Showing posts from March, 2021

If Your Birthday is March 31st...

Image share it with  Chien-Ming Wang , a two-time 19 game winner who'd emerged as the Yankees ace, before -- in a story in some ways resembling Dizzy Dean -- a freakish 2008 foot injury led to an endless series of arm problems. A fter tearing his Lisfranc ligament running the bases against the Astros in Houston, t he pitcher who was the fastest to 50 career victories since Dwight Gooden, never regained his effectiveness. He's since become the poster child for American League clubs, especially the Yanks, pressing for a universal DH. ( My images of Wang are from a 2009 Grapefruit League game against the Astros, and a 2015 comeback attempt with the Braves .) Also on today's cake and candles list : Josmil Pinto appeared on track to follow 2013 New Britain Rock Cats teammates Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano to major league stardom. The Venezuelan catcher put up some nice numbers that summer: 23 doubles, 14 home runs and a .308 average, which earned him a late-season promotion

Back in Black

The Mets made a fashion decision on Monday, announcing the return of the team's black uniform tops on a limited basis for 2021. Symbolic of the Mike Piazza/Bobby Valentine era and the heyday of franchise icon David Wright, the shirts were pulled from the club's rotation after the 2012 season. Bt they remained a favorite of many Mets fans -- one in particular, new owner Steve Cohen . There'd been an increasingly loud buzz about bringing the color back in recent years, and it now gives the club one more design to sell online and at stadium gift shops. Will it have as much of an impact as new shortstop Francisco Lindor or having him agree to a long-term contract extension? Probably not. But it's a sign of a fresh start under new management that appears more willing to listen to fans.  

Celebrating a Life Well Lived

We lost one of baseball's best people ever on Friday. Doctor Bobby Brown  was the Yankee 3rd baseman at the start of the game's greatest dynasty, then served as a military doctor in Korea. Returning to civilian life, he finished his playing career in the Bronx before becoming a successful Fort Worth, Texas cardiologist. Baseball called him back twice more -- first for a shot stint as a Texas Rangers executive and then a decade (1984-'94) as American League president. The West Coast native and longtime Texan never lost his Bronx connections. He was a perennial guest at Yankee Old Timers Days, reconnecting with fans and teammates such as Whitey Ford, Jerry Coleman (a boyhood pal from San Francisco) and his onetime roommate Yogi Berra. While playing with these legends, as well as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, it would have been easy to overlook Brown. Yet, if you go back to the numbers, you'll find he was a steady, Brosius-like contributor. And when he got to the World S

Sparkles at Night

Capturing the moment: a Sunday night game on July 1st, 2018 with the Yankees hosting the Red Sox in the Bronx.  

Throwback Thursday: Port St. Lucie, 2011

The name was Digital Domain Park when I caught the Mets hosting the still-Florida Marlins on March 11th, 2011. Jon Niese and Josh Thole were the Mets battery. On the other side of the field, Chris Volstad warms up for the Marlins, while pitching coach Randy St. Clair is among those watching. More proof that spring training is the best time to get an autograph. The Marlins' Hanley Ramirez signs a ball for this fan. The Mets take the field -- yes, that's Justin Turner (#2) at 3rd base, 1st baseman Ike Davis strrrreeetches to pull down that throw. This wide captures Niese throwing to Marlins 1st baseman Gaby Sanchez , along with the crowd down the right field line and sitting on the outfield berm. 2011 would be Jason Bay 's second, and most productive, season with the Mets. See where Josh Thole's home run landed on the berm. While Ike Davis gets ready to high-five him after he circles the bases. Things were clearly going the Mets' way, though once the backups ent

If Your Birthday is March 24th...

