Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Bernie Jenkins, Set In - 66

Originally published Aug. 24, 2016
As the spring wound down in 1995, Bernie Jenkins knew reality could set in, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

A judge's ruling put the start of the season in doubt for players like Jenkins, the replacement players.

"It will disappoint you, but we knew it when we got here," Jenkins, an outfielder for the replacement Giants, told The Chronicle.

Jenkins played with the Giants that spring after a six-season career that saw him make AA, but not the bigs. He extended his playing time that year, but did so briefly. He got into six regular-season games back at AA, ending his career.

Jenkins' career began in 1988, taken by the Astros in the seventh round of the draft out of St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

Jenkins started with the Astros at short-season Auburn. He hit .244 over 58 games. He got hit by a pitch and scored in an August game.

He moved to single-A Osceola for 1989, improving his average to .292 on the year. He singled and scored in a May game, going 3 for 4 in the game. Jenkins then played 1990 at AA Columbus and 1991 at AA Jackson. He hit .228 and .260.

Jenkins switched to the Reds system for 1992, playing between single-A Cedar Rapids and AA Chattanooga. He hit .291 on the year. He played his final full season in 1993 at Chattanooga. He singled in a run in an August game, and hit .252 overall.

After not playing in 1994, he returned for spring 1995 and then got into five final games at AA Shreveport, ending his career.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Frank Thomas, Dimension of Power - 1

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.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Ernie Carr, Dropped In - 9

Great Falls Dodger Ernie Carr heated up against Medicine Hat pitching in June 1988, according to The Medicine Hat News.

Carr went 2 for 4 with a home run in one game and 3 for 5 with another home run in the next, The News wrote.

"I was 0-for-7 at the start of the year but I was hitting the ball hard," Carr told The News after the second contest. "Now they are starting to drop in for me."

Enough balls dropped in for Carr to hit .333 that year in rookie ball. He went on to play in two more seasons before injury prematurely ended his career.

Carr's career began that year in 1988, taken by the Dodgers in the 26th round of the draft out of Jacksonville University.

Carr played his high school ball at Platt High in Meriden, Conn. A former teammate at Platt later compared Carr favorably to Jeff Bagwell as the most talented players he'd seen in person.

At Jacksonville, Carr earned All-America honors in 1988. He hit .440 and recorded 32 doubles to lead the country. He earned conference Player of the Year in 1988 and later entered the school's Hall of Fame.

Carr started with the Dodgers at rookie Great Falls. He hit four home runs and knocked in 62 to go along with his .333 average. He walked in a September game, but was thrown out later at the plate.

Carr moved to single-A Bakersfield in 1989. He hit .254 in 132 games, with nine home runs. He hit one of his home runs in a September contest.

He arrived at AA San Antonio for 1990. He got into 72 games, hit .260 and knocked in 21 to end his career.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 3,013
Made the Majors:1,105-36.7%
Never Made Majors:1,908-63.4%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 459
10+ Seasons in the Minors:276

Lenny Webster, Tough Decision - 45

Originally published Nov. 10, 2013
Lenny Webster made his return to Minnesota in early June 1991 and he did his best to make sure he stayed, according to The Associated Press.

The catcher Webster did so by hitting a home run in each of his first two games back.

"I'm 26; I'm not getting any younger," Webster told The AP. "I'm going to play hard every time I'm in the lineup and try to force them to make a tough decision."

Webster ended up getting into only 18 games for the Twins that year, but he eventually did make his mark. By the time his career was done, Webster had seen time in a total of 12 big league seasons, getting into a total of 587 major league games, hitting a total of 33 major league home runs.

Webster's career began in 1985, taken by the Twins in the 21st round of the draft, out of Grambling State University.

With the Twins, Webster hit the field in 1986 at rookie Elizabethton and single-A Kenosha. He first saw AA Orlando in 1989. He also made the jump to Minnesota, getting 14 games there that September. He went 6 for 20.

Webster then returned to the Twins again in 1990, but for just two games. His first significant time in the bigs came in 1992, with 53 games in Minnesota. He hit .280.

Webster stayed with the Twins through 1993. He moved to the Expos for 1994, getting into 57 games for the best team in baseball, hitting .273. He moved to the Phillies for 1995, getting three hits in an August game, part of a 9-run Phillies barrage.

