Roy Halladay Announces Retirement

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

One of the most dominant pitchers of the past decade has announced his retirement today. Roy Halladay, who pitched 16 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, will sign a one day contract with Toronto and end his career. Halladay is 36 years old, and struggled with injuries over the past two seasons with the Phillies.

Halladay was selected with the 17th pick in the 1995 MLB Amateur Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, and became a mainstay in the Blue Jays’ rotation for more than a decade. He became a full-time starter in 1999, and grew into an ace by the early 2000s. In 2002, “Doc” went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA and was named to his first All-Star Game. 2003, however, was even better for Halladay. He earned 22 wins, struck out 204 batters, and earned the 2003 American League Cy Young Award. But despite being surrounded by decent pitchers and batters, Halladay never made the playoffs with the Blue Jays.

In December 2009, Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a number of prospect players, and quickly made an impact in Philadelphia. In a career season, Halladay went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and a career-high 219 strikeouts. He was named to his seventh All-Star Game and helped the Phillies win their fourth consecutive NL East division title. On May 29th, he pitched the 2nd perfect game in Phillies history against the Florida Marlins, and on October 6, made his dramatic postseason debut by pitching a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS.

Halladay was known for his tricky pitches, including 90+ MPH fastballs and cutters that fooled batters. Halladay worked efficiently on the mound, and followed the same strict mechanical movement throughout his career. He also displayed immense focus during games, often refusing to talk to anyone but his catcher during his starts.

In 2012, at the age of 34, Halladay began to regress, and was placed on the disabled list in May with a shoulder strain. 2013 proved to be more of the same for the Phillies ace. Halladay missed more than three months after having surgery to remove a bone spur in his shoulder. It seems that Halladay’s decision to retire is a wise move made to prevent any more injuries.

Overall, Halladay finished his 16 year career with a 203-105 record, a 3.38 ERA, 68 complete games (all-time record), and 2,117 strikeouts. He made 8 All-Star appearances (and started two games), won 2 Cy Young Awards, threw a perfect game, and pitched the second no-hitter in postseason history. The world of baseball is losing a great player and a great man in Roy Halladay, but he surely left a great legacy for many pitchers to aspire to.

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What it Means to be a Diehard Fan

Indeed this is the year Pirates fans have long been waiting for; they have had 20 consecutive losing seasons dating back to 1993.

Indeed this is the year Pirates fans have long been waiting for; they have had 20 consecutive losing seasons dating back to 1993.

The world of sports is a roller coaster ride filled with passionate fervor, emotions, championships, and crushing defeats. Sometimes it’s great to be a fan, and other times you just shake your head and accept bitter losses. Sometimes the pain of rooting for a team can be so bad that you just give up and leave the bandwagon (guilty as charged).

But the pain and struggle of rooting for a losing team is all part of the journey of being a fan. For some dedicated people, the struggle can last years, decades, or even a century (Cubs fans, I’m looking at you). But there’s a special form of character and humility to be earned from years of losing.

Look at the Pittsburgh Pirates. The last time they made the playoffs was 1992, when Barry Bonds won the MVP as a Pirates outfielder and Jim Leyland led the Bucs. Since ’92, the Pirates have had 20 losing seasons, finishing in last place nine times and losing 100 games twice. You could say fans in the Steel City have had a rough time recently. Some fans, like 19 year old Pittsburgh native Patrick Dudiak, have never seen their beloved Pirates make the playoffs, much less have a winning record. Pat recently wrote ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick about the dignity and privilege of being a dedicated fan, and I wish to share his profound insights with you.

“One quote in your article stuck out to me specifically though:

“Sid Bream slid, and the window slammed on our fingers,” Van Slyke said. “There were babies born in Pittsburgh who went off to college and never saw their team win. In essence, they lost a generation of baseball fans.”

I am one of those babies going of to college Van Slyke is referring to. But, the Pirates didn’t lose me. While it has certainly been a rough ride, and I am still waiting to see my first winning season (4 wins to go!), there are many in that generation Van Slyke feels like the Pirates lost that are still around.

