Friday, October 17, 2014

Life in the minor leagues of baseball

I just finished a teriffic baseball book called "Where Nobody Knows Your Name" by John Feinstein.

Feinstein focuses on 9 men who spent most of the year 2012 in the minor leagues, specifically Triple A. They are mostly players who, having had some success in the majors before, are trying to get back there. He also focuses on 2 minor league managers and one umpire. Along the way he touches on other players who intersect with the 9. As a baseball fan for over 40 years and a card collector for almost 30 years, I've seen a lot of players come and go. Often, when a player goes, it's hard to find out what happened to him. Sure, you can follow a players descent into the minors on but numbers don't give you the story. The fun part of the book was recognizing a lot of names of players I liked when they were playing but who now are minor league managers, coaches or scouts.

The story is simple. Everyone of these men, and the many others he mentions, all feel like they belong in the majors. They've been set back by injuries, by circumstances, by the "business" nature of baseball, or just bad luck. They all belong there and they're gonna keep on trying until they're convinced to stop.  Here are the main characters of the book. I've tried not to give any spoilers.

1999 Fleer Tradition #94 Scott Elarton
Elarton had been the Astros 1st round draft pick in 1994 and made his major league debut in 1998. His best season was 2000 when he went 17-7 for the Astros. He never came close to repeating that success and finally retired in 2008. He'd been out of baseball for 3 years when a chance encounter with Ruben Amaro, Jr., the Phillies General Manager, got him a spring tryout with the Phillies and an assignment to the Phillies Triple A team in Lehigh Valley.

Ron Johnson

Ron Johnson, the manager of the Orioles Triple A team, the Tidewater Tides in 2012, is a career minor league man. He had a 22-game career in the majors ending in 1984 and has been in the minors ever since. He loves it. He tells his players in Triple A "It you don't like it here, do a better job".

Jon Lindsey
Lindsey had played more minor league games with out a major league call-up than any player in history before getting into 11 major league games with the Dodgers in 2010. He had 1 hit in 12 at-bats.

Mark Lollo
Lollo finally got the call to the major leagues in 2011, working some games as a substitute umpire. He worked fewer games in 2012. Apparently umpires work their way up from the low minors to the majors just like players. But when an umpire fails to get that permanent assignment to the majors, he's done.

2006 Upper Deck #949 Nate McLouth
McClouth was the Pirates 25th round draft pick in 2000, pretty much making him a long shot. He made his major league debut in 2005 and was an All-Star in 2008. By 2012 he was hitting .141 for the Braves and was released. Nobody wanted him. Yet he ended up the 2012 season on the Orioles, heading to the playoffs.

Charlie Montoyo
In 2012 Montoyo was (and still is) the manager of Triple A Durham Bulls. He is considered one of Triple A's most successful managers but has never been seriously considered for a major league manager job. He said that one of the toughest parts about the job as a Triple A manager is that nobody wants to be there.

2003 Topps 205 #245 Scott Podsednik
Podsednik was the Rangers #2 pick in 1994 but never played for them. The highlight of his career was hitting a walk-off home run in 2nd game of the 2005 World Series, helping the White Sox sweep the Astros in 4 straight. 2 years later he was looking for a job. In 2012, he was in Lehigh Valley.

2010 Bowman Chrome Prospects #166 Chris Schwinden
The youngest player profiled. He was the Padres 5th round pick in 2008. In 5 weeks in 2012 he was released and picked up by 4 different teams before finally ending up back with the Mets.

1998 Leaf #17 Brett Tomko
Tomko was the Reds 2nd round pick in 1995 and made his major league debut in 1997. In 2012 he was with Cincinnati's Triple A team in Louisville, still recovering from a serious shoulder injury in 2009.


deal said...

Always enjoyed Feinstein's books. I think he is could at uncovering untold stories. Will add this one to my list just in case I ever start reading again.

Hackenbush said...

I read it. Very enlightening. It gave me a new appreciation for what so many of the players/managers/umpires go though.