According to sources close to the team, Spicer’s decision was driven in part by the money-making opportunities presented by his new gig, and no one expected his role as Jackson’s PA announcer to be permanent. However, those sources say that there was also friction between Spicer and Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.
The friction existed from the very beginning of Spicer’s tenure, when Butler reportedly pressured him to announce the attendance at Hammerheads games as higher than it really was. But matters reportedly came to a head after the trading deadline.
Although the self-proclaimed “Sultan of Swap” worked feverishly to strike a deal to improve the Hammerheads’ position, he was unable to do so. However, before that evening’s game, Butler reportedly called Spicer in a drunken rage and ordered him to introduce the team as the “first-place Jackson Hammerheads” and state that Eddie Battin would be hitting cleanup for Jackson that night. When Spicer pointed out that the Hammerheads were in third pland and Battin was still the property of the rival Knoxville Smokies, Butler told him to make the announcements anyway.
The final straw for Spicer, apparently, came when word broke that the Hammerheads were considering hiring Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci as marketing director. This was more than Spicer could bear, and he announced his resignation the next day.
Spicer declined to comment on his resignation. Butler denied any reports of friction between the two, and issued a statement wishing his former public-address man well in his new job. “I am grateful for Sean’s work on behalf of my team and the people of Jackson,” said the owner/whiz-kid GM. “I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities – just look at our great attendance numbers!”
Today, the PBL announced the creation of a new trophy: the moderately prestigious Expansion World Cup. The trophy will be open to the four teams of the expansion Class of 2016: the Carolina Comets, Kalamazoo Kazoos, Las Vegas Narwhals, and New Orleans Sazeracs. The Cup will be awarded to the expansion team that finishes with the best record. The trophy, which is made of fool’s gold, is in the shape of a hand forming the shape of an “L.” On the side, it is emblazoned with the Cup’s slogan, “Hey, At Least You Tried!” The trophy will be awarded each year until one or more of the expansion teams makes the playoffs.
“The Patriot League always encourages anything that fosters rivalry and a sense of heightened competition during the season,” said league president Colin Mills. “The expansion teams probably won’t be competing for the playoffs right away, so this is a fun and enjoyable way to give them something to compete for, and it makes the games a little more exciting.”
Mills compared the Cup to the highly prestigious Chum Bucket, “only it will be less highly prestigious, of course.” The highly prestigious Chum Bucket, which is awarded to the winner of the season series between the California Sharks and Jackson Hammerheads, is a bait bucket plated in an undisclosed but extremely shiny metal.
The Expansion World Cup was the brainchild of Sazeracs owner Jeff Wiggins. “It’s a motivation to be the best of the worst,” said Wiggins. “It gives us a trophy to fight for, since we clearly aren’t fighting for the main one.” Wiggins’ Sazeracs and the Kazoos are currently the front-runners for the Cup, although the Narwhals have been gaining ground recently.
Patriot League Commissioner Jeremiah Mills cautioned the expansion owners not to “go overboard” in the competition for the Cup, or severe fines would be assessed. “This league is all about good clean fun,” Mills said, “except when Snuff Wallace is involved.”
The Jackson Hammerheads added another famous face to their organization this week. On Saturday, the team announced that it was hiring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer to serve as their public address announcer. Spicer replaces Ricky Widmer, who left the team last month to focus on running his family’s catfish farm.
“Anyone who’s been watching the news knows that Sean was looking for a job,” said Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler. “And we had an opening over here. So I reached out to him, more or less as a joke. But to my surprise, he wrote back and expressed interest, so he came down to talk about it. A couple hours and several beers later, we had a deal.”
“Honestly, this is kind of a dream job for me,” said Spicer. “I love baseball; I grew up rooting for the Red Sox. And right now, I’m happy for a job that’s a little less stressful and lower-profile. Melissa McCarthy doesn’t go on SNL to make fun of Jackson’s PA guy. This gives me some time to get relax and think about where I want to go next.”
Butler said that he’d toyed with the idea of not announcing the hiring. “I thought about just having Sean show up and start doing it. Our fans would say to themselves, ‘Hmm, that guy sure sounds familiar.’ And then just wait to see how long it took for people to figure it out.”
