscuits played well enough to stay relevant through the first game against the Lookouts.

In that first game the Skitz were soundly eliminated with a lopsided 11-2 drubbing. After that both sides seemed to take it a little easier, coasting to the finish line in routine ballgames.

If there was true meaning to this five game series, it was to allow each team to be as familiar as two teams ever were before playing important playoff games.


"...and those who are not enthused."


THE BRIGHT SIDE
If there are silver linings to being swept, it is that the Lookouts will probably not be able to sweep Montgomery again in another series. Montgomery has lost seven straight games to Chattanooga dating back to August 1st. Giving up ten in a row is pretty unlikely.

Also, other than the one game that mattered, three of the games in the last series were decided by just one run. The Biscuits play well in close games, though they have a losing record when trailing late.



 WHO'S THE MAN?
Who will be "The Man" for the Biscuits in the playoffs? Someone will have to put this team on their back and carry it past Chattanooga.

Be it Mojo McCarthy, Justin "J-Dub" Williams, Grant Kay, Cade Gotta or one of the more recent arrivals, this club has shared the load but desperately needs a leader to emerge in the last two weeks of the year.

In each of the Biscuits League Championship teams there was a guy who refused to be beaten and provided the offensive lift the team needed. '07 Postseason MVP Chris Nowak and of course, Evan Longoria in 06 were those guys. If these Biscuits want to advance, someone has to lead the charge.

Otherwise, the Biscuits will need to resort to *other* means to score runs.




SLDS SERIES NOTES
As familiar as these two teams are, it could be a short series. The Lookouts have been the dominant team in the league and have had little trouble with the Skitz this summer.

A five game series would favor the Biscuits and if Montgomery can get past Chattanooga they should be the favorite in the Championship Series.

The Lookouts have been terrific on the road at 25w-10L and were nearly identical at home at 24-11. Montgomery posted 16w-19L in away games in the second half.

Lookouts shortstop Nick Gordon is a strong candidate for Southern League MVP.




HELP US OBI WAN KENOBI STARTING PITCHER
Montgomery's hope is largely in pitching, both starting and relief. Getting great starts from Mujica, Cabrera and either Anthony Miz or Moss is essential to advancement.

With Jose Mujica in game one, the team really needs him to pitch deep into the game and keep runs off the board to set the tone for the series. Mujica is the team leader in Innings Pitched at 154 in 25 starts, no one else reached a hundred innings.

GOT TO HAVE 'PEN
The Biscuits also need their bullpen to succeed as a team. Recently promoted Jonny Venters will be missed if the playoff roster is without him. Kyle Bird will need to step up and share the lefty reliever role with Jordan Harrison.

Obviously, Gibeaut and Winkler will have to shut the door when called upon, with little room for error. No pressure, right?



BRING THE BATS!

Montgomery has been streaky at times, scoring runs in bunches and then going dry. Using the lumber is paramount to winning, the Skitz will need to score runs against the team with the lowest ERA in the league.


Croneneworth explains what "foul ball" means
Jake Croneneworth has emerged as the teams leadoff hitter and has handled the job well batting .285 since his arrival.

Brandon Lowe could be a difference maker in the postseason, the FSL MVP has a chance to force the Rays to consider starting him at Durham next spring with a monster finish in the playoffs. He has been a regular at second base and often is batting second for the Biscuits.

Joe McCarthy often bats third in the lineup and plays left field or designated hitter. Mojo has struggled a little in recent weeks but still has a stout .292 BA when batting third. McCarthy has an excellent .285BA in extra innings.

Grant Kay should play third base and occupy the cleanup spot for the Biscuits in the postseason. He has spent most of the season in that spot in spite of hitting just .228 when batting fourth. Brady is probably keeping him there due to his .268 average with runners in scoring position. Also, Kay is excellent when leading off an inning, posting .275BA and 20 doubles as the first hitter in a frame.

Where will C/DH Sullivan hit in the order?
Dalton Kelly is likely the fifth hitter in the batting order and has played a steady first base since his arrival at the end of June. His .325BA and 35RBI in the 5th spot has provided much needed run support for the team.


Several spots in the batting order don't appear fully set, Brady likes to juggle the names at the top and bottom of the lineup card. Cade Gotta either hits second, or sixth. Wherever he isn't, Justin Williams is. Usually Brady Williams writes in catcher Ciuffo to bat 8th, but sometimes its outfielder Nate Lukes.

This juggling act is one of the ways a manager can win an extra ballgame for his club. Or three. Thats "Brady Ball" for ya!




STATS BREAKDOWN

Often I rely on numbers to give an indication of what we might see in any given series, but this one doesn't take much math. The Lookouts are simply the best team in the league and have had the Biscuits number for years. The Biscuits have five games to find a way to be David to the Lookouts Goliath.

For this series, the only number that matters is three - three wins to advance. Putting more runs on the board than Chattanooga is a very tough task in one game, to say nothing of three. The Skitz won't go unbeaten, and forcing a game five would give them the upper hand in the series.

Montgomery goes into the series as the underdogs and its tough to see the Biscuits knocking off the Lookouts. If I were Brady, I would look to split the first two games, win at home and then the team just needs one win in the last two at Chattanooga to advance to the championship round.

I would also buy some rum and fried chicken for Jobu, just to cover all the bases.