MLB in Oakland – Fans Come for the Action, Not the Ambiance

Sunday, May 17th, I took in a game at my 28th major league ballpark – as the Oakland Athletics took on the Chicago White Sox at Oakland’s ( Coliseum – and while (at many levels) it wasn’t very pretty, for a baseball fan, it was a pretty good time.

My son-in-law Amir and I had great seats for the Oakland-Chicago contest- (Thanks to my daughter Elan.) Note the tarp covering the third deck seats and "Mount Davis" in the outfield - part of what you get when you're housed in the last facility serving MLB and the NFL.  The A's fans were loud, loyal and knew the game. One fan noted that "Fans come

We had great seats for the Oakland-Chicago contes.  (Thanks go out to my daughter Elan.) Note the tarp covering the third-deck seats and the warehouse-like  “Mount Davis” in the outfield – part of what you get when you’re housed in the last multi-purpose facility serving MLB and the NFL teams. The A’s fans were loud, loyal and knew the game. One fan cautioned  “Don’t expect anything fancy here. Fans come here to see the game – not to be seen at the game.

The A’s came into the game with the major league’s worst record and an MLB-leading 38 errors. In dropping the contest to the ChiSox by a 7-3 margin, the home team added four more errors, and made it 14 consecutive games with at least one fielding miscue. In short, it wasn’t a very pretty game – and it wasn’t played in a very pretty setting.

Like all baseball games, however, there was still plenty to see – and remember.  I’m a fan of the artful 6-4-3 and 4-6-3 double plays – and we got to see one of each. Notably, one of those was started by A’s shortstop Marcus Semien – on a tough short-hop grounder that could easily have handcuffed him. Earlier that same inning (top of the fifth), Semien had made his MLB-leading 13th error.

washington2BBRT Note: Three days after this game, the A’s hired former Twins’ infielder (and former A’s coach and  Rangers’ Manager) Ron Washington to work with the A’s players on their defense. Washington played six seasons with the Twins and also played in the majors with the Dodgers, Orioles, Indians and Astros. In addition, he was an A’s coach for eleven seasons (1996-2007) and managed the Rangers for eight seasons – taking the team to its first World Series in 2010.

Max Muncy, promoted to the A's (from AAA Nashville)  April 25 hit his first MLB home run May 17.

Max Muncy, promoted to the A’s (from AAA Nashville) April 25 hit his first MLB home run May 17.

We also saw an impressive performance by former Athletic Jeff Samardzija, who came to the White Sox from the A’s in an off-season trade that included Semien. Samardzija (pronounce that one) earned the win with a solid eight innings, consistently reaching the mid-90s with his fastball.  In addition, we witnessed a sliver of history, as A’s first baseman Max Muncy rapped his first major league home run – a two-run shot to right center in the bottom of the fourth, just out of the reach of a leaping Adam Eaton. Oakland’s leadoff hitter Billy Burns (great baseball name) stung three singles and “burned”  (couldn’t resist that one) Samardzija and the Sox for his third stolen base. Oakland reliever Dan Otero got a well-deserved mini-standing ovation from A’s fans who appropriately appreciated his 3 1/3 one-hit innings of relief.

But, this post is really more about the Coliseum than the game – which, as you will see as your read on, is a bit ironic.

If you want to step back in time – to an era in which all ballplayers weren’t millionaires, when fans spent the time between innings talking baseball (as opposed to texting or taking selfies), when attending the game was all about the action and not the amenities, when a complete and accurate scorecard was a source of pride, and when a double play was more important than a double martini – the Coliseum may be just the ticket for you. 

As my son-in-law Amir, who joined me at the game, commented, “This ( Coliseum) seems like the home of blue collar baseball.”  And, as I learned from talking to Oakland A’s fans, despite their complaints about the condition of the Coliseum, they take pride in the fact that it is their ballpark, home to their team and “makes the game the thing.”  As I was chatting with fans in the line at the Herradura Bar concession stand (more on that later), a gentleman in a A’s jersey, jeans and an A’s cap cautioned me, “Don’t look for anything fancy here. Fans come here to see the game – not to be seen at the game.”  (The  “like at some other ballparks” seemed implied at the end of his comment.) That turned out to be a wise observation.  From BBRT’s perspective, the A’s deserve (need) a new or at least improved home, but there is an atmosphere at the Coliseum that makes a ball game at a not-so-pretty stadium a pretty good experience. In this post, I’d like to share a few thoughts on my first visit to Oakland’s Coliseum.

The Coliseum (originally known as the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium) opened as the home of the American Football League’s Oakland Raiders in 1966 and began its tenure as a home to Major League Baseball when the Kansas City Athletics moved west in 1968.   While baseball facilities around the major leagues have changed over the years, the Coliseum seems to have remained firmly rooted in the 1960s (or maybe as far forward as the 1970s).  As a long-time Twins’ fan who remembers the days of Metropolitan Stadium (original home to both the Twins and Vikings), my visit to the Coliseum was a somewhat nostalgic journey back in time.

Getting There

First, there’s an old saying that “Getting there is half the fun.”  Clearly not the case for many of today’s urban ballparks. Driving downtown and finding a parking spot (particularly for a midweek day game) can be a frustrating and expensive experience. The good news in Oakland is that getting to the Coliseum is not likely to test your nerves. The ballpark is close to major freeway exits (off Interstate 880) and (like the old Metropolitan Stadium) has its own parking lot ($20).  The ballpark is also accessible via BART, transit buses and even Amtrak has a Coliseum stop. Take public transport and you’ll be traveling to and from the game with a host of other baseball fans.  In short, the Coliseum is one of the most accessible ballparks around.

The Parking Lot

The Oakland experience starts in the parking lot.

The Oakland experience starts in the parking lot.

BBRT suggests that, to get the full Oakland A’s experience, you drive to the game – and pack some food, beverages, music and, if possible, a barbeque grill. This, by the way, is a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that, for many A’s fans, the game-day  experience starts in the parking lot, where tailgating is energetic and popular. The bad news is that, while many MLB facilities have moved into downtown areas, or seen the nearby neighborhoods develop as pre- and post-game food, beverage and entertainment destinations, the Coliseum is firmly entrenched in an industrial park. The parking lot is, out of necessity, the pre-game destination of choice. Translation – Pretty much the only choice.  But, it can be a good one.

Our stroll from the “D” section of the lot again took me back to the early days of the Twins, when the Metropolitan Stadium parking lot would begin to fill up (and the celebration of baseball and Minnesota’s short summer would move into full swing) well before game time.  As you cross the Coliseum’s ample lot, you are pleasantly assailed by the smell of grilling sausages of all ethnicities and the sound of music of nearly all genres. Baseballs, softballs, bean bags and even an occasional football (the Oakland Raiders do share the stadium, after all) fill the air; green and gold Athletics gear provides the color; and an often booming base line is complemented by plenty of laughter and animated baseball conversation. All of this works to get fans truly “ready” for the game ahead.

Inside the Park

Once inside the ballpark, there is again good news and bad news.

Good News: Ticket prices are reasonable (the A’s are in the bottom-third of MLB in terms of average ticket prices and MLB Team Marketing Reports found the A’s to have the sixth-lowest total cost for attending a game. We had great seats – between home plate and third base, just 26 rows from the field – for just $46 each.

More Good News:  The grass is brilliant green, the ball stark white, the sky deep blue and the field in major league shape. Very simply, you are at a baseball game – what could be better (Okay, maybe a doubleheader)?

Bad News:  The fact that the Coliseum is the only remaining stadium to serve an NFL and MLB team does baseball fans no favors.  To reduce seating for baseball (the Coliseum holds approximately 63,000 for football and 35,000 for baseball), the A’s have covered pretty much all of the upper deck seats with a green tarp that appears to have seen better days. (See the photo at the top of the post.)

Even the bullpens are "old school" at the Coliseum - located on the field in the ball parks wide foul territory.

Even the bullpens are “old school” at the Coliseum – located on the field in the ball parks wide foul territory.

Then there is the infamous (among A’s fans) “Mount Davis.” In 1996, additional seating (including luxury boxes) was added in centerfield (part of the efforts to lure the Raiders, who had fled Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982, back to Oakland). These added seats gave baseball fans a center field view worthy (or unworthy) of the stadium’s industrial area location. Oakland fans I talked to reminisced about the previous outfield vista – the hills above the Coliseum – and referred to this outfield section as “Mount Davis” (a negative reference to the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis).

More Bad News:  The stadium’s concrete walls could use a good power washing (both outside and in the concourses) – and it wouldn’t hurt to paint over the graffiti in the restrooms.

Food and Drink

Good News: The A’s have what is likely MLB’s most fan- and family-friendly policy regarding outside food and beverage. You can actually bring in your own food and non-alcoholic beverages. The family of four sitting down the row from us had brought in two shopping bags full of goodies – from sandwiches to chips to soda (plastic bottles – no metal or glass containers).They were munching the whole game – and never reached for their wallets. (I was jealous – and it was a lesson learned for when I get back to Oakland.)

Bad News: If you don’t bring in your own food, the choices (and ambiance) fall short of the unique fare and facilities at many ballparks. (I might be a bit spoiled by the food and facilities at Minnesota’s Target Field – which you can read about by clicking here.)

What could be more "old school" than a Malt Cup (with wooden spoon) balanced on an accurately kept scorecard.

What could be more “old school” than a Malt Cup (with wooden spoon) balanced on an accurately kept scorecard.

Good News:  In January 2014, the Coliseum signed up with a new food service provider and food choices are said to be on the upswing. A few recommendations BBRT received from fans and A’s staff: Visit the “Bar and Grille” in section 215 (sit-down service there); Try the Brick Oven Pizza or Calzones; While at the ballpark, don’t miss the Garlic Fries; If you like ribs, try Ribs & Things (section 104); You can fill up on the Super Chicken Nachos; The double corn dog is a winner.  For BBRT, a visit to the Coliseum cries out for traditional (old school) ballpark fare – hot dogs, polish sausages or brats; Cracker Jack; peanuts; malt cups (with wooden spoons); beer; and maybe a “stretch” to those Super Chicken Nachos – all eaten at your seat, while balancing an accurately maintained scorecard.

