Sports Outside the Beltway

Atlanta Braves release Tom Glavine

The lefthander has won 305 games lifetime, 224 of them for Atlanta. From ESPN-

Tom Glavine wanted to end his career with the Braves.

If this is the end, it wasn’t on his terms.

Atlanta released the winningest active pitcher in the big leagues on Wednesday, a stunning move just when it seemed he was ready to return to the Braves.

The move was first reported by ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney.

The 43-year-old Glavine, who was coming back from shoulder and elbow surgery, threw six scoreless innings in a rehab start for Class-A Rome on Tuesday night and proclaimed himself ready to pitch in the majors again.

Instead, the Braves cut him, another move that figures to draw the ire of Atlanta fans after the team failed to re-sign John Smoltz during the offseason.

Glavine described himself as “very surprised” in a text message to The Associated Press. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox called it “the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.”

The players were most shocked by the timing of the decision: Why was the 305-game winner allowed to make three rehab starts, then told he wouldn’t be pitching anymore for the Braves?

Financial considerations may well have played a part. Does a team want to pay a large sum of money for a player of limited usefulness both long and short term? Major league teams are a business first and foremost. Their management looks at the bottom line just like those working for non-sports companies.

Casey Stengel in his years at the helm of the New York Yankees was quick to dump players once they were no longer useful to him. A pitcher would win 16 games one year, struggle the next and soon find himself traded to Kansas City. Casey felt no obligation to keep around a player because they were once good. He had to concern himself with today and tomorrow not yesterday. Perhaps Atlanta was thinking the same way.


Milwaukee Brewers release reliever Jorge Julio

This takes place the day after the Florida Marlins shell the veteran righty. From AP-

The Milwaukee Brewers made big changes to their thin bullpen on Tuesday.

One day after reliever Jorge Julio allowed five runs while facing six batters in the sixth inning of Milwaukee’s 7-4 loss to the Florida Marlins, the Brewers released the right-hander.

Julio entered Monday night’s game in Miami with Milwaukee leading 4-2. He gave up two hits, hit two batters, walked one and another reached on an error. Signed to a one-year, $950,000 deal in the offseason, Julio was let go Tuesday after going 1-1 with a 7.79 ERA in 15 appearances.

The Brewers called up right-hander Mike Burns from Triple-A Nashville. Burns was 6-2 with a 2.98 ERA for the Sounds.

Milwaukee’s manager says the bullpen is thin. Which it is, particularly after David Riske was lost for the season after elbow surgery.

Julio, who has played for eight ML teams since 2001, throws very hard. Something baseball managers like. I expect a ninth team to take a chance on him before the 2009 season is over. Perhaps even by the 4th of July.


NY Met Gary Sheffield hits 500th homer of his career

He became the 25th player in baseball history to reach that milestone. From AP-

Gary Sheffield crossed home plate and thrust his arms in the air after unleashing his 500th homer with another vicious swing, and then the surly slugger was humbled by the site of his new Mets teammates pouring out of the dugout.

Sheffield was greeted with hugs and high fives after becoming the 25th player to reach the milestone with a tying homer in the seventh inning Friday. The party switched focus in the bottom of the ninth when Luis Castillo hit a two-out, run-scoring single to give the Mets a 5-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I was so excited that, you know, when I looked over to the dugout, those were the guys,” said Sheffield, who signed with New York on April 4 after being released by Detroit four days earlier. “I appreciate every one of those guys. They’ve been very special to me.”

Last night’s homer came against the franchise Sheffield started his career with. He was drafted by Milwaukee in 1986.

Should Sheffield be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame one day? Besides his home runs, he has a career .292 batting average but more impressively a .394 career on base percentage. There is no question, Sheffield has been an offensive machine for two decades. The case against his induction is fairly strong. Sheffield has been a defensive liability his entire career, has had behavioral and discipline problems on and off the field, and as a result traveled extensively. Not too many HOFers have played for eight teams in their career.

