Friday, March 31, 2017

The Babe's In Town, Hank vs Jackie In Mgm, Redus File

The last few cuts of spring are coming down and the rosters are starting to take shape for the Rays and its affiliates.

With the additions of catchers at the MLB level, Luke Maile was sent to Durham and Kurt Casali is likely going to be traded. That probly brings Mike Marjama back to Montgomery to take over the catching duties. Marj was on his way to being the Biscuits MVP when he was sidelined with injury and should be ready to prove himself again quickly.

Along with Marjama, Justin O'Conner and/or switch hitting Jonah Heim could share time wearing the tools of ignorance. No matter who ends up on the roster, good catching should be on display nearly every night for Montgomery this year.


Joining the Biscuits in 2017 is a new coach, Gary Redus.

Redus is an Alabama native, born in Tanner, Gary attended Calhoun CC in Decatur and then Athens State in Athens, Al.

Playing for the Reds, Phillies, White Sox, Pirates and Rangers made for a solid thirteen year career in the big leagues. Redus saw the postseason three times, batting .275 for the Pirates in 1990, '91 and '92.

Redus was a first base-outfielder, a leadoff hitter with good speed and occasional power. Gary was in one game as a second baseman, spending one inning at the center sack for Texas. In the outfield Redus was known to have a good arm, leading the league in outfield assists in 1986.

Collecting over 300 career stolen bases, Gary was successful in 80% of steal attempts. Redus averaged 45 thefts annually, twice he swiped home plate.

Of his 90 career homers, 14 were leadoff shots. On Garys list of victims are pitching greats like Tom Glavine, Frank Viola, Mike Mussina, Fernando Valenzuela and both Niekro brothers.

Redus holds the All-Time MiLB Batting Average record with a .462 mark in Billings in 1978.


This is the time of year teams break camp and head home to start the season. Traditionally they traveled by train, playing exhibition games along the way. Since Montgomery was one of the regular stops on the rail lines, these exhibition games were often the only way area residents ever saw MLB teams in action.

Perhaps two of the most famous exhibition games in Montgomery took place this week in history - the Bambino and Jackie Robinson both drew huge crowds to see their heroes.

MARCH 29 1925 
Dodgers play Yankees at Cramton Bowl, Yanks win 5-4 in ten innings, with future Hall of Famers Herb Pennock and Dazzy Vance facing off against each other. Vance is the reigning National League MVP, winning the award in 1924 with 28 wins and a 2.16 ERA.

MARCH 29 1926 
The New York Yankees play Montgomery at Cramton Bowl "where the fences are in the next county" and the papers were all over this contest.

The Bowl was packed to standing room only, fans came from all over to see the famous New York team and its historic lineup.

The whole country knew who the Sultan of Swat was when the Bronx Bombers came to town in '26 and took on the local minor league nine.

MARCH 29 1941
The Yankees trounced the Montgomery team 17-1, a sixth run 8th inning put the locals down for good. Homers from Keller, Priddy and pitcher Red Ruffing highlighted the Yankees baserunner carousel.

MARCH 31 1904 
The World Champion Boston Americans play an exhibition game at Montgomery, they would stay overnight and play again the next day before heading north. No game notes for this one, I am actively searching for the box score or game report.

This pair of games would likely have been held at Pickett Springs Park, north of the city. There is now a historic marker at the site of the Park, along the Emerald Mountain Toll Road.

MARCH 31 1942 
Montgomery is trounced in a game vs the NY Yankees in exhibition, Yankees win 14-4 at Cramton Bowl. The Yankees are defending World Champions, maybe making the lopsided score a little less embarrassing for the locals!

APRIL 1st 1904 
The Boston team plays its second exhibition game at Montgomery. Chick Stahl scores the go-ahead run and the RedSox narrowly defeat Montgomery 2-1.

APRIL 1 1955 
Braves vs Dodgers at Montgomery in an exhibition contest at Paterson Field that matched Hank Aaron against Jackie Robinson at Paterson Field.

On the Braves side, Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Eddie Matthews pepper the lineup. Also young slugger Henry Aaron is there, readying for his second campaign. Aaron knows Montgomery, having played here with Jacksonville in 1953 - integrating the league as the first black player he took the MVP and led the J-Braves to the title. Now he is still just 21 years old, but is one of the brightest prospects in the Braves lineup.

Aaron doubled in the first inning and after a fly ball and base on balls puts men on the corners, Joe Adcock drives a three run homerun into the kudzu covered hill to put the Braves ahead.