Image share it with Starlin Castro . The sweet swinging middle infielder played on the Cubs 2015 champions before moving onto the Yankees, Marlins, and Nationals, where's he's likely to be the club's main backup at 2nd and 3rd base. Lucas Lutege  spent parts of four seasons in the Mariners bullpen, but hasn't worked in the majors since 2015. But some impressive work this spring, coupled with a pair of injuries by other relievers, made him a strong candidate to come north with the Yankees at the end of the month. Corey Hart posted five seasons with 20 or more homers with the Brewers. A knee injury cut his career short, and he's now gone into coaching. He'll be the hitting coach for the Blue Jays' Buffalo farm club this season.  Wilson Alvarez fired a no hitter in his first-ever start for the White Sox, on August 11th, 1991. Garry Templeton , the longtime shortstop who might best be remembered as the man traded straight up in the winter of 1982 for Ozzie Sm

Ready for Big Things

Giancarlo Stanton was the only sign of life Monday night in a stagnant Yankee offense. He had the only two hits in a 4-0 shutout loss to the Phillies. Let's give proper credit:  both starting pitchers, Aaron Nola and Jamison Taillon were impressive. But no other Yankee managed to solve Nola or Joe Girardi's parade of bullpen prospects. What's most important is that Stanton appears strong and healthy again; he's even shown interest in playing a little outfield. If only the Yankees can Stanton to DH in 140 games, they would be thrilled. They got a taste of his still impressive power and potential in last year's post-season. Now, the question is whether he can avoid the I-L, and join DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres and Aaron Hicks in a 21st century Murderer's Row.  All Aaron Boone wants to do is write their names on the same lineup card 125 or more times. Add in some contributions from Clint Frazier and the enigmatic Gary Sanchez, plus the stea

Big Deal of the Weekend

Neither Wayne Brady nor Monty Hall are available, so it's my turn to spread the word on Salvador Perez 's contract extension. The Royals hold onto their franchise catcher and last remaining core player from their 2015 World Champs. But the pricetag is a rather un-KC-like $82 million over four years. Instead of entering his walk year, the power-hitting six-time All Star and soon-to-be 31 year old is now locked in through at least 2025, with his annual salary rising past $20 million. Considering that the aging process generally impacts catchers in their early 30s, was this sentimental move the most prudent one?  ( My images of Salvador Perez are from the Yankees/Royals game in the Bronx on July 26th, 2018 )

Yankee Backup Battle

Heading into the final 10 days of camp, the Yankees have yet to decide on a fifth outfielder/1st baseman. Mike Tauchman (above) has filled that role for the last two years -- quite capably in 2019, when the former Rockies prospect hit .277 and showed surprising power, while impressing on defense. But 2020 was a different story, a 60-game struggle that left GM Brian Cashman open to different options. In steps Jay Bruce . The 13-year veteran is coming off three unproductive seasons after a decade as a capable power hitter with the Reds and Mets. He's looked like his younger self in Grapefruit League play so far, smacking a pair of home runs and presenting the Yanks with a real dilemma. Believing his 2020 numbers were the result of playing while hurt, is the soon-to-be 34 year old the kind of savvy veteran who fits in well as an extra man on a contender? Can the Yankees or any team expect this Florida renaissance to continue through October?  Because if Bruce makes the Yankees roster

Throwback Thursday: Lakeland, Florida 2011

Another stop 10 years ago this spring was Joker Marchant Field in Lakeland. The Tigers' longtime Grapefruit League home would be renovated a few years later and rebranded with Publix Supermarkets. A trademark Florida sky with plenty of palm trees to seduce visitors coming down from up north. Preparing for the season ahead, Chalie Manuel, manager of the four-time defending NL East champs, with his stars Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. Detroit's most potent bat belonged to Miguel Cabrera . who'd go on to lead the American League in batting average, on base percentage and doubles. Jimmy Rollins  takes a lefthanded swing... ... against Rick Porcello . The New Jersey native would go 14-9 in the regular season. Now, it's Ryan Howard 's turn... Detroit's Brennan Boesch gets ready while watching teammate Victor Martinez .  Heading back to the parking lot, with a nod to two Tiger legends from their 1968 World champions.  

