The Korean War has the unfortunate nickname of the Forgotten War. The conflict in Korea was wedged between World War II and the Vietnam War, but it was no less horrific for the soldiers. 36,574 Americans were killed in just over 3 years of fighting. The Forgotten War cut short the lives of many soldiers. Among those killed in Korea was Major Robert Neighbors of the Army Air Force.
Major Neighbors joined the Army Air Force on May 8, 1942. He served with the 22nd Air Transport Training Detachment in Wichita Falls, Texas. He also spent part of his time playing baseball for the Sheppard Field Mechanics. After the German and Japanese surrenders, the United States began demobilizing large parts of its military. However, Neighbors decided to stay and make a career in the Army Air Force.
Roughly five years later, on June 25, 1950 North Korea attacked South Korea sparking the Korean War. The conflict was both an attempt to unify the Korean peninsula under one flag and an escalation of the Cold War. The United States was immediately drawn into the conflict defending its South Korean ally and preventing the spread of Communism. Major Neighbors was assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Bomb group. On August 8, 1952 Neighbors and his crew, First-Lieutenant William Holcom and Staff-Sergeant Grady Weeks, flew a night mission over North Korea. They were originally not scheduled for the mission but the pilot of the scheduled crew was sick. During their mission Neighbors and his crew were shot down. They radioed they were hit but did not provide a location. The crew bailed out of their Douglas B-26 Invader and were never heard from again. Neighbors and his crew were officially declared dead on December 31, 1953 after they were not among the Prisoners of War repatriated in accordance with the Armistice. He was 34 years old and left behind his second wife, his first wife was hit and killed by a car in 1941, and a 2 year old son. Neighbors was the only Major League player killed during the Korean War, and is the last Major League player killed in combat.
Major Robert Neighbors is the most recent MLB player killed in war. (www.mlb.com)
Neighbors’ spent 6 seasons in the Minor Leagues playing primarily for teams in Texas and Arkansas. He began his professional career in 1936 with the Siloam Springs Travelers of the Class D Arkansas-Missouri League. He returned to Siloam Springs to begin 1937 before joining the Abbeville A’s of the Class D Evangeline League. In 1938, Neighbors played for the Class A1 San Antonio Missions in the Texas League and the Palestine Pals of the Class C East Texas League. In 1939, he joined the Class B Springfield Browns of the Triple I League before his September call up. Neighbors was back in the Minors in 1940 with the Toledo MudHens of the Class AA American Association, before playing for both San Antonio and Palestine. Neighbors spent 1941, his final season of professional ball, with San Antonio. It was during a road trip that his first wife was hit and killed. Across 6 seasons in the Minors, Neighbors hit .268 with a solid to very good glove at Shortstop.
September call ups reward young prospects with a taste of the Major Leagues. Bob Neighbors was not the next super star the Browns were always searching for, but his play earned him a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues. He debuted on September 16, 1939 against the Washington Senators as a Pinch Runner. In 7 games, Neighbors had 2 Hits in 11 At Bats (.182), including a solo Home Run for his only RBI, scored 3 Runs, with 1 Strikeout. In the field, he played 28 Innings at Shortstop. He had 12 Chances, made 5 Putouts, 6 Assists, 1 Error, and turned 1 Double Play.
The Boston Red Sox were finishing out the 1939 season. Their new super star Ted Williams had arrived in April, slugging 31 Home Runs, a league best 145 RBI, and hitting .327. Boston would finish the season 89-62, but it did not matter. The Yankees won the American League pennant by 17 games. Even good seasons at Fenway were not enough. The St. Louis Browns came to Fenway on September 21, 1939 to play a game because it was on the schedule. The official attendance was 598. Five Hundred and Ninety Eight. In the Bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox loaded the bases with 1 out. Doc Cramer hit a ground ball to Neighbors who threw to Johnny Berardino covering Second to force out Red Nonnenkamp. Instead of throwing to First, Berardino threw to 3rd Baseman Harlond Clift to tag Denny Galehouse. Before the 3rd out was made, Gene Desautels scampered home to score. Only the Browns could turn an inning ending Double Play while allowing a run to score. Neighbors was up second in the Top of the 7th with 1 out. He drove a pitch from Galehouse over the Green Monster for his only career Home Run. Neighbors’ best day in his short Major League career was not enough, the Browns lost 6-2. His final game was nine days later on September 30, 1939 in the second game of a Doubleheader against the White Sox. The Browns went 1-6 with Neighbors on the team, finishing dead last in the American League at 43-111. 1939 was the Browns’ 10th consecutive losing season.
