During the past two weeks, while most sports fans were watching college basketball’s conference tournaments, the NCAA first round of March Madness, the first night of the second round of March madness, golf from Florida, NASCAR, motorcycle racing, boxing, WWE, the Premiere League, NBA Basketball and NHL Hockey, there was something that was exceptional happening in the world of sport. Some of the best players in the world were playing baseball for their home nations or for nations someone in their family might have a hereditary line, were playing baseball behind a flag. The WBC this year is exceptional.
For those who have been watching these games, from Korea, Japan, Mexico, Miami and San Diego, the game progressed to mid-season form in a hurry.
Last night in San Diego, with everything on the line for the defending champion, Dominican Republic and the United States, baseball was reborn. In front of a packed stadium at Petco Park, the feeling was electric. Could the USA come back and beat the team who had defeated them in Miami after giving up a big lead last week? Could anyone get the tremendous players from DR out? There were 23 All-Stars on both teams for one game. And something happened.
This was big time, Major League Baseball at its very best. The crowd was in it. In fact, the crowd was one of the loudest one could imagine. But, three plays stood out to make this one of the most amazing games you could ever want to see. And perhaps that was the point. You go to a game in hopes that you see something you can talk about for a long time to come. Then it happens. Not once. Not twice. But three times.
The first was the incredible pressure the Dominican team puts on its opponents. There is one basher after another. There is not space to take a breath. And in the first inning, as the home team, they began pounding the ball. But as it again happened in the second inning and the fifth inning, somehow the USA team stopped what could have ended the game as it had in Miami a week before. Solid pitching and solid defense stopped the DR in its tracks. Danny Duffey’s great pitching and a terrific tag of Nelson Cruz at home by catcher Jonathon Lucroy with a fine throw to him by Brandon Crawford, kept DR at bay in Mission Bay.
The second was an unbelievable force of one Giancarlo Stanton. The ‘Adonis of Miami’ absolutely crushed a baseball which took off faster than one could imagine to give the USA a huge lift and the lead. An unbelievable speed of a ball being hit into the warehouse in left field went out faster than Staton could complete his swing. If in all the time you spend watching baseball, here is a memory nugget you can keep forever. Wow!
Then the third made this game an important turning point for the game. This WBC showed off big time baseball at its very best. And this is a memory nugget you will never forget. The incomparable Manuel Arturo ‘Manny’ Machada hit a blast to deep center field and as if time stood still in the marine layer, Adam Jones, the centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, raced to the fence and leaped way over the wall to make one of the best catches in the history of the game. Electric. Unbelievable. Fantastic. The Golden Memory Nugget. The pitcher mouthing ‘Oh My God’. But it is what happened a moment later that made this the great game and gave rebirth to the new era of baseball. Muchada while rounding first acknowledged Jones great athletic feat by his regular season teammate by doffing his cap to him as he headed back to the dugout on third base. In return, silently while a tumultuous roar of the crowd, tipped his hat in return to his teammate for saluting him.
This is when baseball was reborn in the hearts of the old who love the game, in the hearts of the fathers who take their sons and daughters to the game and to the young people who packed the stadium and watched on television what a great game can be as a fabric of their lives today and into the future.
It was simply a very complex day in baseball. In New York City, at the legendary home of Champions, the Yankees on Friday were either saying good-bye or ridding themselves of one of the most gifted, tarnished individuals who ever played the game. For the record, this was Alex Rodriguez last game for the New York Yankees.
Perhaps the center focus of the PED-Era in the game, here is one of the best players who ever played the game crystalized in everything that is bad and good about the game. There is no middle ground when speaking of A-Rod. For the record, he is tied as the 23rd best fielding shortstop in the history of baseball with a career .9772 fielding percentage at shortstop. But in all fairness, he only played 1,272 of his 2,784 games at short. His fWAR was below 50%. At third base, he ranked tied for 32nd place all-time with a .9648 fielding percentage. Let’s face it, fielding isn’t what got him to be one of the highest paid players in the history of the game, although he won the Gold Glove twice in his career at shortstop.
When it came to hitting, he hit 50+ home runs three (3) times with a high of 57 in 2002. In his career, over 22 years, he had a lifetime .295 batting average in 10,566 at bats. 3.115 hits; 548 doubles; 31 triples; 696 home runs; 2,086 RBI; .550 slugging percentage; .930 OPS; 5,813 total bases; and 14 time All-Star; 3 time MVP in 12 years with the New York Yankees, 7 years with the Seattle Mariners and 3 years with the Texas Rangers. In his career he made $375,416,252, with a high annual salary of $33 million in a single season (2009 & 2010). Three times he was named the Major League Player of the Year; won the AL batting title once in 1996 with a .358 average; won the Hank Aaron Award four (4) times and the Babe Ruth Award once. He won the Silver Slugger Award ten (10) times. For his career his WAR was 117.8, five (5) times finished #1. He had an on-base percentage of .380 in his career, had 2,021 runs scored while on base 4,629 times. As a batter he ranks with Willie Mays.
This was a great player in the game of baseball. But that is what you would want in the first player selected in the 1993 MLB draft.
Yet he played under the shadow of suspicion, jealousy, admiration and contempt for the better part of the last eight years. It probably began when he left Seattle. But the flight of other great top players from that team including Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson (both now in the Hall of Fame) was not that big of a contributing factor to dislike. In 2007, the cornerstone of fan disillusionment when Rodriguez was finishing the last year of a $252 million contract. He did the unthinkable for pin-strip fans. He opted out, effectively making him a free agent once again. Now the die was cast as it was announced he would not renew his contract with the Yankees citing that he was ‘unsure of the future composition ‘ of the team. He was now the target of criticism not only for not meeting with team officials before his announcement but for financial gluttony. But the biggest issue with fans was that he did it during the 8th inning of Game Four of the World Series as Boston was finishing their victory over the Colorado Rockies. MLB’s chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, called it ‘an attempt by Rodriguez’ agent, Scott Boras, to try to put his selfish interests and that of one individual player above the overall good of the game’. After a quick PR repair job by A-Rod himself, a new 10 year $275 million contract was finalized on December 13, 2007.
