Tag:Chicago White Sox
Posted on: March 5, 2012 1:38 pm
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The catcher and the groundhog

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Dirt.

As a catcher, you wallow in it.

As a catcher who hails from Punxsutawney, Pa., home of the esteemed groundhog ... well, how perfect is that?

Rookie Devin Mesoraco, on deck to become the Reds' backstop this season, is just the seventh major-leaguer to emerge from Punxsutawney, where the country turns its eyes each Feb. 2 to see how much longer winter will last. (Well, perhaps not the entire country. ...).

He family home, in fact is only about a half-mile from Gobbler's Knob, where Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prognostication in a sacred ceremony. (Well, perhaps maybe not exactly sacred. ...).

"I went one time," Mesoraco says. "My brother goes almost every year. He seems to enjoy it.

"The rest of my family ... I don't know if my dad has ever been."

Mesoraco was Cincinnati's first-round pick in the 2007 draft out of Punxsutawney High School -- yep, home of the Chucks.

"He's around," Mesoraco says of the city's celebrity groundhog. "He comes to school with his handler. He probably gets treated better than any other groundhog in the world.

"If a groundhog could smell good, it would be him."

Odd thing is, both big leaguers to come from Punxsutawney since 1960 have played behind the dish: John Mizerock, who who caught for the Astros and Braves in the 1980s, and Mesoraco.

Who knew that, in addition to being Groundhog World Headquarters, Punxsutawney would become a cradle of catchers?

Also from Punxsutawney, a town of some 6,000 people, according to Baseball-Reference.com: Billy Hunter, an infielder for the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians in the 1950s (he also managed the Rangers in 1977-1978); pitcher Al Verdel (Phillies, 1944); outfielder Nick Goulish (Phillies, 1944-1945); outfielder Wilbur Good (Yankees, Indians, Boston Rustlers, Cubs, Phillies and White Sox from 1905-1918); and shortstop Hutch Campbell (Pirates, 1907).

Don't ask Mesocaro, 23, if he saw any of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day being filmed. For one thing, the move came out in 1993, when he was just 5. For another, it wasn't even filmed in Punxsutawney -- it was made in Woodstock, Ill.

But he didn't need the movie. He's had plenty of his own Punxsutawney Phil encounters of his own.

"He's a big deal," Mesocaro says. "They bring him around in a big cage. At the library, he's on display 24/7. It's in the main park. He lives in what's called the Groundhog's Den. You can see him all the time. Him and his wife, Phyllis.

"I don't know what they do when they want some private time."

Sunblock day? Overcast skies in the desert today. They promised temperatures in the 80s. It's not even close. Some of these weather folks around here need to be replaced. I know where they can find a few groundhogs to do the job. ...

Likes: This passage from near the end of Rosanne Cash's terrific memoir, Composed: "We all need art and music like we need blood and oxygen. The more exploitative, numbing, and assaulting popular culture becomes, the more we need the truth of a beautifully phrased song, dredged from a real person's depth of experience, delivered in an honest voice; the more we need the simplicity of paint on canvas, or the arc of a lonely body in the air, or the photographer's unflinching eye." ... Great Michigan State-Ohio State game Sunday. The good guys didn't win, but it was terrific to watch. The Big 10 is the best conference in the country. ... Slickables, Home of the $2 ice cream sandwich. Great new discovery on Mill Ave. in the Arizona State University district. Freshly baked homemade cookies, you pick your two and which kind of ice cream you want between them. Everything from Snickerdoodles (by far, by the way, the most underrated cookie in the country) to chocolate chip to mint chip cookies. ... Grimaldi's Coal Brick-Oven Pizza. Heard great things about it and it didn't disappoint. The meatball pizza was delicious, but the pepperoni and mushroom was even better.

