Hi. I am Dark Star (nee strosrays). I used to be a regular contributing member here at OWA, writing series previews, sometimes contributing to game recaps, participating in the message boards … basically, enjoying myself while blowing off work, like a true American and Astros fan. For various reasons, I have drifted away over the last 4-5 years. I still lurk, and comment occasionally, but that is about it. And that is getting to be less and less.
The Big Picture:
Crane & Luhnow expected this team to play .500 ball. There was a clear message that they needed to improve on last year’s 70-92 record, and while they were aiming for .500, most preseason projections had them around 77 wins, and either last or next to last in the division. (The AL West was expected to be very competitive.) The offense is big on homers, and even bigger on strikeouts. The bullpen was atrocious the last several years, and that was where the free agent dollars were mostly spent. The starting rotation involves two guys that they’re praying weren’t flukes last year, an overpaid veteran, and a bunch of question marks.
So far, the offense is even better than projected, because (a) the power is there, (b) they’re drawing a ton of walks, and (c) they lead the league in steals, too. The bullpen has been awesome – they are 18-1 when they have a lead at any point in the game. The rotation is holding together, with those two at the top showing they were no fluke.
The Starting Lineup:
2B – Jose Altuve: Signed out of Venezuela as an amateur. Never considered much of a prospect because of his size. All he did was lead the league in batting average last year, set the team record for hits, and win the Silver Slugger for 2b. He’s started off this year hitting about .350 and showing a little more home run power (3 already).
3B – Luis Valbuena: Acquired via trade from the Cubs this offseason. Average defensively, projected to be about a .260/20 HR guy. So far only hitting .200, but tied for the team lead with 6 HR.
RF – George Springer: Former first-round pick by the Astros. 30 HR/30 SB potential. Also has the potential to strike out 150 times. Will never hit for big average, but draws walks well has hits the ball hard. Excellent in RF – he could probably play CF for many teams. So far only hitting .200, but with enough walks to have his OBP around .320.
DH – Evan Gattis: Acquired via trade from the Braves this offseason. Late bloomer – 28(?) years old but only in his third season. Former catcher turned outfielder, but DH is really his best position – he’s terrible anywhere in the field. If he stays healthy (which he never did with the Braves), could easily top 30 HR, and maybe reach 40. Currently tied for the team lead with 6 HR. Had a terrible start (like 0-22 with 12 K) but has gotten hot since then.
1B – Chris Carter: Complete feast-or-famine guy. Had a two-month stretch last year where he was the best hitter in the league. Around that, has been a human windmill at the plate. Also a potential 30-HR guy, but if he plays the full season, he could potentially strike out 200 times. Has looked lost at the plate this year, only hitting .150.
LF – Colby Rasmus: Signed as a free agent from Toronto on a 1 year deal after a down season last year. Originally a first-round pick by Luhnow with the Cardinals. Has been a CF his whole career until this year, clearly an above-average LF. Moves to CF if Marisnick sits. Another high-HR, high-K guy in the lineup.
SS – Marwin Gonzalez: Only a placeholder until (a) Jed Lowrie comes off the DL in July, or (b) Carlos Correa gets called up. Decent utility guy, but not who you want starting.
C – Jason Castro: Former Astros first-round pick. Big for a catcher. Hit really well in 2013, not at all in 2014; made big improvements defensively in 2014, now grades out as above-average in pitch framing and throwing out runners. Needs to start hitting if he is to remain the catcher of the future.
CF – Jake Marisnick: Biggest surprise of the season so far. Acquired from the Marlins last year, former first-round pick (notice a trend here?) Gold Glove-caliber CF. Expected to be a .250/10 HR type hitter with good speed. Currently hitting almost .400 with 4 HR, and tied for the AL lead (with Altuve and Springer) with 10 SB. If he can even hit .300, he’s locked in for the foreseeable future as our CF.
This is modern AL baseball – there’s barely anyone on the bench.
C – Hank Conger: Acquired from the Angels via trade in the offseason (in what was Luhnow’s most head-scratching move so far). Rated as the best pitch framer in all of baseball. Barely hit his weight in LA, has done better at the plate so far with a little pop. Switch-hitter, so if Castro struggles, could push to be the starter.
Infield – Jonathan Villar: Acquired in the
Berkman trade with the Yankees Oswalt trade with the Phillies. Originally a SS, had to become a utility player to have a future with the team. Capable of highlight-reel plays, but fails to make the routine plays. Good pinch-runner.
Outfield – Robbie Grossman: Acquired in the Wandy Rodriguez trade from the Pirates. Capable of playing all three outfield spots. Has shown flashes of offense, especially in the second half of seasons, but never put it all together.
1. Dallas Keuchel, LHP – never a hyped prospect, had a 4.50+ ERA his first season and a half. Made a breakthrough last year and posted a 2.82 ERA to become the staff ace. Has followed that up by winning the AL Pitcher of the Month for April with a 0.80 ERA. EXTREME ground ball pitcher – might give up only 1-2 fly ball outs per start. Put a good defense behind him and you’re in great shape.
2. Colin McHugh, RHP – claimed off waivers from the Mets last year, the front office saw something they didn’t. Astros started working with him to use his curve more often and change eye level with lots of high fastballs, and it has paid off big. Now a high-strikeout guy and could easily put up a 3.00 ERA, which is right about where he is so far this year.
3. Scott Feldman, RHP – signed as a free agent last year to give veteran presence to the rotation. That’s about all he gives. Just an innings-eater, won’t go below 4.00 ERA. Has an interesting contract in that it was front-loaded; will only make $5M next year after making $15M last year.
4. Roberto Hernandez, RHP – signed as a minor-league free agent this year, won the 5th spot in the rotation in spring training, then solidified his spot with (a) injuries to others and (b) effective work so far – has put up around a 3.80 ERA.
5. TBD, currently Samuel Deduno – Deduno is supposed to be the long reliever in the pen, but was pressed into starting duty after injuries and ineffectiveness from others.
Closer – Luke Gregerson, RHP: Signed as a free agent from San Diego, had never been a closer before. Pretty typical closer stuff – high velocity, good breaking ball, no third pitch. Very effective so far.
Setup – Pat Neshek, RHP: Signed as a free agent from St. Louis. EXTREME sidearm motion, almost submarine – makes it very hard for right-handed hitters to pick up the ball. Only allowed something like .160 average to RH last year. Had a rough first couple appearances but has settled in well.
Setup – Chad Qualls, RHP: Signed as a free agent last year, in his last year of his contract. Closed effectively last year, but lost the job to Gregerson. Strict fastball-slider guy.
Specialist – Tony Sipp, LHP: Claimed off waivers from San Diego, can’t figure why they let him go. Hinch will trust him to go a full inning, not just face lefties.
Specialist – Joe Thatcher, LHP: Minor-league free agent signing, also a former Padre (was with Gregerson and Qualls in SD). Typically used only against lefties.
Josh Fields, RHP: Rule 5 pick from Boston last year, 99 MPH stuff. Got knocked around a ton in the first half of last season then really settled in, and even got moved to closer when Qualls was hurt. Having him at the back of the pen shows how much the pen has improved.
Will Harris, RHP: Claimed off waivers from Arizona in the offseason, also can’t figure out why they let him go. Has pitched 12 straight scoreless innings to start the season. Was originally supposed to go to the minors after Fields came back from injury but has been so good they can’t send him down.
Kevin Chapman, LHP: Just called up from the minors to soak up any long-relief innings until they get the 5th starter straightened out. Won’t be here long.
On the DL:
SS – Jed Lowrie: Signed as a free agent this year, was off to a great start but then tore a ligament in his thumb. Surgery has him out until July. Subpar SS and could move to 3B before his contract is up.