Out of nowhere, the report hit. In the February 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands, it reported that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan in 2003. His name had appeared on a government-sealed list of 104 major-league players (out of 1200 tested) who came up positive for performance-enhancing drugs. As crazy as it seems today, there was no penalty or punishment for a positive steroid test in Major League Baseball. To his credit, two days after the allegations, Rodriguez admitted to steroid use from 2001 until 2003, claiming that he cease using such substances after spring training that year.
What might become a reason for so many star players to take PEDs, injury, has loomed over the game. Prior to the 2009 season, A-Rod was forced to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic where he would represent the Dominican Republic, when an MRI revealed a cyst in his right hip. He went to have the cyst drained but discovered that he was also suffering from a torn labrum in the same hip. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure with a recovery period of 6 to 9 weeks, instead of the usual three to four months. He would require a second, more extensive surgery in the off-season. He missed spring training and the month of April. But he came out with a very strong season. It was his 12th consecutive season and 13th overall of reaching 30 home runs and 100 RBI breaking a ties with Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx for the most in Major League Baseball history. And as a topper to any career, he helped the Yankees win their 27th World Series Championship and his first.
Two years later, Rodriguez opted for arthroscopic surgery on his knee to repair a torn meniscus that placed him on the disabled list at the All-Star break. During his recovery, he was facing serious allegations that he had participated in illegal, underground poker games. One of those games turned violent and cocaine was openly used Rodriguez denied that he had ever participated in illegal poker games. MLB had warned him in 2005 not to participate in such games. After retiring in late August, he sustained another injury with a jammed thumb.
In 2013, he underwent another arthroscopic surgery in his hip to repair a torn labrum. It was the second time in four years that he had the surgery. But this operation was more serious than before. He began the season on the 60-day disabled list. While rehabbing, he again was embroiled in a series negative situations He became a central figure in the Biogenesis baseball scandal and MLB’s investigation into his possible connection to performance-enhancing drugs. Then he again got embroiled with Yankee management when he said on social media (Twitter) that his doctor had medically cleared him to play in games. Yankee GM Brian Cashman said Rodriguez’s doctor did not have such authority and that Rodriguez should ’shut the fxxx up.’ While rehabbing in the minors, he sustained a new injury as an MRI later revealed a Grade 1 quad strain, delaying his return and forcing him to continue in the minors. Rodriguez clearly frustrated sought a second opinion on his quad strain with a doctor who stated that there did not appear to be an injury. The Yankees were incensed. The war began. They said he had violated league rules for seeking a second opinion without the team’s permission. The stage was now clearly set for Yankees to get rid of Rodriguez. The ‘Cashman Conflict’ was the beginning of the end. Rodriguez continued to feud with Yankees management following his return, as his lawyers accused the team, and specifically Christopher S. Ahmad MD, of mishandling his hip injury in several ways; Rodriguez’s legal team contends the team withheld the injury from him and continued to play him in 2012 despite his health, and that team president, Randy Levine told Rodriguez’s hip surgeon that he would be happy if Rodriguez never played again. In response to the accusations, Cashman said, “I’m not comfortable talking to Alex about this because we feel we are in a litigious environment. Hello and goodbye, that’s about it.” He added, “It’s not just Yankees’ management. He’s putting it at the level of our trainers, our medical staff. The organization. The team.” It wasn’t a good year for A-Rod.
Alex Rodriguez was suspended from baseball but he delayed it pending an appeal. The suspension was upheld for the entirety of the 2014 regular season and post season. He was found to have violated the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy, specifically through the ‘use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years’ and ‘attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.’
In the 2015 off-season it was reported that Rodriguez met with new Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, in which it is reported that Rodriguez apologized while promising to behave in the future. In February he issued a hand-written letter of apology to “Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you,the fans’.
And now here we are. Criticism is plenty. In Joe Torre’s 2009 book, ‘The Yankee Years’, Rodriguez earned the nickname ‘A-Fraud’ from teammates and particularly from clubhouse attendants who were said to resent his demands. Steroid-user Jose Canseco said in his book, ‘Juiced:Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big’ called A-Rod a hypocrite. But then again, who cares what Canseco says. The fact remains, there is a playing stats side and there is the drugs side.
Performance enhancing drugs have torn baseball’s unique stat world apart. Those accused and/or suspended, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ryan Braun, Rager Clemens, Rafael Palmero, Lenny Dykstra, Eric Gagne, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Glenallen Hill, Todd Hundley, David Justice, Andy Petite, Mo Vaughn, Fernando VBina, Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Tejada, Dee Gordon, Raul Mondesi, Rick Ankiel, Jose Canseco, Gary Matthews, Jr., Matt Williams, Wally Joyner, Ken Caminiti, Chuck Knoblauch, Paul Lo Duca, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mike Stanton and many more have put the stain on the game. We are not talking about hard drugs or alcohol consumption here. We are talking about people taking drugs to make them perform better.
Thus the dilemma.
Alex Rodriguez could hit. Alex Rodriguez could field. Alex Rodriguez took performance enhancing drugs. He paid for the results. He served his time. His day in the game appears to now be over.
Baseball is a game we all play as kids. It is a game we love from our very core. He did as well and did it better then nearly anyone.