Good News:  There are plenty of vendors working the aisles – and, unlike some ballparks, they didn’t seem to disappear in the late innings.  You don’t really have to leave your seat (and scorecard) if you don’t want to.

OakBloodyBad News:  BBRT, as regular readers know, likes to try (and then rate) the Bloody Mary offerings at each ball park.  The Herradura Bar (Section 126) was recommended as a good spot to order up the prerequisite beverage.  How was it?  Look at the photo to the left. Enough said, back to beer and peanuts. For a look at some other ballpark Bloody Marys, click here, here and here.

The Fans

Good News:  It’s all good news here. A’s fans are knowledgeable, loud and love their baseball and their team. They appreciate and applaud good plays by the home team and visiting team, heckle with gusto when appropriate and seem to spend less time on their smart phones than fans I’ve seen at other ball parks. While they are more than willing to express their frustration with the early portion of the 2015 season, they are also quick to acknowledge (and point out) that the A’s have a pretty consistent record of success – and a reputation for getting the most out of their budget and players. (And, they’re right about that. The A’s can look back to first-place finishes in 1971-72-73-74-75-81-88-89-90-92-2000-02-03-06-12-13 and, in 2014, made the post season as an AL Wild Card team).OakRace

In short, the A’s have a reputation for putting a consistently good team on the field. For more on that, rent the movie “Moneyball.”

Ultimately, while attending an Oakland A’s home game may not be that “pretty” – it’s likely to be a pretty good time. I’m looking forward to my next California trip – and hoping the A’s are in town. If you get out that way, I suggest taking in the Oakland A’s experience.

Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals 2015 Electees announced

ReliquaryNewIf you follow Baseball Roundtable, you are probably aware of the fact that BBRT is proud to be a member of The Baseball Reliquary – a free-spirited organization dedicated to celebrating the human side of baseball’s history and heritage.  The Baseball Reliquary is truly a fans’ organization, committed to recognizing baseball’s place in American culture and to honoring the character and characters of the national pastime. The Reliquary pursues that mission through its collection of artifacts, traveling exhibitions, ties to the Whittier College Institute for Baseball Studies and (perhaps, most visibly) through its own version of the Baseball Hall of Fame – the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals.  For more on the Baseball Reliquary, and why you should become a member, click here.

The Reliquary’s Board of Directors recently (May 4) announced its 2015 Shrine of the Eternals electees – each year, the top three vote getters (all Baseball Reliquary members may cast votes) are honored.  The induction ceremony for this 17th Shrine “class” will take place beginning at 2:00 p.m., July 19 in the Pasadena (CA) Central Library’s Donald R. Wright Auditorium.  Before we take a look at this year’s electees,  BBRT would like to share what the Baseball Reliquary has to say about its highest honor.

Similar in concept to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Shrine of the Eternals differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not the principal criterion for election. It is believed that the election of individuals on merits other than statistics and playing ability will offer the opportunity for a deeper understanding and appreciation of baseball than has heretofore been provided by “Halls of Fame” in the more traditional and conservative institutions.

Criteria for election shall be: the distinctiveness of play (good or bad); the uniqueness of character and personality; and the imprint that the individual has made on the baseball landscape. Electees, both on and off the diamond, shall have been responsible for developing baseball in one or more of the following ways: through athletic and/or business achievements; in terms of its larger cultural and sociological impact as a mass entertainment; and as an arena for the human imagination.

The diversity of past honorees is a clear indication that the Baseball Reliquary and its member-voters are living up to the stated criteria. Past inductees include (among others) a one-armed major league outfielder, a pitcher who once threw a no-hitter while high on LSD, a team owner who sent a midget to the plate, a man in a chicken suit, a member of Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club, a manager who won eight World Championships, a surgeon, a labor leader, a statistical wizard and more than one best-selling author.

So, who are the Reliquary’s 2015 electees?  Diversity rules again.  The 2015 Class of the Shrine of the Eternals includes a baseball card designer; a West Coast minor league legend; and an MLBer who faced prejudice with his own brand of courage.

For BBRT, this may go down as the Class of the Killer B’s – (Sy) Berger; (Steve) Bilko; (Glenn) Burke. Here’s a look at the three electees through excerpts (in italics) from the Baseball Reliquary’s announcement.  For more detail, as well as a full listing of nominees and their vote totals, visit the post on the Baseball Reliquary’s web site by clicking here.  At the end of this post, I’ll also include a few comments on 2015 nominees that did not get elected, but did receive BBRT’s vote. Note: BBRT did cast votes for Berger and Burke.


Sy Berger (1923-2014) – “Father of the Modern Day Baseball Card” – 31% of the vote.

bERGERBorn in the Bronx, just blocks from Yankee Stadium, Berger joined the Brooklyn-based Topps Chewing Gum Company as an assistant sales manager in 1947 and headed its sports department for half a century.  During his tenure, he designed and oversaw the production of some of the most innovative and revered baseball cards of all-time.  He is often called the “Father of the Modern Day Baseball Card” for his work on the 1952 Topps baseball set, which he designed (with help from Woody Gelman) on his kitchen table and which for the first time incorporated team logos along with facsimile signatures, statistics, and personal information on the players.  This same format continues to the present day. 

Berger would remain with Topps as an employee for fifty years (1947-1997), and would serve as vice-president, and then consultant and board member.  He was still working as the company’s principle liaison between the players, teams, and leagues until his retirement in 2003.


Steve Bilko (1928-78) – West Coast Minor League Legend – 31% of the vote.

bILKOBilko was not a star in the big leagues.  Over a peripatetic ten-year career, he was a regular for only one season (1953, with the Cardinals), and he appeared in more than 100 games only one other time (1961, with the expansion Angels).  He could hit for power, but struck out too often.  He had no speed.  To explain the lingering mystique of this moon-faced, lumbering first baseman, we must look at the Pacific Coast League, with franchises located along the West Coast and featuring a prolonged weather-friendly playing season, competitive pennant races and playoffs, and a rabidly partisan fan base. 


The PCL produced great baseball until the Dodgers and Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, in 1958.

In those waning years of PCL supremacy, Bilko was the slugging star for the Los Angeles Angels, who wowed fans with mammoth home runs and exceptionally fierce strikeouts.  He led the PCL in home runs for three consecutive seasons from 1955 to 1957, winning the league Triple Crown in 1956 with a .360 average, 55 HRs, and 164 RBI.  He was by far the biggest sports star in Los Angeles history prior to the arrival of the Dodgers. 

Recognizing his popularity with local fans, the Dodgers added Bilko to their roster as a gate attraction for their inaugural campaign in Los Angeles.  The Angels (the American League expansion team) did likewise in 1961, providing Bilko with a final chance to awe the fans at his old haunt, Los Angeles’s Wrigley Field.  For those who saw him play in the PCL, he will always be remembered as a superstar.  That his glory years coincided with the demise of a much-loved league adds a last wistful touch to his legend.

BBRT note: In ten MLB seasons, Bilko played in 600 games and put up a .249-76-276 stat line. In 13 minor league campaigns, he played in 1,533 games – hitting .312, with 313 home runs. As noted above, in 1956, with the Los Angeles Angels, he captured the Pacific Coast League Triple Crown with a .360 batting average, 55 home runs and 164 runs batted in. He followed that up, again for the Angels, with a .300-56-140 season in 1957.  Bilko was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003.

Glenn Burke (1952-95) – Crossing the Barrier of Prejudice – 31% of the vote.

bURKEBurke was a fleet, capable outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics during a four-year major league career from 1976 through 1979.  He was the first big league ballplayer to publicly acknowledge he was gay.  Although his public disclosure came after he had retired, Burke’s sexual preference was well known during his playing days, and he encountered widespread homophobia from locker rooms to board rooms. 

While never given an everyday opportunity with the Dodgers to show his mettle, Burke did make one lasting contribution to popular culture while with the team.  After Dusty Baker’s 30th home run at the end of the 1977 season — a feat which made the Dodgers the only team at that time to have four different players hit 30 or more taters — Burke raised his hands in celebration at home plate.  As Baker crossed the plate he reached up, slapped one, and the high-five was born.  

Having appeared in just over 100 games for Los Angeles during parts of three seasons, Burke was sent packing to Oakland.  Returning to his hometown didn’t make Burke’s life any easier.  A’s manager Billy Martin made public statements about not wanting a homosexual in his clubhouse, a clear reference to Burke.  After just two years with the A’s, Burke quit baseball in frustration.  He became active in amateur athletic competition after baseball, competing in the 1982 and 1986 Gay Games in basketball and track. Burke died of complications from AIDS-related illness in 1995.

A documentary, Out: The Glenn Burke Story, was released in 2010.  

BBRT note: In 2013, Burke was among the first group of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. Burke was also honored at a press conference prior to the 2014 MLB All Star game.  How good could Burke haven been? We’ll never know, but in 600 minor league games, he hit .293, with 48 home runs and 214 stolen bases.

So there’s the 2015 Shrine of the Eternals inductees.  Now here’s a look at those who got BBRT’s vote, but didn’t make the final three.


Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1935 – *)

Johnson was one of three females to play for the Indianapolis Clowns during the declining days of the Negro Leagues.  Johnson took the mound to the Clowns for three seasons (1953-55), running up a 33-8 record.  Her exploits are chronicled in the children’s book A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut Johnson, by Michelle Y. Green.

