Four Marlins All-Stars? That’s more than Miami’s World Series teams

 

There are four Miami Marlins on the 2016 National League All-Star roster and none of them are Giancarlo Stanton or the still-suspended Dee Gordon.

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 2: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins throws a fourth inning pitch against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – JULY 2: Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins throws a fourth inning pitch against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

What does that mean about the team’s postseason possibilities? Probably nothing. The Marlins’ world championship teams of 1997 and 2003 only had three All-Star representatives each.

Kevin Brown, Charles Johnson and Moises Alou were on the first title team. Mike Lowell, Dontrelle Willis and Luis Castillo were on the second one, and it took injuries to other players to get the D-Train and Castillo on the roster.

Nobody’s ever quite sure what to make of this franchise and the ebb and flow of its talent pool.

This season it’s no surprise to see Jose Fernandez selected as an All-Star, but Marcell Ozuna? The team seemed to be pretty much fed up with him last season. Now he’s batting over .300 for the first time and headed for the All-Star game in San Diego next Tuesday. Maybe Ozuna ought to take Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds with him.

Miami’s other two All-Stars are out of the bullpen, A.J. Ramos and newcomer Fernando Rodney, recently acquired by trade from the Padres. That says two good things about the organization. It’s got depth in an area that is vital to the success of any team, plus the Marlins are aggressive enough about the 2016 playoffs to spend important assets on an All-Star arm.

[The upside on Whiteside, Pat Riley’s No. 1 priority before Wade]

[Pat Summitt was one of Steve Spurrier’s best friends and inspirations]

[My bizarre day in the company of boxing Hall of Famer Macho Camacho]

Still, there’s no reason to get worked up about something crazy with this club, right? No World Series run or anything like that.

Every time a thought like that crosses my mind, I think of 2003. At the All-Star break, the Marlins were 49-46 and 13 games behind the division-leading Braves. Then came a 42-25 finish to grab a wild-card playoff berth and you know the rest.

At the moment Miami is a bit over .500 again as the All-Star break approaches. Close enough to make some noise, especially if Stanton keeps hitting long home runs. He could still have an All-Star level second half of the season, even if he’s missed the mark so far.

Here’s a look back to when the Braves, suddenly craving a Palm Beach County camp, actually trained here

(In 1997, the Atlanta Braves’ final season of spring training in West Palm Beach, I wrote a story highlighting the team’s 35 years here.

There’s some pretty interesting stuff in here, particularly if you are new to the area and didn’t know there used to be a stadium where the Home Depot now sits at Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and Congress Avenue.

  Even better, the Braves are hustling now under a deadline to find a new spring training home because their Disney World site no longer rings all the bells. They could have stayed in Palm Beach County, could have been part of the Roger Dean Stadium deal in Jupiter, could have done a lot of things.

  Here, though, if you’re in the mood to do a little reminiscing, is what they actually did do here, back in the days when former Braves owner Ted Turner said “As long as I own the Braves, there is one thing I’ll never change and that’s spring training in West Palm Beach. We’ll always be here.”)

 

By Dave George

Palm Beach Post

Feb. 23, 1997

WEST PALM BEACH – The original contract called for a five-year relationship between the Milwaukee Braves and West Palm Beach back in 1963. With caution the two parties entered into a spring-training relationship. No one could see 35 years down the road.
Frankly, seeing into the outfield was difficult enough at the time, so thick was the cloud of construction-site sand blowing across the undeveloped plain.

Nov. 27, 1992, aerial photo of West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium, with West Palm Beach Municipal Auditorium ("the leaky tepee") in the background. Staff photo by Lannis Waters.
Nov. 27, 1992, aerial photo of West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium, with former West Palm Beach Municipal Auditorium (“the leaky tepee”) in the background. (Palm Beach Post Staff photo by Lannis Waters)

