Results tagged ‘ Triple-A ’

Caught in the draft

Berowski_90.jpgBy Freddy Berowski

Monday night, mere moments before the deadline for teams to sign their 2009 amateur draft picks, the Washington Nationals agreed to a record-setting contract with the first overall pick in the draft.

8-19-09-Berowski_StrasburgJackson.jpgAfter failing to sign their first round pick the previous year, the Nationals inked San Diego State fireballing junior Stephen Strasburg to a four-year contract worth in excess of $15 million, smashing the previous record for an amateur contract by nearly five million. If Strasburg had failed to sign with the Nats, he still had several options open, including a return to the Aztecs. His college coach, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, said: “I wanted him to sign. If he didn’t, he had a place to go. But he had nothing else to prove in college baseball. It was time for him to start his pro career.”

But being the first overall selection in the annual amateur draft is by no means a guarantee of success in the major leagues. Since the draft began in 1965, only 19 No. 1 picks have made an All-Star team, and none have been elected to the Hall of Fame. In fact, three players drafted No. 1 prior to 2005 failed to make the major leagues, including Brien Taylor, a hard-throwing high school pitcher selected by the Yankees in 1991 who drew comparisons to Dwight Gooden.

Only four players drafted in the top 10 have been elected to the Hall of Fame. In 1966, the Mets passed on Reggie Jackson and selected catcher Steve Chilcott out of Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, California. Chilcott never made it past Triple-A. Jackson was taken with the second pick by the Kansas City A’s and is the highest draft pick to earn election to the Hall.

Rounding out the foursome of top ten picks elected to the Hall of Fame are Robin Yount and Dave Winfield, selected with the third and fourth picks respectively in the 1973 draft, and Paul Molitor, taken third overall in 1977.

Timlin trying to go from Cooperstown to majors

Carr_90.jpgBy Samantha Carr

When he arrived in Cooperstown along with Hall of Famers and fellow former major leaguers for the Inaugural Hall of Fame Classic, Mike Timlin made it clear that he was the one player who was not retired.

8-7-09-Carr_TimlinFinley.jpg“Nothing’s totally official,” said Timlin, who last played in 2008 with the Boston Red Sox. “I had my name out there in Spring Training, so something could happen this summer. If someone gives me a call that I would deem worthy to walk away from the family for a little while, it could happen.”

The Colorado Rockies made that call.

The 43-year-old Timlin signed a minor league contract with the Rockies and reported to the Pioneer League’s Casper Ghosts on a rehab assignment July 29.  He threw two scoreless outings for the rookie-league level Ghosts before being promoted to the Rockies’ Triple-A club in Colorado Springs. He made his Sky Sox debut on Thursday night, pitching one-and-two-thirds scoreless innings against Nashville.

8-7-09-Carr_TimlinBack.jpgThe Classic, which took place on Father’s Day, brought five Hall of Famers and more than 20 former major league stars to Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. Although Timlin’s team lost, he made an effort to get everyone who participated to autograph his jersey.

Timlin has played for the Blue Jays, Mariners, Orioles, Cardinals, Phillies and Red Sox in 18 big league seasons, has a 4.26 ERA in 46 postseason appearances with 41 strikeouts and is the all-time leader in relief appearances by a right-hander with 1,054. He got the save in the final game of the 1992 World Series for Toronto.

Fifteen years to the day later, he made an appearance in Game 1 of the 2007 Fall Classic, throwing one inning of scoreless relief for Boston. Timlin was part of World Series championship teams with Toronto (1992 and 1993) and Boston (2004 and 2007).

Samantha Carr is media relations coordinator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Joe, Jim, Rickey … and Tom Burgmeier?

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Francis

Longtime big league pitcher Tom Burgmeier’s baseball career includes almost 750 games played, over 100 saves, and one All-Star Game. But when it comes to the 2009 Hall of Fame electees, he holds a special place amongst all other players.   

7-24-09-Francis_Burgmeier.jpgWhile baserunning phenom Rickey Henderson, slugging outfielder Jim Rice and slick-fielding and powerful second baseman Joe Gordon will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this Sunday, Burgmeier has the distinction of being the only major leaguer to have been teammates of both Henderson and Rice and to have played under Gordon when he was a manager.

