Archive for the ‘KBO’ category

My Favorite Minor League Stars 2018

June 8, 2018

Every year I like to write a post about minor league players whom few have ever of, but who have either carved out relatively successful professional careers or have simply just kept playing because of their abilities and love for the game.

Mike Loree and Josh Lowey.  Two pitchers who never reached the major leagues, but have carved out professional success because they can pitch.  Loree is currently one of the all-time foreign greats in Taiwan’s CPBL, and Lowey is arguably the top starter in the Mexican League (LMB) at this moment.

Loree is in his 6th season in the CPBL (and 7th in Asia), and he was arguably the league’s best pitcher in each of his first four full seasons in Taiwan.  This year at age 33 his 4.22 ERA is currently only 5th best in a four team circuit, but he leads the league in innings pitched and strikeouts, with 90 in the latter category.  The CPBL is an extreme hitters’ league, and there is still plenty of time to put himself back on top of the league’s pitchers.

Josh Lowey is in his fifth season in LMB and his ranking in the Mexican League is so similar to Mike Loree in the CPBL that it’s scary.  Lowey is also 33.  His 2.58 ERA is 6th best in a 16 team circuit.  He leads the league in innings pitched and strikeouts, with 79 in the latter category.  Both Loree and Lowey had shots a few years back in South Korea’s KBO, but neither made it despite showing something.

I’m hoping that Josh Lowey pitches in the CPBL next year (it’s a step up from LMB), so I can see what the two do pitching in the same league.

Cyle Hankerd and Blake Gailen.  Two more guys who have never reached the MLB majors (or come particularly close) but who can play.  Hankerd, who was once a 3rd Round draft pick out of USC, is in his fifth season in LMB.  His .949 OPS is currently 22nd best in the league.

Gailen is back in the Atlantic League this year, the best of the Indy-A’s.  His .813 OPS is currently 16th best in an eight team circuit.  Gailen sometimes gets signed mid-year to play for an MLB organization’s AA or AAA team when someone gets hurt — he had a .871 OPS in 167 plate appearances for AA Tulsa in the Dodgers’ system last year — but he’s spent most of the last seven seasons in the Atlantic League.

Gailen spent two winters playing in Mexico and part of the 2014 season playing in LMB.  However, he apparently prefers to pay for peanuts in the U.S.  For players like Hankerd and Gailen, LMB and the top four Caribbean winter leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela) are the end of the line, because CPBL teams no longer sign hitters and South Korea’s KBO teams want hitters with at least a little MLB major league experience.  Both Hankerd and Gailen are also 33 this season.

Chris Roberson.  Now in his age 38 season, he’s the American King of Mexican baseball.  He’s played eight seasons in LMB and at least 13 seasons in Mexico’s even better winter league (MXPW or LMP).  His .967 OPS is currently 18th best in the 16 team LMB.

Roberson is almost certainly the best paid foreign player in Mexico, and I’d guess he makes $90,000 to $100,000 a year in both leagues combined in terms of total value of his compensation (officially, LMB’s foreign players cap at $8,000 per month in salary for a 4.5 month season, but rumors have it that the perks are huge; LMP probably pays better on a monthly basis, but it’s only a 2.5 month season).  Roberson played enough in the MLB majors back in 2006-2007 to earn an MLB pension, so it’s all good for player who managed only 72 major league plate appearances.

The beauty of LMB is that with its roughly AA level of play, players (mostly from Latin America) who have aged out of the MLB system can earn a living wage, at Mexico’s cost of living, playing into their late 30’s or even early 40’s if they are good enough and age gracefully.  Roberson is a poster boy, but there are a lot of other players about whom the same can also be said.

Karl Galinas and Isaac Pavlik.  Two Can-Am League pitchers, they are the modern day equivalent of Lefty George.  George was a marginal major leaguer who pitched nearly forever in his adopted home town of York, Pennsylvania, where he also ran a bar.

Galinas and Pavlik never reached the majors (or came close) but they have pitched for years in respectively, Quebec City and northern New Jersey.  Both are local boys, and it looks like Galinas in involved in the management of the Quebec Capitales, which may explain why he’s continued to be the team ace.