Players draped their faces in towels as they huddled in the dugout that first spring, baseball bedouins in a strange land where snakes lurked just beyond the outfield fence and the aroma of popcorn was overpowered by that of fresh paint and freshly poured parking lot pavement.
As the grounds crew gathered to chalk the lines of the batter’s boxes for the opening exhibition game, somebody noticed that home plate had been planted in the ground backwards.
Of course, that would never happen at Disney World, where the Braves will train beginning next year, but there the franchise will never be more than a corporate partner. In West Palm Beach the team of Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro and Dale Murphy and yes, even Biff Pocoroba, was almost like part of the family. We observed each other up close, warts and all, and shared every emotion from hilarity to grief.
Palm Beach County isn’t being robbed of spring training, not with the Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals scheduled to open a new Jupiter facility next year. But the annual visit of the Braves, at various times through the years the best and worst team in baseball, will be missed. Before they were America’s team, or even Atlanta’s, they belonged to West Palm Beach.
And to think it all began with a box of alligators.
The late Ray Behm wasn’t just a city commissioner in 1963. He also was owner and operator of Uncle Bim’s hardware store in West Palm Beach, where customers went for everything from rain gutters to pet reptiles.
Therefore when Behm accompanied West Palm Beach Mayor C. Ben Holleman on a goodwill visit to Milwaukee, he decided against the overused gift of a crate of oranges. Baby alligators would be more fun, Behm figured, and would ensure that West Palm Beach stood out in the minds of Braves officials as they shopped around for a place to transfer their training camp from Bradenton.
“They brought all of us small alligators in cardboard containters,” said Palm City’s John McHale, then the Braves‘ president. “The problem was what to do with them. It was 5 below zero when they got up there.”

The zoo is open

After that introduction, it should have come as no surprise to the Braves that the first few weeks in West Palm Beach were a zoo.
The West Palm Beach Auditorium and Palm Beach Mall weren’t even in the planning stages back then and the residential developments of Lou Perini, former Braves owner, were yet to come. Municipal Stadium, in other words, was an oasis of civilization in the midst of a vast palmetto patch that ran west to the horizon.
Veteran pitchers Lew Burdette and Warren Spahn delighted in catching snakes on the stadium property and dumping them among teammates on the clubhouse floor. Rookie Len Gabrielson, a 6-foot-4 outfielder, made the mistake of screaming out his phobia about snakes and running for safety, which guaranteed a daily discovery of the animals in his locker.
Such adventures could have been avoided had the Braves simply moved into ancient Connie Mack Field in downtown West Palm Beach. The team wanted a new stadium, however, and Perini, whose original plans called for the Boston Red Sox to join Milwaukee here, wanted a centerpiece for his real estate venture.
The Kansas City Athletics trained in West Palm Beach for 17 years prior to Milwaukee’s arrival, but city officials were eager to rid themselves of Charlie Finley, the cantankerous owner of the A’s and the man who introduced the designated hitter and night World Series games to baseball. Upset at being “treated like a second-class citizen” by city officials, Finley took his team to the Braves‘ old facility in Bradenton. Ironically, however, the A’s were back in 1963 to provide the opposition for Milwaukee at Municipal Stadium’s opening game.

Working in the dark

There was no roof on the stadium that day, nor would there be until 1964. What’s more, Jim Fanning had to spend the night at the stadium guarding opening-day tickets with a shotgun because there was no lock on the box-office door. Fanning, who went on to become manager and general manager of the Montreal Expos, also worked by flashlight with Braves spring training coordinator Pete Skorput bolting seats into the grandstands at the last possible moment.
Expos manager Felipe Alou arrived in West Palm Beach in 1964 following a trade from the San Francisco Giants and made quick use of the new Palm Beach Lakes Golf Club across the street from Municipal Stadium. Snakes no longer were a problem, but hooks were. Alou broke the window of a passing car with an errant drive.
“It only cost me $42 to fix it,” Alou said. “I wonder what that would cost today?”
No telling, but here is what it cost to watch a Braves exhibition game when they first arrived at Municipal Stadium. One dollar for general admission and $2.50 for a field-level box seat.
Spahn, Burdette and Eddie Mathews once toured the Palm Beach estate of Joseph Kennedy, presenting the father of the sitting president with an autographed baseball and a season pass.
Not always, however, has the community interaction been so positive.

