Sports Outside the Beltway

MLB First Baseman Frank Thomas retires after 19 years

He said the highlight of his career was being part of the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox. From AP-

Saying he’s “at peace” with his decision, Frank Thomas announced his retirement Friday following a 19-season career in which he hit 521 homers and won two American League MVP awards with the Chicago White Sox.

Considering he didn’t play last season, the news was hardly shocking.

“It took awhile to get to this point,” the 41-year-old Thomas said during a news conference at U.S. Cellular Field. “I know I hadn’t played since 2008, but I had to get baseball out of my system before I made this announcement. I’m happy with this announcement. I’m at peace with it. I had one heck of a career. I’m proud of it.”

With his power and ability to hit for a high average and reach base, Thomas figures to land in the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible.

AL Back-to-Back MVPs

A five-time All-Star who batted .301 with a .419 on-base average, Thomas is tied for 18th with Ted Williams and Willie McCovey on baseball’s home run list while driving in 1,704 runs. And in an era clouded by performance-enhancing drugs, he was outspoken against their use.

Thomas split his final three seasons between Oakland and Toronto, but he’ll be remembered most for a 16-year run with the White Sox.

He quickly emerged as one of the best players after debuting in 1990, winning MVP awards in 1993 and 1994 and a batting title in 1997 while setting club records for home runs (448) and RBIs (1,465) before a bitter split following the 2005 World Series-winning season.

Thomas was upset when the club bought out his option for $3.5 million that December, and things got particularly nasty during the 2006 spring training. He sounded off in an interview with The Daily Southtown of suburban Tinley Park, Ill., and general manager Ken Williams responded by calling him “an idiot.”

Thomas was angry with the organization for portraying him as a damaged player, although injuries to his left ankle limited him to 34 games and made him a spectator as the White Sox grabbed their first World Series title since 1917.

He criticized owner Jerry Reinsdorf for not calling him before the team decided to let him go.

“We all know Kenny Williams and I had a big blowup,” Thomas said. “We both moved on. When you’re pretty much considered an icon in a city as a player, it’s always hard to let those players go. It’s never a pretty or nice scene. We’ve seen it over the years. You think of a Brett Favre, [Shaquille O'Neal] leaving L.A., Allen Iverson leaving Philly — he’s back in Philly, I’m happy for him. When players get to a certain level, it’s never easy to say goodbye.”

Thomas wound up going to Oakland and hit 39 homers with 114 RBIs in 2006 before signing an $18.12 million, two-year contract with Toronto. The Blue Jays released him early in the 2008 season, a day after he became angry after being taken out of the lineup. Thomas wound up back in Oakland, appearing in 55 games with the Athletics before a right thigh injury ended his season — and, ultimately, his career.

Bagwell was a great hitter and 1st baseman who oddly enough shared the exact same birthday(May 27, 1968) with another great hitter and 1st baseman, Jeff Bagwell. I think Bagwell was the better of the two players but both are likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame in the future.


Toronto Blue Jays Edwin Encarnacion burns face in firework mishap

A error prone 3rd baseman coming off a injury and his worst ever season, isn’t helping his career with off the field mishaps and attitude problems. From ESPN-

Toronto Blue Jays infielder Edwin Encarnacion was released Saturday from a Miami hospital after being treated for minor facial injuries caused by fireworks during the New Year’s festivities in his native Dominican Republic.

Encarnacion suffered first- and second-degree burns in the forehead and the right side of his face when a rocket firecracker hit him in the jaw and exploded near his mouth while celebrating with family in his home of La Romana.

“Thank God everything is OK with my face. I don’t have any fractures or serious injuries and I won’t need any kind of surgery,” Encarnacion told on the phone while leaving Jackson Memorial Hospital.

According to Encarnacion, one of his brothers lit a rocket firecracker and instead of flying upwards it moved laterally, hitting Encarnacion.

“The doctors say that I’ll have to spend one week out of the sun, but that I’ll be able to work out without any problems in two weeks,” Encarnacion said.

That’s good to hear. Personally, I lost interest in firecrackers as I got older. My wife, who was born in the Philippines, enjoys those things. Probably the one and only area I’m more grown up than she is.


New York Mets sign Pitcher Kelvim Escobar

The right handed pitcher only appeared in one MLB game during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. From AP-

The New York Mets have signed right-hander Kelvim Escobar to a one-year contract.

The team announced the deal on Monday. He was expected to get $1.25 million.

