(AP Images)Valentine's Day is just a few days away. So is baseball! In just a few days, teams will report to camps, marking the unofficial start of the season. 

There's a lot to love right now, especially for that special baseball fan in your life. While you may have already purchased a baseball-themed gift for that person, it doesn't hurt to go that extra mile. 

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That may sound like a lot of work, but we here at The Stew have you covered. We've created a couple baseball Valentine's Day cards you can print out, cut out and share with the one you love.

And, hey, if you were lazy and forgot to get a gift, we're giving you a free, last minute option here. When you see the look on that person's face after receiving one of these BLS cards, we know you'll thank us.

GIANCARLO STANTON, MIAMI MARLINS OUTFIELDER

(Giancarlo Stanton Valentine's Day card)

 KRIS BRYANT, CHICAGO CUBS THIRD BASEMAN

(Kris Bryant Valentine's Day card)

 FELIX HERNANDEZ, SEATTLE MARINERS PITCHER

(Felix Hernandez Valentine's Day card)

ZACK GREINKE, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS PITCHER

(Zack Greinke Valentine's Day card)

IAN DESMOND, FREE-AGENT SHORTSTOP

(Ian Desmond Valentine's Day card)

JONATHAN PAPELBON, WASHINGTON NATIONALS CLOSER

(Jonathan Papelbon Valentine's Day card)

MIKE TROUT, LOS ANGELES ANGELS OUTFIELDER

(Mike Trout Valentine's Day card)

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, NEW YORK YANKEES DESIGNATED HITTER

(A-Rod Valentine's Day card)

This Valentine's Day, there's no need to spend an obscene amount of money on an extravagant gift. Instead, why not give your loved one a baseball-themed card you found on the Internet. We're biased, but you can't put a price on that!

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 12, 2016, 6:57 pm

In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, Yahoo Sports college football and NASCAR writer Nick Bromberg re-lives Alex Gordon's clutch game-tying World Series home run.

Ninety feet.

The phrase haunted Kansas Citians all throughout the 2014-15 offseason. If you mentioned the distance to anyone in the metro area no matter the context, you wouldn’t get a quizzical look. Everyone knew what it meant.

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Ninety feet is the distance that separated Royals left fielder Alex Gordon from the tying run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Gordon, as you know, hit a should-have-been single to the left-center gap with two outs. Gregor Blanco misplayed the ball and it rolled to the wall. Gordon made it to third, where he was held by third-base coach Mike Jirschele.

(Alex Gordon came through his a huge home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series)Ninety feet from possibly the greatest Game 7 moment in World Series history.

— 

The Royals trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. The New York Mets had just inserted closer Jeurys Familia, he of the 96 MPH fastball and 93 MPH split-finger fastball. Gordon was due up second in the inning after catcher Sal Perez. 

Perez grounded out. 

Gordon took the first pitch, a 97 MPH fastball, for a ball.

— 

After Blanco misplayed Gordon’s hit, left fielder Juan Perez backed him up. But as Perez went to pick the ball up at the base of the wall, he booted it towards the left field foul pole as Gordon was rounding second base.

Perez didn’t boot it far, however. He scrambled to it and fired a strike to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who was in short left field. As Crawford caught the ball, Jirschele had the stop sign up for Gordon as he was rounding third. 

Ninety feet from home. 

Perez, who was up after Gordon, popped out to third to end the game. 

If you got tired of hearing if that dress was blue and black or white and gold, the debate* if Gordon could have scored on the play would have made you sick. The play was analyzed and recreated so many times that it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a re-enactment with poodles and labradors presented as scientific proof on a 10 p.m. newscast.

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)*I was positioned along the left-field line as I watched the play unfold. There is no debate. Gordon would not have scored without more miscues.

— 

The Royals run to the 2014 World Series was a surprise. Sure, expectations for the season were high after the franchise’s first season above .500 since 2003, when the team went 83-79. The team’s best player that 2003 season was Darrell May. He was a pitcher and it was his second season back in the big leagues after a five-year hiatus. The team’s best hitter that season was Carlos Beltran, the man who was the Astros’ postseason hero a year later after he was traded at the trade deadline.

[Homer History: Rob Schneider recalls the time Bob Brenly made up for an awful game with a blast]

I’m 30, born two months before the Royals had won the 1985 World Series. While I can take credit for existing when George Brett and Bret Saberhagen celebrated, I can’t exactly say I remember it. 

But boy, do I remember a lot of losing. Entering the 2015 season, the Royals had a record of 2148-2532 in my lifetime that included 13 seasons of 90 losses or more.

So don't blame Royals fans for wondering if the magical ride of the 2014 playoffs was an aberration rather than the start of a multi-year championship run. The team tried to capitalize on that 2003 season -- fueled by Jose Lima -- by signing free agents like Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago. The 2004 Royals finished with a record of 58-104.

As I left Game 7 hours after it was over, I stood on the empty lower level concourse looking out over the field. I stared directly down the third-base line and wondered if 90 feet was perpetually going to separate my team from a World Series title.

Gordon fouled off Familia’s second pitch, another fastball, to run the count to 1-1.

Gordon was drafted by Kansas City with the No. 2 pick of the 2005 draft, a selection made possible by the team's futility. He was originally a third baseman, the same position Royals legend George Brett played. The comparisons were inevitable. Gordon, like Brett, batted left-handed. He was regarded as a surefire All-Star and an early contributor.

His development wasn't linear. He moved to left field in 2010, a year after he suffered a hip injury that limited him to 49 games in 2009. Gordon spent part of the 2010 season in the minors and had an OPS of .671 in 74 major league games.

Things clicked in 2011. Not only did Gordon start to hit (His OPS was .879), he became one of the best left fielders in baseball, winning the first of four straight Gold Gloves. He signed a 4-year, $37.5 million deal after the season. The Brett comparisons faded away, but it wasn't hard to see how Gordon was the cornerstone of the franchise if the Royals were going to make a World Series push.

In 2015, Gordon was entering the last year of his contract. Was the lingering memory of Gordon's Royal career going to be him stranded at third?

(AP Images)

The 2015 Royals did what the 2004 Royals didn’t. They fulfilled and surpassed even the greatest of expectations in the regular season. Mike Moustakas had a career year. Lorenzo Cain too. Kendrys Morales had 65 extra-base hits and led the team in OPS, a year after being one of the worst hitters in baseball. The team’s defense continued to be stellar and the bullpen was again lights out.

The team traded for pending free agents Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist at the deadline. Cueto, well, didn’t pitch like the ace he was supposed to be. Zobrist added to the team’s deep lineup and was the reason Gordon was up in the bottom of the ninth. Zobrist was the No. 2 hitter while Gordon, upon his return from an adductor injury, batted eighth to spread out the lefties in the lineup.

[Elsewhere: Parents from Jackie Robinson West are suing Stephen A. Smith]

The 2014 season marked the first time the Royals had made the playoffs since 1985. Simply getting to the postseason was considered a success by many fans -- I might have shed a few tears wishing I could have shared the playoff-clinching moment with my baseball-mad grandfather who was at the 1985 World Series. The miraculous comeback against the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card Game and successive seven straight wins to get to the World Series felt like a dream. With the Cueto and Zobrist trades depleting the Royals’ farm system, it was World Series or bust, a word undoubtedly creeping into the minds of many at Kauffman Stadium in the ninth inning of Game 1.

The team was trailing because of a rare defensive miscue by Eric Hosmer. He misplayed a backhand down the first-base line which allowed the go-ahead run to score in the top of the eighth. After sweeping the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles in 2014, the Royals lost Game 1 to the Giants. A loss in Game 1 in 2015 meant, at best, the Royals were heading to New York with the series tied at a game apiece.

— 

Familia’s third pitch was another fastball. After two glimpses of it before, Gordon wasn’t fooled. He smashed the belt-high pitch on the outer half to center. 

The sound of the contact caught fans’ attention; it felt like the entire stadium gasped. But given the vast expanse of Kauffman Stadium and the cool fall air, it took fans a moment to roar. Too many hard-hit balls have died at the warning track in front of the scoreboard.

This one didn’t. Perhaps impervious to the temperatures, or simply because it was crushed, Gordon’s hit kept on going. And going. It cleared the batter’s eye behind the wall. As Gordon rounded the bases, he might have been the only person in the stadium not in the press box or wearing Mets attire that didn't crack a smile. 

The official distance of the homer was 428 feet. 90 feet went from being a harrowing distance to one that’s never felt so insignificant. 

The Royals won Game 1 5-4 in 14 innings. 

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Sure, you can’t win a seven-game series in the first game. But thanks to a stellar start by Cueto in Game 2 (a start one could argue was buoyed by the feel-good vibes from the game that ended the morning before), Kansas City headed to New York up 2-0.

As you know, the Series ended in five games thanks to Hosmer’s daring dash from third to home on a grounder to third to tie the game in the ninth. It wasn’t hard to see the symbolism in the Royals winning a World Series in part to an aggressive sprint to the plate. Hosmer seized the opportunity that Gordon didn’t have. The what ifs that Gordon’s homer diminished disappeared.

---

I was one of 800,000 people -- many of whom left their cars on the sides of roads leading into downtown Kansas City -- who showed up for the victory parade two days later, not caring if they were 90 or 900 feet away from the parade route. 

We're living in a new reality now. One where the Royals not only regarded as one of the best franchises in baseball, but one where the team now has some spending power. The Royals splashed $70 million on Ian Kennedy and, perhaps most importantly, $72 million over four years for Gordon. 

[Roundtable: Which baseball player broke your heart?]

It's World Series or bust again for the next two years before much of the team is set to enter free agency. This new reality is hard to grasp. But so is experiencing your hometown team's first World Series title as an adult closer to 40 than 20. After a lifetime of baseball fan futility, it's imperative to savor the success.

COMING SATURDAY: Ryne Sandberg comes through twice against a great closer.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)
The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October (by Scott Pianowski)
Tony Fernandez's extra-innings postseason blast (by Joey Gulino)
Dave Kingman takes one out of Wrigley Field (by Andy Behrens)
Joe Carter's blast wins the 1993 World Series (by Greg Wyshynski)
Todd Helton ignites a historic Rockies run (by Mark Townsend)
David Eckstein once again does the improbable (by Max Thompson)
- Bob Brenly makes up for four errors with a blast (by Rob Schneider)

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Nick Bromberg
Posted: February 12, 2016, 5:50 pm

The left field wall at Fenway Park is known as the Green Monster and is legendary in baseball, but it has been dwarfed this week by a 140-foot ramp skiers and snowboarders are using to perform all sorts of craziness at the Polartec Big Air at Fenway competition.

Watching these amazing athletes perform death-defying jumps is always entertaining but putting them in an iconic baseball stadium has taken things to a new level. The ramp they're using appears to be about three times as big as the Green Monster and is 14 stories tall.

A snowboarding ramp 3 times the size of the Green Monster?

Fenway, as you've never seen it: https://t.co/JDJoQyq6Rm pic.twitter.com/1heQSRdQ2r

— ESPN (@espn) February 9, 2016

Off to Boston's historic @fenwaypark to hit this beast! ⛷🏙 | 📷: Christopher Baldwin | #BigAirFenway pic.twitter.com/p7t9ExOEXt

— McRae Williams (@McRae_Williams) February 9, 2016

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 The big air event is part of the U.S. Grand Prix tour and athletes are competing for a $150,000 grand prize. It makes for some great images and theater. Generally you would have to be in a helicopter or attached to a parachute to get these kinds of views of the ballpark. The only things that get this high around here are fly balls off the bat of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

Pitchers mound is a bit higher up today. #BigAirFenway pic.twitter.com/vCuY9nrNwQ

— Fenway Park (@fenwaypark) February 12, 2016

#FenwayPark ➕ Big Air... 🙌 https://t.co/T2yAYsxdJN

— Fenway Park (@fenwaypark) February 12, 2016

[Glenn Hubbard's snake-draped baseball card is now a bobblehead]

Sliding into home tonight... 🏂 #BigAirFenway pic.twitter.com/6SGgRIjcZ3

— Fenway Park (@fenwaypark) February 11, 2016

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Kyle Ringo is a contributing writer to Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: February 12, 2016, 5:37 pm

If you're a casual baseball fan, chances are you have a shoebox or two full of baseball cards packed away somewhere in your home.

If your fandom goes beyond that casual threshold, then there's a good chance that collection graduated from shoeboxes to regulation boxes a long time ago. And those boxes are probably in a room or closet taking up more space than your family or significant other is comfortable with.

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For those in the latter category, there are some cards that are cherished more than others. Whether it be a favorite player from their childhood or a rookie card of a future superstar, those valuable cards tend to receive special care. Then there are cards we remember for other reasons, such as a mistake, a funny name or because the card features something truly unique.

(Fleer)
That's Glenn Hubbard, a 12-year major leaguer who played his final game in 1989. And that's a real, eight-foot boa constrictor draped around his neck, making it perhaps the strangest baseball card in existence.

The card was part of a Fleer collection released in 1984. Hubbard was coming off his best big league season in 1983 and his only All-Star selection, so his card would have been a pretty hot commodity at that time. But the whole snake thing took it to another level and makes it a much discussed card to this day.

But now, thanks to the Lexington Legends, it's going to reach another new level of notoriety.

This week, the Kansas City Royals Class A affiliate announced they will be giving away a bobblehead depicting Hubbard's memorable card at their game on June 24. The promotion is one of several announced by the team this week, and they've promised to provide more details on how fans can get their hands on the Glenn Hubbard bobblehead on Friday.

Legends 2016 Promo Schedule https://t.co/HkLnBDhX1x #stachetastic pic.twitter.com/UBKjIIudDj

— Lexington Legends (@LexingtonLegend) February 11, 2016

Hubbard is now a coach for the Legends, so that's the connection. And now that he's getting his own bobblehead, he'll be a legend of a different sort and perhaps the subject of one of the most sought-after bobbleheads to ever be manufactured.

[Related: BLS Roundtable: What's the strangest baseball card you own?]

We would assume that wasn't even a consideration when Hubbard draped that snake around his neck over 30 years ago. But who knows, maybe Hubbard was just ahead of the marketing game and knew baseball would eventually catch up. 

Of course, this is probably one of those things that's better left assumed, because who really wants to ask or know what goes through the mind of baseball player who poses with a snake around his neck? 

BLS H/N: Cut 4 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 12, 2016, 11:01 am

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)Parents from Jackie Robinson West have filed a lawsuit against ESPN and on-air personality Stephen A. Smith, according to The Big Lead. 

Smith is being sued for defamation, after making comments suggesting Jackie Robinson West's former coach Darold Butler fabricated documents and knew certain members on the team were ineligible as the team made its run to the Little League World Series.

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Smith's comments stem from an appearance on the show First Take, and can be seen in the video below:

During that run, the team became a feel-good story. The team charged through local competition in order to make it to the Little League World Series, where they lost in the championship to South Korea. 

Shortly after their season ended, allegations arose that the club had cheated. One of the coaches from a team that Jackie Robinson West defeated accused the club of bringing in ringers from outside the proper districts. The club was also accused of manipulating district lines in order to gain an competitive advantage. Months after those allegations were made Little League stripped Jackie Robinson West of its wins and U.S. title

Smith may be one of the bigger names mentioned in the lawsuit, but the parents are also going after Little League International, as well as officials connected with the program.

The lawsuit filed by parents of Jackie Robinson West alleges that Butler diligently submitted the necessary paperwork to Little League International, but that Little League either ignored potential boundary issues, or kept them a secret in order to profit from the popularity of Jackie Robinson West. 

[Roundtable: Which baseball player broke your heart?]

Little League officials allegedly waited until after Jackie Robinson West had completed its season to inform league president Bill Haley that the club had used ineligible players. Despite its findings, Little League still arranged the team's visit to the White House and inclusion in the 2014 World Series in San Francisco. 

Chris Janes, the opposing coach who blew the whistle on Jackie Robinson West, was also named in the lawsuit. Janes told DNAinfo.com's David Matthews and Mark Konkol that the lawsuit is "laughable."

The lawsuit can be read in its entirety over at DNAinfo.com.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 11, 2016, 11:28 pm

(AP Images)Love is in the air. We're actually talking about Valentine's Day, but we wouldn't blame you for thinking we meant baseball. 

Camps are set to open soon, and we here at The Stew can't help getting a little nostalgic. Considering the holiday, it's tough for us not to think about our old baseball flames. 

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Anyone who has followed the game for a few years knows exactly what we're talking about. There are certain players who you wind up loving irrationally, even though they constantly break your heart. Sometimes, it's a former top prospect who never reaches their full potential. Other times, it's a player you saw have a great game, but couldn't live up to your memory. 

Despite that, you never gave up on them. You always thought they would fill your heart with joy. You might admit now that your heart made the wrong choice years ago, but you certainly don't regret it. 

At one point, we've all had one of those players. Now that the pain is gone, our group of writers here at The Stew are ready to share their former baseball man-crushes.

TRAVIS SNIDER, TORONTO BLUE JAYS OUTFIELDER
The promise of speed and power at the plate. Unbelievable athleticism in the outfield. A flair for the dramatic, a great personality, and an insatiable appetite. How could you not fall in love with Travis Snider? As a fellow native of the Pacific Northwest, I was predisposed to having a soft spot for him.

OK, so his baseball career hasn't panned out quite as planned after being drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006 and becoming a highly-regarded consensus top-10 prospect by 2009. Up-and-down from the Blue Jays for 4 1/2 seasons, the following 3 1/2 seasons split between the Pirates and Orioles haven't played out much differently in terms of production. 

Just last week, Snider signed a minor-league deal with the World Series champion Kansas City Royals that includes an invite to spring training. Still just 28, there's still hope Snider can put it all together and turn into a star ... Right? Anybody? Maybe it's just me. (Israel Fehr)

(AP Photo/Gene Puskar)

RICKIE WEEKS, MILWAUKEE BREWERS SECOND BASEMAN
I love Rickie Weeks and I won't apologize for it! My crush started during Weeks' rookie year with the Brewers. It was the summer just before I was about to start my freshman year of college at Marquette University in Wisconsin. A few of my friends decided to drive up and see a Brewers game, since Miller Park was a relatively short drive from Chicago.

I knew Weeks was regarded as a top prospect, and one of players who, along with Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy, would eventually lead the Brewers back to relevance. During that game, Weeks didn't disappoint. He smashed two home runs, making me an instant fan.

I appreciated his talent, sure, but I think his performance in that game took on a bigger meaning for me. Weeks was a young player who would grow and lead to Brewers to success in a few years. I thought that would make a nice parallel to my college experience. He and I would grow at a similar rate over the next four years.

[Homer History: Rob Schneider witnessed Bob Brenly's redemption]

Even now, I can't say I'm disappointed with Weeks' numbers. Injuries held him back, and a low batting average made him an easy target, but he got on base a ton and had pop. We'll always have 2010, when he stayed healthy and popped 29 home runs. Maybe he never fully lived up to expectations, but he experienced success at the highest level. That's good enough for me. (Chris Cwik)

(AP Images)

IAN STEWART, COLORADO ROCKIES THIRD BASEMAN
Ian Stewart broke my heart over and over again. 

You know that overwhelming feeling of anticipation and excitement when your favorite team has a can't miss prospect on the fast track? I had that feeling and then some leading up to the arrival of Ian Stewart. 
 
A slick-fielding third baseman with enormous power, Stewart was supposed to be the Rockies future alongside Troy Tulowitzki. Then he missed, missed again, and continued missing right on out of the Rockies plans. And all the while I cried, and wept, and continued wondering what should have been.   
 
Stewart looked the part of monster, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 220 pounds. He was unbelievably agile for a man that size, much like Tulowitzki or a Cam Newton in the NFL world. And he put on the best batting practice show I've seen just short of Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn. I wanted so badly for Stewart to turn those physical gifts into a productive MLB career. Even on the day the Rockies finally traded him to the Cubs, I felt like something meaningful was ending. Like he was just the flip of a switch away from stardom and we'd miss out. . 
Instead, he kept missing, playing in only 79 more major league games. 
Such a heartbreaker you were, Ian Stewart. (Mark Townsend)
(AP Images)COREY PATTERSON, CHICAGO CUBS OUTFIELDER
I’m over it now, so I can finally admit I once had a major man crush on Corey Patterson. For about five years in the late 1990s and early 2000s I was convinced the Chicago Cubs’ first-round draft pick in the 1998 draft (third overall) was going to be the second coming of Billy Williams and help the Cubs finally end their World Series drought.

I know I wasn’t alone. 