Tim Kurkjian of ESPN writes-

Sheffield was not named in the Mitchell report, but in his testimony before a grand jury in the BALCO case in 2003, he acknowledged using “the cream” and “the clear,” but said he didn’t know they were steroids at the time. Still, that admission raises questions about steroid use even though he has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. From 1988-98, he had two 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons. From 1999-on, which appears to be the height of the steroid era, he had seven straight years of 25 homers, and six of his eight 100-RBI seasons.

Sheffield’s case is a tricky one. He has always played hard, he has often helped his team win, and he has been a middle-of-the-order hitter in the postseason with three different organizations, including a world championship team (the 1997 Marlins). He is not DiMaggio, obviously. He is not Schmidt, Griffey or Yastrzemski. Despite having similar numbers, he is not even close to being Frank Robinson, all things considered.

The marks against him are noticeable and troublesome, but his numbers — especially 500 home runs — are very impressive. His case is debatable, but I believe he’s a Hall of Famer.

His drug use is another factor to weigh for Sheffield. Should all players caught up in that scandal be excluded from the HOF? I don’t have a vote on who goes to Cooperstown, if I did, I don’t know if I would vote for Sheffield.


Detroit Tigers release Designated Hitter Gary Sheffield

Has the veteran of over twenty major league baseball seasons hit the end of the road? From AP-

The Detroit Tigers have released nine-time All-Star Gary Sheffield, who is one home run away from 500 for his career.

Detroit parted ways with the designated hitter Tuesday after a disappointing stay with the Tigers. The team was hopeful Sheffield would be a powerful presence at the plate in the final season of the $28 million, two-year contract extension it gave him after acquiring him from the Yankees for prospects.

But he failed to deliver in large part because he often was injured.

The move comes a day after the Tigers acquired outfielder Josh Anderson from Atlanta, forcing the team to make some tough decisions about its roster a week ahead of opening the season in Toronto.

Sheffield hit .178 in 18 games this spring.

The move was almost certainly made because of Sheffield’s salary. He hit only .225 last year and he’s forty-years-old. An age where most players are out of the game and whose who still remain are in decline. I still think Sheffield will play some more ML baseball and hit over 500 homeruns but I’m skeptical if he’ll be any legitimate help to any team at this stage in his career.


John Smoltz Signs With Red Sox

Longtime Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz has snubbed the team and signed with the Red Sox. ESPN:

John Smoltz has pitched his entire major league career with the Atlanta Braves, but he is on the verge of a deal with the Boston Red Sox, according to sources.

Smoltz, 41, has pitched in 708 games for the Braves, winning 210 games and earning 154 saves. He has been been rehabilitating his shoulder since having surgery last season, and there have been reports that the has made excellent progress.

Smoltz’s departure from Atlanta would come in a winter in which the Braves have struggled to fill holes in their rotation; Atlanta was unable to land Jake Peavy, after extensive trade talks, and was unable to sign free agent A.J. Burnett.

Despite the qualifiers, AJC is reporting it as a done deal. The Braves are shocked.

John Smoltz’s career with the Braves is ending. The iconic Atlanta pitcher, who’s recovering from June shoulder surgery, has agreed to a contract to pitch for the Boston Red Sox and will likely inform the Braves of his decision today, a person familiar with the situation confirmed.


Smoltz, who contacted Braves players Wednesday night to inform them of his decision, has said many times in the past year that he wanted to finish his career with the Braves. However, the team had not offered a major league contract to Smoltz that was anywhere near the amount that the Red Sox have reportedly guaranteed him. The Braves were expected to go no higher than $3 million guaranteed, regardless of other offers he got.

“John is a great guy. He follows his own head, and I just don’t know what’s going on with him right now,” Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said today. “We’ve offered less of a guarantee, but we’ve offered a substantial guarantee. Coming off an injury like this, we feel like it’s the right thing that we should be doing (in regards to our offer).

“We’ve offered him a package that would get him in the $10 million range, if he were to pitch a full season and pitch well. For him to walk away from that and to go to another place, I’m just shocked and surprised.

“I read today in something that his agent said the other set of incentives (from the Red Sox) were “more attainable.” If John Smoltz pitches like John Smoltz pitches, I think (what we offered) is attainable. If he’s not healthy, it’s not going to happen.”

