Tuesday, October 30, 2018

MLB Pitchers from Louisiana

          Last week, we began our look at Major League Baseball players from Louisiana. We started by looking at hitters and we’re going to conclude our examination this week by looking at pitchers. Instead of just listing some cool facts about the players, we’re going to do things a little differently this week. We’re going to build a pitching staff consisting of Louisiana pitchers--five starters and three relievers. Let's get to it.  

The Starting Rotation 

Ted Lyons
Lake Charles
Andy Pettitte 
Baton Rouge
Chuck Finley
Ron Guidry
Vida Blue

            At the top of our all-Louisiana rotation we have Ted “Sunday Teddy” Lyons. Born in 1900 in Lake Charles, Lyons played his entire 21 year career for the Chicago White Sox of the American League. Lyons is the White Sox career leader in wins and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. 

            Throughout his career with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, Andy Pettitte won five World Series titles with the Yankees and is the MLB all-time career leader in postseason wins with 19. He made three All-Star teams and had his number 46 retired by New York in 2015. In 2008, Pettitte admitted to using HGH, a performance enhancing drug, after being named in the Mitchell Report, MLB’s investigation into steroid use in baseball. 

            A native of Monroe, Chuck Finley spent the bulk of his career pitching for the then-California Angels. A powerful left-handed starter, Finley played his college baseball at Louisiana Tech in Ruston and then at Northeast Louisiana University (now UL-Monroe). The Angels drafted him in the first round of the 1985 amateur draft. Throughout his lengthy career, Finley won 200 games, struck out 2,610 hitters, and is the Angels career leader in wins, innings pitched, and games started. 

Ron Guidry on the mound 

            Louisiana seems to be particularly adept at developing left-handed starters. Ron Guidry, like Pettitte, pitched the bulk of his career for the New York Yankees. Nicknamed “Louisiana Lightning” Guidry attended UL-Lafayette and was drafted by the Yankees in 1971. Guidry won the American League Cy Young Award in 1978 as he anchored a Yankees pitching staff that won its second consecutive World Series. Guidry pitched for the Yankees until he retired in 1985 and had a brief run as the Yankees pitching coach from 2006-2007. 

            Rounding out the rotation is one of baseball’s best players—at least by name—Vida Blue. The Mansfield, Louisiana native played high school football and baseball. During his senior season he threw for 3,400 yards and 35 touchdowns. He also added another 1,400 yards on the ground. As a pitcher, Blue threw a no-hitter and struck out every batter he faced in a 7 inning game. He signed a deal with Oakland A’s after completing high school. In 1971, Blue accomplished the rare feat of winning both the AL Cy Young Award—given to the best pitcher—and the AL Most Valuable Player award. During his career with the A’s, Blue won three World Series and had a contentious relationship with A’s owner Charlie Finley, who routinely got in contract disputes with his players and even sued the commissioner of baseball. 


Lee Smith
Jonathan Papelbon
Baton Rouge
B.J. Ryan
Bossier City

            Lee Smith had a 17 year career where he played for eight teams. He grew up in Jamestown, a small town in North Louisiana, and the Cubs drafted him in 1975. The six foot six inch, 265 pound pitcher was an intimidating presence on the mound as he routinely threw his fastball at 95 miles per hour. He played on 7 All-Star teams, won the Rolaids Relief Man Award three times, and led the league in saves four times. From 1993-2006, Smith was the all-time leader in saves. 

Papelbon liked to yell at people--umpires included
            Jonathan Papelbon, a Baton Rouge native, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 4thround of the 2003 draft. He reached the majors in 2005 and played for the Red Sox until 2011. During his time in Boston, Papelbon paired a dominant fastball and off-speed pitch to become an effective closer. He also developed a reputation as a jerk. After winning the World Series in 2007, he gave the World Series clinching ball to his dog—who ate it. Later in his career, he intentionally threw at hitters and got into fights with his teammates in the dugout. 

