The Week That Was in Baseball: March 10-16, 2014
Baseball Down Under • MLB's First Expanded Video Review Reversal
How to Watch a Ballgame From Your Apartment Patio • Jon Denney's Wild Night
G'Day, Dodgers and Snakes
Baseball’s 2014 regular season gets off to an early start this week when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks resume their petty little rivalry from last year for a pair of games in Sydney, Australia. If the bad blood continues, both teams should be aware that Australia originally established by the British as a penal colony. So behave.
But in the meantime, here’s a quick primer for both teams and fans to follow on Australia and its baseball.
Australia’s land mass is slightly smaller than the United States—but it’s population, at 22 million, is almost half that of California. The bulk of that population lives on the East Coast, with most of that focused in and around Sydney.
Weather-wise, Australia’s March is like our September, since they’re on the south side of the Equator. So while many areas in America are thawing out from winter, Australia’s warm season is coming to a close. The predicted highs in Sydney for the Dodgers-Diamondbacks games will be around 80 degrees, with lows in the mid-60s.
The games will be held at historic Sydney Cricket Grounds, which was established in 1854 and is located a few miles south of downtown. It holds 45,000 seats, and they’re expected to be filled for the two games. It has a rounded shape suitable for baseball, but it’s also quite spacious; while the dimensions will be 328 feet down the lines and 400 to center, there will plenty of green behind the fences before it meets the spectator seats. There’s also enough foul territory to rival that of the Oakland Coliseum.
It’s not the first time a MLB team has played at the Sydney Cricket Grounds. The Chicago White Sox and New York Giants played an exhibition before 10,000 fans at Sydney as part of their exhaustive world tour in 1913-14 (see more on this below).
Some 30 native Australians have played in the majors. The first was Joe Quinn, who played from 1884-1901 for four different leagues, including the good-intentioned yet short-lived Players League. The next Aussie didn’t show up until 100 years later when Craig Shipley debuted for the Dodgers in 1986. Other noted players include Grant Balfour, Peter Moylan and David Nilsson.
There is a baseball league in Australia. The Australian Baseball League consists of six teams representing all points of the continent, from Sydney to Melbourne to Perth to Brisbane. Each team plays a 46-game schedule and, as you might expect, have rosters full of Americans.
The Dodgers-Diamondbacks games will be broadcast live in America on the MLB Network, except in Los Angeles and Arizona where fans can catch it on their local networks. Which means that many Dodger fans will be shut out as numerous cable outlets have refused to pony up for the pricey demands set forth by the Dodgers’ new cable network, SportsNet LA. Even blokes in Australia will have a better chance than most in Los Angeles to watch the games, as the Nine Network will air the games across the continent.
Because of the radical time difference, those watching the games in America will have to do so at odd hours. The first game will air Saturday at 1:00 a.m. on the West Coast, 4:00 in the east; the second game will be shown later that evening at the more hospitable time of 7:00 p.m. in L.A. and Phoenix, 10:00 in the east.
The First Reversal
It took a while, but we finally had out first reversal of a call via MLB’s comprehensive video replay this past Tuesday when Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon successfully challenged an out call at second base while his Mariners were at bat against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The review process took two minutes (NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra says it was three, but he’s wrong unless the clip was edited), and that’s still too long in our books. But here’s a few more curious things about the sequence: One, the evidence to overturn—that the Angels’ Andrew Romine never had control of the ball as he forced a runner at second—didn’t appear conclusive unless the war room in New York had a better replay; and two, why it was that Angels manager Mike Scoiscia came out to argue a reversal that was final and non-binding. (Calcaterra was right to ponder why Scoiscia didn’t get ejected.)
Members of the Boston Red Sox leaked word this past week that free agent shortstop Stephen Drew regretted not taking the $14.1 million qualifying offer to stay with the Red Sox. Nelson Cruz probably regrets not taking a similar offer from Texas before accepting the next best deal offered to him (by Baltimore) at $8 million. And the players’ union probably regrets agreeing to institute the rule in the first place, where certain free agents can take the qualifying offer or sign with another team—which it would then have to fork over a high-end draft pick to the team losing that player.
