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Baseball Question of the Day: Who’d you think would be a star but wasn’t? – HardballTalk


Today’s question is about those guys we thought would be the next big thing but, for whatever reason, weren’t. The players we thought would be stars but ended up average Joes. Or, perhaps, somewhat less-than-average Joes.

In this I’m not looking for the tragic cases of stars cut down in their youth by tragedy or sickness or, perhaps, even guys who had major injuries before they were able to make The Leap. I mean, sure, if you want to include those, that’s fine, but I’m thinking more here about guys who just never lived up to expectations, whether those expectations were informed and reasonable or not.

A lot of these might be guys who were just coming up when you were a kid. Back when you didn’t quite understand what made for a can’t-miss prospect and what didn’t. Or at least the people telling you that guy would be great didn’t understand it. That’s certainly the case for me. My guy: Kevin Coffman.

Kevin Coffman was an 11th round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1983 out of Austin, Texas. Eleventh rounders aren’t exactly comers, but if you followed the Braves from, oh, 1985-87 — which is when I got into that team — things were pretty bad on the big club. The pitching was particularly bad. In 1986 club had the second-worst staff in the National League and the 1987 club was dead last in runs allowed. There was a kid down on the farm in 1986 and most most of 1987 named Glavine who turned out to be something — and the Braves traded for a fella named Smoltz in the middle of the ’87 campaign who might could be something — but if you watched WTBS broadcasts at the time they only wanted to talk about Kevin Coffman. He was referred to, often, as the Great Pitching Hope for the Atlanta Braves.

Looking back at his minor league stats — to which one didn’t have easy access back in the day — makes me wonder why, exactly, that was considered to be that guy. He was shelled in a half-season of rookie ball as an 18 year-old and, while he showed good durability as he made it up the ladder between 1984-86, he was no great shakes at all. He walked everyone. He didn’t strike out enough guys to make all of those walks look like one of those “if he could just harness his stuff. . .” kinds of guys. He was totally pedestrian.

Yet the Braves broadcasters always talked about Coffman like he was gonna be a big deal. All I can think is that he looked the part of a good young pitcher. Tallish and lean. He was from Texas too, and Texan pitchers put an image in a person’s head. He threw moderately hard for the time if I remember correctly, but nothing approaching the velocity that one would need to raise anyone’s eyebrows today. And, as I said, it’s not like that translated into big strikeout totals. All I can think is that some scouts — maybe the ones who recommended he be drafted and were thus continuing to try to sell their choice — let slip to the WTBS guys that he was going to be good. But I really have no idea.

I do know, though, that he pitched five garbage time games in September 1987, looking bad in the first three and pretty decent in the last couple. The last one was against an NL West champion Giants team on October 2, after they had clinched. Roger Craig made a lot of substitutions in that game. They were getting ready for the NLCS. In 1988 Coffman got 18 games — 11 starts — and was clearly overmatched. That September the Braves gave up and traded him to the Cubs for Jody Davis. Coffman would spend 1989 in the minors and get shelled in eight appearances for Chicago in 1990 and that was that. The Internet tells me that Jody Davis is alive and well, but I have a mental image of him literally decomposing on the field in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium over the next two years. Catching takes a toll, friends.

I don’t blame Coffman, of course. He made the bigs and that’s a big deal. He no doubt tried his best. He didn’t make any promises to me about how good he’d be. He didn’t owe me a thing. It’s just a situation in which I, as a tween and teenaged kid was told he’d be great and he wasn’t. It happens. But I still think about him a lot.

Who’s that guy for you?

 





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And That Happened: Classic! – HardballTalk


Note: as a result of the suspension of the baseball season due to the coronavirus pandemic, we now bring you a special “Classic” version of “And That Happened.” The following originally ran on the HardballTalk pamphlet on April 12, 1967. Which, because it was mailed to subscribers, was not read by anyone until at least April 14.

