Sources: Astros bans end in ’20 even if no games

Former Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch and ex-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow will fulfill their one-season suspensions for the team’s sign-stealing scandal even if no baseball is played in 2020, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney on Thursday.

Hinch and Luhnow were given the one-year bans and subsequently fired in January following an investigation by Major League Baseball that confirmed the Astros had cheated by using a camera-based sign-stealing system during the regular season and playoffs of their World Series-winning 2017 season and during part of the 2018 regular season.

According to the wording from commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision, both punishments end “following the completion of the 2020 World Series.”

Sources told Olney that, because the suspensions are tied to the end of the 2020 postseason rather than a specific number of games, MLB will view Luhnow and Hinch as having served their discipline this year.

MLB said in January that further violations by Hinch and Luhnow would result in them being placed on MLB’s permanently ineligible list.

Along with the punishments for Hinch and Luhnow, the Astros also lost their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and were fined $5 million. Manfred said in January that he would not strip the Astros of their World Series title.

Last month, MLB announced that Opening Day had been pushed back to mid-May at the earliest because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league and players’ union also negotiated terms in March for the conditions needed for a return to play, with both sides expressing a willingness to stretch the season late into the 2020 calendar year if needed.

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The truth about Michael Jordan’s MLB prospects: ‘I swear, he was going to the majors’

  • Senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine
  • Around long enough to have written about athletes from Hank Aaron to Ben Zobrist and Super Bowls from VII to XLVI.
  • Joined ESPN The Magazine as a founding editor in 1998.
  • Also wrote for Time, Sports Illustrated, the Fort Lauderdale News and The Evening Sun in Norwich, NY.

This story was originally published on April 5, 2019.

He has made it very exciting tonight. With the Barons leading 5-1, Jordan steps in for the fourth time … two of his three at-bats were near homers … he skied deep to left center when he hit the ball to the wall in the fourth, and then in the sixth, Jordan pulled the ball a little bit more and missed by 2 feet … Fly ball deep to left again, Ratliff going back, back to the warning track, looking up … IT IS GON-ZO JORDAN! He’s done it!
— Curt Bloom, Birmingham Barons play-by-play announcer, July 30, 1994

The Barons don’t play at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium anymore. But until they moved to Regions Field in downtown Birmingham in 2013, the facilities at the old ballpark south of the city paid homage to some of the greats who had passed through. There was the Rollie Fingers Bullpen Deck, named for the Hall of Fame reliever who had pitched for the A’s farm club there in 1967 and ’68, and the Robin Ventura Pavilion, honoring the third baseman who had been a Baron in 1989 before getting called up to the Chicago White Sox, and the Frank Thomas Picnic Area, dedicated to the Hall of Fame slugger who put a Double-A Hurt on Southern League pitchers in 1990. The dining facility? Well, that bore the name of a certain, .202-hitting right fielder for the 1994 Barons.

There was a certain delicious irony to calling it The Michael Jordan Banquet Hall. After all, he started quite a feeding frenzy on the night of April 8, 2019, at the Hoover Met when he made his official professional baseball debut. Wearing No. 45, his old Laney (North Carolina) High number, the 31-year-old émigré from basketball drew a crowd of 10,359, as well as 130 members of the media. They watched him fly out in his first at-bat against Chattanooga starter John Courtright. For the night, and for the record, he went 0-for-3 in a 10-3 loss to the Lookouts. The crowd went home mildly disappointed.

Jordan is long gone from Birmingham, and so are most of the players and coaches who wore the Barons uniform that year. The skipper, Terry Francona, is now in his 20th year of managing in the bigs, with Hall of Fame credentials that include the breaking of the Boston Red Sox’s 86-year curse in 2004, another World Series trophy three years later and another trip to the Fall Classic with his current team, the Indians. Of the players on that ’94 roster, 20 were either coming down from, or going up to the majors. Jordan never made it to the bigs, but at least he could console himself with his and the Chicago Bulls’ second NBA three-peat.

Nowadays, sports fans look upon his foray into baseball as a whim, and when they look up his numbers and see that he batted .202, they conclude that his baseball career was a bust. Just like that opening night crowd in ’94, they walk away from the memory mildly disappointed.

They could not be more wrong.

I could not have been more wrong.

Just ask Curt Bloom, who’s still in Birmingham, calling Barons games for the 27th straight season. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that ’94 season,” Bloom said. “I spent 150 days with Michael Jordan. I played basketball with him — I remember trying to set a pick for him in a pickup game, only to have him tell me, ‘I don’t need that.’ Our daughter Chloe will turn 25 this August — she was born right after Michael rubbed my wife’s belly for good luck. I saw him struggle for a few months, but I also saw him become a ballplayer right before my eyes. He worked his butt off, but he enjoyed himself and bonded with the team.

“I swear, he was going to the majors.”

Or ask Mike Barnett, who was the batting coach for the Barons that season and is back with Francona as both the Cleveland Indians’ replay coordinator and an organizational hitting instructor. “Michael would go after it five times a day,” Barnett, aka Barney, said. “In the cage before breakfast. Regular batting practice. Soft toss. Game BP. Then, after the game, he was back in the cage. His hands were blistered and bleeding, his intensity was off the charts. Don’t look at his batting average. Look at his 51 RBIs — he was never overwhelmed by the moment. He could fly — look at the 30 stolen bases. He hadn’t played since high school, and he was holding his own in Double-A, which is filled with prospects. By August, those routine fly balls in BP were starting to go out. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen something as beautiful on a baseball field as the time Michael Jordan hit the ball into the gap and raced around to third for a triple. Two more seasons, he would’ve been a legitimate extra outfielder for the White Sox, maybe even a starter.”

And if you don’t believe them, ask Tito. “He had it all,” Francona said one morning during spring training in Goodyear, Arizona. “Ability, aptitude, work ethic. He was always so respectful of what we were doing and considerate of his teammates. Granted, he had a lot to learn. I remember once, we’re up 11-0 against Chattanooga, and Michael doubles. Then he steals third! I’m pantomiming an apology to Pat Kelly, the other manager, and he’s laughing. After Michael comes in, ‘I’m like, ‘What are trying to do, get us killed?’ And he says, ‘Well, in the NBA, when you’re up by 20, you try to go up by 30.’

“I do think with another 1,000 at-bats, he would’ve made it. But there’s something else that people miss about that season. Baseball wasn’t the only thing he picked up. I truly believe that he rediscovered himself, his joy for competition. We made him want to play basketball again.

“And he made me a better manager.”

Stat lines can tell you a lot. But in the case of Michael Jordan’s 1994 entry, it doesn’t say anything about the nice bus he got for the Barons, the Yahtzee and Spades games, the pingpong battles and English lessons with catcher Rogelio Nunez, the homage to the Birmingham Black Barons, the night Charles Barkley took over the clubhouse, the thousands of baseballs he signed, the hundreds he hit out of the park in BP, or the epic 4-on-4 pickup game at Rime Village, the players’ apartment complex in Hoover.

The standings that year also leave out a lot. They don’t tell you that the ’94 Barons had a miraculous season.

After all, how many last-place Southern League teams can claim they’re responsible for winning two World Series and three NBA titles?

THE NARRATIVE OF Michael Jordan’s brush with baseball has never quite jibed with the reality, which is a little surprising given his visibility as the greatest of all time. There was always an inscrutable quality about him — he was both above the rim and down to earth — but that doesn’t fully explain how we messed up. When he announced his retirement from the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 6, 1993, he was still in mourning over the murder of his 56-year-old father, James Jordan. So when Michael called another news conference on Feb. 7, 1994 to announce his intentions of going to spring training with the White Sox, a team that happened to be owned by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, people jumped to all sorts of conclusions. The decision, many felt, was a tribute to his father, who loved baseball and thought his son could follow in the footsteps of two-sport stars Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson. Or, for the suspicious, it was a way to play and lay low while waiting to get clearance from the NBA after a gambling red flag. Or, for the cynical, it was a vanity project that could sell a whole new line of Jordan merchandise.

In reality, Jordan had started to think about giving up basketball for baseball even before the summer of 1992’s Dream Team. He was tired of the basketball grind and all the great expectations, and he wanted to see if he could still play baseball, like his father told him he could. Hey, Mr. Basketball was once North Carolina’s “Mr. Baseball,” as chosen by the Dixie Youth Association. Never mind that he was 12 at the time.