Rube Waddell (1876-1914)

Rube Waddell is pretty much granted the title of the zaniest player in MLB history – but he was also one of the best (at least when he was focused on the game). Waddell was known to wrestle alligators, leave a ball game to chase a fire engine, miss a game he was scheduled to start because he was fishing or playing marbles with neighborhood kids, bring his outfielders in to sit on the grass and then proceed to fan the side – and frequently do battle with owners and managers.  Waddell was more interested in the freedom to enjoy life and do things his way than money.  But, when Waddell was on his game, he was arguably the best pitcher of his time. The 6’1”, 195-lb. lefty led the AL in strikeouts six consecutive seasons (1902-1907) – by a wide margin.

How good was Waddell?  In 1902, he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in June – making his first start on June 26 (with just 86 games left in the season.) Waddell proceeded to win 24 games (the league’s second-highest total) against seven losses, with a 2.05 ERA.  Perhaps more telling is that, despite his shortened season, he led the AL with 210 strikeouts, fifty more than the runner-up (none other than Cy Young, who had 16 more starts than Waddell).

In 1904, Waddell set a modern (post-1900) MLB record with 349 strikeouts that stood until 1965.  Waddell, elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946, finished with a 193-143, 2.16 line – leading the AL in strikeouts six times, ERA twice, wins once and complete games once. For more on Waddell, BBRT suggests: Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist, by Allan Howard Levy and Just a Big Kid: The Life and Times of Rube Waddell, by Paul Proia.

Pete Reiser (1919-81)

Combine Willie Mays’ skill set (younger folks, think Mike Trout) with Pete Rose’s hustle and Yasiel Puig’s on-field abandon and you have Pete Reiser. In his first MLB full season (CF, Dodgers), a 22-year-old Reiser dazzled defensively and led the NL in runs scored (117), doubles (39), triples (17), batting average (.343), total bases (299) and hit by pitch (11) – tossing in 14 home runs and 76 RBI for good measure. Unfortunately, unpadded outfield walls, helmet-less at bats (the fiery Reiser was a frequent target) and aggressiveness on the base paths (Reiser twice led the NL in stolen bases) took their toll.

In his ten-season career, Reiser endured five skull fractures, a brain injury, a dislocated shoulder and a damaged knee.  He was carted off the field 11 times during his career (six times unconscious) and once actually given last rites at the stadium – and he played on. The three-time All Star retired as a player with a .295 career average, playing in 861 games over ten seasons. No telling what he might have done with padded outfield walls and batting helmets.  Pete Reiser was a true – and talented – gamer. For more on Reiser, try Pete Reiser: The Rough and Tumble Career of the Perfect Ballplayer, by Sidney Jacobson.

Denny McLain (1944- *)

MLB’s last 30-game winner (31-6 for the Tigers in 1968), BBRT views McLain as the Pitcher of the Year in what baseball analysts often refer to as the Year of the Pitcher.  And, he wasn’t a one- year wonder.  McLain won 20 or more games three times, captured two Cy Young Awards (1968-69) and one AL MVP Award (1968).  McLain, who ran up a 131-91, 3.39 record in ten MLB seasons, was a colorful and complex a character off the field and on.  His life experience provides a tale of ups and downs – from being selected the 1968 Associate Press Male Athlete of the Year and Sporting News Major League Player of the Year to a six-year prison stint.

McLain is likely the only former major leaguer whose bio includes such varied terminology as MVP, Cy Young Award, All Star game starting pitcher, World Series opening game starter – as well as pilot, Capitol Records recording artist, talk show host, author and ex-con.  McLain’s story gives baseball fans plenty to talk about – and you can learn more by reading I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect, by Denny McLain and Eli Zaret.

Oh, and just one more bit on Denny McLain.  He started the 1966 All Star game (vs. Sandy Koufax) and retired all nine batters he faced (Mays, Clemente, Aaron, McCovey, Santo, J. Torre, Lefebvre, Cardenas, Flood) on just 28 pitches –striking out Mays, Aaron and Torre.  That alone justifies consideration for the Shrine of the Eternals.

Effa Manley (1900-81)

The first woman enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, during the 1930s and 1940s, Manley ran the day-to-day operations of the Negro National League Newark Eagles (owned by her husband Abe Manley) – at a time when baseball, on the field and in the executive offices, was considered a “man’s domain.”  Effa, often thought of as a light-skinned black, was actually white.  She, however, grew up with a black stepfather and mixed-race siblings and was active in the New Jersey branch of the NAACP and Citizen’s League for Fair Play.  Effa Manley deserves recognition for overcoming both racial and sexual barriers as she exercised leadership in the national pastime.

David Mullany (1908-90)

David Mullany was the inventor of the Wiffle® Ball (1953), which ultimately changed backyard baseball for millions of young (and old) players and fans. I know I loved my white perforated plastic ball and yellow plastic bat – and played more than one backyard World Series opener with them (without shattering a single window).  Today, there are Wiffle Ball fields, leagues and tournaments.  The company is still operated by the Mullany family and you can learn more by visiting their website (

Charles M. Conlon (1868-1945)

One of the greatest baseball photographers ever, Conlon produced a tremendous library of portraits and action photos of baseball’s greats, near greats and also-rans. Conlon’s 1909 photograph of Ty Cobb sliding into third base with spikes flying and teeth clenched is considered by many to be the greatest baseball action picture ever taken. His photos appeared regularly in such publications as The Sporting News, Baseball Magazine, and the Spalding and Reach Base Ball Guides, but it was the 1993 book, Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon that finally brought the full impact of his contributions to the fore.

Vic Power (1927-2005)

In 1963, baseball held it first and only Latino All Star Game – October 12 at New York City’s Polo Grounds – featuring such Hispanic stars as Juan Marichal, Roberto Clemente, Louis Aparicio, Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso, Felipe Alou, Orlando Cepeda and Vic Power.  In pre-game ceremonies, Vic Power was honored as the number-one Latino player – such was the power and popularity of Vic Power.

During his 12-year MLB career, Power proved a capable hitter (.284 lifetime average) and a flashy fielder, who won seven consecutive Gold Gloves at first base. Power’s contribution to the game went much further, however, Power served as mentor to many of the Latino/Hispanic player entering major league baseball in the 1950s and 1960s. Power was a trailblazer for today’s generation of Latino stars.

John Young (1949-*)

A 6’3”, 210-pound, left-handed first baseman, John Young hit .325, with four home runs, 60 RBI and 26 stolen bases (in 29 attempts) in 99 games at Single A Lakeland (Tigers’ farm team) as a twenty-year old (in 1969). The first-round draft choice (16th overall in the 1969 draft)  truly looked like a player with promise – and, in fact, enjoyed a big league cup of coffee with the Tigers in 1971 (two games, four at bats, two hits, one run, one RBI, one double). A wrist injury derailed his playing career, but didn’t dampen his love for the game and he went on to a long career as a scout. It was during his scouting days that Young developed a concern for the decline of baseball among young people – particularly in the inner cities.  In response, Young came up with the concept for the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program. Officially launched in 1989, the RBI program is now supported by all thirty MLB clubs and is active in more than 200 communities – annually providing more than 260,000 youngsters the opportunity to play baseball and softball. (The program also includes educational and life skills components.) A few RBI alumni in the major leagues include: Carl Crawford, Justin Upton, CC Sabathia, James Loney and Manny Machado.

So, there’s my 2015 Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals ballot – and I’m already looking forward to next year.


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Catch of the Day – Worth Another Look

Twenty-six years ago today (April 26, 1989), Giants’ left fielder Kevin Mitchell made a spectacular bare-handed catch of a long line drive – ironically off the bat of Saint Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Ozzie Smith, an eventual 13-time Gold Glove winner known for his truly acrobatic play in the infield. BBRT thinks it’s worth another look.  Hope you enjoy it.  Note: Mitchell was better known for his bat than his glove.  He was the NL MVP in 1989, leading the league in home runs (47) and RBI (125), while hitting .291.  

Oh, and just to show I wasn’t exaggerating about Smith being “acrobatic” in the field, here’s another little video snippet.


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Twins Opening Day – From Festive to Restive

As the game time approaches, the sun seems a little brighter, the sky a little bluer, the grass a shade greener.  Once the game begins, the ball hops off the bat with an especially sharp crack, the pitches seem to have more zip and whir-r-r than ever and the fielders move with a unique combination of grace and energy.  In the stands, the beer is crisp and cold and the hot dogs steam in the cool of early spring.  The fans cheer on their old and new heroes and follow this opening contest with pennant race intensity – the most intense among them logging each play in the new season’s first scorecard.   Baseball Is Back!

                                                      Baseball Roundtable … March 26, 2013


OD scoreboard

April 13 was the Minnesota Twins 2015 (Home) Opening Day and, as usual, the Twins did it up right – to a point.  


BBRT note: The Twins came into their home opener six games into the season and already five games out of first place, so the level of optimism may not have been quite as prevalent as at some earlier Minnesota home openers – but the excitement surrounding the thought that Baseball Is Back still ran high.  

As is tradition, the day started with free breakfast on the Twins Plaza – and what says spring and baseball more than hot dogs, chips and ice cream in the morning, especially when accompanied by blue skies, plenty of sunshine and Twins’ mascot TC the Bear.  Breakfast was served from 6-9 a.m., with additional festivities (music and concessions) planned on the Plaza and at the Target Field (light rail) Station beginning at noon  The Plaza started to fill up before noon (the gates opened at 1 p.m.) – with nearby eating and drinking establishments, as well as parking lots, drawing big crowds even earlier.  (A word of advice from BBRT, when the Twins have a sell out – and this game was sold out – on a work day, get downtown early if you don’t want to spend some time looking for parking.)

The mood was festive, with most of the crowd outfitted in Twins-identified gear, concessions stands on the Plaza doing a brisk business and DJ Madigan spinning plenty of upbeat tunes from the balcony above the crowd.  (The mood would later go from festive to restive, but we’ll get to that.  Let’s enjoy the moment for now.) Photos with the various statues of Twins’ heroes or sitting in the “big glove” seemed the order of the day.

The Twins hoodies proved a popular Opening Day giveaway - for all 40,000+ fans.

