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Who is the greatest minor league baseball player to have never made it to the major leagues?

On Quora.com, a Q&A website where questions are created, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users, someone recently asked the following question:

Who is the greatest minor league baseball player to have never made it to the major leagues?

Or perhaps had a short stint in the major leagues but spent the large majority of their career in the minor leagues. I always wondered if there was someone who spent several years in the minor leagues and amassed impressive stats but never made it to the major leagues because they fed into a team that happened to be loaded with great talent, like the New York Yankees.

It’s a very good question, actually, and one that naturally would elicit a lot of different responses. Of course, having read up on baseball history over the years, I had my own thoughts about this particular question.

Kris Bryant is the recipient of the 2014 Joe Bauman Home Run Award (courtesy Iowa Cubs).

Kris Bryant is the recipient of the 2014 Joe Bauman Home Run Award (courtesy Iowa Cubs).

Here was my (very brief) answer on Quora, where I went with a guy that played some 60 years ago and has a major individual award named after him today because of his achievements in the minors:

Joe Bauman was a first baseman who played for seven minor-league teams from 1941-1956. Though he had many productive seasons in the minors – bashing 575 extra-base hits in 3,463 career at-bats while batting over .330 – he never made it to the major leagues.

With the Roswell Rockets (Longhorn League, a Class-C league) in 1954, Bauman slugged 72 home runs in 138 games, a single-season record for any professional baseball league until Barry Bonds homered 73 times in 2001 for San Francisco Giants. That season, Bauman won the Triple Crown in his league as he also batted .400 and drove in 228 runs [1]. According to various sources, he led the league in runs (188) and walks as well that year (though the walk total isn’t available on Baseball-Reference.com, as perhaps those stats weren’t properly kept for that league).

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won the Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2004.

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won the Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2004.

Bauman wasn’t a one-year wonder; he led his league in home runs five times, and from 1952-1955 he never hit fewer than 46 homers in a season. (The totals were 50, 53, 72, and 46.)

In his nine minor-league seasons, Bauman hit 337 career home runs and had the exact same batting average: .337. He also finished with 1,057 career runs batted in while appearing in 1,019 games.

Since 2002, the Joe Bauman Home Run Award is handed out annually to the minor-league player with the most homers.

I know every time I set up a new league on Strat-o-Matic and I have the option of creating fringe players on my team, I always create a fake player using Bauman’s name and his 1954 stats so that I have a slugging first baseman to help me win games. (Though I cheat by giving him the defensive position of catcher on SOM.)

[1] Despite Bauman’s heroics, the Rockets finished second in the eight-team league with a record of 87-51, five games behind the first-place Artesia Numexers.


KP is the author of the baseball biography Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs.

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Will the meltdown in Keizer unravel the Dust Devils’ pennant hopes?

Things looked perfect on Sunday evening (August 24) for the Northwest League’s Tri-City Dust Devils, the Short-Season Single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

They were ahead of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, Oregon. If they hung on, the first-place Dust Devils would take a two-game lead over the idle Vancouver Canadians in the standings for the North Division’s second-half pennant.

Then, the Dust Devils would return home, where they would play their final eight games of the regular season.

The scenario was perfect. Three more outs, and then go back home with a two-game divisional lead.

Tri-City had just gotten out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the eighth, and when catcher Robbie Perkins caught Johneshwy Fargas’ pop-up in foul territory to begin the ninth—with the ball coming out of his glove before it settled in at the last moment—the Dust Devils were two outs away.

What happened next was just incredible. With Dylan Stamey on the mound, the Volcanoes loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a walk, loading the bases with one out. In came Josh Michalec, who hit his first batter to force in a run to make it 5-3. Ryder Jones followed with a two-run single off Michalec to tie the game, and Aramis Garcia then delivered a walk-off RBI single, stunning the Dust Devils 6-5.

The divisional lead had shrunk to just a single game.

Then the following night, Tri-City opened its season-ending eight-game homestand by getting blown out 8-1 by the Hillsboro Hops (who had won the first-half pennant in the South Division and had little to play for until the postseason). In Eugene, Oregon, the Vancouver Canadians won their game, 3-1, and suddenly the divisional lead for the Dust Devils was gone.