            B.J. Ryan began his career as a left-handed specialist for the Cincinnati Reds. He initially struggled against right-handed hitters relegating him to a short outings against left-handed batters. Over his career, Ryan gained better control over his pitches. Relying on a slider and fastball and a three-quarters slot delivery, Ryan pieced together a string of dominant seasons out of the bullpen. In his ten year career, Ryan pitched for the Reds, Baltimore Orioles, and Toronto Blue Jays.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Major League Baseball Players from Louisiana: Hitters

            The World Series begins tonight with the Los Angeles Dodgers facing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston. The Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988 and Boston won most recently in 2013. The matchup involves two of the oldest teams in Major League Baseball: the Dodgers were founded in 1883 in Brooklyn and the Red Sox were established in 1901. The Red Sox have won eight World Series titles and the Dodgers have won six. Both teams led their respective leagues in runs scored. Both have outstanding left-handed starters—Chris Sale for Boston, Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers. The Red Sox beat a 100-win Yankees team and 103-win Astros team to reach the Series. The Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers. 

            Looking for a local angle for the World Series, we looked over the rosters of the Red Sox and Dodgers and found that neither team had a player from Louisiana. Neither team even had a player who attended LSU or another Louisiana institution of higher education. So instead, let’s take a look at famous baseball players from Louisiana. This week we’ll look at hitters and next week we’ll come back and take a look at some famous pitchers.

            Let’s start with some general facts before delving into the background of the some of the players: 

·     There have been 256 players from Louisiana who have taken an at-bat in Major League Baseball.  

·     The first two players: John Peters and Dan Collins played in 1874. 

·     Fourteen players from Louisiana took an at-bat in the majors in 2018. 

·     Over the course of baseball history, 71 players from New Orleans have made the majors. 

·     Shreveport is second with 26. Baton Rouge has sent 18 players, followed by 12 from Lafayette and 11 from Lake Charles. 

Mel Ott is the career leader in wins among replacement (WAR) by a player from Louisiana. His 107.8 career WAR rank 22nd all time. Born in Gretna, Louisiana in 1909, Ott made his first appearance for the New York Giants in 1926. He batted left-handed and threw right-handed. In his career, Ott made eleven consecutive All-Star teams and was the first National League player to reach 500 career home runs. For his career, Ott had a .304 batting average, .414 on-base percentage, and .533 slugging percentage. His 511 home runs rank 25thall time. He retired in 1947 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951.   

Albert Belle and his corked bat 

Now let’s look at some other standout players from Louisiana. 

·     Tommy Harper, a speedy outfielder from Oak Grove, led the league in stolen bases in 1969 and 1973 with 73 and 54 steals. 

·     Albert Belle, a power hitting outfielder from Shreveport, hit 381 home runs in his eleven year career. In 1994, Belle was suspended for using a corked bat (corking a bat is a process of stuffing the inside of a bat with cork or a lighter substance than is allowed by the rules. Corking a bat makes it lighter and easier to swing.) Belle then convinced a teammate, Jason Grimsley, to climb through a ceiling panel in order to steal his corked bat out of the umpires’ dressing room and swap it with a different one. Belle had a reputation for destroying clubhouse equipment and being rude to teammates and the media. 

·     Former MLB shortstop and New Orleans native Ron Washington managed the Texas Rangers from 2007-2014. In 2010 and 2011, Washington led the Rangers to the World Series, but lost to the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals. He was only the third African American manager to lead a team to the World Series. His 664 career wins are the most in Rangers history. 