SP – Brett Oberholtzer: Acquired in the Michael Bourn trade from Atlanta. Originally slated to be the #4 starter but developed blister problems in spring training. Still inexperienced and there is no guarantee he can hold down the spot.
SP – Brad Peacock: Out indefinitely with a strained lat. Was in line to be the #5 starter until he got hurt.
SS – Carlos Correa: #1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, now the #1 overall prospect in all of baseball. Picture somewhere between Cal Ripken and A-Rod (without the roids). Still only 20 years old, and leads AA in average, OBP, and slugging, with 11 steals thrown in for good measure. Above average fielder. Has gone from “should be here some time in 2016” to “should be here by June” so far this year.
SP – Mark Appel: #1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, but hasn’t developed nearly as well as Correa did. Absolutely bombed in high-A last year, but had a good fall and has been OK in AA this year. Will still be a good #2 or #3 starter, but probably a pick they wish they had back.
1b – Jon Singleton: Was given the chance to win the 1b job last season and absolutely dropped it. Went 0 for his last 39 or 40 AB in September, had his confidence completely shot. Went back to AAA to start this year and is hitting great. Signed to a 6-year/$10M contract so will be given every chance to win back the 1b job.
This article has been edited to properly reflect that Villar was acquired from the Phillies, not the Yankees.
A look at the most valuable players, and biggest plays, of the first half
I’ve had some time on my hands (just kidding – I’ve really had no more time than usual) and been studying more deeply some various baseball statistics. And the more I study, the more I become intrigued by win probabilities. So this is (hopefully) the first in a series of articles examining the Astros (and perhaps some of the rest of the league) through the lens of win probability.
Win expectancy is a fairly simple concept. For any given combination of inning, outs, runners on base, and runs ahead or behind, a team has a statistical likelihood (based upon historical outcomes) of winning the game.
To take it to an extreme example:
Let’s suppose the visitors are down by two runs in the 9th, with two outs, and runners on first and second. From 1957-2013, there have been a total of 1294 games that were in this situation; the visitors won only 70 of them. Therefore, the visitors have only a win expectancy of 0.05%.
But what if the next batter homers? Well, then you have the visitors up by 1 with 2 out and nobody on. There have been 6694 games in that situation, with the visitors winning 5548 – a win expectancy of 82.88%.
Win probability added (WPA)
Given these win expectancies, or win probabilities, it then becomes a simple exercise to determine how much a given play added to, or subtracted from, a team’s win probability. This is referred to as “win probability added”, or WPA.
In the above example, the home run would be a win probability added of (82.88% – 0.05%) = 82.83%. As mentioned, this is an extreme, as the typical play in the course of a game will be less than 1% WPA (positive or negative).
Others have written that, if forced to look at only one overall statistic, WAR (or some form thereof) is the best reference. I disagree for the purposes of answering the following questions:
1. Which player has contributed the most to the ends of actually winning games?
2. Which plays have been the most meaningful to the ends of actually winning games?
For the second question, I believe that this is a self-evident advantage. Other statistics – whether rate statistics like BA, SLG, OBP, RC/27, or traditional counting statistics – do not differentiate for the end result of the play. Counting singles or strikeouts tells you nothing of what those plays contributed to the game; all context is removed.
For the first question, we should consider several factors about WPA:
1. It is objective. There is no consideration of a theoretical “replacement player” as used by VORP or WAR; win expectancies are generated entirely according to the record of all results since 1957.
2. It properly reflects the zero-sum nature of the game. For any given play, either the offense or the defense just moved closer to a win. Theoretically, the league should have a mean WPA of zero, because the pitcher is credited with the opposite WPA of the hitter for each play.
3. It properly rewards situational play. A strikeout with a runner on third and less than two outs IS different than a strikeout with nobody on; as fans, we all recognize this, so relevant statistics should recognize this as well.
With that preamble, let’s count down the 10 most valuable Astros of the first half, as ranked by WPA:
10 (tie) – Robbie Grossman and Jason Castro, 0.33%
Going into the season, Castro was viewed as a lynchpin of the team, counted on to give middle-of-the-lineup production from the catcher position. Robbie Grossman was going to hopefully be an everyday left fielder. Neither of these have occurred, but the fact that Castro is barely in the upper half of the squad is as disappointing as Grossman having a positive WPA is surprising.
9 – Collin McHugh, 0.34%
We now start to run into a flaw within WPA: because win probability will change more quickly in later innings, relievers tend to have disproportionately higher WPA than starters.
Regardless, we I think we can agree that nobody would trade McHugh straight up for…
7 (tie) – Darrin Downs, 0.44% …
and you certainly wouldn’t hesitate to trade Downs straight up to get…
7 (tie) – George Springer, 0.44%
Could a relief pitcher possibly be as valuable as one of the most exciting rookies in the game? Well, let’s consider a few factors:
1. Springer’s outs frequently occur with runners (cough, ALTUVE, cough) on base, and are therefore a “worse” out under WPA.
2. Downs has been in multiple “high-leverage” situations, as he is one of the only relievers Porter can depend upon.
3. WPA has no idea how far a #GeorgeGorge can travel.
6 – Dexter Fowler, 0.76%
Get well soon, Dex. This team is a whole lot better with you out there.
5 – Tony Sipp, 0.84%
The high-leverage relief pitcher rears its head again. That being said, it sure is nice to see Sipp in a game; good things have usually happened.
4 – Dallas Keuchel, 0.99%
Now we move into the true core of the current Astros squad. Keuchel has come out of seemingly nowhere, and has managed to overshadow the next individual and seem to be the ace of the staff.
3 – Jarred Cosart, 1.18%
With the emergence of Keuchel and McHugh, Cosart has somehow become the forgotten man of the Astros’ rotation. That’s a shame, because as evidenced by his WPA, he’s done a great job of going out every five days and giving the team a fighting chance to win.
2 – Jose Altuve, 1.33%
/does double take
///reconsiders entire premise of article
2? 2?!?!?! How can ANY player be more valuable to the Astros than the man who set a franchise record for hits and steals prior to the All Star Game?
1 – Mr. Chad Qualls, 1.39%
A perfect storm of circumstance:
a. Qualls has been highly effective in his appearances, posting a 1.89 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP
b. Qualls has a front office that believes in the leverage model of relief pitching, encouraging their best pitchers to be used when it matters most. What, you thought they were just indecisive about naming a “closer”?
c. Because Qualls is not the “closer”, Porter has been free to use him when it matters most – for example, the decision to use him against Detroit’s 3-4-5 hitters. (The less said about Jerome Williams’ performance in the 9th, the better)
When you get a good reliever pitching in the highest leverage innings for a bad team, WPA will tell you that he’s the most valuable player on that team – because those wins they’ve had, he’s been able to finish the job, or get them much closer to that end.
As discussed initially, each play has its own WPA, and so we can determine the plays that have had the most impact on the games to date. With that said, I present to you the…
PLAYS OF THE (HALF) YEAR
10. July 4: Mike Trout homers off Tony Sipp in the 9TH – (36.4%)
9. May 10: Delmon Young hits a bases-loaded single in a 4-3 game with 2 out in the 9th off Anthony Bass – (38.5%)
8. April 11: Robinson Chrinos breaks the scoreless deadlock with 2 out in the 12th on a single off Brad Peacock – (39.5%)
7. June 27: Jason Castro’s walk-off homer in the 11th off Hardy – 41.9%
6. April 12: Michael Choice homers in the 9th off Chapman to make it the 5-5 tie – (44.1%)
5. May 21: Albert friggin Pujols homers with 2 out in the 6th to make it 2-1, where it would end – (45.8%)
4. April 19: Alberto Callaspo singles off Chad Qualls to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th – (50.2%)
3. May 10: Mighty Altuve singles home Keuchel(!) and Villar in the 9th to take the lead 4-3 (WPA doesn’t care that they lost!) – 61.8%
2. April 23: Kyle Seager hits a 3-run job, down 2, off Josh Fields with 1 out in the 9th – (67.7%)
1. June 28: Jerome Williams loses the game, and his job, on a 2-out, 3-run homer to Kinsler – (70.8%)
Well, that’s depressing. 8 of the 10 biggest swings have gone against the hometown 9.