Both Tri-City and Vancouver had identical won-loss records in the second half entering play on August 26, but the Dust Devils no longer control their own destiny as they do not own the tie-breaker over the Canadians. That means, for the Dust Devils to make the playoffs, they need to finish ahead of Vancouver in the standings with only seven games to play.

It’s so tough because just two nights earlier, they were poised to take a two-game lead when they had that three-run cushion in the ninth inning. With the rest of their games at home following that contest, the second-half pennant was theirs for the taking…

Hey, perhaps they could still bounce back. If you root for underdogs, you would certainly root for Tri-City. For the season, the Dust Devils are 29-40 entering play on August 26, and only a modest 15-16 in the second half, but they still have a shot at making the playoffs. In their way now are a Vancouver Canadians team that has won each of the last three Northwest League titles, so it would be nice if the Dust Devils could somehow eliminate them during this final week of the season and put an end to the championship run. The two teams will not play each other in the season’s final seven games, so Tri-City will need some help in order to finish ahead of Vancouver.

We’ll see what happens over the next seven nights in the Northwest League.

I know this is short-season, and it’s completely different from the majors, but I suddenly thought back to the 1993 major-league season.

The Red Sox, coming off a last-place finish a year earlier, would end up fifth in the AL East in 1993, 15 games back of the Blue Jays with an 80-82 record. The Yankees, Orioles, and Tigers all finished ahead of Boston. Just by looking at the standings, you would think they were totally irrelevant all season.

But not so.

On July 25, the Red Sox won their 10th straight game, beating Oakland 8-1 to complete a four-game sweep at Fenway. They had won 12 of their last 13, and were in a three-way tie for first place in the East, along with Toronto and New York. (Technically, they were percentage points ahead of both clubs, with a 55-43 record—a .561 winning percentage—while the Blue Jays and Yankees were 56-44 for a .560 winning percentage.)

The following night, July 26, the Yankees lost 5-2 in Detroit, with Tigers lefthander David Wells outpitching Jimmy Key. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, were idle. That meant if the Red Sox won in Milwaukee, they would be in sole possession of first place in the AL East.

Now, coming off a last-place finish a year earlier, it was no small feat for the Red Sox to be in first place in the final days of July. With Roger Clemens on the mound, they had a great shot against the Brewers, who were last in the East with a 39-57 record that was even worse than the Cleveland Indians (47-52), who at the time were perennial doormats in that division.

The Brewers had Rafael Novoa on the mound, a rookie lefthander who would go 0-4 with a 5.06 ERA in 22 major-league appearances. He had logged an 0-1 record with a 6.75 ERA with the Giants in 1990, pitched the next two seasons in the minors, and was now making his debut with the Brewers against the Red Sox. It was just his eighth career big-league appearance and third career start.

The Red Sox, who hadn’t seen him before, struggled against Novoa, who gave up just five hits and two walks over 8.1 innings. The only runs the young lefty gave up came as a result of a two-run homer by Mo Vaughn in the fourth with Andre Dawson aboard.

Thankfully, Clemens was even better, tossing five-hit ball with one walk and five strikeouts over 7.2 innings and turning over a 2-1 lead to the bullpen. After lefthanded relief specialist Tony Fossas retired lefthanded-hitting Darryl Hamilton, who was Milwaukee’s No. 3 hitter, on a flyout to end the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox were three outs away from sole possession of top spot in the AL East.

Yes, again, this was just late July, but considering how the Sox had finished last in 1992, this was a miracle for Boston.

But there was the bottom of the ninth to be played. Fossas stayed in and struck out lefthanded power hitter Kevin Reimer, but B.J. Surhoff (yet another lefthanded batter) bunted for a single. In came closer Jeff Russell, who retired pinch-hitter Greg Vaughn on a fly to right. The Red Sox were one out away.

russellExcept the would-be final out came to the plate in the person of Tom Brunansky, the former Red Sox rightfielder who was one of the key players in Boston’s 1990 AL East championship season. In the final eight games of that 1990 season, Brunansky hit .400 with five home runs and 12 RBIs (with three of those dingers coming in a crucial game against Toronto on September 29). He is also remembered for his sliding catch of Ozzie Guillen’s liner in the rightfield corner at Fenway to clinch the division on the final day of the season.