Patterson wasn’t a total bust. He played all or part of 12 seasons in the major leagues, but he certainly never developed into the type of player you would expect to get with the third overall pick and the kind of player the Cubs franchise desperately needed him to be. After all, this was a guy who was rated among the top 16 prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America for three straight years, including two top-five rankings in 2000 and 2001. That is the baseball equivalent of a super model. Big expectations are going to come with that just like the five-star college football or basketball recruit. 
[Elsewhere: Tim Flannery is not happy with Padres fans]

Patterson never came close to meeting those expectations and fell well short of leading the lovable losers to a world series. According to baseball-reference.com, he never even played in the postseason, never hit .300 in a season and had 500 or more at-bats in a season just twice. 

He put together five serviceable seasons for the Cubs and Baltimore from 2002 to 2006, but for Cubs fans it was kind of like finding out your Lamborghini was really a Ford Taurus. (Kyle Ringo)

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Big League Stew staff
Posted: February 11, 2016, 7:21 pm

In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, famous baseball fan and film/television personality Rob Schneider recounts the time Bob Brenly came through after a tough game. Schneider currently stars in the show "Real Rob" on Netflix, which he wrote, produced, financed and starred in. He also still performs new stand-up material every week, and was most recently heard voicing the title character Norm from the animated movie "Norm of the North."

(Rob Schneider)Every once in a while, something happens in baseball that knocks your lights out. Those moments for me, even bigger than the World Series wins, are what make it special to be a fan.

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There’s so much emphasis on postseason these days, it’s almost like the season doesn’t matter until the last couple weeks. When I was a kid, the playoffs were still on during the day and there wasn’t the emphasis on gigantic ad dollars. In that era, players were just beginning to be able to live the entire year on their salary. I’m talking about the late ’60s and early ’70s. Baseball changed for me in 1979, when Dave Parker was the first guy to get a million-dollar deal. That was unbelievable. And, in those years, the regular season was still really exciting.

When I think about home runs that I’ll always remember, I’m taken back to September 1986 at Candlestick Park, when the Giants were playing the Braves in what people like to call a “meaningless game.” The Giants were 83-79 that season, but 9.5 games out in the NL West at that point. But this game, which showed us humiliation and redemption in the course of nine innings, was hardly meaningless. Particularly not for Bob Brenly.

Being a Giants fan at that time was much different than today, when they didn’t have the World Series rings and fancy ballpark. Back then, they were playing in the worst stadium and everybody knew it. As a fan, you weren’t there because it was the thing to do. You were there because your dad was a Giants fan, so you were a Giants fan — be damned, you are! Most of the time, things didn’t go your way.

(Bob Brenly made up for his early errors in a big way)Brenly sure learned it that day. He was a catcher — a very good catcher and a good ballplayer. He was never going to be a Hall of Famer, but he was a solid ballplayer. He had a lot of heart. He could call a good game. He was good with the bat, but nothing exceptional.

The Giants put him out to play third base that day because Chris Brown was hurt. But that wasn’t Brenly’s position and he proved it. In the fourth inning, Brenly made four errors. Four errors in one inning! He booted three grounders and on one of them, he picked up the ball and made a throwing error.

[Homer History: David Eckstein comes through in the clutch ... again]

I was living in San Francisco at the time. I was 22 and a stand-up comedian. I was at the game and if there were 4,500 people at Candlestick, I’d be shocked. I remember, because we were able to move up and get better seats.

When Brenly’s first error happened, fans were on him. The second one, people were still on him. The third one, you’re wondering why he’s out there. The fourth one, you just laugh because you realize this doesn’t happen. It doesn’t even happen in rec-league softball.

(Bob Brenly waves to the fans)Even for us — fans used to seeing some below-average play — this was like, “Wow.” Everybody knew Bob Brenly was a good guy who shouldn’t be playing third base. But you’re also laughing like, “Did we just witness this? 

The humiliation was unbearable, but Brenly did hit best to make up for it. After that brutal fourth inning gave the Braves a 4-0 lead, Brenly came back and homered in the fifth inning. Then he had a two-run single in the seventh that gave the Giants a 6-6 tie. 

Brenly came up in the ninth inning with the score still tied, with two out and a full count against Braves pitcher Paul Assenmacher. You could sense the pitcher saying, “I’m not going to let this guy get the game-winning home run.”

I’ll never forget where that pitch was, it was outside and down. Brenly reached out and just smacked it over the fence. That walk-off homer was a combination of will, pride, anger, retribution and frustration.

For the San Francisco Giants, who had never won a World Series at this time or nowhere near it — it makes you realize why they play the game. It’s like he did it for the whole city and he did it for the whole team. There was justice in the world. Especially for a working-class player like Bob Brenly.

The point is, there are no meaningless games. It just depends on what you want to bring to it. There’s so much pressure, so much money, so much fame at the highest level as player, but there are very few times where you remember why you play and that it’s a game where magical things can happen. 

It’s not just in the playoffs. It’s anytime. That’s the magic of baseball.

When you’re not a playoff team, you have to look for other moments to get excited about, other stories to tell. That ended up being a major story for us. Not a lot of people know about it, but Bob will remember.

[Elsewhere: Tim Flannery is not happy with Padres fans]

When Bob Brenly hit that home run, it was like he did it for all of us — the diehard fans who showed up to watch baseball on what some people might call a meaningless Sunday in September.

COMING FRIDAYAlex Gordon comes through in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)
The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October (by Scott Pianowski)
Tony Fernandez's extra-innings postseason blast (by Joey Gulino)
Dave Kingman takes one out of Wrigley Field (by Andy Behrens)
Joe Carter's blast wins the 1993 World Series (by Greg Wyshynski)
Todd Helton ignites a historic Rockies run (by Mark Townsend)
- David Eckstein once again does the improbable (by Max Thompson)

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Author: Big League Stew staff
Posted: February 11, 2016, 6:03 pm

(Savannah Baseball)Baseball fans unite. The new summer league team based out of Savannah, GA. needs help picking a name and they've called upon us for assistance.

One can't blame them, either. On the heels of the New Britain Rock Cats relocating to Hartford and rebranding as the Yard Goats with help from the Internet, the new Savannah squad is hoping we'll again have the long-term answers to all of their branding and marketing questions as well.

After all, not only did the Internet help name Hartford's team the Yard Goats, it motivated them to create this incredible jingle that has been stuck in our head for a week straight. 

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now]

The Yard Goats are up and running with a head of marketing steam. Now Savannah looks to follow suit as they prepare to debut in the Coastal Plain League — a summer wooden-bat league aimed at helping college ballplayers keep their skills sharp between seasons. The process began with an online vote over the winter, which actually allowed fans to write in their choices. After careful consideration, they've narrowed it down to the five best — and possibly cleanest — choices.

They are as follows:

— Savannah Anchors
— Savannah Seagulls
— Savannah Ports
— Savannah Party Animals
— Savannah Bananas

The first three all play off Savannah's location. The city lies on the Savannah River, about 20 miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean. It was a key city in the American Revolution and during the American Civil War, so if you're a history buff or even a Savannah resident, the Ports would probably be the most appealing and meaningful choice.

Anchors could be a sneaky good name too and lead to some unusual marketing opportunities. How about a giant anchor beyond the outfield fence that rises and lowers on every home run like the Big Apple at Citi Field? The logo would be an original too and could be used as a nod to the United States Naval Academy.

Seagulls is another fitting name, but feels like the least exciting or creative name of the group. You could say it's the safest choice, and there's nothing wrong with that, but we'd prefer something with a little more meaning and buzz.

Moving along, the Party Animals would definitely get some attention. Especially from the college crowd, which fits well with a collegiate based team. Perhaps it doesn't portray an image some people would want to associate with their local team, but it made their list. If the team is comfortable with it, we should be too.

Last and not least there's the Bananas. That name would seem to be indicative of very little, other than the fact that it rhymes with Savannah. Rhyming names can be fun when they make sense, like the Tampa Bay Rays, but there are more sensible choices here with long-lasting potential. Then again, this name seems to have the best jingle potential, so maybe we shouldn't count it out so quickly.

[Elsewhere: Tim Flannery is fed up with Padres fans, writes lengthy statement]

Those are the choices. On a personal level, I feel like the Anchors would be the best all-around decision, but perhaps you feel differently. Feel free to "a-weigh" in here and vote on the Savannah baseball website

The winning name will be announced on Feb. 25.

ICYMI: Savannah Baseball Name Announcement will be February 25th! Seagulls 🐦 Bananas 🍌 Party Animals 🎉 Anchors ⚓️ or Ports 🚢

— Savannah Baseball (@SavBaseball2016) February 10, 2016

BLS H/N: Cut 4 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 11, 2016, 6:36 am

Tim Flannery (far right) joins the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir for the national anthem. (AP)Former major league player and coach Tim Flannery always seemed like a pretty laid back guy when he was actively involved in baseball. 

However, it would appear fans of the San Diego Padres have found a way under his skin during his retirement, which led to a pretty lengthy rant that was written and posted to Twitter on Wednesday night. 

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For a quick history lesson, Flannery spent the entirety of his 11-year playing career in San Diego, even playing on their first World Series team back in 1984. Flannery was also a part of Bruce Bochy's coaching staff in San Diego from 1996-2002. After Bochy was allowed to leave San Diego for the managerial job in San Francisco, Flannery rejoined him on the coaching staff until his retirement in 2014. 

Based on Flannery's rant, it's apparent there are some fans who feel he turned his back on San Diego to join the rival Giants. And it's very clear he's tired of hearing from those people. 

Ok, enough San Diego, here's the deal pic.twitter.com/rlm5Nh8bC9

— Tim Flannery (@TimFlannery2) February 11, 2016

Whew. Those are strong, almost stinging words for anyone invested in the Padres organization. The only thing he didn't do was use one of Ron Burgundy's famous lines to put a bow on it. 

We're sure you know the one. 

Flannery kept it clean though, and we certainly appreciate that. But he also came out throwing some serious haymakers. Especially when driving home the success both he and Bochy enjoyed in San Francisco and the failures the Padres have experienced since Bochy's departure. It started out as a rant against the fans, but it obviously became a little more than that. It will be interesting to see how that's received, or if it's even acknowledged by the current Padres regime.    

[Elsewhere: Former Met-killer Chipper Jones picks Mets to win World Series]

Focusing on the fan aspect, it's surprising we don't see more outbursts like this from athletes, coaches and entertainers on social media. They're expected to be cordial to fans, but there are always fans who live to irritate and there are always fans who simply don't have a firm perspective of what matters and what doesn't. Making it more frustrating, those fans rarely know the whole story or even half of it. It can be exhausting to deal with those people, and those who do day-in and day-out are very patient people. 

Flannery probably is too, but everyone has a breaking point. His was reached Wednesday, and he's not apologizing for it.  

Last time, don't get on me. I fought for it, what did you all do except reach out long distance , leave me be. pic.twitter.com/IM9Qw4u2rF

— Tim Flannery (@TimFlannery2) February 11, 2016

Goodnight, I needed to explain, I'm snowboarding , im not your problem, you shake the cage, you get the beast. pic.twitter.com/kxmisE46zf

— Tim Flannery (@TimFlannery2) February 11, 2016

pic.twitter.com/0oyf9PZUGn

— Tim Flannery (@TimFlannery2) February 11, 2016

You go, Tim.

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 11, 2016, 5:50 am

(AP)Former Atlanta Braves superstar Chipper Jones made a career out of knocking around Mets' pitching. In fact, Jones enjoyed so much success against the Mets at their former home, Shea Stadium, he actually named one of his three sons Shea.

That's some next-level trolling right there. 

Now though, Jones believes the Mets starting rotation is the most dominant in baseball. Perhaps even dominant enough to shut him down. And even though he's currently serving as a special assistant for the Braves, he's gone on record predicting that pitching will lead their division rivals from New York all the way to a World Series championship.

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Jones made those thoughts known during an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Tuesday. During the interview Jones offered effusive praise for New York's young rotation, which will add Zack Wheeler to the mix this season, and along the way probably annoyed more than a few Braves fans.

"I think they're my early season pick to probably go all the way," Jones said. "Having made it to the World Series last year, coming up just short, I think they'll probably be the early season favorite to push over the top this year." 

"I think the blueprint is kind of what the New York Mets are doing right now," Jones said. "Obviously it's hard to come up with three or four guns like the Mets have, whether it's [Matt] Harvey or [Jacob] deGrom, [Zack] Wheeler coming back, [Noah] Syndergaard. They've got the lefty [Steven] Matz. They've got a whole entire rotation that lives at 94-95 plus and has an idea of what they're doing with the breaking stuff. So they're really setting the bar."

Hey, the truth hurts sometimes, and we're guessing it stung Jones a bit to admit this much.

With that said, some are suggesting Jones' might actually be trying a new method to kill the Mets: The old jinx.

Perhaps that played a part of in his comments, perhaps it didn't. But even if it did, it probably won't be enough to hurt a Mets team that seems destined to contend after reaching and falling in last season's World Series. And beyond that, it probably wouldn't be enough to help a Braves team that many experts are having a difficult time pegging this season.

Even if the Mets take a step or two back and the Braves take a couple steps forward, the Washington Nationals are right there poised to step up and regain control of the NL East. They still have a strong rotation in place, too, even with the loss of Jordan Zimmermann, and they still have the NL's best player in Bryce Harper.

[Elsewhere: Status of Hank Aaron statue in question as Braves prepare to move]

At some point, Jones will have to cover his bases and jinx the Nationals, and several other baseball contenders, if he hopes to help the Braves. Unless, of course, this isn't about the Braves at all and his sole hope is to prevent the Mets from winning. 

If so, that's just wrong and selfish, Chipper. 

If we're being completely serious though, it seems like Jones just knows when to call a spade, a spade, and a Shea, a Shea. He can't do anything about it anymore, so he might as well acknowledge it.   

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 11, 2016, 3:46 am

(AP)Welcome to The Stew's Hot Stove Digest, our daily rundown of MLB news, rumors and gossip for Hot Stove season. Here you'll find a recap of all the day's action and other fun stuff from around the Internet.

HE'S BACK: Ozzie Guillen will manage Los Tiburones de La Guaira, a team in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League, during the 2016 season. [Chicago Tribune]

GOOD READ: Will Yovani Gallardo   continue producing despite diminishing stuff? [The Stew]

CONSIDERING: If the Orioles land Gallardo, they may also pursue outfielder Dexter Fowler to complete their lineup. [@Ken_Rosenthal]

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now]

TRADE TARGET: Ken Rosenthal also reports the Orioles have considered outfielder Jay Bruce as a trade target. [@Ken_Rosenthal]

DONE DEAL: Veteran reliever Carlos Torres signed a minor-league deal with the Atlanta Braves. He'll be invited to spring training.  [@AdamRubinESPN]

TRADE: The Phillies acquired infielder Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment last week, from the Angels in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. [@M_Montemurro]

DONE DEAL: Brandon Belt avoided arbitration with the Giants, signing a one-year, $6.2 million deal. [@hankschulman]

HOMER HISTORY: Yahoo's Max Thompson recalls David Eckstein's improbable walk-off grand slam for St. Louis during the 2005 season. [The Stew]

COMPETITION: Roberto Osuna and Drew Storen will compete for the Blue Jays closer's job this spring. [@bnicholsonsmith]

MINOR DEAL: The Angels have signed veteran right-hander Javy Guerra to a minor-league deal. Guerra served a 50-game drug suspension in 2015. [@MikeDiGiovanna]

IN MEMORY: Baseball lost a great writer this week with the untimely death of Tom Singer. [MLB.com]

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 11, 2016, 2:05 am

(Braves)We know for sure that the Atlanta Braves will be moving to SunTrust Park in Cobb County for the 2017 season. What we don't know for sure is whether or not the bronze statue of Hank Aaron that currently stands in front of Turner Field will be joining them.

According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report from early Wednesday, the head of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority claimed to have uncovered documents proving the statue is owned by the authority, meaning it would remain in the city of Atlanta after the Braves' departure.

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“We were able to work out an agreement with the Braves. We are very excited about it,” Keisha Lance Bottoms, the executive director of the authority was quoted as saying in that story. 

Those newly uncovered documents, if proven valid, would bring closure to a dispute that had been slowly building since the Braves announced their new ballpark back in 2013. However, the Braves have since released a statement disputing Bottoms' claims and making it sound as though this is anything but case closed. 

“We were surprised by the release from Keisha Lance Bottoms as we do not have an agreement regarding the Hank Aaron statue. We believe the statue should be located wherever Hank Aaron would like it to go and we have stated this position to Ms. Bottoms. The Braves organization is committed to respecting his wishes and we are hopeful that Ms. Bottoms has this same position. We are in discussions with Hank, and once he makes his intentions clear to us, we will make the appropriate arrangements. Regardless, we will honor Hank and his legacy with the Braves in a significant way at SunTrust Park. Hank is and will always be a treasure to us and our community.”

Bob Hope, a longtime Atlanta marketing and public relations figure who played a key role in making the statue a reality, echoed the Braves surprise. Hope told the Journal-Constitution he was surprised to learn that such a document existed, and maintained the belief that Aaron owned the statue's rights, not the Braves or the authority.

(AP)Unless the Braves review and are satisfied by the documents, it appears this dispute will pick up even more steam in the weeks and months ahead.  

It's kind of a shame that it might come down to that, but there are likely hard feelings on both sides that go beyond the statue. The Braves and the authority were unable to reach an agreement on the team's 20-year lease at Turner Field, which expires after the 2016 season, and the Braves rather abruptly made the decision to move on and rebuild. 

There's no doubt that's at the heart of this matter, and there's no doubt Fulton County officials would like to salvage something from that relationship given their history. Hank Aaron may be the greatest symbol of that relationship and that history.

[Homer History: David Eckstein defies the odds again]

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what documents show and what it will mean. Beyond that though, it would be interesting to see which way Hank Aaron would lean if given a say on the matter.

Stay tuned to this story. It could be interesting.  

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 11, 2016, 12:35 am

(AP Photo/LM Otero)Baseball is almost here. With camps set to open as early as February 18th, it should feel like the offseason has finally come to an end. 

But, that's not the case. A number of useful players still remain unsigned as camps near. Among them is pitcher Yovani Gallardo. The 29-year-old ranked 31st on Jeff Passan's free-agent ranks, and is now clearly the most enticing pitching option still available. 

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In some ways, it's a surprise Gallardo is still out there. He posted a 2.5 fWAR last season with the Texas Rangers, and had a solid 3.42 ERA despite pitching in a park that strongly favors hitters. At 29, he's still relatively young when it comes to free agents, and he's incredibly consistent. Since 2009, Gallardo has never posted an ERA higher than 4.18 or an ERA lower than 3.51. 

Of course, there's one glaring, obvious reason Gallardo is still without a job. Gallardo was one of the 20 players to receive a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason. He declined that offer, meaning the club that signs him has to surrender a first-round draft pick.

The qualifying offer has hurt a number of free agents this offseason. Howie Kendrick re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after other teams didn't want to surrender a draft pick, and Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler still remain unsigned for similar reasons. If teams could sign Gallardo without giving up a draft pick, he likely would have been off the market weeks ago.

The reason teams are hesitant to give up that first round pick to sign Gallardo is that, despite his success, he's shown some troubling trends over the past few seasons. Teams are willing to give up draft picks to sign elite talent, so the fact that Gallardo is still out there says something about how he's viewed by other clubs. If he still effective? Sure. Is he good enough that teams are willing to burn a pick? Nope.

[Homer History: David Eckstein defies the odds again]

Part of the reason for that concern is Gallardo declining strikeout rate. During his first few years in the majors, Gallardo threw hard, and racked up strikeouts at an elite rate. His average fastball hit 93.51 mph per Brooks Baseball in 2011, and he averaged over a strikeout per inning from 2009 to 2012. 

Things started to change in 2013. Gallardo averaged just 91.58 mph with his fastball, and saw his strikeout rate drop from 23.7 percent to 18.6 percent. His strikeout rate tumbled again in 2014, falling to 17.9 percent. And then again in 2015, when he posted a 15.3 percent strikeout rate.

Despite that, his ERA has remained pretty solid. Over those three seasons, he's compiled a 3.70 ERA. Combine that with his ability to toss about 190 innings a season, and that makes him a mid-rotation starter on all 30 teams. 

Though his declining peripherals haven't impacted his ERA just yet, the drop in strikeout rate is starting to become a concern. Gallardo has never posted dominant walk rates, and he's quickly approaching a point where he's giving himself little margin for error. If his strikeout rate takes another step back, or if he loses just a little bit of command, his numbers could take a turn for the worse. 

Very few pitchers are capable of succeeding with Gallardo's current peripherals. In fact, there were only eight pitchers since 1969 who, at the age of 29, posted similar strikeout and walk rates to Gallardo. 

