In honor of President’s Day this week, name the only major league players with the same names as former presidents. The answer is at the bottom of this column.
Wake Takes a Permanent Break
After 19 years and 200 wins, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield called it a career when he said goodbye to the Boston Red Sox this past week at the age of 45.
“Wake” began his major league career back in 1992 for the last Pittsburgh Pirate team to record a winning season, coming on late that year and furnishing an impressive 8-1 record and 2.15 earned run average as opposing hitters could not connect with his kunckler; he won two more decisions in the Pirates’ failed seven-game NLCS against Atlanta. After a discouraging 1993 follow-up (6-11, 5.61) dropped him out of the majors for a season, the Red Sox brought him into the fold in 1995 and he responded anew, winning 16, losing eight and recording a 2.95 ERA. For the next 16 years, Wakefield remained a Red Sock, occasionally frustrating his team and fans with inconsistent work as most knuckleballers are prone to do but succeeding to the point that he was too good to simply be let go.
Wakefield is third in Boston franchise history with 186 winsjust six behind co-leaders Roger Clemens and Cy Young; no one in a Red Sox uniform has thrown more innings than Wakefield’s 3,006. Only nine pitchers in major league history have allowed more home runs than his 418; his last came off the bat of the Yankees’ Jorge Posadawhich just happened to be his last homer before also retiring this offseason.
Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News...
Another former Red Sox pitcher, reliever Hideki Okajima, will not be a New York Yankee as thought because he failed his physical. Question: How does a major league baseball player fail a physical? Did he cough too much? Did he faint on the treadmill? And, will he be granted a mulligan and try again? Just asking…
Just Call Him A.J. Bucco
Curiously, Burnett nixed an earlier deal this past week that would have put him on the contending Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, since that team was part of his no-trade list. (Even more perplexing: The Pirates weren’t also on that list?) The Yankees would have received veteran outfielder/designated hitter Bobby Abreu had it been okayed.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are hoping that A.J. Burnett passes his physical in Pittsburgh. Because if he does, that’s where he’ll be playing this season. The beleaguered and maligned Burnett, a good (but not great) pitcher who never should have been paid $16 million a year by the Yankees, was dealt away to the Pirates this past week for two minor leaguers. The Bucs will pay $13 million of the $30 million left on Burnett’s current contract, and they’re hoping they get better results from the 35-year-old right-hander than he put up for the Yankees (34-35, 4.79 ERA) in three years at New York.
The Miami Marlins are scheduled to be the featured team in this year’s edition of Showtime’s “The Franchise.” Between scheming owner Jeffrey Loria, candid manager Ozzie Guillen, fiery pitcher Carlos Zambrano and disgruntled third baseman Hanley Ramirez, the plot is already thick even before the videographer hits the play button.
Okay, so we’re trying out mlb.tv this year. With it, you’ll be able to watch any major league game (except for your “local” teams, to be determined by your zip code) on either your computer or your HDTV if you have the mlb.tv app (we do). For having over ten games a day available over seven months, it’s not a bad deal at $110 (or $125 if you want a few extra features), especially when you consider that the NFL’s similar app (Game Pass) is double the cost. Currently you can check out games from last year, and we previewed the app by watching the final game of last year’s World Series. So far, so goodbut we’ll see how smooth it will be when it’s all live in April. Check it out here.
So Sorry, Oriole-Son
After all the heartache the Baltimore Orioles brought upon themselves in landing 17-year-old Korean pitching prospect Kim Seong-minbeing slapped on the wrists by Korean baseball powers-that-be, and apologizing for a virtual kidnapping of talentthey were told this past week by Major League Baseball that the deal would not be approved, because the Orioles failed to go through a standard status check of his eligibility.
If All Else Fails, Go Deep
Now that the Detroit Tigers have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder highlighting their lineup, utility player Don Kelly thinks there’s a better way to solve tie games that start to go too long: With a home run derby. “Play nine innings, and maybe one or two extra,” Kelly told the Detroit News. “Then turn it over to the hitters in sort of a home run derby kind-of thing.” Citing bias, he added, “With the guys we’ve got, we’d love it.” Kelly was kidding, but we worry more about how commissioner Bud Selig might think of this after a good night's sleep...
He Said What?
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo on 19-year old uber-prospect Bryce Harper: “…There’s not a malicious bone in his body. Now, there’s a cocky bone in there. And there’s an ego bone. And there are other bones . . . but there’s not a malicious bone in his body.”
