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National High School Baseball Powers

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(Useless blog information: this is my 700th post!)

USA Today just came out with their pre-season 2014 top -25 High School Baseball rankings (to go along with Baseball America’s pre-season top 50 and Maxpreps.com’s top 100 pre-season rankings), and a number of familiar national High Schools are on the various lists.  I thought it was a good time to publish the review of Local and National high school baseball powers that I’ve had in draft status for a while.

I touched on the topic of High Schools who consistently generate talent briefly in January 2013, when I penned a post delving into the best players the State of Virginia has produced.  II you’re interested in the best producing Virginia High Schools there’s a section in that January 2013 post on the topic.  Despite having some significant talent come out of the state recently, there is no high school in our area that comes close to producing what some of these schools in Florida, California and Texas do.  At the bottom here I’ll talk briefly about significant local schools.

Lets take a look at some of these baseball factories and look at some of the big-time talent they’ve produced lately.  I’ll freely admit that this is mostly analysis of teams that have been good lately … but i’ve tried not to fall into the habit of picking a team that just happens to be good now by looking at the performances of these teams over the past 4-5 years.  Suffice it to say; one class of great players can make a team very highly ranked for a year or two, but you need to consistently develop players to constantly be considered among the best programs in the country.

Here we go.  In each case if they’re pre-season ranked I’ll use a quick short-hand so as not to repeat typing the same things over and over.  (X,Y,Z) after each high school mean’s the team is pre-season ranked by in order by USA Today, Baseball America and Max Preps.

  • Archbishop McCarthy HS, Southwest Ranches, Fla (#1,7,1); They have won four consecutive Florida 6a titles and are the 2014 preseason#1 ranked team by USA-Today   They’ve had no less than eight draftees in the last four drafts, including two first rounders (presumptive 3B starter in Detroit Nick Castellanos and Nick Travieso in 2012).  This is a seriously good baseball program.
  • Harvard-Westlake HS in Studio City, California (Los Angeles) (7,8,7).  Alma Mater of our own Lucas Giolito, but was also home to another 2012 first round pick Max Fried.  Can you imagine a high school team with two first round pitching prospects?  Also the alma mater of current MLBers Josh Satin and Brennan Boesch, both of whom were drafted out of Cal-Berkeley, and 2013 2nd round pick Austin Wilson out of Stanford.  A good pedigree of recent high-end talent.
  • The Woodlands HS in The Woodlands, Texas (#29,NR,NR). Alma Mater to 2011 #2 overall pick Jamison Taillon and 2011 3rd round pitcher Bryan Brickhouse.  More recently, home to 2013 3rd rounder Carter Hope.   All three of these guys were big-time right-handed pitching prospects.  Also home to two current MLBers: Kyle Drabek (a 2006 1st round pick) and Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick after going to college).   They’re a bit down this year, but have been highly ranked for years.  Defending Texas 5-A champs, no small feat.
  • American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla. (#3,24,14).  Began gaining notice after producing both #3 overall 2008 pick Eric Hosmer and (former) Nats prospect Adrian Nieto in 2008; since has produced another 6-8 draft prospects.  Enters 2014 with a preseason #3 ranking from Usa-Today and should match up well with Archbishop McCarthy (if they are scheduled to play).
  • Owasso (Okla.) HS. (#4,4,2) 2014 Preseason USA-today #4 team who went 36-0 last season and returns seven starters.   Recent alumni include two first round draftees in St. Louis’ Pete Kozma and the likely more impactful Dylan Bundy, Baltimore’s #1 prospect, who reached the majors by age 20 and is currently rehabbing a Tommy John injury.
  • Barbe HS, Lake Charles, LA (#8,6,6).  Getting some pre-season 2014 credit thanks to a slew of Division 1-signed talent; had three players drafted from its 2010 team.  Of local interest to yours truly because Lake Charles is where my wife hails from and where we go married.
  • Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas: (#12,13,9) his sports powerhouse is also routinely nationally ranked in Football and Basketball, and has matriculated a handful of local players lately (including supplemental 1st rounder Joey Gallo in 2012).   They were the defending Nevada state champions seven times before losing in the final last year.  This is not however the alma-mater of our own Bryce Harper: he went to Las Vegas HS, which doesn’t have nearly the alumni pedigree as Gorman.
  • Archbishop Moeller HS, Cincinnati (#17,30,10).  Moeller has a very rich history; its alums include Buddy Bell and his sons, Ken Griffey Jr and Barry Larkin.  They’ve had at least 11 alumni play pro-ball.  And they’re back in the national scene, ranked #17 pre-season by USA-Today for 2014.
  • Rancho Bernardo, San Diego: (NR, #3, #24): this school’s nickname is “the Factory,” so I had to put it in here.  Home to 3 current major leaguers (including Cole Hamels) and a whole slew of recent draftees.
  • Venice (Fla.) HS (#15,1,4).  A johnny come-lately to the party: they’re also a defending Florida state champ (in a different class than Archbishop McCarthy) and are the #1 ranked pre-season team by Baseball America.  Not a ton of alumni history here, but they are #1 in one of the three main publications i’m using as reference here.
  • Broken Arrow (Okla.) HS (NR,#15,NR): Broken Arrow had three members of its 2011 team picked, including upper 1st round talent Archie Bradley.  They’ve had a few MLB alumni and are routinely in the latter stages of the Oklahoma state tournament.
  • St. Francis HS Mountain View, CA (#27,2,12): some interesting spread between the three rankings for St. Francis, based in Mountain View, CA.  They have a slew of alumni currently playing college or pro ball and are #2 in Baseball America’s pre-season rankings for 2014.
  • Seton Hall Prep, West Orange NJ: (NR on any 2014 list) the rare cold-weather school with significant pro matriculation.  Detroit’s Rick Porcello hails from Seton Hall Prep, though the most famous New Jersey native in the majors (Mike Trout) attended a different HS (Milleville HS) and is the first player from his HS to make the majors since the 1940s.