PlayerIPK%BB%HR/9BABIPLOB%ERAFIPWAR
Brad Penny 208 15.6 8.4 0.39 0.295 76.40% 3.03 3.63 4.4
Tom Glavine 198.2 15.5 8.0 0.41 0.281 73.60% 3.08 3.49 4.3
Mike Sirotka 197 15.4 8.3 1.05 0.295 71.40% 3.79 4.42 3.6
Mike Boddicker 226 16.0 8.2 1.15 0.268 71.40% 4.18 4.32 3.3
Yovani Gallardo 184.1 15.3 8.6 0.73 0.303 77.20% 3.42 4.00 2.5
Albie Lopez 205.2 15.2 8.4 1.14 0.305 67.80% 4.81 4.52 2.3
Nate Robertson 177.2 15.2 8.1 1.11 0.308 71.30% 4.76 4.62 1.8
John Danks 193.2 15.1 8.7 1.16 0.291 71.90% 4.74 4.76 0.5

The take away from the above chart is that you can still be pretty effective with Gallardo's skill set. The four pitchers ahead of Gallardo managed to post average to above average ERAs, and were worth at least three wins to their clubs. Even Albie Lopez, who posted a poor 4.81 ERA, was worth 2.3 wins.

Still, if you go further down the list, you start to see the downside of such a questionable approach. It's tough to really say Lopez is a success looking at his ERA. Nate Robertson and John Danks are hardly encouraging comparisons.

In order to see whether these pitchers continued to succeed despite rough peripherals, I took a glance at how they performed during their age-30 seasons. The results were mixed. Glavine and Boddicker were excellent. Glavine posted a 5.3 fWAR and 2.98 ERA. Boddicker had a 4.0 fWAR and 3.37 ERA. 

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

That's where the encouraging results end. Danks was mostly the same, Sirotka was hurt and never pitched again and Lopez was transitioned to the bullpen and only tossed 55 2/3 innings. Robertson and Penny posted ERAs over 6.00. It got awfully bad pretty quick for some of these guys.

[Elsewhere: The Astros will be without slugger Evan Gattis following hernia surgery]

Admittedly, this type of analysis isn't perfect. It's unfair to just take this small sample of pitchers, look at how they did during one season of their career and assume Gallardo will do the same. But it does show how dangerous it can be to operate with Gallardo's current strikeout and walk rates. 

The two major success stories here are Glavine and Boddicker. Glavine, however, is a Hall of Famer, so it seems foolish to say Gallardo can replicate what he was able to do.

Boddicker was able to remain a solid pitchers for two more seasons before he saw further decline in his stats. His strikeout rate dropped to 10.2 percent during his age-33 season, but he still managed a 4.08 ERA. After that, he swiftly declined. 

That could be the best case for Gallardo moving forward. He can still remain a useful mid-rotation option if he retains his current peripherals, though it's no guarantee. Once he sees another decline, that might be it for him. Boddicker lasted three seasons after he turned 29 before he completely fell off, whichever team signs Gallardo has to hope he can do the same. 

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 10, 2016, 9:56 pm

In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, Yahoo Sports editor Max Thompson remembers one of the many improbable moments of David Eckstein's career.

We’re going to remember David Eckstein for many things: Ridiculous on-deck routines, that crazy throwing motion, the huge bat, his size (of course), and as a trivia question tied to a federal investigation that had nothing to do with him in the first place. And perhaps that's appropriate, as Eckstein’s career was an endless barrage of underdog motivational maxims that found their way into your baseball-watching life whether you loved him, hated him, or were apathetic to his unlikely rise to baseball stardom. Stardom may not even be the right word, but whatever label you attach to Eckstein’s career, improbable is always appropriate. 

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(David Eckstein comes through in the clutch ... as usual)One of the most improbable things he ever did, though, is way too easily forgotten. It was a moment so utterly absurd and unbelievable, that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, a man who has seen all there is to see over decades in the game (and in that time became a master of making the remarkable sound mundane), said afterward, “We were going to play nine today, and once in awhile you get a miracle like this.”

In the thick of the 2005 playoff chase, the Atlanta Braves travelled to St. Louis in early August 5 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the best record in the National League. With the series split, Jorge Sosa and Chris Carpenter engaged in an epic pitcher’s duel, but the Braves scrapped together a few more runs to lead 3-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth.

Chris Reitsma took the mound for Atlanta to close things out, facing St. Louis’ No. 6-8 hitters. Abraham Nunez slapped a single up the middle to lead things off. Moments after Braves broadcaster Chip Caray said, “It is never easy in this ballpark against this Cardinal team,” So Taguchi hit a liner back up the middle. Hector Luna was supposed to sacrifice bunt, but couldn’t get it down. Instead, he fought off a pitch to hit a high chopper that Reitsma deflected, making it too hard for Marcus Giles to make a play. The bases were loaded, but Scott Seabol, batting in the pitcher’s spot, weakly popped out to third base. 

During the Seabol at-bat, cameras honed in on Albert Pujols in the dugout as the looming harbinger of doom, shooting past the on-deck circle where Eckstein was doing his over-the-top bat twirling warm-up.  And why wouldn’t they? Sure, Eckstein had two walk-offs during his time with the Cardinals, but both, unsurprisingly, were squeeze bunts.

Still, the bases were juiced with one out, and the 47,717 in attendance were as loud as a lazy Sunday afternoon crowd could be. The Braves were in trouble, but the scenario seemed manageable to anyone watching. As Caray rightly pointed out, “Now you’re a ground ball away from winning the game.” Eckstein, despite his career of overachievement, seemed as good a candidate as any to fit that bill. 

(Getty Images)Don Sutton then said, “One of the advantages defensively of having an Eckstein bat now, is that there’s a pretty good chance that he’s not going to hit the ball over anybody’s head, so you can play the outfielders in just a little bit.”

At least he couched it with a “there’s a pretty good chance.”

The first pitch was a fastball low and inside. 

I was watching at home with my brothers and my buddy, a massive Eckstein fan, who in that moment confidently declared, “At the very least, Eckstein is winning this game. At the very least.”

He was right. The second pitch was up in the zone and fat as can be, and Eckstein turned on it with that big bat and a whip-quick dervish and sent it soaring (as much as an Eckstein home run could soar) into the first few rows, 10 feet above the top of the old Busch Stadium fence. The guy in the stands who caught it, clearly couldn’t believe it. The St. Louis players rushing to home plate did it with a sort of unsure stagger and goofy looks on their faces. The Braves walked off stunned. To be fair, everyone was stunned, it’s just that pretty much everyone else in the building was good with it. The standing ovation after Eckstein crossed home plate lasted over a minute. 

[Homer History: Todd Helton's home run that ignited a tremendous Rockies run]

When it came to Eckstein’s career, I was fully down the apathetic end of the spectrum. I’m not even a Cardinals fan. But I love when chaos and the unexpected collide somewhere above the dirt and grass on that diamond, and this home run had everything. Eckstein, of all people.

Not only that, it was his second career walk-off grand slam. Seriously. This was the first. That Eckstein clearly had a knack for “clutch” during his career only inflated his (probably) excessively elevated stature, and this only added to it. I mean, the guy only hit 35 career home runs, but three were walk-offs. He hit .364 during the Cardinals’ World Series win over the Tigers.

(Getty Images)

And yet what made it all great was, well, just look at the dude. Dude’s not supposed to be doing any of this. Yeah, the bases are loaded, but look at this guy. He’s not wearing the cape. Hustling out an infield single won’t do it here, no sir. You can hustle harder than hustle’s ever hustled, and it’s not clearing these bases. "There’s a pretty good chance he's not going to" is how every sizing-up should start when you see that little guy with that huge bat at the plate.

[Elsewhere: Astros slugger Evan Gattis will miss some time following hernia surgery]

It wasn’t even the biggest home run of the season for the Cardinals. Pujols would take care of that in the playoffs against Brad Lidge, as we’ve already documented. But sometimes it’s your day. Everybody’s got to bat. You can’t just hand it off to the big guy when you need the bomb. Yeah, the little guy probably isn’t going to hit the blast to win the game. 

But sometimes (three times, in Eckstein’s case), he does. Sometimes "you get a miracle like this."

COMING THURSDAYBob Brenly makes up for three errors with a game-winning homer.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)
The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October (by Scott Pianowski)
Tony Fernandez's extra-innings postseason blast (by Joey Gulino)
Dave Kingman takes one out of Wrigley Field (by Andy Behrens)
Joe Carter's blast wins the 1993 World Series (by Greg Wyshynski)
- Todd Helton ignites a historic Rockies run (by Mark Townsend)

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Author: Max Thompson
Posted: February 10, 2016, 6:13 pm

We know what it looks like when Daniel Murphy is swinging a hot bat. We saw it the entire 2015 postseason as he played a huge part in getting the New York Mets to the World Series.

After signing a free-agent contract with the Washington Nationals, Murphy took a trip to London and found some time in between all the sightseeing to face off in a baseball challenge against Eric Dier, a defender for English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur.

To even the stakes a little, Murphy and Dier spun around in a circle a few times, then tossed themselves a ball to hit as far as humanly possible. What unfolded at Tottenham's training facility was not exactly graceful. 

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Murphy and Dier had three attempts each to show of their best power swing. Supposed to be the expert among the two, Murphy couldn't hang on to the bat on his second attempt and failed to hit the ball in-bounds on his third attempt.

In the end though, Murphy did do enough to earn a slight victory over Dier, but it was far from impressive. The pitchers Murphy crushed in the playoffs sure wish he'd had to adhere to the rules of dizzy baseball back in October, too. Actually, considering the hot streak he was on, it might not even have mattered.

(H/T: Cut4)

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Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: February 10, 2016, 4:00 pm

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)The Houston Astros will be without one of their sluggers during spring training. Designated hitter Evan Gattis underwent hernia surgery, and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, according to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. 

While the report says the injury is not severe, it's less than encouraging news for the Astros. Depending on how long his recovery takes, it's possible opening day could be in jeopardy. Gattis would likely need to receive some reps before he's fully activated, so if he remains out deep into spring training, there's a chance those reps could impact the regular season. Even if that's the case, it doesn't appear Gattis will miss much time once actual games start.

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Provided Gattis is able to return by the start of the regular season, or shortly after it begins, there may actually be somewhat of a silver lining with the injury. If anything, Gattis being sidelined in the spring allows the team to take a closer look at both Jonathan Singelton and A.J. Reed in March. 

The 24-year-old Singleton is a former top prospect first baseman who has been awful in each of his brief major-league stints. Over 420 career plate appearances in the majors, he has a .171/.290/.331 slash line in the majors. Because of his struggles, Singleton likely would have been one of the most important players to watch this spring. If he performs well in March, he might open the season as a starter. If he performs poorly, he could find himself back in the minors.

Reed might make that point moot anyway. The 22-year-old first baseman exploded in the minors last season, hitting .340/.432/.612 over two levels. He has just over 200 plate appearances in Double-A, however, so forecasting him as the starter when the 2016 regular season begins might be aggressive. Still, Gattis' injury gives the Astros plenty of chances to see if Reed can hack it against major-league caliber pitchers this March. It may not accelerate his time table, but those at-bats could prove to be useful to his development. 

[Elsewhere: The White Sox added some rotation depth, signing Mat Latos to a one-year deal]

Injuries that prevent players from participating in spring training are always discouraging, but this one seems relatively mild. Gattis' injury will allow the club to take a closer look at some of their youngsters. On top of that, he should be back by the time the games count. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 10, 2016, 3:27 am

(AP Photo/George Nikitin)Welcome to The Stew's Hot Stove Digest, our daily rundown of MLB news, rumors and gossip for Hot Stove season. Here you'll find a recap of all the day's action and other fun stuff from around the Internet.

COME BACK: Tim Lincecum's agent will watch the right-hander throw Wednesday. At that point, he'll determine when Lincecum will hold his showcase for MLB teams. [@JoelSherman1]

ADDITION: The Miami Marlins are still looking at available pitchers, and will monitor Lincecum.[@JoelSherman1]

DONE DEAL: The Chicago White Sox agreed to a one-year deal with pitcher Mat Latos. [The Stew]

NOT DONE: The White Sox also signed infielder Travis Ishikawa to a minor-league deal. [@ChrisCotillo]

EXTEND HIM: The Kansas City Royals are talking to catcher Salvador Perez about reworking his contract.[@JonHeyman]

HOMER HISTORY: Todd Helton's walk-off blast that helped send the Colorado Rockies on an amazing run. [The Stew]

NOT ANYMORE: The Tampa Bay Rays had been considered in the hunt for shortstop Ian Desmond, but that's no longer the case. The team wants to keep its draft pick. [@jcrasnick]

STILL LOOKING: The Rays are still looking to add pitchers on minor-league deals, and may consider Ryan Webb. [@ChrisCotillo]

GOT BEAT: The Houston Astros beat catcher Jason Castro in an arbitration hearing. Castro will receive $5 million next season. He was seeking $5.25 million. [@JonHeyman]

DECISIONS: Former New York Mets reliever Carlos Torres has offers from three MLB clubs and will make his decision soon. [@ChrisCotillo]

GOT HIM: The Seattle Mariners signed reliever Joel Peralta to a minor-league deal. [@MLBRosterMoves]

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 10, 2016, 12:28 am

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The Los Angeles Angels are about to do a dangerous thing. They are about to take a stance on a subject as divisive as the designated hitter. Is it acceptable to take a selfie at a baseball game? The Angels are not only saying yes, they are encouraging it. 

OMG Alert: On May 6, #Angels will try to set Guinness record for "largest gathering of people using selfie-sticks." Sticks will be provided.

— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) February 9, 2016

That ought to go over well. 

We're not so much outraged by the whole selfie thing. Baseball is a form of entertainment, do what you want and be happy. We're more concerned about the team providing selfie sticks to all patrons. Some irresponsible fans might take to holding sword fights with them, and that could end in tragedy. 

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The Angels are likely aware of that outcome, and will probably be diligent in escorting those types of fans from the park quickly.

Even if fan safety is not an issue, selfies are a controversial topic among baseball fans. Last season, an Arizona State University sorority came under fire for taking one during a contest. They were briefly mocked by the announcers, but eventually came out on top

It's not like the Angels are going to ask fans to go for the record during an at-bat, either. We're going to assume this will be done during an inning break, where there's no fear of a flying bat or ball hitting a fan. So, anyone screaming "watch the game" can calm down.

[Homer History: Todd Helton's walk-off blast that ignited a great Rockies run]

While we here at The Stew advocate being alert during games, it would be pretty neat to grab a selfie with Mike Trout as he reaches over the fence to rob a home run. We're not saying it's a smart move, but it would produce one of the coolest selfies we've ever seen. 

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 9, 2016, 9:10 pm

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)The Chicago White Sox still have work to do. While the club made upgrades during the offseason, there are still some worrisome holes on the roster the team needs to address if they want to contend. They managed to plug one of those spots Tuesday, inking pitcher Mat Latos to a one-year deal, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. The team has since confirmed the move.

While the top of the Sox's rotation boasts an excellent trio, the back-end could use some work. Veteran John Danks has mostly been a replacement level pitcher since returning from shoulder issues, and Erik Johnson, while once promising, is completely unproven in the majors. 

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That's where Latos should help. The 28-year-old isn't coming off a great season, posting a 4.95 ERA over 116 1/3 innings, but he has some bounce back potential. Prior to 2014, Latos had mostly settled in as a solid mid-rotation starter. Though his numbers were solid that season, he battled declining peripherals and injuries throughout the year.

That made Latos somewhat of a gamble in 2015. While he appeared to struggle on the surface, he showed some promising signs as well. Latos saw his strikeout rate shoot back up near his career norms. After posting a career low 17.6 percent rate in 2014, Latos managed a 20.2 percent rate in 2015. He also experienced awful luck when stranding runners. Latos, who usually strands 72.7 percent of inherited runners, posted a 63.8 percent strand rate in 2015. 

Despite that, he still comes with plenty of risk. While those are some promising signs, it's tough to overlook his overall poor performance. On top of that, he's dealt with a number of injuries last season, averaging just 109 innings the last two years. It's possible Latos is finally healthy, and reverts to being a workhorse again, but it's not likely. 

[Elsewhere: The Royals are holding their World Series celebration for two days just to torment the Mets]

Still, $3 million is a small price to pay to see if he has anything left in the tank. And it should help that he'll work with pitching coach Don Cooper, who is widely considered to be one of the best in the business. 

No matter what happens, it's a worthwhile gamble for Chicago. The team has taken steps toward contention, but that's no guarantee. They are close enough now, however, that even minimal moves like Latos could wind up making the difference over the course of such a long season. Also, it never hurts to have pitching depth.

Latos may never revert to his former self, but the White Sox don't need him to do that. As long as he provides some cheap, effective innings at the back end of the rotation, they'll be perfectly happy. If he's anything more than that, they might be playing games in October. 

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 9, 2016, 7:18 pm

In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, Yahoo Sports Big League Stew writer Mark Townsend recounts the time Todd Helton's walk-off blast ignited an incredible run.

As a fan of the Colorado Rockies even before they debuted in 1993, nothing compares to the historic 21-1 run that led them directly to their first and only World Series appearance in 2007. It was a continuous wave of moments and emotions that only baseball fans in the thick of a pennant race can understand or appreciate and, up until that point, those were moments and emotions I had not truly experienced as a fan.

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In the final two weeks of the regular season, Colorado went from the brink of postseason afterthoughts, which is where they typically resided once September rolled around, to playing a tiebreaker game for the National League wild card against the San Diego Padres.

(Todd Helton's blast ignited a great run)That game is the one everyone remembers, because it was the Rockies ticket to the postseason. You could even argue that the drama both teams squeezed into that single, heart-stopping game at Coors Field started the wheels turning for what is now the wild-card play-in round. It was that good, and that memorable, but the reality is none of that would have been possible without the swing that we're privileged to relive today.

It happened on Sept. 18, 2007. Fittingly enough, though not certainly surprising, it was Todd Helton, the franchise's greatest player, who provided that swing. I'll always remember the setup too, because it was the scenario we all dream about as kids. Helton was truly the Rockies last hope. Two outs in the ninth inning, trailing by one run to the dreaded Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that year after year was the source of much of our pain.

It was a big moment, but no moment was too big for Helton. He turned on the pitch from Takashi Saito and sent it soaring for a two-run, walk-off homer. With Coors Field in a frenzy, Helton then glided around the bases as the elation turned him back into that kid with a dream.

It was a beautiful moment. One the Rockies desperately needed to keep their seemingly faint postseason hopes alive.

On a personal level, it was a home run I needed just as badly. Just five days earlier my grandfather, Phillip Townsend, died after a short battle with cancer. It was his passion for baseball that infected everyone who knew him. Baseball was in his blood. It's in my father's blood. And I learned at a very young age that it was in my blood too, and that was what we all bonded over.

[Homer History: Joe Carter's majestic blast that won the 1993 World Series]

At that moment, Helton's home run not only gave the Rockies life, it got my blood pumping again.

* * *

I don't remember many details from the days leading up to that game. I just know I needed baseball and I needed the Rockies to provide it, for better or worse.

(AP Images)Wins were what the Rockies needed. Entering play on Sept. 16, they had little-to-no margin for error. With 14 games left to play, they were alone in fourth place in the NL West, 6.5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. The wild card picture was just as bleak. There, they trailed San Diego by 4.5 games, but also had to contend with five other teams that were ahead or within one game of their position. 

The Rockies started their run by crushing the Marlins 13-0 on a Sunday afternoon. After an off-day, the Dodgers came to town for a four-game series, which began with a day-night doubleheader. The Rockies won the early game 3-1 behind a brilliant performance from Jeff Francis, but the nightcap quickly turned into a typical Coors Field slugfest.

When the eighth inning rolled around, the Rockies had fallen behind 8-5. Their margin for error shrinking with every out, especially with Saito, an All-Star closer that season, and top notch set up man Jonathan Broxton waiting in the wings. The Rockies got two back in the eighth inning on a Ryan Spilborghs' home run, and that set the stage for Helton. 

[Elsewhere: The Royals are dragging out their World Series celebration when they play the Mets]

The pure joy on the original Toddfather's face as he rumbled down the third-base line and tossed his helmet skyward stirred all the emotions in me.

As a Rockies fan, I was euphoric. Especially because it was Helton. For over a decade, he had been the face of the franchise from a marketing standpoint, but more importantly its heart and soul in the clubhouse. He played for losing team after losing team, longing for that moment. No one deserved that moment or the big moments that followed on Colorado's unlikely journey more than he did. 

As a grieving grandson, I was sad I wouldn't be able to talk about that moment or the remote chance the Rockies still had with my grandfather. Though not a Rockies' fan himself, I know he would have been absolutely thrilled. 

* * *
(AP Images)The Townsend family has always been slightly divided. There's a Cubs contingent, which is where my grandfather resided for all of his 91 years and where most of the others held their loyalty. Then there was the Rockies contingent, consisting of my cousins who grew up just outside Denver and me.

