JULIO CRUZ BECAME FIRST TERRIER MAJOR LEAGUER

I met Julio Cruz exactly three times – once in the clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium when he was a member of the Seattle Mariners.

The other times came years later. He had long since retired. His onetime home city, which had been Redlands, was near Seattle. Someone had convinced him to come back for an off-season baseball clinic at Community Field.

A few years later, Julio was inducted into the newly-formed Redlands High School Terrier Hall of Fame.

Brooklyn-born. Moved to Redlands. Graduated. Headed for San Bernardino Valley College. Signed as a free agent. California Angels. That was just the beginning.

Julio hit .237 over nine seasons in the major league. He is, indeed, a Hall of Famer. In Redlands. The guy has taken part in some of baseball’s greatest moments.

JUlio Cruz
Julio Cruz, a Redlands High product, became the first Terrier to ever play in the major leagues (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Sports Editor Jeff Lane, my predecessor at the Redlands newspaper, had done plenty on Julio during his five-year stint. Julio was a popular product. To that point, no Redlands player had ever drifted their way from that city into the major leagues.

Ed Vande Berg, a southpaw pitcher, would be next. In fact, the two would eventually be teammates in Seattle.

Julio, a 1972 Redlands High graduate, played at nearby San Bernardino Valley. Though undrafted, he was signed by the California Angels on May 7, 1974 as a free agent.

The Angels sent him into their minor league system. As a 19-year-old, he batted .241 for Idaho Falls of the Rookie League in 1974. On he went, right up the Angels’ chain – .261 for Quad Cities, .307 for Salinas, .327 for El Paso and .246 for Salt Lake City at age 22.

EXPANSION — A REAL BREAK FOR CRUZ

The American League, about to expand from 10 teams to 12 teams by 1977, had to make players available in a draft pool. Julio, left unprotected by the Angels, who had ex-Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy at the MLB level. No room for Julio.

While Julio batted .366 for Hawaii of the Pacific Coast League – stashed with the Padres’ chain while Seattle organized its minor league system – it wouldn’t be long before he got his shot at the major leagues.

On Nov. 5, 1976, Julio had been the 52nd player taken in the American League expansion draft when two new franchises appeared in the American League – Seattle and Toronto.

Suddenly, he was suddenly a Mariner.

In a curious draft footnote, pitcher Butch Edge was taken by Toronto out of Milwaukee’s chain. Edge would eventually wind up in Redlands years later as the University of Redlands’ men’s golf coach.

Other players taken in the draft included Pete Vuckovich being plucked away from the White Sox by Toronto. Vuckovich would eventually wind up with the Brewers, winning the 1982 Cy Young Award.

As for Julio, he quickly turned into a Seattle stalwart. Longing for star players, Julio’s base-stealing skills turned him into a popular Mariner.

He stole 59 bases in 1978, then swiped 49, 45, 43 and 46 bags over the next four seasons. What’s lost in those numbers is that he stole 49 in just 107 games in 1979. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, he stole 43 times in 94 games.

If there was a weakness to his game, Julio’s on-base-percentage was awfully low – his highest at .363 in ’79 – but he put a lot of bunts in play to try and get on base.

There were some decent hitters in Seattle – Al Cowens, Richie Zisk, Dave Henderson, Willie Horton, Bruce Bochte, Ruppert Jones, among others – with pitchers like future White Sox teammate Floyd Bannister and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry playing in Seattle with Julio.

Gaylord Perry
Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry notched his 300th career victory in a Seattle uniform. In fact, teammate Julio Cruz made the final out when he fielded Willie Randolph’s grounder (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In fact, Julio was on the field on May 6, 1982 when Perry (10-12 that season) won his 300th game. He beat the Yankees in the Kingdome to notch this milestone victory.

In fact, it was Cruz who fielded the grounder off Willie Randolph for the final out.

TRADED TO THE CHISOX

On June 30, 1983 — MLB’s trading deadline — Cruz was swapped to the Chicago White Sox for second baseman Tony Bernazard. The results of that trade might’ve been the impetus for the ChiSox vaulting to an American League Western Division title by 20 games over Kansas City.

“Let’s Do It Again” was the theme for 1984.  What the ChiSox did was fall back to fifth place, 14 games under .500.

General Manager Roland Hemond, who leveraged the Bernazard-for-Cruz swap, brought in pitcher Ron Reed and practically stole future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver from the Mets.

Roland_Hemond_at_SABR_Convention_2014
Chicago White Sox General Manager Roland Hemond was responsible for landing Julio Cruz in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in 1983 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Their contributions weren’t enough to offset poor showings, perhaps reflected by 1983 ace pitchers Lamarr Hoyt (13-18) and Rich Dotson (14-15) one season later.