Alas, it looks like 2017 was Pavlik’s last season.  It was more than a good run with 13 seasons pitched for the New Jersey Jackels.  At age 38 now, it’s hard to justify spending 4.5 months each year pitching for a lousy $10,000.  You can’t live in New Jersey on that unless you spend your nights in a cardboard box or a beat-up vehicle.

Galinas has pitched 12 seasons for the Capitales, and at age 35 (happy birthday, Karl!), he’s still one of the league’s best pitchers in the early going.  Pavlik and Galinas the top two pitchers (in that order) in the Can-Am League in terms of career wins, losses, innings pitched and strikeouts.

To be honest, I’m not sure how the Can-Am League has lasted so long.  Attendance does not match that of either the Atlantic League or the American Association, particularly when it comes to the top teams.  What Galinas and Pavlik have accomplished is simply amazing.

Orlando Roman‘s baseball odyssey appears to have ended with four starts in Puerto Rico this past winter.  He pitched professionally for 19 seasons without ever reaching the MLB majors.  He used the CPBL as a spring board for four so-so seasons in Japan’s NPB where he pitched just well enough to earn more than $1 million.  With four years in the CPBL sandwiching his four years in Japan, plus all his winter league seasons, I’d guess Roman made close to $2 million in his professional career, which beats just about anything else he might reasonably have been doing.

It also looks like Brian “Beef” Burgamy‘s 16 year pro career concluded at the end of the 2017 season.  He compiled more than 8,000 professional plate appearances without ever playing above the AA/LMB level.

There are so many young or youngish or not-so-young players in the Atlantic League and LMB who can play but will likely never again play at a higher level than the top four winter Caribbean winter leagues or the CPBL that I can’t describe them all here.  Cuban defector Yadir Drake played so well in the first half of the 2017 LMB season that he got a shot in Japan, but he couldn’t cut it with the Nippon Ham Fighters, and he’s back in LMB this year.  It’s a big jump from the Mexican League to the major league money paid by the KBO or NPB, and few players can do it.

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Lee Dae-ho Elects to Rest on His Laurels

April 13, 2018

AKA Dae-Ho Lee is looking like a guy who has finally decided to just stop fighting it.

After signing a record 4-year $12.9 million KBO deal and giving the Lotte Giants one fine season in 2017, it sure looks like Lee has decided there’s no point for the Big Boy to fight the Pig Tiger anymore, with an emphasis on the former animal.  The photo reminds me of Japhet Amador  in the Mexican League, only older and more beer gut, and I’m certainly old enough to know.

After an O.K. start this season in the first half dozen games, Lee’s current .623 OPS after 16 games and conditioning suggest that in his age 36 season, he’s going to enjoy his time until the weight catches up with him and he gets hurt.

When it was a question of him establishing himself as a World Class player entitled to World Class salaries, Lee was willing to work on the conditioning.  Five years can be a long time in a baseball career, and now Lee is through pushing himself away from the dinner table.  Hell, he’s got nearly three full years left on his guaranteed contract.

For a massive 1B/DH type, he’s put in plenty through age 35.  I’m kind of surprised he lasted this long.

Taiwan’s CPBL Is the Lowest Major League

April 5, 2018

My interest in Taiwan’s CPBL has grown over about the last five years.  Part of the reason is that in the world-wide baseball scene, the CPBL is the lowest major league.

The CPBL fills a space between obvious minor leagues like the Mexican (Summer) League, the Caribbean Winter Leagues, and the European Leagues (Holland and Italy), the next lowest (and I would consider obvious) major league, South Korea’s KBO.

Players can possibly make as much as $15,000 to $17,000 a month for a two or two-and-a-half month Winter League season in Puerto Rico, Mexico or the Dominican Republic; and rumors say the best players on the wealthiest three or four teams in the summer Mexican League make considerably more than the approximately $8000.00 official monthly salary cap for a 4.5 month season.  This all means the very best Mexican League players are making $90,000 or $100,000 in salary and benefits, if they are also playing during the winter.

