March 31, 2010

Goose Gossage Gets His Own Award

As a member of the 142-strong (and growing) Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I am pleased to announce the formation of the Goose Gossage Award.

Here's the official muckety muck.

Starting with the 2010 Major League Baseball season, the Goose Gossage Award will be a postseason award given to the top relief pitcher in each league. "It's hard to picture anyone more worthy of having his name on an award such as this," said BBA founder Daniel Shoptaw. "Mr. Gossage embodies what so many people think of as the classic relief pitcher, and the BBA is honored that he has agreed to lend his name to this award."

Richard "Goose" Gossage was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 after a 22-year major league career in which he had 310 career saves and recorded a 3.01 ERA in 1,002 games played. He was a nine-time All-Star, finished among the top vote-getters for the Cy Young Award in five different seasons, and was named the 1978 Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.

The Goose Gossage Award will be voted on by the membership of the BBA. Team chapters will have two votes each for either the American or National League ballot. The General Baseball chapter will vote in a manner determined by its members.

"At the end of the 2009 season, we voted on awards mirroring those of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, though we did not have a separate award for relievers," stated Shoptaw. "Due to the popularity of that voting, we decided that it was important to differentiate ourselves from other voting organizations. With the addition of the Goose Gossage Award we have taken the first step in that direction."

Take a gander at the official website of the BBA and if you're feeling nutty...follow them on Twitter. Members of the BBA may also be heard at Blog Talk Radio each Tuesday night with their call-in show, BBA Baseball Talk.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in 2009 and numbers 142 blogs across baseball, representing 29 of the 30 major league teams and including numerous general baseball blogs. Award balloting for the BBA is a transparent process, as no ballot is counted unless it is posted on the voter's blog.


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Greg Maddux Honored by Braves

Last season, the Chicago Cubs fittingly retired number 31 for both Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins.

And given the pair won a combined 300 games for the North Siders, retiring the number for both of them (and not just one) made perfect sense.

This season, the Atlanta Braves are doing something else that mades perfect sense...adding Maddux's number 31 to Turner Field's Monument Grove.

Five other Braves (Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro and Dale Murphy) have received the honor and its likely the team won't stop at Maddux.

"There are other numbers sure to come and it isn't hard to guess which ones they'll be," Braves president John Schuerholz said.

My guess...the future Hall of Famer and current assistant to Cubs' general manager Jim Hendry is likely going to be joined by fellow Braves' All-Stars Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones.

Sorry Biff Pocoroba.

Long-time skipper Bobby Cox, who is retiring following this season, should also be seeing his number 6 honored in the not-so distant future.

And in case you were wondering...if you were to hit up Google and type in "Maddux Monument", the first thing you'd find is NOT a story about Greg Maddux. You'd be greeted with
a New Mexico headstone company.

Visit one of their four locations today!



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The "Hit King" is Hitting This...Apparently

The baseball world has had its fair share of notable hook ups...Joe DiMaggio had Marilyn Monroe, Jose Canseco had Madonna and plenty of Major Leaguers have had Alyssa Milano. Zing!

And, apparently, Pete Rose has future Playboy model Kiana King.

Daily.

Yuck.

In a recent appearance on The Howard Stern Show, the "Hit King" and his new girlfriend revealed plenty about their life together...including how the 68 year-old and 29 year-old met (at a Mercedes dealership!), how Rose is in bed and whether or not they are planning on having kids.

However, the most revealing part...the former All-Star's story about showering with Joe DiMaggio in Vietnam.

Check out the re-cap of the appearance over at
Stern's website or, if you can stomache it, get the blow-by-blow HERE.

In all sincerity, best of luck to Rose. I think the old man should enjoy the few months that this relationship will last. And here's a promise...if I see the dude when I hit Vegas in a couple of months, I'll shake his hand for all of you.


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March 30, 2010

Matt's Mailbag: March 31, 2010

I received an e-mail question yesterday asking if I could explain what happens when a player gets released from a team or sent down during Spring Training or the regular season.

It just so happens that a few days ago at practice, I was sent down to Triple-A Portland. So I guess now would be the appropriate time to explain how you find out, and what actually happens when you get sent down.

During the season it is a little different, so first I'll try to give a Spring Training example of what happens when you go from Major League Spring Training to Minor League Spring Training.

First off, you never really know when cut day is coming, but usually there will be a group of guys cut on the same day, so if you see teammates being called into the manager's office, take cover.

Usually every week or so there will be a cut day all the way up to the end of Spring Training. I showed up for practice a few days ago and quickly realized it was one of those days. Technically it really isn't a true, "cut day".

If you are in Minor League Spring Training, cut day is something totally different. If you are cut in minor league camp it means you are done, you've been released. As you can probably guess, this is the absolute toughest day for not only the player, but everyone in the organization. Sometimes you will hear that baseball is a "business" and these type of days remind everyone of that fact. The toughest part about the day is that for a lot guys it is the first time they will ask themselves, "what do I do next?"

Most players have never done anything but play baseball for most of their lives. A lot of guys didn't even get a college education. They were drafted out of high school and have put in many years of playing in search of that ultimate goal of reaching the Major Leagues.

If you get cut you really only have two options: 1) try to sign on with another team, or 2) look for a new line of work. It really is one of the saddest days of the year.

A lot of times a player that gets cut is someone that you have played with for years, and this is the day you realize there could be a chance you might never see the guy again. There have been countless amounts of my friends that have been released a few years ago and I haven't seen them since that day.

As tough of a part of the game as it is we all understand that each year there will be thousands of new players trying to take your job and that's the nature of the game.

Now back to Major League Camp.

It was around 7AM when I first noticed some players being called into the office. I went about my normal morning...getting changed, eating breakfast and heading into the trainer's room to get loosened up and ready for the day's work. I had just laid down on the training table to stretch out when I heard one of our coaches call my name.

"Manager wants to see you."

Those are the words you don't want to hear if you're a player. The only time something good has come after those five words was when I got the news that I had been called up to the big leagues. I jumped up and headed into his office. It is a pretty familiar scene for me in there considering this was my third Major League Spring Training and the third time I had been called into the office towards the end of camp. I was told that I had done a good job but they had to send me down.

