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  • Putting Together a Reality Team

    Putting Together a Reality Team

    Fantasy baseball has been a popular pastime for 30 years. Unfortunately, there tends to be too much "fantasy" and not enough dealing with the nitty-gritty reality of what it takes to fill a well-rounded roster at the major league level. Depending on how drafts are arranged (such as just 12 or 14 owners picking from both leagues), the fantasy baseball process can lend itself to assembling a collection of higher-level players rather than a 25-man roster of diverse talents and skill levels, and defense is seldom (if ever) factored into the equation.

    Baseball addicts have it much easier between seasons in the 21st century than what our fathers and grandfathers endured. ESPN, MLB.com, MILB.com, SI.com and team web sites provide almost limitless information as compared to the agate type in the transactions section of the daily newspaper and the weekly hot stove league fix from The Sporting News that provided meager winter rations of baseball information for nearly a century.

    Need something to do besides staring at a computer screen until spring training begins? Here's a way to recognize your favorite players of all time and put together a roster that is much closer to the big league norm than a typical fantasy league squad.

    The rules are simple. One Hall of Famer (already inducted or a future sure thing such as Greg Maddux) is allowed per team. You can't have five aces in the starting rotation, an outfield of Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams or perennial All-Stars at every infield position. Back of the rotation starters, middle relievers, utility players and extra outfielders in real life will assume those roles on every team. You may choose anyone who appeared in a major league game from the 1800s to the present. A few extra reserves can be added to the list as a AAA roster of sorts, but going beyond 25 players isn't required.

    It's going to be natural to try and put together the best possible team, but that isn't the main point of the reality baseball game. This is a pleasant mental exercise and a way to remember favorite players - especially those who aren't big names.

    The pitching staff is by far the most flexible part of the process. Go with as few as nine arms if you like complete games and dead-ball era workhorses, or do your best Tony LaRussa impersonation and have a 13-man staff complete with two LOOGYs. Since I'm in favor of complete games and four-man rotations, my ace is one of the most durable starters of the live ball era.

    Mickey Lolich may have looked out of shape and often joked about his hefty build, but few pitchers exhibited the endurance the Tigers left-hander displayed. Number 29 had four consecutive seasons with at least 308 innings pitched from 1971 to 1974 along with 96 complete games in that span. Lolich's 376 IP in 1971 is the highest total in the majors since 1917 by a conventional (knuckleballer Wilbur Wood soft-tossed 376.2 innings in 1972) pitcher.

    Cut 376 innings in half (188), and you have a typical season for many 21st century starters. Lolich's other 1971 numbers - 45 starts, 29 complete games, 8.36 innings per start and a 25-14 record - look downright freakish by current standards. Best known for his three complete game victories against the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series, the self-described "fat man's hero" also performed well in his only other postseason experience.

    Lolich started a pair of games in the 1972 American League Championship Series against the A's. Despite giving up just three earned runs in 19 IP (1.42 ERA), his record was 0-1. Lolich finished with a 217-191 career record and 3.44 ERA. His 2679 strikeouts in the American League are the most by an AL lefty.

    Brief stints with the Mets and Padres bumped the career strikeouts to 2832, a number that was in the all-time top 10 when Lolich retired in 1978. Combine the Ks with just 2.7 walks per 9 innings, exceptional stamina and an impressive track record in the clutch, and I'm more than happy to pick Lolich as my workhorse and ace.

    Rick Reuschel is another innings eater with a large frame, but don't let his physique fool you. "Big Daddy" was an agile, sure-handed fielder who won Gold Gloves in 1985 and 1987, and the sinkerball had enough foot speed and baserunning instincts to have been used as a pinch-runner on several occasions.

    Like Mariano Rivera, Reuschel was the rare hurler who could successfully throw one pitch in many different ways. When his sinker was on, the infielders had plenty of action gobbling up grounders. A quiet man not given to lengthy interviews, Reuschel described his idea of a perfect game as "27 pitches, 27 grounders."

    Career totals of 214-191 and a 3.37 ERA are virtually identical to Lolich, but Reuschel's ERA+ of 114 tops Lolich's 104. A stingy 935 walks in 3548.1 IP works out to less than 2.4 per 9 innings. The right-hander is remembered for his 17-8. 2.94 ERA performance at age 40 for the pennant-winning 1989 Giants, but he had two other seasons that were even better.

    A 20-10, 2.79 ERA (158 + ERA) effort with the Cubs in 1977 along with a 14-8 2.27 (4th in the NL) in 1985 with the Pirates are the high points on Reuschel's resume. The 1985 campaign was especially noteworthy, as Reuschel was coming back from arm injuries at age 36, and he did an exceptional job for a wretched (57-104) Pittsburgh squad. Even with those numbers, the sinker specialist didn't receive so much as a third-place vote in that year's Cy Young Award balloting.

    My list of favorites always includes Scott McGregor, and he's a solid choice as a third starter. The Orioles lefty finished with a career record of 138-108 (.561). Seasons of 20-8 in 1980 and 18-7 in 1983 were made possible by one of the game's most deceptive change-ups. George Brett's high school teammate combined an 85 MPH fastball with a low 70s change thrown from an across the body motion and pinpoint control (just 518 walks in 2140.1 IP) to become a popular player in Baltimore.

    Although he is never mentioned among the better postseason pitchers, McGregor deserves to be on that list. Ignore the 3-3 record and focus on the 1.63 ERA in 49.2 IP with just eight walks during the 1979 and 1983 ALCS and World Series to get an idea how tough McGregor could be in the clutch. He averaged 8.28 innings per postseason start. After losing 2-1 in Game 1 of the 1983 World Series, McGregor came back with a 5-0 complete game shutout to clinch a world championship for the Orioles.

    Fourth starters aren't going to be big names by definition, but reliability is a must. Conrado "Connie" Marrero was a competent performer, and his biography is one of the more unusual stories in baseball history.

    Like many Cubans, Marrero played for the Washington Senators. Listed at 5'5" to 5'7" by various sources, the righty made his big league debut at age 38 in 1950 and stuck with the Nats until turning 43 in 1954. During that time, Marrero completed 51 of 94 starts and went 39-40 with a 3.67 ERA (108+ ERA) for a team that was buried in the second division.

    An All-Star in 1951, Marrero's best season came in 1952 when he went 11-8 with a 2.88 ERA (ninth in the AL) in 184.1 innings pitched. His 124 ERA+ was good for eighth in the league. Marrero pitched in AAA with the Havana Sugar Kings until shortly after his 46th birthday in 1957. Not only did Marrero defy the odds against longevity as a pitcher, but he is doing the same in daily life. The oldest surviving major leaguer will turn 101 on April 25. What kind of career numbers could Marrero have posted if he had gotten the call to the majors before reaching middle age?

    If trade rumors are floating around the clubhouse, don't be surprised if Mike Morgan begins packing his bags. That's because the right-hander played for a dozen teams in a career than spanned from 1977 to 2002, and he fills the old-school role of spot starting, long relief and taking an extended stretch in the rotation when injuries occur.

    "Mo Man" began his big league career right out of high school in 1977. Bringing the 18-year old straight to the Oakland A's was Charlie Finley's idea, and it's obvious that Morgan would have been better off developing in the minors. A big league mark of 9-27 from 1977 to 1983 is a significant factor in Morgan's 141-186 (.431) lifetime record.

    Those who insist that won-loss records are a poor indicator of a pitcher's performance can point to Morgan as Exhibit A. He went 8-11 with a 2.53 ERA (136 ERA+) for the Dodgers in 1989. Add 9.2 innings to his 152.1 IP, and Morgan would have the fourth lowest ERA in the National League. The breaks evened out in 1999 when Morgan went 13-10 with a bloated 6.24 ERA (82 ERA+) for the Rangers.

    Baseball biases will show themselves when a person fills out a 25-man roster, and one of my eccentricities is obvious in the bullpen. Submariner and control artist Dan Quisenberry is the closer, and "Quiz" will be expected to go more than an inning per appearance when needed. Fellow underhanders Chad Bradford and Steve Reed fill set-up roles.

    Few pitchers have been more miserly with walks than Quisenberrry, who could go a month between free passes. He gave up just 12 walks in 136.2 innings pitched 1982 and followed that with 11 bases on balls in 139 IP in 1983. Still locked into the strike zone, "Quiz" surrendered just 12 walks in 129 IP in 1984 to complete a three-year run of giving up well under a walk per nine innings. To be precise, his BB/9 IP in those years was a mind-boggling 0.79, 0.71 and 0.84. Opposing hitters had no choice but to come up swinging.

    As a perennial fan of the underdog, I have to pick 5'6" Danny Ray Herrera as one of my lefty relievers. The other spot goes to Joe Ostrowski, who had the good fortune to be traded from the lowly St. Louis Browns to the Yankees on June 15, 1950. He can do everything from face a lone lefty hitter to tossing six or more innings when needed. Ostrowski was known for control, as he gave up just 98 walks in 455.2 career innings pitched.

    Just how different were the economics of baseball in the 1950s as compared to today? Not counting World Series shares, Ostrowski never earned more than $8500 a season, which meant he taught high school when he returned home to rural Pennsylvania after the season. Thanks to baseball artist and historian Ronnie Joyner for educating me about Ostrowski.

