Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Boston Red Sox and 2018 MLB Free Agents

The 2017 Major League Baseball season has just kicked off but it’s never too early to look ahead to next year. There is an interesting crop of potential free agents, and the Boston Red Sox, who are annual players in the market, may look to go shopping once again. Let’s take a look at what players might be good fits.

No matter what happens this season the Red Sox won’t be heading into 2018 sweating out how to retain any of their major stars. To the contrary, first baseman Mitch Moreland and outfielder Chris Young are the biggest names on the team playing in the final year of their contract. On a positive note, Allen Craig, who has hit a combined .139 in 65 games with Boston since 2014, is scheduled to have his $11 million 2017 salary come off the books. While the team may not have many obvious holes, they are always in the process of trying to get better. Here are some of the anticipated free agents that may help them do that.

Jonathan Lucroy- Catcher/First Baseman: Barring a breakout season from Moreland (which is happening in the early going), the team could be looking for an upgrade at first base for next year. Now that Hanley Ramirez has transitioned to designated hitter, it seems unlikely he would return to the field. Finding a more traditional first baseman could be costly given the premium at the position but Lucroy represents an intriguing option. A catcher throughout his career, he has also played 46 games at first since the 2013 season.

The 30-year-old right-handed hitter would be a welcome addition to the team’s middle of the order. Coming  off a career year in 2016 where he hit a combined .292 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs with the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers, he is a proven hitter who would be a great fit playing half his games at Fenway Park (he has three doubles and a home run in six career games at the venue).

The team struck gold in the past with a former catcher shifting to first base (Mike Napoli), so rolling the dice again makes sense. Lucroy is making $5.25 million this year, so a big raise is in line. However, he won’t break the bank and could provide the offensive production of an above average first baseman at a lower cost than some of the premium names. Now in his 30s and rating as one of the worst catchers in baseball at framing pitches in 2016, a position switch may be desirable for Lucroy as well as to maximize his offseason value.

Jarrod Dyson- Outfielder: Now in his second season with Boston, Young has done everything that could possibly be expected as the team’s fourth outfielder. That means his return is possible. However, if he chooses to go elsewhere, Dyson is an intriguing replacement option.

A completely different player than Young (who relies on beating up on left-handed pitching), the 32-year-old Dyson’s game is built on speed and defense. Able to play all three outfield positions, he hit .278 with one home run and 30 stolen bases last year in 107 games with the Kansas City Royals. He is just a .258 career hitter with seven home runs and 177 stolen bases over seven-plus seasons in the majors, and is slated to become a free agent at the end of this year with the Seattle Mariners.

A downside to Dyson, who bats from the left side, is that he is fairly useless against left-handed pitching, as suggested by his career .583 career OPS against southpaws. On the other hand, Young has struggled mightily against righties in the past.

Dyson’s true value is his glove. His 4.9 dWar over the past three seasons is even better than defensive stalwarts like Jackie Bradley Jr. (4.4 over the same period). Adding that to his speed should make him a strong consideration for Boston’s 2018 fourth outfielder role.

Clayton Richard- Pitcher: The Red Sox have plenty of horse power at the front of their rotation but lack a tried and true swing-man who can shift easily between starting and relieving. This is where the 33-year-old left-hander could come into play.

Richard is currently holding down the fort as the “ace” of the moribund San Diego Padres. His career has already seen various iterations, as he has shifted from starting to relieving and back to starting again (missing most of 2014 due to injury in between). He began last season pitching in relief with the Chicago Cubs; posting mediocre results. He ended up with the Padres and returned to the rotation. His 2.41 ERA in nine late season starts suggested he still has something left in the tank.

Relying on a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup, Richard doesn’t have overwhelming stuff but is a example of a hurler who truly “knows how to pitch.” This is knowledge and ability that has come with age and experience. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan recently pointed out how he has cleaned up his delivery in recent times and become an extreme ground-ball pitcher.

The Red Sox would likely not be interested in Richard if he has suitors trying to lock him up in their rotation for multiple years, as the salary he would command in that role could be prohibitive. Barring a Rich Hill-esque surge in 2017, all options are still on the table as to what his future holds. Boston ended up having a decent swing man last year in Clay Buchholz but it remains to be seen if anyone will fill that void this season. Going in strong on the lefty would be a good step in addressing that need and seeing what value they might find in the veteran.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Catching Up With Former Detroit Tigers Pitcher Steve Searcy

In the mid-1980s the Detroit Tigers were one of the most feared teams in baseball. Winning the World Series in 1984, they had an iconic manager in Sparky Anderson, and a roster full of talent, including the likes of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Hoping to keep their momentum going, they also focused on stocking their farm system with young talent to sustain their future. Unfortunately, the team slipped as they moved towards the end of the decade and into the 1990s; unable to develop the prospects to build a dynasty. One of those home grown players was left-handed pitcher Steve Searcy, who never became a star but did make it to the majors in Motown.

Searcy was not a natural southpaw. Born with osteomyelitis in his right shoulder, the bone inflammation forced him to do some things, including throwing a baseball, with his off-hand. Proving that the switch was not an impediment, he became such a skilled pitcher that he ended up at the University of Tennessee on scholarship. A stellar career as a Volunteer, including a 2.45 ERA in 95.1 innings in 1984, led to his selection in the third round in the 1985 draft by the Tigers.

