Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Eddie Rodriguez, Very Fortunate - 1

After more than a quarter century as a coach and manager Eddie Rodriguez returned to the place where he got his minor league managerial start in 2014, according to The Quad City Times.

Then a coordinator with the Padres, Rodriguez visited and reminisced about his long career, The Times wrote.

"Baseball has given me a living and given me a lifetime of memories, helping kids work toward their dreams,’" Rodriguez told The Times. "I feel very fortunate."

Rodriguez' long coaching career has taken him through both the minors and the majors. He's served as a coach for multiple major league squads and worked with players like the Royals' Mike Moustakas.

He also played himself. He saw five seasons as an infielder and made it to AA.

Rodriguez' career began 1978, taken by the Orioles in the first round of the January draft out of Miami-Dade College.

Rodriguez started at rookie Bluefield. He then made single-A Miami in 1979 and AA Holyoke in 1981. He played one final season at AA Waterbury in 1984, ending his playing career.

Rodriguez then moved on to coaching. He served as hitting coach at Quad City in 1985, then became manager there in 1987.

In July 1989, Rodriguez spoke to The Los Angeles Times about managing young men - and keeping them in line. He did so through forceful advice, or a $5 fine.

"You should see, they get awful cranky when you tell them they're out five bucks," Rodriguez told The LA Times.

Rodriguez moved to manage AA Midland in 1990. In 1995, he served as a scout for the Dodgers. In 1996, he got his first major league coaching job, credited as third base coach for the Angels.

He served with the Blue Jays as a base coach in 1998, then returned to the minors. He managed short-season St. Catharines in 1999 and Queens in 2000.

He returned to the bigs in 2001 with the Diamondbacks as first base coach - just in time for Arizona's 2001 title. He also coached on the 2000 U.S. Olympic gold medal team. To Newsday in May 2001, Rodriguez marveled at his good fortune.

"For all I have been through, it's just astonishing," Rodriguez told Newsday. "I just hope it lasts forever. I still pinch myself on the way to the ballpark."

Rodriguez moved to the Expos in 2004 as bench coach and followed the team to Washington. He coached for the Mariners in 2008 and arrived with the Royals as third base coach in 2010. He stayed there four seasons and served as an assistant coach with the Padres in 2016.

Rodriguez worked with Moustakas on his fielding footwork in 2012. Early successes brought praise from Rodriguez, according to ESPN. Then Rodriguez stopped needing to give praise.

"I finally told him, 'I'm tired of coming over and giving you knuckles or high-fives and telling you that you made a great play,'" Rodriguez told ESPN later, "'It's what I expect of you now.'"
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,753
Made the Majors:1,053-38.3%-X
Never Made Majors:1,700-61.7%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 440
10+ Seasons in the Minors:263

Drew Denson, Extra Homers - 30

Originally published Nov. 12, 2010; Updated March 18, 2014
There can be a lot of things players get extra when they make the major leagues, for Atlanta prospects, the jump from AAA to the majors in 1990 could mean extra home runs, Drew Denson told The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star that August.

"You hit a ball real good (here), and sometimes you don't get rewarded for it," Denson told The Free Lance-Star, referring to Richmond. "In Atlanta, even if you don't hit it real good, it still might go out."

Denson was speaking to The Free Lance-Star as the Braves' David Justice, a lifelong friend of Denson, had just hit 10 home runs in 12 games for Atlanta.

Denson, however, never got to take advantage of Atlanta's dimensions. He played just 12 games for Atlanta in his career, the previous September in 1989, including four games at home. But he got no major league home runs then or ever. His major league career consisted of just four more games, played for the White Sox in 1993, and Denson was done.

Denson's career began with higher hopes. He was taken by the Braves in the first round of the 1984 draft. He played rookie ball that year in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .322 with 10 home runs.

The next year, he was at single-A Sumter and hit .300. He got two doubles in one May game against Gastonia. But his hitting started to drop off in 1986 at single-A Durham. Denson hit just .234 with four home runs.

In 1987, he made AA Greenville, and wasn't much better than Durham. He hit .219 on the year with 14 home runs. At the start of that year, Braves player development director, the legendary Hank Aaron, included Denson in the list of Braves of the future.

"I see Denson hitting between 20 and 25 homers and hitting .270 to .280 in the majors," Aaron told The Associated Press that spring. "I think he's going to make it."

In 1988 Denson was better, hitting .268 staying in AA. In August 1988, Denson was still being talked about as a major-league prospect and a power hitter.

