Aug 31, 2014

Former Mets Out Fielder: Marlon Byrd (2013)

 Marlon Jerrard Byrd was born on August 30th, 1977 in Boynton Beach, Florida.

The six foot right hand hitting outfielder attended Georgia Perimeter College at Marietta Georgia.

He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 10th round of the 1999 draft. 

By 2001 he was voted the second best prospect (behind Josh Beckett by Baseball America, winning the MVP while joining Jeromy Burnitz in the 30-30 club of the Eastern League. In 2002 he made his fourth minor league All Star team, hitting .297 leading the International League in runs (103) extra base hits (59) & total bases (256) while at AAA Scranton. 

That September he got a call up to the Phillies big league club, joking second baseman Marlon Anderson as the only two major leaguers ever to have Marlon as a first name.

In 2003 the Phillies were hoping Byrd was the word, as he got a regular job in their outfield. In 135 games he hit .303 with 7 HRs & 45 RBIs posting a .366 on base %, coming in fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

But the next season he fell to a .228 batting average, with five HRs & 33 RBIs. In 2005 he struggled through injuries & found himself traded to the Washington Nationals for Endy Chavez. He was a reserve outfielder for Washington in 2006 batting just .223 & was let go to free agency at the end of the year.

In 2007 he signed on with the Texas Rangers having the best years of his career. He hit .307 with 10 HRs & 70 RBIs his first season at Arlington with the 4th place Rangers. He put up similar numbers the next year then followed with his best season in 2009.

That year he had career highs in doubles (43) RBIs (89) & hit 20 HRs, for Ron Washington's second place Rangers. His ten sac flies were most in the league & his ten hit by pitches were seventh. He won Player of the Week honors for the week of September 27th, 2009. 

In the outfield he turned a league leading four double plays posting a .991 fielding %. He was granted free agency, signing with the Chicago Cubs in a three year deal.

He hit .293 with 12 HRs as the Cubs best hitter in 2010, playing in 153 games, making his only All Star team. His outfield play was very good, posting a .992 fielding % (3rd in the NL for center fielders).

In 2011 he got off to a hot start, but was hit with apitch below the batting elmet flap suffering multiple fractures. He returned to play in 199 games, batting .276 with nine HRs & 35 RBIs, making eight assists in the outfield (3rd most in the NL).

In 2012 he was hitting .070 after 13 games & was traded to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later.

Overall he hit .210 in 47 games and was released by mid June. On top of having no team, he was suspended for 50 games for violating MLB's policy on PEDs. It looked as though the 35 year old was finished, but in February he was given a minor league contract by the New York Mets.

He had a great Spring Training and with outfield positions open to the best producers that March, he won the right field position on Terry Collins Mets team.

Byrd got the Opening Day start in right field batting in the fifth position. He was to surprise everyone with his all around play & be one of the brightest spots in the Mets '13 offense.

On April 7th, he came to bat with one out, with runners on second & third, with the Mets down 3-2 to the Miami Marlins. He delivered with a two run walk off single, scoring Ruben Tejada & Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

On April 13th he hit his first HR of the season, coming at Target Field in Minnesota, during the game Matt Harvey took a no hitter into the 7th inning.

By May, Byrd developed into one of the top hitters on the Mets club, hitting five HRs driving in ten runs. In the late May subway series sweep over the A.L. New York team, Byrd hit HRs in back to back games, driving in four runs.

On June 5th, he hit two HRs in the 10-1 win over the Nats in Washington D.C. During the mid June home stand he hit three HRs in a five day span coming in wins against the St. Louis Cardinals & Chicago Cubs.

On June 16th, he led off the bottom of the 9th inning with a HR, against the Cubs. The Mets were down 3-0 but went on to win after his HR & a three run walk off HR by Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

On June 27th with the Mets down 2-1 to the Colorado Rockies, Byrd hit an 8th inning two run HR off Matt Belisle leading to the -2 Mets win.

From July 6th through July 21st, Byrd got on another hot streak with 17 hits, hitting five HRs while driving in 15 runs. He raised his average twenty points in the month, hitting safely in all but two games the entire month as well with 14 multi hit games.

On July 9th in San Francisco, he hit a grand slam HR off Jake Dunning, breaking the game open as the Mets went on to a 10-5 victory over the Giants & a series sweep of the reigning world champs. 

On July 29th, his RBI single scoring Daniel Murphy tied up a game in Miami 5-5. He would score on Ike Davis' double. As the Mets went on to the 6-5 win. After such a strong July, he fell off in early August, not hitting a HR since July 21st.