There were 54,032 fans at Yankee Stadium when Seaver beat the Yankees for his 300th career win. Cruz, in the dugout batting less than .180, wasn’t part of that ChiSox 4-1 triumph.

On the field, though, were Hall of Famers like Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, MVP Don Mattingly and, of course, Seaver. Managers Tony La Russa and Billy Martin squared off against each other.

One night later, Cruz was back in the lineup, going 2-for-2 off Ron Guidry — caught stealing by Yankee catcher Butch Wynegar.

The ’85 White Sox club bounced back to win 85 games and actually led the division in June.

By 1986, the club was in disarray with new general manager Ken Harrelson, who had replaced Hemond, and manager Jim Fregosi. It would be four more seasons before the Chicago White Sox finished over .500.

Julio was living off an impressive free agent contract that was signed in December 1984, a six-year deal between $3.6 and $4.8 million. He never finished out his contract.

Julio played in 1,156 games; swiped 343 bases; don’t forget impressive .982 defense at second base.

Released by the White Sox in July 1987, Cruz signed as a free agent with Los Angeles. But the 1987 Dodgers already had a second baseman. Steve Sax would go on to lead his team to a World Series title a year later. Julio never actually played in L.A.

A TERRIER HALL OF FAME RETURN

He was part of the second class of Hall of Fame inductees at his former high school. In fact, Julio unwittingly opened the door to a humorous line given by fellow inductee Brian Billick, of Super Bowl fame.

Julio had spoken emotionally about his Terrier days. The memories. Boy, he had fun. The teams he’d played on. There was some success. The Terriers, with Cruz in the lineup, won the first Citrus Belt League title in 1971 — 44 years after their previous championship from 1927.

At the Redlands Hall of Fame podium, Cruz shared a memory.

“Just being in the showers with guys like Brian Billick was a thrill. Those were highlights for me. I’ll never get over that.”

Billick, the Terrier great defensive back/QB who was head coach of the Baltimore Ravens when they won the Super Bowl, was being inducted the same night.

In fact, Billick broke the crowd up when he said, “Julio, it’s amazing to me that you felt like the highlight of your high school career was taking a shower with me.”

A few years before that Hall of Fame moment, Cruz, along with ex-major leaguer Rudy Law and Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins took part in a baseball clinic at Community Field. Former Pirates and Yankees pitcher Dock Ellis, I was told, showed up late.

Hundreds of youth had shown up for that historic event at the corner of Church and San Bernardino. This was a rare moment for local youth.

Dads let their kids know who this guy was. Julio Cruz, of Redlands. Former major leaguer. Little guy. Second baseman. Switch hitter. Lots of speed. Wanna be a big leaguer? Listen. Watch.

Jenkins and Law couldn’t have been more classy.

Julio, the ex-Terrier, knew he was at home.

They gave tips. They shared stories. They shook hands. Smiled. They signed autographs.

Julio became a coach. Broadcasting games for the Mariners, Julio Cruz took his Brooklyn-to-Redlands-to-Seattle-to-Chicago travels really well.

Why not a Terrier Hall of Famer? He fit the mold. While playing with, or against, all those MBL Hall of Famers, he played for one Cooperstown-bound manager, La Russa.

It was a diamond-style Redlands Connection.

RUMBLINGS CIRCULATED ABOUT JACOB NOTTINGHAM’S CALL-UP TO BREWERS

Rumblings on onetime Redlands High catcher Jacob Nottingham began on Sunday night. Milwaukee Brewers’ catcher Manny Pina was headed for the 10-day disabled list, among a flurry of other moves.

Those rumblings were Redlands’ baseball observers — parents, coaches, former players, ex-teammates, observers from all corners of the city, you name it — that included social media attention.

On July 8, Nottingham was recalled to the Milwaukee Brewers. He was expected to share catching duties with Erik Kratz over the next week.

Nottingham may be the Brewers_ catcher of the future (Sean Flynn, Houston Chronicle).
Redlands’ Jacob Nottingham returned to the major leagues, called by the Milwaukee Brewers on July 8. He started one day later, getting a double and single for his first two MLB hits.

Sure enough, Nottingham was placed in the lineup — batting eighth, in fact — in Milwaukee’s game at Miami. He would be facing Marlins’ pitcher Jose Urena while catching Brewers’ pitcher Chase Anderson.

Nottingham, a catcher who spent a few days with the Brewers earlier in the season over a similar situation, had been recalled again. He was hitting .303 with 10 HRs at Class AAA Colorado Springs.

He’s the Brewers’ No. 25 prospect, according the MLB Pipeline.

This could be no ordinary Redlands Connection. Perhaps, it’s just the latest.

Nottingham singled off Urena, who fed him an 89-mph off-speed, hitting it to left field off the end of the bat. Next time up, against Javy Guerra, Nottingham drilled a double to left field.

