The last of the great Albuquerque Dukes teams

Dukes logoThe arrival of the 2014 baseball season means 20 years have passed since the old Albuquerque Dukes won the last of their eight Pacific Coast League championships. The franchise joined the Triple A PCL in 1972 with a dominant team managed by Tommy Lasorda and featuring future big leaguers like Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Burt Hooton, Charlie Hough, Larry Hisle, and more. The Dodgers’ minor league system was well-stocked during the years the O’Malley family owned the Dodgers, and Albuqerque, often the final stop for players on their way to the majors, reaped the benefits time and time again. Continue reading

2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot: Who gets your vote?

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux: 355 wins, four Cy Young Awards. First ballot Hall of Famer?

The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was announced today, and as I wrote a couple years ago, there are few clear answers in Hall of Fame voting these days. This year presents an even tougher field to choose from than last year…all thanks to the “Steroid Era” and baseball writers’ reactions to it.

If you had a vote to cast, which players would you choose? Do you vote for suspected steroid users, or just those who appear clean? Do you vote for clear-cut Hall of Famers whose careers may have been tainted, or do you vote for marginal Hall of Famers whose performances were (as far as we know) never in question? Continue reading

The name on the front of the jersey

Jeter Rivera

Future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, Yankees throughout their careers…quite a rarity these days.

Gehrig. Feller. Williams. Musial. Banks. Stargell. Yastrzemski. Bench. Yount. Ripken. The list goes on and on. Many of baseball’s all-time greats never changed uniforms in their lengthy big league careers. Of course that’s a rarity now, which makes present-day Yankees greats Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter all the more unusual.

I grew up in an era when baseball was changing dramatically. In the 1970s, as the DH rule and free agency hit baseball, longtime stars suddenly started moving from team to team. I remember thinking how strange it was to see Catfish Hunter become a Yankee, but superstars changing uniforms quickly became the norm. Continue reading

Walking in the footsteps

Balnagarrow

The small dirt road on the left leads to what is still a working farm: Balnagarrow, just outside Kirriemuir, Scotland.

It’s a pretty intense feeling, walking in the very footsteps an ancestor once took. I had never experienced that feeling before, but now that I have I can’t wait for the next opportunity.

I remember very clearly when I first got interested in genealogy. It was one of those very rudimentary family tree assignments in elementary school, where we got a blank mimeographed family tree sheet to fill out and turn in as our assignment. We didn’t do big poster boards with photos and such back then. Things were simple. Purplish-blue, blurry mimeograph paper. Fill-in-the-blanks-type stuff. It was the 1970s. Continue reading

Another Lanning hits the big leagues

Spencer Lanning

Spencer Lanning, Cleveland Browns

As I wrote about last year, three Lannings have played Major League Baseball (the last retired in 1947), and I’ve had a fun time over the years tracking down artifacts and history of those long-lost ballplayers and linking them to my family tree. In fact, not too long ago I finally found a photo of Lester “Red” Lanning from his college days as a baseball star at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, before his short-lived career in the majors. However, there’s never been a Lanning in the NFL (or NBA, or NHL)…until now. Continue reading

Dave Parker: The Cobra’s on-field impact too easily forgotten

Dave Parker

Dave Parker was the star of the stars for the late-’70s Pirates.

Today’s sad news that former All-Star Dave Parker is battling Parkinson’s Disease stirred a host of childhood memories.

I grew up watching “The Cobra.” I was a mediocre right fielder in Little League right around the time Parker was winning batting titles and Gold Gloves patrolling right field in Pittsburgh. For years he was one of my favorite players, both in his truly electric prime as a legitimate five-tool talent with the “We Are Family” Pirates of the late 1970s and later, when he resurrected his career following baseball’s cocaine scandal of the 1980s that also claimed another hero of mine, Vida Blue.

As a West Coast native, I was never a Pirates fan, but they were a fun team to watch throughout much of the 1970s. The late ‘70s “Lumber Company” lineup of Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock and Omar Moreno and more was impressive to say the least, but to me the true superstar was always Parker. Continue reading

Puig: Astounding to date, but not a Hall of Famer just yet

Eric Young & Mike Piazza

Two future major leaguers, Eric Young and Mike Piazza, as Albuquerque Dukes in 1993.

Twenty years ago I had the good fortune of working in the front office of the old Albuquerque Dukes as Mike Piazza blazed his way through town on his way to the Dodgers and, I expect (steroid rumors aside), ultimately the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a classic phenom – a late round draft pick taken primarily as a favor to Tommy Lasorda who blossomed into maybe the best-hitting catcher in baseball history.

However, I also remember Raul Mondesi, who had almost as meteoric a rise through the system and to the majors. He was yet another Dodgers product who became a Rookie of the Year, and yet another phenom. He had some very good years, but he never reached the greatness predicted for him when he arrived in the big leagues., and instead of a storied Dodgers career he ultimately wore the uniforms of seven different franchises. Continue reading