In his fourth season as the pitching coach for the Omaha Royals, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, Burgmeier reflected on his unique connection to the Class of 2009.

“Actually, we were talking about it the other day,” said Burgmeier, whose past visits to Cooperstown came via the Hall of Fame Game, first as a player with the Twins in 1977 and later as a coach with the Royals in 1999. “Somebody mentioned Joe Gordon and said, ‘Gee, you played under him and you played with the other two. I wonder if you’re the only person who did that?'”

Burgmeier enjoyed a 17-year big league playing career (1968-1984), spent mostly as a relief pitcher, with the California Angels, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and Oakland A’s. The lefty finished with a 79-55 record, 102 saves and a 3.23 ERA.

7-24-09-Francis_Gordon.jpgA fourth-round selection by the Royals in the expansion draft, Burgmeier played under manager Joe Gordon in 1969. Following his stellar 11-year playing career with the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, Gordon served managerial stints with the Indians (1958-1960), Detroit Tigers (1960), Kansas City Athletics (1961) and Royals (1969).

“Joe was very vibrant and was a good manager. We had a lot of fun and for an expansion team we actually won a few games, too,” said Burgmeier, of the 69-73 Royals. “He was a heck of a player and a good manager and I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Burgmeier would finish the 1969 season with a 3-1 record in 31 games. “What’s that baseball clich? He was a players’ manager,” Burgmeier said. “What I mean is you get the players, you put them in the lineup, and if they do well, you become a good manager.”

Sometimes Gordon would talk to the players about his career as a nine-time All-Star and winner of five World Series crowns. “But I don’t think that happens as much anymore: guys sitting around the clubhouse after the game talking about old times. And that’s too bad,” Burgmeier said.

In February of 1978, after four seasons with Minnesota, Burgmeier signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. “I was with the Twins in 1974 and we were playing Boston. I had some friends of mine on the Red Sox and I was standing in the bullpen and asked them, ‘Hey, do have any good players in the minor leagues?’ I’ll never forget that they said, ‘Yeah, we have a couple kids probably be up next year. We got this kid Rice and this Freddy Lynn.’ I said, ‘Do they hit pretty good?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, they’re good minor league players. They’ll probably make the team next year.’ Well, the rest is history.”

7-24-09-Francis_Rice.jpgBurgmeier and Rice were Red Sox teammates for five seasons (1978 to 1982).

“Jim hated to come out of the lineup. Any kind of minor injury didn’t get him out of the lineup — there had to be a bone sticking out or he’d have to be bleeding to where they’d have to bandage him up,” Burgmeier said. “He was a funny guy around the clubhouse. He liked to have a good time and loved to play golf in his off days. We did that a lot on the road.

“If he was in a little slump, which everybody goes through, he’d always tell the press to talk to him at the end of the year. I remember there was one stretch he went a few weeks without hitting a home run and I remember him telling a guy, ‘Don’t talk to me now. Just talk to me at the end of the year and see how I’m doing.'”

Rice was arguably the top right-handed hitter of his era. Against Burgmeier, Rice batted .357 (5-for-14) with one homer.

“He struck fear in the hearts of many a pitcher, especially in Fenway. He (Rice) could hit them as far as anybody — right field, center field, left field,” Burgmeier recalled. “And like anybody else who’s a good hitter, it’s the same basic thing: keep the ball down, stay away from him, pitch inside a little bit. It’s a formula that has been around for 130 years.”

7-24-09-Francis_Henderson.jpgBurgmeier spent his final two major league seasons (1983 and 1984) with the Oakland A’s. During that stretch, Rickey Henderson stole 174 bases.

“Rickey was one of the best base stealers of all time. The score or who was catching or who was pitching really didn’t make a difference,” said Burgmeier, who lockered next to Henderson. “If he was going to steal, he was going to steal. And not only second, but steal third, too. The years I was there he was well into being one of the best ever as far as not being able to throw him out.”

Though Burgmeier faced Henderson only five times in his career, he got to experience the threat the future Hall of Famer posed.

“What sticks out is that because of his speed, when he got on, you knew you had to do all of the things to combat that. And even if you did, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to run anyway,” Burgmeier said. “You had to slide step more and throw over more. But did it stop him from running? No, he still ran. He was as fast as anybody going today.”