    My Hall of Famer - Tony Gwynn - starts in right field. He may not have been a slugger, but who's complaining about having a lifetime .338 hitter, eight-time batting champion, five-time Gold Glover and one of baseball's most likable guys on the team? How much do I want Gwynn on the roster? He beat out Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Maddux and Honus Wagner as my Cooperstown representative.

    Ever see a raw rookie for the first time and say "That guy is a special player"? Ellis Burks instantly impressed me as a young Red Sox centerfielder, and he had a long and successful career despite multiple knee injuries.

    Career totals of 2107 hits, 402 doubles, 352 HR, 1206 RBI and a .291 average aren't shabby, but it's easy to imagine Burks boosting those numbers without the nagging physical problems he endured. Burks had eight seasons with 20 or more HR and six seasons with 80 or more RBI. The thin, high altitude air of Colorado undoubtedly helped during a career year of 40 HR, 128 RBI, 211 hits and 45 doubles with the Rockies in 1996. There's another statistic from 1996 that showed what Burks could do when healthy, as he swiped a career-high 32 bases in 38 attempts (.842).

    This lineup needs an imposing presence, and Frank Howard surely meets that requirement. The 6'7" "Capital Punisher" had an incredible four-year power surge for the Washington Senators during a pitching-dominated era.

    Big Frank smacked 172 HR with 432 RBI (average seasons of 43 HR and 108 RBI) from 1967 to 1970. He led the American League with 44 bombs in 1968 and 1970. Howard's career best of 48 HR in 1969 fell one short of Harmon Killebrew's league-leading total. The right-handed slugger thrived under Ted Williams and became a much more patient hitter when #9 managed the Senators. Howard walked 60 and 54 times in 1967 and 1968 before doubling his bases on balls to 102 and a league-leading 132 in 1969 and 1970.

    Career totals of 382 homers, 1774 hits and a .273 average accumulated mostly in poor hitter's parks qualifies Howard for the cleanup spot in the lineup. Mainly a left fielder, "Hondo" also appeared in 334 games at first base.

    The fourth and fifth outfielders are a balanced pair, as Jim Dwyer hits from the left side, while Walt "No Neck" Williams is a right-handed swinger. A major leaguer from 1973 to 1990, Dwyer was a valuable role player for the Orioles from 1981 to 1988, and he homered against the Phillies in the 1983 World Series. Dwyer can play all three outfield positions as well as first base, has decent power and draws walks.

    Many of us who saw the stocky (5'6", 190 pounds) Williams with the White Sox from 1967 to 1972 liked him instantly, as the energetic fireplug played with exuberance and honest hustle. Williams was no slouch at the plate, as his .270 career average was high for the era. A career best .304 in 1969 was good for sixth place in the American League. Dependable line-drive machine Manny Mota (.305 lifetime, 150 pinch hits, 1149 for 3779 career) is my pinch-hitter, and he'll get an occasional start in the outfield.

    Since first basemen tend to be sluggers, it would be easy to put a power bat in this slot, but honesty compels me to go with a slap-hitting personal favorite. Mike Squires slammed just six career home runs in 1580 at-bats with the White Sox from 1975 to 1985, a most unusual record for a place in the lineup where the long ball is all but mandatory.

    At 5'11", "Spanky" was also small for a first baseman, but he ranks among the finest fielders at the position. The .260 career hitter won the AL Gold Glove in 1981, and he often was used as a late-inning defensive replacement.

    How good was Squires on defense? He flawlessly handled a dozen chances in 14 appearances and 38 innings at third base and had a pair of one-inning stints behind the plate.

    You say it's no big deal for a player to move around the diamond? Squires was a left-handed thrower, so it speaks volumes about his skill with the glove when Tony LaRussa decided to use the Michigan native as an occasional defensive replacement at 3B in 1983 and 1984. Since there are three other position players on the roster who have extensive experience at first base, it's likely that Squires would have a platoon role if this team were a reality - and I'll take him even with the lack of home run power.

    He never made an All-Star roster, but Marty Barrett is more than adequate at second base. As one the toughest strikeouts in the majors during his career, Barrett often batted second behind Wade Boggs for the Red Sox during his years (1982 to 1990) in Boston. Barrett's exceptional performance in the 1986 World Series against the Mets was all but wasted due to the lack of run production behind him. Imagine hitting 13 for 30 with five walks (.433 BA, .514 OBP) and scoring once in seven games.

    There's always room for a superutility player on my roster, and Mark Loretta is one of the best of this valuable and versatile breed. The sure-handed infielder could start at short or second and do a fine job at either position, but he also saw a fair amount of action at the corners.

    Loretta played 829 games at 2B, 405 games at SS, made 234 appearances at 3B and played 214 games at 1B. The right-handed swinger slashed line drives to the tune of 1713 career hits and a .295 lifetime average. Loretta followed up a .314 (ninth in the NL) season for the Padres in 2003 with a career year in 2004.

    In addition to a .335 average (third best in the NL), Loretta posted additional career highs in hits (208, second best in the league), HR (16) and RBI (76). Calling Loretta a super sub understates his value. He's good for 400 to 500 at-bats - maybe more - over the course of a season on this team.

    It was always a pleasure to watch Don Kessinger play shortstop for the Cubs during my grade school and teenage years. The six-time All-Star earned a pair of Gold Gloves with his hands, range and arm as he regularly stole hits from opposing batters. Kessinger usually led off for the Cubs. With just 14 HR in 7651 career at-bats (1931 hits, .252) and a .312 slugging percentage, the switch-hitter was the epitome of an old-school middle infielder.

    Jeff Cirillo could never be accused of being a slacker. The formers Brewers, Rockies and Mariners third baseman played with intensity despite being stuck on losing teams throughout his lengthy (1994-2007) big league career.

    At his best, Cirillo was a high-average doubles hitting machine with better than normal defensive skills. He came through with 46 two-baggers (good for fifth and second place in the American League) in 1996 and 1997 for Milwaukee, and Cirillo's 53 doubles for Colorado in 2000 was second best in the National League.

    Seasons of 194, 198 and 195 hits from 1998 to 2000 along with batting averages of .325 in 1996 and .321, .326 and .326 from 1998 to 2000 showed how Cirillo could perform consistently at a high level. What could derail such a successful career?

    A toe tap that Cirillo inadvertently picked up while in his stance threw the delicate balance of his swing off, and his numbers plummeted. The right-handed swinger crashed to .249 with just 6 HR and 54 RBI for the Mariners in 2002. Efforts to ditch the toe tap proved unsuccessful, and Cirillo struggled to stay in baseball. A revamped swing allowed Cirillo to make a comeback as a platoon player for the Brewers, Twins and Diamondbacks. He finished with 1598 career hits and a .296 average.

    The team's defensive replacement negates Loretta's skill with the stick. Ray Oyler has the worst batting average (.175, 221 for 1266) of any player with a minimum of 1000 ABs in the live ball era. The former Tigers and Seattle Pilots shortstop drew praise for his dependable glovework, but seasons such as a miserable .135 (29 for 215) for the world champion 1968 Tigers doomed Oyler to second-string status.

    As a former catcher, I appreciate solid defense and pitch-calling skills behind the plate. Jim Hegan never finished above .249 in a full season, but the lifetime .228 hitter was one of the key players on the Indians pennant winners of 1948 and 1954. When great defensive catchers are mentioned, Hegan's name is always part of the conversation.

    It would make sense to pick a lefty-hitting catcher to back up the right-handed swinging Hegan, but I'm partial to a modern-day defensive whiz who bats from the right side. If Henry Blanco is good enough to be chosen by Maddux as his personal catcher despite being an inconsistent hitter, he can play for my team when Hegan needs a day off. The Venezuelan-born Blanco can be Marrero's receiver, as they'll welcome the opportunity to communicate in Spanish.

    That's 24 players, so who gets the final spot on the roster? All of the following journeymen are likely get some time in the majors over the course of a season as players move up and down from AAA.

    Can a second-stringer increase attendance? One-armed Pete Gray appeared in 77 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1945 and hit .218 with just 11 strikeouts in 234 ABs, and fans eagerly bought tickets for the opportunity to see this unique athlete. If nothing else, Gray can be on the active roster in September as well as a midseason call-up when needed.

    Reserves who can competently play all three outfield positions give a manager some flexibility, and Tito Landrum fills that role. Landrum played for the Cardinals, Orioles and Dodgers from 1980 to 1988, and the right-handed swinger did a fair amount of damage against lefty pitchers. Few journeymen who never wore Yankee pinstripes can say they played for three pennant winners, but Landrum can make that claim.

    Kevin Hickey went from playing slow-pitch 16-inch softball on the south side of Chicago to the White Sox clubhouse at old Comiskey Park. It was Hickey's arm that propelled him from tavern league softball to the majors. I'm sure my reality-based team could use another lefty reliever as pitchers go down over the course of 162 games.

    Steve Fireovid spent more than a decade in AAA, but the right-hander's major league career was limited to 71.2 IP over six brief call-ups with the Padres, Phillies, White Sox, Mariners and Rangers from 1981 to 1992. A control pitcher, Fireovid is also the author of The 26th Man, a compelling account of life as a AAA lifer.

    There are better places for a young player to develop than snowy Wisconsin, and Vinny Rottino overcame that obstacle to make it to the majors. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Division III Wisconsin-LaCrosse by the Brewers in 2003, Rottino has accumulated 36 at-bats in four sips of big league coffee with Milwaukee and the former Florida Marlins.