`Beeg boy still hit’

In 1968, for instance, Braves third baseman Clete Boyer and catching coach Bob Uecker were involved in a wild brawl at the Cock and Bull, a downtown bar. Uecker had a beer bottle broken over his head and reported to camp the next day with a turban-like bandage under his cap. Paul Richards, the Braves general manager, fired Uecker, clearing the way for an announcing career far more successful than anything the clubhouse clown ever achieved in baseball.
That same spring outfielder Rico Carty found himself feeling run down in the final days of training camp, even though he was leading the team in exhibition RBI at the time and batting .316. A physical exam revealed the Dominican star had tuberculosis and would miss the 1968 season.
“That was scary,” Alou said. “Luckily nobody else caught it but the whole camp – players, coaches, reporters, everybody – had to ride down to the doctor’s to get tested. What a tumult.”
Carty received treatment at the Southeast Florida Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Lantana for several months, then returned to Municipal Stadium in the spring of 1969 to rejoin the team. The first batting practice pitch that was delivered to him Carty pounded over the left-field fence.
“Beeg boy still hit,” Carty said with a laugh, as all around the batting cage joined in. “Beeg boy always hit.”
Montreal joined the National League as an expansion franchise in 1969 and the Expos were invited by the city to share Municipal Stadium with the Braves. Atlanta kept the main diamond for workouts, however, which caused a few disputes.
Once Expos manager Gene Mauch had to be chased off the main field by Skorput. Mauch had laid claim to his team’s use of the diamond by arriving early in the morning. Skorput found the manager sitting on a bucket by the pitcher’s mound and reading a newspaper.
Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record was the story of spring training 1974. The Hammer stayed at a condo across the street from the stadium and was escorted by security guards everywhere but home plate.

`We’ll always be here’

Ted Turner blew into town in 1976, a 37-year-old communications executive and yachtsman who bought the Braves for $12 million. “As long as I own the Braves,” Turner told city commissioners, “there is one thing I’ll never change and that’s spring training in West Palm Beach. We’ll always be here.”
Nothing, however, lasts forever, not even the blessing of Dale Murphy in a baseball uniform. Like so many other stars, he broke into the major leagues at a West Palm Beach training camp. What’s easily forgotten are the times he was sent back down, a 6-4 catcher who couldn’t get the ball down to second base with any accuracy. Once, after a particularly wild workout, Dale’s dad, Chuck Murphy, was overheard saying, “Don’t worry Dale, if that guy had been stealing center field, you would have had him pegged.”
There have been tragedies, too, during the Braves‘ stay in West Palm Beach. New York Mets manager Gil Hodges died of a heart attack at Good Samaritan Hospital in 1968 after playing 18 holes at Palm Beach Lakes. John Mullen, a Braves vice president who had been with the organization for more than 30 years, also suffered a fatal heart attack in his Palm Beach Gardens hotel room in the spring of 1991. Then, two springs ago, replacement pitcher Dave Shotkowski was murdered while walking along Australian Avenue.
This story overflows, however, with smiles, and not all of them have to do with the official spring training period.
The Braves‘ minor-league offices were destroyed on a summer night in 1984 by a rampaging bull that had escaped from its parking lot pen at the auditorium. The animal, part of a traveling rodeo show, crashed through the plate-glass doors of the Braves‘ complex and smashed everything in sight once inside the building.
For a couple of summers in the late 1970s, the city allowed a motocross promoter to haul thousands of tons of dirt onto the stadium infield for a series of motorcyle races. This displeased the Braves mightily, but there was nothing in their lease to prevent it. The respect of a World Series participant wasn’t always due the team, particularly when Atlanta was consistently finishing in last place.
“I can remember walking from the parking lot to the clubhouse with no one saying a word to me,” Mark Lemke said. “A couple of times I had to convince one of the guards of who I was. He wasn’t going to let me in.”
And now the Braves are preparing to get out. So eager is the team to get to Orlando that an exhibition game is scheduled this spring at the new Disney World facility. When they go, so will the celebrity sightings on a spring afternoon. The Harlem Globetrotters yukked their way through a couple of workouts in Braves uniforms 20 years ago. John Goodman was here in 1994 filming a movie about Babe Ruth and taking a few pinstriped cuts in the cage. Christie Brinkley dropped by last spring to wow players with her prowess as a photographer.
Come March 26, the final home exhibition game, the Braves‘ long-running West Palm Beach show will be shut down for the final time. But the scrapbook, it stays open forever.

