Saturday, August 17, 2019

Eddie Zosky, Confidence Builder - 47

Originally published Sept. 25, 2012
Eddie Zosky told himself to drive the ball up the middle, Zosky told reporters later in a wire account. Or maybe he should hit it to the right side.

What he ended up doing in this September 1991 game, was hit it to center for a single and his first two major league RBIs.

"It was the first time I didn't look back to see if they were going to put in a pinch hitter," Zosky, his big league career barely two weeks old, told reporters in the wire account. "I felt like I was going to be hitting and they let me. It was a real confidence builder."

Zosky took that confidence and ended up playing in five different big league seasons. His big league time in those seasons, though, would be limited. The 18 games he saw with the Blue Jays in 1991 would be the most he would see in any one campaign.

Zosky's career began in 1989, taken by the Blue Jays in the first round of the draft, 19th pick overall, out of California State University Fresno.

Zosky started at AA Knoxville, hitting .221 in 56 games. He returned to Knoxville for 1990, then hit AAA Syracuse in 1991.

Going into 1991, Zosky was thought to be a candidate for the Toronto starting shortstop spot, according to The Boston Globe. Instead, though, Zosky was sent to AAA Syracuse.

"I just had a lot of negative thoughts," Zosky told The Globe of his 1991 spring. "They were saying in the papers that I had a chance to win the job, and I kept thinking to myself, 'Don't blow it. Don't make an error, don't throw this ball away.' And you can't play that way."

Zosky did make Toronto that year, but it wasn't until that September. In 18 games for the Blue Jays, Zosky hit just .148, getting just those two RBIs.

Zosky returned to the Blue Jays for 1992, but again not until September. This time, he got two hits in seven at bats.

Zosky didn't make it back to the majors until 1995, after a trade to the Marlins. Along the way, he had an abbreviated 1993, having bone chips removed from his shoulder early in the year. He played 1994 completely at Syracuse.

With the Marlins in 1995, Zosky got into six games, picking up one hit. He then saw eight games with the Brewers in 1999 and four games with Houston in 2000, rounding out his big league career.

In spring 1998, a year that Zosky spent entirely at AAA with the Brewers, Zosky kept his sense of humor. He kept even after becoming the first Brewer to get hit by a pitch in an inter-squad game, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"He apologized right away," Zosky told The Journal Sentinel of the offending pitcher Jeff Juden. "I was going to charge the mound, but then he apologized, so everything was OK."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Jeff Conine, Ground Floor - 46

Originally published June 7, 2012
With his selection by the Marlins the November 1992 expansion draft, Jeff Conine saw the possibility of that playing time being extended.

Over the previous three seasons, Conine had seen time in all of 37 major league games with the Royals. With the Marlins though, it appeared there were some openings.

"With no other real option at first base (in Florida), I think it will give me a good chance to play every day," Conine told The Associated Press after his selection. "I feel good getting in on the ground floor of an organization."

Conine got in on the ground floor of the organization. He also eventually became synonymous with it, earning the moniker "Mr. Marlin," helping Florida to two world championships.

Conine's path to the Marlins began in 1987, signing with the Royals as about as late a round pick as there could be - taken in the 58th round out of UCLA.

Conine didn't start play for the Royals, though, until 1988, playing his first two seasons at single-A Baseball City. He moved to AA Memphis in 1990, getting his first call to the majors that September.

In nine games for the Royals, Conine went 5 for 20, hitting two doubles. Wrist and rib injuries limited his playing time over the next two seasons. He didn't play in the majors in 1991, then played just 28 games with the Royals in 1992.

With the Marlins, though, Conine left the minors behind. In his first year, he played in all 162 games, hitting .292 with 12 home runs. He also came in third in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

In May, he hit his first home run for a grand slam, then won the game in extras on a single.

"Coming here was the best thing that ever happened to me," Conine told The Philadelphia Inquirer in August. "There were road blocks in Kansas City, with (Wally) Joyner and (leftfielder Kevin) McReynolds."

