Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brett Lawrie Hot at Dish, Hot at Hot Corner

Though he continues to knock off rust after being waylayed for six weeks with a broken hand,  Blue Jays third base prospect Brett Lawrie is quickly rounding out not only with his bat but even his glove.

The 21-year-old former first-round draft pick returned to the Las Vegas 51s last week and quickly put up a 9-19 streak,  raising his Triple A batting average to .352,  with a .412 onbase percentage and .655 slugging with 16 homers in 261 atbats.  He also has stolen 14 bags.

Questions persist about his defensive play at third base,  as he has 14 errors,  but many came early in the season. Now he is beginning to look pretty flashy around the bag,  and at any rate he probably could not do much worse than Blue Jays potential starting third baseman Edwin Encarnacion,  a 29-year-old veteran who is anything but a defensive whiz.

After showing flashes of brilliance during spring training,  Lawrie,  a former catcher and second baseman,  continues to demonstrate major league readiness in the field,  as he barehanded a hard-hit grounder last week to keep it from going for extra bases,  then fielded another tricky bounce to help turn a 5-4 double play.

Meanwhile, fans are becoming inpatient,  especially after the Blue Jays made it clear the team is in no hurry to call him to Toronto.

"I've just got to keep playing, and hopefully I'll get an opportunity,"  Lawrie told The Las Vegas Review Journal.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Slowey to Undergo 'Touch' Examination

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has scheduled a 10 a.m. press conference to disclose results of an early morning medical "touch" examination to determine whether bullpen pitcher Kevin Slowey has a hernia, a condition that likely will require surgery.

Slowey, a reliever who possibly would have been ticketed to be converted into a starter for the Triple A Rochester Redwings if he had been healthy, has been complaining of discomfort in his lower torso, which initially led his physicians to suspect he may have strained or torn his oblique or other lower rib muscles or groin.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam, however, clarified that was not the case, leaving a hernia as a probable cause of his complaints, though nothing is certain. Whatever it is, doctors so far have missed it, but will seek clarification with a simple visual inspection and "touch" examination.

Hernias, especially in the pelvis area, can be subtle to detect, but likely will be more apparent once doctors focus on the question, having narrowed down the possibilities.

Many people with hernias lead relatively normal lives, as long as they avoid serious exertions that would aggravate the condition. But baseball and other sports activities pose significant risk of worsening the problem.

The condition occurs when a weakness or hole in the outer abdominal wall -- perhaps as large as a 50-cent piece but probably much smaller -- allows fat or organic tissue to be pressured into or through the hole, causing discomfort, outright pain or even organ malfunctions.

The cure requires relatively simple surgery, so a relatively quick return to play, after a month or so of rehabilitation, would be reasonable. His sidelining would make it difficult, but not impossible, for the Twins to consummate a trade for Slowey, which evidently is being discussed behind closed doors.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cardinals Move Albert Pujols Into Harm's Way

Cardinals first basemen Albert Pujols has easily borne the mantle of Superman since the first moment of his arrival from the planet Krypton, but every Superman has his kryptonite and  Pujols is no exception.

Ever since his .329 batting average and 37 home runs in his rookie year,  observers have tended to forget that not long after he burst onto the scene he sustained a grade 3 tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of  his right elbow.

Though Pujols has undergone a number of arthroscopic and other collateral surgical procedures and various cleanups since then,  the tear to his "Tommy John ligament" remains manifest and continues to present a threat to his playing ability, especially if he expends significant energy throwing across the diamond from third base to first base.

Thus it seems peculiar that the Cardinals have acquiesced to Pujols' volunteering to play the hot corner,  rather than staying strictly at his much less demanding first base position.

Exercise and other rehabilitative reconditioning has built up enough strength in the remaining,  or untorn,   strands of ligament to provide adequate strength for normal,  everyday activity, but not necessarily enough for playing baseball.

 As long as Pujols plays first base, he might be able to get by,  and so he has.  But in intense, pressure situations throwing hard from third base,  his elbow could come apart at any time.

Let's repeat that one more time:  his elbow could come apart at any time.  In other words,  he could be one throw away from a trip to the 60-day disabled list,  even perhaps from a potential career ending injury.

Certainly one would think that the Cardinals have not only the team's but also Pujols' best interests in determining how to best position him on the field,  but the unexpected move to third base, however intermittent,  begs the question: Can it be possible that the team is willing to risk his health knowing that he very likely will leave the Cardinals when his contract expires at the end of this year?

Parish the thought, but fact remains that the most prudent medical decision would be to keep Albert Pujols strictly at first base,  and better yet, if he does go elsewhere next season, transform him into an American League designated hitter.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dusty Baker's Genius Rarely Fails to Surprise

In a world in which Copernicus  was  nearly drawn and quartered, da Vinci was barely one step away from the pillory and Einstein was ridiculed as "addle-brained," is it any wonder that the genius of  Reds manager Dusty Baker is so frequently misunderstood?

In an iconoclasm unparalleled since Baker chose Willy Taveras and his .275 on-base percentage as Reds leadoff batter, and scolded Adam Dunn for walking too much and "clogging up the bases," Baker has now selected swing-and-miss, right-handed power hitter Jonny Gomes to hit in the 2-hole.

Many less-gifted baseball strategists might have thought Baker should have opted in favor of the axiom that a high average, left hander would be better suited to bat second to ensure that the ball would be hit behind baserunners in order to promote their advancement.

That would be too obvious.  Baker has chosen instead the element of surprise.

Stunned by the switch,  frustrated infielders are left to helplessly bump into one another like blind moles on the dark side of the moon, or so it would seem.

Brandon Phillips is right handed, and might seem to be a better choice to bat second, because he is a much better hitter than Gomes, who is hitting .186 (with an OPS around .460 over the past month).

But seeing as Phillips has hit barely more than 20 homers a season with no more than a .275 average Baker cannot resist using him as a cleanup hitter while the highly regarded Jay Bruce (and his 10 homers) bats as low as seventh and gets plenty of time on the bench .

At least Gomes doesn't hit into double plays, owing to the fact that he strikes out more than a third of the time.

Critics so foolish as to question Baker's brilliance need not despair, however.  His lineup cards are a little like Cincinnati's weather; if you don't like it, wait a while and it will change. Baker has used an average of three different lineups a week since the season began.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wedge Storms, Won't Take Ackley's Name In Vain

All that was missing from Mariners manager Eric Wedge's tirade was Dustin Ackley's name,  but he hardly needed to say it.

"I sure as hell am not going to continue watching this!"  Wedge warned reporters after his team upset western division rival Los Angeles but could only scratch out three runs against an unusually wobbly Jeff Weaver in the shutout.  "We are going to get better and we are going to do everything that we possibly can to get better."

Wedge's focus was his 25-man roster,  particularly the performances of  outfielders Michael Saunders and others,  whose efforts have left the team ranked 29th out of 30 in major league hitting. But how far away can an offensive infusion from Triple A Tacoma be  if Wedge is serious about his declaration that "we need something?"

Ackley, 21, a second base prospect relegated to Tacoma after a mediocre spring,  started out slowly this year as evidenced by his .280 overall  average.  But he has begun pounding on the door more recently,  going 19-41 for a .463 average with a bag, eight RBI and two homers over his last 10 games.

The No. 2 overall 2009 pick,  sometimes described as a left-handed version of all-time hits leader Pete Rose, was named the Arizona Fall League's most valuable player last year after hitting .315.  He projects as a high-average competitor with gap power,  but his glove is thought to lag behind his bat.