Next week, we’ll finish up our look at Louisiana’s baseball history by looking at some famous pitchers. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The History of Bananas Foster

Bananas Foster 

            Bananas Foster is emblematic of New Orleans. The dish is a combination of New Orleans' long history as a port city and its culinary ingenuity. The famous dessert consists of bananas and vanilla ice cream accompanied by a sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The butter, sugar, and bananas are sautéed in a pan. Then the alcohol is added and ignited. The bananas and sauce are then put into a serving vessel and served with vanilla ice cream. The ignition of the alcohol, known as a flambé, comes from the heated alcohol vapors and burns off the alcohol in the dish while leaving behind a slightly burnt flavor. The flambé is an attractive table-side presentation at New Orleans restaurants, including Brennan’s, where the dish originated. 

            Ella Brennan, the famed New Orleans restauranteur who was managing Brennan’s Restaurant in 1951, created the famous dessert on a whim. The restaurant’s owner, Owen Brennan, was hosting a dinner in honor of Richard Foster, the chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission. As a result, Owen told Ella to whip up a new dessert for their honored guest. She ran back into the kitchen and grabbed some bananas that were laying around. Inspired by a caramelized banana dish her mother would make for breakfast, Ella sautéed the bananas in a pan. Also inspired by the Baked Alaska at nearby Antoine’s, Ella decided to flambé the bananas. The dessert was a hit that night and has been on the menu at Brennan’s ever since.  

Flambé at work 

            It is fitting that Ella Brennan selected bananas as the centerpiece of her new dessert. The banana has a long and troubled history in New Orleans. Bananas were not always America’s favorite fruit. Until the 1870s, fresh fruit was difficult to come by. America lacked the infrastructure to move fresh fruit around the country before it spoiled. By the late 1800s, however, the growth of railroads, refrigerated railroad cars, and genetic engineering led to fruit to become a staple of the American diet. New Orleans was at the center of the burgeoning fruit industry. As a large port on the Gulf of Mexico, the Crescent City was the quickest entry for fruit into the United States. Big fruit companies like Standard Fruit and Cuyamel Fruit Company set up their headquarters in New Orleans. 

            Samuel Zemurray, president of Cuyamel, was the driving force of the banana industry in New Orleans. Zemurray began his career by seizing upon the untapped potential in the banana market—ripe bananas. As the banana market in New Orleans grew, importers discarded ripe bananas, fearing that they would spoil before they reached markets across the country. Zemurray saw an opportunity; he bought up the ripe bananas, arranged a delivery deal with a local railroad, and made a fortune. Zemurray soon bought banana plantations, banana boats, and anything and everything related to banana production. His Cuyamel company quickly became one of the nation’s largest and most powerful companies. 

Sam the Banana Man 

            Zemurray’s activities at Cuyamel and later when he ran the United Fruit Company reveal the dark side of the banana business and its history in New Orleans. Workers in New Orleans and on banana plantations in Latin America faced brutal working conditions. Because of the time sensitive nature of harvesting, laborers worked long hours for little pay. They suffered from tropical diseases and were regularly exposed to harmful pesticides. Banana farming also drained the land of nutrients and brought in new destructive fungi, leading banana companies to buy up and discard greater and greater amounts of land. It also angered locals who saw more and more of their land handed over to big corporations and subsequently destroyed. Additionally, Zemurray routinely paid off local governments, seized land from natives, and engaged in other morally questionable business practices. 

            In 1910, Miguel Dávila came to power in Honduras. He had promised that Honduran people that he would make banana companies like Cuyamel pay their fair share of taxes. For years, companies like Cuyamel, exported bananas and other natural resources from Honduras without paying any taxes. Success in the volatile banana business, Zemurray argued, relied on bribes and kickbacks to the Honduran government, keeping the cost of business low and the profit margins high. As a result, the Honduran government had to borrow large sums of money from American banks. Dávila negotiated a treaty with the United States that would place agents of the J.P. Morgan company in Honduran customs houses, collecting taxes that would pay off Honduras’s debts. 

