Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 10, 2014

Bluefield has produced numerous major leaguers — with mixed results

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Literally thousands of athletes have arrived as prospects since professional baseball began in Bluefield in 1937, but only a select few have ever reached the major leagues.

Some became immortals (Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.), while others were perennial All-Stars (Don Baylor, Bobby Grich). At least one manager (Joe Altobelli) won a World Series, while another became a highly successful general manager (John Hart).

At least five Bluefield products are currently in the major leagues, including Kevin Pillar (Blue Jays. .229, 8-for-35)), who played in Bluefield in 2011, along with a quartet of former Orioles, including Pedro Florimon (Twins, .108), Zach Britton (Baltimore, 3-0, 0.83 ERA, 5 saves), Scott Rice (Mets, 1-2, 5.93 ERA, 32 games) and Jim Johnson (A’s, 3-2, 6.46 ERA, 2 saves).

Pillar is the latest to reach the big leagues. The first Bluefield product was Vic Sorrell, a pitcher and manager, who was in Bluefield from 1938-1940. Johnny Gooch also played with Pittsburgh in 1921, and later arrived in Bluefield as a catcher and manager in 1942.

There have been plenty of lesser known products, most of whom played for the Bluefield Orioles, who had at least a taste of the major leagues, including Napoleon Calzado, who was 1-for-5 in four games with Baltimore in 2005, Drungo Hazewood, who was 0-for-5 in six games in 1980 and Mike Darr, who pitched one game during Toronto’s inaugural season, posting a 33.75 ERA in a losing effort.

Ryan Minor (Bluefield, 1996) replaced Cal Ripken, Jr. to end the longest consecutive games streak in baseball history in 1998.

Professional baseball has been played in Bluefield since 1937, with the exception of 1956. That is 86 years of baseball, and counting.

The 2014 Appalachian League season will begin for the Bluefield Blue Jays on Thursday, June 19, against the Johnson City Cardinals at Bowen Field.

Using “From Bluefield to the Big Leagues” as a guide — which can be found on the Bluefield Blue Jays website — here is a look at a few of those players who spent at least some portion of their professional careers in Bluefield, either as a player or manager.



MGR—Joe Altobelli (Bluefield, 1966 (31-38, 5th place; 1967 (42-25, 1st place, Appy League championship), Managed 7 years in majors (437-402, .518, 1 first place finish) with Giants, Orioles and Cubs, led Baltimore to World Series championship in 1983.

Coaching staff: Grady Little (Bluefield, 1980), John Hart (Bluefield, 1982), Kevin Kennedy (Bluefield, 1976), Jim Frey (Bluefield, 1964-65), Billy Hunter (Bluefield, 1962-63).

C—Johnny Oates (Bluefield, 1967 (.417, 5-for-12, 1 HR in 5 games). Played 11 years with Orioles (1st round pick, 1967 draft), Braves, Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees, .250, 14 HR. Managed 11 years with Orioles, Rangers (797-746 .517, 3 1st place finishes. Played at Virginia Tech. Died of cancer in 2004.

Backups: Greg Zaun (Bluefield, 1990); Steve Lake (Bluefield, 1975).

1B—Eddie Murray (Bluefield, 1973 (.287, 11 HR, 32 RBI). Hall of Fame (2003). Played 21 season with Orioles (3rd round, 1973), Dodgers, Mets, Indians, Angels, .287, 504 HR, 1,917 RBI, 3,255 hits, 8-time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, 2nd in MVP voting in 1982-83, Rookie of Year (1977).

2B—Bobby Grich (Bluefield, 1967 (.254, 3 HR, 10 2b, 4 3B). Played 17 years with Orioles (1st round, 1967), Angels, .266, 224 HR, .371 OBP, 1,033 runs, 6-time All-Star, 4 Gold Gloves. Borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

SS—Cal Ripken Jr. (Bluefield, 1978 (.264, 7 2B, 24 RBI). Hall of Fame (2007). Played 21 years with Orioles (2nd round, 1978), .276, 431 HR, 3,184 hits, 1,647 runs, Played in 2,632 games, 19-time All-Star, American League MVP in 1983, 1991, 2 Gold Gloves, Rookie of Year (1982).

3B—Doug Decinces (Bluefield, .293, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 28 runs). Replaced Brooks Robinson at third base in Baltimore. Played 9 years with Orioles (3rd round, 1970), 10, Angels, Cardinals, ..259, 237 HR, 879 RBI, 1-time All-Star, 3rd in AL MVP voting in 1982.

UTIL/IF—Mark Belanger (Blue-field, 1962, .298, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 7 2B, 15 SB). Played 18 seasons with Orioles (1962, free agent), .228, 20 HR, 175 2b, 676 runs, 1-time All-Star, 8 Gold Gloves, defensive whiz, .977 fielding percentage at shortstop for Baltimore.

Backups: Bob Bailor (Bluefield, 1970, first expansion pick by Toronto Blue Jays); Billy Ripken (Bluefield, 1982-83); Craig Worthington (Bluefield, 1985), Jerry Hairston, Jr (Bluefield, 1997).

