Saturday, January 24, 2009


The ailing Chicago Tribune newspaper has finally sold the Chicago Cubs and their home ballpark, Wrigley Field, for about $900 million. The team and stadium (along with a 25 percent share in a regional sports TV network) were bought by billionaire Tom Ricketts and his family. The Ricketts family founded the Ameritrade online stock market brokerage.

The Tribune bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field from the Wrigley family for just over $20 million in 1981, but put the Cubs on the market in 2007. Real estate mogul Sam Zell originally agreed to buy the team, but that deal fell through. The Chicago paper filed for bankruptcy protection last month, and a judge will likely need to approve the sale, along with other major league owners.

On the field, the Cubs signed Japanese veteran pitcher Ken Kadokura to a minor league contract. The 35-year-old right-hander will be a non-roster invitee to the Cubs’ spring training camp in Arizona next month. In 13 seasons of Japanese ball, Kadokura went 76-82 with a 4.32 ERA for four teams. He was 0-2 in 11 games for Yomiuri in 2008.


Former All-Star second baseman Jeff Kent has retired from baseball after 17 seasons in the major leagues. The 40-year-old Kent made the announcement last week in Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, where the California native spent the last four seasons.

Kent was a five-time All-Star and the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2000. He hit 377 homers in his career, 351 of those as a second baseman (most ever for a player at that position). Kent batted .290 lifetime with 1,518 RBIs. Last season, he passed Ralph Kiner, Gil Hodges and Carlton Fisk on the all-time home run list, and overtook Billy Williams, Dave Parker and Mickey Mantle on the all-time RBI list.

Kent was drafted by Toronto in 1989, and went on to play for six major league teams, batting .276 with three homers for San Francisco in his only World Series appearance in 2002. He batted .280 and stroked 12 homers in 121 games for the Dodgers last season.


Two veteran major league infielders are going to Japan for 2009. Edgardo Alfonzo has accepted an invitation to go to spring training with the Yomiuri Giants, while Tadahito Iguchi is returning home to play for the Lotte Marines after four seasons in the big leagues.

The 35-year-old Alfonzo played 12 seasons for five teams, last appearing in the majors with Toronto in 2006. A career .284 hitter, the Venezuelan crashed 146 homers and drove in 744 runs. He played in both the All-Star Game and World Series with the New York Mets in 2000. Last season, Alfonzo played for Quintana Roo of the Mexican League and Long Island of the independent Atlantic League.

The 34-year-old Iguchi came to the Chicago White Sox in 2005 after spending eight seasons with the Daiei Hawks, including a 2003 season in which he hit .340 with 27 homers, 42 stolen bases and 109 RBIs. Iguchi batted .278 with 15 homers as the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, but after another strong campaign in 2006, he declined rapidly. Iguchi spent last season hitting .232 for San Diego.


The Mazatlan Venados and Los Mochis Caneros were both stretched to seventh games in their respective Mexican Pacific League semifinal series, but the two teams prevailed to advance to the MexPac championship series.

Mazatlan won the deciding game of their series with Guasave, 4-1, as Adrian Gonzalez had three hits. In the other semi series, Mochis bopped Hermosillo, 9-5, to close out their series. Luis Suarez drove in four runs for the Caneros.

The Venados then won the first two games over Mochis, prevailing 1-0 Wednesday night as Pablo Ortega combined with two relievers on an 11-inning shutout in which Ruben Rivera’s RBI single ended things in the opener. Mazatlan won Game Two, 6-2, on Thursday behind Jon Weber’s two doubles, two runs and two RBIs.


As close as the Venezuelan League’s first round of playoffs were, it was no surprise that three teams tied at the top with 9-7 records, necessitating an extra day of games to determine which two teams would advance to the Venezuelan Series.

In Thursday’s opening tiebreaker, regular season champ Caracas beat Aragua, 6-2, as Marco Scutaro singled in a run in the fourth inning and squeezed in another run in the seventh to help send the Leones to the finals. Following their loss, Aragua had to beat La Guaira in order to join Caracas in the Venezuelan Series. That they did, riding a two-run homer by Rene Reyes and a solo bomb by Luis Meza to beat the Tiburones, 3-1. Five Aragua pitchers combined to scatter eight La Guaira hits in the win as Jesus Delgado took the win.