But baseball is hard, and it was made even harder for Jordan by the winds of skepticism. That spring in Sarasota, as fans flocked to see him in a baseball uniform, trigger-happy judges rendered their verdicts. Seasoned ballplayers, journalists and traditionalists curled their lips. I was one of the doubters. I wrote a cover story for Sports Illustrated (“Err Jordan”) that mocked his swing, questioned the sanity of the White Sox and ended with, “Somewhere men are laughing.” The SI editors upped the anti-ante with a cover billing that read, “Bag It, Michael: Jordan And The White Sox Are Embarrassing Baseball.”

The only saving grace of the story was that it noted that he was working really hard. For most of that spring, his batting tutor was Walt Hriniak, whose hit-to-all-fields philosophy worked well with some, but not all players. Because Jordan hadn’t played since he quit baseball two games into his senior year of high school, the lessons were a little like Einstein teaching a sixth-grade student arithmetic.

On March 31, Jordan was assigned to Double-A Birmingham, a pretty heady stop given his inexperience. They started lining up right away — Barons fans wanting to buy tickets, reporters wanting a word with Tito. But the season was still a week away, so Mike Barnett went to work. “Walt was a great batting coach,” Barnett said now, at the Indians’ spring complex. “But his school of hitting wasn’t quite right for Michael. He was standing way off the plate and diving into the pitch. I moved him closer to the plate and got him to stride forward into the ball and use his hips and those long arms of his. I figured the pitchers were going to challenge him to hit their fastballs.”

Jordan also got a quick lesson in minor league life from Francona. “He wanted to know if we flew between cities. I had to tell him that we rode buses. Birmingham to Orlando? 12 hours.”

Jordan did get one last look at the big leagues in the April 7 Windy City Classic between the White Sox and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The batting lessons seemed to be paying off: he went 2-for-5 as the crosstown rivals played to a 4-4, 10-inning tie.

He went hitless in his first two official games, but got two hits against Knoxville in his third. By the end of the opening six-game homestand, he was batting .250. He had also been working behind the scenes with the Thrasher Brothers transportation company to get the Barons an upgrade from the old Trailways bus they had used the previous year. Said Francona: “Michael had asked me, ‘What if I get us a bus?’ I don’t want to get fired, so I got permission, and the next day, four new buses showed up in our parking lot. The first one must’ve been a bus for a rock group — really nice for Michael and me and the coaches, but no room for the other players. We ended up choosing a really nice bus that could’ve been for The Partridge Family. Michael autographed the outside, and the Jordancruiser was born.”

So while it’s true that Jordan did “get” them the bus, contrary to popular legend, he did not buy it. The Thrasher Brothers got what they were looking for — publicity. As for the players: “I wanted to kiss it,” said Kenny Coleman, a utility infielder on the team. “Our old bus had no temperature control. It was either too hot or too cold. The new one felt like a spaceship.”

On that first road trip, Jordan took off like a spaceship. He went on a 13-game hitting streak that left him with a .327 batting average. He looked like GOAT 2.0. But, as Barnett said: “It was bound to end. I kept waiting for the pitchers to stop challenging him with fastballs and start throwing him breaking balls, and by the end of April, they were.”

It was around this time that a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon, named Jim Patton showed up to do a book on Jordan’s first season. The trouble was that he didn’t get clearance from David Falk, Jordan’s agent, so he quickly discovered that his access was going to be severely limited. Still, that didn’t stop him from hanging around all season and writing “Rookie” (Addison-Wesley 1995), an amusing and observant look at that season.

“It didn’t sell at all,” Patton said during a telephone call from Italy, where he’s working on a book about sex trafficking. “A lot of the reviewers were like. ‘It’s no good because Patton didn’t have access,’ but that was sort of the point. Anyway, I did get one rave review. [The reviewer] called it ‘smart, funny and totally ignored.'”

In the book, the reader meets the Barons’ dog mascot, Babe Ruff, and hears “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project, the Bulls’ theme song and Jordan’s walk-up music. Patton’s description of the time Jordan lost his bejeweled necklace in right field, necessitating a search party every half-inning, is a study in irony, ending with its discovery and “the biggest ovation of the night.”

Although Jordan refused to sit down with him, Patton was there when he gave a revealing postgame news conference in Orlando the night after the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs. Asked how he was fitting in, given the age difference between himself and his teammates, he said, “I feel older than these guys in a sense, like their big brother, and I try to tell ’em what’s right and wrong in certain situations, like dealing with the press. In other ways, I feel like their little brother: they’re teaching me to play the game of baseball. In terms of who I hang out with, I hang out with everybody.”

It’s immeasurable and overlooked, but the ability to get along is an essential tool in baseball, especially given the long and arduous schedule. And Jordan had that knack. “He was great with everyone,” said Coleman, who’s now a senior executive with the Southern Company utility. “We had this pingpong table in the clubhouse, and the best player was Rogelio Nunez, our Dominican catcher. He and Jordan would go at it all the time, but almost every day, Michael would give him a different English word to learn — and $100 for each word he did. By the end of the season, Nunie’s English was much better, he was richer, and Jordan was beating him in pingpong.

“Because I played basketball at the University of New Haven, I loved getting on the court with [Jordan],” Coleman said. “But it wasn’t just the play that bonded him to us. When he needed baseball advice, he leaned on us. Kerry Valrie basically taught him how to play the outfield. We saw how good he could be, and we became invested in making him better.”

Jordan also hung out with the coaches a lot. There was the age factor, of course, and the shared life experiences, but there was also Yahtzee, the dice game that Francona taught him back on the first road trip. “We played it all the time,” Francona said. “This still makes me laugh. One night, he’s in the office after a game in which we got only four hits, and I look at the box score while we’re playing Yahtzee and see that he had two of them. I say, ‘Michael, you were half our offense tonight.’ And without missing a beat, he says, “Not the first time in my life that’s happened.'”

Jordan would occasionally deign to play hoops with the mortals. “I can safely tell you this now,” Francona said, “but if I told you back in ’94, I might’ve gotten fired.

“We had just come back to Birmingham after a Sunday morning game in Huntsville [a 5-4 win on May 22, in which Michael went 0-for-5]. We decide to play a 4-on-4 game at Rime Village, where a lot of the players stayed. The three coaches plus Michael versus four of our better basketball players.”

Scott Tedder, a 6-foot-4 outfielder who was the all-time leading scorer as a shooting guard at Ohio Wesleyan, was one of the players. “Let’s see,” he said from his office at Hibbet Sports in Birmingham, where he’s a real estate manager. “It was me, our catcher Chris Tremie, outfielder Kevin Coughlin and pitcher Brian Givens, who was like 6-6. The game was to 16, win by two. One point for a basket, two points for a three.”

“Nobody was watching us at the start of the game,” Barnett said, “but by the end, there were hundreds of people ringing the court.”

“This was back in the day before cellphones,” Tedder said. “Word traveled fast.”

“Me and Barney were just along for the ride,” said Kirk Champion, who was the pitching coach and still works in the White Sox organization. “Once you gave the ball to either Tito or Michael, you weren’t going to see it again.”

“Scott was a really good shooter,” Barnett said.

“I hit maybe four 3s,” said Tedder, who’s now in the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame. “But you could tell Michael was holding back. When we get up 15-11 — one more basket to win — Michael says to me, kind of matter-of-fact, ‘Kid, you’re not going to score any more.’ The next thing we know, we’ve lost, 17-15, and the coaches are celebrating.”

That oh-fer earlier that day had dropped Michael’s average to .221. His batting average for May was just .165. While he couldn’t hit curveballs, he did get a chance to hit golf balls with two of the best and one of the worst. The day after his average dropped below the Mendoza Line (.200) for the first time, Jordan played in a charity tournament in Birmingham along with Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Barkley. Later that night, Barkley and Bills linebacker (and Birmingham native) Cornelius Bennett enlivened the Barons’ clubhouse after a 4-1 defeat.

To honor former Black Barons Satchel Paige and Willie Mays, and maybe change his luck, Jordan began wearing his pants high in the style of the Negro Leagues. That didn’t help his average, but Barnett assured a reporter that “his average has gone down, but he’s actually a better hitter than he was during his 13-game hitting streak.”