Escobar, an 18-game winner in 2007, missed nearly all of the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels because of shoulder trouble. If healthy, he would likely work out of the bullpen for the Mets, who are looking for setup help for All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Signing a pitcher with Escobar’s health history is always risky. Since it’s only a one-year low priced contract, I think the gamble the Mets are taking is worth a shot.


Return engagement- Milwaukee Brewers acquire reliever David Weathers

He is one of the last original Florida Marlins to still be playing in the Major Leagues. From AP-

The Milwaukee Brewers have acquired Cincinnati right-hander David Weathers for a player to be named later.

Weathers is 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 43 games. He pitched one inning and got the win in Friday’s 10-5 comeback win over the San Francisco Giants.

The 39-year-old reliever starts his second stint with Milwaukee. He previously pitched for the Brewers from 1998-2001.

Weathers, who first came up with Toronto in 1991, is still putting up decent numbers. Anyone want to take a guess how much longer he can keep on pitching in the majors?


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.


Toronto Blue Jays fire Manager John Gibbons, bring back Cito Gaston

Another day, another MLB manager fired. This time a pink slip was issued north of the border.

PITTSBURGH — John Gibbons was fired Friday by the last-place Toronto Blue Jays and replaced by Cito Gaston, who led the team to World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

The Blue Jays began the day 35-39, having lost five straight and 13 of their last 17 games to fall 10½ games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the AL East.

He is the third major league manager to be fired this week, following Willie Randolph of the New York Mets and John McLaren of the Seattle Mariners.

“The team just wasn’t doing what was expected of it, and maybe changes were needed,” Gibbons said in a conference call. “There was a lot expected this year, we came in riding high and speaking high. And that’s not the results we’re getting now.”

Gibbons, who became manager midway through the 2004 season, had a record of 305-305 with the Blue Jays. His best season was in 2006, when the Blue Jays went 87-75 to finish second in the AL East.

But that 2006 season was also when Gibbons challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight after the infielder wrote on a clubhouse bulletin board “play for yourselves” and the “ship is sinking,” and a month later had a physical altercation with pitcher Ted Lilly in a dugout tunnel following an argument on the mound.

The Jays, who were in Pittsburgh to open a weekend series against the Pirates, also fired three of Gibbons’ coaches — Marty Pevey, Ernie Whitt and Gary Denbo.

The 64-year-old Gaston becomes the Blue Jays’ first two-time manager. He previously managed the team from 1989 to 1997.

As Soccer Dad reminded me this morning, Gaston was very successful as Blue Jay manager after taking over the team in May 1989. Gaston taking Toronto to 4 division titles and two world series appearances. The Blue Jays were World Champs in both 1992 and 1993.

After 1993, the Blue Jays have been generally mediocre. Cito Gaston worked magic in his first takeover of the Blue Jays, I doubt it will happen this time.


Former MLB pitcher Geremi Gonzalez killed by lightning strike

He won 11 of his career 30 wins as a rookie with the 1997 Chicago Cubs. After that arm injuries hampered Gonzalez’ career. RIP.


CARACAS, Venezuela — Former major league pitcher Geremi Gonzalez, who won 11 games for the Chicago Cubs in 1997, was killed by a lightning strike in his native Venezuela on Sunday. He was 33.

Geremi Gonzalez pitched for five major league teams and compiled a 30-35 career record.

Emergency management official Herman Bracho said Monday that Gonzalez was struck by lightning at a beach.

Gonzalez pitched for five major league teams from 1997-2006. The right-hander appeared in 131 games with 83 starts, compiling a 30-35 record.

Gonzalez also played for the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers. He made a combined 24 appearances for the Mets and Brewers in his final major league season in 2006.

The Toronto Blue Jays released him during spring training last year. Gonzalez then moved to Japan and pitched in five games for the Yomiuri Giants.


Toronto Blue Jays release Frank Thomas

This comes the day after Thomas vented his anger at being removed from the lineup.

The Toronto Blue Jays released slumping designated hitter Frank Thomas Sunday, cutting the 19-year veteran loose one day after he was angry for being taken out of the lineup.

General manager J.P. Ricciardi said he and Thomas came to “a mutual agreement” after meeting in the clubhouse early Sunday.

“Our best opportunity is to put other guys in the lineup at this point,” Ricciardi said. “Obviously, reduced playing time is not something that he was interested in. In order to let him go forward and get on with his career, I think it’s fair to do it at this point.”

The move leaves the Blue Jays on the hook for the remainder of the two-year $18-million contract the 39-year-old Thomas signed in November 2006.

Thomas was hitless in his past 13 at-bats and had gone 4-for-35 since homering in three straight games April 5-8. Known as a slow starter, he batted .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs for Toronto this season.