[10 years after Heat’s first title team, Wade and Haslem drive on]

[NFL draft rarely enough to instantly transform a team like Miami]

[Most Heat teams with 50 wins or fewer have flamed out in first round]

 

 

One potential compromise remains between baseball and Pete Rose

 

Baseball won’t have another commissioner for a long time and Pete Rose is 74 so that leads to one last potential compromise between the game and its most popular pariah.

Rob Manfred, who on Monday announced that Rose’s ban from official baseball activities and affiliations must stand, should explain that the Hit King will absolutely be eligible for induction to the Hall of Fame posthumously because the ban would no longer be relevant.

FILE - DECEMBER 14, 2015: It was reported that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Pete Rose remains banned for life from Major League Baseball December 14, 2015. CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 14:  Former player and manager Pete Rose looks on prior to the 86th MLB All-Star Game at the Great American Ball Park on July 14, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH – Former player and manager Pete Rose looks on prior to the 86th MLB All-Star Game at the Great American Ball Park on July 14, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Along with that, the commissioner should say that he supports the enshrinement under those conditions, recognizing that it does not violate the tone of the “permanent” ban for gambling on games involving a player or manager’s own team. Can’t get much more permanent than passing on.

An announcement like that wouldn’t provide much cause for celebration. It’s pretty grim, to tell the truth, but it’s likely all that Rose is going to get.

He would make full use of it, too.

Signing “Future Hall of Famer” on all those baseballs he autographs, and at a higher price.

Wearing a cap with Hall of Famer* stitched on it, treating the obvious asterisk like a wink.

Doing all the TV interview shows and talking about what it means to know his space at Cooperstown is reserved, allowing coming generations of fans to celebrate his career in full and not in part.

There’s no point in hoping for more. Manfred has done his review of the ancient case against Rose, who after years of bold denials finally admitted to the crime of crimes in baseball. This commissioner won’t be doing another review. Manfred won’t change his mind that Rose’s continued involvement in betting on baseball through legal means is a sign that the old hustler is addicted to the action and can’t be trusted to stop, even as he runs his autographing empire from Las Vegas’ casino row.

All those who defend Rose, who rail against baseball’s hypocrisy in this and other matters, understand this. They just can’t change it.

Manfred is the only one who could. The only ounce of hope he provided was an explanation that the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball are separate organizations and that Cooperstown’s rules of eligibility are not tied to baseball’s ban rules in this matter unless the Hall wants them to be.

[Take a ride on the dizzying coaches’ carousel with Muschamp, Golden and Richt]

[Five reasons the Hurricanes should be more fired up about Sun Bowl assignment]

[Firing Tommy Hutton is ultimate proof Marlins won’t let anyone be happy]

I, for one, have said all I can think of to say about this through the years. Rose said he made one big mistake but it was many mistakes, and many lies to cover those mistakes. His playing career was epic, his managerial behavior appalling and his public life a strange mix of asking for mercy while giving no ground.

It’s a shame that Pete and the game he made so exciting can’t be joined again, but that’s not happening now.

If there is at least certainty that it will happen later, that would be an emotional release of some sort for Rose and all those who love him.

Not a home run, but an intentional base on balls.

Rose had a way of making those memorable, too, by hustling down to first, and memories are all we’re really talking about here anyway.

Firing upbeat Tommy Hutton is ultimate proof that Marlins just can’t let anybody be happy

Just a quick post on my day off to agree with all those who find the Miami Marlins’ decision to kick TV analyst Tommy Hutton to the curb altogether shocking and stupid and tone deaf at a level that exceeds the franchise’s long-established low standards.

Marlins TV announcer Tommy Hutton, who has spent 50 years in Baseball, sits in Roger Dean Stadium Friday, March 14, 2014. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)
Former Marlins TV announcer Tommy Hutton, who has spent 50 years in Baseball, sits in Roger Dean Stadium Friday, March 14, 2014. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

Tommy, a Palm Beach Gardens pal, was the  one consistently forever happy note ever to come out of this organization.

