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New Yorkers No More

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Just a couple or three years ago, Miguel Andujar and Dom Smith were on track to be homegrown stars for the Yankees and Mets.  But fate had other plans: these photos were from a Scranton/Syracuse game last June 8th, when both were in Triple A ball trying to play their way back to New York.  Sidetracked by slumps and injuries that not only inhibited their progress, the players will report to training camps in a couple of weeks with different organizations. Andujar was waived off the Yankees 40-man roster in late September and was snapped by the Pirates in the season's final days. He hoped that like Bill Robinson, a decades-earlier flop in pinstripes, he could turn around his career in Pittsburgh gold and black — until his roster spot went to veteran free agent Andrew McCutchen. Smith, stuck behind Pete Alonso and Daniel Vogelbach on the Mets depth chart, was non-renewed and signed with the rebuilding Nationals.   

A TO Z: Z is for...

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Zack Wheeler , the Phillies co-ace, who became the star the Mets hoped for once he signed with their National League rivals at the other end of the New Jersey Turnpike. I was at Citizens Bank Park August 8th of 2021 , to watch him shut out his former teammates on one hit -- an afternoon capped by congratulations from his catcher JT Realmuto.  

A TO Z: Y is for...

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Yordan Alvarez , the Astros rising star slugger.  His electric left-handed swing not only anchors the middle of Houston's lineup, but puts the Cuban expat in the conversation for who might break Aaron Judge's AL home run record sometime in the next few years. An All Star for the first time in 2022, while finishing third for league MVP, Alvarez also authored a baseball first: during the Astros' 2022 postseason run, he homered in the sixth inning or later when his team was trailing to give them the lead. 

A TO Z: X is for...

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Xzavion Curry , the Guardians top minor league pitching prospect, whose 2022 journey began in Akron before being promoted to Triple-A Columbus and was capped with a couple of late-season appearances in Cleveland.  The Georgia Tech product certainly impressed when I saw him with the Rubber Ducks last May 17th in Binghamton.  He struck out 10 in 5-2/3 innings while holding a lineup that included top Mets prospects Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty to two runs, six hits and a walk. With the Guardians sticking to a tight budget, the success of homegrown, low-cost talent such Curry is a key for the defending AL Central champs to remain contenders.

A TO Z: W is for...

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Willie Stargell , the Pirates Hall of Fame slugger and emotional leader of the 1979 "We Are Family" champions.  The seven-time All Star, a hero at both Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium, also owns a New York milestone: he belted the first home run (in the first game ever played) at Shea Stadium on April 17th, 1964 -- where that July, he appeared in his first All Star Game. On the other side of Pennsylvania, he also authored the longest home run in Veterans Stadium history, a moonshot that reached the 600 section of the park's upper deck. His 48 home runs in 1971 are the most by a lefthanded Pirate (fellow Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner is the only Pittsburgh player to launch more in one year -- with 54 and 51 in 1949 and '47, respectively).  All told, his ticket to Cooperstown packed 475 roundtrippers and a reputation as one of the game's best liked players. Stargell's statue, just outside PNC Park's left field gate, pays forever tribute to "Pops."

A TO Z: V is for…

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Vladimir Guerrero Junior, who could one day rival Ken Griffey Junior as baseball’s best-ever second generation star. I’m expecting a big season from Toronto’s slugging 1st baseman.  

A TO Z: U is for...

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Ubaldo Jimenez , who spent a dozen years pitching in the majors; first and most successfully with the Rockies, highlighted by a 2010 no-hitter against the Braves, then two-and-a-half seasons with Cleveland; finally with the Orioles. Part of the challenge of compiling this A to Z series was finding a match for every letter of the alphabet; U was tough, as so few players have that as the first letter of their first name.  Luckily, I caught a Jimenez start against the Yankees in 2012 -- he's facing Mark Teixeira in this image. Unless a player goes into coaching or broadcasting, you tend to lose track of them after they call it a career.  Searching online for a "closing thought," I found this very cool story about Jimenez earning his college degree to fulfill a promise made to his mother before he signed his first professional contract.  It's clear regardless of whether he ever resurfaces in baseball, he's set himself up for personal success.  

A TO Z: T is for...

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Travis Blankenhorn , one of the "four-A" players I saw this summer at Syracuse.  A versatile player who, over eight minor league seasons, hasn't impressed enough to stick in the majors, he got into 91 games this season for the Mets top farm club.  Splitting his time between 2nd base and the outfield, the lefty batter popped 15 home runs; but he spent just a day in the majors during 2022 -- DH-ing in the opening game of the Mets July 22nd doubleheader against the Padres. (Left:) He connects on a walk-off hit to win the first half of Syracuse's June 8th twinbill with Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Moments later, he's mobbed by teammates. Pure joy, channeling the "little boy" attitude of Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. Even if Blankenhorn isn't targeted for stardom, or even a season-long roster spot, it's worth a tip of the cap to someone on the other side of age 25 who keeps plugging away, holding onto his baseball dream.  