Can we at least look at the 8 other plays in FAVOR of the good guys?
8. May 8: Altuve doubles in Corporan and Hoes to take a 3-2 lead in the 5th off Smyly – 26.2%
7. May 9: Carter grounds into a DP with runners on the corners in the 9th to cut the lead to 4-3. Yes, a GIDP in a losing effort makes the Astros’ top 10 plays for the first half. – 26.8%
6. May 10 (again!) Marc Krauss doubles off Hunter to put the lead run on second – 27.5% – note: this play and Altuve’s ensuing single combine for a 89.3% swing in that game – and they still lost!
5. July 12: Qualls gets a game-ending double play from Pedroia as his only batter faced – 28.2%
4. May 14: Dominguez delivers an RBI single with 1 out in the 9th, for a 5-4 win – 29.1%
3. July 9: Springer homers with Altuve aboard in the 7th inning with a 6-4 lead – 30.2% note: check out the difference between a two run and four run lead!
2. April 12: Grossman homers in the 4th with 2 on to take a 5-2 lead – 31.2%
1. May 25: A 6th-inning #SpringerDinger off Iwakuma to take a 2-1 lead – 31.4%
May was a nice month, wasn’t it?
Morning comes the sunrise and I’m driven to my bed
I see that it is empty and there’s devils in my head
I embrace the many-colored beast
I grow weary of the torment, can there be no peace?
And I find myself just wishing that my life would simply cease
I saw a squirrel running across the street today, with a full slice of pepperoni pizza in his mouth. He had the crust end in his teeth, and the pointed end out ahead of him. Hauling ass.
That has to be an omen of some kind, a portent of something. Only, I have no idea what; and I have even less of an idea of how to look it up and find out.Read More
Written by JimR
The town of Brenham, Texas has high expectations for its high school baseball program. I was blissfully unaware of these expectations as I drove to Brenham from my home in Austin in August of 1968. I was Jimmy Raup then, and I was traveling to Brenham to interview for the Brenham High School baseball head coaching position. I had no idea of what that job involved. All I knew was that Cliff Gustafson, baseball coach for the University of Texas, called me to tell me the job was open, he recommended me for it, Brenham is a great baseball town, and he would take the job if offered. With that advice and his directions on how to get to Brenham, I headed east on Highway 290.
My 1968 spring semester at UT had been an eventful one. I had finished my baseball career as a pitcher for the Longhorns in 1967, and I graduated with a BA in history in January of 1968. Coach Gustafson, in his first year at UT replacing the legendary Bibb Falk, asked me and another recent graduate teammate to coach the Longhorns Junior Varsity baseball team. Freshmen were eligible for the varsity in 1968, and the JV team had freshmen and a few sophomores. I was a graduate student beginning a master’s degree in history, and I accepted the coaching opportunity eagerly. My plan at the time was to obtain a PhD. and to teach history in college. The coaching assignment was merely for fun and for the opportunity to learn baseball from Cliff Gustafson. He had won seven state championships at South San Antonio High School and was a coaching legend himself. I had no thought whatsoever of making coaching my profession.
Uncle Sam and the North Vietnamese Army changed my plan. Following the surprise Tet Offensive in January of 1968, the draft call was for 48,000 men, and the United States Army apparently thought I should be one of those men. My draft notice came, and I was certain that I soon would be switching uniforms from burnt orange to olive drab. I previously passed an Officer Candidate School physical, but there were no available armed services alternatives to being drafted. I had waited too long. I dropped out of graduate school and boarded the Army’s bus to San Antonio for my pre-induction physical, resigned to my fate of being drafted into the United States Army.
Surprise! The Army rejected me because of my long medical history of asthma and sent me back to Austin to figure out what to do next. I no longer was in school, but Coach Gustafson asked me to finish the JV team’s season. I did so happily because I had discovered that I enjoyed coaching baseball very much. An additional benefit from this first year in coaching was getting to know and becoming friends with Freddie Steinmark, who was a middle infielder on my team. His tragic fate was three years in the future. At the end of the season, Coach Gustafson told me I had done well and urged me to consider high school coaching as a career and to interview for an opening at Fort Worth Trimble Tech High School. Why not? The North Vietnamese Army had driven me out of graduate school, and I had nothing else to do. I interviewed in Fort Worth in the late spring and accepted a coaching and teaching position at Trimble Tech for the 1968-69 school year. At the time, I did not know where Brenham was.
My interview in Brenham in August of 1968 began at the home of the head football coach, Lloyd Wassermann. Coach Wassermann took me to Fireman’s Park, the Brenham Cubs’ home field, which is one of the best high school ballparks anywhere. He and I walked the field together as he explained that the people of Brenham were intense baseball fans who expect to win every game. He also spoke glowingly of Cecil Cooper, the Cubs’ best hitter and major league prospect, who graduated in 1968. He said several talented players were returning for the 1969 season, including two outstanding pitchers. Coach Wassermann told me a good baseball coach can win in Brenham, and he must win.
Coach Wassermann and I met the high school principal for an interview at a local café, and we visited briefly with the Superintendent, Harold Eikenhorst. With Cliff Gustafson’s recommendation and the beginning of the school year fast approaching, all I had to do was avoid a disastrous interview. Apparently, I said all the right things, or at least no egregiously wrong things, and they offered me the job. I accepted, and after filling out the necessary paperwork, I was the Brenham High School baseball coach at 22 years of age with no previous high school coaching experience. I was confident and not nervous about this, but perhaps I should have been more concerned. The Fort Worth school district released me from my commitment to Trimble Tech with no complaint, and I was ready to begin my teaching and coaching career in Brenham.
During the 1968-69 school year, I also was Freshman football and basketball coach with no assistants. I enjoyed coaching those sports, but I was eager to get started in baseball in the spring. The 1969 Brenham Cubs baseball team was a somewhat veteran squad with nine 1968 lettermen, including returning all-district players at catcher, shortstop and center field. Mike Kluck, the shortstop, and Darrell Blum, the catcher, hit in the middle of the order and were among our best defensive players. A promising sophomore, Otto Kemper, would play second base so the team appeared to be strong up the middle. Tommy Lange, the centerfielder, was a key player on the team, and the two returning pitchers ensured that the team’s chances for success were excellent. Lange was the leadoff hitter, and he was the first player I talked with before the season started.
Coach Gustafson had a system for leadoff hitters that I adopted, but the system required the player to believe in the system completely. Instead of being ready to swing at a pitch, he must be ready to not swing. He must take (not swing) each pitch until the pitcher threw a strike. This is called “taking a strike.” My leadoff hitter also must take every two balls-no strike (2-0) pitch, every three balls-no strike (3-0) pitch and every three balls-one strike (3-1) pitch. The leadoff hitter must not swing at these pitches regardless of the score, the number of men on base, or the number of outs. Most high school kids want to hit, and when they learn that the coach will force them to take pitches even on hitters’ counts, they often have difficulty accepting this concept. The coach must convince his leadoff hitter to forget his batting average and to be as proud of getting a walk as others are of getting a hit.
Tommy Lange completely bought into this system without argument, question or complaint. He took great pride in his ability to draw walks and absolutely refused to swing at pitches outside the strike zone even when he was behind in the count. Pitchers knew he was not swinging, and he still drew walks. Over a 30-game season in 1969, Lange drew 35 walks, stole 37 bases, scored 37 runs, and struck out only 14 times. He also raised his batting average from the previous season about 30 points to .274 because he was swinging only at pitches he could hit. A better high school leadoff man would be difficult to imagine.