Dislikes: Still haven't picked up a copy of Leonard Cohen's new disc Old Ideas. Soon, soon.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"You gave me light when I was blind
"You bring peace into my heart
"You drove me back to my beliefs
"And today I’m home again
"There must be a kind of light
"Lighting down you, from so far
"And wherever you go, it will follow you
"‘Cause you, my darling, you were made to shine"

-- Ilo Ferreira, Home Again
Posted on: February 28, 2012 1:51 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 6:09 pm
 

Albert Belle tolls again in Indians' visit

Albert Belle, center, shares a laugh with former Indians teammates Carlos Baerga, left, and Kenny Lofton. (AP)


GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Spring training is one big reunion after everybody scatters for vacation. And the best part is, you never know who you'll run into.

Sometimes, it even draws recluses out of hiding.

"I wanted to see the guys," Albert Belle, 45, said as he surveyed Indians camp Tuesday morning. "We're rehashing old memories."

It's not quite that simple. But then, with a man as complicated as Belle, it never was.

Two stars from the classic Cleveland teams of the mid-1990s are in uniform for part of the spring as guest instructors. And Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton aren't alone: Their former manager, Mike Hargrove, is suiting up, too.

Anyway, Belle lives across the Valley in Scottsdale, and Baerga and Lofton were the driving forces behind the impromptu, unexpected and totally shocking reunion.

Belle has had zero contact with the Indians since leaving as a free agent following the 1996 season. Not even a trip back to Jacobs/Progressive Field for some ceremonial honor or first pitch.

"Carlos put in a couple of extra harsh words" to coax him to Cleveland's camp, Lofton said, grinning.

"I really miss Albert a lot," Baerga said. "And I wanted to see him."

His close-cropped hair almost all gray now, his trim beard containing far more salt than pepper, Belle smiled and laughed often Tuesday morning. He was clearly touched and happy to be back with some of the guys who helped him produce his greatest moments in the game.

"You know what?" Belle said. "I got hurt in 2000, and I couldn't play in 2001 and I was just devastated," said Belle, who was forced into retirement that spring with a hip injury. "I didn't watch any baseball until Game 7 of the World Series in '01 when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees."

Those painful days having receded with the years, Belle said he now keeps up with baseball on television and usually attends one Diamondbacks game a year. Not long ago, he went to Arizona's new spring training complex and visited with old teammate and current D-backs pitching coach Charles Nagy.

"I'm seeing the guys one at a time," Belle said.

The early-morning scene outside, just behind the Indians' clubhouse, was touching, funny and, for those who remember how a baseball team turned a city on with its fire, utterly nostalgic. Those Indians won five consecutive AL Central titles from 1995-1999 (Belle left via free agency for the White Sox after the '96 season). They played in front of a sellout streak in Jacobs Field that would reach 455 consecutive games.

Baerga, Lofton, Belle and Hargrove swapped stories, asked each other questions and, for a short time, were joined by former catcher -- and current Indians coach -- Sandy Alomar Jr.

The men clearly hadn't seen each other in quite awhile and were thoroughly enjoying the reunion. Belle said he hadn't seen Baerga since the former infielder was playing for the Diamondbacks in 2004. Said he hadn't seen Hargrove since 2000, when Hargrove was managing the Orioles. Hargrove asked Belle where he's living now.

"I think our '95 team was pretty incredible," Belle said. "The Yankees had a pretty good team in '98, but I think our lineup was way better than theirs. It all started with Kenny Lofton at the top. As soon as he'd get on base, he wreaked havoc and we started licking our chops. ...

"I think everybody in Cleveland had some kind of Indians jersey or cap."

Talk about glory days.

"We got to the World Series, and it was incredible for the fans. ... We had a great time," Belle said. "I thought we could have pulled it out.

"I wish we could have stayed together as a team for a few more years. It just didn't work out."

Those cheers now faint echoes, Belle is a "stay-at-home dad", a father to four girls ranging in age from 11 to "almost two." Still guarded, he said he preferred not to reveal their names.

He smiled when asked which was tougher, facing David Cone and Roger Clemens back in the day or being a dad.

"Facing Cone and Clemens was easy," he joked. "Seems like all the kids get tired and cranky at the same time."

The kids know their pop was a baseball player, he said, via the random baseball cards that still arrive in the mail with autograph requests, or when he periodically pops DVDs of the old days into his system.