Bob Neighbors did not have a long, memorable career. He, like so many others, had a cup of coffee in the Majors. He is forever listed among the select few who have played Major League Baseball. While his career was far from spectacular, his dedication to his country went beyond the call of duty. Major Robert Neighbors is among those we remember this Memorial Day who gave their lives in defense of our nation. He stands out for playing in the Major Leagues, but he is no different than the thousands of soldiers lost in war. Neighbors is the most recent Major League player killed in war. Hopefully he retains this title forever and fewer sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins go off to war and do not return.
When baseball returns please support your local teams. Public Health experts will be cautious in reopening the country, hopefully the politicians will listen. Major League teams will be fine, they have their millions. Support Minor League and Independent League teams, they are feeling the biggest impact of the shutdown. Many of these teams and leagues operate on the edge of existence in the best of times. The Coronavirus has left many vulnerable to folding.
Minor League and Independent League teams are often in smaller cities than Major League teams. They are more connected to the well being of their city as they depend on local support for survival. These teams lack the regional or national fan bases of MLB. Minor League teams can rely on their Major League affiliate to pay players through Player Development Contracts. MiLB teams fund everything else including stadium maintenance, game day staff, front office, and concessions. Independent League teams do this too and must also pay their players. Baseball teams draw visitors to their city and its economy. Fans pay the salaries of team employees, but they also go to restaurants and bars, or other attractions, before or after games. Baseball teams attract visitors and their money, and give the community something to rally around.
Growing baseball means reaching people, such as expanding television and radio coverage. However, the excitement of watching a game in person is quite different than watching or listening from home. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is pushing a plan to cut 40 or more Minor League teams in favor of the Dream League, an Independent League with some MLB support. This is foolish. MLB continues to see record profits, while MiLB players are paid criminally low contracts. Reducing the number of teams affiliated with MiLB is about reducing cost and increasing profits for MLB teams. Baseball is a business, but MLB must be careful to not stifle the future of the game to save a little money to increase record profits.
How can you not be romantic about baseball? View of the 2016 South Atlantic League All Star Game at Whitaker Ball Park, home of the Lexington Legends. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Not everyone lives close to an MLB or MiLB team. Obviously baseball cannot have a team in every city, nor can every family afford to take their baseball crazed kids to a game several hours away. There are some fans who live in a baseball desert. The cost hinders the exposure of the in person experience and could ultimately lose the fandom of kids and adults. Baseball has already priced out many low income youth players due to the ever expanding expense of travel baseball. Why would MLB and Manfred build more obstacles to the game?
Teams have contracts with cable providers for broadcast rights, including MLB.tv, which is another expense not every baseball fan can afford. MLB is strong financially, but they need to consider the finances of the fans. Reducing the number of MiLB teams eliminates access to professional baseball for many and could have unintended consequences. Cities like Erie, Lexington, Chattanooga, Billings, Danville, Great Falls, Missoula, and Colorado Springs will be changed by losing their teams if the proposed cuts are made. Some cities are close to other teams for a baseball day trip. Others create a professional baseball desert. MLB needs to think about the long term health of the game before cutting MiLB teams. Baseball should not trade saving a few dollars for losing a generation of fans.
Baseball has warts. Imperfect people create a flawed baseball system. We love the game, but some things need to change. Many of the warts are off the field and behind the scenes. They often impact vulnerable players progressing through the Minor Leagues. Some warts become public with dramatic headlines and scandals, but they often exist out of sight to most fans. Removing the warts is painful, but necessary. People like Eddie Dominguez work to clean up baseball every day.