Searcy quickly grew into one of the team’s top pitching prospects. In 1986 he was 11-6 with a 3.30 ERA in Double-A. A broken kneecap from a comebacker to the mound prematurely ended his 1987 season but he rebounded in 1988 to go 13-7 with a 2.59 ERA and 176 strikeouts in Triple-A. This earned him his call-up to the Tigers.

On August 29, 1988, Searcy toed the rubber for the first time in a major league game, facing off against Bill Long and the Chicago White Sox. The lefty went 7.2 strong innings but took the 3-2 loss in large part because of solo home runs he gave up to Carlton Fisk and Ken Williams.

Bouncing between the minor leagues and Majors for the next several seasons (1988-91 with the Tigers and 1991-92 with the Philadelphia Phillies) he pitched as both a starter and a reliever. He appeared in a total of 70 games (21 starts), accumulating a 6-13 record with a 5.68 ERA. Although he struck out 140 batters in 187 innings, the 119 walks and 25 home runs he allowed were indicators of things that prevented him from having greater success.

Searcy pitched in the minors for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second half of 1992, and then for the Baltimore Orioles in 1993. Unfortunately, he struggled in both organizations and retired at the age of 29. Years after the end of his playing career he answered some questions about his baseball career. Keep reading for more on the former Tiger.

Steve Searcy Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: Learn to study film. Just started when I was in the league.

What was the strangest play you ever saw?: Can’t say there is anything that sticks out, but I did have a player 0-and-2, and the umpire told me ‘anywhere close.’ I got strikeout on a ball inside.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jeff Jones, pitching coach with Detroit.

How did you find out you were called up to the major leagues?: I was bumped back two starts, and told on the third day I was starting in the Bigs.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Norm Angelini's Journey through 1970's Professional Baseball


In the 1960’s left-handed pitchers ruled baseball, with the likes of Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax and Warren Spahn patrolling the mound. Needless to say, teams were extremely interested in identifying the next southpaw to potentially take their place in the pantheon. One such prospect was Norm Angelini, who may not have become a star but did accomplish the impressive feat of reaching at pitching well at the major league level.

Growing up in San Mateo, California, Angelini played baseball like many of his peers. It just turned out that he was better than most of them. He went on to play collegiately for the College of San Mateo and then Washington State University. So tantalizing was his talent that he ended up being drafted three times—but he never signed with any of them. In 1966 he was selected by the Baltimore Orioles, and then by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1967 January draft. Finally, he was taken in the eighth round of the June phase of the draft by the New York Yankees.

Prior to the 1969 season, the 21-year-old signed with the Kansas City Royals as an amateur free agent. He began as a starter in their minor league system, but by 1971 had transitioned to primarily relieving and found his true success, including a 1.41 ERA in 51 Triple-A innings that year.
Angelini earned a call up to the Royals in 1972 and performed admirably, going 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 21 relief appearances. He earned a win in his first big league game on July 22 against the Baltimore Orioles, despite giving up a solo home run to slugger Boog Powell in 1.1 innings.

Despite his success, Angelini made just seven appearances for the Royals in 1973. Just like that, his big league career was over at the age of 25. In his 28 career games he was a combined 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA and three saves. He continued to play professionally for another eight years, working at the Triple-A level for the Royals, Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos.

Keep reading for Angelini’s answers to a few questions about his baseball career.

Norm Angelini Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: Nothing- I gave it everything I had every time I got the chance to play.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jack McKeon- He gave me the chance to get to the big leagues.

What was your favorite team you played on?: The 1980 Denver Bears. We won over 100 games that year.

What was the strangest play you ever saw?: A fly ball that hit our left fielder in the head and it went over the fence for a home run.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chicago Cubs Looking Bad on Issues of Bullying and Hazing

As hazing and bullying continue to be significant issues in our society, professional sports, where such activity has often flourished, have started addressing it head on. This past offseason, Major League Baseball created an anti-hazing and anti-bullying policy that bans teams from "requiring, coercing or encouraging" activities such as "dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristic." Although such a stance is not only entirely appropriate but long overdue, it incredibly seems to have some teams like the Chicago Cubs struggling to figure out appropriate boundaries.

A recent ESPN article written by Jesse Rogers detailed the reaction of the Cubs to the new policy, because of their tradition of having rookies dress up in costumes that would now be considered off limits. Chicago manager Joe Maddon has come to rely on making his newer and younger players “uncomfortable” in what he believes to be an exercise that brings them deeper into the team fold. “The moment you get comfortable with your plight, then the threat is you’re not going to push yourself to the point where you need to again,” Maddon cryptically said.

Honestly, it’s really pathetic if that’s the best the Cubs can hit on to motivate their team and build camaraderie. In particular, with the number of children around the country subjected to bullying and hazing, it’s stupefying that the Cubs don’t see a connection between what they have traditionally done and the harassment and demeaning behavior suffered by so many. Any time those in a position of power use that influence to make others do something outside their comfort zone, that is the definition of bullying and not a dynamic motivational tool as some might have you believe.

Pitcher Rob Zastryzny, who was a rookie with Chicago last year and was made to dress up like a female cheer leader by the veterans on the team explained, “The Cubs guys did a really good job of it. I was a fan of it. It made me feel really close to the older guys.” That’s great that one player enjoyed it but what if some of their teammates went through the same exercise and didn’t feel the same way? I may not be an expert but it would seem that going out as a group to dinner, bowling or some other activity might serve a similar purpose. Just thinking outside of the box here.