Some of the all-time great producing High Schools not already mentioned:

  • Hillsborough HS in Tampa (NR on any 2014 list) boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary SheffieldDwight GoodenCarl Everett and former Nat Elijah Dukes.
  • Jesuit HS, Tampa: (#26,NR,NR).  Another high school in Tampa that has a huge alumni base in pro ball; 10 major leaguers and 74 players in pro-ball (per baseball cube).
  • Lakewood HS in Orange County (NR on any 2014 list) has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.
  • Sarasota HS in Florida (#37,NR,NR) also boasts 57 pro player alumni, 14 MLB pros including our own Ian Desmond.
  • There’s a HS in Oakland called McClymonds that has two Hall of Fame alumni (Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi), a host of other famous names from 60s and 70s but which hasn’t generated a pro player since the mid 1970s.  Per its wikipedia page it only has about 250 students now; I wonder if they even still field a baseball team.
  • Polytechnic HS in Long Beach (NR on any 2014 list) has 47 pro alumni but an astonishing 18 guys with MLB experience, headlined by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and possibly future hall of famer Chase Utley.
  • Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif. (NR on any 2014 list): 9 major leaguers among at least 40 pro alumni, including Washington’s Danny Espinosa.
  • Special Mention: the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy is technically a high school and easily has the highest number of drafted players (111 in baseball Cube’s records).  Most recently, 1-1 pick Carlos Correa is an alumni, though he’s one of just two 1st rounders out of this school that I can see.

 

DC Area Local

Its hard to say if there’s a local “baseball factory” school; certainly one does not exist like the Florida and California schools mentioned here.  But there are a couple of programs in the DC area who play significant schedules and who recruit heavily in the baseball circles:

  • Riverdale Baptist HS, Upper Marlboro MD.  They have quite a few players in the NCAA ranks but few who have lasted long in the pros.
  • St. John’s HS (Washington, DC); they’ve had some recent draft success and have sent players to good schools.

Past these two schools, it does seem like certain local public programs are always doing well.  Dematha is getting some national ranking mentions pre-season but doesn’t have the baseball pedigree that they have in Football and Basketball.  Vienna programs Oakton and Madison HS are constantly in the mix locally and state-wide, a product of a fabulous youth program that feeds into both those schools.  Finally, the two largest schools in the area (Lake Braddock and Robinson) routinely advance far in the regional tournaments, thanks in part to an enrollment that rivals some colleges.  But they’re hardly “factories” like the above school, nor do they put out the kind of upper-end players that Florida and California schools can.

 


For some historical perspective, here’s a slew of links to pre- and post-season rankings that i’ve collected for the past few years, with #1 national team and any local schools noted.

Other useful links for High School baseball analysis;

Did I miss any?  Please discuss.

Ryan Zimmerman; Mr. Walkoff

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Zimmerman's 9th career walk-off homer couldn't have come at a better time.  Photo Greg Fiume via amazingavenue

Zimmerman’s 9th career walk-off homer couldn’t have come at a better time. Photo Greg Fiume via amazingavenue

Its been a little while since Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home-run (about two years) but on Friday night 7/26/13 he delivered again, giving the Nats a second walk-off win in two days.

In his Washington career he’s had some memorable walk-off homers:

  • A 2-run walk-off against Chien-Ming Wang on Fathers Day 2006 against the Yankees, a game in which the team set its long-running regular season attendance record (only surpassed on Opening day 2013).
  • A 2-out, 2-strike come-from-behind homer against Florida on the 4th of July that same year.
  • Perhaps his most amazing walk-off homer; the game-winner in the Nats Stadium opener in April 2008, a leading candidate for “Best Nats game of all time.”

Zimmerman had accumulated no less than eight walk-off homers by the end of his 6th professional season in 2011, and he seemed a sure bet to shatter the all time MLB record for such events.  The long-standing record for career walk-offs was shared by this quintet of Hall-of-Famers at 12: Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson before one Jim Thome hit his 13th in June of 2012 to take over the career lead just before he retired.  Friday’s was Zimmerman’s 9th, and you’d have to think he remains a good bet to possibly take over the career lead before his career (which is seemingly only about half way done) is over.

The current active leader in walk-offs is another noteworthy name; David Ortiz connected for his 11th such walk-off homer on 6/6/13, as detailed by Billy-Ball.com.  Ortiz’ most noteworthy walk-off homers though are the post-season variety, not captured by these regular season records.

Zimmerman has had a 2 year walk-off drought; will we see another moment of magic later this year?

Written by Todd Boss

July 27th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

My top 5 Nats Games seen in person

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As we get started for a new season of Nats baseball, one with incredible promise and high expectations, I thought I’d put out a fun post for retrospection for all us Nats fans.  What are some of the best Nats games you’ve seen in person?  This post is inspired by a post from William World News, he himself inspired by another post (so this is transitive blog post inspiration here).