A TO Z: S is for....

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  Stephen Strasburg , the "worst case scenario" for teams offering long-term contracts to pitchers over age 30.  After leading the Nationals to their 2019 championship -- winning both his starts in the World Series and three others in the NL playoffs -- he reupped with Washington for another seven years at an annual average of $35 million, he's made eight starts (totaling 31 innings) over the past three seasons, winning just once. For every Max Scherzer, who ages like fine wine, or Justin Verlander, who resumed his place among baseball's best after two lost years, Strasburg appears to have become a lost cause.  And 2023 doesn't seem to offer much encouragement.  Several weeks ago, manager Dave Martinez would only say that onetime ace continues to rehab after surgery for  Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

A TO Z: R is for...

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  Reggie Jackson , a/k/a Mister October, whose 292 home runs were the most by any American League player of the 1970s. The Philadelphia native loved making headlines -- chasing Roger Maris' record in 1969, leading the A's to five division titles and three consecutive World Series titles and finding more fame when he joined the Yankees in 1977 where earned World Series MVP honors his first season -- capped by an iconic three-home run game in the clincher. The Yanks made the playoffs four times in his five years there. Though he spent just five seasons in pinstripes, the Yankees retired his #44.  Along with catcher Thurman Munson, he symbolized a turbulent, but productive time as the Yankees, playing in the refurbished Stadium, restored the franchise's aura.  Famous  feuds with Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner dominated the tabloid backpages; The Boss often mentioned that seeing Reggie leave was his biggest mistake as owner. In recent years, he's been seen less in the

Happy New Year

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  Jorge Posada and Aaron Altherr get you into the "swing" of the new year.

A TO Z: Q is for...

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  Quilvio Veras , who scored the first run in Safeco Field history. Since I never snapped a photo of the Dominican native during his playing or coaching career, it seemed right for the ballpark where he made history to serve as his "stand in." On July 15th, 1999, the Padres 2nd baseman singled off Jamie Moyer to lead off the top of the 3rd inning.  After Eric Owens sacrificed him to center, Phil Nevin broke the scoreless tie with an RBI grounder to the hole to put San Diego on top.  Veras later added another single and, in the top of the 9th with the Padres down a run, ended his productive day with a bases loaded walk that tied the game.  Owens followed with a sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run in what became a 3-2 San Diego victory. Quilvio Veras, who broke in with the Marlins, played seven big league seasons. He led the NL with 56 stolen bases in 1995, while finishing third for Rookie of the Year.  Four years later with the Padres, he saw his only post-season action, as San

A TO Z: P is for...

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Patrick Corbin , who pitched like an ace for the Diamondbacks in 2017 and '18, before signing a huge free agent contract with the Nationals. He did well enough in his first Washington season, winning 14 and earning the victory in the seventh and deciding game of the World Series -- the city's first championship since 1924. But, as a warning to clubs signing long and pricey deals with pitchers, it's been all downhill since; 17-42 the last three years, with ERAs all on the wrong side of 4.50.  Last season, the upstate New York native hit rock bottom, losing 19 games.  With two seasons (and roughly $45 million) left on his deal, and the Nats, up for sale and in rebuilding mode, will Washington try and deal him as "damaged goods" for another player with a bad contract?  Stay tuned.  

A TO Z: O is for...

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Orlando Hernandez : a great nickname "El Duque," that distinct leg kick -- and a clutch pitcher for the Yankees in the late '90s and early 2000s.  The Cuban expat made a splash after arriving in the U.S., earning World Series rings his first three seasons in the Bronx, as well as a fourth with the 2005 White Sox. Hernandez aged gracefully, and finished out his career with a pair of winning seasons on the 2006-'07 Mets, while past the age of 40.  

A TO Z: N is for...

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Noah Syndergaard , the pitcher with the superhero nickname, and early in his career, nearly superhero skills.  Drafted by the Blue Jays and traded to the Mets in the RA Dickey deal, he debuted in 2015, the year the Mets won their most recent pennant and finished 4th for NL Rookie of the Year (and earned New York its only victory in that fall's World Series).  Big seasons were on tap in '16 and '18, sandwiched around an injury-wrecked 2017; three years later Tommy John Surgery cost him nearly two full seasons. Signing as a free agent with the Angels, he went 5-8 with diminished velocity before a deadline trade to the Phillies, where he went 5-2 and helped break their post-season drought.  Surprisingly, the Dodgers made him the most appealing offer as he heads back to the West Coast next year. But the big question: how did he become known as Thor? While there could be some inspiration in his trademark long, flowing hair, the answer stems from a 2013 Halloween tweet that shows

A TO Z: M is for...