Caracas and Aragua opened their best-of-7 series for the Venezuelan crown on Friday.


After winning the first two games of their best-of-9 Dominican Series matchup with the Cibao Gigantes, the Licey Tigres didn’t break a sweat in being literally handed a Game Three win Thursday night. The Tigres beat Cibao in the opener, 3-2, last Tuesday and repeated in Game Two one night later with a 9-7 win as Cibao’s Felix Martinez was ejected after a heated seventh-inning dispute with home plate umpire Jeff Macias.

Martinez was listed on the Gigantes’ lineup card before Game Three on Thursday and Licey manager Jose Offerman protested, claiming Martinez was suspended for the contest. After a conference with league officials, umpire Chris Tiller ruled in favor of Offerman and ruled Martinez ineligible for the game. Cibao manager Luis Dorante then pulled his team off the field and out of the dugout, resulting in a 9-0 forfeit win for Licey. Game Four was scheduled for Friday night in Cibao.


Luis Matos scored on a Fernando Cortez sacrifice fly to left in the bottom of the second inning to give the Ponce a 1-0 lead over Arecibo Wednesday night, and the Leones had to make that margin stand up the rest of the way to win Game Three and take a 2 games to 1 lead in the Puerto Rico League championship series. Javier Vazquez scattered four hits and struck out six Arecibo batters in 6.1 innings to take the win for the Leones.

Ponce won the opener, 2-1, as Miguel Abreu scored on a 10th inning error, while Rene Rivera’s two homers keyed Arecibo’s 9-4 victory in Game Two of the best-of-7 series.


The Korea Baseball Organization’s eight teams will open the season with four games on April 4. In all, each Korean team will play 133 games this year, an increase of seven games per club over their 126-game slates in 2008. All eight teams are returning from last season, although a cloud continues to hang over the former Woori Heroes. The Heroes replaced the Hyundai Unicorns on the league roster last year, but the franchise was a mess from Day 1 and the sponsoring Woori Tobacco Company severed their ties in midseason after failing to pay league fees.

In 2009, playoff series are reverting to a best-of-5 format after seven-game sets in 2008; and games will be halted after 12 innings, ending the so-called “limitless overtime rule” under which teams played until there was a winner, regardless of duration of the game.


The Australia Baseball Federation’s Claxton Shield competition has concluded its six-round regular season schedule, with three teams left standing in contention for the Shield. The Perth Heat ended up with a 12-6 record, finishing first in the five-team standings, earning a semifinal bye and an automatic berth in the final series.

Playing the best-of-3 semis this weekend are the 10-6 Victoria Aces and 9-7 New South Wales Patriots. Both teams were tied for second at 8-5 heading into their series last weekend, but the Aces crushed the Patriots, 12-2, last Sunday to win the series and the number two slot in the tables. Victoria catcher Grant Karlssen cracked a 3-run homer in the third inning to erase a 1-0 Patriots lead in the deciding game. New South Wales finished one game ahead of the 8-8 Queensland Rams, who swept 1-15 South Australia in their season-ending series to keep the Rams’ slight playoff hopes alive.


Taiwan’s Minister of the Sports Affair Council says the federal government will put up 10 million Taiwanese dollars ($300,000US) to help the Chinese Professional Baseball League establish a farm system for the four-team circuit.

Leaders of CPBL teams attended a joint press conference called by Taiwan Premier Liu Chao-shiuan announcing the plan. According to the Taipei Times newspaper, Liu said, “Normally, a population of 10 million can sustain a good baseball team. Taiwan, a nation of 23 million people, has four teams. You can imagine how difficult it is for the four enterprises to run a baseball team.”

The Taiwanese league has been plagued by rampant gambling and game-fixing over the years, resulting in a drop in attendance and the offseason expulsion of two franchises.


The Israel Association of Baseball announced it has entered into negotiations with a group of Americans headed by minor league baseball entrepreneur Marv Goldklang to develop plans for a return of pro baseball to the Middle East nation.

