Never Give Up (Part Two)
The 18-year playing career of Pete Rose Jr. has been the extreme opposite of his famous father. The younger Rose has played for 23 different affiliated, independent and Mexican League teams in that time. His only reprieve from the minors was a September cup of coffee with the Reds in 1997.
Despite the repeated setbacks, Rose continues to persevere. The lefty-swinging first baseman hit .299 with 7 HR and 33 RBI in 194 ABs for Bridgeport in 2006. At age 36, Rose owns a .262 career minor league average with 6455 ABs, 1688 hits and 130 homers.
Hometown guy Angel Echevarria also saw action for the Bluefish in 2006, hitting .275 in 171 ABs. The 35-year old Echevarria had a decent career (328 G, 543 ABs, 21 HR, 90 RBI, .280) as a pinch-hitter and reserve with the Rockies, Brewers and Cubs. He also played two seasons for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan's Pacific League.
Former major league reliever T.J. Mathews put up a 12-7 record and 3.79 ERA with Bridgeport in 2006. The 35-year old righty went 32-26 with a 3.82 ERA in 362 games for the Cardinals, A's and Astros.
Pat Ahearne had a brief big league stint, going 0-2 with an 11.70 ERA in 10 IP for the Tigers in 1995. The slender right-hander has bounced around AA, AAA and indy ball since then.
Ahearne came through for the Long Island Ducks in 2006, going 12-4 with a 3.47 ERA. The 36-year old gave up just 28 walks in 155.1 IP, but 175 hits allowed means that Ahearne probably get won't beyond the Atlantic League next season. He owns a 114-107 career record in the minors.
Another Atlantic League hurler and former Tiger - 37-year old Denny Harriger - was one of the most successful minor league starters in 2006.
Harriger went 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA for the Lancaster Barnstormers. He led the league in wins and winning percentage (.810) while finishing second in ERA. Pitching in his home state clearly agreed with Harriger, as he surrendered just 29 walks in 181.1 IP. The 5'11" righty went 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA for Detroit in 1998, and he has a 163-119 lifetime record in the minors.
Powerful Ozzie Timmons had 20 HR and 60 RBI in 405 big league at-bats. The 35-year old hit .269 with 29 doubles, 19 HR and 63 RBI for the Atlantic City Surf.
The American Association had few older players in its inaugural season, but one veteran stood out.
Bubba Smith was productive as usual. In his 108 at-bats with the Sioux Falls Canaries, the big slugger had with 8 HR, 22 RBI and a .306 average.
His time in South Dakota made it 17 pro teams for the 36-year old Smith, who was drafted by the Mariners in 1991. The first baseman has 374 HR, 1242 RBI and 1673 hits in 5997 ABs for a career .279 average. In addition to a 27 HR/94 RBI effort for Oklahoma City in 1997, Smith has six seasons in the Mexican League and a year in Korea.
Greg Bicknell has been pitching in independent leagues since 1995. The 37-year lefty went 7-13 with a 4.10 ERA for the Kansas City (Kansas) T-Bones of the Northern League.
That was quite a comedown from 2005, when Bicknell went 16-5 and 2.96 for the T-Bones. He also serves as the team's pitching coach. Bicknell pitched in the Blue Jays, Mariners, Indians and Brewers organizations before beginning his long career with indy teams.
Jose Canseco's much-hyped comeback with the Long Beach Armada of the Golden Baseball League was a flop (4 HR, 9 RBI, .176), but another ex-big leaguer put up solid numbers in the California-based independent circuit.
Desi Wilson's .333 average in 333 ABs was third in the GBL. His 27 doubles led the league, and Wilson had 58 RBI while playing all 80 games.
Why has the 37-year old spent all but 41 games of his lengthy career in the minors and Japan? The 6'7", 230-pounder had never smacked more than seven home runs in a season, which is hardly what teams look for from such super-sized first baseman.
Wilson's .411 average for Surprise in 2005 led the GBL, and his 1875 lifetime hits outside the majors (.311 lifetime) places Wilson within striking distance of the 2000-hit mark. This baseball lifer hit .271 with 2 HR and 12 RBI for the Giants in 1996.
U.S.-born players in the Mexican League deal with language barriers, culture shock, unpredictable living conditions and very long odds in trying to rise to the majors. The "long odds" part changes to "all but zero" once a player hits 35, but that hasn't deterred several veterans.