In the aftermath of the Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball created the Department of Investigations (DOI). Baseball’s own investigators assigned to root out problems surrounding the game. Eddie Dominguez was an original member of the DOI. He previously worked with MLB and the Red Sox while with the Boston Police Department. Dominguez recounts his work with the DOI in Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime.
Eddie Dominguez’s work with MLB and the DOI is a gripping story. Multiple scandals played out in public, while others stayed in the shadows. Dominguez translates the DOI’s work, steering away from a police story designed only for those well versed in law enforcement. There is a need to police baseball and the world revolving around the game. When money can be made, people can show their worst side. The most vulnerable within the game need protecting.
Baseball Cop is an engaging book that follows baseball’s recent dark history. Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime by Eddie Dominguez hits a solid Triple (7) in our score book.
Spoilers if you continue reading beyond this point. You have been warned.
Baseball Cop is worth your time to learn about the ugly side of baseball. (Hachette Books)
Baseball produces many positives, however there are negatives. The DOI is tasked with investigating and stopping those harming people and the game. Human traffickers control the futures of players, particularly those defecting from Cuba. The traffickers harass, intimidate, and extort players after they arrive in the United States and sign professional contracts. Living their baseball dreams can turn a player’s life into a nightmare.
The abuse of players can start the moment their professional career begins. Coaches and advisers skim part or all of a player’s signing bonus. Signing a professional contract changes the lives of many players and their family, especially those from Latin America. Skimming the signing bonus perpetuates the poverty players are trying to escape.
Beyond the abuse of players, baseball’s concern focuses on what players put in their bodies. The Mitchell Report was an embarrassment, and MLB has sought, at least publicly, to clean itself up. Cracking down on Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) was top priority for then Commissioner Bud Selig. Baseball instituted harsher penalties for failed drug tests and began investigating the sources of the PEDs. The DOI focused on a Florida health clinic, Biogenesis, run by Tony Bosch. Their investigation connected several players to the clinic and its PEDs. The most prominent player associated with Biogenesis, and Bosch, was Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez eventually received the longest suspension in baseball history for his involvement.
The investigation into Biogenesis exposed cracks between the DOI and MLB. The investigation included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Baseball did not want another public embarrassment like the Mitchell Report. MLB wanted the Biogenesis case handled in house. The clash between the DOI and MLB played out alongside the investigation.
There are limits to baseball’s willingness to clean itself up. Baseball Cop exposes the good and the bad within baseball. Hopefully the good has a winning record.
After an off season of scandal, on again off again blockbuster trades, gigantic free agent signings, possible Minor League Baseball contraction, and the Mets being the Mets it is time to return to the diamond. Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training, the journey to October begins.
Expectations are high in the Bronx after signing Gerrit Cole. Houston is out to prove they can win without stealing signs, while the rest of baseball is out for revenge. The on again off again trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers showed how far Boston has fallen while searching for financial flexibility. The Red Sox continue searching for a permanent manager to replace Alex Cora after he was swept up in the fallout from Houston. Major League Baseball proposed eliminating 42 minor league teams, which immediately angered the communities potentially impacted, baseball fans, and even Congress.
The Mets once again managed to stay in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yoenis Cespedes reworked his contract after the revelation that his injury was the result of a run in with a wild boar. The Amazin’s General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, Cespedes’ former agent, now had to alter the contract he negotiated, but from the other side of the table. Carlos Beltran never made it to his first workout of Spring Training as Mets Manager. His involvement in the Astros scandal followed him to Queens. The Wilpons were unable to sell the Mets because they wanted to continue making team decisions once they no longer wrote the checks.
The Cincinnati Reds are poised to climb out of the cellar and into contention after an active Winter. (Kareem Elgazzar)
Anthony Rendon got paid by leaving Washington, Stephen Strasburg got paid to stay with the Nationals. Zack Wheeler left Queens for Philadelphia for a chance to win and a large paycheck. Madison Bumgarner left the Bay for the desert, while Hyun-Jin Ryu left sunny Southern California and moved north of the border. Josh Donaldson added his name to the slugging Twins lineup, a new age Murderers’ Row. The White Sox and Reds loaded up on free agents, vaulting themselves into contention. Hundreds of other moves happened. Time will tell which moves helped teams, and which teams will come to regret.
