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If ever a team needed a dramatic come-from-behind win on
Opening Day to rejuvenate the hopes of a sagging fan base, it was the
Pittsburgh Pirates. Down by two runs with two outs and a man on base in the top
of the ninth, the Pirates mounted a nearly miraculous rally. Facing newly
crowned Cardinals closer Jason Motte, Adam LaRoche kept the Pirates alive with
an RBI single. Eric Hinske, one of the team’s few veteran winter acquisitions,
followed with a double, putting runners on second and third. After Motte hit
Brandon Moss with a pitch, light-hitting Jack Wilson delivered a two-strike
double to the gap, clearing the bases to give the Bucs a 6-4 lead and setting
the table for one of the franchise’s most thrilling wins in recent memory.
The Pirates did little of tangible consequence over the
winter, adding only Hinske, backup outfielder Craig Monroe, and utility
infielder Ramon Vazquez as low-end free agent signings. With such little cause
for optimism, most Pirates fans have resigned themselves to another last-place
finish in the NL Central. That still might happen, unless the Reds or the
Astros fall back even further in a weakened division, but at least the long
suffering Steel City can take some solace in an
exhilarating Opening Day win against a division rival. Watch out, ’71 Pirates,
here comes Mashing McLouth and the LaRoche Brothers!…
While the Pirates have few burdens of high expectations, the
Yankees find themselves at the opposite end of the rainbow. Their high-priced
winter pickups failed miserably on Day One as part of an ugly 10-5 loss to the
ever-rebuilding Orioles. CC Sabathia failed to make it through five innings,
while walking five batters and failing to register a single strikeout. Mark
Teixeira didn’t fare much better; he went 0-for-4, topped off by an
eighth-inning at-bat in which he stranded the potential tying run on base.
Still, the Yankees found themselves in the game, down only 6-5, before watching
relievers Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, and Damaso Marte implode during a four-run
eighth. Hey, it’s only one game, but CC and Tex will surely be reminded of their
exorbitant salaries in Tuesday’s editions of the Post and Daily News. The
pressure will only grow if their Opening Day futility becomes a trend, and
that’s something the Yankees don’t need as they try to avoid repeating what has
become a bad habit in recent seasons–lousy play in April and May that puts the
team into early holes…
The Mets did much better than the Yankees in their opener,
clipping the Reds, 2-1, on a dreary, cold afternoon in Cincinnati. Jerry Manuel surprised the Mets
broadcasters, most of their fans, and yours truly by pulling Johan Santana
after only five and two-thirds innings. With Santana’s pitch count nearing the
dreaded 100 marker (he was at 99)–and bells, whistles, and alarms sounding in
the minds of the pitch-count preachers–Manuel called on ex-Mariner Sean Green
to quell a sixth-inning rally. Manuel decided to use the rest of the game as a
showcase for three of his newest relievers, with Green followed by more
heralded pickups J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. The trio of bullpen
newcomers pinned the Reds down the rest of the afternoon, combining to pitch
three and a third innings of hitless relief. From the Reds’ perspective, Dusty
Baker will surely draw the wrath of the aforementioned pitch counters, as he
allowed ace Aaron Harang to throw 114 pitches in 39-degree weather. As long as
Baker remains in charge, Sabermetricians and second-guessers alike will have
plenty of material with which to attack Baker for his old-fashioned way of
With a new season upon us after an extraordinarily long and
bitter winter, you may have noticed a few subtle changes to our homepage here
at “Cooperstown Confidential.” For the first month of the 2009 season, we’ll honor
the memory of the fallen Dock Ellis by displaying his Topps rookie card from
1969. Hopefully, Dock was wearing curlers and smiling from above as he watched
his Pirates pull out a finish that would have made the “Lumber Company” proud.
In other changes, we’ve added links to some of our favorite baseball web sites,
including Baseball Think Factory and Bronx Banters. Lovers of film and TV will
notice the link to the incredible IMDB site, too. We’ll be adding more links as
the season progresses.
Other plans are in the works. We’ll be adding some few
features (including an historical piece on great nicknames), keeping tabs on
Keith Olbermann, and generally posting more often during the new baseball
season. Please let us know what you think of the changes, and feel free to make
suggestions about what you would like to see and read in this space. Let the
comments fly in 2009!