Drew is still a man without a team—and if losing a draft pick isn’t enough to scare anyone willing to bring him on, it didn’t help matters when Drew (through agent Scott Boras—yes, him) recently demanded an opt-out clause after one year of any contract he signed. He may be in luck; in light of a major injury to Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias this past week, the Tigers are possibly in desperation mode to find a replacement. Of the four other players who a month ago were in a similar snag as Drew, three have signed—including Cruz, pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (also with the Orioles) and pitcher Ervin Santana, who this past week inked with Atlanta after Braves pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy both were declared “likely” to undergo Tommy John surgery. Remaining unsigned along with Drew is slugger Kendrys Morales, another Boras client who last plied his trade for Seattle. You wonder if he’s having second thoughts about rejecting that $14.1 million offer from the Mariners…
Forget Mo, Where Were the Rest of the Yankees?
In the first of two games played this past weekend in Panama between the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins, four Marlins pitchers—Brad Hand, Steve Cishek, A.J. Ramos and Arquimedes Caminero—combined to throw a 5-0 no-hitter. It’s not like the Yankees threw their second team out on the field: The starting lineup included Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano and Brett Gardner. But this wasn’t the ideal way to pay tribute to Yankee legend Mariano Rivera, who retired after last year and for whom the weekend series was dedicated to. (The Yankees nearly evened the score the next day, shutting down the Marlins on one hit.)
Around the World in 150 Days
Jim Margalus of SB Nation provides a very cool piece on the 100th anniversary of a five-month world tour involving the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox that included stops in England, Egypt, India, Australia and Japan. If you think we exaggerate about the life and times of Deadball Era players in our hot new book Bushers, then rethink it after reading through some of the accounts in this article.
Don’t You Know Who I Am? (Answer: No, We Don’t)
We were just starting to think what a thankfully quiet spring it has been on the baseball police blotto front—and then along came Jon Denney to mess it up. The 19-year-old prospect for the Boston Red Sox was stopped not once but twice late this past Wednesday night in Ft. Myers, Florida; the first was for driving erratically in front of police officers with a suspended license, the second for attempting to get back in his vehicle after he had contacted a friend to pick him up. Denney’s chats with police were, shall we say, not terribly unheard of for any young, drunk and stupid kid with money. He explained why he was out and weaving about by saying telling police he was “partying and looking to get some pu**y.” When caught behind the wheel the second time, police said he got angry and claimed he “had more money than (officers) would ever see” and that he made “three million a year.”
Denney did receive an $875,000 signing bonus when the Red Sox inked him last year. But he’s due to make wages akin to a fast food worker when he reports to the low minors next month—assuming that the Red Sox don’t discipline him first.
Fernandomania, the Sequel?
On Saturday, the Dodgers sent out 17-year-old Julio Urias to start their exhibition game against San Diego. He pitched only the first inning but did quite well, retiring all three batters he faced with two strikeouts. Don’t expect the Mexican-born Urias, who debuted in organized ball at the Class-A level last year (and did well, posting a 2.48 ERA in 54.1 innings), to be with the big club this coming week in Australia—or anytime this year for that matter—but he certainly wants to make such a breakthrough a reality before the season ends. If Urias can do it before August 12—his 18th birthday—he would become the first major leaguer since Larry Dierker in 1964 to play in the bigs at age 17.
Next week we’ll reveal our annual list of the best and worst performances of spring training, but as far as a single-game effort is concerned, it was hard to beat what St. Louis pitcher Lance Lynn did this past Wednesday against Atlanta. In four innings, the 26-year-old righty allowed one hit and struck out ten—including eight in a row. With so many quality arms at Cardinals camp, there’s heavy competition to make the starting rotation, and Lynn’s dominant outing didn’t hurt his chances.
Knothole for a Price
Getting a free view of a ballgame from the outside isn’t exactly a new thing. Of course, there’s the rooftop bleachers across the street from Chicago’s Wrigley Field, or the folks at San Francisco’s AT&T Park who can walk right up behind clear fencing under the right-field arches to watch part of a Giants game, or the office workers behind the outfield at Globe Life Park in Arlington who might stay late and take in a Rangers game, or the high-rise tenants who, with some industrial-strength binoculars, can get a good close-up of a Padres game behind Petco Park.
