Friday, July 27, 2007


Anytime two Independent Baseball graduates make it to the major leagues in the same week it seems worthy of getting out the trumpet.

Joe Thatcher, one of those who got his first professional opportunity in an Indy league, made his debut with San Diego Thursday night, hurling a scoreless seventh inning at Houston. It took him only 14 pitches (nine strikes) to dispatch of three Astros, collecting one strikeout along the way. Bud Black picked a non-pressure situation for the 26-year-old lefty to get some of the nerves out of the way since the trade that brought Thatcher from Milwaukee was only about 24 hours old and the Padres were trailing, 7-1. Thatcher, who we wrote about again in some detail in Thursday's Independent Baseball Insider column, broke in at River City (O'Fallon, MO) of the Frontier League in 2004 and 2005 after pitching at Indiana State.

Kansas City called righthander Jason Shiell up from Triple-A Omaha Thursday, giving the 30-year old who played part of last season in the Atlantic League (3-2, 2.92 in nine games for Somerset, NJ) his fourth major league opportunity. He already has worn the uniforms of San Diego, Boston and Atlanta, compiling a 2-2 record and one save so far over 24 appearances.

While Thatcher and Shiell are drawing major league meal money, two Independent managers got their pink slips this week. Neither lasted a full season. Defending Atlantic League champion Lancaster replaced Frank Klebe with pitching coach and longtime major leaguer Rick Wise. Klebe was a coach under Tommy Herr last year.

Edmonton fired Frank Reberger, replacing him with coach Gord Gerlach.

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Monday, July 23, 2007


The fact the rookie-level New York State League did not make it is not the biggest shock in the sports world. The fact it folded after only 18 days is a bit more surprising, and a real shame because of what it does to so many players who agreed to play for $500 a month in order to get the opportunity to show the professional baseball world they had talent.

What chance did the league have when it was known from the beginning that all games would be played in one stadium, aging Murnane Field, in the largely blue collar community of Utica, NY? Very little.

Where was the revenue going to come from to support it? It wasn't like this was a hot, new market. And founder Jay Acton had been through the startup process before with the Northeast League so he knew how costly it would be.

Acton told the Utica Observer-Dispatch "we're bleeding $10,000 a day". He should have known the economics all along. So attendance was disappointing. It wasn't the first time he had seen that happen.

One has to question why he--and any investors--would undertake this venture without the resources to keep it going for at least a full season?

This writer had taken a position of neutrality because the league would afford a good number of non-drafted college players the opportunity to be showcased or to at least prove to themselves they could not continue living the major league dream.

Should the failure of the NY State League become a major black mark on Independent Baseball? Absolutely not, because none of us can stop an operator from undertaking this type of venture. If anything, it further convinces this writer (I author the weekly Independent Baseball Insider)the leadership in the established Independent leagues should think hard about forming some type of association so they can establish certain groundrules whereby a league must meet specified standards before being recognized as an Independent league.

Several players who started in the NYSL showed enough talent to win promotions to other Independent Baseball leagues. I would expect others will be signed in the days ahead. One can only hope the operators of the league will do everything they can to see that those who go unsigned are treated fairly as they transition back to a normal life.

And to future idealists who want to start similar undertakings: Please check the thickness of your wallet and your level of determination before you leap into action.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007


Michel Laplante was a quality pitcher during his regular playing days, perhaps never better than in 1999 when he reeled off 11 victories in 13 decisions and compiled a 2.06 earned run average for Les Capitales de Quebec. He also won as many as 10 games in the Northern League (Madison, WI), made it to Triple-A and worked in Taiwan's major leagues.

Today, he manages Les Capitales, the defending champion in the Can-Am League. At least, that is his primary in-season job. But when Quebec was beset by injuries and a suspension earlier this week the 36-year-old manager activated himself and played the first two games of the second half in the outfield while Quebec was visiting the New Haven (CT) County Cutters.

Quebec, a first half contender, lost both games, but give Laplante credit. He could have sent a pitcher into Yale Field's mammoth outfield, but that would have risked further injury. The manager-turned-outfielder blooped a single into center in his final at bat (1-for-7), and hustled his way to a run, setting a very good example.