Asked about the Hammerheads’ double-digit deficit in the Eastern division, Spicer grew irate. “Any statements to that effect are simply false,” he snapped at reporters. “The Jackson Hammerheads have the largest division lead any team has ever had, period, both in America and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of Hammerheads fans for the season are shameful and wrong. I fully intend to hold the press accountable for their campaign of misinformation.”
Spicer’s new job didn’t escape the attention of the president, who reacted to the news in a Sunday-morning tweetstorm. “Big step down for Sean Spicer to join the failing Jackson Hammerheads. Sad!” the president tweeted. “If he wants to make baseball great again, should have joined the Knoxville Smokies with my good friend Snuff Wallace. A great American!”
The Jackson Hammerheads are hoping for a second-half surge that will carry them to the playoffs in a competitive Eastern division. They’ve certainly got the bats to contend; their hard-hitting lineup is one of the league’s best run-producing units. But their struggling pitching staff threatens to undermine Jackson’s championship aspirations.
Looking for a spark to get their pitching staff turned around, the Hammerheads today announced the firing of pitching coach Steve Parkinson and the hiring of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson to replace him.
“I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I expect titles from this team, nothing less,” said Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler. “Our pitching staff isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, so it’s time to make a change. And if you’re going to bring in someone to teach your staff, why not have them learn from the best?”
Jackson’s pitching definitely needs some help. The Hammerheads are 8th in the league in ERA, 9th in OPS against, and 10th in WHIP. They’ve struggled both in their rotation, where lefty Kiko Walton has been the only consistently reliable arm, and the bullpen, where the team lacks depth and has struggled to identify a closer.
“Before I took this job, I asked them to send me film on all their pitchers, so I could see what I was up against,” said Johnson. “After about five minutes I had to switch it off, because it was making me sick to my stomach. These guys suck like a vacuum cleaner.”
Johnson’s credentials are beyond reproach. He won 303 games in his 22-season career, and is second on the all-time strikeouts list with 4,875. He was a ten-time All-Star and won his league’s ERA title four times.
“I could suit up right now and do a better job than any of these clowns,” said Johnson of the Hammerheads staff. “And I’m in my fifties. It’s gonna take a lot of work to whip these losers into shape. Fortunately, I could take any of them, easy.”
The Hammerheads aren’t the only Patriot League team to turn to an all-time great for pitching help. Last year, the Orlando Calrissians brought in John Smoltz (who was inducted into the Hall in 2015, the same year as Johnson) in midseason to fix their floundering staff. Smoltz didn’t work any miracles in season, but Orlando’s pitching has gotten markedly better in this campaign.
“I looked at what Orlando did under Smoltz, and I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I could make that happen here,’” said Butler. “I started thinking about who I could get, and I started reaching out to some of the retired greats. Most of them didn’t return my calls, but Randy did. He was skeptical at first, but once my check cleared, he was willing to work with us.”
“Nothing personal against Steve,” said Butler. “We wish him the best.”
Now Johnson takes on the formidable challenge of molding the Hammerheads’ ragtag group of hurlers into a winner. “I’m ready to do what it takes to take this staff to the next level,” said Johnson. “They’re obviously desperate for help, and I think I can make an impression on them. With my fists, if I have to.”
The league has announced the rosters for this year’s All-Star Game, which will take place at Rocky Top Park in Knoxville. The selections were voted on by the league’s owners. Each team has at least one All-Star representative.
The All-Star rosters can be found below (starters identified in green):
Knoxville Smokies reliever Woody Flowers is fed up. He’s endured the ups and downs of pitching life, to be sure, but he’s endured more. He’s endured an endless stream of ridicule and gendered insults from his manager, and he’s endured a demotion that he felt was entirely unearned. Now he’s had enough of his manager and his team, and on Sunday reportedly asked the Smokies organization to trade him.
“I think I’ve been a pretty reliable pitcher for this team,” said Flowers. “I’ve served in whatever role the organization has asked me to perform and I haven’t complained. But when you don’t have the trust of your manager, and when you have to put up with your manager calling you ‘pansy’ and ‘fairy’ all the time, enough is enough.”