Pitching was the strong suit of the 1969 Cubs team. We had three legitimate #1 starters, and two of them were left-handed. Ira Joe Newsome, an experienced senior lefty, was 7-0 in 1968 with wins in bi-district and regional competition. He threw hard enough, kept the ball down in the strike zone and had an excellent curve. Fearless and cocky, Ira Joe could both start and relieve in tight situations. Tommie Sullivan, a senior righthander, had no 1968 experience because of an arm problem, but he had a very good fastball and a tremendous overhand curve that old-timers would call a “drop.” His arm was healthy in 1969, and he quickly became an ace of the staff.
The best of the pitching cadre was Zane Grubbs, a junior lefthander who had lettered twice already. Grubbs had a live fastball with lots of movement, an outstanding overhand curve, and good control. He could throw his curve for a strike ahead or behind in the count, and his pickoff move to first was uncanny. Grubbs also was extremely confident and competitive, and he believed he could beat any team. The three pitchers carried the team to a 25-5 record despite a lineup with only one .300 hitter.
I also adopted Coach Gustafson’s many pickoff plays that were designed to surprise inattentive or unwary baserunners. These pickoff plays required my players to be aware constantly of the game situations in which I might want them to execute a specific play. They had to recognize the situation and to anticipate the correct play so that I would not tip off a pickoff by trying to get payers’ attention for a signal from me to run the play. Each pickoff had signals between players so that all players knew a pickoff was on, and some required a signal from me before the team could call the specific pickoff play.
The pickoff plays required considerable practice for flawless execution, and my Brenham players enjoyed working on these pickoffs. The Cubs used these pickoffs to great effect during my time in Brenham, and my players loved getting outs on unsuspecting opponent baserunners by their execution of these pickoffs. My Brenham players believed they were smarter “baseball-wise” than their opponents, and they were.
I ran a tight ship. My rule for my players’ conduct on the field and in the dugout was inflexible. I did not tolerate throwing bats, batting helmets, gloves, batting gloves or any other object to express displeasure. I had no patience with temper tantrums or with demonstrative shows of negative emotion. Anyone who violated this rule earned a seat on the bench for the rest of the game. I also did not allow smack-talking or yelling at our opponents. My players must yell only for their teammates and must not initiate or respond to taunting. They must respect their opponents and the Game. Finally, the Cubs must hustle on and off the field each inning and must uphold the tradition of Brenham baseball by playing with pride and by winning and losing with sportsmanship.
During the 1969 season, Coach Raup was 23 and looked 16, and the seniors on the team were 18. Many times when I took the lineup card to home plate to go over ground rules with the umpires, the arbiters asked me where the coach was. I had learned during the 1968-69 school year something about the intensity of the town’s interest in the high school baseball team, but I did not expect the media attention. There were daily newspaper articles, and the sport editor was a grizzled and cynical old-fashioned sports reporter. Carlos Deere had seen it all, and he was not impressed by the no-experience, wet-behind-the-ears coach. He was polite to me, but his “show-me-something” skepticism was obvious. Randy Reets, the radio play-by-play man, was an easy-going, friendly guy who was pleasant to work with. He broadcast every game and did many stories during the week for the local station. Each week I gave interviews to the local media, some of which Deere disguised as casual conversations, but I quickly learned that my offhand remarks would be quoted and that I must be careful about my comments. Coaching in Brenham was a graduate degree experience in media relations.
The first game of the Coach Raup era at Brenham High School was a disaster. We were a team that had reached the regional round in 1968, but an undistinguished Bryan High School team destroyed Brenham 17-9 in the opening game of the 1969 season. I was far more than disappointed because by that time, I was well aware of the town’s high expectations. A collective “Uh, oh” concerning the no-experience head coach reverberated all around Brenham. Following this debacle, I made a personnel switch that made a huge difference: I switched positions between A. J. Williams, our third baseman who had a chronically bad arm, and Bill Nutt, our first baseman. This switch improved both positions dramatically and greatly improved our team defense. At first base, Williams was a magician, and why I did not put him there to begin the season makes no sense to me now. Nutt had a strong arm and played excellent hot corner defense. We were a better team immediately. We began to win and to play at the level expected of the Brenham Cubs. Brenham completed the non-district schedule with a record of 8-3 and entered district competition with accustomed confidence.
A watershed moment in my team’s acceptance of their kid coach occurred as the Cubs prepared to meet A&M Consolidated, which was Brenham’s chief rival for the North Zone championship. Winning championships was imperative in those days because the University Interscholastic League’s (UIL) playoffs toward the state championship included only district champions. In Brenham, not making the playoffs would be a firing offense for the high school baseball coach, if not a hanging offense.
A group of players and I scouted the A&M Consolidated Tigers in their Tuesday game before playing Brenham the next Tuesday. Friday was an open date for all teams because of a district-wide track meet. Pitching for our rivals in the game we scouted was their ace, Robbie Schleider. He was a righthanded pitcher, and he threw very hard. Schleider pitched quite a game as the contingent of Brenham Cubs looked on: he pitched a perfect game and struck out all 21 batters who faced him! Holy Cow, that was an intimidating performance.
I noticed, however, that Schleider did not throw his curve in the strike zone all night. He bounced his curve or threw it low and away, but his opponents helped him by swinging at those bad pitches. I had an idea about how to prepare for Schleider, and we had four full days of practice before the game with the Tigers. Business as usual practices would not prepare my team for Schleider’s overpowering assortment of pitches, in my opinion.
At our Wednesday practice, I assembled the team and unveiled our practice plan. I would move the screen that protects the batting practice pitcher to a point halfway to the plate, which would be 30 feet away from the hitter. I would throw all of the batting practice and would throw as hard as I could throw from that distance. (I was only 23 years old, and to the extent that I ever could throw hard, I still could.) I would mix in curves with the fastballs, and during the early part of the week, I would tell them which pitch was coming. By Friday, I would not tell them in advance whether I was throwing a fastball or a curve. The hitters’ task was two-fold and was simple to articulate: be able to time the fastball and to recognize the curveball spin and not swing at the curve. The task would not be so simple to master. With two strikes, they must swing at a curve in the strike zone, but the basic plan was to swing only at fastballs. If our hitters could do these tasks by the Tuesday game, I thought they could handle Schleider.
As one may imagine, my hitters had a difficult time on Wednesday with my fastball from 30 feet, and more than one of them told me what I was asking them to do was impossible. They struggled to swing quickly enough to make contact with fastballs, and they swung at many curves because they were not focusing on the pitch’s spin. Thursday was better, however, and by Friday, despite not knowing which pitch was coming, they were hitting the fastball well and were not swinging at many more curves than they swung at. I could see their confidence growing. Monday’s pitch timing and recognition practice was even better, and I thought we were ready.
Brenham rocked A&M Consolidated and Robbie Schleider at their home park 10-1. Our game plan worked to near-perfection. The Cubs pounded out eight hits, drew nine walks, stole five bases, and A. J. Williams hit a two-run home run in the first inning to set the tone for the evening. Schleider, definitely unnerved by the Cubs’ strike zone discipline and lack of intimidation, issued nine walks and uncorked six wild pitches. Grubbs pitched a four-hitter and struck out 13 for the win. Our game plan’s success erased any doubts that my team may have had about the Boy Coach’s knowledge of baseball, and they were “all in” with me for the duration.
Brenham and A&M Consolidated kept pace with each other as Zone competition progressed and met again at Brenham in a crucial game for both teams. A win would give the Cubs a two-game lead with only three games to play. Although the game was closer this time, Brenham defeated the Tigers and Schleider 6-4 behind Tommie Sullivan’s 13-strikeout performance, with last out relief from Grubbs. Brenham closed out the North Zone championship with wins over Navasota and Huntsville and prepared for the playoffs.