The Twins hoodies proved a popular Opening Day giveaway – for all 40,000+ fans.

By one p.m., the Plaza was full of happy fans waiting for another Target Field Opening Day tradition, the opening of the gates by Twins’ legends.  What better way to enter the ballpark then through a gate opened that day by the likes of Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek or Tom Kelly?  To top it off, once you got past the metal detectors, you were handed a free Twins hooded sweatshirt – a true Minnesota-focused promotion.  For a look at BBRT’s post on 2015 Twins’ promotions (and some unique items other teams are giving away), click here.  Day one of the 81-game home season was off to a great start.

Once inside the ballpark, fans rushed not to find their seats, but rather to secure a seat or place in line at one of Target Field’s many food and beverage locations. From Hrbek’s to Barrio to the Town Ball Tavern and from Red Cow to Kramarczuk’s to Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen, they were all kept busy – and for good reason, the food and drink options at Target Field remain exceptional.  (For BBRT’s recent post on 2015’s new Target Field food and beverage offerings click here.)

Shrimp corn Dogs - new ballpark food.

Shrimp corn Dogs – new ballpark food.

I made my way to Hrbek’s, where the new College Daze Bloody Mary – garnished with everything from cheese to pepperoncini to a slice of pepperoni pizza – was proving quite popular.  It seemed mandatory to have your picture taken with the new drink before consuming it.  I’m sure social media, like the tip of the pizza slice, was saturated.  My pre-game choice was the Shrimp Corn Dogs – jumbo shrimp (served on skewers) fried in jalapeno corn batter with a Chili Lime Aioli for dipping ($15).  Great shrimp flavor, just enough “zing” and a complementary tart sauce; and light enough to leave room for the obligatory Opening Day (old school) hot dog later in the day.

Then, with my freshly purchased scorecard in hand, I went in search of my seat – Section 213, Row 1, Seat 14 – and was pleasantly surprised.  I was just to the right of home plate, second deck, first row; and the view of the field was great.  It was also, particularly for Minnesota, a perfect day for an Opener.  Game time temps above 60 degrees, sunny, clear blue sky with just enough clouds to give it some depth.  And, as always seems to be the case on Opening Day, the grass was crisp green, the batting practice balls stark white and all the colors in the stadium (logos, bunting, base lines, etc.) especially vibrant.

As we all waited for game time, we enjoyed: a brief performance by recording artist Shawn Mendes; the introduction of both teams (players, coaches, videographers, trainers, etc.); the National Anthem (actress and singer Greta Oglesby), with two American Bald Eagles from the Minnesota Raptor Center present and a follow-up flyover by a pair of Minnesota Air National Guard F-16 fighters.

Meeting the team is an Opening Day tradition. The loudest and longest ovations went to Torii Hunter, Joe Maue and Brian Dozier.

Meeting the team is an Opening Day tradition. The loudest and longest ovations went to Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier.

BBRT would note here that the largest ovation during the introductions went to Torii Hunter (starting in right field), returning to the Twins after seven years (Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers). The 39-year-old Hunter previously starred in center field for Minnesota (six-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All Star while with the Twins) and the team won four division titles during his tenure.  The fans clearly loved his style and his smile – and the applause intensified when this quote from the returning Twin appeared on the scoreboard: “This is where I need to be.  This is home to me.”

BBRT: Hunter’s popularity was also evidenced by the large number of new and old “Hunter – 48” jerseys in the crowd.  Sitting next to me were a father and son (about 2 ½ years old) in matching new (no pin stripes, the little extra gold trim) Hunter home jerseys.  Although, I must say, the youngster cheered loudest for his personal hero – Brian Dozier.

Notably, another returnee to the Twin Cities joined Hunter in throwing out the first pitch, as the crowd welcomed back the newest Timberwolves’ player Kevin Garnett – a member of the T-Wolves during their most successful seasons and now back with Minnesota after playing with the Boston Celtics (2007-13) and Brooklyn Nets (2013-15). Note: Garnett was a member of the Timberwolves from 1995-2007); and a ten-time All Star and NBA MVP (2004) during that time. Minnesotan Tyus Jones, who recently helped lead Duke to the NCAA National Basketball Championship, delivered the baseball to Garnett on the mound, and Garnett threw the ceremonial first pitch to Hunter.  All three hometown heroes received rousing ovations – and the pre-game excitement continued to ratchet up.

We saw a few too many "meetings on the mound" on Opening Day.

We saw a few too many “meetings on the mound” on Opening Day.

I won’t go into much detail about the game – a 12-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals – it’s been well dissected in the traditional and social media. Let’s just say it started out pretty well for the home team, with the Twins scoring first (Kenny Vargas singling home the doubling Brian Dozier with two outs in the bottom of the first); was fairly crisply played over the first five frames (Twins trailing 2-1 after five); got a little shaky in the sixth, with starting pitcher Trevor May giving up a single and two doubles to the first three hitters and Hunter making a throwing error (still, after seven innings the Twins were down by only 5-3); came completely unraveled in the eighth inning, when Minnesota used four pitchers and Kansas City scored six runs on two hits, three walks, two hit batsmen, an error and a passed ball.  Ouch!  It was at this time that the fans – many heading for the exits – finished the move from festive to restive.  Needless to say, it was pretty quiet – and a bit lonely – in the bottom of the ninth.

Fortunately, in baseball you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on today’s loss (or celebrate a win).  Unfortunately, the Twins have an off day today (Tuesday), but tomorrow they’ll be back at it and working to right the ship.  And, we’ll all have to keep in mind, it’s early and there is always something to see (and, these days, eat and drink) at the ballpark. For example, yesterday Twins’ third baseman Trevor Plouffe started a nifty 5-4-3 double play to end the fourth inning and homered to lead off the bottom of the seventh.  The simple fact is “Baseball Is Back” and we should all enjoy it!

Now, just so I don’t leave my Twins fan readers sharing only the frustration of a 12-3 loss.  Here are a trio of events from the first week of the season that caught BBRT’s attention:

  • On April 7, Oakland 3B Brett Lawrie had a tough night. Lawrie came to the plate four times in the A’s 3-1 loss to the Rangers and struck out four times – on a total of just twelve pitches. Lawrie faced three different pitchers, had a nice balance of six called strikes and six swinging strikes and whiffed on a combination of one fastball (the first pitch he faced), three curves and eight sliders. His final swinging strike also marked the final out of the contest.
  • TheYankees-Red Sox game of April 10 really aged New York first baseman Mark Teixeira. The 19-inning game started at 7:05 p.m. on Friday (April 10) and ended at 2:13 a.m. on Saturday (April 11). Teixeira (born on April 11, 1980) started the game as a 34-year-old, and finished it at age 35.
  • On Saturday April 11, Arizona Diamonbacks’ rookie pitcher Archie Bradley – in his first-ever MLB appearance – drew the unenviable task of facing reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. Bradley pitched six shutout innings for the victory (one hit, four walks, six strikeouts). You might think a rookie beating the reigning Cy Young Award winner in his first start is what attracted BBRT’s attention, but that would be wrong. Bradley was the fifth rookie pitcher to make his first MLB start against a reigning CYA winner and the fourth to earn a victory. What got BBRT’s attention was Bradley’s single off Kershaw in bottom of the second inning. Since Bradley didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning, the young pitcher actually collected his first major league before he gave up his first major league hit.  I like that kind of stuff.


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Ten Reasons Why I Love Baseball

I’m currently on a road trip – helping my daughter and son-in-law move to Davis, California – so new posts are less frequent.  BBRT will be back in full swing in early December (or sooner). In the meantime, here’s an encore presentation of the first words I wrote for this page – a look at why I love baseball (and why BBRT exists). Hope you like it!

1.  Baseball comes along every spring,  accompanied by sunshine and optimism.

Baseball is the harbinger of better times.  It signifies the end of winter (not a small thing if you’re from Minnesota like BBRT) and the coming of spring, a season of rebirth, new life and abundant optimism.   Each season, you start with a clean slate.   Last year’s successes can still be savored, but last year’s failures can be set aside (although rival fans may try to refresh your memory), replaced by hope and anticipation.   On Opening Day, in our hearts, we can all be in contention.

 2.  The pace of the game invites contemplation.

Between innings, between batters or pitchers, and even between pitches, baseball leaves us time to contemplate what just occurred, speculate on what might happen next and even share those thoughts with nearby spectators.  Baseball is indeed a thinking person’s game.

3.  Baseball is timeless and, ultimately, fair in the offering of opportunity.

The clock doesn’t run out.  There is no coin flip to determine who gets the ball first in sudden death overtime.  No matter what the score, your team gets its 27 outs and an equal opportunity to secure victory.  What could be more fair?   And then there is the prospect of endless “extra” innings, bonus baseball for FREE.

4.  Plays and players are distinct (in space and time).

Baseball, while a game of inches, is also a game of considerable space.   The players are not gathered along an offensive line or elbow-to-elbow under a basket. They are widely spaced, each with his own area of responsibility and each acting (as part of a continuing play) in their own time frame.  (The first baseman can’t catch the ball, for example, until after the shortstop throws it.)   This enable fans to follow, understand  and analyze each play (maybe not always accurately) in detail.   And, baseball’s distinct spacing and timing makes it possible to see the game even when you are not there.  A lot of people grinned at President Gerald Ford’s comment that he “watched a lot of baseball on the radio.”  In my view, he was spot on.  You can see baseball on the radio – you can create a “visual” of the game in your mind with minimal description.    That’s why on summer nights, in parks, backyards and garages across the country, you’ll find radios tuned to the national past time.

