Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Cleveland Guardians’ 2023 Postseason Review

02 Oct

The 2023 baseball season was a major disappointment for the Cleveland Guardians for a couple of reasons:

1) they regressed from 2022, a season in which they won the AL Central crown, won a wild card series and took the mighty New York Yankees to the brink in the divisional round. Instead, they finished 10 games below .500 and in third place in the weakest division in baseball.

2) It marked the end of an era with the retirement of future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona.


Here is our postseason review, position by position, of the 2023 season and a look at the promise that next season holds:


Front Office/Manager/Coaches


The club’s front office had a dismal record in free agency during the last off-season. Their 2 major acquisitions, catcher Mike Zunino and first baseman /Josh Bell, were utter failures. Zunino was a disaster at the plate and not very good defensively, to the point that he was released. Bell never supplied the power that Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti hoped for, and was dealt to Miami at the trade deadline. It was a disappointing finish for Francona but the hand he was dealt, between front office miscues and starting rotation injuries, was too much to overcome. Pitching coach Carl Willis did his usual great job handling the rookie replacement starters, but the bullpen was inconsistent all year long. There was regression among the hitters also, so the status of hitting coach Chris Valaika could be in doubt. Of course, with Francona retiring, the whole coaching staff could be different in 2024 with a new skipper in charge.


Starting Pitchers


Injuries caused the Guardians’ starting rotation to be in flux all season in 2023. Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill all missed significant time and forced the team to insert a trio of rookies into service as starters before they had expected to. Zach Plesac was a major disappointment also and was eventually farmed out. Then at the trade deadline management dealt the last man standing, Aaron Civale, to Tampa and not coincidentally the season cratered into oblivion from that point on. Of the 3 rookies, Tanner Bibee looks to have some bulldog in him and could be a future ace of the staff. Gavin Williams and southpaw Logan Allen both showed promise and will be contenders to stay in the rotation next season. The one problem with the use of the rookies is that their innings were limited, which led to the bullpen being overtaxed. Blown leads by the bullpen were a major factor in many of the club’s losses. Experiments with veterans Noah Syndergaard and Lucas Giolito also failed, with Syndergaard being DFA’d and Giolito not expected back. Hunter Gaddis and Cody Morris came up from AAA Columbus to provide emergency starts, and although they’re still young, neither raised any eyebrows. The return of McKenzie and Quantrill will bolster the rotation next year, but one major story to watch will be what is done with Bieber. With a year left on his contract, will he return or be traded to obtain a much needed power bat?




Cleveland’s bullpen, considered a strength of the team, was an enigma all year. A good example – closer Emanuel Clase led the major leagues in both saves and blown saves. He was probably overused and given proper usage next year he should return to dominant form. The rest of the bullpen was a roller coaster ride. Eighth inning reliever Trevor Stephan was given a new contract, then proceeded to be a major disappointment and one of the clubhouse leaders in surrendering leads in the late innings. Nervous Nellie James Karinchak imploded to the point where he was sent to AAA Columbus for a stretch. The same fate happened to lefty Tim Herrin. Eli Morgan’s season ranged from great outings to terrible ones, and to a lesser degree the same could be said for Enyel De Los Santos and Nick Sandlin. Michael Kelly and Daniel Norris were stopgap players thrust into action to eat up early to middle innings. There were some bright spots in the pen – southpaw Sam Hentges was lights out all year. Xzavion Curry was a Swiss Army knife, providing good long relief as well as quality spot starts. Reynaldo Lopez, a late season waiver acquisition, was a revelation. An impending free agent, the powers that be should focus on trying to bring him back. All in all, a big project of the front office and new manager will be to sort out all the arms in the pen to piece together a relief staff that once again is a strength of the club.




Until rising star Bo Naylor was called up from Columbus, this position was a disaster. Mike Zunino may have been the worst free agent signing ever. He offered nothing defensively or at the plate. Another vet, Cam Gallagher, was a bit better defensively but anemic with the bat. One player on the roster whose value is high is David Fry. Any time you have a guy who can play multiple positions, and one of those positions is behind the plate, you have to value him highly. Fry also provides some pop with the bat. Naylor is obviously the future starter here, and management will need to decide if Fry alone is enough backup (which frees up roster space for another position) or if another catcher has to be added, assuming Gallagher won’t be back.




