HomeTrending MLB NewsA Baseball Lifer, Jerry Narron Has Postseason Stories To Share

A Baseball Lifer, Jerry Narron Has Postseason Stories To Share

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The first thing Jerry Narron remembers about Major League Baseball is going to games three, four and five of the 1960 World Series with his parents. Four years old at the time, he saw the New York Yankees face the Pittsburgh Pirates, the latter of which had his father’s brother, Sam Narron, on their coaching staff. To say it was the first of many diamond memories would be an understatement. Now 68 years old, Jerry Narron is in his 50th season of professional baseball.

The journey, which began as a Yankees farmhand in 1974, includes eight seasons as a big-league backstop and parts of five more as a big-league manager, none of which culminated in his team reaching a World Series. That there was an excruciating near-miss in his playing days, and another when he was on a Gene Mauch coaching staff, register as low points in a career well-lived. More on that in a moment.

His uncle got to experience a pair of Fall Classics during his own playing career. A backup catcher for the Cardinals in 1942 and 1943, Sam Narron was on the winning side of a World Series when St. Louis beat the Yankees in the first of those seasons, and on the losing end to the same club the following year. He didn’t see action in the 1942 Series, but he did get a ring — according to his nephew, the last one ever presented by Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Moreover, it was the last of Branch Rickey’s 20-plus seasons with the Cardinals.

The first World Series opportunity Jerry just missed out on was in 1986 when he was catching for the Angels, the team he currently coaches for. The second came as a coach with the Red Sox in 2003.

“With the Angels, we took out our best pitcher, Mike Witt, with the lead and ended up losing,” Narron said of the potential ALCS-clinching loss to Boston. “Then I was with the Red Sox and we left our best pitcher [Pedro Martinez] in [in ALCS Game 7] and ended up getting beat. So, I missed the World Series by having our best pitcher taken out, and our best pitcher left in.”

Narron did have a good moment in the 1986 ALCS. He singled in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 4, then scored the winning run on a Bobby Grich base hit that gave the Angels a 3-1 lead in the series. Four days and three losses later, the Angels had fallen short of the World Series.

An earlier Boston experience wasn’t heartbreak for Narron, but rather euphoria. Narron received his first big-league call-up late in the 1978 season, and while he didn’t get into a game, he was with the Yankees when Bucky Dent broke hearts all over New England by taking Mike Torrez deep in early October.

Again, Narron has no shortage of stories, both from his five decades in the game and from bygone conversations with his late uncle. The handful that he shared with me at Fenway Park yesterday afternoon —I’ll include a few in forthcoming columns — are only the tip of the iceberg. Jerry Narron has enjoyed a rich life in and around the game of baseball.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Ken Keltner went 4 for 5 against Walt Masters.

Al Brancato went 5 for 5 against Walt Masterson.

David Murphy went 4 for 4 against Justin Masterson.

Dean Palmer went 6 for 7 against Shane Reynolds.

Gary Woods went 3 for 3 against Don Hood.

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Ron Washington had a too-good-to-be-true answer to a question posed to him by Angels beat writer Jeff Fletcher prior to Friday’s game at Fenway Park. With the early struggles of some of the club’s young players in mind, the Orange County Register scribe asked the veteran skipper how many at-bats are enough to make a judgement on deserved playing time.

“When you come out of spring training, it usually takes…. I’m going to use Frank Thomas as an example,” replied Washington. “And he’s a Hall of Famer. One year he was in Oakland. He said he needed 100 at-bats in a regular season to get to his normalcy. At-bat 99, he hit a home run. At-bat 100, he hit a home run. At-bat 101, he hit a home run. The rest of the year he was 31 and 110. So, it takes some time to get adjusted. It really does.”

Again, too good to be true. Thomas’s only full season in Oakland was 2006, and while he did start slow before going on to finish with 39 home runs and 114 RBIs, the game logs don’t match Washington’s memory. More than likely, the then-Athletics third base coach was recalling The Big Hurt going deep three times in eight at-bats from May 31-June 2. By then he’d come to the plate close to 180 times.

