Monday, November 25, 2013

Winter-Biscuit Roster Changes

 Biscuits Free Agents and Released Players

A whole batch of minor leaguers applied for free agency about three weeks ago, including quite a few players who had time for the Biscuits. Like Victor Mateo and Kyeong Kang, a few have already resigned with the Rays or found new homes.

Below is a list of the free agents and if they have signed a new contract that I am aware of.
Throw no hitter = get re-signed

Victor Mateo - resigned
Eric Hamren
Joe Van Meter
Robi Estrada
Carlos Fisher
Mark Thomas
Matt Nevarez
Albert Suarez - resigned
Kyeong Kang - signed with Baltimore
Mayo Acosta - resigned
Mike Colla - resigned

Among eight players released by the Rays earlier this month, a trio of Biscuits appear.

Neil Schenk
Jake Floethe
Austin Hubbard

There is no telling where any of the above will be by next year, at this point even the big club isnt sure who will fill every slot.  But with nine of the above still without a job in the Rays system, it could be the Biscuits will have alot of new faces in April. Considering our last place finish, thats not a bad thing!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Biscuit Player Moves + The Ugly - A Baseball VooDoo Lesson


With the Rule 5 Draft coming up in the first week of December, teams have been shuffling their 40 man roster. Any player not on the 40 man roster can be taken in the Rule 5 Draft so to protect their 40 best players MLB teams have been making moves - including moves affecting past and possibly future Biscuits.

Lets take a look!

CJ dont mean Chipola Joe
CJ Riefenhauser and Kirby Yates, both former 'Skitz, were added to Tampa Bay's 40 man roster.

Reifenhauser, whose first name is Charlie, was excellent out of the pen and appeared in the MLB Futures game this past summer.

Kirby Yates was 4-2 with 16 saves in fifty games for the 2012 Biscuits. He saved 20 for the Bulls, and along with Reif the pair make up a nice bullpen of prospects for the Rays.

Former Skitz pitcher Kyle Lobstein was added to the Tigers 40man roster.
Kyle in his road grays

The lefty was taken in the second round by the BayRays and made 29 Biscuit starts in 2011 & 2012, posting 140 strikeouts in 155 Innings Pitched. His ERA wasn't good, partly a product of a high walk rate.

During his tenure with Montgomery KyLo walked batters at twice his previous career rate, prompting the Rays to give up on him after two bad seasons in buttery blue.

He really turned it around after signing with Detroit, putting up a career high 143 strikeouts and the best ERA since low-A rookie ball at 3,27. He turned 24 in August and looks to have cut down drastically on the walks. This years he has re-established himself as a prospect.

In other news, former Biscuit pitcher Matt Buschmann was signed by the Oakland Athletics.
New Athletics pitcher Matt Buschmann
 Buschmann, the 15th round pick by the Padres in 2006 out of Vandy. He took the hill for the Gumpskitz in 2012 and 2013 and leaves with a 13w-11L mark. Each year he was promoted midseason to Durham but he logged 33 starts for Montgomery in total.

Former Biscuits infielder Reid Brignac agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Phillies. Reid split time between Colorado and the Yankees this year, batting under .200 in 46 games. He hit .267 for the back-to-back Champion Biscuits in 2006-7.

Ex-Biscuit slugger Kyeong Kang signed a contract to play for the Baltimore Orioles.

Kang signs an autograph for Barry
Kang had 40 hr 137rbi as a Biscuit in the past three seasons and has proven to be a clutch left handed power bat as well as a fan favorite.

On the down side, the Korean born Kang also had 327 strikeouts as a Biscuit to 157 walks, putting him on the list for most K's in a Biscuits career. Yet Kyeong would have had to whiff another 80+ times to pass Gabriel Martinez's 409 punchados! Gabby also tops the team lists with 53 homers and 266 rbi.
Gabby "What would you use to strike me out?" Prochaska "A baseball. Or maybe the rosin bag." 

Justin Nicolino signs a ball for Dale
 I get a few baseballs during the course of the season. We sit in a hot spot behind first base, minor leaguers wear out the first few rows around where we sit.