    Rottino catches and plays first and third base along with the corner outfield positions. It would seem that some team could use such a versatile guy off the bench, but Rottino has nothing more to show than brief September call-ups for his efforts.

    The right-handed hitter is a study in perseverance, as Rottino went back down to AA at ages 29 and 30 to stay in baseball. That determination was rewarded with a late season call-up by the Marlins in 2011. Vinny has a non-roster shot with the Mets this season, and it would be great to see him have to pay the inflated price of a New York apartment for at least a few months this year.

    Tommy Watkins spent a decade as an infielder in the Twins minor league system before getting his first and only opportunity in the Show. A 38th round pick in 1998, the 5'7" Watkins didn't make it to AAA until mid-2006. The call-up to Minnesota in August 2007 was a great human interest story, as Watkins was the classic organization man and loyal minor league solider.

    The rookie didn't embarrass himself, as Watkins hit .357 (10 for 28, all singles) before going down with an injury after nine games. That marked the end of the Cinderella story, as Watkins spent two more seasons at Rochester before becoming a coach in the Twins minor league system. Currently assigned to the Beloit Snappers of the Midwest League (Class A), the well-liked Watkins should have a long career in the game at some level.

    How about an up and coming young player who could fit nicely on the roster? Diamondbacks right-hander Josh Collmenter relies on control (just 28 walks in 154.1 IP during his 2011 rookie season) and deception rather than heat to get batters out, and he'll enjoy picking the brains of Reuschel, McGregor and Quiz.

    Who gets to run the team? As a stickler for fundamentally sound baseball, I want someone who insists on playing smart and has a track record for squeezing the most out of the talent at hand. Looks like a job for Tom Kelly or Joe Maddon. Either manager would be an excellent option.

    There is only one choice for my team's announcer, as I'll gladly pay Vin Scully whatever he wants to be on the air. Living in the Midwest means I don't hear Scully nearly as much as I'd like, but no one has ever made baseball sound so sweet as the voice of the Dodgers.

    Control pitchers and line-drive hitters dominate this roster. Take away Howard and Burks, and the leading power hitter couldn't be counted on for more than 15 homers. That's no surprise, as I've always leaned towards grinders and smart contact hitters. There are also a lot of genuinely nice guys (Howard, McGregor, Bradford, Gwynn, Squires, Williams, Barrett, Mota, Watkins and others), low-maintenance solid citizens (Reuschel, Hegan, Cirillo, Loretta, Fireovid, etc.) and people with a sense of humor (Lolich, Quisenberry, Reed) here to maintain harmony in the clubhouse.

    So who are some of the players on your reality roster? They can come from a single team or cover the major league spectrum. Go ahead and make your list.

  • Historical Hall of Fame Vote Comparisons: 2012

    Historical Hall of Fame Vote Comparisons: 2012

    For the past two years I have written a post taking a graphical look at Hall of Fame vote histories for players with similar first-year vote totals to players on the current year's ballot. Here is 2010's, which includes a description of the graphs, and here is 2011's. As I said these graphs are not meant as sophisticated projection into the future, but rather just a rough look at historical precedent. Folks like Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times have a better handle on the dynamics of HoF voting and future ballot composition in order to make better prediction.

    This year's ballot had only one first-year player, Bernie Williams, who broke 5% and will be included on future ballots. Williams got 9.6% of the vote. Here I highlighted the vote trajectories of everyone else who got within 2.5% (7.1% to 12.1%) in their first year on the ballot.

    williams_HoFgraph2012.png

    There are a number of historical players who are not going to be a good guide for Williams' trajectory; Hall of Fame voting was much different in the past. Carl Hubbell, for example, was on 9.7% of the ballots in 1945, his first year; shot up to 50% in his second year; and by 1947 was inducted with 87%. Williams will not see a similar rise. More recent players in Williams's pool have fallen below the 5% cut off rather quickly. I left off the names because they would all bunch together but they include: Orel Hershiser, Graig Nettles, Bob Boone, Dave Stewart, Albert Belle, and Pete Rose. It will be interesting to see whether Williams can stick around for years like Don Larsen or fall off quickly like Hershiser and others.

    With no other first-year guys above 5%, I am going to look at some guys who have been on the ballot for a couple of years. In each case I chose a salient feature of their vote history to create a comparison pool. Up first is Jack Morris, who, on his 13th year on the ballot, was on 66.7% of the ballots. This is a pretty big jump from last year's total of 53.5%. With no great first year players on the ballot, it seems voters were a little more liberal with their votes on returning players, many of whom saw a double digit rise. For Morris's comparison I looked at anyone else who received between 65% and 70% on some ballot after their 10th.

    morris_HoFgraph2012.png

    All these guys eventually made it. Three through the standard 75% BBWAA voting, and then Red Ruffing through a runoff ballot, and Enos Slaughter and Jim Bunning through the Veterans Committee. So things look promising for Morris.

    Jeff Bagwell also had a nice increase, from 41.7% to 56%. Here are the players within 10% of these two vote totals.

    bagwell_HoFgraph2012.png

    This picks up other fast risers. Ryne Sandberg and Barry Larkin are bad comps because they are at the very high end of my comparison window for both years; Bagwell is not going to make it next year. He might slowly pick up steam like Andre Dawson or Tony Perez and make it around year ten. But with the amount of talent coming on and the PED stuff, I am not so sure.

    I will skip Lee Smith and turn to Tim Raines. Raines has had a nice increase in vote share over the past three years, and is now at 48.7%. I looked at players within 10% of his year-3 to -5 ballots (because they are much higher than his first two years).

    raines_HoFgraph2012.png


    Except for Smith who is still on the ballot, all these guys are in the Hall. Johnny Evers and Bunning made it through the VC. As with the Bagwell example this might paint too sunny a picture for Raines.

    Finally I look at Edgar Martinez. He did not get quite the same bump the other guys did, and has been pretty stagnant over his first three years. Here are players within 12.5% of each of his three vote totals.

    martinez_HoFgraph2012.png


    Jack Moore at FanGraphs made the Pee Wee Reese comparison. I think that Jack is right that Martinez will probably end up with a Reese-, Maury Wills-, or Steve Garvey-like trajectory, and not one that takes him up rapidly like Eddie Mathews or Rich Gossage.

  • An All-Christmas Team

    An All-Christmas Team

    Anyone who was born on or within a few days of Christmas has sad tales to share of feeling cheated by "one gift for two days" childhood presents. What kind of treats have been given to fans on December 25? This roster of Christmas babies includes three Hall of Famers along with a smattering of All-Stars and everyday players.

    No need to save the best for last, as the All-Christmas team appropriately leads off with Rickey Henderson (born 1958) in left field. His career numbers - 1410 stolen bases (a whopping 472 ahead of second-place Lou Brock's 938 SB), an all-time best 2295 runs scored, 2190 walks (second only to Barry Bonds) and 3055 hits - are jaw droppers.

    What else did Rickey do? How about three years of 100 or more steals (including a record 130 in 1982)? A dozen seasons as the league's leading basestealer includes topping the American League with 66 swipes in 1998 at age 39. Then there's 13 seasons with 100 or more runs scored, seven seasons with more than 100 walks (along with leading the AL four times) plus a quartet of 95 to 99 bases on balls and four 20-plus home run seasons. The Hall of Fame had to do some serious editing when they created Henderson's bronze plaque.

    Rickey played in the majors until just three months before his 45th birthday, and he closed with a 3 for 3 mark in stolen bases during a late season stint with the Dodgers in 2003. He was also one of the handful of position players who batted right-handed and threw from the left side.

    How about a textbook old-school number two hitter following the best leadoff man in history?

    A basestealer couldn't ask for a better partner than Nellie Fox (1925). Taking a pitch to let Henderson steal a base wouldn't have been a problem for the White Sox star, as he has been baseball's toughest strikeout in the past 75 years. It was a thankless job that Fox excelled at when he batted behind the speedy Luis Aparicio.

    The left-handed hitting Fox never struck out more than 18 times in a season, and he had 10 years averaging less than a K every 50 plate appearances. With 2663 career hits, a .288 lifetime average and six seasons of .300 or better and a four-time American League season hit leader, Fox would be well equipped to get on base for the heart of the order when Henderson didn't.

    Although he wasn't known for drawing walks, "Little Nell" had a knack for getting to first base. He led in American League in singles eight times (1952 and 1954 to 1960) while making the AL's top 10 list in batting average in eight seasons. Fox's 2161 singles puts him at 27th place in baseball history.

    The 1959 American League Most Valuable led the White Sox to the franchise's first pennant since the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Fox earned MVP honors with what was a fairly typical season by his standards - a .306 average along with just 2 HR and a career-high 70 RBI. One of Nellie's most impressive feats took place in 1959, as he avoided striking out in 98 consecutive games. The fateful whiff came on a called third strike tossed by Whitey Ford. Close Fox friend and long-time roommate Billy Pierce says the pitch was well off the plate and that the umpire's call even surprised Ford.

    A three-time Gold Glover (1957, 1959 and 1960), Fox was known for his sure hands, quick release and skill in turning the double play. With a streak of 798 consecutive games at second base (most ever for that position), Fox's durability and toughness made him hugely popular on Chicago's blue-collar south side where the vast majority of White Sox fans reside.