Here’s my Best 5 Nats games seen in person, in no particular order:

1. Nats Park Opener 2008: I caught a 4am flight from a Vegas bachelor party to make it.   We had nosebleeds up in the left field bleachers but Dad and I stayed for the whole game.  Jon Rauch blew the save and gave up the lead in the top of the 9th and we all groaned; it was late on a Sunday night and very cold.  Dad and I had metro’d down and started making our way back to the train, thinking that with the cold there may be a long set of extra innings when suddenly Ryan Zimmerman blasted a walk-off homer to win the game.  Very special game.

2. Ramon Ortiz taking a no-hitter into the 9th on September 4th, 2006 at RFK.  We basically saw the greatest game of Ortiz’s career as he shutdown the powerful St. Louis Cardinals on zero hits through eight.  Ortiz also managed to hit the SOLE home run of his career that night.  In the top of the 9th he gave up a hit … and then promptly served up one of the longest home runs I’d ever seen to Albert Pujols, who blasted a ball to dead-center field at RFK that landed in the upper bleachers.  Before Pujols had rounded first base Frank Robinson was out of the dugout to pull Ortiz and let Chad Cordero get the save.  Looking at the box score it was an awfully fast hook; there were 2 outs in the 9th, the Nats were ahead 4-1 and Ortiz was only on 95 pitches.  Why not let him get the CG?  Still a special game.

3. Fathers Day versus the Yankees 2006: Zimmerman walk off again for come-from behind victory, closest RFK ever came to being full outside of the 2005 opener.  The stadium was absolutely buzzing that day and I was dutifully in tow with my own father (along with good friend Pat Boyd and his dad, a diehard yankee fan).  The same group was also at the 2012 Nats-Yankees series, and we saw the game where Bryce Harper struck out 5 times.

4. NL East clincher Oct 1st, 2012; entire crowd singing “Take On Me” when Michael Morse came to the plate, and then despite being behind in the 9th the Nats clinched the division when the Braves lost, which was announced in the middle of the 9th inning as the mobile-phone enabled crowd started cheering and the announcers were forced to post it on the scoreboard.  The Nats were listless that game, getting just 4 hits off of Kyle Kendrick in 7 innings and seemed distracted.  But it was all worthwhile for the champagne celebration afterwards.

5. First home game as a franchise: April 14 2005.  The new Washington franchise played its first 9 games on the road, ostensibly to give the Nats their own stage for their first home opener.  Thanks to George W. Bush‘s attendance, the line to get into the stadium was an hour long and we missed the first inning entirely.   But we got in, the team won behind 8 strong innings from Livan Hernandez and a tradition was started.

Coincidentally, Zimmerman now has 8 career walk-off home runs, a distinct penchant for the dramatic.  Which is a ton considering that the career record is 13, belonging to Jim Thome.  Can Zimmerman keep getting these marquee home runs and put his name on this list?   He seems to have a long career ahead of him and plenty of time to hit a handful more walk-offs (myworldofbaseball has a nice description of each of Zimmerman’s 8 walkoffs).

Games I wish I had been to:

Strasburg‘s debut: June 8, 2010; my family was in South Africa for the World Cup 2010 so we missed it.  However, I remember my dad distinctly telling me Strasburg’s line on the day.  7ip, 14Ks, 0bbs.  And I thought he was kidding.

– Teddy Wins!  After years of losing, many people had given up hope that Teddy would ever win.  I thought personally his best shot was his Bobblehead day, when “secret service” members guarded him as he tried to finally cross the finish line first.  But it was not to be and I thought perhaps he’d never win.  As it turned out, the prerequisite to Teddy winning was the Nats themselves winning a title, a fitting end to his losing streak.

– Any of the 2012 playoffs, but especially NLDS Game 4 walk-off.  Probably the most special moment in the Nats short history.  I did not “win” any playoff tickets out of my season ticket groups and watched the game from home, on tape delay.  Amazing finish.  I have a photo of Jayson Werth stomping on home plate framed in my son’s room now; ironically its the same photo that now adorns the side of Nats Stadium.

– Final game at RFK: I may have been there frankly.  That was a long time and a lot of losses ago.  If I was there, It didn’t turn out to be nearly as special as it could have been.

What are your best Nats game memories?

How good is an “All Virginia” team?

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Is Virginia Native Justin Verlander the best ever player from the State? Photo unknown via rumorsandrants.com

Recently, I read a pundit who talked about how a huge percentage of baseball prospects come from relatively few states; California (mostly Southern California at that), Texas, Florida and Georgia.  The Baseball America guys once talked about an “All North Carolina” team and how good it would be (BA is based in Durham, NC).  It got me thinking: how good of a team could you put together of prospects with ties to Virginia?   Having grown up in Virginia and having had the opportunity to play with and against a number of guys with pro ties over the years, I thought it’d be interesting to put together the “All Virginia Team.”

Using mostly the handy Baseball-reference pages, I looked up players who were either born in Virginia, went to a Virginia-based high school, or played baseball at one of Virginia’s universities.  There’s also the fantastic Baseball Cube website (www.thebaseballcube.com) that has very in-depth player databases searchable by high schools that shows every player on a professional or NCAA team by school, which sometimes has better records than B-R.com.  The players here had to be active in the Majors in 2012, though as it turned out there’s enough guys with Virginia ties to make a full starting team.  Feedback is welcome.

