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A Perfect Day for Baseball

By 3.6.15

Wednesday was a perfect day for baseball in Tampa, with temperatures in the low eighties, about as warm as it will be in Yankee Stadium until the All-Star break. A nice breeze kept the celebrants comfortable and kept the championship flags above George M. Steinbrenner Field snapping.

The game itself was unremarkable. The Phillies beat the Yankees 3-1 in regulation, putting the thing through in slightly more than two and a half hours. The game featured a couple of authentic 11 o’clock highlight plays and only one error. No one went long. Taken all around, not bad for a spring opener. The congregation of 9,673, including me, was just glad that baseball is back, even though the events of this game are largely already forgotten.

Those in attendance trended heavily toward fuggedaboudits in Yankee gear, eager to see the new iteration of the Evil Empire’s team (not so evil of late, after two straight seasons for not even making the playoffs). They were also there to boo A-Rhoid. Alex, Wednesday’s DH, was playing in his first game after his most recent suspension, this one a year and change.

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Many Happy Returns, Ueck

By 1.28.15

Bob Uecker is surely in the front row of baseball funnymen. Those familiar with the Ueck’s shtick, and with those Miller Lite commercials of a couple of decades back, will understand and agree. In fact, Uecker is nearly as funny as Joe Garagiola thinks Joe Garagiola is. This is high praise indeed. No less a baseball imminence than Vin Scully said, “I can’t think of Bob Uecker without smiling.” 

Uecker turned 81 Monday. But, happily, he’s given no sign that he’s anywhere near giving up his calling, which is helping keep baseball fun for Milwaukee Brewers’ fans, and for anyone else lucky enough to hear his broadcasts or catch one of his TV appearances. The Catcher in the Wry (the name of Uecker’s 1982 book) was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, and it was Carson who gave him the ironic sobriquet of “Mr. Baseball.” It has stuck, and with good reason.

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My Ten Picks for Cooperstown’s Class of 2015

By 1.6.15

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will soon announce the results of their members’ vote on who will be welcomed into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this July. For a player to be inducted, he must earn 75 percent of the vote. Last year, Houston Astros legend Craig Biggio fell two votes shy of joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas in the induction ceremony in Cooperstown.

BBWAA members can vote for up to 10 players. It used to be that players could remain on the ballot for up to 15 years as long as they garnered at least 5 percent of the vote. However, last summer, the Hall of Fame announced that the eligibility period has been reduced to 10 years. The old rule was grandfathered for Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, and Don Mattingly, who have already been on the ballot for more than 10 years. Mattingly is in his final year of eligibility.

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Maddon Toddles to Chicago — Let the Expectations Begin

By 11.4.14

In just his third season as manager, Joe Maddon took the Tampa Bay Rays, previously the sad-sacks and punch lines of Major League Baseball, to the World Series. Maddon’s new employer, the Chicago Cubs, will expect and accept no less. If fact. they’ll want a little more. Maddon’s Rays lost the 2008 World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.

Baseball’s newest $5 million a year manager has not been put on a schedule to win yet. But you may be sure that if it does not include lots of wins, Maddon’s Chicago honeymoon will be a short one. The Rays, then called the Devil Rays, wanted a winner when they hired Maddon before the 2006 season. But the team had only been in existence for eight years, and expectations for the then unknown guy out of Southern California on his managerial starter job were, to say the least, modest. But the Cubs are a different kettle of cleats.

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The Tampa Bay Rays’ Bad Month

By 10.27.14

I was made uneasy even before the baseball season began, when the “experts” started predicting that the Tampa Bay Rays were a dead-bang certainty to be in the World Series this year. Having this lot whoop up your certain success is almost as much bad juju as being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Not only did the Rays not make it to the championship series this year, they finished 77-85, the team’s first losing season since 2007. Very bad medicine. But after the players packed their gear and dispersed, 2014 kept getting worse for the Rays.