We talked for about five minutes before I shook every one's hand and headed out to pack up my locker.

As I said a few days ago, I had a very good idea that I wasn't going to make the team, but it still isn't ever fun to be told you didn't make a team you were trying to be on. I grabbed my equipment bag, threw my uniform, glove, bats, and anything else I could fit in there so I would only have to make one trip, and walked it over to the other side of the building to where the minor league camp is held.

That's pretty much it.

Once you get over there you are given a new locker in a much more crowded locker room. You receive your new jersey (number 41 for me), your new pants (much tighter and less comfortable ones) and your new daily schedule. You are now part of Minor League Spring Training.

Now get to work!

Matt Antonelli is a second baseman in the San Diego Padres farm system. Do you have a question for Matt? Drop him an email at mattantonelli9@gmail.com or here in the comments section!

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March 28, 2010

Matt Antonelli Sent to Portland

If you’ve been following the “Matt’s Mailbag” feature here at The Hall you know one thing…Matt Antonelli is a good guy.

So, naturally, when I got the following email from Matt this afternoon…my heart just sunk.

I actually got sent down to Triple A today. Planning on playing well down there and getting a chance sometime this year.

And you know what…he probably will.

Antonelli was 14 for 37 (.378) this spring and saw action in 20 games. He was third on the Friars in batting average behind veteran infielder Jerry Hairston (.459) and outfielder Kyle Blanks (.380).

"This was my first step to get back," Antonelli said in a story that appeared at MLB.com. "I feel like I did a pretty good job this spring. Hopefully, I can get ready now and try to make it up there (to San Diego)."

The second baseman was one of nine players cut today by the Padres as they trimmed their roster to 29.

Antonelli will next suit up for the Padres Triple-A affiliate Portland Beavers where he spent both 2008 and an injury plagued 2009.

Hopefully, the Peabody, Massachusetts native can get back to his 2007 form when he hit a combined .307 with 21 home runs for Lake Elsinore and San Antonio.



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2010 Milestone Preview: American League West

In an effort to drum up some traffic, this is where I would normally write about WrestleMania XXVI, the Final Four or Justin Bieber.

Instead, we’ve got one of the most milestone rich divisions in all of baseball.

Sure, over in the National League Central, the Chicago Cubs have three guys (Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez) approaching 300 home runs

But out west, Seattle alone brings us future should-be unanimous Hall of Famers…Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki.

So as we head off to the AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST…here’s hoping that the WWE, NCAA and Bieber references were sufficient enough to drive traffic because God knows mentioning the Mariners won't.


LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM

The Angels most interesting storyline is in the dugout and involves, arguably, the most visible member of their franchise…manager Mike Scioscia.

18 years ago, Scioscia appeared in what many baseball fans consider the best episode of The Simpsons…“Homer at the Bat”. In that episode, the then Dodgers catcher quit baseball and got a job working at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and suffered radiation poisoning.

Going into this season, the now healthy skipper of the Angels is among the active leaders in winning percentage. At .5555, Scioscia is deadlocked with Yankees skipper Joe Girardi and just ahead of Atlanta’s Bobby Cox (.5552) and Milwaukee’s Ken Macha (.553).

An AL West title would help boost Scioscia's footing at the top.

Last year, the Halos got their money’s worth when they signed outfielder Bobby Abreu.

This year, Abreu is one to watch as he quietly is poised to enter the record books alongside such notables as Barry Bonds and Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Andre Dawson.

What does that mean?

As it stands, Abreu is 44 home runs (which would be a career high) shy from being only the seventh member of the exclusive 300-300 club.

Only Barry (762-514) and Bobby Bonds (332-461), Willie Mays (660-338), Andre Dawson (438-314), Reggie Sanders (305-304) and Steve Finley (304-320) have achieved 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases.

Abreu is sitting at 256 and 348.

Also within shouting distance of the 300-300 club…Abreu’s former teammate Alex Rodriguez at 583-297.

But that’s not the only thing Abreu has going for him in 2010. With 17 more doubles, he’ll become only the sixth active player with more than 500 doubles. And if he gets to 100 RBI again, it’ll mark the eighth straight time he’s hit the century mark.


OAKLAND ATHLETICS

The A’s are one of those teams that, from a milestones perspective, gets harder to watch each year. They’re a long way from “moneyball” and unless you count Coco Crisp (I don’t), they didn’t make their patented “former perennial All-Star on the decline of their career” signing this off season.

I suppose you could look at Hawaiian-born KURT Suzuki’s name in the boxscore, purposefully confuse yourself and wonder when Seattle traded the face of their franchise (Japanese-born ICHIRO Suzuki) to Oakland.

But why bother? The real deal resides in the Pacific Northwest and is still out there re-writing the record books.


SEATTLE MARINERS

I go into every baseball season (or daily life for that matter) hoping and praying that I can avoid making any references to Britney Spears, but, unfortunately, I can’t this time.

That’s right…oops, he did it again. Sorry.

Ichiro, who, coincidentally dropped in the United States only 11 months after the multi-platinum Spears album, keeps on doing what he does best.

After nine years in the Majors, he has:

  • Nine straight seasons with a .300 or better batting average
  • Nine straight seasons with 200 or more hits
  • Nine straight seasons with 25 or more stolen bases
  • Nine straight Gold Gloves
  • Nine straight All-Star appearances

By comparison...nevermind. There really is no comparison to Ichiro when it comes to consistency. The guy is sick.

The only knock against Ichiro…he failed to become the only Major Leaguer to start his career with nine straight seasons of 200 hits, 100 runs and a batting average of .300 or more when he fell 12 runs shy in 2009.

Ho hum.

The only American League outfielder that has more Gold Gloves in consecutive years than Ichiro, is teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. with ten straight from 1990-1999.

And while it’s not likely that “Junior” will get to his fourteenth All-Star game or bring home his eleventh Gold Glove, he does enter 2010 as the active leader in hits (2763), home runs (630), RBI (1829) and runs created (1989).