No need to list all the craters that Marlins management has dug during the 19 years that Hutton worked their games, but he climbed out of every one as quickly as possible and with as much optimism as imaginable. Tommy is a baseball lifer. Baseball is a slow game played  out over a long season. He gets that, he loves that, and always figures that something better is coming if you’ll only wait for it.

That attitude is what Jeffrey Loria wants fans to adopt, what he expects from you one clunky and confused season after another, and now he has shown what happens to a bright and talented Marlins ambassador who stays loyal to this vision. (Dan Jennings is another story, but not much different).

So I’m hoping Tommy gets another gig with a big-league club in 2016, though the timing here stinks.

His insight and humor and enthusiasm will be missed in South Florida, and maybe that’s part of what drives this decision. Can’t have fans enjoying Marlins games too much at home. Can’t have them hearing a little straight talk now and then. Better force them, against their preferences, to come out to the ballpark and fill all those empty seats and empty parking garage spaces.

If you want to learn more about Tommy, a member of the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame, here is a link to a long profile I wrote on him last spring training.

[After 50 years in baseball, Tommy Hutton knows what he is talking about]

We’re all made of star stuff, but Clayton Kershaw more than others

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw holds up his All-Star jersey prior to a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw holds up his All-Star jersey on Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Clayton Kershaw is an All-Star, which is far out, and right this minute the ashes of his great uncle are floating through the stars, which is even farther.

Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997) discovered Pluto 85 years ago while staring into the Arizona night sky through a powerful Lowell Observatory telescope. In recognition of his achievement, the scientists who packed up the New Horizons space probe for the recently completed trip to whatever Pluto is (some say planet, some say pshaw) included a canister of Tombaugh’s ashes and an inscription identifying him as “father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend.”

Does any of this matter to Kershaw? It must. In a 2013 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show, the Dodgers’ ace verified that Tombaugh is his great uncle and then blasted off a bit on the International Astronomical Union, the august body responsible for sending Pluto down to the Triple-A league of dwarf planets.

“I’m really glad you brought this up,” Kershaw told Kimmel, who may have been expecting a lighter answer to his question. “It’s something that’s been a huge problem in the Kershaw/Tombaugh family for a couple of years now.

This July 13, 2015 image provided by NASA shows Pluto, seen from the New Horizons spacecraft. The United States is now the only nation to visit every single planet in the solar system. Pluto was No. 9 in the lineup when New Horizons departed Cape Canaveral, Fla, on Jan. 19, 2006  (NASA via AP)
This July 13, 2015 image provided by NASA shows Pluto, seen from the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA via AP)

“My great uncle discovered Pluto. I know that sounds like a joke when it comes out, but it’s true. Clyde Tombaugh, my great uncle, discovered Pluto, and they took it away from us. Said it’s a dwarf planet now. What, scientists just decide to just get in a room one day and say, ‘Oh, you know, we’re out with Pluto’?”

Is there nothing we can agree upon down here? I prefer to believe, for instance, that the moon is made of swiss cheese, nicely chilled. Any of you nerds over at the International Astronomical Union got a problem with that?

Anyway, I’m hoping that one day Kershaw can pitch for the Houston Astros. It seems to be in his blood.

Anybody got a number for Jack McKeon?

The lift that Jose Fernandez gave to the Miami Marlins Thursday, with six strikeouts on the mound and a long home run off his bat, will keep people smiling all weekend.

What will keep me smiling forever, though, is the image of Jack McKeon returning to manage the team in 2011 at the age of 80.

jackmacJust like this year, the Marlins weren’t going anywhere when they switched managers midstream.

They were riding fifth in the NL East when Edwin Rodriguez got the boot and team owner Jeffrey Loria made one of his classic grandstand plays. This time, rather than bringing his general manager down from the office to manage the team he turned to McKeon, the magic man from the 2003 World Series championship team.

The 2011 season continued as expected, leading to a 72-90 finish and another extreme makeover the following year with Ozzie Guillen.