It was in 1989 that he made AAA Richmond and then Atlanta. At Richmond, he hit .255 with nine home runs. He made his major league debut as a September call-up. In 36 at bats, Denson got nine hits.

He was also playing with Justice, with whom he'd played little league with as a child, according to The Free Lance-Star. In one game, Sept. 22, Justice was sent to third on a Denson single. That game Denson also got his first two RBIs, according to The AP.

Denson returned to Richmond for 1990, but hit just .231 without getting a call back to Atlanta. He is not credited with playing in 1991, but returned for 1992 with the White Sox at AAA Vancouver. He got back to the majors in September 1993 for four more games and one more hit.

Denson continued to play at AAA into 1996, with the White Sox, Reds and Orioles systems, ending his career.

His playing days over, Denson returned to his native Cincinnati, becoming a police officer and youth baseball coach, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer in June 2011.

But both his playing days and his officer days are now behind him, according to The Enquirer, as he battles a rare blood disease called amyloidosis "that has ravaged his athletic frame and robbed him of physical comfort."

Denson passed away in February 2014 at the age of 48. After Denson's passing, Calvin Johnson, one of Denson's former police supervisors, who also played against Denson as a youth, told The Enquirer what kind of person Denson was.

"He was a great human being," Johnson told The Enquirer. "He looked big and intimidating but he was just a big, gentle bear with tremendous athletic ability. He was one of the best guys I ever knew."

Monday, September 18, 2017

Gary Ruby, Done Right - 2

If the Tri-City Valley Cats won this game in September 2010, they won the league title. Reliever Michael Ness just had to hold on in the ninth with a four-run lead, according to The Troy Record.

After two singles, though, Ness was one batter away from maybe facing the potential game-tying run. Then out stepped Valley Cats pitching coach Gary Ruby, The Record wrote.

"Ruby came out and calmed me down and said, 'get a groundball,'" Ness told The Record after the big win.

Ruby calmed pitchers - and made them better - over a quarter century in the pros. He did so after his own brief playing career, one where he saw three seasons in the minors.

Ruby's career in baseball began in 1969, taken by the Indians in the 22nd round of the draft out of Arizona State University.

Ruby played three seasons in all. He started in the rookie Gulf Coast League and at AA Waterbury. He ended in 1971 at single-A Reno.

Ruby then left the game for a stretch. He earned his masters in education administration from the University of Scranton and even served as an assistant professor at the school from 1982 to 1985, according to his Grand Slam card.

He then started his coaching career. He began at single-A Quad City in 1987 as a pitching coach. He moved to single-A Palm Springs and AA Midland in 1989.

At Midland, Ruby had the difficult job of developing pitchers in a hitters park, according to The Los Angeles Times. Ruby tried to turn that into somewhat of a positive.

"If you can pitch here, you can pitch just about anywhere," he told The Times in August 1989. "Everything that could possibly work against you is here. The wind is blowing out here 99% of the time."

Ruby then made AAA Edmonton as pitching coach in 1991. He stayed at AAA with the Angels through 1995. He moved to the Indians and AAA Buffalo for 1996.

He became a minor league coordinator for the Angels, Phillies and Pirates, then returned to the minor league coaching ranks. He spent four seasons as pitching coach at short-season Tri-City in the Astros organization, then two at AA Corpus Christi.

Ruby has since retired from coaching, but has since gone into some youth instruction. In 2014, he told The Citizen's Voice about his basic approach prior to a youth clinic.

"I'd really like to see, in my own personal opinion, a lot of Little League coaches come in," he told The Voice. "I give them credit, because they're all volunteers and a lot of them give up their own time to do that. But pitching has to be done right. Listen when I tell you this: It's not rocket science. But you've got to know the fundamentals."
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,752
Made the Majors:1,052-38.2%
Never Made Majors:1,700-61.8%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 440
10+ Seasons in the Minors:263

Kent Mercker, New Lease - 29

Originally published Sept. 11, 2011
Just three months earlier, in May 2000, Kent Mercker suffered a severe headache on the mound. The headache, though, turned out to be something much more serious: a brain hemorrhage.

But, there Mercker was, on Aug. 22, picking up his first major league win after making his way back. Mercker, though, was just happy to be back.

"That's why this is so great," Mercker told The Los Angeles Times afterward. "Every time I go to the mound, it's a new lease on life for me. This could be my last game ever, you never know. I'm just going to go as hard as I can and not worry about anything."

