Showing posts from February, 2017

If Your Birthday is February 28th...

Image share it with Aroldis Chapman . Starting his second tour of duty with the Yankees this spring, the flamethrowing lefty who regularly breaks 100 miles an hour was signed by the Reds after defecting from Cuba. How hard is it to follow his fastball? Chapman averages 1-2/3 strikeouts an inning. He's seen in a Cincinnati uniform during this 2013 game against the Mets at Citi Field. Also getting cake and candles on this final day of February: Jeff Niemann , who had three effective seasons pitching for the Rays (2009-'11), before injuries sidetracked his career. Brian Bannister , who pitched for the Mets and Royals during his fie big league seasons. Jim Wolhford , a 15-year major leaguer who split his career between the Royals, Brewers, Giants and Expos. And we remember the late Frank Malzone , the Bronx, New York native who found fame as a hard-hitting Red Sox 3rd baseman of the late '50s and early '60s. Malzone was born on this date in 1930.

Fast Spring Start

Michael Conforto has a lot to prove this spring. After an impressive debut during the Mets pennant drive in 2015, Conforto struggled last year. He hit just .220. lost his regular job and spent time at Triple A Las Vegas. Now, it's a new year, a fresh start. In what anyone would admit is still a very small sample, Conforto appears to have turned things around so far in spring training. The former Oregon State standout had two hits Sunday, including his second home run in three games. All told, he's 5 for 7 in the early action. We're still five weeks from opening day, and you know there'll be more than a few surprises before the teams break camp. Mets 1st baseman Lucas Duda has dealt with hip problems, following a serious 2016 back injury. And the Mets might still be trying to trade Jay Bruce. So that surplus of lefty hitters could take care of itself. Or maybe Conforto keep raking and pushes his way back to regular status. It's part of the fun of spring training -

Sunday Sunshine: Starring the Phanatic

The Phanatic adds so much joy and energy to a day at the ballpark. While several clubs employ mascots, none provide the energy and interaction the way the Phanatic does.

Ballantine Blast

Or choose your own description for the mammoth home run hit by Aaron Judge in Friday's Yankee pre-season opener. TV broadcaster Michael Kay seemed pretty sure the ball traveled about 450 feet -- stopped by the scoreboard beyond the left field fence of Steinbrenner Field. In the kind of moment that gave fans reason to dream, the second-year outfielder absolutely crushed an Elniery Garcia fastball in the bottom of the fifth inning that literally left a dent in the Gatorade sign. We know from his 2016 debut that Judge has abundant power, but strikes out too often. If he can control his swing and not allow his king-size strike zone to be too much of a handicap, Judge could find himself a regular and a Bronx fan favorite by the time trees up north fill with leaves. ( This image of Judge is from the Yankees/Dodgers game last September 12th. )

Season 17 in the USA

Want proof that time does fly? Ichiro Suzuki is in camp with the Marlins, preparing for his 17th major league season! Already a lock for our Baseball Hall of Fame, he showed he was far from done in 2016, when he played 143 games and batted .291. And of course, he made history reaching and passing 3000 hits in North America; currently 25th on the all-time list, he's 23 shy of Rod Carew, whose total he'll probably pass by Mother's Day -- and whose hitting style, empasizing contact over power, he most emulates. On a club with a young and talented starting outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna and Christian Yelich, Ichiro proved to be the ideal fourth man -- especially with Stanton's knack for missing time with injuries. The man's durability is legendary -- he has never been sidelined with knee, shoulder or wrist problems. His only trip to the Disabled List was due to a bleeding ulcer! At an age when players with his resume are coaching, broadcasting or buil

Throwback Thursday: 25 Years Ago

Here's another souvenir Dennis held onto: from the final stop on our June 1992 baseball trip -- which also brought us to Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Louisville was then home to the Cardinals AAA farm club. The 1992 Redbirds featured future major leaguers Rene Arocha and Brian Jordan, as well as Ozzie Canseco, Jose's identical twin who never matched his brother in productivity. Opposing them were the Indianapolis Indians, whose Greg Colbrunn, Wil Cordero, Razor Shines, FP Santangelo and Matt Stairs all had productive careers in "the show." These days, Louisville is a Cincinnati Reds affiliate. The Cardinals AAA team -- and Redbirds name -- is in Memphis.