The baseball dress-up culture is also strongly chauvinistic and homophobic, as costumes are often scanty cis-female clothing such as cheer leader outfits, skimpy dresses and other items meant to suggest lacking masculinity and/or heterosexuality in the wearer. For obvious reasons that don’t need to be elaborated on that is offensive on many levels and disappointing that the Cubs (or any other team) wouldn’t stop to think how that is perceived by fans and outsiders alike who claim similar identifies or simply have an ounce of respect or understanding in their bodies.

There are many out there who will lament that we live in “too PC of a world” and that we need to “toughen up” and not get bothered by such things. To them I ask they consider the following. Does that mean that when you go back to work next you’ll be fine if your supervisor forces you to wear an embarrassing costume around the workplace and out in public; knowing that if you don’t comply you will be on the outside looking in moving forward? Does that mean that if you have a child, friend or family member who identifies in a way that is frequently represented through MLB dress up that you are fine laughing at this “obvious joke” and don’t care how that child, friend or family member may feel about it?

Star pitcher Jake Arrieta tried to explain that what the Cubs have traditionally done is harmless. “No one is trying to offend any person or people that identify themselves as something else. It’s about making the younger teammates uncomfortable and seeing how they deal with the situation. It’s a team-building thing.” If only there were other ways to incorporate younger players into the team’s fold…

Ironically, the World Champion Cubs are also doing good work supporting the victims of bullying. However, I contend that you can’t condemn one form of bullying without condemning them all—especially given the many iterations it can take.

Showing how clueless some members of the Cubs are, Rogers reported that some alternative methods that will skirt the letter of the new law may include having the rookies wear Speedos or wrestling tights in 2017. One would think that a business like the Cubs that is valued at $2.2 billion could come up with more dynamic ways to motivate and team build. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case and the team is looking increasingly out of touch and foolish.

If baseball can change their rules on the field there’s no reason to think adjustments off the field are out of the question. It will just take a little awareness and thoughtfulness that realizes that professional athletes on a national stage exist on a stage that extends far beyond their locker rooms. Hopefully the Cubs organization will see how sophomoric and insulting the prevailing thoughts on the dress-up culture are and provide their players and coaching staff some tools that can help them come up with some positive alternatives.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lake Erie Crushers Reveal New Logo

March 15, 2017: Avon OH) The Lake Erie Crushers, presented by Mercy, unveiled a new logo, new uniforms and several new menu items today that will all debut during the 2017 Frontier League season. The new team colors will be purple and white to accompany the team’s new logo that features a bat wielding, fierce-looking grape, as tribute to the Crushers name. 

When the team debuted in 2009, the Crushers were originally named after the numerous vineyards and wineries that populate northern Ohio. The name was selected through fan voting, however previous Ownership selected colors and logos that did not reflect the origins of the name. New Owners Tom & Jacqueline Kramig, who purchased the team in February of 2016, have embraced the Crushers name with the new logo, new purple and white team uniforms, as well as a pledge to serve Ohio wines at Sprenger Health Care Stadium this coming season. 



“Ohio is the 11th largest producer of wines in America, and there are dozens of wineries in the northern Ohio region, where the team calls home” stated Co-Owner Jacqueline Kramig. “For this team to truly represent and reflect the local community, we felt the name and logo should have some connection to local history and businesses.” 

The Crushers are also unveiling several new menu items for 2017. Among the new offerings at Sprenger Health Care Stadium, an herb crusted chicken sandwich, a seasoned steak sandwich, a chicken sausage sandwich, and for our vegetarian fans, a fried green tomato sandwich. 

The Lake Erie Crushers hope fans will “Embrace the Grape” on Friday, May 12th at 7:05pm for the Home Opener. There will be a magnet schedule giveaway for the first 1,000 fans at the ballpark, and the fan favorite Post Game Fireworks Show to kick off another great season of Crushers Baseball. Individual Game Tickets go on sale on Monday, March 20th at 10am.

The Lake Erie Crushers are located in Avon, Ohio and play in the Frontier League of Independent Professional Baseball (www.frontierleague.com). For more information, you can contact the Crushers at 440-934-3636, visit our website at www.LakeErieCrushers.com, or email info@lakeeriecrushers.com. 

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox- A Review

The Boston Red Sox have a fan base and teams that create memories unlike most sports teams. Often, the two inform and feed off the other. Herb Crehan’s The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation (2016, Summer Game Books) celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of those greatest collaborations, which was so memorable it spawned a team name for the history books and launched an identity for those on the sidelines that persists to this day.

Coming in to the 1967 season the Red Sox had little to look forward to. Mired in the second division since 1959, the team had some great young players like Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg and Tony Conigliaro but had not been able to see it translate to any sort of success in the standings. With rookie manager Dick Williams at the helm there wasn’t necessarily an expectation that was going to change overnight. As it turned out, that was wrong because Boston went on to win 92 games (many in an exceedingly exciting fashion) and took the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series before finally conceding the end of their magical season.