It begins with an affection…perhaps from childhood, when you admire from afar that player who becomes one of your favorites on your favorite team…perhaps after one moves and establishes new ties, there is that certain player that literally allows you to slightly shift alliances and like your ‘second’ team. It is convenient. You can always fall back on your ‘second’ when or if your ‘main’ team stumbles during a season.
Then something happens. Adoration is damaged with a scratch which draws angry protest or dismay over the actions of the player or the team. It is a blood spill. The next day or the next week or month, a scab develops to cover the pain of the initial hurt. Eventually, the scabe goes away and there is just a mark left…then a feint mark then…nothing.
This week in the land near Pigsville, the team departed to the West Coast and with it the disappearance of one of Cream City’s favorite sons. He was one of us. He came up through the minor league system. He was the ‘good citizen’ of the group…a favorite among veterans of the Armed Forces for the work he did. He was one of the best defensive catchers in the Majors and in fact, a two-time All-Star. He was an accomplished hitter. And, he was not the top earning player on the team, not even close. Yet, he was one of the very best. And that made him vulnerable to the system of baseball. He was an attractive, valuable piece to be traded on the board game of baseball.
The first offer over the weekend was with Cleveland. But like a smart player, he had exercised his right not to go to Cleveland. Besides LaBron, who would go to Cleveland? Even United Airlines pulled out as a hub city. Not to say there is anything bad with Cleveland but it is Cleveland.
According to Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated, the Indians offered Lucroy absolutely nothing to approve the deal. Lucroy, a strong defensive catcher who finished fourth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting in 2014 and has hit .300/360/.484 (123 OPS+) thus far this season, projects to be worth $26.7 million next season and more than $100 million over the next five years. By way of comparison, the most expensive contract in Indians history was the four-year, $57 million extension they gave to Travis Hefner in late 2007. That was considered a bust. The Indians understandably refused that demand given the impressive quartet of prospects they had agreed to send to Milwaukee—catcher Francisco Mejia, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, centerfielder Greg Allen and right-hander Shawn Armstrong. Then the Indians told the Brewers it was up to them to get Lucroy to accept the trade. Given that Lucroy’s focus was on “long-term gain,” per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt, there was little the Brewers could do that would make sense for them or Lucroy and the deal collapsed.
Then the game turned into a school lesson for the new, youthful General Manager. Granted, his marching orders when he was hired was to rebuild a farm system that had been depleted as the Brewers made their charge in the past ten years which came to a complete collapse under the non-leadership of Roenicke. Boy GM was about to meet his match. He quickly found out that the learning tools of an effective general manager in major league baseball is not what he saw as an assistant in Houston. This is a game for big boys. This is a game where one plus one equals a minus one. Take the deal which created that which is a scabe today.
Meet Jon Daniels. He is the President of Baseball Operation and General Manager of the Texas Rangers. He has led the Rangers to two World Series appearances and besides the Blue Jays and the Yankees, is the only franchise to win back-to-back American League pennants in the last 22 years. When he was hired, he was the youngest GM in MLB at the time. He was only 28 years old when elevated in 2005. He is a Master of The Trade. And he is the Master of Milwaukee. Lets review: just before the 2006 trade deadline, he traded Lance Nix, Kevin Mench and Francisco Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for Nelson Cruz, who would become an All-Stare in 2009, and All-Star left fielder, Carlos Lee.
Now, ten years later, he led a lamb to slaughter. He suggested to the young general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers that he would be interested in acquiring the All-Star catcher, Jonathan Lucroy. The rookies GM in Cream City said he would have to have a couple of players which would have to include one of the most sought after young slugging third basemen in the minors, Joey Gallo. Gallo is a legend and has all of the ability to become a great player in The Show. The crafty GM of the Rangers said, he would have to have a pitcher along with Lucroy for that trade to become a reality. The rookie stumbled going back to his chair to think about the implications. Lucroy was a jewel in his trade crown. How the other guy wants a pitcher, a relief pitcher. The young GM couldn’t offer the 8th inning specialist, Will Smith because he had already committed to trade him to the Giants for a great prospect and a journeyman catcher. How about the closer, Daniels suggested. Jeffress was the closer for the Brewers with 27 saves in a horrible season for the team. He was the real deal who had been brought up through the farm system only to be traded away in the Greinke deal from KC and then returned last season. Mulling this over, the young GM obviously felt comfortable because he was going to trade Lucroy and he needed a catcher to back up Maldonado, so he brought up Pena from Colorado Springs, the center of pitching hell in the minors. Then told Lucroy not to travel with the team. If a trade could not be worked out, he would fly him out to San Diego to rejoin the team in time for Monday nights game.
That was check-mate time at the Miller Park B-Bar-B.
Daniels either pulled Gallo from the deal or simply did not include him in any further discussion and now left the rookie GM with a bag of nothing except an quietly concerned owner and a reputation that was clearly becoming backboneless. He balked and probably demanded Gallo be put back in. If he didn’t, that would be crazy. Daniels knew that he didn’t have to do anything because the kid didn’t have any cards. All the aces had been played and Daniels held all the kings.
As time slipped by, and no deal in sight, the deal was concluded when Daniels offered a solution. He would give the rookie not one but two minor leaguers…a AA outfielder, Lewis Brinson, a right handed AA pitcher, Luis Ortiz plus the most famous words in baseball, a player to be named later.
With no other team to rescue him, one young Mr. Strearns accepted. He was just sent to school…baseball school.
Jon Daniels stated, ‘We feel we definitely improved the club and we feel like we kept a number of the young players we liked.’
Thus the cut was made and now the scab formed…another mark on our body of baseball life.
Now we have no Jonathan. We have no Jeffress. We have no Smith. We have no Hill. But one thing we do have is a boat load of minor leaguers.