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Manny Machado , the South Florida native and a free agent who helped turned the Padres into an NL West powerhouse. Breaking in with the Orioles, he was an all star in his rookie season (2013) when he led the AL with 51 doubles and won a Gold Glove. Six years later, he signed a then-record deal with San Diego, where he's finished in the Top 5 for MVP twice in four years and helped lift the Padres to the NLCS this past season, where they fell to the upstart Phillies.  Just 30, and one of the most feared hitters in the NL, Machado could well a free agent a year from now.  His San Diego contract includes an opt out following the upcoming season. ( My image is from Game 3 of the 2022 NLCS with the Padres visiting the Phillies .)

A TO Z: L is for...

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Lou Piniella , "Sweet Lou" the Bronx fan favorite and a steady contributor when the Yankees resumed their place among baseball's power teams during the late '70s and early '80s. The Tampa native waited a long time for his chance to shine: originally  signed by Cleveland, he bounced to the Senators and Orioles organizations, spending seven years in the minors before being taken by the Pilots in the 1969 AL expansion draft.  They flipped him to the Royals just before opening day, where he made history as the first batter in the club's first game -- as well as the first player on a first year club to be named Rookie of the Year.  Three more solid KC seasons were followed by an off-year in 1973 -- and a trade to the Yankees for Lindy McDaniel, in what proved to be one of New York's best deals of the decade. An outfielder and DH on five Yankee division winners and two World Series champions, Piniella later managed the club and spent the first half of 1988 as GM

A TO Z: K is for...

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Kris Bryant , the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year and NL MVP a year later when the Cubs broke their 108 year championship drought.  Though he remained a consistent performer in Chicago, the magic never returned to Wrigley,  Traded to the Giants in the middle of his walk year (2021), as the Cubs chose to tear down their club and rebuild, he helped San Francisco complete its club-record 107-win season before signing a free agent deal with the Rockies. Things didn't go as planned in his first Colorado season, where he played in just 42 games before going on the shelf with a foot injury.

A TO Z: J is for...

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Jacob deGrom , the news of whose signing with Texas rocked the baseball world over the weekend before the opening of the Winter Meetings.  The 2014 Rookie of the Year and two-time Cy Young Award winner made no secret of his intentions to shop himself around this winter -- the big surprise was how early he chose his new team, and how he apparently never gave the Mets a chance to match the Rangers offer.   His five-year, $185 million dollar contract pushes Texas' free agent outlay the last two years two-thirds of the way to a BILLION DOLLARS. Chew on that for a moment.  Trying to close the gap with the reigning World Champion Astros and the young, rising Mariners, the Rangers might not be done writing big checks and shaking up its roster under new skipper Bruce Bochy.   Let's not forget the risk Texas takes on; this is a pitcher who turns 35 next June, who has missed more than half his starts over the past two years.  Injuries mean rehab starts like the one in Syracuse where I la

A TO Z: I is for...

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Ichiro ... a unique and dynamic player who downplayed his last name and is likely to become the first Japanese player to be inducted in our Baseball Hall of Fame in 2025.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the master of contact hitting joins his onetime Yankee teammate Mariano Rivera as the only unanimous selections. AL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in his North American debut year, 2001, Ichiro Suzuki hit over .300 with more than 200 hits and made the All Star teams in each of his first 10 seasons.  Case closed.  

A TO Z: H is for...

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Harrison Bader , the gifted but injury-prone centerfielder who went from the Cardinals to the Yankees at the 2022 trade deadline.  The Bronx faithful had to be impressed by the Westchester County native who grew up 20 minutes from the Stadium and sparkled during the post-season, smacking a surprising five home runs.  And you've got to be impressed by his range -- a big factor in winning a Gold Glove in 2021. But his track record makes one a little hesitant about a long-term commitment.  He's never played 140 games in a season, his healthiest year was back in 2018.  Could home cooking or playing for the team he rooted for as a kid be a positive factor?    

A TO Z: G is for...

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Gabe Kapler , the analytics maven and outside-the-box thinker, whose managerial record has been surprisingly ordinary. After managing the 2018 and '19 managing the Phillies, but failing to finish above .500... he moved west, and led the Giants to a franchise-record 107-win season in 2021 -- bookended by non-winning years in 2020 and '22. The L.A. native played for six teams in his playing career -- highlighted by 2004, when he played for the curse-busting Red Sox and was one of the nine players on the field when they won their World Series championship.

A TO Z: F is for...

