Showing posts from February, 2018

Wayback Wednesday

Nick Swisher batting for the Yankees in a 2009 Grapefruit League game against the Phillies. The former A's and White Sox player went on to belt 29 home runs on a Yankee team that won its first World Series in nine years. Swisher had his most productive and enjoyable major league years playing in the Bronx -- and his enthusiastic personality made him a fan favorite. BTW, that's Mick Kelleher coaching at 1st base.

An Important First Step

Don't believe it when you hear that spring training games don't count. Monday's Mets/Astros game was more than meaningful. Fans on hand in West Palm Beach watched two tantalizing innings with Houston's Justin Verlander and New York's Noah Syndergaard firing blanks and silencing the opposition. Six up, six down. All smiles -- for their managers -- no frowns. Still, this had to mean more to Mickey Callaway and his Mets staff. Syndergaard missed most of 2017 with a torn lat muscle in his right arm. And while he made a pair of brief appearances in late September, it was hard to learn much. Monday, he didn't hold anything back. Thor hit 100 mph several times and ended the 1st inning striking out reigning AL MVP Jose Altuve on a changeup. It's still early to draw conclusions. And some might wonder if this was "too much, too soon" for the Met who missed most of last season. It's not as if pitching coach Dan Warthen ran out and told Thor to "c

If Your Birthday is February 26th...

Image share it with Kevin Plawecki . A Mets first round draft pick in 2012, he hasn't yet developed into a capable hitter. But GM Sandy Alderson hasn't lost faith in his potential -- or that of Travis d'Arnaud, with whom he'll share the catching job in 2018. If you grew up watching the great Yankees teams of the early '60s, you'll remember power-hitting Johnny Blanchard . In 1961, the year of Mantle and Maris chasing the Babe, he smacked 21 homers in just 243 at-bats. He was born February 26th, 1933. Exactly two years later on this date, the Yankees released Babe Ruth. J.T. Snow 's also on today's birthday list along with "the other"  Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez , who' appeared in 53 games, all in relief, for the 2010 and '11 Angels. Mark DeRosa spent 16 years in the majors, and is now one of the mainstays of MLB Network. Then there's William Frawley , a TV legend as Fred Mertz, Grandpa Bub of My Three Sons --

Pirates Celebrate an Anniversary

My pal Dennis was in Bradenton on Saturday for the Pirates Grapefruit League home opener. It was a special occasion -- the day began with a ceremony honoring the city beginning its 50th year as Pittsburgh's pre-season home. There were plenty of Pirate legends on hand at LECOM Park -- none bigger than Bill Mazeroski (far left), John Candelaria (the tall guy), plus Rennie Stennett (#6) and Omar Moreno (#18 on the far right). And notice the tropical "shirt" donned by the Pirate Parrot. Look at that classic Florida sky, big puffy clouds and those beautiful palm trees. It doesn't get much nicer than this! Below: let's zoom in on the guests of honor.

Jorge Saez

Spring training means fresh faces, fresh opportunities and, most of all, the opportunity to dream. Friday, in the 2018 Grapefruit League opener, Jorge Saez delivered the Yankees' game winning hit. It was a two-RBI single in the bottom of the 6th inning that served up the winning margin in a 3 - 1 win over the Tigers. OK, now who IS Jorge Saez? A Miami native and longtime minor league catcher who spend most of last season with the Yanks AA Trenton farm team. To be honest, I didn't snap a lot of photos of him -- though I did capture this last June in Hartford against the Yard Goats. He wasn't one of the "hot prospects" compared to teammates Miguel Andujar, Jorge Mateo or Billy McKinney. But he made enough of a positive impression that he was invited to big league camp this spring -- and made it into the very first exhibition game. Whether or not he he makes the majors, he can tell his kids and grandkids he once once a game for the Yankees. And with the power o

Destination: Pittsburgh

Corey Dickerson has a new home. The Rays' 2017 All Star, who was DFA'd on Monday, was traded to the Pirates Thursday for veteran reliever Daniel Hudson. Dickerson should easily claim a starting spot in Pittsburgh's outfield. And after a 27-homer season, Dickerson could easily see those totals rise in the more homer-friendly PNC Park. ( These images are from a Rays/Yankees game in New York last July 29th .)