According to a person familiar with the situation, Smoltz would have been required to pitch 200 innings next season to reach the maximum incentives in the Braves’ offer. Incentives in the Red Sox proposal are more easily attainable.

One can’t blame the Braves, who have a much more limited payroll than the Sox, for hedging their bets on a player who has been constantly injured in recent years.  Nor, really, can fans blame Smoltz for preferring $5.5 million to $3 million as his career winds down.  Still, it’s a shame to see him play in another uniform.


Former MLB Coach Tom Burgess dead at 82

He also played professional hockey and had two brief stints a major league baseball player. RIP.

Tom Burgess, who played briefly in the major leagues before serving as a coach under Joe Torre and Bobby Cox, has died. He was 81.

A member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Burgess died Monday at his Lambeth home after a battle with cancer, Baseball Canada said.

Burgess spent most of his professional playing career in the minors but had two short stints in the big leagues as an outfielder and first baseman. He went 1-for-21 (.048) at the plate with the 1954 St. Louis Cardinals and didn’t get back to the majors until eight years later, when he batted .196 with two homers and 13 RBIs for the 1962 Los Angeles Angels.

After his playing career ended, Burgess managed at many levels for St. Louis, Atlanta, the New York Mets, Texas and Detroit. He was third base coach for the Mets under Joe Frazier and Torre in 1977 and for Atlanta under Cox in 1978.

Burgess also coached and managed for Baseball Canada and Baseball Ontario.

“Tom could not give enough back to baseball,” Tom Valcke, president of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a phone interview Thursday. “He would teach anyone, anytime, everything he knew, as long as they wanted to learn and to work.”

As well as the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Burgess also is a member of the London, Ontario, sports Hall of Fame and the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame.


Former MLB Pitcher Bruce Dal Canton dead at 66

He was mostly a relief pitcher in the 60′s and 70′s who then had a long career as a pitching coach. Dal Canton was the a rarity on a couple of fronts,- He was discovered at a tryout camp by the Pirates and Bruce was a Knuckleball pitcher. I certainly saw Dal Canton pitch during his career but remember little except his throwing the knuckler. RIP


Atlanta Brave Manager Bobby Cox says he’ll be back in 2009

Next year will Cox’s 20th year managing the Braves. From AP-

Despite Atlanta’s worst season since 1990, longtime Braves manager Bobby Cox vowed Wednesday to return next season.

The 67-year-old Cox signed a one-year contract extension in May, but his team was ravaged by injuries — especially to the pitching staff — and went into a game against the Colorado Rockies with a 63-82 record, 18½ games out of first in the NL East.

Cox said the Braves’ record — good or bad — would not be a factor in his decision to step aside, whenever that might be.

“I’m not going to decide my retirement based on wins and losses or anything like that,” he said, sitting in a tiny room just off the Braves dugout at Turner Field. “I still love the game. It’s fun. It’s no fun to lose, but I look at it different than most people. The game is fun to me. Coming to the ballpark is fun. I enjoy being able to be a part of the game.”

When Cox pointed out that he already had a contract for 2009, someone said the Braves would surely let him out of it if he had changed his mind. After all, he’s been managing the team since 1990, and management has made it clear that he can stay in the dugout as long as he likes.

“I won’t change my mind,” he insisted.

Cox is the fourth-winningest manager in major-league history and likely headed to Cooperstown after he does decide to retire. The Braves won a record 14 straight division titles from 1991-2004 and captured the city’s lone World Series championship in 1995.

Before the Braves, Cox had a successful tenure managing the Toronto Blue Jays. Taking them to the LCS in 1985. Bobby Cox’s MLB playing career consisted entirely of two unspectacular years playing 3rd base for the New York Yankees.

No doubt, Cox deserves enshrinement in the HOF one day. I do think he has outlived his usefulness to Atlanta. Like ballplayers, managers can stay on too long too.