Workers unloading bananas

            Zemurray, not wanting to pay taxes and fearing the loss of his business, decided to orchestrate a coup against Dávila, led by former president Manuel Bonilla. He provided guns, money, and even bought and outfitted a decommissioned US Naval warship.  Secretary of State Philander Knox warned Zemurray not to interfere in Honduras, but Zemurray proceeded with the coup anyway. When Bonilla came to power, he voided the deal with the U.S., protected Zemurray’s interests, and threw Honduras back into crippling debt. 

            Zemurray did all of this for control of the banana market. Who knew such a little fruit could have such lasting consequences? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

New NOLA Airport Terminal

            Louis Armstrong International Airport is … not great. For as much as New Orleans prides itself and relies on tourism, the city’s airport offers an underwhelming welcome to visitors to the Crescent City. 

            The Louis Armstrong International Airport began commercial service in May 1946 under the name Moisant Field. The airport was named after a daredevil pilot, John Moisant, who died in 1910 in a plane crash on the land that later became the airport. In 1959, a new terminal building replaced the large airplane hangar that served as the terminal. This 1959 construction serves as the shell of the current terminal building. In 1974, the airport renovated and opened Concourses A (now closed) and B. Concourse C opened in 1992 and was renovated in 2007. Concourse D opened in 1996 and was expanded in 2011. Following Hurricane Katrina, the airport underwent extensive renovations as New Orleans sought to bring the tourist trade back to the city. Further renovations added a new rental car facility and upgraded the terminal’s interior as part of the city’s bid to host of the Super Bowl in 2013. 

            Even with the renovations, the airport has suffered from some serious issues. For one thing, there is no place to eat in the airport. Post 9-11, major airports like Dallas-Fort Worth, LAX, Houston, and Atlanta have made concerted efforts to improve the quality of food and amenities inside their airports. In its recommendations for dining at Armstrong, Eaterhas lengthy list of places within 20 minute drive but few within the airport itself. Next May, however, the food options should improve at Louis Armstrong. On May 15, 2019, the airport will open its new terminal that has been under construction since 2013. It will feature new dining options from New Orleans chefs Leah Chase, Susan Spicer, and Emeril Lagasse. 

            The new terminal will be the capstone to an unprecedented decade for the New Orleans airport. Four out of every five passengers who come into or out of Louisiana fly through Armstrong. In recent years, the airport has added two direct flights to Europe: to London on British Airways and to Frankfurt on Condor. Airport traffic has increased by over 60% making Armstrong the third fastest growing airport in the country. The new terminal will be the first complete terminal replacement at an American airport since Indianapolis in 2008. The airport had a record number of passengers in 2017, over 12 million, nearly double the post-Katrina low of 6.2 million in 2006. 

            The airport was the centerpiece of former mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. In 2011, Landrieu began agitating for a new airport. His efforts followed 30 years of failed alternatives that included constructing a new airport on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, building a new airport in New Orleans East, renovating the current terminal, and a host of other proposals. The airport board hired a consulting firm that studied four different options: refurbishing the current terminal for the cost of $595 million, or building a new terminal in three different locations: on the site of the current one, west of the existing terminal, or north. Landrieu and the airport board settled on the fourth option, constructing a new terminal north of the current one for $650 million. They settled on the northern option due to its proximity to Interstate 10. This massive financial outlay came in spite of the fact that the airport had just spent $300 million renovating the existing terminal as part of its bid to host the Super Bowl in February 2013. 

            That wasn’t the only issue that arose during the airport construction. The cost of the project, originally estimated at $650 million, has ballooned to $1.3 billion. The cost overruns came from several areas. First, the original design of the terminal was too small. The airport board decided to add five more gates in anticipation of growing demand causing the cost to spike. Interstate flyovers, that would take traffic directly from the interstate to the airport, had not been factored into the original cost, adding an additional $150 million at minimum. Shifting soils necessitated the construction of new sewages pipes and pushed the opening of the terminal from 2018 to 2019. The new long-term parking lot will also not be ready by the time the airport opens meaning that shuttle services will have to transport passengers to and from the lot. Rental car services will also rely on shuttles. Currently, the rental car facility is in walking distance of the terminal. This will not be the case in 2019 with the new terminal. 