Here’s a roster:

Backups: Brandon Guyer OF (HS in Herndon, college at UVA), Rich Thompson OF (college at JMU), Jeff Baker Util (HS at Garfield in Woodbridge), Brandon Snyder IB/OF (HS at Westfields in Chantilly).  Erik Kratz C (college at Eastern Mennonite)

Ok, so we’re a little weak up the middle.  Zimmerman played SS in college but I can’t find a legitimate shortstop out there.  Rhymes was just signed by the Nats to a minor league deal and isn’t likely to make the opening day 25-man roster save for injury.  Inge hasn’t caught regularly in a few years.  But how about the hitting prowness of this lineup?   BJ Upton-Cuddyer-Zimmerman-Wright-Justin Upton-Reynolds is a pretty powerful group.  Coincidentally, I put in Kratz because I find it amazing that someone who played baseball at Eastern Mennonite is actually in the big leagues.  By B-R’s records, he’s the SOLE alumni of that university to have ever even played professional baseball.

Starting Pitchers:

  • Justin Verlander (born outside of Richmond, HS in Goochland, college at ODU)
  • Mat Latos (born in Alexandria)
  • Daniel Hudson (born in Lynchburg, HS in Virginia Beach, college at ODU)
  • Joe Saunders (born in Falls Church, HS at West Springfield, college at Va Tech)
  • Tim Stauffer (college at University of Richmond)

Backup starters: Danny Hultzen (born and raised in Bethesda, college at UVA); an exception to my “active in 2012″ rule but clearly the most high-profile tied-to-Virginia prospect in the game right now.  John Maine (born in Fredericksburg, HS in Stafford) had a decent stint starting for the Mets, but he’s yet to get back to the majors after a shoulder surgery in 2010).

A pretty good 1-2 punch, including arguably the best pitcher in the game.  Hudson has some potential.  Saunders is more of an innings eater lefty, but he’s made a pretty good career for himself already.  Stauffer had elbow surgery in August 2012 and probably isn’t ready for opening day, but he’s the best I could find.

Relievers:

Backup Relievers: BJ Rosenberg (born in Newport News), Jeremy Jeffress (born and HS in South Boston), Clay Rapada (born in Portsmouth, HS in Chesapeake, college at Virginia State).  Seth Greisinger (McLean and UVA) as an honorable mention.

Not bad depth here; I suppose Marshall could close, Bray be the loogy, Camp be an 8th inning guy, Eppley a 7th inning type and the rest be middle men.  I like how Sean Camp was born, raised, went to high school and played baseball in college without ever leaving Fairfax.


Other random Virginia School trivia:

What’s the best producing college in Virginia?   Pretty easily its UVA, with 117 pro players in B-R’s database and 30 guys reaching the majors.  Virginia Tech, ODU, Richmond and VCU are all grouped a bit behind UVA in terms of pro player development.  Amazingly little Liberty University has matriculated 59 players to the pro ranks.

At current, UVA has 6 active alumni in the majors.  William & Mary, ODU and Richmond have 2 each, and a slew of lesser baseball-playing universities have one each (all of which are mentioned above).

What’s the best producing High School in Virginia?  Pretty clearly the high schools in the Virginia Beach/Chesapeake area have been producing some serious baseball talent lately, but even the Upton brothers ended up going to different high schools.  Both Virginia HS in Bristol and First Colonial HS in Virginia Beach list 8 pro player alumni with 2 pros each.

Closer to home in Northern Virginia: Garfield has 7 total players with Pro experience in the database, 3  of which have MLB experience.  Robinson HS in Fairfax has 6 pros/3 MLB experience.  Fairfax HS also has the same; 6 pros, 3 with MLB experience.

Of course, these numbers pale in comparison to some of the baseball factories in the major baseball-producing states Florida and California.   Hillsborough HS in Tampa boasts 41 pro alumni and 10 with MLB experience, including Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and our own Elijah Dukes.  Lakewood HS in Orange county has 57 pro alumni and 12 MLB experienced players, though not nearly of the name quality of Hillsborough’s graduates.    Sarasota HS in Florida also boasts 57 pro player alumni, 14 MLB pros including our own Ian Desmond.  There’s a HS in Oakland called McClymonds that has two Hall of Fame alumni (Frank Robinson and Ernie Lombardi), a host of other famous names from 60s and 70s but which hasn’t generated a pro player since the mid 1970s.  Lastly Polytechnic HS in Long Beach has 47 pro alumni but an astonishing 18 guys with MLB experience, headlined by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and possibly future hall of famer Chase Utley.


Who is the Greatest player to have Virginia Roots?   You could make arguments for Verlander, Wright, Zimmerman or the Upton brothers (probably in that order), but how about one Lou Whitaker, born in Brooklyn but somehow ended up matriculating from HS in Martinsville, Virginia, where he was drafted in the 5th round by Detroit.  Billy Wagner (born in Tannersville, HS in Tazewell and college at Ferrum) is another guy from Virginia with a long, successful career.  Long-time Oriole Al Bumbry was born in Fredericksburg, went to HS in King George and attended Virginia State.

However, there’s only one Hall of Famer with Virginia Roots that I can find: Eppa Rixley, born in Culpeper, HS in Charlottesville and he pitched for UVA before being signed as a free agent by Philadelphia.  He ended up pitching 21 years in the majors and was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s committee in 1963 shortly after he died.