Amazing to think, however, that Jack did better in his half season of managing in 2011 than anything the Marlins have rolled out there this year.

Here are the numbers, and hat’s off, as always, to Jack.

 

Manager                       Season                 Record                 Pct.

______________________________________________

Jack McKeon                   2011                        40-50                    .444

Mike Redmond                2015                       16-22                     .421

Dan Jennings                   2015                        17-24                     .417

 

 

Well, that’s all from me for a week or so. Taking a little family time while they still remember who I am. Hope you all get the chance to do the same before this fast-forward summer slips away, and hope you’ll check back at Dave’s Digital Domain starting July 14.

Yet another reason why the GM shouldn’t play the manager’s role

July is upon us, which means we’re due for another Miami Marlins makeover.

Didn’t think I’d be typing that again this summer. The team looked pretty good in spring training, with Giancarlo Stanton back healthy and ready to rip, plus solid additions like Dee Gordon, who’s only leading the majors in batting, not to mention the larger promise of Jose Fernandez sailing through his Tommy John rehab and on line for a solid second half of the season.

The Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon (9) is congratulated by manager Dan Jennings after scoring in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Marlins Park in Miami on Friday, June 26, 2015. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)
The Miami Marlins’ Dee Gordon is congratulated by manager Dan Jennings after scoring in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 26, 2015. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)

All the same, the losses started piling up so quickly and so high that manager Mike Redmond got fired, offseason contract extension or not, and before you knew it Stanton being on something like a 60-homer pace was of little consequence. The Marlins, sitting at 31-46, are worse than every team but Philadelphia and Milwaukee and the bottom’s still not in sight.

That’s because Stanton broke his wrist and he’s out for six weeks or so. Who’s going to set that home-run sculpture into a fit of synchronized chaos now? It’s down to just the regular Marlins chaos now, unplanned and unstoppable.

Anyway, the trading deadline is July 31 and Jeffrey Loria doesn’t like paying guys past June if they’re not going to make the playoffs. This would seem the natural time to get together with team president Michael Hill and the general manager to determine which guys will bring the most in trade.

Wait a minute. Dan Jennings isn’t the GM anymore. He’s the Marlins’ manager, and tooling along at 15-24 since replacing Redmond on May 18.

[Tom Brady is using all his allotted timeouts to fight suspension]

[Dechiphering ‘Nerdgate,’ the Cardinals’ childish computer game]

[Once you quiet Johnny Football, is there anything left to cheer?]

If you’re wondering why players wouldn’t be all that excited about somebody from the front office writing out the lineups and determining how much each guy plays, it’s because of conflicts of interest just like this one.

It’s not a matter of trying to win the division anymore. It’s shuffling through contracts and digging through the minor-league organizational charts of other teams to find somebody that might make you a little better next year, or the year after that.

The manager shouldn’t be buried hip-deep in that process, but Jennings clearly isn’t the final answer there and never was. He’s holding a space until Loria figures out what he wants to do next, and then it’s back to the front office for DJ, a super scout and a super guy but not the superglue you need to hold together a clubhouse that’s been torn up and put back together so many times before.

Even the Phillies understand this side of the equation. Ryne Sandberg resigned as their manager last week, muttering something profound about “Wins and losses was a big thing that took a toll on me,” and the team replaced him Monday with the interim solution of third-base coach Pete Mackanin.

Mackanin is 63. He’s been wearing a baseball uniform his entire life. Probably doesn’t know how to tie a necktie. He’ll take the toll now, as well as anyone could, knowing it’s the role he was born for and the only one he’s suited to play.

Jennings, on the other hand, is miscast. It’s not his fault, but it is his curse. The manager is supposed to have his players’ backs in feuds with umpires and reporters and team presidents and even owners, or at least that’s how they see it.

Instead, as another potential Marlins makeover looms, Miami’s manager is a visitor from the front office, beholden to Loria for the job that matters most, the one he wants to return to, which is managing the roster instead of the team.

Dechiphering ‘Nerdgate,’ the St. Louis Cardinals’ childish computer game

So, while we’re waiting for a ruling on Tom Brady’s role in Deflategate, the generous summer of 2015 serves up a bonus baseball conspiracy crisis of outsized proportions.

