Sunday Notes: Kyle Higashioka is a Yankee Who Supports Liverpool FC

Kyle Higashioka never walks alone. The 30-year-old New York Yankees catcher is an ardent Liverpool FC supporter, having adopted the English Premier League team in 2007. A California prep at the time, Higashioka “stumbled across some Steven Gerrard highlight videos on YouTube” — this shortly after Liverpool had lost a Champions League final — and the die was cast. He’s been hooked ever since.

There is irony to his infatuation. Higashioka was drafted and signed by the Yankees in 2008, and two years later, Liverpool FC was purchased by the John Henry-led Fenway Sports Group. Yes, Higashioka lives and dies with a soccer club that operates within the Red Sox umbrella.

He’s not apologizing. Pointing out that Henry was once a minority owner of the Yankees, Higashioka stated that supporting a baseball team and supporting Liverpool are two completely different things. Moreover, he “started liking [Liverpool] before the Red Sox owners bought them; it’s kind of the luck of the draw who owns a team.”

A fair-weather fan he’s not. Along with staying true during the downtimes — “the Roy Hodgson days wren’t great” — Higashioka has gone out of his way to watch matches. Greenwich Mean Time and the Pacific Time Zone differ by eight hours.

“Living in California, I would meet up with the Orange County Liverpool Supporters Club,” explained the Huntington Beach native. “I remember an opening-week match where I met them at the pub at 4 a.m. to watch a game against Stoke.”

Stoke City FC is no longer in the Premier League, having been relegated to the second tier of English football two years ago. Conversely, Higashioka’s favorite club is a powerhouse. Not only did Liverpool win the EPL this past season, they did so in convincing fashion. Unbeatable at Anfield — and nearly as good on the road — Liverpool left the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United in their dust.

Higashioka didn’t cite the Mersyside Derby when I asked who he considers his favorite team’s biggest rival.

“Man United,” said Higashioka. “Everton hasn’t been good for awhile, so that’s not as heated of a match as when really good teams are going at each other. [The Merseyside Derby] isn’t as intense as Liverpool-Man United, where they’re usually both competing for the league championship. For me, that’s the biggest game of the year.”

Fair disclosure: The Boston-based author of this column has supported Everton — a club whose home grounds are little more than half a mile from Anfield — for over two decades. Higoahioka’s dissing of Liverpool’s longtime rival (the teams first met in 1894) thus rubbed me the wrong way. Which isn’t to say I was surprised. A rivalry is a rivalry.

(Discretion being the better part of valor, I opted to not mention that John Henry’s baseball team has captured four World Series titles since 2004, while the Yankees have just one.)

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I recently asked former Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Mike Lum which pitcher he least liked facing during a career that spanned the 1967-1981 seasons.

“The toughest I faced was Juan Marichal,” said Lum, who swung from the left side. “The reason for that is, he threw a screwball. He was a right-handed pitcher, and that screwball looked like a left-handed curveball. It looked really, really funny. And you couldn’t wait long enough to let the ball get deeper. He was a guy I did not like to hit off of.”

Lum went 8 for 39, with six strikeouts, against Marichal. He fared far worse — 1 for 24, with six strikeouts — against John Montefusco. I asked him what it was like facing the colorful San Francisco Giants righty.

“The Count,” responded Lum, conjuring up Montefusco’s old nickname. “I didn’t mind that. I liked guys who threw hard, because I sat on fastballs. I was very aggressive, very intent with my at bats. Especially when I pinch-hit (Lum went 102 for 415 as a pinch-hitter). It was, ‘Go ahead and throw me that fastball, wherever you want to throw it.’”

Why then just 1 for 24 against ‘The Count’?

“I must have been drunk the other 23 times,” shrugged Lum, who at age 74 possesses an engaging sense of humor. “Of course, a lot of guys owned me.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Lyman Bostock went 7 for 12 against Goose Gossage.

Tony Gwynn went 8 for 11 against Dan Plesac.

Al Oliver went 9 for 16 against Dave Dravecky.

John Olerud went 10 for 13 against Mark Leiter.

Rod Carew went 11 for 18 against Don Kirkwood.

Ichiro Suzuki went 12 for 19 against Aaron Sele.

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Who was better, Yogi Berra or Mike Piazza? I recently asked that question in a Twitter poll, and the result was more or less what I expected. The Yankees Hall of Famer garnered 60.9% of the vote, while the Dodgers/Mets Hall of Famer received 39.1%.

Here are some of their career numbers:

Berra: 63.7 WAR, 124 wRC+, 2,150 hits, 358 home runs, 3,643 total bases.