OF—Don Baylor (Bluefield, 1967, .346, 8 HR, 10 2b, 10 3b). Played 19 seasons with Orioles (2nd round, 1967), Athletics, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, .260, 338 HR, 1,276 RBI, 1,236 runs, 267 HBP), 1-time All-Star, A.L. MVP, 1979. Managed 9 years with Rockies, Cubs, 0 playoff appearances).

OF—Larry Sheets (Bluefield, 1978, .267, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 9 2b; 1979, .333, 4 for 12; 1980, .379, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 29 runs, .396 OBP). Played 8 seasons with Orioles (2nd round, 1978), Tigers, Mariners, .266, 94 HR, 339 RBI, 98 2B.

OF—Enos Cabell (Bluefield, 1969, .374, 10 HR, 43 RBI, 17 SB, 62 runs); Played 15 season with Orioles (1968, free agent), Astros, Giants, Tigers, Dodgers, .277, 60 HR, 56 3B, 238 SB). Also played third base and first base.

Backups: Lou Clinton (Bluefield, 1955); David Delucci (Bluefield, 1995); Larry Bigbie (Bluefield, 1999).

DH—Boog Powell (Bluefield, 1959, .351, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 7 2B, .410 OBP).  Played 17 seasons, mostly as a first baseman, with Orioles (free agent, 1959), Indians, Dodgers, .266, 339 HR, 1,187 RBI, 270 2B, 889 runs, 4-time All-Star, 1970 A.L. MVP. Top 3 in MVP voting three times.

SP—Dean Chance (Bluefield, 1959, 10-3, 2.94 ERA, 85 Ks in 107 innings). Pitched 11 years with Angels (1959, free agent), Twins, Indians, Mets, Tigers, 128-115, 2.92 ERA, 1,534 Ks, 33 shutouts, 23 saves, 2-time All-Star, 1964 AL Cy Young Award winner, twice won 20 games.

SP— Mike Boddicker (Bluefield, 1978, 2-1, 0.47 ERA, 28 Ks in 19 innings). Played 14 seasons with Orioles (6th round, 1978), Royals, Brewers, 134-116, 3.80 ERA, 1,330 Ks, 16 shutouts, 3 saves, 1-time All-Star, 1983 ALCS MVP.

SP—Storm Davis (Bluefield, 1979, 4-4, 3.88 ERA, 54 Ks in 58 innings, 3 complete game, 1 shutout). Played 13 seasons for Orioles (7th round, 1979), Padres, Athletics, Royals, Tigers, 113-96, 4.02 ERA, 1,048 Ks, 11 saves.

SP—Pete Harnisch (Bluefield, 1987, 3-1, 2.56 ERA, 62 Ks in 52 2/3 innings). Played 14 years with Orioles (1st round, 1987), Astros, Mets, Brewers, Reds, 111-103, 3.89 ERA, 1,368 Ks, 11 shutouts, 1-time All-Star.

SP—Sidney Ponson (Bluefield, 1995, 6-3, 4.17 ERA, 56 Ks). Played 12 seasons with Orioles (1993, free agent), Giants, Cardinals, Yankees, Twins, Rangers, Royals, 91-113, 5.03 ERA, 1,031 Ks, 4 shutouts, 1 save.

Backups: Daniel Cabrera (Bluefield, 2002); Josh Towers (Bluefield, 1996); Jesse Jefferson (Bluefield, 1968); Tom Phoebus (Bluefield, 1960).

RP—Sparky Lyle (Bluefield, 1964, 3-2, 4.36 ERA. Played 16 seasons with Orioles (free agent, 1964, didn’t play for Baltimore), Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Phillies, White Sox, 99-76, 2.88 ERA, 238 saves, 873 strikeouts, 3-time All-Star, 1977 A.L. Cy Young Award winner. Twice finished top 6 in MVP voting.

RHP—Armando Benitez (Bluefield, 1992, 1-2, 4.31 ERA, 25 games, 37 Ks in 31 1/3 innings, 5 saves). Played for 15 years with Orioles (1990, free agent), Mets, Blue Jays, Yankees, Mariners, Marlins, Giants, 49-47, 3.13 ERA, 289 saves, 946 ks in 779 innings, 2-time All-Star, led N.L. in saves with 47 in 2004.

LHP—Arthur Rhodes (Bluefield, 1988, 3-4, 3.31 ERA, 44 Ks in 35 1/3 innings.) Played 20 seasons with the Orioles (1988, 2nd round), Mariners, Athletics, Indians, Philllies, Marlins, Reds, Rangers, Cardinals, 87-70, 4.08 ERA. 900 games, 1,152 strikeouts, 33 saves, 1-time All-Star.  

Backups: Don Hood (Bluefield, 1969); Sammy Stewart (Bluefield, 1975); John Habyan (Bluefield, 1982); Mark Leiter (Bluefield, 1983); Jim Johnson (Bluefield, 2001, M.L. All-Star in 2012).



In all, a recorded 178 players and/or managers have reached the major leagues from Bluefield.

Editor’s note: A similar article on the Princeton baseball organization will run later this week in the Daily Telegraph.

—Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com / Twitter @bdtwoodson