Rob Parker introduces Gen X fans to Hall of Fame pitcher Lee Arthur Smith, one of the most intimidating and productive closers of all-time. Smith played 18 seasons for eight squads and had a whopping 478 career saves. The Black Ace of relief pitchers took the ball whenever, wherever and for as many innings as needed.
Reliever Keynan Middleton is back, and the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen has to be happy.
Middleton, who had been out since May 5 with a strained bicep, looked strong in his return on Friday night against the San Diego Padres. In fact, the righthander looked a lot like the budding young talent the Mariners had hoped to be getting this offseason.
Middleton pitched one scoreless inning with a walk in a losing effort for the Mariners. But his strong appearance is another sign that the promising pitcher is returning to pre-Tommy John form.
Once dubbed the closer of the future for the Los Angeles Angels organization, Middleton has shown flashes of dominance out the pen.
During the 2020 season, the average velocity of his fastball returned to pre-TJ form (97.1) while he had also added four mph to his slider and changeup. Despite his return to form physically, the Angels decided to cut ties with the promising reliever this offseason, which led to the Oregon native heading back to the Pacific Northwest.
Now in Seattle, Middleton has been able to showcase the velocity and spin that many in the Angels’ organization were unsure was back for good.
As a result of his recent success, many around the Mariners’ organization think he may force manager Scott Servais into a tough decision.
“The returned fastball velocity is one thing — Middleton probably needs it if he hopes to be a solid reliever,” writes SB Nation’s Michael Ajeto. “But an improved slider is his second prerequisite if he hopes to exist in the form of a potent, dominant reliever … If Middleton continues to surge with his fastball velocity and slider, he may add to that. And within a matter of weeks, that may mean putting Rafael Montero out of a job.”
The Black Relief Pitcher
The emergence of Middleton as a dominant reliever would place him amongst a very small distinguished group. The majority of conversations surrounding the lack of Black pitchers in the major league have focused strictly on starting pitching, but there has been little attention given to the lack of Black relief pitchers.
We rightfully speak of the Black Aces with reverence, but when we begin to speak of legendary Black relievers, most fans simply don’t know where to begin. We remember names like Flash Gordon and Lee Smith, but that’s where most conversations end.
This lack of representation in bullpens across the sport is why Middleton’s resurgence is so important. Gordon and Smith are both Top 100 all-time in saves, yet are barely mentioned when we speak of the greatest relievers of all time.
At just 27 years old, Middleton has the potential to build a reputation as one of the best relievers in the game. Boasting a 3.86 ERA with a .86 WHIP in 11 2/3 innings, all the tools are there.
Only time will tell if he can put it all together, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on him here at MLBbro.com.
Many American boys grow up dreaming of becoming major league baseball players. Harold Baines was one of those boys. In fact, he was obsessed with the goal at a very young age.
A resident of St.Michaels MD, where he grew up in the ’60s, neighbors said you’d never see Baines without his baseball glove. Before video games and long before St. Michaels became a very popular tourist destination, the Eastern Shore village was the small quintessential town one would associate with that era.
Like many of his generation, Baines played Little League but couldn’t have imagined that his dream of being a major league player would actually come to fruition.
Following a stellar high school career, Baines was drafted by the No. 1 overall pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1977. When drafted, then White Sox owner Bill Veeck told everyone that Baines’ next stop would be the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Baines played in the major leagues for 21 years between 1980-2001. First in a White Sox uniform and then as a Cleveland Indian, Oakland Athletic, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles.
When his knees went out and he could no longer play the outfield, he became one of baseball’s most feared and reliable designated hitters.
The always soft-spoken Baines never said much, but he was always reliable and popular amongst teammates and fans.
With the sport of baseball entering an era of self-promoting superstars in the ’90s, Baines was somewhat overlooked because he wasn’t an attention seeker. He was a throwback who took the field for the love of the game and the fact that he was living his boyhood dream, and not for money and attention.
Baines never left St. Michaels, where he and his wife raised their family. Although he may have gone to the city to play ball, the Eastern Shore always remained his home.
Baines didn’t change much from his little league days to his big league days, for him it was always about showing respect, being respected and getting better everyday.
A six-time All Star, Baines played 2,830 games as a major leaguer and drove in more runs than all but 33 players in the history of the game.
Some folks quipped at him being a Hall of Famer, as they pushed for their candidates and referenced the fact that their guy may have had more RBIs or a better batting average.
But anyone who followed the career of the St. Michaels star knows that there have been few better representatives of the game.
How soon folks forget Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were among the first players selected to the Hall of Fame back in 1936, and they proved “that one doesn’t have to be good to be great.”
Many have been recognized for their talent and records alone. Men whose off-the-field behavior wasn’t exemplary, but their talent was undeniable. Men you admired for their athletic prowess, but wouldn’t invite to your home for dinner.
Harold Baines was exemplary in every way you’d want a player to be.
And that in itself is why his admission to Cooperstown should never be debated or questioned.