Piazza: 63.7 WAR, 140 wRC+, 2,127 hits, 427 home runs, 3,768 total bases.

Along with playing on a plethora of World Series-winning teams, Berra has the edge in All-Star seasons, 15 to Piazza’s 14. Berra also won three MVP awards, while Piazza didn’t capture any. My guess is that those factors weighed heavily in the voting.

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An uncommon official scorer’s ruling took place at Fenway Park just over a week ago. Here’s what happened on the field:

The Red Sox had the bases loaded with one out, and Rafael Devers hit a low line drive that Mets second baseman Robinson Cano caught on a short hop. It was not immediately clear if the ball had been caught on the fly or, as the umpire ruled, had hit the ground. Cano threw to second for the force out, with Andrew Benentendi, the runner on second base, temporarily staying glued to the bag. Then things got weird.

After the shortstop had caught the throw for the aforementioned force out, a seemingly confused Benintendi took off for third. He was then caught in a rundown, the runner who’d been on third scoring well before Benintendi was tagged out to end the inning.

My assumption was that Devers would be credited with an RBI, but it turns out that he wasn’t. I later checked with that night’s official scorer, who explained that while Benintendi would have been safe had he stayed on second, by attempting to advance he “turned it into a reverse-force double play.” Per scoring rules, Devers was thus not entitled to an RBI.

I was at the game. The official scorer, who consulted with the Elias Sports Bureau to confirm the ruling, was not. Due to the pandemic he was scoring from home via a monitor. Needless to say, that makes the job even more difficult.

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A quiz:

Joe Nuxhall is the youngest player in MLB history, having debuted with the Cincinnati Reds on June 10, 1944, at 15 years and 316 days old. Who is the second youngest player to appear in a big-league game during the modern era?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Don Mattingly got his 282nd win as a Miami Marlins manager on Thursday, breaking a tie with Jack McKeon for the most in franchise history. McKeon’s Marlins went 281-257. Mattingly’s Marlins were 282-371 following the 8-7 conquest of the Orioles.

Joey Votto hit his 287th career home run earlier this week, tying him with Tony Perez for third place on Cincinnati’s all-time list. Frank Robinson had 324 homers with the Reds; Johnny Bench had 389.

Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Andy Young became the 12th player born in North Dakota to record a big-league hit when he doubled off Houston’s Bryan Abreu on Wednesday. Darin Erstad has the most hits among native North Dakotans, with 1,697.

The Detroit Tigers hit four home runs in the first inning yesterday, all of them off Pittsburgh’s Derek Holland. The last time the Tigers had four first-inning homers was July 29, 1974, when Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Mickey Stanley, and Ed Brinkman went deep against the Cleveland Indians.

Bobby Prescott, who played in 10 games for the Kansas City A’s in 1961, died last weekend at age 89. A native of Panama, Prescott had one hit in 12 big-league at bats.

Horace Clarke died on Wednesday at age 81. A second baseman for the New York Yankees from 1965-1974, Clarke broke up three no-hitters with ninth-inning singles over a four-week stretch during the 1970 season.

NPB NOTES

Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Kensuke Kondo is celebrating his 27th birthday today. A left-handed hitter who has also spent time as a catcher and a third baseman, Kondo has a career slash line of .305/.408/.418 in 2,771 NPB plate appearances.This year he’s slashing .326/.476/.444 in 189 PAs.

SoftBank Hawks right-hander Dennis Sarfate has announced his retirement. The 39-year-old former MLB pitcher had 234 saves in NPB, the most ever for a foreign-born player. Sarfate has played in Japan since 2011.

Nori Aoki is slashing .318/.402/.568 with the Yakult Swallows. The 38-year-old outfielder has six home runs. Alan Busenitz is 1-0 with three saves and a 1.10 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The 29-year-old righty pitched for the Minnesota Twins in 2017 and 2018.

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The answer to the quiz is Tommy Brown, who was 16 years and 241 days old when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on August 3, 1944. Brown also holds the distinction of being the youngest player ever to homer in a big-league game. He was 17 years and 257 days old when he went deep against Pittsburgh’s Preacher Roe on August 20, 1945.

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A unique snafu occurred on Thursday when Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Jacob Waguespack wasn’t allowed to pitch against the Atlanta Braves. Called in from the bullpen, Waguespack was warming up on the game mound when the home plate umpire noticed that he wasn’t listed on the lineup card. Whether the rule book actually prohibited him from appearing is in question, but either way, the Jays didn’t push the issue. Waguespack went back to the pen to chill for the rest of the evening.

