Showing posts from December, 2023

If Your Birthday is December 25th...

The greatest leadoff hitter of all time is a Christmas Day baby.  Rickey Henderson , turning 65 today, burst into stardom with the A's, spent 4-1/2 productive seasons with the Yankees, returned to Oakland and then made several other stops during his 25 big league seasons -- a career spanning four decades over two centuries! The game's all time stolen base leader led his league in thefts 12 times -- including seven years in a row. He scored more runs than anyone ever, and by walking 2190 times, maintained a career on-base percentage over .400. His speed and power earned him another distinctive mark -- his 81 leadoff homers are the most ever. Following the post-World War II example of Jackie Robinson, and then Maury Wills and Lou Brock, Rickey -- even though just 5 feet 10 -- was an intimidating force to any and all pitchers. While today's advanced analytics downplay the importance of speed -- though it does respect his knack for home runs and walks -- tell me you wouldn'

There Used to Be a Ballpark

  Look closely... that flagpole  carries quite a story.  Once placed just outside Brooklyn, New York's much beloved  Ebbets Field , it again greets sports fans -- instead of the Dodgers, it welcomes those who cheer for pro basketball's Nets. After the iconic ballpark was demolished, it lived on after being donated to a nearby VFW post, at a building that held several other purposes over the decades.  Nearly 50 years later, then-Nets owner Bruce Ratner obtained the pole for Barclays Center to unite the borough's old sports tradition with its new one.   Ironically, the arena stands on the parcel of land Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley once envisioned as the next home of his baseball team.  But when O'Malley, failed to gain title to the land, he began to look elsewhere, landing in Los Angeles in 1958, and opening Dodger Stadium there four years later.  It took more than 50 years and a totally different cast of characters for pro sports to return to Brooklyn -- along with

10 Summers Ago

Justin Turner was a handy utility player for the Mets.  Seeing action at 2nd, short, 3rd and 1st base and even in the outfield, he hit .280 without much power.  Approaching his 29th birthday, and overshadowed by David Wright, Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, Turner wasn't offered a contact at season's end, and he left as a free agent. That turned out to be one of the worst decisions Sandy Alderson made while running the Mets front office.  The Southern California native signed with the Dodgers, where he blossomed into a star.  Over the next nine years, he averaged .296 (.866 OPS) with 17 homers.  Moving onto Boston in 2023, he bounced around the infield and bounced back on offense to smack 23 homers with a career-best 96 RBIs. A free agent once, again, there's plenty of sentiment about bringing Justin Turner back to Queens, especially after Ronny Mauricio's knee injury that will sideline him into at least July.  But as a known quantity, the Mets aren't the only club

Rewind 2023: Impressive Performers

Dropped by the Orioles the previous winter, DJ Stewart  bounced back with the Mets AAA club in Syracuse with 16 homers in the first half of the season.  That earned him a promotion to Queens, where, thanks to injuries to Starling Marte, he saw plenty of action from July 4th on... all told, between the minors and majors, he smacked 27 homers with an .860 OPS, likely earning him another chance to stick with the 2024 Mets. (Below)  Luisangel Acuña  showed bursts of potential after joining the Mets in the Max Scherzer deadline deal with Texas.  Combining his numbers with the two organizations, he hit .294 with 57 stolen bases -- and, depending on how 2024 goes, the younger brother of the reigning NL MVP might make his Citi Field debut something this coming summer. Christian Encarnacion-Strand 's stellar start with Louisville earned him a mid-season promotion to the Reds, where he kept on hitting.  13 homers and a .270 average in Cincinnati put him at the head of the line to replace fra

On This Date in 2009...

... Roy Halladay became a Phillie, as the centerpiece of a four-man deal with the Blue Jays.  Kyle Drabek and Travis d'Arnaud (plus a reported $6 million) were sent to Toronto, while Halladay immediately signed a lucrative contract extension to remain at Citizens Bank Park. The trade could not have worked out any better.  "Doc" put together one of the greatest seasons on the mound in recent memory: going 21-10 with four shutouts and a May 29th perfect game to win the 2010 NL Cy Young Award.  And he then authored a no hitter against the Reds in his first ever post-season appearance. 2011 went nearly as well -- the only problem was the Phillies fell short in the playoffs in each season. Shoulder problems the next two years wrecked Halladay's career and led to his retirement after the 2013 season. Halladay's life was cut short when he crashed his private plane in the Gulf Coast area off Pasco County, Florida on November 7th, 2017.  He was just 40.  Two years later, h

If Your Birthday is December 13th...

