New Age Collisions and Matt Holliday

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The photo you see above is Graig Nettles kicking George Brett in game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. The Yankees eventually won the game and the pennant. A brawl occurred between the two teams following this incident. No one was kicked out of the game. (Get it?)

If that happened today, someone would have to be thrown out. I think. Although Roger Clemens was allowed to fling a projectile—a broken bat—at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series and didn’t get tossed. It’s a fine line between defending oneself and running the risk of getting ejected.

In last night’s game 2 of the NLCS, on a double play attempt, Marco Scutaro of the Giants was nailed and had his hip injured on a takeout slide by Cardinals’ outfielder Matt Holliday.

You can watch it below.

Holliday was past the base and his specific intent was to hit Scutaro hard enough to prevent the double play. He did it cheaply with a dangerous roll block and raised arm making it doubly treacherous for the infielder. This isn’t little league and there’s a reasonable expectation for hard, clean play. Infielders have their own little tricks they use to prevent this from occurring. In general, they use the base for protection because the runner is technically not supposed to pass the base; they also throw the ball sidearm and specifically aim it at the runner’s head (this is taught) so the runner has to get down to avoid getting beaned. Holliday’s play was arguable in its legality/line-crossing because the ball and Holliday arrived nearly simultaneously and Scutaro didn’t have the time to hop out of the way or use the base as protection, nor could he throw the ball at Holliday’s head. Holliday did go past the base to get Scutaro.

It wasn’t overtly illegal, but it was a legal cheap shot.

On the Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver—a former catcher, no stranger to home plate collisions—compared the play to Buster Posey getting leveled by Marlins’ outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011. Posey had his ankle broken, needed surgery, and was lost for the season. It was his absence that set forth the chain-of-events that might have cost the Giants a second straight World Series and forced them to search for more offense and surrender their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets.

There was no comparison between the two hits because what Holliday did was questionable at best and dirty at worst. What Cousins did was within the rules. Rules and propriety don’t always intersect and if that’s the case, then baseball has to step in and clarify the grey areas.

What creates the controversy is that it’s so rare in today’s game. In the Royals-Yankees annual ALCS matchups (4 times in 5 years between 1976 and 1980), Royals’ DH/outfielder Hal McRae took every opportunity to try and send Yankees’ second baseman Willie Randolph into the left field seats and break up a double play. It’s perfectly acceptable for a runner to run into a fielder if he has the ball and is trying to tag him, but the last player I remember doing it was Albert Belle.

With catchers and runners, it’s an old-school play that some former catchers like McCarver, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi, and Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would like to see outlawed, while Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia thinks it’s an integral, exciting, and necessary aspect of competition. No one will accuse any of the above ex-players of being wimps. All were tough, but disagree on the subject. Scioscia relished the contact and was the recipient of one of the most brutal collisions I’ve ever seen in 1985 when Jack Clark of the Cardinals barreled into him. Scioscia was knocked out; Clark was staggered as if he’d been he recipient of a George Foreman sledgehammer punch; and Scioscia held onto the ball.

Nobody runs over the catcher anymore. There’s a commercial playing in New York of Derek Jeter crashing into a catcher. When has Jeter ever run into a catcher? It’s almost never done, and when it is, it turns into a national catastrophe if one of the players gets hurt.

The camaraderie and brotherhood among the players also precludes these hard plays. Everyone knows each other now. With the limited degrees of separation and the amount of money at stake, few are willing to take the chance of ruining another player’s career. You don’t see knockdown pitches; you don’t see take-out slides; you don’t see busted double plays; and you don’t see home plate collisions.

It wasn’t an, “I’m trying to hurt you,” play. But an injury was a byproduct. It was legal, yet borderline. If MLB wants to make it illegal or come up with a way to constrain it, then fine. Until then, it’s acceptable. As long as the people in charge fail to make a concrete announcement and provide a clear-cut mandate to the umpires that certain actions won’t be tolerated, there will be players who are willing to do what Holliday did, injured players, and indignant reactions in its aftermath.