  

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 6, Twins 3: Neither Dave McNally nor Jim Kaat had much in the tank on Opening Day, with both pitchers hitting the showers before the close of the fifth inning. It’s disgraceful for starting pitchers to come out of a game so early. Players today are getting soft, dear readers. What’s next? Training wheels? A series of pitchers beginning games, each taking a bite-sized portion of the laboring oar, and none of them figuring in the final decision? Where does it end? Games featuring four, five or even — dare I say it? — six pitchers making an appearance? Heaven forfend. As it was, this contest took an appalling two hours and thirty-two minutes due to all of the pitching changes. I hope someone checked in on managers Hank Bauer and Sam Mele after it was all done, because that was a LOT of walking for those two men.

As for the offense, Brooks Robinson hit a home run in the first inning right after Luis Aparicio and Frank Robinson knocked in runs with a double and a single, respectively, to give the birds a 4-0 lead that they’d never surrender.

I’d also like to make a note of the attendance: 39,812 filled Memorial Stadium. That was more, I would like to remind my long-haired readers, than showed up to any of those so-called “Be-Ins,” they’ve been having around the country lately. Folks, I said it before and I’ll say it again: the “hippie” movement is going nowhere and these nogoodnik kids will be getting shaves and haircuts and will be looking for good, solid jobs before Labor Day rolls around. They’ll end up calling this “The Summer of Work,” I guarantee it.

Angels 4, Tigers 2: California starter George Brunet spun eight innings of shutout ball. He fits right in on this Angels club: he’s completely well-adjusted and wears underwear at all times. I hope he never changes at all, for it’d be a shame if he were remembered in any other way. Of course, at age 31 he’s getting up there in years. It’s hard to imagine him pitching long enough to be remembered regardless. He strikes me as the sort of fella who will ease nicely into retirement — maybe back to his home in upper Michigan — before there’s any gray on that dome of his.

Athletics 4, Indians 3: It sure looks like young Sam McDowell’s best years are behind him. A big star in 1965, he was hurt a lot last year and looked completely ineffective at Municipal Stadium yesterday, walking six in only five innings of work. It’s amazing how sudden a promising career can be derailed. “Sudden Sam” McDowell, they’ll call him someday, referring to how quickly he pitched his way out of the league.

In this he reminds me much of that boxer, Cassius Clay, who had some good years but now — due to his wrongheaded refusal to go fight for Uncle Sam against the commies in Vietnam — is throwing his career away. No doubt he was listening to that Martin Luther King character, who just last week denounced America’s involvement in the war during a speech. He too will no doubt be forgotten by history, just like McDowell and Clay, all because he took so unpopular a stance.

Cubs 4, Phillies 2: Fergie Jenkins went the distance, outdueling Jim Bunning with a two-run, six-hit complete game. Around 16,000 fans made it out to Wrigley Field for Opening Day. Sixteen. Thousand.

What a crowd!

That’s 9,000 more than last year’s per game average! If they keep that up they may even outdraw the White Sox one day. I know that seems like a pipe dream — the South Siders have been the bigger draw in Chicago for a good decade now — but I feel like people would take to the weak sisters of the Windy City if someone were to give ’em a chance. Always root for the underdog, that’s what I say, and when it comes to Chicago baseball, the Cubs are definitely that.

Astros 6, Braves 1: Mike Cuellar allowed one run over nine. He was backed by two driven in by Aaron Pointer and one RBI from Eddie Matthews, who the Braves traded to Houston back in December. They’re gonna regret trading a legendary player like Matthews, I tell you what. He has a lot of homers left in the tank, at least if I’m any judge of baseball talent.

Pirates 6, Mets 3: Jesse Gonder, Matty Alou, Roberto Clemente, Maury Wills, and Bill Mazeroski each drove in runs for the Bucs. Meanwhile, former Pirate Don Cardwell got the start for the Mets against his old mates and his defense certainly did him no favors, committing five errors in the ugly loss. Even worse, this boner-prone crew will be playing behind some wet-behind-the-ears rookie making his big league debut in New York’s second game of the season tomorrow night. God help George Thomas Seaver. Of all of the teams he could come up with, why did it have to be the Mets? They’ll chew him up and spit him out, ruining his career before it even begins. I’d bet my life on it.

Cardinals 6, Giants 0: Bob Gibson tossed a shutout, striking out 13 Giants batters. Willies Mays and McCovey combined to go 0-for-8 with 4Ks alone. Hoot’s opponent — Juan Marichal — gave up six runs on 14 hits in seven innings. Not a banner day for The Dominican Dandy.