Now in 1993, he was a Brewer, and was hitting only .178 going into the game against the Red Sox. And there he was, lining an 0-1 pitch from Russell over the leftfield fence for a game-ending two-run homer.

The stunned Red Sox never recovered. They (along with the Yankees) fell out of first place, a half-game back of the idle Blue Jays. Boston never got close again the rest of the season. Well, the Red Sox hung around for a bit but a four-game series sweep at home at the hands of the Indians in late August really helped bury them.

I’ve always wondered how things would have played out had Boston hung on for its 11th straight win that night in Milwaukee. I mean, Russell was only one out away. Had they won the division that year, he wouldn’t have attacked the city of Boston the following year after he’d left town. (I still remember the media talking about Russell’s comments on the radio back then, and those were the days without the Internet and social media. Had he made those comments today, he would be heavily crucified for what he said.)

Well, the 2014 Tri-City Dust Devils are much closer to first place. They do have fewer games remaining, though, to try and finish ahead of Vancouver. The season wraps up on Labor Day Monday, September 1. Yes, I know it’s totally different from the big leagues, but still, it did make me think back to the 1993 Red Sox. And Tom Brunansky. And Jeff Russell (and his comments about Boston).

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Few, few pitches, Part 2

Since right-hander Kyle Drabek was called up over the weekend by the Toronto Blue Jays from Triple-A Buffalo – and to continue an earlier post about the same topic – I wanted to discuss one of the best games his dad, Doug Drabek, threw during his major-league career.

drabekOn September 30, 1990, Doug Drabek (now a pitching coach with the Short-Season Single-A Hillsboro Hops, Diamondbacks’ affiliate) pitched a complete-game three-hitter to beat the Cardinals 2-0 in St. Louis, clinching the NL East title for the Pirates. It was their first division title in 11 years, as Pittsburgh won its seventh straight game and 10 of 11.

The Pirates’ only two runs came in the eighth off hard-luck Joe Magrane on a sacrifice fly and a groundout. The unfortunate Magrane fell to 10-17 despite a 3.59 ERA, but the big story was Drabek, who got the shutout by throwing only 80 pitches. It was also Drabek’s 22nd victory, and the right-hander would go on to win the NL Cy Young Award in 1990.

That’s probably one of the best-pitched games of the decade – a complete-game shutout on only 80 pitches to clinch a division title – but it’s largely been forgotten. People might remember more about Mike Scott’s 1986 NL West-clinching no-hitter, because it was a no-no, but still, Drabek’s gem was spectacular.

BT cardsSpeaking of the Cardinals, in 1990 St. Louis finished last in the East with a 70-92 record, with Joe Torre taking over in the latter part of the season as manager. Though the Cards were a last-place outfit, there was one highlight on August 17 at Busch Stadium, when Bob Tewksbury threw a one-hitter to beat Bill Gullickson and the Houston Astros, 5-0. That night, Tewksbury lost his perfect game bid when Franklin Stubbs doubled to left on the first pitch leading off the eighth, and the Cardinals right-hander went on to throw just 79 pitches to complete the one-hitter. Had he gotten the no-no, it would have been the second in the majors in three days, following Terry Mulholland’s gem against San Francisco.

As it turned out, Stubbs would be the only Houston batter to reach against Tewksbury.

But 79 pitches in a one-hitter, a near perfect game? It’s all been forgotten as well.

Then on July 8, 1994, Tewksbury shut out Greg Maddux and the Braves 2-0 in Atlanta, where he used only 90 pitches in the complete-game four-hitter. It was a game where both he and Maddux went the distance, with neither one issuing a walk.

DETROIT-OAKLAND IN OCTOBER? Ahhhh, remember when Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander said back in July something about the Athletics acquiring Jeff Samardzija for the purpose of defeating Detroit in the postseason? It was something like this:

“I found it very interesting,” Verlander told reporters Saturday, according to MLB.com. “Really, when I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade for us. No doubt about it in my mind.”

What I find interesting, just over a month later, is that the Tigers and Athletics could meet in October…but in a one-game showdown for the AL Wild Card to advance to the Division Series. How interesting that would be if things turned out that way!

Going into action on August 19, Detroit (66-56) and Oakland (73-51) were the two wild-card teams in the junior circuit, with the Tigers two games behind Kansas City (69-55) in the Central and the Athletics a half-game back of the Angels (73-50) in the West.