The best paid player in the CPBL in 2017 made $497,000 as part of a three year deal with at least 17 other players making between $200,000 and $310,000, according to CPBL English and my reasonable estimate of Mike Loree’s 2017 salary.  There’s going to be a jump in league performance where the salaries are relatively that much higher.

The CPBL has a minor league, and the major league is only a small 4-team league in a country of more than 23.5 million where baseball is highly popular due to the Japanese occupation.  The best Taiwanese players at 18 (and even earlier — Dai-Kang Yang, aka Daikan Yoh played some high school ball in Japan and thus is not treated as a foreigner for NPB’s roster limits — he signed a four to six year contract for somewhere between 1.0 billion yen and 1.8 billion yen [$9.44M to $17M] in the pre-2017 off-season — Japanese teams don’t publish actual salary numbers so the media sources make educated guesses) get sucked up by MLB and Japan’s NPB.

However, MLB in particular produces a fair number of Taiwanese players who peak at the AA or AAA level and then return to Taiwan and become CPBL stars.  CPBL teams also are able to sign players who don’t become top prospects until later in their college careers, because MLB and NPB teams prefer signing youngsters.

Wang Po-Jung is the best hitter in the CPBL, and he was drafted out of a Taiwanese University (the Chinese Culture University in Taipei).  In his first two seasons, he batted .414 as a rookie and .407 as a sophomore, his age 22 and 23 seasons.  It’s a hitters’ league, but even so back-to-back .400+ seasons are impressive.

Wang is batting .452 this season after eight games, and I would put the odds at 80% (at least 10 of the remaining 20% is for possible injury) that Wang will be playing in NPB next season, because CPBL teams only maintain rights for their best domestic players for three seasons.  The jump to MLB is too great, given the difference between the CPBL and the MLB majors, but Wang would probably be very appealing to an NPB team on a two year deal that would guarantee him around $1.0M to $1.2M.  That’s a relative bargain for a top foreign player in NPB, but it’s probably more than a CPBL team would offer, aside from the fact that strong NPB performance would bring much larger NPB salaries or a chance to jump to MLB for his age 27 season.

The first player who got me interested in the CPBL was probably league ace Mike Loree.  I noticed him when he had a huge season in the Indy-A Atlantic League in 2011, which got him some late season time at the Pirates’ AA franchise in Altoona.  Loree made four appearances in which he pitched a total of 7.2 innings and allowed six hits and three walks while striking out 11.

That fine performance didn’t get Loree a return engagement in 2012 because he was already 26 (baseball reference has the wrong date of birth) and his fastball tops out at 89 mph.

Loree can locate his fastball, and he has a terrific forkball which burrows into home plate.  In the CPBL starting in 2013, he quickly established himself as the circuit’s best pitcher.  Even in a league in which every team plays every other team in the league 30 times a season and he’s entering his fifth full season, CPBL hitters still can’t pick up the change of speed consistently out of Loree’s hand.  Loree also commands a tight slider, which gives him a different look and speed from the fastball and his change-up forkball.  I’ve followed Mike Loree‘s mostly CPBL career ever since.

2013 was also the year Manny Ramirez played half a season in the CPBL.  Ramirez’s performance and status as an MLB superstar got the CPBL a huge boost in attendance and an international attention it hadn’t had before.  Another CPBL team then paid former long-time MLBer Freddy Garcia a then record of nearly $400,000 to pitch for them in 2014.  Garcia was very good but not dominating, which says something for the quality of play in the CPBL, given that Garcia had pitched creditably in the MLB majors the year before (4.37 ERA and 4.48 run average in 17 games and 13 starts for the 2013 Orioles and Braves at the end of long 156-108 major league career).

Garcia didn’t boost CPBL attendance the way ManRam had, and he wasn’t brought back in 2015.  However, that year another of my favorite obscure players, Pat Misch, pitched a no-hitter in Game 7 of the Taiwan Series.

