Play Ball
Looking back and looking ahead at the Legends
By Clayton Shane Navistar

Photo by Chelsea Hansing, Lexington Legends Baseball

A baseball writer is a turfwriter without binoculars. -Old sports saying|

For many years, most people regarded Lexington as basically a two-sport town: horse racing and basketball.

That assessment held true until 2001 when they got a third show in town, and it was something: a record-setting, championship baseball team in its first start out of the gate. More than living up to their name in 2001 in thought, word, and deed, the all-new Lexington Legends-one of several lone-A clubs operated by the Houston Astros-were to a baseball fan what Keeneland is to a racefan and Rupp Arena is to UK basketball fan. It was all part of a spectacular season that saw the Astros named as Organization of the Year by Baseball Weekly, Topps, Baseball America, and Sports Ticker.

Here's a look at that memorable 2001 season, based on a montage of 31 Legends games during Minor League Baseball's Centennial campaign (including all three post-season home victories). It comes complete with racetrack-baseball terms; two sets of 2001 highlights; the Legends most unusual 2001 baseball story (which was missed by all); remarkable 2001 records, numbers, and statistics; five Legends baseball tips; and historical statistics on Lexington's minor-league baseball teams dating back to its 1908 inaugural minor-league season.

What's in a name?

If there's one thing more colorful than the game of baseball, along with Thoroughbred Racing (one of this country's two oldest organized sports), it is the language of baseball. No question about it. In its 130-year-plus existence, professional baseball has utilized a variety of sources including famous people, mechanical and military apparatuses, railroad and nautical terms, food, medicine, animals, geography, anatomy, and mythology to produce a remarkable body of language.

Another principal source for baseball's lingo has been Thoroughbred Racing. Once called "The Sport Of Kings" because of its exclusivity that, several centuries ago saw only royalty and nobility as the participants, Thoroughbred Racing-today known as "The King Of Sports"-has enriched baseball with two major terms.

One of them is "shut out." When a pitcher "shuts out" a team, a phrase dating back to the 1870s according to several sources, he prevents them from scoring a run, much like the racefan who fails to pick even one winner during a day at the racetrack. The racetrack version also refers to a bettor who doesn't get his last-minute bet down in time.

The other is "charley horse," which describes a muscle strain, and it has one of the most interesting historical background of any word or phrase in baseball's lexicon. Most historians and etymologists attribute the phrase to a mid-17th century English king, Charles I, who habitually palmed off his aging guard horses ("Charleys") onto the London police force. In time, the broken-down horses picked up the tag of "old Charleys." The moniker was later taken over by baseball, whose parks once utilized the services of old horses. If a ballplayer was seen limping around, he was likened to the old horses and said to have a "charley horse."

Other historians, however, say that the phrase came into popular usage courtesy of Billy Sunday, a late 19th century Chicago National League ballplayer who later became a nationally-known evangelist. Sunday supposedly coined the phrase in 1886 following a trip to a Chicago racetrack, where he and his band of teammates bet on a horse named Charley who went lame during a race and finished last. The next day, teammate George Gore was denied an easy inside-the-park home run after pulling a muscle rounding second. As Gore limped into third, Sunday cried: "Here comes that Charley horse!"

One prominent baseball language writer, though, credits the popularization to one of Sunday's teammates-Joe Quest, an apprentice in a machine shop partnered by his father before he entered the majors. Quest, as did his teammates, suffered a tightness of the legs occasionally. Because no one had a name for it, Quest called it a "charley horse" after his father's horse, Charley, who had suffered leg injuries from constantly pulling heavy loads.


Left fielder Jon Topolski led the league in RBIs (96), hits (158), and runs scored (98). Second in extra-base hits (58) to teammate Felix Escalona. Fifth in home runs (24).

Shortstop Tommy Whiteman second in batting average (.319), bettered only by Rene Keyes (.322) of Asheville. Whiteman led in slugging percentage (.566).

Right fielder Mike Hill was sixth in batting average (.305).

Second baseman Felix Escalona led the league in doubles (42) as well as extra-base hits (60); third in runs scored (92) and hits (155).

Third-baseman Ramon German was runner-up to Topolski in RBIs (93), third in doubles (37), and fifth in extra-base hits (53).

The Lexington Legends had four double-digit winning pitchers: Mike Nannini (15-5), Rodrigo Rosario (13-4), Tony Pluta (12-4), and Nick Roberts (10-1).

Right-hander Mike Nannini led the league in innings pitched (190.1); second in wins (15-5) to Boof Bonser of Hagerstown (16); tied for seventh on the ERA list with Jason Davis of Columbus (both at 2.70).