Fans and other observers are looking for his arrival sometime after the start of the super-2 arbitration clock,  which this year may occur during the first or second week of June,  but Wedge has refused to say much about the time for his callup.

Super 2 or no super 2,  the team claims Ackley's arrival has nothing to do with salary arbitration eligibility.  Little wonder;  Ackley's agent is Scott Boros,  whose track record suggests he will balk at Ackley signing an early contract extension under any circumstances.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dodgers Force-Feed Top Rookie Jerry Sands

With reserve right-fielder Marcus Thames unlikely to come off the disabled list when eligible May 18,  rookie Jerry Sands looks to gain continued playing time as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly force feeds the youngster with starts not only in left field,  but at his natural position at first base.

The 6-foot-4,  240-pound Sands,  primarily filling Thames role as right-handed power bat off the bench,  has been starting almost every day in left field,  then moving to first base against left-handed pitchers while starting first baseman James Loney struggles with a .125 average against them.
Though half of Sands' 14 hits have been doubles,  and he has given a number of pitches a long ride to the wall, so far he has failed to take advantage of his opportunity,  with his average stuck at the.200 mark.   However,  he will not have reached the 100-at-bat benchmark until near the end of next week,  a juncture at which he is likely to be reassessed.

The Dodgers are desperate for punch, and will turn to veteran Jay Gibbons, a left-handed batter recovering from blurred vision, to start in left field against righties, thus putting Sands in a virtual platoon.

While Sands' emergence -- if it can be called that -- is purely opportunistic until now,  theoretically he could surprise observers by winning regular spot in the lineup if only he could perform even fractionally as well as he had been playing at Triple A Albuquerque when the Dodgers called him up as a stop-gap measure.

Sands, 23, the 2010 Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year, was hitting a homer in just about every 10 at-bats,  a total of five to open the season,  and pounding minor league pitching at a .400 clip.  With Thames out possibly into June,  time remains for Sands to prove himself.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Alonso Willing But Reluctant to Go To Reds Outfield

Reds top hitting prospect Yonder Alonso -- stuck at Triple A Louisville because his promotion to Cincinnati is blocked at first base -- is willing to keep learning the outfield if that's what it takes to make the major leagues, though he would prefer to stay at his natural corner position.

"I think I'm a good first baseman;  I like playing first base;  I want to stay there,  but they've already got some guy up there,"  Alonso told Sirrius-XM Radio host Grant Paulsen on Paulsen's Sunday morning "Majors and Minors" program.

The "guy" playing first base for the Reds,  of course,  is none other than reigning MVP Joey Votto,  who is not likely to give up his position anytime soon.

"We text each other every day,"  Alonso said.  "I tell him,  'I hit a home run today,'  and he says back, 'I hit two!"

Alonso, 24, a former first round pick,  rejects calls for him to be traded,  hoping the day will come when he finally takes the field at Great American Ballpark,  at first,  in the outfield or on the bench.

"This is where I was drafted.  This is where I want to stay,"  he said.

The former Cuban national -- who fled the communist controlled Caribbean island when a boy -- is hitting .280 in his first 84 at-bats for the Redbirds, but is heating up.  He has four hits in his last 12,  including two homers.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Yogi Berra Plan' a Cure for Mauer's 'Cyberchondria'

Whether sidelined Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer suffers from so-called 'cyberchondria' the early stages of arthritic knee or merely a virus, one thing is for certain: There is no cure better than the 'Yogi Berra Plan.'

The plan -- being advanced by Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse -- brings to mind the creativity of the New York Yankees some 50 years ago when the team wanted to work emerging young catcher Elston Howard into the lineup.

Because Howard was blocked by Yogi Berra behind the plate, Berra was moved to left field. The Twins could do likewise with Mauer, who has undergone invasive knee surgery and currently is out of the lineup due to "bilateral leg weakness,' potentially linked to neurological and spinal complications involving structural deficiencies related to an arthritic knee.

Because Mauer's contract binds him to the club for the next six years, his absence from the lineup set off a round of blogosphere 'cyberchondria,' a newly termed phenomenon in which commentators, pundits and prognosticators peruse online medical texts to determine his pronosis.

 Look, take it from Doctor X, a licensed physician: Joe Mauer suffers from the advanced manifestations of a trauma-induced arthritic knee, a condition that will grow worse and worse until is fairly safe to predict that barring a miracle, if Mauer finishes his career in a Twinkies uniform, he certainly won't be wearing it behind the plate.

 Does that mean he can't finish this season as a catcher?  No. What it means is that Mauer's time is running out, and the sooner he stops spending a couple hours a day squatting the better off he'll be.

It also means that because outfielder Delmon Young's contract is coming up, a potentially costly negotiation, it is time to trade Young in a deal that will bring back a young catcher, and to move Mauer to Young's spot in the outfield.

 For the Twins, it's a matter of health.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blue Jays Weigh Brett Lawrie's Readiness for Majors

If former Toronto Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez had anything to say about it --  top organizational minor league prospect Brett Lawrie would be in the majors already.

"If it were up to me,  I'd take him north,"  Martinez told his former colleagues at Sirrius-XM Radio after watching Lawrie closely at the conclusion of spring training.

Now working as a Blue Jays television announcer,  Martinez, however,  must leave the decision entirely to a committee of others,  none less important than Marty Brown,  Lawrie's manager with the Triple A Las Vegas 51s.  Brown sees things differently.

Hitting at a .441 clip in the early going,  Lawrie is doing all that can be expected of him in the Pacific Coast League, at least at the plate. But he has four errors,  and neither Brown nor anyone else seems willing to rush him into the field before he's ready.

"He's pretty special," Brown recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "(His bat) is what's going to take him wherever he needs to go.  But we have to make sure, when he gets his opportunity to go, he's prepared to play third base."

Some observers have speculated it may take at least two months before he can be considered capable of playing the hot corner without embarrassing himself.  Others,  such as Blue Jays announcer Alan Ashby,  a former Toronto catcher, think he is ready today despite what might be considered anomalous errors.

A Canadian native,  Lawrie, 21, was traded from Milwaukee to Toronto on Dec. 6 for pitcher Shaun Marcum. He is a former No. 16 overall pick, and has seen time at second base and the outfield during his brief career,  reps which might better have been spent learning third base,  seeing as the Blue Jays are determined to convert him.  Coaches are working on Lawrie's footwork and throwing.

Favoring Lawrie for a quicker callup is the fact that so far this season, it appears that he can't do much worse than anyone else Toronto has at third, especially struggling third base starter Edwin Encarnacion.   Need, it should be remembered, is the tie that binds.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Small Sample Enough to Bench Royals 1B Ka'aihue

Royals first baseman Kila Ka'aihue was given only 13 at-bats against left-handed pitchers before being benched against them by manager Ned Yost; it was a small sample,  but evidence abounds that Ka'aihue  up until now has been greatly overmatched in such assignments at the major league level.

Having flailed helplessly against marginal Tigers lefty Phil Coke in three, recent successive plate appearances, it was clear Ka'aihue needed time off to gather himself and find a way to demonstrate that he has the potential to be anything more than a platoon player at best.

Yost sat Ka'aihue with the excuse of giving him "a break" against Twins lefties Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano,  but with the Royals playing with surprising competiveness,  it's likely Yost wanted to avoid having a rally killer clogging the offense in the middle of the lineup.