The Guardians are solid at the corner infield positions with first baseman Josh Naylor and third sacker Jose Ramirez. Naylor is the best clutch hitter and RBI man on the team, while Ramirez, a Cleveland icon, is one of MLB’s top players. Although he went through an up and down year, second baseman Andres Giminez regained his bearings late in the season and was one of the team’s hottest hitters. He needs to carry that momentum into a big year in 2024. Tyler Freeman is a valuable and versatile piece of the roster. He can play anywhere in the infield and has an uncanny ability to provide some offensive punch when he gets his chances to play. Amed Rosario was the starting shortstop until he was dealt to the Dodgers at the deadline, and his questionable defense should mean that this position is upgraded next year, no matter who wins the job. The Guardians’ organization is loaded with top middle infield prospects, and the players who shared the spot after Rosario departed – Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio and Jose Tena – all showed flashes. Arias is great with the glove and his 10 home runs in limited playing time showed that he can provide some power. Rocchio is still raw but he might be the best all around prospect of the group, while Tena made the jump from AA Akron to the big club, so that has to mean the organization is high on him. There are other top gems lurking at the lower levels, but we’ll discuss them in the “future prospects” section.




Cleveland’s starting outfield trio most of the year was Steven Kwan in left, Myles Straw in center and Will Brennan in right. Kwan and Straw are Gold Glove fielders, and Brennan is right behind them with the glove. However, there is a glaring lack of power in the Tribe’s outfield, and that has to be addressed in 2024. Oscar Gonzalez, a postseason hero in 2022, regressed terribly this year and wound up in Columbus. He was the 2023 version of Bobby Bradley, who looked like a great power hitting first base prospect and is now playing somewhere in an independent minor league. Brennan is pretty good with the bat and looks like he could get stronger and increase his power numbers, but until he actually does it might be a better plan to platoon him. Kwan is a fixture and a great leadoff hitter. One option could be to move him to centerfield and use Straw as a bench player and late inning defensive replacement. Decisions will have to be made on a couple of veterans who were picked up in-season and saw lots of playing time. Ramon Laureano would be a good addition to the bench, while left-hand hitting Kole Calhoun is more suited to being strictly a designated hitter and likely won’t be back.


Future Prospects


There are 3 potential future starting pitchers in Cleveland’s pipeline that might debut in 2024 – Daniel Espino, Tanner Burns and Joey Cantillo. Espino has regularly been rated the club’s top prospect, but injuries have derailed his progress. Burns must overcome control issues if he is to succeed. Cantillo, if and when he arrives, would be a much needed lefthand option to the rotation. The up and coming outfielder in the system who might be a power upgrade is George Valera, who will be given every opportunity to advance to the majors from Columbus next spring.  Johnathan Rodriguez is a power bat who has hit consistently at every level of the minors so far. Further down the pipeline of OF prospects are recent top draft picks Chase Delauter and Jaison Chourio. When Civale was traded, the player obtained was lefthand hitting first baseman/DH Kyle Manzardo. He seems destined to be on the 2024 roster also in some capacity. A plethora of middle infielders dot the minor league pipeline. Juan Brito, obtained from Colorado for Nolan Jones in a controversial deal, appears to be a viable major leaguer. Switch-hitting Angel Martinez is only 21 and a rising star, while Jhonkensy Noel might be the future heir apparent to Ramirez at the hot corner. Khalil Watson was obtained from Miami at the deadline and is also considered a possible future star. This year’s top draftee, Ralphy Velazquez, joins Bryan Lavastida as future catching options.


MLB – Cleveland Guardians 2023 Season Preview

28 Mar

The 2023 major league baseball season is about to start, and this year we’re providing our first season preview of the favorite club here at Rayonsports, the Cleveland Guardians. Coming off a surprising season that saw them win the American League Central Division, knock out Tampa Bay in the wild card round and stretch the mighty New York Yankees to 5 games in the divisional round, the Guardians have high expectations in 2023. Here’s a look at what to expect from them in the upcoming campaign:

Front Office/Manager


Cleveland has had to compete with the big money clubs with a smart strategy of drafting and developing players, signing rising stars to reasonable contract extensions and scouring the free agent market for low budget players who fill needs on the roster. Under general manager Chris Antonetti they have done a great job of doing just that, with a special knack for developing young pitchers. It helps to have a veteran, winning manager in place in Terry Francona, who despite some health issues has kept the team competitive in the field.


Starting Rotation


Guardians’ ace Shane Bieber (USA Today photo)


The recent news of Triston McKenzie being lost for up to 8 weeks with an injury hurts the rotation for sure, as he was slated to be the number 2 starter behind ace Shane Bieber. It looks like the Guards will enter the 2023 campaign with the same other 3 starters as they finished 2022 with. Cal Quantrill tossed a 5 inning no-hitter in his last exhibition start, so he looks ready. Aaron Civale has been mostly dependable. Zach Plesac, the shaky fifth starter, will open the year in that role but should be on a short leash. McKenzie’s spot will likely be filled by either Xzavion Curry or Hunter Gaddis, two hurlers who made spot starts last year, or be used as “bullpen” games utilizing the new trend in baseball – the “opener”.