The Tigers (.5409) are actually only percentage points ahead of the Mariners (67-57, .5403) for the second wild-card spot, following Seattle’s loss to Jerome Williams and the Phillies 4-1 on Monday night in Philadelphia. Detroit was idle.

Should be an “interesting” finish to the season!

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“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti by KP Wee, is now available from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

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Flashback to 1991 Candiotti/Henke One-Hitter

On August 6 at Rogers Centre, Toronto pitchers Drew Hutchison (8.2 IP) and Casey Janssen (0.1 IP) combined on a one-hitter in a 5-1 victory over the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, preventing the O’s to take an even more commanding lead over the second-place Blue Jays. (It also allowed Toronto to stay one game ahead of the Yankees for the second AL wild-card spot, as New York defeated Justin Verlander and the Tigers by the same 5-1 score.)

I don’t want to get into the performance of Hutchison, who came within a Chris Davis second-inning opposite-field homer of taking a no-hit bid into the final innings. This is not the blog for that sort of analyst.

I do want to go back to the 1991 season, when the Blue Jays got another clutch combined one-hitter against the Orioles. The game I’m referring to happened on August 28, 1991, at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, with the Blue Jays and Orioles playing the finale of their three-game series.

Toronto had won the first two games, and had never before swept a series in Baltimore. Going into that day, the Blue Jays were in first place in the AL East, with a one-game lead over the Tigers, who had No. 1 starter Bill Gullickson (16-6) on the mound against California. Gullickson, despite a high ERA (4.12), had a league-leading 16 victories, as Detroit seemed to always score runs for him.

It was a crucial day in the pennant race, because if the Tigers won and the Blue Jays lost, both teams would be tied for first place, and Toronto would be at a disadvantage because that year the Blue Jays were the “swing team” and would play only (the tougher) AL West clubs in the final weeks of the season. (That year, all of the AL West teams finished .500 or better.)

Gullickson certainly delivered, pitching a complete-game five-hitter…only to lose 1-0 to the Angels and Jim Abbott in an afternoon game. (Gullickson, though, would get 5.66 runs of support throughout the season, and go on to win 20 games with a 3.90 ERA.)

Then Tom Candiotti took the mound for the Orioles, and was in trouble in the first inning when Joe Orsulak (a perennial Candiotti-killer hitting .529 off him going in) hit an opposite-field single off the glove of third baseman Kelly Gruber. A walk and passed ball later, and the Orioles had runners on second and third with two outs.

Randy Milligan, a .444 hitter against Candiotti at the time, worked the count to 3-and-2 before striking out swinging.

From there, Candiotti didn’t allow another baserunner, taking the one-hitter into the ninth inning. Gene Tenace (the interim manager with Cito Gaston out due to a back problem) opted to go to closer Tom Henke in the ninth, and the Blue Jays stopper pitched 1-2-3 inning to close out the 3-0 victory.

It was Candiotti’s best game with the Blue Jays, with the team in a pennant race with the Tigers, and it came three days before his birthday.

Yet, the combined one-hitter has been forgotten. It was one of the most underappreciated – and yet clutch – pitching performances of the year. (As an aside, when I spoke with former Blue Jays reliever Bob MacDonald three years ago about this game, he admitted he didn’t remember anything about it, adding that it was probably because the no-hitter was broken up in the first inning. Had it been broken up in the late innings, it might have been more memorable.)

Like Hutchison in 2014, Candiotti was only two batters away from perfection going into the ninth, and similarly he also retired 22 straight Orioles like Hutchison did. Like Hutchison, it was an opposite-field hit early in the game and a walk that prevented a perfect game bid.

I know in 2012 when I flipped through the Blue Jays media guide, I found no mention of the 1991 Candiotti/Henke combined one-hitter in the section listing one-hitters, even though other combined one-hit efforts in franchise history were listed.

The 1991 Blue Jays, by the way, won the division, something that the 2014 team will not do. Because that 1991 club lost the ALCS to Minnesota, however, Candiotti has always been criticized by the Toronto media for his struggles against the Twins in that series. They forgot that without Candiotti’s regular-season contributions – a 2.98 ERA in 19 starts after a mid-season trade from Cleveland following ace Dave Stieb’s season-ending injury – the Blue Jays might not have made it to the postseason.