Mike Hampton wins his first ML game since 2005

The veteran southpaw helped his own cause with a RBI double. From AP-

SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Hampton earned his first victory in nearly three years and hit an RBI double, leading the Atlanta Braves past the San Francisco Giants 11-4 on Tuesday night.

The 35-year-old Hampton had to feel great about this outing: He hadn’t won since Aug. 14, 2005, for the Braves against Arizona — 1,087 days earlier. And this was just his third start of 2008 after he returned July 26 following a nearly three-year absence in which the two-time All-Star underwent two major surgeries on his left elbow.

This season, he was sidelined by both a strained chest muscle and an injured groin.

Hampton (1-0) allowed four hits and two runs in seven innings and improved to 14-4 in 25 career appearances against the Giants with his first win over them since May 11, 2003, which also was his last start versus San Francisco. He lowered his ERA from 10.00 to 6.75.

Most ML pitchers will win when their team gives them eleven runs.

Hampton was a good MLB pitcher but his career problems date back to when signed with the Colorado Rockies after the 2000 season. After leaving Colorado, he had one good year in Atlanta, and one not so good. At 36 years of age, I don’t expect Hampton to make a comeback even to the 03-04 level of his career.

Mike Hampton has always been a good hitting pitcher. He has a lifetime .243 BA and 15 career homeruns. In my Startournaments playing days, I frequently used Hampton as a pinch hitter.


Skip Caray, Voice of the Braves, Dies

Longtime Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray died in his sleep Sunday. He had been suffering from myriad health problems the last couple of years. Tim Tucker eulogizes him for the AJC:

Johnny Crawford/ Oldest son Chip, who rejoined the Braves broadcast lineup in 2005, often working with the man he called \'my dad and my hero.\' Skip Caray, who was in his 33rd year calling games for the Braves died Sunday.Skip Caray made the call when the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995: “Yes! Yes! Yes! The Atlanta Braves have given you a championship! Listen to this crowd!”

He made the call when Sid Bream scored on Francisco Cabrera’s pinch-hit to win the National League Championship Series for the Braves in 1992: “Here comes Bream! Here’s the throw to the plate! He iiiiiiiisssssssss … safe! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! … Braves win!”
And he made the call in the late innings of a lousy game in the lost season of 1979: “You have our permission to turn off the TV and go to bed now … as long as you promise to patronize our sponsors.”

Harry Christopher “Skip” Caray Jr. moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in the 1960s partly to escape the professional shadow of his father, the iconic and inimitable baseball broadcaster Harry Caray. Over the next four decades, with a style very much his own, Skip Caray became as much the voice of baseball in the Southeast as his father had been in the Midwest.

Caray died in his sleep Sunday at his Atlanta home, the Braves announced. He was 68.

“I got to talk to him yesterday and I told him I loved him and he started laughing because I was stuck in New York,” said Chip Caray, who flew from New York to Atlanta after he got the news on Sunday, rather than joining the Braves in San Francisco. “It was our own private little joke. I at least got to tell him I loved him which was the last thing I said to him, so I’m grateful for that.”

Owing to the combination of having moved outside the Deep South just as the Braves went from a national team to a regional one and having gotten married, I watch hardly any Braves games these days. For about a decade, though, I had Caray and the rest of the TBS crew in my living room for two to three hours 150-odd nights a year during a great era for the Braves. Even though I never met the man, I felt like I knew him well.

Caray was the most controversial of the Braves announcers, as he was the most opinionated and stylized. You either loved Skip or you hated him. I was firmly in the former camp.

Carroll Rogers reports on the reactions of the Braves:

News of Skip Caray’s passing hit the Braves family hard — his longtime broadcast partner, and players who identified this organization with Caray long before they ever became a part of it, even the most veteran of players, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz.

Smoltz and Caray’s broadcast partner Pete Van Wieren were on the Braves’ charter flight to San Francisco when they learned of Caray’s death. “It’s a sad day,” Smoltz said. “There are no words. Sad doesn’t do it justice. I will always remember Skip for his humor and his ability to go about life the way he did. I gained so much respect for what he did and how long he did and how he did.”

