Rattlers Celebrate Black History Month: Top Five Players
In celebration of Black History Month, teams across Minor League Baseball are looking at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers history includes the Appleton Papermakers and the Fox Cities/Appleton Foxes. Here are five of the best Black players to ever suit
In celebration of Black History Month, teams across Minor League Baseball are looking at five of the best Black players to suit up for their club.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers history includes the Appleton Papermakers and the Fox Cities/Appleton Foxes. Here are five of the best Black players to ever suit up for Appleton Professional Baseball.
Harold Baines: The Chicago White Sox drafted Harold Baines with the #1 overall selection of the 1977 draft on June 7, 1977. Baines arrived in the Goodland Field clubhouse on June 14 and started his professional career with the Appleton Foxes with a 1-for-4 performance as the designated hitter against the Waterloo Indians with 1,482 fans in attendance.
Baines played 69 games and hit five homers with 29 RBI with the Foxes. Those numbers might not sound impressive, but take into account that he was just eighteen, more than three years younger than the Midwest League average that season, and those numbers look a little better.
He was in the Major Leagues with the White Sox by Opening Day of the 1980 season to start a 22-year career in MLB that included six All-Star appearances, 2,866 hits, a career WAR of 38.7, and an eventual induction to Cooperstown in 2019.
Khris Davis: The Milwaukee Brewers picked Davis with their seventh round selection in the 2009 draft out of Cal State-Fullerton. He joined the Timber Rattlers at the start of the 2010 season on his way to a Major League career that has seen him “khrush” 221 homers in nine seasons with the Brewers, Oakland A’s, and Texas Rangers. He hit his first home run for Wisconsin on April 22 off future big leaguer David Carpenter.
It wasn’t known at the time, but that home run was the first one of what turned out to be a record-setting amount. Juan Silvestre set the Timber Rattlers record for homer in a season when he cracked 21 in 1999. Davis steadily made a run at the record with four homers in May and six more in June that earned him a spot in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
He also got a chance to participate in the 2010 MWL Home Run Derby and won it with an amazing display of power that won the Fort Wayne fans over to his side in the finals.
Five homers in July and five homers in August left Davis tied with Silvestre at 21 home runs. Davis was homerless in the first four games of September and that left him with just two games in Kane County to break the record before the end of the season.
In his second at bat of the game on September 5, the final Sunday of the season, Davis cracked a long, two-run home run to set the Timber Rattlers record.
Lamar Johnson: “Pizza! Sport shirt! Dry cleaning!” was a popular chant at Goodland Field in 1971 and 1972. It had something to do with the wall signs in left field and the frequency with which Lamar Johnson would hit baseballs over that wall. An event that happened so much, Johnson was given the nickname “Pizza King” by the Foxes faithful.
Johnson, who would go on to a nine-year MLB career with the White Sox and Rangers, played seven games with the Foxes in 1970 and returned to the Midwest League in 1971 and hit 18 homers with 97 RBI in 119 games. The White Sox sent Johnson back to Appleton in 1972 and he shattered the Foxes record for homers in a season.
Sam Bowens held the old Foxes record with 20 during the 1960 season. Johnson hit his 21st homer of the 1972 season on August 17 at Wisconsin Rapids. Then, Johnson added five more homers over the final weeks of the season to end the year with 26.
No Appleton Pro Baseball player has come close to the “Pizza King” in the last 50 years.
Adam Jones: The Seattle Mariners used the 37th overall pick in the 2003 draft to select Jones, a high school player out of San Diego. He was 18 when he came to Appleton as the everyday shortstop. He was almost four years younger than the average age of a Midwest League player.
Jones had a solid season with the Rattlers (eleven homers, 72 RBI, and a .267 average) that helped to set him on his course to make an MLB debut with the Mariners in 2006 and blossom into stardom with the Baltimore Orioles after a trade heading into the 2008 season.
As an Oriole, Jones was a five-time All-Star, won three Gold Gloves as a centerfielder, and hit 303 home runs. He has also played for Arizona, Orix in Japan, and represented the United States in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Deacon Jones: Grover “Deacon” Jones had already made his Major League debut by the time he reached the Foxes in 1966. Jones had even faced the Foxes when he played for Lincoln in the old Three-I League in 1959.
Jones was briefly with the White Sox in 1962 and 1963 playing a total of 35 games in those two seasons. While the White Sox couldn’t find room for Jones in their MLB lineup, they saw something more in him. He would become a player/coach in the system.
His impact on baseball in the Fox Cities is summed up nicely in an article about Jones in the 1973 Appleton Foxes program:
Appleton became a Sox farm club in 1966 and Deacon was named player-coach under Stan Wasiak and led the league in hitting with a .353 batting average, 36 two-baggers, and 23 intentional walks. He was instrumental in bringing the Foxes the Midwest Pennant in 1966 and was also a very busy man off the field – appearing throughout the valley as a speaker and holding batting clinics for interested youth. He was again called up to the Sox at the conclusion of the ’66 season and returned as Foxes player-coach again in 1967 under Alex Cosmidis and helped bring another pennant to Goodland Field.
Back and arm problems caused Deacon to retire from the active list in 1968 and he was named minor league batting coach and assigned to scout the New York area. His travels the past five years have brought him to Appleton at least once each year to work with troubled hitters and his efforts paid off as the Foxes won a pennant in 1969 and division championships in 1971 and 1972.
Deacon’s wife – Virginia – whom he calls Tiki – and daughter Monica come to Appleton this year as a welcome addition to Fox Valley Citizenry and rest assured – he’ll be battling on the field and promoting the great game of baseball in his off time.
WELCOME BACK, DEACON!
By the way, that article from the 1973 program, was written to welcome Jones to town as the manager of the Foxes. That’s right. Jones was the first African-American manager of an Appleton Professional Baseball team.
That is a story that we will save for later this month.