The Cubs defeated Aldine Carver two games to one for the district championship, thanks perhaps to the Carver coach’s decision to rest his ace pitcher in the first game of the series. The loss to dominating Willard Ester of Carver in the second game of the series was Brenham’s only loss at home in my three years at Brenham, and I was thankful that he pitched only one game in the series. Next up was Jasper, and Brenham won 11-1 and 8-7 for the bi-district championship; the second Jasper game “featured” 22 walks by the two teams combined. El Campo fell to the Cubs two games to none for the regional championship despite a heroic performance by El Campo’s star pitcher. Brenham won a nail-biter 2-1 in a pitchers’ duel between Grubbs and Alan Olson for the Ricebirds and won the clincher 3-2 in eight innings the next day, with Olson pitching his second complete game in two days. The Cubs were going to the State Tournament for only the second time in the school’s history. Brenham High School had advanced to the Tournament in 1966 but lost both games.
In 1969, Brenham faced Andrews in the Tournament’s semifinal round, and I made a decision on the starting pitcher that still is criticized in Brenham as I write this in 2012. My decision was whether to start Zane Grubbs or Tommie Sullivan on the mound against Andrews, which was a team that Brenham should beat. Coach Gustafson watched Andrews practice at UT’s field and recommended a righthander if I thought my pitchers were equal in ability. I thought both could win at that level and started Sullivan on Gustafson’s recommendation. That was a fateful decision for me.
Brenham gave up four runs in the first inning, in part because of a two-out, bases-loaded error in left field. We fought back to tie the score after three innings but missed two great chances to take the lead, including a popped-up squeeze bunt that resulted in a double play. I brought in Grubbs to pitch the seventh inning with the game tied, and I believed that we would score to win and that he would pitch us to the state championship the next day.
Not so. Zane made a throwing error to begin the top of the 9th, and a sacrifice bunt and a broken bat bloop single with two out put us behind. We stranded a runner at third in the bottom of the 9th inning and lost the semifinal game 5-4 in nine innings. This was a heart-breaking defeat because the Cubs were the better team but did not play well that day. We won the third place game over Burleson easily with Grubbs pitching a shutout for a consolation prize. Taylor High School, a team we shut out behind Grubbs earlier in the season, won the 1969 State Championship. We won the final Third Place game played in the UIL State Tournament and finished better than any Brenham High School team before us. Lange, Williams and Blum were All-State Tournament selections. I was disappointed in our loss to Andrews but proud of the team’s accomplishments.
The 1969 Brenham Cubs only hit .265 as a team, but the pitching overcame a lack of offense. Grubbs was 9-1, Sulivan was 7-1 and Newsome was 7-3. Stealing bases also was important for our anemic offense. Lange had 37 steals, Kemper had 25, Mike Kluck stole 18 bases and Nutt had 16 steals. Baserunning enabled this team to score runs without stringing three hits together. Finishing as the third place team in the State of Texas was a tremendous accomplishment for the 1969 Cubs, I thought as we returned to Brenham from Austin after the Tournament.
After the State Tournament in 1969, I learned completely what coaching in Brenham meant. My euphoria over the Cubs’ best-ever season did not last long. I naively believed that the fan base would be pleased and proud because we had been to the State Tournament for only the second time in the school’s history, and we had won a game, unlike the 1966 team. I could not have been more wrong. The conventional wisdom among the “Downtown Coaches Association” (railbirds who met at a local cafe to evaluate and criticize coaches and coaches’ decisions) was that I had blown the state championship by not starting Grubbs against Andrews. This group of “experts” conveniently ignored the crucial errors and forgot that Zane entered a tie game and was the losing pitcher. Apparently, these details were irrelevant because they believed steadfastly that Grubbs would have defeated Andrews had I started him. Many in the town mourned a lost state championship, blamed the coach and did not celebrate our third place finish. I was very surprised, but looking back, why should I have been? We went to the State Tournament and did not win it all. End of story for many in Brenham, Texas.
The 1970 season loomed large for me, and I believed I had something to prove. During the summer, I turned down an offer to coach baseball at Brazoswood High School, a new high school in the Brazosport Independent School District. This opportunity again was recommended by my guardian angel, Cliff Gustafson, but I said no because I loved coaching in Brenham and wanted to return. The Cubs would be a very inexperienced team in 1970, but we had Zane Grubbs on the mound for his senior year. For the 1970 season, we replaced 1969 starters at shortstop, first base, catcher, all the outfield positions, and we had no experienced pitchers to back up Grubbs. Other than that, we were solid. We were a team in transition, but we had some promising players to replace the graduated starters. I was determined to answer the 1969 criticism with the 1970 team’s performance.
Otto Kemper was a returning starter at second base, and Bill Nutt returned at third base. Each hit only .244 in 1969, but each was excellent on defense. Replacing Lange in center was Larry McDonald, who had been an outstanding platoon player in right field as a sophomore in 1969. He had sprinter track speed, was a line drive hitter, and would steal many bases if he could get on. Wayne Kluck took over for his cousin Mike at shortstop and had power potential. Roosevelt Leaks, the football star running back, talented in baseball but very raw, would get a chance in left field. Doyle Gaskamp, a sophomore, would platoon with Leaks in left field and also could play third base. Several players auditioned for right field, and James Mueller, who had lettered three times, started the season there.
Catcher and first base were the biggest question marks, but Charles Schlottmann quickly took charge at first base. A sure-handed defender, Schlottmann solidified the infield defense. Catcher was another matter entirely. The player I thought would be our catcher did not make his grades and was ineligible for the season. Val Gene Kiecke, an outfielder, said, “I can catch, Coach,” and he did surprisingly well. He had little to no experience behind the plate, but he worked hard with a great attitude. I thought his defense would be adequate.
Zane Grubbs was going to have a big year on the mound, but he could not pitch all the games. Roger Gaskamp, a senior righthander, began the season as our second pitcher. Gaskamp threw hard, but he struggled with his control. After that, a cast of thousands vied for relief roles. As the season got underway, I did not have a clue who would be able to pitch at the level the team needed, other than Grubbs and Gaskamp. None of the other pitching candidates stepped forward during the pre-season, and this crucial part of the team was a major concern. We could not go far in the playoffs with only two pitchers.
Running was a major characteristic of the teams I coached. The 1969 team stole 131 bases, with Lange stealing 37 and sophomore Otto Kemper stealing 25. Taking the extra base and stealing bases helped that team win despite a subpar offense. The 1970 team appeared to be able to run also; Kemper and Nutt were back, McDonald was faster than Lange, and others had base-stealing potential. None of them could steal first base, however. We would have to hit better than in 1969 and draw walks when possible to have a chance to steal bases.
Grubbs pitched a no-hitter to open the season, and although the Cubs got only one hit, it was a long home run by Kluck. Brenham won 6-0, and the 1970 season had begun. The next two games also were shutout wins, and we were 3-0 and had not given up a run. Next up was the Wharton Tournament, and after a 6-2 win over Dickinson, the wheels came off. Grubbs lost 2-1 to Corpus Christi Miller on two unearned runs, and Brenham lost again the same day 5-2 to Lamar Consolidated. Suddenly, the Cubs’ record was 4-2, and I was wondering which way the season would go.
As I did in 1969, I made a personnel change in 1970 that made a big difference in our defense and improved the team’s play. Val Gene Kiecke, who volunteered to catch because of an ineligible player, was struggling with his defense. During the last game of the Wharton Tournament, I moved Kiecke to right field and replaced him at catcher with sophomore Duane Houston. Kiecke was a great outfielder, and Houston, although inexperienced, solidified the catcher position with better defense. We were an improved team immediately, and Houston’s steady and consistent play behind the plate was critical to this team’s ultimate success.
