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Who’s On Base?: Play Ball! American League
GLEN BURNIE, MARYLAND — April 1st has arrived and with it comes another great season of Major League Baseball. As expected, the 2001 baseball season looks to be one that will be full of surprises. Teams that were picked to have a shot at a World Championship this year have major players down and out for opening day. Names like Nomar Garciaparra (wrist), Albert Belle (hip) and Mo Vaughn (biceps) are all out for the remainder of the spring — with Belle’s career over and Nomar and Vaughn out for a good piece of the regular season.
During Spring training rookies and minor league players may make a name for themselves, while the veterans simply try to stay healthy, get back into playing shape, and keep their starting jobs before the regular season begins. Some players may have their hearts broken. Yet, when final cuts are made, some young kid may have his lifelong dream fulfilled. But how bad is it, really, to be sent down to the minors? On the one hand, in the minors, players could, potentially, double the amount of playing time they are receiving in the “Big Show” — and still get paid to play the game. The minors, after all, are technically considered professional baseball. On the other hand, the minor leagues are NOT where careers are made. Careers are made in Major League ballparks, period.
With that said, let’s take a quick look around the league and see which teams or players will be looking to make a name for themselves this coming season.
Let’s start with the reigning World Champions. The New York Yankees have added a key player in their quest to repeat as World Champions and win their 5th title in 6 years. The addition is former Baltimore Oriole pitcher, Mike Mussina. Mussina has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the major leagues over the past 5 years, signing a six-year, $88.3 million contract with the Yankees. He will be joining a staff consisting of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Orlando Hernandez (El Duque) to complete one of the best starting rotations in the major leagues. On the other side of the field, the Yankees offense produces one of the most balanced attacks in the majors, finishing in the top 10 in at least 8 team categories in 2000. They will return their star players, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, who combined to lead the team in 5 offensive categories last year. The player whom you may want to keep an eye on is the starting catcher, Jorge Posada. The 2nd year starter had a great year in 2000, posting career numbers in home runs (28) and RBI’s (86).
The Boston Red Sox have poised themselves for a run at the American League East title — or at least a wild card berth into the playoffs. With the best pitcher on the planet, Pedro Martinez, and one of the best, all around players, Nomar Garciaparra, the Sox look to capitalize on the acquisition of OF Manny Ramirez from the Cleveland Indians. The main reason for getting Ramirez is the hope of being able to knock off the defending champion Yankees and push ahead to their first World Series appearance since Babe Ruth played in Boston. In 2000, Ramirez was sidelined with a hamstring injury for 44 games but still managed to hit 38 home runs, drive in 122 RBI’s and hit .351 in just 118 games. Bringing in Ramirez’s bat will greatly help the Sox, a team which batted .282 last year with Nomar Garciaparra in the lineup, but just .258 without him. Garciaparra’s wrist kept him out of spring training and will require surgery, which should cause him to miss much of the regular season also. The big question for the Sox to answer: Who will be the #2 pitcher behind Martinez? The one who will most likely take on that responsibility will be Bret Saberhagen. Saberhagen is coming off rotator cuff surgery but has gone 2-0 this spring, which included 3 scoreless innings in his last outing.
Several other teams in the American League have a great shot at winning the A.L. Pennant. The list includes the Chicago White Sox, Anaheim Angels, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. The Rangers and Indians have made the biggest off-season moves with the Indians acquiring Juan Gonzalez from the Detroit Tigers, while, at the same time, they lost 3 key position players in Manny Ramirez (Red Sox), David Segui (Orioles), and Sandy Alomar Jr (White Sox).
By signing David Wells and Sandy Alomar, Jr., the Chicago White Sox have, once again, made it a priority to be the American League Central leaders. Apparently over his dispute with management about the structure of his contract, Frank Thomas will be looking to add to his last year’s team high totals of 43 HR’s and 143 RBI’s.
Since signing the $252 million man in Texas, the Rangers have set the tables to be either the best or the worst in Major League Baseball. When a team spends as much money on players as the Rangers did this off-season, they are immediately put under the microscope. Along with Alex Rodriguez, the Rangers also signed free agents Andres Galarraga (Colorado) and Ken Caminiti (Padres) in hopes of putting together a World Series caliber team. Trying to buy a championship is very tough to do because of the chemistry and balance needed on championship teams. If you are not a believer in this theory, ask either the Orioles or the Washington Redskins. Both clubs had league highs in salary and neither has come close to winning a championship.
As the baseball season begins, we’re ready for the surprises and disappointments of 2001. And we promise to bring all of the news to you as it happens. Continue to check back with us, as we take a look at the National League preview to see who will or will not be playing in October.