Nerdgate.

What else are we supposed to call an investigation into computerized creeps stealing juicy megabytes of information on behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals, and choosing as the victim a Houston Astros franchise that hasn’t posed a serious threat to much of anyone in the last decade?

With the St. Louis Cardinals out of town on a road trip, Busch Stadium sits quiet Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in St. Louis. The team said Wednesday it hired a law firm several months ago to conduct an internal inquiry and to assist the FBI and Justice Department in their investigation into possible computer hacking of the Houston Astros database by members of the Cardinals organization. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
With the St. Louis Cardinals out of town on a road trip, Busch Stadium sits quiet Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in St. Louis. The team said Wednesday it hired a law firm several months ago to conduct an internal inquiry and to assist the FBI and Justice Department in their investigation into possible computer hacking of the Houston Astros database by members of the Cardinals organization. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The FBI is taking this very seriously but at the moment I’m having a little trouble.

Hackers from North Korea and China are dangerous, digging into secrets and practices that are strictly the business of the U.S. government and American corporations.

Then there are the hackers who pry into the accounts of private citizens who mistakenly believe their data is protected by banks and credit card companies and department stores. That hits all of us where we live.

Baseball hackers, on the other hand, can only do harm by embarrassing and antagonizing a rival. Everybody scouts the same players. Everybody deals with agents who represent players on every team and use that private knowledge to full advantage. Everybody has front-office personnel who move from one organization to the next.

Snooping around the internal communications and personnel evaluations of another team isn’t sophisticated. It’s punkish. It’s a prank that you pull just because you can.

Picture adolescents of another time so bored that they call people up at random and ask them if their refrigerator is running. They had yellow fingers from stuffing cheese puffs into their mouths and stains on their shirts from laughing so hard that the soda came shooting out of their noses. These were the kids who stayed inside playing Strat-O-Matic rather than going out and actually organizing a pick-up game.

Can’t do that phone stuff anymore, of course, because of caller ID. So we’re on to computer bullying in its various forms. This Cardinals crew, possibly operating from a home in Jupiter during spring training 2014, allegedly used a new set of dirty tricks to spy on the Astros, whose general manager Jeff Luhnow previously worked in the St. Louis organization.

A Yahoo report on the FBI’s year-long dig into this molehill says the Jupiter residence was occupied by several Cardinals employees. If true, that doesn’t sound like wealthy front-office types. They’re over on the beach, not crowding into a spot near Roger Dean Stadium in order to cut costs on shared pizzas and stay up late playing video games.

Maybe I’ll be proved wrong on this over time. Maybe a Cardinals executive is involved in this, directly or otherwise. At first glance, though, it doesn’t fit the mold of an organization with a long reputation for doing things the right way.

If there’s anything really funny about this, it’s picturing Bill Belichick a little grumpier than usual today, asking himself why he didn’t think of this first.

And if there’s anything truly intriguing about it, how about the fact the Astros will be in West Palm Beach for spring training 2017, just down the road from the Cardinals in Jupiter?

That, however, is too far out in the future. Other earthshaking investigations in the sports world will long have overshadowed this one, like maybe news of a slush fund meant to win votes for an Olympics in Oklahoma City.

(Note to self: Good, that’s done. Better head to the vending machine down the hall now and buy a soft drink for the I.T. team and anyone else who has ever swooped in to perform a rescue mission on a computer problem beyond my kindergarten-level technical skills. Nobody likes being called a nerd.)

A tip of the cap to Ichiro Suzuki, Japan’s gift to the Marlins

Thirty or so Japanese media members gathered around the locker of New York Yankees’ pitcher Masahiro Tanaka at Marlins Park Monday night. I could understand just one word while listening in, a word that kept coming up in their questions.

Ichiro.

Miami Marlins right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (51) during the Miami Marlins home opener in Miami, Florida on April 6, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki  (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s always been this way for Ichiro Suzuki, who is a storyline no matter who the opposing pitcher might be or where the game is played. In this case, Tanaka was talking about the two singles Ichiro got off him in a 2-1 Miami victory. One of them was an infield hit that the 41-year-old wonder beat out with a burst to first.