Your reporter was, it so happens, lucky enough to be in St. Louis for this game, and he’s putting the finishing touches on these encapsulations a few hours after game time. The evening has been lovely, actually, as I am spending it in the company of two of the young clubhouse attendants who had accompanied they Giants from San Francisco. My earlier negative comments about the “hippies” notwithstanding, I should note that each of these gentlemen are amiable and kind, even if they are of the long-haired persuasion.

Indeed, I’m typing this missive on my portable Smith Corona from a tavern near the ballpark in their company. They’re such fine young lads. They have even offered to purchase and bring me my drinks. Ah, here they come back with another now.

So, where was I? Ah, yes, Bob Gibson and his dominance over the GGGgggggggg . . . I . . um . . . nnnnnnnnwhhhaaaaa . . . ~~~waves of the soft spring wind . . . waves of the soft spring wind . . . . love’s flood tide craves nectar day and night as the blue lotus floooattts awwwaaayyy, flooooooaaats awwaaayyyy . . . On the wall  . . . the long wall hung a tall mirror . . . distorted view, see-through baby blue . . . I diiiig iiiiit . . .~~~

Ah! God! Where was I? Ye Gods, It’s morning! Why is my face painted half blue and half yellow! Why do I feel the need to get father and father out there?! It’s my happening and it freaks me out!

-30-





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MLB ‘Opening Day at Home’ to broadcast 30 games on Thursday – HardballTalk


ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have reached an agreement on a deal pertaining to issues including service time, pay, and the amateur draft. The deal is expected to be ratified by the owners on Friday.

A report indicated yesterday that players would get credited for a full year of service time for games played in 2020. However, per Passan, every player on an active roster will get service time whether or not there is a 2020 season. That means players like Mookie Betts, J.T. Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, and Marcus Stroman will become free agents heading into the 2021 season. If there is a season, service time will be prorated. Players will also not be penalized in arbitration for putting up lower counting stats in a shortened season. The league is advancing the players $170 million for pay in April and May. In the event there is no season, the players will keep that money, likely in exchange for not suing for the amount of their full salaries.

MLB gets the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and can delay the start of the international signing period to as late as January 2021, Passan adds. The 2021 draft can be shortened to 20 rounds, and the 2021-22 international signing period can be pushed to anytime between January and December 2022.

Lastly, Evan Drellich of The Athletic notes that a transaction freeze will be put into effect when the deal is finalized. The two sides will come to an agreement when it will be lifted.

This deal is good for all players that don’t have options remaining, meaning they are guaranteed their major league service time. It’s also great for the owners, despite an up-front cost of paying players without getting any labor in return. For everyone else — international players, minor leaguers, would-be draftees — the MLBPA sold them out. The MLBPA is a union and unions represent their members. Players from the aforementioned groups are not represented by the MLBPA, or any union at all. This is why many have been suggesting for years that the MLBPA should widen its umbrella, as some percentage of international players, minor leaguers, and draftees are soon-to-be union members.

Within the larger context of the upcoming negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, perhaps tonight’s agreement is an indication that eventual labor peace can be achieved. Things were tense between ownership and the players before the pandemic.





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MLB, MLBPA reach agreement on service time, pay, draft


ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have reached an agreement on a deal pertaining to issues including service time, pay, and the amateur draft. The deal is expected to be ratified by the owners on Friday.

A report indicated yesterday that players would get credited for a full year of service time for games played in 2020. However, per Passan, every player on an active roster will get service time whether or not there is a 2020 season. That means players like Mookie Betts, J.T. Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, and Marcus Stroman will become free agents heading into the 2021 season. If there is a season, service time will be prorated. Players will also not be penalized in arbitration for putting up lower counting stats in a shortened season. The league is advancing the players $170 million for pay in April and May. In the event there is no season, the players will keep that money, likely in exchange for not suing for the amount of their full salaries.

MLB gets the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and can delay the start of the international signing period to as late as January 2021, Passan adds. The 2021 draft can be shortened to 20 rounds, and the 2021-22 international signing period can be pushed to anytime between January and December 2022.