Jones was at home with his family on Sunday evening when he was informed. “I figured Skip Caray is as much a part of Atlanta Braves baseball as any of us,” said Jones, who will rejoin the team in Arizona later this week. “We all grew up listening to Skip, whether it be on TV or radio. Any time the guys on ESPN imitate [you] calling the highlights, you’re pretty much a legend. From a fan’s standpoint, he’s going to be a huge loss for them because he relayed the games to fans for so long.”

The loss transcends the game for players. Jones said his friendship with Caray was formed over long charter flights and daily visits in the clubhouse. “He always made a note to come by my locker and shake my hand, ask me how I was doing, how the family was, how my kids were,” Jones said. “Personally over the last 15, 16, 17 years, I haven’t gotten his play-by-play on the radio or TV, but I had a lot of plane flight conversations with him. I really respected him, as well as the whole Caray family. They have a pretty good legacy working over there. It’s a sad day for Braves baseball.”

Said manager Bobby Cox: “This was completely unexpected and is a complete loss. I had just spoken with Skip this week when we did the radio show and I didn’t know he wasn’t feeling well. He seemed in his normal good spirits. We’ve all lost a very good friend. For me, he was a good buddy — at the park and away from the park. We always had a lot of great laughs. He will be very sorely missed.”

Fans related so well to Caray, Van Wieren said, because he told it like it was, even if he couched it in humor. “But behind the humor there was an honesty and a commitment to telling it like he believed it to be that never, ever varied,” Van Wieren said. “If he didn’t like it that a game was two minutes late getting started, everybody knew about it. If he had an opinion on a player, he said it. And he had a way of saying it that was sometimes humorous. The way he could take a bad ball game, in some of those bad years especially, and turn it into a fun broadcast, whether it was by talking about something in the game or whether it was talking about something that didn’t have anything to do with the game, maybe it was a movie that was coming up after the game or maybe it was a restaurant that he’d gone to. It could have been anything. He was just a very entertaining broadcaster and a very good one. The game was still the most important thing, but if game was decided by the fourth or fifth inning, people would still watch the rest of the game just to hear what he had to say about things. That’s a very, very unique ability.”

AJC staff writers compiled other reactions, including the star of the 1980s Braves.

“I knew that he had been battling some health issues, but I was just really shocked and saddened when I got the e-mail,” former Braves star Dale Murphy said upon receiving the news that longtime Braves broadcaster Skip Caray died Sunday at his Atlanta home. “And I was grateful for the many years I was able to be with Skip from 1976 until 1990. Skip saw the funny side of things and enjoyed making people laugh when we weren’t giving them too much to smile about during some of those years that I was with the Braves.”

Mark Bradley:

Skip Caray was to Atlanta professional sports what Larry Munson is to the Georgia Bulldogs — the voice and the conscience, the history and the hilarity. Skip told us what was happening, yes, but Skip also told us what Skip made of what was happening, and over the course of four decades Skip’s prism became ours.

He came here with the Hawks, and he became part of our extended family — a crusty uncle, if you will — through his work with the Braves. The SuperStation beamed his imperfect voice from sea to shining sea, and though there were always others alongside — the Professor and Ernie at the beginning, Don and Joe later on — Skip was the one we thought we knew best. He was the funny one, the snarky one. He was Harry Caray’s son and Chip Caray’s dad, but somehow he was always just Skip.

As Munson is to worry, Skip was to grousing. He wasn’t from the neo-announcer’s school of happy talk. Skip hated the Wave and the Infield-Fly Rule and said as much at every opportunity. When he did a call-in show on WSB in the ’80s, he suffered clever callers only grudgingly and the bozos not at all. But because he was Skip, we didn’t much mind.

Indeed, that was the beauty (and the incongruity) of Skip Caray: In an industry predicated on likeability, he really didn’t care if you liked him or not. He said what he thought — near the end of a lopsided game, he famously intoned: “If you promise to patronize our sponsors, you have permission to go walk the dog” — and if he happened to ruffle the tender sensibilities of listeners or management … well, tough.

It’s cliche but true: We’ll never see his like again.

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