Rush to the ticket office, Brewer fans. See what-his-name playing over there. After all, its still baseball.
‘There are only two seasons…Winter and Baseball.’ Bill Veeck
It is a time when every fan has hopes of having a brilliant, unbelievable season. It is a time when no one has lost. Every star will have a great, Hall-Of-Fame year. The ground crew has prepared the fields from the long winter’s rest. Chalk has been laid down from Home to First and Home to Third as well as the batter’s box.
Now, who will win in 2016?
In the American League East, Toronto Blue Jays will win the division. They are a national team with a huge fan base that leads all teams in daily television viewership with an average over 500,000 fans tuning in day after day, night after night. Plus they have Joey Batts.
In the American League Central, in what is the most competitive division in baseball, virtually every team has an opportunity to win the title and it promises to be a heart breaker for many. You have the past World Champions as the Kansas City Royals know how to win. The Minnesota Twins have tremendous rookie presence. The Detroit Tigers have an aging lineup that has been left as a bridesmaid before. There is a fantastic pitching staff in Cleveland with a great manager. But in the end, the Chicago White Sox will take the crown.
In The American League West, it will come down to Texas. Last year’s division champions, the Houston Astros were the miracle team. But the power this coming season will rest in Arlington as the Texas Rangers will win the title. It’s all about the ‘Power of Yu’.
In the National League East, the New York Mets have the pitching staff. No question about that. But the Washington Nationals, who have knocked at the door, finally have a manager who can take them to the Division title and they will win the National League East this season.
In the National League Central, the title has been given to the the boys on the North Side of the Windy City. They have the great young players. They have the prize veteran who signed over the winter. They have a tough pitching staff. They have the second best manager in baseball. But they have two other teams who will treat the Cubs like the hated brother. St. Louis is riddled with injuries already. But they are the Cardinals and that alone makes them a threat. And they open today with the first game of the 2016 season against their rival, the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the Bucs will win the Central Division title this season. They simply cannot be the Buffalo Bills of baseball. This is the year at PNC.
In the National League West, it is an even year and that means that the San Francisco Giants, with the best manager in baseball, will win the crown. The pitching staff is the best in the division. The Dodgers have lost one of their best pitchers. The Diamondbacks have two big time players but nothing else. The Padres and Rockies will battle for the basement. Give it up to the boys who play at AT&T Park.
The miniature extension of the legendary Ichiro, Nori Aoki, two inches shorter than Suzuki, again hit an unusual wall in Major League Baseball. The San Francisco Giants declined to renew their option on Aoki. He had been receiving a base salary of $5.5 million. He hit .287 with 5 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 93 game (392 plate appearances). Ultimate Zone Rating for defensive play said he saved between three and four runs with his glove. It was exceptional value for any team. His strike out rate of 6.4 was the lowest in baseball. The next closet had a 7.1 rate. And, Aoki ranked third in contact percentage, connecting on 91.6% of his swings this past season.
That is called being a great contact hitter.
What a journey he has had in the Major Leagues. First, with the Milwaukee Brewers, he had to go through a multi-day hitting and fielding drill for the suits and then former manager, Roenicke, before they decided to offer a low-ball contract in the 11th hour. It was the best he could receive. Then unexpectedly, he was traded to the Kansas City Royals, after becoming one of the best lead-off hitters in the history of the team. He and his wife had a child in Milwaukee. His friend, Hall Of Fame announcer, Bob Uecker was even asked to name the child. Of course after Bob suggested ‘Uke’, the Hiragana and Katakana writing was on the wall, ‘詳細はありませんビール’.
He was traded for a guy named Smith, a fellow the then General Manager had been watching for many many hockey seasons. The trade was an absolute steal for Kansas City which uses the Milwaukee Brewers like a minor league affiliate drum as the All-Star center fielder, Lorenzo Cain, and the All-Star shortstop, Alcides Escobar, were also given to them by Milwaukee along with two others for a pitcher who was traded to the Los Angeles Marinos for a not as good shortstop. I know. You can’t make this kind of story up.
While in Kansas City, Nori led the team, along with his other former Brewer teammates, to an American League Pennant and seven games in the World Series before losing to the San Francisco Giants. Ichiro never played in a World Series game. For some reason, Kansas City did not resign Nori. So, he, his wife and Little Uke, left for Bagdad by the Bay. There he was headed to an All-Star birth when he was hit while at bat which produced a fractured fibula, taking him out of the lineup for a month. Coming back was hit in the head by a pitch in Chicago on August 9th and sustained a concussion that forced him to miss the final month of the season. Yet he still had a terrific season in only 93 games. Of course, that all has caused Little Uke and his mom and dad to seek a new experience somewhere in America for next season.
But that certainly isn’t the end of the story.
The Brewers, before the Royals and now the Giants, have made a major mistake. Not because of the great leadoff hitting Nori provides, but they are missing out on one of the great young talents in the game…the young American called Little Uke. Truth be told, there is a rumor that he has a fantastic arm. Standing only 1’9”, it is rumored (again, with no viral social media proof showing this legendary action) that he has chucked a rattle, from his play pen, around a slight bend of the wall, into the glove of his dad, some 98’ 6” away. And the smack it made hitting the glove caused the rattle to explode after reaching, some have said because no jugs gun was available, at a severe 106 mph. Dad’s hand is a little sore but there is no evidence of any concussion ailments recurring. But he does have a slight twitching of his left eye any time he attempts to close his left hand.
Dad’s interpreter said that ‘Nori was shocked to see the rattle had a slight tail coming around the corner. It reminded him of the story that was told when he was a kid, about Baby Ichiro, who, as legend has it, fired his rattle 104 mpg but only 96’6″. This is called ‘pedigree’ folks.