Looking back 25 years, Barnett sees the challenge for Jordan as twofold. “Before you can hit breaking balls, you have to recognize them, and that takes time and experience,” he said. “But even then, after you have the epiphany, you have to learn how to act on it, how to pounce on the hangers. He was getting to that stage.”

As best as they could, the coaches tried to keep Jordan’s spirits up. They pointed out that every aspect of his game was getting better. Said Barnett, “On a scale of 20 to 80, his throwing arm went from 20 in spring training to 50 by August.” But there was no doubt that he was getting down on himself, especially after his average dropped to .186 on July 29.

That’s why that first home run was so important. It came on Saturday, July 30 on his 354th at bat of the season, in front of the Barons’ largest crowd (13,751) since the Hoover Met opened in 1988. With the Barons leading the Carolina Mudcats 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth, Jordan hit a 2-0 fastball from Kevin Rychel over the left-center field fence. He slowly circled the bases and then was mobbed at home plate as he pointed skyward, mindful that he had just given his father, born on July 31, an early 58th birthday present. “It still makes me emotional because I wish he was here to see it,” Jordan told reporters afterward. “But I know he saw it.”

“What a moment,” Bloom said. “It still gives me chills. Yes, I’d been hoping I could use my ‘Gonzo’ home run call for Michael before the end of the season, but I was mostly happy for him because I know how hard he had worked to earn it.”

The first two Barons to congratulate Jordan were the batters coming up behind him in the order, Troy Fryman and Kenny Coleman. “I’m the little one,” Coleman said. “Number 25. It was like watching history. It felt like a scene from “The Natural.” I kept expecting the light tower to explode.”

For the record, the ball was retrieved from beyond the fence by two young fans, Eugene Stancil and Nick Parker, who returned it to Jordan in exchange for two autographed baseballs.

Two autographed baseballs are also what Knoxville Smokies pitcher Jeff Ware got the day after he gave up Jordan’s second homer on August 8, a three-run blast that helped the Barons to an 8-6 victory at the Hoover Met. As Ware described it for Rob Neyer in his oral history of the season for Complex two years ago, “I talked to Jordan the next day in the outfield. … He was great, seemed like just another guy on the baseball team. I got two baseballs signed, which I still have.”

THAT AUGUST, during the Major League Baseball strike, I took a trip to Birmingham to see for myself. Jordan was still well below the Mendoza Line, but as I watched him hit rope after rope in a darkened cage at the Hoover Met, I realized I had been wrong. He had a big league swing with bat speed, and he was working his butt off with Barnett. I decided to write a mea culpa. The SI editors read the piece, then told me to bag it.

Jordan hit his third home run on August 20, a solo shot off Glen Cullop in the seventh inning of a blowout 12-4 win over the Chattanooga Lookouts at the Hoove. He was hitting .195 at the time, but closed out the season with one three-hit game and a pair of two-hit games that raised his average above .200. In his last official game, a 4-2 win at Huntsville on September 3, Jordan went 0-for-4 to finish at .202.

That’s not bad for someone who hadn’t played organized baseball since his senior year of high school. Then, in the Arizona Fall League, against even better competition, he hit .255. “He was on his way, I thought,” Barnett said. (Barnett certainly was — he would later become the hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros.)

More important, he had fallen in love with baseball. “I know how he felt,” said Tedder, who was once one of the top salespeople in the country for Jordan apparel. “In basketball, you’re in a hurry to get out of there. In baseball, you hang around and make friends for life.”

There was just one problem, though. Jordan didn’t want any part of the MLB work stoppage. So, in March 1995, when there was no end in sight to the strike, he announced he was returning to the NBA. The White Sox lost a fifth outfielder. The Bulls gained three more titles.

Through an intermediary, Jordan politely declined to be interviewed for this story or respond to a few questions. One of them was about his affection for baseball. But his answer comes through loud and clear in “For The Love of The Game: My Story,” which he wrote with the assistance of sportswriter Mark Vancil in 1998. Here’s Jordan on his season with the Barons:

How would I describe my baseball experience? I would describe it now the same way I described it then. Every moment was a warm one. I remember looking up in the sky from time to time and being amazed at how much my life had changed. I had no fear. Just a warm feeling. I can’t describe the sense exactly, but now it seems like I was living a dream.

Would he have made the majors? Jim Patton is still skeptical. “Yes, his hitting was improving,” the author said. “But he was 31 and running out of time. Maybe Francona and Barnett have a sentimental thing there. I just don’t see it.”

One thing is certain. That summer did Jordan a world of good. “It was like a spiritual retreat,” said Vancil, now the managing partner of Williams Inference, a business intelligence concern. “It was a chance to turn down the volume and go back to a place where he was a 19-year-old kid again. He came back to basketball a different player.”

Twenty-five years and five titles later, Michael and Tito still stay in touch. “We meant a lot to each other,” Francona said. “Managing him was the best learning experience I’ve ever had. I loved that season. He showed us grit and courage and grace under pressure. And in return, we made him feel young again.”

Gonzo Jordan. He’s done it.

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Source: Syndergaard TJ surgery a success

    ESPN MLB insider
    Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”

New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard underwent successful Tommy John surgery on Thursday, a source tells ESPN.

The Mets announced Tuesday that Syndergaard would need the surgery. He is expected to return some time during the 2021 season.

Syndergaard, 27, who is one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in baseball history and has among the best arsenal of pitches in the game, was expected to anchor the Mets’ rotation alongside ace Jacob deGrom.

Syndergaard threw a career-high 197⅔ innings last season, and while his ERA was a career-worst 4.28, the combination of good health and stuff foretold good things. However he has had a tough time staying healthy.

Injuries wiped out most of Syndergaard’s 2017 season and shortened his 2018. This season he planned to join deGrom and Marcus Stroman atop the Mets’ rotation, with Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha filling out the last two spots.

Syndergaard, acquired by the Mets in 2012 when they traded Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto, was an instant phenom. His fastball consistently hit 100 mph, he ripped off sliders as fast as 93 mph, and he struck out 166 batters in 150 innings as a 22-year-old rookie in 2015. His best year came in 2016, when he was an All-Star and posted a 2.60 ERA in 183⅔ innings.

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The best behind-the-scenes MLB moments we ever saw

This was supposed to be opening week, the time when MLB fans everywhere look forward to making a season’s worth of memories. Because we won’t have games to get excited about for a while, we thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane by reliving some of our favorite baseball moments.

In the final installment of our weeklong series focusing on a different baseball theme each day, we asked our MLB reporters to share their best behind-the-scenes moment, with only one rule: They had to be there to witness it.

  • The best home runs we ever saw

  • The best MLB games we ever saw

  • The best prospects we ever saw

  • The best defensive plays we ever saw

Jesse Rogers: For Arrieta, onesie for the ages

Sometimes greatness has a defining moment. For former Chicago Cubs hurler Jake Arrieta, that came in late August 2015. He was in the midst of a stellar second half, but even as late as Aug. 30, his best was yet to come. On that night, the stage was set for one of the greatest pitching performances of our era.

The Cubs were starting to feel good about themselves then, but they were still a young team learning how to win — while Arrieta was learning how to dominate. It was Sunday Night Baseball, in Los Angeles. There’s no bigger stage.

The evening game meant the Cubs would have to fly overnight for a game 24 hours later at Wrigley Field against the Cincinnati Reds. Manager Joe Maddon wasn’t about to let the stress of that schedule get to his young roster. He ordered them to wear onesie pajamas on the flight home to loosen the mood — a scene that would prove surreal after the fact.

That night, Arrieta dealt like he had never dealt before. He struck out 12 in a 116-pitch no-hitter, producing a game score of 98. For perspective, the highest game score of all time is 105. Arrieta wasn’t far off. The spin he created on the ball in that game was the stuff of legend. The 2-0 win stopped a four-game slide by the Cubs and helped them to a wild-card berth.

Arrieta conducted his postgame media session wearing a “mustache” onesie was the icing on the cake of a memorable night. And it was his coming-out party that Cy Young Award voters wouldn’t forget.

Buster Olney: A dress-up standoff

Late in the 1995 season, when I was covering the Orioles for the Baltimore Sun, the team’s veterans implemented baseball’s standard hazing exercise on the rookies, replacing their street clothes with selected costumes. Armando Benitez refused to participate and stubbornly sat at his locker as teammates showered and boarded the team bus that was running outside of Milwaukee’s County Stadium. I stationed myself outside of the clubhouse and waited to see how the standoff would end.