Baseball lost the legendary writer Roger Kahn. Few, if any, possess his ability to write about the game. He was baseball’s writer. His ability to put the passion and beauty of the game into print will be missed.
It was an odd and harrowing off season, but now Pitchers and Catchers are reporting to Spring Training. The world is a little more perfect because we are getting back to baseball.
In 2008 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays dropped the Devil, becoming the Tampa Bay Rays. Changing their name also changed their fortunes. The Rays have a .535 winning percentage, much better than the Devil Rays, .399. Tampa is winning roughly 22 more games a season since the switch. In 12 seasons as the Rays, Tampa Bay has won at least 90 games seven times, made the Postseason five times, won the American League East twice, and reached one World Series. The Rays success has come while averaging 27th in team payroll.
Tropicana Field was not always home to success. The Devil Rays began play in 1998 and struggled through the 2007 season, their last as the Devil Rays. They averaged 25th in payroll, including ranking 10th in 2000. The 2004 season was the Devil Rays best, winning 70 games and did not finish last. Tampa Bay finished 4th, three games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Every expansion team has growing pains as they build a competitive team. Tampa Bay received no breaks in the Expansion Draft. None of their first five draft picks played more than three seasons in Tampa Bay. Teams need players to build around and the Devil Rays did not find a franchise player in the Expansion Draft.
The Devil Rays held the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. Tampa Bay selected Florida Marlins pitcher Tony Saunders. In 1997, the 23 year old lefty started 21 games for the Florida Marlins, going 4-6 with a 4.61 ERA and 1.464 WHIP in 111.1 Innings, allowing 57 Earned Runs, 12 Home Runs, 64 Walks, and 102 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched in the Marlins Postseason run to their World Series victory. Saunders, a young lefty with Postseason experience, was a logical first pick.
The Devil Rays took Tony Saunders with the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. (Jonathan Kirn/Allsport/ Getty Images)
The 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays struggled, finishing 63-99, 16 games behind the fourth place Baltimore Orioles. In 31 starts, Tony Saunders went 6-15 with a 4.12 ERA and 1.570 WHIP in 192.1 Innings, allowing 88 Earned Runs, 15 Home Runs, 111 Walks (league leader), and 172 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched 7+ innings in 10 starts, allowing 3 runs or less in nine of those starts. He won twice. In four of those starts, Saunders pitched 8 innings, allowing three runs or less, yet he lost all four starts. Saunders received 3.37 in run support, while Major League teams averaged 4.79 runs per game. Tony Saunders pitched well for the expansion Devil Rays, despite his record.
Tampa Bay and Tony Saunders entered the 1999 season full of hope. The Devil Rays sought to play more competitive baseball and Saunders looked to build upon his success. Entering play on May 26th, the Devil Rays were 22-24. An expansion team hovering around .500 a quarter of the way through the season had many hoping the Devil Rays would soon contend. The Texas Rangers were visiting Tropicana Field facing the surprising Devil Rays. In the Top of the Third Inning, the Rangers had runners on first and third with two outs, trailing 3-2. Tony Saunders had a full count on reigning American League MVP Juan Gonzalez. Saunders took the sign from John Flaherty and uncorked a Wild Pitch. Gonzalez trotted to first, Rusty Greer moved to second, and Luis Alicea scampered home to tie the game.
Tropicana Field fell silent except for Tony Saunders screaming, writhing in pain on the ground. The pitch broke the humerus bone, the bone connecting the shoulder and elbow, in Saunders’ left arm. Training staff tried helping Saunders up, but the pain was too much. He was carted off the field and taken to the hospital. His season was finished and his career was in doubt.