I wouldn't say I was bribed to jump on the Rockies bandwagon, but I definitely felt like the coolest kid in school in 1992 wearing the shirt of a team that had yet to play a game. I was immediately attached, and simply never let go, perhaps against my better judgment.

My grandpa owned a Rockies hat too. He picked one up during a trip to spring training always wore or displayed that hat when the Rockies fans were around. It was his way of making us feel comfortable in a Cubs dominated family.

As much as he wished for the Cubs championship that he never saw, he always wanted the small Rockies contingent to enjoy the thrills of baseball success. When Helton hit that home run, I knew he was somewhere smiling, and that it was OK for me to smile too.

[Elsewhere: Josh Donaldson avoided arbitration with the Blue Jays]

Life would go on. Great moments would still happen. And though we couldn't talk about or share those moments anymore, it has always been comforting to know other grandfathers, fathers and sons are.

COMING WEDNESDAYDavid Eckstein (of all people) smashes a walk-off grand slam against the Braves. 

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)
The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October (by Scott Pianowski)
Tony Fernandez's extra-innings postseason blast (by Joey Gulino)
Dave Kingman takes one out of Wrigley Field (by Andy Behrens)
- Joe Carter's blast wins the 1993 World Series (by Greg Wyshynski)

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 9, 2016, 5:34 pm

(Getty Images)It apparently wasn't enough for the Kansas City Royals to make the New York Mets watch them celebrate winning the World Series at Citi Field after pulling off a thrilling comeback win in Game 5 last November.

The Royals are going to have not one, but two World Series ceremonies over the regular season's opening week, according to Adam Rubin of ESPN.

Their opponent for that very first series of the 2016 season? None other than those very same Mets.

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When the two teams meet for the first time on Apr. 3, the Royals will raise their championship banner Two days later on Apr. 5, Kansas City's players will receive their championship rings. The Mets? They'll have to watch, just like they did back on their own home field when the Royals earned the right to celebrate with as many ceremonies as they would like.

The reason for the two-day split is pretty simple on the Royals' part. Because the opener is being aired on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, there are restrictions as to how much of the ceremony they'll be able to show on TV, according to ESPN.

"We decided to move the ring ceremony to the second game of the season so our entire fan base could feel like they are a part of it," said Kevin Uhlich, Royals' Senior Vice President of Business Operations.  "While it's great that ESPN has selected our season opener for their first primetime telecast, only our fans in attendance would have the opportunity to witness the entire ring ceremony. By moving the ceremony to Tuesday, our partners at FOX Sports Kansas City can carry the ring presentation in its entirety for all fans to see."

Fair enough. These are the decisions a team can make when they're the champs.

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Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: February 9, 2016, 4:15 pm

(AP Photo)Josh Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays have reportedly come to terms on a contract, successfuly avoiding their upcoming salary arbitration hearing. According to Sportsnet's Shi Davidi, the deal is for two years and a total of $29 million.

Donaldson is coming off a 2015 season where he was named American League MVP after hitting 297/.371/.568 with a career-high 41 home runs and 123 RBIs. The 30-year-old third baseman sent out this tweet minutes before the Sportsnet report was published:

Mood right now. pic.twitter.com/QCJBAcc0GW

— Josh Donaldson (@BringerOfRain20) February 9, 2016

[Related: Marcus Stroman hosts Super Bowl onesie party for his teammates]

The arbitration hearing between Donaldson and the Blue Jays was set for Feb. 15. Donaldson had filed for a 2016 salary of $11.8 million while Toronto was prepared to pay $11.35 million. Instead, he'll get $29 million over the next two years and won't have to go to arbitration again until 2018. That will be his final year of arbitration before hitting free agency, unless of course he and the Blue Jays work out another long-term deal at that time.

It appears to be a nice bit of business for both sides. Toronto rewards an integral player to their championship puzzle with a fair contract, and Donaldson is afforded a nice sum of guaranteed dollars while not buying out any of his likely lucrative free-agent years. With Donaldson's short-term future now settled, the Blue Jays can turn their attention to the futures of sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who are heading into the final year of their contracts.

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Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: February 9, 2016, 3:45 am

(AP Photo/Joe Nicholson)Welcome to The Stew's Hot Stove Digest, our daily rundown of MLB news, rumors and gossip for Hot Stove season. Here you'll find a recap of all the day's action and other fun stuff from around the Internet.

IN THE HUNT: The Baltimore Orioles and two other clubs are in the race for pitcher Yovani Gallardo. [@ChrisCotillo]

MAKE A CHOICE: Reliever Eric O'Flaherty is deciding between four teams, and is expected to sign soon. [@jcrasnick]

DONE DEAL: The Cleveland Indians agreed to a one-year contract with reliever Craig Stammen. [@Ken_Rosenthal]

AVAILABLE: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Yulieski Gurriel, two Cuban brothers, have defected and are seeking contracts with major-league clubs. Yulieski, 31, is considered major-league ready, while Lourdes, 22, would have been a high pick in the draft. [MLB.com]

CHANGES: MLB and the Players Union are moving closer to making rule changes involving slides into second. [ESPN]

GOOD READ: Can David Ortiz turn in one of the best seasons ever by a 40-year-old? [FanGraphs]

DONE DEAL: The Arizona Diamondbacks have agreed to a two-year deal with reliever Tyler Clippard. [The Stew]

HOMER HISTORY: Joe Carter and the blast that won the 1993 World Series. [The Stew]

BRING HIM IN: The New York Mets agreed to a minor-league deal with outfielder Roger Bernadina.[@Joelsherman1]

HEARINGS: Both Brandon Belt and Mitch Moreland are scheduled to go to arbitration with their clubs Wednesday. [@JonHeyman]

EXTENDED: The Detroit Tigers have reportedly reached a two-year extension with outfielder J.D. Martinez.[@ChrisCotillo]

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 9, 2016, 1:00 am

(AP Photo/Michel Perez, File)Former Boston Red Sox pitcher, and current ESPN analyst, Curt Schilling has never been shy about speaking his mind. Schilling's thoughts got him in trouble in August, however, after he was suspended from ESPN for a tweet comparing Muslims to the Nazi party.

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While Schilling was unable to communicate on Twitter during this time, it's likely he had some concerns about his future at ESPN. Shortly after he was suspended, ESPN named Jessica Mendoza as its new Sunday Night Baseball analyst. Schilling probably wondered whether that meant the writing was on the wall. 

That may have been the case. Just after Schilling was suspended, he filed a donation to Ben Carson's campaign for President. The record of that donation, which is publicly available from the Federal Election Commission, featured some comments on his current job status, according to CNN.

In his filing to the FEC, Schilling indicated that his time at ESPN might be running out. Under the section marked "name of employer," Schilling wrote, "ESPN (Not Sure How Much Longer)." Under "occupation," Schilling said, "Analyst (For Now Anyway)."

Obviously, Schilling was able to remain employed by the company. While he will no longer be a part of Sunday Night Baseball during the upcoming season, he'll remain an analyst on Monday night broadcasts. 

Schilling probably had some doubts after he was suspended, and there was likely a real fear that he could lose his job, but the fact that he was willing to put it on a campaign donation shows he was still willing to make self-deprecating jokes despite his situation. 

[Elsewhere: Marcus Stroman held a Super Bowl party for his Blue Jays teammates]

That fits in with Schilling's personality. He's always going to give his thoughts. So, if that means he thinks he might get fired, he'll happily let you know about it on a political donation form. It might not be the way most people handle that situation, but Schilling is unique. 

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 8, 2016, 11:50 pm

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)The Arizona Diamondbacks are really trying to make the National League West the most intriguing division this season. The club continued its offseason makeover Monday, signing reliever Tyler Clippard to a two-year, $12.25 million deal, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. 

The 30-year-old Clippard is coming off a season in which he posted a 2.92 ERA over 71 innings with the Oakland Athletics and the New York Mets. While Clippard wasn't considered an elite option when he hit the market (he ranked seventh among relievers on Jeff Passan's free-agent tracker), he was the best option available right now.

[Related: Here are spring training report dates for all 30 teams]

There might be a reason for that. While Clippard has posted a fantastic 2.50 ERA over 212 1/3 innings since 2013, his peripherals suggest he might be walking a dangerous line. Clippard saw his strikeout rate drop significantly in 2015, from 29.5 percent to 21.3 percent. On top of that, he also walked batters 10.3 percent of the time, his highest rate since 2010. He posted a ridiculously low .211 BABIP, which might explain why his 4.28 FIP was much higher than his strong ERA.

At the same time, that .211 BABIP isn't all that out of line for Clippard. Over his career, he's held hitters to a .232 BABIP, one of the lowest marks in the majors. Clippard is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and fly balls tend to turn into outs much more often than grounders. They also lead to home runs more often, and Clippard has run into issues with the long ball over his career. Mostly, though, he's been pretty solid, even though he occasionally walks a tightrope. 

While last season's peripheral decline is worrisome, Clippard has consistently outperformed his advanced stats over his career. He owns a 2.88 ERA, but a 3.72 FIP and 4.08 xFIP. In essentially every season he's pitched in the majors, he's been able to beat out the projections.

Even if there's some decline, he should be a solid piece for Arizona. The Diamondbacks are clearly going for it this offseason, and Clippard has a strong track record as a workhorse, and a useful reliever. While he may not close, he should be able to take over a significant role in the late innings. That should push other, less qualified relievers down a rung. That's always a good thing.

[Elsewhere: Marcus Stroman held a Super Bowl party for his teammates and everyone wore onesies]

Clippard may not seem like a big-time signing, but he should play a big role with Arizona this season. The club has built itself into a contender this offseason, but still faces an uphill battle with both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants lurking. If the division comes down to just one or two games, the addition of Clippard could wind up being pretty important.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 8, 2016, 9:09 pm

(@MStrooo6)Toronto's hottest Super Bowl party was hosted by Blue Jays hurler Marcus Stroman. This party had everything: Celebrities, at least one bowl of chips and ... onesies. 

Yes, in order to get into Stroman's Super Bowl celebration, it looks like you needed to meet two requirements. One, be a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Two, wear a onesie. Don't just take our word for it, though, feast your eyes on a picture from the event. 

All reppin' one(sie) thing. #SB50 @BlueJays pic.twitter.com/FyBDzVd2zw

— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) February 8, 2016

We count 10 parties members and what appears to be 10 onesies. While we're having a hard time identifying everyone, we have spotted Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Storen and Stroman in the picture. 

We have to say, this is certainly a different way to do a Super Bowl party. At the same time, if you're going for a relaxed atmosphere, you might as well wear a onesie. There are some parties where people dress up in jerseys and go nuts, but nothing beats lounging around with your friends to watch a game. We're not saying the Blue Jays didn't go crazy during big moments, but things look pretty chill. 

[Related: Here are the spring training report dates for all 30 teams]

The Blue Jays ought to relax. Pretty soon, they'll be reporting for camp, and gearing up for the grind of the regular season. If they are fortunate, they won't have down time like this again until after the World Series. 

At that point, Stroman might start planning his Super Bowl 51 party. If you're hoping to secure an invite next year, you might want to start by going out and purchasing a comfortable onesie. That part is easy. Making the Blue Jays, well, that might prove to be difficult. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 8, 2016, 8:03 pm

(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)Former Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Delmon Young has been accused of choking and threatening to kill a Miami valet, according to ABC 10 Miami.

The incident started after Young was denied entry to an elevator that led to a club in the Brickell hotel. The valet told him the club was closed. At that point, Young told the man, "Stupid Cuban. Open the (expletive) door. I'm here. Now what?" 

Young then left the scene without further incident, but returned a few minutes later. After again being denied entry, Young threatened the man's life. It was at that point that Young allegedly choked the valet, according to the police report.

After the attendant repeated that the club was closed, Young told him, "I'm gonna (expletive) kill you, you Latin piece of (expletive)," the report said.

Young then reached over the valet podium and placed his hands on the attendant's neck, but the attendant was able to break free and ran for help, the report said.

Police were called, and found Young in his nearby condominium. Young answered the door naked from the waist down, and "was unsteady on his feet and spoke with slurred speech." He allegedly told a police officer "I'll slap you in the face with money, you (expletive) Cuban."

This is not the first time Young has been involved in this type of incident. The outfielder was arrested in 2012 after assaulting a man in Manhattan. Young was accused of using anti-Semitic remarks during the scuffle. Young had to spend the night in the hospital before being taken to jail because he was "highly intoxicated" at the time. 

Before Young even reached the majors, he was suspended for 50 games after throwing a bat at an umpire in the minors. 

The 30-year-old Young spent last season with the Orioles. He hit .270/.289/.339 over 180 plate appearances in the majors. Young was designated for assignment in July and was released by the team a few days later. 

The former top overall prospect has failed to live up to expectations as a big leaguer, and his career has been marred with various on and off the field incidents. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 8, 2016, 6:26 pm

In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, Yahoo Sports NHL blogger Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy looks back on Joe Carter’s World Series-winning homer against the Phillies in 1993.

--

“Every story has already been told. Once you've read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had." - Anna Quindlen, author.

My favorite thing about baseball is that, for the most part, everything has happened before. Records aren’t records unless someone has already set them. Greatness isn’t greatness without the benefit of comparison. Every season is a variation on a theme; and what separates the moments playing in perpetuity on highlight reels or immortalized in a concrete temple in Cooperstown from ones that slip from memory is how one claims the moment for themselves.

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(Joe Carter's home run won the 1993 World Series)Joe Carter’s home run in 1993 wasn’t the first to win a World Series. That was, of course, Bill Mazeroski in 1960 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a home run so powerful it swept him up into the Hall of Fame (and onto dozens of “least deserving Hall of Famers” lists).

But Carter’s home run is inarguably the greatest moment in Canadian baseball history, as much as it’s one of the lowest moments in Philadelphia sports history – god’s work, really.

Please understand: I’m a Mets fan. I grew up in Central New Jersey, so I’m also a New Jersey Devils fan. Tears generated from the constant flailing failures of Philadelphia sports franchises were – next to Snapple ice tea and the occasional Rheingold Beer I’d sneak from my dad’s stash – my favorite beverage growing up.

Conversely, I always had an affinity for the Toronto Blue Jays, which might have had something to do with (a) a desire to have an American League team to cheer for and (b) being a pitcher growing up, and appreciating the likes of Dave Stieb and Tom Henke, and later Dave Stewart and Duane Ward (and, for a time, my sweet David Cone).

On top of that, I always liked Joe Carter, whose name I first heard on WFAN from a caller desperately trying to imagine a scenario through which the Cleveland Indians would trade him to the Mets.

Instead, the outfielder was involved in two blockbusters – 1989, when the Indians sent him to the Padres in a package that included Sandy Alomar, Jr.; and then in 1991, when the Padres cut bait and traded him to the Blue Jays with Roberto Alomar for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. (Back when trades were trades, i.e. before we knew everyone’s salary was the reason they’re made.)

(AP Images)Carter found himself in Toronto, playing an integral role on a team with more than a few veteran pieces – Dave Winfield, Jack Morris; and then in 1993, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor and Stewart.

The Blue Jays won their first World Series in 1992, a series best known for the Atlanta Marine Corps Color Guard marching out with the Canadian flag upside down and the Series ending on … a bunt.

The Jays retooled and returned to the World Series in 1993. Their opponents were the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that, as I mentioned before, I have a deep conflict with.

[Homer History: Dave Kingman hits one out of Wrigley Field]

Lenny Dykstra was, bar none, my favorite baseball player of all-time. His book, “Nails,” sits on my bookshelf, yellowed pages of incoherent obscenities directed at Wally Backman. The Phillies were essentially an experiment: What if you took Lenny Dykstra’s DNA, mixed it with Philadelphia swagger and then poured it on a mullet?

Then you’d get the 1993 Phillies, apparently.

As an American, I should have been rooting for the scrappy, dirty, smelly underdog against the haute Toronto team that already had a ring on its finger. And yet, as a Mets fan … nope.

Still, you had to admire their pluck. The Phillies were down 3-1 in the series before winning Game 5. In Game 6, they were down 5-1 in Toronto entering the seventh inning when they rallied for five runs, three of them coming on a Dykstra homer. You could feel that scruffy, Rocky statue Philadelphia myth making starting to ooze onto the field.

In the ninth inning, Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams took the mound.

God, I hated Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams.

Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams was that mullet-wearing lefty who fell off the mound on every pitch, like the velocity of his fastball was simply too much for his body to handle. He pitched like C.C. DeVille played guitar.

The greatest thing about Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams was that he was nicknamed Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams and had epic control problems. Never was a nickname more appropriate. It’s like if George Herman Ruth was actually a giant baby.

So, true to form, he walks Rickey Henderson to lead off the ninth with the Phillies up a run, because why not put the greatest leadoff hitting in baseball history on first with just four pitches? Devon White flew out, Paul Molitor followed with a one-out single, and that brought Joe Carter to the plate.

Carter hadn’t had a hit in his last seven at-bats. He stood in against Williams and worked the count to 2-1, before he swung poorly at a slider. Which, it turns out, was a defining moment of the at-bat.

(AP Images)Carter told MLB.com in 2013 that the slider had him thinking slider again for the 2-2 pitch.

"He jerked a fastball down and in -- more like a cut fastball -- and because I was thinking breaking ball, I kind of stayed back on the ball," said Carter. "Normally, if I'm looking fastball, I'd either swing and miss at that ball and nine times out of 10 times I hook it into the third-base dugout and scatter my teammates.

"But in that particular moment, because I was looking breaking ball, I kept my head down, and when I made contact ... I never saw the ball. All I saw was the bank of lights. I knew I hit it good, but I didn't know if I hit it high enough to get over the fence."

[Elsewhere: A Japanese team is going to wear plaid uniforms this season]

What’s interesting about that pitch – which Williams now maintains was a “mistake” – was that it was made with the Phillies closer using a “side step” windup. He was instructed to pitch using it in order to keep Henderson from stealing in a one-run game. Williams says that kept him out of his comfort zone.

“I knew if I had gone with my full leg kick and actually rushed because I know how to elevate a fastball and throw a fastball up and away, he either swings through it or he hits a fly-ball out," Williams said in 2011.

Instead, it cleared the fence. SkyDome erupted as the Blue Jays stormed the field. For just the second time in Major League Baseball history, the World Series had been decided on a home run. As Tom Cheek’s immortal call went: "Touch 'em all, Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

Spoiler: He didn’t.

Carter spent a few more productive years with the Jays before the lure of money and a loaded lineup took him to Baltimore. Things didn’t work out for that 1998 Orioles team, and Carter was traded to the Giants for his last hurrah. His final at-bat was the final at-bat of a one-game playoff series against the Cubs: a player whose postseason heroism defined him, ending his career with a postseason out.

As for Williams, the home run defined him even more than Mazeroski’s did Ralph Terry, as at least Terry closed out a World Series win a few years later for the Yankees.

Williams reportedly received death threats after the Game 6 loss; but then again, he had already received them after blowing a save in Game 4 of the World Series.

[Elsewhere: Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta received a record raise in arbitration]

(AP Images)"I was scared. I stayed up until 8 a.m., walking around, holding my gun,” he told Sports Illustrated. "But I couldn't hit anything with that thing. If I had to shoot, I'd let. my fiancèe do it."

Now that’s love.

(For more on Williams’ strange post-career journey, read this.)

Mazeroski wrote the story first. But Carter’s moment has its own unique place in Homer History. Because of who he was, whom he defeated and the way a nation still celebrates it to this day.

How important is it to Canadians? Consider that Drake used it as the cover image of his diss track for Meek Mill.

Toronto’s own Drake. Philadelphia’s own Meek Mill. Damn.

COMING TUESDAYTodd Helton's walk-off blast helps Colorado sweep the Dodgers, and comes in the middle of an amazing run.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)
The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October (by Scott Pianowski)
Tony Fernandez's extra-innings postseason blast (by Joey Gulino)
- Dave Kingman takes one out of Wrigley Field (by Andy Behrens)

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: February 8, 2016, 5:51 pm

(AP)The NFL season is over after the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers with a dominant defense on Sunday, allowing sports fans to catch up on the NBA, NHL and college basketball in the middle of those respective seasons.

It also means the start of spring training is less than two weeks away now for five teams and others to follow shortly thereafter.

[Related: Chiefs followed Royals script with energizing kickoff return]

When does your favorite team get going? We've listed all the dates below. The first date is the pitchers-and-catchers report date, followed by the first full squad workout.

