DOMINICAN-BASEBALL

San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, according to a 1986 United Press International report, was the “pot at the end of the rainbow” for baseball scouts. The city of 123,000 had produced 270 major leaguers over the past 15 years, including 21 on rosters for the 1986 season.

“They’re hungry,” Dodger vice-president Al Campanis told UPI reporter Aurelio Rojas. “They have fairly good builds. They want to get fame and acclaim and money to eat and in that country that means being an entertainer, prize fighting or baseball.”

The year prior, then-White Sox manager Tony La Russa discussed the rise of Latin American talent with Peter Gammons, then with the Boston Globe. “It’s in a Latin kid’s blood,” La Russa said. “That’s why I believe that if you give a young Latin player the time to fully adjust to the culture — on and off the field — you’ll have someone who’s easier to manage than the American stars.”

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees

Michael Pineda of the New York Yankees pitched very well last night, contributing six innings and seven strikeouts to a 4-1 win over the world champion Red Sox. For the first four innings or so, he pitched with something stuck to his right hand. Something that didn’t belong there. Something that looked an awful lot like pine tar.

Pine tar has its uses, but when we see it on the pitching hand of a big league starter, it’s hard to think of a viable application for the product in a “game action” context. Why would a big league pitcher need pine tar, on his throwing arm, on the hill? Gripping the baseball is important, thus the presence of a rosin bag on every mound in baseball. But pine tar? For no reason outside conventional wisdom, pine tar has a more sinister connotation.

With a dozen HD cameras pointed at each and every baseball game, stuff like this doesn’t elude the unblinking eye for long. Broadcast picks up “evidence”, viewers (and announcers, typically) freak out, player is a cheater and reviled by the rival supporters. The team on the receiving end of these clearly doctored baseballs? They don’t make a big deal about it.

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For years, baseball fans believed that on July 22, 1887, 14-year-old Fred Chapman pitched in a Major League game for the Philadelphia Athletics against the Cleveland Blues. The youngest player ever to appear at such a high level threw for five innings, giving up eight hits and four earned runs.

For 21st-Century fans, it was a funny anecdote from a distant past when child labor laws barely existed and Major League Baseball wasn’t earning billions of dollars from television deals. The problem is it’s not remotely true. In reality, a pitcher named Frank Chapman started for the Athletics in that game. He was much older than Fred.

This is the issue with baseball’s sparsely documented history. We’re put into a position in which we’re forced to trust a limited number of sources, or not believe a story at all. It’s a problem that persists in baseball, beyond the worries of the game’s historians.

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MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves

Catch and throw. The essential elements of the game of baseball. Same as it ever was for 130 years. Some catches are hard and some are easy, but the act of catching the baseball has been very similar forever. Glove technology changed the dynamic but catching a baseball is really the same now as it was in Ty Cobb’s day.

Until 2014, that is. For a strange rule change, or at least a league-wide change in the reading of the rule as written, has essentially re-defined what a caught ball looks like.

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers

There was a time, not even one year ago, that it appeared Victor Martinez might be on his way down. For the better part of three months in 2013, VMart was terrible. He had no power and no position, a DH unable to produce much offense.

And then, suddenly, he was fine. Better than fine, really. Victor Martinez started the second half of the season and was good as new.

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MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals

There was a time when Ryan Zimmerman was one of the best, up-and-coming third basemen in baseball. He hit the ground running his rookie year, posting above-average offensive numbers in his age-21 season. He improved offensively every year, though injury robbed him of some time in 2008. He responded with back-to-back superstar level seasons, asserting himself as one of the game’s premier third baseman.

His early production at the hot corner placed him among the best in baseball history across the first five years of his career.

Third Baseman by WAR (through age-25 season)

Rk Player WAR/pos Age PA HR BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Eddie Mathews 38.9 20-25 3807 222 .281 .388 .556 .943
2 Dick Allen 28.0 21-25 2580 112 .311 .387 .558 .945
3 George Brett 27.5 20-25 3114 51 .305 .351 .455 .807
4 Evan Longoria 27.4 22-25 2414 113 .274 .360 .515 .874
5 Ron Santo 27.0 20-25 3793 137 .278 .351 .471 .822
6 David Wright 26.1 21-25 3048 130 .309 .389 .533 .921
7 Ryan Zimmerman 24.4 20-25 3229 116 .288 .355 .484 .839
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/9/2014.

Unfortunately for Zimmerman, he toiled away for the perennially terrible Washington Nationals, the worst team in baseball in both 2008 and 2009. But Zimmerman was an island of greatness amid the fetid mess that eventually netted the Nats Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. He provided one rare highlight in those dark days, hitting a walkoff home run to end the first game in Nationals Park history.

Then the Nationals got good! They won the National League East division in 2012, their first playoff berth since moving to the nation’s capital. It would be Zim’s coming out party on a big stage!

Except shoulder injuries already started taking their toll on Zimmerman. After his left, non-throwing, shoulder cut him down in 2008, it was his throwing shoulder that dogged him in 2012. What has now been dubbed an “degenerative condition” in his throwing shoulder, the eventual migration of Zimmerman across the diamond is well under way.

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You have to give the man credit – he knows how to make an impression. In fact, the video above recalling his three-homer day at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia contains several moments that are too good to be true.

Before he launches his first homer of the day, the on-field cameras pick up a leather-lunged Phillies fan screaming “CHEEEEDURRR!” right before Braun takes Kyle Kendrick deep. Then, later in the highlight pack, the lucky recipient of Braun’s third home run ball refuses to throw it back onto the field, stuffing it into the pocket of his hoody as those around demand the ball go back from whence it came. You can see the guy in the Phillies sweater matter-of-factly state his reasoning for keeping the ball as “it’s RYAN BRAUN!” No further explanation needed.

Tuesday marked Braun’s second trip outside the friendly confines of Miller Park, and Phillies’ fans greeted him with a steady stream of boos, voicing their displeasure with his choice of nutritional supplements and subsequent suspension.

As a totally unrelated aside: Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd was greeted warmly in each of his five plate appearances on the day.

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