Misch was a former 7th round draft pick by the SF Giants in 2003, after being a 5th round draft pick by the Astros the year before.  Nevertheless, he always struck me as a pitcher who took a lack of major league stuff as far as he possibly could because of his ability to pitch, not unlike Mike Loree.  If I had had to pick a former major league pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the Taiwan Series, Pat Misch certainly seems like an obvious candidate in terms of his past major league career, continued reasonably success at AAA, yet at a price a CPBL team could afford.

What is standing in the way of the CPBL becoming a better league by holding on to its top domestic talent and attracting better foreign pitchers for the three available team roster spots for foreigners, is unimpressive attendance except during the post-season.  CPBL’s four teams only averaged just over 5,500 per regular season game in 2017, although post-season attendance can reach 19,000 per game in the league’s biggest ballpark.

Attendance isn’t better because of a couple of past gambling scandals in the league’s 29 season history, and probably the fact that most of the best Taiwanese players are playing in Japan, the U.S. and now South Korea (the KBO’s NC Dinos signed the league’s first Taiwanese player, former MLBer Wang Wei-Chung, this past off-season — he’s off to a quick 2-0 start).

I think the CPBL needs and Taiwan could potentially support two more teams, but the league currently has no plans to expand.  A strong performance or two by the Taiwanese team in future World Baseball Classics is probably what the league needs to move up the next level in attendance, at least to the point where it could begin to compete with KBO teams for foreign pitchers.

NPB Signs Another Cuban Ball Player

February 14, 2018

The SoftBank Hawks just signed Cuban Yurisbel Gracial to a one year 55 million yen ($510,000) contract.  He is a 32 year old who plays shortstop and third base.  He has only played professionally in Cuba’s Serie Nacional and for a Canadian team in the Indy-A CanAm League.

Gracial is probably a major league talent who is too old for MLB.  He makes perfect sense for an NPB team, however.

Since I think the Cuban embargo has outlived any usefulness or effectiveness it may once have had, I want to see players like Gracial playing in the best league they can.  It’s a subtle stroke for capitalism that the best Cuban players who aren’t willing to defect are nevertheless going to play in Japan for the next best dollar, or yen, as the case may be, rather than staying at home and making peanuts playing in Cuba.

Cuba needs hard currency because it’s communist/socialist economy doesn’t work.  So long as Gracial gets to keep at least half of what he makes in Japan, I can live with the Cuban government getting up to the other half.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what the actual tax is — it’s entirely possible the Cuban state is getting 80% or 90% of the contract amount.

My guess is that the Hawks will play Gracial at shortstop, since they already have a fine third-sacker in Nobuhiro Matsuda.  However, with Matsuda now 35, Gracial will be in insurance policy at 3B.  The Hawks have plenty of money to spend to make sure they make NPB’s post-season every year like clockwork.

I also like the way that more and more, NPB and South Korea’s KBO are becoming like the old U.S. minor leagues before they were fully captured by the major league organizations.  They develop their own local players and import the best available players who for one reason or another haven’t been able to establish themselves as MLB major leaguers.  The Asian leagues are slowly but steadily getting better — they’d need to get rid of foreign player roster limits to move up to the next level of competition — and are slowly but steadily sending more and more of their top talent back to MLB.

Meanwhile, NPB and KBO teams hold on to their best players long enough to have great seasons and increase local interest in professional baseball by putting a quality product on the field.  Like in the independent minor leagues of old, NPB and KBO teams don’t have to give up their best players the moment the MLB majors come calling for them.

Ultimately, the better the level of play in NPB and KBO, the more players those leagues will send on or back to MLB.

KBO Goes Younger and Cheaper with its Foreign Imports in 2018

February 13, 2018

With the Samsung Lion’s announced signing of 28 year old pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla to a reported $700,000 deal, South Korea’s KBO has now filled all 30 roster spots for foreign players heading into the 2018 season.  KBO teams went younger and cheaper this off-season, which is probably a very sensible thing to do.

Last off-season, KBO teams spent big, hoping that the Korean National Team would do well in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and the KBO would see a big boost in attendance as a result.  The Korean team under-performed again in the WBC, and KBO attendance, while steady, did not experience the attendance surge KBO teams had been betting on.