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A quiz:

Mike Trout has 85.7 WAR, by far the most in Los Angeles Angels franchise history. Who has the second-most position-player WAR in Angels franchise history? (A hint: He was involved in an impactful trade during his career.)

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Jerry Grote, who caught for four teams — primarily the New York Mets — from 1963-1981 died last Sunday at age 81. A defensive stalwart who made two All-Star teams, Grote won a World Series with the 1969 ‘Amazin’ Mets’ and is a member of the club’s Hall of Fame.

La Schelle Tarver, an outfielder who appeared in 13 games and had three hits in 25 at-bats for the Red Sox in 1986, died on March 30 at age 65. Boston acquired Tarver from the Mets prior to that season as part of an eight-player trade that included Bobby Ojeda and Calvin Schiraldi, each of whom played a prominent role in the 1986 World Series between the two teams.

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The answer to the quiz is Jim Fregosi, who had 42.6 WAR playing for the Angels from 1961-1971. A six-time All-Star shortstop, Fregosi was traded to the New York Mets prior to the 1972 for four players, one of whom was Nolan Ryan.

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Chicago Cubs rookie right-hander Ben Brown — featured here at FanGraphs last month — was lifted after 77 pitches this past Tuesday in his first big-league start. There were two outs and no runners on base at the time, with the Cubs holding a 5-0 lead over the San Diego Padres. Drew Smyly replaced Brown on the mound, allowed one run in an inning-and-a-third, and was credited with the win as Chicago prevailed by a count of 5-1.

Protecting a talented young arm was the primary reason that manager Craig Counsell took the ball from Brown — the youngster was on a pitch count — and that he did so was thus perfectly reasonable. Somewhat less reasonable is that starters are still required to go five innings for a win. While the longstanding official scoring rule once made sense, it no longer does. Starters regularly working deep into games is a thing of the past, so why deprive a pitcher who went four-plus scoreless frames a win, and instead give it to a reliever who went one-plus, and gave up a run to boot?

The time to kick the five-inning rule to the curb is overdue.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Kazuma Okamoto is slashing .420/.500/.740 with three home runs in 58 plate appearances for NPB’s Yomiuri Giants. Reportedly on the radar of MLB teams, the 27-year-old corner infielder has averaged 34 home runs over the past six seasons.

Tomoyuki Sugano has thrown 13 scoreless innings with just seven hits allowed in two starts for the Giants. The 34-year-old right-hander won Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award in 2017 and 2018.

Hyun Jin Ryu picked up his first KBO win since September 2012 on Thursday as the Hanwha Eagles beat the Doosan Bears 3-0. The 37-year-old southpaw now has 99 wins in Korea, as well as 78 in MLB.

Hye-seong Kim is slashing .379/.446/.636 with four home runs in 74 plate appearances for Doosan. The 25-year-old outfielder batted .335 with seven home runs and a 137 wRC+ with the Bears last year.

The British Baseball Federation begins its 2024 season today. Information on the BBF can be found here.

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A random obscure former player snapshot:

Frankie Pack played in one big-league game and struck out in his only plate appearances. Pinch-hitting for Sherm Lollar in the first game of a June 5, 1949 double-header, the Morristown, Tennessee native was fanned by Vic Raschi in a 6-4 St. Louis Browns loss to the New York Yankees. Less than two months removed from his 21st birthday when he got his cup of coffee, Pack played seven minor-league seasons, seeing action with teams including the Spartanburg Peaches, Mayfield Clothiers, Port Chester Clippers, and Globe-Miami Browns.

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How similar are the Detroit Tigers and the Pittsburgh Pirates? I was on hand when the two teams played each other earlier this week, and asked that question to A.J. Hinch.

“We play the Pirates a lot in spring [training], so we’ve seen their young players grow,” the Tigers manager replied. “One of the similarities is the variance of performance out of young players, which is very common around the league. Both us and the Pirates rely on some of the younger players developing fast at the major league level.

“Both cities are rich in tradition and history, and have great fan-bases,” continued Hinch. “There is winning on the horizon — I certainly hope for our organization, and I can see it in their organization… They’re a tough team to match up with as they’ve gotten more athletic. They’ve gotten more active on the bases. Their pitchers have developed. They’ve got some big guys coming.”