Lastly, Evan Drellich of The Athletic notes that a transaction freeze will be put into effect when the deal is finalized. The two sides will come to an agreement when it will be lifted.

This deal is good for all players that don’t have options remaining, meaning they are guaranteed their major league service time. It’s also great for the owners, despite an up-front cost of paying players without getting any labor in return. For everyone else — international players, minor leaguers, would-be draftees — the MLBPA sold them out. The MLBPA is a union and unions represent their members. Players from the aforementioned groups are not represented by the MLBPA, or any union at all. This is why many have been suggesting for years that the MLBPA should widen its umbrella, as some percentage of international players, minor leaguers, and draftees are soon-to-be union members.

Within the larger context of the upcoming negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, perhaps tonight’s agreement is an indication that eventual labor peace can be achieved. Things were tense between ownership and the players before the pandemic.





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Baseball Question of the Day: If you could change one rule, what would it be? – HardballTalk


Today’s first baseball question — our unofficial one — was about your favorite Opening Day memory. Let’s have do a standalone question. It’s an oldie but a goldie — one that I’ve been asked a million times before but which I think everyone has an opinion about — and it’s this: if you could change one rule in the game, what would it be?

For this let’s keep it to an actual rule. I’m not asking about the circumstances of the game, what cities you’d expand to, how you would realign the league or how you would change the playoffs. We can do those on other days. For this I want to know about something in the rule book or the official scoring or what have you.

Also, let’s once again not include the DH. There is nothing more predictable and rote than DH/anti-DH arguments. It really does get old to do that for the 10,000th time. Most of us know 100% of what you’re gonna say about the DH the moment you start saying it. All we need to know is if you’re pro or con. I’d rather argue about religion or politics.

With that out of the way, let’s get to mine. It changes often. I probably complain more during the season about pitcher errors leading to unearned runs — it really is their fault! — but that’s a wide complaint, not really a deep one. I don’t lose any sleep over it. There are also some rules changes of recent vintage that I’d like to see reversed, such as the automatic intentional walk. I miss them actually having to throw the four balls and get booed for doing it.

But let’s go more novel: I want to see them refuse to implement the minimum-three-batter rule for relievers that is supposed to take effect this year and, instead, allow unlimited pitching changes — but! — when you put in a reliever mid-inning, he starts with a 1-0 count. No, I did not make that one up. I stole it from Baseball America. But it’s neat and I bet it’d cut down on pitching changes more than the three-batter rule would. It’d certainly earn relievers their money.

How about you?

The nonprofit organization More Than Baseball announced on Thursday that Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and his wife Jenny donated $250,000 to provide assistance to Cardinals minor leaguer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The start of the regular season for both Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball were delayed in accordance with CDC guidelines.

It is not clear yet when the regular season will begin. Minor league players are not paid during spring training and typically make, as More Than Baseball notes, between $1,170 and $1,650 per month for five months of the minor league season. Thanks to MTB and other advocates, players will be paid $400 per week through April 9, which would have been the start of the minor league season. The league is still in the process of addressing what happens beyond April 9. Cardinals minor leaguers, at least, will have a safety net provided by Wainwright.

Wainwright’s gesture is, of course, incredible. It shouldn’t have been necessary, however, as minor leaguers should have already been paid a living wage and their salaries guaranteed during this crisis. Wainwright has earned more than $140 million over his career, but MLB took in over $10 billion in revenues last year alone. It is the billionaire owners across the sport, not the millionaires that constitute part of the labor force, that should be reaching out of pocket to take care of minor leaguers.





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Bill Bartholomay, who moved Braves to Atlanta, dies at 91


ATLANTA — Former Braves owner Bill Bartholomay, who moved the franchise from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966 to become Major League Baseball’s first team in the South, has died. He was 91.

Bartholomay died Wednesday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, according to his daughter, Jamie.

Braves Hall of Famer Hank Aaron said on his Twitter account Bartholomay “was the greatest owner I ever had the pleasure to play for. He understood the game of baseball more than so many others. I’ve known him for a longtime and he’s helped me in more ways than you can imagine. I will surely miss my friend.”

