In the 7th grade, Joe made the varsity baseball team at Franklin-Simpson High School in Brownsville, Kentucky. So he lettered for six years.
He was not drafted out of high school, even though he was chosen Kentucky's "Mr. Baseball." So he accepted a scholarship to play for the University of Kentucky Wildcats. In 2002, he was 5-6 with a 4.53 ERA—an inconsistent season. He would have an excellent outing, then get hit hard the next time out. But he did strike out 120 in 91 innings.
As a youngster, Joe's favorite player was Frank Thomas. So he was thrilled to be his teammate with the A's in 2008.
Joe is a quiet Kentucky kid who grew up with the classic bluegrass fantasy of sinking threes at Rupp Arena.
"But I couldn't jump, and I couldn't shoot," Blanton says. So he played on UK's baseball team, ranking eighth in the country in strikeouts as a junior in 2002.
Former A's teammate Nick Swisher insists Blanton is much more of a redneck than he is.
"It's definitely Blanton," Swisher said. "As soon as you see the sign for his hometown, your cell phone goes out. The closest house to his is a mile away. He has like 20 cows. I could keep going. But that should be enough right there."
Blanton's hometown of Bowling Green,Kentucky is so small that the high school allows seventh-graders and eighth-graders to play on the varsity baseball team, which is how Blanton earned six varsity letters in baseball.
"I don't know how it worked, I just did it," Blanton said. "We don't have as many people. I guess that's why. There's not as much competition. We only had 500 people in our high school."
Like any other male with a heartbeat in Kentucky, Blanton grew up a basketball fan. By his sophomore year, he knew he wouldn't play hoops for the famed Wildcats. But the UK baseball coach also was from his hometown and went to high school with Blanton's father. The 92-mph fastballs Blanton threw as a senior earned him a scholarship to pitch for the Wildcats. (Josh Suchon-Oakland Tribune-3/21/05)
In 2001, after his sophomore season at UK, Joe led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts (with 77 in 68 innings). That really got the attention of scouts.
In 2002, Blanton's final season in Lexington, he led the UK pitching staff and broke Brandon Webb's single-season strikeout record with 133 K's.
The A's took Joe with a pick they received from the Yankees for losing Jason Giambi as a free agent. Rich Sparks is the scout who signed Blanton.
In 2003, Blanton led the Midwest League in strikeouts, even though he was promoted in July. And, just as impressive as his 144 strikeouts in 133 innings were his 19 walks.
Legend has it that Blanton gave up a home run in a minor league game and the batter show-boated around the bases. Joe—Mr. Southern Hospitality—blew three fastballs past the hitter in his next trip to the plate, then flashed an obscene gesture and lifted his leg as if the hitter were a fire hydrant.
Before the 2004 season, Baseball America rated Blanton the #2 prospect in the A's organization. Before 2005 spring training, the magazine had Joe as the 3rd-best prospect in the Oakland system.
Joe is one of the quietest players you will see. For all his aggressiveness on the mound, he is quiet and unassuming off the field. He has avoided the spotlight as far back as his days as the baseball star at tiny Franklin-Simpson High School in Brownville, Kentucky. And he was so good, he played varsity ball in the 7th grade. "We had maybe 600 kids in the whole school," Blanton recalled. "I don't know if we even had that many."
Blanton's wife, LeeAndra, is a die-hard fan. According to his blog on MLB.com, called "Big Joe's Bluegrass Blog," his wife has yet to miss a start, home or away. "She's a trooper, for sure," he wrote. "She pretty much goes on every trip with me—even though she's not crazy about flying." That's love.
LeeAndra delivered their first child, daughter Adalia, on June 10, 2009. And having Adalia around actually helped Joe mantain his composure and emotions on the mound.
Blanton's a big traveler. He has been to Spain, Italy, Greece, Mexico, Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Tahiti, as of 2008.
In Game 4 of the 2008 World Series, Blanton hit his first Major League home run. And he became the 13th pitcher overall and first since Ken Holtzman in 1974 to hit a home run in a World Series game.
2015 Comeback: Like the grapes in his Napa vineyard, pitcher Joe Blanton went dormant, only to reawaken as a surprising new varietal.
Ineffective with the Angels in 2013, released the next spring, and foundering in the Minor Leagues for Oakland, he retired to seemingly end his career. But after sitting out most of 2014, he got the pitching itch and was reinvented in 2015 as an effective reliever with the Pirates.
In 2016, he signed with the Dodgers, playing for a manager who also doubles as a Napa vintner—a trendy diversion for ballplayers past and present when you consider that Blanton's celebrity winemaker, Thomas Rivers Brown, is also winemaker for (Tom) Seaver Vineyards. (Ken Gurnick - MLB.com - Feb.22, 2016)
Blanton, full-time Washington Nationals pitcher and part-time winemaker, traces his fascination with wine to one bottle: a 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia, a blend of four grapes from Napa Valley. He tasted it, he remembers, sometime during the winter between the 2008 and 2009 baseball seasons, several months after the Oakland Athletics had traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies.
“Some people catch the bug,” Blanton said, “and I did.”
Blanton grew up in Kentucky, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is aged and produced. He went to high school in Franklin, population: 8,787 and now home to a distillery named Dueling Grounds because the town was known for hosting pistol duels,including one involving Sam Houston. It wasn’t until Blanton reached the big leagues with the Athletics, who drafted him in the first round out of the University of Kentucky in 2002 — common knowledge to anyone who has read “Moneyball” — that he was introduced to wine through dinners with teammates.