The play-offs had hardly started to take shape when, on October 15, then-Rays GM Andy Friedman announced he was taking the GM’s job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 37-year-old Friedman is the wunderkind credited with fielding the small-market, bargain-basement Rays teams that have won more games for more years than they should have.

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They’ll Always Be Royals

By 10.20.14

On Tuesday night, the Kansas City Royals will host a World Series game for the first time in almost exactly 29 years.

The last time such an occurrence took place was on October 27, 1985 when in Game 7 the Royals demolished the St. Louis Cardinals 11-0 to win their first and only World Series title. Bret Saberhagen, the Royals’ 21-year old ace who would win the AL Cy Young that season, hurled a complete game, five-hit shutout. Saberhagen got Cardinals outfielder Andy Van Slyke to make the final out by hitting a fly ball into the glove of rightfielder Darryl Motley. I will always remember Saberhagen and George Brett embracing on the mound. 

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Andrew to Swim With the Sharks

By 10.16.14

Andrew Friedman, we learned Wednesday, is changing coasts. He’s giving up the general managership of the penurious Tampa Bay Rays, who buy their rosin bags at Play It Again Sam, to take the same job with the preposterously flush Los Angeles Dodgers. Talk about a change of cultures.

Baseball wunderkind Friedman, who at 37 is as preposterously young as his new employer is rich, is leaving the peaceful backwaters of Tampa/St. Petersburg to swim with the sharks in La-La Land. It’s quite an opportunity. But his mother has every right to be worried. There will be much more money in L.A. And much more pressure.

Going from the Rays, who have to swap money around various accounts at the first of each month to keep the lights on, to the Dodgers, where the GM’s office is supplied with a legal tender printing press, Friedman is in danger of getting the bends. And just how Friedman, whose baseball talent has been getting something for next to nothing — or at least next to nothing as these things are measured in major league sports — is to fit in at a checkbook franchise, is not yet clear.

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Number 2 Bids Hub Fans Adieu

By 9.29.14

On September 28, 2014, 36,879 people gathered in Boston’s Fenway Park to bid New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter adieu in his final big league game. In his final at bat, Jeter would get an infield hit driving in Ichiro Suzuki en route to a 9-5 Yankees victory. 

It wasn’t as dramatic as his walk off single in his final appearance in Yankee Stadium three days earlier against the Orioles, but the Fenway faithful (along with more than a few Yankees fans) got their money’s worth. More on that in a moment.

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Lakeland to ‘Hold That Tiger’

By 7.29.14

There was the embarrassing headline in bold, black letters: Detroit Tigers loyal to Lakeland. The Tigers, who have conducted their spring training camp in Lakeland since FDR was president, have signed a deal to stay on there for 20 more years. 

Loyalty in professional sports? Unheard of. What’s next?

Here are the shocking details. The Detroit Tigers have trained in Lakeland — a Central Florida town of just under 100K between Tampa and Orlando — since 1936. That’s 78 years, if you’re keeping score.

We’re not talking about day before yesterday here. In 1936, America was still mired in the Great Depression. The world had not yet suffered that great Teutonic migration know as World War Two, the most horrific event under one name in human history. First class postage stamps were three cents. That year a Georgia girl named Margaret Mitchell published a novel entitled Gone With the Wind, which sold a few copies.

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In Midseason Form

By 7.15.14

With the 85th MLB All-Star Game set to be played tonight at Target Field in Minneapolis, we have reached the midway point of the 2014 baseball season. Actually, we’re well into the second half of the season as MLB teams have played nearly 100 contests in a schedule of 162 games. In any case, here is my assessment of the 2014 season thus far and how my predictions have fared.

AL East                   W   L    PCT      GB
Baltimore Orioles     52   42   .553      ___
Toronto Blue Jays     49   47   .510      4.0
New York Yankees    47   47   .505      5.0
Tampa Bay Rays        44   53   .454      9.5
Boston Red Sox         43   52   .453      9.5