 Though he has a walk-off homer,  Ka'aihue is hitting just .176 overall and .154 against lefties. Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer,  a master at the plate during his career,  has taken Ka'aihue under his wing.  In the meantime,  Royals top prospect first baseman Eric Hosmer awaits at Triple A Omaha.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trial Continues for Punchless 1B Kila Ka'aihue

The Kansas City Royals trial by immersion continues for struggling prospect Kila Ka'haihue -- whose vulnerabilities have been laid bare by left-handed pitching as evidenced by his .154 average against them over the first eight games of the season.

Ka'aihue, a late bloomer at age 27, was made to look ridiculous in a recent confrontation with Tigers lefty Phil Coke, who fed him a dozen curve balls that held the so-called "Hawaiian Punch" punchless with three swinging strikeouts, all on pitches that cut the plate. Not a fastball in the bunch, and all from a hurler who is not exactly Sandy Koufax.

Now the six-foot-four, 235-pound first baseman's challenge intensifies as he must face three lefties this week, Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano of the Twins, and Eric Bedard of the Mariners. By the time they get through with him, he might be happy to see a righty except for one thing: It will be Bedard's teammate Felix Hernandez, the fireballing ace. Though Ka'aihue has impressive minor league numbers, he put them up in the hit-happy Pacific Coast League, where today rival Eric Hosmer is off to a hot start, hitting 3-6 in the early going. The 50th state native must turn it up now if he wants to be considered anything more than a place-keeper until Hosmer arrives around June 1.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Josh Fields Wastes No Time Making Impression

Former major leaguer Josh Fields -- best remembered for hitting 23 homers in 373 at-bats as a surprise replacement for the 2007 White Sox -- wasted no time making an impression in his debut with Triple A Colorado Springs, going 1-3 with a walk, three RBI and a towering homer in an 18-14 loss to Tucson.

Heading a cast of 11 former major leaguers vieing for callups to the parent club -- Fields, 26, finds himself in a strong comeback position as he has been cast as a deep reserve for struggling Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart, 26, who has yet to play this year coming off knee and hamstring injuries. Fields is also backing up super utility man Ty Wigginton, 33, who is seeing reps at third, first and the outfield in Denver. Fields' homer came off former Padres major leaguer Wade LeBlanc, 26,, who gave up 10 hits and eight earned runs in 4.33 innings.

LeBlanc, who won eight games against 12 losses in 26 major league starts last year, is making a bid to return to San Diego. Another Colorado Springs standout was former major league speedster Willy Taveras, 27, master of the bunt single, who went 3-5 with a bag. Fields and Taveras could turn out to be useful spare parts at the major league level before the year is out.

Another interesting puzzle piece is former Mets first baseman Mike Jacobs, 30, who hit at a .300 clip with power when originally called up in New York six years ago, and cannot be ruled out as a potential backup to aging All Star first baseman Todd Helton, 36. Eric Young Jr., 25 -- son of original Colorado Rockies outfielder Eric Sr. -- has been up and down between Triple A and Denver over the past two years, and likely as not will supplant Jose Lopez, who is keeping second base open for him in Denver. Former Rockies infielder Chris Nelson is also with the Sky Sox.

Other ex-big leaguers at Colorado Springs include catcher Mike Pagnozzi formerly of the Cardinals and pitchers Billy Buckner formerly of the Diamondbacks, Clay Mortensen formerly of the Athletics and Sean White formerly of the Mariners.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kouz Gets Day Off; Why, Wally Pipp's Birthday?

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Geren has given Kevin Kouzmanoff the day off to rest after the starting third baseman committed three errors. Gee, thanks, skipper, where should I lie down, on the railroad tracks?

It's hard to imagine Kouz will be able to relax very much with a steaming locomotive gaining on him in the person of former Dodgers top infield prospect Andy La Roche, who in a brief trial is exhibiting all the characteristics of a post-hype, late bloomer.

Though La Roche hit an impressive .333 with 13 RBI and four homers in little more than 60 spring at-bats, realistically, it's much, much too soon to suggest that Kouzmanoff is actually going to be pipped, to use that arcane slang verb recalling Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp. Mister Pipp, as you remember, sat out for a day in 1926 and lost his job to some guy named Lou Gehrig.

Still, La Roche, who came to camp as a lowly, long-shot non-roster invitee, has not wasted his opportunity, hitting 3-6, a .500 clip, in two consecutive starts. Statistics in a small sample can be misleading, but there are a few noteworthy items in La Roche's pedigree that cannot be ignored:

No.1: he has a strong arm, big glove and has major league experience not only at third base but second and first.

No. 2: when he came up, scouts regarded him as an even better prospect than his brother, Adam La Roche, who owns a .271 career average and more than 160 homers in eight major league seasons.

No. 3: he is every bit as good as his brother defensively, and formerly had been regarded as better offensively after he hit .333, .322, .309, .309 in four of his 10 minor league stops before reaching the majors.

To be fair, Kouzmanoff is not chopped liver, having hit .260 with 23 homers for San Diego in 2008, though not otherwise distinguishing himself much. Still, it must be said that La Roche is blocked at third. More interesting are La Roche's possibilities at second base, where incubent journeyman Mark Ellis, who will be 34 in June, has missed significant time due to injury in nine major league seasons, never having had more than 500 at-bats but once.

For the record, Ellis missed the entire 2004 season among his five trips to the disabled list, and currently benched for his most novel malady to date, dizziness due to an inner ear problem. Also working in La Roche's favor in his bid for playing time is the fact that light-hitting starting first baseman Daric Barton, a left-hander who has hit only 26 homers in 371 major league at-bats, might give up a few plate appearances against tough left-handed pitching.

Any way you slice it, La Roche should be given ample opportunity to exhibit his talent this year, and may yet appear on the platform even if he has missed the train.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blue Jays Urged to Open with Brett Lawrie at 3B

After hitting a torrid .409 with .714 slugging in his first 21 at-bats, 20-year-old Blue Jays prospect Brett Lawrie went 2-3 with a homer and walk to see his average plunge to a mere .381 in a 7-4 victory over the Twins.

Despite the -- er -- slump, fan pressure mounts for the young third baseman to make the team out of spring training as starting third baseman, moving slugger Jose Bautista to right field and newly acquired, marginal Angels veteran Juan Rivera to the bench.

Former major leaguer Alan Ashby, broadcaster for the Blue Jays, told Radio 590 talk show host Bob McCown in a telephone interview from spring camp in Duneeden, Fla., that it "makes sense" for Lawrie to make the team immediately, even though it would accelerate his arbitration clock.

The Blue Jays are widely thought to be rebuiders rather than playoff contenders for 2011, but Ashby warned that the team has the capability of surprising, and may emerge as a candidate for the post season. Suppose the team loses Lawrie's bat for two months after sending him back to the minors, then finally brings him up only to miss the post season by a game or two?

"Do you want to sit there and say, what if?" Ashby asks.

The situation is reminiscent of the 2006 Phillies, who kept slap-hitting Placido Polanco as the starting second baseman while holding back gamebreaking rookie Chase Utley as well into May, then watched the season go down the drain by missing the playoffs by one game.

"When you've got a talented young can get fooled, and we've been fooled before, but this looks like the real thing," Ashby said.

Lawrie (pronounced LOW-ry) , acquired from the Brewers in the deal for starting pitcher Shawn Marcum, has major league ready defensive skills, can play third, second or the outfield and projects as a power hitter with an excellent eye at the plate.

Ashby agreed with McCown that Lawrie taking over third base not only improves defense on the infield, but in the outfield, as well, where Bautista is regarded to be virtually as capable as any outfielder in the major leagues. Moreover, Lawrie's making the team should leave him more developed for a playoff push in 2012, McCown added.

