Pastimes : Major League Baseball (MLB) -- Ignore unavailable to you. Want to Upgrade?

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)4/12/2012 11:57:35 AM
From: longnshort  Respond to of 22774
WASHINGTON -- Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen's agent says the pitcher had surgery to remove a bone fragment from his pitching elbow.

Agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Sports says Wednesday's procedure went as expected and Storen should be 100 percent fine after he goes through rehabilitation.

Storen saved 43 games in 2011, his first full major league season, going 6-3 with a 2.75 ERA. The right-hander is on the 15-day disabled list.

The Nationals took him 10th overall in the 2009 amateur draft out of Stanford.

General manager Mike Rizzo declined to comment about Storen, saying he will meet with the media on Thursday when the Nationals host the Cincinnati Reds in Washington's home opener.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)4/12/2012 11:59:08 AM
From: longnshort2 Recommendations  Respond to of 22774
At first blush, Stephen Strasburg’s overpowering start for the Washington Nationals might seem like good news for a club trying to get itself taken every bit as seriously as the Miami Marlins in the National League East’s “Division of Death” this season. But two outstanding starts into the season, Strasburg’s work brings up a couple of interesting things about this Nats club that bear watching as we head deeper into the 2012 season.

First, there’s the question of his workload. In the broad strokes, worrying about this now would definitely qualify as a case of too much, too soon. Even if Strasburg is limited to starting in a five-man rotation, in which nobody’s turn gets skipped because of scheduled days off, his total starts and innings are going to pile up. Even if Strasburg gets the odd extra day of rest between turns, he’s going to have around 17 starts by the All-Star break. As a 23-year-old. Coming back from elbow surgery. With the second half to look forward to. If he fends off a (perhaps unwanted) All-Star Game invite, he’d be on turn to lead off the rotation in the second half, same as the first.

So, if I'm reading this correctly, Ian Kinsler's deal is either five years and $75 millon, or six years and $80 million. If true, the sixth year is a veritable no-brainer. The odd thing here, though, is the front-loading of the deal, which is relatively unusual if you rifle through many of the guaranteed deals -- high-value or otherwise -- in baseball right now.

For the rest of this blog post, click here.

Walkoff Woodward
For the second straight game on Justin Verlander Day, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning behind eight strong from their ace. This time, instead of Jose Valverde, it was Verlander who would attempt to close it out, because he needed just 81 pitches to get there. Unfortunately, Verlander wasn't himself in the ninth.

For the rest of this blog post, click here.

Nationals Baseball
Sorry if you're looking for strong opinions from me just yet. It's still too early to make any real judgements on how people are performing. The batters are working on 20 ABs, the starters on one start, and the relief pitchers on 3 appearences. That's just too little data to say anything for sure.

For the rest of this blog post, click here.

That might not seem like a big deal. Davey Johnson probably isn’t going to overwork his young stud starter in individual ballgames, after all. But as dominating as Strasburg was Wednesday against the New York Mets, he still racked up 108 pitches against 24 batters in just six innings. Eighteen pitches facing just four guys per inning? That’s life when you’re striking people out, and that’s going to get you run out of games early, even when you’re going well.

But the real problem about the ideal of watching the kid’s workload and giving all due care to the logistical tedium of managing top talent carefully is where it might run up against the Nats’ bid for contention. That might sound silly to talk about in April, but various projection tools have the Nationals winning 80 to 82 games, and perhaps nobody in the NL East reaches 90. That makes the Nats a contender, on paper or in projections, admittedly, but a team that will be in the running.

Now, what does that mean for how they manage their best starter’s workload down the stretch? Is a buzzer going to go off when Strasburg makes his 24th start at the end of August, and general manager Mike Rizzo rings up Davey in the dugout and says, “Bad news, skip, the kid’s got just two starts left this year”? An incredulous Johnson might look at the standings and see that his team’s just four out and wonder what the point of the first five months was if you have to pull up and watch the Braves or Phillies or Marlins race on ahead.

That becomes even more difficult to swallow with the new two-wild-card setup for the postseason -- if you’re the Nats, and you might squeak into a one-game playoff to move into the NL Division Series, wouldn’t you feel pretty confident about your chances if you’ve got Strasburg in the fold?

Happily for the Nats, Johnson has a roster set up with more than a few compensations to deal with a young ace who’s going to have to be handled carefully early in the season, so maybe the issue becomes academic. First, you can skip worrying about who’s getting saves for the Nats, whether it’s Drew Storen or Brad Lidge at whatever point of the season. The real relief the Nats can look forward to comes from the relative no-names who will be pitching in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, starting with Tyler Clippard -- the NL’s most valuable non-Braves reliever last year, according to WAR -- and Henry Rodriguez's triple-digit gas, and Craig Stammen's ground-pounding sinker. That’s the kind of talent that will keep hard-hit balls from happening, usually with strikeouts. They won’t notch saves, but they’ll allow Johnson to hook Strasburg earlier than a previous generation’s skipper might have, and that might help keep the kid in the mix to the very end of the season.

Second, Johnson’s an old hand at getting the best from his lineups, to the point that he’ll eke out runs by cheating on defense. Witness Wednesday’s lineup behind Strasburg: With lefty Johan Santana on the mound, it becomes relatively affordable to put the towering Jayson Werth out in center field. Why? Because Strasburg generates so many outs at home plate that Johnson can risk a few adequate (or worse) defenders on the field. Against the Mets, Strasburg got half of his outs at home with those nine K's, got three ground-ball outs, and got a fly-ball out per inning.

There’s nothing very newfangled about this: Back in the 1980s, Johnson was willing to play sluggers such as Howard Johnson or a young Kevin Mitchell at shortstop when he had an extreme fly-ball/strikeout pitcher such as Sid Fernandez on the mound. And with more strikeouts happening today than ever, it makes even more sense now.

So maybe that’s the formula that gets Strasburg deep into the season: Better run support thanks to tailored lineups, a bullpen that can cover three or four frames per game, and not just pitch counts. If the Nats stay in this thing the way you could think they might, we’ll see what they decide about Strasburg’s workload then.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)5/30/2012 1:20:03 PM
From: Glenn Petersen2 Recommendations  Respond to of 22774
The economic realities of baseball in Chicago:

With tickets already sold, Cubs can afford patience

But Sox need fresh influx of revenue from fans to contend right now

David Haugh's In the Wake of the News
Chicago Tribune
10:38 PM CDT, May 29, 2012

Of all the noise surrounding the season of Iowa Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo, the loudest came courtesy of the click of a mouse instead of the swing of a bat.

Blame whoever runs the minor-league team's @IowaCubs Twitter account for misleading Cubs fans everywhere Sunday night into thinking Rizzo left Iowa's road game early to head to Chicago — instead of because of an injured right wrist. Blame a Cubs fan base dying of thirst for any drop of hope in a desert of despair the 2012 season has become. Blame Rizzo for being the closest thing the Cubs have to Adam Dunn despite hitting 400-foot homers 300 miles away.

The embarrassing episode the Cubs were forced to clean up Monday did more than remind us that, with Twitter, you can light a match in Memphis and feel the flame in Pittsburgh. As summer unofficially started, it also underscored how differently Chicago's two baseball teams operate inside the reality the market dictates.

Could Sox general manager Ken Williams show as much patience with a hot prospect like Rizzo as Cubs President Theo Epstein is without worrying about attendance? If Epstein were forced to appeal to his fan base in the role of ambassador as often as Williams is, wouldn't Rizzo already be on the North Side?

If Rizzo was hitting .354 with 17 home runs at Triple-A Charlotte and the Sox were the fourth-worst hitting team in the majors, like the Cubs, more pressure would exist for Williams than Epstein currently feels. It's a hypothetical but perhaps helps explain why Epstein can ignore clamoring fans wanting Rizzo the same day Williams asked Sox fans for patronage to create more roster flexibility.

"Every day that you don't fill the seats at least to a greater degree than we are, it hurts,' Williams told reporters in Tampa.

What Williams really meant: If you want me to add a quality player in July to help chase a playoff spot, South Siders, ante up at the ticket window. If not, have you met Dylan Axelrod?

Williams has made similar appeals in the past, a byproduct of running a big-market team by small-market rules. Every one of Williams' dugout telethons carries the same message connecting tickets sold with increased payroll. In other words, if you want the Sox to consider trading for third baseman Kevin Youkilis or entering the Ryan Dempster sweepstakes, average attendance needs to increase between 5,000 and 10,000 in June. Meet you at the Frank Thomas statue.

The Sox entered Tuesday night's game the hottest team in baseball and one of the American League's biggest surprises. Only three major league teams have worse attendance. Imagine if Williams opted to go young this season. Instead of drawing 20,663 per game — still disappointing — the rebuilding Sox would have been lucky to outdraw the Kane County Cougars. Williams' win-now emphasis often creates the misperception that the Sox can't develop prospects. If homegrown closer Addison Reed saving '10 draftee Chris Sale's 15-strikeout game Monday didn't dispel that notion, nothing will.

After that victory capped a successful Memorial Day weekend, Sox Vice President Brooks Boyer said his ticket-office staff reported to work early Tuesday based on a recent surge in demand for season tickets.

"This is a likable team and people are beginning to respond,' Boyer said.

Meanwhile, the Cubs aren't drawing as well as they would like but still average 37,332 to see one of baseball's worst teams. Honestly, the best way for Cubs fans to express their support for Rizzo is to stop buying tickets to watch a last-place team hitting .247, but that never will happen as long as the Cubs sell sunshine and beer. We all can respect the business advantages in keeping Rizzo in the minors to prevent him from accruing 172 days of major league service — he had 68 with the Padres — and becoming eligible for arbitration and free agency sooner. But we don't have to like the Cubs letting the worries of 2017 exacerbate the problems of 2012.

One hitter might not make a difference between fourth and fifth place in a lost season, but don't fans paying $140 for a bleacher seat against the Red Soxdeserve the Cubs' best shot now?

Epstein maintained that Rizzo staying in Iowa involves issues related to development, not arbitration. I still believe in Epstein's plan for the Cubs Way more than I buy that answer. The Cubs are in no hurry to bring up Rizzo because Epstein is immune to the market challenges Williams faces with the Sox every day.

While Epstein can get away with asking Cubs Nation to wait until 2014, Williams can't avoid asking Sox fans the question every GM dreads: Visa or Mastercard?

Twitter @DavidHaugh

Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)6/1/2012 7:12:57 AM
From: orkrious3 Recommendations  Respond to of 22774
Gerald Laird’s Extraordinary Feat

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)6/4/2012 5:37:25 PM
From: Glenn Petersen1 Recommendation  Respond to of 22774
The Cup Of Coffee Club: The Ballplayers Who Got Only One Game

By Rick Paulas |
The Awl
May 30, 2012

Of the 17,808 players (and counting) who’ve run up the dugout steps and onto a Major League field, only 974 have had one-game careers. In baseball parlance, these single-gamers are known as "Cup of Coffee" players. The number fluctuates slightly throughout each season as new prospects get called up to fill in for injured veterans, or when roster size expands in September. (Last year, for example, Braves rookie Julio Teheran was a Cup of Coffee player for the eleven days between his MLB debut and a spot start.) But staying on the list for an extended period of time is generally not a good sign. It's an ominous one, an indication that something's gone horribly wrong, that however long a person has worked to attain his dreams, all he was allowed was a brief glimpse before the curtain was yanked shut in front of him. The Cup of Coffee club is filled exclusively with people who do not want to be members.


Ed Cermak, all of 19 years old, trotted in from right field to take his first hacks at Major League pitching. Three quick strikes later and he was back in the dugout, most likely shaking his head at the dramatically better pitching he was now facing. His next three at-bats all met the same end: Strikeout, shaken head, strikeout, shaken head, strikeout, shaken head. The dreaded Golden Sombrero, although they didn’t have a cute phrase for something so disheartening back then. In 1901, they probably just called it A Day To Forget. He never would, though, seeing as it would be the only Major League memory he’d have.


“My job was to get on base,” Adam Greenberg has been quoted as saying many times. “I certainly was successful in doing that.” The quote is pure reporter-bait, honed to perfection after a half-decade discussing and revisiting a single pitch, and now he repeats it to me on the phone, no doubt sick of it as this point.

On July 9th, 2005, Cubs skipper Dusty Baker told Greenberg to grab a helmet and pinch-hit. He’d been on the squad less than 48 hours, just called up from the Double-A team in west Tennessee. Walking up to the plate gave him a few butterflies in the stomach, but they had disappeared by the time he reached the box. It was business time. He set his feet, made mental notation of where the outfielders were positioned (“Juan Pierre was shaded to the left”), eyed Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos and got ready to attack the first pitch he saw; lessons in the minors taught him that the first one might be the best one he was going to see.

A 92-mph pitch takes 400 milliseconds to traverse the 60-foot-6-inch distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. That’s the high end of how long it takes for a human eye to blink. Instincts take over when dealing with these kinds of speeds, skills that have been honed over years of repetition. Sensing that something was off about the ball's trajectory, the auto-response of Greenberg’s body was to turn away from the incoming projectile, protecting the exposed vital sense-collecting organs on his face at all costs. As an offering, his body was willing to sacrifice the back of his head.

“The first thing going through your head is, this guy’s dead,” said de los Santos in a 2007 "Outside the Lines" segment about the pitch. Greenberg suffered a mild concussion, which led to years of vertigo and headaches. The following season, he hit .179 and .118, respectively, in Double-A and Triple-A, forcing the Cubs to cut ties with him. Subsequent minor league tries with the Dodgers, Royals and Angels all met the same end.

Last year, the 30-year-old Greenberg set out to get out of the Cup of Coffee club once and for all. Trying to reclaim the skill set that once allowed him to play the sport at its highest level, he took hacks with the Bridgeport Bluefish, an independent team in Connecticut full of former top prospects and those no longer worth the farm club roster space. "It's a whole bunch of guys with similar stories," Greenberg told me. "And we're all in this league, trying to get out."

Another guy "trying to get out"? A former Marlin now Long Island Duck by the name of Valerio de los Santos.

In late April of last year, Greenberg and de los Santos faced each other for the first time since that fateful pitch in 2005. First pitch: fastball inside. “He threw me a hard cutter that started right in at me and fell over the plate,” Greenberg told ESPN Page 2 after the game. “At that point, it was like he’s good, I’m good, so let’s play.” Three pitches later and another de los Santos-Greenberg match-up led to the batter getting to first base, this time the result of a single. “The greatest single of my career.”