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My Guest Posting Appearance On FangsBites.com

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I wrote a guest posting on FangsBites.com about Joe Buck and Tim McCarver and why we may not be sentenced to a lifetime of listening to (or muting) the diuretic duo.

This gun’s for hire.

Check it out here.

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Valentine’s Been Through This Before

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In Bobby Valentine’s first full year with the Mets, the team started out 4-10 and the veterans had already spent a substantial amount of time before the season in clandestine meetings discussing how and whether they should try to get him fired.

This was after he’d managed the team for a total of 31 games in late 1996.

Valentine was under constant pressure from the media for another already lost Mets’ season after 14 games. They’d been bad for so long, the front office hadn’t spent any money to improve a club that had finished the previous season at 71-91 under Dallas Green and Valentine and it looked as if they were well on the way to an even worse year.

But Valentine maintained his positive outlook, insisted that the team was better than they were playing and swore they’d turn it around.

No one believed in him or the Mets.

But they slowly pulled themselves together and were 18-18 after 36 games. They worked their way over .500 until they were as much as 15 games over .500 by August and one game out of the Wild Card lead.

Because they were in a division with the Braves and Marlins, they didn’t come close to a playoff spot. A massive trade made by new GM Steve Phillips brought Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas and Brian McRae from the Cubs for Mark Clark, Lance Johnson and Manny Alexander and didn’t pay the immediate dividends they’d hoped for. It wound up being a net winner for the team because the only player who was of any long-term use to either club was Wendell, but for the rest of 1997, it failed.

That September as the club faded, Valentine engaged in a public spat with star catcher Todd Hundley as Valentine complained about Hundley’s sleeping habits (or lack thereof) negatively affecting his game.

Valentine had also had a preseason dispute with pitcher Pete Harnisch as Harnisch was dealing with depression and withdrawal from quitting chewing tobacco. Valentine was blamed for the mid-season firing of GM Joe McIlvaine in a power struggle which Valentine won.

After the season he was held responsible for the ouster of longtime broadcaster Tim McCarver because Valentine felt McCarver doled too much criticism on the Mets.

Overall, Valentine came off as cold, heartless, dismissive of player complaints and Machiavellian in his attempts to accumulate organizational power from the composition of the roster to the teaching in the minor league system to the front office structure to the men in the broadcast booth.

Some of the allegations were based in truth and others were scapegoating because Valentine was an easy target since he was so polarizing.

The best starter on the staff that season wound up being Rick Reed. Reed was a journeyman righty who was shunned in the clubhouse by leader John Franco because he’d been a replacement player in 1995. Valentine managed him at the Mets’ Triple A affiliate in Norfolk and believed in him. Uninterested in acquiescing to demands or forging bonds with his veterans like Franco, Valentine did what he thought was right for his team.

And it worked.

Factions of the clubhouse hated him, but other players swore by him rather than at him because without Valentine’s insistence and belief, they wouldn’t have had major league careers at all.

Three years later, the Mets were in the World Series.

What has to be remembered now as he’s trying to handle the Red Sox is that underestimating his stubbornness and resiliency is a big mistake.

Those who think Valentine is going to resign from the Red Sox job because of a bad start can forget it.

The 1997 Mets didn’t have the expectations of the 2012 Red Sox. They weren’t trying to rebound from a humiliating collapse. In fact, that Mets team came out of nowhere.

But there are similarities to the circumstances.

If he gets a sense that the wind is blowing in the direction of him being fired, Valentine is not going to go down meekly and if that means taking on members of the front office like GM Ben Cherington or players who are running interference and smearing him behind his back, he’s going to do that.