"It's a game of inches," Webster told The Philadelphia Inquirer afterward. "The line drives we were hitting into double plays are starting to go through for hits. Some of those balls just barely got through, but they got through."

Webster continued playing in the majors into 2000, returning to the Expos twice and playing with the Orioles and the Red Sox. Webster had perhaps his most successful seasons in 1997 and 1998, with the Orioles, getting into 98 games in 1997 and 108 games in 1998. His 1998 season was also marked by a .285 average.

In July 1998, Webster also helped the Orioles to a win, with a two-run, walk-off home run to beat the Athletics.

"I'm not a home-run hitter, I just try to hit the ball hard," Webster told reporters afterward. "He got it down and I took advantage of his mistake. I feel very relaxed at the plate. I was tired. I wanted to go home."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Dennis Springer, Being Different - 27

Originally published Jan. 2, 2011
In his second major league start, knuckleballer Dennis Springer made it into the sixth inning. In his first start, he'd made it that far, but given up eight hits and three earned runs.

In this start, he hadn't given up any earned runs, or any hits.

"I was aware of what was happening," Springer told The Allentown Morning Call after that September 1995 game. "It becomes obvious when people start avoiding talking to you."

Springer eventually lost the no-hit bid with two outs in the sixth. His Phillies would also go on to lose the game, Springer not factoring into the decision.

But Springer made it to that game after almost a decade pitching in the minors, learning and perfecting that oddest and most maddening of all pitches, the knuckleball. And, after those nine seasons spent in the minors, Springer would go on to a major league career that would span eight seasons, not ending until 2002.

Springer's career began in 1987, drafted by the Dodgers in the 21st round out of Cal State Fresno. He first made it above single-A in 1989, playing at AA San Antonio and AAA Albuquerque. He made the same split in 1990, though pitching in only two AAA games, the rest at AA.

By 1992, Springer was learning the knuckleball. That spring, Springer and another Dodgers prospect were called in to watch and learn from another knuckleballer, Tom Candiotti, The Los Angeles Daily News wrote.

Springer went 8-14 that year in 1992, splitting the season again between AA and AAA, with a combined ERA of 4.79. He was still learning the knuckleball in 1993, with mixed success. He posted an ERA that year of just under six.

It wasn't until 1994, when Springer signed with the Phillies, that he was got on his route to the majors, and becoming one of a select few pitchers who go by the name "Knucksie."

Called up in September 1995, Springer started four games, losing three. He was the first pure knuckleballer for the Phillies in nearly 50 years, The Associated Press wrote. Two of his knucklers also got past the catcher, leading to at least one score.

Having missed out on a win in that second start, Springer didn't get his first major league win until July 1996, then playing with the Angels. He had also marked a turning point in his pitching career. He was no longer a part-time knuckleballer. It was full-time all the way.

The Angels had him make the switch, The Los Angeles Times wrote. That spring, he went more than 14 innings before giving up his first run. His first victory came against the Brewers, giving up three runs in 7.2 innings, all the while keeping Milwaukee off balance with his knuckler.

"It was a long wait, but this feels outstanding," Springer told The Times. "It's taken a long time to get here, but it's worth it."

Springer didn't just get advice from other knuckleball pitchers like Candiotti. He got advice from others, as well. Among them was Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. He got advice from Niekro before his second start in 1995. He also spoke with him again in 1997, before Niekro took his place in Cooperstown.

Niekro's main advice? Throw the already slow pitch slower. The result was a 2-0 victory over the Indians.

"Today my No. 1 knuckleball was a real slow one," Springer told The AP. "Sometimes I threw a harder one to set up the slow one. I threw minimal fastballs and changeups."

Springer made the Devil Rays in 1998, taken from the Angels in the expansion draft. He went 3-11 for Tampa Bay, with an ERA of 5.45.

That May, Springer told The Orlando Sentinel his philosophy on his maddening pitch, a pitch that can, at best, be difficult for catchers to handle.

Springer was one to throw the pitch any time, he told The Sentinel. Pete Rose had once told him he waited for 3-0 counts, when knuckleballers went to a fastball. Springer tried to avoid that.

"You live and die with it," Springer told The Sentinel, "and hopefully, you don't die too much."

The next year, 1999, was Springer's last with meaningful playing time. He joined the Marlins and went 6-16, with a 4.86 ERA. Over the next three seasons, Springer saw two games with the Mets in 2000, four with the Dodgers in 2001 and one more with the Dodgers in 2002, ending his career.