On the August West Coast road trip, he hit three more HRs matching his career high of twenty for the season. Byrd drove in eight runs on the road trip with 16 hits, getting his average up to .290.

Through August 26th, he was leading the team in HRs with 21 (ahead of David Wright) & RBIs (71).

He was second in triples (5) which was 9th most in the NL, slugging (.518) & doubles (26). He was third on the club in hits (121).

He also has struck out over 100 times, in the league's top ten in K's & has six sac flies (6th most in the NL). In the outfield he has seven assists.

It was reported on August 27th that he was claimed on waivers by an anonymous team. That same day he was traded along with John Buck to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for infield prospect; Dilson Herrera.

The Pirates were having their best season in decades & the excitement in the Steel City for baseball was at a peak. In his first game in Pittsburgh he hit a HR in the 7-1 Pirate win over the Milwaukee Brewers, welcome Marlon Byrd.

On September 14th, his 7th inning HR was the game winner off the Cubs; Scott Baker. He closed out the season with a HR on the last day & drove in two runs in each of the last two games in a crucial series against the Cincinnati Reds, in which the Pirates took two of three.

Post Season: After a long career, Byrd was playing in his first post season. In the NL Wild Card Game against the Cincinnati Reds, he had two hits including a HR off Johnny Cueto in the 2nd inning, helping the Bucs to a 6-2 win. In the NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, he went hitless in five games. 

In the off season he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies & got himself a steady job in the outfield. His defense improved considerably & he put together his second straight solid offensive season as well.

By the All Star break he had 18 HRs & drove in over fifty runs.Through the end of August he was the Phillies leading HR hitter (23) & played in the most games of any player on the club. Byrd was second in RBIs (72) doubles (23) & runs scored (64).

In his 13 year career he is hitting .279 with 129 HRs 276 doubles 605 RBIs & a .334 on base % in 1375 games played (thru 8/20/14).

Aug 12, 2014

Former Italian / American Player: Mark Loretta (1995 - 2009)

Mark David Loretta was born on August 14, 1971 in Santa Monica, California. The six foot infielder was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 7th round of the 1993 draft. After making the American Association All Star team in 1995 he got a promotion to the Brewers squad as a September call up.

He earned a reputation as a good contact hitter and one of the toughest guys to get out with two strikes. He usually wore the uniform number 8 most of his career, until his final years. He would spend seven and a half seasons in Milwaukee, batting over .285 four times.

In 1998 he batted .316 with a .382 on base percentage, striking out only 47 times in 434 at bats. Loretta would bat .291 the next season and hit over .280 twice more before going to the Houston Astros for the 2002 stretch run. He would play all infield positions in his career, posting fielding percentages at the top of the league at both second base & shortstop. In 2000 he posted the best fielding percentage by all NL shortstops at .995.

In 2001 in an 11-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, he volunteered to pitch in order to help out manager Davey Lopes depleted bullpen. Loretta made his pitching debut, throwing one inning allowing one hit, one walk & striking out two batters. He signed on with the San Diego Padres for three seasons as a free agent in 2003, going on to have his best seasons. He hit .314 (10th in the league) with 13 HRs & 72 RBIs his first season in Southern California.

He had an even better year in 2004, with career highs in batting .335 (third in the league) doubles (47) (fourth in the league) hits (208) HRs (16) RBIs (76) and on base percentage (.391). He became only the second Padre in history to gather over 200 hits in a season, the other was Tony Gwynn. Defensively he led all second basemen in assists (451) & was second in putouts (288) posting a .987 fielding percentage, making his first All Star team.

In 2005 he got to his first post season going 4-15 (.267) driving in two runs against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. In the winter of 2005 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for another Italian American ball player, Doug Mirabelli.

He hit his first career walk off HR that April, & made another All Star team batting a solid .285 in 155 games played. He returned to Houston for two seasons signing on as a free agent to play a utility role. There he had another walk off HR in June of 2007 against the Rockies. He batted over .280 both seasons, continuing to play a consistent infield.

In 2009 he signed a one year deal with the Dodgers in his home town Los Angeles area. He finished his career there batting only .232 but made another postseason, and went out with the biggest thrill of his career.

Post Season: In Game #2 of the NLDS he pinch hit in the bottom of the 9th inning with the bases loaded & the score tied against St. Louis’ Ryan Franklin. Loretta singled to centerfield driving in the games winning run, putting L.A. up two games to none on their way to a sweep.