For the season, Greenberg finished with a modest .259 batting average, good for 12th on his team. But his on-base percentage, a stat that counts way more substantially seeing as there's nothing more important than getting on base, finished at .393, the best on his squad. While much of this discrepancy is due to Greenberg's ability to draw a walk, it should be noted that he also led his team, by a wide margin, in the amount of times he got to first base after being hit by a pitch.

But that was last year. He never got called back up, and this year he's no longer with Bridgeport. According to his Twitter, Greenberg's now spending his time hawking a dietary supplement that, according to its website does, well, everything. But despite his new gig, Greenberg's profile still lists him, right there in the number one spot, as a "Professional Baseball Player."


On the final day of the 1963 regular season, John Paciorek had a hell of a career. The 18-year-old started in right field for the Houston Colt .45s—two years away from trading in the handgun for the Space Race-influenced “Astros” moniker—and had a perfect day at the plate: three-for-three, two walks, three RBIs and four runs. Nagging back injuries meant he’d never have a chance to blemish that perfection.


The most famous Cup of Coffee player of all time, due exclusively to his appearance in W.P. Kinsella's 1982 novel Shoeless Joe and its subsequent film adaptation Field of Dreams, has to be Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. His story is now well known: He entered a 1905 game for the New York Giants as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. Three outs later, he trotted in from right field and picked up a bat. He was due up fourth, meaning the team would just have to muster up one base-runner for him to see a Major League pitch. But, alas, his teammates failed him and he was left in the on-deck circle when the umpire called the final out. He never got to take a single hack at the ball.

Like Graham, fellow Cup of Coffee player Ralph Gagliano never got a chance to swing a bat either. But unlike "Moonlight," he didn't get a chance to wear a mitt either.

“Digging up old bones, eh?” he said, when I reached him after a short game of phone tag.

During his time as a Major Leaguer, the only part of the field that Gagliano's spikes treaded upon was the 90 feet of dirt between first and second base in the Bronx, where old Yankee Stadium used to reside. "I could've had the shortest career in history," Gagliano told me with a laugh.

Drafted by the Indians in 1964, Gagliano was a “bonus baby,” a top prospect to whom the team signed to a Major League contract in order to keep other teams from stealing him away. “A number-one pick these days,” he said with pride. Gagliano tore knee ligaments during his first spring training, sending him to the DL until he was finally activated and placed on the big league roster on the first day of September. The shy 18-year-old kept a low profile for his first few weeks in the majors, never even speaking to manager Birdie Tebbetts. “He probably thought I was just some guy hanging around the locker room.” But Tebbetts must have just been playing dumb. In the 9th inning of a 9-4 game, he decided to give shortstop Larry Brown a break and called out Gagliano's name to punch run.

“Joe Pepitone was playing first base,” Gagliano recounted. “He asked about my brother Phil, who played against him in the minors. I don’t even know what I said, I was so scared. I took about a two-foot lead.” He laughed at the memory his old fearful self. After “two or three pitches,” the next batter grounded Gagliano into a force-out at second, leaving him with a fleeting trophy of his MLB career. “I had to slide so I ended up getting a nice strawberry,” he said. “So I had a little wound on my butt, made me feel good.”

Gagliano’s next two-and-a-half years were spent in the military during the Vietnam buildup. By the time he was ready to return, the game had passed him by. “My number didn’t get called again,” he said. His voice held no regret—it was a long time ago. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”


It just wasn’t Ron Wright’s day. His first career at-bat ended how many first career at-bats end: three straight strikes, back to the bench. But his second was truly something to behold. With runners on first and third, nobody out, he hit into the unique 1-6-2-5-1-4 triple-play, that last 1-4 connection coming when pitcher Kenny Rogers threw to second baseman Michael Young, tagging out the gambling Wright who was hoping to swipe a base while teammate Ruben Sierra was stuck in a third-to-home pickle. But Wright knew his third at-bat would be his redemption. He was feeling more comfortable, loosened up. He knew he’d get a good pitch to hit with Rogers’ first offering, so he took a hack and hit it on the screws. The man who’s earned more money playing the sport of baseball than anyone else in the history of mankind happened to be in the right place. Alex Rodriguez started the 6-4-3 double play. Wright’s three at-bats resulted in six outs. He wouldn't get the chance to do any more damage.


Baseball is a game of connections. The sport’s unique combination of team battles (Dodgers vs. Giants) and individual skirmishes (Tim Lincecum vs. Matt Kemp) lends it to a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”-esque existence. So-and-so pitched against such-and-such who was on whoever-the-hell’s team. Each game creates a new filament that bonds different pieces of information. Former pitcher Rex Hudson is one of those bonded links.

“The first batter I faced was Hank Aaron,” Hudson said. He spoke to me from his home in the philosophically-named Texas town of Ponder (Population: 507), where he retired to after 25 years working at the Albuquerque regional air traffic facility. “And I got him out.”

The first two innings went according to plan, the only mark on the scorecard being a double by Dusty Baker, another link that bonds in this essay alone. But his inexperience showed up in the third. “I didn’t know how to warm up properly. I must have thrown about four innings’ worth of pitches in the bullpen,” he says, laughing at his rookie mistake. On the mound, fatigue set in. A single begat a double begat a single begat a home run begat another home run. “I could’ve rolled it up there and they would’ve hit it.” Three runs, no outs, back to the showers. But it was the first of those two consecutive home runs that earns Hudson a permanent place in the annals of baseball history.

“[Catcher] Joe Ferguson came out to the mound with two on, nobody out and said ‘Let’s pitch him inside. So I threw it inside and he deposited it in the bullpen. Johnny Oates picked up the ball from the bullpen, wrote ‘726’ on it, and put it in his pocket.”

It was a singular souvenir: the ball that broke the old home run record. Until, that is, Hank Aaron hit two more ten days later off Padres pitcher Bill Greif, weaving another delicate strand in the game’s spider web.


Manager Hughie Jennings was in a bind. The night before, his star Ty Cobb had responded to a fan’s heckle of “half-nigger” by entering the stands and beating him senseless. When onlookers pointed out that the guy being pummeled was missing one hand and three fingers from the other, the player reportedly said, “I don’t care if he got no feet.” AL president Ban Johnson responded to the incident by suspending Cobb, indefinitely. The rest of his Tigers team, knowing they had no shot without him, refused to play until Cobb was reinstated. So here was Jennings, walking the streets of Detroit, trying to patch together a rag-tag team of scrubs to avoid a $5,000-a-game no-show fine from the league. And there, standing on a random street corner, stood 20-year-old Allan Travers. He'd never pitched a game in his life, but he was up for the challenge. That night he’d throw eight innings in front of 20,000 fans and give up 24 runs on 26 hits, closing out his career with a 15.75 ERA. But it most likely wasn't the bombardment he remembered years later. It was the one batter he managed to strike out.


“You know those donuts on the bat?” asked Bill Schlesinger, 69 years old, speaking with the slow confidence of a seasoned storyteller, knowing the payoffs come without having to rush.

Everyone who's ever played little league knows what Schlesinger's talking about: They're the weighted rings players put on a bat to add a bit more heft to their practice swings, the purpose being that, theoretically, when they get up to the plate to take real hacks, the bat will feel lighter. While the science behind using such an apparatus is sketchy at best, it's one of those unquestioned rituals that start young and filter their way into professional ball: Add a donut, take a few swings, you're good to go. Of course, there is a final step to the process that may be the most vital.

“I was on my way to home, tapping the bat on the ground to get it off… and it wouldn’t come.” While his voice didn't change, a slight shift in his inflection indicated a smile was forming on his face. “The umpire had to help me, so everyone’s laughing and making fun of me.” He paused to let the story linger there.

Schlesinger’s only at-bat was a comedy of errors. On the Boston Red Sox from day one of the 1965 season, the 18-year-old had become accustomed to spending the long hours between first pitch and final out talking shop with equipment manager, Don Fitzpatrick. “I’d just take batting practice and sit in the corner,” he said. When manager Billy Herman finally made the call, Schlesinger wasn’t the only one shocked. “Fitzie says, ‘Oh my god, he wants to you pinch hit,’ so he ran back to the clubhouse and got my bats. I didn’t even have my bats there.”

The rest of his at-bat saw him getting grief from the umpire (“I got a dinner engagement in about an hour, no sense in you looking down to third for signs, kid”) and learning the manifold deceptions of catchers (“We’ll just give you some fastballs to get this over with,” which they obviously didn’t). It ended with a little tapper back to the pitcher. “And that was that.” Three days later, the Red Sox tried to send him to the minors, but he was snatched up by the Kansas City Athletics on a waiver claim, who in turn stuck him in their own farm system. But that was actually just the beginning for Schlesinger.

The next five years were spent working his way back up through the farm clubs of various major league teams: Single-A Winston-Salem to Double-A Mobile to Double-A Pittsfield to Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A Tacoma to Triple-A Eugene; Oakland to Boston to Chicago to Philadelphia. He was hitting .254 with 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases—the power/speed combo everyone was waiting to develop—when Eugene manager Frank Lucchesi called him into his office. Lucchesi was given notice that he would have the big league managerial job next year—he’d be sending signs from the dugout of the Philadelphia Phillies—and his first order of business was taking his best Triple-A players with him. “He thought I was ready for the majors,” said Schlesinger. But dreams of a second Major League at-bat lasted about two weeks, when an errant pitch came up and inside. “Got hit in the cheekbone, part of the earflap,” he told me matter-of-factly. As with Gagliano, any heartache he may have felt has been callused over by time. “Lost 40 percent of my vision and still can’t see today.”

As his former Triple-A teammates—Larry Bowa and Denny Doyle, among others—were taking their swings in the majors, Schlesinger had to relearn how to even see a ball. When he came back the following season, he hit .190 before the Phillies decided to send him to the bench and have him work off the rest of his contract by scouting high school games for up-and-coming talent. He was given his release from the team in the winter of 1970.

After a year out of baseball working at his dad’s hardware store, Schlesinger sent off letters to every team in the league, begging for one last shot. The Pirates eventually gave him one. But in his first game back, another up-and-inside pitch hit him in the head. This time, luckily, it just grazed the bill of his helmet, but it indicated a bigger issue. Said Schlesinger, “I didn’t see it.” Joe Brown, owner of the Pirates, noted the lack of reaction from his perch in the stands, jumped over the small fence near the dugout and took Schlesinger out of the game himself. After a ten-minute long chat in the clubhouse, Brown told him that that was it. It’s not worth it. “Go back to Cincinnati and help your dad with the store.”

His career was over, but he still had his stories, including his brushes with one of the Hall of Famers who occasionally showed up to spring training.

“So I get out of the batting cage and Ted Williams says to me, ‘You know who I am?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, you’re Ted Williams.’ ‘Let me ask you something, kid. Do you think I was a good hitter?’ and I said ‘Oh, you were a real good hitter, Mr. Williams.’ That was a mistake. I said ‘real good.’ ‘Real good? Real good? Let me tell you something, kid. I was the best goddamn hitter that ever lived and don’t you forget it. I was the best hitter in the past, present, and in the future. That’s the way it’s going to be and that’s the way it’s always going to be.’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Now go in the outfield and I’ll hit you some balls.’”

Schlesinger took a moment to choose which tale he’s going to tell next. “But boy, I got some stories about him...”


Three-foot-7-inch Eddie Gaedel got an at-bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. Gaedel had been secretly signed to the team the night before, one of the publicity stunts of showman owner Bill Veeck, who called him “the best darn midget who ever played big league ball.” When pitcher Bob Cain couldn’t find the one-and-a-half inch strike zone, Gaedel trotted to first base to a standing ovation before being removed for a pinch runner. Seeing as it was his only at-bat, Gaedel is tied for the Major League record for highest on-base percentage. Forty-seven other Cup of Coffee players share the mark with him.


“Can you hear the hail on the phone?” Jeff Banister asked. He was in his car, 160 miles from his destination of Charlotte, waiting on the side of the road for a treacherous downpour to abate.

Both times I'd called previously, the phone had gone directly to a voice service that played a snippet of Toby Keith's "Love Me If You Can," the defiant song Keith recorded after laying down the tracks for the pro-war "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." "You may not like where I'm going," Keith sang to me over the phone, "but you sure know where I stand."

Working as field coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Banister's job is, to paraphrase Keith, to make sure everyone knows where the team stands. He oversees the entirety of the development process, including instilling a game philosophy that starts in the minors. “I like to say I’m managing the men as well as the boys,” says Banister.

His lone at-bat—a legged-out infield single—is less noteworthy than everything that surrounds it.

In high school, he was diagnosed with cancer in his ankle bone. Doctors considered amputation, but seven operations allowed him to keep the foot and, eventually, got rid of the cancer. In college, while playing catcher, he was run over during a play at the plate, resulting in three shattered vertebrae. He overcame these setbacks and was drafted in the 25th round of the 1986 draft. After toiling in the minors for seven seasons, accumulating over 1,600 plate appearances in the process, when he finally got the call to the majors, he couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

“[Roommate] Jeff Richardson and I used to always joke whenever the phone would ring late night, and say, ‘Hey, we just got called up,’” said Banister. “So he answered the phone and said, ‘Hey, you’re getting called up.’ And I said, yeah, whatever.” After making manager Terry Collins prove it was actually him, and getting a legitimate reason why he was getting called up now (catcher Don Slaught hurt himself in that night’s game), Banister finally believed him and took the first-class flight from Buffalo to Pittsburgh.

One at-bat and two games spent on the bench later, Banister was in the dugout when he saw pitcher Bob Walk pull a hamstring rounding third base. “I felt everyone’s eyes in the dugout looking at me.” The team would need the roster spot for an extra pitcher. He was on his way back down. (Yes, in first class again.) He continued to play in the minors, in winter ball, and in the Dominican Republic before elbow reconstruction surgery effectively put an end to his career in 1991. As part of his rehab he was asked to help coach the Double-A team. “And I just fell in love with it.”

Since our conversation, Banister has been promoted to bench coach for the Major League team. With 25 years logged in the organization, if the Pirates play poorly enough to force a coaching change in the near future—a likely scenario since, you know, they’re the Pirates and that’s what they do—don’t be surprised if Banister’s in a new, more exclusive, club in addition to the fraternity of Cup of Coffee players: Major League managers. And, when that happens, you can go ahead and throw him in the book of Great Life Lessons, his entry focusing on how to turn a horribly wrong into a perfectly right.