MLB SPRING TRAINING REPORT DATES

• Arizona Diamondbacks: Feb. 18, Feb. 23

• Atlanta Braves: Feb. 20, Feb. 25

• Baltimore Orioles: Feb. 19, Feb. 24

• Boston Red Sox: Feb. 19, Feb. 24

• Chicago Cubs: Feb. 20, Feb. 24

• Chicago White Sox: Feb. 19, Feb. 23

• Cincinnati Reds: Feb. 18, Feb. 23

• Cleveland Indians: Feb. 19, Feb. 23

• Colorado Rockies: Feb. 19, Feb. 25

• Detroit Tigers: Feb. 19, Feb. 23

• Houston Astros: Feb. 19, Feb. 23

• Kansas City Royals: Feb. 19, Feb. 23

• Los Angeles Angels: Feb. 19, Feb. 24

• Los Angeles Dodgers: Feb. 20, Feb. 25

• Miami Marlins: Feb. 19, Feb. 22

• Milwaukee Brewers: Feb. 21, Feb. 25

• Minnesota Twins: Feb. 22, Feb. 27

• New York Mets: Feb. 19, Feb. 26

• New York Yankees: Feb. 19, Feb. 25

• Oakland Athletics: Feb. 21, Feb. 26

• Philadelphia Phillies: Feb. 18, Feb. 23

• Pittsburgh Pirates: Feb. 19, Feb. 23

• St. Louis Cardinals: Feb. 18, Feb. 23

• San Diego Padres: Feb. 19, Feb. 24

• San Francisco Giants: Feb. 18, Feb. 23

• Seattle Mariners: Feb. 20, Feb. 25

• Tampa Bay Rays: Feb. 21, Feb. 26

• Texas Rangers: Feb. 19, Feb. 24

• Toronto Blue Jays: Feb. 22, Feb. 26

• Washington Nationals: Feb. 20, Feb. 25 

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 8, 2016, 5:48 pm

(AP)Welcome to The Stew's Hot Stove Digest, our daily rundown of MLB news, rumors and gossip for Hot Stove season. Here you'll find a recap of all the day's action and other fun stuff from around the Internet.

STILL A CHANCE: The Orioles have been back and forth on free-agent pitcher Yovani Gallardo. According to Roch Kubatko, It appears they're back in again. [MASN Sports]

THE END: Freddy Garcia will retire at age 39. Sunday's appearance for Venezuela in the Caribbean Series will mark his final game. [MLB.com]

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now]

UNSURE: The teams most interested in signing Cliff Lee remain unsure about giving him a $6 million to $8 million deal, which would also include incentives. [Boston Globe]

TRADE BAIT: Marc Topkin says the Rays 'seemingly have to' trade James Loney before April to make their roster work. [Tampa Bay Times]

SHOWCASE: Cuban outfielder Yordanis Linares will workout for teams in California on Feb. 16. [@JesseSanchez]

POLL: Who will be the last qualifying offer free agent to sign: Dexter Fowler, Yovani Gallardo or Ian Desmond? [MLB Trade Rumors]

SWAP: The Diamondbacks are considering having Yasmany Tomas and David Peralta switch positions. [Arizona Republic]

RUSSELL WILSON: Most people remember that Russell Wilson was drafted by the Rockies in 2010. Most forget he was also drafted by the Orioles in 2007. [MASNSports]

GOOD READ: Grant Brisbee looks at teams that will be better than you think this season. [SB Nation]

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 7, 2016, 9:07 pm

(AP)With over 50 years in professional baseball, Dusty Baker has experienced every high, every low and every in-between moment imaginable within our beloved game. And he's not done yet. Not after accepting the Washington Nationals managerial job just this past November.

Baker is a baseball lifer, some might say. And that, in part, is why his story is worth telling. But it's his remarkable journey to the big leagues, where he debuted at age 19, and the impact and relationships he's made before and during his remarkable baseball life that truly define his legacy.

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now]

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, we'll hear the complete story when "Dusty: A Baseball Journey" premieres on MLB Network Presents at 9:00 p.m. ET.

Hosted by legendary broadcaster Bob Costas, the one-hour program takes us back to Baker's days growing up in Riverside, CA. Surrounded by three of his childhood friends, Baker also shares the struggles that went along with attending an all-white high school in Sacramento County after his family was forced to move.

His relationship with his father, Johnnie B. Baker Sr., is also chronicled. Dusty learned young that nothing would be handed to him, not even from his own flesh and blood. His father actually cut him from his youth baseball team three times for bringing a bad attitude. But we see how those setbacks and the challenges he would face throughout his formative years helped prepare him for the life and career that was to come.

After breaking into professional baseball, Baker discusses the mentoring role Hall of Famer Hank Aaron played in his life and how that helped him. Baker also shares the story of the bond he formed with Aaron following his record-breaking 715th career home run. A home run Baker would witness from the on-deck circle.

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"He knew what was coming all the time," Baker said about Aaron. "He would tell me, 'If you feel it, believe it. You will never be a great hitter until you learn to trust your feelings.' He said, 'Al Downing is going to do this and that during game time.' That's what he did."

It's a difficult program to pull away from once you're invested. There's so much depth to every chapter, and even though you know where it leads it keeps you enthralled. And perhaps not everybody knows where Dusty's story has led him, at least in recent years. We learn of Baker's ventures into winemaking, which includes launching his own wine production company.

Baker is a man of many interests with a group of friends that reads like a who's who in sports and entertainment. Aaron, Tommy Lasorda and Steve Garvey, just to name a few, represent his baseball friends and on-field adversaries in the show.

And of course, the story brings Baker's journey full circle as he discusses his desire to cement his legacy with a World Series championship in Washington.

What a journey it has been, and what a journey it could be if those desires come true.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 7, 2016, 7:46 pm

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In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, Yahoo Fantasy Sports writer Andy Behrens describes Dave Kingman's monstrous home run on a wild afternoon at Wrigley Field. 

Dave Kingman was, without question, a one-tool player throughout his 16-year major league career. Kong didn't hit for average, he didn't run, he didn't competently field any position, and his on-base skills were poor. But when his violent right-handed uppercut swing connected with a baseball ... well, that baseball usually died.

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now!]

(Dave Kingman nearly hit one out of Chicago.)Kingman, for all his faults, possessed terrifying, weapons-grade power. Just look at this bomb, the third and final home run hit by Kingman in a loss to the Phillies on May 17, 1979 — an absurd game that produced 50 hits, 45 runs and 10 long balls. (Naturally, the Cubs dropped a game in which they scored 22 runs. Of course they did.)

Was the homer wind-aided? Well, sure. No doubt. But you'll note that Kong's shot didn't merely clear the fence, or the bleachers, or Waveland Ave. Somehow that thing traveled 70-something feet down Kenmore, a street that runs perpendicular to Waveland. So it landed 100-plus feet (120? More?) beyond Wrigley's outer wall, an almost unthinkable distance. Balls don't land there in BP, and certainly never in live games.

A photo from the approximate spot that homer landed, looking back toward Wrigley. (Andy Behrens) 
Kingman hit a league-leading 48 home runs in '79, and none of them can be considered consequential, exactly. The team finished 80-82, buried in fifth place in the division, 18 games behind the Pirates. It was your standard-issue '70s Cubs squad, basically — except for Kong, who made it awesome. The twelfth homer of Kingman's season is probably the most unforgettable moment in my baseball memory, despite the relative meaninglessness of the event. I will never understand the physics of that thing. I've watched the clip maybe 30 times while writing these few paragraphs, and I still don't get it.

When Kingman exited baseball, the man had 442 career home runs to his credit and no reasonable case for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. I will make no effort to argue that he was anything more than a one-dimensional player, a liability in almost every way. But that single dimension was pretty [profane] spectacular.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)
- The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October (by Scott Pianowski)
Tony Fernandez's extra-innings postseason blast (by Joey Gulino)

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

Author: Andy Behrens
Posted: February 7, 2016, 5:47 pm

With the Super Bowl taking place on Sunday and equipment trucks from around Major League Baseball headed south this weekend, the countdown to spring training is officially on. It's so close now that every sound we hear resembles the pop of a baseball glove or the crack of the bat, because that's how our baseball-loving minds work.    

Come to think of it though, maybe those sounds were real this time. We're just hearing them on delay as they emanate from the Land Down Under.

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now]

It's possible, because the Australian Baseball League season has been heating up in recent weeks leading up to its culmination on Saturday.  

For the first time ever, the Brisbane Bandits reigned supreme in the ABL's championship round, sweeping the Adelaide Bite in a best of three series. Brisbane ran away in the clincher, winning 7-1 behind Donald Lutz's three-run homer, six excellent innings from former major leaguer Travis Blackley and the leadership of Dave Nilsson, who was MLB's first Australian All-Star. 

And to the victors went all of the spoils, including being presented with the prestigious and equally glorious Claxton Shield.

(MiLB)
Granted, the Claxton Shield is no Stanley Cup, but it surely is a beaut. And it leaves no doubt who the superior team is.

The Claxton Shield:#ABLCS #ABL #AFAHollowayStadium #Brisbane #MiLB #MLB #ESPN #Baseball #bne #BrisbaneBandits pic.twitter.com/fZZiTHBkGX

— D. Bossard (@DBoss51) February 6, 2016

The Claxton Shield has quite a history too, which dates all the way back to 1934.

The shield is named for Australian sports philanthropist Norrie Claxton, who donated the trophy after serving as the South Australian Baseball League's president from 1913 to 1929. The shield was awarded to the national champion every year until 1988, with the exception of 1940-1945 seasons when the tournament was suspended for World War II.

Since then, the trophy has alternated between the national championship and the ABL, where it currently serves as the symbol of absolute and undeniable excellence. 

[Elsewhere: Japanese team unveils outstanding plaid jerseys]

For a little perspective, Major League Baseball's Commissioner's trophy, which is awarded to the World Series champions, was not introduced until 1967 or named until 1985. 

The Claxton Shield has history and longevity on its side, and while the Commissioner's trophy's design is pretty nice too, there's nothing like a mighty shield. 

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 7, 2016, 6:25 am

Is Jake Odorizzi on the Cubs and White Sox radar? (AP)Welcome to The Stew's Hot Stove Digest, our daily rundown of MLB news, rumors and gossip for Hot Stove season. Here you'll find a recap of all the day's action and other fun stuff from around the Internet.

INQUIRING: Up to ten teams have asked the Rays about acquiring one of their young starters. That list includes both the Cubs and White Sox. [CBS Chicago]

OFFICIAL: Gavin Floyd's contract with the Blue Jays is a major-league deal worth $1 million. He can earn an additional $1 million in incentives. [@JonHeyman]

WINNING: The players improved to 3-0 in arbitration cases after Toronto's Jesse Chavez was awarded a $4 million salary. [@SosnickCobbe]

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now]

ADVISOR: The Blue Jays have hired Eric Wedge as their Player Development Advisor [@BlueJays]

ICYMI: Jake Arrieta earned a record arbitration deal from the Cubs. Will an extension follow? [The Stew]

AILING: New Padres reliever Fernando Rodney was removed from a Caribbean Series game on Thursday due to tightness in his leg. The decision was described as a precautionary measure. [@JesseSanchezMLB]

NO RUSH: Alex Speier suggests the Red Sox are in no hurry to extend emerging stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. [Boston Globe]

CONTACT: The Diamondbacks have been in contact with representatives for reliever Tyler Clippard, confirmed their interest. [@JackMagruder]

GOOD READ: Bill Baer looks at how "grit" may not be the best attribute for a baseball player to possess. [Hardball Talk]

COMING BACK: Coming off Tommy John surgery, Joe Nathan plans to pitch again in 2016. [@jonmorosi]

HOMER HISTORY: Yahoo Sports' editor Joey Gulino on the night Tony Fernandez stunned the Orioles. [The Stew]

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 7, 2016, 2:34 am

Ryan Harris (left) blocked for Joe Mauer in high school. Now he's blocking for Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. (APl)Denver Broncos' left tackle Ryan Harris will have a tough assignment during Super Bowl 50 on Sunday. He'll be charged with protecting the blindside of Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning against a ferocious Carolina Panthers' pass rush led by Jared Allen.

But don't think Harris won't be up to the task. The 30-year-old veteran started all 16 games for the Broncos this past regular season, and has started 70 games overall during his nine-year career. He's experienced, he's savvy, and at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, he's capable of swallowing up and pushing around defenders all afternoon long.

[2016 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball is open for business. Sign up now]

Don't think he's not familiar with the extra pressure that comes with protecting a legend, either. Harris was already doing that during his high school football days, when he was tasked with protecting a prized baseball prospect. That prospect's name was Joe Mauer, who we now know as the face of the Minnesota Twins franchise.

Harris and Mauer both attended Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn. The school also produced current Twins manager and baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, long-time Minnesota Vikings lineman Matt Birk, current Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd and former two-sport star Chris Weinke. That's a pretty rich sports history, but a high point certainly came when Harris and Mauer were together.

Harris recently reflected on those days while speaking to MLB.com and had nothing but praise for Mauer. In fact, he called Mauer one of the best quarterbacks he's seen. 

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While football was Harris' main sport, he also participated in wrestling and, yes, even baseball. Harris describes himself as a hard-working and good-fielding first baseman who couldn't hit a curveball.

Join the club on that one, Ryan.

Knowing football was his true calling, Harris only stuck with baseball through his ninth grade year. But just because he left the game behind doesn't mean he left behind his baseball teammate's work ethic. In fact, he used that work ethic to help him prepare for his more physically demanding sports ventures.

"All the guys I know that played baseball and were successful spent hours drilling and in practices, doing winter baseball, getting in the cages every day -- I did that for football, getting in the gym, and wrestling as well," Harris said.

Work ethic aside, Harris made one other pretty interesting comparison between football and baseball, noting what he believes is a similar mindset between offensive tackles and pitchers.

"It's been great, the little bit of experience I have in baseball and being a fan of baseball. I really like pitchers -- pitchers and offensive tackles have similar mindsets," said Harris, who played collegiate ball at Notre Dame. "You can't go in and throw your best pitch and you can't throw your best block every time. You've got to change it up, use your count, use your knowledge of your down and distance in football. There are a lot of similarities.

"That's why I love watching some of my favorite pitchers -- CC Sabathia, Yordano Ventura for the Royals."

That's a really interesting way to approach things. The one notable difference is that unlike baseball, where a catcher and a pitching coach will help a pitcher set up a game, Harris is out there fending on his own. Sure, his position coach might make a suggestion. The offensive coordinator may even call a certain scheme that tells him where he needs to be. But it's up to him to read the defender and get a feel for what's coming and what's working.

If you're a baseball fan looking for something to focus on during Sunday's battle at Levi's Stadium, watching the many ways Ryan Harris attempts to protect Manning's blindside might be a good one.

Here's another interesting thing to consider about Ryan Harris. We can bring his high school football and NFL career full circle in seven steps.

1. Ryan Harris and Joe Mauer were teammates in high school.

2. Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer were teammates with the Minnesota Twins.

3. Michael Cuddyer and Todd Helton were teammates with the Colorado Rockies.

4. Todd Helton and Seth Smith were teammates on the Rockies lone World Series team in 2007. (The Todd Helton-Peyton Manning connection is just too easy.)

5. Seth Smith was Eli Manning's backup quarterback at Ole Miss.

6. Eli Manning and Peyton Manning are brothers.

7. Peyton Manning and Ryan Harris hope to be Super Bowl champion teammates in Denver.

And now we can bring a smile to your face with ten simple words. 

Football ends tomorrow. Spring training begins in two short weeks! 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 7, 2016, 12:29 am

The Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan may not be your favorite baseball team, but this might be a good day to reconsider that.

First of all, the team recently unveiled its new catchphrase "Happy and Good," which is simple, effective and undeniably awesome. But it's their new jerseys that will make everyone happy and are most certainly good marketing.

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Observe and admire, if you so desire.

These are real life jerseys the Orix Buffaloes will wear in real life games in 2016. pic.twitter.com/NPRkSYcz3L

— Kazuto Yamazaki (@Kazuto_Yamazaki) February 5, 2016

Your eyes do not deceive you. Those are, in fact, plaid, button up jerseys they are sporting. The jerseys will be worn in various games throughout the 2016 season, and apparently come in at least two colors.

It should be noted that the Buffaloes' online shop shows the blue and pink jerseys and pink plaid towel that can be waved at games. Not a bad start, but we're hoping there's potential for several more colors to join them.

It's also worth pointing out that Orix will not be the first baseball team to wear plaid jerseys. Just last season, the Class A Eugene Emeralds celebrated “Portlandia Night” by wearing plaid jerseys and pants made to look exactly like skinny jeans. You can view those here

As far as one-night promotions go, the Emeralds uniforms are pretty tough to beat. 

[Homer History: Tony Fernandez's extra-innings postseason blast]

As far as an alternate jersey goes though, ones that we'll see time and time again, hopefully for years to come, these plaids from Orix can and will stand the test of time.

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 6, 2016, 9:34 pm

(AP)If you've watched Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton at any point during his phenomenal college and professional football career, you'd honestly believe he was fearless.

His willingness to step up in the pocket as 300-pound linemen and hard-hitting linebackers bear down certainly gives that impression. His willingness to pull the ball down and run, knowing full well that all 11 defenders want to give him their best shot, is another sign of fearlessness. And let's be honest, his desire to get under an opponents' skin with his in-game celebrations and taunts is the greatest evidence that he's simply not afraid of the consequences.  

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In fact, he's flat out daring the opponent to make him stop. 

Being fearless is a powerful attribute to have, and Newton uses that as a tool, knowing that the more frustrated he can make an opposing defense, the less focused they'll be. And that the less focused they are, the better chance he'll have to carve them up with his rocket arm and remarkable speed.

His fearless nature doesn't define him by any means. His elite talent and flamboyant personality are a big part of him too. But it surely completes him as the ultimate football package. It allows Cam Newton to command the game every time he's on the field.

A football field that is. Because wouldn't you know, Newton didn't develop that same fearless nature in every sport he played as a youth. In fact, as we learned in an interview with ESPN The Magazine in 2013, and were reminded on Friday by Cut 4's Chris Landers, Newton's inability to do so on the baseball field is the reason he walked away at age 14.  

I quit baseball at 14 because I was afraid of the pitches. The kids started getting better and throwing faster, and it would've hurt getting hit by that ball, so I stopped playing.

Cam Newton can throw a fastball with precision to his All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen, but facing one on a baseball field is an entirely different story.

Granted, Newton is far from alone in this thinking. It can be intimidating and sometimes downright scary to stand in against a hard-throwing pitcher, especially one who's looked a little wild or inconsistent during warm ups. And as many of us can vouch, being hit by a baseball really does hurt. But could it possibly be any scarier or more painful than the life and career Newton has chosen in the NFL?

Maybe, maybe not. Only Newton knows for sure how he feels about it. But for those of us who don't know the difference, it's an interesting point to ponder.

One thing does seem clear though: When he played baseball, Cam Newton loved it.

Around age 9, I played baseball too. I played center field because I loved Ken Griffey Jr. I was always a pretty good athlete, so my coach would shuffle me around to third base or shortstop, which was fine with me. This was when the Braves were good, and they had Chipper Jones, and I was also a big fan of Derek Jeter's. Those pickup, backyard games were the most fun -- just those warm nights in the South where you smell the fresh-cut grass and walk home exhausted. Those nights were the best.

Another thing that's clear: He picked the right sport.

[Homer History: When Reggie Jackson cemented himself as Mr. October]

As a Heisman Trophy winner, potential NFL MVP and possible Super Bowl winning quarterback, he is on the verge of accomplishing all that's desired in a football career. His body will pay the price for that, just as every football player's body does, but the level of comfort he feels and superiority he enjoys obviously makes it worth his while. 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 6, 2016, 7:27 pm

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In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, Yahoo Sports editor Joey Gulino tells the tale of Tony Fernandez's clutch extra-innings blast.

You know who Tony Fernandez is. I know who Tony Fernandez is. You don’t even have to be a baseball fan to know who Tony Fernandez is.

(Tony Fernandez helps propel the Indians to the World Series)He’s definitely not known as a home run hitter. He finished his 17-year career with just 94 homers, and never more than 11 in a season. One might wonder why he's featured in a series such as this.

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To many, he’s the guy whose injury led to the Yankees calling up Derek Jeter for the very first time. To others, he’s the guy whose error put Craig Counsell on base to score the winning run in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.

That’s where this story begins, because that’s where the Indians’ season ended. Counsell’s innocuous three-hopper snuck under the glove of Fernandez and into ignominy. It was a play the four-time Gold Glover had made countless times before, but one he couldn’t make this time.

Thanks in part to Fernandez, the Indians lost the World Series. Without his home run 11 days earlier, they might not have been there in the first place.

****

Overcast skies and chilly air enveloped Camden Yards on Oct. 15, 1997, but the Indians’ disposition was as warm as could be.

During batting practice before Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Fernandez gleefully pummeled baseballs all over the park. He wasn’t going to start that night against the Orioles – manager Mike Hargrove preferred the speed of Bip Roberts at the top of the order – but the 14-year veteran went about his routine.

