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Monday, January 21, 2013

Baseball Notes for January 21, 2013

With just three weeks until pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training locations, the baseball offseason is winding down, but it’s not ending with a whimper. This has been one of the more eventful offseasons in recent memory, with constant activity, surprises, and even some quality free agents like Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn still available at this late date.

If the 2013 season can be half as eventful as this winter has been, fans should be in for quite a treat.

Unfortunately, this past week ended with some truly sad news about two baseball legends; considerably darkening this installment of notes.

***The Milwaukee Brewers were dealt a major blow when it was announced that starting first baseman Corey Hart will miss three-to-four months with an injured knee that will require surgery. The mammoth right-handed slugger made a successful transition to first from the outfield last season, hitting .270 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI.

In Hart’s absence, oft-injured Mat Gamel will assume primary first base duties. With Milwaukee already sending 14 players off its 40-man roster to the WBC, losing another veteran only puts the team behind in building its roster and chemistry. The NL Central is no picnic, so hopefully the team can weather the absence of Hart.

***Chicago Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts indicated he is open to reaching out to former team star Sammy Sosa to see if relationships that were fractured when he left the team in 2004 can be mended.

In addition to his connection with PEDs, Sosa left the Cubs on poor terms that saw him arguing with team officials and embroiled in a corked bat controversy. Despite the negativity, his 609 career home runs rank 8th all time, and he is one of the greatest players in Chicago history.

Sosa may not find the forgiveness necessary to land a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame any time soon, but reuniting with the Cubs could be a good first step in repairing his tarnished image. Mark McGwire has found post-scandal success as a major league hitting coach. If he, one of the primary faces of the PED era, can find some measure of redemption, there’s a good chance Sosa can do the same by being drawn back to the Cubs.

***Nearly two months after verbally agreeing to a three-year, $39 million dollar contract with the Boston Red Sox, Mike Napoli finally completed the deal—except now it’s only for one-year and $5 million guaranteed.

After the original agreement, The Red Sox became concerned with Napoli’s hip after he took his team physical. Although he is currently healthy, Boston believes there’s a possibility a hip condition could emerge over time. Weeks of renegotiations took place, with the final result being last week’s resolution.

It’s hard to imagine that Napoli isn’t bitter about losing $34 million. The fact that he agreed to such a reduced deal is indicative he didn’t believe he could do any better by going back out on the open market.

Napoli will enter 2013 as the starting first baseman for the Red Sox. He is able to make up to $13 million for the season if he stays off the disabled list because of hip injuries. It will be interesting to see if he is driven to prove the team wrong and comes out swinging for a monster season, or if the politics of the negotiations soured him on Boston before he ever donned their jersey for the first time.

***While on a Caribbean cruise affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, their former long-time manager, Earl Weaver, sadly passed away at the age of 82.

The 1996 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee managed the Orioles from 1968-1986, winning four AL pennants and the 1970 World Series. He had a career record of 1,480-1,060, and his .582 winning percentage is the fifth-best of all 20th century managers with at least 10 seasons of experience.

Perhaps best known for his fiery temper, especially with umpires, Weaver was much more than a baseball side-show. He was one of the first managers to make extensive use of statistics to create platoons and favorable matchups. He also was an proponent of computers and radar guns to track player performances.

Weaver was conditioned for success, with his teams winning more than 100 games five times during his career. His first losing season in the major leagues was his last season. He was one of the most successful and memorable figures in the game and will be missed by Baltimore and baseball fans alike.

***Later in the day, it was found out that baseball lost another of its legends, as Stan Musial’s family announced Sunday that the all-time St. Louis Cardinals great had died peacefully at home at the age of 92.

During a 22-year major league career spent entirely with the Cardinals, the left-handed Musial was the National League’s answer to Ted Williams, hitting .331 with 475 home runs and 1,951 RBI. He won three MVP awards, seven batting titles, and after his rookie year, was named an All-Star for 20 consecutive seasons. He is in the top-10 all time in WAR, games played, hits, doubles, runs scored, total bases and RBI.

Musial was also known for his consistency. Of his 3,630 career major league hits, 1,815 came at home and 1,815 were on the road.

Unlike Williams, Musial was renowned for being a nice guy. His nickname of “The Man” was for a reason. Popular among fans and fellow players alike, he once even bought a former coach a house to thank him for saving his baseball career when he was a struggling minor league pitcher. Words like “legend” and “titan” shouldn’t be casually tossed around, but those aptly describe Musial. It’s a terrible loss for the game.

***Former major league pitcher Mudcat Grant is also a wonderful singer, and he serenaded Harmon Killebrew at his memorial in 2011 with a rendition of “What a Wonderful World.”It seems rather appropriate to post it again to close out this week’s Baseball Notes in honor of the all-time greats baseball lost this past week. 


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