Sunday Notes: Yankees Talk Football, and Other Screwball Stories

Luke Voit is a huge football fan. In recent years, he’s been a huge football fan without an NFL team to support. A Missouri native, Voit grew up rooting for the Rams, but the franchise relocated from St. Louis to Los Angeles while he was climbing the minor-league ladder in the Cardinals system. A void was thus created.

That jilted-lover experience is now safely in the rearview, and he has a new allegiance in mind. Voit recently bought a Sam Darnold jersey and is flirting with the idea of becoming a New York Jets fan.

“Because I’m playing for the Yankees now,” was the sturdily-built slugger’s response when I asked why that is (the Jets have gone 14-34 over the past three seasons). “I think it would be a fun connection to have. I want a team, and being in New York — I have a place there — I’ll be able to go to a game or two.“

His younger brother excelled on the gridiron. John Voit was a defensive lineman at
Army for four years, serving as a co-captain and earning the team’s prestigious Black Lion Award. Luke likely would have played collegiately himself had he not blown out his shoulder in high school. It was at that point that he devoted his full attention to baseball.

Upon learning that he’s been a linebacker, I asked Voit if he liked to hit people. His smiling response was, “Oh, yeah.”

Voit’s expectations for the upcoming NFL season? He believes that “the [Cleveland] Browns’ hype is real,” and that the Carolina Panthers will be “a sneaky team that gets far in the playoffs.” He initially went with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers as the league MVP, then reconsidered and opted for New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

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Yankees pitching prospect J.P. Feyereisen hails from River Falls, Wisconsin. Just 30-odd miles from Minneapolis-St. Paul, his hometown has mixed allegiances when it comes to the NFL. As the 26-year-old right-hander told me recently, “It’s split roughly 50/50 between the Packers and the Vikings.”

Which of the two NFC Central rivals does Feyereisen support?

“Packers,” was his definitive response. “If I wasn’t, I don’t know if I’d be allowed in my family.”

One of his best friends roots for the Vikings. To his credit, he doesn’t believe that every aspect of a rivalry has to be acrimonious.

“While some fans are going to hate each other — that’s how it is with rivalries — he’s one of the guys I can watch a Packers-Vikings game with,” said Feyereisen.”Neither one of us will get pissed off at each other. That’s a good thing.“

How good will the Packers be this season? The up-and-coming hurler — Feyereisen sports a 2.49 ERA (and a 10-2 record, to boot) in 40 relief appearances with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre — is bullish on quarterback Aaron Rodgers and new head coach Matt LeFleur. The defense… that’s the big question.

“We’re going to score — we’re going to put up points — so a lot depends on whether we can slow people down enough to put up more than they do,” said Feyereisen, who likened LeFleur to Rams mastermind Sean McVay. Pressed for a further prediction, he proposed that the Packers — a disappointing 6-9-1 last year — will finish 10-6 and earn a Wildcard berth.

There was one more important question I felt compelled to ask him. Feyereisen attended the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, which is the home of the Point Brewing Company. Has he ever quaffed a bottle of Point while cheering on the Green and Gold on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

“Oh, yeah,” affirmed Feyereisen. “Absolutely.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Dick Groat went 9 for 13 against Virgil Jester.

Ted Simmons went 10 for 15 against Jim Bibby.

Michael Young went 11 for 15 against Brandon Backe.

Kiki Cuyler went 12 for 16 against Tiny Osborne.

Bill Dickey went 15 for 19 against Harry Kelley.

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Dennis Eckersley was 17 years old when he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians and assigned to class-A Reno in 1972. One of his teammates with the Silver Sox that summer was Larry Andersen. Both went on to have outstanding careers. Eckersley is the Hall of Fame, while Andersen — infamously once traded for Jeff Bagwell — made 699 pitching appearances over 17 big-league seasons.

Repertoire-wise, Eckersley is known for having had a plus fastball and an every-bit-as-good slider. According to Andersen, who now broadcasts for the Phillies, the once-flamboyant right-hander entered pro ball with… a screwball.

“One of the best pitches I’ve seen was thrown by Dennis Eckerley when he came out of high school,” Andersen told me recently. “We were together in the Cal League, with Reno, and on the road in Visalia. He came in and threw a seven-inning, 3-0 shutout. What he had — and he probably dropped down a little more than he did in his major league career — was a screwball. I mean, he would turn the ball over like a changeup, but he threw it harder and that thing would just bottom out. It was filthy.”