Bartholomay attended spring training at the Braves’ new facility in North Port, Florida, last month before the coronavirus pandemic caused MLB to suspend spring training and delay the start of the season.

In the 1990s, Bartholomay provided key support to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who grew up in Milwaukee rooting for the Braves and later owned the Brewers.

Bartholomay headed the group that sold the Braves to Ted Turner in 1976 but retained a partial interest and remained as the team’s chairman until November 2003, when he assumed an emeritus role.

“There is baseball in Atlanta today because of Bill Bartholomay,” the Braves said in a statement Thursday.

“He was part of our organization for the last 57 years and never missed an opening day or significant event,” the team said. “He was a dear, thoughtful friend whose presence will be missed, but his legacy will surely stand the test of time for the Atlanta Braves and all of baseball.”

Bartholomay was a Chicago area-based insurance executive, and he helped sell many insurance policies for player contracts to big league clubs.

Bartholomay led the group that owned the Milwaukee Braves before making the controversial decision to move the team to Atlanta. Despite death threats, he completed the move.

He remained with the team when Turner took control and when Time Warner acquired the franchise in 1996 as the company merged with Turner Broadcasting System.

Bartholomay was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2002.

The team said Bartholomay deserved credit for “helping shape Atlanta as a major city in the South when he relocated the Braves from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. His warmth and grace were felt equally by presidents, MLB commissioners, business titans, Braves players and fans.”

After Selig became chairman of baseball’s executive council in 1992, Bartholomay headed the commissioner search committee that recommended Arnold Weber, then the Northwestern University president, and Harvey Schiller, then with the U.S. Olympic Committee. But owners suspended the search and Selig wound up remaining in power until 2015. Bartholomay also headed MLB’s ownership committee.

“Besides being one of the most important figures in the game of baseball for more than five decades, Bill Bartholomay was truly a wonderful person and one of my closest friends in the world,” Selig said.

“His wise counsel and calming views were critical throughout my years as baseball commissioner. My wife, Sue, and I will miss him terribly and we offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.”



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Fanatics converts PA factory to manufacture, donate masks and gowns


Michael Rubin, executive chairman of Fantatics, announced on Thursday that the company’s Pennsylvania factory will be converted from making official Major League Baseball jerseys into making masks and gowns. Those masks and gowns will be donated to help fight coronavirus (COVID-19). Fanatic manufactures and distributes official MLB uniforms as well as merchandise for fan consumption. It also operates MLB’s e-commerce, as well as that of many other major sports leagues.

In the full thread of tweets, Rubin says that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro each called him asking for help creating masks and gowns. MLB and Fanatics agreed to halt production of jerseys. With the help of approximately 100 associates, Fanatics plans to make one million masks and gowns to donate and distribute to hospitals and emergency personnel across the state of Pennsylvania with the goal of also extending into New Jersey and New York.

Based on the picture Rubin provided in his thread, it doesn’t appear that the masks being made form a seal around the nose and mouth, which the N95 respirators do. Additionally, the N95 respirators are made from polypropylene whereas MLB uniforms are made from polyester. Still, the additional masks and gowns from Fanatics should help and are certainly better than nothing.

It is also worth noting that Rubin and others were in a bit of hot water earlier in the week as he is also a co-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils. The two organizations wanted to cut their employees’ salaries by up to 20 percent. After significant public pressure, that decision was reversed.

Today’s first baseball question — our unofficial one — was about your favorite Opening Day memory. Let’s have do a standalone question. It’s an oldie but a goldie — one that I’ve been asked a million times before but which I think everyone has an opinion about — and it’s this: if you could change one rule in the game, what would it be?

For this let’s keep it to an actual rule. I’m not asking about the circumstances of the game, what cities you’d expand to, how you would realign the league or how you would change the playoffs. We can do those on other days. For this I want to know about something in the rule book or the official scoring or what have you.

Also, let’s once again not include the DH. There is nothing more predictable and rote than DH/anti-DH arguments. It really does get old to do that for the 10,000th time. Most of us know 100% of what you’re gonna say about the DH the moment you start saying it. All we need to know is if you’re pro or con. I’d rather argue about religion or politics.