Image share it with Gleyber Torres .  The Yankees sweet-swinging 2nd baseman has established himself as an offensive force in the middle of the infield.  But defensive issues -- especially during a year-and-a-half experiment at shortstop -- and inconsistent baserunning have held him back from reaching superstardom.  After spending too much of 2023 hitting cleanup, he'll bat lower in the order this coming season, thanks to the addition of Juan Soto and the expected return to health of Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton. Also in our December 13th birthday circle: Dale Berra , Yogi's son who played 11 seasons in the majors, including the first 16 games of the '85 season when his dad managed the Yankees. Carl Erskine , the beloved "Oisk" of Brooklyn Dodgers fans, who tossed a pair of no hitters, and was also the starter and winner in the franchise's first game at the L.A. Coliseum. Ron Taylor , the Canadian-born reliever who pitched for a pair of World Champio

Another Yankee Trade

Yankee fans: here's a last look at shortstop Trey Sweeney .  The 2021 first round draft choice was part of the three player trade with the Dodgers that brings reliever Victor Gonzalez and infield prospect Jorbit Vivas to New York. Now seeking to rebuild their pitching depth after dealing for Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo, the Yanks deemed Sweeney expendable.  While the Louisville native showed promising power in his three seasons with the organization -- he batted only .248 to go with his 36 career homers -- Brian Cashman has committed to Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza as his young middle infielders.  So Sweeney became a trade chip. ( My images of Trey Sweeney are from the Somerset/Binghamton AA games on July 15th and September 19th, 2023. )


The deal is done and Juan Soto is on his way to the Bronx for 2024.  The price was hefty -- reliever turned starter Michael King, top pitching prospect Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, plus veteran catcher Kyle Higashioka. The return for the Yankees could be even bigger.  Finally, a batter to protect Aaron Judge in the lineup and an imposing lefty to balance out those righty bats such as Stanton, Torres and LeMahieu. Is Soto really Ted Williams 2.0?  That's a stretch; there are questions about his defense and doubts about his baserunning.  Still, compared to the players the onetime Washington Nationals star will be replacing (Bauers, Cabrera, McKinney, Cordero), he's a bolt of lightning. But there's also the element of risk: as a Scott Boras client, it's virtually certain that Soto hits free agency a year from now, open to the highest bidder; a year, even a successful one with the Yankees, won't assure them of anything. Soto2NY... that makes for a great

A Placeholder Until He's Ready

The Yankees had shown interest in free agent Cody Bellinger, and there'd been reports connecting them to Kevin Kiermaier.  Instead, Tuesday night, they traded for Alex Verdugo .  The lefty hitting Red Sox outfielder, whose numbers declined year-by-year after arriving as part of the Mookie Betts deal, now becomes a candidate to fill center field in the Bronx until Jasson Dominguez recovers from Tommy John surgery.  A good defensive outfielder, he played a lot of center in 2021, and has patrolled Fenway's challenging right field since.  So, it's also possible that Verdugo plays right with Aaron Judge sliding over to center again through mid-season. Let's be real, this deal should not impact the talks over trading for Juan Soto.  In essence, this is an upgrade over Estevan Florial, whom the organization doesn't believe in. In return, the Yanks sent three minor league pitchers to Boston, the best known of whom is reliever Greg Weissert, the Fordham University product wh

Welcome to Cooperstown!

Congratulations to Jim Leyland , who managed post-season teams with the Pirates, Tigers and Marlins -- winning a pair of pennants in Detroit and leading Miami to its stunning 1997 World Series title -- who was named to Baseball's Hall of Fame Sunday night.  The 23rd skipper inducted can expect to be signing plenty more autographs when he's in Cooperstown for next July's ceremonies. As worthy a choice as Leyland was, the Contemporary Era Committee, which included Joe Torre, Sandy Alderson, Chipper Jones and Bud Selig. got it wrong, very wrong, by overlooking Bill White.  When you look at his baseball life, from his playing days (where he made eight All Star teams and earned seven Gold Gloves) to becoming the first Black man to call play by play for a ballclub and his executive tenure as National League president in the early 1990s, he checked all the boxes.   ( My image of Jim Leyland is from a March 2013 Grapefruit League game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. )  

On This Date in 1971...

  ... Ernie Banks ' Hall of Fame career comes to an end, when he's released by the Cubs.  His 19 Wrigley Field seasons punched a ticket to Cooperstown with 512 home runs, and 14 All Star Games and two National League MVP Awards.  One of the Black Americans who dominated the game during the 1950s, Ernie's Chicago connections remained strong for the rest of his life -- including owning a Windy City Ford dealership, as well as coaching and serving as Cubs good will ambassador. His prolific career numbers landed him a pair of franchise "firsts": in 1982, as the first Cub to have his number retired... 26 years later,  their first player to be honored with a statue outside their iconic ballpark.  Happily, "Mister Cub" lived to see it and he was on hand for the ceremony on opening day (March 31st) of 2008. ( My image of the Ernie Banks Statue is from my May 2016 visit to Wrigley Field. )