As far as Andersen can recall, the coaching staff didn’t want Eckersely throwing the pitch, fearing that it would lead to an arm injury. Not that he needed it, of course. Eckersley was in the big leagues at age 20, and two years later threw a no-hitter. Even so, one can’t help but wonder what might have happened had Eckerseley kept his screwball. It’s not a though others haven’t thrived with the pitch.

“Thinking back to those years, there was Wayne Garland — he was more over the top, while Eck was more from the side — as a screwball-type,” said Andersen. “Tug McGraw. Willie Hernandez. Those guys had screwballs. And at first, so did Eck. He had the same kind of movement on his, they just didn’t want him throwing it.”

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Aurelio Lopez threw a screwball. Affectionately known in Motown as “Señor Smoke,” the erstwhile right-hander tantalized hitters with the pitch out of the Detroit bullpen from 1979-1985. Lance Parrish was behind the plate for the Tigers during that time, and he remembers his late teammate well.

“Aurelio had a screwball to go with his fastball and his slider,” said Parrish, who now manages Detroit’s Midwest League affiliate, the West Michigan Whitecaps. “The irony of that is that on our ’84 team, both he and Willie Hernandez threw screwballs. That’s a pitch you don’t see too many guys throwing anymore. And they were both really good screwballs. The way the ball came out of their hands was similar; they were completely pronated.”

Lopez’s name initially come up when I asked Parrish about fastballs. More specifically, I’d asked the eight-time All-Star who he caught that was especially effective up in the zone despite not having a high-velocity heater.

“Aurelio wasn’t a flamethrower — on occasion he might have touched 95, but most of the time he pitched in the low 90s — but his ball exploded on hitters,” Parrish told me. “He was deceptively fast. I don’t know if it was his delivery, his spin rate — we obviously didn’t know spin rates back then — or what it was. I just know that he could throw the ball right down the middle and guys would swing and miss; probably more than any guy I ever caught. I used to think he was part magician, to be honest with you. I don’t know how he missed as many bats as he did.”

Lopez, who died in 1992 at the too-young age of 44, appeared in 355 games during his Tigers tenure, all but four as a reliever. He was at his best during Detroit’s 1984 championship season, going 10-1 with 14 saves and a 2.94 ERA.

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NON-MLB NOTABLES

Dylan Busby, a 23-year-old third baseman in the Pittsburgh Pirates system, led the pitcher-friendly Florida State League in home runs this year with 22. A third-round pick in 2017 out of Florida State, Busby slashed .213/.316/.453 with the Bradenton Marauders.

Viandel Pena, an 18-year-old middle infielder in the Washington Nationals system, led the Gulf Coast League with a .359 batting average. His .455 OBP ranked third in the circuit. A switch-hitter, Pena was signed out of the Dominican Republic two years ago.

Yainer Diaz, a 20-year-old catcher in the Cleveland Indians system, is slashing a robust .340/.364/.517 between the rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Mahoning Valley. Diaz has batted .331 since being signed out of the Dominican Republic two years ago.

Brenton Doyle, a 21-year-old outfielder in the Colorado Rockies system, leads the rookie-level Pioneer in batting average (.356) and OBP (.453). Doyle was drafted in the fourth round this year out of Shepherd College, a Division II school located in Shepherdstown WV.

Seth Corry, a 20-year-old left-hander in the San Francisco Giants system, is 9-3 with a 1.66 ERA in 119 innings with the low-A Augusta GreenJackets. A third-round pick in 2017 out of a Lone Peak, Utah high school, Corey came into the season ranked 12th on our Giants Top Prospects list. Earlier this week he was name the South-Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year.

Over in NPB, Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada is a perfect 32 for 32 in stolen bases attempts. More than a jackrabbit, the 27-year-old has slugged 32 home runs and boasts a .408 OBP.

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Zack Collins hasn’t had much of an opportunity at the big-league level. The 24-year-old catcher has appeared in just nine games with the Chicago White Sox, all in a three-week stretch earlier this season. He didn’t fare all that well. Collins logged just two hits — one of which left the yard — in 26 at bats.

The team that drafted him 10th overall out of the University of Miami in 2016 isn’t overly concerned about his offense. The White Sox know the former Hurricane is going to hit. Collins entered pro ball with a reputation as a bat-first backstop, and his seasonal slash line this year with the Charlotte Knights is .289/.408/.561. Befitting his power-and-patience profile, he has 19 home runs and 60 walks in 358 Triple-A plate appearances.