As far as true milestones however, all Griffey has in his sites is surpassing Hall of Famers Dave Winfield (1833), Ted Williams (1839), Carl Yastrzemski (1844) and Mel Ott (1860) to move into eleventh place all-time on the RBI leaderboard.


TEXAS RANGERS

Thank God, Texas signed Vladimir Guerrero this off season or talk of the Rangers would be limited to uncomfortable “did you hear the one about the manager who did cocaine” jokes.

The bare-fisted slugger (which, in hindsight sounds worse than it is) is looking to rebound from a dismal, injury plagued 2009.

Prior to last season, Guerrero had 12 straight seasons with 25 or more home runs. If he hits the mark this season, not only will he move up on the all-time list (he’s at 407 now), but that will be 13 out of 14 seasons and, frankly…that ain’t too shabby.

One last interesting sidenote about AL West. Did you know that it is home to two of the lowly three Major League Teams that have never appeared in a World Series game?

It’s true, Texas, Seattle and the Washington Nationals have never played in the Fall Classic. Will 2010 be the year the streak is ended…stay tuned!

Smart betting, however, says it won’t.

The National League West is next and should wrap things up. In the meantime, feel free to check out Milestone Previews of the American League East, American League Central, National League East and National League Central.


BallHype: hype it up!

Baseball Meets Wrestling...Seems Logical

A couple of weeks ago in a story about Bob Uecker being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, I took the high road and steered clear of making a steroids joke when discussing wrestling, baseball and the Hall of Fame.

This week...I'm going to try and do it again since it seems the three of them DO have more in common than just performance enhancing drugs. And no, I won't be going into the whole "this one seemingly allows them" and "this one says they don't" comparison.

Last night in Phoenix, when the WWE inducted "Mr. Baseball" into their Hall of Fame (check out the text of his speech HERE), he bacame the second former Major Leaguer to achieve the honor.


After an eight year hiatus, the WWE relaunched their Hall of Fame to coincide with WrestleMania XX and Pete Rose was inducted by, fittingly, "The Big Red Machine" Kane.

But why are Uecker and Rose in the WWE Hall of Fame?

Uecker served as an announcer for two of wrestling's biggest all-time pay-per-view events (WrestleMania III and IV) and famously got choked out by wrestling legend Andre the Giant.
Rose, on the other hand, did Ueck on better...having appeared at WrestleMania XIV, XV and 2000.

Also taking part and joining Rose in those memorable WrestleMania XV and 2000 appearances was the Famous San Diego Chicken. No word yet if the Chicken (a member of inaugural Mascot Hall of Fame) will be joining fellow bird enthusiast Koko B. Ware in the WWE Hall of Fame.

But the WWE connection with Major League Baseball doesn't end with Uecker, Rose and his feathered friend.


In 2007, baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs inducted the late Curt Hennig. The unlikely pairing struck up a friendship after Boggs appeared with "Mr. Perfect" in a 1983 vignette. According to Boggs...it didn't end with just that taped piece.

"We became good friends, hunting and fishing buddies. In fact, he once saved my life while we were hunting in 2001," Boggs said prior to Hennig's Hall of Fame induction in 2007. "I got entangled into a barbed wire fence and was cut pretty badly. It took all the strength Curt had to free me and carry me about a mile back to the truck. He saved my life and has a special place in my heart."

And while most WWE stars (past and present) have a history with professional football, there is at least one whose roots can be traced back to minor league baseball.

Randy Poffo was actually an outfielder who spent parts of four seasons in the low minors before becoming "Macho Man" Randy Savage.

A career .254 hitter in the St. Louis and Cincinnati organizations, his best season was his final one...with the Reds single-A affiliate Tampa Tarpons. Savage, er, Poffo finished third in the league in RBI and tied for fifth in home runs.

The 1974 North Division Champion Tarpons didn't produce any significant Major Leaguers, but the Florida State League that season had a few rising stars...speedster Ron LeFlore, pitchers LaMarr Hoyt and Dennis Martinez and a young Eddie Murray.

Lastly, this past December saw current Major Leaguer Johnny Damon grab the mic as guest host of Monday Night Raw. Now, I'm not an avid RAW watcher, but as one blogger put it, Damon looked "dazed and confused out there...A for effort".

Damon's new team, the Detroit Tigers, are hoping for better results. The WWE, on the other hand, has been taking advantage of the dazed and confused for years.



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March 26, 2010

Batting Stance Guy: "Livin' the Dream"

Gar Ryness and I started swapping emails about a year ago yet, for some reason, when I see his name pop up on my Blackberry...I get all giddy. Could it be another story about baseball, mustaches, Ron Kittle's glasses...or just a simple "how ya doing"?

This morning...it was none of the above.

Hey Posse-

Excited the season is upon us. I have a book releasing in May. Simon & Schuster wanted a summary of past two years. Thanks for your encouragement.

Peace-
g

If you remember earlier this year when Ryness did an exclusive interview with The Hall, the book was mentioned. Who knew that Simon & Schuster (home to such literary nobility as Stephen King, Bob Woodward and Todd Bridges) was behind it?

Feel free to check out the summary video Ryness alluded to
over at his website. His book, Batting Stance Guy: A Love Letter to Baseball, is out May 11...you can pre-order it over at Amazon.


BallHype: hype it up!

March 25, 2010

Dear Anonymous Pirates Fan...

In the comments section of last season's National League Central Milestones piece...some joker signed on anonymously and wrote:

Let's get some analysis in this "article" next time and your Pirates description was non-existant and non-informative.


Wow...really, anonymous Pittsburgh Pirates fan?

I realize that I should've gone with the obvious...the fact that the Bucs were going to set a record for futility by being the first professional team ever (yes, EVER) with 17 consecutive losing seasons, but I didn't know about it.

Instead I responded with an equally snarky:

Anyone else find the irony with the guy posting as "anonymous" blasting me as giving a "non-existant and non-informative" description of the Bucs?