Catcher Matt Wieters is the latest free agent to come off the boards. Numerous reports Tuesday had the veteran catcher signing a two-year, $21 million deal with the Nationals. In eight Baltimore seasons -- interrupted by a serious 2014 knee injury -- the South Carolina native slugged 117 home runs. But there were questions about his pitch framing. Combine the Orioles reluctance to commit to him long-term and Washington losing catcher Wilson Ramos, and Wieters found a tailor-made situation. Plus, who wouldn't want to catch aces Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, plus the up-and-coming Tanner Roark?

If Your Birthday is February 21st...

Image share it with a player who should have received stronger consideration for the Hall of Fame: the longtime Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell . The six-time All Star teamed with Lou Whitaker for one of the best and most durable middle infield combos of the last 50 years. Tramell hit a career. 285 with 185 home runs. Now a special assistant in Detroit's front office, I last saw him in spring training 2015, when he coached 1st base in an exhibition game. Also sharing Alan's birthday on the 21st: Franklin Gutierrez , the veteran outfielder who just joined the Dodgers as a free agent. Joel Skinner , who like his father, enjoyed a good playing career followed by a short run as a manager (Bob replaced Gene Mauch with the Phillies in 1968 and later managed the Padres; Joel took over the Indians for part of the 2002 season). Jack Billingham spent 13 years pitching in the majors, most notably for Cincinnati's Big Red Machine of the 1970s, including their pair of World Ser

Following in David Cone's Footsteps

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration... for now. But Sunday's report that former Met Jon Niese had signed a minor league contract with the Yankees got me thinking about pitchers who'd appeared for both New York teams since 1962. David Cone is probably the best known -- after all, he's the only man to have 20-win seasons with each team. But who else comes to mind? Dwight Gooden was Cone's teammate in both Queens and the Bronx. And, like Cone, Gooden threw his only career no-hitter in Yankee pinstripes. Orlando Hernandez, who worked alongside Cone and Gooden with the Yankees, later pitched for the Mets. Al Leiter bookended his career as a Yankee, debuting as a starter, finishing up as a reliever -- and sandwiched in the middle, was an effective starter for the Mets. Then, there were those famous in one borough or the other, who only briefly appeared for the other New York team. Ralph Terry, once a 23-game winner for the Yankees, closed out his big league

Sunday Sunshine: Dodger Stadium

With California being pounded by heavy wind and rain this weekend, it seems the right time to zoom in on sunsplashed day in L.A. It's Opening Day 2008, when the Dodgers, behind Brad Penny, blanked the Giants 5-0. Below, a wider look at Dodger Stadium, taken about a half hour after the last pitch, with the famous hills in the background. A question for my Southern California friends, is the Hollywood-esque "Think Blue" sign still standing beyond left field?

Bad Break

Tyler Austin was one of several Yankee rookies who helped energize the franchise during the last two months of 2016. It started with history in his very first game when he and teammate Aaron Judge became the first pair of players to homer back-to-back in each's first big league at bats. But there'll be no heroics for awhile from Austin. After fouling a ball off his left foot earlier this week, a Friday morning MRI revealed a broken bone. So his spring training is over before Grapefruit League games even begin. He'll need six weeks to heal, so right around when he's able to get back on the field, Austin's teammates will be getting ready for opening day on April 2nd. All of a sudden, the Yankees signing of power hitting (but strikeout-prone) Chris Carter doesn't look that foolish after all. These images of Austin are from the Yankees/Dodgers game last September 12th.

Positioning His Outfielders

From last June 25th: Twins coach Butch Davis getting his outfielders in just the right spots, in a game against the Yankees.

If Your Birthday is February 16th

Image share with Washington Nationals backup outfielder-1st baseman Clint Robinson . His roster spot for 2017 might be in jeopardy after the club signed veteran power hitter Adam Lind. But a lot can happen over the next six weeks in Florida. Also on today's cake-and-candles list: Eric Byrnes , the hard-charging outfielder best known for his days with the A's and Diamondbacks -- who has become one of the more entertaining baseball analysts with MLB Network. Bill Pecota , the longtime Royals backup infielder -- and the namesake of the sabremetrics-driven system for predicting outcomes in baseball. Offically, it's P layer E mpirical C omparison and O ptimization T est A lgorithm. Jerry Hairston ( Sr .), the switch-hitting bench player best remembered for his time during the '70s and '80s with the White Sox. He's also the middle man in a three-generation baseball family: his father Sam was a Negro League catcher who appeared in four games with the 1951 W

Spring Training 2016

From March 7th, 2016 against the Mets in Port St. Lucie: Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham watches and wishes, but that ball stays in the park.