Crehan pivots back and forth from detailing the season and highlighting 13 of the most memorable figures from the 1967 team—from what they did that year to how their career and lives turned out afterwards. From the MVP performance from Yaz to the iron man exploits on the mound of Lonborg, the squad is rife with stories both good and bad. It was such an exciting year that fans were driven to a frenzy, which have remained a strong force ever since.

The fiery Williams ruled the team absolutely but was not always successful in reaching his players. The weight struggles (and confidence) of players like George Scott and Joe Foy impacted their play on the field but somehow did not become issues that derailed the success of their teammates. Williams was blunt if nothing else, and his methodology and the way it worked (or didn’t) in such cases were major storylines that season.

Second baseman Mike Andrews was a nice player but was never a star. Nevertheless, he was a major contributor in 1967 and went on to have a lasting impact in the Boston community through his work with the Jimmy Fund Charity.

Undoubtedly the biggest story on that year’s team was when star outfielder Conigliaro was hit in the face during a game by a pitch and went on to miss the rest of the season and all of 1968. Once looking like a potential future Hall of Famer, the 23 year-old suffered diminished vision, and while he had a couple of productive years upon his return, he was never the same again and out of baseball by the time he was 30. Crehan lingers on the “what might have been” with the slugger, who passed away at the age of 45—his life snuffed out too soon much like his baseball career.

The writing style of The Impossible Dream is formulaic in a baseball book sense. An aggregation of statistics, interviews and follow up are all staples of the genre. That being said there is a reason why they are used so often, and the author does a good job here of combining everything into a cohesive narrative.

It’s hard to believe that the 1967 Boston Red Sox are turning 50 this year. The iconic team is one of few to gain such lofty status in history despite not winning it all at the end. This was due to the combination of dynamic and memorable players, and story lines that captivated a fan base in such a way that they would never be the same again. An impossible dream, indeed!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Boston Red Sox's 2017 Payroll Has Lots of Dead Money

The Boston Red Sox are one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. Their consistent winning ways, playing in a big market and having a broad fan base all translate to them annually having one of the highest payrolls in the sport. As long as the team is winning the particulars of where the money is going never seems to matter as much. However, some of the players Boston will be cutting checks to in 2017, and the amounts, may come as a surprise.

Currently, the Red Sox are expected to pay out over $192 million in player salaries in 2017. This does not include some contract renewals, possible adjustments as the season wears on from trades, and additional free agent signings. That being said, a shocking amount of money will be spent on players who are not expected to have any impact on the team, or in some cases, are no longer still playing the game at all.

Rusney Castillo- $11.27 Million: The Cuban outfielder signed a massive $72.5 million contract in 2014 but has managed to hit just a combined .262 with seven home runs in 99 big league games since then. Now 29, the Red Sox’s level of confidence (or lack thereof) in him was made abundantly clear last year when he was removed from their 40-man roster. Although he is still with the franchise he is expected to be no more than Triple-A depth and has already made negative headlines by recently neglecting to run out a ground ball. By comparison, he is making only about $500,000 less than newly acquired ace pitcher Chris Sale.

Allen Craig- $11 Million: Formerly an All Star with the St. Louis Cardinals, the outfielder has been an unmitigated disaster since coming over to Boston in a 2014 trade. His results have been so putrid that he has managed just a .139 batting average, two home runs and five RBIs in 65 combined games. He never even saw the majors in 2016; instead scuffling in Triple-A in between injuries, mustering a .189 average in 29 games. His contract set to expire at the end of the year and it would be a major surprise if he sees any playing time in Boston this season.

Manny Ramirez- $1.99 Million: The mercurial slugger hasn’t had a major league at bat since 2011, and hasn’t donned a Boston uniform since 2008. However, he will receive a handsome sum from the team in 2017. Ramirez hit .312 with 274 home runs during an eight year contract in the Hub but saw his tenure spotted with occasional indifferent play and controversy. Signed for a total of $160 million by Boston, not all of the money was paid during the life of the deal, as $32 million was deferred over 16 years worth of payments starting in 2011. Last seen signing on with an independent Japanese team for 2017, Ramirez will be making slightly more with the Red Sox than Boston’s super sub Brock Holt this year.

Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford- $1.7 Million ($857,000 each): Ramirez is not the only former player that Boston is on the books for a princely sum in 2017. Ballyhooed free agent signings in 2011, Gonzalez and Crawford fell out of favor and were jettisoned via trade by mid-season the following year to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The move sent more than $250 million in future salaries across the country but did not completely end the team’s ties to the two players. The Red Sox assumed a small portion of the remaining money that is owed, which are still being paid to this day. Gonzalez is still the starting first baseman for the Dodgers but Crawford recently called it a career. Nevertheless, they persist in a small way as part of the Red Sox a half a decade later.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why Pablo Sandoval is in a Position to Succeed With the Boston Red Sox

Once a ballyhooed free agent signing, Pablo Sandoval’s 2016 season with the Boston Red Sox ended after a total of three games and an unacceptable number of trips to the dinner plate. Plagued with shoulder issues and an alarming weight gain, the third baseman barely made it on the field to try and follow up on a miserable 2015 campaign that was his first with the team. Now noticeably slimmer and reportedly healthy, his bid for a comeback is being aided by his team, which has put him in the best possible position to succeed.