    Known for his bottle bat, small stature and ever-present wad of chewing tobacco, the last characteristic of Fox's image played a role in his death from cancer at age 47 in 1975. After just missing with 74.7 percent of the vote in his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 1985, Fox was admitted to Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee in 1997.

    Unfortunately, there are no suitable candidates for a starting shortstop on the All-Christmas team, but three-time Gold Glove second baseman Manny Trillo (1950) could do an adequate job on the left side of the infield. That's because Trillo had one of the strongest arms ever displayed at second. With a .263 lifetime average and 1562 career hits, the four-time All-Star provides some production at the bottom of the order.

    Switch-hitting Walter Holke (1892) gets the first base job largely by default. That's because Holke's career OBP of 89 for four National League teams is well below average, especially at a position usually reserved for big hitters. To his credit, Holke had 1278 career hits and a .287 average to offset his lack of power, run production and patience at the plate (just 191 walks in 4456 ABs).

    1923 appears to be Holke's banner season at first glance, at he hit .311 with 7 HR, 70 RBI and 31 doubles for the Phillies. Those numbers were boosted by playing half his games in the tiny Baker Bowl with a live ball. In reality, Holke did a better job with the New York Giants and Boston Braves in the dead ball seasons of 1917 and 1919.

    Third base has a pair of lefty hitters for the Christmas babies roster. Tom O'Malley (1960) spent most of his career shuttling between AAA and the majors from 1982 to 1990. He finished with a .256 career average, 13 HR and 131 RBI in 1213 ABs (466 games) for six different teams.

    O'Malley's career took off when he went to Japan in 1991. As a valued member of the Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers, O'Malley hit .300 or better with power (20 or more HR) for six consecutive seasons. Note to clubhouse man: Make sure O'Malley gets pregame meals of sushi and udon for peak performance.

    Like O'Malley, Gene Robertson (1897) has a middle of the pack major league resume. The 5'7" St. Louis native played on and off for the hometown Browns from 1919 to 1926 before being traded to the Yankees. Robertson spent 1927 with St. Paul fo the American Association before joining the Yankees for 251 at-bats (just six strikeouts) and nine more plate appearances in the 1928 World Series.

    A .280 lifetime average (615 for 2200) with gap power gives Robertson an edge over O'Malley. Frank Ellerbe (1895) played 3B for three American League teams from 1919 to 1924, but the righty swinger's lack of patience at the plate (.268 BA, .306 OBP) and below average power makes him better suited for spot duty.

    Ben Chapman and Jo-Jo Moore (both born in 1908) round out a solid starting outfield. Chapman led the American League in stolen bases four times (1931-33 and 1937). The right-handed swinger had a.302 career average with 1958 hits. Even though he wasn't a slugger (90 career HRs), Chapman came through with seasons of 122 and 107 RBI for the Yankees in 1931 and 1932. The three-time All-Star also had six other campaigns of 80 to 98 RBI.

    The World War II talent shortage allowed Chapman to extend his big league career, but as pitcher. He went 8-6 with a 4.39 ERA (84 ERA+) for the Dodgers and Phillies in 1994, 1945 and for a single appearance in 1946.

    Moore made the National League All-Star roster five times and spent his entire career (1930-41) with the New York Giants. A left-handed hitter, Moore had 200-hit seasons in 1935 (201) and a career-best 205 hits in 1936. With just 247 strikeouts and 348 walks in 5427 career at-bats (1615 hits, .298 lifetime), Moore was one of many old-time players who seldom struck out while not working the count for walks.

    "The Gause Ghost" got his nickname from his hometown of Gause, Texas. Moore died at age 92 on April 1, 2001.

    Our Christmas catcher had just 10 major league at-bats, but that cup of coffee wasn't due to any lack of ability on his part. Quincy Trouppe (1912) was one of the better Negro League receivers. Like other players who were stymied by the color barrier, Trouppe spent much of his career in Latin America in addition to bouncing around from team to team in the U.S. Negro circuit.

    At age 39, Trouppe backed up Jim Hegan for a few weeks with the Indians in 1952. He appeared in six games at had a single and a walk in 10 at-bats before being sent to Ottawa of the International League. He wasn't in the same class as Josh Gibson, but Trouppe had the ability to be a starting major league catcher if he had been given the opportunity at a younger age. Trouppe easily stands out from the glut of weak-hitting backup catchers (Chris Krug, Greek George, Marty Pevey, Frank Baldwin) who share a December 25 birthday.

    Hall of Fame pitcher James "Pud" Galvin made numerous adjustments during a big league career that spanned from 1875 to 1892. He pitched underhand and overhand just 50 feet from the plate.

    The 5'8" "Little Steam Engine" was an iron man even by 19th century standards. Galvin went 37-27 in 66 starts for Buffalo Bisons in 1879, as he appeared in all but 12 of the team's games. He pitched "only" 458.2, 474 and 445.1 inning in the next three seasons before tossing a record 656.1 innings (76 games, 46-29, 2.72, 117 ERA+) in 1883 and followed that up by going a career-best 46-22 with a 1.99 ERA (158 ERA+) in 636.1 IP in 1884.

    Seasons of 20-35 in 1880 and 16-26 in 1885 reduced Galvin's career record to 365-310 for a .540 winning percentage. This is a guy Bert Blyleven ("My goal was to be the workhorse of the staff") could appreciate. You're our number one starter, Pud, but you'll have to adapt to being 60 feet 6 inches from the plate with a mound (wasn't used until the 1890s). How will the workaholic Galvin adjust to having four days off between starts? He has been a Hall of Famer since 1965.

    Ned Garver (1925) fills the 2 slot nicely. The 86-year old pulled off one of the most impressive pitching accomplishments in history when he went 20-12 with the last-place 1951 St. Louis Browns. Since the perennially inept Browns were 52-102, Garver was responsible for 38.5 percent of the team's victories. The Brownies went just 32-92 (.258) when Garver didn't receive a decision.

    Did Garver get the Cy Young Award? That honor didn't exist until 1956, so Garver had to settle for a second-place finish behind Yogi Berra in the MVP voting. A career record of 129-157 with mostly losing teams is a poor way to judge Garver's skill. His career ERA of 3.73 and 112 ERA+ is a more accurate indicator. Garver swung the bat well enough to see occasional duty as a pinch-hitter. His career stats include seven home runs, 180 hits and a .218 average.

    This rotation screams for a lefty, and Lloyd Brown (1904) is it. The Beeville, Texas native went 91-105 with a 4.20 ERA (105 ERA+) in a big league career than lasted from 1925 to 1940. 1930 to 1932 was the peak of the southpaw's career, as Brown went 16-12, 15-14 and 15-12 with the Senators. A career-best 3.20 ERA was good for fourth place in the AL in 1931. The 5'9" Brown was tagged with the nickname "Gimpy" in what was obviously a much less politically correct and sensitive era.

    Welsh-born Ted Lewis (1872) pitched in the majors from 1896 to 1901. He went 21-12 with a 3.85 ERA (116 ERA+) for the 93-39 (.705 winning percentage) 1897 Boston Beaneaters. Lewis followed that up with a career-best 26-8, 2.90 (127 ERA+) in 1898 for Boston. Lewis spent his entire big league career in the city. His final season came during the American League's debut in 1901. The 5'10" righty went 16-17 with a 3.53 for the Boston Americans, later known as the Red Sox. A 94-64 career record with a 3.53 ERA (113 ERA+) is definitely better than average for a number 4 starter.

    Charlie Lea (1956, recently died on November 11) should be dependable at the back of the rotation. The right-hander went 62-48 with a 3.54 ERA for an injury-shortened career with the Expos and Twins. A 15-10, 2.89 ERA (seventh in the NL) performance with Montreal in 1984 was good enough to provide Lea with his only All-Star appearance.

    Hideki Okajima (1975) is the closest thing to a potential closer on the All-Christmas team. The Japanese-born Red Sox lefty reliever has a U.S. career record of 17-8 with a 3.11 ERA and six saves in 261 games and 246.1 IP. Journeymen such as 19th century hurler George Haddock (born in 1866 and 95-87, 4.07 from 1888 to 1894), Eric Hiljus (1972, 8-3 and a 4.79 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Tigers and A's) are in the mix for long and middle relief.

    So is Jack Hamilton (1938), who is notorious for beaning Tony Conigliaro. The wild righty had a 32-40 career mark, and his 4.53 ERA is quite high for the offensively eager 1960s. Mike Blyzka's major league record (3-11, 5.58) is unimpressive, but his two seasons included playing for the final St. Louis Browns squad in 1953 and the first-year 1954 Baltimore Orioles.

    Team depth is pretty ordinary. Wallace Johnson (1956) gives the Christmas squad a capable pinch-hitter who also displayed enough speed (19 SB) to pinch-run when needed. As a switch-hitter, a manage could insert Johnson into any situation. Nearly 60 percent of Johnson's career knocks (86 of 145) came off the bench.

    Bill Akers (1904) played around the infield for the Tigers and Braves from 1929 to 1932, and he's a utility infielder with more pop in his bat (11 HR, 69 RBI, .261, .349 OBP) than average. Ruben Gotay (1982) and Rich Renteria (1961) provide competition for Akers.

    Speedy Willy Taveras (1981) is a 1970s-style Astroturf chopper/slasher who seems out of place in the 21st century. Scott Bullett (1968) is another possibility for a backup job in the outfield.