KBO teams spent big on some older foreign pitchers with significant MLB experience like Jeff Manship, Carlos Villanueva and Alexi Ogando.  However, these oldsters had a hard time staying healthy, and their performances while solid, weren’t the league-leading performances their respective teams were paying for.

Also, this off-season KBO teams elected to jettison some of their big foreign stars who still pitched effectively in 2017 but were getting long in the tooth, namely Dustin Nippert, Andy Van Hekken and Eric Hacker.  Nippert was able to sign a $1 million with the KT Wiz, but that was less than half of the record-setting $2.2 million the Doosan Bears paid him in 2017.

Well, there’s a lot to be said for going younger and cheaper.  Players going into their age 26-29 seasons are a lot less likely to get hurt than players over the age of 30.

Also, except for teams with a realistic chance of going deep into the post-season, KBO teams should be looking for foreign pitchers they can develop and keep around for a few years.  You might get one great year from an MLB veteran over 30, but you might get three or more good years out of a pitcher who is signed entering his age 27 or 28 season.

The initial contract that a foreign player in the KBO signs tends to have a big impact on future contracts.  KBO teams own the rights of each foreign player in the KBO, meaning that the team which signs a foreigner to his first contract is the only game in town unless the player plays well enough to generate interest from a NPB team.

Starting a rookie foreign player in the $600,000 to $800,000 range means that it’s going to take more than one fine KBO season for that player to begin to approach the top of the salary scale for foreign players, which is currently between about $1.5 million to $2 million.  Needless to say, if you pick the right 26 to 29 year old at $600,000 to $800,000, that could be a player a KBO team could build a team around for the next three or four seasons without breaking the budget.

KBO Increasingly Using Options for Foreign Players

January 27, 2018

As the 2018 season approaches, South Korea’s KBO has already filled 29 of the 30 roster spots available to foreign players.  Today, mykbo.net published a schedule of the foreign players signed so far with the known details of their contracts.

What I found interesting about the contract details is that both the SK Wyverns and the NC Dinos each signed all three of their foreign players to contracts that contain options for a second season.  As background, the KBO allows its teams to sign foreign players to only single year contracts.  This keeps KBO teams from getting stuck with albatross contracts, but it’s also very hard to build a successful ball club when several of your best players may well leave after only one season.

If a foreign player has a big season in the KBO, he may elect to move to Japan or return to the MLB system the next season.  Also, the player may feel he deserves a raise bigger than what the KBO team wants to pay, resulting in the player and team unable to reach an agreement, forcing the team to find a new, unproven foreign player to fill that roster spot.

Also, new foreign players controlled by MLB teams require the KBO team to pay the MLB team a buyout, usually in the $500,000 range if the MLB team still deems that player to have some value.  [Note that the Angels allowed the Hanwha Eagles to sign the soon to be 29 year old Jared Hoying for a token transfer payment of only $1 because of a specific arrangement Hoying and his agent made with the Angels at the time the Angels signed him.]

Finally, there’s no guarantee that each time a KBO team brings in a foreign player, that player will succeed in the KBO.  Even though the odds of success are better than for rookie foreigners in NPB, a lot of highly paid foreigners who looked like great bets don’t perform in South Korea as hoped.

At least two KBO teams (I think it’s a lot more) have now decided that an option for a second year is a way to avoid the pitfalls of single season contracts while still obeying the KBO’s one-year contract limit.

The first such foreign player I am aware of who agreed to give his KBO team a second year option is Eric Thames.  After his big first season in the KBO, the NC Dinos signed him to what was in many reports referred to as a two-year contract.  It was almost certainly a one-year deal with an option for a second season.

The deal ended up working well for both player and team.  The NC Dinos were able to hold onto Thames for three full seasons, in each of which he performed at an MVP caliber level, instead of having him run off to NPB for a better deal after two big KBO seasons.  Meanwhile, the deal ended up working out for Thames, who performed so well that he was able to get an MLB deal for more money guaranteed than he could have gotten from either a KBO or NPB team.