Loretta finished a 15 year career with a .295 average, 1713 hits 76 HRs 309 doubles 22 triples and a .360 on base percentage, striking out 605 times in 5812 at bats. He has the 10th best all time fielding percentage for second baseman at .991.

Remembering New York Giants History (1949): Sid Gordon Hits Pair of HRs in 10-0 Romp

July 31, 1949: The NY Giants went into Crosley Field at Cincinnati and swept a double header from the Reds, shutting them out in both games. The Giants bombarded the Reds 10-0 in the 1st game.

New York's Sid Gordon hit two HRs in the second inning leading the charge. Gordon became only 7th National Leaguer to homer twice in an inning, since then it has been done over twenty more times. Gordon went on to hit 26 HRs in 1949, after coming off a 30 HR season in 1948.

He would be traded at the end of ’49 to the Milwaukee Braves & had three 25 plus HR seasons there. The Brooklyn native & popular Gordon finished his career back in New York in 1955. The true New Yorker he was, Sid sadly passed away playing softball at central Park in 1975, suffering a heart attack.
The Giants Larry Jansen pitched the complete game shutout and went on to a 15-16 season, he would win 19 the following season & 23 in the Giants ’51 pennant season.

 In the second game of the Sunday double header that day, the Giants knocked out another nine runs, as Adrian Zabala threw the shutout. The Cuban Zabala only pitched 26 games in two years with the Giants, going 4-7 lifetime. The Giants finished fifth (81-73) in 1949.

Aug 3, 2014

A Look Back at Cleon Jones' Early Seventies Baseball Cards

In 1970 Cleon Jones was a World Series Champion & a contender to a batting title with a .340 average. He was looked at as a future star of the big leagues.

Topps issued Jones in a regular season card wearing  a Mets road uniform & then a special insert Jones card in a subset. The subsets were one of three Topps issued that year. The booklet series were comic book style cards telling a brief story of 24 different players life.  

Jones also had a Kellogs 3d card issued that year, one of many Kellogs cards he had in his name.



In 1972 Cleon Jones had the honor of having two Topps baseball cards. A regular issue & a special In Action card, where he was running the bases with the classic brown bricks on the Shea outfield wall behind him.

Cleon Jones makes a guest appearance on a classic 1973 Topps horizontal action card. The actual Player's card is Bob Didier (1973 Topps #574) catcher for the Atlanta Braves.

Didier was a rookie & the Braves main catcher in the 1969 season, his only full season. That year the Braves won the N.L. West but lost to the Mets in the first ever NLCS.

Didier became a backup to Earl Williams the 1971 N.L. Rookie of the Year & by 1973 was playing with the Detroit Tigers. In a six year career (247 games) he batted .229 with no HRs & 51 RBIs. He spent most of his last three seasons in the minors.

This cards photo shows that Cleon Jones had just slid into home plate and still has his left leg up on Didier's shoulder. As the dust clears, Didier is looking at the umpire, anxiously awaiting his call. In the background Mets catcher Jerry Grote is on deck with his shin guards on, in case this is the third out.

centerfieldmaz did some research & has gotten to the bottom of this play: The picture was taken in 1971 since Didier did not play in any games at Shea in 1972.

It was a beautiful Fourth of July day game at Shea Stadium, where 27,451 fans came to see two future Hall of Famers pitch. Unfortunately in this game Phil Neikro beat Tom Seaver 2-0 in a two hour & sixteen minute contest. Games were so quick in those days, no wasting time stepping in & out..........

So that means that Cleon Jones was called out at the plate. Yes, in the bottom of the 4th inning Jones singled to centerfield. He advanced to second on a groundout by Kenny Boswell. Next, third baseman Bob Aspromonte singled & Jones attempted to score but was called out at home. note: In this game Hank Aaron homered. I love those classic 1973 action cards, especially the horizontal ones.

In Cleon Jones actual 1973 Topps baseball card (1973 Topps #540) he is holding a bat in a still shot. The picture was taken on a sunny day at Shea during batting practice.

Notice the protective fence around the first base area. In the background is the classic Shea scoreboard of the early seventies, when it still had its beautiful white background. Notice the classic Mets logo in the center cube & the Rheingold beer ad to the left. Also look how proudly the American Flag is waving in the Shea wind.

Cleon appears to have a batting glove in his back pocket & his fielding glove is laying on the ground. This picture was most likely taken in 1972 since Cleon is sporting his moustache & that was the first season since the 1800's players donned facial hair thanke to the Singin Oakland A's. 

Jones would be featured again with his moustache in his great 1974 action shot & his final card in 1975. He is clean shave in all his other cards.