Phillies Reunion... 98 Miles South

The Orioles signed a familiar name on Tuesday to become their new 3rd baseman. Maikel Franco , the former Phillie and Royal, joins another onetime Citizens Bank Park regular  Freddy Galvis on the left side of Baltimore's infield.  Playing on low-price one-year deals, these once highly regarded prospects fit the Orioles' limited budget, while giving themselves a chance to raise their value. It won't be easy, as Baltimore profiles out as one of the weakest American League teams this season. On the other hand, calling hitter-friendly Camden Yards home can often make ordinary hitters look good. Franco and Galvis were two of the young players the Phillies hoped would return the club to the top of the division after the previous core of Rollins, Utley and Howard went into decline. That didn't work out as planned. One last thought, especially with the Orioles off-season acquisition Felix Hernandez leaving a game earlier in the week with an elbow issue... Might Baltimore have

If Your Birthday is March 16th...

Image share it with two of the Toronto Blue Jays' rising stars: Vladimir Guerrero Junior gives plenty of indications that he might become as good a player as his dad. A chunky power hitter, he's already totaled 24 homers and 102 RBIs in just 183 big league games. A nice start for someone who's just 22. Vlad shares his big day with Toronto 1st baseman and DH Rowdy Tellez . The Sacramento native got off to a fast start when he first reached Toronto in 2018:  he's the only player since 1913 to hit seven doubles in his first seven major league games.  Home runs are the best part of his game. Tellez profiles as a 30-homer man as long as he keeps the strikeouts under control. Curtis Granderson  did well for both New York teams, belting 95 home runs in four Yankees seasons (2010-'13) and 115 the next four while playing for the Mets. He ranks with Daryl Strawberry in the select circle of power hitters who consistently cleared the fences in the Bronx and Flushing. The G

Remembering Norm Sherry

Norm Sherry , a backup catcher for the Dodgers and Mets in the late '50s and early '60s, whose sage advice turned a struggling teammate into one of baseball's most dominating pitches, died last Monday at age 89.  It's not often that the most significant moment of a player's career occurs in an exhibition game. But it did in Norm Sherry's case. His landmark day took place in spring training 1961, when the Dodgers were playing the Twins in a Grapefruit League game. After Sandy Koufax began the game by walking the first three batters, Sherry walked to the mound to try and get Koufax back on track. It came down to a simple suggestion: to ease back a bit and stop overthrowing. In one of those magical baseball mysteries, Koufax's pitchers came in harder, not softer. He struck out the side that inning -- his chronic wildness replaced by a newfound effectiveness -- as his journey to Cooperstown began in earnest. The year before, Norm made history as part of baseball

When the Sports World Ground to a Halt

Here's what I posted after being at the Yankees and Nationals game on March 12th, 2020. Not long after Thursday's  Yankees/Nationals  game began in West Palm Beach, word spread that it would be the last live baseball we'd see for a while. Efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak had forced all the major sports to suspend games, in order to avoid large gatherings in concentrated places such as ballparks and arenas. The game thus played out under eerie, almost unreal circumstances. Reaching the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees held the lead. Now, with two outs, Washington's Wilmer Difo faced Yankee pitching prospect Albert Abreu. Ball meets bat. Difo lifts a fly ball, pulled in by Thomas Milone. What is Milone thinking as he grips the ball in his glove? Or Difo as the game ends? Both symbolically joined to hit a huge pause button halting the 2020 baseball season before it ever began. Health and safety considerations outweigh the value of three hours of in-person, or even

See You in June... Maybe

The Yankees inability to make it back to the World Series in recent years is often blamed on a lack of clutch hitting and a lineup that favors slugging over small ball. But that's not anywhere near the whole story. Injuries to key pitchers, including season-ending surgeries for homegrown starters Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino were big blows. And Tuesday, the warning lights began to flash in the bullpen. Zack Britton , the dependable setup man who usually leads into Aroldis Chapman and serves as his backup to close games, felt elbow soreness. An exam revealed a bone chip that needs arthroscopic surgery but will still sideline him until June. In a flash, a third of the lefty veteran's season just evaporated. Now others, perhaps the recently re-signed Justin Wilson, will have to step up to try to fill Britton's innings and intimidating presence. Say hello to Crisis #1 for the 2021 Yankees.