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On the cusp of Monday’s traditional Opening Day fare, major
league teams have completed the process of paring down their rosters to the
requisite 25 men. Let’s take a tour of both leagues as we spotlight some of the
intriguing names who made Opening Day rosters–and some of those who didn’t:
In somewhat of a surprising move, the Braves sent utility outfielder Gregor
Blanco to their new Triple-A affiliate at Gwinnett. By clearing out Blanco, who
did well reaching base in 2008, the Braves made room for hotshot rookie Jordan
Schaefer, who responded by hitting a home run in his first major league at-bat
Former D-Back Micah Owings pitched well this spring, beating out Homer Bailey
in the battle for the fifth spot in Dusty Baker’s rotation. If Baker is smart,
he’ll use Owings as a pinch-hitter on the four days that he’s not scheduled to
start as part of Cincinnati’s
powerhouse rotation. The Reds also reassigned ex-Ray Jonny Gomes to their minor
league camp. Considering the Reds’ search for a left fielder with some pop this
spring, it’s a sad commentary on the state of Gomes’ once-promising career.
NY Mets: Rather than cut an extra outfielder to make room
for Gary Sheffield, the Mets will carry a startling seven flychasers on their
Opening Day roster, including Jeremy Reed and Marlon Anderson. With so many
outfielders available to Jerry Manuel, the Mets will carry 11 (instead of 12)
pitchers when they open the new season in Cincinnati.
The Padres, who will contend for baseball’s worst record this summer, added
ex-Met Duaner Sanchez and former Mexican League standout Walter Silva to their Opening
Day roster. Sanchez and Silva are two of the few pitchers of any name
recognition in San Diego,
outside of closer Heath Bell and Jake Peavy and Chris Young. Don’t expect Peavy
to last the season in Southern California,
with trade winds likely to swirl from day one.
Don’t be shocked when you see Bengie Molina listed as the only catcher on
Frisco’s Opening Day roster. In a move that is either innovative and daring, or
remarkably foolhardy, the Giants will not carry a fulltime backup catcher. Instead
they’ll use Pablo Sandoval, who happens to be their starting third baseman, in
that role. I can’t remember the last time a major league team tried using one
of their lineup regulars as a backup catcher, but the Giants will give this
Frankenstein-like experiment a whirl–at least in the early going.
Opting to carry a third catcher, the Nationals have signed Josh Bard to a major
league contract. He’ll back up Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves, but could move past
Nieves on the depth chart very soon.
The Orioles released utility infielder Chris Gomez, a mildly surprising move
given his ability to hit .260ish and play all four infield spots. He’ll
probably find work somewhere else. The Orioles also added Chad Moeller to their
Opening Day roster, giving Gregg Zaun a backup until super-prospect Matt
Wieters is deemed ready for Camden Yards delivery.
Josh Barfield made the Indians’ roster, continuing what has been one of the
spring’s nicest comebacks. At one time a top-flight rookie with the Padres, the
son of former major leaguer Jesse Barfield saw his career hit a wall in Cleveland. Rather than
pout over his fall from grace, Barfield did what a lot of other young players
should do: he made himself versatile, learning to play third base and the
outfield. The result? His new-made flexibility has earned him an important spot
on Eric Wedge’s bench.
The Twins added minor league veteran R.A. Dickey to the major league squad. He
becomes just the second current knuckleballer in the major leagues, joining Boston’s ageless Tim
NY Yankees: Rather than allow themselves to be fooled by
Angel Berroa’s .380 batting average this spring, the Yankees made the smart
move in choosing prospect Ramiro Pena as their new utility infielder. Pena’s bat
remains a question mark, but his Ozzie Smith-like movements at shortstop and
his superior speed to Berroa will make him a better utility infielder than his
veteran counterpart. Berroa will begin the season at Triple-A Scranton.
Mike Sweeney’s career lives on. The former Royal slugger made the Mariners’
roster, where he’ll probably do some DHing against left-handed pitching. That
is if his chronically bad back will hold up.