On September 18th, 1892, a man named “Higby” started in right field for the Brooklyn Atlantics. He had three defensive chances, converting two and erring on a third. At the plate, he went 0-for-4. Any other information about him has been lost to time.

Rick Paulas is a White Sox fan.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)6/17/2012 8:58:29 AM
From: Glenn Petersen3 Recommendations  Respond to of 22774
One Hard Way to Play Ball

New York Times
June 16, 2012

It was a typical moment in an ordinary game on an average day for a major league catcher. This one happened to be May 30 in Anaheim, but it could have been August in Kansas City or March in Tampa.

The Yankees’ Russell Martin, standing behind home plate armed with five pounds of equipment, known affectionately as the tools of ignorance, bent his knees and lowered his torso to the ground like a Transformer toy recoiling into its compact shape.

Balancing on his toes, he tilted his shoulders forward and placed his right hand behind his right leg to protect it from the hard white rock hurtling toward him. Behind the plate, he was, yet one more time, in his crouch. It is a distinctive bit of physical positioning for the men who play perhaps the sport’s most important position.

It can also be a miserable and merciless place to make a living.

In Anaheim, Martin raised his gloved left hand to receive the full-count pitch, a slider, from relief pitcher Rafael Soriano in the ninth inning of a one-run game. The ball slid, all right. Right into home plate, where it bounced up and, as hundreds of balls do every year, found one of the many unprotected and vulnerable parts of Martin’s body.

With the chance that the batter, Alberto Callaspo, might swing and miss for strike three, it was incumbent upon Martin to block the ball to prevent it from scooting behind him.

He blocked the ball. With his neck.

He wasn’t exactly intending to use his neck. But some part, any part, of his body is always being called into duty, and on this occasion it happened to be his neck. It’s the way the job works.

The ball drove into Martin’s throat like a punch from an angry welterweight, and it momentarily staggered him. He coughed, caught his breath, shook his head. After a brief pause — it’s mostly all catchers ask for, or get — he was back down in that familiar, vulnerable, dangerous crouch, ready for the next pitch in the dirt, the next possible foul tip, the next angry punch.

“Any time you get hit in the neck, you panic for a second,” Martin said. “I was hit directly in the Adam’s apple last year, and for a second you’re scared for your life. But this was more the side of my neck. I held my breath for a second, and then when I could breathe, I realized I’d be O.K. So I got back down for the next pitch.”

Getting down for the next pitch — again and again, across scores of games and hundreds of innings and in service of thousands of pitches — is the essence of Martin’s job. He is, as a professional baseball catcher, at once trusted and vital, exposed and embattled, relied on by his team and most likely underappreciated by fans.

From the first day of training camp in late winter until the end of the season in the fall, a catcher will make innumerable critical decisions affecting the outcomes of games. He will take hundreds of tipped and bouncing balls into dozens of protected and unprotected parts of his body.

And he will put untold stress and wear on his knees, legs, back and neck. Just by getting into his position.

“It’s the hardest position to play, by far,” Tim McCarver said. “People don’t realize half of what goes into it.”

McCarver caught 1,387 major league games from 1959 to 1979, and his right middle finger was split open nine times from foul balls, usually off the bats of right-handed hitters trying to bunt Bob Gibson’s slider. He had a knee replaced two years ago, at 68, and his left hand still swells from the incessant impact of catching baseballs. Even with a mitt for protection, his hands wound up beaten like flour dough, and today the index and middle fingers on his left hand frequently go numb.

Other veteran catchers describe the identical condition, often in commiseration with one another.

“I saw Johnny Roseboro, and he told me he split his finger open so many times he had to have surgery to remove all the scar tissue,” McCarver said. “I’ll see John Bench and Carlton Fisk and Darren Daulton, other guys who caught a lot. When we get together, we talk about the way we walk, and our knees, and our back, the way we feel in general. It’s only natural. It’s a small fraternity, and we all share the same battered experiences.”

Sandy Alomar Jr. caught 1,324 games for seven teams in the major leagues from 1989 to 2007, and he caught hundreds more in the minors. He has had 10 operations on his knees, including seven on the left alone.

“I feel lucky I can still walk,” Alomar said, laughing. “Considering how much abuse you take, I feel like I’m ahead of the game.”

Seven years into his career, Martin, a 29-year-old health and fitness obsessive who has done intensive mixed martial arts training, says that any damage he has incurred thus far has been more momentary than long-lasting. He has hope, if not precisely confidence, for the future of his body.

“So far, my knees feel fine,” Martin said. “Maybe the toll it takes on your knees is a myth. But there is definitely a lot of abuse associated with the position. I guess it can add up.”

The New York Times set out to chronicle one season in the life of one catcher. In effect, to add it up: the exhilarations, satisfactions and challenges, the mechanics of the position and the mental slog of playing it day after day, the bruises and the boredom, the obvious plays and the hidden decisions.

Here, then, is a rough accounting a third of the way through Russell Martin’s 2012 season: 54 games; 4461/3 innings; 392 putouts including strikeouts; 11 outs made at the plate, including a rough one last month and a critical tag Saturday to preserve a tie in a game he would catch 14 innings without relief; two balls in the neck; and the occasional smack on the back of the hand or the head by an overswung bat.

Then there was this, a new injury for a catcher deep into a career full of physical insults: during a game in Baltimore on May 14, a foul tip clipped Martin’s mask and drove one of the metal bars into his chin.

“I didn’t have my mask aligned right, and the metal bar underneath jammed into my chin,” he said. “I was just careless. It went away. Sometimes, I won’t even remember. I’ll be hanging out with my girlfriend and she’ll tap me on the arm or something, and I’ll be like ‘Ow, that hurts.’ And it turns out I’ve got a bruise there I didn’t even know about.”

Pain for others at the position has been more considerable in 2012. As of June 10, 16 catchers were on the disabled list for various injuries. The Washington Nationals lost two catchers in three days in May. The Detroit Tigers have two on the disabled list. One of those is Alex Avila, who is out with a hamstring injury, but he was also knocked from a game after he was dazed by taking a foul tip square in the mask. Mets catcher Josh Thole sustained a concussion when he was knocked over on a play at the plate May 7; he missed close to a month.

Martin’s father, a jazz saxophonist with a gift for metaphor, has developed his own way of capturing the catcher’s season-long assignment:

“Standing right in the middle of the freeway.”

Discomfort Is Job 1

Go ahead, try it: crouch low, with your rear end nearly touching the ground. Stay there. Hurt yet? O.K., get up. Now get back down. Hurt yet? Hurt worse?

Squatting like that is not, well, normal. And actually, catchers don’t even like calling it squatting. They prefer to call it crouching. Who better to know?

For the average sports fan, after all, sitting on a bar stool for the duration of an American League game is challenging enough.

Indeed, it’s not easy to imagine any other jobs that require anything like it. A mechanic? A preschool teacher? A detective checking out a spent shell casing? A couple of minutes at the most, right? Even snake charmers sit cross-legged some of the time.

For a grown man, then, coiling his 200-pound frame over and over into the catching position is not always done without consequence.

“I couldn’t even get into a crouch now if I wanted to,” said San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy, who is 57 and was a catcher in the major leagues for nine years. “And if I did somehow get into it, I don’t think I could get out of it.”

Bochy said that when he played, his thighs grew so large he could not buy trousers off the shelf; his pants had to be tailored to accommodate his massive upper legs.

The crouch today is taken for granted in baseball, as familiar to the game as the grass. But catchers did not always squat behind the plate. In the early days of baseball in the middle of the 19th century, according to historians at the Baseball Hall of Fame, catchers stood far back from the plate and caught pitches on a bounce, without a glove. Because of this, fields needed to be manicured so that the area behind the plate was even and smooth, intended to produce uniform bounces.

But in the 1870s, a Harvard student named Fred Thayer invented a mask for the university team’s catcher, James Tyng. Inspired by masks that fencers wore, Thayer fashioned his out of wire and leather, much like today’s catcher’s masks. It changed the position forever.

Tyng, and those who followed, were able to move closer to the plate, and soon catchers began to crouch, enabling them to form a target with their new gloves in the strike zone.

Catchers usually have two basic crouches. The primary position is a relatively relaxed pose, with the knees bent at an acute angle and the heels pointing together, much like a camper stoking a fire.

But when there is a runner on base, the catcher will go into his secondary position, a hop, or side step. Here, the knees are at more of a right angle, the body weight more on the balls of the feet, allowing the catcher to more quickly and effectively spring into action and throw out a potential base stealer.

Most catchers use the same fundamentals in their crouch, with slight variations, like putting one knee below the other to set a lower target. Others, like Tony Pena, now a coach for the Yankees, were notable for extending one leg to the side, flat on the ground. But this unusual, somewhat balletic-looking stance, can be done only when no runners are on base.

“Sometimes your body is just right for catching,” said Pena, who caught 1,950 games over 18 seasons. “If it’s not, you learn pretty early and you play something else.”

Pasty After Pastry

Russell Martin’s father, Russell, was born and raised in Montreal. When his dreams of becoming a professional football player ended shortly after high school, the elder Martin worked renovating homes. But at 26 he picked up a friend’s flute, then a tenor saxophone, and a new vocation was born.

The elder Martin had natural musical ability and a willingness to work at it. He played in the Montreal Métro, especially at the Villa-Maria stop because of its grand acoustics.

So when his son was born, the elder Martin gave him the middle name Coltrane, an homage to John Coltrane; not solely for his music, but also for his free, independent spirit.

The family bounced around Canada before Martin’s parents separated. When Martin’s mother remarried, she took Russell, then 8, and his sister to Paris.

Russell was fluent in French, and he quickly perfected a Parisian accent, said his mother, Suzanne Jeanson. Still, there were some issues with his fitting in. He was taunted and bullied as an outsider.

“It was a shock to him, because he was always an outgoing kid who made friends easily,” Jeanson said. “He had to learn to defend himself, which he got quite good at.”

But more significant for the eventual major leaguer, Martin’s athletic future became imperiled in Paris. And not by France’s lack of everyday baseball options for youngsters.

No, it was a French patisserie in Issy-les-Moulineaux in southwestern Paris, and its chocolate croissants, that almost doomed Martin’s rise to the major leagues. Crouching as a catcher is hard enough. Doing so with a soft and expanding midsection is harder.

“I ate them every day,” he said. “When I got back to Montreal in the summer, my dad couldn’t believe how much weight I had put on.”

Martin’s father concurred. “It broke my heart,” he said. “I took him out to the field to play ball, but he couldn’t move the way he had before.”

Playing his horn in the Métro, the elder Martin made enough money to take time off in the summer to play baseball with his son and get him back into shape. Eventually, he sent Russell to the prestigious Édouard Monpetit high school.

At the time, Russell was one of the most athletic kids in his corner of Montreal. And like most kids in Montreal, he played a little hockey. He mixed in, too, some fun with the saxophone and drums. But in baseball he stood apart. At that stage, though, he stood apart as a shortstop and an outfielder.

Like Coltrane, catching, it seemed, was going to be an acquired taste. A sophisticated and at times shocking acquired taste.

Up. Down. Etc.

There are many ways to appreciate the physical toll a catcher endures. The ball in the throat in Anaheim was one way. A game between the Yankees and the Orioles on May 2 was another.

That evening at Yankee Stadium, Martin and Ivan Nova, the right-hander who was starting that night, walked to the bullpen at 6:35. Once they arrived, Martin got behind the plate and into his crouch. He repeated that close to 50 times. He fully stood up exactly four times, once during the national anthem.

The Times counted the number of times Martin got into his crouch in the course of the night. In all, counting pregame warm-ups with Nova in the bullpen and the 8 to 10 warm-up throws before each inning, he did it 311 times.

In the first inning, Martin stood up and then went back down into the crouch 19 times, and spent 7 minutes 30 seconds in his crouch. The longest inning was the seventh, in which he moved up and down 54 times and spent 10:48 squatting on his way to nearly an hour in the crouch.

The math grows ugly. Last season, Martin’s first with the Yankees after he signed as a free agent, he started 118 games, meaning he spent roughly 106 hours in the crouch. In his seven-year career, he has spent the equivalent of almost 28 days crouching.

“I would never want to do it,” C. C. Sabathia, Martin’s teammate with the Yankees, said of catching.

The physical penalties paid by the catcher, of course, are not often characterized by the spectacular violence of a wide receiver clotheslined by a safety. Neither are they frequently accompanied by the angry acoustics of a crunching hockey check into the boards.

The price paid, as much as anything, is one of plain, penetrating exhaustion, both mental and physical. It is about enduring a grinding, dirty routine, where, in St. Louis or Arlington, Tex., in August, a catcher can shed 10 pounds in a game. In 2007, when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Martin started 143 games behind the plate.

Three times this season, Martin has caught at least six games in six days. From May 11 to 17, he caught seven consecutive games, and once, from June 5 to 13, he caught nine in a row.

“When you’re going through it, you don’t notice it,” Martin said of the grind. “It’s when you stop for a day or two and then the aches from the foul tips and the fatigue kind of bubble to the surface and you’re like ‘Whoa, did I get hit by a train?’

“Sometimes I’d rather just plow through and keep playing, just soldier on, because it almost feels harder when you’ve been off for a day and you come back.”

Fast Track to the Majors

It is not as if catching lacks its distinctive charms. And to be honest, there aren’t a lot of them.

But here’s one: when a catcher crouches in his spot, he faces the opposite direction of his teammates; the complete game is before him. He sees it as no one else. That perhaps helps explain why so many catchers become managers.

“I feel like I have the best view because I got a big jumbo-screen TV in front of me all day,” Martin said, by way of describing his vantage point. “I can just sit there and watch that.”

It was never a lock that Martin would find his way behind the plate.

But then came a dewy morning in February 2003 on Field No. 2 at Dodgertown, then the Dodgers’ spring training and Class A minor league headquarters in Vero Beach, Fla. A massive young pitcher from the Dominican Republic named Jose Diaz, at 6 feet 4 inches and 255 pounds, stood on a covered mound waiting to fire fastballs at Martin, the Dodgers’ latest project.

Diaz, known as Jumbo, could throw baseballs hard, 97 to 100 miles per hour. But he was frighteningly wild, and he provided quite a test even for a seasoned catcher, let alone a neophyte.

As a handful of coaches and evaluators from the Dodgers’ minor league staff looked on, Martin stood 63 feet away, fully outfitted in what for him was new equipment. Then he crouched.