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Ferguson Jenkins , the greatest Canadian pitcher of all time who ranks just behind Seaver and Gibson among the greatest righthanders of the '60s and '70s. The seven-time 20 game winner earned the 1971 Cy Young Award with the Cubs while posting 3192 career strikeouts.   That 1966 deal in which the panicky Phillies sent him to the Cubs -- with John Herrnstein and Adolfo Phillips for past-their-prime Bob Buhl and Larry Jackson --  is in the conversation for the worst trade ever made.  Imagine Fergie co-anchoring a Connie Mack Stadium rotation with Jim Bunning or being Steve Carlton's teammate at The Vet. I snapped this photo of Jenkins when he threw out the first pitch before a 2007 Marlins spring training game in Jupiter, Florida.

A TO Z: E is for...

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Earl Weaver , the Orioles skipper, whose 1480 victories, four pennants and the 1970 World Series championship earned his place in Cooperstown.  Under his feisty leadership, and future Hall of Famers such as Frank and Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, the O's became an American League powerhouse -- following his mantra of "pitching, defense and the three-run homer." We can't overlook his umpire-baiting personality, which led to over 90 ejections, including two before the games even began! This image is from the 2008 All Star Parade in New York up Avenue of the Americas.  

A TO Z: D is for...

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Dansby Swanson , part of this winter's stellar class of free agent shortstops.  Coming off his best season ever, the 2022 All Star and Gold Glove winner turns 29 over the winter.  Having grown up less than 30 miles from Atlanta, you'd think the Braves ownership (led by Liberty Media) would prioritize keeping the hometown star at home.  But then again, it didn't mind Atlanta fixture -- and 2021 World Series MVP -- Freddie Freeman signing with the Dodgers. A surprising fact: despite his Georgia roots, Swanson wasn't drafted by the Braves.  Originally in the Diamondbacks organization, he was the key player in one of the most one-sided trades of the previous decade.  Arizona sent him along with centerfielder Ender Inciarte to Atlanta for a pitchers Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier.

A TO Z: C is for...

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Chase Utley ... who will be a borderline Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in 2024.  The six-time All Star was a core player on the Phillies previous run of success.  Will his gritty on field play, along with five great and two very good seasons be enough to land the franchise's greatest-ever 2nd baseman in Cooperstown?  Stay tuned.

A TO Z: B is for...

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Barry Bonds , who remains the most divisive name in baseball.  Back in the buzz this week when he was included on the ballot for a Hall of Fame voting committee, his statistics and character will bear an asterisk for many fans and media members. Is it time to move on and accept his achievements without question? Or does the cloud of suspicion remain? Did he elevate the game or soil it? Feel free to hit the comment button and share your opinion. This image is from 2016, when he served as the Marlins hitting coach.  

A TO Z: First Pitch

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The off-season is here... time to try something a little different. Still baseball, of course.  But let's get away from the headlines and hot stove -- instead, I'm launching a series that follows a theme. Today, Albert Pujols leads off my A to Z -- an alphabetical spotlight on players and baseball figures worth sharing.  Coming off one of the best "victory lap" seasons ever, the future Hall of Famer completed his 22 seasons with 703 home runs alongside three MVPs and the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year.  Up top, it's a  Spring Training 2007  image facing the Orioles... and below, from a Yankees/Angels game in 2018.

Champs

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The Astros, sporting baseball's deepest bullpen and a potent collection of contact hitters -- who could generate plenty of power -- completed their climb to a World Series championship Saturday night. With a lineup that caught fire once their leadoff man Jose Altuve emerged from an extended slump, they took the last three games -- capped by two close, tension-filled one-run contests, to post their second title in franchise history.  And to many of us, their first clean one.  No trash cans, no supposed buzzers.  Just good, smart baseball. I hadn't seen Houston in person since 2019... when I snapped this Yankee Stadium image of Altuve. Hopefully, I'll catch them in spring training for a look at ALCS and World Series MVP Jeremy Pena. It also means I've yet to get a chance to see Dusty Baker in an Astros uniform.  Does the Astros' championship assure Altuve and Baker's future place in the Hall of Fame? Share your opinion by hitting the "comment" button b

If Your Birthday is November 4th...

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  ...you share it with  Dick Groat , the shortstop on a pair of  World Series champions, the 1960 Pirates and '64 Cardinals. The 1960 NL batting champ (seen here in the Cards 1965 Yearbook) also holds an offbeat honor... he's one of just four stars to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing the uniform of 3 different teams -- the others are LeBron James, Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin. He's also a member of another exclusive club, the 2-sport athlete.. This onetime Duke basketball standout played the '52-53 season for the NBA's Ft. Wayne Pistons before concentrating on baseball, when Pirates officials convinced him his future was best served on the diamond. Carlos Baerga , Cleveland's 2nd baseman was an emerging star with in the early and mid-'90s, but his production fell off after a 1996 trade to the Mets for Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino. The switch hitter made history on April 8th, 1993, when he became the first player ever to homer from both s