Lefty hitters swinging early foul change-ups towards us, righty hitters who swing late on fastballs also punch souvenirs our way. Any over-aggressive throw from shortstop or second base ends up in our laps, as does any throw the first baseman cant handle.

And there are some that get caught for the final out of the inning and are flipped into the crowd by the fielder. Im usually friendly to the visiting team and wave an old glove that just begs to have an orb tossed into it.

Making the grab!
 I don't consider myself a "ball hawk" as I don't fight for them. More I am a baseball magnet, they just seem to find their way into my mitt!

Last summer they all added up and I used every one for an autograph of a player or three. Well, almost every one...


I say I used them all. I used them all but one.
It was an ugly. So ugly it was THE Ugly.

I say Ugly, because it was. It was pretty much a mudball, a nasty sphere used for batting practice or tossed around the infield between innings so many times that the leather cover wasnt just scuffed, it was suede. It was more than a few shades darker than it was when it was new and rubbed up for game use, having been through more than one rain delay puddle and then lurking in the bottom of the equipment bag.

Those kind of balls are saved back for road trips. You cant give one of those to a kid at a home game, its an insult!

He might toss that to the crowd - or NOT!
Some smart-ass first baseman fielded the throw or caught a popup for the final out of the inning and as he came off the field, someone in the dugout tossed him the Ugly Ball, intending it to get thrown around the infield before the next inning.

But the first baseman doesn't want the Ugly, he wants the gamer.

He then tosses the Ugly to the crowd, keeping the game ball from the final out of the inning in his glove. A not-so-sneaky sleight of hand!

That means the Biscuits fan gets the Ugly while the first baseman gets a laugh out of keeping a ball that would have made a nice keepsake.

Yep, I was that fan.

So, there I am with a baseball caked with mud. Im a little annoyed about being the double-switch the first baseman made - I have been nice enough to cheer him when he makes a good grab in spite of the fact he drove in a pair of runs to beat us yesterday. Now we are getting beaten again.

Add to that the fact he thinks I am enough of a schmuck that he threw me the Ugly. He smiled when he did it. He knew.

Feelin abit drafty in the hut today?
There is no way anyone can use this ball, I cant scrape the mud off enough even to give it to a kid without his mother being mad about his dirty hands. This thing has been filthy too long, probably riding in the bottom of the bag since the first rain delay of the year, getting thrown back for a cleaner ball by every player on the club.

Time to make baseball magic!

When creating a charm, baseball or otherwise, it does indeed help to have a personal possession from the subject of the spell. Even better if it is given freely by them, at its best if offered up with attitude or emotion involved.

I chose the language of the swamp for the inscription, which I kept simple and easy to focus on. I included a symbol representing the desired outcome - not quite a sigil not quite an effigy, the shape was a form easily recognizable and familiar to the subject of the charm.

Cleaned up nicely, now its a lucky totem!

Im not claiming I won any games for the Biscuits. Im just saying that the home team came back from a deficit to win that night. And in other games when the Ugly came out with the Biscuits behind late.
Geaux indeed, the Skitz were trailing in these games before the rally ball came out!

The moral of this story?
Well, for players, be careful who you toss the Ugly to, someone might know how to use it against you!
For fans, its that you can have an active role in the game, even in the seats you can use your mojo!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Turkey Stearnes, From Gray Sox to Cooperstown

To this point we have seen what Stearnes wasn't, now we shall see what he was. A city doesn't embrace a player for no reason, and the River Regions affinity for Turkey Stearnes is no different.

Norman Stearnes

The city of Montgomery likely adopted him as their own toward the end of his Gray Sox tenure - the Sox won the Southern Negro League pennant by defeating the Nashville Elite Giants in a cool four game sweep.

The GraySox had a reputation for being one of the top negro league teams in the nation that year, sporting great players at every position.

Its quite possible Stearnes one listed homer came from that huge title series, when every hit counted and the teams likely made sure to bring the score book, keeping a running tally of stats to send out to the major national newspapers that covered the Championship Series.

Stearnes stats are the only ones listed for the Montgomery Gray Sox of 1921. This is likely owing to the fact that he is a Hall of Famer, his career having been researched to complete his stat line at Cooperstown.