Two teammates were sent back to the clubhouse as emissaries, in the hope of coaxing Benitez to the team bus. Finally, pitching coach Mike Flanagan walked into the clubhouse — and later, he told me that when he walked in, an enraged 6-foot-4 Benitez had cornered the chosen ambassadors in the shower with a bat. Like a fed-up parent, Flanagan told Benitez to get on the damn bus, and Armando stepped onto the concourse wearing his uniform socks, a pair of baseball pants and a white dress shirt, walking slowly to join his teammates.

David Schoenfield: Some insight into A-Rod

Each year, the Major League Baseball Players Association gives out its own awards — outstanding pitcher for each league, outstanding player, MLB player of the year and so on. For some reason, the awards have never caught on and we recognize the BBWAA awards as the “official” awards. In 2019, for example, the players voted Anthony Rendon as the National League’s most outstanding player over BBWAA MVP Cody Bellinger.

ESPN televised the awards ceremony after the 1998 season. That was the year of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and the ceremony was held at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. I was an editor at ESPN at the time and my co-worker Ted and I conducted “chats” with each of the winners. After the winners came off the stage, they came to a back room where we had a computer set up and we spent five minutes or so feeding each player questions from readers. (The internet wasn’t so fast back then and the chat software was pretty rudimentary, so Ted and I actually cheated and selected questions ahead of time. Doing it in real time would have been a technological disaster.)

I remember Sosa coming down and giving Ted a big hug like he was Sosa’s long lost brother or something. Pedro Martinez held up his hand with the long fingers that seemed outsize for a man his size. Greg Maddux goofed on us with all his answers: “I have no idea what I’m doing out there. It’s all luck.”

Then Alex Rodriguez came in. Juan Gonzalez won the MVP award that year, but A-Rod was the players’ choice. (A-Rod finished a distant ninth in the MVP voting even though he hit .310 with 42 home runs and 46 steals.) A-Rod sat down at the table and was actually very interested in what we were doing and how the questions were coming in from readers.

A reader asked him about the new ballpark being built in Seattle that would open up midway through the 1999 season. A-Rod told us that some of the guys had gone over in September to take batting practice. The Kingdome, remember, was a very good home run park. A-Rod told us the ball didn’t carry at all in the new park and that it was not going to be a good hitters’ park. And that’s when I knew he wasn’t going to stay in Seattle for the long haul.

Tim Kurkjian: Niekro won’t knuckle under

The Blue Jays clinched a playoff spot the second-to-last day of the 1985 season. So on the last day, “they were all hung over,” said Yankees knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro, who was scheduled to pitch the season finale and was going for his 300th victory. The night before, he and his brother, Joe, also a Yankees pitcher, decided Joe would pitch in relief of Phil so he could potentially have a part in Phil’s historic 300th win.

“So with two outs in the ninth inning, Joe, not the pitching coach, came to the mound to tell me if I got one out more, I would be the oldest pitcher ever [age 46] to throw a shutout,” Phil said. “So I told him, ‘Forget our plan, get the hell off the mound!’ The Blue Jays had runners at second and third. Jeff Burroughs, who was a teammate of mine in Atlanta, was at the plate. We were deciding whether to walk him to load the bases. Burroughs looked at me, pointed to himself and said, ‘Pitch to me.’ He swung at a knuckleball that was three feet outside for the final out. It was the only knuckleball I threw the whole game.”

Tim Keown: Hendrick has last word

I was a rookie beat writer in 1991, sitting in the clubhouse of the old Scottsdale Stadium during a rain delay while a group of current and former Giants held court in the middle of the room — Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Will Clark, Don Robinson, Willie McGee. There was some serious experience around the table, and an impromptu storytelling session broke out. They started in on the wildest things they’d seen teammates do on the field, and at one point McGee stood up and launched into the best baseball story I’ve ever heard.

With two outs in the ninth inning of a game between the Reds and Cardinals, George Hendrick broke up a no-hitter by Mario Soto with a home run on a 2-2 count. That’s the basic version, the version you can find by looking up the box score from May 13, 1984.

The version McGee told? So much better. McGee stood in the center of the room and pantomimed Hendrick standing with the bat on his shoulder, watching strike one and then strike two with no apparent interest. He watched the 0-2 pitch, a ball outside, with the same indifference. But on the 1-2 pitch, Soto threw a fastball under Hendrick’s chin. Hendrick hit the dirt — bat and helmet flying — and then stood back up, grabbed his bat, palmed his helmet back on his head and got back in the box. It bears noting Hendrick was a mysterious dude of immense talent and no interest in the game’s frills.

(In another of McGee’s stories, Hendrick arranged to have a car waiting for him in the tunnel behind right field at Busch Stadium after the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series, and when the last out was recorded, he jogged through the open gate and got in the car in full uniform, heading for the offseason.)

Anyway, Hendrick got back in the box, looked out at Soto without saying a word and proceeded to hit the next pitch, a changeup, over the left-field fence to tie the game and ruin Soto’s no-hitter at the last possible moment. Hendrick jogged around the bases dispassionately, put his helmet back in the rack, sat down on the bench and said to no one in particular, “I was going to let the man have his no-hitter.”

Alden Gonzalez: Trout, Pujols have initial ‘meeting’

I was there when Mike Trout and Albert Pujols first met, and it was awkward. It was the spring of 2012. Pujols was a fully formed superstar who had joined the Los Angeles Angels on a 10-year, $240 million contract. Trout was a 20-year-old prospect — a highly rated one, but a prospect nonetheless. He hung around the corner of the clubhouse with all the other young players who didn’t have a spot on the team.

One morning, Pujols was speaking with a teammate and Trout thought he caught his eye. “‘Sup, Pujols,” Trout blurted, nodding in his direction. Pujols didn’t acknowledge him. Trout stayed quiet, sunk back in his chair and turned to someone on his left. “You think he heard me?”

Not long thereafter, Trout began what has become a historical run of greatness. He became the dominant player of the 2010s, immediately after Pujols was the dominant player of the 2000s. His ascension relegated Pujols to the background, but Trout remained gracious. He celebrated every Pujols accomplishment and constantly spoke about him with reverence. In turn, Pujols guided Trout on how to handle stardom and how to maintain consistency when the expectations seemed impossibly high. He was among the few who could relate.

Sam Miller: A very sticky situation

There’s a ton of downtime between arriving at the ballpark and game time, and a lot of it gets spent sitting in the dugout, studying all of its banal details. Once, I was waiting for C.J. Wilson to meet me in the dugout for a pregame interview. I was staring at the rosin bag, and it occurred to me that I’d never held a rosin bag. I wondered what it felt like; dumbly, I was imagining it would be powdery and smooth, like a rock climber’s bag of chalk.

But rosin — you probably already know this, but I hadn’t made the connection! — is just the solid form of resin, a sticky and viscous tree secretion. It’s basically sap! I picked up the rosin bag and got a sap-sticky palm. Baseball is a handshake-obsessed work environment, and I realized immediately that I was going to have to shake a player’s hand any second.

So, in a panic, I went to the dugout water cooler to rinse my hands off. It splashed all over my pants and shirt, but at least I had something to scrub with. Except it wasn’t water. It was Gatorade. That’s when Wilson showed up.

Kiley McDaniel: Trea Turner’s first impression

When covering the National High School Invitational tournament every March in Cary, North Carolina, I typically try to line up games from the nearby Division I colleges to catch as well, but in 2013, there weren’t a lot of options to see first-round types that weekend. I went to see N.C. State because they had two sophomores, left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon and shortstop Trea Turner, who were likely high first-round picks the next year. I hadn’t seen them before but had heard great things.

They were both excellent, even better than I expected. After comparing notes with a couple of scouts in attendance, we agreed Turner was a slightly superior prospect, and both were legitimate candidates to go No. 1 overall in the 2014 draft. Rodon ended up going third, and Turner slipped all the way to 13th after playing through injury for the summer and struggling at the plate in the first part of the spring.

I got a chance to speak with both of them after the game, and Rodon seemed very aware of his trajectory, unfazed by my interest as a writer, even though it was still going to be months until 30 MLB teams were knocking down his door.