Diaz wound up, coiled and unloaded. Martin caught the pitch, and at that moment, he was a catcher.

Martin was being converted from a third baseman. Although he played shortstop and center field during his childhood in Montreal, third base was his position in the minor leagues after the Dodgers drafted him on June 4, 2002.

Although he was selected to play third, the Dodgers worried that he did not have enough power at the plate to play the position.

Jon Debus was the Dodgers’ catching coordinator, and he had the idea that Martin might make a good catcher. The Dodgers called it cherry-picking. If Debus thought a player had a better chance to progress to the majors as a catcher, he was allowed to pursue a switch. That was how Mike Piazza, an early first baseman, became an All-Star catcher for the Dodgers.

Debus consulted with others, including Terry Collins, the current Mets manager, who was the Dodgers’ minor league field coordinator at the time.

“I said, ‘Hey, this guy’s a pretty good third baseman — why do you want to mess with that?’ ” Collins said. “But Debo knew what he was doing. Martin had the kind of athletic ability to pull it off.”

Martin was almost immediately on board. He had caught a few games in college in Florida, so there was some familiarity. Besides, he had always heard that the fastest way to the big leagues was as a catcher.

“I always felt like I could play any position,” he said, “but they felt like that was the best-suited position for me, so I gave it a shot.”

Giving it a shot meant hours of practice with Debus, a former catcher, on the fields in Vero Beach. And practice meant things like putting on equipment and squatting behind the plate while Debus fired balls into the dirt in front of him as Martin practiced blocking them with whatever part of his body got there first.

He had to learn the proper techniques for crouching, both the primary and secondary stances. He had to learn how to present a target to the pitcher, how to frame the pitch properly to induce a strike call from the umpire, how to block pitches in the dirt, how to throw to second base to catch a potential thief, how to make a pickoff throw to first base and, most demanding and nuanced of all, how to call pitches.

“It was just tons and tons of repetition,” Martin said.

In 2005, Martin became the everyday catcher for the Dodgers’ Class AA affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla., catching 117 games. He did well, impressing Debus and Collins so much that Collins issued favorable reports to his boss, Paul DePodesta, then the Dodgers’ general manager. DePodesta was scheduled to make a trip to Jacksonville that summer when Collins noticed that Martin was not in the lineup. It was a day game after a night game, and catchers usually get those off unless the team is in a pennant race.

“I told him, ‘Do you realize who is here?’ ” Collins said he asked Martin. “ “He came here to see you play.’ After I told him that, he played like he had just come off three days’ rest. He did everything, at the plate, behind the plate. I think from that moment, Paul had it in his mind to get Russell to the big leagues.”

A year later, on May 5, 2006, at Dodger Stadium, Martin made his debut after only 23 games at Class AAA. He caught Derek Lowe and helped the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory while collecting two hits of his own.

Martin — after a detour to Paris, after a flirtation with third base, after a crash course in how to crouch and how best to process pain — was standing right in the middle of the freeway.

And now, a third of the way into Martin’s seventh season, halfway through June, with more than 50 games under his belt and his team in contention, the heavy traffic is still to come.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)8/24/2012 8:34:19 AM
From: Glenn Petersen2 Recommendations  Read Replies (1) | Respond to of 22774
Dunn's Ruthian Season

Wall Street Journal
August 23, 2012, 6:38 p.m. ET

White Sox slugger Adam Dunn might as well change his uniform number to 3 and start binge-eating hot dogs before games. After all, he is on pace to accomplish a feat this season that has only been matched by Babe Ruth.

Entering Thursday, Dunn led baseball in home runs, walks and strikeouts—something Ruth did three times in his career and no other major-league player has done since.
Ruth held the whiff/walk/homer crown in 1923, 1924 and 1927. But in those days, Ruth was routinely leading baseball in nearly every hitting category.

Dunn's case is far more unusual. He is just a year removed from a dreadful season in which he had a .159 average and a measly 11 homers. Granted, strikeouts have never been an issue for Dunn—he has led baseball in Ks three times prior to this season. But he has led the league in walks just once (2008) and has never led baseball in homers despite already clubbing 401 in his career.

But before Dunn starts calling himself the second-coming of Bambino, he should note that around 90 strikeouts would have been enough to lead baseball during the 1920s. It's still August and Dunn has 178.

—Geoff Foster A version of this article appeared August 23, 2012, on page D9 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Dunn's Ruthian Season.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)9/18/2012 3:25:30 PM
From: Glenn Petersen4 Recommendations  Respond to of 22774
The Cubs have been stripped of a World Series "championship":

Chicago Cubs' World Series title reference disappears from new NBC show 'Revolution'

By Rob Manker, Chicago Tribune reporter
1:29 p.m. CDT, September 18, 2012

The Chicago Cubs are no longer World Series champions.

When clips of the new NBC sci-fi show "Revolution" debuted online this spring, a scene set in Chicago depicted four of the show's characters walking past an abandoned Wrigley Field in the year 2027. Beneath the familiar red Wrigley Field marquee was a sign declaring the Cubs "2012 World Series champions."

The premise of "Revolution" is that some mysterious force saps the planet of its electricity in 2012, bringing life as we know it to a halt. Governments are toppled. Lawlessness reigns. And, 15 years later, there is no more Major League Baseball.

But when the show premiered Monday night, the Wrigley Field scene shown in the trailer was different. Gone was the declaration of the Cubs as champs, replaced by a plain red background beneath the marquee. Everything else about the post-apocalyptic scene remained the same — still Wrigley Field, still abandoned, still no electricity.

Four months after the original clip appeared, the real 2012 Cubs have the second-worst record in baseball and are mathematically eliminated from any chance of making the playoffs.

Apparently even the bounds of science fiction can be stretched only so far.

Twitter: @RobManker

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)11/27/2012 12:18:58 PM
From: Jeffrey S. Mitchell1 Recommendation  Read Replies (1) | Respond to of 22774
Yesterday's stars -- Briggs remained loyal to Tigers through thick and thin

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2012 10:45 pm

Yesterday's stars -- Briggs remained loyal to Tigers through thick and thin
Hour Staff Writer
The Hour Publishing Company

Walter Briggs made sure he stuck around for one more happy sports memory in his wonderful life.

Briggs, who lived in Norwalk for 20 years before moving to Wilton three years ago, passed away Saturday morning at the age of 77. But not before he got to see his beloved Detroit Tigers make it to one more World Series last month.

But Walter O. Briggs III was more than just a Tigers fan. His family was the Detroit Tigers, at least for part of the American League franchise's storied history.

His grandfather, the original Walter O. Briggs, owned the team from the mid-1930s to the mid-50s. His father, Walter O. Briggs Jr., was president of the team.

Meanwhile, young Walter Briggs III, who was born in 1935, the same year his grandfather bought the team, spent his childhood hanging around the stadium and on the field before home games.

In fact, in 1938, his grandfather, who bought the team from the widow of previous owner Frank Navin, officially changed the name of Navin Field to Briggs Stadium.

"I was very lucky," Briggs, who grew up just outside of Detroit in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said in an interview in August 2006, the last season the Tigers went to the World Series prior to this year. "I had my own uniform when I was 9 years old and I was allowed to go on the field and play catch with Ted Lyons and Hal Newhouser and Virgil Trucks and Charlie Gehringer.

"They threw curve balls to me which I couldn't hit. I never did learn how to hit that."

Didn't matter. Young Walter was busy accumulating memories that would last him a lifetime.

"I had the opportunity to grow up and be part of the Tigers," he said. "One time, someone asked me for my autograph. He figured since I had a uniform on I had to be somebody. I did sign it, but I wrote Hoot Evers' name since he was blonde and had blue eyes and so did I.

"Anyway, he was happy with the autograph."

Briggs actually liked being the youngest player on the field during pregame drills. But that changed in 1953 when an up-and-coming prospect named Al Kaline arrived.

"He was the first player younger than me," Briggs said of the future Hall of Fame right fielder, who played 22 years with the club and became one of its most popular players in history. "He arrived when he was just 19. He turned 19 in March and I was 19 in January.

"He was just a terrific human being and a great baseball player."

Kaline helped lead Detroit to a World Series victory in 1968, the first Fall Classic Briggs actually saw his team win. He was around in 1945, too, when the Tigers beat the Cubs 4 games to 3, but didn't get to see any of the first three games played at Briggs Stadium because they were all day games during the week.

"I didn't get to see the 1945 World Series because my father thought a kid should go to school instead of the World Series," Briggs, who was 10 at the time, explained. "So all the kids went to the World Series and I was stuck in school with the nuns."

Briggs did go in 1968 when the Tigers rallied from 3-1 down to beat Bob Gibson and the Cardinals in seven games, but his family no longer owned the team. His grandfather passed away in 1952 and the Tigers were sold in 1956.

"I was 21 and just graduated from college at the time," Briggs recalled six years ago. "I was very disappointed when the team was sold, but it was in a trust fund and under the Prudent Mann Investment Rules back then, you weren't allowed to hold onto a team in a trust. I've always blamed the IRS.

"So we sold it for $8 million at the time, which is not a lot of money today. I had hoped my father and his friends would take over so my family could still retain ownership, but that was not possible."

As disappointing as seeing his family sell the team in '56 was, there was a day in 1961 that was even more disheartening for Briggs. That was the day the name of the stadium was changed from Briggs Stadium to Tiger Stadium.

"That was a very sad day in my life, but I understood. You had new owners," he said of the end of a 23-year run with the family name. "At least they changed it to Tiger Stadium and not another human being."

But right up until the team played its final game there at the end of the 1999 season -- which he attended -- Briggs always referred to it as "Briggs Stadium."

The Detroit Lions also played at Briggs Stadium and won three NFL championships during that time in 1952, '53 and '57 (teams on which, incidentally, Norwalk's 'Rivets' Miller was a starting lineman).

"My family had an investment in the team and I was also a member of the board of directors," Briggs said, before adding with a laugh, "That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee."

No, there was no mistaking that Walter Owen Briggs III always bled Tigers Blue and Orange, even after his family was no longer affiliated with the team.

"I'm still a Tigers fan and I will always be a Tigers fan till I die," he said in 2006.

He remained true to his word, even after he and his lovely wife Gwen and their eight children moved from Michigan to Connecticut, settling in New Canaan for five years before moving to Rowayton.

"When I came East, I was going to root for anybody but the Yankees," he said of the Tigers' longtime American League rivals. "That comes with the history of baseball."

His allegiance to Detroit never faded, either. When the Tigers made it back to the World Series in 1984 with what may have been the best team in franchise history, Briggs remembers where he was when Kirk Gibson hit his towering home run in the upper deck of Tiger Stadium--oops, Briggs Stadium--in the clinching Game 5 victory against the San Diego Padres.

"I was down in a bar in Manhattan for that game and people couldn't understand why I came out of my chair screaming," he said. "I was working in New York at the time and the trains were on strike, so my wife and I actually rented an apartment down there. When the World Series was on, we went to the local bar to watch it because we didn't have a television at the place where we were staying.

"Then when Gibson hit that home run, I just started screaming and the people in the bar just looked at me. But there were more Detroit fans there than San Diego fans even though he hit it off Goose Gossage."

Briggs remained loyal to his Tigers through good times and bad, even in 2003 when they went 43-119, barely avoiding the 1962 Mets' futility mark of 120 losses.

But just three years later, Briggs was rewarded for his loyalty when the 2006 Tigers won the pennant and returned to the World Series. Briggs, 71 at the time, even flew out to Motown to attend the first two games against the Cardinals.

"He was thrilled to go out there," Gwen, his wife of 58 years, said. "He absolutely loved his Tigers."

Adding to Briggs' enjoyment was watching his team thump the hated Yankees in the ALDS that season. You can only imagine how excited he was to see the Tigers sweep the Bronx Bombers in this year's ALCS to return to the World Series."

"He was a little upset with how the World Series turned out," Gwen Briggs said of the Giants' sweep. "But we were just thrilled with the Yankees' defeat. That always makes us happy in this house."

This year, however, her husband had to watch the Series on TV.

"Traveling was real hard," Gwen said. "He was still going to work everyday (as a financial advisor at Merritt 7) and driving. But to get on an airplane would've been too hard."

Of course, baseball wasn't Walter Briggs' only passion. He was also very active in Norwalk politics, gaining the Democratic Party's nomination in the 2007 mayoral election and serving as the longtime chairman of the Norwalk Planning Commission.

"Listen, at my age, you either fall down or you're active," Briggs joked back in 2006. "Plus I enjoy what I'm doing."

But one week before Thanksgiving, Briggs suffered a stroke and had to be hospitalized. That didn't stop him, however, from enjoying quality time with his family during his final days.

"Our eight children were all here the week of Thanksgiving and each of them spent time with him at the hospital," Gwen, a former councilwoman, said Monday. "We were all reminiscing today about the time he took the whole family to see a baseball game. Mark Fidrych pitched for the Tigers and it was the one and only time the whole family went to a game."

And Walter O. Briggs III made sure he stuck around for many more wonderful memories about the team he loved.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)11/27/2012 6:58:34 PM
From: Glenn Petersen3 Recommendations  Respond to of 22774
Coming soon to Wrigley Field: Tumbleweeds

Wild coyotes roam Wrigleyville streets

By Dane Placko, FOX 32 News Investigative Reporter
Posted: Nov 26, 2012 1:44 PM CST
Updated: Nov 27, 2012 4:00 PM CST

Photo courtesy of Will Byington Photography.

When you live or work around Wrigley field, you probably think you've seen it all, but chances are you haven't seen this: a pair of rather large coyotes hanging outside the ballpark looking for a snack.

"I've lived here all my life and that's crazy," one lady said of the wandering coyotes.

"I guess it's just part of the urban experience," says another man. "You never know what you're gonna get."

Photographer Will Byington was shooting a rock show at the Cubby Bear Friday night when someone said they spotted wild coyotes near the Ernie Banks statue.

"All of a sudden over the radio someone said 'there's wild coyotes in front of Wrigley, running under the marquee'" explains Byington.

Byington grabbed his camera, ran out the front door of the Cubby Bear and there across the street was urban wildlife.

"It was literally like they were out for a stroll in Wrigleyville Friday night," Byington said. "They didn't seem fazed by the traffic, by the cars honking horns, by people yelling at them. They were just checking out Wrigley Field."