Being Champ means post-season appearances!


Turkey raps four hits, steals base in first game
After the victory against Nashville, the GraySox were league champs.

They then went north to play an exhibition series against the StLouis Giants, the winner of the Negro Southern championship against the Negro National Leagues regulars. The Giants were led by Oscar Charleston, himself a future Hall of Famer, and ran a nice second in the NNL that season.
Oscar Charleston


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Biscuit News & Turkey Talk pt2


The new team website is up, the revamp isnt too far from what it was. More its just putting the same content into a different stack - one that matches what the league was lobbying them for.

Former Biscuit Merrill Kelley pitched in the AFL game on tv last night, broadcast on MLBNetwork.

The games are a testing ground for video replay review, and teams were challenging any play that came up. I tweeted about it and got a nice reply from Ozzie saying that they were asked to challenge often so it could be tested.


its spelled Stearnes!
While many mistakenly think of Stearnes as having come from Montgomery, even more think he played his first pro games here in 1921 - including otherwise well-educated baseball websites like, and many others who have no excuse for not checking their facts.

In actuality Norman started his baseball career at the age of nineteen in 1920 with Nashville, contributing at least 35 plate appearances while batting .265.

This is very contrary to the idea of him turning pro and coming here in his first tilt. Even the term of "professional" is debatable, as the Montgomery team was with the Independent Negro League for the 1921 season when they signed Norman Stearnes.

In all, Turkey spent only a single summer in Montgomery. The City of Montgomery press release erroneously states that he began his playing career here, as do many otherwise reliable sources, but the reality is he spent a year for hometown Nashville BEFORE signing on to play with the Grey Sox of Montgomery in the Negro Southern League at the age of 20 years old.
But he won't find it easy to get playing time here...

Turkey rare photo says 1927 but
 might be 1932 Chicago American Giants
Known records show him making a meager 18 trips to the plate for the 1921 GreySox, rapping just one lone home run towards his twenty year career total of 176 (or, alternatively 183, or maybe 181 depending on your source.)

Negro leagues infamously didnt keep full statistics, and Stearnes likely posts numbers now lost to history, as did '21 GreySox teammates such as Steel Arm Dickey.

Stearns himself said "I never counted my home runs, I had so many. If we didn't win it didn't matter."

In spite of his legendary status in the area, Stearnes wasn't exactly what we would call Montgomerys most prolific player - his one home run accounts for exactly half of the two hits he records with the Mgm team.

Cramton Bowl baseball game 1920's
The Gray Sox usually played their home games at College Hill Park, located on what is now the ASU campus or at Cramton Bowl when available.

That one home run, however, IS the first professional home run of his long and storied Hall of Fame career.

Perhaps that is why its a common misconception that he played his first games here, as well as one of the reasons Montgomery adopted him into their baseball pantheon.

In a bio of Stearnes on its said he struggled in limited at bats with the Montgomery team, which sounds alot more like what one would expect from a 20 yr old rookie with a funky batting stance on a pennant winning team loaded with talent - which the Gray Sox very much were.

Biscuit comparison - Turkey Stearnes played for Montgomery a little more than rehabbing Pat Burrell's 10 plate appearances in two games 2009, a little less than 2010 Jose Lobaton's 28 plate appearances in seven games and almost exactly like 2013 Evan Frey's four games, 18 plate appearances and three hits.

I have never seen anyone imitate Turkey Stearnes batting stance - unorthodox would be an understatement! Sadly, I have not seen a photo or even an illustration of Stearnes at the plate during game action. However several descriptions give us the following details...

1. Stearnes, a lefty, stood in the middle of the left handed batters box with what we today would call an "open" stance - his bellybutton facing the pitcher, at the time pretty much unheard of.
2. Stearnes would hold his bat with both arms straight in front of him, pointing the bat straight up into the air over home plate and letting the barrel lean slightly toward the pitcher.
3. Most unusual of all, Stearnes would plant his right foot heel down on the ground and point his toes skyward while waiting for the pitcher to deliver the ball.

Of Turkey stearnes hitting stance Satchel Paige was quoted saying he "hit with his right foot in the bucket and twisted his right heel and pointed his big toe up."