But a planned rebuild of a ballpark for the Class-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays in Lansing, Michigan includes a modern four-story apartment complex with 100 units to be situated behind left field, offering clear and close views of the action on the field. (Let’s hope the tenants won’t be so kinky as to offer clear views of the action in the bedroom for those inside the ballpark.) The whole project will cost $22 million and is aimed for a 2016 completion date. What the average rent for the tenants will be is not yet known.
One of the biggest criticisms of modern-day sports logos—particularly those in the minor leagues—is that they’re too cartoonish. But newly released images of alternate uniforms for the Fresno Grizzlies (left), the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate, are just plain ridiculous. You guessed it: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle references were fast and furious within the blogosphere. (The Grizzlies copped to the fact that the likeness is intentional.) There are a lot of borderline roster players right now in Giants camp who are praying to make the parent team…just so they don’t get stuck in Fresno wearing those jerseys.
The last thing you expect to find when you walk into a stationery store is a cool baseball book, but that’s what we stumbled upon when we came across Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure by Craig Robinson. It’s 160 pages of graphic fun, dominated by unique and entertaining “infographics” that put a unique visual spin on the basic bars-and-charts PowerPoint routine that puts anyone to sleep. Though the book was published in 2011, Robinson has kept his infographic prowess up to date on his web site, flipflopflyin.com. Check this one out!
Get Your Stinkin’ Paws Off My Damn Dirty Suitcase!
Here’s a wise tip for anyone in the vicinity of San Diego Padres announcer Ted Leitner while he’s on the air: Don’t ask him to move anything.
Wounded of the Week
It was a dark, dark week for the Atlanta Braves when, on consecutive days, starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy—a vital two-fifths of a rotation that helped the Braves’ staff secure the majors’ best team earned run average last season—left exhibition outings in pain. Here’s the dark, dark part: At upload time, both players now seem resigned to the fact that they’ll have to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire season. It will be the second such surgery for both.
The same scenario nearly played out for the Oakland A’s, with starting pitchers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin also recoiling in pain and possible season-ending surgery. Griffin ducked the worse-case scenario when doctors found no structural damage (he’ll still be out for the next three weeks, missing Opening Day), but Parker is not free and clear yet; as of upload time, a doc’s date with Dr. James Andrews lay ahead to determine his fate.
Also booked for Dr. Andrews this week: Arizona’s Patrick Corbin, who instead thought he was taking the ball for the Diamondbacks’ first game against the Dodgers Down Under. Ain’t happenin’; it was revealed he has a partially torn ligament in his left elbow.
Bad news also came to Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose shin has gotten so bad that he’ll miss Opening Day—and very possibly a huge chunk of the 2014 season, if the reports are accurate. Elsewhere, Cleveland’s Jason Giambi will miss up to a month due to a broken rib; and Los Angeles pitcher Josh Beckett will not earn frequent air miles to Australia by staying home with a sprained thumb that developed when he got it caught in a clubhouse door.
Under the heading of ouch, we highlight Milwaukee reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who made the mistake of walking barefoot outside in Arizona and stepping on…a cactus. We suppose that had Rodriguez been a member of a team playing in the Grapefruit League, the sensation would have been more squishy, less painful. As it was, he endured a long and tense session with a doctor who pulled one needle after another out of the bottom of his foot, but he was back on the mound by week’s end. Finally, young Texas infielder Jurickson Profar, already bothered by a sore shoulder, had an entirely different issue to deal with: The removal of four wisdom teeth. It kept him out of action for more than a few days.
This Week’s Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
When the Diamondbacks open the regular season with the Dodgers in Australia, Paul Goldschmidt will attempt to pick up where he left off at the end of last year by adding on to a 19-game hitting streak—the longest active run to start this season. Should Goldschmidt hit safely in his first 37 games of 2014 and reach 56 total, there will be controversy in that baseball does not officially acknowledge hitting streaks spread over two seasons. That rule needs to change.
He Said What?
“I’m going to try and kick their teeth in every time I get a chance.” —Milwaukee pitcher Matt Garza, on the Chicago Cubs, his former employer.
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