    Since America is in a significant recession, costs need to be managed. That's why former White Sox and Pirates manager Gene Lamont (1946) gets to back up Trouppe behind the plate in addition to running the squad. Lamont may not see much playing time, as the one indispensable member of the roster is also a backup catcher - and he was born on December 9. How could this happen?

    What would the all-Christmas team be without Steve Christmas? The lefty-hitting catcher played 24 games with 37 ABs (.162, 1 HR, 7 RBI) in three small cups of coffee with the Reds, White Sox and Cubs from 1983 to 1986. With that name, it doesn't take a December 25 birthday to earn a roster spot on the all-Christmas team.

  • The New-Look Angels

    The New-Look Angels

    The news that the Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols to a ten-year contract for $250 million has motivated me to put up my first post in a month.

    While I would have preferred a shorter and less expensive contract, anything under ten years and $250 million was not going to seal the deal. As such, the way to think about this signing from an Angels' perspective is to break it into two five-year periods. That's right, 5x30 and 5x20 for an average of 10x25. Sure, 5x25 and 5x15 might be closer to what Pujols is likely to produce in terms of value but an aggregate of $200 million was going to come up short of luring the three-time NL MVP to Orange County.

    Pujols turns 32 in January so the Angels just signed him to a 10-year deal with a no trade clause for his age 32-41 year-old seasons. I think he will give the Angels five very good-to-great seasons for a 1B and five average-to-good seasons for a 1B/DH. If one thinks about it as I suggested above, the Angels can easily justify the first five seasons. I mean, wasn't the consensus calling for as much as an 8 x 25-30M deal as recently as last winter? Sure, Albert's numbers fell off a tad this year but he put together an outstanding second half and postseason. In other words, I believe he is basically the same player today as he was perceived a year ago. Pujols may not earn his keep during the second half of the contract unless baseball salaries inflate significantly between now and then. But that's the risk the Angels had to take to acquire the greatest right-handed hitter of the past 80 years, if not ever.

    Ironically, after signing Pujols and C.J. Wilson (5/$77.5M), the Angels actually have more flexibility than they did yesterday. Therefore, it says here that Arte Moreno and Jerry DiPoto will pull off at least one more headline signing or trade before spring training. At a minimum, they have freed up Mark Trumbo and possibly Ervin Santana. In addition, the Halos can easily move Peter Bourjos, if need be, plus Bobby Abreu (if they agree to eat at least half of his contract) and either Alberto Callaspo or Maicer Izturis.

    Where am I going with this? Well, I wouldn't rule out going after David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman. The Mets are reportedly interested in Bourjos. The Nats have been linked to him, too, and have indicated a desire to shore up center field and first base. Why not a Bourjos and Trumbo deal for Zimmerman? The Mets have Ike Davis and Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta aren't likely to be interested in Trumbo's low OBP. As such, the Angels might have to replace Trumbo with Hank Conger. Either way, I would only give up those packages for Wright or Zimmerman if I could sign them to a longer-term deal first as both are under team control for just two more years. Wright is owed $15M in 2012 with a team option at $16M for 2013 and Zimmerman is due $12M in 2012 and $14M in 2013.

    Let's dream for a minute, Angels fans. Assuming the Halos trade Bourjos and either Conger or Trumbo for Wright or Zimmerman, here is a potential lineup for 2012:

    Trout, CF
    Kendrick, 2B
    Wright or Zimmerman, 3B
    Pujols, 1B
    Morales, DH
    Hunter, RF
    Wells, LF
    Iannetta, C
    Aybar, SS

    While I realize that Mike Scioscia would never start the season with Trout as the lead-off hitter, he can flip Trout and Erick Aybar in April and May until he realizes how much better Trout is. After he makes that change, he can flip Chris Iannetta and Aybar if he's worried about having three RHB in the 6th through 8th slots.

    If Kendrys Morales doesn't recover from his leg injury, then the Angels can slide Abreu into the role of DH, hit him first or second in the batting order, slide Howie Kendrick down to sixth or seventh, and not miss much of a beat.

    Here is how the starting rotation stacks up:

    Weaver
    Haren
    Wilson
    Santana
    Williams

    That would be about as strong as any rotation this side of Philadelphia.

    Here is how the bullpen shapes up at this moment in time:

    Walden
    Downs
    Thompson
    Takahashi
    (and perhaps two of three of Jepsen, Richards, and Cassevah)

    Add Ryan Madson (hey, it's not my money) as the closer and you're looking at a team that would be favored to win the World Series.

    ***

    You can read more about the Pujols and Wilson signings at Halos Heaven, which has several articles and links to other posts at SB Nation.

  • John Denny: The Forgotten Cy Young Award Winner

    John Denny: The Forgotten Cy Young Award Winner

    A friend of mine, Ross Moskowitz, is the director of Camp Westmont, a beautiful summer camp in the Pocono Mts. of Pennsylvania. It's the kind of place every kid should be able to attend at least once in their lives. He's also a baseball man. Played Division One NCAA baseball at the University of Maryland. So when he told me that John Denny was going to be his baseball instructor this past summer, I thought it would make for a very interesting story/interview. How does a good pitcher become the best pitcher in the world for one season and win the Cy Young award? From Bob Turley to Randy Jones to Mark Davis to Pat Hentgen, just to name a few, there have been a bunch of pitchers who've taken that step.

    I spent a morning with John Denny at the end of August. He's 58 years old now and has kept in great shape. Simply put, he's one of the nicest, soft-spoken people I've ever met. Aside from working for the Arizona Diamondbacks for a few years, he hasn't had that much to do with Major League Baseball since he retired in 1986. Like most former ballplayers, he has a amazing memory of games, players, even specific at-bats from 25-35 years ago. He's also quite introspective about himself and his place in the game's past. His response to my question "So you won Game One of the 1983 World Series?" was unexpected. "Yeah, how about that," as if he still couldn't quite believe his good fortune. We went off topic at times, but his stories about his Hall of Fame teammates were worth hearing. I turned on the tape recorder.

    David: In looking at your career, the numbers tell a story of a pitcher with obvious talent, twice leading the NL in ERA, who would follow those seasons with quite a few off years. Were injuries a major factor?

    John: Injuries were a big problem for me. My rookie year, 1975, I started the season 2-2 for St. Louis, they sent me back to Triple-A for a month. When I came back, I won seven games in a row, I'm 9-2 and some people were talking about me as a Rookie of the Year candidate. One day, I'm jogging in the outfield in Cincinnati and I tore a lateral ligament. We were only a few games out of first, so I pitched through it and wound up 10-7. The next year, 1976, I was healthy and led the league in ERA (2.52). Then, in 1977, I started the season 7-0 and I strained my hamstring covering first base, then tore that hamstring at Dodger Stadium. And I wound up going 8-8. 1978, I was healthy again and had another good year (14-11, 2.96 ERA).

    David: Who was your manager with the Cards?

    John: Red Schoendeinst was my first manager, then Vern Rapp and finally Ken Boyer. This was right before the Whitey Herzog era. I would've loved to have played for Whitey, but I was traded to Cleveland. But I loved my time in St. Louis. I played with Joe Torre, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. They were true professionals and some of that rubbed off on me.

    David: So you go from a great baseball city to playing in Municipal Stadium?

    John: It was tough. That park seated 80,000 people, so even if we had 40,000 people in the stands, which we rarely did, it was half empty. And I think that affected a lot of our players. We had a good rotation. Bert Blyleven, Rick Sutcliffe, myself, Rick Waits, who won 15-16 games one year. Later, Len Barker. After a few years, I became a free agent while with Cleveland. And George Steinbrenner offered the world to me, but I turned him down.

    David: I never knew that.

    John: My agent handled it all. I never met Steinbrenner, but his quote the next day in the newspapers was something like "John Denny will never wear a Yankee uniform as long as I'm alive." I would've loved to have played for the Yankees, but word was he was very interfering, came down to the locker room all the time. I didn't think I could play for an owner like that.

    David: I've never been shy about my feelings for him. I believe he demeaned the game more than anyone in my lifetime. Younger people, especially Yankee fans, forget just how hated he was in New York until they started winning again in 1996.

    John: Well, he offered me the best contract with wonderful perks and opportunities for the future. I would've been way better off financially. But my thinking was I worked very hard and I played the game very hard. And I pictured myself working my butt off, putting every ounce of energy I had into the game. I was a thinking pitcher and I studied the hitters. And I pictured if things weren't going well, he'd call me into his office and air me out. And then go to the papers and tell them what he just did. I didn't want to put myself in that situation. And I eventually wound up with the Phils and I loved my time there. I missed almost the entire 1982 season, but then got involved with a strength and flexibility coach that Steve Carlton recommended and he helped me enormously.

    David: Before we get to your time with the Phils, let me ask you, "Who was your toughest hitter to face? Who lit you up?"

    John: Easy, Tony Gwynn. His pitch recognition was incredible. So I'd make some adjustments and the minute I thought I had him, he'd make adjustments too. Always one step ahead of me. As time went on, I thought I was starting to figure him out. If he had a weakness, it was inside. But you couldn't live in there. The moment you thought you could pound him inside, he'd make that adjustment and take you deep. So I'd go to my sinking fastball and start to pitch him away, but he used to take that to left field really well.

    David: How was Willie Stargell to face?