Pro baseball was tried in Israel in 2007, but the six-team league experienced financial problems and disbanded after completing its 46-game schedule that year.

According to IAB chairman Haim Katz, Goldklang’s group hopes to revive pro ball in Israel with a fully-staffed league and improved facilities over the next year or two.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Rickey Henderson was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame the first time he was eligible after appearing on 94.8 percent of ballots cast by sportswriters, third-highest total for a first-time nominee ever.

After breaking in with Oakland in 1979, Henderson went on to set MLB records with 2,295 runs and 1.405 stolen bases over his career, including a single-season mark of 140 in 1982. He also led off games with a home run a record 81 times, and had 3,055 hits after his last big league game in 2003. He was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1990, a ten-time pick to the All-Star Game, and played for pennant winners in Oakland and Toronto.

Also selected to Cooperstown was former Boston outfielder Jim Rice, who will be inducted along with Henderson and former Indians and Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon in June.


The Atlanta Braves have come to terms with Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami on a three-year contract. At least four other major league teams had interest in the 33-year-old pitcher, but Kawakami’s agent, Dan Evans, said Atlanta was always at the top of the list.

Kawakami spent his entire 11-year Japanese baseball career with Chunichi. After being named Central League Rookie of the Year in 1998, he went on to post a 112-72 lifetime record with a 3.22 ERA in 257 games. He led the Central League in wins in 2004 and 2006, and was the league’s MVP in 2004. Kawakami went 11-5 with a 2.30 ERA in 20 games for the Dragons last year before missing three weeks in September with a strained back.


The upstart MLB Network announced it will broadcast all 12 Caribbean Series games from Mexicali next month. The Caribbean Series is set to run six days from February 2-7, with two games daily at Mexicali’s Casas GEO ballpark (which seats over 13,000 fans).

The MLB network signed on January 1, with Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series highlighting the first day. It is available free on DirecTV channel 213 as well as on over 30 cable systems throughout the United States, reaching over 50 million households.

World Baseball Today will air daily updates during the Caribbean Series at 8:30AM Eastern time on WRMI, providing the only coverage of the event on shortwave radio.


The independent Golden Baseball League has officially announced the Tijuana Potros are joining the California-based circuit in 2009. Tijuana lost its Mexican League franchise when the team was moved to Reynosa.

The Potros will feature a coaching staff straight out of the Salon de la Fama, Mexican baseball’s Hall of Fame. Tijuana’s manager will be Mario Mendoza, who hit .291 in seven Mexican League seasons while also playing in five Caribbean Series over 18 years on winterball. Mendoza’s coaches will be former major league pitcher Jose Pena and longtime Mexican shortstop great Jorge Fitch.


The Ponce Leones and Arecibo Lobos are set to face each other for the Puerto Rico League championship after both clubs easily won their first round playoff series last week. Ponce swept Mayaguez in four games to move to the finals, while Arecibo bested Santurce, 4 games to 1, to advance to the Puerto Rican Series.

Ponce broke out the brooms after topping Mayaguez, 6-3, last Monday night as Joe Thurston doubled home the go-ahead runs with two out in the top of the ninth. Pitcher of the Year Dillon Gee allowed two Indios runs in 5.1 innings, but did not get the decision.

One night later, Arecibo eliminated Santurce by beating the Cangrejeros, 6-3, as Raul Casanova, Jesus Feliciano and Jorge Padilla each homered for the Lobos.


After winning last winter’s Caribbean Series, hopes were high for fans of the Licey Tigres heading into this season, and the Tigres have not disappointed. Although the team struggled to qualify for the playoffs this season, Licey clinched a spot in the Dominican Series with their 2-1 win over the Cibao Gigantes Friday night.

Infielder Erick Aybar was the hero in the clincher for Licey, drilling a third-inning homer and slapping a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth as the Tigres finished their round robin schedule with a 12-6 record, tops in the LiDom. The Gigantes fell to 10-7 and are now tied with the Este Azucareros for the other slot in the finals. Both teams have single games against the 2-14 Cibaenas Aguilas this weekend to determine who will face Licey. In case of a tie for second, the team with the better runs differential in the first round will get the nod.