The professional athlete reporting to training camp in “the best shape of their life” is a sports trope as old as time. Having paid fewer dividends than a Ponzi scheme during his first two years in Boston, it will be no small task for Sandoval to earn back even a little bit of the fans’ trust and respect. The biggest difference this year besides his newfound health and ability to see his toes without bending over is the way that the spotlight has significantly shifted off him. An offseason trade that netted left-handed ace Chris Sale gave Boston three legitimate Cy Young candidates for their rotation and made them early World Series favorites. Winning has amazing therapeutic powers, so as long as Boston is piling up tally marks in the left-hand column of the standings even continued transgressions should be regarded more lightly than in the past.

Despite the enormity of Sandoval’s contract, the Red Sox also don’t necessarily need to lean on him as a lynchpin for their offense. With young stars like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi, simply getting passable results from the erstwhile doughy third baseman would be a major coup and likely keep the naysayers at bay for the time being. Additional good news is that after hitting just .245 with 10 home runs in his only full season with Boston, it won’t take a Herculean effort to best that in 2017.

Despite there still being three years remaining on Sandoval’s contract, the fact that there is already a highly-touted heir-in-waiting lurking in the wings makes waiting to see what the veteran can do more palatable. Rafael Devers is just 20 and widely regarded as a potential future star. Although he has made steady progress through the minors he is still at least a year or two away. Nothing is ever guaranteed with young players but his anticipated impact provides a nice cushion for the dazed incumbent.

The disappointment that Sandoval has created since coming to Boston can’t be discounted. Then again neither can the possibility that the proper motivation (which one might cautiously say he has) and right setting (the Red Sox are a talented team poised for a successful season) might jumpstart the career of a player who is a two time All Start who has started for three World Series winners. Much like Stella, Kung Fu Panda just needs to get his groove back. Boston fans have been burned before and will likely not be played for fools again. However, the tough hand he largely dealt himself could be a lot worse if not for the extremely favorable position the team has him in as they embark on a new season.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Dan O’Brien Jr. Joins Minor League Baseball Staff

For Immediate Release                                                  February 13, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball announced today that longtime Major League Baseball executive Dan O’Brien Jr. has joined its staff as Senior Executive Advisor to Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner.

O’Brien, who is entering his 40th season in professional baseball, will advise O’Conner on various issues relative to the Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball relationship, Minor League Baseball business opportunities and industry topics relevant to Minor League Baseball’s future.

“Dan O’Brien is a highly respected baseball executive that understands the business side of the game, as well as the player development and scouting side of professional baseball, and we are very pleased to have him join our staff,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “Dan knows Minor League Baseball from his years of working with affiliates from the Major League side. His extensive knowledge of the game at both levels will be a tremendous asset to Minor League Baseball moving forward.”

“I have always had a great appreciation and respect for the work of Pat O'Conner and the Minor League Baseball staff, and I look forward to the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the organization,” said O’Brien. “With over 35 years of experience working in professional baseball, I have genuine respect for the important role that Minor League Baseball plays in the development of our game and I look forward to the chance to help continue its growth.”

O’Brien joins Minor League Baseball after spending the last 39 years in various roles with the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners organizations.

During the 2016 season, O’Brien served as the Senior Advisor for Baseball Operations for the Royals and Senior Vice President and General Manager Dayton Moore. Prior to his stint in Kansas City, O’Brien spent 10 years as a Special Assistant to the GM/Baseball Operations for the Brewers. From October 2003 to January 2006, O’Brien served as the General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds after serving seven years (1996-2003) as the Rangers’ Assistant General Manager/Baseball Operations. 

O’Brien got his start on the baseball operations side of the game with the Astros (1982-1996) where he rose through the ranks and ultimately served as the Director of Player Development and Scouting. He began his career in professional baseball in the sales and marketing department with the Mariners.

O’Brien graduated with honors from Rollins College in 1976, where he double majored in business and economics and was a Rhodes Scholarship nominee. He earned his master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University in 1977, where he also served as an assistant baseball coach. In 2005, he was honored with Ohio University’s Distinguished Alumni Award and previously served as a guest lecturer for Xavier University’s graduate-level sports administration program. O’Brien’s father, Dan O’Brien Sr., was a longtime Major League Baseball executive. 

The Columbus, Ohio native resides in the greater Cincinnati area with his wife, Gail.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

John Halama Looks Back on His Baseball Career

Some paths to the major leagues are longer and more winding than others. Just being drafted is far from a guarantee that any success will ensue. Hard work and an ability to take and adapt to instruction are just as important as having raw skill. Left-handed pitcher John Halama knows only too well what it takes to work his way up from a mid-round draft prospect to a successful major league career.

Halama, a native of Brooklyn, New York, had a successful collegiate career at his hometown St. Francis University. Despite not playing for a major school, his talent was enough to get him drafted in the 23rd round by the Houston Astros in 1994.

Steady success in the minors earned the lanky lefty a trip to the majors with the Astros in 1998. Making six starts, he went 1-1 with a 5.85 ERA. He struck out the first batter he ever faced, getting San Francisco Giants outfielder Darryl Hamilton to go down swinging in an April 2nd game. However, that offseason he was sent to the Seattle Mariners as the player to be named later in an earlier trade that had brought future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Randy Johnson over to the National League.

Halama won 11 games with the Mariners in 1999 and a total of 35 games in his first three seasons with the team. He went on to spend nine years in the majors, pitching for seven teams. He accumulated a 56-48 record and 4.65 ERA.

