Monday, January 16, 2017

I'm Fascinated By Sacrifice Flies: A Review


Baseball has an ability like no other to provide infinite anecdotes and recollections. Tim Kurkjian’s I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies: Inside the Game We All Love (2016; St.Martin’s Press) captures that unique proclivity. The renowned ESPN personality/journalist has accumulated some of the best stories and oddities that he has collected during his decades of close involvement and observation of the game and turned them over to the fans for their own enjoyment.

A baseball writer and reporter for ESPN for nearly two decades, Kurkjian has been around the block more than a few times and has the unique perspective that has allowed him to accumulate some great gems. His fascination with quirky stats and interesting anecdotes has been fueled by his obsession for collecting and reviewing box scores of all games.

The book is chock full of insights from current and former players, who dish on things like what it feels like to be hit by a pitch; how it feels to go against some of the best in the game; and what they actually hear from fans in the crowd. There is also a laundry list of superstitions, rituals and other things players use to get (what they believe) to be the best out of their skills.

Kurkjian, as indicated by the book’s title, is obsessed with the sacrifice fly. He has an entire chapter devoted to the subject and pulls out many obscure nuggets like how catcher Bob Boone nearly doubled (78 to 47) the number of career sacrifice flies of Hall-of-Fame outfielder Mickey Mantle.

Make no mistake, baseball is a game made up of numbers and quirks. Kurkjian does a good job of encapsulating that with this book. This is somewhere between a collection of brief memories and trivia. Baseball fans who can’t get enough of these things (and there are many) will likely be drawn in by what is offered. However, this is not a book that one can sit down and easily digest in big chunks at a time. The writing style is fine it’s just that the sheer amount of stats, anecdotes and observations make it difficult to stick with it for any great length of time.

Kurkjian is one of baseball’s best known reporters/analysts. His passion for the game is palpable and he has transcribed many of his memories and research into this book. He is not reinventing the wheel here but will find that he has an enthusiastic audience for I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Minor League Baseball Umpire Development, Association of Minor League Umpires Reach Agreement

For Immediate Release                                                                       January 9, 2017 

Minor League Baseball, Umpires Union Reach Agreement MiLB Umpire Development, AMLU agree to deal through 2021 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball announced today that Minor League Baseball Umpire Development, one of its subsidiaries, has reached a five-year collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU). 

Minor League Baseball was notified by the AMLU earlier today that its membership voted to approve the agreement, which replaces the previous five-year agreement that expired following the 2016 season. 

“We are glad that the two sides were able to work together on an agreement that will ensure labor peace through the 2021 season,” said Minor League Baseball Vice President of Baseball and Business Operations Tim Brunswick. “This agreement allows us to continue to manage the costs involved with hiring, training, developing and evaluating the professional umpires that preside over games played between our 160 teams in the United States and Canada.” 

Minor League Baseball’s negotiating team was made up of Brunswick, International League President Randy Mobley, Minor League Baseball Umpire Development Director Dusty Dellinger and Mekesha Montgomery from the law firm of Frost Brown Todd. 

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the work of the negotiating committee, and we look forward to another five years of developing strong umpires and hopefully watching many of them graduate on to Major League Baseball assignments,” added Brunswick. 


About Minor League Baseball Minor League Baseball, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the governing body for all professional baseball teams in the United States, Canada, and the Dominican Republic that are affiliated with Major League Baseball® clubs through their farm systems. Fans are coming out in unprecedented numbers to this one-of-a-kind experience that can only be found at Minor League Baseball ballparks. In 2016, Minor League Baseball attracted 41.3 million fans to its ballparks to see the future stars of the sport hone their skills. From the electricity in the stands to the excitement on the field, Minor League Baseball has provided affordable family-friendly entertainment to people of all ages since its founding in 1901. For more information, visit www.MiLB.com. 

Follow Minor League Baseball on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Scouting the Boston Red Sox's 2017 Non-Roster Spring Training Invites

Now that we are in a new year, spring training is right around the corner. The Boston Red Sox made some big moves this offseason but like all teams can never count on what will happen with injuries, player production and other factors that will impact their success in 2017. Although their roster is packed with stars they invite a number of non-roster players to camp each spring. While most end up being warm bodies, they are all worth a look and sometimes end up getting big league time before the year is over. Here is a look at the non-roster invites the Red Sox have lined up so far for this year.

Edgar Olmos, Pitcher: The 26-year old left-hander has minimal major league experience over two seasons (2013 and 2015) with the Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners. In 11 combined games (two starts), he has gone 1-1 with a 5.21 ERA. His major nemesis has been control, as his 6/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 innings is cringe-worthy.

Olmos looked good in 2016, appearing in 42 games as a reliever for the Baltimore Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate. He posted a 2.88 ERA and struck out 76 batters in 68.2 innings (while walking just 28). Throwing in the low-90s, a strong spring could help him stick with the team in the minors and serve as an intriguing in-season option if needed.

Marcus Walden, Pitcher: The 28-year-old right-hander is about to enter his 10th professional season. Although he has pitched in Triple-A (with 3 different franchises) over the past three seasons he has yet to make the majors. He has had reasonable success during his career, with a combined record of 36-39 and a 3.83 ERA. Once a starter, he has pitched exclusively as a reliever the past two years. His ceiling appears to be organizational depth if he were to make it out of camp.

