The Month That Was in Baseball: March, 2015
The Cubs, Kris Bryant and That Darn Loophole • Tommy John Fever: Catch It
Will Ferrell, Baseball’s Walter Mitty • David Wright’s Clubhouse Rules
The Month That Was in Baseball: March, 2015
The Cubs, Kris Bryant and That Darn Loophole • Tommy John Fever: Catch It
Will Ferrell, Baseball’s Walter Mitty • David Wright’s Clubhouse Rules
Baseball 2015: This Great Game’s Fearless Predictions
Who will reign as the best, worst and most surprising baseball teams for the upcoming 2015 season? Read our predictions here and see if you agree.
The Ballparks: Braves Field
Sprawling in scope and vanilla in appearance, Braves Field never captured the imagination like nearby Fenway, becoming outdated shy of its prime after being hailed as the ultimate Deadball Era park—where deep flies were kept in but thick railroad smoke couldn’t be kept out. Once the home run became trendy, one clueless owner after another didn’t know what to do with the joint—and usually they did nothing.
They Were There: Eddie Carnett
Eddie Carnett discusses a life in baseball during World War II, his limitations on the nightlife and a day he nearly came to blows with Casey Stengel.
The Ten Worst Promotional Ideas in Baseball History
Bad promotions, bad ideas, bad results. Here’s ten concepts that didn’t quite work out as baseball had hoped.
2014: Replay it Again, Bud
Baseball finally embraces extensive video replay to review close calls, but the process leaves a lot to be desired.
Sunday, March 1
Minnie Minoso, the gifted Cuban outfielder who bounced back and forth between the Cleveland Indians and (primarily) the Chicago White Sox, dies at the age of 90 (or 92, depending on which date of birth you trust). A career .298 hitter, Minoso was an active offensive threat, often placing toward or at the top of many categories including runs, hits, triples, RBIs, stolen bases and hit-by-pitches. Minoso showed his love for the game and ability to still be good at it, returning in a promotional cameo in 1976 at age 51 (or 53) and earning a single in eight at-bats—and again in 1980 with two hitless appearances.
A borderline candidate for Cooperstown’s Veterans Committee, Minoso had hoped to reach the Hall of Fame while he was still alive. That did not happen.
Monday, March 2
It’s revealed that Alex Johnson, a controversial figure from the early 1970s and American League batting titlist in 1970, passed away a few days earlier at age 72 from cancer. Talented but often confrontational, Johnson’s troubled character was in peak form in 1971 when he was fined 29 times and finally suspended for the remainder of the year; the players’ union fought for and won his reinstatement after it was declared that Johnson was suffering from psychological issues.
Tuesday, March 3
The games begin at spring training with a petite slate of major league exhibition action, but nobody seems to be happy at New York Mets camp. Former major leaguer Billy Bean, who came out of the closet as gay and is now touring spring camps to expose the value of tolerance to current players, is criticized afterward by infielder (and Christian) Daniel Murphy, who says: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect….That, I would say, you can still accept them but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent.”
Later, during the Mets’ spring training opener, star third baseman David Wright spots rookie pitcher (and top prospect) Noah Syndergaard sitting in the clubhouse eating lunch and makes it clear that this a no-no during a game. Physically assisting Wright in making his point is reliever Bobby Parnell, who grabs Syndergaard’s lunch plate and tosses it in the trash. The exchange is said to be tense, but Wright later claims he wasn’t angry or shouting at Syndergaard—just telling the rook where his place needs to be.
How would Wright have dealt with all those Red Sox players feasting on chicken and beer during regular season games a few years back?
The Chicago Cubs are trying to get as much of the Wrigley Field renovation done as possible before Opening Day, and mayor Rahm Emanuel says that’s fine—so long as you don’t work round the clock and keep the neighbors up. Emanuel evokes a city ordinance banning 24-hour construction work, something the Cubs would like an exemption from so they have a brand new video scoreboard ready for their first game while making progress on a new series of bleachers.
It is later announced that Wrigley’s famed bleacher bums will have to find someplace else to sit until May.
Wednesday, March 4
Alex Rodriguez makes his spring training debut and, to a mix of boos and cheers, singles and walks in three appearances at the plate against the Philadelphia Phillies. “Once you hit rock bottom, any time you hear a few cheers these days is a pleasant surprise,” Rodriguez says afterward.