Professional baseball players are tough. They play through pain and injury throughout the long season. A year after breaking his arm Tony Saunders was pitching again. His rehab assignment began with the Charleston RiverDogs, Tampa Bay’s Single A team. Saunders pitched in two games, throwing 5 Innings, with a 1.80 ERA and 0.800 WHIP, allowing 2 Hits, 1 Earned Run, 2 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. He was promoted to the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, Tampa Bay’s Advanced A team. Entering the Third Inning of his second game, Saunders had pitched 7 Innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.429 WHIP, allowed 7 Hits, 3 Earned Runs, 3 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. Then it happened again, Saunders broke his arm throwing a pitch. His Major League career was over.
Tony Saunders broke his arm throwing a baseball. The Devil Rays future rested on his left arm. (www.mlb.com)
The Devil Rays retained their rights to Saunders through 2004, when they released him. Less than a month later the Orioles signed Saunders. He pitched in Spring Training for the Orioles, but spent the 2005 season pitching for the Mesa Miners of the independent Golden Baseball League. He pitched 9 Games in relief, going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 1.600 WHIP. He threw 10 Innings, allowed 9 Hits, 2 Earned Runs, 7 Walks, and 8 Strikeouts.
There are no guarantees in baseball. Tony Saunders is not alone in having his career cut short by injuries. However his injuries were particularly gruesome. The future of the Devil Rays rested on his left arm, it took years for Tampa Bay to recover. Tony Saunders’ efforts to continue his baseball career did not go unnoticed. He received the 2000 Tony Conigliaro Award from the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. The annual award is given to a Major League player who best overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage. While the award cannot replace his career, it is important to recognize Saunders’ perseverance in his comeback attempts.
Tony Saunders’ final career statistics: 3 Seasons, 61 Games Started, 2 Complete Games, 13 Wins, 24 Losses, 4.56 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, 345.2 Innings Pitched, 343 Hits, 175 Earned Runs, 33 Home Runs, 204 Walks, and 304 Strikeouts.
Oh, what could have been in Tampa Bay.
Baseball is a team sport. Individual players do not guarantee World Series Championships, if they did Mike Trout and the Angels would have several Fall Classic victories already. Baseball fandom is the same way, individuals can enjoy the game, but baseball with friends is always better. Watching a baseball game on TV or in the stands, allows people to indulge themselves with the game and pause the rest of the world. Watching with your friends is even better as you self indulge and grow your friendship.
Bernie, Kevin, and I met in graduate school. Bernie and I met when he kicked a water bottle out of my hand at shoulder level to prove he could to someone. Critical life skills. I met Kevin through Bernie and other mutual friends. Unfortunately Kevin does not possess the same skills as Bernie, so our friendship followed a more usual path. Our individual love of baseball quickly became apparent, which after graduation led to our annual baseball road trip. This year we ventured to Denver to watch the Colorado Rockies host the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game weekend series.
Coors Field is a beautiful venue to watch baseball. The stadium was built after baseball realized cookie cutter stadiums were boring. Even the seats tucked behind support columns in right field have a good view of the field. Fans do not feel like they are passing through a cave when they are walking around Coors Field. You can see the field as you circle the lower level. Coors Field embraced the radical concept of fan comfort and enjoyment of their day at the ballpark.
Game 1- Friday
Coors Field has many great view points to watch a game. Our first night in Denver we sat in the Left Field bleachers, the Rockpile. The view was outstanding. We were aligned with first and second base, perfect for watching both teams turn a double play. The true artistry of baseball is lost on TV, players gracefully gliding across the diamond, a ballet in spikes.
Edwin Jackson started for Toronto, pitching for his record 14th MLB franchise, surpassing former teammate Octavio Dotel. Jackson entered the game with a 9.00 ERA in three starts for the Blue Jays. In the top of the first, Toronto drew two walks before a double play and a ground out ended any hope for early runs against German Marquez. In the bottom of the first, the first five Rockies reached base. Colorado scored four runs on three hits, including a two run home run by Trevor Story, a walk, and David Dahl reached on a strike three wild pitch. Jackson did strike out the side in the middle of the mess.