Conine followed up that season with his first All-Star campaign in 1994. He hit .319, with 18 home runs. He made the All-Star team for a second time in 1995 with a .302 season with 25 home runs.

In the 1995 Mid-Summer Classic, Conine hit the game-winning home run, earning MVP honors.

"You dream of this your whole life," Conine told reporters afterward. "You get in a situation like that to win a ball game in the late innings, it's a dream come true. It's the biggest rush of adrenaline I've ever had."

In 1997, Conine helped the Marlins to their first world championship. Conine, though, was part of the Marlins' salary slash, traded back to the Royals for 1998.

Conine played 1998 with the Royals, then moved to the Orioles for 1999, staying there into 2003. With the Orioles, Conine hit .311 in 2001.

In August 2003, Conine returned in another trade to the team where he first had success, the Marlins. He also helped them win their second title. Conine hit .333 in the World Series, scoring four runs.

Conine played with the Marlins for two more seasons, then went through four other organizations, ending his career in 2007. In spring 2008, Conine signed a ceremonial contract with the Marlins, so he could end his career with them. For 2012, Conine is continuing with the team, as special assistant to the president.

"To go from the beginning and where we were in 1993, a rag-tag organization," Conine told The AP upon his retirement, "to winning a World Series, that's something very special."

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Frank Thomas, Dimension of Power - 46

Originally published Aug. 29, 2011; Updated Jan. 8, 2014
Asked about the promotion of the White Sox' young first baseman in early August 1990, White Sox GM Larry Himes said they did so because the club needed a bat, The Chicago Tribune wrote.

That young first baseman was Frank Thomas and he rewarded that confidence in just his second game, hitting a two-run triple against Milwaukee.

"Frank adds that dimension of power to our lineup," Himes told The Tribune of Thomas' promotion from AA Birmingham. "I've watched our ballclub the last four or five days and decided we needed pop."

And Thomas gave them pop. He gave them pop over much of the next 16 seasons, winning consecutive MVP awards in 1993 and 1994 and five All-Star appearances.

When his career was finally over in 2008, after 19 total seasons, Thomas had amassed 521 home runs. He also tallied more than 1,700 RBIs and a career batting average of .301, numbers that in 2014 won him induction into the Hall of Fame.

Thomas' career began in 1989, taken by the White Sox in the first round, seventh overall, out of Auburn.

He played that first year between rookie ball and single-A Sarasota. He played his second between AA Birmingham and major league Chicago.

After his early-August call-up, Thomas played 60 games for the White Sox, hitting .330 with his first seven home runs. He also earned his permanent home as the White Sox lineup, infield and history.

In 1991, Thomas hit 32 home runs in 158 games. He also hit .318. On June 24, he hit his first career grand slam. It was also Thomas' first grand slam since high school.

Going into 1992, the talk was about Thomas' pitch selection. In 1991, he drew 138 walks, the most in the league. In four of his first five years, Thomas led the league in walks.

"I just learned to be patient," Thomas told The New York Times in March 1992. "If a pitch isn't in the strike zone, I'm so picky I won't swing the bat."

Thomas' first MVP award came in 1993. He hit 41 home runs, with a batting average .317 as the White Sox made the playoffs. His 37th home run of the year tied the team record and marked Thomas' 100th.

As the seasons went by, Thomas continued to solidify himself in Chicago sports lore. He won his second MVP in the strike-shortened 1994 season with 38 home runs and a .353 average.

In 1996, 1996, 2000 and 2003, Thomas hit 40 or more home runs. Through 2000, Thomas only hit under .300 once, in 1998. In 1997, he won the American League batting title, hitting .347.

As 2001 came, injuries caught up with Thomas. He got into only 20 games that year, 74 in 2004 and, the year the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, Thomas got into only 34 games. In 2001, it was a torn arm muscle. In 2005, it was a broken foot.