After a slow start to the spring, Andruw Jones’ bat warmed up sufficiently to
impress the Rangers’ brass. He’ll be a backup to Josh Hamilton in center and
Nelson Cruz in right field, while possibly taking some DH at-bats against
lefties. The Rangers are hoping that the influence of batting coach Rudy
Jaramillo will enable Jones to regain at least some of his former All-Star
The traditional Opening Day finally arrived on Monday–though it would have been difficult to tell based on the cold, damp air of Cooperstown. (Basically, we experienced the same weather that wiped out Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.) In spite of my usual complaints about the climate, games did take place throughout the country, including a smattering of matchups that made their way onto my television. So away we go…
Johan Santana, David Wright, and Jose Reyes all played the way the Mets expect them to, resulting in a 7-2 thrashing of the skinflint Marlins. After Santana left with seven innings of two-run, eight-strikeout ball, Willie Randolph did some mixing and matching with his bullpen, turning not to Aaron Heilman but giving Matt Wise and Jorge Sosa a taste of the eighth inning. Wise looked so-so, but Sosa pitched well, as Randolph searches for some bullpen answers during Duaner Sanchez’ latest stint on the disabled list…
As for the Marlins, they continue to look shaky defensively, as they did most of 2007. More importantly, they gave the Opening Day ball to Mark Hendrickson, a Lee Guetterman throwalike who should be pitching in middle relief, not anchoring the rotation. Without much established pitching and without the booming bat of Miguel Cabrera, it looks to be a long season in south Florida…
The Cubs and Brewers played one of the most entertaining games of Opening Day, with each team’s supposed relief ace blowing up in the ninth inning. We’re only one game into the season–and the Cubs already have a closer controversy. Kerry Wood gave up three runs in the top of the ninth, which will fuel fan desires to see Carlos Marmol in the ninth-inning role. The Brewers’ new relief ace, Eric Gagne, looked even worse than Wood. He couldn’t throw strikes, walking his first two batters before grooving a fastball to Japanese sensation Fukudome (who looks like a thicker, more powerful version of Ichiro).For Red Sox fans, Gagne’s performance was all too reminiscent of his second-half horror show in Boston. And to think that the Brewers spent $10 million on Gagne, who was far more concerned with the muddy mound and his own steamed-up glasses than he was with opposing Cubs batters. (An aside on Gagne: Could he make a semblance of an effort to wear his uniform properly? I’m all for players having a distinctive look on the field, but does Gagne need to wear pants that are three sizes too large? I mean, he had enough material with those trousers to make a couch! He also made no effort to tuck in his shirt, until the home plate umpire finally ordered him to do so several batters into his frightful inning of work. Looking distinctive and personal is one thing; looking like a complete slob is quite another. End of rant.)…
In between my usual Monday night fare of Medium (a terrific show, I might add), I watched bits and pieces of the opener between the Padres and Astros. Jake Peavy looked Cy Young unhittable over the first five innings, while Roy Oswalt struggled against what appears–at least on the surface–to be a popgun Padre offense. While the Padres have question marks in left, center, and at third base, they do have a legitimate star in Adrian Gonzalez. While the ESPN broadcasters compared him to Rafael Palmeiro, he reminds me more of a widebody version of Will “The Thrill” Clark. With that sweet swing, ability to hit to all fields, and raw straightaway power, Gonzalez could emerge as a serious MVP cancidate within the next two seasons…
Finally, I received a care package coinciding with Opening Day. Friend and fellow author Matt Silverman sent me copies of his three most recent projects–Mets By the Numbers, 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, and Meet the Mets 2008. If you’re a Mets diehard and are not yet familiar with Matt’s work, you need to change that quickly. A talented writer, Matt has emerged as a print version of Howie Rose–an absolute Mets expert and historian. Thanks, Matt.
The Braves and Nationals blessed us with a good ballgame last night–a 3-2 Nats victory on Ryan Zimmerman’s game-ending home run–to start the North American portion of the 2008 season. Here are a few thoughts on the first ever game at Nationals Park, which received plenty of praise from ESPN broadcasters Jon Miller and Joe Morgan….