The Guasave Algodoneros and Los Mochis Caneros are both one win away from meeting each other in the Mexican Pacific League championship series after Friday wins.

Guasave took a 3-2 lead in their semifinal series with Mazatlan Friday night by winning a 3-2 nailbiter, thanks to Dionys Cesar’s walk-off RBI double in the bottom of the ninth. It was the second two-bagger of the game for Cesar, who is ordinarily an outfielder but has been playing shortstop in the postseason for the Algodoneros.

In the other MexPac semi, Saul Soto homered twice and drove in four runs to lead Mochis to a 7-3 win over Hermosillo on Friday as the Caneros took a 3-2 lead in their series against the Naranjeros. Ramon Orantes added three hits for Mochis as Dominican lefty Juan Pena picked up the win by scattering two runs in 5.1 innings.


The La Guaira Tiburones barely made it into the Venezuelan League playoffs this winter, but they’re making the most of their postseason. The Tiburones are now 7-5 in the first round, good enough for first place in the opening five-team round robin.

La Guaira beat regular season champion Caracas, 5-3, Friday night as infielder Oscar Salazar had three hits and scored a run while outfielder Gregor Blanco cracked an RBI double. Caracas fell to 6-6 in the first round. Zulia kept their Venezuelan Series hopes alive by shutting out Lara, 4-0, on Friday. Zulia starter Ramon Ramirez pitched 5.1 innings for his first playoff win as the Aguilas improved to 5-7. The Cardenales fell to 6-6 and a second-place tie with Caracas and Aragua. Ten games remain through Wednesday night on the first round schedule in Venezuela.


Although Villa Clara jumped out the gate to take a large early lead in the Cuban National Series’ Oriental Division standings, two teams are beginning to close the gap in the tables. While Villa Clara remains on top with a Cuban-best 20-6 record, 19-10 Ciego de Avila and 18-10 Holguin are both within three games of the Oriental leaders. Ciego de Avila’s lineup features Yoelvis Fiss, who leads Cuban batters with a .407 average, while Holguin has received outstanding pitching from Aroldis Chapman, who is 6-0 with 53 strikeouts.

In the Occidental Division, La Habana continues to lead the way with a 17-8 mark, three games ahead of Industriales. The six other Occidental teams are below .500. One of those is Pinar del Rio, who can’t fault pitcher Yuniesky Maya for their slow start. Maya is 6-1 thus far with a microscopic 1.01 ERA.


Two all-time great players are among four people selected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame last week.

Tsutomu Wakamatsu led the Yakult Swallows to Japan Series victories as both a player and a manager. Wakamatsu was an outfielder for Yakult’s first Japan Series winners in 1978, and his lifetime batting average of .319 is an all-time high among Japanese players. He also managed the Swallows to a Series crown in 2001.

Former Yomuiri Giants slugger Noboru Aota was also selected to the Hall. Aota won five Central League home run titles as well as two RBI crowns and a batting championship as one of the linchpins of Yomiuri’s high-octane offense in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Wakamatsu and Aota will be joined by former Nippon Ham Fighters owner Yoshinori Okoso and historian Ichiro Kimishima to bring the number of Japanese Hall members to 168.


The Perth Heat swept the Victoria Aces in a three-game series last weekend to clinch first place in Australia’s Claxton Shield regular season schedule, thus securing a first-round playoff bye and a berth in the Shield finals early next month.

With the sweep, Perth finished the schedule with a 12-4 record while Victoria dropped into a second-place tie with the New South Wales Patriots at 8-5. The Aces and Patriots are finishing their schedules this weekend with a three-game set against each other. The 5-8 Queensland Rams are taking on 1-12 South Australia. The second and third place teams will face each other next week in a best-of-3 semifinal series, with the winner advancing to a three-game final against Perth.

Perth’s Nick Kimpton leads Australian batsmen with a .500 average after 16 games, while New South Wales pitcher Tim Cox is 3-0 and has yet to allow an earned run this winter.


The International Baseball Federation has released its first-ever World Rankings, with Cuba holding down the Number One slot. South Korea was ranked second, followed by the USA, Japan and Taiwan in the Top 5. Rankings are determined by how well national teams perform in regional or world championship events at various age levels.