In 2001, one of his four appearances came Oct. 7, starting the final game of the season against the Giants. A first inning pitch from Springer became the 73rd pitch Barry Bonds hit for a home run that season.

During his final season with regular time, in 1999, Springer threw a complete game shutout in August, against his old team the Devil Rays. He threw his knuckler that night "as if it were attached to a string," The Sarasota Herald-Tribune wrote.

Reflecting that month on his lot as a knuckleballer, Springer told The Orange County Register being a knuckleballer took endurance.

"Everybody always calls you 'Knucksie'," Springer told The Register. "It's like a rule. You need the right mentality to deal with being different."
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 3,012
Made the Majors:1,105-36.7%
Never Made Majors:1,907-63.4%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 459
10+ Seasons in the Minors:276

Ed Gustafson, Been Around - 85

Originally published Jan. 21, 2015
The first thing Texas Tech head coach Dan Spencer thought of about his new assistant Ed Gustafson, according to The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in 2008 was that Gustafson could evaluate talent and do it well.

"The thing that he can do outside the recruiting area is he's been around the game a long time and has strengths in a lot of areas," Spencer told The Avalanche-Journal. "I'd like to think we have a bunch of guys who aren't one-dimensional."

Gustafson's time around the game included time in college, as well as the pros. In the pros, Gustafson played four seasons. He later returned to the pros as a scout.

Gustafson's career began in 1989, taken by the Giants in the 18th round of the draft out of Washington State University.

Gustafson started with the Giants at short-season Everett. In 25 outings, two starts, the right-hander went 2-6, with a 3.12 ERA. He started with a poor outing, but then got into the sixth inning in a start. In July, he threw an inning of scoreless relief.

He moved to single-A Clinton for 1990 and he pitched well. In 40 outings, one start, he posted a 1.81 ERA and he saved 12 games. He also saw two outings at high-A San Jose.

That May, a good start had Gustafson drawing praise from Giants brass, according to The Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

"All of our minor league people are really happy with the way he's progressing," Giants spokesman Matt Fischer told The Daily News. "We think he's a legitimate prospect."

Gustafson, though, couldn't keep up that success. He moved to the Twins system and high-A Visalia for 1991. His ERA increased to 4.97 splitting time between starting and relieving.

He then made AA Orlando in 1992. He went 6-12 there, with a 5.30 ERA. It was his final season as a pro.

Gustafson soon turned to coaching and scouting. He scouted for the Mariners, then served as an assistant coach for the University of Portland. He later served as an assistant coach at the University of Washington.

By 2002, Gustafson had started his new career as a scout for Arizona. He spent at least five years there, then joined Texas Tech for 2009, staying there two seasons.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Rob Giesecke, Wife Said - 4

Rob "Doc" Giesecke first arrived in Vero Beach in 1980 and he's been an almost constant presence there since.

Giesecke started there as a trainer, in his second year training in the pros. He remained there in 2010, two seasons after the Dodgers left for Arizona, in his capacity overseeing maintenance at the facility, according to The Orlando Sentinel.

"My wife has said to me — often — that she'll end up burying me in here somewhere," Giesecke told The Sentinel in March 2010.

Giesecke's connection to the Dodgers, and later Dodgertown, began in 1979, when the Peru, Neb., native signed on with the organization out of Mankato State University. He graduated there that January with a degree in physical education and athletic training, according to his 1979 TCMA card.

He started with the Dodgers at single-A Clinton and moved to Vero Beach in 1980. In 1982, he got his first look at spring training, helping with the Dodgers medical staff. Giesecke returned to spring training in 1983, helping with the non-roster players.

Giesecke continued with Vero Beach in 1985. By that time, Giesecke and his wife had made Vero Beach their home. He also had taken on a second role, assisting in the offseason with the Dodgertown grounds and maintenance staff.

Giesecke continued training in Vero Beach through 1988. He then moved up to AA San Antonio in 1989 and served as a trainer for the Texas League All-Star team in 1990.

By 1994, he had returned to Vero Beach. His final card as a trainer came in 1998, again with Vero Beach.
1990 Minor League Tally
Players/Coaches Featured: 3,012
Made the Majors:1,105-36.7%
Never Made Majors:1,907-63.4%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 459
10+ Seasons in the Minors:276

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