Now, the Milwaukee, Kansas City and San Francisco teams find themselves not in the most favorable position to sign the youngster to a ‘Futures’ contract. As Bob Uecker told a Pigsville Press reporter, ‘What a shame. Here we could have had the future ‘Leaksville Lefty’, Vinegar Bend Mizell. Sorry, I’m so upset I have to go down to Saz’s and have a brat.’ Dismay has also traveled to KC, where, when they found out about YU, attempts were being made to trade unsigned Alex Gordon for the future rights to the young phenom.
San Francisco learned about YU AFTER they declined the option on the old man (33 years of age) and quickly sent a cable car half way to the stars to have a sit down with Nori. But Nori’s intrepetor was not available as he was going along with Nori’s agent to Mattel to sign a deal for YU, securing his family fortune. Yes, they are even talking about a ’Speed Rattle’ and a ’Speed Rattle Jugs Gun’, both with the Little Uke logo and trade mark. Nori is still trying to learn the correct response to the question of ‘sweet’ or ‘sweep’. (See above)
Sometimes Major League baseball just doesn’t think things through, as right in front of them is an analytic vision in plain view. While the Yankees are considering hiring a 13-year-old phenom GM from PS 112 to head up their ‘Looksee Analytic Force’ (LAF), it was said that this kind of thing would be on their radar if they can convince the teenager to join the pinstripes in time to make an offer for YU.
It seems that the interpreter and agent for Nori have some time after the Mattel deal is finalized. Rumor has it that Mars candies is also very interested in making YU a lifetime spokesperson deal for M&Ms.
The Texas Rangers are flying to San Francisco as this is being written. Vu Darvish is jetting in from Tokyo with a cowboy hat in hand, to have an old family style Bon Odori to create a meaningful group gathering. While usually held during the summer, Prince Fielder’s kids suggested it be pushed back for this very special meeting. It is thought that Prince’s kids understand bushi and ondo, traditional Japanese folk songs. Could be Little Uke might become a Cowboy’s fan this Spring while wearing the Star of the Rangers? According to unnamed social media sources, The University of Texas is pushing through an amendment to bypass the normal procedures and offer Little Uke admission into their University (school of his choice) for next year’s Fall semester even though he is only two years of age.
What the Giants and the Royals before them and the Brewers before them has caused, will not drastically affect their future into the next decade. For the Giants and Royals, that’s really not a problem for right now. They are loaded. For the Brewers, it is not a problem because they have never really seen ultimate success of wearing a World Series ring.
Meanwhile, the number 1 song on Dallas country western radio is ‘Ichiban’…ナンバーワン.
At this time during the season, some teams are just a M*A*S*H unit. You need to go no further than the Milwaukee Brewers. On Saturday, after throwing another game due to an inadequate bullpen, the hot hitting Khris Davis, the left fielder, twisted his ankle rounding second base. His replacement, Shane Peterson, ran into Ellian Herrera (3B) on a pop up in short left field, left the game with a bruised knee. As for Herrera, he had to be carried off the field and taken to the hospital which showed a deep thigh bruise which may keep him out for the rest of the season. Ryan Braun, the regular right fielder, could not play due to a continuing back injury.
Earlier this week, starting pitcher, Dave Nelson was hit by a line drive sending him to the hospital. He was back in the dugout to see Herrera take his place at Froedtert Hospital. Nelson’s battery mate, Jonathan Lucroy, has been in and out of hospitals from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee to figure out his concussion syndrome after taking one in the mask in Miami a little over a week ago.
But Milwaukee isn’t the only team to have injuries this season. And in no way should it be used as an excuse for one of the great flops of any season by a team that failed to improve itself over the off-season.
There are five teams left in the National League for the race to win the World Series. There are seven teams left in the American League in the race to do the same. All have experienced some sort of injuries during their marathon season.
So as the final two weeks of the season begin, the favored St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, along with the surprise of the year, the New York Mets are winners of their divisions. The equally surprising Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates finished the playoff group in the Senior Circuit.
Over in the Junior Circuit, Kansas City is the only sure winner of their Division. The West Division of the American League is a battle with the red-hot Texas Rangers leading and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim along with the absolutely surprising Houston Astros all battling for the crown, all of whom are all contending against the phenom called the Minnesota Molitors (Twins) along with the New York Yankees fighting for the playoff spots. The solid Toronto Blue Jays are three games ahead of the Yankees going into Sunday’s games as are the Rangers in the West. It’s all in the loss column: The Yankees have 66 losses; Astros have 71; Angels have 72 losses and Twins have 73 losses. With a five game lead, the Bronx Bombers appear to have a spot in the playoffs. Now the other three fight for the final spot. All eyes will be on the West.
It could all come down to injuries. The Cardinals have been hurt this year and that is probably why Matheny has a full complement of roster players in the dugout and bullpen for the final two weeks. Pittsburgh lost their big, young Korean infielder, Jung Ho Kang, this week and has already had his operation in the hospital on what was described as a major injury which will leave him out 6-8 months. Toronto has Troy Tulowitzki hurting as he is making progress in his return from a cracked scapula. But will he make it? For Kansas City, Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante left Friday’s game with injuries. Houston has had it problems with the injury prone Carlos Gomez who missed the entire Rangers series this past week. For the Yankees, Mark Teixeira has been on the DL with a right shine bone bruise.
So, doctors everywhere? Begin what you call Medical Practice. The walking wounded are struggling to make it though the remainder of the season.