Nick “The Stick” Johnson looks terrific, showing few ill effects from the broken leg that kept him out all of last season. With a slimmed down physique, Johnson stretched a single into a double as he successfully challenged Jeff Francoeur’s throwing arm. In contrast, Johnson’s backup, Dmitri Young, came to camp weighing in excess of 33 pounds. If Johnson continues to play well, Young won’t see much more than an occasional start at first base against left-handed pitching. That won’t help Young’s trade value. Perhaps the solution will involve trading Johnson, whose trade value is already on the upswing…
Manny Acta drew rave reviews for his managing in 2007, but one has to question his ability to make out a lineup card when he employs Cristian Guzman, of all people, as his leadoff hitter. Guzman, who is annually among the league’s worst in on-base percentage, shouldn’t even be in the starting lineup, let alone the leadoff spot. Lastings Milledge would be a far better choice, as would Ronnie Belliard. Heck,just about any of the Nationals’ starters would be a better fit at leadoff than Guzman…
The Braves had to be thrilled with Tim Hudson’s performance; his sinker looked to be in mid-season form, at least from the second inning on. Hudson will also benefit from having Yunel Escobar as his starting shortstop. With his superior range, he’ll be a big improvement defensively over Edgar Renteria…
On the down side, the Braves are not going to be satisfied with Mark Kotsay for long. At one time a fine player, Kotsay has been worn down by a series of injuries over then last three seasons. He looked overmatched at the plate, makings outs with three lazy fly balls in his Braves debut. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jordan Schafer patrolling center field for the Braves by June.
The combination of afternoon baseball and the availability of a wide spread of nationally televised games helps make Opening Day particularly memorable in these parts. The first wave of games brought a series of significant moments, spurring on a few casual observations…
For the first time in awhile, the Royals are not going to lose 100 games. While Opening Day results can be deceiving, Kansas City’s 7-1 shellacking of the Red Sox unveiled what looks to be a respectable lineup. With David DeJesus and Mark Grudzielanek already laying the groundwork at the top of the lineup, the Royals now have a middle of the order that could be formidable: left-handed hitters Mark Teahen and Alex Gordon, coupled with righty bats Mike Sweeney and Ryan Shealy. Of course, this is predicated on Gordon being ready (an iffy proposition) and Sweeney staying healthy (a bigger if). But at least there’s a nucleus there, something the Royals haven’t been able to say since about the 1980s…
Don’t be fooled by those two triples hit by Tony Pena, Jr.; he won’t be the next Willie Wilson in Kansas City. Then again, he doesn’t need to be. If Pena can hit .250 and field his shortstop position as spectacularly as scouts say he did in the minor leagues, the Royals should be satisfied. I think we’ve all become too spoiled by the success of heavy hitting shortstops like Derek Jeter and Miguel Tejada. Not every shortstop can hit like that, nor should he have to. A throwback shortstop like Pena, a light hitter who plays terrific defense, can still have value in the modern game. It’s just up to the Royals to surround him with enough good hitters throughout the lineup so that Pena’s lack of hitting doesn’t become a liability…
I just love the Reds’ decision to bring back the uniform style they used in the late 1960s and early seventies. That traditional Reds logo looks so appropriate against the background of a simple white (or is it cream-colored) jersey and red trim. As I watched the highlights of the Reds’ Opening Day victory against the Cubs, those uniforms brought back memories of the days of Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Bernie Carbo from the 1970 World Series. Those Reds were the direct predecessors to the Big Red Machine of 1972-1976, and a pretty fair group of mashers in their own right…
Although it only counts as one game in the standings, sometimes Opening Day justifies a pre-season prediction. I picked the Yankees to win the American League East, in large part because of their bullpen, which has far superior depth to the pen in Boston. So what did the Yankee relievers do on Opening Day against the Devil Rays? The tag team of Brian Bruney, Sean Henn, Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth, and Mariano Rivera combined for four and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief, helping take Carl Pavano off the hook in his lackluster 2007 debut. Given the depth at Joe Torre’s disposal, this might be the Yankees’ best bullpen since the glory days of Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton. The improvement of Farnsworth could be the key to just how good the bullpen can be. Farnsworth has dipped into his pre-2006 arsenal and brought back a sinking fastball that provides a nice contrast to his rising 98 mile-per-hour four-seamer. If Farnsworth can throw strikes with the sinker, he could be downright unhittable in the eighth inning…
Perhaps the nicest development of Opening Day involved someone who hasn’t played the game for more than two decades. The beloved Bobby Murcer returned to Yankee Stadium for the opener, spending a couple of innings in the YES Network broadcast booth, after a winter filled with cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments. I have to admit it was a bit odd to see Murcer without hair—the result of his cancer treatments—but he sounded very good, boasting a strong voice and his usual sense of humor. Murcer says he hopes to fulfill his broadcast schedule completely this year. I think it’s safe to say that every Yankee fan has the same wish for 2007.