A former catcher with the Astros, Ashby also offered a vaguely positive but uncertain outlook for rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia, a leading candidate to open the season as starting backstop but whose bat has yet to come to life in 32 at-bats last September, nor so far this spring, though he hit 32 homers last year at Triple A.

A key to his success will depend on his ability to call major league games, Ashby indicated.

"I have not heard one single (note of) trepidation from any pitcher about J.P, so hopefully he is okay on that count," Ashby said.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Never Say Never to Dodgers Prospect Jerry Sands

Highly regarded Dodgers prospect Jerry Sands -- a non-roster invitee wearing No. 68 at spring camp in Camelback Arizona -- is making the most of his chances against major league pitching, having hit his second home run of the pre-season in a 7-1 victory over the Rockies.

The 23-year-old, six-foot-four, 220-pound slugger also hit a towering triple that dropped in front of the 410-foot center field marker.

Though Sands likely will not make the team this spring and perhaps not for the entire season, never say never to manager Don Mattingly. Anything is possible under the right circumstances, he indicated to the Los Angeles Times.

"I guess it depends on what's going on," Mattingly said to writer Bill Shaiken. "...If there may be a need and you're not afraid of calling him up, at that point you make a decision."

Working in Sands' favor is the team's need not only for power, but youth. A deep backup for starting first baseman James Loney, who is being held back by swelling of the knee, Sands is ticketed for Double A Chattanooga.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No News Looks Like Bad News for Justin Morneau

Injuries have kept the heart of Twins offensive corps -- Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau -- from playing a single spring game so far, setting a dire tone at the outset of the new season, with Morneau looking for all the world like he will be lucky to return to action at all, let alone before the first official game.

Though Mauer likely can return soon from a rehabilitating knee injection, as will Young from a bout with turf toe and Cuddyer from a common wart excision, Morneau continues to suffer from concussive syndrome resulting from a second base collision at mid-season last year.

Morneau already has missed nearly a full eight months of normal baseball play, leaving doubts as to his readiness even were he to return to the diamond tomorrow. Worse, his return to full play still looks to be days, even weeks, away, with permanent disability a distinct possibility.

Doctors continue to limit his activities while he continues to suffer from headaches, dizziness, nausea, sunshine aversion and other symptoms that only will worsen if he trains too hard before his recovery is complete.

What's especially disquieting about Morneau is that return-to-play medical criteria after a sports-related head injury generally calls for a simple, gradual progression from complete rest to light exercise to sport-specific exercise with a gradual addition of resistance training. That's followed by non-contact training drills. Finally there is limited contact, then full-contact training before a complete recovery can be declared.

Progression through each step, however, is dependent upon the presence or absence of symptoms, and Morneau still continues to have plenty of bad moments, as evidenced by his need to wear dark glasses all the time, even during limited periods of swinging at bat in the cage, reportedly no more than 40 swats at a turn.

There is no science behind these procedures as the strategy is largely based on anecdotal expert group consensus panel recommendations. Typically, however, return to play occurs in one to two weeks after the initial injury. No such luck for Morneau.

Frustratingly, it's just as likely that he would be in the same position even if there were no medical interventions or recommendations. It's surprising how little medical experts understand about the condition.

A recent study from from Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y. , (Mayers, L., Arch Neurol 65(9):1158, September 2008) reviewed the findings cerebral response following a concussion, better known as traumatic brain injury -- a subject undergoing an ambitious (read: expensive) investigation by military scientists pertaining to injured troops exposed to explosive blasts.

This effort includes the placement of multi-million dollar magnetic resonance imaging machines into remote forward field hospitals to help facilitate both pre- and post-deployment neuropsychiatric testing in for all members of the U.S. military.

Small studies of EEG event-related potential recordings in concussed athletes reported deficits (unrelated to the results of neuropsychological testing) for up to five weeks in both symptomatic and asymptomatic athletes, and for up to 30 months in those sustaining multiple concussions.

A study that assessed motor-evoked responses on transcranial magnetic stimulation reported abnormalities for up to nine months in multiply-concussed athletes, an interesting finding considering Morneau has sustained three concussions, two while playing for the Twins and one while playing hockey as a teenager, a term of nearly a decade.

The results of small studies using highly specialized research techniques suggest that simple concussion produces brain dysfunction, even in asymptomatic subjects, that can persist for at least one month, indicating that safe return to play after concussion might require at least four to six weeks after the injury.

So far, so good, but from time-to-time clinicians see samples of patients that evidently did not read the medical textbooks, whose conditions do not follow the usual pattern of healing and rehabilitation.

It is not too soon to predict that, for all appearances, Morneau is an unfortunate member of this subset, not dissimilar from former Twin's third baseman Kory Koskie, the Giants Mike Metheny and a long list of other athletes who were forced into retirement following a substantive blow to the head.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Expect Miguel Cabrera to Miss Time with Tigers

Tigers manager Jim Leyland, can you really be serious when you claim that troubled Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera will not be a distraction to the team despite his pending court appearance on charges of drunken driving???

Sure, Skipper, you're absolutely right, and the Lions will go 16-0 and win the Superbowl next year, Studebaker-Packard will resume making automobiles with points on the grill and Jimmy Hoffa will throw out the first ball when the season opens.

Skipper, you say Miguel Cabrera is going to have "the year of his life?" Doing what, sewing baskets at the Betty Ford Clinic?

Fans can fully expect that Miguel Cabrera will miss significant time this year, a minimum of a month from spring training, perhaps two, and perhaps part (or all?) of the regular season. How much downtime is pending is an open question, but if Cabrera is forced to check himself into rehab -- which is expected -- one is compelled to ask how long he will be gone and what kind of playing shape will he be in when he returns.

Rehabilitation, very likely to last a minimum of four weeks, will do Cabrera a lot of good in overcoming what has to be a serious alcohol abuse problem. But it will not help him ready himself for the baseball season. What are his handlers going to do, tell him to cut short his counseling session today so he have some time in the cage or take some grounders?

The last thing psychologists are going to allow Cabrera to be concerned with is baseball. He's got bigger problems.

From now forward, until Cabrera has his difficulties behind him and under control, the Tigers 2011 season is on hold, as far as he is concerned.

No courtroom in Florida -- or anywhere else in this country -- is going to allow Cabrera to jeopardize the public as he did last Wednesday, when he was caught swilling straight Scotch from a bottle as he staggered and weaved by the side of the road while abusing sheriff's deputies next to his smoking automobile.

Can Cabrera try to fight the charges, with the expectation of being found not guilty, being let off with probation or paying a fine? Not a chance. Prosecuting attorneys will lay out a tight script in which Cabrera will be virtually forced to undergo intense intervention and and probationary supervision. There is no way around it.

If he has any idea of getting off, he will be firmly threatened with the loss of his freedom, and his own counsel will warn him of dire consequences if he wants to play the cards any other way.

The court can be fully expected to exact its pound of flesh, with Cabrera's lawyer and both the legal counsel of the Tigers and Major League Baseball acquiescing, to assure that Cabrera resurrects his career only when he's ready to do so, and doesn't wind up driving off a cliff, smashing into a stationwagon being driven by a woman with three children and a dog, or God forbid, a school bus or worse. He is a menace. He will be stopped.

When that has been accomplished, Cabrera can count himself a very lucky man that no one was more hurt than himself, his family and his team.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Too Many on Base? Expect More from Marmol

It was a sunny afternoon like that of many another daygame in the top of the ninth inning at Wrigley Field -- the Cubs holding a comfortable, two-run lead -- as closer Carlos Marmol took the mound under the satisfied gaze of manager Lou Piniella.

