Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why Pablo Sandoval is in a Position to Succeed With the Boston Red Sox

Once a ballyhooed free agent signing, Pablo Sandoval’s 2016 season with the Boston Red Sox ended after a total of three games and an unacceptable number of trips to the dinner plate. Plagued with shoulder issues and an alarming weight gain, the third baseman barely made it on the field to try and follow up on a miserable 2015 campaign that was his first with the team. Now noticeably slimmer and reportedly healthy, his bid for a comeback is being aided by his team, which has put him in the best possible position to succeed.

The professional athlete reporting to training camp in “the best shape of their life” is a sports trope as old as time. Having paid fewer dividends than a Ponzi scheme during his first two years in Boston, it will be no small task for Sandoval to earn back even a little bit of the fans’ trust and respect. The biggest difference this year besides his newfound health and ability to see his toes without bending over is the way that the spotlight has significantly shifted off him. An offseason trade that netted left-handed ace Chris Sale gave Boston three legitimate Cy Young candidates for their rotation and made them early World Series favorites. Winning has amazing therapeutic powers, so as long as Boston is piling up tally marks in the left-hand column of the standings even continued transgressions should be regarded more lightly than in the past.

Despite the enormity of Sandoval’s contract, the Red Sox also don’t necessarily need to lean on him as a lynchpin for their offense. With young stars like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi, simply getting passable results from the erstwhile doughy third baseman would be a major coup and likely keep the naysayers at bay for the time being. Additional good news is that after hitting just .245 with 10 home runs in his only full season with Boston, it won’t take a Herculean effort to best that in 2017.

Despite there still being three years remaining on Sandoval’s contract, the fact that there is already a highly-touted heir-in-waiting lurking in the wings makes waiting to see what the veteran can do more palatable. Rafael Devers is just 20 and widely regarded as a potential future star. Although he has made steady progress through the minors he is still at least a year or two away. Nothing is ever guaranteed with young players but his anticipated impact provides a nice cushion for the dazed incumbent.

The disappointment that Sandoval has created since coming to Boston can’t be discounted. Then again neither can the possibility that the proper motivation (which one might cautiously say he has) and right setting (the Red Sox are a talented team poised for a successful season) might jumpstart the career of a player who is a two time All Start who has started for three World Series winners. Much like Stella, Kung Fu Panda just needs to get his groove back. Boston fans have been burned before and will likely not be played for fools again. However, the tough hand he largely dealt himself could be a lot worse if not for the extremely favorable position the team has him in as they embark on a new season.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Dan O’Brien Jr. Joins Minor League Baseball Staff

For Immediate Release                                                  February 13, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor League Baseball announced today that longtime Major League Baseball executive Dan O’Brien Jr. has joined its staff as Senior Executive Advisor to Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner.

O’Brien, who is entering his 40th season in professional baseball, will advise O’Conner on various issues relative to the Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball relationship, Minor League Baseball business opportunities and industry topics relevant to Minor League Baseball’s future.

“Dan O’Brien is a highly respected baseball executive that understands the business side of the game, as well as the player development and scouting side of professional baseball, and we are very pleased to have him join our staff,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “Dan knows Minor League Baseball from his years of working with affiliates from the Major League side. His extensive knowledge of the game at both levels will be a tremendous asset to Minor League Baseball moving forward.”

“I have always had a great appreciation and respect for the work of Pat O'Conner and the Minor League Baseball staff, and I look forward to the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the organization,” said O’Brien. “With over 35 years of experience working in professional baseball, I have genuine respect for the important role that Minor League Baseball plays in the development of our game and I look forward to the chance to help continue its growth.”

O’Brien joins Minor League Baseball after spending the last 39 years in various roles with the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners organizations.

During the 2016 season, O’Brien served as the Senior Advisor for Baseball Operations for the Royals and Senior Vice President and General Manager Dayton Moore. Prior to his stint in Kansas City, O’Brien spent 10 years as a Special Assistant to the GM/Baseball Operations for the Brewers. From October 2003 to January 2006, O’Brien served as the General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds after serving seven years (1996-2003) as the Rangers’ Assistant General Manager/Baseball Operations. 

O’Brien got his start on the baseball operations side of the game with the Astros (1982-1996) where he rose through the ranks and ultimately served as the Director of Player Development and Scouting. He began his career in professional baseball in the sales and marketing department with the Mariners.

O’Brien graduated with honors from Rollins College in 1976, where he double majored in business and economics and was a Rhodes Scholarship nominee. He earned his master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio University in 1977, where he also served as an assistant baseball coach. In 2005, he was honored with Ohio University’s Distinguished Alumni Award and previously served as a guest lecturer for Xavier University’s graduate-level sports administration program. O’Brien’s father, Dan O’Brien Sr., was a longtime Major League Baseball executive. 

The Columbus, Ohio native resides in the greater Cincinnati area with his wife, Gail.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

John Halama Looks Back on His Baseball Career

Some paths to the major leagues are longer and more winding than others. Just being drafted is far from a guarantee that any success will ensue. Hard work and an ability to take and adapt to instruction are just as important as having raw skill. Left-handed pitcher John Halama knows only too well what it takes to work his way up from a mid-round draft prospect to a successful major league career.

Halama, a native of Brooklyn, New York, had a successful collegiate career at his hometown St. Francis University. Despite not playing for a major school, his talent was enough to get him drafted in the 23rd round by the Houston Astros in 1994.