“Just got to kind of tip your hat to him,” said Tanaka, who was Ichiro’s teammate on the Yankees last season and had never pitched against him. “Just have to tip your hat to his good batting.”

That quote came through an interpreter for the benefit of American reporters. No doubt the other, longer interview conducted in Japanese included more personal thoughts about Japan’s amazing hit man, who got a rare start in center field on Monday night.

To be fair, Tanaka also struck Ichiro out looking in the fifth. They’ll be talking about that in Japan, too, wondering how in the world that happened. Ichiro always gets a bat on the ball.

It really is astounding what this man continues to do, pushing his batting average up to .288 and giving Marlins manager Dan Jennings complete freedom to rest one of his young outfielders any night of the week.

That’s the story for 2015, anyway. The bigger picture shows Ichiro with  2,884 career hits through Monday’s game, which tied him with Zack Wheat for 38th overall. Wheat, a Hall of Famer, finished up in 1927 after 19 major-league seasons. Ichiro has played only 15 seasons in our version of the bigs.

What would we be talking about if he hadn’t spent his first nine pro seasons playing in Japan? As it is, Ichiro is sneaking up on Barry Bonds (2,935) and Alex Rodriguez (2,995) and so many other great stars of the American pastime.

Had he come to the U.S. as a teenager and not waited until he was 27, Ichiro might be after Pete Rose (4,256), too.

A tip of the cap, for sure, and a deep bow of respect.

Astros are getting so good that West Palm should party like it’s 2017

 

When the Houston Astros first started nosing around Palm Beach County for a new spring-training site a few years back, the news was met with interest but not the kind that has everybody talking, even the people who don’t follow sports.

For a real sensation you’d need the Yankees or Red Sox coming to town, or maybe a return of the Dodgers to Vero Beach. I mean, there’s baseball and there’s circus.

[Remembering rat-infested Panthers playoff run as Bolts play for Cup]

[Dwyane Wade was better than you thought this year]

[Tannehill can become franchise QB if Dolphins learn to protect him]

Anyway, the Washington Nationals and the Astros are coming to a spring facility near 45th Street and Haverhill Road in 2017, if all construction projections are met. That means a ton of new tourism money whether those teams are up or down at a given moment, but there’s a bonus in the way the Astros are playing lately.

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 03:  Lance McCullers #43 of the Houston Astros (R) is greeted by Evan Gattis #11 and his teammates after pitching a complete game victory over the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 during their game at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2015 in Houston, Texas.(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Lance McCullers #43 of the Houston Astros (R) is greeted by Evan Gattis #11 and his teammates after pitching a complete game victory over the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 during their game at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2015.(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Houston entered the weekend with the American League’s best record, which is difficult enough to get used to since the Astros were in the National League for their first 51 seasons of existence and only made the switch in 2013.

Far more startling is the notion that the team could be much good in any league, including Triple-A.

The Astros haven’t had a winning record since 2008. They’ve either been in rebuilding mode or demolition mode since then, depending on how kind you wish to be about it.

Worst record in the majors in 2011, 2012 and 2013, with an average of 108 losses during that stretch.

Made the Marlins look like kings.

So if the Astros are suddenly going to be contenders, and if Texans go as big in their bandwagon baseball fever as they do with everything else, it looks like West Palm Beach is getting a better deal than anybody knew.

Get this, too. Last summer Sports Illustrated ran a cover story predicting Houston would win the 2017 World Series championship. Whether it was a little tongue-in-cheek or not, the Astros have been stockpiling young talent for years now as a result of their pitiful progress in the standings.

Owner Jim Crane, the guy with the Floridian National Golf Club in Palm City, has plenty of money to spend on locking up that talent and in chasing down some more.

Equally important, Major League Baseball’s amateur draft is tonight and the Astros own two of the top five picks.

To recap, in 2017 Palm Beach County will have St. Louis and Miami training in Jupiter plus Washington and Houston training in West Palm Beach. The way things are shaping up, the Marlins are in real danger of being the weakest link.