“I told Bip, ‘I’m not a little guy, get away from those balls,’” Fernandez said. “You know how ball players joke around.”

[Homer History: The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October]

The jokes stopped, however, when Fernandez lined one of those balls right at Roberts and accidentally injured his left thumb.

“I knew it was bad right away,” Roberts later recalled.

A painkiller shot and several grip changes couldn’t fix things. Suddenly Fernandez was back in the lineup, hitting second and starting at second against the team he nearly signed with the previous offseason.

(AP Images)Baltimore’s Mike Mussina was on the mound, and the Tribe’s prospects seemed dire, considering Mussina set an LCS record with 15 strikeouts in his prior start in the series. Mussina didn’t disappoint, striking out 10 and yielding just one hit through eight innings of work.

“Mike Mussina dominated us,” Hargrove conceded. “He was absolutely outstanding.”

Things were a lot messier for Indians starter Charles Nagy, as the Orioles put runners in scoring position in all but one inning he pitched. Still, Nagy didn’t give up any runs, either. Heading into extras, the scoreboard had zeroes on it.

Before long, the scoreboard would have a ball hit by Fernandez on top of it.

****

Despite trading scoreless innings with Baltimore, a glimmer of hope remained for the Tribe in that they’d turn the lineup over in the 11th.

When Orioles reliever Armando Benitez quickly retired the first two batters, it brought Fernandez to the plate.

Fernandez and Benitez actually hail from the same town in the Dominican Republic, though Fernandez confessed he didn’t know much about Benitez, who was 10 years his junior.

There wasn’t much to know. Benitez threw smoke, and he threw it hard. But he missed on his first two pitches, and he wasn’t thrilled with the call on the second.

“He threw me a pitch outside,” Fernandez said. “He complained a little bit, and I motioned to him that it was outside.”

Benitez then opted to try his second-best pitch, a slider, which had too much force behind it and hung over the plate. Fernandez drove it deep into right field, where it bounced backward off the seats above the scoreboard.

The contact was clean. The crowd was quieted.

The series, effectively, was over.

(Getty)“I knew something special was going to happen tonight,” Fernandez said at the time, “but I couldn’t tell you I was going to hit a home run.”

Neither could anyone else, really. Fernandez had never hit a postseason home run before, and the career .288 hitter was far better at piecing together runs than bombing them home in one fell swing.

[Elsewhere: Mookie Betts is great at bowling too]

“I’m a genius, aren’t I?” Hargrove joked. “It’s an absolutely fantastic story.”

The Orioles became the first team in Major League history to fail to reach the World Series after spending every day of the season in first place. Cleveland’s story wouldn’t have a happy ending, either, thanks to the Florida Marlins.

Fernandez spent three more seasons in the big leagues and one in Japan before retiring. He left baseball with five All-Star appearances and a World Series ring from 1993 with Toronto.

Blue Jays fans remember him as one of the franchise greats. Others remember him as the guy Derek Jeter replaced.

Indians fans remember him for that signature blast in 1997.

“This is what you dream about as a kid,” Fernandez said. “I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe the Lord wanted this to happen.”

COMING SUNDAYDave Kingman takes a ball way out of Wrigley Field during an offensive explosion.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)
- The night Reggie Jackson became Mr. October (by Scott Pianowski)

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Author: Joey Gulino
Posted: February 6, 2016, 5:31 pm

(AP)The Chicago Cubs and defending NL CY Young award winner Jake Arrieta avoided arbitration late Friday night, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season.

The Associated Press first reported the agreement, also noting it to be the largest one-year contract for a second-time arbitration eligible pitcher, topping David Price's $10.1 million salary in 2013. 

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The two sides were scheduled to hold what would have been a high-stakes arbitration hearing on Tuesday had they not reached this agreement. Arrieta filed at $13 million, while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million. The $5.5 million difference marked the largest gap among players who did not come to terms with their respective teams by the January deadline. 

In that regard, it's a slight win for Arrieta, as he'll take home $450,000 above the midpoint. But it could be seen as a win for both sides, as they were able to avoid the unnecessary and sometimes unpredictable drama that goes along with an arbitration hearing. 

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean the drama is all together over either. Sure, both sides will be able to shift their focus to the 2016 season in the short-term, but questions about a long-term extension for the 30-year-old right-hander will continue to loom. 

As it stands now, Arrieta is eligible for arbitration one final time next winter before hitting free agency following the 2017 season. There's no real hurry for the Cubs to act, but they will certainly have to weigh what Arrieta's value could be in arbitration next winter, as well as his long-term value to them as a pitcher in his 30s. And yes, his age does complicate things a bit, but a continuation of the dominance he's shown the past two seasons would trump everything else come negotiating time.   

As CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney notes, it's difficult to see the Cubs buying in all the way at an absolute high point, which is where Arrieta is now coming off a 22-win season where he posted a sparkling 1.77 ERA.. But by the same token, a hometown discount isn't coming either. Not with super-agent Scott Boras serving as Arrieta's representation. That would indicate a stalemate at the present time that will either work itself out or grow more complicated over the next 12-18 months. 

[Elsewhere: Pete Rose appears in ad for sports betting app]

That's the gamble both sides will take, because it's really the only option that exists. That is, of course, unless Arrieta overrules his agent.   

Hey, anything is possible. After all, Chicago is the place where Arrieta's floundering career got on track. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were the people who saw something in him when they acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, and they put people around him who helped him develop into something that went beyond everybody's highest expectations. 

There's no doubt the relationship has been mutually beneficial, as it's helped both sides experience a rebirth of sorts. It will continue to be at least cordial following Friday's agreement.  Now we'll wait to see if there's a price that can make it last.  

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 6, 2016, 7:10 am

After MLB commissioner Rob Manfred emphatically rejected Pete Rose's bid for reinstatement, it appears the all-time hit king could not care less about protecting his image.  

In a local Las Vegas ad scheduled to air during Sunday's Super Bowl, Rose appears to help promote the William Hill mobile sports wagering app, which allows gamblers to place bets from a smart phone or tablet computer. That includes on baseball games, which is driven home at the end of the ad, and even while the games are still going on. 

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Indeed, no reference to Rose's betting on baseball is left unsaid, which is pretty impressive for a 30-second spot. 

Starring alongside former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Rose sits in the dark quietly throughout most of the ad, but he does get to blurt out, "You sure this won't get me in any trouble?"

Nah, you're good, Pete. The dead horse is dead. 

To be honest, it's a clever, if not obvious decision to include Rose in such an ad from the William Hill side. Rose's history speaks for itself, and his presence will bring attention to the product ranging far beyond the target audience in Nevada. 

William Hill US CEO Joe Asher tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal they didn't have to do much to twist Rose's arm either, so it worked out quite well for them. 

"We thought he would be great in the spot," Asher was quoted as saying. 

It should really come as no surprise that Rose was so willing. He has an odd sense of humor after all, and at this point there's really nothing left to lose. 

[Elsewhere: Smokeless tobacco could be banned at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field]

Well, aside from maybe his Hall of Fame bid, but that would require some changes to the entry policy. As it stands right now, players on the league's permanently ineligible list are ineligible, but Manfred did at least suggest that could be reconsidered. 

For it to be reconsidered on Rose's behalf, he'll have to make better decisions than this one. He is a gambling man though, so maybe this one will pay off a little better than the others. 

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 6, 2016, 5:07 am

(AP)Welcome to The Stew's Hot Stove Digest, our daily rundown of MLB news, rumors and gossip for Hot Stove season. Here you'll find a recap of all the day's action and other fun stuff from around the Internet.

EXPENSIVE: The Giants have talked to Juan Uribe about a reserve role, but his current asking price is out of their range. [@Buster_ESPN]

EXTENSION TALKS: The Blue Jays will explore extensions for sluggers Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. [ESPN]

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SWEET LOU: The Reds have hired Lou Piniella to serve in a consulting capacity as a senior advisor. [@johnfayman]

DONE DEAL: Zach Britton avoided arbitration with the Orioles, agreeing to a one-year, $6.75 million contract. [@JonHeyman]

INTERESTED: The Diamondbacks have veteran reliever Tyler Clippard atop their free-agent wishlist. [@BNightengale]

ALSO INTERESTED: The Rays are also considering Tyler Clippard as a late addition to their bullpen. [@TBTimes_Rays]

HEARING RESULT: Reliever J.J. Hoover won his arbitration case agianst the Reds. He'll earn a $1.4 million salary this season. [@JonHeyman]

HOMER HISTORY: Scott Pianowski looks back at the night Reggie Jackson cemented himself as Mr. October. [The Stew]

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Take a look back at Hank Aaron's greatest feats on his 82nd birthday. [MLB.com]

TIMMAY: The Orioles still need pitching, and Tim Lincecum is on their radar. [Baltimore Sun]

CLAIMED: The Angels claimed left-hander Christian Friedrich off waivers from the Rockies. Infielder Taylor Featherston was designated for assignment in the corresponding move. [@JeffFletcherOCR]

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 6, 2016, 2:36 am

(AP)In October, California Gov. Jerry Brown took a huge step in the battle to eliminate smokeless tobacco from Major League Baseball by signing a bill that bans its use in each of the state's five major-league ballparks.

That came on the heels of the Boston City Council voting unanimously to ban smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products at all professional and amateur sports venues, which included Fenway Park.

Now New York seems prepared to follow suit after a similar bill was introduced Friday that would ultimately ban smokeless tobacco from public venues. 

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According to the New York Times, Corey Johnson, a New York City Council member, prepared the bill and included language that aimed to ban smokeless tobacco from public areas in each of New York's five boroughs. That would include Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, meaning if the bill is passed smokeless tobacco would be banned at eight of MLB's 30 stadiums.

Today I am introducing a bill to prohibit smokeless tobacco at #baseball stadiums & other ticketed sporting venues: https://t.co/LOrrB1MklP

— Corey Johnson (@CoreyinNYC) February 5, 2016
““If New York passes this bill, and I think it will, it moves us dramatically closer to the day when smokeless tobacco is prohibited in all major league cities,” said Matthew Myers, the president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids."
Both the Yankees and the Mets have told Johnson that they would support the bill, and the councilman is confident that the full Council will support the legislation. New York has been at the forefront of several health initiatives, including smoking bans, various posting requirements for food establishments and a failed attempt to ban big sodas.
In the previous three cities to pass similar legislation — San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston — the bills all were approved unanimously.
Mr. Johnson said he hoped to have his bill quickly approved and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio so it could be in effect by opening day in early April. Mr. Johnson, the chairman of the Council’s Committee on Health, said he intends to hold a hearing on the bill by the end of February.

If passed, those who violate the law will be ejected from the stadium premises.

Baseball has made its own effort to curb tobacco use in the past, even banning it from the minor-league level all together. It remains legal in MLB, although players are told it can't be used while cameras are present. If it is visible, warnings and fines are to be handed out, though there's always concern about how seriously those rules are followed and ultimately enforced.

The movement to ban tobacco outright gained new momentum following the death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in 2014. Gwynn battled cancer of the salivary glands, which many attributed to his prolonged use of chewing tobacco, or what's referred to as "dipping" by lodging it between the lip and the gum.

With proposed bills such as this one from Councilman Johnson in New York and the bill proposed by Tony Thurmond, a state assembly member in California, which was later approved by Gov. Brown, the league and the player's union should find it a little easier to move forward with a rule that encompasses MLB.

With that in mind, there will always be those who will argue the merits of regulating the otherwise legal behavior of consenting adults. But there is and should be a bigger focus on athletes because of the influence they can have on the kids who look up to them. Every step that can be taken to distance or flat out remove tobacco from the game and the subconscious of those who watch is a step worth taking.  

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 6, 2016, 12:26 am

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)When you're a young franchise cornerstone player, the type who can lead a team to the World Series and contend for the MVP award on a yearly basis, fans would prefer you spend your offseason encased in bubblewrap. The last thing they want to see you do is get hurt playing a different sport, or jumping on a trampoline or carry deer meat up the stairs. 

We here at The Stew can understand those concerns, but we also acknowledge that athletes should be allowed to have a normal, fun life outside of their sport. With that said, if we were Chicago Cubs fans, we might be a little concerned about Kris Bryant's offseason hobbies.

Yeah, everything about that video terrifies us. That shark not only swims right at Bryant, but it's also unclear whether the 24-year-old is in a cage. Is he actually just out in the open water with sharks! Why would anyone do that?

Fear not, Cubs fans, Bryant appears to have survived the event. He posted another picture from his Instagram account a few hours later, so we're assumed he made it out alive. 

We're not actually outraged at Bryant, by the way. He's a grown up and he's allowed to make his own decisions. What he does with his off time is his choice. We just wish he would pick a safer hobby.

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 5, 2016, 10:52 pm

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Kevin Kiermaier probably slept like a hibernating bear Thursday night after attempting to eat a a steak that likely weighed more than the bat he swings during the season.

Kiermaier took on an eating challenge for charity at Smokey Bones restaurant in Clearwater, Fla., where he attempted to eat a 35-ounce smoked ribeye dinner which includes two side salads, two plates of broccoli, two baked potatoes and the restaurant’s signature Hot Bag O’ Donuts.

#Rays @KKiermaier39 was not up to the challenge of @SmokeyBonesBar 35-ounce steak in a charity event (photo special) pic.twitter.com/E9mDLJsXSb

— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 5, 2016

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Mmmmmm, donuts.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Gold Glove winner wasn’t able to finish it all, but his effort earned $4,000 for the Friends of Joshua House Foundation, which provides safe havens for abandoned, abused and neglected children.

[David Price gives $300K for special-needs ballpark in his hometown]

Kiermaier predicted ahead of time that he wouldn’t finish the gigantic meal but he was determined to give it his best try to help children who really need it, which is awesome.

"I'm trying to stay in shape," Kiermaier told MLB.com. "I want to steal some bases this year. I don't need this little food baby showing in my stomach."

He participated in the challenge with a full-house of fans supporting him and stuck around afterward with a fully belly to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.

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Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: February 5, 2016, 10:34 pm

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In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, Yahoo Sports fantasy writer Scott Pianowski recalls Reggie Jackson's incredible Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.

“Oh, what a blow! What a way to top it off! Forget about who the most valuable player is in the World Series! How this man has responded to pressure! Oh, what a beam on his face -- how can you blame him? He’s answered the whole world! . . . What a colossal blow!"

-- ABC's Howell Cosell, describing Reggie Jackson's third home run in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series

(Yahoo Sports / AP)I’ve seen this home run about 1000 times (say 700 on tape, 300 in my head) and it just occurs to me now: Howard Cosell and Reggie Jackson probably peaked at the same time, on this majestic World Series-wrapping homer. Cosell is running amok, overshadowing his boothmates like an oversized dump truck.

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Otherwise, baseball in 1977 pretty much belonged to Reggie Jackson, though it took a whole for him to get there. Ebb and flow, timing and space, arrogance and insecurity, hot print and sound bytes. And then he seals it all with a 475-foot jack, a freshly-minted nickname, and the biggest city in the world eating out of his hand.

Keep those final images in your mind. It’s going to take a while before we get back to it.

• • •

Let’s establish a few things up front. I was born in New England, two years after the Impossible Dream, grew up in the 01824. I was sports crazy, baseball crazy and Red Sox crazy from an early age. Any time my parents told us they had a surprise in store, I quickly blurted out something baseball related (and pouted at most other results). Later in my adult life, I named a dog “Fenway.” There can’t be any mistaking where my rooting interests lie.

And yet, Reggie Jackson was my favorite player.

It wasn’t easy to be a fan of an out-of-town player in the 1970s. There were no nightly highlight shows (the 2-3 minutes on the late local news doesn’t count, especially for a kid), no Extra Innings package, no Internet gateway. Baseball cards, the All-Star Game, This Week in Baseball, the Game of the Week — that’s how you became familiar with your heroes. The newspaper was another lifeline, especially the Sunday edition where every player's stats were listed. (And no one was learning and memorizing stats for their yet-to-be-invented roto league; you wanted to know the numbers simply for the sake of knowing them.)

(AP)The 1976 MLB season was my first all-in season. I collected and traded baseball cards, studied the Boston Globe sports section daily. My first All-Pro Baseball Stars came the next spring, the 1977 preview edition. Mark Fidrych on the cover. Reggie Jackson was photographed in the middle of the book, clad in that funky Baltimore garb. Jackson as an Oriole never made much sense, then or now. After his one season there, he became a featured item in the first big batch of free agents.

The Yankees won the AL pennant in 1976 and were eager to spend to further improve after their World Series wipeout, but Jackson wasn’t the primary name on their radar. New York took dead aim at infielder Bobby Grich, imaging him shifting back to shortstop and replacing Fred Stanley. A starting pitcher was also desired, starting with Cincinnati’s Don Gullett. Jackson was merely the sixth of nine players the Yankees drafted in November — up to 12 teams could acquire negotiating rights per the system at the time — and he wasn’t an obvious fit for the returning club. The 1976 Yankees already had five regular left-handed batters in the lineup, including Graig Nettles, the reigning home-run champion.

Signing Gullett turned out to be a snap, but Grich had his heart set on California and eventually settled west, along with Joe Rudi and Don Baylor. With plenty of money left to spend (and perhaps some face to save), owner George Steinbrenner turned his eyes and his checkbook towards Jackson. Rather quickly, they came together on a five-year deal, just under $3 million. Jackson was 30, with 281 home runs and three championship rings (all from Oakland) in his back pocket.

Contradictions make for the most fascinating characters, and the 1977 Yankees were loaded with them. Steinbrenner, the boisterous, meddling, high-spending owner. Martin, forever the underdog, the scrappy, shrewd and insecure manager. Jackson, a rich, proud, arrogant but sensitive man, well compensated but unsure how he fit into the scheme of the club. Thurman Munson, another complicated man — fresh off the 1976 AL MVP, proud but insecure, as Jackson was. Munson didn’t have Reggie’s gift of gab (or the wit of a Nettles, say), but he could rattle off a handy line now and then. Like the time he tagged Jackson with the Mr. October nickname, tongue-in-cheek. Before it was promotion, it was pejorative.

We’ll get there. These Reggie Jackson stories need time to develop.

• • •

“The thing you have to understand about Reggie is he wants everyone to love him.” — Catfish Hunter, longtime Jackson teammate with the As and Yankees

(SI Vault)The clubhouse Jackson entered in the spring of 1977 was a frosty one. Some of the Yanks were surely jealous of Jackson’s contract. Others were turned off by his personality. For most of the spring, Jackson wondered if he had signed with the wrong team; he openly asked the question in a May issue of Sports Illustrated, innocuously but clearly. Many of his teammates maintained a standoffish approach to Jackson. It wasn’t necessary a team in chaos, but it wasn’t a clubhouse of harmony, either.

[Related: Larry King recalls the shot heard 'round the world]

And then all hell broke loose in late May and into June.

A spring training interview between Jackson and free-lancer Robert Ward turned into a bombastic article, “Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land.” The article appeared in the June issue of Sport, released in late May.

Jackson maintained (and still maintains) Ward misquoted him. No one seems to agree with Jackson. When the misquoting angle was presented to Munson, he immediately shot back “For four [freaking] pages?”

Here’s the key passage in the article.

"You know," Jackson says, "this team… it all flows from me. I've got to keep it all going. I'm the straw that stirs the drink. It all comes back to me. Maybe I should say me and Munson… but really he doesn't enter into it. He's being so damned insecure about the whole thing. I've overheard him talking about me."

Later in the article, Jackson continued.

“The way the Yankees were humiliated by the Reds? You think that doesn't bother Billy Martin? He's no fool. He's smart. Very smart. And he's a winner. Munson's tough, too. He is a winner, but there is just nobody who can do for a club what I can do... There is nobody who can put meat in the seats [fans in the stands] the way I can. That's just the way it is… Munson thinks he can be the straw that stirs the drink, but he can only stir it bad."

Jackson homered the night the Sport issue came out, then made a beeline to the corner of the dugout, eschewing team handshakes. Sensitive to perceived slights and how he felt the team was being frozen out, his result was to get defensive. Later, he’d blame the incidence on a minor injury. A cold war of sorts broke out between Munson and Jackson for a few weeks — Jackson tried to reach out to Munson, slap his hand after big plays, and Munson would routinely ignore the gesture. You can’t make all this stuff up.

Three weeks later in Boston, tensions hit a new high. Jackson appeared to loaf after a Jim Rice check-swing to right field in the bottom of the sixth, turning a harmless single into a hustling double. Irate, Billy Martin replaced Jackson in the middle of the inning, concurrent with a pitching change. Martin then physically challenged Jackson in the dugout, be it for show or for real. Martin had danced around his Jackson ambivalence for months, but finally he was sick of hiding it. A few coaches had to come between Martin and Jackson.