The concern is with his defense. Some feel Collins’s future is at first base — or maybe even as a DH — although the hope is that he can remain behind the plate. According to Rick Renteria, he has a chance. When I asked him about Collins in late June, the White Sox manager said the youngster’s defense had improved “five, six, seven times from where he was at coming out of college. I see him progressing well.”

Whether or not Collins progresses to the point that he can be a reliable option behind the dish remains an unanswered question as summer slowly drifts away. But one thing is certain. Renteria would prefer that his catchers are more than one dimensional.

“What I want is to have a balanced person behind the plate,” Renteria said. “That’s in terms of being able to receive, call a game, and hit — the Holy Grail, so to speak — and [Collins] is working toward that.”

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Two current managers look like locks to one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Bruce Bochy is eight wins short of 2,000 — the ten men to have reached that mark previously are all enshrined — and his teams have won three World Series championships. Terry Francona has 1,653 wins — that’s 18th-most — and his teams have a pair of titles.

And then there’s Bob Melvin. The Oakland A’s skipper currently has 1,205 wins, a winning percentage just a few ticks over .500, and he’s yet to lead a team to the World Series. On the surface, his career falls short of Cooperstown quality.

That said, he’s arguably the best manager in the game, and has been for several years. Melvin has been named Manager of the Year three times, and there’s a very real chance that number will grow to four at season’s end. What he’s done on a year-to-year basis in Oakland — this for a team whose payroll consistently ranks near the bottom — is nothing short of impressive.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At SABR’s Games Project, Frederick C. Bush wrote about the time Texas Rangers southpaw Jim Merritt told reporters that he’d thrown about 25 or 30 “Gaylord Perry fastballs” while shutting out the Cleveland Indians.

The scout who signed top Orioles pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez overcame long odds to survive cardiac arrest earlier this year. Jon Meoli has the story at The Baltimore Sun.

Mariners catcher Omar Narváez set a little-known Major League record this past month, and Mike Petriello wrote about it at MLB.com.

What happened to the Rockies this season? Luis Torres explored that question at Beyond The Box Score.

Over at Sports Illustrated, Emma Baccellieri entertained us with a brief history of the many times baseball has died.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Albert Pujols leads all active players with 653 home runs. He also has the most doubles (656) and the most singles (1,855).

Albert Pujols has 16 triples in 12,123 career plate appearances. Adalberto Mondesi has 15 triples in 860 career plate appearances.

Aaron Judge, who was born in April 1992, has 743 career total bases. Nicholas Castellanos, who was born in March 1992, has 1,528 total bases.

Lance Lynn has worked 176-and-two-third innings this year and thrown 17 wild pitches, the most in the majors. Hyun-Jin Ryu has worked 157-and-a-third innings and hasn’t thrown a wild pitch.

John Gant (10-0) has the most relief wins in MLB this season. Raisel Iglesias (2-11) has the most relief losses.

Tom Timmermann, who pitched for the Tigers and Indians from 1969-1974, finished his career with 35 wins, 35 losses, and 35 saves.

Frank Funk, who attended the aforementioned Shepherd College, was born on August 30, 1935. A right-handed pitcher, Funk went 11-11, with 11 saves, in 56 appearances out of the Cleveland Indians bullpen in 1961.

On this date in 1967, the San Francisco Giants scored on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the 21st inning to defeat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0. Gaylord Perry and Frank Linzy combined for the shutout, with Perry going the first 16 innings.

Players born on this date include Chuck Tompkins, who finished his career with a 1.000 batting average and a 0.00 ERA. Tompkins appeared in one game for the Cincinnati Reds in 1912 and was charged with an unearned run in a three-inning stint. He singled off Cubs Hall of Famer Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown in his only at bat.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Yankees Talk Football, and Other Screwball Stories 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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Question more so for Eric and Kiley, but… why isn’t feyereisen in the big leagues? He has been lighting up AAA this year but the Yankees have been parading a whole bunch of odd characters (Gearrin, Dull, Lyons) instead of evening giving him a shot. Is there something he’s doing to succeed at AAA that won’t work in the big leagues?

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Turns out the Yankees answered my question. If they had called him up then they couldn’t trade him like they did today