Throughout his accomplishments, Thomas was never tainted as others were. After hitting his 500th home run, Thomas said that made the accomplishment that much more meaningful.

"It means a lot to me because I did it the right way," Thomas told The New York Times. "I could care less what others have done."

Thomas hit that home run as a Blue Jay, playing his final three seasons with Toronto and Oakland.

In August 2010, after Thomas finally called it quits, the White Sox honored his contribution to the team by retiring his number, No. 35. At the ceremony, Thomas became emotional.

"Eighteen years in this game and 16 full ones here," Thomas told ESPNChicago.com later, "it brought back a lot of memories, thinking about all the teammates and all the great times, good and bad times. It just got to me. I was emotionally caught up. I'm a very proud man and this probably was the proudest day of my life."

Thomas had another proud day Jan. 8, 2014, with his induction into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, garnering 83.7 percent of the vote.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kent Bottenfield, Tough Insides - 37

Originally published April 17, 2014
Kent Bottenfield and his Cardinals fell behind quickly in this early July 1999 game, but the Cardinals and Bottefield came back.

Bottenfield helped limit the damage from the mound. He also helped at the plate, knocking a two-run double in the 10-4 St. Louis win.

"That's a tough way to play," Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa told The Associated Press, "but one thing about Bottenfield, he's got tough insides."

Bottenfield was in the midst of a career year that season in 1999. That victory July 1 gave him 12 on the year, a win total that helped earn him an All-Star nod.

All that success came in his seventh season in the majors - his 14th as a pro. Used as both a starter and a reliever previously in the bigs, his single-season win total never topped five.

Bottenfield's career began in 1986, taken by the Expos in the fourth round of the draft out of Madison High School in Portland, Oregon.

Bottenfield started in the rookie Gulf Coast League, then moved to single-A Burlington in 1987 and single-A West Palm Beach in 1988. He made AA Jacksonville in 1989 and AAA Indianapolis in 1991.

He debuted in Montreal in July 1992. In 10 outings, four starts, he went 1-2, with a 2.23 ERA. He then split 1993 between the Expos and the Rockies, traded mid-year. Overall, he went 5-10, with a 5.07 ERA.

Bottenfield got 16 outings, one start in 1994 between the Rockies and the Giants. He then spent all of 1995 back in the minors.

His career revived in 1996 as a reliever for the Cubs. He got 48 relief outings that year and 64 the next. In late-June 1997, Bottenfield was called upon to shut down an Astros rally. He just had to get past Jeff Bagwell. Bottenfield struck Bagwell out.

"That's when I seem to pitch my best," Bottenfield told The Chicago Tribune. "That's fun. Those are the situations I want to be in every day."

The next year, with the Cardinals, Bottenfield started to get into different situations. In 44 outings, he got 17 starts. Overall, he went 4-6. He then turned full-time starter and had his breakout season in 1999.

Bottenfield went 18-7 for the Cardinals in 1999, getting 31 starts. His ERA came in at 3.97. In late-July, Bottenfield talked to The St. Paul Pioneer Press about how his win total was really in the hands of his team.

"The record is nice. Goals are nice," Bottenfield told The Pioneer Press. "But wins are out of my control."

After that season, Bottenfield played just two more years, picking up just 10 more wins. He last played in 2001 with the Astros.

Bottenfield has since gone on to coach in college. He has also gone into ministry. He was named the head coaching position at Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2012, taking over after the passing of the school's previous head coach, Hall of Famer Gary Carter. Bottenfield continues in that role for 2014.

He started his ministry using baseball in 2004, after he survived a 99 percent blockage in his heart, according to The Springfield State Journal-Register. He also performs Christian music.

"I realized there's a reason for me to be here and I want to take advantage of it," Bottenfield told The State Journal-Register in 2009. "The experience made me stronger; it was a defining moment."