With that out of the way, let’s get to mine. It changes often. I probably complain more during the season about pitcher errors leading to unearned runs — it really is their fault! — but that’s a wide complaint, not really a deep one. I don’t lose any sleep over it. There are also some rules changes of recent vintage that I’d like to see reversed, such as the automatic intentional walk. I miss them actually having to throw the four balls and get booed for doing it.

But let’s go more novel: I want to see them refuse to implement the minimum-three-batter rule for relievers that is supposed to take effect this year and, instead, allow unlimited pitching changes — but! — when you put in a reliever mid-inning, he starts with a 1-0 count. No, I did not make that one up. I stole it from Baseball America. But it’s neat and I bet it’d cut down on pitching changes more than the three-batter rule would. It’d certainly earn relievers their money.

How about you?





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Report: MLB draftees will be forced to defer 90 percent of their bonuses – HardballTalk


On March 26, 1960, there a scheduled exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds was canceled. But it wasn’t banged because of rain. The game — scheduled to be played in Havana, Cuba, but moved to Miami — was relocated because Orioles president Lee MacPhail’s fear for his players safety due to political unrest on the island. Political unrest that continued to reverberate — and would continue to reverberate — from the Cuban Revolution.

Fidel Castro’s forces toppled the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s eve 1958. The situation on the ground in Cuba — and the relationship between the new Cuban government and the United States — was, to say the least, fluid, throughout 1959 and into early 1960. While the United States had backed Batista and, in the words of President Kennedy in 1963, had “created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth and without realizing it” due to its policies toward Cuba in the previous decades, the Castro regime and the U.S. were not yet sworn enemies during this time. The U.S. was willing to recognize Castro as the country’s leader and Castro was still feeling out the two world super powers in an effort to determine whether, political ideology aside, aligning with the Soviet Union or the U.S. would be better for its own interests. Things were tense, but Cuba had not yet fully been swept up into the Cold War as it would later become.

Against that backdrop, minor league baseball continued to be played in Cuba. And not Cuban minor league baseball. It was minor league baseball affiliated with the U.S. major leagues, with the Havana Sugar Kings — the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate since 1954 — playing in the International League. They were just like a Triple-A team based in Buffalo, Richmond or Rochester. And speaking of Rochester, a series between the Red Wings and the Sugar Kings that went down in 1959 gives a bit of a glimpse into how chaotic that 1959 season really was.

Castro was himself a Sugar Kings fan and would often attend games, both before and after the revolution. While those stories you sometimes hear about Castro getting a tryout with the Washington Senators are completely bogus, he did in fact play baseball in college and would put together pickup games even after taking power. On on July 24, 1959 he put together an exhibition game between his own pickup team Los Barbudos (“The Bearded Ones”) and a military police team, playing just before a Red Wings-Sugar Kings game. Castro pitched two innings and struck out two. The next night the Red Wings and Sugar Kings played again, and the game went late. When it hit midnight — making it July 26, which is the anniversary of Castro’s July 26, 1953 attack on the army barracks in Santiago, which gave rise to the name of his political movement — the crowd went nuts in celebration, with many fans firing guns into the air. Rochester third base coach Frank Verdi and Havana shortstop Leo Cárdenas ended up with flesh wounds.

Somehow, however, the Sugar Kings played out the 1959 season. And they didn’t mail it in: they finished third in the IL with a record of 80-73, which qualified them for the four-team IL playoffs. They upset the second place Columbus Jets and fourth place Richmond Virginians to win the league championship and then beat the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association in a seven game Junior World Series to claim the Triple-A championship (see the photo above). Not bad for a team that found itself, quite literally, in the middle of a revolution.

The Sugar Kings would not weather the 1960 season as well. Tensions between Castro and the United States heightened during the year. As Castro made it clear he was leading far more in the direction of the Soviets than the U.S., it was feared that he would nationalize U.S. industries. Which is exactly what he did in August 1960. The owners of the Sugar Kings — at the direction of MLB commissioner Ford Frick — had pulled up stakes the month before, however, moving the team to Jersey City in the middle of the season. Soon after the nationalization move, the Eisenhower administration froze all Cuban assets on American soil, severed diplomatic ties, and that was basically that.