Stearnes had one of the most unusual hitting styles in history, but his legendary speed and talent for getting the bat through the hitting zone led him to a career .344 batting average.

Stearnes, center, with Monarchs teammates
TURKEY STEARNES stats with Montgomery Gray Sox in 1921, from Baseball Reference dot com.

18 plate appearances
3 runs scored
2 hits
1 home run
3 runs batted in
3 stolen bases
.111 Batting Average
.278 Slugging Percentage
5 total bases

Uhhh, really? Someone get on the horn and ask them how a guy hits a home run and steals three bags but only has 5 total bases. I think we have to ask for a recount on those totals. A homer is four bags, three steals bring us to seven total bases and there is yet another hit listed, so he HAD to have at least 8 TB.

Just another example of how little people have fact checked Turkey Stearnes info and rely on what they are told in spite of what can plainly be seen.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Talkin Turkey - Norman Stearnes Myths/Truths & Biscuit News

Little happening, but we can confirm that the World Series party held by the Biscuits the past two years is now being billed as "Annual". Cool, its a fun little event!

Former Biscuit Joe Espada has taken a job with the New York Yankees as a special assistant to Brian Cashman. Espada, who batted .265 with the 2004 Inaugural Biscuits, had been working with the Marlins as a coach.


Turkey Day is fast approaching, and I hoped to cover this Hall of Fame Negro League great from the Montgomery area to celebrate the autumn holiday. Also, I also wanted to try to help give him a little extra face time so to speak.

Turkey Stearnes is one of the most famous negro leaguers from our area, known even to fans just moderately familiar with the Alabama River Region baseball history. I studied his career and found out he isnt exactly what the legends say he is, he certainly isnt from the Montgomery area and he had a few things going on that even those who have heard of him maybe don't realize!

When Montgomery and the Biscuits celebrated Montgomery Baseball Leadership Heritage Day this year, (which ISNT on the calendar of promotions for the Biscuits team in 2014! For shame!) one of the main players noted was Turkey Stearnes.

Satch faced Stearnes often
As well it should be, as Turkey Stearnes was one of the best to don the Montgomery GraySox uniform, or any other for that matter. "If you don't put Turkey Stearnes in the Hall of Fame, they shouldn't put anybody" was how Cool Papa Bell felt, and he knew a thing or two about great hitting.

Legend has it that Satchel Paige gave up six consecutive hits to Stearnes. When he faced him the seventh time, Satchel rolled the ball along the ground to the plate saying "Let's see you hit that one!"

My complaint about the "event"?
(other than it being a one-off way for Montgomery city officials to flap gums about their own efforts AND the fact that the event was announced less than 48 hours before it took place)
Its that there was exactly one picture of Stearnes used by the city, the newspaper and all other media covering the event, stolen from the website. And it is a particularly bad photo....
NOT the only known photo of Turkey Stearnes!

So, in order to make things better for future generations who hopefully plan their events a little farther in advance, I thought I would offer other images of one the few Montgomery players to have a berth in the Hall of Fame.
 Norman T. Stearnes, Hall of Famer

Stearnes in 1971 w/grandson
Stearnes, whose real name is Norman T. Stearnes (no the "T." does not stand for turkey!) was born in 1901 in Nashville Tn. - not Montgomery in spite of many considering him a Montgomery native.

In his twenty year career in baseball, Turkey would be known as one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, a four time All-Star and one of the top two all-time Negro league home run leaders, depending on who's stats we trust its either him or Mule Suttles.

Stearnes hit a homer every 16 at bats, an equal rate to Hank Aaron and Lou Gehrig.

His outfield play was usually in centerfield and always exemplary - Willie Mays often received comparisons to Stearnes defense.

He was a multiple AllStar, won pennants, batting titles, led the league in homers, triples, doubles and stolen bases.

Turkey with the KC Monarchs, ca 1932
Sixty years after his last game in 1940 the premier leadoff hitter of the Negro Leagues 1920-30s heyday was finally given a pass to Cooperstown.

Over the next few posts we will look at some other long held myths and try to get a better idea of this Hall of Famer and his connection to the Montgomery area!