Relief Pitchers


Top MLB closer Emmanuel Clase


Cleveland has one major bullpen asset going for them as they enter the season. That would be the top closer in the major leagues, Emmanuel Clase. Overall, the pen is strong, although at least one of the remaining hurlers on the staff will have to fill a starter role until McKenzie is ready. Other late inning options are plentiful, and those roles will have to be sorted out as the season progresses. The candidates are Trevor Stephan, probably the best of the bunch, James Karinchak, who needs to overcome his inconsistency and nerves, Enyel De Los Santos and Eli Morgan, both of whom are effective under-the-radar options, and the new southpaw, Tim Herrin. Herrin got his opportunity to make the squad when Sam Hentges was injured, and made the most of it with an impressive spring. Even the rest of the bullpen is deep, as it is rounded out by veteran Nick Sandlin and either Curry or Gaddis.




New Cleveland catcher Mike Zunino


The team will open the 2023 carrying 3 catchers, and surprisingly Bo Naylor isn’t one of them. Front office braintrust feels he needs more AAA development time. Free agent signee Mike Zunino, a couple of seasons removed from an All Star campaign, will be the regular backstop, with Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Veloria backing up, at least temporarily.




MVP candidate Jose Ramirez


The anchors of the infield are perennial All Star third baseman Jose Ramirez and rising star second baseman Andres Giminez. Ramirez is the team’s best player, while Giminez flashed offensive power to go along with a Gold Glove in the field. First base will be platooned between Josh Naylor and switch-hitting free agent addition Josh Bell. The shortstop is Amed Rosario, who was the subject of trade rumors all off-season. Those rumors were a combination of his sub-par fielding (Giminez is a more natural SS) and the plethora of middle infield prospects in the organization’s pipeline. The utility infield job goes to Gabriel Arias, who can play any position and likely has a future as an every day player at some point.




Star 2022 rookie OF Steven Kwan


Cleveland’s outfield boasts a pair of Gold Glovers in centerfielder Miles Straw and left fielder Steven Kwan, a rookie standout last year. Kwan is also a hitting machine and an ideal leadoff batter. Straw will need to find his offensive skills again to be a major contributor at the plate, but for now is an adequate # 9 hitter. Another rookie find from 2022, Oscar Gonzalez, should be the regular right fielder and middle of the lineup batter, with the lone OF reserve, Will Brennan, also getting plenty of chances.




Catching prospect Bo Naylor


A total of 17 new players made their debuts with Cleveland in 2022. That number should be significantly less this season, but there are a few younger players who should be ready to contribute to the big club at some point. Not all of them will advance to the majors this season, but pitchers whose organization ETA is 2023 include one who has already had a cup of coffee with big club, Cody Morris. The list of possibles/longshots for this year follows:

Daniel Espino (battling back from injury)

Tanner Bibee

Gavin Williams

Logan Allen

Joey Cantillo

Position players with a good chance of eventually being called up this season are catcher Bo Naylor, Josh’s younger brother who was actually on the club’s post-season roster last year but never saw action, outfielder George Valera and a number of stellar middle infield options that should push Rosario. They include Bryan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman, Jhonkensy Noel (who can play both IF and OF) and Jose Tena.

The organization’s future is bright, as there are plenty of other top prospects still simmering at the lower levels of the minor leagues.


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MLB – Cleveland Indians – The End of An Era

04 Oct

The Major League baseball regular season wound up this week and an event of historical proportions took place in Cleveland, Ohio as that city’s big league team ended the 100+ year era as the “Indians”. The franchise had been known as the Cleveland Naps, after star player Nap Lajoie, but when Lajoie left the club, owner Charles Somers asked baseball writers to pick a new name. They went with Indians to honor another player, Louis Sockalexis, a Native American. And so, the “Tribe” was born. Bowing to pressure from Native and other groups to change the name, Cleveland’s team, beginning in 2022, will be rebranded as the Guardians, named after iconic statues on a local bridge that “guard” the city.

Perhaps the rebranding will change the team’s luck. They have won only a pair of World Series titles, in 1920 and 1948, and the span of years from ’48 until today marks the longest non-title drought in major league baseball. The Indians have had some iconic players and moments over the years. Bob Feller was one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League shortly after Jackie Robinson did it in the NL with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Frank Robinson became the first African American manager in the majors when he took the reins as player/manager in 1975. The Indians were the opponent when Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak came to an end in 1941.