On the horizon was the Austin ISD Tournament. Brenham was defending co-champion and was the only 3A team in a 16-team field. All the other teams in the tournament were 4A schools, and this did not seem to be the best environment for us to right our listing ship. Bad weather came to our rescue, perhaps, after Brenham beat Austin Lanier 12-4 in the opening game. All of the Saturday games were rained out, and Grubbs did not get to take on a 4A opponent on Saturday. The enforced rest likely helped. The next week Brenham battered Rockdale. 12-0 to end non-district play. Heading into the games that really counted toward making the playoffs, Brenham’s season record was 6-2 and the Cubs were the favorite to win the North Zone championship. La Grange would be the main threat to a Brenham championship.
In a non-district contest against Taylor, Delbert Boeker took a huge leap forward to provide pitching depth behind Grubbs and Gaskamp. Relieving Grubbs in the 6th inning with the bases loaded, no outs and a 3-0 count on the hitter, Boeker registered a strikeout, a force out and a fly ball out to extinguish the fire with only one run scoring. After a leadoff double in the 7th inning, Boeker struck out the side to close a 6-2 win over the defending 3A state champions. Boeker’s heroics were crucial in the Taylor game, but his emergence as a dependable pitcher became more important as the 1970 season unfolded.
The North Zone championship ultimately was decided by Brenham’s two games with traditional rival La Grange, but the outcome was not without drama provided by our game in Huntsville and by an umpire’s incorrect decision. Brenham led 5-0 after five innings, and I replaced Grubbs with Boeker to give Grubbs some rest and Delbert some work. I often substituted in the late innings with a comfortable lead to give bench players playing time. We had many good players, and substituting with a lead usually was a safe decision.
Uncharacteristically wild, Boeker walked the first two hitters in the 6th inning, and when he threw two balls to the next hitter, I had seen enough. I attempted to put Grubbs back into the game, as UIL rules permit, but the umpires ruled that he could not re-enter the game. This decision was absolutely wrong, but there was nothing I could do. Neither Boeker nor the reliever who followed could stop the avalanche, and Huntsville won 7-6. I was very shaken by this loss because of my decision to substitute for Grubbs.
This loss could have been devastating because we should have won the game easily. Brenham now was a game behind undefeated La Grange in the North Zone in an era when only champions reached the playoffs. Fighting back the urge to panic, I stressed to my team that we could not lose another game. Perhaps because our backs were to the wall, the Cubs began to roll. Brenham blasted A&M Consolidated 17-0 and Bryan Kemp 10-1. In a 12-run inning against A&M Consolidated, Brenham hitters connected for eight consecutive hits, and shortstop Wayne Kluck slugged two homers in that inning. Not to be outdone by the hitters, three Cubs pitchers combined to no-hit the Tigers. The showdown with league-leading La Grange approached, and a loss to them likely would kill the season.
Brenham easily defeated La Grange 10-0 and moved into a tie for the North Zone lead. Zane Grubbs pitched a one-hitter for the eighth shutout of Brenham’s 13 wins on the season. Kemper and McDonald, the first two hitters in the lineup, combined for a perfect seven for seven at the plate, seven runs scored, two runs batted in, and Kemper tripled twice. As the league moved into the second half of Zone play, Brenham had made up for the near-disaster in Huntsville and was in its accustomed first place position. The Cubs had not lost since Huntsville.
Brenham continued winning throughout the second half, surviving close games against Navasota, 4-3, with Grubbs getting a three-inning save, and A&M Consolidated, 3-0, behind Gaskamp and Boeker. Revenge for the Huntsville loss was sweet: Brenham blasted Huntsville 10-0 in the rematch behind a two-hitter by Grubbs, who had 11 strikeouts and no walks. The second game with La Grange decided the North Zone Championship. Brenham shut out La Grange 5-0, with Grubbs hurling a three-hitter and striking out 12 to go 11-1 on the year. The Cubs were 19-3 and had not lost since Huntsville.
Brenham stormed through the playoffs toward the 1970 State Tournament. Cypress-Fairbanks fell 17-0, with Grubbs allowing only one hit and striking out 14, and 6-0 behind Gaskamp and relief help from Boeker. The wins gave the Cubs the district championship for the seventh straight year. Jasper was Brenham’s bi-district opponent in a matchup of winning streaks; Brenham had won 17 of the last 18, and Jasper had won 15 of the last 16. After an 8-inning struggle, Brenham won the first game 2-1, and Zane Grubbs gave up only two hits and struck out 17. Grubbs also scored the winning run on a two-out double by Otto Kemper. In Jasper, Brenham won a walk-filled game 10-6, and Delbert Boeker, who relieved Roger Gaskamp in the 2nd inning, finished the game for the win.
Alvin, hometown of Nolan Ryan, was next up in regional competition, and a trip to the State Tournament was at stake. Brenham, at 23-3, and Alvin, at 19-3, had the two best records left in the 3A playoffs. Brenham had not lost since Huntsville. Pitching for Brenham was Zane Grubbs, with a record of 13-1, and Frank Johnstone, who was 11-1, was on the hill for the Yellowjackets. With this pitching matchup, the game promised to be tense and tight, and the game did not disappoint fans of exciting playoff baseball. In an extremely well-played game, the Cubs defeated Alvin 3-2 in eight innings.
Brenham scored in the 1st inning on a sacrifice fly by Nutt, and Alvin answered with a run in the bottom of the 2nd inning on a two-out single. Brenham broke on top 2-1 in the 5th inning when Nutt scored on an Alvin error. With Grubbs on the mound, any lead was big, and Brenham appeared about to win on a grounder up the middle in the 7th inning that Kemper miraculously turned into what looked to be a game-ending double play.
After Kemper’s tremendous backhand stop and flip to Kluck to force the runner at second, Kluck made the relay throw to first that would end the game. Bad luck stopped our celebration, however. The sliding runner’s batting helmet popped up into the air at second base, and Kluck’s throw to first glanced off of the helmet and deflected into the dirt past Schlottman at first base. The tying run scored on this unlucky error, and the game headed into extra innings.
Brenham bounced back immediately from this unhappy turn of events. Nutt doubled to lead off the top of the 8th inning, and one out later, Schlottman singled him in for a 3-2 lead. Grubbs closed out the Yellowjackets in the bottom of the 8th inning with two strikeouts and a groundout. Johnstone gave up seven hits and struck out 12, but Grubbs was better, giving up only three hits and striking out 14. The second game of the regional playoff was never in doubt as the Cubs pounded Alvin 10-1 behind Boeker’s first playoff start and complete game five-hitter. Brenham had not lost since Huntsville and was on its way to the State Tournament for the second consecutive year.
In Austin, Eagle Pass was Brenham’s semifinal opponent, and the Eagles were 19-6 on the year. Pitching against the Cubs would be Rolando Surita, who was 12-4 with an ERA of 2.09. Zane Grubbs, Brenham’s star pitcher, entered the game with a 14-1 record and a microscopic 0.28 ERA. In marked contrast to the 1969 team, Brenham boasted six hitters with batting averages above .319, led by second baseman Otto Kemper at .446 and third sacker Bill Nutt at .391. I felt very confident in our ability to handle the Rio Grande Valley team easily.
Surita, a burly right-handed fireballer, struck out eight and surprised me by keeping Brenham at bay until the top of the 7th inning. The two teams were locked in a scoreless tie entering the 7th inning, and the Cubs had managed to not score in the 6th inning despite getting four hits in the inning. Surita had walked only one thus far, but he walked the bases loaded while getting two outs. Larry McDonald was our hitter, and Surita buckled his knees with two sharp breaking curves for called strikes. Down 0-2 in the count, McDonald looked to be an inning-ending strikeout with one more curve.