Something tells me that the person was logging on from Pittsburgh and are blind to the fact that the only "milestone" that can possibly be reached by a member of the Pirates this year is former Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske hitting the 1000 games played mark sometime in late July to early August.

I mean, what else do they have going for them...the LaRoche brothers?!? Well, they aren't exactly the DiMaggios, gang!



So to make it up to that lone anonymous Pirates fan...here are their 2010 milestones, courtesy of smitty over at Rum Bunter.

When the Bucs raise the jolly roger for the 71st time this year, John Russell will have 200 wins in his managerial career for the Bucs. It will put the Bucs skipper at number 15 on the Pirates Manager All-Time Win List.

Paul Gurner Maholm could reach 1000 innings pitched in his career with a healthy 2010. Maholm would need to pitch 204 innings. He pitched 206.1 in 2008 and 194.2 last season.

After Maholm went yard last year, Maholm needs just 474 homers to tie Willie Stargells’ All-Time HR record.

Zachary Thomas Duke reaches 500 career strikeouts when he rings up victim number 91. God please let it be Ryan Braun. Duke can also reach 1000 innings pitched in his career if he can spin it for 194.2 innings this season. Also with four base knocks this season, Duke will reach 50. Zach has five career doubles leaving him 553 shy of the all-time record which is held by Pirate great Paul Waner.

Octavio Eduardo (Diaz) Dotel needs 17 saves to reach 100 and with 60 strikeouts, Dotel will make it 1000 for his career.

Brendan ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ Donnelly needs to play in 52 games and have 57 strikeouts to reach 400 in each category.

Ryan Matthew Doumit needs 144 hits to reach 500. Fellow Pirate backstop, Manny Sanguillen was intentionally walked 92 times which ranks fifth all time. Doumit has been intentionally walked 14 times in his career, so with 79 intentional free passes Doumit jumps Manny? That’s not too far fetched. Heh, Sangy…records were made to be broken. Also, if Doumit can throw out 31 runners this year, he will reach 100 for his career.

Aki Iwamura needs just 121 hits to reach 500 in his North American MLB career.

Ryan Church is 44 hits away from the popular 500 mark.

Robert Edward Crosby needs to hit 39 homers in 2010. If he does that, not only do the Bucs finish above .500, but it gives Crosby 100 for his career.


Go Pirates?


BallHype: hype it up!

2010 Milestone Preview: American League Central

Growing up listening to Chicago radio and TV…I have been inundated with Cubs and White Sox talk all my life.  And it made me sick to my stomach.

Maybe it was because of that I’ve never had much of an affinity for either team.

You see, because of other influences (family, vacations, etc.), I have always been more of an East Coast fan. And that’s why it is bittersweet that, finally, the division that always bored/bothered me is finally getting some national attention.

It doesn’t matter what side of the Ozzie Guillen Twitter war you’re on or whether or not you think Joe Mauer’s new contract is a good deal for the Twins (it is)…Minnesota and Chicago have made the baseball world stand up and take notice.

So with that…here comes the AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX

The White Sox are a little difficult to get a handle on lately. A few years back, they win the World Series…and let go of the best player to pull up the palehose since the Eisenhower administration all in the name of “diminished skills” and getting younger.

And who do they bring in…35 year-old Jim Thome.

Last season, four years following their supposed youth movement, they trade Thome to whoever will take him. They get rid of the equally ancient Jose Contreras and look to get younger again.

And who do they bring in? An over-the-hill designated hitter (Andruw Jones), an equally as seasoned left fielder (Juan Pierre) and one of the few players in the Majors who could tell you where he was when man landed on the moon (Omar Vizquel).

Jones is seemingly a lifetime (and a few pants sizes) away from the wide grinned 19 year-old who, in 1996, became the game’s youngest ever to go deep in a World Series game. But all kidding aside, he is 12 home runs away from reaching 400 for his career and still has the pop to, if healthy, accomplish the feat by the All-Star break.

While the acquisition of Jones is a little bit of a puzzler, Vizquel actually makes some sense considering his 11 Gold Gloves fits nicely on Chicago’s bench as a mentor to some of their younger players.

Unfortunately that’s about all he can do. Well…that and pad his Cooperstown caliber stats.

The all-time leader among Venezuelan born players in a number of categories, the Sox actually issued Vizquel the retired number of countrymate (and Hall of Famer) Luis Aparicio.

And speaking of retired numbers (note the shameless segue), the Southsiders are planning on retiring Thomas’ number on August 29. It’s the least they can do for their team leader in runs scored, total bases, doubles, home runs and RBI.


CLEVELAND INDIANS

Now that Kerry Wood is already in mid-season form (out at least two months with a back injury)…enter new closer Chris Perez. Perez, if you’re keeping track, is one save away from TEN for his career.

You guessed it Tribe fans…not many milestones to choose from in 2010.


DETROIT TIGERS

Raise your hand if you knew that new Tiger Johnny Damon is the active triples leader with 95.

Nice work.

Give yourself another pat on the back if you knew that he is sitting ninth among active players…75 hits shy of 2500 for his career.

On the other side of the outfield, rightfielder Magglio Ordonez is quietly putting up, yes I’ll say it, a terrific career. Mags is 26 hits away from 2000 for his career and 23 home runs away from 300.

And I know it isn’t really a “milestone” per se, but Detroit reliever Fu-Te Ni has the shortest last name in the Majors this season. At six letters, he is one of a slew of players to have the second shortest full name ever.

The shortest…former Pittsburgh Pirate catcher Ed Ott.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

And from one of the game’s shortest names…to one of the league’s longest. Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt is only two letters (18) behind Texas catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (20).

Unfortunately, that’s about all Kansas City has going for it outside of Jason Kendall climbing up the all-time hit by pitch list.

It’s true.

Kendall is sitting at fifth all-time with 248…just 39 behind all-time leader, Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings.


MINNESOTA TWINS

Let’s all make each other a promise. When Joe Mauer’s contract is up following the 2018 season…we’ll meet back up and talk about how the American League’s best hitter is a steal at just $23 million a season.