Piniella leaned easily against the fence in the dugout, arms hanging over the rail, when the umpire called the first pitch.

"Ball!" came the cry, Marmol flipping a sweeping breaking ball into the catcher's glove. "Ball!," came the call again. "Ball! Ball! Ball!" as Marmol successively continued to miss the plate.

By the time Piniella straightened out of his crouch, pacing back and forth now and muttering profanities, the tying run was at second base and the batter at the plate was ahead in the count. Pineilla couldn't take it anymore.

"What the (bleep) are you doing!?" the graying old man demanded to know after stomping out to the mound. Hands on hips and face to face with his 27-year-old hurler, Piniella waited for an answer, with Marmol looking down as he shuffled the dirt with his shoe.

"Throw your (bleeping) fast ball!" Piniella commanded.

Marmol nodded.

Happily for Piniella -- whose lips and body language were plainly readable to anyone sitting on the infield -- Marmol's fastball found the plate and after three quick outs and two stranded runners the Cubs headed to the locker room not only with a 'W' in the books, but with another save for Marmol, who would notch 34 before he was done.

Unhappily for Piniella, he later felt compelled to resign after it became clear that the Cubs once again had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and would fail to make the playoffs. Now pushing 70, Piniella likely will never put on a uniform again.

Ironically for Marmol, who has just signed a three-year, $20 million contract, he finished the year by cutting his walks by 20 percent, but continued to flirt with disaster by allowing well more than a baserunner per inning and pushing the limit for the perameters of a lock-down, major league closer.

Make no mistake about it. Marmol lives dangerously.

"I feel it helps him," Cubs catcher Geovanny Soto told Chicago Tribune baseball writer Paul Sullivan in today's editions. "Pitchers that have a lot of strikeouts also have a lot of walks. They're power pitchers. Marmol needs that. He doesn't really hit his spots that well, but he's consistent in the zone and he has that big breaking pitch that makes Marmol who he is."

The wildness, the walks and the baserunners all seem to be part of the plan.

"I never worry about my control," Marmol explained to Sullivan. "I worry about getting three outs before they score against me."

Try explaining that to Lou Piniella.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Andre Ethier, fully healed, Predicts Dodgers Uptick

With a broken pinkie no longer holding him back, star outfielder Andre Ethier predicts greater personal output for the 2011 season, and a new kind of intensity with manager Don Mattingly having replaced the more laid back Joe Torre at the Dodgers helm.

"I think you're going to see a little bit more of a hands-on approach (from Mattingly,)" Ethier said. "...If the players mess up, he's going to be right on top of them, and if they do something right, he's going to be there too."

Speaking by telephone to Fox Sports Radio from the Dodgers Community Caravan bus as it rolled down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, Ethier hinted that he would be able to improve his stats as compared to last year, when his home runs were held to 23 compared to 31, and his at-bats were limited to only 517 as compared to nearly 600 in 2009.

Not wanting to use it as an excuse, he none the less admitted that a broken pinkie was more than a little bothersome last year, limiting his ability to grip his bat.

"It was annoying...definitely frustrating," Ethier said. He's "100 percent healthy" now, he said.

Notice Anything Fishy About Pirates Relief Corps?

Considering that only five sixths of the city of Bradenton, Fla., is on dry land, perhaps it's no surprise that something fishy is in the air at the Pirates spring camp, but it has nothing to do with the water.

Though it's speculative, there's the scent of a story that maybe, just maybe, one of the Bucs outstanding closer candidates may be on the block, either Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek.

Hanrahan, 30, 4-1 last year with a 3.62 ERA, six saves and 100 strikeouts in fewer than 70 innings, and Meek, 28, with a 2.14 ERA, four saves and 70 strikeouts in 80 innings, have admitted they both want to save games for Pirates this year, and are willing to compete for the job.

The problem is, according to General Manager Neal Huntington, there will be "no open competition" in spring camp, indicating one of the two already has the job, but he won't say which. Let's repeat that: "no open competition."

So if Huntington won't say whom and won't say why, can it be that either Hanrahan or Meek is on the block? All anyone knows is that the Pirates have one too many closers, and that the rotation needs another starter or two, especially after the Pirates lost out to Kansas City in an attempt to sign former Colorado Rockies starter Jeff Francis. The Pirates are also looking for left-handed bullpen help.

"We continue to monitor the market and we have an open dialogue on multiple fronts," Huntington said in recent published reports. Until he clarifies, fans are left to connect the dots. But a more plausable explanation may be that Huntington simply has yet to make up his mind, but has decided that either one or the other will be the full-time closer, thus no closer committees.

Yankees to Play Musical Chairs for Albert Pujols?

Having been completely upstaged by the Red Sox acquisitions of superstars Adrian Gonzalez band Carl Crawford, not to mention being spurned by ace pitcher Cliff Lee who signed with the Phillies, the Yankees now will pull out all the organ stops to sign wavering Cardinal Albert Pujols, widely regarded as the greatest player in the game.

But with superstar Mark Teixeira inked for the next five years, there's no room for Pujols in Yankee Stadium, you say? That song's been heard before, but listen to the way it's played by Kevin Baumer, writing at

First, Teixiera moves to third base, his original major league position, pushing Alex Rodriguez to shortstop, his original position. Derek Jeter, according to a plan that's been advanced for several years, then moves to the outfield.

When the music stops, Pujols is a Yankee.

"Of course, if the position issue is such a major obstacle, the Yankees could simply pay Pujols an extra $50 million to be their MVP designated hitter," Baumer said.

"...If the Cardinals haven't had the foresight to recognize that by not signing Pujols before the season, they're about to enter into a bidding war with the Yankees, they don't deserve to keep their slugger in the first place, " he concludes.

Pitcher Micah Owings Urged: Try Out at First Base

Former Reds reliever Micah Owings -- owner of a .293 lifetime batting average with .538 slugging in four years of limited MLB plate appearances -- has been signed by the Diamondbacks as a pitcher but is being urged to compete for the wide open, starting first baseman's job.

"We'll see how hard he wants to go after it," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson told USA Today's Mel Antonen in a recent XM satellite radio interview. "...We will give him the opportunity."

The six-foot-five, 230-pound Owings, a third round draftee originally signed by the Diamondbacks, has a prodigious amateur hitting record and has been a feared presence at the plate in 184 major league at-bats. He has hit four homers.

"His bat is huge," Gibson said. "...Micah is certainly a guy who might surprise you this year."

Owings, 28, sees himself as more of a two-way, pitcher/hitter in the mold of former Cubs first-rounder Brooks Kieschnick, now out of baseball, who was unable to sustain the duel role for long.

Moreover, to actually win the starting the first baseman's job, Owings will have to hold off a number of candidates, most significantly rookie Brandon Allen and veteran Xavier Nady. Disappointed with the team's poor showing last year, Gibson has brought 60 players into camp and has vowed to encourage spirited competition for starting positions across the board

Ex-Clemsonite Tyler Colvin to See Time at First

Emerging Chicago Cubs rookie outfielder Tyler Colvin -- who burst onto the major league scene last year by hitting 20 home runs in 358 at-bats -- will return to familiar territory in Cactus League action when he will see time at first base, a position he played as a Clemson Tiger.

Cubs manager Mike Quade surprised reporters with the revelation, leaving Colvin's possibilities open to wild speculation even before the first spring pitch is thrown.

Colvin, 25, is listed as the backup to right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, 34, and first baseman Carlos Pena, 33, but because all three players are left-handed batters, Quade can find no easy way to work any of them into the lineup as part of a platoon, even a part-time platoon.