The IBAF rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. The baseball-rich Dominican Republic was rated 17th, behind Panama, Nicaragua, China and Spain, among others.

Friday, January 9, 2009


The Oakland Athletics have signed into a partnership with the Rakuten Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League in time for the 2009 season. The A’s and Eagles will pool resources for baseball operations and management, including the sharing of information regarding player development and data analysis. The two teams will also exchange baseball operations staffs, including coaches, conditioning specialists and trainers.

Oakland general manager Billy Beane said the partnership marks “an exciting new opportunity for the Oakland Athletics. Without question, both organizations will benefit from this agreement.” Eagles owner Toru Shimada replied in kind, saying “The Athletics are very famous for using their own measurement to evaluate players and create a winning organization. Our goal is very similar.”


The Baltimore Orioles have come to terms with Japanese right-handed pitcher Koji Uehara on a two-year contract for $10 million with incentives, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The 33-year-old Uehara filed for free agency after the 2008 season, his tenth with the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo. In his Japanese career, Uehara was 112-62 with 33 saves and a 3.01 ERA for the Giants. The Baltimore paper says the Orioles “not only want Uehara in the starting rotation, but are penciling him in as their number two starter behind Jeremy Guthrie.”


After facing the Philadelphia Phillies as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year’s National League Championship Series, veteran Korean pitcher Park Chan-ho signed a one-year contract with the world champions last week for $2.5 million. Park appeared in four games for the Dodgers last fall in their five-game NLCS loss to the Phils.

After pitching out of the Dodgers’ bullpen last year, Park will compete for a slot in Philadelphia’s starting rotation this season. The 35-year-old righty certainly hopes to start in 2009, saying “Starting is better and more fun. Every five days, people in Korea plan on watching the game.”

Park has pitched 15 seasons in the majors, with a 117-92 record and a 4.34 ERA. He signed with the Dodgers as a free agent in 1994, and averaged 15 wins a season for Los Angeles between 1997 and 2001. He was 4-4 for the Dodgers in 2008. Park will report to the Phillies’ training camp in Clearwater, Florida on February 14.


No less than eleven national teams will play exhibition games against Major League Baseball clubs in early March as they prepare for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. A total of 32 such games are scheduled between March 3 and March 6.

Team USA will face the New York Yankees on March 3 in Tampa, followed by a March 4 tilt with Toronto in Dunedin and a contest with World Series champion Philadelphia in Clearwater on March 5.


The final four teams are ready to square off in the Mexican Pacific League semifinals after three first round series were wrapped up last week. Opening set winners Mazatlan, Los Mochis and Hermosillo will be joined by “lucky loser” Guasave in the semis.

Mazatlan wrapped up their series with defending champion Obregon last Tuesday by topping the Yaquis, 6-5. Freddy Sandoval crushed a three-run homer during a six-run eighth inning for the Venados, who won the series, 4 games to 1.

Mochis and Hermosillo wrapped up their respective series wins Thursday night. Mochis shut out Caribbean Series host Mexicali, 4-0, as Rafael Diaz spun a six-hitter with seven strikeout for the Caneros; while the Naranjeros topped Guasave, 6-4, behind Jose Luis Sandoval’s three-run homer. Guasave earned the nod over Mexicali for the last berth by virtue of a better runs differential against Hermosillo than the Aguilas had against Mochis.


Midway through the opening round-robin playoff among four Dominican League teams, the Cibao Gigantes and Licey Tigres have pulled ahead in the race for the two berths in the LiDom finals. Cibao defeated the Este Azucareros, 4-1, Thursday night to lift their record to 7-3 in the first round. Kendry Morales was one triple shy of hitting for the cycle for the Gigantes as Cibao won their third straight postseason contest. The Azucareros fell to 5-6 in the playoffs.

Licey kept pace by swamping Cibaenas, 16-2 on Thursday as the Tigres’ Timo Perez DID hit for the cycle while Erick Aybar drove in four runs to raise Licey’s playoff record to 6-4. the loss dropped Cibaenas to 2-7. The four Dominican teams will play each other five times, with the top two finishers meeting in the Dominican Series later this month.