The best remaining available free agent has finally come off the boards. After speculation centering around the Mets, Jackie Bradley Junior chose Milwaukee as his new home. The defensive standout -- who never quite developed into the kind of all-around hitter the Red Sox hoped or expected -- swaps his Sam Adams for a Miller or Leinenkugel in 2021. His contract, with an opt-out after the season, pays at least $11 million and upgrades the Milwaukee outfield, which will be minus Ryan Braun this year for the first time in over a decade. JBJ slides into what was once Lorenzo Cain's spot, as a younger and, at the moment, healthier alternative. Still, you have to wonder where the Red Sox are going. In the last year, they've moved out the starting outfield from their last championship club: first Mookie Betts (too expensive), Andrew Benintendi (too inconsistent) and Bradley (you tell me). While teams always look to rebuild on the fly, it's looking more and more like a teardown in

Jordan Montgomery

With high expectations for the 2021 Yankees -- balanced by several large question marks -- Jordan Montgomery has so far flown under the radar. Newcomers Corey Kluber and Jamison Taillon bring talent and medical uncertainty, so this homegrown Yankee pitcher could be a key this season. Healthy again after losing most of 2018 and '19 to Tommy John surgery, the lefty showed flashes of effectiveness while remaining healthy during the 60-game season. He offered some encouraging signs in Sunday's Grapefruit League start, working three shutout innings against the Phillies. Three and a half weeks from opening day, Aaron Boone could pencil him in anywhere from two through four in his rotation. But as the only lefty among the Yankees likely starting pitchers, he'll be the change of pace guy behind Gerrit Cole. And you'd be hard pressed to name a championship Yankee team without an important lefty starter. Still just 28, there's a lot to like about Cole's talent and attitu

Phinding His Stride

Mickey Moniak made a splash on Thursday, crushing a pair of home runs against the Yankees as the Phillies demolished their spring training neighbors 15 -- 0. Five years after being taken as the first overall pick in baseball's amateur draft, the outfielder is beginning to look like a legitimate prospect and not the next Steve Chilcott or Shawn Abner. I know, it's EARLY. And it's not as if he teed off on Gerrit Cole or Aroldis Chapman -- those homers came against borderline relievers Reggie McClain and Nestor Cortes -- and it's four weeks from Opening Day. We're not even a week into the 2021 Grapefruit League schedule. Still, it's worth noting that the now 22-year old arrived in camp in great shape, more filled out, clearly bigger and stronger than the youngster who struggled while being promoted through the Phils' farm system. He's also earned praise from his manager Joe Girardi, who said Moniak's "in the mix" for the club's wide-open

Throwback Thursday: Spring Training 2011

March 25th, 2011: Mariners hosting the Dodgers in Peoria, Arizona... The late afternoon sun of batting practice begins to give way to twilight. Above: a pregame chat between the opposing managers, Don Mattingly and Eric Wedge.  Below: the fans settle into their seats, just as darkness overtakes the field. Baseball under the lights, but in the calm coziness of a 10,000 seat park.

Triple A Delay

Though spring training has gone well without delays or serious virus problems, the minor leagues have decided to push back the start of the Triple A season a month. That means parks places such as Syracuse won't be opening their gates in early April. Instead, they'll now wait until May 4th -- the same tentative start as Double and Single-A league. Instead, a minor league spring training will be staged during April, giving more players the chance to be vaccinated before games begin. Let's hope this is the only delay; so many prospects lost a full season of development in 2020. Practice only goes so far. Young players a notch or two away from the majors need to get the reps from actual games against rival organizations.