Flowers broke in with Knoxville last year as a rookie, displaying both considerable promise and a fair amount of rookie nerves. Flowers spoke openly with reporters about his issues with nerves and anxiety, and the breathing and meditation techniques he was learning to try and overcome. Flowers’ honesty about his struggles made him a sympathetic figure to many, but not to Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.
Wallace is known for his brash and abrasive style, and according to team sources, he is notorious for picking on players who he sees as weak. Flowers’ early jitters and his willingness to discuss them made him a target for the manager’s abuse. Both publicly and privately, Wallace regularly insulted Flowers and questioned his manhood, calling him “that scrawny little fairy” and regularly humiliating him in front of the team. Wallace apparently felt that the insults would toughen Flowers up, but the insults had the opposite effect on the sensitive lefty. Flowers reportedly asked the front office to deal him at last year’s trading deadline, but they declined.
Flowers finished the 2015 season with decent but not spectacular numbers (9-11, 4.36 ERA, .781 OPS against). “Not bad for a rookie,” said Flowers of his performance, “especially for one who was being bullied by his manager all season.”
Flowers came to camp this season expecting to start, but Wallace had other ideas. He told Flowers that he planned to use him in long relief, and that if he went “snitching” to reporters, Wallace would demote Flowers to mop-up duty. The lefty was unhappy with the decision, but accepted it without public comment. In fact, he has thrived in the role; he has yet to allow an earned run this season.
Despite his solid play, Wallace has refused to consider returning Flowers to the rotation. When left-hander Rick Tomblin was demoted after a poor start, Wallace bypassed his long man in favor of rookie Ben DeKok. When DeKok suffered a lat strain that is projected to keep him out for a month, Wallace again ignored Flowers and promoting hard-throwing but wild project Yamil Garizabalo. Garizabalo flamed out in his first appearance Saturday, allowing five runs in only 2 innings. Flowers followed him and tossed 4 scoreless frames in relief.
After the game, Flowers asked Wallace if he would be given a chance to start. According to Flowers, the manager told him, “I wouldn’t start a little [expletive] like you as long as I have hair on my [expletive].” This was the last straw for Flowers, who went public with his trade demand.
“I’m tired of being abused,” Flowers told reporters. “And I don’t want to play where I’m not respected.” Flowers said that he’d prefer to be dealt to a team that would allow him to start “but honestly, I’ll go anywhere if it gets me away from Snuff.”
Wallace’s response to the trade demand? “That’s the manliest thing he’s done his whole damn career,” the manager said. “Nice to see Woody showing some balls for once.” Asked his opinion of the demand, Wallace replied, “I don’t give a [expletive] if he stays or goes. That’s not my decision, anyway, it’s up to [owner/GM Jeremy] Mills. But I’m not gonna shed any tears if he’s gone. He’s right: I don’t respect him.”
The Smokies front office declined to comment on the matter.
The Jackson Hammerheads‘ patience closer with troubled closer Rick Sheen has finally reached its limit. After a season-plus of shaky on-field results and off-field problems with alcohol, Sheen has been bumped from the closer role. According to team sources, manager Bob Henley has been contemplating the move for a while, but finally pulled the trigger after an embarrassing incident in yesterday’s game.
Sheen worked the 9th inning of yesterday’s 4-1 win over Orlando, but observers noticed that for some reason, he was wearing teammate Hilton Sircy’s jersey while he did so. Henley refused to comment on it after the game, but team sources described a chaotic and bizarre scene.
The night before, Henley had called on Sircy, not Sheen, in a key situation in the 9th. As a result, Sheen went out and drowned his frustrations at a local bar for hours afterward. When Sheen arrived at the ballpark yesterday, he was reportedly extremely hung over. In the early innings of the games, he napped in the bullpen, trying to sleep off his hangover.
During the top of the 9th, Henley called down to the bullpen and ordered Sheen to warm up. Bullpen coach Tommy Clemons went over to rouse Sheen, who had dozed off. When Sheen came to, he immediately threw up all over his jersey. A flustered Clemons called Henley and told him that Sheen was unavailable. When Henley asked why and Clemons said that Sheen was hungover, the manager became furious. “He damn well better get his [expletive] in the game. I don’t care if you have to carry him in.”