I felt a little slighted by his comments, and speaking for some of us from this generation, I just want you to know that we’re still here. Sure, there were years of sitting through games, where we would take up 3 rows each at game with 12,000 fans, talking about how Jason Bay, Rob Mackowiak, Raul Mondesi, and so many others were going to “turn this team around”, and every opening day was like a clip out of ‘Major League’, when we would say “this is the year we break the streak.”

Well, after 20 years of being on this earth, and 20 years of losing baseball, we’re still here. Sports, and especially baseball, have a very special place in the hearts of Pittsburghers, and while it certainly stung every year to know that we would be dumping our top players or prospects at the deadline, we continued to show up.

Now, it feels as though our dues are being paid, thanks to Clint Hurdle, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and the hometown hero, Neil Walker. When asked why I continue to root for such a historically bad team, my answer, like many others, was that because once we break that streak, it will feel oh so good. Well, in 4 games, it will feel…pretty good. But its what lies beyond that, that has us in this generation excited.

It may have been a long, very bumpy ride. But I just felt the need to let you know that Van Slyke wasn’t exactly right with that quote. Many of us are still here, and we’re happy to get our feet of the seats in front of us so 38,000 others can join in on the fun.”

The Pirates are currently 79-57, tied for first place in the NL Central Division. For the first time in his life, Pat will see a winning Pirates team in 2013. And I hope the Pirates make the World Series this year, because its only fair for diehard fans like him to celebrate. It’s just one example of the sweet satisfaction of being a sports fan.

Phillies Fire Manager Charlie Manuel

manuel

Charlie Manuel celebrates the Phillies’ victory in the 2008 World Series.

The Phillies have announced Manuel’s firing today, in a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” Manuel said, referring to his nine-year tenure in Philadelphia. He is the winningest manager in Phillies history, with a  780-636 record (.535 win percentage). Manuel led the Phillies to five straight NL East division championships from 2007-11, won the 2008 and 2009 NL Penants, and the 2008 World Series, the Phillies’ first title since 1980.

The Phillies will replace Manuel with third base coach Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg, who was drafted by Philadelphia in the 1978 Amateur Draft, is a 2005 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has some managerial experience at the minor league level; he won the 2010 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and the 2011 Minor League Manager of the Year with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. “I think he’ll be a real good manager,” Charlie Manuel said.

October 31, 2008 was perhaps the greatest day in Philadelphia sports history in the past 30 years. Two days after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, more than 2 million people crowded the streets of downtown Philadelphia and packed Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies championship parade, the city’s first in 25 years. The day marked the pinnacle of a tremendous season filled with great performances from Phillies mainstays Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels.

But that day also marked the beginning of a decline for the Phillies that has lasted nearly five years. Sure, the Phillies won the 2009 National League Pennant and three more division titles in 2009, ’10, and ’11, but for all the high expectations and hopes of the Phillies faithful, they never won another championship. But perhaps the true turning point was the resignation of Phillies’ general manager Pat Gillick. His successor, Ruben Amaro, Jr., has invested a great amount of money into high-level talent, but the Phillies have not won a title.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. has agreed to extremely lucrative contracts with many Phillies players, including Roy Halladay (3 years, $60 million), Ryan Howard (5 years, $150 million), Chase Utley (2 years, $27 million), and Cliff Lee (5 years, $120 million). Amaro has locked up millions of dollars for these superstars, none of which are younger than 33. With few exceptions (namely Domonic Brown), Amaro has done little to promote the development of young prospects in the Phillies’ organization. For a general manager who is “looking at a bright future,” signing old, injury-prone players to max contracts is a hypocritical act.

Charlie Manuel wasn’t exactly the most eloquent speaker in his press conferences and wouldn’t exactly be named the most charismatic or motivational manager in baseball history, but his offensive style of coaching produced the most successful teams in Phillies history. In his nine years in Philadelphia, he produced 4 teams that won 90 or more games, and only this year did Manuel’s Phillies have a losing record. For 9 years, Charlie Manuel was the boss of the most successful Philadelphia sports team, and most Phillies fans are sad to see him go. But many Phillies fans might believe that the wrong man lost his job.