Robert Perez cracked a homer, scored twice and drove in three runs to lead the Lara Cardenales to an 11-6 win over the Caracas Leones Thursday night in Venezuelan League playoff action. The win gave Para a 6-2 playoff record, 2.5 games ahead of the Leones and Aragua, who are both 3-3 in the five-team round robin.

Aragua needed extra innings Thursday night to finally beat Zulia, 3-2. Tigres infielder Martin Prado scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 12th as reliever Johan Pino turned in two scoreless frames for Aragua. Alberto Callaspo accounted for both Zulia runs with a two-run homer as the Aguilas fell to 2-3. La Guaira is also 2-3 after dropping a 4-1 decision to Caracas on Wednesday night.


The Ponce Leones cruised to the Puerto Rico Baseball League’s regular season title with a 27-15 record, and are the top seed heading into the four-team playoffs. Arecibo finished second at 22-18, while Santurce took third with a 19-22 mark. Mayaguez and Caguas were tied for fourth at 19-23, and the Indios had to beat the Criollos, 6-0, in a special game Wednesday night to give Mayaguez the fourth and final slot. Starter Tobi Stoner combined with two relievers for the shutout and Lorenzo Scott drilled a two-run homer.

Arecibo’s Jorge Padilla was named the Most Valuable Player after batting .317 with a league-leading 10 homers and 44 RBIs, while Ponce’s Dillon Gee was voted Best Pitcher after going 4-0 with a 2.22 ERA. Ponce’s Eduardo Perez was named Manager of the Year.


Villa Clara became the first Cuban National Series team to reach 20 wins last Sunday by sweeping Camaguey in a doubleheader. Closer Yolexis Ulacia picked up his eighth save of the season as Villa Clara improved to 20-4, the best in Cuban baseball while adding to their commanding lead in the CNS Oriental Division.

In the Occidental Division, La Habana is in sole possession of first place with a 16-8 record after splitting a twinbill with second place Industriales last Sunday. Industriales scored nine runs, including three homers, in the eighth inning of last Sunday’s nightcap to lift their ledger to 14-12 on the season.


After Tijuana lost their Mexican League franchise to Reynosa for 2009, the independent Golden Baseball League has stepped in with a new team to fill the pro baseball void in the Baja California border city.

A letter of intent filed between the GBL and a group of potential owners gives the latter the ability to finalize business and operations requirements with government officials and potential sponsors for the new franchise, whose ownership and team name will be formally announced in the near future.

The Mexican League disbanded the problem-plagued Tijuana Potros after last season and relocated the franchise to Reynosa. Tijuana is about 1,000 miles away from the nearest Liga team. The California-based Golden League, which has eyed the Tijuana market for some time, will become the first professional league to field teams in three countries in 2009.


With the departure of the Chicago White Sox to a new complex in the Phoenix area, Tucson is down to just two major league teams calling the Arizona city “home” for spring training: The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, who may be forced to join the exodus to Phoenix area to lessen travel costs. Add the offseason move of their city’s Pacific Coast League franchise to Reno, and it hasn’t been a good year for baseball fans in Tucson. However, help may be on the way…from Japan.

Former big league third baseman Mike Pagliarulo is heading a firm in discussion with local representatives to lure a Japanese team to Tucson to play a 13-to-15 game Cactus League schedule next year at Tucson Electric Park. The Baseball Group would also form a minor league team to replace the departed Sidewinders as well as an Arizona Fall League club in Tucson, and operate a year-round training program for youth and amateur players.

Pagliarulo’s firm has not announced which Japanese team would be recruited to Tucson. The Yakult Swallows trained in Yuma, Arizona from 1969 through 2000.


The Chinese Professional Baseball League recently held an allocation draft of players from the disbanded Chinatrust Whales and dMedia T-Rex franchises among the Taiwanese league’s four remaining teams. Picking first, the Sinon Bulls took former dMedia slugger Hsieh Chia-Hsien, who was second in the league with 17 homers last year.
The Brother Elephants snapped up ex-Chinatrust ace Ni Fu-Te, who led the circuit with 132 strikeouts in 2008. The La New Bears took Chan Chih-Yao with the third pick, while the President Lions selected Chu Wei-Ming at number four.
In all, 18 CPBL veterans were selected in the draft.