As it is, the Twins will open their new stadium with future Hall of Famer Jim Thome on the bench. While he isn’t likely to hit the milestone, Thome is 36 home runs away from 600 for his storied career.

Also within shouting distance for Thome (provided he plays another two seasons), is the all-time strikeout record. With 2313 to his credit(?), the five-time All-Star is 284 shy of Reggie Jackson’s record 2597 whiffs.

The American League West is next. In the meantime, feel free to check out Milestone Previews of the
American League East, National League East and National League Central.


BallHype: hype it up!

March 22, 2010

Matt's Mailbag: March 23, 2010

After a brief hiatus, Matt Antonelli is back answering your questions...here goes!

Mike asks: When you go to bat, do you have a plan of attack? You have a reputation for being a very selective hitter. Do you look at a pitcher and think about the pitch he's going to throw you in a specific situation? Or do you wait for a pitch that you can hit well and just react? Like, do you go into a 3-1 count thinking fastball and geared to hit it? Obviously, to some extent you do, but is it more reactions or anticipation? Thanks.

Matt answers: Thanks for the question Mike. I think this is a cool question because even though I have played baseball for a long time and am still currently playing, I wonder what goes through certain players' heads while they are standing in the batters box. I've also been asked thousands of times, "were you expecting to get that pitch?"

I'll try to give a few examples and what I am thinking just prior to a thrown pitch, but I won't be able to cover every situation because that might take all day.

To start off, when I go up to hit I definitely have a plan of attack. If I have never faced a pitcher before I will watch him throw his warm-up pitches before the inning starts to see what pitches he throws and how he controls them, what his arm angle is like and how fast or slow is his delivery. I'll usually ask around to different teammates to see if anyone has faced him in the past and what information they have on him.

After he has warmed up and I walk to the plate I have to think about the game situation that we are in. What inning it is, what is the score, if we have any runners on base, could there be a good chance of a hit and run or a bunt, do I have to hit the ball to the right side to move a runner over to third, is there a runner on third and we need a sac fly, those type of things.

Every single different situation makes me think differently about what pitches I might see and where they pitcher is going to try to locate them.

Let's just say I am hitting early in the game with nobody on base and a tied score. This is probably the most basic example I can think of. I walk to the plate against a guy I have never seen before and know nothing about other than he's a lefty with an 88 mph fastball and he likes his change-up against a right-handed hitter. First pitch I would probably be sitting on, my favorite pitch, a fastball middle of the plate, and I'm looking to hit something hard right back up the middle on a line.

He throws a fastball, a great pitch on the outside corner for a strike. Because it wasn't the location I was looking for and it was early in the count I take it for strike one. Now it's 0-1 and I step out of the batters box. I have a good idea about how his fastball looks. When I step back in I know I can't look for my absolute favorite pitch because I'm behind in the count, but I still don't have to swing at anything just because its a strike.

I'll open my zone up a little bit, but still look for something middle-away to drive right back at the pitcher or to the second baseman. I still sit on a fastball, but because I am looking to hit the ball back up the middle or hard at the second baseman I am ready to hit an off-speed pitch if he leaves it in my area. If I was looking to pull a fastball I wouldn't have much of a chance to hit an off-speed pitch hard.

Next pitch is a fastball located perfectly on the inside corner. I take it for strike two. Damn this guy is pretty good. I tip my hat to him and get ready to battle. He has thrown two great pitches, something that doesn't happen all the time, but will happen every once and a while.

It isn't fun being down 0-2, but now I got to do what I can to put a ball in play. I have to swing at a strike no matter what part of the plate it is located on. I step in and am looking for a pitch away, but ready to react to anything inside. With two strikes this is probably my best strategy. If I look away I still have the ability to react to a fastball in and hopefully foul it off. If I happened to look for a pitch in and got a change-up away I wouldn't have much of a chance of doing anything with it. I also don't just sit on a fastball anymore. I start to sit on something a little softer, and if he throws his fastball I will have to react quickly to fight it off.

He throws an 0-2 fastball inside again but this time misses for a ball. Now I'm 1-2, not much better than 0-2, but I have another chance at a mistake pitch left over the plate. I stay with my same approach looking soft away.

The next pitch is a 1-2 change-up away but he doesn't put it where he wants it. He leaves it up a little and it hits a good amount of plate. Because I'm looking for something softer and away its right where I am looking. I hit a ball right back up the middle for a base hit.

That is an example of a typical at-bat I would face in say the first inning of a game in Triple-A. When you are in the Major Leagues it is a lot different. Before the game even starts you would look at film of the opposing starting pitcher. I would already know what his fastball looks like, how his change-up looks and how hard it is, and if he has a curve ball or slider to go with it. I would also have a really good idea about how he likes to work right-handed hitters.

Before every game we are given a scouting report on the opposing pitcher we are facing. It will give a few words about what type of pitcher he is and what his tendencies are. It will show what percentage he throws each pitch at each count. For example it would say that to right-hander, 0-0 he throws a fastball 72%, a change-up 22% and a curve ball 6%.

It would have this breakdown for every count possible, so when you get to that count you have a reference on what he might be thinking. Of course, you still have to take the game situation into consideration. If there is a man on second and a base open in a tied game in the bottom of the 8th, that is going to change up his thinking a lot. Same thing if you happen to be a 3 hitter versus a 9 hitter.

Baseball is absolutely not an exact science, but any information you can get on someone, even if it is small can help. Players in the Major Leagues are the best players in the world, so even small things can sometimes make a big difference.

Now to give a few examples of in-game situations that might change your thinking a little bit. I won't break down the entire at-bat but just throw the examples out there.

Say you are hitting with a man on second in a close game with no outs and your job is to move the runner. Now you could bunt if you wanted, but usually you will take the option to swing and move him with a ground ball to the right side.

The first thing I would do is move off the plate a little bit. I do this because I want to hit the ball to the right side, so getting a pitch on the outside part of the plate makes it easier to do than a pitch on the inside part of the plate. By moving off the plate I turn the inside part of the plate into the middle of the plate, and the middle into the outside.