Byington told FOX 32 News that he wishes he were better prepared - with the proper lenses or a video camera - but said he'd "take what he could get."

Usually the only four legged creature haunting Wrigley is a goat. So, is it time to hang out the wolfbane and hide?

"It doesn't concern me. I'm not afraid of them," a resident told us. "I'm personally just not worried about it."

"Unless you got cheeseburgers in your pocket or something you should be okay," another man said.

A Cubs spokesman told Fox 32 News that they've spotted coyotes around the ballpark for the past few years, but never inside the friendly confines. They believe the pack is living in the cemeteries just a few blocks north on Clark Street.

Eleanor Musick came face to snout with a coyote a couple months ago while leaving a party in Wrigleyville.

"The coyote was sitting on my friend's front lawn, and a friend walked up to it and it ran like four blocks," says Eleanor. "I guess it was wolf-sized. It was crazy, yeah."

Coyote sightings in more densely populated areas have increased this past year, but most have occurred in the suburbs.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)1/10/2013 1:22:50 PM
From: Glenn Petersen4 Recommendations  Read Replies (3) | Respond to of 22774
Next year: The Big Hurt:

Talking up Thomas and Maddux while slapping down Sosa

Steve Rosenbloom
The RosenBlog
10:01 a.m. CST, January 10, 2013

So, I guess 12.5 percent of the Hall of Fame voters actually believed Sammy Sosa’s cockamamie Flintstones vitamins story.

But 87.5 percent believe he cheated, and the voters kept him out and will forever.

The amazing thing about the way the voters feel about Sosa is that he got fewer votes than an admitted juicer (Mark McGwire), a convicted juicer (Barry Bonds) and a near jail-bird juicer (Roger Clemens).

Sosa has no options. He denied on Capitol Hill that he juiced, but there should be no interpreter required to understand the slapdown the writers gave to a Sosa they believe to be a liar.

Sosa could tell the truth, but that has helped nobody in any Hall voting, so he might as well continue living his fairytale.

He just won’t be able to clown Cooperstown with that fable, saving Chicago no little embarrassment.

So, 2013 was a good year for us, and 2014 will be even better. Next year, Chicago takes over the Hall. Next year’s Hall class -- and there will be a Hall class, believe me -- features something for everybody, North Side and South Side alike.

In fact, you couldn’t ask for safer choices in the steroid era. I know that every major leaguer since Jose Canseco is a suspect, and I know that baseball is a co-conspirator in the dirty and embarrassing decades that followed.

But for me, Frank Thomas and Greg Maddux are gimmes.

Now that we know how dirty Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez were, Thomas arguably stands as the best right-handed hitter of his era. He finished with 521 home runs and a career .974 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that ranks 14thall-time. He won two MVP awards and had a third one stolen by juicin’ Jason Giambi.

Maddux, meanwhile, clearly glistens as the greatest right-handed pitcher of his era now that Clemens has avoided jail but not the stain of performance-enhancing drugs. He won 355 games and finished with a 3.16 earned-run average. But his wins-above-replacement numbers are crazy, ranking 25thall-time overall and eighth among pitchers.

Thomas and Maddux should be unanimous selections, but Hall voters annually have their individual manifestos. Sane people know what the deal is. Thomas and Maddux pass the numbers test. Thomas walked with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Maddux won more than 300 games in an era that will be the last of such winners.

They also passed the eye test. Thomas entered the majors with a physique that screamed tight end and went out looking the same way. Bonds and Sosa came in looking like licorice and went out looking like bratwurst.

Maddux? Do you have to ask? I mean, just look. That’s what the eye test is all about. Maddux always looked like the guy trying to sell you a home-and-auto discount policy.

They were the truth. They were real. They did it as honestly as we can believe. With any luck, Thomas and Maddux both will become first-ballot Hall-of-Famers in the year that Sosa gets so little support that he drops off the ballot completely -- Chicago’s perfect 1-2-3 Cooperstown inning.

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)7/21/2013 10:05:34 AM
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Prior Is Fighting His Body to Get Back to the Majors

New York Times
July 20, 2013

It was late February, sunny and warm in San Diego, when Mark Prior picked up his phone to make a call. Prior, the former can’t-miss fireballer who had been expected to help end the most unquenchable of sports droughts, was again unemployed.

It had been seven years since he last appeared in a major league game, and longer since he was supposed to lift the curse that has kept the Chicago Cubs out of the World Series. The Cubs had decided he was no longer worth their time, that he was not ever going to be the answer.

Although it is difficult to recall now, Prior once set the bar for big-name rookies, receiving what was then the largest contract for a baseball draft pick. He was an All-Star and a Cy Young contender by 2003, the year he became a Sports Illustrated cover boy and a designated franchise savior.

He was, in most every way, Stephen Strasburg before Stephen Strasburg.

But as quickly as Prior rose, he fell.

He was on the mound for one of baseball’s most notorious playoff losses. He was a 22-year-old with history in his grasp, with five outs to go to put the Cubs in the World Series for the first time in nearly 60 years. But it did not happen.

Quickly enough, he became injury prone and was considered soft. By age 25, he was a cautionary tale. By 26, he was gone from the major leagues.

As he descended, he became the subject of considerable hand-wringing. Someone had to be blamed for his demise, for the waste of all that talent, and someone was. But on that late February day, that did not keep Prior from reaching out to the scapegoat. He called Dusty Baker.

Their paths first crossed in 2003 in Chicago, where Baker was the Cubs’ new manager and Prior was a second-year starter. Baker was a baseball lifer, an outfielder for four teams during a 19-year major league career. The previous fall, in his 10th season as a big-league manager, he guided Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants to the World Series, where they lost to the Anaheim Angels in seven games.

Prior was a University of Southern California standout, selected by the Cubs with the second pick of the 2001 amateur draft after the Minnesota Twins took Joe Mauer. The Cubs gave Prior a $10.5 million deal, a figure that was not exceeded until 2009, when the Washington Nationals gave $15 million to Strasburg.

Prior whizzed through the minor leagues, striking out 13.9 batters per nine innings and reaching the majors in 2002. The Cubs were terrible that year, needing three managers to get through the season, and Prior went 6-6 in 19 starts.

But 2003 was different. Behind Baker and a young rotation led by Prior and Kerry Wood, the Cubs won the National League Central title on the final weekend of the season, a modest 88-win team with two tough young pitchers.

Prior was particularly splendid. He was second to Wood in the N.L. in strikeouts (245), third in earned run average (2.43) and tied for second in wins (18). He also blew away the pitching field in wins above replacement, a measure of a player’s value to his team compared with a league average fill-in, posting a 7.5, according to

But he was also working a lot of innings, and throwing a lot of pitches, to help get the Cubs into the postseason. He logged 2111/3 innings, almost 45 more than he had a year earlier. In September, as the Cubs battled to make it to the postseason, he averaged 126 pitches a start.

Prior and Wood helped the Cubs get past the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the playoffs, which went a full five games. But then came Oct. 14, 2003, Game 6 of the N.L. Championship Series, with the Cubs needing only a victory at Wrigley Field to move past the Florida Marlins and into the World Series.

Prior worked seven scoreless innings that night and took a 3-0 lead into the top of the eighth when, with one out, everything unraveled. A double-play grounder was booted by shortstop Alex Gonzalez and, far more famously, a foul ball was not caught when a Cubs fan named Steve Bartman got in the way of Chicago left fielder Moises Alou.

The Cubs lost that game and then Game 7, too. Prior never led them back to the postseason. Instead, he began to compile a catalog of injuries, some of them flukes, others stemming from breakdowns of his Achilles’ tendon, his elbow, his shoulder.

On Aug. 10, 2006, Prior was pulled from a start against the Milwaukee Brewers after three innings. He had allowed five earned runs and walked four batters.

It was the last time he appeared in a major league game. Prior missed the 2007 season after Dr. James Andrews placed seven screws in his right shoulder. Prior had torn his labrum, rotator cuff and anterior capsule. The Cubs granted Prior free agency toward the end of 2007, and the San Diego Padres, his hometown team, signed him, knowing he would not be ready to help them until the middle of 2008.

Prior never reached the Padres’ roster, although after his one-year deal was up, San Diego tried again, re-signing him in January 2009. But Prior could never return, not even to compete in the minor leagues. In all, he tore his anterior capsule three times from 2006 to 2009, a crippling diagnosis for most pitchers.

“Usually, guys don’t come back from that,” said Jackson Crowther, his strength and conditioning coach.

As it became clear that Prior would never be what he once was, Baker began to realize he was a scapegoat, the manager who squeezed too much from Prior in his quest to get the Cubs into the World Series. Baker, critics said, had been simply too slow to pull Prior out of games.

“It really upset me to constantly hear about how I hurt him,” Baker, now the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, said in a recent interview. “As long as you manage, you’re going to have some guys that are going to get hurt. You hate for that to happen, big time, because I really take care of my players.”

Baker’s management of pitchers seems to have changed significantly over the past decade. In 2003, with the Cubs, four of Baker’s top five starters threw more than 200 innings each. Baker also left his starter in for 120 pitches or more 29 times. (Prior pitched nine such games that season.) In 2012, four of Baker’s top five starters again threw 200-plus innings each. But a Reds starter threw 120 pitches or more in a game only twice that year.

In 2012, however, Baker had one of baseball’s best bullpens. In 2003, the Cubs ranked near the middle of the pack in bullpen E.R.A. In one of Prior’s starts, against the Brewers, Baker pulled him with the Cubs ahead, 3-2, and Prior’s pitch count at 126. Chicago went on to lose, 5-3. Afterward, Baker said that he could not win, that he would have been “chastised if you take him out and chastised if he goes too long.”

A decade later, that heavy workload in 2003 does not seem to have left Prior bitter, to have affected his positive feelings toward Baker. In February, when Prior reached out to him, it was a friendly call. Over the years, they have stayed in touch.

But that February phone call was more than a pleasantry. Prior wanted a job.

After failing to make the Padres, Prior returned to live game action in 2010 with the independent league Orange County Flyers. Prior struck out half the batters he faced in 11 innings. Could he rekindle the flame?

The big leagues began to call, and Prior bounced around the minor league systems of the Texas Rangers, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. But he never threw more than 25 innings in a season with a team and never found a path back to the majors. With Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees’ Class AAA affiliate, Prior’s 2011 season ended early after a groin injury.

He had moved from his 20s into his 30s, built a family of five with his wife, Heather, and, after two operations to repair tears to his right anterior capsule, retaught himself how to pitch. Through all of it, Prior, 32, has tried not to court sympathy. He said he was never truly depressed about the course his career had taken.

“To be honest, I don’t really talk about my injuries, period,” he said this spring. “I really don’t, because my life’s so full of other things.

“I’m not going to say I never thought about hanging it up,” he added, referring to his long rehabilitation. “But ultimately if I would’ve hung it up during those years, I would have regretted it.”

Durability has been Prior’s problem since his days in the majors. He has not been able to compete for even half a season since he left the Cubs in 2006. Last year, with the Class AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, Prior pitched 25 innings as a reliever, striking out 38. Many, including Prior, thought he was close to a big-league call-up. But to make room for a prospect acquired in a trade, Pawtucket cut Prior in August. He was without a job, again, and without suitors, until the day he called Baker.

Baker took Prior’s plea for another shot to the Reds’ general manager, Walt Jocketty. Prior passed a physical and was signed to a minor league contract. Baker knew Prior’s arrival in Reds camp would prompt discussion of 2003 — the good and the bad. But the reunion was sweet, a player coming full circle, his old manager trying to help.

“I just know how much he wants it, and I know how much he needs it,” Baker said. “I just wanted to help him, give him the opportunity to help himself, and also I saw the opportunity for him to help us.”

In the end, with the opening Baker provided, Prior appeared in seven games for the Louisville Bats, the Reds’ Class AAA affiliate. He pitched nine and two-thirds innings, striking out nine and walking four. His E.R.A. was 4.66.

Then another anterior capsule tear shut him down once more. He has no immediate plans for surgery, just rest, but Louisville parted ways with him June 28.

After Prior’s latest setback, Baker told him he had not been that far from a return to the majors when his shoulder gave out. Several Reds relievers had been injured, creating openings on the roster. If Prior had been healthy, Baker could have recalled him.

“I had visions of him pitching a winning game for us in the World Series,” Baker said.

Prior said that he still loved competing and that he would not make a decision on his baseball future until September, when he would try to throw again. For now, he must wait.

Back in March, at spring training in Arizona, Prior pitched in a tuneup game against the Cleveland Indians’ Class AAA team. On the mound, at 6 feet 5 inches, though about 15 pounds leaner than when he last pitched in the majors, Prior stared in at a hitter. He turned, raised his leg and fired. The setting, on a patch of desert near the Phoenix-Goodyear airport, was not Wrigley Field, or even the Reds’ Great American Ball Park.

The big leagues were far away. Four months later, they still are.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)7/30/2013 12:00:49 AM
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For Baseball Old-Timer, Numbers Aren’t the Story

New York Times
Published: July 29, 2013

Joshua Lott for The New York Times

White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson is critical of the emphasis on sabermetrics. He called its rise “the biggest joke I’ve ever seen.”

CHICAGO — Ken Harrelson was sitting in the television booth at U.S. Cellular Field last week before the Chicago White Sox hosted the Kansas City Royals when he broke into the story of how he would like to die. Harrelson, who goes by the nickname the Hawk, said he would be calling a White Sox game against the Yankees and Chicago first baseman Paul Konerko would step to the plate against C. C. Sabathia.

“Here’s the pitch,” Harrelson, 71, said, his voice rising. “That ball hit deep, way back. Curtis Granderson looks up, you can put it on the board — ”

Before he finished his signature call, Harrelson slumped in his chair and dropped his head, feigning his perfect ending.

“I want to die in the booth,” he said. “Just like that.”

Harrelson, in his 38th year of broadcasting and 28th with the White Sox, is many things, perhaps none more than a showman. His nickname is derived from his prominent nose, and it comes with a healthy dose of flamboyance dating to his days of long hair and Nehru jackets when he played for the Boston Red Sox in the 1960s.

Today, in his 50th year in baseball, his look is more befitting of a grandfather, but he is no less a character. His broadcasting style has been alternately called nauseating and nostalgic — and rarely anything in between.

From the booth, where he works with the color man Steve Stone, he tells stories in a syrupy southern style about old friends and teammates like Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski; a walking, talking testament to baseball’s golden age. In between, he shamelessly roots for the White Sox and routinely takes on umpires.