Somehow, the Yankees smoothed this all over. Somehow, incredibly, Martin didn’t get fired, nor did Jackson encounter any discipline. Jackson and Martin and management all agreed to coexist, on some level, for the balance of the season.

• • •

When Jackson came to New York, he imagined himself as the No. 4 hitter, the cleanup man. That’s where the big power hitter usually slots, he figured. Big swing, big bat, big contract, drive in the big runs. He even had a fresh new Cadillac number, 44.

Surely no coincidence, Martin slotted Jackson just about everywhere but fourth. Jackson hit fifth on Opening Day, third for most of April, sixth occasionally, even second once. In New York’s first 109 games, Jackson batted cleanup just 10 times. Occasionally he’d DH, and occasionally he’d leave for late-inning defense replacement.

[Elsewhere: An Indians minor-league club is giving out a Willie Mays Hayes bobblehead]

Martin insisted that Jackson wasn’t a great fit for the cleanup spot given how much the Yankees ran. The skipper didn’t want a big strikeout source in the No. 4 position. That’s one way to spin things, but Martin was also making it clear he would accept Jackson but on his terms. Martin felt threatened by the relationship between Steinbrenner and Jackson, and this was one way at striking back, marking territory, holding control.

Some of Jackson’s teammates could see the forest for the trees. Lou Piniella and Munson privately politicked for Jackson to hit fourth. Nettles was on board, too. Martin finally relented on Aug. 10 and the Yankees, not coincidentally, went on a tear from there. Jackson posted a .288/.397/.576 slash with 13 homers and 49 RBIs over his final 51 games, with the Yanks winning 38 of them. New York had its second straight AL East title.

The Yankees pulled a great escape in the ALCS, rallying past the Royals in five games, but Jackson had little to do with the win, mired in a 2-for-16 slump. Martin didn’t even start Jackson in the deciding Game 5, stubbornly sitting him against K.C. lefty Paul Splittorff. Jackson did contribute a pinch-single in the eighth, helping to jump-start the New York comeback.

So things weren’t hunky-dory as Jackson and the Yanks moved to the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers. Munson also played along; when tangentially asked about Jackson during an interview, he sarcastically shot back “Why don’t you ask Mr. October?” With Jackson hitting .125 at the time, Munson surely wasn’t complimenting his teammate.

Reggie and Billy before Game 3 (Lennox McClendon, AP)And when Jackson openly criticized some of Martin’s pitching choices in Game 2, it created another tempest in a teapot. Martin had already said Jackson would start the entire series, but now he was considering a change for Game 3, with lefty Tommy John on the mound for LA. Ultimately Martin pulled back — perhaps because a contrite Jackson read an apologetic note, written by team management — and the Yankees were rewarded. Jackson was locked in for the rest of the series.

The run started in Game 3, with Jackson reaching base twice and scoring two runs in a 5-3 victory over John. He added a homer a day later, sparking Ron Guidry’s 4-2 victory at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers shot back with a 10-4 win the following day, behind Don Sutton, though Munson and Jackson homered back-to-back in the eighth inning. With that, the teams headed back to Yankee Stadium.

Batters are supposed to clobber the ball in batting practice. The idea is to lay a nothing pitch into the zone, let them sock it around. That said, everyone who watched Jackson take batting practice prior to Game 6 had a “wow” moment etched into their memory. Jackson deposited between 20-30 balls in the right field seats, depending on whose account you trust, and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

[Elsewhere: Casting "American Crime Story" season two: Baseball's PED scandal]

“Save some of that for the game,” Willie Randolph, forever the supportive teammate, laughed to Reggie. Don’t worry, Jackson said, there’s plenty left over.

Jackson didn’t get anything to hit in his first plate appearance, walking on four straight Burt Hooton pitches. Chris Chambliss followed with a home run, squaring the score at 2-2. After that, it turned into the Reggie Show.

Hooton tried to sneak an inside fastball by Jackson in the fourth but caught too much of the plate. Reggie turned on it and hit a searing line drive to the right-field seats. The Yankees had a lead they would never relinquish.

Reliever Elias Sosa was on for the fifth and tried that inside corner again. Jackson hopped on the offering, unleashing a frozen rope that snuck into the first row of the right field bleachers. Two swings, two iron shots, two trots around the bases. And now the Yankees had a commanding 7-3 lead.

Jackson probably had the MVP Award sewn up before his final at-bat, though pitcher Mike Torrez (on his way to a second victory) might have had a say in that. But any uncertainty went out the window when Jackson came to plate in the eighth. Charlie Hough was mopping up for LA, a welcome sight for Jackson. He always felt comfortable against knuckleball pitchers.

Let the image play in your mind, or roll the tape again. It’s go-time.

(AP)I’m glad the center field seats were empty at this time — Jackson’s titanic third homer needed to fully land so we could appreciate it more. Look at it bouncing around, nowhere remotely close to the field of play. Look at Jackson’s exuberant gait as he rambles around the bases, hopping on air. Listen to Cosell commandeer the microphone ABC colleagues (Keith Jackson, Tom Seaver) — ironic, when you consider how similar Howard and Reggie were in approach and delivery.

Three swings, three home runs for Jackson. If you back it up to the fifth game, it’s four swings, four home runs. Mr. October, indeed. Start making those candy bars.

Jackson firmly accentuated the Mr. October brand the following fall, with four home runs and a .417/.511/.806 slash over 10 games, en route to another World Series ring. He also homered in the regular-season playoff game at Boston, a bomb to center field that stood as the winning run. Shortly after that titanic shot — another blast to dead-center field, by the way — a disconsolate nine-year-old Red Sox fan gave up on the game, went to his backyard to play Wiffle Ball.

[Elsewhere: StewPod: Which team won the offseason?]

That was me. I knew when I was beat. And if you went up against Reggie Jackson in the autumns of the 1970s, he didn’t lose very often.

COMING SATURDAY: The unlikely Tony Fernandez blast that sent the Cleveland Indians to the World Series in 1997.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)
- Shane Robinson and the home run on one predicted (by Tim Brown)
- The shot heard 'round the world (by Larry King)

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Author: Scott Pianowski
Posted: February 5, 2016, 8:01 pm

(MLB.com video)Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts has a bright baseball future ahead of him. The 23-year-old broke out last season, slashing .291/.341/.479 while playing a strong center field. Betts even managed to pick up two down ballot MVP votes for his efforts.

The point is, Mookie Betts is already pretty good at his job. And if he's able to progress like most players, he might even challenge for an MVP award one day. We can't wait to see how he performs moving forward.

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That said, if Betts ever got tired of being excellent at baseball, he could still make it as a professional athlete. Betts participated in the World Series of Bowling this offseason, where he put up some impressive numbers

For most athletes, that would be a big enough accomplishment. Merely being good enough to be considered a professional in two sports is a high honor. Betts isn't just "good enough" at bowling, though, he's pretty exceptional.

That's the final frame of Betts bowling a perfect game. That's one heck of an accomplishment.

Or ... at least, it would be for a mere mortal. You see, none of this is new to Betts. This is actually the second time he's bowled a perfect game. The first came two weeks ago!

Please keep doing baseball for now, Mookie Betts. But if you ever get bored at being too good at that, you have a nice fall back in bowling.

Actually, you're probably too good at bowling. Have you considered taking up fencing yet? That might be a challenge.

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 5, 2016, 7:07 pm

Before he became one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, a multimillionaire and a Cy Young Award winner, David Price was a young man with big dreams growing up in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He returned to that community Thursday to give a little back. Pitcher David Price is preparing for his first season with the Boston Red Sox.

Price donated $300,000 to help build a Miracle Field at McKnight Park on the north side of the city to give children with special needs a place to play baseball. There are actually two fields planned for the project as well as a playground with a rubberized surface. Price used to play some of his games at McKnight Park when he was a kid.

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The Miracle Field can be used by people in wheelchairs and will feature lights, covered seating and dugouts as well as a concession building with bathrooms and showers and a scoreboard.

“One day of a couple of hours of baseball doesn’t raise a lot of eyebrows for myself or a lot of other people, but for these kids it’s something they look forward to every day of the week leading up till Saturday,” Price told The Tennessean. “Just to be a part of that and help put one here in our hometown is very special.”

.@DAVIDprice24 gets the key to the city and Project 14 makes a pledge of $300,000 to the Miracle Field today! pic.twitter.com/b93dVdsc6C

— Tammy Boclair (@TammyBoclair) February 4, 2016

It's been a whirlwind year for Price who started last season with the Detroit Tigers and was traded to Toronto, where he helped the Blue Jays reach the American League Championship Series. He has since signed as a free agent with Boston for $217 million over seven years.

[Casting 'American Crime Story' season 2: baseball's PED scandal]

Price said he first became involved with The Miracle League in 2012 when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. Get a better idea of what a Miracle Field looks like here. Getting back to his roots and doing something so beneficial for a community close to his heart probably felt great for Price, who will begin his first season with the Red Sox later this month when he reports for spring training.

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Kyle Ringo is a contributing writer to Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: February 5, 2016, 6:46 pm

(AP Images)The baseball offseason is in full swing. News is scarce, rumors have died down and the days seem longer than usual. 

In order to get through these tough times, many turn to the comfort of television. One of the most hyped shows of the offseason has been FX's "American Crime Story." The first season, titled "The People Vs. O.J. Simpson," focuses on the trial of the former Buffalo Bills running back. 

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The series has been hyped for a number of reasons. Simpson's trial was an insane spectacle in the '90s, and remains one of the craziest sports stories to emerge from that time. Not only that, but the show features an interesting cast. John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Schwimmer all play prominent roles.

What's neat about the format of the show is that the topic will change each season. Season one is about O.J. Simpson, but season two will be about an entirely different thing.

That got us here at The Stew thinking: What if American Crime Story season two focused on baseball? The biggest scandal of the past 20 years or so was probably PED use and the steroid era. And the biggest part of that was probably the congressional hearings on steroids in 2005.

We think this is a tremendous idea, and FX is free to use it. But we're not just going to stop there. We've decided to take the next step and actually cast the series. Who do we think should play former commissioner Bud Selig and the big, bad gang of accused baseball players? You're about to find out.

(Diesel/Canseco)

VIN DIESEL AS JUICED AUTHOR JOSE CANSECO
Diesel turns in the performance of a lifetime as the tortured Jose Canseco. Canseco's book "Juiced" exposed steroid use in the majors, but made him an outcast within the game. That book was one of the biggest reasons for the hearings, and nearly every ballplayer in attendance had to deny allegations Canseco made in the novel. Diesel already has the body type to play Canseco, and we think he could pull off a wig. It also gives him the chance to back away from action movies for a minute and take on a role with some depth. Imagine the wide range of emotions Diesel will show as his former teammates trash him in the courtroom. Think about him delivering impassioned statements to Congress about his own steroid use. This is the role that wins Diesel numerous awards. 

[Homer History: Larry King recalls the shot heard round the world]

(Larry King/Bud Selig)

LARRY KING AS FORMER MLB COMMISSIONER BUD SELIG
This suggestion, which must be begrudgingly attributed to The Stew's own Mike Oz, works on so many levels. First off, Larry King loves baseball. He's a big fan of the game and its history. He's also appeared in ... 63 shows(!) according to his IMDB page. King has mostly played himself or done voiceover work, but we think he'll be motivated by this new challenge. We also get the sense that Larry King could accurately muster up the confused looks Selig became famous for during his time as commissioner. If nothing else, King could probably perfectly recreate Selig's infamous "I can't hear you" pose in which he has holds his hand to his ear because he actually can't hear the person talking to him. Because Larry King is old. That's the joke. 

(Jimmy Smits/Rafael Palmeiro)

JIMMY SMITS AS BALTIMORE ORIOLES FIRST BASEMAN RAFAEL PALMEIRO
Palmeiro famously delivered the line "I have never used steroids. Period.," so we need someone who has some dramatic acting chops. Smits is our man. Over his career, he's done it all. He's been on NYPD Blue, The West Wing, Dexter and Sons of Anarchy. All those shows were critically acclaimed, and all were dramas. Smits has also shown off the ability to grow a pretty wicked mustache, and that's a requirement for anyone playing Palmeiro. 

(Alfonso Ribeiro/Sammy Sosa

ALFONSO RIBEIRO AS CHICAGO CUBS OUTFIELDER SAMMY SOSA
Sosa also had a big moment during the hearings. He testified through an interpreter that he did not use steroids. Sosa faced criticism for the move, with many saying he hid behind the interpreter so he wouldn't have to answer some of the questions posed to him. Ribeiro would have some speaking lines, but he would mostly have to act silently as Sosa sat in the courtroom and listened to his interpreter respond to questions. Anyone familiar with "The Carlton" knows Ribeiro is able to convey complex emotions without making a sound.

[Roundtable: What's the strangest baseball card you own]

(Taylor Kitsch/Roger Clemens)

TAYLOR KITSCH AS HOUSTON ASTROS PITCHER ROGER CLEMENS
Maybe it's the fact that Clemens is from Texas, or maybe it's the fact that he played for the Houston Astros at the time, but the phrase "Texas forever" kept popping into our heads on this one. That's why we've decided to go with Taylor Kitsch as Roger Clemens. Kitsch is no stranger to dramatic roles, but is probably looking to bounce back after True Detective: Season 2 was considered a dud. He's a little young for the role, but we still feel like he could pull it off. 

(Wreck-It Ralph/Mark McGwire)

WRECK-IT RALPH AS ST. LOUIS CARDINALS FIRST BASEMAN MARK MCGWIRE
Wreck-It Ralph knows a thing or two about resurrecting one's image, so we think he works as McGwire. Every ballplayer was vilified during the hearing, but McGwire has seen that image change the most since 2005. He, like Ralph, was able to shed his villainous label and become something more. During the hearings, McGwire often turned to the phrase, "I'm not here to talk about the past." Ralph can relate. Ralph also has experience destroying things, and that reminds us of McGwire getting a hold of fastball down the middle. 

(Terry Crews/Barry Bonds)

TERRY CREWS AS SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS OUTFIELDER BARRY BONDS
Bonds actually wasn't subpoenaed for these hearings, but it's not a show about PEDs in baseball without Bonds. This is simply a cameo appearance for Crews. At that point, Bonds had already been involved in the BALCO scandal, and was no stranger to appearing in court. Maybe a quick shot of Bonds working out while watching the congressional hearings in the background could work? Or maybe Bonds is on the phone with ...

(The Rock/Alex Rodriguez)

DWAYNE "THE ROCK" JOHNSON AS ALEX RODRIGUEZ
A-Rod also wasn't involved in these congressional hearings, but we need to get him a cameo appearance. We would really try to keep this casting a secret (so ignore what you just read). Fans would watch the show the first few weeks, wondering whether Rodriguez would actually make an appearance. Once Johnson is shown on screen and identified as the slugger, the people watching at home will go wild. The Rock is the perfect man to play A-Rod. He has confidence and bravado, and immediately draws attention when he's on screen. That's the version of A-Rod the fans deserve. And that's what we're going to give them. 

[Elsewhere: Vladimir Guerrero can still hit some bombs]

(Weird Al/Brian McNamee)

WEIRD AL YANKOVIC AS CLEMENS' TRAINER BRIAN MCNAMEE
McNamee had nothing to do with the 2005 congressional hearings, but we're including him here as another cameo. Perhaps the show will have a scene that features Clemens talking to McNamee at night, after spending a day at the hearings. The two didn't have a falling out until 2008, so maybe their scene together foreshadows what is to come.

(Guy Fieri/Greg Anderson)

GUY FIERI AS BONDS' TRAINER GREG ANDERSON
Like McNamee, Anderson played no role in the 2005 congressional hearings. Just months after the hearings, Anderson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering. He could possible be shown in a quick scene with Bonds, or maybe he's shown pleading guilty in one of the later episodes in the series. It would be Fieri's first acting role, so we don't want to put a ton of pressure on him.

(Carl from Up/Bernie Sanders)

CARL FROM "UP" AS VERMONT SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS
Yes, Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has ties to the 2005 congressional hearings on steroids in baseball. During the event, Sanders complained that the media had packed the courtroom to watch a couple baseball players talk about alleged steroid use, but ignored important things like child poverty. It's a small role for Carl, who is said to have retired from acting following "Up," but it's juicy enough to get him out to show off his skills again.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 5, 2016, 1:43 am

Proving once again that baseball has undying love for the fictional Cleveland Indians from the film "Major League," the Akron Rubber Ducks have announced they're giving away Willie Mays Hayes bobbleheads this season. Actually, it's a "bobblelegs" doll, according to the team.

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The Rubber Ducks (real name, we swear) are the Indians' Double-A affiliate, which we suppose gives them as much right as anybody to dig into "Major League" lure and give us more toys inspired by the 1989 classic. It's a classic to baseball fans, anyway.

The Ducks announced their promo calendar and it also includes bobbleheads for a few other fictional characters: Shooter McGavin from "Happy Gilmore" for one, and Miss Lippy from "Billy Madison." But we care more about "Major League," because what baseball fan wouldn't? The Rubber Ducks haven't yet unveiled what the Willie Mays Hayes bobble will look like and our mind can't help but wonder. 

[Previously: 15 things you didn't know about "Major League"]

Since it's a bobblelegs rather than a bobblehead, that narrows things down somewhat. Here are our best guesses/fingers-crossed hopes:

1. The most likely possibility is that it's Hayes leading off first base, knees bent and ready to steal. 

2. It could also be Hayes doing push-ups after hitting a pop-up. Though, it would probably need bobble-elbows too.

3. The least likely idea — but still our favorite — is a Willie Mays Hayes bobble in which he's sliding into second base but not quite making it. 

Whichever it is, you can rest assured, Rubber Ducks, that we want one and might be prepared to trek to Akron to get it.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 5, 2016, 1:26 am

This is The StewPod, our baseball podcast with a dash of pop culture. If you dig the show, please subscribe and review us on iTunes.

We're just a couple weeks from spring training, the major free agents have signed and baseball, more or less, is ready for its 2016 season. So, we have to ask: Which team won the offseason?

To "win the offseason" isn't always a good thing, mind you. Sometimes winning the offseason puts too heavy of expectations on a squad. Sometimes it seems to curse a team into a state of mediocrity. Sometimes, well sometimes, it really doesn't mean anything. 

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(AP)

Nonetheless, it's a thing that people talk about and this is a podcast on which people talk, so you see where we're going here.

On this week's StewPod, we're figuring out which MLB team won the offseason. We're also joined by our buddy Bad News Ramen for a Three Strikes segment, we have a litany of things to talk about in our Important Questions segment and we jam out to the new Hartford Yard Goats jingle. 

Here's a full rundown of this week's show:
• Chris' middle initial apparently isn't J
• The Yard Goats are our spirit animal
• What does it mean to "Win the Offseason?"
• OK, now which team Won the Offseason?
• Three Strikes with Bad News Ramen on Matt Harvey, Bryce Harper and Jonny Gomes
• Important questions on Home Run Derbys, casting the PED era and Martin Shkreli

[Music: "Absolutely" by Ra Ra Riot]

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 5, 2016, 12:14 am

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)A quick glance at the Baltimore Orioles roster may lead to some to believe the team hasn't done anything this offseason. That is, of course, not true. 

The Orioles most significant moves of the offseason involved bringing back their former players, giving the appearance that not much has changed when looking at their depth chart. Chris Davis was re-signed in order to retain excellent power in the order, and Darren O'Day returned to keep the excellent bullpen intact. 

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That wasn't the case in the rotation, where Wei-Yin Chen departed after receiving a five-year, $80 million deal from the Miami Marlins. While Chen wasn't an elite starter, he leaves a massive hole at the position. 

That's especially true when you consider the Orioles have done nothing to replace him. Davis replaced Davis on offense, O'Day replaced O'Day in the bullpen, but no one has replaced Chen in the rotation.

The club made an attempt to fix that Thursday, picking up Odrisamer Despaigne from the San Diego Padres. In exchange, Baltimore sent 19-year-old Jean Cosme to the Padres. Problem is, Despaigne isn't enough.

In his first taste of the majors, Despaigne was a bit of an enigma. Despite some iffy peripherals, he managed to post a strong 3.36 ERA. His 3.74 FIP suggested that, while he should have been a little worse, he was generally a pretty solid pitcher. 

The reason for his success may have been his craftiness and deception. Despaigne threw seven(!) different types of pitches his first year in the majors, according to Brooks Baseball. He wasn't getting hitters out with exceptional stuff, but he was the classic example of a guy who "knew how to pitch."

[Homer History: Larry King describes the shot heard round the world]

That ability left him in 2015. Or, perhaps more accurately, the league adjusted to his shenanigans. Despaigne saw his strikeout rate drop to just 12.6 percent, which is unacceptable for nearly every starting pitcher. On top of that, his home-run rate spiked. His 5.80 ERA did the same. Despaigne simply wasn't fooling anyone anymore. 