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller


There were tragic and comical moments also. In 1920, Tribe shortstop Ray Chapman was hit in the head by a pitched ball and died the next day, becoming the only player in history to die from being hit. Pitcher Herb Score was struck in the face by a batted ball, breaking facial bones and effectively ending his career, although he became the iconic play-by-play voice of the team for many years after that. In spring training of 1993, 2 players, Ken Olin and Tim Crews, were killed in a boat crash, with Bob Ojeda seriously injured also. When Bill Veeck owned the team, he hired a clown known as “The Clown Prince Of Baseball”, Max Patkin, to coach third base as a promotional stunt.

Baseball clown Max Patkin


And, in one of baseball’s most forgettable evenings, the team hosted Ten Cent Beer Night at Municipal Stadium, with the game ending in a Tribe forfeit to the Texas Rangers as drunken fans stormed the field and caused a riot.

Riots on “Ten Cent Beer Night”


Cleveland has had a terrible reputation for trading away players who were stars or would become stars, with the dubious list including Roger Maris, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Sam McDowell, Tommy John, Tommy Agee, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Dennis Eckersley, Joe Carter, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and most recently Francisco Lindor. The franchise rebounded somewhat in the 1990s and fielded respectable teams, including a pair that reached the World Series, in 1995 and 1997, only to lose both times. Those clubs had star power, with names like Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar Jr., Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, Eddie Murray, Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser. Perhaps the most odious of seasons for the Tribe came in 2016, when they reached the Series only to blow a 3-1 edge in games to the formerly lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, and lose in 7 games.

Will the Guardians start a new chapter in 2022 and give the fans a team worth cheering for? Despite a not-so-special year in 2021, they do boast a promising core of players going forward. We’ll examine what the future looks like for them in an upcoming post. For now, it’s time to say a fond farewell to the Cleveland Indians, as they make their way to the Happy Hunting Grounds of baseball history. Also, GO GUARDIANS!



The 10 Best Baseball Team Nicknames of All Time

26 Jul

Baseball, over the years, has never had a shortage of nicknames for individual players as well as teams. Just as my list of top hockey team and tandem nicknames included a pair from the sport’s most iconic franchise, the Montreal Canadiens, this list of the ten best team nicknames has two for the national pastime’s winningest club, the New York Yankees, and it doesn’t even include their most famous nickname – “The Bronx Bombers”. Here’s the list:



1. Murderer’s Row – this nickname was given to a portion of the lineup of one of the best teams of all time, the 1927 Yankees. Opposing pitchers had to face a string of batters that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri. That Yankee team finished with a regular season record of 110-44, won the American League pennant by finishing 19 games ahead of their closest competitors, then swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.




2. Gashouse Gang  – this nickname belonged to the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, who won the National League pennant that year, then beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. It’s said that the name was coined by the team’s scrappy shortstop, Leo Durocher, due to the team’s reputation for a shabby appearance and rough-and-tumble style of play. Opponents often claimed that the Cardinals took the field in dirty, unwashed, smelly uniforms, and at the time factories that turned coal into gas were usually known for their foul smell.




3. Amazin’ Mets – the 1969 New York Mets, who just a few years before were a bumbling expansion team, gained this nickname by shocking the baseball world by taking advantage of a late season collapse by the Chicago Cubs to win the NL Eastern Division crown. They continued their surprising run by sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the NL championship series and stunning the heavily favored and more experienced Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. They’re sometimes also referred to as the “Miracle Mets”.




4. Whiz Kids – averaging just slightly over 26 years of age as a team, the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies earned this nickname when they fought off a late season challenge from the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League pennant. Two of the team’s young stars, pitcher Robin Roberts and outfielder Richie Ashburn, would go on to be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the Phils were swept by the powerhouse Yankees in the World Series.




5. The Big Red Machine – the 1970s Cincinnati Reds, managed by Sparky Anderson, were so loaded with talent that Anderson once joked that his only job was to write down the starting lineup and get out of the way. Between 1970 and 1976, they won four National League pennants and a pair of World Series. The team’s lineup included 3 Hall of Famers, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, and a player with certain Hall of Fame credentials in Pete Rose.


Dem Bums 2


6. Dem Bums – a sports cartoonist of the 1930s, Willard Mullen, christened the Brooklyn Dodgers with this nickname after a cab driver, when asked about the team, proclaimed “dem bums is bums!” The Dodgers, at the time, had a reputation as lovable losers and Mullin created a cartoon character (pictured above) to feature in the newspaper. The character remained a beloved mascot of the team’s fans throughout the years, and when the club finally defeated their hated rivals, the New York Yankees, in the 1955 World Series, a newspaper headline in large print letters asked “WHO’S A BUM?”