However, it is interesting to note that Colvin seems to handle left-handed pitching better than either of his two senior teammates, though Fukudome and Pena have superior defensive skills compared to Colvin's.

It is difficult to imagine the rookie usurping either of the two veterans with any regularity, especially Pena, who has just been signed to a $10 million, one-year pact. But Fukudome has been a disappointment at the plate since the Japanese import was signed three years ago, and fans' patience is wearing thin.

Expect Colvin to see plenty of time in left field and enough reps at first base to take over for Pena next year, if Colvin proves he can be effective around the bag.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Indians DH Travis Hafner May Be Cut After Season

Former big-time slugger Travis Hafner -- who hit 141 homers from 2003-07 but only 34 since -- likely will force the Indians to consider releasing him after the season if he cannot demonstrate recovery from chronic right shoulder problems that have cost him much of his productivity over the past three years.

The prediction comes from Cleveland Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes, who foresees a more likely outcome that the left-handed designated hitter will remain under contract after playing in about 115 games in 2011, hitting 15-20 bombs and driving in 50-60 runs.

Continuing his upnote in Sunday's editions, Hoynes noted that Hafner now seems to resemble the hitter who batted .329 with 15 doubles, five homers and 21 RBI in 44 games after the All-Star break last year, demonstrating continued potential usefulness to the rebuilding team.

The Indians have signed former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman, who can back up Hafner at designated hitter and first baseman Matt LaPorta, both of whom have missed significant playing time in recent seasons. Though Kotchman has never hit for power, he is thought to have a good eye at the plate and can be effective around the bag.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pedroia Held Back, But Loadbearing Bone Healed

After months in a fiberglass cast and a grueling rehabilitation, the navicular bone in Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia's left foot has been reported as healed, but his activities will be limited during the opening days of spring camp and perhaps beyond.

Not only will Pedroia miss a cardio vascular conditioning test next week, he will be held back from full baseball activities at least for awhile, and will wear a protective shield over his shoe to help prevent him from reinjuring himself, according to team reports.

"The last three weeks I've felt great," Pedroia told The Boston Globe at Fort Myers, Fla.

Though Pedroia won't participate in distance running, he has been sprinting on the basepaths and fielding grounders and throwing. He is also taking batting practice.

Pedroia missed the last third of last season after breaking his navicular bone -- the main loadbearing support for his left leg. Doctors immobilized the fracture with a cast and steel pin, allowing the bone to heal for about three months. Theoretically, the mend leaves the bone stronger than before Pedroia broke it.

"There's not going to be any setbacks," Pedroia said before an intimate gathering of print reporters.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Weighty Issue May Keep Pablo Sandoval Benched

Overweight third baseman Pablo Sandoval -- whose batting average plummeted from .330 to .268 and homers from 26 to 13 last year compared to 2009 -- has lost 15 to 20 pounds but "still has a ways to go," according to San Francisco Giants bench and infield coach Ron Wotus.

In a recent interview with KNBR Radio 680's Ray Woodson, Wotus warned that Sandoval cannot be expected to reclaim his status as a starter unless his conditioning demonstrates a "commitment to winning."

"We'll see how he is when he comes into (Cactus League camp in) Arizona, and then he has to keep the weight off," Wotus said of the portly infielder. "...How much the weight will affect him at the plate is hard to say. It definitely affects him in the field, his range and ability to move around."

Wotus agreed with Woodson that to earn time at the plate, Sandoval must be able to perform around the bag. Sandoval's weight is officially listed at 245, a lot for a man with a 5-foot-11 frame, but critics claim he may have weighed in as high as 270 last year.

The coach noted that Sandoval might also find at-bats at first base, but indicated there will be much competition around the infield, most notably from Mark DeRosa, returning from a season lost due to injury; Aubrey Huff, a veteran offensive force who has played both corners; and Brandon Belt, a 23-year-old, 6-foot-5, 200-pound, power-hitting rookie who has destroyed minor league pitching.

"Pablo is a special player and he has that special bat we need...if he can come back strong," Wotus said.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

White Sox Coach Questions Brent Morel's Offense

White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker continues to have doubts about 24-year-old prospect Brent Morel's readiness to win the starting third baseman's job out of spring training.

Returning to his Chicago home from a three-week workout of various players in Florida and California, Walker told ESPN Radio 1000 that Morel, who hails from Bakersfield, has ability around the bag but has "some misses" when he hits because he "comes up out of his swing."

"He's always hit," Walker said of the former Cal-Poly standout. "The thing we have to be careful about is his swing. Does he have some holes in there that pitchers can exploit?"

After the White Sox took Morel in the first round of the 2008 draft, he hit .326 at Double A Birmingham, then .300 in 60 games for Triple A Charlotte, where his defensive play reminded observers of former White Sox third baseman Joe Crede.

In a brief September call up, Morel hit a home run in his first major league at-bat, though he struggled overall.

"I think he's going to be ready to go," said Walker, but hinted that he may have to hold off journeyman Mark Teahen if Morel expects to win the starting third baseman's job on opening day.

Fernando Rodney Reportedly Wild in Prespring

Various reports coming out of the Dominican winter league indicate prospective Angels closer Fernando Rodney continues to miss high and away with his mid-90s heater, casting doubt on whether he will be able to land the closer's job coming out of spring training.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia -- who stuck with Rodney a number of times last year even though Rodney was allowing too many runners on base -- already has publicly expressed his doubt about him in game situations. Rodney appeared in more than 70 games last year, but notched only 14 saves in various bullpen roles.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report in less than two weeks, look for Scioscia to try a number alternatives before resigning himself to a closer by committee.

Rangers Neftali Feliz May Yet Convert to Starter

One would think now with former Rangers saves leader Frank Francisco traded to Toronto, teammate Neftali Feliz could stop looking over his shoulder and settle down and focus on being exactly what he is: one of the major leagues' most outstanding closers.

But no-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to spring camp in Surprise. Ariz., in less than two weeks, the Rangers continue contemplating stretching him out to join the top of a rather spotty rotation.

"I love having a lock-down closer, I do," Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said in a recent interview with KTKS Radio "The Fan." "But there's no doubt he would be even more valuable to us as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter."

Francisco's departure in the trade for former Angels catcher Mike Napoli only puts what Daniels describes as a "new wrinkle" in the proposition, especially since he has two or three other possibilities as closers, most notably Alexi Ogando, 27, who can throw as high as the mid-90s and strikes out a batter an inning. Ogando notched a 1.30 ERA last year in a little more than 40 innings.

Look for Rangers President Nolan Ryan to break the logjam before the end of the month, and expect Feliz to start getting extra work by the end of the month.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Steroid May Push Chipper Jones' Knee to LImit

Doctors' treatment of Chipper Jones' left knee with topically applied cortisone -- a legal steroid sometimes referred to as a "miracle drug" for its ability to reduce inflammation -- is having a predictable, immediate beneficial effect on the Atlanta Braves third baseman's lingering injury, but time may be short.

The greater amount of cortisone and the longer Jones uses it exposes him to an inherent risk of cumulative brittleness of fibrous tendons, and may hasten Jones' departure toward a point of no return.

Jones' case is aggravated by the fact that this is his second, catastrophic, left knee ACL tear since he was the Braves No. 1 overall draft pick in 1992, the first tear having come during spring training in 1994 when he was trying to beat out a grounder to first base. As a result he missed the entire season.

To accelerate his rehabilitation, the 38-year-old future Hall-of-Famer plans to present himself to trainers in spring camp in just two weeks. He has been swinging the bat in the cage for more than six weeks in Atlanta, but is taking it easy before returning to work around the bag, an activity which caused this most recent ACL injury six months ago.