Since Michel was a pitcher back when, Can-Am rules show him as a rookie position player. I doubt a new career is in the making, but this corner tips the old sombrero his way.

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Friday, July 13, 2007


I have always been one who enjoys the notes at the end of game stories, many times reading them first. This is a day for my notes from the delightful Atlantic League All-Star Game in Lancaster, PA Wednesday which did not fit into yesterday's Independent Baseball Insider column.

Grand Marshall Brooks Robinson and Ellie Rodriguez, who is the league's talent boss in Latin America after nine seasons in the '60s and '70s as a talented major league catcher, reminisced of the day (1972, Ellie believes) when the man known as the vacuum cleaner at third base turned his smash down the line in Milwaukee into a triple play. "I felt certain I had a double," Rodriguez recalled, "but Brooksie dived (toward the line) and dragged his foot across third", then threw from the ground to second to continue the around-the-horn triple killing.

It also is noteworthy that Robinson started his Hall of Fame career nearby in York, PA, where he now is part owner of the newest AL team, the Revolution. He hit .331 with 11 homers and 67 RBI in 95 games as a second and third baseman as an 18-year-old in that 1955 season. The teen from Little Rock was with Baltimore before the season ended although he did not stay with the Orioles fulltime until 1960.

All-Star Managers Tommy John (Bridgeport, CT) and Frank Klebe (Lancaster) presented an interesting match since T.J. is the winningest major league pitcher (288) not in the Hall of Fame and Klebe (pronounced KLEE-bee) may have been best known as a ranked boxer. John is a bit hobbled these days while Klebe appears fit enough to go into the ring...well, at least to reach the pre-game meeting at home plate.

The first time I saw former Rutgers standout Bobby Brownlie he was responsible for terrific "buzz" at the Cape Cod League-New England Collegiate League All-Star Game in Keene, NH. Now 26, the onetime Chicago Cubs first rounder still has not pitched in a major league game, but he won his last four starts (7-3, 3.33) to help Newark, NJ come from well off the pace and capture a first half title. It also earned Brownlie the start--and a scoreless inning--for John's winning North Division All-Star team.

The actual star of the night, in one man's opinion, was Clipper Magazine Stadium, which appears to be a treasure any time and was as lively as a ballpark can be on this balmy summer evening.

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Monday, July 02, 2007


What does the second year United League have in common with its much older brethren, the Atlantic, Frontier and American Association?

For one thing, the United now joins the other three Independent Baseball leagues by being able to boast that it has graduates wearing a major league uniform.

Edwar Ramirez, the slender relief pitcher who has been racking up stunning strikeout totals wherever he has pitched the last three seasons, has joined the struggling New York Yankees. "You can't argue with the numbers," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman told The New York Times.

It was less than a year ago (July 9) when the Yankees bought Ramirez from the United League's Edinburg (TX) Coyotes, where he struck out 46 hitters in 25 innings while saving 16 games and winning another and posting a 1.07 earned run average. The 26-year-old Dominican righthander started his dazzling strikeout spree in another Independent city, Pensacola, FL in 2005, whiffing 93 hitters in only 43 innings. Pensacola is in the American Association today, but it was part of the Central League at the time, and Ramirez was between two stints in the Los Angeles Angels farm system.

Ramirez struck out 80 in 43.1 innings this season for the Yankees with time split between Double-A Trenton, NJ and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA. Hitters were limited to a .128 average and his combined ERA was 0.62.

While Ramirez's growth has been mostly in Independent Leagues, Chris Coste started in the Prairie League (no longer active), then went to hometown Fargo, ND in the Northern League. The catcher-infielder is back for third stint in two years with Philadelphia, and didn't wait long to make a statement, homering as a pinch hitter in his first time back in the majors Friday during a big showdown series with the Mets. The 34-year-old Coste has his lifetime big-league average up to .330, including a 3-for-8 performance this season. Will he get to stay this time?

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, both Coste and Ramirez are making great statements for the Independent game.

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