Had his hip allowed, he would have liked to have played longer. He had resurfacing surgery on his right hip in 2001, he said, and he'll have surgery on his left hip this winter.

He plays a lot of golf these days, watches baseball (Albert Pujols is his favorite hitter) and he sometimes thinks he'd like to return to baseball in some capacity.

"I've thought about it," he said. "Maybe one day I will. I like to stay at home and raise my kids. Maybe someday it will be different.

"Before I got married, I interviewed with a couple of teams and it didn't work out."

He remembers his first major-league hit, against Nolan Ryan in old Municipal Stadium, to help spark a three-run first on July 15, 1989. He remembers "all of those incredible come-from-behind games at the Jake, the city in an uproar."

Lofton and Baerga reveled in the scene as Belle talked, sprinkling comments into the conversation when they felt something needed to be said or to help spark another memory.

Someone asked a question about Progressive Field, and Lofton interjected.

"It's The Jake," Lofton said. "It's forever The Jake. Sorry."

Belle talked about how intimidating those old Indians were, still appreciating how pitchers like Dennis Martinez and Jose Mesa protected their hitters.

"The game's different now," Belle said. "

Asked about mending fences in Cleveland, Belle said, "I thought the fences were already mended. That was a long time ago."

That's the thing about free agency, he said wistfully, and it is. Players come and players go. The great times can be fleeting, and sometimes you don't realize how great they were until they're gone.

Who can forget Game 1 of the 1995 playoffs against Boston when, after then-Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy asked the umpires to check his bat for cork after his 11th-inning homer tied the game at 4-4, Belle looked into the television camera near the Indians dugout and pointed to his biceps?

"That was a fun time," Belle said. "We were a great team. We had a lot of come-from-behind-stories."

He was always on edge, usually surly and often froze out the media. In a classic moment a few years ago, Indians beat man Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked him during a conversation whether he ever used steroids. No, Belle told Hoynes, "I was just an angry black man."

Tuesday, smiling, he said, "I talked to the media. They just didn't like the words I was saying."

Yes, he said, he enjoyed himself immensely throughout his career, even if it did not always appear like it to those on the outside.

"I look back, and there are some great memories," said Belle, who finished with 381 homers, 1,239 RBI and 1,726 hits over 12 seasons. "I had a nice career."

As a few current Indians trickled out of the clubhouse to begin their day, they couldn't help but notice the spectacle they were passing. Laughter, jokes and, for the longest time, the pulse of a team that produced some of the greatest hardball moments Cleveland has ever witnessed.

"What we should do is get a uniform and scrimmage those guys," Lofton joked.

And they all laughed like it was 1995 all over again.



Posted on: December 6, 2011 9:23 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 1:56 am
 

Marlins pushing hard on Pujols, want answer soon

DALLAS -- The Marlins spent an extraordinary amount of time Tuesday afternoon and evening wooing free agent slugger Albert Pujols and appeared to be thundering toward their finish line as darkness enveloped Dallas on a cold Tuesday night.

Whether it is also Pujols' finish line remains to be seen.

The Marlins pushed very, very hard through the night Tuesday to finish a Pujols deal with a 10-year offer, according to sources, worth in excess of $200 million. Closing in on 1 a.m. CDT, sources said the Marlins reached a point where there would be no immediate answer, and they would resume discussions with the Pujols Camp on Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday, St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak said that the Cardinals presented the slugger with a new offer, their first since last February when Pujols rejected a reported nine-year offer worth a reported $195 million.

Meantime, USAToday's Bob Nightengale reported an unidentified team made a third offer of at least 10 years in what is becoming the most expensive bidding war in baseball history.

Sources with knowledge of the talks said that they expected the Pujols camp to let things play out a little longer.

That strategy did not mesh with what the Fish wanted Tuesday, and they may have to make a decision as a result. As owner Jeffrey Loria canceled dinner plans Tuesday to remain in the Hilton Anatole and try to knock off a deal for the iconic slugger, the Marlins remained players on free agent pitchers Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson.

Marlins officials emerged from an elevator after what appeared to have been a long meeting with Dan Lozano, Pujols' agent, shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday. But club president David Samson repeatedly told reporters, "Nothing to report."