A Ray of Hope

After the Rays cut 2017 All Star Corey Dickerson and traded Steven Souza Junior, Tampa Bay finally brought in some outfield help. Wednesday's signing of the veternan Carlos Gomez looks like a short-term move. The 11-year veteran was reasonably productive last season with the Rangers. Playing in home run-happy Globe Life Park, Gomez smacked 17 homers, but hit just .255 -- quite a drop-off from his Milwaukee heyday. The cost isn't much, just $4 million. At age 32, Gomez looks more like a mid-summer trade chip than a building block for the next time Tampa Bay is ready to compete. ( This image of Gomez is from a 2016 game at Yankee Stadium. )

Insurance Policy

After the Yankees let Todd Frazier leave for the Mets as a free agent and then traded his predecessor Chase Headley to the Padres, the door seemed wide open for rookie Miguel Andujar to take over at the hot corner in the Bronx. While the talented Andujar may still have a chance to win the job in spring training, it's no surprise that GM Brian Cashman wanted an insurance policy, a low cost veteran able to compete with Andujar. And he found that guy Tuesday. For the modest price of mid-level prospects Nick Solak and  Taylor Widener, they join a three-team with Arizona and Tampa Bay that nets the Yanks Brandon Drury . In two-and-a-half seasons, he's played second, third and even a little outfield, perfect for a bench player or even a short term starter if Andujar or 2nd basemen Gleyber Torres show they're not ready for prime time. ( This image of Drury is from a D'backs-Mets game last August 23rd .)

Boston Adds a Slugger

After months of haggling, the Red Sox finally land J.D. Martinez , their number-one free agent target. Recalling the heyday of the Boston-Bronx rivalry of the late '90s, early and mid '00s, the Sox finally make the move that keeps pace with the Yankees trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Fresh of a 45-home run season split between Detroit and Arizona where he batted a combined .303, the Miami native can aim for the Green Monster the next five seasons -- well, definitely two years before JD can opt out. The $110 million deal appears to show compromise between the Red Sox and uber-agent Scott Boras, who seemed determined to get seven years and $200 million for the 30-year old slugger. In the end, Boston gets another big bat -- and will now try to move incumbent DH Hanley Ramirez to clear salary space and give Martinez an everyday job. And the Boston-Bronx battles give everyday indication of being 19 slugfests as 2018 plays out.

If Your Birthday is February 19th...

Image share it Motown legend Smokey Robinson. The man who wrote such created such classics as "Shop Around," "The Tracks of My Tears," "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Tears of a Clown" and wrote "My Girl" for The Temptations, "My Guy" for Mary Wells, "Ain't That Peculiar" for Marvin Gaye and The Marvelettes' "Don't Mess With Bill" is a lifelong baseball fan. Some years ago during an interview, he even recalled writing the lyrics for a song on the back of a popcorn bag during a game at Tiger Stadium! Who else is on today's cake and candles list? Josh Reddick   played for the Red Sox, A's and Dodgers before becoming a World Champion on the 2017 Astros. Chris Stewart has caught for six teams in his 11 seasons -- most recently, the Pirates. Alvaro Espinosa was an infielder on six big league teams during the '80s and '90s, including both New York teams. Dave Stewart  was the rare b

Poached by the Padres

After a winter of negotiations, rumors and an almost infinite waiting period, the Padres finally landed their #1 free agent target. Off a career-best season, 1st baseman Eric Hosmer  leaves Kansas City for San Diego for what's billed as an eight-year contract. But who is he? Is he a smooth fielding 1st baseman who averaged 25 homers and 99 RBI the last two years? Or is he something less, based on some of his earlier work? And is the contract really eight years? Reports say after five years at $20 million per season, Hosmer will be 33 and have an opt-out. That puts the pressure on him to produce -- or be locked into three remaining years at a loss less money ($13 mm per). Finally, will Hosmer help turn the Padres into contenders? Does he help San Diego meaningfully cut the gap between their basically young and promising club and the powerhouse Dodgers and veteran Giants? And will be provide the buzz the Padres need to raise their attendance from 18th out of the 30 major league

Destination: Toronto

Jaime Garcia will stay in the AL East for 2018 after signing a one-year $8 million deal with the Blue Jays. A trade-deadline acquisition who really didn't strengthen the Yankees rotation, the Texas product was winless in eight starts for New York (including August 11th against the Red Sox). Worse, he didn't even average five innings per start. Sure, there's always a market for lefties -- but what did Mark Shapiro see that no one else did? Garcia failed as a Yankee, and wasn't that great with the Braves earlier in '17. Checking the "back of his card," his last effective season was 2015.

Nice Swing

While 2017's biggest rookie stories were written by Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, Andrew Benintendi opened plenty of eyes as he finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He gives this Michael Pineda pitch a nice ride in a June 8th game at Yankee Stadium -- Aaron Judge caught it moments later on the warning track in right field.