Converted reliever Rodrigo Rosario, a right-hander, was second in ERA (2.14), just behind the 2.12 mark of Wilmington's Jose Rojas. Rosario was fifth in wins (13).

The Lexington Legends led the league in batting average (.275), runs scored (781), hits (1,321) and home runs (153). The 1,235 strikeouts by their pitching staff also led the league, breaking the old mark of 1,229 set in 1996 by Savannah. They also led the league in extra-base hits with 493 (297 doubles, 43 triples, and 153 homers), breaking Macon's seasonal record of 443 set in 1998; total bases (2,163), which broke Hickory's 2000 standard of 2,068; and doubles (297), which broke the seasonal mark of 293 set by Hagerstown in 1997. They also sent the most representatives to the mid-season All-Star game (7), and placed the most players (5) on the Sally League's annual All-Star team.

Manager J.J. Cannon earned Minor League Manager-Of-The-Year honors from Baseball Weekly, the premier baseball publication in the country.

2001 HIGHLIGHTS, part deux

Best National Anthem (five-way dead-heat): As in racing, class always tells. And the quintet below displayed more range than an All-Star shortstop with their magnetic renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner."

And, here's another reason to have these five back: the Lexington Legends won every one of these games.

Hunter Redmon (July 4th): Flawless and moving.

Sarah Broberson (July 16th): A powerful and rich vocalization.

Mary Elizabeth Barrington (August 30th): Grand, lyrical singing.

Bryan Nichols (September 8th): A U.K. voice majorand it showed.

Kelly Brauer (September 9th): A haunting, fragile-like performance.

Entertainer Of The Season: Myron Newdelman. If you don't love this guy, you're running on batteries. [Ace's sports columnist has expressed otherwise.] This Jerry Lewis/Nutty Professor look-a-like brought down the house with his act.

Nine Coming Big-League Attractions From the 2001 Lexington Legends: Nick Roberts, Jon Topolski, John Buck, Tommy Whiteman, Tony Pluta, Mike Nannini, Rodrigo Rosario, Mike Hill, Kirk Saarloos.

Best Outside Seats: Maker's Mark Club. There's a good reason club president Alan Stein sits in this section. Fabulous view, great food, and four-star service.

The Complete Ballplayer: Multi-dimensional outfielder Jon Topolski, who has all five fundamental baseball tools: he can run, throw, field, hit for average, and hit with power. Because of that, he can beat you any number of ways, and he showed that time and again in 2001.

A Thoroughbred Pitcher: Nick Roberts. Before being called up to the Astros Double A Texas team (the Round Rock Express) in late season, he ran off a 10-1 record (and club-best .909 win-percentage). His best home win came on July 5th against the Wilmington Waves, when he just never quite got his rhythm and stride going. Still, he prevailed under the hardest of circumstances. In the first inning, he took a line drive off his leg, and in the fifth caught a wicked liner that was headed for his face. Then in the ninth, with two on and the game on the line, he struck out the last two batters to preserve a gritty 4-2 victory. His defensive work for the game also included a nice pair of 1-3 groundout plays (pitcher to first base). Roberts bentbut he never broke. Like a Thoroughbred, the 6-2, 185-pounder was gamedead game.

A Thoroughbred Reliever: Flame-thrower Kirk Saarloos, the type of no-nonsense reliever managers love. He regularly threw in the low ninetiesand that was on his slow days. You could hear the door slam shut when he came in. Here are some pertinent numbers: 11 saves, 40 strikeouts, 18 hits allowed and a 1.17 ERA in 30.2 innings pitched.

Little Big Man (built small, but plays big): Pony-sized utilityman John Toven (5-8, 165 lbs.)

The Invisible Force: Mike Hill, a quiet team contributor whose glove matched his bat. A guy like this can get easily taken for granted, but at season's end, there was no denying it: Hill was one of the main reasons why the Legends landed up with Sally League championship rings.

A Big Bluegrass Catch (er): John Buck, considered the best catcher the Astros have in their minor-league chain. Which means that Legends fans in 2001 were watching more than just a fine 6-3, 218-pound receiver who played both sides of the field (besides his defense and superb game-calling, he batted .275 and hit 22 homers). They were seeing the future.

Messrs. Dependable: Second-baseman Felix Escalona and third-sacker Ramon German. Game after game all through the season, this pair steadily produced.

Best outfield throw: This mega-throw came in the Northern Division title-clinching game on September 5th against the Hagerstown Suns. And, it brought the house to its feet. In the 10-6 win, left fielder Jon Topolski turned a routine sacrifice fly into a spectacular inning-ending double play. After catching a rather deep and drifting flyball, he then doubled up the runner on third with a perfect-strike, no-bounce throw to catcher John Buck. It was part of an inning that saw Topolski involved in all three defensive outs with two flyball putouts and an assist. There aren't ten outfielders in all of baseball-Major League or Minor League-who could have made that throw. And, Lexington saw one of them that night. It was worth the price of admission and more. By the way, when's the last time you saw a player get a standing ovation for a defensive play?