The option payments SK and NC handed out to their foreign players this off-season are fairly generous relative to the players’ salary amounts.  My guess is that in all six contracts, the amount to be paid in the second season is roughly the same amount of money as the first year of the contract plus the option amount.

For example, after a big year in 2017, Xavier Scruggs received a contract from the Dinos that could pay him as much as $1.3 million in 2018 in the form of a $400K signing bonus, a $700K salary (probably not guaranteed) and a $200K option for 2018.  My educated guess is that the 2019 contract will give Scruggs a $400K signing bonus and a $900,000 salary.

Scruggs is older than Thames was at the same point in their respective KBO careers, so it’s unlikely that Scruggs will get a future MLB contract anything like the one Thames signed last winter.  However, another big season in the KBO in 2018, and the likelihood that Scruggs would jump over to the NPB’s greener pastures is relatively high.  Now, the Dinos have Scruggs locked into a third season, if they want it, and Scruggs is guaranteed an additional $200,000 in 2018 if his option is not picked up.

The Wyverns handed out bigger option guarantee amounts than the Dinos did, but the thinking appears to be the same.  The Wyverns locked in Merrill Kelly, who was a threat to jump to NPB this off-season, for two seasons, at prices near the top of the KBO foreign player salary scale, which an NPB team might have been willing to beat for Kelly’s 2019 season, if Kelly pitches as well in 2018 as he did in 2017.

These options obviously give SK and NC more time and opportunity to build or field a winning team since they’ve now locked in some of their best players for two years.  The option deals also prevent any player-team arguments over the amount of the second season, since the contract amount was agreed to already.  I’m certain we’ll see more of these options contracts going forward, unless the KBO changes its rules and allows teams to sign foreign players to multi-year contracts.

The Ten Best Players from the U.S. Virgin Islands in MLB History

December 31, 2017

Lately, the tiny island nation of Curacao (current population 150,000) has garnered a lot of attention for all the great baseball players produced there.  Before Curacao, the tiny Caribbean island nation (sort of) that produced a surprisingly large number of major league players was the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The first Virgin Islander to play in the major leagues was Valmy Thomas on April 16, 1957.  Thomas was born in Puerto Rico, where he later experienced the greatest share of his professional baseball success, because his mother didn’t trust the hospitals in the U.S. Virgin Islands and thought she’d get better care in Puerto Rico.  However, mother and baby returned to the Virgin Islands shortly after the delivery.  Joe Christopher was the first major league player actually born in the Virgin Islands when he broke in in 1959.

Including Thomas and Julio Navarro, who was also born in Puerto Rico but grew up on St. Croix, at least 16 Virgin Islanders have played in the majors.  Here is my list of the best ten:

1. Horace “Hoss” Clarke (1965-1974).  The starting 2Bman in the period immediately following the end of the New York Yankees’ multi-decade dynasty, Clarke was in his prime a terrific defensive 2Bman, leading the Junior for six consecutive seasons in assists (1967-1972), four consecutive seasons in putouts (1968-1971) and twice in double plays (1969, 1972).  He was also seen as a good lead-off man in his day, but he was definitely an old-school lead-off man who ran well and stole bases but didn’t really get on base enough for the role.

Clarke’s reputation in his own day was affected by the fact that the Yankees were no longer consistent winners, as one of the team’s best players in this era, he took a lot of undeserved heat for it.  He also had a reputation for not being tough on hard slides into second base to break up the double play, but as noted above, he did lead the AL twice in turning double plays and never finished lower than 5th (in a 10- or 12-team circuit) in this category in any of the seven seasons between 1967 and 1973.  He was also a polite but quiet man who preferred playing musical instruments to talking, something that probably didn’t endear him to sportswriters looking for good quotes and copy.

Like most Virgin Islands players of his era, he played many winters in Puerto Rico where V.I. players were more or less treated like locals, and like several other V.I. players Clarke took a Puerto Rican wife.  After his career, Clarke returned to St. Croix, where he taught children to play baseball and also worked for a time as a scout for the Royals.