Throwback Thursday: A Couple Days Early

My great friend and baseball travel partner Dennis Murray recently loaned me some vintage yearbooks and scorecards to scan. What a kick to thumb through that 1957 Yankee Yearbook! Here's the ad from Ballantine Beer welcoming Phil Rizzuto the broadcast team. Yes, the Scooter moved behind the microphone sixty years ago. To Phil's left is the original voice of the Yankees, Mel Allen; just below, the third member of the team, fellow legend Red Barber. Take note at how the photos are aligned in the shape of Ballantine's logo! (You can see the "three-ring sign" on the bottle in at the bottom of the ad.) Below, it's the page on the local media contingent covering the Yankees. They're the 10 newspaper beat writers, from what were then the seven daily New York papers, plus the two across the river in Newark, New Jersey and another from the regional Newhouse chain. No local radio station reporters and none from the any of the local TV channels, even the Ya

Finally Leaving Cincinnati

Brandon Phillips might be the second best second baseman in Reds history. Over 11 Cincinnati seasons, he provided good speed and defense, averaged 18 home runs and batted .279. But history takes a backseat to present-day needs. Working under a long-term contract, with no-trade protection, Phillips had no desire to leave the club, even when the contending Nationals tried and failed to bring him aboard a year ago. But after seeing the Reds shed outfielder Jay Bruce and ace pitcher Johnny Cueto while entering a full-scale rebuild, he finally gave his approval to a trade. Now 36, Phillips heads to the Braves, where he'll be the everyday second baseman in place of Sean Rodriguez, who'll miss three to five months after surgery to repair a shoulder injured in a January car wreck. This image of Brandon Phillips is from a 2013 Mets/Reds game in New York.

Sunday Sunshine: Capital Style

A sunsplashed July afternoon in 2012 as the Nationals host the Mets. Washington's ballpark, while not as distinctive as Camden Yards and PNC, offers a good modern fan experience. Unlike those two, this is a neutral park. Sluggers such as Bryce Harper can reach the fences, but you're less likely to see homer-fests they way you do in Baltimore or the Bronx. Take a look below, and you'll see Hall of Fame names from the club's ancestor the Montreal Expos such as Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, as well as Homestead Grays Negro League legends Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and Buck Leonard. Who's Posey? Cumberland Posey, the longtime Grays owners is also a Cooperstown inductee.

Bunt by Walker

I am a big fan of bunting: when used in other-than-obvious situations, it can be a wonderfully disruptive move. I like the way I captured this moment in a Mets/Giants game last April 29th. Of course, it all comes down to whether or not it worked. See for yourself... as Giants 3rd baseman Matt Duffy fields the ball a bit awkwardly -- and his throw pulls 1st baseman Brandon Belt off the bag.

DFA'd -- Crowded Out in Flushing

Not a lot of baseball news on Thursday, though I did catch the notice that the Mets had designated infielder Ty Kelly for assignment. The move was made to add newly re-signed reliever Jerry Blevins to the roster. A career .280 hitter in the minors, Ty batted over .320 in half a season at Las Vegas in 2016. That led to his being called up to the Mets, where he saw his first major league action. But with David Wright and Neil Walker expected to be ready for the season, Jose Reyes projected as a jack-of--all trades, Wilmer Flores a Flushing fan favorite and TJ Rivera having impressed at the end of last season, Kelly's place in the organization was far from a sure thing. Ty -- whose mother is Jewish -- will get a chance to impress the rest of the baseball world, when he plays for Team Israel in next month's World Baseball Classic.

Throwback Thursday: Cleveland 1992

Dialing back 25 years: it's June 14th, 1992 with the Yankees visiting the Indians at old Cleveland Stadium. Scott Scudder pitching to the Yankees' Don Mattingly. There's a pretty good crowd at the big old barn -- around 35,000 -- although I'm curious why the upper deck box seats seem to be completely empty. It's the next-to-last year for the Stadium; construction began in January of '92 on its replacement, now known as Progressive Field. And while the new stadium heralded a strong Indians era, with World Series appearances in 1995, '97 and 2016, it's fun to look back on the venue it replaced.

My First Baseball Event of the Year

Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of attending the 37th annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner. Held in memory of the legendary Yankees catcher and captain, it's become a major fundraiser for AHRC, a charity assisting the developmentally disabled. The guests included three of Thurman's teammates from the World Champion 1977 Yankees, Roy White, Bucky Dent and Graig Nettles. In the middle, Thurman's widow, Diana Munson. And to her right, Football Giants receiver Victor Cruz, present day Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez and Mets fan favorite Wilmer Flores. What a treat to talk baseball with the Yankee legends, who shared stories of playing for Billy Martin and with Thurman -- while restoring a championship spirit to the Bronx after a 15-year drought. Thanks to John Cirillo for arranging things and getting the big crowd back a baseball groove just 48 hours after the Super Bowl!