The Marlins want an answer from Pujols sooner rather than later -- they pushed for an answer Tuesday night -- so they can move on to one of those other options if they can't get him. They also want an answer from Pujols soon because of growing concern that they are being used as leverage to jack up the Cardinals' bid.

Bottom line: The Marlins badly want Pujols, but they do now want to lose out on other free agent options if Pujols is a rigged game and it's a fait accompli that he's returning to St. Louis. Whether or not the Marlins sign Pujols, they still want to improve their starting pitching. Without Pujols, they'll look to the free agent market. If they add Pujols, they will look to trade current first baseman Gaby Sanchez for pitching.

Mozeliak did not specify the Cards' new offer to Pujols either in years or dollars. When asked by St. Louis reporters in whose court the ball is in, Mozeliak replied, "Theirs."

"I suspect [a response] is going to come quickly," Mozeliak told St. Louis reporters. "That would have to come from that camp. ... In this situation, we're participants. I don't think we're dictating anything."

The Marlins believed that their offer had to be higher than that of the Cardinals to combat what one source termed the "statue effect." Meaning, if Pujols finished his career in St. Louis, the next step will be that the club and city will erect a statue of him next to the one of Hall of Famer Stan Musial outside of Busch Stadium.

Consequently, the Marlins have put together what sources call a "creative" offer, one that is so complicated that Loria and other Marlins executives met with Dan Haslem of the Commissioner's Office late Tuesday afternoon to review parts of it and, apparently, make sure it is in line with baseball rules and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

"Jeffrey is an art dealer. He's accustomed to obtaining special works of art," one National League executive said Tuesday night. "Maybe this is another special work of art."

Surely, they would tell you that Pujols is exactly that in St. Louis.

Whether he'll be on permanent loan anytime soon at the Marlins' posh new baseball museum in Miami is the subject that continues to dominate these meetings.
Posted on: December 6, 2011 1:18 pm
 

Arizona pondering Saunders' future

DALLAS -- The Diamondbacks are discussing a contract extension with Joe Saunders in talks that could either tie the left-hander to the Arizona rotation for a couple of more seasons ... or land him squarely on the trade block.

With young starters such as Tyler Skaggs and Jarrod Parker close to ready, and young lefties David Holmberg and Patrick Corbin on the way, the Diamondbacks are internally discussing the merits of a two- or three-year extension to Saunders.

He's worked 200 or more innings in each of the past three seasons and, as such, provides shelter for a young staff growing into its future. But he's also arbitration-eligible and due a big raise from the $5.5 million he earned in 2011. Saunders went 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA for the NL West champion Diamondbacks last summer.

If the Diamondbacks decide to go with their young pitching, the Diamondbacks could seize on a weak free agent market and perhaps deal Saunders as early as this week. The slow dance continues on the free agent market with Mark Buehrle (who is being pursued by more than a dozen clubs) and C.J. Wilson.

Beyond them and maybe Edwin Jackson, the best alternatives for clubs looking to acquire starting pitching this winter appears to be on the trade market, where Oakland is receiving hits on Gio Gonzalez, the White Sox are fielding inquiries on John Danks and Houston is shopping Wandy Rodriguez.
Posted on: December 6, 2011 1:18 pm
 

Arizona pondering Saunders' future

DALLAS -- The Diamondbacks are discussing a contract extension with Joe Saunders in talks that could either tie the left-hander to the Arizona rotation for a couple of more seasons ... or land him squarely on the trade block.

With young starters such as Tyler Skaggs and Jarrod Parker close to ready, and young lefties David Holmberg and Patrick Corbin on the way, the Diamondbacks are internally discussing the merits of a two- or three-year extension to Saunders.

He's worked 200 or more innings in each of the past three seasons and, as such, provides shelter for a young staff growing into its future. But he's also arbitration-eligible and due a big raise from the $5.5 million he earned in 2011. Saunders went 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA for the NL West champion Diamondbacks last summer.

If the Diamondbacks decide to go with their young pitching, the Diamondbacks could seize on a weak free agent market and perhaps deal Saunders as early as this week. The slow dance continues on the free agent market with Mark Buehrle (who is being pursued by more than a dozen clubs) and C.J. Wilson.

