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.

JULIO CRUZ PART OF CHICAGO WHITE SOX’ TOP TRADE DEADLINE MOVES

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

It was June 15, 1983. In those days, that was Major League Baseball’s trade deadline.

Think of the great deals — Seattle traded Randy Johnson to Houston in 1998 (by then, the deadline had been moved to July 31); C.C. Sabathia had been traded by Cleveland to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008; that same season, it was Manny Ramirez traded to the Dodgers by Boston; when the Mets got Yeonis Cespedes in 2015, the slugging outfielder led New York to the World Series; Philadelphia dealt Curt Schilling to Arizona in 2000.

All of those deals probably outweigh the swap of second basemen in that 1983 trade between Seattle and the Chicago White Sox.

Julio Cruz, the undrafted free agent out of Redlands High/San Bernardino Valley College, had been such a solid player for the Seattle Mariners — a base-stealing dynamo, not to mention a flashy fielding second baseman.

JUlio Cruz
Julio Cruz, who built a steady and sturdy career at second base with the Seattle Mariners, was eventually swapped to the Chicago White Sox in the heat of the 1983 American League Western Division chase (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

A guy named Roland Hemond noticed.

In 1983, Seattle took its sure-handed infielder and all-time leading base-stealer and dealt him to the ChiSox. That deal plucked second baseman Tony Bernazard for the Mariners.

At the time of that mid-season trade, the ChiSox were five games under .500, fifth in the American League Western Division. Hemond pulled off the Bernazard-for-Cruz trade, the only real adjustment he made to an already-strong roster.

Hemond made a trade that everyone would later credit with turning the season around.  Looking to give his team a spark, Hemond traded Bernazard to Seattle for his second base counterpart, Cruz.  The effect was immediate.

I tracked down Hemond for comments on the trade. These were, of course, the days before cell-phone usage, so getting hold of him seemed like a major achievement.

Hemond was back east. That’s three hours’ difference than the west coast. I remember trying for a few days before I connected with him.

Why would I try? Local readership, no doubt. Every local reader might want to hear about their guy. Right? A little insight on those inner workings never hurt.

INTERVIEW WITH WHITE SOX GM

Hemond must’ve been in his office at Comiskey Park., home of the White Sox.

My standard intro … “Hi, Obrey Brown here from Redlands, hometown newspaper of Julio Cruz … wondering if I could pick your brain a little about the trade you made for Julio.”

Hemond, a friendly guy, needed no further prodding.

Roland_Hemond_at_SABR_Convention_2014
In 1983, Chicago White Sox General Manager made a trade for Seattle second baseman Julio Cruz, thus helping lift the ChiSox out of fifth place and onto winning the division by 20 games over the Kansas City Royals (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“Oh, hi,” he said. There were some pleasant formalities between the two of us. Like this one: “Think you’ll make it out here to see him play?”

Oh, yeah, I lied to him. The tiny budget the Redlands newspaper had barely allowed me to cover a Terrier game in Rialto or Fontana. Send me to Chicago? Said Hemond: “When you get here, look me up.”

If only, I thought.

“I think it’ll turn out to be a real great acquisition for this club,” said Hemond, whose East-coast accent was a nice touch to our conversation. “In fact, it’s already helped us.”

“How long have you had your eye on Julio?”

“Oh … no … wow. I’ve known about Julio for a few years. How can you not notice a guy with his glove and his ability to steal bases? No, he just didn’t jump off the page at us. We need this guy. We’ve known about him.”

Hemond said, “Our clubhouse needed a jolt. Tony (Bernazard) wasn’t all that great of an influence in there. I’ve heard a lot about Julio being a good guy.”

This baseball lifer, Hemond, was very gracious with his time. He asked, “Did you cover him while he was playing in high school out there?”

“No. I got here a few years after he left.”

I tried to stump him, though. “Julio’s coach out here was Joe DeMaggio.”

Hemond either didn’t hear me, or thought I was kidding. No, it wasn’t THE Joe DiMaggio (note the spelling difference).

COVERING THE ‘REDLANDS’ CHISOX

Those summer-time sports pages, though, got a big plug. Cruz, standing on second base, darted for home plate on Harold Baines’ sharp single to right field. Tenth inning. It was against the Angels. Game-winner. Division-clinching run. Celebration. Photos.

Huge splash in the Redlands newspaper.

Cruz was picked up from Seattle when the ChiSox were 28-32, fifth in the American League West. They went 71-31 with Cruz, batting ninth in the lineup with Rudy Law atop a strong White Sox attack.

That year’s White Sox were filled with superb batsmen. Baines, Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, combined to hit 123 home runs. Law stole nearly 80 bases.

The pitching was topped by LaMarr Hoyt and Rich Dotson, who won 24 and 22 games, compiling the greatest number of wins in the entire league by two pitchers. Southpaw Floyd Bannister was nearly unbeatable, finishing off the season with a 13-1 streak.

Second place belonged to Kansas City, which finished a staggering 20 games behind Chicago.

The Daily Facts kept a close watch on the “Redlands” White Sox. Remember, this was A Redlands Connection.

By the All-Star break the Sox had climbed to three games over .500.  Then things really got hot. The Sox climbed into first place on July 18 and never looked back.  Their second half record was 59-26, a .694 winning percentage.