The Blue Jays fought back in the top of the second, with a lead off home run by Randal Grichuk and Cavan Biggio scoring on a Luke Maile RBI groundout. Colorado scored a run in the second and five in the third forcing Jackson out of the game. He gave up 10 runs in just 2.1 innings, ballooning his ERA to 13.22. Relieving Jackson was Elvis Luciano, the first MLB player born in the 2000’s. A Nolan Arenado RBI double in the fifth off Luciano and another two run home run by Story off Sam Gaviglio in the seventh gave Colorado a commanding 13 to 2 lead.
Toronto made one final push in the eighth inning. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a lead off solo home run on the first pitch from Chris Rusin, in to relieve Marquez after seven innings. Grichuk scored Brandon Drury on a sacrifice fly to right. Jake McGee came in to relieve Rusin with the bases loaded. Rusin faced six batters, allowing two runs, four hits, and a walk. McGee walked Maile to score Lourdes Gurriel and a sacrifice fly to right center scored Biggio before shutting Toronto down. Both teams had lead off hits in the ninth, only to leave runners stranded. The Rockies’ early onslaught was too much for the Blue Jays, as Colorado won 13 to 6.
Game 2- Saturday
We always pick good seats for one game, usually the best pitching matchup. Saturday night was Marcus Stroman against Jon Gray. Both Righties, so we sat just beyond Third Base, 11 rows from the field. Stroman is a master at altering his delivery to fool batters. It is difficult for hitters to time Stroman when he is unpredictable. Gray is a solid pitcher for the Rockies, which has often been a difficult task at Coors Field.
After the drumming Toronto took Friday night, one might expect the Blue Jays to come out with some energy. Nope. The Blue Jays went down in order in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Stroman allowed four consecutive hits, three singles and a double, giving Colorado a 3 to 0 lead. Toronto mustered only a single, weakly hit infield as they took the field in the bottom of the fifth. After Jon Gray struck out looking, Raimel Tapia stepped to the plate. Tapia lined a double to Centerfield on the first pitch, then circus music began to play. Centerfielder Jonathan Davis had trouble picking up the ball, allowing Tapia to reach third. On the relay throw, Second Baseman Cavan Biggio threw the ball out of play, awarding Tapia home. Yes Stroman allowed the hit, but his defense dug him an even deeper hole. The Rockies brought in Carlos Estevez in the ninth to close out the Blue Jays. He served up a lead off solo home run to Justin Smoak. Biggio reached on a Trevor Story throwing error and scored on a Danny Jansen double. Estevez eventually got the final out, securing the 4 to 2 Colorado victory.
Marcus Stroman is one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball. However the young Toronto team has wasted his 2.84 ERA (post game), leaving him with a 3-7 record. Toronto is extremely young, hopefully Stroman gets help soon and does not become the American League Jacob deGrom.
Game 3- Sunday
Day baseball is perfection. The sun shining on the green grass, the extra white baseballs, the game is more alive. The Rockies were looking to sweep the Blue Jays in the final game of our baseball road trip. Toronto finally showing some life as Eric Sogard and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit back to back singles off Colorado starter Antonio Senzatela to begin the game. Justin Smoak grounded into a Fielder’s Choice at first, scoring Sogard and giving the Blue Jays their first lead of the series. Again the offense could not sustain the momentum, scoring just one run despite sending seven batters to the plate. In the bottom of the first, Raimel Tapia lined out before Blue Jays’ starter Aaron Sanchez surrendered consecutive singles to David Dahl, Nolan Arenado, and Daniel Murphy to tie the game.
Toronto went down in order in the second, third, and fourth. Colorado scored a run in the second and third. Our seats for the finale at Coors Field were in the upper deck, first base side. Looking out, the Rocky Mountains rose beyond left field. Sadly thunderstorms rolled through Denver, forcing us to retreat. Despite the huge raindrops from the soaking downpour, the game was not delayed. The rain faded and Chris Iannetta launched a lead off home run in the sixth that may not have returned to earth yet. Nolan Arenado hit a solo home run in the seventh extending the lead to 5 to 1. Justin Smoak walked to lead off the Toronto eighth, but was stranded by two fly outs and a Brandon Drury strike out. Luke Maile’s single was Toronto’s last gasp as Bryan Shaw struck out the side to complete the Colorado sweep.
