Tampa Bay has taken care of some housekeeping in avoiding arbitration with pitcher Jeff Niemann, outfielders Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce, and infielder Ryan Roberts. Niemann, Fuld, and Joyce suffered injuries last season, and I expect each of them to put up better numbers this season. Niemann can be a strong piece in almost any rotation, Fuld brings incredible energy daily, and Joyce brings good power and a needed lefty bat to the lineup. There’s also a good chance he will play more this season against southpaws.
This past week I passed along word that Don Zimmer won’t be around the Rays’ spring training complex as much as usual. With age and health playing their part, Zim will be there on a limited basis. If you get to see him, be sure to thank him for all he has given the game of baseball. And while he has worn a number of uniforms during his long and storied (many of those stories being very humorous) career, he’s a Tampa Bay Ray. And he loves it.
Cardinal icon Stan Musial passed away yesterday at the age of ninety-two. I remember my father talking about Musial when he played with Daytona Beach in the Class “D” Florida State League. Dad saw him pitch there in 1940. Musial went 18-5, and hit .311. An arm injury eventually made him a position player, and we know what happened then.
Using a stance that resembled a little kid looking around the corner to see if Santa had left presents under the tree on Christmas, Stan the Man fashioned a lifetime batting average of .331 to go along with an OPS of .976, to go with 475 home runs. While never striking out more than 46 times in a season, Musial ended his career with a base hit, twenty-four All-Star appearances, and the exact same number of hits at home and on the road: 1815 in St. Louis, 1815 away from home.
As a kid I followed Musial the last several years of his career, and as a left-handed hitter myself, I even emulated his cork-screw stance at the plate. He was one of my heroes, and as a young, idealistic kid, I expected my heroes to act in the proper manner both on and off the field. Stan Musial never let me down. Rays’ manager Joe Maddon, a wee bit my junior admired Musial as well.
Along with Musial baseball lost fiery manager Earl Weaver as well. The Earl of Baltimore passed away early Saturday morning while on an Orioles’ fantasy cruise in the Caribbean. His wife Marianne was at his side. No matter what you’ve read about Weaver, you have surely seen him described as “fiery,” “combative,” or “feisty.” You’ve also seen him described as a baseball genius.
In his career, he was thrown out with great regularity. I’ve seen his ejections numbered over ninety. I saw him manage twice in old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in the middle-seventies, and didn’t see him so much as walk on the field to question an umpire’s call. Had he managed in the social media age, he would have been regularly featured for his incredibly colorful conversations with the game’s arbiters. He was quite a competitor, quite a character, and most definitely a winner.