If you have been keeping up with our Independent Baseball Insider columns you know that one of this reporter's favorite subjects the last couple of weeks has been speculating about what it would mean for Independent Baseball if Baltimore closer George Sherrill was selected for the American League All-Star team.
I should have been speculating on two players who got their professional start in non-major league-affiliated leagues.
That's exactly what has come to pass.
Both Sherrill and Boston outfielder J. D. Drew made it, doubling the number of times it had happened in the previous 15 seasons of the Indy game. What a milestone it is, and all 62 of today's teams should be trumpeting the story.
It is easy to overlook Drew as an Independent player since his appearance with the St. Paul (MN) Saints in 1997 and 1998 came about because he could not reach contract terms with the major league teams drafting him. But the truth is he played in 74 games for the Saints when they were a fixture in the Northern League. (They still are a fixture for Indy baseball even though they helped form the American Association three years ago.)
Drew, the No. 2 draft choice in the country in 1997 after being a collegiate standout for Florida State, could not reach agreement with Philadelphia so off he went to St. Paul, where he became Northern League Rookie of the Year for hitting .341 and pounding 18 homers and driving in 50 runs in a mere 44 games. Drew, now 32, went back into the draft pool in '98, but he hit another nine round-trippers and drove in 33 runs in 30 additional games for the Saints before St. Louis could select him fifth overall and reach contract terms. He hit over .300 at two different minor league stops for the Cardinals that season, and finished by hitting .417 in 14 games in the National League with five homers and 13 RBI.
The All-Star selection for next Tuesday's heralded show at Yankee Stadium came about because of his prolific June when he carried a big chunk of the World Champion Red Sox's offensive load from the No. 3 hole, where it was expected David Ortiz would be greatly missed.
Sherrill's 27 saves in his first season as a major league closer have been a major reason for Baltimore's improved 2008 campaign. His selection climaxes (to this point) his brilliant rise from a starter with Evansville, IN of the Frontier League in 1999-2000 after a college career at Austin Peay to his transition as a left-handed specialist for Sioux Falls, SD in 2001 and the Winnipeg Goldeyes for the next season and a half before his contract was purchased out of the Northern League by Seattle.
The only previous time that someone who started in an Independent league was selected for a major league All-Star Game was when Texas reliever Jeff Zimmerman was tabbed in 1999. He had pitched for the Goldeyes in 1997. Brendan Donnelly had pitched for Ohio Valley of the Frontier League (1994) and Nashua, NH when it was in the Atlantic League (1999) prior to becoming the winning pitcher for the A.L. in the 2003 game, but he played in the farm system of both Chicago major league teams before going to Independent Baseball. Donnelly currently is on a rehab assignment with Cleveland's Gulf Coast League team.
One can only hope that many a fan will be thinking back to the Independent game when they see Drew and Sherrill being introduced at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night. You can bet every current Indy player will be thinking about where they started and where they are today.