The former Sugar Kings would play as the Jersey City Jerseys through the 1961 season before being sold to the Cleveland Indians, who moved them to Jacksonville, Florida, where they became the Jacksonville Suns. After the 1968 season the Suns, by then a Mets affiliate, were moved to Norfolk. The Norfolk Tides, now the top affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

Those Orioles — who, again, on this date in 1960, refused to take the field for that exhibition game due to political unrest — would go on to play a significant role in Cuban baseball once again. That came on March 28 and then again on May 3, 1999, when they played two exhibition games against the Cuban national baseball team. The first game took place in Havana, while the second was held in Baltimore. The March game was the first time a big league had team played in Cuba since 1959. The Orioles won the first game, which was held in Havana, by a score of 3–2 in extra innings. The Cuban national team defeated the Orioles 12–6 in the second game. The series introduced José Contreras to U.S. baseball fans. Contreras, of course, would defect in 2002 and star for the Yankees, White Sox, Rockies, Phillies and Pirates, retiring after the 2013 season.

The series was also highly controversial. It was protested and derided by the Cuban-American community as a propaganda ploy by the Castro regime, aided by Bud Selig and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who sat beside Castro at the games in Havana. MLB umpire Rich Garcia, who is of Cuban descent, opposed the series and the MLB umpire union filed a grievance attempting to block them from being sent to umpire the game in Cuba.

Since then Cuban-American relations have thawed and then frozen, off-and-on, depending on who was president at a given time. On the baseball side, Cuban-American relations have normalized to some degree, with a path to Cuba players in the U.S. being created, primarily as a means of thwarting human traffickers, who have exploited ballplayers and their families for years. The story of baseball in Cuba, as always, continues.

 

Also today in baseball history:

 

1955: Yankee manager Casey Stengel is arrested after he allegedly curses at and kicks a newspaper photographer during an exhibition game in St. Petersburg:

 

1976: The American League votes to expand to Toronto, awarding a franchise to a group led by Labatt Brewing Company. The rights to the team were purchased for $7 million.

1979: The Padres and Giants announce that they will play an exhibition series in 1980 in Tokyo. Giants owner Bob Lurie lets his players decide if they actually want to do it, however, and they reject the idea.

1984: Jackie Robinson is posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan. In 2020 President Trump would give the same award to a man who lost his job as a sports commentator due to racist comments.





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Today in Baseball History: Fidel Castro, baseball and the Havana Sugar Kings – HardballTalk


On March 26, 1960, there a scheduled exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds was canceled. But it wasn’t banged because of rain. The game — scheduled to be played in Havana, Cuba, but moved to Miami — was relocated because Orioles president Lee MacPhail’s fear for his players safety due to political unrest on the island. Political unrest that continued to reverberate — and would continue to reverberate — from the Cuban Revolution.

Fidel Castro’s forces toppled the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s eve 1958. The situation on the ground in Cuba — and the relationship between the new Cuban government and the United States — was, to say the least, fluid, throughout 1959 and into early 1960. While the United States had backed Batista and, in the words of President Kennedy in 1963, had “created, built and manufactured the Castro movement out of whole cloth and without realizing it” due to its policies toward Cuba in the previous decades, the Castro regime and the U.S. were not yet sworn enemies during this time. The U.S. was willing to recognize Castro as the country’s leader and Castro was still feeling out the two world super powers in an effort to determine whether, political ideology aside, aligning with the Soviet Union or the U.S. would be better for its own interests. Things were tense, but Cuba had not yet fully been swept up into the Cold War as it would later become.

Against that backdrop, minor league baseball continued to be played in Cuba. And not Cuban minor league baseball. It was minor league baseball affiliated with the U.S. major leagues, with the Havana Sugar Kings — the Cincinnati Reds’ Triple-A affiliate since 1954 — playing in the International League. They were just like a Triple-A team based in Buffalo, Richmond or Rochester. And speaking of Rochester, a series between the Red Wings and the Sugar Kings that went down in 1959 gives a bit of a glimpse into how chaotic that 1959 season really was.