Thursday, March 5
Word leaks out that a MLB panel deciding the disciplinary fate of Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Josh Hamilton following his relapse into illicit drugs has deadlocked on a suspension, with half of the (stupidly conceived) even-numbered group requesting that he be gone for a year while the other half looks at a lesser penalty. The players’ union, upset that all of this has become public knowledge, assails those who have leaked the information as “cowardly.”
Spring training is all about getting in shape while avoiding getting hurt, but the latter aspect didn’t work out today for the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves. Giants outfielder star Hunter Pence gets struck by a pitch on the left forearm, breaking it; he is said to be out anywhere from six to eight weeks. At Braves camp, it’s been learned that pitcher Mike Minor has shoulder problems so severe that he’s made an appointment with Dr. James Andrews.
The Giants are truly hoping that Pence, who’s got all the qualities of a team captain, can rebound quick; Minor will avoid Tommy John surgery for now and should return as early as May—and that’s a big sigh of relief for the Braves, who’ve been zinged again by the Tommy John curse in recent years.
Friday, March 6
The New York Mets’ Matt Harvey, a breakout sensation in 2013 who fell to Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2014, returns to the mound for an exhibition against Detroit and retires all six batters he faces. That’s not all; Harvey also reaches 99 MPH on the radar gun, with one registering 104 on the ballpark scoreboard. “Well, I’ve said that I feel like I never left,” says Harvey after the game.
Saturday, March 7
It’s looking like déjà vu again for the Texas Rangers—and that is not at all a good thing. The team slammed with a record number of injuries last season gets news that top pitcher Yu Darvish will likely undergo Tommy John surgery after a tear is discovered in his pitching elbow. The Rangers already will be without infielder Jurickson Profar for a second straight season.
Sunday, March 8
The Houston Astros split their roster for two spring training games; apparently, the hitters showed up to just one of them. In Lakeland, Florida, one half of the Astros demolish the Detroit Tigers 14-9 behind 20 hits; the other half is no-hit through ten innings at Kissimmee against Atlanta, but still manages a 2-2 tie as nine Braves pitchers combine to walk nine Astros batters.
It seems that a year can’t go by without at least one Cactus League game being interrupted by a swarm of bees. It happens today in Tempe where the start of a game between the host Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Kansas City Royals is delayed ten minutes when the bees converge upon a field microphone behind home plate.
Tuesday, March 10
A blast from the future: The three top prospects for the Chicago Cubs—Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant—hit back-to-back-to-back home runs. Yet, these still are the Cubs; they lose to Cleveland, 10-6.
Toronto pitcher Marcus Stroman, who put together an impressive 11-6 record in 20 rookie starts in 2014, tears an ACL during fielding drills and will miss the entire 2015 season.
The rash of injuries at spring training seems to be nearing epidemic proportions. Bubble wrap, anyone?
Wednesday, March 11
Just to prove that he can still do it—even if it’s just spring training—Alex Rodriguez punches out his first spring homer when he drills a Brandon Workman pitch over the fence in the Yankees’ 10-6 loss to Boston.
Thursday, March 12
No, that’s not Adam Dunn trying to make a big comeback, but comedian Will Ferrell—who plays every position while wearing ten different uniforms throughout a day of Cactus League action in Arizona. Throughout this odyssey, Ferrell strikes out twice (each time on three pitches), chases balls around the outfield without looking foolish, perfectly fields a bunt with the only batter he faces (playing for the Dodgers) and even does some third-base coaching duties for the Cubs, holding up signs toward the batter such as the one that reads, “Remember, these games don’t count.” There is a serious side to the stunt: Ferrell raises $1 million for cancer charities.
From fans to players, almost everyone has fun with Ferrell’s appearances. But back in the San Francisco Bay Area, football coaching and broadcasting legend John Madden is not amused. “I hate it,” he tells radio station KCBS. “That’s a lack of respect, that's a lack of respect for the game, I think, and a respect for what players have to do to get where they are.”
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner will earn $601,000 this year. That’s the figure given to Cleveland’s Corey Kluber as he and the Indians agree to a one-year deal for 2015. After this year, Kluber will be eligible for arbitration from 2016-18, and free agency in 2019.
Meanwhile, the NL Cy winner—the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw—is set to make $32,571,429, or 54 times what Kluber will earn.
Three weeks later, Kluber will be given a five-year contract extension from the Indians for considerably more money.
Friday, March 13
Keep your hands to yourself: The Milwaukee Brewers are advising their players not to high-five each other or make any other kind of similar body contact so as not to spread a case of pink-eye which has infected several members of the team.