Last season, Thomas batted .277, leading the team with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs.

“I don’t know that we have the luxury of waiting two to three months for somebody to kick in because we can’t let this league or this division get away from us,” Ricciardi said.

A team, if it wants to stay in the pennant race, has to often be ruthless in its personnel decisions. John Smith won you 18 games last year, but if he can’t get anyone out this year, a team needs to move quickly or watch a season slip by. This philosophy worked wonders for Casey Stengel with the 1950′s Yankess. Look at the pitching staffs of the Yankees and you’ll see a consistent pattern of pitchers falling out of favor with Casey. Bob Grim, Tom Sturdivant, Johnny Kucks, and more would have a good year one year, and be out of the rotation or even traded the next.

Thomas’ actions and remarks show he is concerned only for himself. He refused to shake the hands of his teammates after the game on Saturday. That isn’t a classy move.

Frank Thomas was a great hitter, maybe still is. If Thomas can still produce, he’ll find employment fast enough.


Woody Williams released by Houston, plans to retire

The 41-year-old had an ERA of over 11 in spring training this year. From AP-

HOUSTON – Woody Williams was put on unconditional release waivers Saturday by the Houston Astros, who owe the pitcher $6.5 million.

The 41-year-old right-hander was 8-15 with a 5.27 ERA last season and had an 11.32 ERA in spring training this year. He gave up five runs and five hits in three innings Friday during a 10-0 exhibition loss to Detroit.

First baseman Lance Berkman questioned the timing.

“Possibly a bit premature,” he said. “The game is completely different in the regular season than it is in spring training, especially from a guy like Woody who has been around the block a few times.”

Williams signed a $12.5 million, two-year contract with the Astros before last season and is owed a $6.25 million salary for this year and a $250,000 buyout of a 2009 club option worth $6.75 million. He had a $6 million base salary last year and earned $250,000 in performance bonuses.

Williams is 132-116 with a 4.19 ERA in a 15-year career that includes stints with Toronto, St. Louis and San Diego. He had a career-high 18 wins with the Cardinals in 2003.

KRIV reported Williams plans to retire.

Woody appears washed up career wise to me. I wish him well in retirement.


Umpires vs. technology

As I’ve said before, umpires need help. And I refer you to a piece I wrote over a year ago on this very same subject. Baseball (and sports in general) is far behind the times in utilizing modern technology where it can, specifically to improve officiating.

I’ve thought about this topic for a long time. I think Questec is a good thing. (For those who dont know, it’s a computerized system that measures ball & strikes, and compares it to what the umpire actually called.)

One of the biggest and most frustrating problems in pro sports are bad calls by umps/refs. What I’d like to see is the steady removal of the so-called ‘human error’ from sports; I’ll talk specifically about baseball:

When umps are unsure when a ball is fair or foul down the line, why can’t a system be installed like they use in tennis? They could use technology to determine whether balls are just that, fair or foul.

Also, on disputed HRs, they must use instant replay. There’s no other fair way. An ump should be stationed in the park somewhere near a TV, like in the NHL. He should have the final word, since he’ll have access to the replay.

On balls and strikes, why not use Questec or ESPN’s ‘K-Zone’ (for example) to actually call the strikes? The only problem is that strike zone height is different for every hitter, but width is exactly the same, 17 inches (the width of homeplate). Rickey Henderson had a smaller up/down zone because he was short and crouched, and Richie Sexson’s up/down zone is bigger because he’s 6’8″. But their side-to-side zone is exactly the same. Therefore, computers/technology should be used to tell an umpire when a ball hits the plate or just misses. For the time being, umps will still need to call the up/down pitches (because every hitter is different), but will know for sure when a pitch crosses the corner or not. Or an ump could be assigned to determine the upper limit of each hitter’s strike zone dependent on his stance.

It also sucks when a pitcher throws a strike, but it’s not where he meant to throw it, the catcher has to reach for it, so the ump automatically calls it a ball. It doesn’t matter where the pitcher MEANT to throw the ball, it only matters whether it’s a strike or a ball.

For out/safe calls, when the closest ump feels the play is too close to call, he could send it to the ‘booth ump.’ TV technology is such today that it could be done in 30-60 seconds. Or (ala the NFL) managers should have two replays to use per game.

These steps would help legitimize the officiating and would make for fewer arguments from players and managers. You can’t argue with Questec strikes – it’s 100% consistent and 0% prejudiced (for veterans, or against rookies). Instant replay would also ensure the right call, and isn’t that worth waiting (at most) 60 seconds for – especially in close and/or playoff games?


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