And these days, in an approach that could alternately be described as endearing or absurd, he has decided to take on the entire, and increasingly entrenched, world of statistical analysis. During a broadcast a couple of months ago, Harrelson went so far as to contend that those analytics — often referred to as sabermetrics — had cost too many good baseball people their jobs because they were unable to adjust to baseball’s new way of making judgments.

That, in turn, led the MLB Network host Brian Kenny to devote a segment of his own show to chastising Harrelson, seeing his attack on sabermetrics as a predictable, and ridiculous, outcry by an old-timer stuck in a bygone era. And then Harrelson joined Kenny on the MLB Network for a debate during which Harrelson declared that the only statistic he cared about was something called “T.W.T.W.”

That’s right, not O.P.S. (on-base and slugging percentages combined) or WHIP (walks and hits per inning) or WAR (wins above replacement, as in the number of wins a player creates versus an average replacement player, and a tough one for a lot of people, not just Harrelson, to get a handle on) or anything else from the new category of measurements. Just T.W.T.W., or in long hand, the will to win. A category that, of course, cannot be in any way shape or form be determined by looking at numbers.

Kenny said that when Harrlelson unveiled his T.W.T.W. yardstick he was “completely incredulous.”

Harrelson maintains that he does, in fact, like numbers and that sabermetrics does have a valued place in baseball, but that he would prefer it be a role much more limited that it is now and that too much deference is being paid in general to numbers crunching. He called its rise over the last decade “the biggest joke I’ve ever seen.”

“Look down there at a guy like Gordon Beckham,” he said, peering down at the White Sox’ second baseman. “If you got someone who gets a chance to take him out on a double play — like me — I’m not going to take him out, I’m going to take him out into left field.

“So if the shortstop bobbles the ball, and I have a chance to get him, he knows that. Gordon will get busted and he’ll take the hit. There’s no number to define that in a player.”

The role that advanced metrics has in an announcer’s booth is, of course, different from the one it has in the office of a general manager, who needs to be conversant with every measurement there is these days, even if he doesn’t believe in every one of them.

For instance, few if any broadcasters go into detail about a pitcher’s F.I.P. (an earned run average calculation independent of defense). But Harrelson stands out for his on-air disdain for the whole numerical movement. To him, “Moneyball,” the best-selling book (and movie) about how Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, used outside-the-box statistical analysis to hunt down player bargains is as much fiction as fact.

It should be noted that Joe Morgan, a far more prominent announcer than Harrelson when he did commentary for ESPN’s Sunday night baseball broadcasts, was also a critic of the sabermetrics movement and received flak for his stance.

Harrelson, in a local market rather than on a national stage, and with his image as a character firmly established, can probably coast along with his anti-statistics stance easier than Morgan could.

“I can get away with things most announcers can’t,” he acknowledged.

And that, said Bob Costas, a veteran sports voice who is most identified with his work in baseball, is not necessarily a bad thing.

“If I’m listening to the White Sox play the Indians, I’m listening for Hawk to tell a great story about Charlie Finley,” said Costas, who narrated an MLB Network documentary about Harrelson. “Or the time he was sitting with Mickey Mantle at an L.A. hotel and Marlon Brando walks in.

“If a guy doesn’t know what WAR is but he’s got good baseball war stories, I’ll take the trade-off.”

Still, said Jonah Keri, the author of “The Extra 2%,” a book about how the Tampa Bay Rays have utilized Wall Street strategies in remaining competitive with a restricted payroll, “you can love the aesthetic of the game, but if you say sabermetrics are useless and they ruin baseball, then you’re doing a disservice to your viewers.”

Not that Harrelson is about to change anything he does. The Wall Street Journal once named him the biggest homer of any baseball television broadcaster, but he was a finalist in 2007 for the Ford Frick Award, which is presented during the Hall of Fame weekend.

“He’s not Vin Scully or Ernie Harwell,” said Costas, citing two broadcast icons. “But everything he does, it’s 100 percent authentically him.”

Indeed, Harrelson’s distinct calls have long been Internet catnip. His catchphrases are so predictable his regular viewers often know what he will say before he says it: “He gone,” when an opposing player strikes out; “Rack ’em up,” for a double play; “Stretch!” for any deep fly ball hit by the White Sox.

With Chicago mired in last place in the American League Central, he has reached new heights this year. After a grand slam by Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners in June tied a game in extra innings, Harrelson’s call began, “That ball hit deep into right-center field,” followed by nearly 40 seconds of silence. That same week, he sounded physically ill when a potential winning home run by Adam Dunn was caught at the wall to end a game against the A’s.

“Dadgummit!” Harrelson cried, as the ball reached the warning track, but no farther.

To Harrelson, the reason is simple. “I wanted to win as a player and now I want to win as an announcer,” he said. Or to put it another way, T.W.T.W.

Harrelson, who hit 131 career home runs in nine major league seasons and later had a brief and inglorious stint as the general manager of the White Sox in the 1980s, wore a ring on each hand in the broadcast booth last week. One was a 1967 American League championship ring, courtesy of the Red Sox, the other a White Sox 2005 World Series ring, a triumph that ended an 88-year championship drought for the franchise, an accomplishment that Harrelson gleefully helped narrate.

Harrelson has long endured in a sport that has evolved around him, a feat that cannot really be measured by numbers but, in its own way, earns the respect of many involved in the game, including those who do swear by statistics. In fact, when searching for the best way to describe Harrelson, Kenny, his debating partner, settled on a quotation by Bill James, widely known as the father of sabermetrics.

“James once said that Earl Weaver had the gift to look at a player and see what he was and what he wasn’t,” Kenny said. “The way to look at Hawk is to enjoy him for what he is, and not worry about what he isn’t.”

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)7/30/2013 9:46:04 AM
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Angels Pay Heavy Price for Gamble on Pujols

New York Times
July 29, 2013

Arte Moreno basked in the spotlight of his own making at Angel Stadium in December 2011. Moreno, the owner of the Los Angeles Angels, was there to announce the signing of Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract. Moreno explained that he was motivated partly by a desire to keep up with the Yankees, who had beaten the Angels in the 2009 playoffs.

“We could play Boston, then the Yankees, and we weren’t prepared to play with them,” Moreno said that day. “You look at what you can develop in the organization, what can you do in the market, what are the Band-Aids you can apply. We just didn’t feel like we had the depth to compete at the level we wanted to compete at.”

By trying to imitate the Yankees, Moreno’s team has become them: worse, actually.

The Yankees, of course, are feverishly hoping to escape the remaining four-plus years on their bloated 10-year, $275 million contract with Alex Rodriguez. One way out would be a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for Rodriguez’s involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, but that seems unlikely.

In any case, for all of Rodriguez’s baggage, he did lead the Yankees to a championship in 2009, the second year of his contract. For the Angels, the second year of the Pujols deal has become another washout.

While the creaky Yankees remain in the pennant race, gamely grabbing Alfonso Soriano and others to stay in it, the Angels effectively dropped out on Monday. They traded their most effective reliever, the left-hander Scott Downs, to the Atlanta Braves for the minor league reliever Cory Rasmus.

It was not a major move, but the timing was a clear acknowledgment of the Angels’ plight: the deal came two days before the non-waiver deadline, and one day after the news that Pujols was likely to miss the rest of the season with a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot.

“I saw him earlier this season, and it hurt me to watch him run,” said one major league scout, who was granted anonymity so he could candidly discuss another team’s player. “It reminded me of when Mark McGwire had that problem, although he was in his late 20s. It might take Pujols a little bit longer.”

The McGwire comparison is sobering for the Angels. Foot and heel problems, including plantar fasciitis, cost McGwire most of the 1993 and 1994 seasons. He returned and flourished, but with the help of steroids in the era before testing.

Pujols will be 34 in January and is signed through 2021 on a heavily backloaded contract. He is due $23 million in 2014, and his salary rises by $1 million each year after that, topping out at $30 million. Among the bonuses is a $7 million prize for home run No. 763, which would break Barry Bonds’s tarnished record.

The Yankees, infamously, arranged a $30 million bonus package with Rodriguez under the guise that he would be the “clean” home run champion. They envisioned sharing the spoils of a marketing bonanza with Rodriguez, who was coming off a season of 54 homers at age 32. All he had to do was average 25 home runs a year for the next decade. How hard could that be?

Now Rodriguez needs 116 homers to break Bonds’s record. Pujols needs 271. The notion that either player could mount a serious challenge seems laughable. Even if Rodriguez returns to play for the Yankees, they expect him to be no more than an average third baseman. The Angels cannot expect the Pujols from his St. Louis prime.

“I think there’s a direct correlation between the foot injury and his skills, but if it clears up, he could still be a very serviceable D.H.,” the scout said. “I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, because he’s been such a good hitter when healthy.”

The benefit of the doubt — the belief that this player is special enough to defy age and produce at a high level for another decade — fueled both contracts. So did desperation. The Yankees had gone four years without a pennant. The Angels had missed the playoffs two years in a row and craved a star attraction for their television deal with Fox. Rodriguez and Pujols satisfied the needs of the moment.

But as the Yankees have learned, physical breakdowns and eroding skills do not make for compelling TV. Pujols’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage had declined in each of his last three seasons with the Cardinals. He was still an elite performer, but it should be no surprise that the downward trend has continued.

Pujols overcame a slow start last season to hit .285 with 30 homers and 105 runs batted in. But his O.P.S. was the worst of his career, at .859, and this year’s figure is .767. Pujols is hitting .258 with 17 home runs and 64 R.B.I.

Last winter, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton (five years, $125 million) to support Pujols, but Hamilton is also having the worst year of his career, and the team’s starting rotation has been among the worst in the majors. After a weekend sweep in Oakland, the Angels were left without Pujols and with this mind-bending calculation:

Since July 1, 2012, the low-budget Athletics were 50 games over .500. The Angels, in the same period, were one game over .500 — with eight more years and $212 million more invested in the brittle body of a faded star.

July 30, 2013

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)10/13/2013 12:49:29 PM
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10 years later, Bartman remains enigma

Bartman 'bigger than those who have commercially exploited incident'

October 12, 2013
By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune reporter

Steve Bartman interferes with Moises Alou's catch in the 8th inning of Game 6 in the NLCS vs. the Marlins on Oct. 14, 2003. (Tribune Photos)

As the 10-year anniversary of the most talked-about moment in Cubs history approaches, it turns out everyone was wrong all along.

Touching the famous foul ball in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series wasn't the worst thing to happen to Steve Bartman.

Having it auctioned for more than $113,000 and blown up on TV was worse, leading to bitter feelings between the world's most vilified Cubs fan and the head of a restaurant group bearing the name of the team's most beloved announcer.

After biting his lip for the last decade, Bartman spokesman Frank Murtha said they have had enough. They were never on board with the ball being blown up at Harry Caray's restaurant or with the subsequent promotions of Harry Caray's president and managing partner, Grant DePorter.

"We are no more fine with it now than we were then," Murtha said. "No one person has perpetuated the storyline more than (DePorter) did."

The Sphinx

By now the Bartman story is familiar to most baseball fans, and his name is known around the world.

With the Cubs five outs from advancing to their first World Series in 58 years, Bartman's deflection of a foul ball that Moises Alou may or may not have been able to catch preceded an eight-run eighth-inning Marlins rally that sent the series to Game 7. Bartman was abused and ridiculed, forced to leave the ballpark with security and blamed for the Cubs' blowing their big chance.

Murtha pointed to shortstop Alex Gonzalez's critical error, adding, "Don't forget, there was a Game 7, and some pitcher named Kerry Wood starting."

Wood blew an early lead in Game 7 to lose the series, and the Cubs have not won a playoff game since. Game 6 remains the closest they have come to a World Series since 1945, and their last championship was in 1908.

After enduring death threats and hate mail and becoming a household name, things have settled down for Bartman as the years marched on. Murtha said he has lived a relatively normal existence in the Chicago area since, with his family, friends and workplace fiercely protecting his privacy.

"Because of the kind of person he is, he has continued to live his life in a manner with the same moral fiber he had going into this incident," Murtha said.

"He continues to work. Has this incident posed challenges to him? Yes. Has he more than overcome them? Yes. But he has been bigger than those who have commercially exploited the incident."

Bartman has remained Sphinxlike, staying out of the public eye, ignoring interview requests and monetary offers and basically keeping a low profile, becoming the J.D. Salinger of sports fans. He never has spoken publicly about the events of Oct. 14, 2003, aside from issuing a written apology the next day, and last was quoted in any media outlet in 2005 while trying to get away from an ESPN the Magazine reporter who stalked and surprised Bartman in the parking garage of his workplace.

"Steve has no intention to personally speak about it," Murtha said. "When and if he did, it'd be under his terms and conditions."

Murtha said Bartman has turned down "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in inducements over the last decade, saying no to all offers and media requests, including TV's "Dr. Phil," who wanted to probe his psyche. Murtha, an attorney, said he is "aggressively moving on any attempt to commercially exploit the (Bartman) name," though that particular barn door has been open too long to shut now.

Bartman probably could have starred in a wacky Super Bowl commercial by now, perhaps selling headphones or turtlenecks or Snickers bars. The incident has inspired dozens of Bartmanesque references in modern culture, whether blatant or oblique.

• Two weeks after the playoff incident, actor Kevin James told Tribune columnist Terry Armour he was considering starring in a movie project called "Fan Interference." James said it would not specifically be about Bartman but conceded the incident was ripe for a movie: "I feel sorry for him, but to love a city so much and to love a team so much and to have one event completely change your life and now you're public enemy No. 1 is a great story." A movie, however, never has been made.

• A ripped-from-the-headlines "Law and Order" episode centered around an infamous "foul ball guy" who was discovered murdered before the opening credits. Murtha sent a letter to NBC chiding the network for putting that idea in viewers' heads.

• A "Family Guy" episode featured a 10-second non sequitur in which the Stewie character, sitting at a Cubs-Marlins game at Wrigley Field, convinces a turtleneck-wearing fan in headphones named "Steve" to try to make a catch. ("It's a foul ball. What harm could it do?")

• The creator of a PlayStation ad for "MLB 12: The Show" was forced to verify that a Bartman-like character sitting alone in his Chicago apartment celebrating a fictional Cubs championship actually was not Bartman. He admitted the ad's creators "kicked around the idea" of asking Bartman to appear in the commercial.

The fact that Bartman has refused to cash in has earned him some props from fans and players alike.

