With spring training almost upon us, our attention turns to Arizona (Cactus League) and Florida (Grapefruit League).
This year Arizona can boast that 15 of the 30 major league teams will train within its borders. The latest Florida defector: the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds joined the Cleveland Indians in a beautiful large shared facility in Goodyear, one of the many suburbs of Phoenix that house big league teams during the spring training season.
The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres also share an impressive complex as do the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. The Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers also partner. The San Francisco Giants are based in Scottsdale and the Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers have their own facilities in different neighborhoods within the city of Phoenix.
Tucson has the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks (the latter play their regular season games in a domed stadium in downtown Phoenix). It’s easy to see the Phoenix-area teams as you can drive the wide surface streets and go from one to another in a relatively short time. And food is no problem – just check out The Jewish Press Dining Guide and look at the restaurant listings under Phoenix.
Of course, baseball’s best teams – the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies – are based in Florida. Curtis Granderson will face the most cameras and tape recorders while wearing his new Yankee pinstripes in Tampa. The Red Sox revamped themselves with new additions led by pitcher John Lackey as did the Phillies with baseball’s best hurler, Roy Halliday.
The three best teams enter spring training better than they were last October and far better than any other team.
The St. Louis Cardinals, as you probably know, signed outfielder Matt Holliday to a seven-year $120-million deal. That’s a bit over $17 million a year. Holliday hit .313 with 24 homers and 109 RBI last season.
His teammate Albert Pujols bettered him in all departments (.327, 47, 135) and is eligible for free agency after the 2011 season. Pujols will then sign the biggest dollar contract ever seen in baseball.
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They don’t make ’em like Al Kaline anymore. Kaline, who spent his entire 22-year career with the Tigers (1953-1974) and had to deal with yearly contract offers from Tigers management in the days of take-it-or-leave-it dealings, once turned down a $100,000 contract for a season because he just didn’t feel he was worth that much and told management he’d settle for less. The modest Kaline ended his career with 3,007 hits and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame along with Duke Snider in 1980.
Kaline recently turned 75. I followed him intently 55 years ago in 1955. He was only 20 then, and led the American League in batting with a .340 average and showed power with 27 home runs.
I, along with my fellow yeshiva eighth graders, saw several of Kaline’s homers that year. We were there on a Sunday after Pesach when the Tigers routed the Kansas City Athletics (later to become the Oakland Athletics) 16-to-nothing. Kaline hit three homers that day, two in one inning.
Kaline played in the pre-steroid era and hit 399 career home runs. But to me it was 400. I was there on a Sunday afternoon in 1959 when Kaline homered against the Chicago White Sox in the bottom of the fourth inning. Unfortunately, the rain came soon after Kaline touched home plate. After a long delay, the game was called and since the game didn’t go the official five innings, Kaline’s homer was washed away.
Now if I were baseball commissioner, I would allow every at-bat to be in the record books. After all, the pitchers pitched and the batters completed their time at bat and it should be counted in their career records. Here’s an assignment for you SABR (Society of Baseball Research) members out there. See if there are any players who batted or pitched in a major league game but don’t appear in the big baseball encyclopedia that contains the official records of all players because rain didn’t allow the necessary innings to be played.
As mentioned before, Kaline is 75 and several other former stars are well into their 80s and some like Bob Feller are into their 90s. The oldest living player was not a star or even a good player, but he was good enough to make the big leagues.
One-hundred-year-old Tony Malinosky had 79 at-bats for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937 and batted .228. The former infielder who resides in California was a friend of former president Richard M. Nixon while the pair attended Whittier College more than 75 years ago.
Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. Cohen, whose column appears the second week of each month, is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, and may be reached in his dugout at email@example.com.Irwin Cohen