Turner was very different. He was more candid and open and was legitimately surprised when I told him that I thought he was a little better than his heralded teammate. He told me he called the coaches at his dream school, Florida State, when he was in high school, to get them to come recruit him and they basically blew him off. He made a jump in talent as a senior in high school and N.C. State had an extra scholarship, so they were his best offer for college. He talked about how good it felt to perform well against the Seminoles as a freshman starter and how motivating it was to hear that I thought he could go that high in the draft.

Fast forward to the Futures Game a few years later, when Turner was now a top prospect on the verge of the major leagues. A man walked up to me and asked if my name was Kiley, then shook my hand. He was Trea’s dad, Mark, and he wanted to thank me for believing in his son before anyone else in pro baseball did. I assured him I had nothing to do with his son’s success, but he was thankful regardless.

I ran into Mark again years later in the Turner Field concourse when I worked for the Braves and Trea was really hammering us, while playing for the Nationals. I ran into Mark once again and met his wife, Donna, when I was scouting a prospect at Trea’s old high school (they still lived nearby and went to the games) and he recognized me standing behind the plate with a radar gun. They came down to say hello in front of the other scouts, who were all confused, because they knew I didn’t draft Trea. I still maintain I didn’t do anything different than any other scout or writer in my position would’ve done, but it always feels nice to be in on the ground floor of something and be recognized when you’re right, in a field that has so much inherent failure.

Dan Mullen: A manager and his MVP at season’s end

A couple of hours after the Brewers’ heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Dodgers in the 2018 NL Championship Series, I was making my way to the ride-sharing pickup area near the loading docks at Miller Park. To get there, I happened to walk through an otherwise empty area near the Brewers clubhouse while Christian Yelich and Craig Counsell were saying their goodbyes at the clubhouse door.

I overheard Yelich say something along the lines of, “Not bad for the first year in town. Counsell replied with, “Your year isn’t over yet,” talking about the MVP award Yelich would win the next month, and, “Next year will be even better,” while they gave each other a big hug on the way out.

It was such an incredibly sincere moment of respect and admiration between a star player and his manager, and it really drove home how getting so far to fall just short of the World Series felt for them.

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Web gems and then some: The best defensive plays we ever saw

This was supposed to be opening week, the time when MLB fans everywhere look forward to making a season’s worth of memories. Since we won’t have games to get excited about for a while, we thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane by reliving some of our favorite baseball moments.

In the fourth installment of our weeklong series focusing on a different baseball theme each day, we asked our MLB reporters to tell us about the best defensive plays they ever saw, with only one rule: They had to have seen it in person.

  • The best home runs we ever saw

  • The best MLB games we ever saw

  • The best prospects we ever saw

Tim Kurkjian: Endy’s forgotten gem

New York Mets left fielder Endy Chavez against the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series. For all of baseball’s unforgettable moments in the postseason, there haven’t been as many brilliant defensive plays as you might think. One of the best ever is one that will never get proper recognition.

The Mets and St. Louis Cardinals were tied 1-1 in the sixth inning when Scott Rolen hit a fly ball to deep left field. Chavez always wore one of the biggest gloves I have ever seen, bigger than that of Yoenis Cespedes, almost as big as Brett Butler’s, even bigger than the glove of pitcher Greg Maddux. Chavez leaped, slammed into the left-field fence, reached a good foot above it and caught the ball.

“My glove almost fell off. I didn’t even know if I had caught the ball,” Chavez said. “Then I saw the ball in my glove and said, ‘Oh, here it is.”’

The catch was somewhat lost in history because Yadier Molina hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth for a 3-1 lead, and with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Carlos Beltran struck out looking at a curveball by Adam Wainwright, ending the Mets’ season.

Buster Olney: Alomar’s amazing artistry

One hundred forty-two voters chose to not include Roberto Alomar on their ballots the first time he was eligible for Hall of Fame induction, driving his vote percentage below the necessary 75% threshold for election. This was utterly shocking to me after hearing Alomar’s peers rave for years about his incredible defensive skill, as well as his imagination for what was possible. Like Wayne Gretzky and Magic Johnson, he seemed to have an understanding of where everyone on the field was. With his balletic inspiration, Alomar changed the way defense was played for generations of middle infielders who followed him.

In a game between the Orioles and Red Sox at Camden Yards in 1996, Boston’s John Valentin rounded third base on a ball hit into the right-field corner, and Alomar, set up for a relay along the right-field foul line, caught the throw with his body aligned to rifle homeward. But midturn, Alomar fired all the way across the infield to third base, where Valentin had taken a wide turn. Valentin had no chance to get back to the bag, and he looked stunned as he was tagged out. It was among the many defensive alternatives that Alomar seemed to discover regularly.

David Schoenfield: You can top this? Gimme a break

This isn’t just the best defensive play I’ve ever seen in person — it’s the best defensive play of all time. That’s right. Forget Willie Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series. Forget Ozzie Smith’s bare-handed grab of that bad-hop ground ball. This is it. Buck Martinez for the Blue Jays on July 9, 1985. Don’t even argue about this because you’ll lose.

Here’s the play:

Buck Martinez completes double play with broken leg

Buck Martinez holds on to the ball in a collision that breaks his leg, then while still on the ground, tags out another runner for a double play.

Let’s run down what happened here:

1. Jesse Barfield, who had one of the best arms of all time, throws an absolute howitzer from right field.

2. Phil Bradley, a former starting quarterback at Missouri, destroys Martinez in the collision at home plate. Martinez breaks his leg but manages to hold on to the ball.

3. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas keeps on chugging around the bases.

4. Martinez, who can’t get up because HE BROKE HIS LEG, throws wildly to third base. Thomas turns for home.

5. For some reason, George Bell (not pictured in the video because we needed to see the dude in the green shirt) is actually backing up the play and throws home.

6. Remember, MARTINEZ CAN’T GET UP BECAUSE HE HAS A BROKEN LEG. Bell’s throw somehow finds Martinez’s glove.

7. I have no idea what Thomas was thinking, but he somehow fails to avoid the tag. Martinez gets his second out at home plate, is carted off the field and misses the rest of the season.

Tim Keown: Kirby rises to the occasion

Kirby Puckett, 1991 World Series, Game 6, third inning. Amid the cacophony of the Metrodome — imagine the sound of 50,000 frightened macaws in a closet — Ron Gant of the Atlanta Braves hit a drive to left-center. Puckett, the Minnesota Twins’ center fielder, ran farther and faster than he seemed capable of doing and jumped higher than seemed possible. At the peak of his leap, his glove smacked against the Plexiglas as the ball landed inside it.

As Puckett fired the ball back toward first base to attempt to double up Terry Pendleton, Gant rounded first base and veered toward the dugout without taking his eyes off Puckett. He wasn’t mad or even frustrated; he, like the rest of us, was trying to process what he’d just seen. I’m sure I’ve seen better plays — Kevin Mitchell caught a ball bare-handed — but the combination of artistry and the importance of the moment makes this one hard to beat.

Sam Miller: Simmons does the unthinkable

Defense is hard enough to precisely measure in the present, in front of us and with modern technology, let alone decades after the fact. As such, I wouldn’t say definitively that Andrelton Simmons is the greatest defender of all time, but I believe it’s true, and I watch him with the joy of believing that’s what I’m seeing. At least once every few games, he does something with his body that is worth rewinding and rewatching, and at least weekly, he makes a play that is impossible for all but maybe a half-dozen other humans on the planet.

Out of literally hundreds of Simmons highlights, this is probably my favorite, not because it’s especially explosive, flashy, physical or imaginative — all qualities he has — but because of how surprised the baserunner, the broadcaster and Simmons’ third baseman are that he made the play. That, to me, is the most persuasive endorsement of a defensive play.

On TV, to us amateurs, the easy can look hard, and the hard can look easy. But the baserunner here knows baseball very well, the play was 10 feet away from him, and he totally ruled out Simmons’ getting to that ball. The Angels broadcaster knows baseball very well, knows Simmons very well, and he misread what Simmons would attempt to do on that ball. Finally, the third baseman knows baseball very well and, more than anybody in the world, needs to know Simmons’ range because they share the same coverage area. But when Simmons actually got to the ball, the third baseman was standing 8 feet away from the bag, totally unprepared for what Simmons did.