Just as you know that your job is to move the ball to the right side, the pitcher knows the same thing and he isn't going to give you a nice pitch on the outside corner to make your job easier. I'm going to look for a pitch out over the plate to make my job easier. He is probably going to try and throw a sinking fastball located over the inside part of the plate or an off-speed pitch to get me to roll over to the 3rd baseman or shortstop. If he can locate three pitches were he wants them it will make my job really tough, but if he makes a mistake I have to be ready to capitalize on it and do my job.

Next, say I am hitting with a runner on third and less than two outs in a one run game. The opposing team decides to play the infield in. Before I step into the box I decide I want to hit a ball in the air to the outfield for a sacrifice fly.

In this situation I am going to look for a fastball up in the zone which will make hitting a fly ball much easier. The pitcher is going to try and locate a pitch down in the zone to induce a ground ball. If he has a good sinking fastball he will probably use this, but can also go with off-speed pitches located down. A lot of these situations come down to pitch recognition.

Do I know what pitch I am looking for and can I recognize when I am getting it? Then, can I put a good swing on the ball to do my job?

If I can, I will get an RBI and hopefully help our team get a victory.

As you can see there are different things to think about in different situations. I wish I had more time to keep going into different situations but there are literally hundreds of different situations we could talk about. I hope you found this useful and next time you see a guy up in one of these situations you will have a better idea about what both he and the pitcher are thinking.

Thanks again for the question.

Matt Antonelli is a second baseman in the San Diego Padres farm system. Do you have a question for Matt? Drop him an email at
mattantonelli9@gmail.com or here in the comments section!


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2010 Milestone Preview: National League Central

A funny thing happens every year in the middle of March…65 college teams tip off their tournament believing that “this is the year” and before even a pitch is thrown, one baseball team is already proclaiming that they’re going to “wait ‘til next year”.

Why is there such blind optimism among the college ranks (I’m specifically looking your way Northern Iowa and Cornell) and pessimism among the pros?

Could it be the pressures to succeed, the folly of youth or the fact that the Cubs have to square off against Albert Pujols fifteen times this season?

As you ponder that…here’s your NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL.


CHICAGO CUBS

Last season, Chicago's Central division rival Houston Astros had three players top 300 home runs for their career. This year, the Cubs are in the same position by having Derrek Lee (293), Alfonso Soriano (290) and Aramis Ramirez (264) all within shouting distance of the milestone.

Ramirez is the longshot given the shoulder injury that plagued him for most of 2009, but at only 31…it is worth mentioning that only the afore mentioned Pujols and Adam Dunn are younger and have hit more.

In the dugout, skipper Lou Pinella is 16 wins away from becoming only the fourteenth manager with more than 1800 victories. And of the ten Hall-eligible managers ahead of him on the list, only one (Gene Mauch) is not enshrined in Cooperstown.

For a lot of teams, it takes a former player getting voted into the Hall of Fame to get their number retired. One look at their foul poles and you’ll realize, that, for the Cubs…they have no such policy.

That being said, would it be too much to ask that the Cubs FINALLY hoist Andre Dawson’s number 8 up alongside the six former Cubs that have their numbers retired.

I realize that the guy isn’t going into the Hall as a member of the “Loveable Losers” (you can read the reasons why he should
HERE), but that wasn’t his choice. The Northside loves the Hawk and he loves the Northside…retire his number.


CINCINNATI REDS

20 years ago, the Reds sweep the heavily favored Oakland A’s in the World Series. In the years since, they’ve made one playoff appearance and have finished at .500 or better only three times.

Unfortunately this season isn’t appearing to look at brighter.

Provided he can stay healthy (easier said than done), Scott Rolen is 17 home runs away from 300. Sure the third baseman’s best years are behind him, but 17 home runs is not out of the picture.


HOUSTON ASTROS

If you look close enough when Houston takes the field this season, you’ll notice a patch commemorating the team’s 45 years as the Astros. Their moniker prior to becoming the ‘stros…the Colt .45s?

Coincidence? Probably.

About the only milestone Houston has going for it is Roy Oswalt’s countdown to 300 wins. With 13 more…he’ll be half way there!


MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Quietly, reliever Trevor Hoffman is still out there putting up great numbers. After being left for dead following the 2008 season (really San Diego…releasing Hoffman by fax?), the future first ballot Hall of Famer took to the hill in Milwaukee and put together one of his top four or five seasons.

A couple of years ago, Hoffman became the first closer to reach 500 saves. By the time the rest of us celebrate Memorial Day, he’ll have already become the first to 600.

After taking 2009 off, outfielder Jim Edmonds is competing for a job with the Brewers. Should the eight-time Gold Glove winner make his way north to Milwaukee, he’ll add to his 382 home runs.

Now, I’m not suggesting that 400 home runs is the new 500 (let’s face it, 600 is going to be)…but 400 home runs IS important. With 18 homers, Edmonds will be sitting at 46th all-time, having jumped over such notable as Johnny Bench (389), Dale Murphy (398) and Al Kaline (399) in the process


PITTSBURGH PIRATES

In this, their tenth year at PNC Park, the Pirates will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bill Mazeroski’s game winning home run in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series by unveiling a statue outside their ballpark.

After that, the only thing Bucs fans have to cheer about is the possibility of their teams breaking their already record streak of 17 consecutive losing seasons.

Unfortunately, that is about as likely as third-year skipper John Russell making it to his fourth year at the helm of the Pirates.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

St. Louis has turned into one of those teams where all of their potential milestones could get overlooked because of the achievements of one man.

So before we get lost in the majesty that is Albert Pujols…let’s look at the only other Redbirds worth mentioning.

Skipper Tony LaRussa is first among all active managers with 2552 victories. All-time, he’s third…211 behind John McGraw.

Alright…so, here’s what we can look forward to from Pujols this season.

“Prince Albert” starts 2010 with 366 home runs. Should he get those 34 and reach 400 by the end of this season, he’ll be the youngest National Leaguer to reach the milestone (30 years old) and second youngest overall after Alex Rodriguez who was a couple of months shy of his 30th birthday when he belted his.