So, thanks to Drew Hutchison, we get an opportunity today to celebrate Tom Candiotti’s gem from that 1991 season.

Meanwhile…time to take another shot at tsn.ca. Read that first sentence carefully, and then you do not need to read any longer. How can you take that column seriously if they make such a mistake? (The mistake is magnified when you look at the very next sentence.) Do they even do fact-checking there?

tsn again

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“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti, will be released in the latter half of 2014. You may pick up a copy either from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

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Flashback to 1995: A 1-0 gem featuring few, few pitches

I was interested in the Cleveland-Seattle game from July 30 because of the major-league record Felix Hernandez was potentially about to break, but as it turned out, it was the Indians’ starter that was making the headlines.

Corey Kluber, who is now the ace in Cleveland after the Indians traded Justin Masterson earlier in the day, threw an 85-pitch shutout to defeat Hernandez and the Mariners, 2-0. In his previous outing, the 28-year-old right-hander had taken a perfect game into the seventh inning against Kansas City back on July 24 in the Indians’ eventual 2-1 loss to the Royals.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Kluber’s gem against Seattle marked just the seventh major-league shutout on 85 or fewer pitches in the 21st century [1].

That stat – so few pitches in a shutout – reminds me of a game in particular, one that featured Greg Maddux against his former Cubs teammate, Mike Morgan. It was an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game back in the 1995 season, where the Atlanta Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0 in a contest that took under two hours to complete.

That night, Maddux tossed a two-hit shutout to outpitch Morgan, who allowed only six hits and a walk over eight innings [2]. A quick search on Baseball-Reference.com reveals that that game took place on August 20, 1995, with Maddux throwing only 88 pitches – 66 for strikes – in his nine innings.

mike morganAs for Morgan? He threw 84 pitches – 55 for strikes – over his eight innings of work. It might have been his best start of the season – and he did come within two outs of throwing a no-hitter against the Montreal Expos over a month earlier on July 3.

A tidy, efficient game for both pitchers, with the only run of the game coming in the third inning when Marquis Grissom led off with a double, moved to third on Jeff Blauser’s sacrifice but, and came home on Chipper Jones’ grounder to second base. That was all the scoring for the night, with the game lasting only an hour and 50 minutes.

Any baseball fan knows about Maddux’s dominance that season – where the Braves ace right-hander went 19-2 and captured his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award – so I won’t talk much more about him.

Let’s talk a little bit about Morgan, who went just 7-7 despite a respectable 3.56 ERA in 21 starts. Apparently, if you made him throw enough pitches – something that the Braves didn’t do – you were going to get to him in the late innings. More specifically, Morgan was virtually unhittable in his first 75 pitches in 1995, but became a batting practice pitcher on his 76th pitch onward.

That’s what Dodger third-base coach Joey Amalfitano told first baseman Eric Karros before he stepped up to the plate to face Morgan in the sixth inning on August 9, 1995. Next thing you knew, Karros stroked a two-run homer on the Cardinals right-hander’s 76th pitch of the night, and the Dodgers – with knuckleballer Tom Candiotti on the mound – went on to beat St. Louis, 4-2.

Speaking of Candiotti, he himself also once tossed a complete-game 1-0 shutout where he threw only 85 pitches. The knuckleballer fanned three and didn’t walk a hitter in the four-hit shutout. But that was a spring-training game back in 1987 between the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland Athletics, though the A’s did have their everyday players in the lineup that afternoon. According to an old San Jose Mercury News story from March 28, 1987, Tony Phillips (0-for-3), Carney Lansford (0-for-3), Jose Canseco (2-for-3), Reggie Jackson (0-for-3), and Mark McGwire (0-for-3) all played in that game.

Ahhhhh…great memories, and it’s thanks to Corey Kluber, the new ace of the Indians.

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[1] According to that same Yahoo! Sports story, Kluber faced one batter over the minimum in nine complete innings for his second straight start, which marked the first time it had happened in big-league history.

[2] Poor Morgan. He was also the losing pitcher in Dennis Martinez’s perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 1991, dropping a hard-luck 2-0 decision. He gave up only four hits in a complete-game effort, with both runs off of him unearned.

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