Given the low level of hygiene within baseball, it’s a wonder we don’t hear of more clubhouse epidemics.
Dontrelle Willis finally hangs them up. The one-time 20-game winner who briefly captured baseball’s attention with his sensational play during the mid-2000s announces his retirement after a series of comeback attempts. After winning 22 games—five by shutout—for Florida in 2005, his effectiveness eroded; after a trade to the Detroit Tigers in 2008, it totally collapsed as wildness doomed him. Willis last played in a brief 2014 stint with the Giants’ Triple-A farm club in Fresno.
Don’t cry for Willis: He made over $40 million in nine major league seasons, plus whatever wages he accrued from his numerous late-career stints in the minors.
Saturday, March 14
Al Rosen, who blossomed into one of the game’s premier hitters during the 1950s before injuries cut his career short, passes away at the age of 91. In ten seasons with the Indians, Rosen twice led the AL in homers, twice in RBIs, three times hit over .300 and in 1953 came within a single hit of winning the triple crown when he listed second in the batting race by just a point to Washington’s Mickey Vernon. After his playing days, Rosen had the unenviable role of being the Yankees’ general manager in the late 1970s during the team’s turbulent championship years; in the 1980s, he had two other successful (and more tranquil) GM stints at Houston and San Francisco.
In between his front office tours with the Yankees and Astros, Rosen worked for an Atlantic City casino and hired Willie Mays to be its “ambassador”—but commissioner Bowie Kuhn considered the retired Mays’ position as a tie to gambling and had him suspended from the game. Kuhn’s successor Peter Ueberroth had Mays reinstated in 1985.
Sunday, March 15
Longtime New Yorker writer Bruce McCall writes about his love for the woebegone St. Louis Browns as a young kid before their move to Baltimore.
Monday, March 16
It is reported that Pete Rose has formally applied for reinstatement back into the game he has been banned from for over 25 years. New commissioner Rob Manfred said he will look into the details of the case that got Rose kicked out for gambling in 1989, and then make a decision.
The newest patient in the Tommy John surgery ward has been announced: New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler has been diagnosed with a complete tear in his pitching elbow and will likely undergo ligament replacement surgery, missing the entire 2015 season.
Despite Wheeler’s absence, the Mets say they will start top pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard in the minors to begin the year.
Tuesday, March 17
Punched out: MLB announces that All-Star voting for 2015 will be done exclusively online, as it will no longer print out ballot cards that fans could knock the chads out of it at ballparks.
Last season, online participation accounted for 80% of all votes—while 16 million printed ballots were left unused.
Wednesday, March 18
Seven years after it was filed, Brian McNamee’s defamation suit against Roger Clemens has been settled with an out-of-court settlement for which Clemens will pay an undetermined amount of money—to be completely covered by insurance. Clemens spoke that McNamee, his former trainer, lied when he told Congress that he not only provided steroids to the ex-pitcher, but he used them.
McNamee publicly comments on the settlement: “I got to digest this. I got to go home and have a good meal. Let me sit with it.”
Thursday, March 19
Despite the fact that über-prospect Kris Bryant is having a remarkable spring camp (six homers in 23 at-bats), he will still likely not start the year on the Cubs’ roster because the team would otherwise lose one year of contractual control over him down the line. This is infuriating Bryant’s über-agent Scott Boras, who publicly lashes out against the Cubs and says they’re not as interested in winning as they would with Bryant in full service from start to end. Cubs president Theo Epstein barks back at Boras, saying: “I will determine where Kris begins the 2015 season after consulting with members of our baseball operations staff. Comments from agents, media members and anybody outside our organization will be ignored.”
Boras should place the blame for Bryant’s predicament on both owners and players, who agreed to the current conditions in which a player like Bryant would become a free agent a year earlier if he debuts on Opening Day.
Friday, March 20
MLB announces that every game scheduled on the regular season’s final day will start at exactly the same time so as to heighten suspense on whatever postseason spots are still up for grabs. “If a game impacts another game, they're all occurring at the same time,” says MLB COO Tony Petitti to the Los Angeles Times, “so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result.”
Baseball apparently has a short-term memory. Why not schedule the last day during midweek—as it did in 2011, a year with a flurry of fantastic last-day results—to avoid competing head-on with weekend college and pro football fare that’s sure to take away much of its audience?
The Dodgers and their fans hold their collective breaths when ace Clayton Kershaw is hit in the side of the face by a line drive during an exhibition against the Oakland A’s in Arizona. Kershaw is okay enough to continue pitching, but it’s learned a day later that he undergoes dental work to fix the damage from the hit.