2. Al McBean (1961-1970).  Al McBean is not at all well remembered today, because his nine year Pittsburgh Pirates career was played entirely between the 1960 and 1971 teams that were World Champions.  He won 15 games as a starter in 1962 and then was gradually converted to a reliever over the 1963.  The Pirates’ top reliever Elroy Face took McBean under his wing and taught McBean how to pitch in relief situations while having McBean over to his house to BBQ.

McBean went 13-3 with 11 saves in 1963, posted a 1.91 ERA with 21 saves (tied for 2nd best in NL behind Hal Woodshick‘s 23 saves) in 1964, and posted a 2.29 ERA with 19 saves (tied for 4th best) in 1965.  McBean wasn’t as good after that but remained an effective reliever and starter for the Bucs though 1968.

McBean had a hard sinker that was hard to elevate, and he threw from different arm angles to give hitters diverse looks.  He was known for his sense of humor and tried to put on a show for the fans, which sometimes got him called a hot dog.  He was also a flashy but stylish for the time (mod) dresser who became famous in Pittsburgh for a white suit, white tie and white shoes ensemble.  He sometimes drew comparisons to Muhammad Ali.

McBean also married a Puerto Rican woman named Olga Santos, whom he told the first time he met her that one day he’d marry her.  They married about nine months later in Pittsburgh.

Surprisingly, McBean never made an All-Star team, but he played in the one and only Latin American Players’ Game, the last game played at Manhattan’s old Polo Grounds on October 12, 1963, attended by 14,235 fans.  It was played for charity with NL and AL squads featuring Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Luis Aparicio, Minnie Minoso and Tony Oliva among others.  The National League team won 5-2, and McBean was involved in the game’s most exciting play: a triple by McBean that drove in Tony Gonzalez but on which McBean was thrown out at home plate on a Minoso to Aparicio to Jose Azcue relay.  For what it’s worth, the players on the two teams were disproportionately Cubans, reflecting all the great players coming out of that country before the Revolution.

McBean finished his major league career with a 67-50 record, 63 saves and a 3.13 ERA.  He returned St. Thomas after his career, working in housing and recreation for the Virgin Islands government.  Needless to say, he thinks most of today’s highly paid stars are soft.

3.  Elrod Hendricks (1968-1979). Part of Earl Weaver‘s catcher’s platoons for many years, Hendricks played for much of the Orioles’ greatest period of success between 1966 and 1979.  Hendricks didn’t hit for much of an average (.220 lifetime), but he’d take a walk and hit not too infrequent home runs, two things that Earl Weaver loved.  In fact, Weaver discovered Hendricks while managing in Puerto Rico after several unsuccessful attempts by Hendricks to establish himself playing in the U.S.

Hendricks was also a fine defensive catcher who throw out 38% of attempted base stealers during his career.  He played in five post-seasons, four with the O’s.  He played 16 seasons of winter ball in Puerto Rico and was the Orioles’ bullpen coach for a remarkable 28 years.

He was also a great handler of the Orioles’ great pitching staff.  He caught Jim Palmer‘s no-hitter on August 13, 1969, and Palmer had great things to say about Hendricks, despite their sometimes contentious disagreements about pitch-calling while Palmer was on the mound.

The most famous play in Hendricks’ career happened in the 1970 World Series.  In Game 1 with the score tied 1-1, Reds pinch hitter Ty Cline hit a high chopper off home plate, which Hendricks grabbed with his bare hand.  Berno Carbo came charging in from third trying to score.  Hendricks lunged towards Carbo trying to apply the tag as umpire Ken Burkhart moved forward to call the batted ball fair.  Burkhart and Hendricks collided, spinning Burkhart to the ground as Hendricks tagged Carbo with his empty mitt.  Burkhart called Carbo out, and Carbo and Reds manager Sparky Anderson argued vociferously.  This was before instant replay replay reversal, but the instant replays on TV showed clearly, both that Hendricks had tagged Carbo with the wrong hand and that Carbo had completely missed home plate.  Carbo did not touch home until he did so unaware as he argued with Burkhart.  Here is the replay from youtube.