Now, assuming Pujols gets 30 or more home runs, 100 RBI and hits better than .300 (something he’s done in each of his nine seasons so far), he’ll not only be the only cat to start his career with ten straight seasons with those numbers, but also…he’ll be the only player to have done it in ten straight seasons in a row.

Should he get 40 or more home runs and 40 or more doubles this season, it’ll be a record fourth time he achieved the feat. Last season, he tied Lou Gehrig as the only player to have done it three times.

And should Pujols do all the above and take home another National League MVP award, he’ll be only one of two players (Barry Bonds has seven) to be named his league’s best more than three times.

It’s safe to call this guy the best in the game, right?

Thought so.

The American League Central is up next. Feel free to go back and check out the American League East HERE.



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March 20, 2010

"Jesus" Strasburg Sent to Double-A

After giving up just two runs this spring training for the Washington Nationals, last year's number one overall pick, Stephen Strasburg packed his bags, his Bible and is heading north.

Unfortunately, he'll be passing up our nation's capital and landing in Pennsylvania's...but don't let anyone tell you that this wasn't about money.

"It's not an easy decision," National General Manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post, "but we can't be short-sighted. We have to look what's best for the organization long term. That's dictated by what's best for Stephen Strasburg's development."

Really? The guy has a Major League cannon for an arm, hits 100mph on the Jugs gun...yet this is "what's best" for his development?!?

How about the fact that Harrisburg just recently dumped a ton of money into renovations at Metro Bank Park? What about the fact that that same ballpark is home to this year's Eastern League All-Star Game?

And, oh yeah, if he stays in the Minors for the first two weeks of the season, Strasburg's free agency and eventual departure from Washington gets pushed back a year. If he's there for two months...his arbitration eligibility gets pushed back an extra season as well.

To me, it appears that Strasburg's "development" coincides with a potential windfall organization-wide for the Nationals.

Let's just hope that this slight speedbump doesn't derail Strasburg...because just by being the first pick in the draft guarantees him instant success, right?

Wrong.

Would you be shocked to find out that since the draft started in 1965, there hasn't been a single number one draft pick to make his way to The Hall of Fame?

Matter of fact, only four players that have been selected in the top ten of the respective draft classes have been enshrined...Reggie Jackson (drafted second overall in 1966), Robin Yount and Dave Winfield (selected with the third and fourth picks in the 1973) and Paul Molitor (taken third overall in 1977).


All in all, a pretty good foursome...but you've gotta admit, it is a little surprising.

And
before you ask, yes, there appears to be at least three number ones that will be joining Jackson, Yount, Winfield and Molitor in Cooperstown in the upcoming years. Ken Griffey, Jr., Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez were all taken first in 1987, 1990 and 1993 respectively.

Lastly, tickets for the Harrisburg Senators home opener go on sale Saturday.


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March 19, 2010

Matt's Mailbag: March 19, 2010

Simply put, good friend of The Hall, contributor Matt Antonelli is having a good spring. In fact, going into the weekend, he's hitting ..375 (9 for 24) through 12 games with the Padres this spring.

In lieu of the normal "Matt's Mailbag" feature...give Matt's interview with HotStove.com a listen.


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March 18, 2010

"Ocho Uno" is En Route to Louisville

Another sign that the baseball season is right around the corner…teams are starting to reduce their roster size.

Today, the Cincinnati Reds pared their roster to 48, sending Hall of Very Good favorite Jon Adkins to their Triple-A affiliate in Louisville.

“I grew up in Wayne, West Virginia where everyone is a Reds fan, including myself,” Adkins told The Hall exclusively after signing a Minor League deal with the Reds back in December. “Louisville is four hours from Wayne (and) is a great place to spend your spring and summer.”

Also en route to Possibility City, Adkins’ spring training number with the parent club…81.

“We have the 81 jersey, we also have an ‘Ocho Uno’ name plate,” Bats Vice President/General Manager Dale Owens said, referring to Adkins’ Chad Johnsonlike desire to be addressed by his number. “I also have an Adkins name plate. I am going to let Jon decide when he gets here. I'm not even sure if it's legal…but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

This spring, the righty appeared in four games, allowing seven runs in 5.2 innings. Last season with the Lotte Giants, Adkins was 3-5 with a 3.70 ERA and a Korean Baseball Organization leading 26 saves.

Over his Major League career, he has compiled a 5-5 record and a 4.54 ERA in 119 appearances. For most of 2008, he served as the closer for the Louisville Bats, Cincinnati’s Triple-A club, saved 30 games and was the Bats co-MVP.



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March 17, 2010

2010 Milestone Preview: American League East

It would be really, really easy to sit here and write on and on about Alex Rodriguez.

The fact that, at 33, he’s just 17 home runs away from becoming the youngest player to hit 600 home runs.

Too easy.

The fact that he’s about to leapfrog plenty of Hall of Famers as he climbs up the all-time RBI list.

Like taking candy from a baby.

The fact that, last year, by finishing with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the 13th time in his career, he broke a tie with Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx for the most in MLB history.

Fish in a barrel.

Like I said, coming up with praise for A-Rod would be easy and that’s why I’m choosing to, again, ignore his efforts and focus on the rest of the AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST.


BALTIMORE ORIOLES

In just their 110th year of existence, the Orioles don’t have a ton to talk about this season.

Among the only milestones worth mentioning…newly re-acquired Miguel Tejada enters 2010 with 285 home runs. And with back-to-back seasons with 13 and 14 home runs…it remains to be seen if the 2002 American League MVP can get his old stroke back.

Also of note for the O’s is Brian Roberts and his ability to amass extra base hits 50 doubles or more at a time. Should “B-Rob” hit that mark again, he’ll be one of only two players (Hall of Famer Tris Speaker is the other) with four seasons with 50 or more doubles.


BOSTON RED SOX

When the Red Sox travel to Baltimore May 2, newly acquired Mike Cameron will celebrate the eighth anniversary of becoming just the thirteenth player to hit four home runs in a game.