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FARM NOTES

Pirates prospect Paul Skenes has thrown nine-and-a-third scoreless innings over three starts with Triple-A Indianapolis. The first-overall pick in last year’s draft has fanned 19 batters and allowed just four hits and a pair of walks. Fifteen of the 55 pitches he threw in his last outing registered triple digits on the gun.

Cardinals prospect Quinn Mathews allowed one hit over five scoreless innings with no walks and 11 strikeouts for Low-A Palm Beach on Friday. St. Louis drafted the 23-year-old left-hander in the fourth round last year out of Stanford University, where he was the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.

Cristofer Torin is 12-for-25 with a double, a triple, a home run, seven walks, and a HBP for the Low-A Visalia Rawhide. The 18-year-old middle infielder was No. 8 on our 2023 Arizona Diamondbacks Top Prospects list.

Colt Emerson is 7-for-22 with a pair of home runs for the Low-A Modesto Nuts. The 18-year-old middle infielder was drafted 22nd-overall last year by the Seattle Mariners out of New Concord, Ohio’s John Glenn High School.

Baseball America ranked the most talented minor league teams based on the prospect status of current players. The top three are the Norfolk Tides (Orioles AAA), Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox AA), and Tennessee Smokies (Cubs AA).

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Jackson Holliday made his MLB debut at Fenway Park on Wednesday, and while he was undeniably the evening’s star attraction, he was far from alone when it came to exciting young talent in the Orioles lineup. Colton Cowser, Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, and Jordan Westburg populated Baltimore’s batting order as well. The quintet’s being on the field together prompted a question during manager Brandon Hyde’s media scrum: Does it feel like the team is finally putting together the pieces that were envisioned three or four years ago?

“We won 101 games last year,” Hyde replied. “So I thought we put together a pretty good lineup last year, also.”

What he said next grabbed my attention. Clothing his club’s sky-high expectations with caution, the sixth-year skipper sounded not unlike A.J. Hinch when the latter compared his Tigers to the Pirates.

“We’re a little younger,” said Hyde. “We’re a little bit more inexperienced, honestly… This team has got a long way to go to get to where we want to go. We don’t have a ton of experience on the field. It’s going to be fun to watch — these guys are really, really talented kids — but there is going to be learning on the way, too. There is going to be growth. There are going to be some tough nights.”

Are the Orioles, talented as they are, likely to match last year’s win total? Chances are they won’t, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is returning to the postseason and having another opportunity to capture the club’s first World Series title since 1983. The number of wins it takes to get there is largely irrelevant.

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Jackson became the third Holliday in MLB history when he debuted this week. The second was obviously his father, Matt. The first was James Wear “Bug” Holliday, who played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1889-1898. Baseball’s only big league “Bug”— there have been three “Bugs” — batted .312 over this 10-year career. As for Jackson, his promising career has yet to get off the ground; the fresh-faced phenom is 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts.

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EARLY SEASON STAT NOTABLES

Detroit’s Mark Canha is batting just .196, but he has a .351 OBP, a 435 slugging percentage, and a 135 wRC+ over his 57 plate appearances. The 35-year-old outfielder has more extra-base hits than singles, and thanks to seven walks and four HBPs has reached base 10 times without taking the bat off his shoulder.

Cleveland’s Steven Kwan is 24-for-63 with a .381/.400/.508 slash line and a 170 wRC+. He has eight multi-hit games and has gone deep twice.

Mookie Betts has scored 20 runs and drawn 16 walks. The Dodgers superstar leads the majors in both categories.

Boston’s Kutter Crawford has made three starts and allowed two runs, one of them unearned, in 15-and-two-thirds innings. The Red Sox right-hander has no decisions on the season.

Yankees reliever Clay Holmes has made seven appearances and allowed three runs, all unearned, over seven innings. The New York righty has a win and six saves.

———

There are some baseball gems in What’s The Deal With Dead Man’s Curve? and Other Really Good Questions About Cleveland, a new book by former Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Jim Sweeney. One is the story behind the controversial caricature that was retired in 2018, a handful of years before the Indians were rebranded as the Guardians.