Jackie Robinson had two singles and was the defender involved in a force play at second that elicited a call from umpire Frank Secory that Duke Snider took issue with. Snider was ejected and the Braves scored six runs in the inning en route to a 9-5 win over the Bums of Brooklyn.

Sandy Koufax was there too, a rookie lefthander with control issues but a world of potential. Tommy Lasorda and Don Newcomb were also witness to the contest, but didn't get into the game.

APRIL 1st 1977 
The Rebels are sold to a Paintsville Ky radio station owner. The Rebels have won four of the last five SL pennants, but in many ways this is the beginning of the end of a baseball era in Montgomery. After a series of ownership changes, the team will be moved to Birmingham after the 1980 season. The city would go without affiliated ball for over twenty years, until the Biscuits arrived.

APRIL 2 1939 
St. Louis Cardinals beat Montgomery 11-5 in exhibition at Montgomery, slugger Johnny Mize homers for the Cards.

APRIL 2 1941 
Cincinnati shuts out the Boston Redsox in an exhibition game  at Montgomery's Cramton Bowl.

APRIL 2nd 1948 
The Brooklyn Dodgers defeat hometown Rebels 10-2. Al Gianfroddo homers as Ralph Branca allows 8 hits to the Rebels. Montgomery Pitchers Wendell Davis and Joe Demoran allow 14 hits. Both teams commit a pair of errors, the Dodgers starting nine go the distance with no substitutions in the exhibition game.

APRL 2 1954 
The Boston RedSox beat the Phillies 8-0 in Montgomery in an exhibition game, Mel Parnell over Simmons in a game that featured a triple play in the very first inning!

APRIL 2 1955
Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Baltimore Orioles at Montgomery's Paterson Field. Rookie outfielder Roberto Clemente had two hits but it was George Freese's double that sealed the victory. Just two weeks later Clemente would make his Major League debut.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Word on the Street, New Food, Hendu, History Returns

On Friday I was invited to the Biscuits taste test as the team unveiled its newest additions to the menu at Riverwalk. It was a great experience, though I admit I was a little under-dressed for the occasion! As a fan-blogger it was awesome to be included on a panel with notables from traditional media stalwarts like the Advertiser and WSFA.

GM Trible, left, and Chef Smoke Johnson
The current owner Sherry was there to greet us, as was GM Scott Trible and team Chef Smoke Johnson. We were treated to a nice variety of new food items and were able to ask questions about their ingredients and preparation.

We heard a little about the background of Chef's experience and some of the motivations behind his choices for the new tastes at the ballpark.

Fried Wickles Pickles
 I am not much of a pickles guy - I usually dredge the limp green bits off of my burger and avoid any dill spear lurking beside the sandwich. However these Fried Pickles were absolutely fantastic!

The thick Wickles brand pickle chips, battered up in fried chicken style breading and served with a side of Ranch Dressing was rich and spicy with plenty of pickle zip! It was a wonderful combination of flavors and the panel raved unanimously about its deliciousness.

Wickles Pickles are Alabama made using a recipe nearly a hundred years old. They have really taken off locally since the company started about 1998 and they bring a perfectly tangy, crispy center to this recipe. Kens brand Ranch Salad Dressing is a delicious choice for dipping, cooling the mild heat of the breading. The blend of cooling ranch and southern fried crust with the pickle spice gave it a flavor that is just SO Montgomery.

I can't say enough good things about it, this was my favorite among the new selections. High praise from someone who is not a pickles guy!

Smoked Wings with Sauce Trio
The Biscuits are putting their BBQ Smoker to full use and with a chef named Smoke you can expect it to be good. These wings are offered with a saucy threesome of White BBQ, Smoke Sauce and House Sauce. With one sauce pale, one sauce sweet and one sauce spicy this batch of smoked wings brought plenty of taste to the party.

The wings were meaty with great smoked flavor, even without the dipping sauces. I always prefer the sweet sauce for barbecue, it was a nice low heat thick sauce with sweet brown sugar that stuck to the wing in a tasty glob when dipped.

The hotter sauce was spicy but not to the point of tears, jalapeno present but not overwhelming. Thick and rich, it was apparent that Chef Smoke had put much effort into planning the wings and their sauces to bring out the best in each ingredient.

The pale sauce was a smooth middle ground between the sweet and spicy sauces creating the Goldilocks of the sauces - everyone will find one that is just right among them.