Friday, January 2, 2009


South Korea has whittled their roster for March’s World Baseball Classic to 32 players.

The vast majority of players are Korea Baseball Organization veterans, but past and present major leaguers are on the list, including outfielder Choo Shin-soo, infielder Lee Seung-yeop and pitcher Park Chan-ho. Both Lee and Park have so far declined offers to play in the WBC, while another pitcher, San Diego’s Baek Cha-seung, was left of the roster after becoming a naturalized American citizen in 2008.


It hasn’t even been six months since the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics, and the two new ballparks used for baseball are already in danger of ending up on the wrong end of a wrecking ball. The Wukesong baseball complex in Beijing, including two stadiums and a practice field, are scheduled to be razed this year unless baseball interests come up with a plan to make the facility profitable in the Communist nation.

The venues were built on a 125-acre site slated to become a sports/entertainment complex with 5,000 parking spaces. International Baseball Federation president Harvey Schiller says he was told by officials of the China Baseball Association that the smaller of the two stadiums would be saved; but vice general manager Jessica Guo of ACRE, the site’s majority owner, says no plan has been forwarded, adding, “The baseball market is not there.”

The main Wukesong Baseball Stadium drew capacity crowds of 12,000 for a pair of exhibition games between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres last March, as well as the Olympic Gold Medal game between South Korea and Cuba in August.


2008 Sawamura Award winner Hisashi Iwakuma has signed a three-year, 1.1 billion yen contract with Japan’s Rakuten Eagles through the 2011 season. The 27-year-old Iwakuma was 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 28 starts for the fifth-place Eagles, winning the Pacific League’s MVP award as well as the Sawamura, Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award.

Two other notable veterans of Japanese baseball have re-signed with their previous teams. First baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka re-signed with the Softbank Hawks after hitting .290 with 25 homers and 92 RBIs with the Hawks last year. Chunichi Dragons pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto signed a two-year deal with the Central League team after going 11-7 with a 3.16 ERA, becoming the 24th pitcher in Japanese history to win 200 career games.


Perennial Mexican Pacific League powerhouse Mazatlan has clinched the second half title, and will be going into the MexPac playoffs with the league’s best overall record. The Venados were 23-10 heading into the final weekend of the regular season, four games ahead of 19-14 Guasave with two games left on the schedule.

The MexPac playoffs are set to begin Monday, with Mazatlan facing defending champion Obregon, Guasave will take on Hermosillo and first half winner Los Mochis takes on Caribbean Series host Mexicali. The three first round series winners will move on to the semis, as will the so-called “Lucky Loser” (the first round loser with the best series record among the three teams defeated in an opening set).

Mazatlan’s Christian Quintero is on his way to the batting title with a .357 average, while Mochis pitcher Arturo Lopez leads MexPac moundmen with seven wins.


The Caracas Leones cruised to the Venezuelan League’s regular season title, finishing with a 46-21 record, six games ahead of the 36-27 Aragua Tigres. Ponce and Aragua will be joined by Lara, La Guaira and Zulia in the playoffs this month. The five teams will play two games daily between January 2 and 21, meeting each other five times for a total of 20 games apiece. The top two finishers in the round-robin will meet for the Venezuelan pennant.

Pablo Sandoval of Magallenes won the batting title with a .396 average, while Max Ramirez of La Guaira smashed 15 homers and Caracas’ Jesus Guzman broke Pete Koegel’s 35-year-old league record with 67 RBIs. Zulia pitcher David Austen won eight games with a 1.98 ERA, leading Venezuelan hurlers in both categories.


Former New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams’ comeback may be over. Williams went 1-for-3 in his Puerto Rican League debut for Carolina on December 22, but has since injured his quad playing for the Gigantes, according to the New York Journal News. His last game was an 0-for-1 performance on December 26. Out of baseball since 2006, Williams has been concentrating on his music career since then.