To spare Sheen the embarrassment of appearing in a stained jersey, Sircy offered his shirt to the closer. So out came Sheen, wearing Sircy’s jersey. To his credit, he managed to pitch a scoreless inning – lowering his ERA to 9.26, and collect his fourth save of the season. After the game, Henley held a closed-door meeting with Sheen that lasted over a half-hour.
Trouble with alcohol has been a constant of Sheen’s brief career, dating back to spring training of his rookie season, when he was arrested after being in a bar fight. He clashed on several occasions with the late Lou Hayes, Jackson’s manager last season, over his penchant for drinking and partying. At the team’s insistence, Sheen went to the Betty Ford Clinic in the offseason. But as his season got off to a rocky start, he took to the bottle again.
“Look, I like Rick,” said Henley. “I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. But I’ve got a ballclub to run, and we’ve got to win games. And right now, Rick’s not helping us do that.”
Henley said that Bobby Boniface will take over as the Hammerheads’ closer. Sheen will be relegated to mopup duty until he can straighten out his pitching and get his drinking under control.
To soften the blow, Henley and Jackson owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler reportedly took Sheen out for an evening on the town, enjoying a fine meal and a night of gambling at the casino attached to Orlando’s stadium. “Rick may not be our closer any more, but he’s still part of the family,” said Butler. Rumors that the evening came to a premature end when the owner/whiz-kid GM took a swing at another patron are unconfirmed.
As the New Orleans Sazeracs were being slaughtered 20-2 by the last-place Jackson Hammerheads on Monday, a thought formed in the minds of owner/GM Jeff Wiggins and manager George Knox: enough is enough. Although the Sazeracs are off to a solid start for an expansion team, hovering around the .500 mark, several players have clearly struggled, and rumors of a breakdown in team discipline are rampant. In the weak of their humiliating defeat, Wiggins and Knox made a major roster shakeup, demoting some underperformers and trying to get the team’s party-hearty culture under control.
“Overall, I’m happy with how our team’s performed so far,” said Wiggins. “But there’s a handful of guys who aren’t performing up to what we expect, and some guys who are clearly more focused on partying than playing. That doesn’t fly around here.”
Topping the list of demotions was starter Norm “Rattler” LaForce, who started the infamous Monday game. LaForce allowed eight runs over 4 1/3 innings, which put him at 0-3 with a 13.21 ERA on the season. Worse yet, according to team sources, LaForce is one of the heaviest partiers on the team, regularly staying until closing time at the bars and clubs of the Big Easy.
Knox confirmed that the team has ordered LaForce to enter alcohol rehab before he reports to the minors. “On the field, Norm wasn’t getting it done. But it’s off the field where we’ve been really worried about him. New Orleans is a city full of temptation, and Norm has been enjoying it a little too much. Can’t have him doing that anymore.”
LaForce denied that he had a problem with alcohol. “That’s a bunch of crap,” he told reporters. “I’m sure as hell not the only guy on this team who spends time hanging out on Bourbon Street. But I’ve had a bad start to the year, so it was easy to make an example of me. It sucks being the scapegoat.”
Taking LaForce’s slot in the rotation will be left-hander Zeke Foster. The 24-year-old Foster pitched out of the bullpen for Silver City last year, where he compiled a 4.91 ERA over 24 appearances.
New Orleans also sent down a pair of relievers, lefty Hal Gilreath and righty Barrett Turbeville. Both of them appeared in the infamous 20-2 beatdown, and both have struggled mightily this year. Gilreath’s ERA sat at 11.00 at the time of his demotion, while Turbeville’s sat at 8.22. Both of them also were reportedly among the clique of hard partiers on the team, although neither was nearly as much of a problem as LaForce. Neither Gilreath nor Turbeville have been ordered to go to rehab.
Taking their slots in the bullpen are a pair of right-handers, Jon Esquibel and Bradley Slinger. Esquibel, a 21-year-old rookie out of Idaho A&M, is a hard thrower with a reputation for being somewhat homer-prone. Slinger, 25, pitched in Jackson last year and went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA before going down in August with a partially-torn rotator cuff. He managed to avoid surgery, strengthening his arm through rehab.