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Cal Ermer, So Much - 50

Roy Hawes played 14 seasons in professional baseball, including a brief, three-game stint in the majors.

But the manager he recalled most, the one he believed got the most out of his players, was his manager at AA Chattanooga, future major league manager with the Twins, Cal Ermer, Hawes told author David Jenkins.

"Cal and I are about the same age, but it was strictly business with him. We didn't become close friends until after my playing days," Hawes recalled to Jenkins for his book "Baseball in Chattanooga." "As long as you did your job, he'd never say anything. If you loafed, he'd be all over you."

Ermer spent six seasons managing Chattanooga, Washington's AA affiliate, in the 1950s. (He also late made the city his home, and made an appearance at the 1990 Southern League All-Star game.

After his time in Chattanooga, he returned to the organization after it moved to Minneapolis. He also took the helm of the major league Twins in mid-1968 and nearly managed the club to the World Series.

Ermer's career in baseball began in 1942 as he signed out of Patterson High School in Baltimore.

Ermer played that year in 1942 between Class B Jacksonville and unaffiliated Class D Burlington and Orlando. He then returned to the field in 1946 for two seasons in the Washington organization. In between, he served in the Marines.

In 1947, he got his only major league appearance. He went 0 for 3 with Washington Sept. 26, a win against Philadelphia.

He then continued playing in the minors through 1951. He's also credited as managing while he played in at least three of his final seasons.

He managed Chattanooga from 1952 to 1957, then AA Birmingham and AAA Columbus. He spent 1963 as third base coach in Baltimore. In 1965, he joined the Twins as manager at AAA Denver and then took over the Twins in Minnesota in June 1967.

Upon selecting Ermer to take over the club, Twins owner Calvin Griffith indicated he had watched Ermer for two decades, according to The Associated Press.

"I first hired him in 1947 to manage the Charlotte club (at 22 years old) because I liked his conversation, the way he talked about what it takes to win," Griffith told The Minneapolis Star upon hiring Ermer.

By year's end, Ermer had won enough for the Twins to hit 91-71, but fall a game back of the pennant-winning Red Sox.

He returned to manage the Twins in 1968, but went 79-83. He moved to the Brewers by 1970 as third base coach, then later served the Athletics as assistant coach.

Ermer then returned to the Twins in 1978 and managed AAA Toledo for eight seasons. He then closed out his career as a scout, serving in that capacity has he returned to Chattanooga in 1990.

Ermer passed away in 2009 at the age of 85.

The year before his passing, Chattanooga renamed its press box for Ermer. After Ermer's passing, Chattanooga owner Frank Burke recalled to The Chattanooga Times Free Press talking with Ermer over the years.

"Cal Ermer taught me so much about baseball over at Engel Stadium," Burke told The Times Free Press. "I used to love listening to those stories, and I remember Cal saying the difference between a good team and a bad team at this level can be two or three guys, and that sometimes you have them and sometimes you don't. He's forgotten more about baseball than I'll ever know, and he'll be sorely missed."
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:3,161
Made the Majors:1,149-36.3%
Never Made Majors:2,012-63.7%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 475
10+ Seasons in the Minors:283

Buddy Bailey, One More - 48

Originally published April 18, 2015
Buddy Bailey believed his team could do better and he knew exactly how, he told The Sumter Daily Item in June 1987.

His single-A Sumter Braves needed to focus on winning close games, he told The Daily Item.

"That's one thing we need to do," Bailey told The Daily Item. "We've got to make that one more pitch, catch that one more grounder, get that one more hit, move that runner up another base. That's what championship teams do."

Bailey was early in his managerial career that year. He has since gone one to a managerial career spanning three decades. He's since helped send champions on to the majors in both the Braves and the Red Sox systems.

He's continuing that work in the Cubs system, trying to send players to Chicago who can win a championship there.

Bailey's long career in baseball began as a player in 1979, taken by the Braves in the 16th round of the draft out of Lynchburg College in Virginia.