COVID-19 played a meaningful role in what happened. Waguespack had replaced Trent Thornton on the active roster, but the move wasn’t yet official at the time the lineup cards were submitted to the umpires — hence Waguespack’s not being listed. An updated lineup card, with the 26-year-old reliever included, was created 45 minutes before first pitch, but it was never seen by the men in blue.

This couldn’t have happened prior to the current season. Pandemic protocols dictate that lineup cards are now sent to a printer in the umpires’ room, whereas in years past they were exchanged at home plate shortly before game time.

Per SportsNet Canada’s Shi Davidi, MLB is looking into a way to avoid the issue going forward.

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I recently picked up a copy of Bill Nowlin’s Working a Perfect Game: Conversations With Umpires, and as expected, it contains a treasure trove of insight. As the publisher’s press release states, “No book has ever provided such an up close and personal look at the on- and off-field lives of major league umpires.” Over the course of four years, Nowlin talked to 87 umpires, the vast majority of whom are currently calling balls and strikes in MLB.

Among the things I’ve learned thus far is that Angel Hernandez’s brother, Nick Hernandez, was the eighth-overall pick of the 1978 draft. A catcher, Nick played four seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers system, never advancing beyond high-A. (Notable first-rounders that year include Bob Horner, first-overall to the Atlanta Braves, and Kirk Gibson, 12th-overall to the Detroit Tigers). Angel never worked a game that his brother played in.

I’ve likewise learned that umpire Jim Wolf, and former big-league left-hander Randy Wolf, are brothers. Per Hernandez, MLB wouldn’t schedule Jim to work a series that Randy would be playing in.

According to umpire Ted Barrett, potential conflicts of interest aren’t always what they seem on the surface.

“There was an umpire in Triple-A in the Coast League named Zack Bevington,” Barrett said in the book. “His brother was [manager] Terry Bevington. He would do his games… but as it came out, they hated each other. They wouldn’t talk. He ejected him one night. ‘You’ve always been a butt hole.’ They just quit talking.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Minor League Baseball players who were scheduled to be free agents at the end of the 2020 season have been told they will be eligible for free agency this fall. JJ Cooper has the story at Baseball America.

At The Los Angeles Times, Maria Torres wrote about how suicide prevention is a major off-field focus for Mike and Jessica Trout.

Melanie Newman made Orioles radio history this past Tuesday. Joe Trezza wrote about it at MLB.com.

Writing for the Marquee Sports Network, Tony Andracki laid out how Anthony Rizzo is stepping up behind the scenes for the Chicago Cubs.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold wrote about his long-overdue visit to the gravesite of his paternal grandfather, who was a devout Cardinals fan, on a recent visit to Wisconsin.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Albert Pujols and Mike Trout have homered for the Angels in the same game 47 times. That’s the most among active teammates. Colorado’s Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story rank second, with 33.

The Detroit Tigers played 25 doubleheaders in 1960. Three times that year they played doubleheaders on consecutive days.

The New York Yankees played 26 doubleheaders in 1938. Ten of them took place in August, six in a seven-day stretch.

Gaylord Perry had 29 complete games in 1972. Eight of them were extra-inning affairs, including a 13-inning shutout.

On August 6, 1952, Satchel Paige threw a complete-game shutout as the St. Louis Browns beat the Detroit Tigers 1-0 in 12 innings. Paige was 46 years old at the time.

On August 4, 1953, Vic Raschi pitched six scoreless innings, and went 3 for 4 with seven RBIs, to lead the New York Yankees to a 15-0 win over the Detroit Tigers.

On today’s date in 1919, the Philadelphia Phillies traded Possum Whitted to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Casey Stengel.

On today’s date in 1957, Bob Hazle went 4 for 5 with a home run to lead the Milwaukee Braves to a 13-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Hazle finished the season with a .403/.477/.649 slash line in 155 plate appearances.

On August 12, 1966, the Pittsburgh Pirates scored one in the ninth, one in the 10th, two in the 11th, and three in the 13th to beat the Cincinnati Reds 14-11. The game featured 11 home runs, three by Cincinnati’s Art Shamsky. Shamsky entered the game in the eighth inning.

Mike Torrez won 14 or more games for five different teams from 1974-1978. In 1975, he had 119 strikeouts and 133 walks while going 20-9 for the Baltimore Orioles.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Kyle Higashioka is a Yankee Who Supports Liverpool FC by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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ajra21
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ajra21

I’m a Liverpool and Yankee fan. I can’t control who plays for the teams I support, and I certainly have no say in who owns them.

I’m not a fan of the Yankees owners, and when it comes to football (soccer) team owners, FSG are far from the worst.