For reasons known only to him or to the person who called the pitches, Surita threw McDonald a fastball with his third pitch. Larry did not miss it and lined a triple into right centerfield just out of the reach of a desperate dive by the Eagle Pass centerfielder. We led 3-0, and with Grubbs pitching, that lead looked to be as safe as 100-0. Grubbs gave up the only hit he allowed with one out in the bottom of the 7th, but he finished the game with two strikeouts. Zane struck out only eight Eagle Pass hitters, a low total for him, but the Brenham defense backed him with an errorless game.
For the first time in the school’s history, the Brenham High School Cubs were in the state championship game, and Dumas High School was the opponent. Delbert Boeker drew the starting assignment to pitch the most important game of the 1970 season or of any Brenham High School baseball season. He had pitched very well in relief during the 1970 campaign, and because his ability to throw strikes had been the most consistent of the Brenham pitchers not named Grubbs, I started Boeker against Alvin in the second game of the regional round. He responded with a complete game victory over Alvin and gave up only one unearned run. I thought he had earned the start against Dumas for the state championship. Grubbs was available to pitch in relief if needed, and I would not hesitate to use him.
I cannot overstate the excitement of playing in the State Tournament. For a coach, it is the ultimate accomplishment because the Tournament matches up Texas’ final four teams after weeks of highly competitive, intense playoff baseball. There is no more exhilarating experience for a baseball coach than a playoff game. Every situation is crucial, and every coaching decision is magnified. I loved playoff baseball. The challenge for a coach in the State Tournament is to convince his players that they must play the most important game of their lives as though it were just another game. That was my task as we prepared to face Dumas High School for the 1970 3A State Championship.
The state championship game was no contest. In the 1st inning, the Brenham Cubs sent 10 men to the plate and scored six runs. Piling on, we scored three more runs in the 2nd inning and put the game away. Dumas answered with two runs in the 2nd inning, but the Brenham infield defense put on a clinic throughout the game, and the outcome was never in doubt. The Cubs scored two more runs in the 6th inning and won the 1970 3A State Championship 11-2.
Boeker was up to the challenge and pitched a complete game victory giving up only five hits and one earned run. The Brenham infield defense flawlessly recorded fourteen groundball putouts. Val Gene Kieke, who had selflessly volunteered to play catcher and who had struggled at the plate all season, had two hits and a sacrifice fly and drove in three runs. McDonald also had two hits, and we finished the season 27-3. Brenham did not lose a game after Huntsville and won 17 consecutive games on the way to the state championship.
State Champions! The 1970 Brenham Cubs were a great high school baseball team. Seven Cubs were named to the All-State Tournament team: Schlottmann, Kemper, Nutt, Kluck, McDonald, Kiecke and Grubbs were selected. Schlottmann, Kemper, McDonald, Kiecke and Grubbs were unanimous selections. A state championship always is a team accomplishment, but these players deserved this individual honor.
The 1970 season’s statistics showed how outstanding this team was. The team batting average was .309, and the team ERA in a 30-game season was 0.78. Our hitters’ statistics were impressive: Kemper. 439, McDonald .337, Kluck .356, Nutt .380, Leaks .346, Schlottmann .308, and super sub David Schomburg .308. Wayne Kluck tied a school record with seven home runs and drove in 36 runs. Larry McDonald drove in 27 runs, which was the second most on the team. McDonald also set a school record with 40 stolen bases, Kemper stole 30 bases and scored 41 runs, and Nutt stole 26 bases. The team had 137 stolen bases and scored 219 runs.
Zane Grubbs had a phenomenal year in 1970. Over 106-1/3 innings pitched, Grubbs had a record of 15-1, gave up only 26 hits, eight runs, four earned runs, struck out 198, and he finished the season with an ERA of 0.25. He pitched one no-hitter, a combined no-hitter and four one-hitters. Boeker was 7-0 with an ERA of 0.80, and Gaskamp was 5-1 with an ERA of 1.78.
Boeker’s development to provide dependable relief pitching was crucial to this team’s success. He also made the most of his starting opportunities by pitching complete game victories in the regional championship and state championship games. The Brenham pitching staff shut out 14 of its 30 opponents and gave up only one run to four others. In 1970, the Brenham Cubs had it all: pitching, hitting, defense and baserunning. No matter what was to come after 1970, these Brenham Cubs were the first to win a state championship for the school and for this wonderful baseball town.
After all of the thrills of the 1970 season, Brenham’s 1971 season was anti-climactic and ultimately disappointing. Everyone in the starting lineup returned except third baseman Bill Nutt, and Doyle Gaskamp, who hit .286 and platooned in left field in 1970, would be an adequate replacement for Nutt. Grubbs and Roger Gaskamp graduated, and we had no one who could replicate the year Grubbs had in 1970. Delbert Boeker began the season as Brenham’s #1 starter, but he was more suited to his previous role of reliever and #2 starter. As the season progressed, Charles Proske, a talented sophomore, became our #1 starting pitcher, and Eddie Marshall and Brian Tharp, senior right-handers, provided pitching depth. Marshall eventually became the #2 starter despite his total lack of experience.
Brenham started the season with a 12-2 record and had played only 4A teams so the prospects for another deep playoff run appeared to be excellent. In Zone play, however, cracks began to appear. Columbus, always a tough opponent, used three hits and a walk in the 1st inning to defeat Boeker and the Cubs 3-2. Once again, Brenham’s backs were to the wall. Proske, Marshall and Boeker shared the pitching assignments during Zone play with Boeker being most effective in relief roles. Brenham advanced through the other Zone opponents with opposition only from La Grange. After a hard-fought 7-4 win over La Grange and an easy win over Houston Elmore, Brenham prepared to meet Columbus for the second time, and a Cubs’ win would create a tie for the Zone lead. Behind an 11-hit barrage, Brenham defeated Columbus 12-2 to move into a tie for the Zone lead with the Cardinals. Proske moved to 8-0 with a three-hitter. Both teams won out, which required a best two out of three playoff for the Zone championship. This playoff was worth watching.
Brenham won the opening game in Columbus 2-1 on an 11th inning home run by Charles Schlottmann. Proske went the distance for his ninth win without a loss giving up only three hits and striking out 14. McDonald, who stole four bases in the contest, saved the game in the 8th inning with a catch at the fence to rob the Cardinals of a game-winning home run. Eddie Marshall pitched a complete game 5-2 victory over Columbus in the second game, and the Cubs were again Zone champions.
At this point in the 1971 season, Brenham’s hopes for a repeat state championship still were high. All of our position players had been starters or front-line reserves on the state championship team in 1970. Brenham was 23-3 and playing well on offense and defense. Injuries had been a minor problem, but substitute players had stepped up when called upon, especially sophomore Edwin Morrow, and the Cubs had continued to win no matter who was in the lineup. Brenham’s pitching was not dominant, but Proske was a pleasant surprise at 9-0, Marshall was inexperienced but was 7-1 as a #2 pitcher, and Boeker was once again a dependable reliever. I was optimistic about our chances but was about to learn how much we missed Zane Grubbs.
Just ahead in the district championship playoff were the Crockett Bulldogs, led by Jamie Easterly, a senior lefthanded pitcher who was undefeated at 9-0. After 11 innings in an afternoon game in Brenham, the Cubs gave Easterly his first defeat 4-3, although Easterly struck out 18 Cubs. Proske was relieved by Boeker in the 6th inning but re-entered the game and pitched 9 1/3 innings for the win, striking out 17. Brenham tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the 7th inning on a triple by McDonald and won it in the 11th inning on McDonald’s second triple and a single by Kemper.
Jamie Easterly came back to pitch the second game of the series in Crockett and evened it up all by himself by striking out 20 Brenham hitters and hitting a two-run home run. This game was played at night under the lights, which appeared to be one candle on a pole. Crockett led only 2-1 going into the bottom of the 5th inning but pulled away to win 9-1. The rubber match was played on a rainy night in Bryan with a strong wind blowing in from center field, and Crockett prevailed 3-1 in the deciding game of the series. Brenham scored one run in the top of the 1st inning, and as Proske left the dugout to head to the mound, I told him, “There is your run. You cannot give them any.” He smiled, but I was serious.