Additionally, the new flyovers have not been built yet and won’t be ready until 2023 at the earliest. This was the result of poor planning by the airport board as they did not factor traffic into their original plans for the new terminal. So when the new terminal opens, passengers arriving on I-10 from New Orleans will have to make their way through three traffic lights on the heavily congested Loyola Drive. Passengers coming from Baton Rouge will have to navigate two stoplights and an already congested off-ramp. The current flyovers take only five minutes from the interstate to the airport. Until the new ones are constructed, it will take a lot longer. 

At a ceremony marking the construction of the new terminal, Landrieu promised that the airport “will be the economic engine that drives the future.” Whether that is in 2019, 2023, or sometime later remains to be seen. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Saints Quarter-Season Check-In

The Saints season is going well

            After four games, the New Orleans Saints have a record of 3-1. They have a half game lead over the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South. Since the Saints are a quarter of their way through the season, we thought it would be a good time to check in with how their season has gone so far. We’ll be looking at three numbers to be excited about for the rest of the season and two numbers that should concern Saints fans. 

Three Numbers to Get Excited About 


            According to Football Outsiders, the Saints have a 66.9% chance of making the playoffs after four weeks. That is the fifth highest percentage in the NFL, behind the Rams, Chiefs, Bears, and Ravens. Football Outsiders also gives New Orleans a 5.3% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Currently the Saints are third in the NFC behind the undefeated Rams and the 3-1 Bears. The NFC South is always a competitive division, but the Falcons are 1-3 after two close losses and the Buccaneers have lost two games in a row after beating the Saints and Super Bowl champion Eagles to open up the season. The Panthers have already lost to the Falcons and barely beat the Cowboys. The road to the playoffs is open for the Saints. 


            Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown 44 passes to wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas has caught an NFL-leading 42 of those passes for a 95.5% catch rate. He is averaging 11.3 yards per game and 10.5 yards per reception. Thomas has already amassed 445 yards in just four games, putting him on track for nearly 1,800 yards receiving. With quarterback Drew Brees completing 75.8% of his passes with 8 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, Thomas should get plenty more opportunities as the season goes on. 


            2018 is just like any other season in the history of the Drew Brees-Sean Payton partnership. The Saints are second in the NFL with 137 offensive points, only three behind the league leading Rams. New Orleans is averaging 34.3 points per game. Week Two’s game against the Browns was the only game where the Saints did not score 30 points. Running back Alvin Kamara has 661 yards from scrimmage over the first four games with six touchdowns. Kamara is averaging 68.8 yards on the ground and 84 yards through air per game. With the return of Mark Ingram next week, there’s little reason to suspect that the Saints offense will slow down anytime soon. 

Age 39 and Brees is cruising along 

Two Numbers to Be Concerned About 


            While the Saints have scored 137 points, they’ve also allowed their opponents to score 121 points, 4thworst in the league. Opposing teams have averaged 30.3 points per game. And, apart from the Falcons, the Saints have not exactly faced a murderer’s row of offenses. Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and the Giants are not anyone’s idea of the best offenses in the NFL. And the future does not bode well as the Saints have the Vikings, Rams, Bengals, Eagles, and Falcons in a five week stretch coming up. Unless the defense takes a dramatic step forward, New Orleans could be in trouble. 


            The New Orleans defense has allowed opponents to convert 45.7% of their third downs—fifth worst in the NFL. This is part of a larger trend of the Saints defense being unable to force opponent’s offenses off the field. They’ve allowed 39.26 yards per drive, 3rdworst in the league. And most troublingly, New Orleans has struggled to create turnovers. So far this season, they’re last in the league in creating turnovers. Last season, the Saints ranked 9thin the NFL. This inability to create turnovers or stop opponents on third down has given opponents more opportunities to score and has put more pressure on the offense to keep scoring.