Saturday, March 21
The Kris Bryant controversy heats up, only because of his bat. In three plate appearances, the Cubs’ spring training phenom and MLB’s top prospect walks and hammers two home runs—including a first-inning shot off Seattle ace Felix Hernandez—and drives in five runs total in the Cubs’ 12-10 win over the Mariners. Bryant now has eight home runs—more than the Miami Marlins have as a team so far this exhibition season.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are still maintaining that Bryant will begin the season in the minors.
Sunday, March 22
The Colorado Rockies, who never seem too deep in quality starting pitching, nevertheless give up on six-year veteran Jhoulys Chacin. Recent injuries and bad performance—including this spring—lead to the release of the 27-year-old Venezuelan native who as late as 2013 was 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA.
Monday, March 23
Louisville Slugger, which has been providing wooden bats for over 130 years to baseball players, is sold for $70 million to Wilson Sporting Goods. The deal will allow Louisville Slugger to continue making bats under the Wilson banner; the Louisville Slugger Museum will also remain open.
Tuesday, March 24
The Dodgers are the winners in the latest Cuban exile sweepstakes, sweeping up 29-year-old infielder Hector Olivera for five years and $62 million. All this despite the fact that he may need to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair his throwing elbow.
There’s a stipulation in the contract that calls for an extra year paid at ‘only’ a million bucks—and that extra year kicks in if Olivera does go under the knife.
Wednesday, March 25
Miami pitcher Jarred Cosart is being investigated by MLB after his Twitter account allegedly shows him obtaining gambling advice. It is unclear whether any betting is baseball-related. Cosart is said to be fully investigating.
A week later, it is determined that Cosart did bet—but not on baseball. Still, he is fined for making bets with "illegal bookmakers or agents for illegal book makers."
Thursday, March 26
Last year, the Houston Astros selected Brady Aiken as the #1 draft pick in the amateur draft and then retreated with cold feet. Now we know why. The unsigned Aiken announces that he has undergone Tommy John surgery. Look for him in the 2016 draft.
An 18-year old undergoing TJ. This should once again shine a spotlight on the likely effects of pitching year-round as a youth.
In the wake of the news, MLB considers a NFL-style combine in which teams could better scrutinize top prospects and determine their strengths, weaknesses…and liabilities.
Despite a presence of roughly 20 years, the Miami Marlins and the Tampa Bay Rays are not the most popular teams in their own state. The web site publicpolicypolling.com reveals results of a recent poll in which Floridians prefer the Atlanta Braves (17%) and New York Yankees (14%) over the Marlins (12%) and Rays (11%).
Friday, March 27
Veterans slugger David Ortiz, who’s been doing a bit of whining about this and that at Red Sox camp, decides it’s wise to say to the world that (a.) he’s a Hall of Famer and (b.) he’s never “knowingly” taken steroids—that, despite the fact that he showed up on the “secretive” list of players who tested positive in 2003 to determine whether drug testing should be initiated.
First of all, don’t ever publicly state that you should be in Cooperstown. It’s like the Oscars; After Evita came out, Madonna bragged that she should win an Oscar for her role as the title character, and that turned off voters who didn’t even nominate her. Secondly, on the steroids deal, some in the press who read Ortiz’s comments can’t help but focus on his claim that he’s been tested more than any other ballplayer; is it because he previously tested positive for something MLB didn’t publicly reveal?
Saturday, March 28
Seattle pitching prospect Victor Sanchez dies of injuries he sustained a month earlier in his native Venezuela. The 20-year-old had been in a coma since he was hit in the head from a passing boat while in beach water. In three years at the minor league level, Sanchez had accumulated a 19-14 record and 3.43 ERA.
Monday, March 30
The Cubs make it official: They are sending spring training phenom and top MLB Prospect Kris Bryant to the minors to start the season. In response, the players’ union says it is looking into possible legal action against the team, even though the Cubs’ actions fully comply with current Collective Bargaining Agreement as signed on to by both owners and the union.
Also sent down by the Cubs is Javier Baez, another top prospect who hit .169 with 95 strikeouts in 213 at-bats last year—and wasn’t performing much better this spring.
Tuesday, March 31
For the first time, the average baseball salary is over $4 million per a study of listed wages by the Associated Press. It’s double the $2 million figure first reached just 14 years earlier. Also noted within the study: The Dodgers have the highest team payroll at a record $270 million, Miami the lowest at $65 million.
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