After an interminable winter filled with four-foot snowfalls and flooded basements, Opening Day has finally arrived. In actuality, we experienced Opening Night on Sunday, as the Mets laid waste to the Cardinals. That lidlifting game, along with a few other observations, form the nucleus of today’s Bunts and Boots:
I noticed a bad sign for the Cardinals even before Chris Carpenter unleashed the first pitch of the season. When you have Yadier Molina batting fifth, that does not bode well for a lineup being balanced or potent. Even if you don’t believe in the theory of "protection"—i.e., having someone to protect Albert Pujols in the middle of the lineup—championship teams don’t feature light-hitting catchers in the No. 5 slot of the order. Fortunately, the Cardinals won’t attempt to endure the full season with Molina in that spot, but it’s the current price that Tony LaRussa is paying against left-handed starters, what with Juan Encarnacion on the disabled list and Preston Wilson rather inexplicably tied to the No. 2 spot in the order…
The Mets will be a very good defensive team in 2007. They pulled off four double plays last night and also killed off a potential run on Carlos Beltran’s laser-beam throw from center field. In perusing the Mets’ defensive chart, it appears they have only two weak links defensively—the outfield corners. And even that problem will be alleviated somewhat by the presence of supersub Endy Chavez, a Gold Glove caliber defender who will play a lot in the late innings of close games…
ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan continues to befuddle with his commentary and analysis. During last night’s broadcast, Jon Miller introduced an interesting trivia question concerning players who have hit the most home runs on Opening Day. When Miller revealed that Frank Robinson holds the record with eight, Morgan countered by asking "Only eight?" A few moments later, Morgan noted that one of those home runs occurred in 1975, when F. Robby was the Indians’ player-manager? Morgan asked, not once but twice, if that counts toward the total of eight. If it counts? Why wouldn’t it count? Robinson wasn’t just the manager for the Indians that day, he was a player, too. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been allowed to play. Yikes!…
Finally, let’s throw some kudos the way of Richard Hunt, an active SABR member who is the principal of Clinton Central School, located about an hour from Cooperstown. Over the weekend, Hunt staged a nice tribute at the school’s auditorium honoring the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier. The event included a one-man performance by skilled Pittsburgh actor Greg Kenney, who enthusiastically portrayed Robinson while engaging members of the audience with dialogue and handshakes. The Robinson event was just the latest effort by Hunt to educate high school children about baseball’s history. With generous and energetic members like Hunt, SABR continues to provide an important service in making sure that future generations have as much passion for the game as we adult folks do.