7. Harvey’s Wallbangers – the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers were managed by Harvey Kuenn (above) and featured a lineup of power hitters that included Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Gorman Thomas, Cecil Cooper and Ted Simmons. They wound up winning the American League pennant and got the nickname for their reputation as a capable offensive club. The Brewers lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.


George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin


8. Bronx Zoo – the 1970s New York Yankees got this nickname after George Steinbrenner bought the team and brought in Billy Martin to manage it. The owner and manager often battled publicly and Martin was fired and re-hired multiple times. Also, the team’s roster was loaded with colorful personalities like Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Sparky Lyle and Mickey Rivers, although the “Bronx Zoo” nickname mostly signified the constant feuding between Steinbrenner and Martin.




9. Black Sox –  the Chicago White Sox have been known to their fans as the “Chisox” or the  “Pale Hose” over the years, but the 1919 version of the team became known for this nickname due to one of sports’ all-time scandals, as they were accused of throwing the World Series that year to the Cincinnati Reds. Eight White Sox players, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were acquitted of any wrongdoing in court but still banned from baseball for life by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.




10. The Boys of Zimmer  – the 1989 Chicago Cubs were managed by Don Zimmer and thrilled Chicago baseball fans by winning an unexpected NL East division title that year. Looking back, that Cub team was a talented one, boasting players like Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and pitchers Rick Sutcliffe, Greg Maddux and Mitch Williams. They eventually lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NL Championship series.


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The 10 Best Baseball Nicknames of All Time

29 Jun


Baseball may have the best list of all-time nicknames, so it was really hard to trim down to just ten. Some classics that didn’t make the list, but deserve honorable mention, are George Herman “Babe” Ruth, “Hammerin'” Hank Aaron, “Yogi” Berra, “Cool Papa” Bell, “Joltin’ ” Joe DiMaggio, Stan “The Man” Musial, Ron Cey “The Penguin”, “Tug” McGraw (a nickname his mother gave him for his habit of breast-feeding aggressively as a baby) and Reggie Jackson “Mr. October”. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are two of the sport’s oldest franchises, and bitter rivals also, so it’s no surprise that they dominate the list with three players each. Here’s the top ten:




1. Lou Gehrig “The Iron Horse” –   a very fitting nickname for baseball’s original iron man, who played in 2,130 consecutive games over 17 seasons for the Yankees in their golden age. Cal Ripken eventually broke his consecutive games record, but it stood for 56 years. He was the first major league player to have his uniform number retired, and the second youngest player elected into the Hall of Fame.




2. Willie Mays “The Say Hey Kid” –   many consider him to be the greatest center fielder in baseball history. There are various stories as to how Mays got his nickname, but the most prominent one is that when he first arrived in the minor leagues, he didn’t know any of the other player’s names, so he just started addressing them as “say you, say hey” and a local sportswriter tagged him with the name.



3. Lenny Dykstra “Nails” –   he helped both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies to World Series titles, and his nickname is strictly a tribute to his style of play, which was rugged and all-out, all the time.





4. Edward “Whitey” Ford “Chairman of The Board” – another Yankee great makes the list, not for the “Whitey” nickname, but for the “Chairman of The Board” moniker, which he earned for his poise and command of high pressure situations. Ford pitched for the Yanks for 16 years and is one of the great left-handed hurlers of all time.





5. Ron Guidry “Louisiana Lightning” –  another Yankee makes the list, and another great southpaw also. He was also known as “Gator”, but the Lightning nickname was the one that stuck, as he had a flaming fastball that made him one of the top strikeout pitchers of his era. Like many “flame-throwing” pitchers, Guidry’s playing days ended due to arm problems later in his career.



spaceman spaceman


6. Bill “Spaceman” Lee –  this nickname was earned by Lee strictly due to his quirky personality. He had a decent major league career for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, but was released by both organizations for criticizing management.



Baseball Player Sal Maglie Pitching


7. Sal Maglie “The Barber” –  a very fitting nickname for a very old school pitcher, given to him for his propensity to give hitters “close shaves”, a ball player’s term for pitching inside. He played for 5 different major league organizations, and is one of just a few players to play for all three New York teams in his era – the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers.




8. Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd –  this nickname would normally be indicative of a pitcher who doctors the baseball, but in Boyd’s case the name was earned by his beer-drinking prowess, as beer is known as “oil” in his native Mississippi. Boyd was one of the most colorful characters of his era. Like former teammate “Spaceman” Lee, he pitched for both the Red Sox and Montreal Expos.





9. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown – one of baseball’s early stars, his playing days go back so far that he actually pitched for a pair of World Series-winning Chicago Cub teams. His nickname came from the fact that he lost parts of two fingers on his right hand in a farm machinery accident, which allowed him to throw a devastating curveball that broke drastically before reaching the plate.




10. Ted Williams “The Splendid Splinter” – this nickname was one of those classic ones that creative sportswriters of the times would bestow on the best players, and it fit Williams well, as he was arguably the greatest hitter of all time. He is still last player to hit .400 in a season, which he accomplished by batting .406 in 1941. His playing days spanned from 1939 until 1960, and he was effective to the end, homering in the last at-bat of his career.


MLB – The Francona Effect in Cleveland

01 Oct

The Cleveland Indians completed an amazing regular season journey in the American League this weekend by sweeping the Twins in Minnesota to clinch the top AL wild card spot. The team hired Terry Francona as manager prior to the season and his presence has been the main factor in the team qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2007, when they blew a 3 games to 1 lead in the AL Championship Series and lost in 7 games to Francona’s Boston Red Sox. Francona, whose father Tito played for the Indians in the 1960s, instilled a winning attitude in a club that really lacks star power. Their starting rotation does not have the one horse who serves as a stopper when things go bad during the season, like the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw for instance, or Tim Lincecum with the Giants. Their closer, Chris Perez, was a train wreck at the end of the year and looks like he has lost his job, and their lineup lacks a .300 hitter or a real power hitter. However, they played like a team all year and won together, with different heroes emerging on different nights. The addition of free agent Nick Swisher, an Ohio native, changed the atmosphere in the clubhouse, while Swisher also was a major contributor on the field. The emergence of young stars like Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and pitchers Danny Salazar and  Corey Kluber all helped the Tribe to a surprising finish that has them hosting the AL Wild Card. Justin Masterson, who led the team with 14 wins and started the season as the closest thing the Indians had to a # 1 starter, may wind up in the closer’s role if the team advances past the wild card game.

If the Indians can manage to beat Tampa Bay in the Wild Card game on Wednesday, it will set up an interesting divisional round series that will match the team against the Red Sox, the team Francona led to a pair of World Series titles before being fired in 2011. As it stands now, the Tribe will go with the rookie Salazar in that wild card game. He has been an outstanding power pitcher in his few starts since joining the team. Out of all the teams in the majors still playing in October, the Indians are the most surprising, considering this was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

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MLB – Review of Warner Brothers Film ’42’

30 Apr

Movies about sports don’t usually measure up to  films that wind up getting Oscar buzz for being dramatic or memorable, but the movie “42” , chronicling Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, is more than just a run-of-the-mill sports movie. It’s an honest portrayal of an important event in American history. Sports often mirror society and that was never more apparent than when Robinson began his journey as the first African American player to break baseball’s color line in 1947. The film includes some dramatic scenes chronicling the mental and physical abuse Robinson faced as he made history in his rookie season. The movie has an outstanding cast, with newcomer Chadwick Boseman playing Robinson, and perhaps the best performance in the film is Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey

 Robinson faces prejudice from not only opposing teams and fans, but even his own teammates, who start a petition to keep from having to play on the same team with him. He is intentionally beaned in the head by a Pittsburgh pitcher and spiked in the calf purposely by Enos Slaughter. One of the most brutal scenes in the movie is when Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman, played by Alan Tudyk, comes out of the dugout and continuously heaps verbal abuse on Robinson when he’s at the plate. The scene is uncomfortable to even watch, yet the film’s producer says the language was actually cleaned up for the movie. Philadelphia’s team management winds up being criticized by sportswriters for Chapman’s behavior, so Chapman is ordered to pose with Robinson for a conciliatory photo to try and save face. Robinson relunctantly agrees to the photo, with some persuasion from Rickey, and Jackie suggests they pose holding a bat, “so we don’t have to touch skin.” The actual photo is below.