While a swap to a new league could help, Despaigne has a lot of things working against him in the American League. For one, he'll no longer have the luxury of facing a pitcher at the bottom of the order. Instead of seeing Clayton Kershaw at the plate, he'll have to deal with Alex Rodriguez. That's a staggering difference. 

On top of that, Camden Yards isn't a great place to go for someone with home run issues. While it should be noted that Petco Park actually favored home runs last year, Camden still allowed them at a higher rate according to StatCorner.com. A bad situation just got worse.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The same could be said of the Orioles rotation. Despaigne was presumably brought in to help in that area, though that's somewhat unclear. The Orioles have a bit of a jumbled mess at the bottom of their rotation at the moment. Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez seem like locks at the top, but then things become unclear.

Kevin Gausman has long been a promising prospect, and showed off some skills last season, but the team has always been hesitant to fully insert him into the rotation. He's been constantly shuttled between the rotation, bullpen and the minors over the past few seasons. It's assumed he'll finally get his full-time shot as a starter this season, but that's not a guarantee given his past.

The fifth spot could be where Despaigne fits. Mike Wright is currently penciled into that spot, but he was somehow worse than Despaigne in almost every way last year. The club also has former top prospect Dylan Bundy kicking around, but he's never fully recovered from shoulder issues. He's out of options, so it's now or never for the former ace prospect. 

[Elsewhere: Vladimir Guerrero can still destroy baseballs]

No matter what five the club settles on, it's clear that the rotation is still their biggest weakness. Despaigne may actually help, but that's only because the team's other options in the five spot are undesirable. And while the optimist might predict a resurgence, Despaigne isn't going to suddenly turn into a top-of-the-rotation guy. His upside is limited.

The Orioles did a fine job re-signing their elite players in the offseason. But it's the one guy they let go who is going to haunt them the most. Chen wasn't a bonafide No. 1, and he wasn't going to be the team's savior this year. But he was a dependable innings-eater who could post a strong ERA. After Thursday's trade they could still use someone like that. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: February 4, 2016, 7:30 pm

The Miami Marlins, baseball's version of your clumsy friend who trips over his shoelaces when he goes to the bathroom, have a great opportunity for their fans. They want them to pay $750 to join a Marlins player in a foursome. 

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Wait, so the Marlins want their fans ... OHHHHH, they're talking about golf. Got it.

That's an actual tweet the Marlins sent out Thursday morning. It was, of course, the fuel for many jokes and the Marlins quickly deleted it. Because, as anyone who surfs the modern Internet knows, you can't even type 69 in earnest anymore without the jokesters coming out. There was no way this "Foursome" thing wasn't getting messy.

The jokes were aplenty, some of which are still alive on the Internet even through the Marlins did their best to act like the gaffe never happened (which, to be fair, they have a lot of practice in).

@Marlins my wife left me so this would be comforting

I miss u Dianne

— AOL Keyword: Mike (@mikeFAIL) February 4, 2016

Probably have to check with my wife. I'll DM you if she's up for it. https://t.co/kCdTrGcPRA

— Marc Hochman (@MarcHochman) February 4, 2016

I'd totally make a foursome with Stanton, Jose Fernandez and, oh what the hell, Ichiro. @Marlins

— David Spiven (@oakfaninkc) February 4, 2016

#Marlins foursome:
Loria
Players who leave after a year
An empty stadium
A payroll that may be more questionable than the Mets

— Andrew H (@SNESVirtuoso) February 4, 2016

Giancarlo Stanton is totally getting injured in that Marlins foursome

— Jacob Szmuc (@jszmuc) February 4, 2016

.@Marlins pic.twitter.com/HcRwEk5wxC

— Mike (@PanicCityMike) February 4, 2016

There is a real golf tournament coming up — the third annual Jack McKeon classic — where, as the Marlins more specifically tweeted later, "a player will join each foursome of golfers." Time to polish up those 9-irons, folks.

BLS H/N: Slice Miami

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 4, 2016, 7:01 pm

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In our Homer History series, writers re-tell the stories of memorable home runs from their perspective. In this installment, famous baseball fan and TV icon Larry King tells us about one of baseball's most famous homers ever from his perspective — and it's not a joyous one. He hosts the Emmy-nominated Larry King Now and PoliticKING on OraTV. Follow him on Twitter, @KingsThings, and check out his podcast.

(AP)I’ve had a few dramatic home runs that have had an effect on me. One was Stan Musial’s home run in the 1949 All-Star Game at Ebbets Field — the only All-Star Game ever played at Ebbets Field. I wasn’t there, but I was listening on the radio.

Even though I was a Dodger fan, I was a great admirer of Stan Musial, who later in life I would meet on many occasions and interview.

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I witnessed, in person, two walk-off home runs in the same season by Andre Ethier for the Dodgers in Los Angeles. But, and this is a big but, the most dramatic home run in my life was also one of the saddest moments in my life. If not the saddest.

Oct. 3, 1951. Bobby Thomson’s home run to beat the Dodgers in the third game of the playoffs for the National League pennant.

We were ahead by 13 games in mid-August. The lead dwindled down and, at the end of 154 games, we were tied.

It was a three-game playoff. The first game was at Ebbets Field. The Giants won. The second game was at the Polo Grounds. The Dodgers won. The third game was also at the Polo Grounds.

The Dodgers were leading 4-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The Giants got a run in, had two men on base, one out. Rookie Willie Mays was on deck. Bobby Thomson came up to hit. I was listening on the radio at work.

When that home run was struck, I really contemplated suicide. My immediate thought was, “Life can’t go on.”

I’m 18 years old. This was my team. I loved this team. This was Jackie Robinson. This was Duke Snider. This was Pee Wee Reese. They brought me great joy in ’55 when they won the World Series. But that home run, there’s just no way to explain it.

(AP)

[Previously in Homer History: Shane Robinson's postseason blast no one saw coming]

I did not hear the Russ Hodges broadcast, which is the most famous, of course. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” That was broadcast on two stations. Red Barber was the Dodger announcer and I was listening to Red.

Red did a very interesting thing at the end. After announcing the home run and letting the crowd noise drown him out, he then said something like, “One-hundred and thirteen Americans were killed in Korea this week. Put it in perspective.”

It was a very interesting idea. I still couldn’t put it in perspective.

I had to take the subway home. I lived on Bay Parkway in Brooklyn. It was an elevated station. We had only one Giants fan in our neighborhood. His name was Davey Freed. I got off the train and as I’m walking down the stairs, Davey Freed is at the bottom of the stairs. All he did was laugh. He just laughed. 

Later in life, I would emcee a big dinner in New York honoring the ’51 Giants and Dodgers. I would have to bring to the stage both Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson on stage. Branca, who threw the pitch, and Thomson, who hit it. I looked Bobby Thomson square in the eyes and said, “I still hate you.” 

He laughed, heartedly. He was a wonderful guy.

I saw Branca last year at the scouts dinner here in L.A. I’m looking right now at a signed picture of Ralph Branca to me saying, “The Giants stole the pennant.”

(Getty Images)

It was later on revealed that the Giants had an employee in the bleachers signaling the hitters. That caused me even more anguish.

[Elsewhere: Check out the Dunk History series on Yahoo Sports]

So when I think of home runs, I’ve had some good ones. But the biggest one in my life was a tragedy that still, to this moment, brings me unbelievable emotional pain.

COMING FRIDAY: Yahoo Sports' Scott Pianowski recalls one of Reggie Jackson's most titanic postseason homers.

PREVIOUSLY IN HOMER HISTORY
The night a hobbled Kirk Gibson broke my heart (by Mike Oz)
Cal Ripken Jr. wowed us yet again on Iron Man night (by Lauren Shehadi)
When Albert Pujols silenced Minute Maid Park (by Jeff Passan)
Bill Mazeroski's great walk-off World Series winner (by Kevin Iole)
The Big Papi grand slam that still haunts Detroit (by Al Toby)
That time Joe Blanton hit a home run in the World Series (by Sam Cooper)
When Jim Leyritz halted hopes of a Braves dynasty (by Jay Busbee)
Bryce Harper and the home run almost no one saw (by Chris Cwik)

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Author: Big League Stew staff
Posted: February 4, 2016, 5:59 pm

Vladimir Guerrero played his last big-league game so long ago, he's eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. However, he can absolutely still lean on his incredible skills that wowed fans for years. Guerrero took the field again Wednesday for the inaugural Caribbean Series home run derby in the Dominican Republic and he didn't disappoint:

The majestic, gloveless swing of @VladGuerrero27 came back for one night on Wednesday: https://t.co/comZR2lyk0 pic.twitter.com/6oxPFTdaaF

— Cut4 (@Cut4) February 4, 2016

The same beautifully violent swing that produced 449 home runs, and led to nine All-Star game appearances, the 2004 American League MVP award and a MLB home run derby victory in 2007 hasn't changed one bit.

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The soon-to-be 41-year-old was ousted in the first round of the derby – won by former Reds minor-leaguer Felix Perez – after hitting three homers, but Guerrero told MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez that it was a thrilling night regardless:

"I had a great time tonight," Guerrero said. "I didn't think I was going to hit one home run, but thank God I hit three. It's been a while since I retired, and I'm really happy."

Now it's time for the next generation of Guerreros are getting ready to take over MLB. Vlad Jr. is a 16-year-old prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays. The elder Vlad's nephews Gregory, Jose and Gabriel are also working their way through the minors while Josue Guerrero is set to join them next year.

The Guerrero family pic.twitter.com/N0TCVnXrZG

— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) February 4, 2016

The derby was initially supposed to feature Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz and Robinson Cano, but they had to pull out due to concerns from the MLBPA. Instead, the fans in attendance were treated to a throwback performance from one of the best and most entertaining players of his generation who could very well be Cooperstown-bound very soon.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: February 4, 2016, 3:55 pm

If at first you don't succeed, try again. That's a very good mantra to live by in general, and it's a good mantra to live by in the world of business and marketing. With that said, credit the Binghamton Mets, a minor-league affiliate of the New York Mets, because they keep trying.

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After announcing 'Netflix & Chill' Night earlier this week — and perhaps not completely understanding its ramifications — they have come back strong with perhaps the most patriotic promotion in professional sports. 

Happy Independence Day, baseball fans.

Your #BMets will sport patriotic jerseys on our Independence Day Weekend finale! Come see the double fireworks! pic.twitter.com/WYj20dmVjt

— Binghamton Mets (@bmets) February 3, 2016

First of all, it doesn't get any better than double fireworks. Well, unless you can somehow triple them.

But the real winner here: the jerseys.

Those are as patriotic as you'll find, from the red, white and blue color scheme, to the stars and stripes logo, to yes, the sleeves. Though not confirmed, it would appear that's a portion of the Declaration of Independence. If so, that's a pretty creative touch. Not only would they be colorful, they would be educational as well. 

[Related: Mets to wear 1986 throwbacks several times in 2016]

And yes, I say that knowing some people will feel like they went over-the-top with the patriotism. But hey, you can't satisfy everybody. As long as they satisfy enough to fill the ballpark, it's a job well done. 

Speaking along those lines too, as is usually the case with these specialized jerseys, the team will be holding an auction after the game. Hopefully it's a good turn out and a fruitful endeavor for whichever lucky charity ultimately receives the proceeds. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 4, 2016, 5:46 am
Rogers Centre will have dirt infield for the first time since it opened in 1989. (AP)

It's finally happening. The Toronto Blue Jays will have a regulation dirt infield at Rogers Centre for the first time since the facility opened in 1989, and the change will be in place in time for their 2016 home opener on April 8.

The Blue Jays made the announcement via their official Twitter account on Wednesday. The statement noted that the installation process will begin next Monday, Feb. 8, which will give them 
70 days to complete the project.

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We are pleased to announce that work will begin the week of Feb 8 to install a regulation dirt infield in time for the 2016 regular season

— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) February 3, 2016

This will be a standard dirt infield. The field will have dirt extending all around the basepaths, with the interior remaining turf as is until they make the switch to grass.

It will look a little something like this. 

Sounds Like A Dirt Infield Is (Officially) Coming To The Rogers Centre For 2016 https://t.co/dGW7YdJikF pic.twitter.com/XN20FTlbOC

— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) December 20, 2015

Former team president Paul Beeston had been hopeful to have a grass surface in place before the 2018 season. However, new president Mark Shapiro says it's not a high priority right now. If and when that does happen, it will mark the fifth different playing surface at the former SkyDome since its opening. 

Focusing on the infield though, it's obvious the Blue Jays realize the importance of keeping superstar infielders Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzk healthy and on the field. Both will benefit greatly from playing on a dirt surface as opposed to standing and running around on concrete turf. Both will also figure greatly into the Blue Jays short-term and long-term success, making this a worthwhile project. 

[Elsewhere: How the free agency landscape changed 40 years ago today]

Of course, it will probably leave past Blue Jays wondering why the change didn't come sooner. It's not a new issue by any means. The field conditions at Rogers Centre have been a topic of conversation for a long time because of the unforgiving material and because of its unpredictability. In fact, MLB took a close look at the surface last season due to concerns about irregular bounces and rubber pellets that were bouncing up and hitting fielders in the face.   

Fixing the infield won't solve all of those issues, but it's a good start anyway. Here's hoping they come through with the additional changes needed and it leads to happier and healthier Blue Jays players in the future. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 4, 2016, 4:00 am

(Jesse Sanchez/MLB.com)Welcome to The Stew's Hot Stove Digest, our daily rundown of MLB news, rumors and gossip for Hot Stove season. Here you'll find a recap of all the day's action and other fun stuff from around the Internet.

WAITING GAME: As many as nine teams are interested in Cuban outfielder Lazaro Armenteros, and he's willing to wait until the international signing period begins on July 2 to find the right deal. [@JesseSanchezMLB

DONE DEAL: Jeurys Familia avoided arbitration with the Mets, agreeing to a one-year, $4.1 million deal. [@JonHeyman]

FRESH START: Ken Rosenthal details why a fresh start in Arizona may be exactly what Jean Segura needs. [Fox Sports]

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TRADE: The Pirates acquired left-hander Jesse Biddle from the Phillies in exchange for right-handed reliever Yoervis Medina. [@MattGelb]

FIVE THINGS: The Mariners signed Korean slugger Dae-ho Lee to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Here are five things you need to know. [The Stew]

MUST READ: Jeff Passan on how the free agency landscape changed 40 years ago today. [Yahoo Sports]

CRAZY CARDS: The Stew crew looks at the strangest baseball cards they own. [The Stew]

TARGET DATE: The Mets are hoping Zack Wheeler will return from Tommy John surgery by July 1. [@AdamRubinESPN]

TWO-SPORT STARS: Here are 13 great major leaguers who were also stars on the gridiron. [MLB.com]

JAPAN BOUND: Frustrated by free agency in MLB, Jonny Gomes is headed to Japan to play for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. [The Stew]

DONE DEAL: The Orioles signed veteran left-hander Hideki Okajima to a minor-league deal. [@EddieInTheYard]

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 4, 2016, 2:37 am

Sports fans are by and large a nostalgic group. Any chance we get to relive classic moments in the history of our favorite teams, we jump on it. And anytime we hear a throwback jersey or uniform will be making a comeback, it's a cause for celebration.

And with that said, we now celebrate the New York Mets.

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According to an ESPN New York report, the Mets will not only be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the franchise's most recent World Series championship in 1986, they will also be bringing back the classic 1986 jerseys and making them a part of their regular season rotation in 2016.

(MLB Shop)
Lovely, aren't they? 

In January, the team announced a formal celebration would take place from May 27-29 at Citi Field, with several players and coaches from that team, including manager Davey Johnson, making an appearance. But Wednesday's report guarantees that celebration will last all season long.

As the good people at UniWatch also point out, it appears the uniforms will include the 25th anniversary patch the team sported during the 1986 season. That patch, for the record, was technically incorrect as the Mets were entering their 25th season. Their 25th anniversary would actually come in 1987.

(Mets)

When it comes to being authentic, one must embrace their flaws and own their mistakes. The Mets are doing that here, and we applaud that. Now, we just can't wait to see these jerseys back on the field in games that count.  

By the way, if you're interested (and we know you are) in owning an '86 Mets throwback, they are now available at MLB Shop. Get 'em while you can. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 4, 2016, 1:37 am

(AP)Veteran outfielder Jonny Gomes was among the many veteran free agents impacted by the slow developing free agent market this winter.

That was until Wednesday, when he decided he couldn't wait any longer.

According to a Ken Rosenthal report, Gomes will be leaving MLB all together after agreeing to a one-year, $2 million contract with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan,

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In signing with Rakuten, Gomes leaves behind the country where he won championships in three different leagues, including two World Series titles over the past three seasons, and the country he's called home his entire life and enjoyed almost all of his success in baseball. It wasn't an easy decision for Gomes, but it also allows him to leave behind the frustration that seemed to overwhelm him all winter and has pretty much defined the free agency process on the players side.

It's a tough, almost unpredictable terrain out there right now. Look no further than the numerous notable free agents who remain available on Feb. 3 for proof of its glacial pace. Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond and Yovani Gallardo are among the bigger names still looking for a place to call home in 2016, and until some of those dominoes start to fall it'll be tough for guys like Gomes to find their place.

“This is not how it’s supposed to be,” Gomes told Rosenthal, who filed an exclusive report on Gomes' decision for Fox Sports. “It seems like the players are getting bullied. It’s February. These people are human beings. They have families. They’ve got to make plans.

“I’m not trying to get back at baseball by any means. But I’m not just going to hang around. What has changed since the end of September? It’s not like a guy is hot right now or in a slump.”

Bullied might be a pretty strong term, but it's clear the players don't have a lot of leverage right now.

One major component that seems to be working against free agents is the qualifying-offer system, which requires the signing team to part with a draft pick to sign a player who turned down the qualifying offer. With several teams valuing those draft picks now more than ever, only the very elite free agents are deemed worthy of such sacrifice.

Dexter Fowler is one notable free agent who remains unsigned. (AP)A guy like Dexter Fowler, who teams might not want to commit to long-term, might be better served to ink a short-term deal and hope his value increases with a weaker free agent class next winter. But who wants to give up that draft pick for one or two years? Very few, which is why the Cubs, Fowler's employer last season, remain in the mix to bring him back. Only they can sign Fowler without losing the draft pick, so it's possible they're the only team who can give him what he needs.

Granted, not too many people are going to feel bad for these well-paid professional athletes. Especially when an option like playing in Japan exists when MLB's doors seem to be closed. But Gomes' case does show how deep the impact of a slowed down market can go, and perhaps serves as the best evidence that something in the system needs to change to keep things moving.

That's something that should be addressed when CBA talks open later this year. 

[Related: How the free agency landscape changed 40 years ago today]

In the meantime, Gomes is determined to make the best of his next venture.

However, Gomes said that part of the appeal of playing in Japan is that it will add to the education of his children -- Zoe, 6, Colt, 5, and Capri, 3. He said that his wife, Kristi, was “unreal for being on board and letting me continue my baseball degree.”

Gomes spoke of “jam-packing” his resume, collecting experiences to help him prepare for a future as a coach, manager or broadcaster. But he is not ruling out playing in the majors again.

“This isn’t a farewell tour. This isn’t like my last year,” Gomes said. “I have no plans of hanging it up. I can always come back or -- if I take off over there -- finish my career there.”

At 35, there should be no doubt that Gomes can still make an impact. Now though, he should be more motivated than ever to prove it.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 4, 2016, 12:23 am

This year's set of baseball cards from Topps contains All-Star, millionaires, celebrities — and one Seattle Mariners fan who is 108 years old. Safe to say she's the most unlikely star in the bunch and also one of the coolest people in the set.

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She's Evelyn Jones, a Mariners fan for as long as they have lived — she was 69 when the team debuted in 1977. On her 108th birthday last July, Jones threw out the first pitch and thus became the oldest person in history to throw out a first pitch an MLB game. 

For that, she's commemorated in Series 1 of Topps' 2016 set (which hit stores today). 

(Topps)

Jones' card is part of Topps' first-pitch set, which it started in 2015. It's mostly celebrities and pro athletes featured on the first-pitch cards, but Topps smartly adds notable fans to the mix too.

[Roundtable: What's the strangest baseball card you own?]

This year's list includes soccer player Abby Wambac, NBA star Kristaps Porzingis, golfer Jordan Spieth, as well as celebrities James Taylor, Bill Withers, LeVar Burton and Johnny Knoxville. Even Bud Selig got one. You can see the entire checklist and digital samples right here. Below you'll find some of our favorites:

(Yahoo Sports)

All cool baseball cards to have, no doubt, but the coolest one still belongs to Evelyn Jones. Because how many 108-year-olds get their own baseball cards? That alone makes it worth chasing.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: February 4, 2016, 12:13 am

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