In the end, Miami beat the Brewers, 4-3.

Milwaukee, which held a two-game lead over 2016 World Series champion Chicago in a rough-and-tumble National League Central Division race, could be the surprise force in 2018.

Nottingham, along with a bevy of other Milwaukee youths, might be a vital cog in the expected summer duel with the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.

Nottingham-to-the-big-leagues is big news.

Redlands has produced previous major leaguers, including undrafted second baseman Julio Cruz (Mariners, White Sox, Dodgers), Seattle’s 1980 13th round pick southpaw pitcher Ed Vande Berg (Mariners, Dodgers, Indians and Rangers), plus Angels-Blue Jays catcher Dan Whitmer (a 1978 Angels’ draft pick), who worked Detroit’s bullpen when the Tigers won the 1984 World Series.

When the Houston Astros drafted Nottingham at No. 167 overall in the sixth round in 2013, it didn’t take long for Nottingham to sign on June 14.

After a couple seasons in the Astros’ chain, Houston needed pitching at the major league level. On July 23, 2015, they traded Nottingham to the Oakland A’s in exchange for southpaw pitcher Scott Kazmir, who was 108-96 with a 4.00 ERA over a dozen MLB seasons.

Traded for by A’s legendary Billy Bean, who authored Money Ball in the early 2000s.

But it was hardly the end of Bean’s transaction activity surrounding the Redlands prospect. Between 2015 and 2016, Nottingham was shipped to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Brewers’ General Manager David Stearns dealt outfielder Khris Davis (166 home runs, .248 average over 5 MLB seasons) to Oakland. Davis, who would go on to smoke over 40 home runs in the next two seasons for the A’s, has 21 bombs so far this season.

That’s how highly Milwaukee must’ve viewed Nottingham’s potential.

On Nov. 20, 2017 Nottingham’s minor league contract was purchased. The Brewers placed him on the 40-man roster, the ultimate payoff for any off-season transaction.

Nottingham was one of five catchers – by far, the youngest on Milwaukee’s roster.

Over a five-year span with a handful of teams ranging from Rookie Ball to Low Class A to High Class A to Class AA, Nottingham had blasted 43 home runs and hit .238 (.325 OBP) in 424 professional games.

Upon his call-up to the Brewers in April, Nottingham received the full treatment. His father, Greg, was spotted being interviewed on the Brewers’ TV network.

Brewers’ history is traced back to the 1969 season when the American League expanded to two teams, the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals. When the Pilots’ support floundered prior to the 1970 season, the were sold to a group in Milwaukee, which included eventual baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

When baseball needed to even up its 30-team alignment in 1998 — there were, at one point, 16 N.L. teams and 14 A.L. teams — the Brewers were shifted to the National League to evenly align the leagues.

Other than a playoff season in 2008 (wild card) and 2011 (N.L. Central Division title), the Brewers’ post-season appearances have been limited.

As for Nottingham, he had one final swing in the Brewers’ loss in Miami. That he struck out against Marlins’ closer Kyle Barraclough is only part of the story.

Against Barraclough’s 95-mph fastballs, Nottingham unloaded back-to-back swings that were hard-core, all-out powerful, home run-conscious hacks that would’ve tied the score if only he’d connected.

He’s a true Big Leaguer.

Nottingham’s call-up, most likely attracting attention from all corners of his hometown, got the rumblings rolling.

Next stop is an N.L. Central Division showdown between the second place Cubs and first place Brewers. That showdown would have true Redlands Connections if Tyler Chatwood, a Redlands East Valley prospect, were pitching for Chicago with Nottingham catching for the Brewers.

POWER PITCHING CHRIS HERNANDEZ LANDED IN COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

In honor of the College World Series, which is getting underway.

Redlands’ Chris Hernandez had a nice fastball, good command.

Chris Hernandez
Redlands’ Chris Hernandez got his shot at the College World Series — twice, in fact, with the University of South Carolina (photo by USC).

He was part of some nice Redlands High School teams which, for some reason, has never reached a CIF Southern Section championship game in well over 100 years of taking the diamond.

Out a fairly impressive list of Redlands High pitchers — Shaun Benzor, Richie Burgess, Ben Washburn, John Herrera, David Quinowski, plus MLB veteran Ed Vande Berg and current RHS pitching coach Gary Pool — Hernandez was one of the best of that Terrier chain, sans Vande Berg.

In one game article describing his pitching, I’d referred to Hernandez as a “non-power” pitcher, noting observations made by three scouts having while observing.

It’s the kind of thing writers long for while watching a prep game. Hearing accounts of scouts is like tossing out meat for a tiger.

That observation drew disapproval from that particular prospect, who definitely had college and a pro career in mind for himself.