A-Rod Suspended in Biogenesis Scandal

Alex Rodriguez hit a home run, possibly his last, on Friday night for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Image Source: Sports Illustrated/CNN.com)

Alex Rodriguez hit a home run, possibly his last, on Friday night for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Image Source: Sports Illustrated/CNN.com)

One of the greatest sluggers in Major League Baseball history might have hit his last home run. Alex Rodriguez, third baseman for the New York Yankees, was suspended today for his role in the Biogenesis drug scandal. His suspension lasts until the end of the 2014 MLB season, for a total of 214 games.

Rodriguez, 38, has not appeared in a game since last October, when the Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. A-Rod underwent surgery this past January to repair a torn labrum in his hip and a strained quadriceps muscle. He completed a two game rehab assignment with the Double-A Trenton Thunder this weekend, going 1-2 with 4 walks and a long home run to left field. Rodriguez completed a long workout with the Thunder Sunday, but did not play in the team’s evening game.

On Saturday night, Rodriguez addressed the media, and stated that he was “going to fly to Chicago” after his workout Sunday to meet his Yankees teammates for their Monday night game against the White Sox. The Yankees could use Rodriguez’ help in the lineup; despite being 4 games over .500, the Yankees have the fourth lowest team batting average and have scored the sixth fewest runs in the majors. Rodriguez will appeal the suspension and play tonight against the White Sox.

A-Rod has had an incredibly successful career in baseball. The 1st overall draft pick in 1993 by the Seattle Mariners, Rodriguez has played 19 MLB seasons for the Mariners, Rangers, and Yankees. His 647 career home runs are the fifth most of all-time, and he ranks 7th with 1,950 RBI. He won the American League MVP Award three times (2003, 2005, 2007), has made 14 All-Star appearances, and won 10 Silver Slugger awards. He is a career .300 hitter, but hasn’t reached the .300 mark in a season since 2008.

But for all his career triumphs, Rodriguez has endured his fair share of controversy. In 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that A-Rod tested positive for anabolic steroids from 2001-2003, while a member of the Texas Rangers. This suspension involves Rodriguez’ relationship with Biogenesis of America, a Florida-based anti-aging clinic. Rodriguez reportedly received human growth hormone (HGH) treatments from the clinic, which is illegal under MLB rules. A first-time drug suspension in the majors is 50 games, but A-Rod obstructed an investigation into his drug usage. Therefore, Major League Baseball elected to hand down a harsher suspension.

Rodriguez is not alone. Twelve other players were suspended for 50 games each today, including Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was suspended for 65 games earlier this season for his relationship with Biogenesis of America, prompting debates as to whether the 2011 NL MVP should be allowed to keep his award.

In an age of baseball known affectionately as the “Steroid Era”, the Rodriguez suspension is the harshest penalty handed down by Major League Baseball. Instead of continuing his storied career as one of baseball’s best, Rodriguez joins names like Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez on the list of suspended sluggers. This sad story of greed and cheating is not uncommon in this day and age, and goes to prove that the “Steroid Era” is still alive in Major League Baseball.

Phillies Sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez from Cuba

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez joins Raul Valdes as the only other Cuban player on the Phillies roster.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez joins Raul Valdes as the only other Cuban player on the Phillies roster.

Cuban baseball players are among the best in the world, and many have found success upon defecting to the United States. Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman has developed a powerful legacy since he defected in 2010. Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes recently won the 2013 Home Run Derby. And Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has been the talk of the league, hitting .376 and leading the Dodgers on a hot streak of late.

Now another Cuban sensation is headed to the major leagues. The Philadelphia Phillies announced the signing of 26-year-old pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a 6 year, $50 million contract. The contract is the richest contract ever given to an international player. According to a Yahoo Sports report,Gonzalez has  “a fastball that sits around 93 mph and recently topped out at 96, a split-fingered fastball and changeup that serve as his off-speed pitches, a cut fastball and a slow curveball.” Gonzalez defected earlier this year to Cuba to Mexico and played in a low-level league there.