(Editor’s Note: you may feel free to stop reading now; Below here is all pretty obscure stuff and only probably interesting to myself and my dad, or people who happen to grow up in the area and are familiar with Vienna baseball.  In fact, I kind of got into a rat-hole of reminiscing for this section, thinking back to the good old days.  I won’t be offended :-).

My Personal experiences growing up and playing in Northern Virginia: I played Vienna youth leagues from 1977 til 1989, played in Vienna Babe Ruth and graduated from James Madison HS in Vienna in 1989 for reference.

The best player from Northern Virginia in my youth experiences was one Pete Schourek, who was two years older than me and graduated from Marshall HS in 1987.  An enduring memory from my youth was watching Schourek blast a home-run to the townhouses beyond the RF fence at Marshall against Mike Nielsen (the ace of my own high school) in 1987.   Schourek turned down a scholarship offer to Auburn and took 2nd round bonus money from the Mets.   Schourek’s career lasted 10 years in the majors and his best season was an 18-7 year that resulted in a 2nd place Cy Young finish.  The word at the time was that the Dodgers wanted to draft him as a hitter; his power from the left-hand side was quite superior.  I often wonder if his would have made it as a hitting prospect; he had such natural lefty power in high school.  (Click here for the Connection’s Schourek profile in their “top 100 athletes” series from 2000).

Other notable pro players from the 3-4 year period right around my draft year who I played against at various points:

  • A.J. Hernandez, who was the star of the local Herndon/Reston/McLean Babe Ruth all-star teams that had Vienna’s number year after year in the late 80s.   He played one year of low-A ball.
  • David Carroll, a tall, rangy left-hander who dominated Chantilly baseball for years.  He was a 6th round pick in 1991 and made it to AAA before washing out.  We played against Carroll’s teams in the Credit Union in the early 90s.
  • Lonnie Goldberg, who was on the same HS team as Schourek at one point; played at George Mason, drafted in the later rounds and played 5 seasons of minor league ball.
  • Bill Pulsipher, who was a dominant player in the area and was drafted in the 2nd Round by the Mets in 1991 out of Fairfax HS.  He made the Mets rotation by age 21 and looked decent before getting injured and spending the rest of his MLB career struggling in the bullpen.  His b-r.com page shows his drive; he was still playing professaional Indy ball as late as 2011.  (Pulsipher Connection profile from 2000).  His 1991 Fairfax HS team also had one Brian Buchanan, who was a 1st round draft pick after attending UVA and played 5 years in the majors.  Imagine; one high school team with a 1st and a 2nd round draft pick in this area.  Amazingly Fairfax HS didn’t win anything more than its District during this time.
  • Robin Jennings: a 1990 graduate of Annandale who did a year of community college and the got drafted under the old Draft-and-Follow rules by the Cubs.  He played in parts of four major league seasons spread across 12 minor league seasons, including his last minor league season with the Washington organization in 2007 at the age of 35, fully 4 years after last appearing in a uniform.  I can’t specifically recall playing against Jennings like I can recall playing against these other guys though.  Maybe in fall ball.

Goldberg and Schourek, along with Marshall’s #2 pitcher Steve Makranczy led Marshall to back-to-back state championship games in the late 80s.  Steve played on a number of fall teams with me and still plays in the local DCMSBL league.  Schourek still suits up for teams in the Industrial League, and according to a couple of random friends, plays in an ultra-competitive basketball league along side other former Division 1 players in the area.

Speaking of my own HS of the time; I was always amazed we didn’t fare better.  Thinking back to 1988, my HS started an entire team of guys who either went pro or played division 1 somewhere.  The 3 leading pitchers played at Radford, BYU and GMU respectively, our starting catcher went to BYU.  Our 1B played at William & Mary.  Our middle infield combo both played at UVA.  Our 3rd baseman was a full ride player at NC State.  In the OF, one guy played at GMU and went pro, another guy played at Montgomery College.  That’s a LOT of talent on one HS team for this area, and they never advanced in the Regional tournament.

The best local player of my draft year (1989) was a fellow by the name of Doug Newstrom, born in Quantico and who went to HS at W.T. Woodson in Fairfax.  He went to Arizona State and was a 7th round pick after his Junior year but never made the big leagues.  Newstrom was the cornerstone of a Woodson team that went undefeated in 1989 and won the state championship (they also won in 1990). My personal experience playing against Newstrom; the fall-league baseball teams of that time period were essentially city-specific all-star teams of the guys who didn’t play football, and the competition was great.  The Woodson varsity team to-be in the spring of 1989 got all their guys together to get a “test run” of their team and they romped to the fall league 16-18yr old championship game.  Our Vienna-based team was a rag-tag collection of guys who attended Madison, Marshall, Oakton, Paul VI and O’Connell but who had Vienna zip codes, but we were good and we also reached the championship game.  It was on a cold November day at Falls Church High School.   We faced off against Woodson’s ace (Mark Bauch, the same guy who would go 13-0 the following spring en route to the Virginia State championship) and promptly knocked him out in the first inning without retiring a batter, racing to a 6-0 lead.  Our pitcher (Jeff Ford, who attended Oakton and played college ball at a small school somewhere) tried to keep the Woodson team at bay throughout the 7 inning game, but they fought back.  In the bottom of the 7th trailing 6-5 and with two outs, the Woodson team put a couple guys on and Newstrom came to bat.  Newstrom connected on a towering drive to right field; I thought he had just hit a walk-off homer.  Our right fielder (Steve Paasch, another Oakton graduate) reached over the RF fence, jumped and caught the ball for the 3rd out and the championship.  It was one of the two or three best games I was ever a part of.