A few days later after that article, he got that off his chest, telling me that, indeed, “I AM a power pitcher.”

His years in the minor leagues — six seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ chain while reaching the Triple A level — might overlook some brilliant collegiate campaigns.

Hernandez’s travels took him first to Riverside City College and, eventually, landing at the University of South Carolina.

While watching him work for Redlands — its PONY All-Stars and, eventually, with the high school Terriers — Hernandez was part of a nice crop of ballplayers.

It led him to RCC, which notched back-to-back State junior college championships in 2000 and 2001 under a future Hall of Fame coach, Dennis Rogers.

That was the launching pad that led Hernandez to South Carolina for his junior and senior seasons in 2002 and 2003. The Gamecocks, one of seven teams from the baseball-rich Southeastern Conference to reach the NCAA Division 1 playoffs, made it to the College World Series in both years.

So here was Hernandez, a two-time All-Orange Empire Conference selection at RCC.

In 2002, the Gamecocks (57-18) had to get past Virginia Commonwealth, North Carolina and Miami in the Columbia, N.C. Super Regional.

At the CWS, Georgia Tech took down USC, 13-0, in the opening round.

Wins over Nebraska, a rematch over Georgia Tech, then a sweep over Clemson lifted the Gamecocks into the championship game against Texas.

The Longhorns, coached by the legendary Augie Garrido, beat the Gamecocks, 12-6.

Playing against such future MLB prospects as Huston Street (Texas), Kahlil Greene (Clemson), Nebraska’s Drew Anderson, Todd Sears and Brian Duensing, Aaron Hill (LSU), Stanford’s Ryan Garko, Jed Lowrie and Carlos Quentin, Chris Ianetta (North Carolina) — to name a few.

Hernandez (1-1, 3.27) pitched in 13 games that season.

South Carolina’s talent pool that season? Catcher Landon Powell (Oakland), pitcher Matt Campbell (Kansas City) and shortstop Drew Meyer (Texas Rangers) were eventual first-round round picks.

On a 45-22 squad in 2003, there were no less than 17 Gamecock players targeted by MLB teams. Powell, third baseman Brian Buscher (San Francisco), outfielder Kevin Melillo (Oakland) and infielder Steve Tolleson (Minnesota) were among those that eventually reached the majors.

Hernandez was 5-5 that season (3.32 ERA, 25 games, 84 innings), pitching three complete games though he appeared mostly in relief. Eight teams from the SEC battled their way into the NCAA playoffs.

It was Stanford that ultimately knocked out the Gamecocks in their chase to another CWS championship — twice, in fact, 8-0 and 13-6. In between those losses, USC had stayed alive with 11-10 win over Louisiana State.

LSU couldn’t hold on, despite the presence of future MLB reliever Brian Wilson, who closed down San Francisco’s 2010 World Series championship over Texas.

Rice (Texas) University beat Stanford two out of three to nail down the 2003 title.

As for his opponents, imagine pitching to future major leaguers like Ryan Garko, Jed Lowrie and Carlos Quentin, who were noted Stanford sluggers.

The Cardinal had 23 MLB draftees that year, including four No. 1 picks (Quentin, Lowrie, Danny Putnam and John Mayberry, Jr.), a No. 2 (Donny Lucy) and No. 3 (Garko).

With the Pirates, Hernandez made two all-star teams, chunking out 23 wins, 56 saves and a 3.22 ERA in 230 professional games between 2003 and 2009.

The Pirates?

Hernandez had some good seasons — 24 saves, 1.93 with the Class A Hickory Crawdads in his first full season as a pro, 6-1 record and a 2.86 ERA with Class AA Altoona Croon in 2007. At the Class AAA level, he spent parts of two seasons with the Indianapolis Indians of the International League.

He was 0-4 over 23 games in between a 4-0, 2.61 stint back at Altoona.

Hernandez was teammates with future MVP Andrew McCutchen, plus solid future MLB players like Neil Walker and Steve Pearce, both No. 1 draft picks. So were pitchers Bryan Bullington and Sean Burnett, who never quite made the grade at the MLB level.

Andrew McCutchen (Flickr)
Future MVP Andrew McCutchen was a minor league teammate of Chris Hernandez while the two worked their way up toward a hopeful Major League Baseball career in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ chain (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

In all, Hernandez struck out 353 hitters over 324 1/3 innings as a seven-year minor leaguer — not bad for a power pitcher.

As for the College World Series, consider this: Hernandez first showed up there with the Gamecocks in 2002, repeating the appearance in 2003.

One season later, another ex-Terrier, Robbie Hudson, made the first of two straight trips to Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb. — site of the annual CWS.

The Redlands Connection was in full effect at college’s biggest baseball showcase.