Best extra-inning game: 2-1 victory (13 innings) over the Lakewood Blue Claws on June 24; two out when Ramon German singled in the winning run.

Best bottom-of-the-ninth win: 4-3 win over Wilmington Waves on July 4; first three batters in the final frame produced two runs (a single by Buck, a triple by German and a sacrifice fly by Paul Lockhart).

Best post-season game: The second Sally League pennant game, on September 9th, which the Legends won 9-4. This was the final home game and also the final game of the season after the pennant playoffs were cancelled following the September 11th attacks.

Best blowout: For obvious reasons, the 15-1 home opener on April 9th versus Hagerstown Suns (inaugural game at Legends Field).


For a good part of the season, Tommy Whiteman led the league in batting. Nothing unusual about that per se; somebody has to do it. But Whiteman was a shortstop who consistently batted ninth and last in the order. Go figure. You'd expect that from one of your top four slots, which is usually an outfielder or a baseman. But not a shortstop, who is valued first and foremost for his glove, not his bat (on the defensive spectrum, shortstops rank number one, followed by the second-baseman and then the center fielder). Pro scouts have repeatedly said, show them a shortstop with a decent glove and a great bat, and they'll show you a future outfielder, first-baseman, third-baseman, take your pick. Factor in Whiteman's slender size (6-3, 175 pounds) and it's absolutely unbelievable what he did with his bat league-wise (second in average, first in slugging), but he did it.


Total 2001 attendance for the Lexington Legends was 451,076. Along with Lakewood (482,206), they were one of two Sally League teams to break the old mark of 324,412 set by Delmarva (MD) in 1997.

The blockbuster attendance figures came during Minor League Baseball's 100th birthday, a campaign which saw Minor League Baseball draw more than 38.8 million fans, a figure second only to the 1949 standard (39,782,717). That was Minor League Baseball's "golden era," the post-war boom when 448 teams played in 59 leagues (as opposed to 176 teams in 15 leagues in 2001). The one-million attendance increase over the 2000 season was part of a 2001 season that saw four leagues set new attendance records, one of them the Sally League, which took in a record 2,950,630 patrons.

Felix Escalona got a club-record five hits (three doubles and two singles) in an 18-2 bombing of the Delmarva Shorebirds on August 10. His total batting line read 6-4-5-3 (six at-bats, four runs scored, five hits and three RBIs). The numbers also say that Escalona single-handedly beat Delmarva that night.

The Lexington Legends were first-half Northern Division champions with a 50-20/.714 mark, and the second-half Northern Division runner-up with a 42-28/.600 record. Swept the Hagerstown Suns 2-0 in Northern Division Playoffs (best-of-three series). Leading the Asheville Tourists 2-0 in the South Atlantic League pennant championship series (best-of-five series) at the time of the September 11th World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks. Legends were subsequently declared 2001 South Atlantic League champion, Lexington's first minor-league baseball title ever.

"Pop" statistic #1: To date, the Legends are 9-4 in season openers; 8-4-1 in season closers. Prior to 2001 opener loss, the Lexington franchise had won seven consecutive Opening Day contests (1913-1916; 1922-1923; 1954).

The 2001 season was Lexington's 13th minor-league season.

"Pop" statistic #2. Lexington closed out its abbreviated 1954 season with a day-night double-header in two different cities.


1. One of the differences between a pro and an amateur is this: the pro says "Lone-A", the amateur says "Single-A." It's a small thing, but it separates the real baseball people from the rookies.

2. The official name of the league in which the Legends play is the South Atlantic League; however, it's better known by its nickname, the "Sally League." Always use the nickname for the same reason you say "Lone-A".

3. Scoring is to baseball what handicapping is to Thoroughbred Racing with one major exception: the wagering. Not to score is kind of like going to the racetrack and trying to pick horses based on their color or number, rather than handicapping them. Always score the game. It puts you all the way inside the game, like a big-league scout, veteran baseball beat writer, and broadcaster, and makes you an active part of the game. And, it's easy: Each position is numbered from one to nine: P-1, C-2, 1B-3, 2B-4, 3B-5, SS-6, LF-7, CF-8, RF-9. Here are a few basic examples: K (strikeout); F7 (flied out to left fielder); 3U (grounded to first baseman, who made the putout unassisted); L6 (lined out to the shortstop); BK (balk); HBP (hit by pitcher); SB (stolen base); WP (wild pitch); PB (passed ball); E4 (error on the second baseman); -//-9L (triple down the right field line).