Although his final major league game came in 2006 with the Baltimore Orioles, he went on to pitch through the 2012 season with a variety of minor league, independent and international teams before finally calling it a career. All told, he won an impressive total of 172 games (against just 127 losses) during a 19-year professional career.

Halama recently answered some questions about his time in baseball. Keep reading for more on the southpaw.

Who was your favorite player growing up and why?: I grew up a Mets fan as a little kid. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were my favorite players. They were great players at that time.

What do you remember most about your major league debut in 1998 against the San Francisco Giants?: A lot was going on that day. I was very excited that I accomplished a dream of making the big leagues. I had my parents and brother in the stands that game. As far as the game itself; wasn’t that great for me. I took a beating.

You were the proverbial “player to be named later” in the 1998 trade that sent Randy Johnson from Seattle to Houston. What was that like for you and how did you find out you were part of the deal?: At the time of the trade I was just getting back on the field. I hurt my elbow and started pitching when the trade happened. I knew I was being scouted by the Mariners and I'm sure my health was their concern. After the Triple-A World Series I was flown to Seattle for a physical.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Favorite moment, making the big league team. It's not as easy as people think. A lot of hard work.

What catcher during your career did you feel most comfortable throwing to?: I was fortunate to have great catchers everywhere I played.

Who was the best player you ever played with or against, and what made them so special?: I played with a lot of great players but Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriquez were probably the best. What they could do on the field was amazing.

What was your favorite team that you played on, and what made them stand out to you?: I enjoyed all the teams I played at but Seattle stands out the most. We had a great run into the postseason. Plus it's a great city with great fans that supported us.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ty Cobb Victimized By Trash Talking Catcher


Trash talking in professional sports is something that seems to have its genesis in the most recent of generations. However, that is simply not true, as athletes, including major league baseball players have enjoyed sniping at each other over the years. An early example of this was catcher Lou Criger, who came out swinging in the press more than a century ago about his major disdain for legendary outfielder Ty Cobb.

Criger was a gritty glove-first backstop whose leadership and ability behind the plate earned him a 16-year (1896-1912) big league career with five different teams despite hitting just a combined .221 with 11 home runs in 1,012 games. He was particularly proficient at nabbing base runners, catching 48% for his career and leading the league three separate times. He was also known for his feistiness, as Louie Heilbroner, one of his managers, once said of him, “Criger would fight any six men on earth in those days, and if someone didn’t pull them apart, Lou would lick all six by sheer perseverance.”

Cobb was a brash and flashy star, hitting an all-time best .366 for his career and earning a reputation for the ruthless and breakneck way he played the game. He piled up base hits like cord wood, stole the bases he wanted and often went into fielders with spikes to make sure they knew who they were dealing with. Needless to say, that did not always play well with others.

In 1909, Criger was 37, playing with the St. Louis Browns and winding down his career. At the beginning of the season, the veteran was asked about his 22-year-old adversary, who has just won the last two American League batting titles. He did not hold back:

“Ty Cobb is nothing more nor less than a ‘bonehead.’ I’ve got his goat and I’ve got the rest of the bunch as well. Cobb tried to block me last year and I’ve been after him ever since. I used to say to him ‘Look out, Ty, this fellow is wild and likely to drill your noodle.’ And then I’d signal for one straight at his dome. Bing, down he’d drop as though shot , and after that he’d have no more fight in him than a sick rabbit—he couldn’t hot a balloon that was anchored with a three-foot string.”

“We made that Tiger bunch look like a lot of nanny goats last fall when we beat them three straight, didn’t we? I pestered that mob so that they begged for me to let up. They tried to tell me that they had everything at stake where we didn’t have anything to lose. But I never let up for a minute.”

“It’s no trick at all to catch Cobb when he tries to steal. He only got away with it a couple of times with me and one of those steals I had him by 20 feet but the second baseman didn’t come over to the bag. He’s a ‘bonehead’ and the rest are suckers.”

Well then… Criger really didn’t like Cobb. In 1908 Criger was playing with the Boston Red Sox, when they came to Detroit to play a three game series. The Sox were struggling to finish above .500 while the Tigers were a half game behind the league-leading Cleveland Indians. When Boston made the sweep, it widened the deficit to 2.5 games with just 14 games left. However, they finished 11-2-1 down the stretch and took the pennant by a half game before losing to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

Winning a pennant meant big money for players during the time, often allowing them to practically double their earnings for the year (In 1908 players on the winning side of the Series cleared an extra $1,317.58, while winners made due with $870). Although it sounds boastful for Criger to claim that he was asked to let up, it’s very possible that happened given what was at stake. If you want to refresh yourself on what some key items cost back in 1908, here’s a primer for you.

Naturally, the war of words continued and Criger’s volley, with both parties remembering having the upper hand. The truth is that both were fiercely proud ballplayers, who both got in their licks, as detailed by author Charles Alexander. Nevertheless, their rivalry represents an interesting chapter during the earlier portion of baseball history.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

I'm Fascinated By Sacrifice Flies: A Review


Baseball has an ability like no other to provide infinite anecdotes and recollections. Tim Kurkjian’s I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies: Inside the Game We All Love (2016; St.Martin’s Press) captures that unique proclivity. The renowned ESPN personality/journalist has accumulated some of the best stories and oddities that he has collected during his decades of close involvement and observation of the game and turned them over to the fans for their own enjoyment.

