Monday, December 11, 2017

Montgomery Sends Two to Cooperstown

Just In: Your 1976 Rebels Had Two Hall of Famers

Montgomery baseball history was enriched this weekend with the announcement that former Rebels Alan Trammell and Jack Morris would enter Cooperstown after the Modern Era Committee voted for their enshrinement in The Baseball Hall Of Fame.

Both appeared in Montgomery in 1976, both finished their first pro season that year in Rebels uniforms, playing for veteran manager Les Moss. Both players struggled mightily that summer, but both would go on to successful careers for the Detroit Tigers and for Morris, the Twins, Blue Jays and Indians.

This marks the second Montgomery team with two Hall of Famers, way back in 1893 the team roster held both veteran Fred Clarke at first base and young pitcher Joe McGinnity on his first campaign.

At just 18 years old, Alan Trammell played shortstop and hit a meager .174 in twenty-one games with no extra base hits and making a couple of errors in his first taste of double-A in 1976. After 40 games in the Appy League, Alan had been promoted to Montgomery, skyrocketing him from high school to double-A in less than four months.
Trammell would return to the Rebels in 1977 where he would be paired for the first time with his double-play partner for life in Lou Whitaker.

In '77 Alan Trammell performed much better, knocking 132 hits in 134 games, including 19 triples and 50 RBI. He also made 27 errors, but that didn't seem to bother anyone, Alan was voted Southern League MVP and lifted Montgomery to its third consecutive league championship. Trammell's Montgomery stat line is 155 games, .278 BA, 3 HR, 52 RBI, 7 SB combined over his two seasons.


Trammell and Lou Whitaker both got a September callup to Detroit and never appeared in another minor league game, skipping triple-A entirely.

When Alan made his debut at the age of 19 was the youngest player in MLB, literally going from Montgomery to the Majors. Trammell and Whitaker both debuted on September 9th 1977 and worked side by side for nineteen years.

Many feel that Whitaker should have been enshrined alongside Trammell, but now that won't happen.

 Tram hit .285 over twenty MLB seasons, garnering a nice collection of gold gloves and silver slugger awards for his shelf. His top achievement may be his performance in the 1984 World Series which brought him WS MVP honors after batting .450 to lead the Tigers over the Padres in the fall classic.

On checking his career numbers, the stat that jumped off the page for me was 1002 RBI's, an impressive total for a shortstop known more for consistent defensive ability than his batting prowess. Trammell had twelve seasons of fifty or more runs batted in and in 1987 drove in over a hundred.

Alan Trammell becomes the first former Montgomery player in the Hall of Fame that played more than one season in the capitol city. He also earned a pair of championship rings with the Rebels.

Somewhat controversially voted in with a career ERA of 3.94, higher than any other Hall of Fame pitcher, Jack Morris was known for not letting relief pitchers get into games. His defining moment was a World Series complete game shutout, but the fifth round draft pick from Brigham Young didn't start off pitching into the late innings.

After being drafted by the Tigers in June of 1976, Jack Morris was assigned directly to double-A. He made his first professional pitch in a Rebels jersey.

With Montgomery in 1976, Morris pitched in a dozen games, nine starts and three relief appearances. Morris was less than stellar that summer, remembered more for his painful 6.25 ERA than his paltry 2-3 win loss record with Montgomery.

Jack had good stuff, striking out one batter per inning on average, unfortunately he didn't have any control so he also walked one hitter per inning. Plus a few hit by pitch.

Morris did not allow a home run during his time with the Rebels. But he was knocked around for twenty-five earned runs in just thirty-six innings and didn't complete any of the games he started.

Which may help account for there not being a photo of him with Montgomery.

He was promoted to triple-A in 1977 and made his MLB debut in July of that year. Jack was added to the Tigers roster to replace another former Rebel, Mark Fidrych had just been placed on the disabled list. Morris made his first start in Texas against Bert Blyleven, with both starters pitching nine innings each but the game was won by Texas in the 10th inning so no decision for Jack.

Over his stellar career, Jack Morris was a twenty game winner twice, had one season with 19 W's and two more with 18 victories. He completed 178 games, twenty eight were shutouts and tossed a no hitter in 1984. Braves fans will recall his 10 inning victory in game seven of the 1991 World Series against Atlanta's John Smoltz.

Jack Morris' career was hampered by many thing over the course of his 18 years in the bigs. Arm injuries were a factor, as was collusion by owners during the 1980s and eventually the strike of 1994 brought an end to his major league time. But he learned to use a split fingered pitch to dominate when he was healthy and earned the respect of his peers as a big game pitcher.

So we can update the list of former Montgomery players who are in the Hall of Fame:
Fred Clarke 1893
Joe McGinnity 1893
Casey Stengel 1912
Turkey Stearnes 1921
Earl Weaver 1956
Alan Trammel 1976-77
Jack Morris 1976

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Biscuits For Hire

 Former Skitz aplenty have hit the unemployment line via Free Agency. After playing out their minor league contract, players have the chance to sell their services on the open market.

For some its a chance to get a better deal or play closer to home.

For many others its a crisis of unemployment with no paycheck or health insurance and possibly the end of working towards fulfilling the life long dream of being a major league ballplayer.

From Seattle several ex-Montgomery guys found a path to free agency. Nevin Ashley, Shawn O'Malley, Willie Argo were all given the chance to seek jobs with other teams. Argo has transitioned to pitching since he was with the Biscuits as an outfielder.

The Astros gave the same opportunity to Reid Brignac.

Pitcher Kyle Lobstein is a free agent after completing his deal with the Marlins.

Same with the Brewers and Matt Ramsey, the former Biscuits closer was dealt mid-season to the Marlins and later signed with Milwaukee.

The Twins and Leonardo Reginatto have parted ways and Juniel Querecuto has gained free agency from the Giants.

The White Sox said goodbye to reliever Gene Machi.

Jonny Venters
Free agents from among the Rays include plenty of familiar names.

Pitchers Hunter Adkins, Jeff Ames, Fernando Baez, Mike Broadway, Kyle Winkler, Logan Darnell, Grayson Garvin and Jonny Venters are now free agents.

Catchers Curt Casali and Justin O'Conner, infielders Ryan Brett, Patrick Leonard and Jake Hager are also listed available now. Outfielder Granden Goetzman also gained free agency.

Released was catcher Josh Rapacz.

On the other side of it, Adam Kolarek signed a minor league contract with the Rays and got an invite to major league spring training.

Former Rebels catcher Lance Parrish was essentially demoted from double-A to single-A when Doug Minkiewitcz was hired to skipper triple-A Toledo for the Tigers.

The Tigers then moved their single-A manager to double-A and sent Parrish down to manage at single-A.

Parrish thought he was being considered for the triple-A job but ended up getting sent the other way. The one-time Montgomery backstop has been outspoken at times when asked about the Detroit front office, which may have been a factor in his assignment for next season.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 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.

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!


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.

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.


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.

 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.

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.

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.


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.

"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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

"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.

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
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.


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!"