Our man Mike Baldwin’s Main Event package in today’s editions of The Oklahoman focused on Matt Kemp, the former Midwest City High School star who is definitely the best state player in Major League Baseball because he’s probably the MLB player.
As part of the package Baldwin updated readers on big-leaguers and some other pros with state ties, while wisely offering this disclaimer. “If you know of a player with Oklahoma ties in the majors (who is) not on the list, notify The Oklahoman so we can monitor his progress.”
Nice touch by Baldwin, though it would have been nicer if he would have offered readers an email address or phone number by which they could notify us. No matter. One of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Jeff Salazar’s elementary school teachers didn’t need one.
Jayne Smith of Edmond took Baldwin up on his offer and called me this afternoon to tell me Salazar, a Putnam City West High School product who played at Oklahoma State, had been omitted from our list. Mrs. Smith, who taught his third-grade class at Lake Park Elementary, said she was watching a spring training game last week and saw Salazar was still with the Rays.
Sure enough, he is. A Sunday story in the Tampa Bay Times headlined “Outfielder Jeff Salazar appears to have made Tampa Bay Rays roster” focuses on how the 31-year-old Salazar is the leading candidate for the final roster spot. ”He’s obviously the last man standing,” Maddon said, “but it’s not been decided yet.”
Baldwin’s package and Mrs. Smith’s phone call got me thinking about features called “Oklahomans in the minors” and “Oklahomans in the majors” that we once ran most Sunday’s during baseball season. It was a list of the most current for everyone in professional baseball with a legitimate Oklahoma tie. I miss it, and since it’s baseball season again I expect to start hearing from more readers who miss it too.
The 200 or so names and corresponding statistics were provided by a service we contracted through Stats, Inc. It wasn’t cheap, but I guess Stats, Inc. thought it should have been charging more because it discontinued it a couple years ago for business reasons. But even they didn’t bat 1.000 when it came to getting everyone with an Oklahoma connection, and we were grateful when people like Jayne Smith called us with a name we needed to add to the collection.
We’ve talked about trying to find a way to bring it back, but it’s a chore to try to do a weekly listing of everyone who grew up here or played high school or college ball here still getting paid to play the great game of baseball. I know because it was a load when I did it just once a summer.
I got my start in this business 30 years ago as a part-timer with the Oklahoma City Times, an evening paper and The Oklahoman’s sister publication. In addition to coming in every weekday by 5 a.m. to compile sports results to published in small type, I compiled what was known as “the Times’ annual state baseball census.”
The census was sports editor Bob Colon’s creation, and in summer of 1982 I compiled the sixth-annual census. This was way before the Internet and months, before the first fax machine appeared in our old newsroom at the corner of Fourth and Broadway downtown. So tracking every player in baseball with an Oklahoma background essentially meant calling every minor league team and asking “hey, do you have any Okies on your roster?”
Granted, there were five previous census to work off, and there were June amateur draft lists. But you couldn’t just Google up the San Antonio Dodgers of the Texas League to see if they had any Sooners or Cowboys on the roster.
Our story on the 1982 census included this disclaimer “It’s not easy to keep up with all these people and we’ve surely missed some,” and invited readers to “drop us a line if we’ve missed anyone.” Colon, however, advised against me missing anyone, so for a week or so after that census published on Friday, Aug. 13, 1982, I tried to answer every phone call on the first ring.
I located 132 Oklahomans playing professional ball. Colon felt confident enough about that number to use it in his lead that day. There were, however, some additions.
Some of the big names from that census:
– Former Oklahoma State pitcher Darren Dilks, who was “toiling” — one of Colon’s favorite words — with the Memphis Chicks. “Dilks was terrible at the start of this season,” says a spokesman for the Chicks. “Then he won six straight and now he’s had some shaky outings lately.”
– Danny Jackson, a former University of Oklahoma lefthander who was still three years away from dazzling his way through the American League Playoffs and World Series for the Kansas City Royals. Jackson had just been promoted to Double-A Jacksonville.
– In a matter of months, former Southeastern State star Brett Butler, a Colon favorite, had gone from NL Rookie of the Year candidate back to the International League, where he was hitting .363 before Atlanta recalled him, two days before the census published. Colon called Butler’s old Southeastern coach Don Parham for a quote because that’s what Colon did every time Butler’s name came up. Said Parham, “I told him he had to be more aggressive at the plate. He was taking too many pitches and letting the pitchers get ahead of him.”
Funny how a phone call from an elementary school teacher about one of her former pupils still chasing his baseball dream will send you foraging through The Oklahoman/Oklahoma City Times archives and down memory lane. Thanks, Jayne Smith for the tip on Jeff Salazar and for reminding me of the value of Oklahoman’s in professional baseball.
I’ll see if we can find a way to resume that service.