Pimento Cheeseburger
I love a good cheeseburger and as such, I approve of this one for sure.

The pimento cheese is made by the chefs staff, not prepackaged and that fact is quickly apparent in the first bite. The creamy orange cheese was rich with color and flavor, a hint of garlic and nicely diced red pimentos in a thick layer across a fat patty of beef.

Chef Smoke made sure to let us know that this 8 oz. burger has a new blend of hamburger, giving a thick and meaty texture. This tasted like a backyard burger with a zesty pimento upgrade, fresh from the grill. 

I would have placed it as my number one but it lacked the usual topping of fresh lettuce and ripe tomato which would have kicked it up to full on irresistible. The pimento is also available on a biscuit,which should be delicious!

Chicken Cheesesteak
The Philly Cheesesteak at Riverwalk Stadium is always popular and now there is a white meat version to tempt us.

Served on the same sesame sub roll as its beef counterpart, the chicken cheesesteak also features grilled onions and peppers as well as the creamy white cheese topping.

The chicken had a delicious flavor, rubbed with garlic and black pepper giving it a rich taste throughout the sandwich that I describe as "Spicy-ish". Not full on spicy but with a sneaky heat in the background.

The chicken was in large shreds, I believe the chicken was smoked which did seem to dry the meat out a little for my preference but gave it a wonderful flavor all the way through.

It is certainly an delicious option for those who go for the well done side of things.

Jalapeno Cheddar Brat Dog
This offering is pretty much self explanatory!
It was billed as jalepeno cheese hotdog but during the tasting it became apparent that this was no ordinary hot dog with cheese and peppers on top.

The casing of this sausage is more brat than dog, grilled at the Sausage Shack and served naked or with grilled onions and peppers, it packs a surprise inside.

The jalapeƱo and cheese is stuffed inside the brat, popping spice into each bite.

Pork BBQ Sunday
Perhaps the most creative new item, the BBQ sunday is more than the sum of its parts and the result is a delicious dish with a little bit of everything.

A large scoop of mashed potatoes forms the base, supporting a large helping of pulled pork barbecue. Above the pork are baked beans and crunchy cole slaw, topped with sweet sauce and a thick Wickles pickle.

It is a delicious mix of things I already love but never would have thought to pile together in one bowl!

If you haven't been down to the ol ballpark in a while, you will be sure to notice the City of Mgm has been working on the streets around the pitch. Tallapoosa Street will very soon be a two-way street and will likely lose the angled parking that has been there for the better part of the last fifty years.

The word on the street is that the block of Tallapoosa that abuts the park will be closed for big games, giving pedestrians the right of way on 4th of July and other crowded nights. However this also leaves pedestrians to dodge four lanes of two way traffic, up from three lanes of one way cars.

Frankly I think this makes a dangerous situation much worse, since the vast majority of patrons cross that street for each of the 70 home games - not just the big ones. A colossally bad idea, or in other words, Montgomery City Planning business as usual.

Tallapoosa Street, facing west

The wording of a Biscuits email last week caused more than one person to ask me if Josh Donaldson was going to be at the Auburn-Alabama baseball game known as the Capitol City Classic. When the email reads "Meet the Stars" it gives the impression one could meet them, but in fact the Blue Jays star will still be working in spring camp.

The phrase "meet the stars" should have been worded differently, the inference being that we should go and see the players they have now before they become stars.

Jerome Donahue 1970s
This past week more than one person asked if I could put up some images of former Rebels teams so they could get the logo to use to make hats and jerseys. It spurs me to ask two simple questions
1. Which era do you like?
2. Can I have one too?

Haha! Seriously, let me know, I would be happy to pitch in a few pesos if it means getting a nice Rebels cap! Also, be sure to check out Clarence Watkins new book "Baseball in Montgomery", chock full of good pictures and available at stores all over the area. I totally recommend it.

So feel free to send me email, drmiraculous at knology dot net, I always love requests!

It is no secret my fave one of my fave players is Roy "Goat" Walker, I was thrilled when I got an email last week from one of his relations. When someone starts with "My family member used to play ball in Montgomery" I always perk up, finding out more about Walker is awesome.

Sometime soon I will have an update for my blog post on Goat Walker, a pitcher who is a multiple twenty game winner winner for Montgomery and belongs in multiple sports Halls of Fames around central Alabama.
Opening Day 1930 at Cramton Bowl, Goat Walker fifth from right in this super-rare image!

