Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - John Shelby

The fifth and final outfielder to be featured on the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team is 1980s center fielder John Shelby. A great defensive player, Shelby won a championship with both the Orioles and the Dodgers.

Harnisch was born February 23, 1958 in Lexington, Kentucky. Two active relief arms that were born in Lexington are Washington's Tyler Clippard and Texas's Robbie Ross, who was a 2011 Myrtle Beach Pelican. Elston Howard, Rondell White and Bobby Bonilla were also born on the 23rd of February.

The Baltimore Orioles chose the right-handed-hitting Shelby with the 20th pick in the first round of the 1977 draft. That opening round featured two other future big leagers, Alan Wiggins (eighth to the Angels) and Dave Righetti (tenth to the Rangers.

John began his trek to the majors in Bluefield in 1977. He batted .256 as a regular in the outfield. He stayed in Bluefield for 1978 as well and hit .282. Although the team went 29-40, the team starred two other longtime MLBers and members of the All-Time Bluefield Team, Cal Ripken and Mike Boddicker.

It was on to Charlotte and Rochester, and he earned September call-ups with Baltimore in 1981 and 1982. Shelby made his major league debut on September 15, 1981 in Cleveland. Down a run in the top of the ninth, Terry Crowley singled and Shelby pinch ran for him. Two batters later, Doug DeCinces doubled him home to tie the game. Benny Ayala hit a pinch-hit homer and the O's won 7-6.

He finally got his first major league hit during his '82 call-up. After starting 0-for-11 and in his 17th game, Shelby knocked a leadoff double against Shane Rawley of the Yankees. He hit his first home run in the second game of a twinbill off Mike Caldwell and the Brewers.

1983 was his first full season and it was a special one. He backed up regular center fielder Al Bumbry, starting 59 games. He was often a late-game replacement and got into 126 contests for the division winners. Shelby's ten assists were the second-most in the American League behind Lloyd Moseby's 11. He also got it done on the basepaths as he was successful on 15 of 17 steal attempts to lead the league in steal percentage.

Against the White Sox in the ALCS, he went 2-for-9 as Baltimore won the pennant. After two pinch-hit appearances in the first two games of the World Series against the Phillies, Shelby got the start in center and batted leadoff against lefty Steve Carlton in Game Three. He went 2-for-4, including a single during a seventh-inning rally in which the lead and never looked back. In Game Four, he pinch hit with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth, lifting a sacrifice fly to give the O's the lead for good. He played the last two innings of the clinching fifth game in center and was on the field when Baltimore won the title.

Over the next three seasons, he hit .232 with a 72 OPS+. However, he contributed with 12 sacrifices (fourth in the AL) and nine outfield assists (fifth in the AL).

Shelby was on the move in 1987, when he was traded in May to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He and lefty reliever Brad Havens went west in exchange for reliever Tom Niedenfuer. Niedenfuer is known for allowing game-winning home runs in back-to-back NLCS games against the Cardinals in 1985. He had two average seasons in Baltimore and was soon out of baseball*.

* The Ozzie Smith homer in Game Five is more well-known because it was Ozzie, it was his first-ever homer as a lefty and because of Jack Buck's indelible call ("Go Crazy Folks!"). That walk-off put St. Louis up 3-2 in the series as it shifted to L.A., but the Dodgers led 5-4 with two outs in the ninth. They pitched to Jack Clark with men on second and third and he made them pay with a three-run homer to win the pennant. Three things stand out about that lesser-known shot. One was Clark's trot. He veered into Glendale before curving back to first base, then reeeeeeally took his time going around the bases. Another was left fielder Pedro Guerrero angrily throwing his glove into the ground like a little leaguer as the ball soared over his head. The last was the great Vin Scully taking pity on Niedenfuer, "you would think that the fates would be a little kinder to one man in such a short amount of time."

Now a Dodger, Shelby had a terrific season. He batted .277 and despite not joining the team until the end of May, he hit 21 home runs, ten more than his second-highest single-season total. He was also a top-five center fielder by Range Factor.

The following season, he had another above-average year offensively while finishing fourth in the league with six CF assists. Led by MVP Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser's record-breaking scoreless innings streak, the Dodgers won 94 games in 1988, but were huge underdogs against a 100-win Mets team in the NLCS.

In Game Four, with the Mets up two runs in the ninth about to take a 3-1 series lead, Shelby led off with an eight-pitch walk against Dwight Gooden. Doc's next pitch turned into a game-tying two-run homer from Mike Scioscia that stunned the Mets at Shea. Gibson homered in the 12th to put the visitors in front, but the Mets rallied to load the bases with two outs in the bottom of the 12th.

Hershiser was summoned to get Kevin McReynolds, who hit a bloop into center that looked like it might fall in for the winning hit, but Shelby made a fine running catch to end it (third clip of the video). The Dodgers won the series in seven games to take the pennant, but faced an even more formidable foe in the Bash Brothers and the Oakland A's.

They had an easier time in the Fall Classic, riding Gibson's legendary Game One homer to a five-game victory in one of the great World Series upsets.

Shelby was now the center fielder on two championship teams, but 1988 would be his last good season. He hit .189 over the next year and a half and was released by the Dodgers in June of 1990. The Tigers picked him up 11 days later, but he posted a meager 62 OPS+ with them in a little more than a full season.

He was released by Detroit in August of 1991. At 34, he played 127 games for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, but he batted .202 and never made it back to the bigs. That 1992 PawSox team featured two players who would go on to star at Fenway in future years, Mo Vaughn and John Valentin.

Shelby's career was over after 11 seasons. His career average was only .239 and his OPS+ was just 79, but he was really a defensive specialist. He ranks 61st among outfielders on the all-time list in Range Factor per Game. That stat is only complete since 1974, but he ranks right in front of strong defenders Michael Bourn and Doug Glanville.

Upon retiring as a player, Shelby went into managing in the minors. He piloted the Butte Copper Kings in the rookie-level Pioneer League in 1993 before joining the Dodgers organization. He managed for one year in the Cal League with Bakersfield before moving up for two seasons with the Double-A San Antonio Missions. His last season as a manager was in 1997 with the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Starting in '98, he spent the next eight seasons in the majors as the Dodgers first base coach. He later served in the same role with the Orioles from 2007 to 2010.

His son, John, is in professional baseball as well. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 draft by the White Sox, he spent time in the Chicago and Tampa Bay farm systems before being released last year. This season he's playing for the Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League. Another son, Jeremy, played for the Bluefield Orioles in 2010.

His nephew, Josh Harrison, plays all over the diamond for the Pirates and made headlines last weekend for breaking up Justin Verlander's no-hitter with one out in the ninth (after falling behind 0-2).

Shelby is currently in his second season as a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Of those previously covered on the Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team, Don Baylor is the only one of the five outfielders that stand out as the others are pretty much platoon and bench guys. But John Shelby is a great fit, providing stellar defense as a fourth/fifth outfielder.

All-Time Bluefield Roster
SP 1 Dean Chance
SP 2 Mike Boddicker
SP 3 Bill Monbouquette
SP 4 Pete Harnisch
RP Tom Phoebus
RP Ken McBride
RP Sammy Stewart
RP Jim Johnson
Setup Arthur Rhodes
Setup Armando Benitez
Closer Sparky Lyle

C Gregg Zaun
C Johnny Gooch

1B Eddie Murray
2B Bobby Grich
SS Cal Ripken
3B Doug DeCinces
IF Mark Belanger

LF Don Baylor
CF Luis Matos
RF Bob Bailor
OF David Dellucci
OF John Shelby

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