This is not to say that Valentine has done a good job with the Red Sox because he hasn’t. Everyone is at fault for the mess they’re in. Ten years out of a Major League dugout might have caused the game to pass him by. Perhaps he can’t relate to today’s players and is overmatched for this toxic brew and massive scrutiny that no one could’ve anticipated. If that’s the case, then the hiring was a mistake, but to imply that any other manager would have a better record with this group is pure folly. The idea that “somewhere Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are laughing” is possible, but if true both men are doing a wonderful job of brushing aside their contributions to this burgeoning disaster.

Valentine didn’t put this team together, but he’s got to deal with it.

This is his last opportunity. He’s not going to give it up without a fight.

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Hall of Fame 2012—Larkin and Raines and Pray for the Sane?

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Let’s talk about the Hall of Fame candidates for 2012.

I use every aspect of a player to assess his candidacy from stats; to perception; to era; to post-season performances; to contributions to the game.

Any of the above can add or subtract credentials and provide impetus to give a thumbs up/thumbs down.

Because the Lords of baseball, the owners, media and fans looked the other way or outright encouraged the drug use and performance enhancers, that doesn’t absolve the players who used the drugs and got caught.

Regarding PEDs, here’s my simple criteria based on the eventual candidacies of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: if the players were Hall of Famers before they started using, they’re Hall of Famers; if they admitted using the drugs—for whatever reason, self-serving or not—or got caught and it’s statistically obvious how they achieved their Hall of Fame numbers, they’re not Hall of Famers.

As for stats, advanced and otherwise, it’s all part of the consideration process; certain stats and in-depth examinations make players (like Bert Blyleven) more worthy in the eyes of open-minded voters than they were before; the era and what they were asked to do (i.e. “you’re here to swing the bat and drive in runs” a la Andre Dawson and Jim Rice) fall into this category of not simply being about the bottom-line. Their career arcs; their sudden rise and fall and other factors come into the equation.

In short, this is my ballot and what I would do if I had a vote. If you disagree, we can debate it. Comment and I’ll respond.

Barry Larkin

Larkin should wait a bit longer.

He was overrated defensively and only played in more than 145 games in 7 of his 19 seasons. Larkin was a very good player who’s benefiting from certain factions promoting him as a no-doubter with the weak-minded sheep unable to formulate a case against him and joining the wave of support.

Alan Trammell is in the same boat as Larkin and is barely getting any support at all.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Alan Trammell

Trammell was a fine fielder and an excellent hitter in the days before shortstops were expected to hit. He’s being unfairly ignored.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe, but not by the writers.

Jack Morris

Morris was a durable winner who doesn’t have the statistics to get into the Hall of Fame. To be completely fair, his starts on a year-to-year basis have to be torn apart to see whether his high ERA is due to a few bad starts sprinkled in with his good ones and if he has a macro-argument for induction. It was that endeavor which convinced me of Blyleven’s suitability and I’ve yet to do it with Morris.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? His percentage has risen incrementally but with three years remaining on the ballot, he’s got a long way to go from 53.5% to 75% and probably won’t make it. The Veterans Committee is his only chance. They might vote him in.

Tim Raines

Are you going to support Kenny Lofton for the Hall of Fame?

By the same argument for Lou Brock and Raines, you have to support Lofton.

And how about Johnny Damon? And if Damon, Lofton and Raines are in, where is it going to stop?

The Hall of Fame building isn’t going to implode with Raines, but it might burst from the rest of the players who are going to have a legitimate case for entry and going by: “if <X> is in, then <Y> should be in”.

Let Raines wait.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Jeff Bagwell

How does this work? Someone is a suspect so they receive a sentence of exclusion when nothing has ever been proven? Bagwell’s name has never been mentioned as having been involved in PEDs and the silly “he went from a skinny third baseman to a massive first baseman who could bench press 315 pounds for reps” isn’t a convincing one to keep him out.

Bagwell’s a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No. Bagwell is going to get caught up in the onrush of allegations of wrongdoing and people will forget about him.