Bill Francis is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Cooperstown stirs Hall of Fame memories

Francis_90.jpgBy Bill Franics

6-15-09-Francis_Doubleday.jpgOn Sunday, Cooperstown’s historic Doubleday Field played host to a pair of Triple-A minor league teams – whose players are one step away from the majors. The game came exactly six weeks to the day before Joe Gordon, Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice are inducted into the Hall of Fame as the Class of 2009.

Cooperstown Classic II saw the International League’s Pawtucket Red Sox come away with a 15-5 win over the Syracuse Chiefs. With the game’s greatest enshrined down the street in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the two squads’ off-field personnel who had played with and against Rice and Henderson shared their thoughts on the duo.

“I think I still have a bruise from a line drive hit off my arm on my first pitch of a spring training game in 1982 by Rickey,” joked Syracuse pitching coach Rich Gale, a 6-foot-7 righty who pitched in the big leagues from 1978-84. “I was saying on the way over here that I should go visit the Hall of Fame because there’s a lot of guys I helped get in there.”

6-15-09-Francis_Rice.jpgActually, Rice had only a .147 batting average (5-for-34) against Gale. 

“I happened to have good success against Jim Rice. But boy, I’ll tell you what, I was never overconfident,” Gale said. “Every time he was in the box you knew that every swing could be a home run. You could make a nasty, nasty pitch and he’d rifle the ball to right, right-center or he’d launch one on to the Mass. Pike at Fenway.”

Gale spent his final big league season in 1984 as Rice’s teammate with the Boston Red Sox. “The first time he saw me in spring training he joked, ‘I hope you make our club. Don’t get traded to somebody.’ He remembered that I had some success against him.”

As for Henderson, Gale said, “I’m sure he saw me pitching out there and when he got on base he licked his chops because I had a big, long, slow delivery. My catchers weren’t too happy about that.

“He’s a guy you could throw one pitch to to lead off a game and be behind 1-0 after he hit a home run. Or you could throw one pitch and he’d be on first base, the next thing it’s second, and the next thing it’s third. And then you get an out from the second guy and you’re still behind 1-0. It was a tremendous, tremendous package.”

Pawtucket batting coach Russ Morman, who spent most of his nine-year major league playing career at first base, remembered the pressure Henderson could put on a pitcher.

“Every time he got on base he was a threat to go and cause havoc on the base paths,” Morman said. “Rickey never stayed at first very long.”

6-15-09-Francis_Henderson.jpgSyracuse batting coach Darnell Coles was another contemporary, spending 14 years in the majors (1983-95, 1997), including one as a teammate of Henderson’s with the World Series-winning 1993 Toronto Blue Jays.

“Rickey is Rickey,” Coles said with a smile. “He’s the catalyst of your team, he gets on base, he sets things in motion on the bases that not a whole lot of people have done.”

Coles spent most of time as a third baseman, always alert when Henderson was on base.

“I think it was more of a matter of when he wanted to steal bases. He could steal them pretty much anytime he wanted because he could see things other guys couldn’t,” Coles said. “And he just continued to do that over the course of his career. Then with all the leadoff home runs, he was just a special player.”

Coles recalled Rice as one of the most prolific right-handed hitters that he’d ever played against.

“Rice was just a guy that you want up with the game on the line,” Coles said. “He’s also one of those guys you wanted on your team if there was a brawl. He was somebody who had a clubhouse presence. He was a guy with a certain stature who’d go out and play the game the right way, break up double plays, do the things it takes to play on championship caliber team.”

Tom Foli, the Syracuse manager, was a 16-year veteran at second base who saw a little too much of Henderson.

6-15-09-Francis_Gordon.jpg“He was ridiculous,” Foli said. “He’d dive head first into second base. He’s probably the only guy that ever actually hurt me when he dove in. Everybody else you could kind of stop, but he was so strong he could actually take you out diving. That’s how fast and how hard he slid.”

Rice was just an RBI machine, according to Foli.

“A great hitter you like that you had to go right at them because if you pitch around them you’re going to make more mistakes,” Foli said. “If you make good pitches you have a chance to get them out seven out of 10 times. You don’t make good pitches they’re going to make you pay.”

The 2009 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, featuring Rice and Henderson as well as Joe Gordon, will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 26. Admission is free.

Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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