Not everyone was impressed.  One out-of-town writer dismissed the team as no better than fifth best in the A.L. East. Texas manager Doug Rader theorized that the Sox’s bubble had to burst. “They’re not playing that well. They’re winning ugly.”

On September 17 at Comiskey Park, the White Sox clinched Chicago’s first championship in twenty years. Baines’ single brought home Cruz with the winning run.

BIRDS TOOK OUT CHICAGO IN PLAYOFFS

Chicago’s opponents in the playoffs would be Baltimore, the only team to take the season series against the ChiSox, seven games to five. In the playoffs, the Orioles won three out of four.

Even with Julio, that group of White Sox couldn’t shake the Baltimore Orioles in the American League championship series. Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray and a strong corps of pitchers ousted Chicago in the playoffs and ended up beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

The ex-Terrier hit .333 in four games, the White Sox winning game one, 2-1, before the Orioles came streaking back to win 4-0, 11-1 and 3-0 behind strong pitching from Mike Boddicker, Tippy Martinez and Mike Flanagan.

As for Hemond, that slick transaction for Julio may have gone a long way in snagging his second Sporting News Executive of the Year honors.

Years later, ’83 White Sox manager Tony La Russa and I were eyeball to eyeball in spring training Arizona. By this point, he had moved on to manage the Oakland A’s. I couldn’t help but try and snag him for some comments – even though it was years later – on Cruz.

Tony La Russa
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa called Julio Cruz an “igniter” when asked about the former Redlands ballplayer (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

La Russa didn’t have much time. Calling Cruz “an igniter,” La Russa wasn’t in a mood to chat. He said, “The thing I remember from that team was the power we had … Julio and Rudy Law gave us another dimension to score runs with their speed.”

One final, quick comment: “He played a great second base for us.”

Footnote: Seattle lost 102 games in 1983.

Sabathia, Johnson, Ramirez and all the other more famous MLB trade deadline might draw more attention in baseball’s history book. For the Chicago White Sox, however, that deal might be No. 1.

 

 

PART 3: HALL OF FAME CONNECTIONS INFILTRATES FAMILIES

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, plus NCAA Final Four connections, 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

If you haven’t yet, check out parts 1 and 2 first!

Like baseball fans throughout the world, the Hall of Fame means something in my household. When one of your own gets inducted, there’s an almost electric feeling of pride connected to that honor.

Every time a Yankee – Yogi, Mickey, Joe D., Whitey, the Babe and Lou, among others – goes into Cooperstown, an entire legion of fans springs into emotionally-charged action. Right? Fans from each MLB team have a connection to every Hall of Famer.

Despite its many “connections,” no one from Redlands has ever been inducted into baseball’s sacred Hall.

From my own memories, the only Hall of Famers to show up in Redlands – I know, there has to be more – were pitcher Ferguson Jenkins and hitting star Duke Snider.

Ferguson Jenkins (Photo by Commons)
Ferguson Jenkins, a baseball Hall of Famer, was one of two known such inductees to show up in Redlands – for a youth baseball clinic. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Jenkins showed up at Redlands Community Field – white stretch limousine and all – in the mid 1990s. He was part of a youth baseball camp. Along with Redlands’ own Julio Cruz and former MLB outfielder Rudy Law, that trio gave a free clinic to dozens of local ball-playing youth.

Then hung around for an autograph session later. Danny, my oldest, was one of those kids who got autographs. Jenkins, Law and Cruz couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, a newspaper photo published the day after showed Danny next to Jenkins, a Cy Young Award winner.

Memorable.

As for Snider, the one-time legendary center fielder for the Dodgers – both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles – he showed up at the University of Redlands to watch his grandson play. Multiple times, in fact.

After one game, Bulldog coach Scott Laverty came up to me just outside Redlands’ dugout.

“I saw you sitting next to Duke,” he said.

Duke?

I had no idea what he was talking about, or who he was talking about. I’d just been talking to some guy. I had no idea I was sitting next to a Hall of Famer.

“Duke Snider,” Laverty said. “I thought I saw you talking to him.”

Duke Snider (Photo by Wikipidia Commons)
Duke Snider, whose legendary batting helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers into five World Series, showed up in Redlands to watch his grandson play. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons)

Duke Snider? Are you kidding? THE Duke Snider?

“That’s his grandson playing for us in center.”

Jordan Snider, an all-conference outfielder in 2007, had played center field for Redlands that day. From nearby Temecula. The Duke lived just south of there, in Escondido, perhaps – San Diego County.

Neither Jenkins nor Snider were ever caught up in the PED nonsense that plagued the sport as we turned into this century. Their places in the Hall are safe and secure.

Not quite, though, for other significant ballplayers.

I interviewed both men for stories in local media. Both were fabulous.

They came from a different era, long before the sport was affected by PED use. Suddenly, guys like Jenkins and Snider were overshadowed by known PED users like Clemens and Bonds.

“It’s like they stamped out the guys I used to root for,” said my oldest son, Danny, who at one time was a rabid baseball fan. Hey, there are some guys that made it clean. Cal Ripken, Jr., Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Tony Gwynn were in his card collection.

Check out part 4 here!