Ponce leads the Puerto Rico League standings at 24-14, well ahead of 19-16 Arecibo. Arecibo closed the gap a little last Wednesday night with a 13-2 clubbing of Mayaguez, thanks in part to Chris Heisey’s grand slam. Ponce lost to Carolina, 5-4, as the Gigantes’ Wilberto Ortiz drove in three runs over going ten games without an RBI for two teams.


Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada has told a Dominican newspaper that he expected to join the struggling Cibaenas Aguilas as soon as this weekend for the first round of the LiDom playoffs. Cibaenas is winless in three games thus far in the postseason.

The 2002 American League MVP and a five-time All-Star, Tejada has played winterball in the Dominican Republic ever year since 1995, batting .266 with 12 homers in 212 games for the Aguilas over eleven winters. He batted .283 for Houston in 2008, hitting 13 homers with 66 RBIs for his least-productive season since hitting .233 with Oakland in 1998.

The Licey Tigres are 3-1 in the first round after beating the Este Azucareros, 10-8, on Wednesday night as Anderson Hernandez collected three hits, three runs and three RBIs. The Azucareros are now 3-2, while the Cibao Gigantes are 2-2.


A pair of baseball players who were kicked off their Cuban National Series team just before the current season began after being caught trying to leave the country illegally on a boat have recently defected. ESPN Deportes writer Enrique Rojas says pitcher Yadel Marti and outfielder Yasser Gomez have left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, and hope to embark upon professional baseball careers this year. Cuban ballplayers are considered amateurs.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Marti was voted to the 2006 World Baseball Classic All-Star Team after going 1-0 with two saves while tossing 12.2 scoreless innings. The 28-year-old Gomez was the Cuban National Series Rookie of the Year in 1997, and batted .394 with 51 RBIs in 66 games last winter for the Industriales team, who booted both Marti and Gomez in November after their abortive defection attempt.


Major League Baseball has joined the NFL and NHL in creating its own cable television network. The MLB Network began broadcasting January 1, reaching over 50 million homes from their home in the revamped MSNBC studios is Secaucus, New Jersey.

The network is free to viewers on various cable networks, as well as satellite viewers on DirecTV channel 213. The MLB Network will carry 16 games from the World Baseball Classic in March, as well as re-airing the Ken Burns classic nine-episode “Baseball” miniseries on Tuesday nights, beginning this week. The network will visit a different major league team daily during spring training in March, and is in the process of installing two “ballpark cams” in each big league ballpark for in-game updates and postgame interviews during the season. For details, go to the website.


The Kansas City Royals have signed 17-year-old South African pitcher Dylan Lindsay to a seven-year contract for an undisclosed amount of money. Lindsay was discovered in 2007 by Royals scout Mike Randell, who says, “He just seems to have blossomed over the past year. It’s been amazing to see him grow and develop.”

Lindsay will join South Africa’s National Team in mid-January to begin training for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, although his slot on the roster has not been finalized. The native of Gauteng, South Africa will move to Arizona in 2010 after graduating from school.


One of baseball’s all-time sluggers is hoping to be back in the majors in 2009 following a one-season absence last year. Forty-year-old Sammy Sosa has not ruled out a return to the big leagues, according to Dominican newspaper Listin Diario. In the story, Sosa is quoted as saying, “I still don’t have an offer, and I shouldn’t be looking for offers out there. Any team who wants to sign me should have the initiative to make an offer.”

Sosa last played for the Texas Rangers in 2007, stroking 21 homers and driving in 92 runs. He is only the fifth player to collect 600 or more career homers, including 61 in 1998.


The San Francisco Giants have signed 45-year-old left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson to a one-year, $8 million contract for 2009. Johnson joins Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito in giving the Giants three past and present Cy Young Award winners on their roster, the first team with that distinction since the 2002 Atlanta Braves boasted Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz on their pitching staff.

Johnson is coming off an 11-10 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, posting a 3.91 ERA for 2008 (2.41 following the All-Star Break). The Big Unit has 295 wins over his career, along with a 3.25 ERA and 100 lifetime shutouts. The five-time Cy Young winner is second to Nolan Ryan on the all-time strikeouts list with 4,789 whiffs in 21 seasons.

His signing with the Giants is a homecoming of sorts for Johnson. He’s a native of nearby Walnut Creek and a 1982 graduate of Livermore High School.