Beyond them and maybe Edwin Jackson, the best alternatives for clubs looking to acquire starting pitching this winter appears to be on the trade market, where Oakland is receiving hits on Gio Gonzalez, the White Sox are fielding inquiries on John Danks and Houston is shopping Wandy Rodriguez.
Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:07 am
 

BoSox manager decision to drag out later in week

The curious case of the Red Sox manager search drags on: Though Boston appears close to choosing between veteran baseball men Bobby Valentine and Gene Lamont, that decision will not come on Tuesday, according to sources with knowledge of the Red Sox plans.

With Valentine apparently flying home from Japan on Tuesday, speculation early Monday centered on the Sox informing the two men of their choice later Tuesday. But Boston is said to not be ready to make a decision by then.

Industry speculation has Valentine, 61, as the favorite to get the job, though he is nowhere close to the parameters of the first group of candidates brought in to interview by the Red Sox. New general manager Ben Cherington appeared to be looking for a solid baseball man without much managerial pedigree, a guy who would grow into the Boston job and may be open to front-office suggestions.

That man is not Valentine, who will do things his own way -- and who was contacted by Red Sox president Larry Lucchino after Dale Sveum accepted the Cubs job. Sveum was among the first group to interview with Boston and appeared to be Cherington's first choice.

Valentine guided the Mets to their last World Series appearance in 2000, managing them for parts of seven seasons after piloting the Rangers for parts of eight seasons.

Lamont, 64, is Detroit's third-base coach, managed the White Sox from 1992-1995 and was named as AL Manager of the Year in '93 when the Sox won the AL West title. He had the Sox in first place again in 1994 when the players' strike occurred and the season was wiped out. He also managed Pittsburgh from 1997-2000.
Posted on: November 16, 2011 5:35 pm
 

Maddon, Gibson representative of modern managers

More than ever, managers come in all shapes and sizes.

Two new skippers named this offseason -- St. Louis' Mike Matheny and Robin Ventura of the White Sox -- have never managed before in their lives.

Mike Quade had managed more than 2,000 minor-league games when the Cubs hired him last year.

So in this modern context, it couldn't have been more fitting that Joe Maddon (American League) and Kirk Gibson (National League) were named as Managers of the Year on Wednesday in voting by the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America.

Before the Rays named him as manager in 2006, Maddon spent 31 years in professional baseball with the Angels, the first 12 at the minor-league level as a manager or instructor.

When Gibson was named by the Diamondbacks as their manager last winter, before his three-month stint as their interim skipper in 2009, he had never managed at any level.

"As players, and if you talk to Mike and Robin I'm sure they feel this way, you always believe you can do stuff," Gibson said on a conference call Wednesday. "You always want to believe you are something more than you are.

"I was fortunate to fall into a good situation. I was familiar with the team and the organization because I had been in it."

Gibson, who came to the Diamondbacks as their bench coach in 2007, cited the belief and support of a front office led by president Derrick Hall and general manager Kevin Towers, who helped him put together a coaching staff that, philosophically, all hold similar beliefs and core values.

"They stood behind me when I maybe did something unconventional," Gibson, 54, said. "When I hear somebody say I did something unconventional it makes me smile because sabermetrics and numbers are a part of the game where applicable, but sometimes you need to fail to become a good ballplayer. Sometimes you need to fail to become a good team.

"When you've been in the game a long time, it helps you. I coached youth hockey and I coached youth baseball. That was instrumental. I spent five years in the television booth. That was helpful.

"You look at everyone's path, and if you utilize your resources properly, you can do well. [Matheny and Ventura are] great baseball minds. If the support is there, they will succeed."

Maddon, 57, managed rookie ball in Idaho Falls (1981), Single A in Salem, Ore. (1982-1983), and in Peoria, Ill. (1984) and Double-A in Midland, Tex. (1985-1986) before spending several seasons as a roving minor-league instructor before joining the Angels' big-league staff in 1994.