Mark McGwire

Under my Bonds/Clemens criteria, McGwire wasn’t a Hall of Famer without the drugs, so he’s not a Hall of Famer. McGwire admitted his steroid use and apologized as a self-serving, “yeah, y’know sorry (sob, sniff)” because he wanted to work as the Cardinals hitting coach.

An apology laden with caveats isn’t an apology. He’s sorry in context and that’s not good enough.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Juan Gonzalez

Gonzalez won two MVPs and his stats weren’t padded by playing in Rangers Ballpark to the degree that you’d think because the numbers were similar home and road; Gonzalez has a viable resume but will get caught up in the Dale Murphy category and be kept out.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Edgar Martinez

I’ve written repeatedly in response to those who say a pure DH shouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame: it would’ve been more selfish for Martinez to demand to play the field for the sake of appearance so he’d have a better chance at the Hall of Fame.

He was a great hitter without a weakness—there was nowhere to pitch him.

Martinez is a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe.

Larry Walker

He batted .381 in Colorado with a .462 on base and 1.172 OPS. That’s going to hurt him badly.

But he was a Gold Glove outfielder who rarely struck out and had good but not great numbers on the road.

He was never implicated in having used PEDs.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? I don’t think so.

Rafael Palmeiro

In my book, arrogance and stupidity are perfectly good reasons to exclude someone.

Palmeiro could’ve kept his mouth shut or not even gone to speak to Congress at all—the players weren’t under any legal requirement to go. He didn’t jab his finger in the faces of the panel, he jabbed it in the faces of you, me and the world.

Then he got caught.

Then he piled sludge on top of the gunk by offering the utterly preposterous excuse that he didn’t know how he failed the test.

This is all after he began his career as a singles hitter…in Wrigley Field!!

Conveniently, he got to Texas and came under the influence of Jose Canseco to become a basher.

Don’t insult my intelligence and expect me to forget it.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Bernie Williams

Combining his stretch of brilliance from 1995-2002 and his post-season excellence, he’s not an automatic in or out; over the long term he might garner increasing support.

He was never accused of PED use and is a well-liked person. Looking at his regular season numbers, he falls short; memorable playoff and World Series moments will help him as will his Gold Gloves (in spite of the numbers saying he wasn’t a good center fielder).

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Possibly.

Larkin and Raines might get enshrined in 2012 by the “we have to have someone” contingent which pretty much proves the silliness of the way players are voted in, but it will only be those two.

Ron Santo is going in via the Veterans Committee and he’s dead; Tim McCarver is deservedly going in via the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and a large crowd won’t gather to see McCarver as the only one speaking in August. So politics and finances may play a part for this class.

Raines and Larkin had better hope they get in this year because in 2013, Clemens, Bonds, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Craig Biggio are on the ballot.

I’m quite curious about Sosa to the point of supporting him because: A) I’d like to see the color of his skin now after a strange Michael Jackson-like alteration from what he once was; and B) I want to know if he learned English since his own appearance (alongside Palmeiro) in front of Congress.

It’s worth the vote in a non-linear sort of way.

Apart from that, it’s 2012 or wait, wait, wait for Larkin and Raines.

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Would Terry Francona Have Basis for a Lawsuit Against the Red Sox?

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In an interview with WEEI radio, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona lashed out against the person or persons who leaked the story that painkillers were an issue for him this season—Boston.com story.

Given his anger at how the Red Sox slammed him on the way out the door and the anonymous sources that suggested Francona had a prescription drug problem, does the former manager have a case to sue the Red Sox and the Boston Globe for slander and libel respectively?

There were two openings that Francona was up for following his departure from the Red Sox. One was with the Cubs and the other the Cardinals.

The man who hired him in Boston, Theo Epstein, is now the team president of the Cubs; presumably Epstein knew the whole story with Francona’s pain medication and what really happened in Boston; but the Cubs chose Dale Sveum as their manager. That doesn’t say anything about Francona personally; Sveum is a good choice and probably a better fit for the Cubs in their current state.