Editor Update: my memory apparently failed me: turns out Newstrom was actually a year behind me (he was born just a few months after me but was a school year behind).  He led Woodson to a 2nd consecutive VA state title in 1990 before committing to ASU.  I got a nice shout-out from one Rob Paine months after this post with a link to this great feature of Newstrom, with a great photo.

Best player from my high school Alma Mater (James Madison HS in Vienna): probably one Mike Wallace, who was picked straight out of high school, was in the majors by 22, and out of the majors by 26.  Wallace seems like he should have played longer; he was a lefty with decent numbers both in the majors and in his final seasons in the minors.  But he was retired at 28.  He signed on with MASN as a baseball pundit in 2011.  However it is worth mentioning one Jay Franklin, who graduated from Madison HS in 1971 and was the 2nd overall pick in that year’s baseball draft.  He tore up the Northwoods league and earned a call-up to the majors as an 18 year old.  I’m guessing he got hurt though, because he missed the entire 1972 season.  He appeared in four more minor league years before retiring at age 24, having just reached AAA.  Another guy who seems like he should have played longer.

Editor addition: thanks to anonymous comment for reminding us about Bobby Brower, whose baseball-reference.com page is missing the fact that he went to Madison HS.  He was one heck of an athlete, earning FOUR varsity letters his senior year of HS.  He attended Duke University, playing both football and baseball before focusing on hardball.  Despite being an All-ACC selection, he went undrafted, got picked up by Texas and eventually fought his way to the major league team.  He was traded to the Yankees after a couple years with Texas but struggled for playing time in New York, getting dropped back to AAA where he stayed through 1990.  A brief comeback in 1992 went for naught and Brower retired at the age of 32.   And I’ll add one Ronnie Slingerman, whose name keeps popping up during research of these early JMHS teams and who remains active in the Vienna baseball community.

Btw, the Fairfax Connection news papers featured all three of these players in their “Top 100 local Athletes” series done in the year 2000.  Click here for Wallace, here for Franklin and here for Brower‘s bios, all three of which go in to much greater detail than I have here.

Baseball-reference.com’s records are somewhat spotty on my high school; they list only 7 pro players and 2 major leaguers from my HS, but we know there are several more with pro experience, just counting guys I’ve directly played with (among others; Chris Burr and Billy Emerson).  BaseballCube lists 28 guys in their database, though not all played pro.   David Driver with The Vienna Patch did an article on Wallace in October 2012 and discussed several other Madison grads who have made the majors, some of whom are not correctly attributed in B-R.com either.   One such player is Jim McNamara, who I’m familiar with because he used to substitute teach while I was attending the high school and he was famous for being manipulated into wasting an entire period talking about his baseball playing days instead of teaching any material.

Best player ever from my college Alma Mater (James Madison University): probably one Billy Sample, born and raised in Roanoke and who played at JMU from 1974-1976.  He was drafted in the 10th round, played for a decade or so and hung ‘em up in 1986.  Mike Venafro was born in Takoma Park, went to Paul VI in Fairfax and then JMU before putting together a 7-year career in the majors, retiring back in 2006.  JMU is actually a pretty decent baseball school; we’ve made the NCAA tournament 11 times and several times recently, and made the College World Series in 1983 (getting blasted by eventual champion Texas and Stanford for a 2-and-out appearance; the wikipedia page is funny, JMU has no “notable players” listed.  Coincidentally; look at some of the talent playing in that tournament: Bonds, Schiraldi, Clemens, Larkin, Sabo, McDowell, Incavilia.  Three future Hall of Famers).   However I can only find one JMU alumni who appeared in the majors in 2012; the aforementioned Rich Thomas, who appears to be a 4th/5th outfielder.

Best player I played with or against post youth/High School: After high school we played in a local amateur league for a year, then put together an entry into the Credit Union, which was a powerful amateur league in the area (which is now part of the Industrial League).  After a brief baseball hiatus spent mostly playing softball (there was no 19+ league in DCMSBL at the time; you had to be at least 30 to play in the league for many years), I’ve been playing consistently in the DCMSBL since 1998.

In the early 90s, we had a local guy named Kevin Gallaher pitch for us periodically.   He had Vienna roots, went to O’Connell and then played at St. Bonaventure (none of which btw is on his baseball-reference page but is on his baseball Cube page).   I got to catch Gallaher here and there and he had pretty good stuff.  Apparently his stuff got better his senior year at college and he was a non-drafted FA signee.  Gallaher made it to AAA before calling it quits at age 29.   His next move: to appear on the reality TV show “Married by America” (it didn’t work out: his bride-to-be left him at the alter).

In the Credit Union, we played against some serious talent, but I was too young to remember most of them.  A couple notable names that I do remember were Steve Norwood, brother of the infamous Buffalo Bills kicker Jeff Norwood, who played alongside his father Del Norwood on the Apple team.  Norwood was a local legend, a longtime coach at W&L in Arlington (he won 10 straight district titles in the 60s and 14 overall at the school; the field is named after him) and had to be in his 70s at the time but could still throw a knuckle-ball by the semi-pro calibre players of the Credit Union.   Local legend amateur player Pete Groves pitched against us in the league; he now leads the Fedlock teams that have won many national MSBL titles (he supposedly reached AAA but I can’t find any records of him playing pro).  We picked up a random guy off a wait list named John Bonfield who had pitched at Yale; he was one of the better pitchers i’ve ever played along side.  He could throw 8 different pitches but had a failing for “enforcing the unwritten rules of the game” at the most unideal time.  He once purposely hit a guy who he thought was stealing signs with the bases loaded in a close game.