Steady success in the minors earned the lanky lefty a trip to the majors with the Astros in 1998. Making six starts, he went 1-1 with a 5.85 ERA. He struck out the first batter he ever faced, getting San Francisco Giants outfielder Darryl Hamilton to go down swinging in an April 2nd game. However, that offseason he was sent to the Seattle Mariners as the player to be named later in an earlier trade that had brought future Hall-of-Fame pitcher Randy Johnson over to the National League.

Halama won 11 games with the Mariners in 1999 and a total of 35 games in his first three seasons with the team. He went on to spend nine years in the majors, pitching for seven teams. He accumulated a 56-48 record and 4.65 ERA.

Although his final major league game came in 2006 with the Baltimore Orioles, he went on to pitch through the 2012 season with a variety of minor league, independent and international teams before finally calling it a career. All told, he won an impressive total of 172 games (against just 127 losses) during a 19-year professional career.

Halama recently answered some questions about his time in baseball. Keep reading for more on the southpaw.

Who was your favorite player growing up and why?: I grew up a Mets fan as a little kid. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were my favorite players. They were great players at that time.

What do you remember most about your major league debut in 1998 against the San Francisco Giants?: A lot was going on that day. I was very excited that I accomplished a dream of making the big leagues. I had my parents and brother in the stands that game. As far as the game itself; wasn’t that great for me. I took a beating.

You were the proverbial “player to be named later” in the 1998 trade that sent Randy Johnson from Seattle to Houston. What was that like for you and how did you find out you were part of the deal?: At the time of the trade I was just getting back on the field. I hurt my elbow and started pitching when the trade happened. I knew I was being scouted by the Mariners and I'm sure my health was their concern. After the Triple-A World Series I was flown to Seattle for a physical.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Favorite moment, making the big league team. It's not as easy as people think. A lot of hard work.

What catcher during your career did you feel most comfortable throwing to?: I was fortunate to have great catchers everywhere I played.

Who was the best player you ever played with or against, and what made them so special?: I played with a lot of great players but Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriquez were probably the best. What they could do on the field was amazing.

What was your favorite team that you played on, and what made them stand out to you?: I enjoyed all the teams I played at but Seattle stands out the most. We had a great run into the postseason. Plus it's a great city with great fans that supported us.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ty Cobb Victimized By Trash Talking Catcher

Trash talking in professional sports is something that seems to have its genesis in the most recent of generations. However, that is simply not true, as athletes, including major league baseball players have enjoyed sniping at each other over the years. An early example of this was catcher Lou Criger, who came out swinging in the press more than a century ago about his major disdain for legendary outfielder Ty Cobb.

Criger was a gritty glove-first backstop whose leadership and ability behind the plate earned him a 16-year (1896-1912) big league career with five different teams despite hitting just a combined .221 with 11 home runs in 1,012 games. He was particularly proficient at nabbing base runners, catching 48% for his career and leading the league three separate times. He was also known for his feistiness, as Louie Heilbroner, one of his managers, once said of him, “Criger would fight any six men on earth in those days, and if someone didn’t pull them apart, Lou would lick all six by sheer perseverance.”

Cobb was a brash and flashy star, hitting an all-time best .366 for his career and earning a reputation for the ruthless and breakneck way he played the game. He piled up base hits like cord wood, stole the bases he wanted and often went into fielders with spikes to make sure they knew who they were dealing with. Needless to say, that did not always play well with others.

In 1909, Criger was 37, playing with the St. Louis Browns and winding down his career. At the beginning of the season, the veteran was asked about his 22-year-old adversary, who has just won the last two American League batting titles. He did not hold back:

“Ty Cobb is nothing more nor less than a ‘bonehead.’ I’ve got his goat and I’ve got the rest of the bunch as well. Cobb tried to block me last year and I’ve been after him ever since. I used to say to him ‘Look out, Ty, this fellow is wild and likely to drill your noodle.’ And then I’d signal for one straight at his dome. Bing, down he’d drop as though shot , and after that he’d have no more fight in him than a sick rabbit—he couldn’t hot a balloon that was anchored with a three-foot string.”

“We made that Tiger bunch look like a lot of nanny goats last fall when we beat them three straight, didn’t we? I pestered that mob so that they begged for me to let up. They tried to tell me that they had everything at stake where we didn’t have anything to lose. But I never let up for a minute.”

“It’s no trick at all to catch Cobb when he tries to steal. He only got away with it a couple of times with me and one of those steals I had him by 20 feet but the second baseman didn’t come over to the bag. He’s a ‘bonehead’ and the rest are suckers.”

Well then… Criger really didn’t like Cobb. In 1908 Criger was playing with the Boston Red Sox, when they came to Detroit to play a three game series. The Sox were struggling to finish above .500 while the Tigers were a half game behind the league-leading Cleveland Indians. When Boston made the sweep, it widened the deficit to 2.5 games with just 14 games left. However, they finished 11-2-1 down the stretch and took the pennant by a half game before losing to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

Winning a pennant meant big money for players during the time, often allowing them to practically double their earnings for the year (In 1908 players on the winning side of the Series cleared an extra $1,317.58, while winners made due with $870). Although it sounds boastful for Criger to claim that he was asked to let up, it’s very possible that happened given what was at stake. If you want to refresh yourself on what some key items cost back in 1908, here’s a primer for you.

Naturally, the war of words continued and Criger’s volley, with both parties remembering having the upper hand. The truth is that both were fiercely proud ballplayers, who both got in their licks, as detailed by author Charles Alexander. Nevertheless, their rivalry represents an interesting chapter during the earlier portion of baseball history.

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