Jones' recovery will be eight months along by the time the season starts, making it possible but questionable whether Jones will be ready to take the field by opening day. He will be required to undergo extensive strengthening and limbering exercises, including bench work, stationary bike and pool activity.

Even if Jones is able to return to play without a setback due to the cortisone, it's only a matter of time before multiple trauma leads to the onset of arthritic discomfort, if it hasn't started already.

Don Mattingly Unsure of Russell Martin's Future

Yankees starting catcher Russell Martin still has a high upside after two disappointing seasons, but as to whether he can recover his earliervpotential at the age of 28 remains an open question for new Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.

"I'm not sure how he'll do, but one thing I can say is he won't be afraid," said Mattingly, who spent his entire playing career in front of the often intimidating fans in New York. Like Martin, Mattingly in his later years was a shadow of his former self, perhaps with injuries to blame.

In a recent interview with Mike Francesca on WFAN Radio 660 in New York, Mattingly said Martin stands to benefit from a change of scenery after the former Dodgers catcher was non-tendered in Los Angeles.

Mattingly focused on Martin's competitiveness and work ethic as key in potentially helping him to rediscover his former form, though the one-time Yankees superstar made no mention of frequent criticism that former Dodgers manager Joe Torre, for whom Mattingly served as bench coach, wore out the young backstop.

Most notably, Martin saw 620 at-bats in the middle of the Dodgers batting order in 2007, the year after his Rookie of the Year campaign, and hit .293 with 19 homers, an extraordinary amount of playing time for a catcher. By 2010, Martin's average had fallen to .245 with only five homers after he developed hip and knee trouble that may explain his shortcomings. Martin steadfastly has refused to cite injuries as an excuse, however.

Mattingly also said it was "really tough" to fire third base coach Larry Bowa, the former Phillies manager and Yankees third base coach. Bowa has been replaced by Triple A Albuquerque coach and former All Star Tim Wallach.

Mattingly predicted a tough struggle not only for the Dodgers but other teams in the National League West due to fierce competion.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stan Musial Had Meeting With Sam Giancana

When Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama on Feb. 15, it won't be Musial's first time meeting a president, as it brings to mind his historic meeting with John F. Kennedy and a bevy of VIPs -- including notorious Chicago crime family mobster Sam Giancana.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the meeting. It took place during the 1962 All Star Game in Chicago, when Musial ascended to the presidential box at Wrigley Field to receive a warm greeting from Kennedy, who threw out the first ball, while Giancana looked on.

Ironically, Kennedy had recently re-enacted the Medal of Freedom honor after it had been discontinued by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It has never been fully explained what Giancana was doing there, though his association with Kennedy has been well documented. Also on hand were Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Speaker of the House John McCormack, Senate Majority Leader Russell Long and Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick.

Kennedy was assassinated the following year, and Giancana was gunned down five years later.

Musial, 90, the last surviving member of the group, will be presented the medal for his meritorious service to the nation in ceremonies presided over by Obama, who is also from Chicago. Musial is the fourth major leaguer to received the award, the others being the late Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente.

According to C. David Heyman, writing in in 2009 book "Bobby and Jackie, a Love Story," JFK was introduced by the late entertainer Frank Sinatra, a noted Democratic booster, to Giancana paramour Judith Campbell, ex-wife of actor William Campbell and a former Las Vegas showgirl.

Campbell later was quoted as acknowledging simultaneous affairs with Kennedy and Giancana, beginning when Kennedy was still in the senate, and she claimed to have relayed messages between the two, plus payments from government contractors to government officials.

Kennedy's father, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, has been widely believed to have had business interests in the sale of liquor during and predating Prohibition, and continued to have connections with spirits manufacturers even as late as the late 1940s, when his son was in the House of Representatives.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rangers GM Denies Michael Young on Block

Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels put the lid on rampant speculation that the team was trying to trade former All Star third baseman Michael Young, admitting Young had been on the block during the Hot Stove League, but no more.

"There had been some talk earlier, but it ended when Michael agreed to play DH," Daniels told KTKS 1310 Radio, The Score. "There's really nothing to it."

Daniels' statement followed another the previous day from team President Nolan Ryan, who was visiting his minor league club in Round Rock. Ryan said Young would open the season at DH, plus play sparingly at third base, second and first, and that no team would be able to field a more effective player in that role.

Manager Ron Washington has said previously that Young will see plenty of at-bats in those capacities.

Germaine Dye Marks 37th Birthday, Keeps Vigil

Former White Sox outfielder/designated hitter Germaine Dye marked his 37th birthday, still holding out for the right team and the right price.

The Oakland native who now resides in Paradise Valley, Ariz., , has been out of baseball for 14 months since the White Sox bought out a mutual option on his contract in November of 2009.

Spring training came and went last year, when he reportedly spurned a $3 million offer for a bench role with the Cubs. He was thought to have rejected other bids throughout the summer, some speculated to be little more than $1 million.

Though he belted 27 homers when he last played in 2009, his defensive capabilities and stamina have been doubted. But he has refused to retire.

It appears to be highly questionable whether he can still swing the bat after spending more than entire season sitting by the phone, but he might get a chance to prove himself if only he would agree to sign a conditional minor league contract somewhere or another.

Another Big Year Awaiting Angels Vernon Wells?

After adding 22 RBI and more than doubling his home run total to 31 last season compared to the previous, is another big year in store for star outfielder Vernon Wells now that he will be playing for the Angels in hit happy Southern California?

"...You forget about everything that happened last year because it doesn't really affect this year," Wells told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in this morning's editions. "It's a whole new challenge."

After hitting .565 in his last year at nearby Bowie High School in Arlington before being taken as the No. 5 overall pick in the 1993 draft, Wells has had an often disappointing, up-and-down career especially considering his signing of a $126 million contract with the Blue Jays five years ago, compensation which he admits he has never earned.

The fact that the Blue Jays traded him to the Angels for part-time, third-string catcher Mike Napoli (since traded to the Rangers) and aging outfielder Juan Rivera may say something about Toronto's lack of faith that Wells will be able to stay healthy long enough to continue performing until his contract runs out in 2014.

But the good-natured Wells, 32 -- who once laid down a bunt in the home run hitting contest at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown -- seems unaffected, concentrating on home life, community and life off the field while he can.

"In the off-season, you try to take as much time as you can to separate yourself from the game," Wells said. "The biggest sacrifice you make during the season is being away from your family. So you've got to soak it all up while you're here."

Wells and his wife Charlene operate the Vernon Wells Perfect 10 Foundation, providing aid and assistance to single mothers and disadvantaged children. Sunday he will address the Texas Brahmas hockey team for the school's Faith and Family Day.

"It's an honor to be asked to do things like this," Wells said.

Rangers Urged to Keep Veteran Michael Young

Any ideas that the Rangers should trade veteran slugger Michael Young don't make sense for Dallas-Fort Worth sportscaster Norm Hitzges, who contends that the aging superstar has only marginal value on the open market, and is much better suited to stay put.

Young, who will be 35 when the season opens, has been under fire in recent years for diminishing defensive range that has forced him from shortstop to third base, and now to designated hitter. Though he hit .281 with 91 RBI and 21 homers last year, Hitzges questions how much the team could receive in return for him.

"I'm going to suggest to you, not a great deal" Hitzges told listeners during his daily program on KTKS 1310 Radio, "The Score."

The problem, he explained, is not his productivity but rather his contract, which will pay him $16 million a year through 2013. "...You're asking someone to eat $48 million. "Now how many teams can afford to do that? Very, very few."