A baseball writer and reporter for ESPN for nearly two decades, Kurkjian has been around the block more than a few times and has the unique perspective that has allowed him to accumulate some great gems. His fascination with quirky stats and interesting anecdotes has been fueled by his obsession for collecting and reviewing box scores of all games.

The book is chock full of insights from current and former players, who dish on things like what it feels like to be hit by a pitch; how it feels to go against some of the best in the game; and what they actually hear from fans in the crowd. There is also a laundry list of superstitions, rituals and other things players use to get (what they believe) to be the best out of their skills.

Kurkjian, as indicated by the book’s title, is obsessed with the sacrifice fly. He has an entire chapter devoted to the subject and pulls out many obscure nuggets like how catcher Bob Boone nearly doubled (78 to 47) the number of career sacrifice flies of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Mickey Mantle.

Make no mistake, baseball is a game made up of numbers and quirks. Kurkjian does a good job of encapsulating that with this book. This is somewhere between a collection of brief memories and trivia. Baseball fans who can’t get enough of these things (and there are many) will likely be drawn in by what is offered. However, this is not a book that one can sit down and easily digest in big chunks at a time. The writing style is fine it’s just that the sheer amount of stats, anecdotes and observations make it difficult to stick with it for any great length of time.

Kurkjian is one of baseball’s best known reporters/analysts. His passion for the game is palpable and he has transcribed many of his memories and research into this book. He is not reinventing the wheel here but will find that he has an enthusiastic audience for I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Minor League Baseball Umpire Development, Association of Minor League Umpires Reach Agreement

For Immediate Release                                                                       January 9, 2017 

Minor League Baseball, Umpires Union Reach Agreement MiLB Umpire Development, AMLU agree to deal through 2021 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball announced today that Minor League Baseball Umpire Development, one of its subsidiaries, has reached a five-year collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU). 

Minor League Baseball was notified by the AMLU earlier today that its membership voted to approve the agreement, which replaces the previous five-year agreement that expired following the 2016 season. 

“We are glad that the two sides were able to work together on an agreement that will ensure labor peace through the 2021 season,” said Minor League Baseball Vice President of Baseball and Business Operations Tim Brunswick. “This agreement allows us to continue to manage the costs involved with hiring, training, developing and evaluating the professional umpires that preside over games played between our 160 teams in the United States and Canada.” 

Minor League Baseball’s negotiating team was made up of Brunswick, International League President Randy Mobley, Minor League Baseball Umpire Development Director Dusty Dellinger and Mekesha Montgomery from the law firm of Frost Brown Todd. 

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the work of the negotiating committee, and we look forward to another five years of developing strong umpires and hopefully watching many of them graduate on to Major League Baseball assignments,” added Brunswick. 


About Minor League Baseball Minor League Baseball, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the governing body for all professional baseball teams in the United States, Canada, and the Dominican Republic that are affiliated with Major League Baseball® clubs through their farm systems. Fans are coming out in unprecedented numbers to this one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found at Minor League Baseball ballparks. In 2016, Minor League Baseball attracted 41.3 million fans to its ballparks to see the future stars of the sport hone their skills. From the electricity in the stands to the excitement on the field, Minor League Baseball has provided affordable family-friendly entertainment to people of all ages since its founding in 1901. For more information, visit www.MiLB.com. 

Follow Minor League Baseball on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Scouting the Boston Red Sox's 2017 Non-Roster Spring Training Invites

Now that we are in a new year, spring training is right around the corner. The Boston Red Sox made some big moves this offseason but like all teams can never count on what will happen with injuries, player production and other factors that will impact their success in 2017. Although their roster is packed with stars they invite a number of non-roster players to camp each spring. While most end up being warm bodies, they are all worth a look and sometimes end up getting big league time before the year is over. Here is a look at the non-roster invites the Red Sox have lined up so far for this year.

Edgar Olmos, Pitcher: The 26-year old left-hander has minimal major league experience over two seasons (2013 and 2015) with the Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners. In 11 combined games (two starts), he has gone 1-1 with a 5.21 ERA. His major nemesis has been control, as his 6/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 innings is cringe-worthy.

Olmos looked good in 2016, appearing in 42 games as a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate. He posted a 2.88 ERA and struck out 76 batters in 68.2 innings (while walking just 28). Throwing in the low-90s, a strong spring could help him stick with the team in the minors and serve as an intriguing in-season option if needed.

Marcus Walden, Pitcher: The 28-year-old right-hander is about to enter his 10th professional season. Although he has pitched in Triple-A (with 3 different franchises) over the past three seasons he has yet to make the majors. He has had reasonable success during his career, with a combined record of 36-39 and a 3.83 ERA. Once a starter, he has pitched exclusively as a reliever the past two years. His ceiling appears to be organizational depth if he were to make it out of camp.

Dan Butler, Catcher: Entering his eighth year with the organization (he spent 2015 with the Washington Nationals’ minor league system), all but seven 2014 games have been spent in the minors. Now 30, he is not expected to compete for a roster spot but is a valuable presence because of his skills behind the plate and experience with so many of the pitchers, both veterans and youngsters, who will be in camp. He has all the markings of a future manager but is all but already ticketed for another trip to Pawtucket in 2017 because of the superior talent ahead of him on the depth chart.