Mercker didn't just return, he continued pitching for eight more seasons, not throwing his final pitch until 2008.

In all, Mercker's was a career that spanned 23 seasons, serving as both a starter and a reliever. He also had a hand in two no-hitters, relieved in one, going the distance in the other.

Mercker's professional career began in 1986, taken by the Braves in the first round of the draft, out of Dublin High School in Ohio.

He played that first year in the Gulf Coast League, first hitting AA Greenville in 1988, then AAA Richmond in 1989. He also got a brief look at Atlanta that year, getting into two games as a September call-up.

Mercker was back in Atlanta by late June 1990, getting into 36 games in relief on the year, with a 3.17 ERA. He also picked up seven saves, along with four wins.

He picked up his first big league win with a two-inning relief appearance July 7. His first save came 10 days later, with a 1.2-inning performance where he gave up two earned runs.

In 1991, Mercker got into 50 games, four of them starts. One of those starts led to a no-hitter. On Sept. 11, Mercker went six innings of no-hit ball. Two relievers finished the job.

Three years later, Mercker finished the job. In April 1994, Mercker went nine innings for the win against the Dodgers, without giving up a hit.

"I kind of chuckled to myself: 'Here's a chance to put up or shut up,'" Mercker told The New York Times, thinking back to that first no-hitter. "And I put up tonight."

Mercker stayed with the Braves through the end of 1995, when he was traded to the Orioles. From there, he went to the Cardinals and then the Red Sox, before arriving with the Angels in 2000.

Then, on May 12, 2000, Mercker suffered the brain hemorrhage, a condition doctors called "very serious." But he came through, visiting his team by the end of the month and back pitching by August.

Mercker played through 2008. In 2006, pitching for the Reds, he injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery at the age of 38. After sitting out 2007, he was back and ready to go for spring 2008.

He also mounted his comeback shortly after being named in the Mitchell Report as a player who received Human Growth Hormone from Kirk Radomski. Mercker told The Hamilton Journal-News that he tried it once to help him return from injury. But he argued it didn't make him a better pitcher.

In that 2008 return, Mercker got into 15 games in relief, giving up five earned runs in 13.2 innings of work, finishing out his major league career.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jeff Barns, Multiple Positions - 9

The Midland Angels and Wichita Wranglers seemed to play a football game this night in April 1990. The two teams scored 50 runs between them, ending in a 33-17 score. The Wranglers took the win.

Catching for the losing side - the side that gave up 33 runs in seemingly odd ways - was sometimes backstop Jeff Barns.

"I went to our other catcher," Barnes told The Associated Press later of his shock, "and said, 'Mike, is it me?'"

Barns played multiple positions for Midland that year, six in all. He even pitched. He played those positions in his fourth season as a pro. He went on to play in eight seasons. He never got to play a position in the majors.

Barns' career began in 1987, taken by the Angels in the 15th round of the draft out of the University of South Carolina.

He started with the Angels at single-A Quad City. He got into 64 games and hit .258. He moved to single-A Palm Springs for 1988. He hit a two-run home run in June, one of two he hit on the year. He ended with a .242 average.

Barns made AA Midland in 1989. He hit .296 in 70 games. He then returned there for 1990.

In 1991, he got a brief look at AAA Edmonton, seven games, and 10 games back at Midland. He then moved to the Indians and AA Canton-Akron.

Barns played 1992 and 1993 with the Athletics at high-A Modesto. He then finished out his career with 22 final games in 1994, played with the Angels at Midland.

Barns has since settled in Texas. He serves in 2017 as a coach for the 18U Bullpen Bulls in Cypress.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,751
Made the Majors:1,052-38.2%
Never Made Majors:1,699-61.8%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 440
10+ Seasons in the Minors:263

Kevin Trudeau, Played Harder - 19

A record crowd came out to watch the Orlando Twins in this June 1986 game and new Orlando reliever Kevin Trudeau didn't disappoint, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

Coming in after the starter faltered, Trudeau went 5 1/3 innings, giving up just two hits in the Orlando win, The Sentinel wrote.

"A great game for the fans," Trudeau told The Sentinel afterward. "This was one we wanted to win for them. When there's that many people out there, the adrenaline flows and you just feel like you play harder."

Trudeau arrived at Orlando and saw that crowd in his third season as a pro. He went on to see crowds at AAA. In seven seasons, he never saw crowds in the majors.