The move comes as positive news for the Phillies who have struggled recently. The Phillies are 1-6 since the All-Star break, and currently sit at 49-54, 8.5 games out of first place in the NL East. Phillies ace pitchers have had a rough time this year: staff ace Cole Hamels is 4-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay has been out since May after undergoing shoulder surgery (not to mention his 8.65 ERS in 7 games). The only bright light on the Phillies staff has been Cliff Lee (10-4, 3.05 ERA), who remains the subject of trade rumors before next week’s trade deadline.

The signing of Gonzalez is surprising for the Phillies. General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. continues to remain optimistic about the Phillies season despite the team’s recent slide. Three teams stand between Philadelphia and the last Wild Card spot in the National League. Players like Chase Utley and Cliff Lee could be on their way out of Philadelphia soon. Without substantial improvement from the pitching staff, Amaro could be forced to sell and rebuild.

That’s where Gonzalez comes in. He has constantly impressed scouts in his baseball career. He succeeded as a star pitcher in the Cuban National Series, and succeeded again when he arrived in Mexico. At 26, Gonzalez would be one of the youngest pitchers on the Phillies roster. He will start in the Phillies minor league system (likely Triple-A Lehigh Valley) before being called up in mid-August, according to team sources. Not much is certain about Gonzalez’s future, but the addition of the Cuban star is still great news for a subpar team.

Team Cano vs. Team Wright in Home Run Derby

Yankees 2B Robinson Cano (left) and Mets 3B David Wright lead the rosters of sluggers in this year's Home Run Derby.

Yankees 2B Robinson Cano (left) and Mets 3B David Wright lead the rosters of sluggers in this year’s Home Run Derby.

The 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star festivities kick off Monday night at New York’s Citi Field as eight of the best sluggers in the league participate in the Home Run Derby. Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, is known as one of the toughest parks for hitters in the major leagues, but recently underwent renovations to reduce the height of several outfield walls and to move right center field 17 feet closer to home plate. Still, Citi Field ranks as the most difficult park for hitters in 2013, and the eight stars below will have to bring their A games to win it all. 

Citi Field (Home of the New York Mets)

Opened: 2009

Dimensions: Left Field-335′, Left Center Field-358′, Center Field-408′, Right Center Field-375′, Right Field-330′

Team Cano (American League)

Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (.300 AVG, 21 HR in 2013)

Cano won the 2011 Home Run Derby in Arizona, but didn’t manage to record a home run in last year’s contest at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Still, Cano is 7th in the American League with 21 home runs this year, and will find the short 330-foot dimension down the right field line to his liking. Cano might make the second round, but there’s just too much talent in this Derby. 

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (.315 AVG, 37 HR)

Nobody has had a hotter bat in the American League this year than Baltimore Orioles 1B Chris Davis. He leads the major leagues with 37 home runs this season. Davis is on pace for 62 home runs in 2013, and he has a chance to showcase his pure hitting skill in Monday night’s Derby. 

Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers (.267, 16 HR) 

Fielder, the defending Home Run Derby Champion, also won the 2009 Home Run Derby. He is one of two multiple time Derby Champions (w/ Ken Griffey Jr.), but don’t expect Fielder to repeat. He only has 16 long balls this year and he has struggled some at the plate. That short right center field wall will look appealing, though.

Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics (.223 AVG, 15 HR)

Cespedes is the most intriguing player on Team Cano’s roster. The 27-year-old Cuban is known for his hitting skill, but has only 15 home runs in 2013 after hitting 23 last year. He is a good ballplayer and hitter, and he definitely has the best name of the participants, but Cespedes might struggle Monday night. I’m not sure how much Home Run Derby practice he got in Cuba.

Team Wright (National League) 

David Wright, New York Mets (.304 AVG, 13 HR) 

He’s the hometown hero in this year’s Derby, but David Wright has only 13 home runs this season. He has opposite field power, which could help him with right center being moved closer to home plate, but Wright is a hometown pick, not the best hitter. No hometown player has won since 1990, and that trend will continue. 

Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies (.331 AVG, 16 HR) 

Cuddyer is second in the National League in batting average, but ranks 8th in home runs. He’s not at home in Colorado where the thin air makes the ball fly farther. Cuddyer is a good hitter, but won’t have the power to win in New York. 

Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates (.250 AVG, 24 HR) 

Originally, Carlos Gonzalez (leads the NL in HR) was supposed to participate. But when he was injured, Alvarez (second in the NL in HR) replaced him in the lineup. And rightfully so. Alvarez is a major reason for the success of the Pirates in the first half of 2013, and Pittsburgh deserves a slugger in the Derby. He could be a real threat at Citi Field. 

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (.264 AVG, 13 HR)

Harper isn’t the most popular player for Phillies fans like myself, but I believe the Nationals center fielder will win the 2013 Home Run Derby. Harper is known for his power at the plate, and though he only has 13 home runs this year, he is still a dangerous hitter. His pure, compact swing is great for making solid contact, and he will give the fans in the right field seats plenty of souvenirs. Harper is known for his Home Run Derby skills, hitting home runs of more than 500 feet at Tropicana Field as a high school sophomore. 

Major League Baseball’s Most Surprising Teams at the All-Star Break

American League:

Boston Red Sox (57-37 1st place in AL EAST)

Now who saw this coming? After an abysmal 69 win season the Red Sox have completely turned it around. They only need 12 more wins to match their wins from last season. The difference between this season and last is that every player “wants to play all out” for John Farrell. Before being signed as manager this season, Farrell managed the Toronto Blue Jays, and before that he was the Sox pitching coach. Besides the improved pitching (mainly Clay Bucholtz) the Sox boast the league’s top offense. The Sox are second in the majors in batting average, first in runs scored, first in slugging and first in on base percentage. This team has a new grind it out mentality, and will be exciting to watch once October comes around. Let’s hope they continue to maintain their pace in the very competitive AL East.

 

Cleveland Indians (48-44 2nd Place AL Central)

Cleveland is another surprising team that is in contention heading into the All-Star break. Managed by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, the team has adopted his style of play: a grind it out style, as indicated by their record and statistics. The Indians are in the middle of the pack in all categories including: hitting, pitching and fielding. Do statistics tell the tale? The Indians sit 2.5 games back of Detroit, one of the favorites to come out of the American League. One will question if the Indians will be able to remain in contention throughout the remainder of the season closely behind Detroit.

National League:

Washington Nationals (47-45 2nd place NL EAST)

After clinching baseball’s best record of 98-64 last season, even by limiting ace Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals caught the league by storm. That brought even higher expectations this year, after being seen as a contender with the additions of center fielder Denard Span, and pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, and Dan Haren. This team was supposed to be better than last year’s, so why are they only 2 games above .500 baseball?  They are in the middle of the pack in almost every hitting category, are in the top half of the league in pitching, but their defense has been dreadful. If the team gets back to their form from last year, they will be in contention for the playoffs, even playing sub-par baseball for half the season and only being 6 games back behind the Atlanta Braves who started the season on a blistering hot streak.

Pittsburgh Pirates (54-36 2nd place NL Central)

After last season’s impressive and surprising first half, the Pirates headed into the second half of the season with the playoffs in their sights. After a 2nd half collapse, the Pirates stand in the same position as last year, but this year is different. This year the Pirates have loftier expectations. The pitching has improved, and has survived their rash of injuries, yet maintained a high level of baseball throughout the first half. One of the most underrated signings this year MUST be Francisco Liriano; he has pitched great for the Pirates with a 9-3 record with a 2.00 ERA. The main question coming into the season was their offense, and who would be able to help Andrew McCutchen carry the load. Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez have helped carry the load so far this season. The offense is in the middle of the pack in almost all hitting categories, but with the good pitching the Pirates stay in contention in the highly competitive NL Central. They lead the league in opponents average and whip. If this trend continues after the break, I expect the Pirates to make the playoffs and even contend in the National League.