In MSBL, the best players I played against didn’t necessarily have direct professional ties.  The Gouveia siblings (brothers of former Redskin Kurt Gouveia were feared sluggers in the league).  Garland Cooper was competitive against players half his age; he played in the Valley league but never pro.  Ira Holland (who played college at  Howard and was drafted before returning to school) was probably the most feared hitter in the league in the early 2000s; guys from that era still ask us about him.  The ace pitcher of my current team Jason Martino signed out of HS but only played one year of rookie ball before getting set aside by his drafting team.

Anyway; if you’ve read this far, I hope you enjoyed my own little personal history of playing ball in this area.

Bill Ladson’s 7/21/11 inbox; my answers to his questions

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Is this your 2011 NL Rookie of the Year? Photo: AP via silive.com

MLB Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson doesn’t do mailboxes that frequently, but when he does I’m sometimes intrigued by his answers.  Lets see how i’d have answered the questions he took in his latest mailbag.  As always, I read the question and answer it myself prior to reading his answer.

Q: Don’t get me wrong, I love Danny Espinosa. But how can you say he’s the “most complete player I’ve covered since Vladimir Guerrero”
A: I like Danny Espinosa and was a fan of his even before he started his 2011 rookie-of-the-year campaign.  A question though: does Espinosa even feature as a typical 5-tool player? Power (yes), Average? (not yet … despite his BABIP being a bit low he’s only hitting in the .240s), but perhaps in the future.  Speed?  12 Stolen bases on pace for about 20.  Defense?  by all accounts yes.  Arm?  Definitely.  So, he’s pretty durn complete.  But, he’s got exactly 3/4 of one pro season under his belt.  A lot has to happen before we start comparing him to one of the better players in the last 20 years (Vladimir Guerrero).  Ladson says he IS a 5-tool player, and that he’s the best defensive 2nd baseman in baseball right now.  Heady statements.  Here’s a list of Uzr/150 ratings for 2nd basemen right now; Espinosa is 5th behind some pretty good defensive players.  Will he stay at 2nd base long enough to gain consideration or take over at short?  See below.

Q: With Mike Cameron traded to the Marlins, do you see the Nationals making a move to get someone like Cameron before the non-waiver Trade Deadline?
A: Mike Rizzo keeps talking about how he wants a center fielder.  BJ Upton and Michael Bourn are names that keep popping up.  But at what point does the team realize it may have a great future center fielder in Bryce Harper and just wait it out?  I wouldn’t want Cameron, an aging player living on his defensive reputation of yesteryear.   Ladson specifically mentions both Upton and Bourn, stating that the Nats are not interested in aging vets.

Q: What is Ian Desmond’s future with the team? Steve Lombardozzi seems like he could be a fit as a leadoff hitter sooner rather than later. Problem is, he plays second base. Could Desi move to left field, or is it more likely he goes to another ballclub? His numbers offensively have not been good.
A: Great question. Ian Desmond has clearly taken a step backwards offensively just at the same time that he’s finally taken a step forward defensively. What should the team do? Live with a plus defender (Desmond believe it or not has a positive Uzr/150 this year, putting him in the upper half of defensive short stops) and his crummy bat?  Or try to improve?  I think the answer may eventually be to transition Desmond to a different role if he can’t be more consistent at the plate.  I’m not sure Steve Lombardozzi is the answer (he very well may be; i’ve advocated in the past for this exact same move) until he proves he can hit at AAA and proves he can hit in the majors.  But we also have Anthony Rendon in the wings and may have to find a position for him as well.  Its a good problem to have; too many good players and not enough spots.  Ladson thinks Desmond is trade bait and is coveted by several teams; we may get our answer in the off-season.

Q: With Michael Morse doing so well at first base, is there any chance they might try and use LaRoche as trade bait?
A: Another great question.  The Nats do have some interesting story lines facing them as they go into 2011. Morse has been a revelation and will be a key part of the team in 2012. LaRoche is signed and is a 25 homer/100rbi guy with plus defense at first, so its hard to believe we’ll sell low on him and dump him this off season.  What would he bring in trade return?  Almost nothing.  My guess is that Morse moves back to left, we flip Nix into a reliever or something, and re-install LaRoche at first. Ladson Agrees.

Q: I saw recently that Chad Cordero retired. I know he left Washington with some resentment toward the front office, but is there any chance the two sides can bury the hatchet and honor Chad with some sort of ceremony thanking him for his contributions? He was a fan favorite who gave everything he had while wearing the curly W. He certainly deserves it.
A: Any resentment Cordero had towards this franchise should have died the day Bowden was fired. But, who knows, he could have blamed the owners for the actions of its employees. Without dishonoring the guy too much, how much of an impact did he really have here? You can argue that Cordero was a flash in the pan, an over-rated player in a position (closer) that is fungible and more or less replaceable with most any bullpen arm. He had a fantastic season the year the team moved here in 2005, and never came close to replicating it before getting hurt.  We spent most of the 2007 season talking about trading the guy.  It’d be like honoring Vinny Castillo in some ways.  Ladson agrees, and says we should think about honoring Frank Robinson first.  Fair enough, but why exactly does this team “need” to honor anybody from the past few years?  What did Frank Robinson do for this team except guide it to consecutive last place finishes?