Throwback Thursday: 2005

I visited Dodgertown several times. Baseball's original spring training campus was the pre-season home of the Dodgers for 60 years. Holman Stadium was one of the game's little gems. Intimate, not intimidating. A hint of the game's small town roots, where prospects could stand on the same field where legends such as Robinson, Koufax, Campanella, Drysdale, Garvey and Sutton one stood. The freshness of spring, the promise of the future. The deep and enduring charm of baseball's period of preparation. Subtle, natural beauty. A real life Field of Dreams.

He'll Stay in L.A.

Baseball's big signing Tuesday was Chase Utley re-upping with the Dodgers. A core player on the Phillies run of five straight division titles a decade ago, has become a key member of the Dodgers bench the last couple of years. And while he no longer produces big numbers, his leadership skills and versatility coming off the bench provide tangible value on Dave Roberts' squad. Time does fly! Entering his 16th big league season, Chase Utley is now 39.

Destination: DC

Matt Reynolds got lost in the Mets glut of infielders. Designated for assignment when the club signed free agent Todd Frazier, the Tulsa native never jumped ahead of Wilmer Flores, TJ Rivera and Amed Rosario -- let alone veterans Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera. While giving hints he might become a capable hitter as he climbed through the minors, his career average in parts of 2016 and '17 was just .228. On Monday, the reigning NL East champs in Washington picked him up as bench strength. The Nats did fine the last time they picked up an unwanted Mets infielder -- Daniel Murphy, of course, has turned into an All Star. There's no assurance that Reynolds will follow the same path. But GM Mike Rizzo has nothing to lose.

If Your Birthday is February 12th...

Image share it with the newest Met, Todd Frazier . This Jersey Shore native's musical taste leans more toward Sinatra than Springsteen -- as he takes his walk-up music, home run power, steady defense and clubhouse leadership across town for 2018, moving from the Yankees to the Mets. This image captures him in his new "home office," during a Yankees/Mets Subway Series game at Citi Field last August. Who else shares their birthday with the TodFather , and our country's 16th President? Ruben Amaro Jr. , another new face this summer at Citi Field. The former Phillies outfielder and GM, spent last season as the Red Sox 1st base coach and joins Mickey Callaway's Mets staff this season. Todd Phegley, the A's backup catcher. And we remember Pat Dobson , the well-traveled righthander who won 122 games working for six different clubs during the 1960s and '70s; and Joe Garagiola , the witty broadcaster whose career behind a microphone began in his native S

The Choice Is Chicago

Finally, we have big free agent news: four days before training camps open, the winter's top free agent pitcher has finally landed a deal. Multiple reports on Saturday had the Cubs and Yu Darvish agreeing on a six-year $126 million contract. In the biggest blow to whispers saying "collusion," the 31 year old righthander gets a year more than most insiders expected. Following a winter when clubs seemed determined not to pay present and future dollars for past glories but declining production, Theo Epstein and his Cubs front office went back to the kind of contract that's all too risky. Will Darvish last six years without another major injury? Keep in mind, he's already had Tommy John surgery. Can Chicago pitching coach Jim Hickey help Darvish make the adjustments so he stops tipping his pitches? Was there another underlying issue led to those two awful World Series starts against the Astros? While no free agent is a sure thing, Yu Darvish carries plenty

Sergio Romo

Friday's most noteworthy signing was veteran reliever Sergio Romo re-upping with the Rays. The 10-year veteran was a washout with the Dodgers during the first half of 2017, posting an ERA on the wrong side of 6. But he turned it around after a mid-season trade to Tampa Bay, cutting his ERA to 1.47. That earned him another big league season -- where he could become a valuable trade chip for the Rays in July. ( This image is from a 2013 Giants/Mets game in New York. )

Throwback Thursday -- a Day Late

Before there was a Phantic, do you remember Phil and Phillis, the mascots during the first few years of Veterans Stadium? Their likeness and the early 1970s logo are displayed today on the club level of Citizens Bank Park.

On This Date in 2006...

  ...the District of Columbia Council approved the lease for a new baseball stadium, assuring the former Expos of a modern, revenue-generating home. After three seasons in the outdated RFK Stadium -- and $600 million of taxpayers' money -- Nationals Park opened in 2008 as a first class showcase for the national pastime. Below, key years in Washington baseball history are displayed on the entrance walk (with eye-high plaques containing the complete stories to the right). Along with club that's been one of the game's best this decade -- well, at least during the regular season -- a signature of National Park is the President's Race. The season's records for the George, Tom, Abe and Teddy characters are displayed. Last July 27th, turned out to be Washington's day. A look at the grandstand from the concourse beyond the outfield. Nationals Park sports perhaps the highest press box and broadcast booths (the red structure) anywhere in baseball. ( Th