They are New York’s second team. And there are plenty of reasons for that position. They are the Diamondbacks-of-the-East as far as ineptitude in making trades. While the D’Backs trade players away who have been, and for some become future All-Stars, the Mets are reluctant to trade to improve without including the Yankee-type head fakes and faints to get the majority of fans in their mind-set before they make a trade. It is the ‘trade dance’.
Then there are the Brewers. A lovely team formerly in pinstripes, the team from the Cream City dances the Polka. No Metropolitanism here, these are the beer and brat team of the Midwest. They have heart. They cry a lot. They leak out the possibility of something new in the bush when rarely does that exist. They never believed that ‘one in the hand’ is better stuff. Go for the unknown hope of the future…never for the reality of today. That just isn’t parochial. And if there is one trait the citizens of Pigsville are known for, they are and forever will be parochial. ‘Hail Mary full of grace…’.
These two teams were made for each other in trades. After all, Frankie Rodriguez came to the Crew via the Mets. But this is another year. And we have a few examples of this amazing dance as the Loveables attempt to fill the holes at third, at short, in the outfield and at first at the bane of the Brewers. They have good noses. They can smell these things. After all, they are the Mets. They have extensively scouted Jean Segura, the young shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers who will be moved because of a bright young star in the bush leagues. Remember, ‘One in the hand’ philosophy? But the Mets have sent out signals, via the press, that they don’t like his ‘free swinging’. Using the press to push the price down? What would you expect from the home of ‘The Donald’. Segura has shown some upside and is young. Plus, he has three more seasons under club control. That makes him affordable. If there is one thing those lovable Mets like is ‘affordability’. It solves every question in a press conference. All of this for a guy who stole first base.
Moving to the waltz, there is the Aramis Ramirez dance, as the veteran Brewer third baseman is on the Mets radar. He is the one sitting against the wall of the ballroom. A notorious late season hitter, he is at the end of his playing career. But he still has some pop in his bat, as evidenced on Saturday night. But those lovable Mets have again floated a lovely head fake of ‘who would play where’ if Ramirez were acquired. It’s all so wonderful to see a fully orchestrated Metropolitan talk-fest prior to decision making. ‘Run it up the flagpole and see which way the wind blows’ seems to be a favorite tack out at a sea called ‘Citi’. After all, they would only be obligated to pay the last couple of months of his $14 million contract. (Let’s see, $14 million divided by 6 times 2…) He is the ultimate rent-a-player. They, through the press, let it be known that they don’t like his play on both sides of the ball (per Joel Sherman of the New York Post via Twitter). That means they really must like him.
While all this is going on, the Brewers have the Twins and Rangers looking at Neal Cotts; The Padres looking at Gerardo Parra, along with the Giants who have ‘loved Parra forever’ according to Andrew Beggarly of the San Jose Mercury News (via Twitter). They wanted to get him from the D’Backs but then Arizona didn’t want to trade him to a division rival. Note to D’Backs: you have no rivals until you field a winning team. The 2001 Championship is just a memory. The Angels are also looking at Parra. And of course, those crazy Mets have leaked out that they would like a left-handed hitting outfielder who plays in Milwaukee. Head fake!
Surprisingly, The Mets haven’t said anything about their bullpen. The Blue Jays are looking at Francisco Rodriguez. Everybody in need of a first baseman are looking at Adam Lind of the Crew including those Loveables.
Why all of this interest in a team in last place in the National League Central? Last year at this time this same team was in First place. The only addition since their collapse was Jonathan Broxton who has disappeared in a fog of ineffectiveness. Along with the acquisition of Will Smith who became a Brewer in one of the most despised trades in Milwaukee history (OK…Stormin’ Gorman to Cleveland was a doosey) when traded to KC for Nori Aoki, they also got rid of the numb Roenicke as a manager.
Point is, the teams who are chasing this year’s dream of winning a pennant and a World Series championship, see weakness in the Brewers executive ranks. The non-effective General Manger is in limbo as he is in the process of being offered the face-saving transition to upstairs where he will be in charge of Zoo Nights in August with the title of ‘Head of Whatever’, a title passed down by Harry Dalton in his quiet dual with Buddy Selig, the ex-used car ex commish. Craig Counsell is in line to become the next GM. The San Diego Padres interim manager, could succeed Counsell in the dugout. The third base coach would be replaced; Garza would be sent to limbo on permanent DL and all the world would be better in Cream City. Weak GM? Lower costs for players needed. The Mets love this type of upheaval.
That’s how the Mets play ball..err dance. Floating rumors and letting the pot boil with ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’. That’s the way those dizzy Metropolitans like to play the game. And their record shows exactly what a success that has led to. Of course, Milwaukee is not much better. Looks like a marriage made in baseball heaven. #watchingattanasio
79 have done it in baseball history. 50 of those were in the Senior Circuit. While the game has been played for well over a Century, no Ranger ever did it, including the time as the Senators. No Twin has ever done it, including the time as the Senators. Needless to say, no Senator ever did it. Sandy Koufax is the only pitcher in history to do it three times for the Dodgers. Nolan Ryan, was only one of three pitchers to ever do it twice. And of course as a member of the Hall of Fame, he did it once in each league, the only player to accomplish that feat. Dodgers did it six times. The Yankees did it five times. The Brewers and Athletics are the only teams to have done it four times.
This past Thursday, Milwaukee Brewer, Mike Fiers did it…he struck out all three Dodger batters he faced, Enrique Hernandez, Carlos Frias and Joc Pederson, perhaps the hottest hitter in the league, in the top of the 4th inning. Nine pitches. Three strike outs. 9 pitches, 9 strikes and 3 outs. It is called the ‘Immaculate Inning’.