Easterly once again pitched a complete game for the win, and Brenham miscues figured prominently in all three Crockett runs. Proske struck out 10, walked none, and the Cubs should have made plays to convert three of Crockett’s four hits into outs. Those misplays and a passed ball beat us. Over a seven day period, Easterly pitched 25 innings, gave up 10 hits, struck out 45 and won two games and lost one. Proske was outstanding all year and in this series, especially for a sophomore, but we missed the dominance of Grubbs who could beat any team on any night 1-0. Backed by better defense, however, Proske would have beaten Easterly and Crockett 1-0 in the deciding game.
Crockett advanced as district champions, and the Brenham Cubs’ 1971 season was over. Larry McDonald had another outstanding year, hitting .426 and stealing 35 bases in the abbreviated season. Otto Kemper hit .320, stole 24 bases and led the team in RBI with 23. Charles Proske was the leading pitcher at 10-1, and his only loss was the hard-luck defeat in the final game of the season. We finished my third season in Brenham at 24-5, and our won-loss record during those three seasons was 76-13.
As it turned out, 1971 was the end of the Coach Raup era in Brenham. During the summer, the Austin ISD Athletics Director, who had been my football and baseball coach at Austin High School, offered me the head baseball coaching position at McCallum High School. I wanted to return to Austin and accepted this offer immediately. I knew that McCallum had a strong baseball program and tradition, and I thought my chances of winning with the Knights were excellent. I bade Brenham and my players farewell and headed back to Austin for the 1971-72, school year. Make no mistake about it, though, I loved coaching in Brenham, and I loved the young men who played for me. They made me a winning coach, and I hope I helped them become better players. They already were good players when I got there.
Time passes so quickly. I will be 67 soon, and the “kids” I coached in Brenham are in or near their 60s. Looking back with the perspective of age and experience, I realize how lucky I was to receive Coach Gustafson’s call in August of 1968. I was very fortunate to begin my coaching career in Brenham, Texas. Skilled players awaited me as I began my career at Brenham High School, and they were eager to be coached as well as I could coach them. Success was there for me if I could make the most of my opportunity. I rode the wave of Zane Grubbs for two years, and a great pitcher goes a long way toward making his coach look as if he knows what he is doing.
The talent level in Brenham extends beyond the current players in high school. Youth baseball programs in Brenham are annually among the strongest and most successful in the State of Texas, and there is a constant flow to the high school of kids who have been coached well, who can play and who know the game. In retrospect, my coaching career may have been more successful if I had stayed in Brenham, but I had fine teams and great players at McCallum too. I do not regret my move to Austin.
Cliff Gustafson was so right in 1968. Brenham is a remarkable baseball town, and the players not only were talented but also were hard-working, high-character kids who wanted to win. Brenham’s players take pride in the winning tradition of the program, and they seek to leave their own marks on that tradition. For a young coach, the situation was ideal. There were no discipline issues, and the players came to each practice ready to work to improve so that the winning would continue. Players and coaches expected to win, and the state championship was our goal every year.
Starting my coaching career in Brenham taught me from the outset how to coach at the highest level of competition. Brenham was the best of the best, and each team we played wanted to beat the Cubs to make its season meaningful. My team and I had to be ready to perform at our peak each time we stepped on the field. Complacency was not an option, and neither were poor decisions by me.
Coaching in Brenham taught me to deal with the tremendously high expectations in the community. Baseball fans in Brenham assumed the Cubs would win and would win big. To some, anything less than a state championship was a disappointing season. The fans were rabid supporters, and we played every game before big and enthusiastic crowds. We took the field thinking we would win each game we played, and our fans were not satisfied with less. Pressure was on the field, in our dugout, in the stands and at the local cafes after the games, but I learned to deal with pressure and high expectations as an important part of my education as a coach.
Finally, as mentioned previously, being the Brenham High School baseball coach was life in a fishbowl and brought me daily attention from the local print and broadcast media. At 23, I learned the art of giving interviews in which I could discuss our team frankly without being overly critical. I learned how to be comfortable when speaking with reporters and how to state my main point concisely. This was especially important in radio interviews.
Media representatives were often at practice to watch and to talk to players and coaches. I learned to interact with the media on a daily basis and to not be defensive or resentful about their questions. Most important, I learned that my comments would be in the local media, whether I wanted to be quoted or not, so I must never be flip or sarcastic or harsh while talking about the team or my players or our opponents. I enjoyed my relationship with Carlos Deere of the Brenham Banner Press and Randy Reets of KWHI, and they taught me a great deal about media relations.
I would not have grown as much as a coach anywhere else as I did as a young coach in Brenham, Texas. I had no idea as I drove to Brenham from Austin in August of 1968 what coaching in Brenham would require of me. The entire Brenham experience of high level competition, intense playoff baseball, a town’s high expectations, intense and supportive fans, constant media attention and, above all, great players who also were great kids made me a much better coach than I would have been had I started my career elsewhere. I am so thankful I started my coaching career as a Brenham Cub.
But wait. The title of this piece is “Dynasty,” but it is only about my three years in Brenham. Two trips to the State Tournament and a single state championship hardly qualify as a dynasty. Consider the following additional history of this baseball program: as I write this in 2012, Brenham High School has appeared at the UIL State Tournament a record 16 times and has won seven state championships. Now that is a dynasty.
Brenham High School’s unparalleled baseball tradition at the UIL State Tournament includes:
- 1966 – the first appearance in school history. Lost to South San Antonio and Waxahachie
- 1969 – coached by Jimmy Raup. Lost to Andrews and defeated Burleson to finish third
- 1970 – coached by Jimmy Raup. Defeated Eagle Pass and Dumas to win the school’s first state championship
- 1973 – defeated South Grand Prairie and lost to La Grange to finish second
- 1975 – defeated Iowa Park and Sinton to win the school’s second state championship
- 1976 – defeated Pecos and South Grand Prairie to win the school’s third state championship
- 1986 – defeated Snyder and Mercedes to win the school’s fourth state championship
- 1987 – defeated Robstown and Fort Worth Brewer to win the school’s fifth state championship
- 1988 – defeated Canyon and Waxahachie to win the school’s sixth state championship
- 1989 – lost to Austin Anderson
- 1994 – lost to Big Spring
- 1999 – lost to Andrews
- 2003 – lost to Hewitt Midway
- 2009 – lost to Texarkana
- 2010 – defeated Wichita Falls Rider and Corpus Christi Calallen to win the school’s seventh state championship
- 2011 – lost to Wichita Falls Rider
No town in the State of Texas can match Brenham’s tradition of excellence in high school baseball. Brenham truly is Baseballtown, USA, and the Cubs’ seven state championships are tied with Houston Bellaire and South San Antonio for the most championships in Texas schoolboy history. Brenham High School is the premier baseball program in the State of Texas in 2012. Remember this, however. No matter how many more appearances at the State Tournament the Cubs make or how many more state championships Brenham wins, the 1970 Brenham Cubs were the first state champions of this storied program. Brenham Cubs baseball is indeed a dynasty, and Coach Jimmy Raup and his team were there at the beginning.
Oh – oh, Alyson … I know this team is killing you
Our love was like the water
That splashes on a stone
Our love is like our music
Its here, and then its gone
Most of us have, buried somewhere deep in our memory, a certain someone from our past. Someone who stands out, above all the others. Someone who got past the outer defenses effortlessly way back when, and burrowed into the deepest part of us, probably forever. This someone might have many different names, depending on who one is talking to. We’ll just call her, ‘Her’.Read More