Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The 2021 baseball season is upon us, and Opening Day means all teams and their fans start off with hope and high expectations. In my hometown Detroit, this Opening Day will be an occasion for both celebration and mourning as “Mr. Tiger,” Al Kaline – who played for the Tigers from 1953 to 1973 – died during the first week of last season.

Several generations of fans knew him. Those who never saw him play missed a five-tool player. He could hit for average, hit for power, run, and throw and field better than most right fielders. He went on to be a television commentator for the Tigers and eased into a front office position, spending close to eight decades with the Tigers organization.

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Tigers fans don’t have much to root for this season as the team is filled with too many below-average players. As the season wears on, attention will be focused on overpaid first baseman Miguel Cabrera who started the season 134 hits shy of 3,000 career hits and 13 home runs away from 500 career home runs.

The New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays have interesting teams and were pretty equal in last year’s shortened season. The Yanks had a 33-27 record while the Jays went 32-28. Both teams were behind Tampa Bay, which led the American League with 40 victories. Tampa Bay did it with good young players that most fans never heard of and is the team to beat again this season.

The Yankees feature well-known slugging outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. And infielders Luke Voit, who led both leagues last year with 22 home runs, and T.J. LeMahieu, who led both leagues with a .364 batting average, make up part of a hefty lineup for the Bronx Bombers.

Gone are the days of the big games between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox as the BoSox are more in a rebuilding phase and have their best pitcher, Chris Sale, out for the season because of surgery. I’m rooting for Boston because of General Manager Chaim Bloom. A proud Jew who graduated from a Jewish day school, Chaim keeps a kosher home with two sets of dishes and is giving his children a Jewish education.

This will be the last season we’ll see Cleveland Indians uniforms as management will phase out the name of the team because of political correctness. I’ve heard many possible replacement names and don’t like any of them. I like my idea best – no, not the Cleveland Cohens, but the Cleveland Cougars.

Cleveland, now minus great shortstop Francisco Lindor who was traded to the Mets, are still a good team, but might be replaced by the Chicago White Sox as the best team in its division.

The new White Sox manager is old Tony LaRussa. Now 76 years old, LaRussa managed the White Sox when I was on the baseball beat as the head of a baseball monthly in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. LaRussa, who had a couple of episodes with alcohol since then, is still a great baseball mind and has a young talented team under him.

The ChiSox have finally caught up to the Cubs in talent and last year won 35 games while the Cubs won 34. The Sox have more good young players than the Cubs and one player under the radar is shortstop Tim Anderson, who had a .331 batting average over the past two seasons.

While the battle for Chicago will heat up, it will pale in comparison to the battle for New York. The Mets now have an owner in Steve Cohen willing to shell out big bucks for good players and have popular, star shortstop, Francisco Lindor.

No doubt that the best team in baseball is the Los Angeles Dodgers who won 43 games last season, best in both leagues. This year the Dodgers padded their great pitching staff with Trevor Bauer, who posted a league leading low ERA of 1.73 with the Cincinnati Reds in 2020.

The player I’ll be following the closest this season will be Baltimore Orioles right fielder Trey Mancini. Now 29, Mancini missed the 2020 season because of colon cancer surgery, but in 2019 he reached superstar status as he hit .291 with 35 home runs.

Let’s hope he can better those numbers this season. Even if he does, though, it’s still a good bet that the Orioles will be one of the five worst teams in the major leagues this year.

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Author, columnist, and public speaker – worked for the Detroit Tigers (doing marketing and public relations) from 1983-1992 during which time he became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached at irdav@sbcglobal.net.