This obscure stat began on June 4, 1889 when John Clarkson of the Beaneaters struck out Jim Fogarty who led the league in stolen bases (99), Big Sam Thompson, the right fielder who led the league in home runs that season with 20, and the big first baseman, Sid Farrar, of the Philadelphia Quakers in the top of the 3rd in Boston.
The famous names that have done it are impressive. Rube Waddell of the Athletics did it in 1902, Lefty Grove was the other pitcher who did it twice in 1928 for the Athletics. Billy Hoeft of the Tigers did it in 1953. Jim Bunning of the Tigers did it in 1959. Al Downing of the Yankees did it in 1967. Ron Guidry of the Yankees did it in 1972. Roger Clemens of the Blue Jays did it in 1997, Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox did it in 2002. Felix Hernandez of the Mariners did it in 2008. Dazzy Vance of the Dodgers did it in 1924; Robin Roberts of the Phillies did it in 1956; Sandy Koufax did it three times for the Dodgers in 1962, 1963. Tony Cloninger did it for the Milwaukee Braves in 1963. Bob Gibson did it in 1968. Milt Pappas did it for the Cubs in 1971. Bruce Sutter of the Cubs did it in 1977. David Cone accomplished the task in 1991. Orel Hershiser did it as a Giant in 1998. Randy Johnson did it twice, once in 1998 as an Astro and the other in 2001 as a Diamondback. Ben Sheets accomplished the task for the Brewers in 2004.
So where does Fiers accomplishment rank, a portend of the future as a great pitcher or along with the likes of Pat Ragan, Joe Oeschger, Bob Bruce, Pedro Borbon, Lynn McGlothen, Joey McLaughlin, Jeff Robinson, Rob Dibble, Sloppy Thurston, Danny Jackson, Jeff Montgomery, Stan Belinda, Doug Jones and the like.
Only 79 did it. As beautiful as it was, it is a ‘Fate of the Seams’.
One of the joys of baseball is the many parks that present the game. Chase Field in Phoenix is a terrific venue for baseball. Yankee Stadium is more of a cathedral. Wrigley is a trip back in time (now, more than ever with few bathrooms). Dodger Stadium is a great place to see a game. The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is great if you are in a suite (it is extremely hot and uncomfortable for most of the games). Miller Park is one of the great restaurants in the nation as it is clear, eating is more important than the team on the field. But one of the most delightful baseball palaces is AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The view is frankly unbelievable. And the fans are absolutely into the game. They may be some of the best fans in the game today. Why is this possible? If you want to be outdoors (and what Californian doesn’t?), this is the place. If you want a view with your game, this is the place. If you want a winning tradition, this is the team. If you want post season play, this is the team that can provide it. And the food? This IS San Francisco.
So that was the way today’s article was going to go. It was more of a food oration rather than a venue description. But for the Pigsville crowd, wondering why the Cream City Nine is continuing their losing ways, gathering around the bar of Dave and Melanie’s at Sobelman’s Pub n Grill, the question is answered out loud: when are they going to fire the manager, Ron Roenicke? In what was one of Milwaukee’s original Schlitz taverns, another chimed in, ‘What about firing Doug Melvin? He’s the one who didn’t do anything in the off-season and told us that this is a better team than last year.’. The natives are getting restless in the land of bratwurst and beer.
The facts are that they now have the worst record in all of baseball. No team has won fewer games (2) and they are tied with the Marlins and Giants for the most losses (9) going into Sunday’s action. If not for Cole Hamels (7), Brandon McCarthy (6) or Anibal Sanchez (5), Kyle Lohse, the Cream City Nine’s #1 starting pitcher, would be leading the majors in most home runs given up in just the first two weeks of the season, four (4). As for fielding, the Miller Parkers have committed the third most errors so far this season (11), behind only the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees. Milwaukee is ranked at the bottom of the hitting charts this season, as they rank #30 out of 30 teams. And they did fire their old hitting coach and replaced him this year. And, they are ranked #28 in pitching with a whopping 4.69 ERA. Needless to say, they lead the world in Opponents Batting Average, giving up a .290 average. Hit against Milwaukee and you have a shot at All-Star numbers.
The Brewers did make one move this off-season: they traded their #1 pitcher for whom they received…nothing of consequence. Let’s see…if you don’t pitch, you don’t hit and you don’t field…you become today’s new old Chicago Cubs.
So, how is this team better than last year’s team that folded like a paper cloth last season?
Come on, Ron, tell us. Come on, Doug. Tell us.
So in-between frustrating talk over a meal consisting of the best burger in Milwaukee, we are still #watchingattanasio.
‘Get your ice cold, fresh squeezed lemonade now. You know you love it.’
One of the wonders of a ballpark in Spring is the things you see. The guy in the section behind the screen giving a little boy a ball he caught. Or the girl at the end of the aisle waiting to buy an ice-cold Lemonade from the hawking vendor. There is the guy with a bullhorn for a voice screaming at the top of his lungs, the name of the player coming to bat. Always a pleasure to be near this guy at Maryvale.
It is also the thrill of seeing a great play from a player this early in the season. One of those is the White Sox third baseman, Conor Gillaspie, who tied a record held by thousands when he assisted on all three outs in an inning. But it was how he did that which was amazing. On one play in particular, he made a fantastic back-handed stab at a hard hit ball, grabbed it with his glove, whirled around and threw a strike to the first baseman (on this day it was Adam Dunn) to record the out.
The agony is seeing yet another poor outing by Matt Garza, the pitcher the Brewers rescued from the Rangers via the Cubs by beating out the Angels to sign him. Every pitch he throws looks like a grapefruit. One should remind him it is the Cactus League.
The occasional player running on the outfield track is always a pleasure to see and for those who have not been to Spring Training, they often talk aloud in wonder that the game is not as sacrosanct as during the regular season. It really is the visual essence of Spring Training.