Jumping to Their Arch-Rivals

Fear the beard, Giants fans... Sergio Romo has left for your arch-enemies. After nine years in the San Francisco bullpen, including three World Series champions, Romo signed Monday with the Dodgers, where he'll serve as a setup man for Kenley Jansen. With Mark Melancon taking over as San Francisco's closer in 2017, Romo didn't find his old club having much interest in holding onto him. So he follows a previous Giants closer Brian Wilson in making the change from orange and black to Dodger blue. In Romo's case, it's also a homecoming. He grew up a Dodger fan just outside L.A. In this image, Romo is in the Giants dugout during their April 2016 series against the Mets at Citi Field.

If Your Birthday is February 6th...

Image share it with the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat, the larger than life figure who remains as revered a player and character as when he played in the majors a century ago. George Herman Ruth, the Babe , the gold standard of sluggers... and had the Red Sox not decided his talents better suited an everyday player, he might be the most revered pitcher ever. Born into humble surroundings, to be kind, he came from a disfunctional inner city Baltimore family unable properly to raise him. Ironically, home was just a few blocks from where the city's terrific ballpark Camden Yards now stands. Do yourself a favor, take a tour of the Babe's boyhood home next time you visit the city. You know the numbers -- 60 homers in '27, 714 lifetime, leading the American League in home runs 12 times. But did you realize what a good all-around hitter he was? A lifetime .342 batter, the Babe never struck out more than 93 times in a season. Larger than life? You bet. Yet, as one born ju

Sunday Sunshine: Arizona-style

It's March 10th, 2010 at Arizona's Surprise Stadium, the pre-season home of the Texas Rangers. They're hosting the Mariners on a bright but cool afternoon. (Above) Cliff Lee is pitching to Vladimir Guerrero. Under a brilliant sky and fresh grown grass, we're inching closer to an historic season for the Rangers. To cap their 50th season, they'd win their first American League pennant -- before falling to the Giants in the World Series, San Francisco's first of three championships in the decade.

Enjoying a Night Off

Sometimes it's fun to aim my camera at something other than the action on the field. Yankee Stadium's camera wells are located next to the dugouts, proving me these glimpses of Masahiro Tanaka. Wearing a jacket on a cool night last May 9th, he's relaxed while eyeing the action. Moments later, he flashes a big smile. This is the life of a starting pitcher, four games out of five.

Destination: Philadelphia

Chris Coghlan made news on Thursday, signing a minor league deal with the Phillies. After splitting 2016 between the A's and Cubs, and hitting a combined .188, he didn't exactly find his services in demand. That's quite a comedown for the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year. He hit .321 that summer for Marlins, but never came close to repeating that level of performance since. The Phillies -- who saw 2016 outfield reserve Peter Bourjos leave for the White Sox -- continue to bring in stopgap players as they wait for their outfield prospects to develop. So, it's a good match, a veteran hoping for a rebound and playing in a hitter-friendly park. While the Phils don't commit much money or time. And young players such as Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams, Cornelius Randolph and Aaron Altherr face less pressure to deliver immediate results.

Throwback Thursday: Yoakland

Proof that so much can change in what seems like a short amount of time. From June 3rd, 2014: three years and three teams ago, it's Yoenis Cespedes with the A's, taking a lead off 1st base against the Yankees. Of course, a couple of weeks from now, he'll be in Port Saint Lucie, with the rest of his Mets teammates.

Can He Recapture the Magic?

In 2013, Domonic Brown was a rising star, an all-star and a likely cornerstone of a Phillies club apparently in need of being rebuilt. From May through early August, he was as good as any outfielder this side of Bryce Harper. But as sometimes happens with "pheenoms," as suddenly as the magic arrived, it evaporated. Do the names Bob Hazle or Kevin Maas ring a bell? Brown didn't just finish out 2013 on a sour note; nothing was sweet in 2014. He spent half of the 2015 season in the minors before the Phils let him go. Things didn't improve with the Blue Jays' Triple A team in Buffalo last summer. Tuesday, Brown signed a minor league contract with the Rockies, who hope lightning might strike once again. But what are the odds of that really happening?