The Negro Leagues Museum is in grave danger. But perhaps there is now hope.

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UPDATE:  We received a comment from Dr. Raymond Doswell, interim director of the Negro Leagues Museum:

Let me explain to all of your readers that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is NOT in “grave danger.” It does have many challenges, but is solvent, open for business, and not in turmoil.  I encourage all of you to come visit, join us on Facebook, or become a member.  I am as much of a “lifer” as any person associated with the organization, having been here 15 years helping shape the vision of the museum.  It will not go down on my watch.

Thank you, Dr. Doswell.  I hope Joe Posnanski’s concerns about the “grave danger” are overstated, and I hope that you are correct that the museum will remain viable.  And I join Dr. Doswell in encouraging people to become a member and do whatever they can to help support this vital institution.

9:30 A.M.: Back in late 2008 there was trouble and strife at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  Buck O’Neil had died in 2006, and the struggle over who would succeed him as executive director had been raging on for some time.  O’Neil’s dying wish was that a man named Bob Kendrick would take over. He was the museum’s marketing director and had been O’Neil’s right hand man. According to many he had truly run the place for years.

The board went in a different direction, however, bypassed Kendrick and hired a man named Greg Baker. Baker was a longtime city employee, arguably well-connected, but not really all that connected with the Museum. He was hired for his alleged “strategic planning experience” and “entrepreneurial” approach to things. At the time of his hiring he was running the airport or something.  This split the board and really, really pissed off people like Jason Whitlock and Joe Posnanski. Here was Whitlock’s response at the time. Here is Posnanski writing about it the other dayI wrote about it at the time too:

Though I am not acquainted with the specific politics of the Negro Leagues Museum, the dynamic here is a familiar one: a Chamber of Commerce-style politico with many career stops along the way, lauded for his alleged “entrepreneurial” and “strategic planning” credentials is given a high profile job over a lifer from within the organization. Here, the passed-over lifer is a guy by the name of Bob Kendrick, who, according to Whitlock, was O’Neil’s right hand man and the guy who has truly run the place for years.

In my experience, the guy in Baker’s position usually crashes and burns within two years, mostly because “entrepreneurial credentials” aren’t all that applicable to a non-profit organization, and because no one really knows what the hell “strategic planning experience” really is. When the guy is eventually fired, the board then tries to get a do-over by hiring the guy in Kendrick’s position. Except that guy, having been passed-over for a lightweight, has since moved on and is no longer interested, leaving the whole organization in the lerch for about five years. In other words, it’s the organizational equivalent of signing Barry Zito.

Hey, guess what: the guy in Baker’s position crashed and burned within two years. Baker’s out.  And guess what else? According to the linked story, Kendrick has moved on, and is now running the Kansas City office for the National Sports Center for the Disabled. There’s no suggestion in the article that the Negro Leagues Museum can get him back either. People move on.

I’m not happy I was right about this. And I’m far more sad that Whitlock and Posnanski were correct that going with Baker was a bad move for the Museum, and all that they had feared has come to pass. I just visit the place once in a blue moon. Those guys and many, many others have invested their blood, sweat, money and tears in the Negro Leagues Museum and seeing Buck O’Neil’s vision for it ignored has undoubtedly been a wrenching experience. That vision wasn’t just about Kendrick either: it included an Education and Research Center, still unbuilt, that O’Neil felt was vital to the Museum’s future.  It all went away because the politico got the gig.

According to Posnanski, the Museum is now in “grave danger.”  Hopefully with Baker leaving, the ship can be righted. But it will need help to be righted. One way you can help is to visit it and tell others to do so.  Another way to help is to become a member.  I’m going to do so as soon as I hit “publish” on this post.  See if you can see clear to do the same.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.