Castro was himself a Sugar Kings fan and would often attend games, both before and after the revolution. While those stories you sometimes hear about Castro getting a tryout with the Washington Senators are completely bogus, he did in fact play baseball in college and would put together pickup games even after taking power. On on July 24, 1959 he put together an exhibition game between his own pickup team Los Barbudos (“The Bearded Ones”) and a military police team, playing just before a Red Wings-Sugar Kings game. Castro pitched two innings and struck out two. The next night the Red Wings and Sugar Kings played again, and the game went late. When it hit midnight — making it July 26, which is the anniversary of Castro’s July 26, 1953 attack on the army barracks in Santiago, which gave rise to the name of his political movement — the crowd went nuts in celebration, with many fans firing guns into the air. Rochester third base coach Frank Verdi and Havana shortstop Leo Cárdenas ended up with flesh wounds.

Somehow, however, the Sugar Kings played out the 1959 season. And they didn’t mail it in: they finished third in the IL with a record of 80-73, which qualified them for the four-team IL playoffs. They upset the second place Columbus Jets and fourth place Richmond Virginians to win the league championship and then beat the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association in a seven game Junior World Series to claim the Triple-A championship (see the photo above). Not bad for a team that found itself, quite literally, in the middle of a revolution.

The Sugar Kings would not weather the 1960 season as well. Tensions between Castro and the United States heightened during the year. As Castro made it clear he was leading far more in the direction of the Soviets than the U.S., it was feared that he would nationalize U.S. industries. Which is exactly what he did in August 1960. The owners of the Sugar Kings — at the direction of MLB commissioner Ford Frick — had pulled up stakes the month before, however, moving the team to Jersey City in the middle of the season. Soon after the nationalization move, the Eisenhower administration froze all Cuban assets on American soil, severed diplomatic ties, and that was basically that.

The former Sugar Kings would play as the Jersey City Jerseys through the 1961 season before being sold to the Cleveland Indians, who moved them to Jacksonville, Florida, where they became the Jacksonville Suns. After the 1968 season the Suns, by then a Mets affiliate, were moved to Norfolk. The Norfolk Tides, now the top affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

Those Orioles — who, again, on this date in 1960, refused to take the field for that exhibition game due to political unrest — would go on to play a significant role in Cuban baseball once again. That came on March 28 and then again on May 3, 1999, when they played two exhibition games against the Cuban national baseball team. The first game took place in Havana, while the second was held in Baltimore. The March game was the first time a big league had team played in Cuba since 1959. The Orioles won the first game, which was held in Havana, by a score of 3–2 in extra innings. The Cuban national team defeated the Orioles 12–6 in the second game. The series introduced José Contreras to U.S. baseball fans. Contreras, of course, would defect in 2002 and star for the Yankees, White Sox, Rockies, Phillies and Pirates, retiring after the 2013 season.

The series was also highly controversial. It was protested and derided by the Cuban-American community as a propaganda ploy by the Castro regime, aided by Bud Selig and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who sat beside Castro at the games in Havana. MLB umpire Rich Garcia, who is of Cuban descent, opposed the series and the MLB umpire union filed a grievance attempting to block them from being sent to umpire the game in Cuba.

Since then Cuban-American relations have thawed and then frozen, off-and-on, depending on who was president at a given time. On the baseball side, Cuban-American relations have normalized to some degree, with a path to Cuba players in the U.S. being created, primarily as a means of thwarting human traffickers, who have exploited ballplayers and their families for years. The story of baseball in Cuba, as always, continues.

 

Also today in baseball history:

 

1955: Yankee manager Casey Stengel is arrested after he allegedly curses at and kicks a newspaper photographer during an exhibition game in St. Petersburg:

 

1976: The American League votes to expand to Toronto, awarding a franchise to a group led by Labatt Brewing Company. The rights to the team were purchased for $7 million.

1979: The Padres and Giants announce that they will play an exhibition series in 1980 in Tokyo. Giants owner Bob Lurie lets his players decide if they actually want to do it, however, and they reject the idea.

1984: Jackie Robinson is posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan. In 2020 President Trump would give the same award to a man who lost his job as a sports commentator due to racist comments.





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