    John: I don't know what my actual stats against him were, but I'll tell you this story about Stargell. I was pitching in Pittsburgh one night and I threw him a fastball, down and away. He turned that sucker around right up the middle. I could hear that ball singing as it went by me. It short-hopped the fence in left center for a double. He hit it so hard and I remember thinking to myself that ball might've killed me. From then on, I pitched him only inside and I didn't care if he hit it five miles. He was a true professional too, an old school guy and I was a newer type of player. And I learned so much from the old schoolers.

    David: Who else?

    John: Pete Rose. I pitched a great game one night with St. Louis against the Big Red Machine — Monday Night Game of the Week. The next day he calls me over before our game. I'm 23 years old and I'm wondering what does Pete Rose want to talk to me about? He says "John, I just want to tell you last night you threw one hell of a ballgame. Your fastball was in on my hands all night. But I'll tell you something, next time I'm gonna get you good, you S.O.B." More than anyone, he helped show me how to be a professional and still show respect to the other team and the other players and still be the man and the player you need to be.

    David: Let's talk about the 1983 Phils and your Cy Young season. Who was your pitching coach there?

    John: Claude Osteen, who had been my teammate and pitching coach with the Cardinals. He was the perfect pitching coach for me.

    David: The 1983 Phils are one of my favorite teams. The team had started to age quite a bit, had a lot of veterans, Schmidt, Carlton, Rose. Then they get even older by adding Joe Morgan and Tony Perez at the end of their careers and they win the pennant. Remarkable story.

    John: They called us "the Wheeze Kids." (The 1950 pennant winning Phils were called the Whiz Kids).

    David: Right. Now, obviously, you were healthy. Did you add a new pitch, change your motion?

    John: No, but a few things happened. First, I was in great shape, the best of my career. I had started working out with a strength and conditioning coach, Van Hoefling. He had been with the Los Angeles Rams and when Roman Gabriel was traded to the Eagles, Van followed him to Philly. And Lefty and I got involved with him. And he was great for me. But no new pitch or motion. I was basically a fastball, curve pitcher. And I could add some sink or movement to both of them, so I guess I threw four pitches.

    The biggest difference was that I was playing on a team with guys who knew how to win and it rubbed off on me.

    David: It was attitude?

    John: Attitude and being in great shape. Here's one example and this is what I loved about Pete Rose. I'd get two strikes on a batter and I'd hear him yell or whistle from his position at first base. "You got two strikes on this guy, you know what to do." Because you never want to lose a batter with two strikes on him, you need to finish him off. And Rose was the kind of guy who pounded it home. Just like his career. He took the talent he had and pounded it home, never let up. He stayed on me all year. I am so blessed I was able to play with him. And Lefty and Schmitty and Morgan and Perez too.

    Lefty and I had lockers next to each other. Talk about two different guys. I was a Christian and he believed in Eastern religions, mysticism. But we were so close, worked out in the offseason together. One time I said to him, "Lefty, I've never thrown a slider in my life, show it to me." So he held the ball up, put his hand up and says "I just turn my wrist a little bit like this and I throw the shit out of it." (Laughter).

    He had great catchers in Bob Boone and Tim McCarver who got to know him as well as he knew himself. I don't recall Lefty shaking off many pitches. And it was a combination of three things. I know what I'm doing out here, I really don't need to take charge because my catcher is handling it very well and I know I can throw what they want.

    David: What a huge advantage for a pitcher.

    John: Oh yeah. One of the things I tried to do was not to get into a disagreement with any catcher. If he's calling for a fastball down and away and I want to throw up and in, I would say to myself "What the heck, I can throw down and away and still get this guy out." And it made me a better pitcher and it also made my catcher better too because now he knows that I trusted him and then they would work even harder and call a better game." And Lefty had his catcher's trust and that's huge.

    David: What was it like in 1983 to look behind you and see Rose at first, Morgan at second and Schmidt at 3rd?

    John: You know, the first real ballgame I ever saw in my life, I was ten years old (1963) and my Little League coach, who I still stay in touch with, he was like a father figure to me, took me to Los Angeles from where I was born and raised in Arizona.

    David: Were you a Dodgers fan?

    John: Well, actually I used to listen to the Giants all the time because I could get KNBR radio very well where I lived. Willie Mays was my favorite player. So he took me to a Dodgers/Giants game. Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale and the Dodgers won 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th inning. I can still remember Marichal throwing that incredible overhand curve for a strike with that big leg kick. So at 10 years old, I get to see two great Hall of Fame pitchers in this great pitching duel and in 1983, I get to play alongside five Hall of Famers.

    Now we played mostly on Astroturf back then. Perez, Morgan and Rose were all on their way out, had already lost a step, but anytime there were runners in scoring position, they'd always dive for balls. They saved me run after run after run. They always gave it everything they had and we won the pennant that year to a large degree because of their professionalism. And that leadership rubbed off on Schmitty and we desparately needed that because he could be quite volatile. The fans could really get on him.

    David: Give me an example of Schmidt's leadership.

    John: I was pitching against Nolan Ryan in Philadelphia. I was down 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th. Ryan was so unhittable that day, throwing darts. Top of our order, he goes through the first two guys. Garry Maddox or Gary Matthews, I can't remember which, draws a walk. Schmitty comes up and Ryan had been making him look terrible all day. Schmitty had no chance. Ryan was on the attack the whole game — attack, attack. He goes 3-2 on Schmitty. And Schmidt would always try to analyze what pitch was coming. Everyone on the bench was hoping for a fastball, because if Ryan dropped that hook on him, he had no chance.

    Ryan was grunting on every pitch, never saw anyone throw harder than he did that day. He was so intimidating. Fastball. Ball landed in the second deck and we won the game 3-2. Now that's talent, but it's also leadership because Schmitty knew no one else on our club could touch Ryan that day. It was up to him.

    David: So you win the pennant and you win Game One of the World Series?

    John: Yeah, how about that.

    David: Was the game at the Vet?

    John: No, it was in Baltimore, won it 2-1, beat Scott McGregor. I gave up a home run to Jim Dwyer, who was my minor league teammate on the Cardinals, pitched well rest of the game. Only game we won.

    David: 19-7, 2.37 ERA, Cy Young Award, win a World Series game.

    John: Pretty great year to live through.

    For the past 30 years, David Bromberg has lived in Northeast Pennsylvania, former home of the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons (Phils Triple A team) and current home of the S/WB Yankees Triple A team. He was dubbed "the most inveterate baseball fan in northeast Pa. by Ron Allen, who hosted the local nightly sports radio call-in show there.

  • Baseball America
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    College Top 25 Chat: March 25
    Aaron Fitt took readers' college baseball questions on March 25.
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    Update: STL -- Struggling through a June with an ERA over 10, the once-reliable Trevor Rosenthal has been removed from closing duties in St Louis, at least for now. There's no obvious replacement, but the mix of the most-trusted Kevin Siegrist, the best-stuff Seung Hwan Oh and the most-experienced (and once great) Jon Broxton will all hold down the fort until Rosenthal figures himself out again. (6/26/2016)
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    These prospects have moved up in our composite rankings recently: Jameson Taillon (#22)... Manuel Margot (#39)... Willson Contreras (#51)... Cody Reed (#55)... Seung Hwan-Oh (#95)... Billy McKinney (#117)... Rio Ruiz (#176)... Tyrell Jenkins (#219)... JT Chargois (#231)... Hunter Dozier (#300)... Santos Saldivar (#486)... Jake Reed (#612)... Elvis Sabala (#629)... Yeremy Rosario (#638)... Anderson Castro (#865)... Christian Capellan (#933)... See our detailed prospect rankings for more info. (5/26/2017)
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    Ken Arneson confronts his white whale in the final blog entry on BaseballToaster.com. "Load the harpoons, gentlemen, it is showdown time. Today, my adventure as a baseball blogger ends. I'm going down, and I'm taking Moby Dick with me."
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    If you've been paying attention lately, you've noticed that Baseball Toaster has had a bunch of its knobs and switches and dials and wires fall off in recent months. Today, with the largest part of our engine leaving to join the Los Angeles Times, we are officially sending the Toaster to the scrap heap.
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    It hurts, any time you lose something you care about, something that's been a part of your life for years. It hurts, any time you watch as a community you love slowly fades away, as much by your own doing as anyone else's. You flog yourself with notes of things unwritten, things unsaid, with thoughts of what could have come to pass, with dreams of success left unfulfilled, and it hurts even more. But such is the way of the world.
  • Humbug Journal: My Final Take-It-Or-Leave-It Offer

    Humbug Journal: My Final Take-It-Or-Leave-It Offer
    Because I'm retainingScott Boras I'll hold out, and not join the chorus With new homes online. If you want me tosign, Bid a mil and a golden thesaurus.
  • The Juice Blog: Official Moving Day is Here

    The Juice Blog: Official Moving Day is Here
    (Go to nsfwsports.com if you want to find Scott's new blog site.)
  • Mop-Up Duty
  • Kevin Pillar?s Latest Antics Should Come As No Surprise

    Kevin Pillar?s Latest Antics Should Come As No Surprise
    Last night, Toronto Blue Jays’ centre-fielder Kevin Pillar appeared to shout a homophobic slur directed at Atlanta Braves’ reliever Jason Motte.  It can clearly...
  • Targeting The Next Marco Estrada

    Targeting The Next Marco Estrada
    When the Toronto Blue Jays first acquired Marco Estrada from the Milwaukee Brewers via trade, he brought to (my) mind another former Brewers pitcher...
  • Revisiting My Toronto Blue Jays? 2017 Lineup Projection

    Revisiting My Toronto Blue Jays? 2017 Lineup Projection
    10 weeks ago I consulted my crystal ball to try to get a clearer picture on what the Toronto Blue Jays’ opening-day lineup would look...
  • A Memorable Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day

    A Memorable Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day
    During Spring Training in 1988, then-Blue Jays Manager Jimy Williams announced that left-fielder George Bell would be the full time DH, both to save...
  • Ranked: The Best Outfield Arms in Blue Jays History

    Ranked: The Best Outfield Arms in Blue Jays History
    While watching the Toronto Blue Jays play the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day last week, I saw a tweet by Blue Jays statistician Scott Carson...
 