Bailey's playing career lasted four seasons. He started at rookie Kingsport. He topped out with six games at AA Savannah in 1982.

He started his managerial career in 1983 with rookie Pulaski. He moved to Sumter in 1985. Sumter player Philip Wellman, a future minor league manager himself, gave Bailey the manager some early praise to The Daily Item.

"Buddy is the second best motivator I've ever played for," Wellman told The Daily Item that May. "He ranks right behind my dad and dads have their own way of motivating."

Bailey moved to AA Greenville for 1988, staying there for three seasons. For 1991, he arrived in the Red Sox system, managing at high-A Lynchburg. It was AAA Pawtucket for 1993.

Bailey managed at Pawtucket for the majority of the next decade. In 2000, he served as bench coach in Boston. In 2004, Bailey sent Kevin Youkilis on his first trip to the majors, asking Youkilis if he had his passport because the big league club was in Toronto, according to The Boston Globe.

By 2007, Bailey was in the Cubs system. He managed that year at AAA Iowa. In 2014, Bailey was one of the managers to watch over the rapid rise of Kris Bryant, managing him at AA Tennessee. Bailey was one of many who saw big things coming from Bryant.

"I can't tell you who he reminds me of," Bailey told The Daytona Beach News-Journal that June, "but he's got a very, very high ceiling."

Bailey has returned to manage Tennessee for 2015.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Harmon Killebrew, Some Shots - 50

Upon Harmon Killebrew's election to the Hall of Fame in 1984, longtime teammate Bob Allison spoke of the player and man he got to know over the years, according to the St. Louis Sporting News.

In fact, Allison had known Killebrew for years, prior to their major league time, The Sporting News wrote.

"Harmon and.I go back to the minor leagues together." Allison said, according to the Sporting News. "I remember some shots he hit in the Southern League—in Chattanooga and Birmingham— that were awesome, balls that had never been hit out of those spots in those stadiums before. I'm tickled to death for him."

The Southern League reference would come into play a few years after his induction, as Killebrew visited the league's All-Star game in Chattanooga to throw out the first pitch. The visit got him onto the game's team set as a VIP, one more card in a long career of them.

Killebrew's path to Cooperstown began in 1954, signed by Washington out of Albertson College in Idaho.

His path to the majors was a short one. He debuted in Washington without seeing the minors. He debuted a few days shy of his 18th birthday due to the bonus rule at the time that required him stay in the bigs for two seasons.

Killebrew saw nine games that year an 38 the next. He then played 1956 largely at single-A Charlotte and 1957 and 1958 largely at AA Chattanooga. He then made the bigs for good in 1959.

Killebrew hit 42 home runs in his first year in the majors with regular playing time. He also got his first of 13 all-star nods.

Killebrew then moved with the franchise to Minnesota for 1961 and he soon became a fixture there. Over his first four seasons there, he never hit fewer than 45 home runs. He hit a career high 49 in 1964, a mark he would tie in 1969.

In a feature on Killebrew to start the 1963 season, Sports Illustrated quoted a sportswriter as describing Killebrew's swing.

"Harmon can hit a ball out of the park on a half swing, he's that strong," the sportswriter observed, according to SI. "When he slumps, it's his timing that's off. He swings with his whole body, and once he starts he can't stop."

Killebrew went on to play through 1975. With his early start in the bigs, he saw time in 22 major league seasons. He played with the Twins in the 1965 World Series and in the 1969 and 1970 ALCS.

He ended with 573 career home runs, 1,584 career RBIs and a career batting average of .256. He then made the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Upon Killebrew's passing in 2011, Twins President Dave St. Peter tried to describe Killebrew's impact on baseball in Minnesota, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

"No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization ... than Harmon Killebrew," St. Peter said, according to The Star-Tribune.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:3,160
Made the Majors:1,148-36.3%
Never Made Majors:2,012-63.7%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 475
10+ Seasons in the Minors:283

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