Francona was asked about it in his interview to manage the Cardinals. The Cardinals were a solid landing spot for a proven manager. We’ll never know whether his failure to get that job had something to do with the allegations—the Cardinals wouldn’t admit it if it did—but the idea of it being a reason they didn’t select him can’t be dismissed out of hand as they chose the neophyte Mike Matheny over Francona.

Francona is now out of work. His contract with the Red Sox was technically not renewed so he wasn’t fired. Having acquitted himself well as a broadcaster during the ALCS filling in for Tim McCarver, he’ll be a broadcaster in 2012 and those jobs tend to pay well.

He’s very well-liked as a person as well and if he grew desperate, he could find employment without being the manager of a team; Francona worked in the Indians front office after he was fired as Phillies manager and was a bench coach for the Athletics. But it’s a major comedown financially and in stature for a manager with Francona’s pedigree of two World Series wins to have to grovel to sit next to a manager who is undoubtedly not going to have the resume that Francona does.

This is different than the Red Sox saying Nomar Garciaparra was being a petulant, self-indulgent baby when they traded him; somewhat different from saying Pedro Martinez‘s arm wasn’t going to hold up for the length of a 4-year contract and claiming the Jason Bay‘s knees and subpar defense made him a poor signing for the amount of money and years he wanted and wound up getting from the Mets.

This is what the Red Sox do; they continued the tradition by saying negative things about Francona to justify the parting of ways as a means of self-protection for the inevitable backlash for letting the popular manager go.

If Francona has a doctor to back up his version of events and he doesn’t get a managerial position when he chooses to truly pursue one, would he have legal recourse to say the Red Sox impugned his reputation and cost him other opportunities?

I said at the time that the Red Sox—with the amount of money they spent on the 2011 team and the horrific collapse stemming in large part from lax discipline on the part of Francona—had a right to make a change if they felt another manager would handle the club better on and off the field.

But they didn’t have to spread these stories.

Could Francona sue the Red Sox?

It would be a bad idea. This is baseball. A lawsuit might lead to him being blackballed to a greater degree than an addiction; but if he feels they’re doing this intentionally and whispering lies to hurt his career in an effort to look better themselves, he has a legal right to look into it seriously if he has to.

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Cardinals Hiring Of Matheny And The Plans Of Francona

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Mike Matheny, with no managerial experience but widely respected as a cerebral, defensively-oriented catcher on the field and a leader off the field, was hired to replace Tony LaRussa as the new manager of the world champion Cardinals.

It’s a gutsy hire, but he’s known in the clubhouse, will handle the media and, as a former catcher, will know what to do with the pitchers; the only question I’d have concerns with are his offensive strategies. Will he be a proponent of inside baseball and prefer the bunt and stolen base? Or will he rely on the power bats Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and (presumably) Albert Pujols?

There will be instances of Matheny pulling a Joe Girardi and “managing” to make it look like he’s doing something when he should just let the players play.

Letting the players play is managing too. There’s no need to do “stuff” for the sake of it.

An overlooked positive with the Matheny hiring is his and pitching coach Dave Duncan‘s familiarity with one another from having worked together for so many years and each knowing how the other thinks—with Matheny, there’s a great chance Duncan stays on; given Duncan’s miracle-worker status, that’s far more important than the man who’s managing the team.

Terry Francona was passed over in favor of Matheny; it sounds unlikely that he’s going to join Theo Epstein with the Cubs.

So what should he do with no jobs left available?

He should wait.

Francona acquitted himself well as a broadcaster filling in for Tim McCarver in the ALCS and broadcasting would provide a way to stay around the game while allowing him to recharge his batteries; it would spare him of the substantial mental and physical exertion from the rigors of managing and will only do him good for his next opportunity.

Jobs could open during 2012—good jobs.