Skip Schumaker in a Cincinnati uniform just looks strange. But he does have his familiar #55 on his back this season and is hitting .478 this Spring in that Red uniform. Of course, Lyle Overbay looks strange at first for the Brewers. Wasn’t he here before? Doesn’t he hold the Brewer record for doubles? Just imagine, you could have a different Brewer first baseman every inning. Beside Overbay there is Mark Reynolds, Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado (both catchers combined for 24 games at first base last season) and then there is Hunter Morris, Sean Halton and Jason Rogers, all who have been up and down from Nashville in the past few years. In addition, there is the one who started most of the games last year, Juan Francisco. An entire team of first basemen on one team. Only in Spring Training. And, only with the Brewers.
Speaking of former Brewer first basemen, Prince Fielder in a uniform, baggy as usual, with the number 84 on it is so discomforting. One can only suppose that the number stands for the $84 million he is earning each year for the next 100 years.
A Sight Of Spring Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers and Avisail Garcia of the Chicago White Sox at first base.
The Texas Rangers Avisail Garcia is a massive fellow. At 6’4”, 240 lb., he reminds one of all those old pictures in the era of Babe Ruth who was clearly so much bigger than most of the other players in the Bigs at that time. The other day, after hitting a single, he was standing just off the first base bag, clearly a head taller and much bigger than Prince Fielder (see picture above). Not much love here. All you have to know is that they hate each other after both were Tigers together and that’s not all.
The player of the year in the American League could very well be the Cuban All-Star for the Chicago White Sox, Jose Abreu, #79 in the program and #1 in your hearts. A big (6’3”, 255 lb) first baseman, he is superb. Powerful and an RBI machine, Abreu is the real deal. The Southsiders are going to have fun with this fellow on the first bag this season.
The hope of Spring would not be complete unless you saw the flawless swing of Logan Schafer. It is one of those picturesque left hand hitter swings that mesmorizes. And as usual, he is hitting well above most (.345 this Spring) and will make the team with all of the hope of past years but while sitting on the bench in Milwaukee, he will cool down and barely hit his weight during the regular season. He looks heavier this season but the speed is still there.
Vonnie Gallardo is still throwing 200 pitches a game with more 3-2 counts than he can nibble away the corners with. If he just did less of the nibbling, he would get through a game in about 55 minutes. The starting rotation of the Brewers look like, #1 Vonnie; #2 Kyle Lohse; #3 Wily Peralta; #4 Eric Estrada #5 Matt Garza.
The Men In Blue
At Camelback Ranch the other day, the four umpires marched down the third base line, in unison abreast of one another, to the music of ‘Hill Street Blues’, a hilarious moment few would ever see in a real game in The Show.
The ongoing conversation between the umpire and the third base coach of the Milwaukee Brewers throughout one of the games this week had one wondering, ‘Are they talking about going to Don & Charlies or the value of the baseball memorabilia collection there’? Guess that’s the reason why he continues to coach even if he personally is responsible, and leading the league, for about five lost games a year.
The Angels keep believing that Albert Pujols will come back from old age and make a difference this year. But the real wonder plays centerfield. Mike Trout is magnificent. He also has 11 RBI this Spring already.
The sun is warm, the drinks are cold. The hamburgers, hot dogs and brats are giving a wonderful aroma throughout the stadiums. People are smiling. No one is being annoyed by that unruly fan or the stumbling drunk. Hey. It’s Spring Training. Everybody is out of shape during this time of the year.
The Dodgers? Their wallets are so heavy, there are just a lot of smiles over at Camelback Ranch. But they do have one of the greatest pitchers in The Show, Clayton Kershaw, even if he has lost all three decision this Spring and has a 9.20 ERA.
Martin Prada is flashing his glove for the D’backs and makes it look easy playing third base. Plus he’s hitting .500. Yikes.
Then there is Jonathon Lucroy. He is one of the most underrated players in the major leagues. Although his arm has never been one to compare with others, he is a sure handed backstop and a bat like Yogi. He can flat-out hit. And for a catcher, that is fantastic. They are going to have to really keep him fresh and move him to first base if the squad of many over there don’t pan out.
Then there are the managers for many of the teams who sit next to their dugouts on folding chairs as if to see the action even closer. You can just imagine that they are saying, ‘Did you see him dip his shoulder on that one?’, as if they couldn’t see that a few feet from where they are sitting, back in the dugout. It’s a sun thing. They want to get their share of Spring Training sun to take back to those freezing fans in Milwaukee, Chicago and all places other than Florida or Arizona.
Cleveland is showing signs of being very interesting. It is largely a cast of players the manager really loves. And they are leading the Cactus League. Is that a good thing?
Scooter Gennett has outplayed Rickie Weeks in the Spring. And Aramis is ready. His hitting never needs a refresher. And Braunschweiger? He is hitting the cover off of the ball. And strangely, the other day in a visiting ballpark, there were no adverse jeers. Amazing what .500+ hitting will do.
The pitchers are rounding into shape. Chris Sale is the real deal. He looks overwhelming this spring. For a left-handed batter, it must seem like the ball is coming out of the back of their right ear.
Then there is Hank the dog.
The Racing Sausages
The sausages are running in the Seventh at Maryvale and pose with the kids for what seems like hours after their race. The line at the merchandise shop is back up outside the door. Can’t tell the players unless you are wearing his name on your back. The grills are being cleaned for the next day and as you walk out of the stadium, people are smiling and happy. Why not? It’s 80 degrees and you’ve just taken in a game, some with kids, grand children and friends. Walking past the vacant practice fields, you know that you are one of the luckiest people in the world.
This is a ritual everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.