Q: Do you see the Nationals moving Jayson Werth to the cleanup spot? We know how good Morse and Laynce Nix are, but chances are opposing teams will walk Ryan Zimmerman if those two are behind him.
A: I’m not sure what games this questioner is watching this year, but perhaps this guy has not seen that a) Werth is struggling mightily, b) Morse is hitting the ball lights out, and c) Nix is hitting a heck of a lot better than the average guy. You set your lineup so that you’re not batting 5 right-handed guys in a row but also with a mind towards the roles and capabilities of the players. Werth, Morse and Zimmerman are all right handed guys and should only be put together if you’re facing a lefty. Nix is a great way to break that up but his lefty-lefty splits aren’t that great.  What would be really great is if LaRoche was healthy and producing and in the mix for 3-4-5-6 as well, or if Espinosa becomes the power hitting force that he could be and continues to be a basher in the 2-hole.  Ladson says Werth may move back to #5 but he’s no cleanup hitter.

Q: When will Bryce Harper get promoted to the big leagues?
A: Target Mid June 2012. I think maybe the team gets a wild hair and calls him up this september for some cheap box office gate days. And you can’t blame them; he’s already on the 40-man roster after all. But any days he plays here in september delay the days he needs to sit in the minors so as to avoid super-2 status. Besides, Rizzo has repeatedly said he’s not coming up in 2011. Btw, I don’t believe Harper’s current struggles once promoted to AA mean much. He should have gone to high-a but understand why he skipped Potomac’s ridiculously bad field. He’ll pick it back up and he’ll hit .300 his final month of AA.  Ladson didn’t really answer, just saying that Harper won’t make it up this year.

Manny Ramirez and his Legacy

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A sad end to a great hitter's career. Photo: pul.se website, unknown origin

It really is a shame to see Manny Ramirez go out in the fashion that he has, scurrying away into retirement instead of facing a second PED suspension.  Actually, it was more of a shame to see his first suspension last year, which immediately cast him into a shameful collection of baseball players (McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Giambi, Sosa, and Palmeiro) who represented the best the game had to offer from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, but who also defined an era of steroids, PEDs and rampant drug use throughout baseball and probably will never gain entry to the sports Hall of Fame (at least not while they’re alive in all likelihood).

What is amazing about both drug tests is the basic idiocy displayed in actually getting caught.  The baseball drug testing policy is already considered to be among the easiest and most basic to skirt, continually being criticized by the WADA for its lack of transparency and lack of accountability.  The CBA lays out exactly what drugs are being tested for, and the players pretty much know when and where they’re going to be tested.  The policy isn’t nearly as draconian as what (say) professional cyclists go through, yet players continue to use and get caught.  The fact that Ramirez got caught twice is really amazing.

Manny Ramirez retires with these amazing statistics:

  • A career slash line of .312/.411/.585
  • A career OPS of nearly 1.000 (final figure: .996 for his career)
  • A career OPS+ of 154, roughly meaning he batted 50% better than the average major leaguer for his career.
  • 555 career homers, averaging a homer every 14.8 plate appearances.
  • 12 All star appearances, 9 silver sluggers and 11 seasons receiving MVP votes (most being consecutively from the years 1998-2006, not coincidentally the height of the steroid era).

Leaving steroid and PED use out of the equation, one can easily say Ramirez is one of the 4-5 best right handed hitters of the last half century.  He can be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron, and Frank Robinson in terms of being a complete hitter.

Yet, in the end his 2nd drug suspension will define his legacy.  He’ll never be in the Hall of Fame, not while we have a voter base that refused to elect Jeff Bagwell in his first year of eligibility, seemingly on the question of whether or not he “could have been using” despite not one shred of proof otherwise.

I’m of two conflicting thoughts on the eligibility considerations for players who used PEDs.  On the one hand, the most hallowed records in the game (single season home run and career home run records) were shattered by hitters who artificially enabled themselves to surpass the previous records and forever change the game.  Many of the hall voter base are long time baseball writers who grew up idolizing those players whose records were “stolen” by these modern day cheaters, and they will forever penalize the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds for destroying the memory of Ruth, Aaron or Maris.  The 2013 hall of fame ballot especially highlights this issue and may be our best test case for how these players are treated.

On the other hand, the culture of the game at the time encouraged and fostered drug use during the mid 90s, and various opinions from players at the time put the overall usage across the entire league in the 75% range.  We didn’t discount the pitching performances of players in the dead ball era, nor do we ignore the performance of pitchers in the late 60s who dominated their counterparts during a small era of dominance.   We used to have dozens of batters hitting .400 prior to the turn of the century, yet now the best hitters in the league hit in the mid .300s at best.  Players in the early parts of the century played in a non-integrated sport, and players in the 60’s and 70’s notoriously used stimulants on a regular basis to make it through the grind of the season.  At some point voters need to realize that omitting an entire generation of players based on innuendo or suspicion is doing the game a huge injustice and destroying an entire generation of legacy that merits inclusion in the hall of fame.

There is no good solution.  At some point though we need to at least acknowledge this generation’s greatest players.  Unfortunately, it probably will take a veteran’s committee 30 years from now to do it.

Si’s Tom Verducci wrote a great piece echoing much of what I’ve said above; it is worth a read.