Walker is just one of a growing list of players I am actively researching, along with Racehorse Durden, Woody Parks, Archie Persons and others. If you know of a person who had baseball experience in Montgomery I would love hear about them. Too many of the great stories are fading, it is a shame to lose the history of such an important aspect of the cities history.

So how about this guy?
While wearing Biscuits raiment he tallied 15 wins against just 8 losses with ten saves and a 3.10 ERA. Dude tossed over 220 innings pitched and punched out over 150 hitters. He allowed a paltry 13 homers in just under 200 games for Montgomery.

Henderson is the franchise leader with his 198 game appearances and boasts a pair of Biscuits championship rings.

In August of 2004, the Biscuits first season, Brian Henderson was a twenty-two year old lefthander in just his second pro season. A 7th round draft choice out of the University of Houston, the Texas southpaw had pitched well enough in Bakersfield to earn a late season promotion to double-A. Hendu would spend the next four seasons in Montgomerys bullpen, holding down late leads as a reliable lefthander.

The team would be up and down during Hendersons time, peaking during the back-to-back Southern League titles. After opening the season with Durham in 2008, Hendu was back with the 'Skitz in May for his fifth summer in the Gump. Unfortunately for the lefty that would be the only taste of Triple-A and his last season with the Rays. After two years in indie ball in 2009 the Biscuits All-Time Games leader hung up his pro cleats.

The Advertiser did a follow-up on the Inaugural Biscuits team about seven years ago and discovered Henderson working with a law firm and teaching yoga.

I recently found Henderson on twitter and while I haven't reached out yet, hopefully we can get him to share a few stories of the early Biscuits days and maybe a look at those two Championship rings!


Its been a while, but class is back in session as the history kicks in again with a some of my fave local history bits. Back in the day, Montgomery played host to many spring training and exhibition games, including a pair of games against the World Champion Chicago Cubs and a bizarre trade of a player for use of a ballpark!

MARCH 26th 1903
The Chicago White Sox manager Nixey Callahan announces that he expects his team to win every single exhibition game during the spring. “The boys are now in fair shape to show their true form. We want to return home with a full string of scalps.

The White Sox promptly lose to Montgomery, 10-9 in 10 innings. Montgomery’s manager and first baseman, Lew Whistler, went 4-for-5 and belted two home runs to lead his team to victory.

MARCH 26 1906
Connie Mack's AL Champion Philadelphia Athletics face Montgomery in an exhibition game featuring Rube Oldring's sparkling defense at third base. Montgomery scores three runs early off of A's pitcher Coakley but the report doesn't tell us who won the game!

MARCH 26 1908
The World Champion Chicago Cubs play Montgomery in an exhibition game, Cubs 1 defeat the Climbers 0, Orval Overall and Chick Fraser pitching for Chicago.

MARCH 27 1908 The Chicago Cubs play Montgomery in a second exhibition game, Cubs 4 Climbers 3, the Cubs' Heinie Zimmerman homers to left field.

MARCH 28, 1913
Clyde "Buzzy" Wares
The St. Louis Browns make an unusual “trade,” sending infielder Clyde “Buzzy” Wares to a minor league team in exchange for the rental of a stadium.

The Montgomery Black Sox allow the Browns to use their stadium during spring training-rent free in exchange for the shortstop. Wares will join the Browns later in the season, making his MLB debut in September.

However it wasn't quite so simple, as the Browns didn't tell Wares about the deal until the last minute. When the manager called Buzzy into his office on the last day of spring training, Wares thought it was to tell him he had made the team with his strong play. However skipper George Stovall informed Wares that he was staying in Montgomery, telling him "You're the payment for our grounds rental."

Buzzy Wares would play in over 250 games for Montgomery in 1913 and 1914, the shortstop played well over the two seasons.

This exchange of player for facility use illustrates the close relationship the Montgomery team had with the St.Louis Browns. Just two years later, a young Browns exec named Branch Rickey would try to purchase the Montgomery team in an effort to establish the first affiliated minor league system.

The takeover attempt would fail and cost Branch Rickey his job with the Browns. The crosstown Cardinals quickly scooped him up and used Rickey's creation of the affiliation system to build the dominant Gas House Gang. Coaching the Gas House Gang to three consecutive pennants was Buzzy Wares.

It should be noted that these are not the Negro Black Sox, the Montgomery team was named for its uniform choice of hosiery.