This play doesn’t have the visual punch of a player diving or leaping over the wall. But it’s clear from the reactions of the people around him that what Simmons did here even without leaving his feet was essentially unthinkable.

Alden Gonzalez: Vizquel with a heartbreaker

The height of my baseball fandom probably came in 1997, when the Florida Marlins reached the World Series, and the entire city of Miami — suddenly exuberant in a time before constant betrayals from club ownership — rallied behind its baseball team in a way that still moves me. The Marlins played the Cleveland Indians in a World Series that reached the maximum seven games, with each team alternating victories until a thrilling finale.

I attended Game 6 hoping to see the Marlins clinch. I sat beyond the center-field batter’s eye. In the bottom of the sixth, with two out and two runners in scoring position, I had a great view of an Omar Vizquel play that put my heart in my throat. Charles Johnson, a notoriously slow-footed catcher, hit a hard grounder that should have trickled into left field and cut the Marlins’ deficit to one. But Vizquel dove full extension, quickly rose to his feet and threw Johnson out at first base from shallow left field. I was crushed — but felt a lot better the following night, when the Marlins finished the job. (Side note: I still can’t believe those mid-to-late-’90s Indians teams never won it all.)

Dan Mullen: Edmonds wows even himself

One of the best things about great defensive plays is that you never really know when you are about to see the one you’ll be writing about in a list such as this. My pick for best game came in Game 5 of an already thrilling World Series. My best home run choice was from the eighth inning of a tense, tied NLCS game. My favorite prospect tale was of seeing a No. 1 overall pick in the draft the very first chance I had. But not this story.

My dad and I just happened to be in Cincinnati to cross Great American Ballpark off our list on a July weekend in 2004. We just happened to be seeing the Reds play the Cardinals, who happened to have a center fielder known for making highlight-reel defensive plays. We just so happened to be sitting in the bleachers in right-center field when Jason LaRue hit a would-be home run just to the right of the center-field fence in the ninth inning of a 7-5 game.

From our vantage point, we had a perfect view as Jim Edmonds, starting shallow as always, ran back, leaped at the fence and, with his entire arm stretched over the fence, snagged the ball, took a run off the board and quieted an entire ballpark of Reds fans. But as amazing as the catch was, the best part from where we were sitting was being able to watch Edmonds turn and watch himself on the video board with the same expression we all had on our faces as we tried to figure how the heck he timed the catch, jump and turn perfectly enough to pull it off.

Kiley McDaniel: Brinson’s high school sweetie

In high school, Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson was a tools marvel. On the 20-80 scale (50 is major league average), he projected for 60 raw power, was about a 70 runner, projected as a 70 defender in center field and had a 60 arm. There are no more than a few players on earth who have those present tools. Brinson doesn’t even have the same run or defend tools that he used to or projected to have, as he has bulked up.

At the plate, he was kind of a mess at that stage. His high school team didn’t have another Division I player on its roster, and Brinson wasn’t the best hitter on the team, but he still went 29th overall in the 2012 draft because of his potential. He was gangly and long-limbed and had some giraffe-like qualities at the plate. He was pure gazelle in the field, though.

In the first inning of a game that was flush with high-level scouts, a soft liner was hit just over the second baseman’s head, and Brinson seemingly took three strides to make a diving catch on a ball that was hit closer to the right fielder than to him. It looked like Giannis Antetokounmpo playing a fully realized center field. The scouts and I all gasped, then looked at each other silently and bemoaned the fact that we still had to figure out how to project Brinson’s hitting ability.

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t optimistic about 162-game season

On the eve of what would have been Major League Baseball's opening day, commissioner Rob Manfred indicated that the league is "probably not gonna be able to" play a full, 162-game regular season.

"My optimistic outlook is that at some point in May we’ll be gearing back up. We’ll have to make a determination depending on what the precise date is as to how much of a preparation period we need," Manfred said in an interview Wednesday night on ESPN's "SportsCenter With Scott Van Pelt," adding: "But the one thing I know for sure is baseball will be back. Whenever it's safe to play, we'll be back. … We will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country from this particular pandemic."

MLB 2020: Season could extend into late November

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An executive with knowledge of the negotiations told USA TODAY Sports that MLB and the players union are close to reaching an agreement on critical economic issues with hopes of salvaging the majority of the 162-game season, even if it means playing regular doubleheaders and the World Series in late November.

All of this, of course, is contingent on the dissipation of the novel coronavirus in a time frame that would realistically allow for a lengthy season. 

"I also think that we need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the postseason format looks like," Manfred said in the ESPN interview. "Nothing is off the table for us right now. … There's a lot of ideas out there and we are open to all of them."

On Wednesday, powerhouse agent Scott Boras suggested a plan to play as close to a 162-game schedule as possible, a full version of the playoffs with a neutral-site World Series culminating around Christmas.

MLB's best hope is to start the season around June 1, and no later than July 1, but are following the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On March 15, the CDC recommended against gatherings of 50 or more people "for the next eight weeks." 

Manfred also told ESPN that the investigation into the Boston Red Sox's sign-stealing is "done," but he has not had time to write up a report. The commissioner plans to release a report before play resumes.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said it’s investigation into the #Redsox cheating allegations is complete and will render a decision before the regular season.

MLB's opening day was originally scheduled for Thursday until the season was indefinitely postponed on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This happened a day after the NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus setting off a cavalcade of sports postponements and cancellations. Previously scheduled games in Major League Soccer and the NHL also were postponed, and the men's and women's NCAA tournaments were canceled.

Contributing: Bob Nightengale.

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SoFi Stadium construction continues within rules

  • Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
  • Previously covered the Angels for

Construction for SoFi Stadium, the future home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, is ongoing amid the statewide “Safe at Home” orders in California.

The directives put in place at the city and state levels last week allowed for the continuation of commercial construction, though it’s a fluid situation.

There remains the possibility that fewer exceptions to the stay-at-home orders are granted in response to the growing pandemic, which could postpone the Inglewood project and the renovation of Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, construction for which also continues.

“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to save lives,” Alex Comisar, a spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, said Wednesday. “We’ll continue to take direction from public health experts from the county and the [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] to determine what policies need to be put into place. With any activity that’s going on, we expect folks to take into account proper social distancing.”

In a statement released Friday, representatives for SoFi Stadium said construction “continues moving forward with an increased emphasis on the already existing elevated health and safety protocols put in place [two weeks ago].”

SoFi Stadium, a revolutionary indoor-outdoor venue that will sit at the center of a 298-acre development, was deemed 85% complete around late January and is still expected to open with Taylor Swift concerts July 25 and 26. All nonessential employees are working from home, while job-site personnel are working with their general contractors to increase health and safety protocols, according to stadium representatives.

In a conversation posted to YouTube by the Dodgers on Tuesday, team president Stan Kasten said construction workers at Dodger Stadium are “fully compliant with all of the regulations of the county, city and state, as well as the CDC and [World Health Organization]. All of those things are super important to all of us. But consistent with all of that guidance, the work is continuing.”

The Dodgers are undertaking a $100 million renovation that will include a two-acre center-field plaza, upgraded outfield pavilions, a new sound system and a series of elevators and escalators that will provide a 360-degree connection around the park’s perimeter. Field-facing renovations are complete, Kasten said. In recent days, construction has slowed and fewer workers have been on site at times, a function of both the season being delayed and nationwide protocols to combat the coronavirus.

SoFi Stadium is set to host the Rams and Chargers over the final five months of the 2020 calendar year, then stage the Super Bowl in February of 2022. But stricter restrictions by the state of California, L.A. County or the city of Inglewood could shut down construction and force both teams to scramble for temporary homes for the fall. The project had already been delayed a year due to heavy rainfall in early 2017.

On March 17, a day after the L.A. County health officer prohibited gatherings of 50 or more people, the State Building and Construction Trade Council of California sent a memo to its members providing safety measures that included adding sanitary facilities, bringing food from home, maintaining separation of at least six feet and performing deep cleanings on jobsites. The memo stated: “If these guidelines cannot be met and a project is in tight quarters, consideration should be given to shutting the construction project down until safer conditions exist.”

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Agent Scott Boras proposes a full MLB schedule with postseason in December, World Series on Christmas

Powerhouse agent Scott Boras is one to act — and think — bold. His plan to play as close to a 162-game schedule and full version of the MLB playoffs is no different. 