Jackie Robinson and Ben Chapman (actual photo)

The film has some light moments, such as the scene when Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, played by Hamish Linklater, approaches Robinson after a game and asks why he always waits until the entire team is finished showering before he showers himself. Robinson explains that he doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but Branca tries to convince him that he shouldn’t feel that way. When he blurts out “c’mon, Jackie, shower with me”, he gets a laugh from Robinson and then tries to backtrack from the comment. Overall, the movie is uplifting, as Robinson’s Dodger teammates eventually come to respect him as a player and a man, and  defend him in the beaning and spiking incidents. One of those teammates was Bobby Bragan, who I actually remember as a major league manager when I first started to follow baseball in the 1960s. Bragan storms into Rickey’s office and demands to be traded rather than play alongside Robinson, but after a week rescinds the demand. It’s not mentioned in the movie, but Bragan later was quoted as saying that he changed his mind because “after just one road trip, I saw the quality of Jackie the man and the player, and told Mr. Rickey I had changed my mind and I was honored to be a teammate of Jackie Robinson.” When Bragan attended Rickey’s funeral in 1965, he stated that he decided to attend because, “Branch Rickey made me a better man.” Those types of stories are the real legacy of what Robinson accomplished by running the gauntlet of racism during that initial season in major league baseball, and why his story is so much more than a sports biography. Robinson truly did change history.


Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown Accomplishment

13 Oct


When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees recently broke John Unitas’ record of throwing touchdown passes in 47 consecutive games, the achievement was compared to someone breaking baseball’s supposed “unbreakable” mark – Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. I personally believe DiMaggio’s record is more impressive, considering the day-to-day grind of a long season that baseball players endure. When Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera finished the 2012 regular season by becoming the first player in 45 years to win baseball’s “Triple Crown” by leading his league in home runs, batting average and runs batted in, it was at least as big an accomplishment as Brees’ record. He is only the 10th player in modern major league history to accomplish the feat (Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams each did it twice). It took 45 years for a player to win it, amazing considering all the talk of “five tool” all-around players in baseball these days. When Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967 for the Boston Red Sox, it was the eleventh time it had been done in the 45 years prior to ’67. In fact, Frank Robinson had done it the previous year, in 1966. You would think that leading the American League in those 3 major offensive categories would be an automatic ticket to winning the league’s MVP Award, but the Los Angeles Angels’ young star, Mike Trout, is actually getting more MVP buzz from the press. Cabrera has quietly put together a terrific major league career, establishing himself as one of the game’s top players, let alone one of its’ top hitters. The Triple Crown is icing on the cake, putting him in the company of these other players who’ve done it – Hornsby, Williams, Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle. That’s pretty good company, and if Cabrera tops it off by leading his Detroit Tigers to a World Series championship, his 2012 season would go down in baseball history as one of the greatest individual efforts of all time in the sport.

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MLB – The Five Most Controversial Pitchers of All Time

15 Sep

This particular “list” post was supposed to be the 5 most controversial major league baseball players of all time, but when I narrowed down the choices to 5, I realized they were all pitchers, hence the title change. I’ve always thought of catchers as the “characters” when it comes to baseball players (former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey comes to mind) but it looks like the pitchers take the prize. Here’s my list:

1. Bo Belinsky – he was the first “star” for the fledgling Los Angeles Angels franchise when they began operations in 1962, and was a perfect fit for the Southern California scene. He won his first four decisions to start the year, including tossing a no-hitter in his fourth start. Unfortunately, he lost focus on his career and became a notorious womanizer with Hollywood connections, partying with celebrities like Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin and Henry Fonda while being linked romantically with Connie Stevens, Tina Louise, Ann-Margaret and Mamie Van Doren. He ended the ’62 season with a mediocre 10-11 record and flamed out quickly after that, kicking around the majors until 1970 but not accomplishing much.


2. Bill “Spaceman” Lee – the Spaceman was an effective left-handed pitcher who relied on changing speeds to be successful, and he was, as he forged a 14 year major league career. He played that career for only 2 teams, the Red Sox and Montreal Expos, which was amazing considering his propensity for constantly criticizing team management. He was known for espousing hippy counterculture ideas, speaking in defense of marijuana use, Maoist China, Greenpeace and school busing in Boston. In Boston, he feuded with his old school manager, Don Zimmer, and nicknamed Zimmer “The Gerbil”. To this day, Lee, now 65,  still pops up as a pitcher in various semi-pro leagues, and in August of this year tossed a complete game victory for the San Rafeal Pacifics, and used a home made bat to drive in the first run of the game.


3. Mark “Bird” Fidrych – like Belinsky, Fidrych stormed onto the scene in his rookie year, and became an overnight sensation and fan favorite with, like Lee, his eccentric behavior. Also like Belinsky, he flamed out quickly and was out of baseball after 5 seasons. He fascinated his fans in Detroit, known as “Bird Watchers”, with his antics on the mound, which included talking to himself, talking to the ball, aiming the ball like a dart, strutting around the mound after every out, and throwing back balls that “had hits in them,” insisting they be removed from the game. In 1977, Fidrych felt his arm “go dead” while pitching, and within a couple of years was out of the game. It wasn’t until 1985, after he’d been out of the game for 5 years, that it was discovered he’d had a torn rotator cuff injury. After baseball, he bought a farm and unfortunately, in 2009, was killed in an accident while working under a dump truck he owned when his clothes became entangled with a spinning power takeoff shaft on the truck.