According to Knox, Esquibel is expected to take on Turbeville’s late-inning duties, while Slinger is likely to see work as a long man.
In addition to shaking up the pitching staff, the Sazeracs also made a change in the backup catcher role, sending down Dave Chavez and calling up Dustin Gould. Chavez has a reputation as a strong defender, but he looked utterly overmatched at the plate, going 1-for-12 during his brief time with New Orleans. Knox confirmed that Chavez was being sent down solely for performance reasons, and that the team was not concerned with his extracurricular activities.
Wiggins noted that further changes could be coming, especially if certain team members don’t curtail their nightlife activities. “I don’t mind guys going out and having fun,” the owner said. “That’s what New Orleans is all about. But when it gets out of control and starts affecting your performance on the field, that’s when I mind. Hopefully everybody got the message.”
The Jackson Hammerheads never expected to find themselves here. After finishing a strong second in the East last season, Jackson owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler made a series of aggressive trades designed to propel them to the top. Instead, after a dreadful first couple of weeks, the Hammerheads are stuck in the cellar with a 5-10 record.
Worse yet, the biggest problem plaguing Jackson is the same issue that derailed them last year: the pitching staff. The Hammerheads’ 6.14 team ERA is the worst in the league by a healthy margin. The rotation has posted a dismal 6.83 mark; only first-year man Willie Lebron has inspired confidence. And the bullpen has been responsible for a surge in ulcers around central Mississippi after a string of late-inning meltdowns.
Manager Bob Henley has seen enough. Today, the skipper announced a shakeup of his pitching staff.
“When you got the kind of talent we’ve got, this kind of start just ain’t acceptable,” said Henley. “We’re not performing, so I’m making some changes. And I’ll keep making changes until we get this right.”
In order to fix the rotation, Henley demoted Korean lefty Yu Chen to the bullpen and made righty Tony Harris a starter. Chen was acquired from Knoxville in the middle of last season and turned in underwhelming numbers. This season, he’s been even worse, going 0-1 with a 10.95 ERA and barely averaging 4 innings per start. The 37-year-old Harris, acquired from Jacksonville shortly before the start of this season, has excelled in long-relief work, posting a 1.35 ERA in 7 appearances.
“What I’ve seen out of Tony is a guy who get the job done and inspires confidence,” said Henley. “I’m not seeing that same confidence in Yu. In my clubhouse, you do the job and you get rewarded. Tony’s earned a chance to show us what he can do.”
To address the relief problems, Henley sent Butch Turnbull to the minors. The hard-throwing right-hander has appeared frequently in late-game situations, making 9 appearances already in the young season. Unfortunately, he’s struggled badly, going 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA.
“I’ve given Butch plenty of rope, and he’s made a noose out of it,” said Henley. “I’ve seen enough.”
Turnbull’s roster spot will be given to DH Dexter Jester. His late-inning duties will be turned over to righty Bobby Boniface and lefties Hilton Sircy and Sam Drawdy.
A furious Turnbull responded to the move by demanding a trade. “I don’t know what they want me to do here,” the righty fumed. “Last year, I practically had to beg to get into games. This year, they run me out there every night. I don’t know if they’re trying to ruin me or what, but I’m sick of it. I want to go to a team that will just let me pitch and quit jerking me around.”
Henley hopes the moves will put other struggling pitchers on notice. Henley did not demote closer Rick Sheen, who’s blown 2 of 4 save opportunities and is allowing a 1.381 OPS against, or #1 starter Henry Jones, who’s gone 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA on the season. But he stressed that no one, regardless of salary or reputation, is safe.
“Now they know I’m serious,” said Henley. “If you don’t do your job, you’re gonna spend some time on the bench or in the minors. No excuses.”
Leaked information from inside the clubhouse suggested that Henley is contemplating replacing Sheen as closer with Boniface; the manager said only, “Everything’s on the table if we don’t get better.”
In his role as owner/whiz-kid GM of the Jackson Hammerheads, Steven Butler has made two things clear: he loves putting on a show, and he hates the rival Knoxville Smokies. Those two threads came together in spectacular fashion this weekend. The Heads had their home opener against the Smokies on Saturday, and Butler marked the occasion by overseeing a wild, over-the-top opening ceremony that left some of the Smokies seeing red.