 5. The scorecard.

Can there be anything more satisfying than keeping an accurate scorecard at the ball park?  It serves so many purposes.  The keeping of a scorecard ensures your attention to the happenings on the field.  Maintaining the score card also makes you, in a way understandable only to fellow fans, more a part of the game.   That magical combination of names, numbers and symbols also enables you to go back and check the progress of the game at any time.  “Oh, Johnson’s up next.  He’s walked and grounded out twice.”  It’s also a conversation starter, when the fan in the row behind you asks, “How many strikeouts does Ryan have today?”   And, it leaves you (if you choose to keep it) with a permanent record of the game, allowing you to replay it in your mind (or share it with others) at will.  Ultimately, a well-kept score card enhances the game experience and offers a true post-game sense of accomplishment.

6.  The long season.

Baseball, so many have pointed out, is a marathon rather than a sprint.  It’s a long season with ample opportunity to prove yourself and lots of chances to redeem yourself.  For fans, the long season also represents a test of your passion for the game.  Endurance is part of the nature of the true baseball fan.  And, and in the end, the rigors of a 162-game season prove your mettle and that of your team.   Not only that, but like a true friend … baseball is there for you every day.

 7.  Baseball invites, encourages, even demands , conversation.

Reason number two hinted at the importance of conversation, noting that the pace of the game offers time to contemplate the action (past and future) and share those thoughts with others.   I love that about the game, but I also love the fact that whenever baseball fans gather, their passion comes out in conversation – and they find plenty to talk about:

  •  Statistics,  statistics, statistics.  Baseball and its fans will count anything.  Did you know that Yankee Jim Bouton’s hat flew off 37 times in his 2-1, complete-game victory over the Cardinals in game three of the 1964 World Series?  More seriously, statistics are part of a common language and shared passion that bring baseball fans together in spirited conversation.  As best-selling author Pat Conroy observed “Baseball fans love numbers.  They love to swirl them around in their mouths like Bordeaux wine.”  I agree, to the fan, statistics are intoxicating.
  • Stories, stories, stories.  Baseball and its fans celebrate the game’s history.  And, I’m not talking just about statistics.  I’m talking about the stories that give this great game color, character and characters.  Ty Cobb sharpening his spikes on the dugout steps, Babe Ruth’s called shot, Louis Tiant’s wind-up, Willie Mays’ basket catch, Dock Ellis’s LSD-fueled no-hitter.
  • Trivia, trivia, trivia.  This may fall close to the “stories, stories , stories” category, but fans cherish the trivia that surrounds our national past time – whether that trivia is iconic or ironic.  For example, it’s ironic that the iconic Babe Ruth holds the best winning percentage against the Yankees of any pitcher with 15 or more decision against them (17-5, .773).

Basically, I took a long time to say I love the fact that baseball fans will talk with passion about something that happened in today’s game, yesterday’s game, over time or even in a game that took place on August 4, 1947.  And, as a bonus, all this conversation – all the statistics, stories and trivia – make the games, moments within the games and the characters of the game (heroes, goats and mere participants) as timeless as baseball itself.

 8.  The box score. 

BBRT editor’s  mother used to refer to an accordion as “an orchestra in a box.”  That’s how I view the daily box score – the symphony of a game recorded in a space one-column wide by four inches deep.   Some would say the box score reduces the game to statistics, I would say it elevates the game to history.  What do you want to know about the contest?   Who played where, when?  At bats, hits, stolen bases, strikeouts, errors, caught stealing, time, attendance, even the umpires’ names?   It’s all there and more – so much information, captured for baseball fans in a compact and orderly space.  I am, of course, dating myself here, but during baseball season, the morning newspaper, through its box scores, is a treasure trove of information for baseball fans.

 9. The irony of a team game made up of individual performances.

While baseball and baseball fans live for individual statistics and, while the spacing of the players drives individual accountability, the game is, ironically, deeply dependent on the concept of “team.”

Consider the offense.  Unlike other sports , where you can deliver victory by giving the ball or puck – time and time again (particularly as the clock runs down) –  to your best runner, skater, receiver or shooter, in baseball, your line-up determines who will be “on the spot” and at the plate when the game is on the line.  It may be your .220-hitting second basemen, rather than your .320-hitting outfielder.  Yet, even as the team depends on the hitter, he is totally alone in his individual battle with the pitcher.  And, achieving individual statistics that signify exceptional performance also demands a sense of team.  You don’t score 100 runs without a team mate to drive you in (although the statistic remains your measure of performance) …  and, you don’t drive in 100 runs if no one gets on base in front of you.   And, can you think of any other sport that keeps track of – and honors – the team-oriented “sacrifice.”

On defense, the story is the same.  A ground ball pitcher, for example, needs a good infield behind him to optimize his statistical presence in the “win” column.  And the six-four-three double play requires masterful teamwork as well as individual performance –  duly recorded in the record books as an assist for the shortstop, a putout and an assist for the second baseman and a put out for the first baseman.  Then there is the outfield assist – a perfect throw from a right fielder to nail a runner at third earns an assist – even if the third baseman drops the ball and earns an error.  Two individual results (one good / one bad) highlighted, but without the necessary team work – a good play on both ends – a negative outcome in terms of the game.

Ultimately, baseball is a game of individual accomplishments that must be connected by the thread of “team” to produce a positive outcome.

10. Baseball’s assault on the senses.  (Indoor ballparks fall a bit short here).

The sight of a blue sky and bright sun above the ballpark or a full moon over a black sky above a well-lit stadium.  The feel of the warm sun or a crisp evening breeze.  The scent of freshly mowed grass or steaming hot dogs.  The taste of cold beer and peanuts.  The sound of the crack of the bat, the cheers (or moans) of the crowd, the musical pitch of the vendors.  Baseball assaults all the senses ―  in  a good way.

Now, I could go on and on, there are lots more reasons to love this game: its combination of conformity (all infields are laid out the same) and individualism (outfield configurations not so much); its contributions to culture (literature and movies); its strategy (hit-and-run, run-and-hit, sacrifice bunts, infield / outfield positioning, pitching changes, etc.); triples; the 6-4-3 double play; knuckleballs; and more.  But to protect myself – and BBRT’s readers – I’ve limited myself to ten.   I probably could have saved a lot of time and words  had I just started with this so-perfect comment from sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, “The other sports are just sports.  Baseball is love.”  That says it all.

Do you have some reasons of your own for loving baseball?  Or something to add to these observations?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

American Association Rules Change – Is It April Fools Day?

Take your base - it's free!

Take your base – it’s free!

The American Association (independent league) recently announced a new “extra-inning tiebreaker rule” – to go into effect in the 2015 season. The basics of the rule are that, after 10 innings, each half inning will start with the team at bat having a base runner at second base (apparently this rule is already in place in the International Baseball Federation and Can-Am League).  The player placed on second will be the player in the line-up immediately before the scheduled lead-off hitter for that half inning.  If the player starting the inning on second base comes around to score, the tally will count (statistically) as a run for the player and (if appropriate under normal rules) an RBI for the batter who drove him in, but it will NOT count towards the pitcher’s earned-run average.

Maybe BBRT is just too “old school,” but I actually checked to make sure this change wasn’t announced on April first.  This is a short rant, but let me just say, “No-o-o-o!”  (Note: As a fan of the American Association’s Saint Paul Saints. I take a special interest in this rule change.)

June 4, 1972 – The Day of the Pitcher (and how the game has changed)

Bob Gibson – Pitcher of the Day on the Day of the Pitcher

Threw a complete game shutout – and hit a Two-Run homer. 


There is no doubt 1968 “earned” its reputation as “The Year of the Pitcher.”  Witness the Tigers’ Denny McLain’s 31 wins (versus six losses) and 1.96 ERA, the 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts rung up by the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson, or the fact that Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox claimed the American League batting crown with a .301 average. To put the frosting on the cake, McLain and Gibson not only captured their respective league Cy Young Awards, but were both recognized as league MVP as well.

Well, if 1968 was the Year of the Pitcher, June 4, 1972 (42 years ago, today) was “The Day of the Pitcher.” On that date, with sixteen MLB games scheduled, a record eight resulted in shutouts – and the pitchers who took the mound across MLB that day combined for a collective 2.78 ERA.

I’ll look at those record eight whitewashes in more detail, but first a few tidbits that show just how much the game has changed.

  • It was a Sunday and the day featured doubleheaders at Baltimore, Chicago (White Sox), Kansas City and San Francisco.  (I really miss Sunday doubleheaders.)
  • Despite the fact that five games featured 10 or more total runs scored, 11 of the 16 games finished in under 2 ½ hours (four in under 2 hours), and the longest game was 3 hours and 9 minutes. (And, there were no challenges or instant replays.)
  • The average length of the 16 games was 2 hours and 35 minutes.
  • Pitchers went to the plate in every game, collecting 13 hits (78 at bats), two walks, three doubles, and one home run.  Overall, hurlers scored three runs and drove in ten. (I still do not like the DH.)
  • There were eight complete games, not all in the shutouts. (Pitch counts did not dominate commentary.)
  • There were six saves recorded that day – and, in four of those saves, the closing reliever pitched two or more innings.

The Shutouts

Now, here’s a look at the record-setting eight shutouts – which, by the way, were not good news for the fans in attendance – only one home team was on the right end of the whitewashing.

Oakland at Baltimore (Doubleheader … 2-0 & 2-0 … Oakland wins both)

Oakland set the tone at Baltimore, blanking the Orioles by the identical score of 2-0 in both games of a doubleheader. In each game, the A’s scored twice in the top of the first inning for the only runs in the contest.

In game one, the scoring was over after the first four batters.  SS Marty Martinez led off the game with a walk, LF Joe Rudi singled, Martinez scored on a single by RF Reggie Jackson and then Rudi came home as 3B Sal Bando hit into a short-to-second-to-first double play.  No more runners crossed the plate for either team. Dave Hamilton picked up the win (to go 2-0) with six innings of six-hit ball (no walks, one strikeout), Rollie Fingers picked up a hold (2/3 of an inning, one hit) and Darold Knowles earned his second save f the season with 2 1/3 scoreless innings (one hit, four strikeouts).  Doyle Alexander (3-2) took the loss for the O’s, despite pitching seven innings of two-run ball.