Trudeau's career began in 1984, taken by the Yankees in the sixth round of the January draft out of Chabot College.

Trudeau started with the Yankees in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He went 2-1, with a 1.96 ERA in 10 outings, eight starts.

He moved to short-season Oneonta for 1985. He came on in relief in a July game, getting out of a jam and picking up the win. Overall, he went 8-3, with a 1.64 ERA.

Trudeau arrived with the Indians to start 1986. He played at single-A Waterloo and AA Waterbury before arriving with the Twins and AA Orlando mid-year. He played 1987 and 1988 between Orlando and AAA Portland.

For 1989, the Twins sent Trudeau along with Bert Blyleven to the Angels. He then played between AA Midland and AAA Edmonton. He went 7-8 on the year, with a 3.52 ERA.

Trudeau then returned to Edmonton and Midland in 1990. He picked up a win in relief in early September for Edmonton. He went 7-4, with a 4.59 ERA to end his career.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 2,750
Made the Majors:1,052-38.3%
Never Made Majors:1,698-61.7%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 440
10+ Seasons in the Minors:263

Dave Justice, Six Series - 28

Originally published April 30, 2011
Called up to the Braves in May 1990, Dave Justice spent his time platooning at first base. He got into his share of games, but he wasn't a regular. Then came early August and the Braves traded away the beloved Dale Murphy.

Fans didn't like it and Justice wasn't even sure the price was worth the result. But the move made Justice the Braves' regular right fielder, a job he wouldn't relinquish until five years and three World Series appearances later.

"You know, you'd think I'd be happy because I get to play everyday with Murph gone," Justice told The Los Angeles Times that August, "but I'm miserable. He meant so much to me. It feels strange without him."

But Justice made do, enough so to win the Rookie of the Year award at season's close, an award he attributed directly to that trade and his move to regular right fielder.

Justice went on to have a long major league resume, with 14 major league seasons, three All-Star appearances, six World Series and two titles. He also sat out a seventh World Series injured. But he would also have something else on his resume: a mention in the Mitchell Report with allegations he later denied.

Justice's career began in 1985, taken by the Braves in the fourth round of the draft, out of Thomas More College. He made AA Greenville in 1987, AAA Richmond in 1988 and then got his first brief look at the majors in 1989.

In his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1990, Justice debuted with Atlanta May 15 and went on to hit .282 with 28 home runs. Coming back for his sophomore year in 1991, Justice hit .275 with another 21 home runs. He also helped the Braves to Atlanta's first World Series appearance.

That postseason Justice helped contribute to two Braves NLCS losses, after missing third base on a play where he should have scored the tying run in Game 5, and committing a Game 4 throwing error that contributed to another Braves loss in Game 4.

In the World Series, though, he contributed to a Braves win, with a Game 5 home run. "For us to get a victory like this is a big boost," Justice told The Associated Press after the Braves went up 3 games to 2.

The next year Justice helped will the Braves back to the Series, making a big Game 7 NLCS catch. He also provided an rallying point.

"David Justice said no matter if we get down, let's stay up no matter what," Braves manager Bobby Cox told reporters. "Every pitch, every hitter - and we did."

The next year, Justice had a career year and continued hitting. Justice hit .270 with 40 home runs. But the Braves missed the World Series that year. They didn't win one until 1995, and it was a Justice home run that did it.

In Game 7 of the 1995 Series, Justice's home run was the difference in a 1-0, 4 games to 3, Braves victory over the Indians. "When I hit it, I knew I got it," Justice told reporters.

Justice dislocated a shoulder 40 games into 1996. By spring 1997, the Braves traded him to the Indians. Then came another World Series, helping his new team get there with his offense, and his support of his teammates.

"I think I'm a natural rah-rah guy," Justice told The New York Times before the Indians took on the Marlins. "Eventually, I just started opening up more, because I know only one way of playing, and that's getting behind my teammates."

Justice's final two World Series came in 2000 and 2001, with the Yankees. His final year as a player came in 2002 with the Athletics.

It allegations stemming from after the 2000 World Series that got Justice in the Mitchell Report. Former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski told baseball investigators that Justice purchased HGH from him once after the series. He then later allegedly admitted to Brian McNamee, the one-time Yankees assistant strength coach, that he purchased it.

To The Times after the report's release, Justice said he never used performance enhancing drugs.

"This is what we've all got to deal with," Justice told The Times. "Some people are going to believe you. Some people don’t care. And some people aren't going to believe you."

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