The Braves collapse was obscured by the one that cost Francona his job with the Red Sox. If they get off to a poor start, would they lose patience with Fredi Gonzalez in an “it wasn’t working” kind of way?

Francona would be great for Atlanta.

Reds manager Dusty Baker‘s contract is up after 2012; he and GM Walt Jocketty don’t see eye-to-eye.

Ned Yost grates on his players with his temper and he’s not a strategic wizard. Francona and the innocently climbing Royals—packed with young players and supposedly ready to spend to improve quickly—are a match.

The easiest thing to do when having done something for so long is to continue doing it, but that’s not always the best course of action. Burnout could extend to the interview process and if Francona’s continually going in for jobs that appear his to lose and he doesn’t get them, it adds more fuel to the fire that he was a product of the Red Sox substantial talent more than a two-time World Series winning manager on his own merits.

It could be a blessing in disguise and put Francona is a much better circumstance if he sits back and waits for another shot.

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The Media’s Team

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Podcasts

HBO Zone is showing Oz every night at 11:00 and last night’s episode centered around a prison riot in which the inmates took command. Naturally, it degenerated into a battle for control and some semblance of a government had to be formed. The same things that caused many of the characters’ incarcerations cropped up as they had neither the aptitude nor capacity to cope with inevitable issues of running any entity.

They thought they could run things, but couldn’t.

It led me to wonder what would happen if the the experts in the media were given a team to run.

Would their self-proclaimed expertise expressed in the newspapers, on the radio and television and online extend to being able to handle running an organization?

I’d love to find out.

I’d love it if MLB expanded with one more team—owned by MLB—with a reasonable payroll of $80-100 million; a farm system put in place three years before the big league club began playing; and some of the more abusive cheap shot artists and faux experts the media has to offer were placed in charge—real charge, not just as gimmickry.

I’m talking about Mike Francesa; Joel Sherman; Keith Law; Rob Neyer; Jon Heyman; Tim McCarver—I’m sure you have favorites of your own to add to the list.

What would happen?

I’ll tell you what would happen: reality would set in for the likes of Francesa and Sherman that they can’t say whatever they want and espouse their theories of baseball as if they have this innate knowledge that could be implemented and suddenly inspire the players to perform.

Both would be abused by their players and the other big league organizations.

Law’s regurgitation of scouting terminology and shaky in-the-trenches baseball knowledge would manifest itself quickly. Neyer’s obnoxious tone and laziness would last maybe five seconds.

I’m not saying this as an April Fool’s joke either. I’m serious. They’d have a budget; they’d have a GM, scouts—all media members—and one of them would have to manage the team. I’d make Sherman manage just to see him, with his deer in the headlights countenance and pompous condescension, be picked apart by the players. I guarantee he’d wouldn’t have the faintest clue how to handle people—one of the more important and undermentioned attributes a manager must have.

This wouldn’t be a “Ted Turner decides to manage” scenario as the former Braves owner pulled in 1977 when he sat in the dugout in uniform for one game, but didn’t really manage the team. The selected manager would have to manage the team. The coaches would be real, major league qualified coaches, but the manager is the manager.

So how would it go?

Would Francesa be able to navigate his way around the players and media like he does a case of Diet Coke and his callers?

Would Sherman, Heyman, Neyer, Law, McCarver (the only former athlete on my list—one who’s forgotten what it is to be a player) have any chance at all?

I think we know the answer, don’t we?

It’d be a train wreck of epic proportions. In fact, it’d be a nightmare. They wouldn’t know what to do; how to handle the players; the media; the lower levels of running a club like ticket sales and fan relations; they’d be at a loss with the humanity.

Would they learn a lesson?

I doubt it, but it’d be hilarious to watch.

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

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I’ll be hosting a forum on TheCopia.com. I’ll give the details on Twitter and Facebook. Click on the links at the top of the page for my Twitter/Facebook accounts.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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