"In this day and age, he could've made tons of money doing things," said Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre, who was perched on second base during the play. "But he took the high road. Hopefully Chicago will embrace him again one day."

The Ball

While Murtha said DePorter isn't the only one to capitalize on Bartman's misery, he does blame him for exacerbating it. He understands Bartman still would be demonized without the ball being blown up but says it added another layer to the story.

"I knew it would always be part of something," he said. "I just didn't think it would have the life it has had."

The ones who have exploited Bartman the most, according to Murtha, are DePorter — who bought the ball, blew it up and displays the shreds in his restaurants — and ESPN.

The sports network created a show called "The Top Five Reasons You Can't Blame Steve Bartman for the Cubs 2003 Playoff Collapse" and featured an Alex Gibney documentary on the incident called "Catching Hell" for its "30 for 30" series.

The biggest problem Murtha had with the media company was "stalking" Bartman for an ESPN the Magazine article in 2005, then pretending it was in the name of exonerating him for the incident.

"It was like he had found Osama bin Laden," Murtha said. "All he did, he went to the address where 14 satellite trucks were parked for two weeks, then followed him to work, sat in the parking lot and jumped out of a bush."

But DePorter's role in the Bartman legacy is more problematic for Murtha.

It all began when an anonymous Chicago attorney known only as "Jim" nabbed the foul ball on the rebound and auctioned it one month later through Mastro Auctions, which folded in 2009 during an FBI probe of its activities.

Jim the attorney told the Tribune then it was "like found money" and would be used as a college fund for his not-yet-born child. DePorter wound up paying $113,824 for the ball, and he told Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed he would blow it up so Cubs fans could "erase the most tangible symbol of that pain." Proceeds would go to Ron Santo's favorite charity, JDRF, and only "pro-Bartman" people could attend.

On the night of the explosion, in February 2004, DePorter told the Tribune "it's also time for all of us to move on." But Murtha argues DePorter did not move on even after the ball was blown up, contributing to the demonization of Bartman.

"The next spring, they sold spaghetti sauce made of the shards of the ball," Murtha said.

Murtha recalled the day DePorter called him and asked him to attend the ceremonies extinguishing the ball forever.

"As a promoter, a P.T. Barnum, he's Triple A," he said. "He gave me a pitch over the phone: 'Steve should come to the ceremony.' He said Ryne Sandberg wanted him to come, and Dutchie (Caray) and Ernie (Banks) wanted him to come. Then he said, 'Harry would want him to come.'

"I listen to enough of his blarney, and I say, 'OK, if Harry says he should come, he'll be there.' "

Murtha said there was a long pause. Harry Caray had been dead since 1998, as Murtha knew well.

"Finally (DePorter) asks, 'Well, how you gonna do that, Frank?' " Murtha said.

Murtha said he explained to DePorter that his father was buried close to Caray at All Saints Catholic Cemetery in Des Plaines.

"I know my dad and Harry talk all the time," he recalled saying. "So if Harry says to him, 'Steve should come,' he'll be there."

It was Murtha's sly way of saying: No chance.

Murtha believes DePorter has profited off Bartman's situation. DePorter told the New York Times in September 2004 that blowing up the ball helped increase revenue by about 20 percent, or $1.5 million: "And I attribute almost all of it to the ball, people clustering around the case to see it."

DePorter acknowledged that figure but said he had offered, through Murtha, to compensate Bartman.

"So far, Steve has not wanted any compensation," DePorter said.

Murtha said DePorter told him the ball explosion would be "the end for the ball and the end for Steve," but he pointed to the selling of the spaghetti sauce and a book as examples of the continued exploitation of Bartman's name.

"If I had a choice of having the ball blown up and buried, or hanging the shreds in a restaurant, I'd rather bury it," Murtha said. "And whatever they didn't blow up, they put in a spaghetti sauce and sold."

DePorter said he regretted not letting Bartman know about selling the spaghetti sauce. He said he has "respect" for Murtha, has contributed thousands in Bartman's name to JDRF and never has been anything but "supportive" of Bartman.

The Future

Will Bartman ever come out of the shadows?

DePorter believes it's time Bartman ends his self-imposed exile from Wrigley Field, saying fans and players would embrace him now.

"Maybe it's time for him to not be Greta Garbo and the 'mystery,' " he said. "Maybe it's time for him to get out there, go to a game with Ernie ( Banks). He would find people want to support him because that's all I've ever heard."

Banks left a message on Murtha's phone Friday asking to set up a private meeting between him and Bartman. Murtha said he would relay the message and that Bartman has "all the respect in the world" for Banks.

Still, it's Bartman's choice to maintain his privacy, and that's what he will continue to do.

Murtha said the retelling of the incident has managed only to obscure the real story — namely, the incredible collapse of a baseball team that was on the cusp of the World Series.

"Distance has provided the media and fans cover for some lousy baseball, and that's what it was," Murtha said.

"Steve is still a baseball fan. On many occasions the Cubs organization has expressed there is no ill will toward him and has welcomed him to attend a game.

"He has no ill will toward the Cubs or toward baseball."

Twitter @PWSullivan

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)11/21/2013 3:29:37 AM
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Tigers send Fielder to Rangers for Kinsler

Sports Network
10:54 PM CST, November 20, 2013

ARLINGTON, Tex. -- The first major trade of the baseball offseason turned out to be a blockbuster, as the Texas Rangers acquired five-time All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers Wednesday in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The Rangers will also receive cash considerations from the Tigers as part of the unexpected one-for-one swap, which Yahoo! Sports reported to be $30 million. Fielder still has $168 million remaining on a nine-year, $214 million contract he signed with the Tigers as a free agent prior to the 2012 season.

Fielder also agreed to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the trade.

The National League leader with 50 home runs while with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2007, Fielder put together an excellent debut season with the Tigers, batting a career-high .313 with 30 homers and 108 RBI and playing all 162 games. Those numbers declined this past season, however, with the 29-year- old hitting .279 with 25 homers and 106 RBI before struggling in the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

Still, Fielder has averaged 35 homers and 107 RBI over his eight full seasons in the majors and brings a potent middle-of-the-order bat to a Texas lineup that could lose slugger Nelson Cruz to free agency.

Kinsler's credentials are impressive as well. The 31-year-old is a three-time All-Star who put together a pair of 30-30 (home runs, steals) seasons in 2009 and 2011.

The veteran batted .277 with 13 homers, 72 RBI and 15 steals in 2013 while being limited to 136 games by an intercostal muscle strain. Over eight major league seasons -- all with Texas -- Kinsler owns a .273 average with 156 homers, 539 RBI and 172 stolen bases.

Kinsler, who is signed through 2017 and will earn $16 million this coming season, was deemed expendable by the Rangers with prized prospect Jurickson Profar ready to assume an everyday role.

The Tigers had a hole at second base with Omar Infante currently a free agent, while Fielder's exit could mean a shift back across the diamond for two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera. The 2012 AL Triple Crown winner served as Detroit's regular first baseman from 2008-11 before moving to third following Fielder's signing.

Unloading Fielder's hefty contract could also free up room for Detroit to sign 2013 AL Cy Young Award recipient Max Scherzer to an extension.

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)11/26/2013 5:54:47 PM
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Maddux, Thomas first-timers on Hall of Fame ballot

By Paul Sullivan, Tribune reporter
1:18 PM CST, November 26, 2013

Former Cubs and Braves ace Greg Maddux and former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas are among the 19 new candidates on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot, which was announced Tuesday by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Maddux is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer with 355 career wins, while Thomas may have to sweat it out on a crowded ballot.

Voters are allowed to choose only 10 players, and only those named on 75 percent of the ballots will enter Cooperstown next July.

Maddux won four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards from 1992-95, and a record 18 Gold Glove Award in 23 seasons with the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers and Padres. He went 355-227 with a 3.16 earned run average and 3,371 strikeouts in 5,008 1/3 innings, leading the league in ERA four times and winning 15 games or more for a record 17 consecutive seasons.

Thomas won back-to-back American League MVP awards with the White Sox in 1993 and ’94, and finished with 521 home runs and 1,704 RBIs over a 19-year career. His candidacy is helped by the fact he never was linked to performance-enhancing drugs like a number of other prominent names on the ballot, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.

Among the other first-time candidates are Tom Glavine and Jeff Kent, both considered Hall of Fame players. The rest of the 36-man ballot consists of Moises Alou, Jeff Bagwell, Armando Benitez, Craig Biggio, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Eric Gagne, Tom Glavine, Luis Gonzalez, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jeff Kent, Paul Lo Duca, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Hideo Nomo, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Kenny Rogers, Curt Schilling, Richie Sexson, Lee Smith, J.T. Snow, Mike Timlin, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.

No one earned election to the Hall of Fame last year, as the continued debate over whether to elect players suspected of using PEDs cost several stars votes. The closest was Biggio, who had 3,060 hits and was a seven-time All-Star. Biggio wound up with 388 votes, or 68.2 percent, just 39 shy of the 427 votes required for election.

Jack Morris, now in his final year of eligibility, came close last year with 67.7 percent. Others with more than 50 percent of the vote last year were first baseman Jeff Bagwell (59.6), catcher Mike Piazza (57.8) and outfielder Tim Raines (52.2).

Only writers who have 10 consecutive years of membership in the BBWAA are eligible to vote. The results will be announced on Jan. 8, 2014.

Twitter @PWSullivan

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)12/9/2013 10:58:32 AM
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Torre, La Russa and Cox Elected to Hall of Fame

New York Times
December 9, 2013

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Together they won more than 7,500 games in the major leagues, with 17 pennants and 8 championships across 91 seasons writing out lineup cards. Next summer, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox will share a stage in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The veterans committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame announced Monday that Torre, La Russa and Cox would be part of its 2014 induction class. The results of the baseball writers’ balloting, which could include Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and others, will be announced next month.

Voting was announced at baseball’s winter meetings here, after a vote by a 16-member committee made up of eight Hall of Famers, four executives and four journalists. Candidates needed to be named on 12 of 16 ballots to be enshrined.

Torre guided the Yankees to four World Series crowns from 1996 to 2000, restoring the championship luster to a franchise that had not won a title in 18 years before his arrival. He also managed the Mets, the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

La Russa managed three teams — the Cardinals, the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics — and won 2,728 games, a total surpassed only by Connie Mack and John McGraw. La Russa won championships with the A’s in 1989 and with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011, winning Game 7 of that year’s World Series in his final game as a manager.

Of the three, Cox had the longest tenure with an individual team: 25 years with the Braves over two stints, the second from 1990 through 2010. Cox, who also managed the Toronto Blue Jays to their first playoff appearance in 1985, helped build the Braves’ farm system as their general manager in the late 1980s, then won five pennants and the 1995 championship while in uniform.

Veterans committee candidates who were not elected include the former players Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry and Ted Simmons; the former manager Billy Martin; Marvin Miller, the first executive director of the players’ union; and the longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who died in 2010.

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)1/11/2014 7:03:54 AM
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I was really happy that Frank Thomas got into the HOF on his first ballot. When he was in his prime, it was entertaining just to watch him take 11 or 12 pitches to work a pitcher for a walk.

Clean hitting put the Big Hurt in Hall of Fame

Lesser players who juiced are left in limbo, where they belong

White Sox slugger Frank Thomas as a rookie in a Tribune archive photo dated Aug. 10, 1990. (Ed Wagner, Chicago Tribune / August 10, 1990)
John Kass
Chicago Tribune
January 12, 2014

The house was quiet, the kids were out, and Betty and I were alone, like in the old days, watching the White Sox on TV.

Except not in January. She'd turned to a Comcast Sports broadcast, a replay of a program about the great Sox hitter Frank Thomas.

As every White Sox fan knows, Thomas was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week. In that Comcast interview done moments after he'd been voted in, the Big Hurt was smiling.

It wasn't one of those old, polite, tight Thomas smiles. It was a big smile, honest, a smile like some great sigh from the teeth, releasing pain.

And all those juicers who used chemicals and stole his glory? He'd left them behind, where they belonged.

"Look at him," said my wife, excited. "He's really smiling. I'm not used to seeing him smile so much. Have you ever seen him smile like that?"

No. Not like that.

And she was smiling right along with him, and I guess I was smiling, too, and every Sox fan watching probably did the same.

Frank in the Hall. The greatest right-handed hitter we'd ever seen voted in on the first ballot. The man who would not juice finally validated. What's not to smile about?

Many of us remember his great years in the 1990s when no one in baseball could hit like him, those two Most Valuable Player awards, the high averages and the home runs, the walks and runs batted in. The numbers he assembled placed him among the greatest ever.

But if you were at Sox Park back then, the numbers didn't tell you this: Nobody ever left their seats when Thomas picked up a bat.

And this is what we saw: the concentration on his face. The left front leg locking, the hips snapping, the back heel coming off the ground on contact, the hands flowing through, "Hawk" Harrelson shouting "Put it on the board!" for everyone at home.

I used the word "glory" to talk about professional sports, and that's probably a mistake. Glory isn't a word for baseball any longer, at least not for me, not after the juicers ruined baseball.

Every father and mother with kids who loved baseball had to have the big talk. Not the one about the birds and the bees, but the talk about steroids.

Frank Thomas didn't take them. That's why he sailed into the Hall on the first ballot and why others have been left in limbo where they belong.

The worst sin was what baseball did to children. American children idolized major leaguers once. They don't any longer. But as the home runs sailed out of the parks, some kids naturally wondered what it would be like to find some magic potion and become Superman.

So watching Frank Thomas smile, I couldn't help but think of the muscle boys he's leaving behind, men tainted by the steroid scandals like Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Sosa was beloved by Cubs fans once. They goo-goo-eyed at his cheap theatrics, his Sammy hop and his chest thump even as his head grew larger and went Cro-Magnon. Even Sammy's eyebrows seemed to grow pectoral muscles.

Giambi, the muscle boy for the New York Yankees and Oakland A's, is the one I can never forgive. In 2000, Thomas came back from an injury and had another fantastic season. But Thomas didn't win his third MVP award. Giambi won it, with Thomas coming in second. And now we know how.

Giambi once insisted it was all about hard work. At Sox Park on May 29, 2002, Giambi hit two home runs and later bragged to Tribune baseball writer Paul Sullivan about his work ethic.

"It's not some miracle," the muscle-bound Giambi said. "Guys either have talent or they don't have talent. … It's something you train for year-round. There is no offseason, especially if you want to achieve the things you want to achieve in the game."