Catfish Hunter faced only 28 batters in his two-hit shutout (no walks, one double play). Allowed no base runners after the third inning.

Catfish Hunter faced only 28 batters in his two-hit shutout (no walks, one double play). Allowed no base runners after the third inning.

In game two, Sal Bando hit a two-run home run with two-out in the first inning to account for all the game’s scoring (SS Bert Campaneris had led off the inning with a double). Catfish Hunter (6-2) got the win with a complete game two-hitter (no walks, and four strikeouts). Mike Cueller (2-5), who gave up two runs in six innings, took the loss.

Cincinnati at Philadelphia (2-0 … Reds win)

Another 2-0 shutout, this one in Philadelphia – and, again, the scoring was over in the top of the first inning, this time after just three batters. Reds’ lead-off hitter LF Pete Rose started the game with a single off the Phlllies’ Bill Champion (who took the loss to go 3-3 on the season), CF Bobby Tolan followed with another single and then C Johnny Bench rapped a two-run double – scoring over.

The Reds Jack Billingham (3-4) got the win, throwing 7 2/3 innings of six-hit ball (no walks, six strikeouts), Relief was provided by Tommy Hall (1/3 inning, one hit, one strikeout) and Clay Carroll (one inning, one hit, one strikeout), who earned his tenth save.

Minnesota at Detroit (3-0 … Tigers win)

The Tigers topped the Twins 3-0 at Detroit behind Tim Timmerman’s (4-4) complete-game four-hitter (one walk, six strikeouts) – one of just two shutouts in Timmerman’s six MLB seasons.  Bert Blyleven (7-4), who would throw sixty complete-game shutouts in his 22-year career, took the loss in a game that was scoreless until the bottom of the seventh. Blyleven gave up just two hits in seven innings of work (one walk, six strikeouts), but one was a seventh-inning, two-run home run by Detroit CF Mickey Stanley (following a hit batter, RF Jim Northrup).

Boston at Kansas City (4-0 … Red Sox win)

In the first game of a doubleheader, Boston beat Kansas City 4-0 behind John Curtis (2-0). Curtis fashioned a complete-game seven-hitter (two walks, five strikeouts). The losing pitcher for the Royals was Mike Hedlund (0-5), who gave two runs on six hits in two innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the second.  Kansas City took the second game of the twin bill 7-5.

Texas at Milwaukee (10-0 … Rangers win)

Rich handRich Hand (2-3) had the shortest – and least effective – work day of any of the winning starters in this day of shutouts.  Hand, who was having control problems, pitched five scoreless innings – giving up four hits and five walks, while fanning one batter. Hand pitched out of trouble in the fourth inning (getting a line-drive double play with the bases loaded and one out) and fifth inning (a fly ball out with the bases loaded, thanks to three walks). When he walked the first hitter in the sixth, Hand’s day was done. Mike Paul came on to throw two-innings of scoreless relief (no hits, two walks, three strikeouts) and Horacio Pena finished up (two innings, two hits, no walks, two whiffs) for his eighth save. The game as never in doubt, as Texas scored six runs on six hits, two walks and an error in the top of the first. Brewers’ starter Skip Lockwood (2-5) lasted just 2/3 of an inning, giving up six runs on five hits and two walks. Notably, Texas collected a total of 14 hits in the game – 13 singles and a double.

Saint Louis at Los Angeles (4-0 … Cardinals win)

Cardinals’ fire-baller Bob Gibson (3-5) shut down the Dodgers 4-0 in LA – throwing a complete-game five hitter, with one walk and six strikeouts. Gibson added insult to injury by belting a two-run homer in the top of the ninth.  Saint Louis 3B Joe Torre also homered in the game (fifth inning). Losing pitcher Claude Osteen (6-3) didn’t pitch badly, giving up two runs in six innings on seven hits (two walks and three K’s). Gibson would finish the year 19-11, 2.46, while Osteen would go 20-11. 2.64.

Houston at Montreal (5-0 … Astros win)

Houston’s Don Wilson (4-4) went the distance in this one – a two-hitter, with two walks and six strikeouts. The game was a lot closer than the score would indicate, as Montreal starter Carl Morton (who took the loss to go to 2-6) matched Wilson zero-for-zero through seven innings. Then, with two out in the eighth, Morton gave up a solo home run to Houston CF Cesar Cedeno (his fourth of the season).  Morton’s line in a losing cause was eight innings, five hits, one run, two walks, and one strikeout.  Things came apart in the ninth, when Montreal brought in Mike Marshall. Marshall retired only one batter while giving up two walks, three hits and four runs. John Strohmayer finished up for the Expos.


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Instant Replay Too Long? How About A Run Added Three Innings Later?

Even these guys need to consult the rule book sometimes.

Even these guys need to consult the rule book sometimes.

Are you, like me, dismayed by “instant” replay decisions that are occasionally taking four minutes or more? How about a ruling that took three innings?

In an April 28, 2007, game at Cleveland, the Baltimore Orioles were awarded a run, on an overturned umpire’s ruling, three innings after the base runner crossed the plate.  It was a situation that tested the “language of the law.”

It all started with the game tied 1-1 in the top of the third.  With Jeremy Sowers on the mound for the Indians, Orioles’ lead-off hitter and second baseman Brian Roberts singled past third base and then stole second. Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora then walked (putting runners on first and second). Right fielder Nick Markakis followed with a weak grounder to Indians’ shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who tossed to Josh Barfield at second for the force out (remember that term – “force out”).  On the play, Roberts moved to third base and Markakis was safe at first on a fielder’s choice. Next up was Orioles’ clean-up hitter and shortstop Miguel Tejada, who singled to right, scoring Roberts and sending Markakis to third.

Then the fun began. With Markakis on third and Tejada on first with one. Orioles’ catcher Ramon Hernandez laced a line drive to center field that looked like a sure base hit. Speedy Indians’ outfielder Grady Sizemore, however, made a diving catch. Markakis tagged up, headed for home and appeared to cross the plate before Tejada, who had been off with the hit, was doubled off first. Plate umpire Marvin Hudson waved off the run – apparently in line with the rule that if the third out of an inning is recorded on a force out (or by a batter who failed to reach first) a run cannot score on the play,

No one protested at the time, the call stood and the game continued.  In the top of the fourth, however, Orioles’ coach Tom Trebelhorn raised concerns about the ruling with the umpires.   The game continued and, between innings, so did the umpires’ discussion of the call. After considerable discussion and a check of the rulebook, the umpires’ – in the sixth inning – put the Markakis’ third-inning run on the scoreboard. This prompted the Indians to play the game under protest, not because of the ultimate ruling, but on its timing. Cleveland maintained the run could not be added after the game had continued.

What was all the confusion?  It comes to those key words “force out.”  First, we can set aside the rule that a run cannot score on a play if the third out is recorded by a batter failing to reach first base.  The catch of Hernandez’ fly was the second out.  But what about the stipulation that a run cannot score if the final out of an inning is a force out.  Here’s where the language of the law comes into play. The rules define a force situation as occurring when a base runner is forced to leave his time-of-pitch base because the batter has become a runner. A runner at first base is forced to attempt to advance to second base when the batter becomes a runner and runners at second or third base are forced to advance when all bases preceding their time-of-pitch base are occupied by other base runners (who are also forced to advance). However, a runner who fails to tag up and is thrown out, even though he is required to retreat to his time-of-pitch base and a tag is unecessary, is not considered to have been retired through a  forced out.  Therefore, since Markakis touched home plate before Tejeda was doubled off first (his time-of-pitch base), the run counted.

By the way, the Indians protest was denied on the grounds that, since the umpires’ error involved specific rules and not a judgment call, and because there was nothing in the Official Baseball Rules to address exactly when umpires can make a such a correction, the umpires could correct the mistake retroactively.

For those with the need to know, Baltimore won the game 7-4.


I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Twins’ Opening Day 2014 – Winter Is OVER!

This part of Opening Day was exciting!

This part of Opening Day was exciting!

Minnesota winter is officially OVER – and we can thank Mother Nature and the Minnesota Twins.  BBRT was in the stands yesterday (April 7) – third deck behind home plate – as the Minnesota Twins opened their home season with an 8-3 loss to the visiting A’s.  Despite the disappointing outcome, it was baseball that counted, the field was in great shape (just three days ago about a half-foot of snow fell on the Twin Cities), the beer was cold, the hot dogs hot, the peanuts salted, the cotton candy “shudder sweet” and approximately 36,000 fans were ready to welcome baseball and the Twins “home.”

The temperature at game time was in the mid-50s (about 20 degrees warmer than the 2013 home opener that BBRT shivered through, read about it here) and the sun was shining.  In Minnesota, in April, we break out the shorts and sun screen and call this kind of day “a real scorcher.”

We arrived at Target Field early, for a trio of reasons (baseball tends to do things in threes):

1) The Twins continued a tradition of having franchise “celebrities” open the gates.  This year’s cast of honorary gatekeepers included such notables as Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, three-time AL batting champ Tony Oliva, former Twins’ manager Tom Kelly and former Twins’ first baseman Kent Hrbek.

2) We didn’t want to miss any of the Opening Day festivities, especially the ceremonial first pitch from Somali-American and Minnesota resident Barkhad Abdi (nominated for an Oscar for his role the 2013 film “Captain Phillips.) Abdi, by the way, made a strong throw to the plate.  As a bonus, there was also a solid performance by local a cappella (never thought I’d use “a cappella” in a baseball post) group Home Free, who won season four of “The Sing Off.”

3) It is a tradition in the BBRT family that all significant food (any that requires leaving your seat to acquire) must be purchased before game time.  This rule was enacted to protect the integrity and accuracy of the obligatory scorecard.