38th Annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner

It's always a treat to be on hand for the annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner. Held in memory of the legendary Yankee catcher this event has raised more than $15 million over the decades to help people with developmental delays and disabilities. A press conference began the evening, featuring athletes honored for their considerable charitable efforts. Above, Yankee reliever David Robertson; below, Mets infielder TJ Rivera poses with Diana Munson. Thurman's widow remains the driving force behind this wonderful night of humanity and athletic achievement. Diana always speaks of her amazement that this annual gala has remained a vital part of the New York sports/community service scene after nearly 40 years. She always speaks of how this area helps keep the memory of her husband, the gruff and beloved Yankee captain, alive. Not all the honorees came from baseball. Former Football Giants star Justin Tuck was also on hand, to receive an award for the many ways he and his wife

Driving Over the Triboro Bridge

Todd Frazier 's adventure in free agency ends with him going from one New York club to the other. The New Jersey native, who became one of the leaders on the Yankees team that fell one game shy of last year's World Series, lands a two-year deal with the Mets. Call it swapping one set of pinstripes for another, or driving over the bridge connecting the Bronx and Queens. Either way, Frazier gets to play close to home and finds a ready-made job on a team badly in need of big bats and dependable gloves.  Just about to turn 32, the onetime Little League World Series champ has smacked 25 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons. But he needs to improve that batting average, which sunk to .225 and .213 in '16 and '17. The deal is also the strongest signal that the Mets are finally moving on from David Wright. Their onetime captain is now 35, and recovering from two more major surgeries and dealing with the ongoing condition spinal stenosis. And it apparent

Happy Anniversary

Brian Cashman (right) is marking his 20th anniversary this month as Yankees General Manager. In February 1998, when his capable but overstressed predecessor Bob Watson stepped down, he was promoted from assistant GM at the young age of 30. It's been a productive and historic run -- he and Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre each brought a high level of skills and a rare level of stabity to their jobs. Cashman has earned four World Series rings  (1998, '99, 2000 and 2009) at his position, while his fifth came as Waston's assistant in '96. From an office where the nameplate was often written in chalk, his name is now etched in gold. While cynics say Cash's success came from the unlimited checkbook of the George Steinbrenner era, he may have done his best work the last couple of seasons. Through trades and an emphasis on the farm system, he quickly overhauled an aging, sluggish and unathletic roster into a likable, youthful squad that came within a game of the 2017 Worl


From last August 22nd, Citizens Bank Park just before a 4pm "twi-niter" between the Phillies and Marlins.

If Your Birthday is February 3rd

Image share it with Texas Rangers 2nd baseman Rougned Odor . Joining Nomar Mazzara and Joey Gallol among the club's core of rising young sluggers, the Venezuelan has belted 30 or more homers in each of the last two seasons. And he's just turning 24. Also on today's cake and candles crew: Lucas Duda (right), also knows how to clear the fences. In his last three healthy seasons, he's homered 27 or more times. But like dozens of other players, he apparently picked the wrong winter to be a free agent. The longtime Met, who finished out 2017 with the Rays, remains unsigned 10 days before spring training begins. Skip Schumaker  spent 11 seasons as a utilityman with the Cardinals, Reds and Dodgers -- and is now the Padres 1st base coach. Bake McBride , the speedy outfielder and 1974 National League Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals, and a key contributor to the Phillies first World Championship team, in 1980. Victor Rojas had a brief career as a minor l

Lands a Job

  You can scratch one name off the winter free agent list: but it's not one of the big ones. Catcher, Miguel Montero lands a minor league deal with the Nationals, where he'll likely back up Matt Wieters. The longtime Diamondback and more recent Cub and Blue Jay is coming off a pair of .216 seasons, where his defense and attitude came into question. So a minor league deal with an invitation to camp and fairly easy path to a bench role is about the most the 11-year veteran could expect. Montero is seen here during a July 2016 game against the Mets in New York.

Remembering Oscar Gamble

Sad news from baseball on Wednesday, as we learned of the death of Oscar Gamble . The lefthanded hitting outfielder belted 200 home runs with seven different teams over a 17-season career. Although his best season came with the 1977 White Sox, the affable Alabaman is best remembered for a pair of stretches as a Yankee (1976; 1979-'84), including three trips to the playoffs. Gamble was a guest at several Yankee Old Timers Days over the years, including 2011 when I snapped these images. The one above was during batting practice; below, the image flashed on the video board as he was introduced during the ceremony, reminding us that he grew baseball's most famous Afro hairstyle of the 1970s, although truth-be-told, he shortened it by several inches after being traded to the Yankees. And a small footnote. While Oscar didn't play for the 1978 World Champs, he helped bring the man who hit that season's playoff-winning home run to New York. Just before opening day in Apri