John Tyler (who went by Johnnie) and two guys named John Kennedy are the only major leaguers to have the same name as a former American president. Tyler played briefly for the Boston Braves from 1934-35, briefly a teammate of Babe Ruth during his final season. The first Kennedy logged just five games in 1957 for Philadelphia, but is remembered in history as the Phillies’ first-ever black player; the latter Kennedy, born on President Kennedy’s 24th birthday in 1941, played 12 years for five teams and was an original member of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, who moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers a year later.
Gary Carter, 1954-2012
Carter hit only .262 over his career with power, cranking out 324 home runs; but he was equally known for his leadership and work behind the plate, where he excelled at gunning own opposing basestealers. Brought up by the Montreal Expos, Carter spent 11 years before being let go after ownership blamed him for the team’s lack of reaching the postseason; more perplexedly, Expo teammates growled at Carter’s Madison Avenue image. With the Mets, Carter was more accepted within an all-star lineup and was instrumental (if not well remembered) for his performance in New York’s sensational 1986 World Series triumph over Boston; he homered twice in Game Four, and launched the tenth-inning rally in Game Six after the first two Mets were retired, singling to keep the inning alive and set up the scenario for Bill Buckner’s legendary defensive gaffe that won the game for the Mets, keeping them alive for Game Seven.
Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter lost his long, publicized fight with brain cancer when he passed away this past week at the age of 57. Though Carter played for four teams over a 20-year career, his loss was hardest felt in New York where he spent five of his happiest years with the Mets. In tribute, the Empire State Building was lit up in orange and blue following his death.
Hang in There, Tony
While the baseball world lost one Hall-of-Famer, it remained concerned over the health of another. Tony Gwynn, who has been battling mouth cancer after a career spent lashing out 3,000 hits for the San Diego Padres while sloshing on chewing tobacco, had a second procedure done to replace a facial nerve from one in his shoulders. There is good news to report in that doctors have reported him as being clean of cancer…for now. Here’s hoping it stays that way.
From Campechuela to Oakland
The Oakland A’s pulled the rug out from under the Miami Marlins and a number of other anticipated front-runners and signed Cuban émigré Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million contract. The 26-year old slugger/speedster said no to the Marlins because he feared he wouldn’t crack the opening lineupand worse, might start the year in the minors. He’ll have no such problem making the starting lineup with the A’s unless he goes 0-for-spring training; Oakland needs him not just from a productive standpoint (no one else on the current roster hit more than 15 homers last year), but from a marketing standpoint, as his presence gives the A’s some panache and relevance among Bay Area sports fans who have almost forgotten about the team in recent years.
How to Bash Your Cooperstown Competition
Appearing on Conan this past week, former pitcher Curt Schillingalways one to speak his mindsaid he doesn’t believe that neither Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or Roger Clemens should be voted into the Hall of Fame when their names come up on the ballot for the first time next year. Of course Schilling doesn’t want them to get votes; he’s on the ballot too!
Everything But the Kitchen Sink
The Dallas Morning News did an inventory check of what the Texas Rangers are shipping from Arlington to Arizona for spring training, and among the numbers they came up with include: 129,600 baseballs, 300 pounds of laundry detergent and 20 cases of sunflower seeds. Ranger equipment manager Richard Price said the caravan will also include plenty of chewing gum, soft drinks and two dozen bats for each player. “We have bicycles, kids’ playground equipment, we’re even taking water coolers for the minor leagues,” Price said to the Morning News.
No Guns in Our House
Last week, the Atlanta Braves introduced retro uniforms that, using political correctness, didn’t include the “screaming warrior” iconbut did retain the tomahawks. So while baseball okayed that, it said no this past week to the Houston Astros’ attempt to break out and use old-time jerseys from their infant days as the Colt .45s. Use the unis, MLB told Houston, but not with the gun that points toward the bottom hook of the “C” in “Colt.” That’s like the Pittsburgh logo being allowed to retain the crossing bats but not the eye-patched Pirate character. Or the St. Louis logo with the bat, but not the Cardinal sitting atop it. Anyway, the Astros and other Houston locals rolled their eyes in reaction to MLB’s overly sensitive position.
Mor Mojo With More Joe
Good news this past week for the Tampa Bay Rays. No, new team mascot DJ Kitty has not been given up for adoption. It’s the three-year contract given to manager Joe Maddon to keep him in town. Give anyone the opportunity to select baseball’s dream team, and chances are they’ll pick Maddon as the guy to lead it. He’s done wonders overachieving with the low-budget Rays, starting with their stunning, AL pennant-winning 2008 breakout; nobody needs him more than this team. And the Rays will have him through 2014.
TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!
Now Playing at TGG
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