Steakhouses were usually the choices for postgame get-togethers, and veterans would order bottles to pair with the meat. Those meals planted an interest that sprouted with off-day trips up to Napa from the Bay Area and bloomed after that 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia experience into weeks-long offseason retreats. That led to him proposing to his wife, LeeAndra, in Napa and marrying her there.
On one of those trips, Blanton was at a wine-tasting event when somebody asked whether it was okay if a former baseball player who owned a winery joined Blanton’s group. Joe said it was fine. He didn’t know it was Tom Seaver until the Hall of Fame pitcher showed up.
“I had no idea, and we did the tasting,” the 36-year-old Blanton said, “and he was like ‘Yeah, if you guys want to come up to my place, we’ll have a bottle of wine and I can show you the vineyard.’”
Blanton accepted the invitation and the visit initiated the final phase of his wine fixation: Between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he bought his own vineyard in Napa. It sits on three acres near Howell Mountain, on the northeast side of the valley, and all of its grapes are cabernet sauvignon. A winery followed, and Blanton and his wife, seeking to avoid anything baseball-related, named it Selah, a word from the Hebrew Bible with various interpretations, including “to pause and reflect.”
“We just felt like that kind of really hit,” Blanton said. “Every time we would go there, that was our place to just pause and slow things down.”
This past winter, the Blanton family moved to Napa permanently. It was why Blanton, a free agent, preferred to sign with a West Coast club before he finally agreed to a one-year deal worth $4 million with the Nationals on the last day of February. He became Washington’s second winemaking addition in as many years, after Manager Dusty Baker, founder of Baker Family Wines.
“It’s been great living out there,” Blanton said. “It has a Midwest feel … but it’s almost European at the same time. They’re into the food and the wine and that kind of thing, but at the bones of it, it’s a farming community. It’s kind of fancy farming, if you will.”
The couple employ three people: a vineyard manager who oversees his own farmers, a winemaker, and Seaver’s niece, Karen, as business manager. The website is a work-in-progress, but the winery’s debut release, an estate-bottled 2014 Selah cabernet sauvignon, is slated for the fall. Blanton said it will be a small production of 200 to 250 cases.“Just trying to make a great wine I enjoy drinking,” Blanton said, “and have fun doing it.” (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post/- March 2017)
June 2002: The A's drafted Joe in the first round, out of the University of Kentucky.
January 18, 2008: Blanton and the A's avoided salary arbitration when they agreed to a $3.7 million contract for 2008.
July 17, 2008: The Phillies sent Adrian Cardenas, relief pitcher Josh Outman and OF Matthew Spencer to the A's, acquiring Blanton.
January 20, 2009: Blanton and the Phillies avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a one-year, $5.475 million contract.
January 21, 2010: Joe and the Phillies agreed on a three-year, $24 million contract, avoiding arbitration. (Blanton had asked for $10.25 million and was offered $7.5 million in arbitration.)
August 4, 2012: The Dodgers received Blanton from the Phillies in exchange for either cash or a player to be named.
December 5, 2012: Blanton signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels. The club has an $8 million option for 2015, with a $1 million buyout.
March 26, 2014: The Angels released Joe, but still had to pay him $8.5 million—$7.5 million for 2014, and a $1 million buyout for 2015.
March 31, 2014: Blanton signed with the A's organization.
February 13, 2015: The Royals signed Blanton.
July 29, 2015: The Pirates picked up Blanton, acquiring him from the Royals in exchange for cash considerations.
January 19, 2016: Joe signed with the Dodgers.
Nov 3, 2016: Joe chose free agency
- February 28, 2017: Blanton signed a one-year, $4 million pact with the Nationals.
|Birth City:||Nashville, TN|
|Draft:||A's #1 - 2002 - Out of Univ. of Kentucky|
Blanton has a 90-95 mph FASTBALL, a sharp power CURVEBALL that can buckle a hitter's knees, a very good SLIDER, and a pretty good CHANGEUP.
By the 2013 season, Blanton's fringy fastball was becoming more hittable over time, so he slightly reinvented himself as a primarily cutter/curveball starter who pounds the zone with a five-pitch repertoire and hopes that the many home runs he gives up are largely solo shots.
- Blanton has a maximum-effort delivery, with a bit of a head jerk. The A's smoothed out his mechanics and helped him repeat his delivery. That has enabled him to have excellent control.
- Joe is learning to keep hitters off-balance by changing speeds and locations.
He is an intense competitor. That is a good thing. But his intensity will also cause him to overthrow. He doesn't get rattled or fearful, he just gets too fired up and overthrows, sometimes.
But overall, Blanton is a pretty cool customer on the hill. He is able to use both corners of the plate.
Blanton is guilty of giving up some home runs. He pitches to contact and lets hitters get themselves out.
But overall, he eats up a lot of innings, always a plus for a team. And, for whatever reason, he seems to get more attention for the number of innings he pitches, rather than his effectiveness.
- Joe works quickly, so his teammates are always ready in the field.
Joe prefers to throw his cutter more than his other pitches which has gotten him in trouble.
- Blanton entered the 2017 season with a career record of 99-93 with a 4.35 ERA, having allowed 213 home runs and 1,843 hits in 1,723 innings.
- April 1-May 3, 2010: Blanton suffered a mild left oblique strain while throwing a side session and began the season on the D.L.
April 25-May 9, 2011: Joe was on the D.L. with a medial impingement in his right elbow.
May 16, 2011: Blanton was back on the D.L. with right elbow inflammation. An MRI revealed no structural damage.
But on July 26, 2011, an ultrasound revealed some nerve inflammation.
September 5, 2011: Joe Blanton was finally reinstated from the D.L.