Years later, Giambi admitted he'd been on the juice. So he was right. It wasn't some miracle. It was pharmacology.

And Thomas? He knew what was going on, seethed inside. He whined a little on the outside, too, publicly volunteering to take steroid tests. Some fans thought him pouty. His body began to break down, while others with medical muscles could still do marvelous things.

In a Tribune story last week by Colleen Kane, Thomas put to words what I'd been thinking.

"I think I was one of those guys that made a few guys go that direction, because of the size and the strength of a football player playing baseball," Thomas said. "For a seven-year run there, no one basically could compete. There were only one or two guys who put up numbers that could compare. But I don't fault anyone for what they did, but hey, I did it the right way.

"I told people many days, I can go home and sleep at night and rest and not worry about all the nonsense other people are going through because I know I won't be getting a call in the middle of the night with someone saying, 'He did this and he did that.'"

Here's what you did.

You hit the ball hard, Big Hurt.

And you hit it clean.

Twitter @John_Kass

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

To: stockman_scott who wrote (17687)2/9/2014 4:43:47 PM
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Bill Veeck would have turned 100 today. I once had the pleasure (and it was an immense pleasure) of having dinner with Bill and his wife Mary Frances in the Bard's Room at Old Comiskey Park. I had a story he wanted to hear and I was able to make him laugh, It is one of my fondest memories.

Bill Veeck, baseball's Barnum Innovative executive thrived on attention

Hall of Fame executive Bill Veeck would have been 100 on Feb. 9, 2014. He planted the ivy at Wrigley and owned the White Sox twice. His continued influence on Chicago baseball is undeniable.

By John Owens, Tribune reporter
February 9, 2014

Mary Frances Veeck had to think about the question for a few seconds: How would her late husband of 35 years, the legendary baseball executive Bill Veeck, handle being 100 years old?"Bill at 100?" she finally responded during a recent phone interview from the retirement complex where she lives on Chicago's South Side. "Well, we're all trying to imagine him at 100, because he was always so active. But I'm sure he would have been fine being that age if he were still alive."

On Sunday, Mrs. Veeck will have a low-key get-together with family and friends to commemorate the 100th birthday of her longtime husband, who was born on Feb. 9, 1914, in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood.

They'll celebrate the legacy of one of the most influential sports executives in the 20th century — the man who broke the color barrier in the American League by signing Larry Doby to play for the Cleveland Indians in 1947 and four years later famously had a 3-foot-7 inch Chicago actor named Eddie Gaedel pinch-hit for the St. Louis Browns.

But while Veeck is recognized internationally, it is Chicago that claims the man who owned the White Sox twice and was a longtime resident in the Hyde Park neighborhood, where he died in 1986.

"He was real – a genuine person, and his personality helped identify Chicago to the world," said veteran television producer Tom Weinberg, a friend who co-produced the documentary "A Man for Any Season" about Veeck in 1985.

"He really loved living in Maryland (where his family resided from 1961 to 1975)," added Veeck biographer Paul Dickson. "But he had to go back to Chicago because it was where he belonged. All his friends were there – he was just a fixture in the city."

The Veecks' party on Sunday won't approach the centennial-related hype that has already started for Wrigley Field, which opened as Weeghman Park just a few months after William Louis Veeck Jr. was born.

But to some longtime baseball fans, Veeck's 100th birthday deserves the same hype that the Friendly Confines is getting. That's because attending a baseball game on both the North and South sides would be unimaginable without Veeck's influence

It was Veeck who, as a 23-year-old front-office executive for the Cubs, devised and oversaw the radical reconstruction of the Wrigley bleachers in 1937, which included the ivy-covered walls and hand-operated 150-foot scoreboard.

It was Veeck who helped revive the White Sox, during his initial ownership of the team from 1959 to 1961. In 1959, the Sox became the first Chicago team to reach the World Series in 40 years. And during Veeck's initial stint with the team, he also introduced the first-ever exploding scoreboard and made his team the first to display the names of the players on the back of their uniforms.

And it was Veeck who saved those same White Sox from moving to Seattle, when he gathered together investors to reacquire the team in December 1975 and keep it at Old Comiskey Park. During that second ownership stint, from 1976 to 1980, he introduced even more timeless innovations — including then-Sox announcer Harry Caray's singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th-inning stretch, which is still a staple on the South Side and has been more famously adopted by the Cubs, first with Caray, then with a steady stream of singing celebrities.

"Baseball in Chicago was special to Bill," said Roland Hemond, who was Veeck's general manager during his second ownership stint with the Sox and is now a special adviser for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"That's why he came back the second time," Hemond added. "It would have broken his heart if the Sox left town, so he made every effort to keep the team there."

Still, while Veeck's spirit will hover over Chicago baseball for years to come, some observers say his memory is somewhat slighted in the city today. True, a portion of Shields Avenue has been renamed Bill Veeck Drive near U.S. Cellular Field. And the press box at the Cell is also named after Veeck.

But after that …

"He's invisible," wrote David Fletcher, founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum, in an email to the Tribune. "The Sox press box is named after Bill with a plaque near its entrance honoring him, but the Sox fans don't see this. The Cubs have done nothing to commemorate their former Hall of Fame employee (Veeck was inducted posthumously in 1991), who is responsible for their most iconic features at Wrigley Field: the landmark-status scoreboard and ivy on the walls."

"It is very sad that such a historical figure is virtually ignored in the city where he was born and died," Fletcher wrote.

For their part, the Cubs say that they will honor Veeck as part of Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary, most likely during a homestand May 16-21, when the club will celebrate the ballpark of the 1930s.

But some observers say more could be done to permanently honor Veeck at Wrigley, where the owner was a frequent bleacher spectator in the 1980s, holding court and handing out homemade lamb chops to unsuspecting fans.

"I know it's not an intentional slight, it's more of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing, but some sort of plaque should be in Wrigley Field recognizing Bill," said veteran broadcaster Tom Shaer, who covered Veeck's last years in Chicago. "His involvement with the ivy and the bleachers is a big deal."

It was at Wrigley Field where Veeck learned the business of baseball under his equally innovative father, William Veeck, the Cubs president from 1919-33 who was responsible for double-decking the stadium and pioneered Cubs radio broadcasts); and club secretary Margaret Donahue, the first female executive in major league baseball and the first person in pro sports to sell season tickets to patrons.

Bill Veeck developed a lifelong fascination for concessions while working at Wrigley, first as a vendor, and eventually as head of concessions in the late '30s, when he employed a young scorecard vendor named Jack Ruby, who would later kill JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and bought paper cups from a salesman named Ray Kroc, who would later found McDonald's.

"Concessions was his thing," said Roger Wallenstein, a beer vendor for Veeck during his second ownership stint with the Sox. "So when we would talk after games, he was always interested in how I did and when the sales were the most brisk. Which made me feel like a big shot."

In addition to the ballparks, the memory of Veeck lives on in other parts of the Chicago area.

The five-bedroom colonial-style home where he grew up in Hinsdale — and where Veeck and his first wife, a circus performer named Eleanor Raymond, lived in an adjoining coach house — was recently up for sale for $2.5 million.

Not too far away in Willowbrook, Eric Soderholm, who was one of Veeck's first free agent signings in 1976 with the White Sox, has framed a letter that Veeck wrote to the player's parents, praising Soderholm as "a fine ballplayer and just as important, a gracious gentleman."

"That was typical Bill," said Soderholm, who recalled being shocked when he first met Veeck, who had his right leg amputated because of injuries suffered while serving with the Marines in the Pacific during World War II.

"This was in the winter of '76, when he was in the hospital (at Illinois Masonic) being treated for emphysema," Soderholm said. "I opened up the hospital door and he was sitting in his bed smoking, using the ashtray in his wooden leg for the ashes.

"He was larger than life, like a cartoon pirate."

In Hyde Park, one of Veeck's favorite haunts, Powell's Book Store, is still around. A few years ago, Mary Frances Veeck sold the store more than 200 books from her husband's personal library, including some signed by close friends and acquaintances, include Studs Terkel, boxing impresario Burt Sugar and Tribune sportswriter Jerome Holtzman.

"He's an icon for the South Side," said Powell's Book Store owner Brad Jonas said. "It's exciting to hold on to something that he touched."

Veeck is also an icon for the longtime fans who attended Sox Fest recently at the Palmer House. These clear-eyed fans remember Veeck's accomplishments, while they also remember his faults — including trading away talented future All-Stars like Johnny Callison, Norm Cash and Earl Battey for washed-up veterans during his first ownership stint and Veeck's troubles maintaining competitive teams during his second stint.

"The dynamics of escalating salaries due to the advent of free agency (in 1975) made it difficult for him to stay in business," said White Sox historian Richard Lindberg.

Longtime Sox fans treasure those last Veeck years for the fun he brought to the ballpark, from the competitive 1977 South Side Hit Men to the promotions, including the controversial 1979 Disco Demoltion event planned by Veeck's son Mike, in which disco records brought in by fans were blown up by radio personality Steve Dahl. That event ended with an on-the-field riot and a forfeited game.

"I remember once in 1977, I bought tickets in the upper deck and they weren't very good," recalled Sox fan Terrence England, 60, from Rogers Park. "I wrote Veeck a letter complaining and he send us a credit for two extra tickets for a future game. I can't imagine any other owner doing that."

Another set of artifacts from Veeck's time in Chicago is in the Irving Park neighborhood, where Weinberg runs a video archiving operation known as Media Burn.

Here, Weinberg has 250 videotapes featuring Veeck from 1953 to 1986, including the pilot for an early '50s show called "Bill Veeck's Front Office," which would have been a daily show in which the owner talked about baseball issues. There are also appearances on network shows like Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person" and Weinberg's own shows that he produced with Veeck, including "A Man for Any Season" and "Time Out," a sports talk show featuring Veeck that ran on PBS-Channel 11 in 1984 and 1985.

Weinberg was one of the many investors that the owner lined up when he bought the Sox in 1975.

"When the deal went through, there was a celebration in the Bards Room (the room in Old Comiskey Park where Veeck entertained the press)," Weinberg recalled. "I remember Richard J. Daley showing up — he was a huge Sox fan and he loved Veeck."

"The first thing he did (after buying the team) was take off the hinges on his office door," Weinberg said. "Anyone who wanted to could walk into his office could do that."

Veeck famously feuded with current White Sox owners Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf, after they acquired the team from Veeck in 1981 and Einhorn said the new ownership's goal was to make the Sox a "class operation," which some took as a slap at the Veeck era.

But Mary Frances Veeck, who is 93, is now friendly with Reinsdorf — she got a World Series ring when the Sox won it all in 2005. Her grandson, Night Train Veeck, is now an account executive in sales for the White Sox.

"I can't believe he's been gone this long," Mrs. Veeck says about her husband. "I've already had about a dozen calls from friends outside the family (about his 100th birthday)."

"We (celebrate his birthday) differently every year," she added. "Not everyone will be together, but it's a very important day for all of us."

Check out vintage photos of Bill Veeck at and vintage video of Veeck at

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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Cubs exploring sale of minority stakes

Cubs Owners Might Sell Minority Shares To Fund Wrigley Renovation

By Robert Channick
Tribune reporter
4:39 p.m. CDT, April 4, 2014

Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts confirmed Friday that the team may sell minority ownership stakes to help finance planned renovations for Wrigley Field.

With his baseball team opening home play at the iconic 100-year-old ballpark, Ricketts said adding limited partners was just one financing option, and that ownership had yet to engage in any in-depth discussion with potential investors.

"There’s a lot of different ways to finance the renovations, but one of them we’re considering is bringing in a few outside investors who will be buying Cubs equity, and have them as minority partners and co-investors," Ricketts said in an interview with the Tribune.

The Ricketts family, which bought the team and stadium in 2009, is weighing whether to sell minority shares to help fund $300 million in fix-ups to the park plus a $200 million neighborhood redevelopment. The renovations haven’t begun because the family remains embroiled in a dispute with rooftop club owners, who object to plans that include a giant video screen and other advertising signage.

Ricketts is optimistic that the dispute will be resolved in time to begin work after the season ends, which is why the financing needs to be arranged now. He said that bringing in minority investors is the norm in sports ownership.

"Most teams have dozens of investors," Ricketts said. "Our model would be something along the lines of fewer in number but maybe larger in investment."

Ricketts did not specify a minimum amount the team would be looking for from investors, but said the family would retain full control over the Cubs.

That is the model on the South Side, where Jerry Reinsdorf is the controlling shareholder in the Chicago White Sox, but has dozens of investors in the team as limited partners, according a Tribune report in 2013. Those partners have no control over or say in the team.

"The idea of the sole owner is a bit outdated," said Bob Leib, a Wisconsin-based financial consultant to professional sports teams and owners.

Leib said bringing in investors as limited partners is preferable for many owners due to the significant capital needs of modern-day teams. Further, there are limitations to financing imposed by Major League Baseball, which prohibits carrying debt greater than 12 times annual earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization, related to stadium renovations.

The Ricketts family — Tom, Laura, Peter and Todd — bought the team and ballpark in a deal valued at $845 million and also included a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The family holds 95 percent of the franchise through a trust. The seller, Chicago-based Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune and other media properties, retained 5 percent.

In 2009, Tom Ricketts had separate conversations with a handful of celebrities, including Bill Murray, about investing in the Cubs, the Tribune reported at the time. The talks focused on bringing in a number of investors willing to spend as much as $25 million to become connected to the Cubs.

The idea was shelved as the family focused on concluding the transaction with Tribune Co. but resurfaced in 2013 when the Ricketts family committed to financing the Wrigley Field renovations without assistance from government entities.

Speaking to reporters before Friday’s game against the Phillies, Ricketts emphasized that the idea of selling shares doesn't mean the franchise is in any kind of financial stress. He said bringing in minority investors would help the team complete renovations by the opening day of 2018, creating $30 million to $40 million in incremental revenue per season.

While limited partners would not have any say in the team, Leib said it can be a good investment, with the average value of an MLB franchise increasing by 111 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Despite poor play in a crumbling ballpark, the investment has already appreciated for the Ricketts family. The team is valued at $1.2 billion by Forbes magazine.

"I don’t think anyone has ever lost money as a baseball owner/investor," Ricketts said. “Teams in value have just gone up over time consistently, so it always has been and still is a pretty good investment."

Tribune reporter Mark Gonzales contributed.

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