4. Real baseball fans eat peanuts. The saltier the better. And, that goes double for ardent scorers.

If you don't pay attention to any other tip, pay attention to this one. The higher up you sit, the better you can see the game (and thus score the game). Just like Thoroughbred Racing, where handicappers seek the best vantage point during a race. And, that's not ground-level.

Clayton Shane Navistar has written extensively about Kentucky baseball.


Besides Lou Johnson, other notable major-leaguers to have played for the Lexington minor-league franchise include pitcher James "Big Jim" Park (whose son was a prominent judge in Lexington for years); shortstop Jimmy Viox; and pitcher Harry Camnitz. Park (1892-1970; major-league debut: 9-7-1915) pitched for the American League St. Louis Browns in 1915, 1916 and 1917, going 4-5 lifetime. His best work was a 2-0 slate in 1915.

Viox (1890-1969; major-league debut: 5-9-1912) played five years with the Pirates (1912-1916), principally as a second-baseman. Viox's career batting average was a solid .273.

Henry Richardson "Harry" Camnitz (1884-1951) was 1-0 in two years of major-league play with the Pirates and the Cardinals. He was the younger brother of Samuel Howard "The Kentucky Rosebud" Camnitz, who was 133-106 in 11 years of major-league play (1904-1915), the majority of that with Pittsburgh in the National League and the Federal League. Also known as "Red," Howie Camnitz (1881-1960) was three times a 20-game winner. His best campaign was a sparkling 25-6 mark for the 1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, who beat the Ty Cobb-led Tigers 4-3 in that year in the World Series. His teammates numbered future Hall-of-Famers Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner, both of whom had started their major-league careers at Louisville in the 1890s.


Day/Date Pitcher Result Opponent Site/Att.

TUE/4-21-1908 Crutcher Lost 2-1 (13) Richmond A/1,000+

SUN/9-13-1908 Doyle Won 7-0 Lawrenceburg H/NA

THU/4-29-1909 Pittmann Lost 10-4 Richmond A/1,2000

SUN/9-12-1909 Robbins Won 4-3 (11) Richmond A/NA

FRI/5-6-1910 Stultz Won 10-8 Paris A/2,500+

TUE/9-20-1910 John "Red" Kline Tied 0-0 (16) Paris A/800

TUE/5-9-1911 Vallandingham Won 10-6 Frankfort A/"Large Crowd"

Stegar Won 7-0 (7) Winchester H/NA

WED/5-1-1912 Vallandingham Lost 1-0 Maysville A/2,000+

WED/9-4-1912 Ted McGrew Lost 7-3 Maysville A/NA

TH/5-8-1913 George Black Won 4-2 Chillicothe A/2,000

SUN/9-21-1913 J. Black Won 2-0 Huntington A/NA

TUE/4-28-1914 Black Won 3-1 Maysville A/3,000(Capacity)

SUN/9-13-1914 Hanna Lost 5-3 Charleston A/NA

White Lost 5-2 Charleston A/NA

TH/5-13-1915 Lingrel Won 3-2 (10) Frankfort H/2,000 (Overflow)

MON/9-6-1915 Lingrel Lost 5-0 Frankfort A/NA

Rorer Lost 6-0 Frankfort A/NA

WED/5-10-1916 Lingrel Won 2-1 Frankfort A/CapacityCrowd

SUN/7-16-1916* Burge Won 6-5 Portsmouth H/"Nice Crowd"

(*team disbanded on July 16; league folded on July 19)

SUN/4-23-1922 Claude Monhollen Won 19-7 Paris H/1,200

SUN/10-1-1922 Shaw Won 6-3 Cynthiana H/NA

WED/4-25-1923 Robert E. Harrison Won 8-2 Paris A/2,000

SUN/9-9-1923 Paul Mosely Lost 6-5 Winchester A/"Large Crowd"

SUN/4-25-1954 Don Luc Won 14-2 Kingsport H/1,200

SUN/7-4-1954* Rolando Rodriquez Lost 5-0 Middlesboro A/NA

(game played at Barbourville in afternoon)

Sixto Hechevarria Won 6-4 Middlesboro A/NA

(game played at Middlesboro at night)

(*team disbanded on July 7th; league folded on July 20th)

THU/4-5-2001 Darwin Peguero Lost 2-0 Charleston A/2,180

*MON/4-9-2001 Nick Roberts Won 15-1 Hagerstown H/8,037 overflow

(*inaugural game at Lexington Legends Field)

MON/9-3-2001 Manny Santillan Won 7-3 Greensboro A/2,155