Once inside the Target Field, the feasting began.  We started with the new Porchetta Egg Rolls ($8).  We liked the combination of the creamy filling (pork and cream cheese) and crunchy outside (fried egg roll).  The portion, two large egg rolls was perfect for sharing. It could have used a bit more cream cheese and BBRT would suggest some hot Chinese mustard for dipping.  Next, we went for the traditional Walleye and Fries ($11.50) – a reliable, tasty treat – a large, flaky walleye fillet, with a crisp breading and generous portion of fries.

The Smoked Meat sandwich from Andre Zimmern's Canteen.

The Smoked Meat sandwich from Andre Zimmern’s Canteen.

Next, we spotted local celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern’s AZ Canteen. Zimmern is perhaps best known for his Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and the offerings here were, as expected, a bit more exotic. We had our choice of Crispy Belly Bacon with Jalapeno Jelly and Vinegar Slaw or a Smoked Meat Sandwich with Vinegar Slaw and Maple Syrup Hot Sauce (both $12.50). We opted for the Smoked Meat Sandwich, which was moist and flavorful (a more interesting blend of flavors than in most ball park foods). For those who might be a bit wary of unidentified smoked “meat” – given Zimmern’s passion for bizarre foods – rest easy, it’s pastrami. BBRT would also recommend Zimmerns’ Cucumber-Mint Lemonade, with or without vodka.  All in all, there’s lot of new food items to try at Target Field, so get there hungry – and get there early.

Once full (close to uncomfortably so), we purchased official Twins’ “2014 Opening Day” pins and attached them to our hats, picked up a scorecard and headed for our seats for the aforementioned festivities.  (Oh yes, and while there wasn’t the jet-propelled flyover you see at so many ball parks, an American Bald Eagle did soar majestically high over the field in the middle innings.  Much more Minnesotan.)

The game itself left a little to be desired, even beyond the score.  There were a combined ten walks, one hit batsman and one run-scoring balk.  There were also nine Twins’ strikeouts and ten left on base on offense, as well as shaky starting pitching (starter Kevin Correia gave up six runs on nine hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings). All of this seemed reminiscent of 2013, when the Twins had MLB’s second-most hitter whiffs, third-highest rate of men left on base and worst starting-rotation ERA.

Still, it’s just one game, and there is hope.  The Twins just came off a 3-3 road trip, the hitting has looked better and there is more potential in the starting pitching staff.  And, most important, we have 155 more games to watch the story develop.

There were bright spots: a rousing ovation for three-time batting champ and new/now first baseman Joe Mauer; a nice welcome home for former Twin Jason Kubel, who had a double and an RBI and is hitting .381 in the early season; and a warm reception for former Twin/now Athletic Nick Punto, who came on as a pinch-runner in the seventh.

The play of day goes to the Twins’ Chris Colabello, who started in right field and ended the top of the second inning with a diving catch on Eric Sogard’s sinking liner and then threw to second to double off Alberto Callaspo.  Colabello, who had a single and a walk in five at bats, was selected AL Player of the Week (shared with Angels’ outfielder Josh Hamilton) for the first week of the 2014 season.  In six games last week, Colabello hit .391 (9-for-23) with four doubles, one home run, four runs scored and a then AL-best 11 RBIs.

The versatile (1B/OF/DH) Colabello is one of those “feel good” baseball stories. Colabello went undrafted by organized ball out of college and – before signing with the Twins’ organization in 2012 (at age 28) – played seven seasons in the independent Can-Am League, where he averaged 83 games, .317, 18 home runs, 100 runs and 85 RBI per season.  In 2011, he hit .348, with 20 home runs and 79 RBI in 92 games.  In his first season in the Twins’ system, Colabello hit .284 with 19 home runs and 98 RBI for the Twins’ New Britain (AA-level) club. In 2013, he moved up to (AAA) Rochester, where he earned 2013 International League MVP and Rookie of the Year honors by hitting .352 with 24 home runs and 76 RBI in 89 games between call-ups (55 games) to the Twins. At the major league level, things did not go as well (.194-7-17 in 2013). That performance and Joe Mauer’s move from behind the plate to first base (Colabello’s primary position) led some to suggest he consider playing overseas. Colabello, however, did not give up on his “American (League) Dream,” stuck with the Twins and a strong showing in Spring Training (.349-1-8 in 43 at bats) earned him a spot on the roster – and the clean-up slot in the home opener batting order.

Another story that grabbed BBRT’s attention was the travel of catcher Chris Hermann, who lined up for the Rochester Red Wings (AAA) home opener on Sunday and then found himself being introduced as a Twin during yesterday’s opening ceremonies.  Hermann was called up following an ankle injury that sent Jason Bartlett to the Disabled List. Hermann’s resume is not as flashy as Colabello’s (.258, with 29 home runs in 485 minor league games and .189-4-19 in 64 games for the Twins in 2012/13). He did, however, hit .412 in 17 at bats this spring, and had the thrill of lining up along the first base line for the Twins home opener player introductions.  Two openers, at two levels, in two days – that’s a busy schedule.

This Opening Day activity was NOT exciting.

This Opening Day activity was NOT exciting.

If there was one low-light to the game, it came in the third inning when a long fly ball down the right field line by A’s shortstop Jed Lawrie led to a lengthy (more than four minutes) replay review.  The initial foul call was upheld, but the whole process was unsatisfying for the fans. Note: This was the second four-minute-plus replay delay for the Twins this season.  BBRT remains old school in opposition to replays.  My feelings: 1) Over a 162-game season, the calls will even out.  2) Long replay delays disrupt the flow of the game, particularly for the pitcher; 3) At least, before the new challenge system, fans had something to watch when a manager disagreed with a call (arm waving, hat throwing, dust kicking and, of course, the ultimate: ejection).

All in all, despite the loss and the replay delay,  it was (as always) a good day at the ball park.   The sky was bright blue, the ball was stark white, the grass deep green and the fans adorned in lots of red and blue Twins’ garb.  The crack of the bat on a well hit ball was as sharp as ever, 95-mph fastballs literally “popped” into the catchers’ mitts, the vendors’ voices were in good form and the “We’re gonna win Twins” theme song sung with gusto.  The players fans love to watch ended up with the dirtiest uniforms, mustard fingerprints somehow found their way to the edge of scorecards around the stands and rally hats appeared in the late innings.  The hot dogs had that special ball park flavor, the scorecard was cheap and informative, the day’s slate of MLB games could be followed on the scoreboard – and Target Field remained one of MLB most inviting ball parks.  Oh yeah, and there was NO wave!  Perhaps, most important, baseball is back and winter is OVER.

With that review of opening day complete, let’s look at just a few interesting (at least for BBRT) early season developments.

Yu Darvish picked up right where he left off in 2013 throwing seven shutout innings (7 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts) in his first start – beating the Rays 6-0 on April 6.  In the process, Darvish reached 500 career whiffs faster than any MLB pitcher ever (401 2/3 innings). Darvish topped the record (404 2/3 innings of the Cubs Kerry Wood).

Braves outfielder B.J. Upton also picked up where he left off.  After hitting .184 in 126 games in 2013, he finished the first week of the 2014 season 3-for-25 (.120 avg.), with 11 strikeouts in six games.

The World Champion Boston Red Sox threw their fans a curve.  After not being swept in a single home series in 2013, they were swept (3 games) by the Brewers in their first Fenway Park series of 2014.

Rockies’ center fielder Charlie Blackmon surprised the a large home crowd with a six-for-six day at the plate as Colorado topped Arizona 12-2 on April 4. Blackmon, who also made a “Web Gem” sliding catch in the top of the fourth, finished the day with three doubles, a home run, two singles, six runs and five RBI.  The 27-year-old Blackmon looks like he’s here to stay.  He averaged .309 in six minor league seasons – and .309 in 82 games for the Rockies in 2013.

Yasiel Puig surprised just a few fans, when he was benched for the Dodgers’ home opener after arriving late for pregame workouts.

Yankee captain Derek Jeter began his Mariano Rivera-like farewell tour with a pair of Yankees pinstriped Lucchese cowboy boots and a Stetson hat – presented by the Houston Astros.  More mementos are sure to come.  In the meantime, on Sunday (April 6), Jeter collected a pair of hits, to reach 3,320 for his career – placing him at eighth all time.

Here are the targets ahead:

Pete Rose – 4,256 hits

Ty Cobb – 4,189

Hank Aaron – 3,771

Stan Musial – 3,630

Tris Speaker – 3,514

Honus Wagner – 3,420

Carl Yastrzemski – 3,419

Finally, a special nod to Carle Place High School (Long Island, NY) junior Mike Delio, who not only tossed a 7-inning perfect game in his first outing as a varsity starter (Delio played for the junior varsity as freshman and sophomore), but also struck out all 21 hitters (on just 84 pitches – a low to mid-80s fastball and knucklecurve) in the 15-0 victory over Hempstead.

The Particulars on Some Veterans Worth Watching in 2014

In a January 22 post, BBRT called out a group of MLB prospects I’ll be watching in 2014. In this  post, I’ll touch upon about a dozen veteran players BBRT thinks are worth some special attention in 2014 – for the most part, players who face particular challenges and whose performance may be particularly important to their teams’ fortunes.

Justin Verlander ... ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander … ready to rebound in 2014?

Justin Verlander, RHP, Tigers … The Tigers’ 31-year-old right-hander (2011 Cy Young Award Winner and AL MVP) had his second worst MLB season in 2013. (He did lead the AL in losses with an 11-17 record in 2008). He finished 2013 at 13-12, 3.46, while striking out 217 in 218 innings. Verlander’s velocity was down in the first half, but he found the old heat late in the season, posting a 2.27 ERA after September 1 and enjoying a post season in which he pitched 23 innings, giving up just one earned run and striking out 31. It certainly looked like Verlander was back on his game. But then came an off-season injury and “core muscle surgery.” It’s disturbing that the Tigers have not defined “core muscle.” Verlander says he’ll be ready, but it makes you wonder if seven straight seasons of 200+ innings (Verlander led the AL in innings pitched in 2009, 2011, 2012) may be taking a toll. BBRT will be watching, but is betting Verlander will be back at or near the top of his game. How good can that be? In 2011/2012, Verlander went 41-15, 2.52 with 489 strikeouts in 489 1/3 innings. Verlander should reach 16 wins and 200+ whiffs in 2014.


Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Halos need a big year from the big guy.

Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Angels … The Angels have a big investment in 34-year-old Pujols, who started his career (as a Cardinal) with ten straight seasons (2001-2010) of a .300+ average, 30+ homers and 100+ RBI, three MVP awards, a batting title and two HR crowns.   He barely missed another .300-30-100 season for the Cards in 2011 (.299-37-99), when he was on the disabled list from June 20 to July 5.  Since signing a 10-year/$240-million contract with the Angels before the 2013 season, Pujols has suffered from planter fasciitis and turned in seasons of .285-30-105 and .258-17-64.  Pujols says he is healthy now – and the Angels need a return on their investment if they are going to contend for the division crown.  BBRT will be watching to see if a healthier Pujols returns to form. BBRT expects a bounce back, but not to his early career levels. Still, a .290-32-104 season would suit the Angels fine, and that seems well within reach. One thing is for sure, a true professional, Pujols is determined to let his bat silence his critics in 2014.

Note:  While watching Pujols, BBRT will also be keeping an eye on another big-time Angels’ investment – Josh Hamilton, who turned in a disappointing .250-21-79 season in the first year of a five-year/$125-million contract with the Angels.

R.A. Dickey, RHP, Blue Jays … The Blue Jays acquired 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey after his spectacular 2012 season – when the then NY Met translated his hard knuckler into a 20-6 record, 2.73 ERA, NL-leading 230 strikeouts and a Cy Young Award.  To get Dickey (along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas), the Jays gave up high-potential prospects catcher Travis D’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, as well as catcher John Buck and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.  The Jays signed Dickey to a two-year/$25 million contract extension.   In 2013, Dickey went 14-13, 4.21 for the Jays, striking out 177 in 224 2/3 innings (and winning a Gold Glove award). The Blue Jays were and are hoping for more from Dickey.  However, if you take 2012 out of the equation, his 11-year MLB record is 55-63, 4.31.  Dickey’s knuckleball will remain fun to watch, but a return to 2012 form seems unlikely for the 39-year-old.  Still, Dickey appears recovered from neck and upper back pain that hampered him early last season, and 15 wins from this work horse would not be unexpected.

La Troy Hawkins, RHP, Rockies … Colorado Rockies have indicated the 41-year-old Hawkins will be their closer for 2014.  In 2012, his 19th MLB season, Hawkins went 3-2, 2.93, with 13 saves for the Mets.  Hawkins has kept his career alive by filling a variety of roles (for ten different teams) – full-time starter (twice starting 33 games in a season for the Twins), closer (twice saving 25 or more games), set-up and middle/long relief (six times appearing in 65 or more games). If he stays healthy, the ageless Hawkins (imposing on the mound at 6’5”, 220 lbs.) should be fun to watch.  If he pitches in 57 contests for the Rockies, he will become one of just 16 pitchers with at least 1,000 appearances.

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Orioles … Jimenez, with an inconsistent delivery (and similar results) can sink you or save you.  The Orioles are hoping they are getting something closer to the Jimenez who went 19-8, 2.88 for the Rockies in 2010 than the 9-17, 5.40 Indians’ hurler of 2012.  Last season, Jimenez was somewhere in the middle at 13-9. 3.30 for Cleveland.  He’s a gamble – but one with lots of upside.  Worth a watch in 2014, as his fortunes will have a lot to do with the Orioles’ ability to contend in the tough AL East.


Derek Jeter ... How high will  retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter … How high will retirement tour fly?

Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees … Okay, so “everyone” will be watching the 39-year-old Jeter’s retirement tour.  What can you say about a player whose resume includes 3,316 hits, an AL Rookie of the Year award, 13 All Star selections, five Gold Gloves and a World Series MVP award? Of course, the “Jeter Watch” is focusing on more than his retirement (although Mariano Rivera set the “gift” bar high).  The Yankee captain is coming off a 2013 season when he was put on the DL four times (primarily traced back to his 2012 post season broken ankle) and played only 17 games.  Can he get back to form?  Don’t bet against him. Remember, Jeter is just one injury-plagued season away from leading the AL in at bas and base hits.  There are, however, a lot of miles on Jeter’s legs – 2,602 MLB games over 19 years.  For the Yankees, the question is will he look like the “Jeter of Old” or just an old Jeter.  BBRT expects Jeter will get into 130 games and turn in a .280-.285 average.  Then again, well rested, he could surprise and go out at .300+. Either way, the future Hall of Famer will be a veteran to watch this coming season.

Jeter factoid: In his first professional game (Rookie-level Gulf Coast Yankees), Jeter went hitless in seven at bats, with 5 strikeouts – and he finished the season at .202. Apparently, he made some adjustments over time – and we can expect he will adjust well in 2014 as well.

While you’re tuning in the Bombers to watch Jeter, keep an eye on Mark Teixeira as well. A wrist injury (and subsequent surgery) limited the power-hitting first baseman to 15 games last season.  The Yankees need his bat to come back.  Still, there are some disturbing signs beyond the injury. Over his first seven MLB seasons (2003-2009), Teixeira hit for a .289 average.  Over the past four seasons, he has averaged just .249.  Still, as recently as 2011, he hit .248, with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs.  That would make the Bronx Bombers happy, and strengthen their lineup considerably. Keep an eye on the 34-year-old (turns 34 in April). 

Koji Uehara, RHP, Red Sox … Uehara, who turns 39 in April, was presented the Red Sox’ closer role in 2013 after injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.  All he did was record 21 saves, along with four wins and one loss, a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. He then added a record-tying seven post-season saves and an ALCS MVP Award.  Uehara was successful as both a starter and closer in Japan (a twenty-game winner as a rookie in 1999, 32 saves in 2007) before joining the Baltimore Orioles in 2009. In five MLB seasons, he is 9-10, 2.42, with 35 saves.  It seems doubtful he can be as dominant in 2014 as he was in 2013, but BBRT and Boston fans will be watching. Notably, Boston does have a backup in place having added Edward Mujica (37 saves for the Cardinals last year) in the off season.


Prince Fielder - looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Prince Fielder – looking to re-energize hit bat in Texas.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers & Prince Fielder, 1B/DH Rangers … These two are on the watch list together because they were traded for each other “one-for-one” in the off season – and both will be vital to their new team’s success.

Kinsler is a three-time All Star, who is considered a “plus” defender, and  is a two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs and SBs) club.  Kinsler is looking to bounce back from a 2013 season in which he went .277-13-72, with 15 steals.

Prince Fielder, on the other side of the trade, is a power hitter who has averaged .286, with 32 home runs and 97 RBI per season in his nine MLB years. Fielder is a five-time Star and a member of the 50-home run club (Prince and his father Cecil Fielder are the only father-son members of that prestigious club).  Like Kinsler, Fielder is looking to rebound from a pretty good (but not up to expectations) season – .279-25-106.

BBRT will be watching to see if either of these players performs well enough (or badly enough) to establish a clear winner in this trade.

Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates … Did the Pirates really find the flaw in Liriano’s explosive delivery? 2013’s 16-8, 3.02 record (163 strikeouts in 161 innings) seems to say so.  But we’ve seen this before.  (Liriano is, in fact, a two-time Comeback Player of the Year.) Liriano made the AL All Star team as a rookie in 2006, and ended the season 12-3, 2.16 with 144 whiffs in 121 innings pitched.  That season, unfortunately, ended early and was followed by Tommy John surgery. Liriano missed the 2007 season, then went 6-4, 3.91 in 2008.  In 2009, he fell off to 5-13, 5.80.  But he seemed to straighten out in 2009, going 14-10, 3.62 and topping 200 strikeouts, while winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.  His comeback was short lived. In 2011-12, Liriano went a combined 15-22, with an ERA over 5.00 both seasons.  Then came the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year II season with the Pirates.  Given his track record, 2014 could be interesting.

Others to watch:

David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox … Big Papi is 38 and coming off a .309-30-103 season, leading the Red Sox in all three categories. The Sox need solid numbers – and continued clubhouse leadership – from Ortiz to repeat as AL East leaders in 2014.  BBRT will watch to see if age starts to catch up to the game’s top DH.

Joe Mauer, 1B/DH, Twins … Mauer is the only MLB player to win three batting title as a catcher (2006, 2008, 2009) and carries a ten-year, .323 average into the 2014 season.  Concussion issues have resulted in a move to 1B for 2014.  BBRT will be watching to see if the less stressful position can lead to another batting title.

Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers … A thumb injury and a PED suspension muddied the waters for the five-tool Braun – a former Rookie of the Year (2007), MVP (2011), two-time member of the 30-30 (HRs/SBs) club and five-time All Star. He seems to be handling the pressure well, and BBRT expects a strong return for the 30-year-old in 2014.  BBRT will be interested in the fan reaction, as Braun works to rebuild his reputation.

Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, Angels … In 2013, Ibanez (then with the Mariners) rapped 29 home runs in 124 games, tying Ted Williams for the most homers in a season by a player over 40.  Ibanez who turned 41 in June of last year, is with the Angels now and, who knows, may make another run at the record.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels … Can he finally win an MVP Award?  If the Angels make the playoffs it’s very likely.

B.J Upton & Dan Uggla, OF & 2B, Braves … Two players who both played more than 125 games and hit .184 and.179, respectively. Upton signed a five-year/$75 million contract with the Braves during the 2012/13 off  season, while Uggla signed a five-year/$62 million contract before the 2011 season. The questions?  Can either or both return to form? (Uggla is a three-time All Star and Upton is a three time member of the 20+ HR/20+ SB club.) And, how much patience do the Braves have?  As it stands, the Braves have a lot of money invested below the Mendoza line.