What does a guy have to do to earn a brief shot in the majors? Darryl Brinkley deserves an answer.
The 37-year old outfielder hit .355 with 35 doubles, 6 HR, 60 RBI and 24 steals for the San Luis Potosi Tuneros (Tuna Pickers, with "tuna" being the Mexcian word for the large, edible leaves of the nopal cactus), and that performance wasn't especially unusual by his standards, as Brinkley was a .376 hitter for San Luis in 2005.
Brinkley hit .355 for Nashville in 1998 and followed that with a .323 season in the Music City in 1999. A combined .345 for Nashville and Rochester in 2000 still wasn't enough for Brinkley to get a chance at the Show. It couldn't have been the impressive talent on the Pirates and Orioles rosters that kept him in AAA.
Righty-swinging, 5'11" outfielders with gap power may not be a hot commodity, but it seems that some team (especially a losing one) would have given Brinkley a shot as a role player or reserve. No one can question his determination, as Brinkley has gone around the globe to play since 1991.
Undrafted out of college, Brinkley began his career in Holland and Italy before moving on to Canada (Winnipeg and Saskatoon). Since he has also played in Korea and for four teams in the Mexican League, Brinkley is a leading candidate for the Hall of Baseball Vagabonds. A career .330 average (1719 hits in 5210 ABs) with 322 doubles,133 HRs and 280 SBs is quite a stat line, but it hasn't earned Rodney Dangerfield Brinkley a chance at the big leagues.
Slap-hitting Darrell Sherman came up to the Padres in 1993. Since Tony Gwynn had already filled the team's quota of lefty-swinging, low-power outfielders, Sherman's time in San Diego ended after he hit .222 in 63 ABs (37 games).
The speedy Sherman didn't give up on baseball, and he has spent more than a decade in the Mexican League. His .349 batting average and .447 OBP for Vaqueros Laguna (the Union Laguna Cowboys) this season at age 38 is right in line with last year's .337/.457 performance for Puebla.
Former major leaguer Scott Bullett isn't ready to retire yet, as he hit .333 with 19 HR and 78 RBI for Yucatan and Tabasco.
It has been a decade since his last big league appearance with the Cubs in 1996, so it can't be optimism about a return to the majors that keeps Bullett in the game. Since that time, the 37-year old outfielder has played in AAA, the independent Northeast League, Taiwan, Japan and for five Mexican League teams.
A .407 hitter with power? That's what Derrick White did in 2006, as the Potros (Colts) de Tijuana outfielder led the Mexican League in batting average. White smashed 31 doubles, 19 HRs and 73 RBI in just 285 ABs at age 36.
Signed by the Expos out of the University of Oklahoma in 1992, White was in Montreal for a 17-game trial just a year later. That fast rise didn't turn out to be sign of things to come, as White struggled in cups of coffee with the Tigers, Cubs and Rockies. His major league totals include a .181 average with 3 HR, 8 RBI and just a pair of walks in 116 ABs.
The St. Paul Saints of the American Association picked up White for this year's playoffs, and he came through with a .364 average (12-for-33), four doubles, 3 HR and 9 RBI.
Even former All-Stars with successful major league careers sometimes can't resist the siren song of one more comeback. Kevin Appier has battled arm problems in recent years, but that didn't prevent the 38-year old from giving it a shot with the Tacoma Rainiers.
The right-hander went 1-2 with a 4.54 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched. Assuming he won't be back in 2007, Appier closed his big league career with a 169-137 record and 3.74 ERA. Appier led the American League with a 2.56 ERA in 1993 for the Royals, and he was among the A.L.'s top 10 in ERA in four other seasons.
Often-injured Juan Gonzalez saw action with independent Long Island in 2006. "Igor" hit .323 with 6 HR and 23 RBI in 130 ABs. A look at his stats, run production and regular trips to the disabled list makes "What if?" a popular question when it comes to Gonzalez's career.
With 434 career homers (that includes five 40-HR seasons), 1404 RBI and a .295 lifetime average, it's his lengthy medical history that keeps a team from taking a chance on the 36-year old slugger. It can be hard for a two-time MVP (1996 and 1998) to hang 'em up, but Gonzalez may be facing that fate.
It's easy to forget that life in the minors is usually a low-paying grind, but that doesn't prevent a number of older players from hanging on for one more chance. After all, a person can always punch a time clock later in life, but how many 50-year olds are driving in the winning run?