The Rockies began the home stand 23-26, fourth in the NL West, 4.5 games behind the second Wild Card. They won eight of nine games on the home stand; winning two of three from the Orioles, before sweeping the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays. Colorado finished the home stand 31-27, second in the NL West, 0.5 games behind the second Wild Card; most likely saving their season.
Baseball is beautiful wherever it is played. A sandlot in Georgia, a high school field in Ohio, a Minor League park in Indiana, or a Major League park in Colorado. Since graduation we have scattered across the country, our annual baseball road trip allows us to get together, catch up, and enjoy the game we love. Our lives constantly change, yet baseball remains constant. Next year will be no different.
Major League Baseball is roughly two years away from welcoming its 20,000th player. The overwhelming majority of players are not Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Mike Trout. They are players like Virgil Jester. While they do not have the accolades of those in Cooperstown, players like Jester helped build baseball into the game it is today.
Fooling your opponent is part of baseball. Deceiving a batter with a curveball. Catching the defense sleeping by stealing second base. These are fundamental parts of baseball. On April Fool’s Day it seems fitting to highlight one of the players who despite not having a long, distinguished career deserves recognition for his contribution to the game. The only Jester in Major League history, Virgil Jester.
Virgil Jester was a star high school and college pitcher in Denver when he signed with the Boston Braves in 1947. He worked his way through the Minor Leagues before debuting with the Braves on June 18, 1952. Jester entered the game against the Cincinnati Reds in the top of the 7th inning with the score tied at 5. He struck out his first batter, Cal Abrams. The next batter, Andy Seminick, was not as kind, smacking a solo home run to give the Reds a 6-5 lead. In the 8th inning, Jester walked Bobby Adams before allowing a RBI double to Willard Marshall, extending the Reds lead to 7-5. The Braves scored a run in the bottom of the 8th, making it 7-6, but would get no closer. Jester pitched 2 innings, allowing 2 hits, 2 runs, walking 2, struck out 3, with a 9.00 ERA, and took the loss.
Virgil Jester was the winning pitcher in the Boston Braves’ final victory before moving to Milwaukee. (www.baseball-reference.com)
The Braves final season in Boston was Virgil Jester’s best. In 1952, he went 3-5 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.411 WHIP. He appeared in 19 games, starting 8, throwing 4 complete games, and 1 shutout. Jester pitched 73 innings allowing 80 hits, 31 runs, 27 earned runs, 5 home runs, walking 23 , striking out 25, and hitting 1 batter. Jester’s season was capped with a complete game victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27th, the final Braves victory in Boston.
In 1953, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and Virgil Jester concluded his brief Major League career. He appeared in just two games. He pitched 2 innings, allowing 4 hits, 5 runs, a home run, 4 walks, no strikeouts, with a 22.50 ERA and 4.000 WHIP. Jester finished his career with a 3-5 record, 3.84 ERA, 1.480 WHIP, appearing in 21 games, 8 starts, 4 complete games, 1 shut out, pitching 75 innings, allowing 84 hits, 32 earned runs, 6 home runs, 27 walks, 25 strikeouts, and 1 hit batter.
Pitching got Virgil Jester to the Majors, however he was also a good hitting pitcher. In 22 plate appearances, he collected 4 hits, including a triple, scored 3 runs, 2 RBI, drew 1 walk, struck out 4 times, and posted a .211 BA, .250 OBP, .316 SLG, and .566 OPS.
Virgil Jester’s career did not lead to enshrinement in Cooperstown. However he joined the elite group of players who have played baseball at the highest level. Fewer than 20,000 people have played in the Major Leagues. Virgil Jester played alongside the giants of the game. Only a select few have that opportunity, and Virgil Jester was among those who rose to the top. Even a fool can understand that.