Boras' strategy, revealed to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, hinges on start dates that begin in either June or July, with a neutral-site World Series culminating around Christmas. 

Boras has already submitted plans to MLB for a 162-game season that would begin June 1 and a 144-game slate beginning July 1. The playoffs — complete with wild-card games, a five-game division series, a seven-game championship series and a World Series — would run from Dec. 3-26. The league's eight domed stadiums and three southern California stadiums (Angels, Dodgers, Padres), will house the playoff series as winter begins. 

"We have it all mapped out," Boras told the Times. "It’s workable. We’ve done climate studies, and in Southern California, the average temperature in December is 67 degrees, which is better than late March and early April in most cities. We have 11 stadiums we could play postseason games in. I’m gonna get my neutral-site World Series after all."

Scott Boras looks on before the game between the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres at Petco Park. (Photo: Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports)

Teams would have to play roughly a dozen doubleheaders with the July 1 start, and Boras stressed creativity (expanded rosters, carefully scheduled off days, etc.) to cater to the players. A regular season requiring 50-plus games to be played in October and November would be unseemly in some cities. 

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“All the players I’m talking to want to play all the games, and we can map this out,” Boras said. “We’re just trying to let [MLB] know we have the ability to do it, that there’s a logical way to do it. You have the facilities. You have the sites to do it. The difference is how the playoffs are run and where they’re played." 

Boras, who represents stars such as , has advocated for a neutral-site World Series to enhance the business mechanism behind the event, like the Super Bowl does for the NFL. 

"I think having a planned World Series at a designated site would be a tremendous economic gain for our industry," he told the Times. "You could secure corporate sponsorships and have entertainment surrounding it. The Super Bowl has one game. Here, we can have five to seven days of festivities." 

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The best MLB games we ever saw: Twists and turns, heroes and zeros

This was supposed to be Opening Week, the time when MLB fans everywhere look forward to making a season’s worth of memories. Since we won’t have games to get excited about for a while, we thought it’d be fun to take a walk down memory lane by reliving some of our personal favorite baseball moments.

In the second of a weeklong series focusing on a different baseball theme each day, we asked our MLB reporters to tell us about the best game they ever saw — with only one rule: They had to be in the park to witness it.

  • The best home runs we ever saw

Tim Kurkjian: Morris ‘was not coming out of that game’

Game 7, 1991 World Series, Braves vs. Twins at the Metrodome, which was so loud, it was like being strapped to the speakers as Aerosmith sang “Dream On.”

Each team had finished last in its division the previous season, and here they were playing in Game 7 of what had already been a tremendous World Series. After eight innings, it was still scoreless. My colleague from Sports Illustrated, the genius Steve Rushin, was one seat away from me in the auxiliary press box, so I screamed to him (because he couldn’t hear me otherwise): “I can’t write. This is too big for me. I am not worthy.” The Twins won 1-0 in 10 innings on a sacrifice fly by Gene Larkin. Jack Morris went the distance (only Roy Halladay and Mark Mulder have thrown 1-0, 10-inning shutouts since).

Late in the game, Morris was in trouble. Manager Tom Kelly came to take him out. Morris talked him out of it, then miraculously escaped the jam to keep the score tied. “If TK had tried to take Jack out there,” Twins outfielder Randy Bush said, “it would have been the first time in major league history that a manager had ever died on the mound because Jack would have killed him. Jack was not coming out of that game.”

David Schoenfield: David Freese, St. Louis superhero …

I’ve been fortunate enough to cover 10 World Series, including Game 7s in 2001, 2002, 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2019. I’ve seen Roger Clemens throw a bat at Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter become Mr. November, an unbelievable 13-12 game and one that lasted 18 innings. As a Mariners fan, it’s hard not to pick the 1995 AL West tiebreaker game between the M’s and Angels, when Randy Johnson pitched Seattle into the playoffs for the first time.

I can’t believe I’m not picking Game 7 from the 2001 World Series, when Luis Gonzalez’s blooper shocked Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, but I have to go with Game 6 from the 2011 World Series, that wild 10-9 win for the Cardinals over the Rangers in 11 innings that set up St. Louis’ victory in Game 7.

It will forever be the David Freese game in St. Louis — he tied it with a two-out, two-strike, two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth. After both teams scored twice in the 10th inning, Freese hit the walk-off home run in the 11th. The game featured seven lead changes, 42 players, six home runs and a gut-wrenching loss for a franchise looking to win its first World Series.

Alden Gonzalez: … and Lance Berkman, Freese’s Robin

I remember Game 6 of the 2011 World Series in vivid detail. And the person I most remember is actually Lance Berkman, who was batting two spots in front of the eventual hero, David Freese, that night. In the bottom of the ninth, with the St. Louis Cardinals down by two, Berkman worked a walk and scored the tying run on Freese’s triple. In the bottom of the 10th, with the Cardinals down a run and their season hanging on one final out, Berkman lined a two-strike single to center field, tying the game once again. We were in a suite that was serving as an auxiliary press box down the right-field line, and I’ll never forget the stunned silence that fell upon that room — like five separate times!

Freese, who famously ended Game 6 with a walk-off home run in the 11th, told me about the way he experienced that night a couple of years later. He was crashing in the living room of a college friend’s apartment in Brentwood, Missouri, at the time. When he returned from the game, all of his friends were partying. After they left, he still couldn’t sleep. He stayed up all night, grabbed his usual breakfast burrito at McDonald’s the following morning, drove to the ballpark shortly thereafter, then helped the Cardinals win Game 7.

Buster Olney: Bumgarner’s brilliance

Even before Madison Bumgarner completed a shutout in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series, speculation began about when Bumgarner might serve as a reliever in either Game 6 or Game 7. Not if he would pitch, but when Giants manager Bruce Bochy would call on him — a decision fully shaped when the Royals blew out San Francisco 10-0 in Game 6, forcing a winner-take-all showdown for the next night.

When the Giants’ clubhouse opened after the wipeout, Bumgarner was in the process of getting dressed — and was surprised, and a little grumpy, when reporters surrounded him. After all, he wasn’t starting in Game 7 and didn’t expect to get questioned. But the curiosity was a reflection of Bumgarner’s preeminence that fall.

The Giants were the fifth seed in the NL as the postseason began, but Bumgarner shut out the Pirates in the wild-card game, and continued to carry the team; he would allow only six runs in seven games that fall. Bochy kept giving him the ball and Bumgarner kept throwing up zeros, so when he began to warm up in the midst of Game 7, with the Giants leading, it felt like Superman jumping into a phone booth.

As one scout said afterward, Bumgarner simply refused to be beaten. He threw five scoreless innings that night, and when Bochy hugged him afterward, the left-hander finally acknowledged that yes, he was tired. My favorite stat from that postseason: Bumgarner threw 52⅔ innings in the playoffs and World Series, more than twice as many as any other pitcher.

Tim Keown: Sid Bream’s amazing journey

I was tempted to pick The Brian Johnson Game — a wild Dodgers-Giants game from late in the 1997 season, a sprawling, goofy, borderline stupid game that ended with a walk-off homer by Johnson an inning after Rod Beck got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out mess by inducing an inning-ending double play from Eddie Murray.

Instead, in a nod to historical import, I’ll go with Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series — The Francisco Cabrera Game. The Braves went to the World Series because Cabrera, who had just 12 plate appearances in 1992 and finished his career with fewer than 400, lined a pinch-hit single between short and third off Stan Belinda with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and the Pirates leading 2-1. Sid Bream, representing the winning run, broke from second, his body moving like a creaky erector set, and Barry Bonds charged from left field, scooped the ball near his right heel and threw toward the plate with his body angling toward center. The throw was weak and toward the mound, a one-hopper that catcher Mike LaValliere backhanded before diving toward the plate.

From the time LaValliere caught the ball to the time Bream’s left foot slid across home, time stopped. Bream was safe by the length of a spike, and afterward he lay on the plate and dropped his head on his crossed arms, telling us what we suspected: The trip from second to home was all he had in him, and if the bases were somehow 91 feet apart instead of 90, Francisco Cabrera would have gone down in history as just another guy with fewer than 400 plate appearances.