4. Dock Ellis – Eliis was a successful starting pitcher for 12 seasons in the majors, and helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series in 1971. He was a character and his career is littered with controversial incidents, the most famous of which occured on June 12, 1970, when he pitched a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. He had taken the drug thinking he wasn’t scheduled to start that day, and his account of the game afterwards included these gems: he claimed his glove was telling him what pitches to throw, that at one point he was convinced that President Nixon was the home plate umpire, and that one batter he faced appeared to be Jimi Hendrix swinging a guitar across the plate. He also once showed up in the bullpen with curlers in his hair, and after giving up a legendary monster home run to Reggie Jackson in the All Star game, beaned Jackson in the face the next time he faced him in retaliation.


5. John Rocker – a left-handed closer, Rocker also flamed out quickly after a short time in the limelight. He really had only one successful season, when he had 38 saves for the Braves, then garnered 24 more the next year before being sent to the minors for threatening a reporter. He was a constant stream of controversial statements while he was in the headlines, mostly with statements that were racist, homophobic and/or sexist. While with the Braves, he was asked if he’d ever consider playing for the Yankees or Mets, and his answer was  a rant about New York City that went something like this: “I’d retire first. It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing… The biggest thing I don’t like about New York are the foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anybody speaking English.  Asians and Koreans and Vietnamese and Indians and Russians and Spanish people and everything up there. How the hell did they get in this country?” His behavior may have been due to the fact that he was an admitted steroid user.


MLB – Five Most Memorable All Star Game Moments

10 Jul

The major league baseball All Star game is being played tonight, and the game is really a “Midsummer Classic”. Out of the four major league professional sports, baseball has the distinction of having its’ annual All Star game actually be a good representation of the way the sport is played in the regular season. The same thing can’t be said for the NHL, NBA and, after this past season’s 59-41 “flag football” exhibition in the Pro Bowl, certainly not the NFL. It got so bad in the NFL’s All Star game that commissioner Roger Goodell has threatened to just eliminate it in the future, a move the players are against.

Baseball’s All Star game has a long, historic tradition. For many years, the game was so popular that 2 All Star games were played each season. In recent years, it has become more than just an exhibition, since the league that wins gains more than just pride, they win home field advantage in the World Series for their representative. Here are my choices for the five most memorable MLB All Star game moments:


1. Carl Hubbell’s Impressive Pitching –  I normally only include entries on these lists of players I actually saw play, but this All Star Game feat has been legend for a long time and gets mentioned every year at All Star Game time. Hubbell, a New York Giant screwball-throwing southpaw pitching for the National League in 1934, struck out 5 future Hall of Famers in a row – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Fox, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.


2. Fred Lynn’s Grand Slam –  baseball’s 50th Anniversary game, played at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1983, was a one-sided affair, with the American League winning 13-3. The highlight of the game was a historic moment turned in by Fred Lynn of the Angels, who hit the first, and still the only, grand slam home run in All Star Game history.


3. Reggie’s Long Blast – in the 1971 game, played in Detroit, a young Reggie Jackson, then playing for the Oakland A’s, hit a monster home run that hit a light standard on the roof of old Tiger Stadium. The shot was estimated at 520 feet, and became an early entry onto Reggie’s long list of memorable moments that would continue throughout his career. Two other sluggers of the era, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew, also homered in the game, which was also memorable since it was the last All Star appearance for the late Roberto Clemente.


4. Rose/Fosse Home Plate Collision –  nobody ever accused Pete Rose of not playing the game all-out, all the time, but there was a lot of controversy when he bowled over AL catcher Ray Fosse at home plate in the 1970 game in Cincinnati. Fosse wound up with a fractured and separated left shoulder, and was never the same again. Critics said the play was over-the-top for what amounts to an exhibition game, but, for the record, Fosse dropped the ball, allowing Rose to score the winning run.


5. Stan Musial’s Game-Winning Homer –  in the 1955 game in Milwaukee, the National League overcame a five-run deficit and won the game 6-5 in the bottom of the 12th inning on a walk-off home run by Stan “The Man” Musial. It was the greatest All Star moment for Musial, who was picked for the game 24 times in his career.