The controversy began in fittingly strange fashion. Shortly before the season began, Jackson acquired CF Santiago Suarez from the California Sharks. The trade seemed to surprise Smokies owner Jeremy Mills, who had called Suarez a “hometown hero” and predicted that he would never be dealt. Mills also appeared irked that Butler dubbed himself the “Sultan of Swap” in the wake of the Suarez trade; the Smokies owner is also known as a frequent trader. Mills’ comments were innocuous enough, but Butler spied an opportunity to stoke the rivalry with his foes from Tennessee.
Butler announced that he would hold a “Hero’s Welcome” ceremony to greet Suarez during Jackson’s home opener, which just happened to be against Knoxville. Asked what the ceremony would entail, the whiz-kid GM was tight-lipped on the details, but said that it was a ceremony that the Smokies and the fans “would never forget.”
On Saturday, everyone got to see what Butler had planned. Just before the teams were due to be introduced, the lights at Cash Carter Downs went out. The fans initially believed it was a blackout, but that suspicion was soon dispelled as colored searchlights began sweeping the field. As the lights came back up, the strains of James Brown’s “Living in America” began to throb over the PA system.
As the fans began to clap along with the song, the center-field gate opened and a group of male dancers clad in sparkly bodysuits and hats paraded onto the field. While the fans laughed and cheered, the visiting Smokies looked around in bewilderment. The male dancers were then joined by a group of women dressed like old-fashioned Vegas showgirls, and the crowd erupted with delight.
The spectacle became even more spectacular as the Hammerheads’ ground crew ran onto the field waving giant American flags and a pair of WWI-era biplanes flew over the stadium.
Just when it seemed like the ceremony couldn’t get any crazier, the fans suddenly spotted Butler and Suarez descending from the roof of the stadium on a platform containing a golden shark head with glowing red eyes, with flames shooting upward from the corners. As the pair came into view, the crowd saw that the owner/whiz-kid GM was clad in an Uncle Sam hat, an American-flag tailcoat, and star-spangled shorts. Butler danced frantically along with the music while Suarez, wearing his uniform with an American flag draped over his shoulders, smiled and waved to the crowd.
The platform came to rest on the field, and Suarez jogged to his position in center field and acknowledged the roars of the fans. Butler lit a pair of sparklers and sprinted along the warning track, high-fiving fans as he passed. Meanwhile, a brass band wearing Hammerheads-blue tuxedos marched onto the field, adding to the general mayhem.
The Hammerheads’ in-game entertainment crew fired Jackson T-shirts with Suarez’s autograph out of a cannon and into the crowd. Butler, meanwhile, ran to the mound and thrust up his arms, whereupon two bald eagles came screaming out of the sky and landed on his shoulders.
Finally, as the song came to an end, Butler collapsed to his knees, and a team employee ran out and threw a flag cape over his shoulders before escorting him off through the home dugout. In the ensuing pandemonium, several fans rushed on the field; others threw beer cups, coins, and hot-dog wrappers at the Smokies. Irate Knoxville manager Snuff Wallace raced after head umpire Trent Capps to demand a forfeit, a demand the umpire refused to grant. It was almost 45 minutes before order could be restored and the game could begin.
After the game, a 6-3 Knoxville win, Wallace began his post-game press conference with a stream of obscenities directed at Butler, Suarez, and the Hammerheads. “Damn fools can’t beat us, so they’re out here trying to start a [expletive] riot,” fumed the Smokies skipper. “Is this a [expletive] ballgame or the [expletive] circus? Well, you can [expletive] well believe that they sure as [expletive] fired us up to win this game and kick the [expletive] out of them. And you [expletive] well believe this [expletive] ain’t [expletive] over. Me and Mr. Mills both got a [expletive] memory like a [expletive] elephant, and we’re good and hell well going to get our [expletive] revenge for this [expletive] show.”
The league has not announced plans to discipline Butler or the Hammerheads for their actions.
When the whiz-kid GM was asked about the incident, he only smiled. “I know I had a good time,” said Butler. “Didn’t you?”