Jake DePew, Catcher: With a .218 batting average and 16 home runs in seven minor league seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays, his one marketable skill is defense. Having thrown out 42 percent of runners in the past, the 24-year-old is being given a speculative look. He may also be a valuable addition to one of their minor league rosters as someone who knows what they are doing with a pitching staff.

Matt Dominguez, Third Baseman: A former first-round draft choice of the Marlins, he is still just 27 and has played parts of five seasons at the major league level. A right-handed batter, he is best known for his power, which has resulted in 143 home runs in 10 professional seasons, including 21 as recently as 2013 with the Houston Astros.

Dominguez is an established major league player who has been on the Triple-A/majors bubble the past two years after being a starter for the Astros in 2013-14. The Red Sox appear to be precariously thin with major league ready infielder depth and power bats who could step in if any of the projected 25-man roster players were out. He is an intriguing player to watch, who could well see time in Boston before the year is over if he remains with the organization out of spring.

Junior Lake, Outfielder: Another player with big league experience, the right-handed batter has played parts of four seasons with three different teams since 2013. In 659 combined at bats he has hit .235 with 17 home runs, 48 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. However, contact is a major Achilles Heel for him, as he has struck out 218 times and drawn just 35 walks. He is still 26 (soon to be 27), but entering his 11th professional season he should no longer be considered a prospect. At this point he is nothing more than roster filled who might win a spot at Pawtucket if things break just right.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Later this month the newest class of the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced via the voting of the Baseball Writers’ Association of American (BBWAA). The ballot is packed with big names, and although I personally don’t have an official vote, I still wanted to get in on the fun. So, keeping in mind that each voter can choose up to 10 inductees, here is who I would cast my lot for if I had the opportunity.

Roger Clemens, Pitcher: The PED allegations are there but so is the murkiness over who did what and when in baseball over the past several decades. At the end of the day my vote is going to be what was done on the field and the big Texas right-hander did plenty with 354 career wins and a record seven Cy Young Awards.

Barry Bonds, Outfielder: I’m giving the mercurial slugger the same treatment as Clemens. A true five-tool talent, Bonds hit the most home runs (762) of any major leaguer in history and it is reasonable to surmise that he is a top-ten player of all time. The controversy and his reputation for being a difficult personality have not helped him but it is impossible to deny the way his talent impacted the game.

Manny Ramirez, Outfielder: Suspended multiple times for PEDs and a reputation for behavior that could only be described as “Manny being Manny” short changes this all-time great more than it should. Perhaps the best right-handed hitter of the past 50 years, he hit .312 with 555 home runs over his 19-year career. An indifferent fielder at best, his true calling card was his wonderful bat, which terrorized pitchers regularly without prejudice.

Tim Raines, Outfielder: About to fall off the ballot, this vastly underrated player deserves to get in. Spending the bulk of his career in a smaller baseball market (Montreal Expos), he was a terrific defensive player who stole 808 bases and walked more than he struck out in every one of his full seasons except one. The lead-off hitter reached base 3,977 times in his career, still good for 48th all time.

Jeff Bagwell, First Baseman: Unsubstantiated PED rumors and a 15-year career spent entirely with the Houston Astros (without a World Series win) have relegated the right-handed slugger to the bubble of ballots over the past few years. This is a travesty, as he was a true five-tool player and an all-time great. His counting stats (.297, 449 home runs and 2,314 base hits) don’t leap off the page compared to some others in Cooperstown but his career offensive WAR of 74 is 49th all time and his 1,788 runs created are 41st.

Vladimir Guerrero, Outfielder: If Ramirez is the best right-handed hitter of the past 50 years, Guerrero is probably a close second. He hit .318 with 449 home runs in a 16-year career, which ended at the relatively young age of 36 because his body had begun breaking down after years playing on artificial turf in Montreal with the Expos. A notorious bad ball hitter, he was also a surprisingly nimble fielder with a powerful arm. This is his first year on the ballot and as of one of the most memorable and distinctive players in recent memories, he is a shoo-in for me.

Ivan Rodriguez, Catcher: The best catcher of the past generation, he combined jaw-dropping defensive skills with an often-forgotten potent bat that produced a .296 batting average, 2,844 base hits and 311 home runs over a 21-year career. His arm was a marvel, as he led the league in throwing out runners (percentage) nine times and caught 46 percent for his career. He was known for snap throws to the corner bases and catching runners napping with throws from his knees.

Curt Schilling, Pitcher: I am diametrically opposed to many things that Schilling says and stands for but this vote is based on what he did on a baseball diamond, not what he has done off it. A gritty right-handed starter, he won 216 games in his career and was a shutdown force in the postseason, producing an 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA in such contests. His “bloody sock” start in the 2004 ALCS for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees remains one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.

Jeff Kent, Second Baseman: A classic under-the-radar guy, he was a consistent producer during his 17-year career. Unfortunately, he spent his prime playing in the shadow of his larger-than-life teammate, Bonds. At the end of the day, the mustachioed right-hander hit a combined .290 with 377 home runs and 1,518 RBIs, which rank him in the upper echelon among his peers at his position. He was also a steady fielder who deserves more credit for what he did.

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