It’s Opening Day, simply one of the best days of the calendar year, and a time when baseball news is flowing in every direction. So let’s get to it…
The final weekend before the regular season produced a trade–and hardly an insignificant one at that. The Rangers traded David Dellucci, though it wasn’t to the Angels, as had been rumored. Instead, the Rangers sent the underrated outfielder-DH to the Phillies for a package headed up by Robinson Tejeda, who figures to join the back end of Texas’ rotation sometime in 2005. (Tejeda is an intriguing talent, but is that the best that the Rangers could do in trading Dellucci when his value seemed to be at its highest?) I love Dellucci’s game–he reached career highs in home runs (29) and walks (76) last season, can play all three outfield spots, and is a hard-nosed grinder whom Philly fans will appreciate–but it’s hard to see where he fits in Philadelphia’s outfield. With three excellent starters and Shane Victorino available to back them up, Dellucci could become a glorified pinch-hitter–unless the Phillies are planning to unload Bobby Abreu later this season… The Phillies’ sudden glut of outfielders may put them in better position to make a deal for a third baseman. Three teams might be suitable trading partners for the Phils: the Angels (Dallas McPherson), the Indians (Aaron Boone), and the Blue Jays (Shea Hillenbrand), all of whom could use an outfielder with some punch…
One of the feel-good stories of the Yankees’ camp was the sudden emergence of career minor leaguer Wil Nieves, who surprisingly made the team’s Opening Day roster. With Jorge Posada missing time due to a broken nose, Nieves seized the opportunity to play more and impressed Yankee officials with his defensive skills behind the plate. Originally, the Yankees had planned to sneak Nieves through waivers and send him to Triple-A Columbus, but they realized the Mariners would have claimed Nieves with the idea of making him their backup to Kenji Jojima. Not wanting to lose Nieves on waivers, the Yankees decided to keep him as their No. 3 catcher… The “feel-bad story” of the Yankee camp may have been the continued regression of $40 million man Carl Pavano. Pavano’s latest injury borders on the ridiculous; he has a bruised “backside,” which the Yankees say will keep him out definitely. Why do I get the feeling that Pavano has little interest in pitching in New York?…
Although it escaped the attention of most of the mainstream and internet media, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America recently announced the names of 200 players and 60 managers/executives who have made it to the preliminary round of next year’s Hall of Fame Veterans Committee election. (Perhaps the media has decided to ignore the story because of the two most recent Veterans elections, which have produced a total of zero Hall of Famers.) The two lists, which were put together by the Hall’s Historical Overview Committee, contain some intriguing choices. Among the 60 managers/executives are President George W. Bush, a selection that is sure to rile some of the political types that frequent Baseball Primer. (Bush was selected for his tenure as principal owner of the Texas Rangers.) The most surprising name on the managerial list is that of Don Zimmer, who has skippered the Rangers, Cubs, Red Sox, and Padres during a 55-year career in baseball, but whose work as a manager has never been associated with that of a Hall of Famer. And then there’s the players’ list, which features the likes of two-time felon Denny McLain, whose continued inclusion by the overview committee has rankled more than one Hall of Fame official…
I don’t recommend good baseball web sites as often as I should, so hopefully this will mark the start of a new trend. One site in particular has caught my attention in recent weeks. It’s “Steve’s Baseball Photography Pages,” which can be found at the URL www.geocities.com/dewing19. The site, which is run by a gentleman named Steve Dewing, features rarely seen, and in many cases, never-before-published photographs from the 1950s, sixties, and seventies. For those who enjoy baseball from that era and tire of seeing the same black-and-white photos over and over, Dewing’s site comes as a refreshing change. Constantly updated with newly found images, the site includes some new West Coast material–photos of Willie McCovey with the Padres, Bobby Murcer with the Giants, and Reggie Jackson with the A’s. For those who like action photos, there are some wonderful shots of Johnny Bench and Pete Rose with the Reds circa 1970. There’s an intriguing photograph of Hank Aaron (as a Brewer) chatting with Willie Davis (as a Ranger); making you wonder what they were talking about. In addition, Dewing features some rarely seen Rangers shots from the seventies, including photos of Texas-sized failures like Rico Carty and Alex Johnson. He also has posted several photographs for Rangers players he’s trying to identify, which may generate interest among fans of the franchise during the Ted Williams, Whitey Herzog, and Billy Martin years. So if you’re looking to spend some time at the internet on a new site, visit Steve’s Baseball Pages, send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and soak in some old-fashioned baseball photography…
To celebrate Opening Day–and to promote my latest book venture–we’ll be introducing a trivia contest on Mondays during the regular season. The book, The Team That Changed Baseball, is scheduled for release in May and examines the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, who overcame long odds to win the World Series against the seemingly invincible Baltimore Orioles. Each week, we’ll feature a trivia question about the ’71 Pirates. The first person to post the correct answer (and provide his or her e-mail address) will receive a 1972 Topps Pirates baseball card.
Without further delay, here’s the first trivia question of the new season:
Which member of the ’71 Pirates became a minor league coach with the Houston Astros and helped Jeff Bagwell make the transition from third base to first base?