 
  • Wax Heaven
  • The Only Baseball Card I Want

    The Only Baseball Card I Want
    It’s funny how things turn out. By the spring of 1992, Jose was a unanimous MVP, multiple time All-Star, two-time Home Run King, the highest-paid baseball player in the world and was even having an affair with the biggest pop singer of the times, Madonna. He was a young millionaire who owned a fleet of […]
  • Analyzing A 2016 Baseball Card

    Analyzing A 2016 Baseball Card
    I have spent the past few days on eBay, looking at Jose Canseco baseball cards produced in 2015 and this year. I have seen a lot that I would consider “filler” and not worth picking up but this particular card (below) has caught my eye. It comes from Topps’ Tribute brand and features an early-year […]
  • Growing Old Sucks

    Growing Old Sucks
    I remember bustin’ wax packs in 1990 and loving the card designs of the time. Occasionally, I’d pull something that would feature a design from yesteryear, be it the 60s or 70s and thought to myself how ugly these cards looked and how I wish they wouldn’t waste my time with them. I can’t begin to imagine […]
  • ?and so it begins (again)

    ?and so it begins (again)
    It’s been 6 long years since I wrote a blog on the original Wax Heaven. A lot has happened since then. I am not here to bore you with the rise and fall, that’s for another day. Instead, I am writing the first post to say that, I really don’t care about baseball cards anymore. […]
  • And So It Ends

    And So It Ends
    Author: Mario Alejandro There was once a time when The Hobby ran through my mind 24/7. Here I was cranking out over 100 articles per month, recording box breaks to post on YouTube, scouring eBay for new cards I needed, and making online trades in every popular online forum available. Oh, did I forget to […]
  • TORONTO STAR
  • Toronto braces for more rain with Lake Ontario at record-breaking levels

    Toronto braces for more rain with Lake Ontario at record-breaking levels

    City crews are pumping water off the Toronto Islands after one rain storm, while filling heavy duty sand bags to prepare for the next one.

    The fight against flooding suffered a serious setback Thursday, as heavy rains and high waves combined to submerge nearly half the Islands land, said Nancy Gaffney, head of the Toronto Region and Conservation Authority’s watershed programs.

    “We can batten down the hatches as best we can, be as proactive as possible but as the water level continues to rise and go further inland than it ever has before.”

    Algonquin Island resident Wayne Fraser said most people on the islands had some degree of flooding in their homes.

    “Our house is on ... probably one of the higher points of Algonquin (but) because of the amount of rain Thursday, we had significant pooling in the crawlspace and pooling in the yard, which has never happened up until this point.”

    Sink holes the size of dining room tables have opened up along roads on Centre Island, said Shawnda Walker, spokesperson for the Centreville Amusement Park.

    Water from both sides of Centre Island has overtaken the shore and met in the middle, near the William Meany hedge maze, Walker added.

    “As far as Centreville is concerned we really haven’t received any more damage or a huge increase in water levels,” said Walker. “But we’re so much higher than everyone else. It’s the rest of the island.”

    Centreville was unable to open for the first time in its 50-year history due to the water levels.

    The City of Toronto has cancelled all permits on the Islands through June 30.

    “We continue to monitor and assess and will make decisions going forward according to conditions,” said city spokesperson Wynna Brown. “Public safety is our top priority, followed by protecting infrastructure.”

    Lake Ontario’s water levels are at their highest ever — breaking a record that had stood since 1952 — according to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    It is not clean when water levels might peak and decline.

    “Water levels typically peak in June although last year they peaked in May and the year before they peaked in July, so ... we can’t really ballpark when it’ll happen,” she said.

    Environment Canada says there is a 40 per cent chance of showers Sunday. But water levels will continue to rise with or without rainfall.

    “There’s still so much water coming through from the upper Great Lakes, which are getting a lot of precipitation too. We need several weeks for dry weather to make a big difference,” said Gaffney.

    The International Joint Commission, an independent Canada-U.S. body that monitors shared waters, is releasing as much water as they can out from Lake Ontario in the St. Lawrence River, Gaffney said.

    “There’s nothing more that they can do,” she added.

    “The input from Lake Erie is coming in faster than anything they can outflow.”

  • GTA home sales plunge as much as 61 per cent

    GTA home sales plunge as much as 61 per cent

    A stomach churning drop of up to 61 per cent in the number of home sales in some municipalities around Toronto could translate to a single-digit decline in regional prices by the end of the month, says a realtor who has crunched the numbers.

    John Pasalis of Realosophy, found that Toronto region ground-level home sales — detached, semi-detached and town houses — dropped 26 per cent overall between April 20 and May 20 — the period directly following the provincial Fair Housing plan announcement designed to cool real estate speculation in the area.

    Meantime, another data-tracking brokerage, Condos.ca, is showing that prices per square foot are down nearly 1 per cent in the last 60 days on its rolling 60-day average.

    "A nervousness has crept in and seems to be taking hold quite quickly," said Andrew Harrild, vice-president of Condos.ca.

    The Realosophy analysis shows York Region, which has seen a higher level of investment buying, having the most significant drop in the number of re-sale home transactions — 61 per cent in Richmond Hill; 46 per cent in Markham and 44 per cent in Newmarket.

    Read more:

    Toronto real estate listings jump in short-term ‘cool-down’

    Toronto homeowners cash out of hot real estate market as uncertainty sets in

    Durham Region, long considered one of the last pockets of affordability, saw the only increase in the area — about 15 per cent in Pickering and 11 per cent in Whitby.

    Sales were down 23 per cent in Toronto in Realosophy's analysis.

    Typically, real estate prices are compared year over year. This month's home prices will still be up compared to May 2016, said Pasalis.

    "But when you start looking at this May compared to April, we're probably going to see prices fall. Usually prices don't fall from April to May. Those are peak months. I think we'll see prices falling maybe 5 or 7 per cent," he said.

    That could reflect the trapped state of home sellers, who have already bought a new house and are struggling to sell their old property so they accept a lower price.

    "Of all the sellers out there, half of them aren't motivated, the other half are desperate because usually they've already bought a house. They weren't planning for this slowdown and it's very difficult because they need to sell and they have no options," said Pasalis.

    Sellers who aren't desperate could just take their homes off the market.

    "I had clients who bought just outside the city just when the market started to cool down about a month ago. They ended up selling relatively quickly. We got maybe 4 to 5 per cent less than they expected to get," he said.

    "In some cases I wouldn't be surprised if people just don't close," said Pasalis.

    Harrild says that it's too soon to know for sure if the provincial policy announcement is the source of the recent jitters, it seems likely given the almost-overnight change.

    "If you're a seller in this market you have to be very careful about how you price your listing," he said.

    Although the price per square foot is down slightly to about $667 in Toronto on average, condo prices overall were up nearly 30 per cent year over year in the same 60-day period to an average sale price of $548,186, according to the Condos.ca market index.

    But it's possible developers will change their pricing strategies, said Harrild.

    "Prices are still up significantly versus what they were this time last year. It will be interesting to see how developers start to change their pricing moving forward and whether they're pricing developments as aggressively as they were 60 days ago," he said.

    "I don't think a slowdown will be exclusive to the re-sale market," said Harrild. "If anything, the introduction of this foreign buyers tax was geared to (speculators) and investors and they tended to dabble in the (pre-construction) market."

    Re-sale house prices were about $1.1 million on average across the region at the end of April, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.

    New construction condos rose about 24 per cent year over year in April, according to statistics released by the Building and Land Development Association on Tuesday.

  • Voter breakdown will reveal the direction of the Conservative party as members elect their new leader: Hébert

    Voter breakdown will reveal the direction of the Conservative party as members elect their new leader: Hébert

    It has been 20 years this spring since the Reform party ran English-only election ads inviting voters to withdraw their support for federal parties whose leaders hailed from Quebec. The invitation backfired and Jean Chrétien secured a second majority mandate in no small part by winning every seat but two in Ontario.

    This weekend there are better than even odds that the reunited Conservative party will emerge from the second leadership vote of its short history under its current configuration with a francophone Quebecer at the helm. Maxime Bernier has been the frontrunner in the lead-up to Saturday’s finale.

    The Beauce MP is expected to win Quebec handily. His strength in the province that accounts for the second-largest number of votes after Ontario could be the ace in a winning hand. But if he wins it is Bernier’s score in the other provinces that will speak to the scope of his mandate as leader.