“In 1947, owner Bill Veeck hired a design firm to create a logo for the team and approved a grinning, headband-wearing figure drawn in the cartoon style of the times,” Sweeney wrote. “However, it took a while for him to be named… The name did not become attached to the logo until 1952.”

As Sweeney also explained, an earlier cartoon version called “The Little Indian” had been created in 1932 by a Plain Dealer cartoonist and used on the front page to announce the result of the previous day’s game.

Coincidentally, 1932 is when the Indians began playing at Cleveland Stadium. Prior to the July 31 move, they played their games at League Park, which had been built for the Cleveland Spiders in 1891. Another nugget in Sweeney’s book is the fact that League Park had a 40-foot wall in right field, standing just 290 feet from home plate.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At Our Game, MLB official historian John Thorn wrote about why Bill James deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

The Score’s Travis Sawchik delved into the numbers and how there isn’t a Tommy John surge this spring; it’s always this bad.

MLB.com’s Mike Petriello wrote about some of the most interesting new pitches of 2024, from Garrett Crochet’s cutter to Bryce Miller’s splitter.

Baseball America’s Ben Badler went to the Dominican Republic for the U-15 Pan American Championship tournament, and brought back a detailed report.

Pittsburgh’s Rip Sewell outdueled the Cubs’ Dutch Leonard on April 19, 1949 in the first Opening Day matchup of starters in their 40s. John Fredland chronicled the 1-0 contest for SABR’s Games Project.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Interesting fact courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels’ press notes: Mike Trout has one home run in 154 career plate appearances at Fenway Park. He has four or more home runs in every other American League ballpark. On a related note, The Angels have hit 8,999 home runs in franchise history.

The Baltimore Orioles have gone 94 consecutive regular season series of at least two decisions without being swept. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the fourth-longest streak in MLB history, trailing the 1942-1944 St. Louis Cardinals (124), 1906-1909 Chicago Cubs (115), and 1903-1905 New York Giants (105).

The 2021 Tampa Bay Rays had 14 pitchers with at least one save, the most for a team in a single season. Seven teams have had 12 pitchers with at least one save, and another 16 teams have had 11 (via Stathead, with a hat tip to both @PassonJim and @nuggetpalooza). One of the teams with 11 was the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, who finished the season with 100 wins and advanced to the World Series. The NL pennant winners had 22 saves in all.

In 2003, Colorado Rockies pitcher Denny Stark was credited with four RBIs despite going without a hit all season. The right-hander went 0-for-22, but had a sacrifice fly, an RBI groundout, and he twice walked with the bases loaded.

Mel Ott hit his 511th and final home run in his first plate appearance of the 1946 season. The 37-year-old New York Giants slugger injured a knee the following day, then went 5-for-67 sans a long ball for the remainder of the season. He called it a career after four hitless at-bats the following year.

Bill Mazeroski famously a walk-off home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series to give the Pittsburgh Pirates a 10-9 win over the New York Yankees. Unknown to all but diehard Pirates historians, Mazeroski also hit the first home run at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field that year. He did so on today’s date as the Bucs steamrolled the Cincinnati Reds 13-0 in their home opener.

The Cleveland Indians scored 12 runs in the eighth inning on their way to a 21-14 Opening Day conquest of the St. Louis Browns on today’s date in 1915. Garland Buckeye was credited with the win.

Ramón Hernández it a walk-off home run to give the Baltimore Orioles a 6-5 win over the Anaheim Angels on today’s date in 2006. The game featured eight round-trippers — four by each team — including the first of Jeff Mathis’s career.

Players born on today’s date include John Van Benschoten, a right-handed pitcher who went 2-13 with a 9.20 ERA over 90 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2004-2008. The Kent State University product went 2-for-21 at the plate, one of his hits a home run against Arizona Diamondbacks southpaw Casey Fossum.

Also born on today’s date was Jerry Lynn, an infielder who went 2-for-3 with the 1937 Washington Nationals in his only big-league game. That same season, Lynn batted .342 for the Eastern Shore League’s Salisbury Indians, a team that finished a circuit best 57-39 record despite having to forfeit 26 games due to a controversial decision by the league president. The specifics can be found here.

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