With 1798 career strikeouts, the 37 year-old centerfielder sits eleventh all-time…18 behind Dave Kingman. With any luck(?), Cameron, could finish the season fifth overall.

Hooray?

And speaking of Ks (weren’t we?), Fenway’s favorite octogenarian Tim Wakefield is a mere 21 punchouts away from becoming the third knuckleballer with 2000 or more strikeouts.

Also within reach for Wakefield is 200 wins. Nestled behind Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez and the awesomely named Brickyard Kennedy and Urban Shocker, Wakefield is sitting at 189…good for third (fifth if John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez find work) on the active list.

Wakefield’s 175 wins in Boston is just behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens’ 192 on the all-time Red Sox list. But getting 17 Ws out of Wakefield this season (or the next two for that matter), might be a pipedream.


NEW YORK YANKEES

The big news last season (for some reason) was Derek Jeter surpassing Lou Gehrig as the Yankees hit king. Now that that is has come and gone…all we can focus on is the All-World shortstop’s countdown to 3000 hits.

Which, unfortunately, won’t come until 2011.

With 2747 hits to his credit…let’s all agree to re-visit this topic a year from June shall we.

And given only one American League pitcher has notched 21 wins or more in the last four seasons, it isn’t likely that Andy Pettitte is going to get the 21 necessary to raise his career total to 250.

What is likely, however, is that CC Sabathia WILL get the 14 wins he needs to get to 150 for his young career. At only 28 (he turns 29 in June), the big lefty has the best shot among all young hurlers to end up in that 250-300 range.


TAMPA BAY RAYS

Carl Crawford is the Rays career leader is just about every offensive category. With 92 triples to his credit, he is third among active players (Johnny Damon and Jimmy Rollins each have 95), but probably the most likely to reach 100 first.

One category that doesn’t see Crawford atop the leaderboard is home runs. Going into the season, for Ray Aubrey Huff is 12 home runs ahead of current first baseman Carlos Pena.

With an average of 39 home runs in each of his years in Tampa Bay, odds are Pena will be the Rays all-time leader before Memorial Day.


TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Now that the constant Roy Halladay trade rumors that plagued the Blue Jays last season are a thing of the past…Toronto fans can focus on Vernon Wells inching toward 200 home runs for his career.

Sure, Halladay and his amazing track record north of the border was something of Canadian folklore, but this is Vernon Wells, people.

Vernon. Wells.

Nevermind.

The National League Central is next on the docket…feel free to check out the National League East HERE.



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March 16, 2010

John Smoltz is Going Back to Atlanta

I'm getting a little tired of the "is he" or "isn't he" game that a lot of the 90s premier pitchers seem to be playing.

We've all seen Roger Clemens come and go and come and go again and again. Last season, Pedro Martinez held out until he found a suitable suitor.

And just a few weeks ago, Tom Glavine (who was out for all of 2009) finally hung it up.

Now, John Smoltz is pulling the same trick...taking time off to join TBS as a broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves and serving as an analyst for their slate of nationally televised Sunday games.

All the while, you guessed it, not retiring and, reportedly, planning on staying in shape should a opportunity present itself.

Given that Smoltz is now seemingly done (or not), you're going to be hearing more and more about his Hall of Fame candidacy and how he should be a shoo-in on whatever ballot he pops up on.

But is he?

Was he that good or did he just reap the benefits of hanging out alongside Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and the Braves dynasty (and yes, it was a dynasty) of the 90s?

Let’s break it down.

Right off the bat, Smoltz’s career record of 213-155 isn’t the most spectacular. But when you add in the four seasons where he came in from the bullpen (three seasons where you could consider him the most dominant closer in the National League), 213 wins and 154 saves looks marvelous.

You could argue that without that stint as the Braves closer and a season lost to injury, we might be looking at a guy with 255 to 270 wins...a total which would put him in the same conversion (winswise) as Hall of Famers Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266) and Bob Gibson (251).

As it is,
Baseball-Reference has his four best comparisons as Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, Jim Bunning and Luis Tiant.

But let’s not judge Smoltz on his win-loss record and 154 saves (he is, along with Dennis Eckersley, the only pitcher to top both 200 wins and 150 saves), there is more to the man.

In 2008, Smoltz became only the 16th member of the 3000 strikeout club and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that only one Hall eligible pitcher (Bert Blyleven) north of the 3000 K mark is not in the Hall of Fame.

However, unlike Blyleven, Smoltz has brought home a Cy Young Award (he finished in the top five three times), was an eight time All-Star and was absolutely spectacular in the post-season.

And that is what separates the men from the boys…Smoltz’s post-season achievements.

Say what you want to about the afore mentioned Schilling and his post-season accolades, Smoltz was close to unstoppable for the Braves going a combined 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 40 post-season games.

Most impressive is his 7-0 record and a 2.52 ERA after toeing the rubber 15 times during Divisional Series action.

In Atlanta’s 1995 Championship run, Smoltz, ironically, had his worst showing by being unable to win a game and having a 6.60 ERA (15.43 in the World Series) in just three appearances.

The next year though, Smoltz amassed 29 total victories if you add up his regular season, All-Star Game and post season wins. The only modern day hurler to best that total is Denny McLain and his 32 wins in 1968.

So back to the question at hand…is John Smoltz a Hall of Famer, much less a first ballot guy?

Yeah…probably.

There is something to be said for a pitcher that can go out there, miss an entire season (2000) due to Tommy John surgery and come back with a completely different mindset and delivery.

Dude changed up his legacy by establishing a National League record for saves (55 in 2002), and, in the process, becoming only the second pitcher in history (Eckersley, again, is the other) to have had both a 20 win and a 50 save season.

Admittedly, I’m all over the map when it comes to Hall of Fame endorsements. I’ve questioned the candidacy of Bert Blyleven
, yet I’ve applauded the efforts of both Orel Hershiser and David Cone, but as far as Smoltz is concerned…I’m sold. I just wish he was on that same 2014 ballot alongside Maddux and Glavine.

It would only seem fitting, wouldn’t it?



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