Dan Butler, Catcher: Entering his eighth year with the organization (he spent 2015 with the Washington Nationals’ minor league system), all but seven 2014 games have been spent in the minors. Now 30, he is not expected to compete for a roster spot but is a valuable presence because of his skills behind the plate and experience with so many of the pitchers, both veterans and youngsters, who will be in camp. He has all the markings of a future manager but is all but already ticketed for another trip to Pawtucket in 2017 because of the superior talent ahead of him on the depth chart.

Jake DePew, Catcher: With a .218 batting average and 16 home runs in seven minor league seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays, his one marketable skill is defense. Having thrown out 42 percent of runners in the past, the 24-year-old is being given a speculative look. He may also be a valuable addition to one of their minor league rosters as someone who knows what they are doing with a pitching staff.

Matt Dominguez, Third Baseman: A former first-round draft choice of the Marlins, he is still just 27 and has played parts of five seasons at the major league level. A right-handed batter, he is best known for his power, which has resulted in 143 home runs in 10 professional seasons, including 21 as recently as 2013 with the Houston Astros.

Dominguez is an established major league player who has been on the Triple-A/majors bubble the past two years after being a starter for the Astros in 2013-14. The Red Sox appear to be precariously thin with major league ready infielder depth and power bats who could step in if any of the projected 25-man roster players were out. He is an intriguing player to watch, who could well see time in Boston before the year is over if he remains with the organization out of spring.

Junior Lake, Outfielder: Another player with big league experience, the right-handed batter has played parts of four seasons with three different teams since 2013. In 659 combined at bats he has hit .235 with 17 home runs, 48 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. However, contact is a major Achilles Heel for him, as he has struck out 218 times and drawn just 35 walks. He is still 26 (soon to be 27), but entering his 11th professional season he should no longer be considered a prospect. At this point he is nothing more than roster filled who might win a spot at Pawtucket if things break just right.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

Later this month the newest class of the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced via the voting of the Baseball Writers’ Association of American (BBWAA). The ballot is packed with big names, and although I personally don’t have an official vote, I still wanted to get in on the fun. So, keeping in mind that each voter can choose up to 10 inductees, here is who I would cast my lot for if I had the opportunity.

Roger Clemens, Pitcher: The PED allegations are there but so is the murkiness over who did what and when in baseball over the past several decades. At the end of the day my vote is going to be what was done on the field and the big Texas right-hander did plenty with 354 career wins and a record seven Cy Young Awards.

Barry Bonds, Outfielder: I’m giving the mercurial slugger the same treatment as Clemens. A true five-tool talent, Bonds hit the most home runs (762) of any major leaguer in history and it is reasonable to surmise that he is a top-ten player of all time. The controversy and his reputation for being a difficult personality have not helped him but it is impossible to deny the way his talent impacted the game.

Manny Ramirez, Outfielder: Suspended multiple times for PEDs and a reputation for behavior that could only be described as “Manny being Manny” short changes this all-time great more than it should. Perhaps the best right-handed hitter of the past 50 years, he hit .312 with 555 home runs over his 19-year career. An indifferent fielder at best, his true calling card was his wonderful bat, which terrorized pitchers regularly without prejudice.

Tim Raines, Outfielder: About to fall off the ballot, this vastly underrated player deserves to get in. Spending the bulk of his career in a smaller baseball market (Montreal Expos), he was a terrific defensive player who stole 808 bases and walked more than he struck out in every one of his full seasons except one. The lead-off hitter reached base 3,977 times in his career, still good for 48th all time.

Jeff Bagwell, First Baseman: Unsubstantiated PED rumors and a 15-year career spent entirely with the Houston Astros (without a World Series win) have relegated the right-handed slugger to the bubble of ballots over the past few years. This is a travesty, as he was a true five-tool player and an all-time great. His counting stats (.297, 449 home runs and 2,314 base hits) don’t leap off the page compared to some others in Cooperstown but his career offensive WAR of 74 is 49th all time and his 1,788 runs created are 41st.

Vladimir Guerrero, Outfielder: If Ramirez is the best right-handed hitter of the past 50 years, Guerrero is probably a close second. He hit .318 with 449 home runs in a 16-year career, which ended at the relatively young age of 36 because his body had begun breaking down after years playing on artificial turf in Montreal with the Expos. A notorious bad ball hitter, he was also a surprisingly nimble fielder with a powerful arm. This is his first year on the ballot and as of one of the most memorable and distinctive players in recent memories, he is a shoo-in for me.

Ivan Rodriguez, Catcher: The best catcher of the past generation, he combined jaw-dropping defensive skills with an often-forgotten potent bat that produced a .296 batting average, 2,844 base hits and 311 home runs over a 21-year career. His arm was a marvel, as he led the league in throwing out runners (percentage) nine times and caught 46 percent for his career. He was known for snap throws to the corner bases and catching runners napping with throws from his knees.

Curt Schilling, Pitcher: I am diametrically opposed to many things that Schilling says and stands for but this vote is based on what he did on a baseball diamond, not what he has done off it. A gritty right-handed starter, he won 216 games in his career and was a shutdown force in the postseason, producing an 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA in such contests. His “bloody sock” start in the 2004 ALCS for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees remains one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.

Jeff Kent, Second Baseman: A classic under-the-radar guy, he was a consistent producer during his 17-year career. Unfortunately, he spent his prime playing in the shadow of his larger-than-life teammate, Bonds. At the end of the day, the mustachioed right-hander hit a combined .290 with 377 home runs and 1,518 RBIs, which rank him in the upper echelon among his peers at his position. He was also a steady fielder who deserves more credit for what he did.

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