Still, Young's 2011 projected assignment as DH has led some, most notably Fox's Ken Rosenthal, to view him as expendable, especially with this season's acquisition of Adrian Beltre to play third and Mike Napoli as a third-string catcher, super reserve and potential designated hitter. Whatever else Napoli is, he has a big right-handed bat, having hit 26 homers last year in 463 at-bats for the Angels.

But Hitzges believes that for the Rangers to receive fair value for Young, the team will have to cover perhaps $8 million to $12 million per year of the Rangers contractual obligations , and even then receive nothing back but prospects. Prospects will be of little help in this year's drive to return to the playoffs.

Better to keep Young for the long haul, primarily playing DH while being used sparingly at third base and second to provide rest for Beltre, 30, and the oft-injured Ian Kinsler, and to spell first baseman Mitch Moreland when the left-handed hitting youngster must contend with a tough lefty pitcher, according to Hitzges.

"I think the Rangers have the perfect situation here," Hitzges said.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rays Slugger Dan Johnson Snubbed by Experts

Two of the first three 2011 MLB fantasy magazines -- rushed into print some two weeks before the Superbowl -- have seemingly deemed Tampa Bay Rays slugger Dan Johnson as to be unworthy of a thumbnail biographical analysis or annual statistical projection.

Both the Sporting News Fantasy Baseball and the Yahoo Fantasy Baseball annuals turn their attentions to the Johnsons Chris and Kelly and even part-timer Nick, but Dan Johnson is left out in the cold, even though he is widely projected to open the season as the Rays starting first baseman.

Johnson -- the erstwhile top prospect from the Athletics organization who has stumbled in a a number of manifestations including one with the Twins -- found his way into a handful of games for the Rays last year, batting .198 with seven homers.

With the departure last year's starter Carlos Pena to the Cubs, Johnson seems to have -- for the time being -- blundered into yet another chance to live up to the sky-high potential envisioned for him nearly a decade ago.

To be fair, Johnson has generally been regarded as having a good eye at the plate, ability to hit for power and possessing a measure of skill around the bag. But a number of injuries and other setbacks so far have robbed him of what might have been a promising career.

Whether Johnson's omission from the Sporting News and Yahoo is the result of design or inadvertence, at 33 Johnson would do well to read the writing on the wall, or lack of it, if he expects another opportunity such as the one the Rays are giving him this year -- assuming he doesn't blow it in spring training, or isn't relegated to the bench as the result of a free agent acquisition or other personnel change.

As it looks in the early stages, all Johnson has to do is hold off Cuban exile Leslie Anderson, who brings a fine pedigree to the states from his imprisoned Caribbean outpost. Even with little other professional experience, let alone major league time, Anderson may yet prove to be too strong a challenge for Johnson, given Johnson's perennial shortcomings and just plain bad luck.

Meanwhile, print lovers who wish to read about Johnson more expansively might do well to instead try RFP's 2011 Fantasy Baseball Guide.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cardinals Return To KMOX in St. Louis

Radio broadcast of St. Louis Cardinals games, after a five year hiatus, will once again be able to be heard from Canada to Cuba and 44 states in between as the team has returned to the "Voice of St. Louis", KMOX.

The 50,000- watt blow torch, which was the radio originator of Cardinals games when they first reached the airways in 1935, reaches nearly half a million listeners weekly in metropolitan St. Louis alone. The impact has been nothing short of sensational since KMOX won the broadcasting rights back from KTRS. KTRS had been broadcasting the games since 2006, but with only 5,000 watts had difficulty reaching the fringes of the city with a clear signal.

"We're really exited," program director Steve Moore told "There's been an enormous reaction, all positives."

The station will broadcast the entire 162 game schedule, plus 18 spring training games, Moore said.

Veteran play-by-play-man John Rooney and color man Mike Shannon, who played for the team in championship seasons during the 1960s, will continue to team up to the broadcast, while KMOX's own Kevin Wheeler will follow the Cardinals on locally generated sports programming, Moore said.

The Cardinals are expected to be highly competitive in the National League Central Division with slugging superstars Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday anchoring a potent lineup top to bottom.

Once home to late Hall-of-Fame broadcasters Harry Caray and Jack Buck, the storied radio station is widely credited for helping to build bastions of Cardinals followers from the Rockies to the Smokies, and especially in the deep south.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Homer Bailey Likely to Win Rotation Spot

Upcoming fireballer Homer Bailey -- despite heavy competition for limited spots on a deep Reds staff -- likely will make the starting order out of spring training.

It's not so much that Bailey seems to be catching on after three years of difficulty -- note his 31 strikeouts and 3.72 ERA in his last 29 innings of work last year -- but that he is out of options, and cannot be sent back to Louisville without exposing him to other teams.

Hello Homer Bailey. Good bye Mike Leake.

Barring a complete catastrophe in the Cactus League, Bailey will open the season as the No. 4 or No. 5 starter, and needs to make the most of his opportunity given that the team has so many other options, especially with the return of Edinson Volquez from the disabled list.

Observers have never questioned Bailey's potential, given his high '90s fastball and other pitches, but fault him for his obstinance in taking direction. It might be a bit harsh to call him uncoachable so early in his career, but it would seem to be high time that he matured if he wants to stick around.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jodi Applegate Prepares to Marry Michael Kay

WPIX anchorwoman Jodi Applegate, who is preparing for her nuptials with New York Yankees' Yes Network broadcaster Michael 'See ya!' Kay, dropped a couple of C-notes or three Friday for an 'updo' specially created to accommodate an elaborate headpiece to match her wedding gown.

Dictating specific instructions to the stylist at Liz Russell's Third Avenue hair salon, Applegate watched attentively as her thick, auburn mane was carefully sculpted to frame a high forehead.

The wedding, whose date has not yet been announced, will take place at the renowned Plaza Hotel in Manhattan just in time for Michael's 50th birthday on February 2. This is the first marriage for Michael and the second for the 46-year-old Applegate.

A native of the boroughs and a Fordham grad, Kay proposed on Montauk Beach in July with the presentation of a stunning, emerald-cut four-carat diamond ring. What a rock! Applegate, a Pittsburgh native, is a graduate of New York University, who likely was at a loss for words when she saw the ring for the first time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pituitary Cited for Miltion Bradley's 'Mood Swings'

A malfunctioning pituitary gland may be at the root of Seattle Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley's continuing difficulties with anger management, according to a former media acquaintance who has conversed with Bradley on many occasions.

"It's a problem with the pituitary gland; that would be my guess," commentator Les Grobstein told listeners on Sports Talk Radio 670 The Score in Chicago. "It causes wild mood swings."

Bradley, current awaiting a Feb. 8 arraignment in Van Nuys, CA, has been released on $50,000 bail after being arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on a felony charge of making terroristic threats against an unidentified woman in the vicinity of Bradley's home in nearby Encino.

Police declined to provide details of the incident, in which officers responded to the woman's telephone complaint. "He's been arrested. That's all I can confirm," an LAPD spokeswoman said.

Grobstein noted that the former Cub was publicly praised by several teammates after Bradley left the team for Seattle in a trade for struggling pitcher Carlos Silva following tension between Bradley and then-manager Lou Piniella.

"They said he was a good teammate. But a lot of players said privately that they were thrilled to get him out of there," Grobstein said.

Researchers have cited findings in which the cause of antisocial behavior has commonly been misdiagnosed as a personality disorder when a malfunctioning pituitary gland is actually to blame. In up to two out of 10 cases, it's the pituitary that may be the culprit.