4. Jose “Shady” Morales (1973-1984).  Morales and Manny Mota were generally recognized as baseball’s best pinch hitters during the 1970’s.  Morales’ 25 pinch hits in 1976 broke Dave Philley‘s 1961 record (tied by Vic Davalillo in 1970) and lasted until John Vander Wal stoked 28 in 1995.

Jose Morales’ had started his professional career as a catcher because of his strong arm, but developed a reputation as a defensive liability there.  Becoming a top pinch hitter kept on major league rosters, and he later had success as part of a DH platoon for the Minnesota Twins.

Morales played professionally for more than twenty seasons, including two decades of Winter ball in Puerto Rico.  When he retired his 123 career major league pinch hits was third best all-time, and he still ranks 8th best all-time.  He then worked as a hitting coach and instructor and now lives in the Orlando area.

5.  Jerry Browne (1986-1995).  Known as the “Guv’nor,” Browne had his best season as the starting 2Bman for the 1989 Indians, when he slashed .299/.370/.390.  Despite being a fast base runner who got on base, Browne was inconsistent and wasn’t good at turning the double play.  Ultimately, he developed into a utility man who played 2B, 3B and all three outfield positions.  He’s done some couching for major league organizations and now lives in Texas.

6.  Joe Christopher (1959-1966).  Joe Christopher had one great major league season when he was one of the few bright spots on a dreadful 1964 Mets team.  He slashed .300/.360/.466 and recorded 10 assists as the team’s primary right-fielder.  As a pinch-runner for the Pirates, “Hurryin’ Joe” scored two runs in the 1960 World Series.

He was the fifth player drafted by the expansion 1962 Mets.  His most vivid memory of the 1962 season was teaching center fielder Richie Ashburn how to say “Yo la Tengo” (“I got it!”) so that he wouldn’t collide with Venezuelan shortstop Elio Chacon, only to have Ashburn get run over by the much larger left fielder Frank Thomas.

Christopher credited his hitting success in 1964 in part to a pamphlet written by Paul Waner, which Christopher sent away for for 50 cents based on an add in the Sporting News, and a meeting he had with Waner in 1961.  Christopher also played in Puerto Rico for many winters and married a Puerto Rican woman, although the marriage lasted only about six years.  After baseball, he went into advertising.

7.  Midre Cummings (1993-2005).  Cummings moved to Florida for his final year of high school and became a first round draft pick for the Twins (29th overall in 1990).  He developed a reputation in baseball, perhaps unjustly, as a player with a lot of talent but who had a bad head in that he was too lackadaisical in his training and work habits.  He was never able to establish himself as an everyday player at the major league level, but he eventually established himself as an effective pinch hitter, leading his league several times in pinch hits.

The highlight of Cummings’ major league career, perhaps, was the 2001 post-season, where like Joe Christopher before him, he was used primarily as a pinch runner and scored three runs, two of them in the World Series, including the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7.  Cummings now lives in Tampa and coaches children.

8.  Jharel Cotton (2016-2017).  Cotton came to the U.S. at the age of 16.  He went 9-10 with a 5.58 ERA as a rookie starting pitcher for the A’s in 2017.  He’s got a live arm, but he will be 26 in 2018, so we’ll see where his career goes.  On August 9, 2016, Cotton fell one batter short of pitching a perfect game in the AAA Pacific Coast League, allowing a triple to the 27th batter with two outs in the ninth.

9.  Calvin Pickering (1998-2005).  Pickering also moved to Florida for his final year of high school.  Although a 35th round draft pick, he showed both a tremendous ability to hit and to hit for power as soon as he started his professional career.  Alas, weight issues (he reported to Spring Training at least one year weighing 300 lbs and never played at much less than 260) and the injuries that came with them prevented him from becoming a major league star.

Pickering hit 35 home runs at AAA Omaha in only 379 plate appearances during his age 27 season and played for half a season in South Korea’s KBO two years later.

10.  Valmy Thomas (1957-1961).  My next post will be devoted to Valmy Thomas, who had a very interesting professional career.