"I like the way I was able to get here," Maddon said Wednesday. "I'm very grateful.

"I'm always interested in the struggle. It's hard to say you have more fun after the struggle than you have during it."

Both Maddon and Gibson prefaced their remarks by noting they were speaking about their own situations, not those of Matheny or Ventura.

Maddon, known for his unconventional and creative way of thinking, honed some of those skills during his journey to the majors -- not after it.

"I'm so grateful I had all those years in the minor leagues," Maddon said. "A lot of things that are so-called 'outside the box', I had a chance to try those things in Salem, Ore., Midland, Tex., Peoria, Ill. I had a chance to try some of that stuff.

"You figure out what mistakes you've made, what you said to a guy and how he reacted. ... For me, I can't imagine what I'd do now without that experience.

"Having said all that, it's a little different now because a lot of the job today is not on the field. It's what happens in the clubhouse, dealing with personalities, having the ability to interact with the media."

But the bottom line today is the same as it was a generation ago: Winning.

Maddon is a new-age thinker in an old-school body.

Gibson, in turning a 97-loss Arizona team into 2011 NL West champions, helped blaze the trail for managerial neophytes like Matheny and Ventura to debut in the majors.

Together on Wednesday, they presented a pretty good snapshot of where today's managers are -- and where they come from.
Posted on: October 6, 2011 5:26 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 6:46 pm
 

Sox choice of Robin Ventura innovative, shocking

Leave it to the Chicago White Sox and general manager Kenny Williams to zig when everyone else thinks they'll zag, to take the path through the woods when everyone else is looking at the paved roads.

The White Sox picked a manager Thursday straight out of left field, a guy who has never been in a major-league dugout as a skipper or as a coach.

But you know what? Because Robin Ventura was in the dugout for 2,079 games as a player, and because of who he is, the choice is perfect.

Ventura was in a White Sox uniform for 1,254 of those games. He was a player's player, beloved in the clubhouse. He knows the White Sox. He's popular in Chicago. -- maybe moreso than Ozzie Guillen was (though not as loud, not nearly as loud).

Can he manage? We'll find out.

This is one of those hires that could turn out to be out-of-the-box brilliant ... or a spectacular failure.

 I will say this: Last time the White Sox named a manager who had never called the shots in a big league game, they won a World Series title. His name was Ozzie Guillen.

Consider this another promotion from the White Sox Alumni Club (Ventura will become the 17th former White Sox player to manage the club). There are no guarantees that it will work, but say this for owner Jerry Reinsdorf: He's been around a long time and the guy appreciates -- and facilitates -- White Sox tradition.

The biggest names in the Sox rumor mill were two highly respected coaches, Davey Martinez of Tampa Bay and Sandy Alomar Jr. in Cleveland. If Chicago was going with a rookie manager, why not Ventura? He knows the players very well, he knows the Chicago media, he knows the South Side terrain.

Ventura had been working as a special assistant to director of player development Buddy Bell since June. Every GM has special assistants, but I've never heard of a director of player development having one.

But that's what savvy GMs do: They stash talented people in their organization, because you never know when, say, an Ozzie will wear out his welcome.

Williams, on a late afternoon conference call Thursday, called Ventura "one of the classiest people I've ever met in the game." The GM, while admitting this was an unexpected development, said he interviewed Ventura from 1994-1998, when Williams worked in player development and Ventura was the White Sox third baseman.

"He just didn't know it," Williams said.

Among the criteria Williams listed that Ventura fit: "A passion for the city, for the organization and the drive to win a World Series championship. This person had to have leadership and communicative ability, I think, that will work with our veteran players and with our young players."

Will that lead to managerial brilliance? Who knows?

"I have a passion for it, I have a passion for this team and this city," Ventura said on the conference call. "the passion is there to do it. I was asked to do it. I'm honored to have this opportunity."

Ventura, 44, has a lot in common with White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko in terms of character, baseball acumen and blue-collar work ethic. Clearly, after the rifts in the organization that developed under Williams and Guillen, Ventura is a uniter, not a divider. Which is exactly what the Sox need.

Now, if he can just get Adam Dunn to hit ...

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com