    The stronger his showing in regions such as Ontario and the West from which hails the bulk of the Conservative caucus, the easier the task of selling skeptical MPs on his policies. Caucus support for a leader — especially in opposition — tends to be directly proportional to a demonstrated capacity to get MPs re-elected.

    Stephen Harper was particularly proud to leave his successor a beachhead in Quebec. A leader that does not do well in the province in the weekend’s leadership vote would have a hard time preserving that legacy. But while winning Quebec can go a long way to pave the road to a Conservative leadership victory the party’s last and only 21st century majority victory was achieved with a minimum of help from that province.

    The regional breakdown in the support of the winning Conservative candidate is just one set of numbers that will speak to the mood and the state of the party post-leadership. Here are some others.

    In the last election, the Conservatives dabbled in identity politics first with the promise of a niqab ban at citizenship ceremonies and subsequently with a proposed tip line to report so-called barbaric cultural practices.

    As part of Saturday’s vote, the Conservatives have an opportunity to signal whether they want the party to go further down the somewhat slippery identity road or to steer clear of it.

    More so than any other candidate in the campaign, Ontario’s Kellie Leitch has ridden the identity battle horse. Her signature policy has been a values test for would-be immigrants to Canada. A strong showing for Leitch on Saturday would send the message that there is a solid constituency within the party that would like the Conservatives to stay on Harper’s controversial identity-related campaign message track.

    The last election highlighted the fact that the Conservative party is plagued with a significant demographic deficit. Its voter base is ageing. The party lags far behind its competition among the millennials who will make up the largest age cohort within the electorate as of 2019.

    This is a group of voters that is particularly attuned to environmental issues. Reform party founder Preston Manning has been arguing for years that unless the Conservatives take climate change seriously they will fail to thrive over time.

    Under Harper, climate change was never front and centre in the Conservative narrative and most of the aspirants to his succession would rather fight any attempt at pricing carbon than undertake a greening of the party.

    Ontario MP Michael Chong has been the exception. He has spent the leadership campaign promoting the notion of a carbon tax and the necessity for the party to recast itself as a strong contributor to the battle against climate change. His score on Saturday will provide some insights as to the relative strength of that particular current within the party.

    By choice but also by default the Conservative party is the political home of the religious right in Canada. That has become particularly true since Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau decreed that his MPs would be bound to the party’s pro-choice policy on abortion.

    At their first post-defeat convention the Conservatives abandoned the heterosexual definition of marriage they had defended over the debate on same-sex marriage.

    In the leadership campaign, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux have been vying for the social conservative vote with promises to revisit the marriage definition issue. And although he did not court the religious right as part of his leadership campaign, Saskatchewan’s Andrew Scheer boasted of a perfect social conservative voting record.

    If Scheer goes on to a strong finish Saturday, it will at least in part be because the religious right is still a force to contend with within the Conservative party.

    Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

  • World gets peek at Melania and Donald?s marriage on trip

    World gets peek at Melania and Donald?s marriage on trip

    As Melania Trump accompanied her husband on his first foreign trip, the public got an uncommon glimpse into the first couple’s dynamic.

    The first lady, who remained in New York when President Donald Trump moved to Washington, was more visible than she has been during any other stretch of his presidency. She strode along, usually a pace or two behind, as he greeted dignitaries. She stood over his shoulder as he signed guest books. She ventured out on her own a few times, primarily to meet with women and children. But her foremost job was to accompany the president.

    Seeing the Trumps together over the course of their nine-day trip aroused the fascination Americans have with all White House marriages. Do they hold hands? (Not regularly.) Glance at one another lovingly or roll their eyes? (Neither, at least before the cameras.)

    On the second leg of their trip, they walked down the tarmac at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport, and Trump seemed to reach back to take his wife’s hand. With a quick flick of the wrist, she seemed to swat it away. The moment, captured on video, went viral.

    As they departed Israel the next day, they walked to Air Force One together hand-in-hand as photographers captured the scene. This moment of connection was less commented upon than the apparent brush-off.

    For months, Trump’s critics have questioned whether the first couple is happily married. Their friends insist that they are.

    “I will put my hand in fire and say that they are super, super happy,” said Paolo Zampolli, the Manhattan businessman who introduced the Trumps to each other at a New York Fashion Week party he hosted in 1998 and remains friendly with the couple.

    Karen LeFrak, a longtime friend of the Trumps, told a Washington Post reporter that Melania Trump is “enjoying her life and new role . . . their relationship is great.”

    Melania Trump has described herself as a supportive wife. “We know what our roles are and we are happy with them,” she told Parenting magazine a few years ago. “I think the mistake some people make is they try to change the man they love after they get married. You cannot change a person.”

    The president, meanwhile, has repeatedly proclaimed that Melania is doing a wonderful job as first lady.

    “She was always the highest quality that you’ll ever find . . . and I’ve known her for a long time,” he said at a news conference earlier this year.

    He’s used blunter terms of praise as well. In a recent conversation on Air Force One, Trump boasted to a supporter that his wife is “Jackie O on steroids.”

    The first couple has been married for 12 years and together for 17. The personalities they’ve presented to the public have typically suggested an opposites-attract dynamic — he is impulsive and decisive, while she is quiet and cautious.

    At one point during their foray abroad, they carried themselves like a couple on a double date with other world leaders. An Israeli television station’s microphone caught an exchange they shared with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife.

    “You know in Israel all the people like us — the media hate us but the people love us,” Sara Netanyahu told the Trumps as they met. “Like you.”

    “We have a lot in common,” President Trump replied.

    In Italy, the president introduced the first lady to Pope Francis, who shook her hand and asked in Italian: “What do you give him to eat — potica?”

    “Potica,” Melania Trump repeated lightheartedly, referring to a Slovenian sweet bread popular in her home country.

    If every marriage is a mystery, political marriages are the Twilight Zone. Really, who knows what goes on in the confines of any relationship they are not a part of? So first couples, like celebrities, are subject to endless analysis and interpretation of their every interaction. They are expected to perfect the political performance of marriage.

    Barack and Michelle Obama’s relationship was a central part of their political story. They both spoke of their family’s 6:30 p.m. dinner as a sacred time. They teased each other and held hands in public. She fixed his tie while the cameras snapped photos of them on the North Portico of the White House waiting for guests to arrive for state dinners. He kissed her cheek.

    At times, the Obamas seemed to be performing. At a basketball game, they seemed to initially wave away the Kiss Cam when it settled on them — but later called it back and gave a smooch for the crowd.

    In 1998, the Clintons were photographed lovingly dancing together, in swimsuits, on a beach vacation. Some political analysts thought the “candid” photo had been staged for the media. Later that same year, amid the sex scandal that engulfed his presidency, Bill and Hillary Clinton made a memorable photo by walking dutifully across the White House lawn together, each holding hands with their then-teenage daughter, Chelsea.

    In a moment that made some observers swoon and others cringe, Al Gore planted a full-mouth kiss on wife Tipper at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The crowd went wild for the show of passion by a man who was perceived as stiff. A decade later, they separated.

    Less showy interactions between political couples may be more telling. At the Easter Egg Roll earlier this year, Melania Trump gently nudged her husband as the national anthem was played, to remind him to place his hand over his heart.

    She rarely accompanied her husband on the campaign trail, but he referred to her as “his pollster.” Politico reported recently that the first lady continues to watch cable news and report back to her husband how she thinks his communications staff is performing.

    Others who have observed the Trumps closely back home, say there is an obvious spark between them.

    “When we were together at Mar-a-Lago they looked like they were on a first date,” said Zampolli, referring to a New Year’s celebration he attended with the first couple. “They were quite close to each other.”

    On another occasion at Mar-a-Lago, prior to the election, Trump interrupted an interview with a Washington Post reporter to call out “Hi, honey!” to Melania, as she passed through in large sunglasses and a bathrobe on her way to the spa. She acknowledged him quickly but kept walking.

    The Trumps will wrap up their tour abroad on Saturday, and this summer Melania Trump is expected to move to Washington, where the media glare and public interest in their marriage could intensify.

    “She is very strong, and he’s very strong, but of course it is not pleasant,” Zampolli said.

  • Melania Trump wears $68K Dolce & Gabbana jacket in Sicily

    Melania Trump wears $68K Dolce & Gabbana jacket in Sicily

    TAORMINA, ITALY—Melania Trump’s first outing in the Sicilian sunshine was in a colourful floral appliqué jacket by Dolce & Gabbana that comes off the rack at about $68,600.

    Mrs. Trump also carried a matching clutch when she went to lunch with the other spouses of G7 leaders at the historic Elephants Palace hosted by Catania’s mayor.

    Read more:

    Why Melania Trump doesn’t always cover up for official trips

    World gets peek at Melania and Donald’s marriage on trip

    The colour burst comes after a steady wardrobe of mostly black during President Donald Trump’s overseas tour, including a prim black lace dress with a matching mantilla head cover that she wore to meet Pope Francis and a dark jacket with golden detailing on the cuff and collar that she wore for her arrival in Italy, both also by Milan designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.

    Gabbana has been celebrating each appearance with Instagram posts. He shared three photos of the floral jacket, worn over a simple white shift dress, with the U.S. first lady looking model-perfect stepping out of an SUV. Gabbana tagged the photo with hearts and a Thank You to @flotus #melaniatrump.

    Dolce & Gabbana have made Sicily their fashion muse, so it makes sense that she would also wear their designs in Sicily.