Joon Lee: Big Papi to the rescue

The favorite baseball moment I’ve ever seen comes a bit two-fold. I was at Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series when David Ortiz hit an eighth-inning grand slam off Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit to tie the game and eventually lead Boston to the World Series. I was sitting three rows from the field (a family friend had gotten tickets) right by the on-deck circle (Miguel Cabrera and a fan went back and forth all night when he was warming up). I also had been at the game preceded by the “This is our f—ing city” speech (about which I wrote an oral history), so to see Ortiz step up again for Boston made the two moments feel so connected.

The reaction to the Ortiz home run was the loudest I’d ever heard Fenway Park, and on a personal note, I was a freshman in college who was being exposed to the real world for the first time and was going through a difficult transition, and I got to see the moment with my dad, who first introduced me to baseball.

Seeing Torii Hunter flip over the wall, one of the biggest moments of the Red Sox carrying the city of Boston on their backs after the Boston Marathon bombings, was one of the most special things I’ve gotten to witness, so my mind always goes back to that grand slam. Getting to interview Ortiz, my childhood hero, about this years later only made the experience all the more special.

Bradford Doolittle: It was worth the wait

It’s not often in sports that the reality of an event lives up to the anticipation of it. But it does every once in a while, and it’s these scrapbook moments that dominate our personal memories. Game 7 of the 2016 World Series lived up to the anticipation that preceded it and more. I’ve been to big games at which I was a fan of one of the teams, and it’s tough to match an event at which you have a personal stake. I didn’t have any particular personal stake in the Cubs-Indians finale, but I don’t think I’ll ever cover a more intense contest.

What elevates that game above the rest were the sheer stakes at play. A 108-year title drought will do that, but it was also because it was the Cubs, one of the sport’s most popular teams. But then you match them up with the Indians, who deserved the limelight to themselves in the championship drought category. One way or another, we were going to witness a venerable fan base experience a release that had been building for generations.

And then the game itself turned out to be wall-to-wall insanity. Dexter Fowler’s leadoff homer. Jon Lester’s back-to-back, run-scoring wild pitches. David Ross’ dinger. Rajai Davis’ jaw-dropper off Aroldis Chapman, and the tilting energy in the ballpark when it happened. And then, finally, a smiling Kris Bryant throwing out Michael Martinez to end it. Just a pinnacle moment in the history of baseball.

Steve Richards: No-hit wonder

For sheer drama and excruciating excitement, it’s hard to beat the 14-inning, nearly six-hour-long taffy pull that was Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, the second step in the Red Sox’s historic comeback against the Yankees. But for the full ballgame experience, I can top that.

Every dad who loves baseball envisions the magical day he can take his kid to the ballpark for their first game together. For me and my 5-year-old son, Levi, a budding Red Sox die-hard just like his old man, that came Sept. 1, 2007, at Fenway Park. Honestly, I figured the action on the field would be something of a sideshow as I tended to Levi’s needs for ice cream, popcorn, souvenirs, the bathroom and more ice cream … and given his age, the two-hour trip and the fact it was a night game, I didn’t expect to make it for all nine innings anyway. I begrudgingly convinced myself that that was OK since the Sox had a pretty comfortable lead in the AL East, the Orioles weren’t exactly a marquee opponent and Boston’s pitcher was a rookie making his second major league start, some kid named Clay Buchholz.

It was indeed a magical time, seeing the wonder on my son’s face as we settled into our seats, as night fell and the lights brightened, as the Red Sox knocked around the O’s and built a hefty lead. But that was only the start of it. Right around the time I had figured we’d be heading to the exits, it was becoming clear Buchholz had some amazing stuff, no-hit stuff. As the line of zeros on the Fenway scoreboard grew longer, with the goose egg in the Baltimore hit column the most notable, the tension rose, particularly for me as I anticipated a meltdown from my exhausted son.

The meltdown never came. The electricity in the park enthralled Levi, and while he had no way of realizing how special it would be to experience a no-hitter, he wasn’t going anywhere. And Buchholz was dealing, spotting his fastball and baffling the Orioles with a dizzying array of breaking pitches. After getting Corey Patterson on a liner to center for the second out in the ninth, Buchholz froze Nick Markakis with one last looping curve for strike three to become just the third pitcher since 1900 to throw a no-hitter in either his first or second career start.

For Buchholz, it was the game of a lifetime. For me and my son, it was not only the game of a lifetime but the first of a lifetime of games we’d enjoy together.

Dan Mullen: Wild ride in Houston

This was the toughest category of the week for me to pick. Brad Doolittle and Alden Gonzalez made choosing a little easier by taking two of the prime contenders for the top spot on my list, which I narrowed to the David Roberts steal game in the 2004 ALCS and the game I ultimately settled on. The game I’m choosing stands out because besides being a huge, World Series-shifting moment — no matter what we now know about that moment — this is one game that would have been absolutely bananas had it come in Game 5 of a tied World Series or just on a random Tuesday night in June.

I remember walking into Minute Maid Park so excited about a Clayton Kershaw-Dallas Keuchel showdown in an even World Series and walking out well after midnight wondering what the heck just happened — and whether I was going to make it to the airport in time for the flight to L.A. Five hours and 21 minutes after Kershaw threw the first pitch, Alex Bregman sent everyone home with the walk-off hit in what can only be described as the craziest baseball game I’ve ever seen. In the time between, we saw:

• 25 runs

• 28 hits

• Seven home runs

• Five plays that changed the win probability by at least 25%

• Two former Cy Young winners who didn’t even make it through the fifth inning;

• A team that rallied from two separate three-run deficits

• A World Series Game 5 that had us writing stories like this just three days after we were writing stories like this

• And me totally exhausted after spending most of the night sprinting from the auxiliary box in center field to the main press box behind home plate and back while trying to figure out what we were going to write after every twist and turn along the way.

Unfortunately, none of us will ever look back at anything involving the 2017 Astros the same way again. But, man, that was one bizarre night in Houston.

Sam Miller: Cruel twist for Kendrys Morales

I want to be clear that “best” doesn’t mean most enjoyable, most joyful. There was ultimately no joy the day that Kendrys Morales hit a walk-off grand slam to end what had been a marvelous Saturday afternoon pitchers’ duel between peak Felix Hernandez and peak Jered Weaver.

As Morales came home with the final run in the bottom of the 10th inning, and we in the press box scrambled to finish our game story rewrites, Morales leaped into a scrum of teammates and landed awkwardly on home plate. As his friends briefly continued to celebrate around him, he crumpled to the ground in agony with what would turn out to be a broken leg.

It was just awful, and the sudden vacuum in that previously boisterous stadium was unforgettably affecting. The power of the silence made my eyes water. That’s the game I think about most often. It’s the reductio ad absurdum application of Yogi Berra’s baseball thesis statement: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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Pirates pitch 400 pizzas to Pittsburgh hospitals

The Pirates may not be in Pittsburgh yet, but their hearts are with the hospital workers who are providing care to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic So on Monday, the players arranged a delivery of 400 pizzas to the staff at Allegheny General Hospital.

The pizzas, plus helpings of pasta, were delivered by Pirates staff members. The idea came up as players tossed around ways they could help on a text thread. Two city restaurants converged to make the supply, Slice on Broadway at PNC Park, and Pizzeria Davide in Pittsburgh’s famed Strip District.

“We might not be in Pittsburgh, and we don’t have the opportunity to play in front of our fans and for all of us to be up in the city that’s kind of become a second home to us and that’s treated us so well,” Bucs pitcher Jameson Taillon told “We know local businesses are getting crushed and they’re really hurting and they’re really affected by what’s going on. Then obviously, the hospitals and the staff working on the front lines there, they’re putting in extra hours, extra work, exposing themselves.

“We thought this was a way to help. Two birds with one stone. We can help local restaurants. We can help the hospitals and the workers and show our appreciation.”

Taillon said Pittsburgh’s players will continue to look for ways to support local businesses and first responders.

“We’re trying to be creative and just help out any way we can,” Taillon said.

Hospital workers offered up their thanks in photos posted by pitchers Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams.

The Pirates just might make a tradition of this before long. Taillon also told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the club is also arranging to have coffee delivered to local firehouses.

“Obviously now is a pressing time,” he said, “but they’re always an important part of our communities. We just wanted to let our city know we’re with them through this.”

Last week, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf ordered all restaurants and bars to close their dine-in services. So, while the Pirates’ efforts will clearly help healthcare workers, these Pittsburgh eateries will benefit as well during this trying time.

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