Category Archives: sports

Jay Cutler Stops by Practice before Confronting Lazarevic

Jay Cutler stopped to talk to the press today, doing his best Nathan Drake impression.

Jay Cutler is Nathan Drake

Jay Culter: "Glad we signed Roy, sad to see Greg go, and Sully really is an ass."

Among other things, he told Dave Haugh he was glad the November 7 game in Philedelphia is a night game so he has “time to rest after finding Iram of the Pillars.”

Thanks to the Chicago Tribune for the break. You can read the real story here.

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Cubs Trade Fukudome, Ask “Please Sir, May I Have Another?”

The Cubs unloaded (female) fan favorite Kosuke Fukudome today, making my #1 blue alternate a collector’s item. In exchange for Kosuke’s services, the Cubs get a pitcher who can’t pitch in AAA (.450 ERA), and a hitter who can’t hit in A (.244 BA, with a 0.18/1 walk-to-strikeout ratio since 2010). They sure are some shrewd barters. In fairness, the Tribune’s Phil Rogers thinks the hitter, Abner Abreu, could potentially be a solid outfielder – he does have 12 homeruns this season. But his article states that Baseball America doesn’t rank him as one of the Indian’s top 30 prospects, so don’t paint me excited.

But don’t take the Cubs for suckers. In exchange for two no-name minor league guys, they also get to pay 83% of Kosuke’s contract. So there’s that.

**update** According to the Chicago Cubs press release, Abner Abreu is in his fifth professional season. So if he continues this blistering move to the majors, we will be fortunate enough to see him strikeout 30% of the time at Wrigley in about 2021. I’m waiting with bated breath.

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The World Baseball Classic – Where’s the Love?

With the passing of the second quadrennial World Baseball Classic, it’s once again time to crown Japan as the champions. And an exciting WBC it was! The United States shook off a poor showing four years ago, and staked a stunning come-from-behind victory against Venezuela, to proceed to the semi-finals before losing to Japan (no shame in that). And the championship game between Japan and North Korea would rival any playoff or World Series game you’ll see in October. When the two teams, whose baseball programs enjoy a pretty strong rivalry anyway, met in the championship, they had already played four times, splitting the games two apiece. It was a classic baseball contest, requiring exemplary defense, solid pitching, timely hitting, and even a tenth inning to decide. Seiichi Uchikawa made just about the best play you will ever see in the outfield. And when the passion both countries posses for baseball is coupled with the historical political tensions between the Japanese and Koreans, this game can easily be seen as more than just a mere contest of skills on the diamond; a comparison of the 1980 United States/Soviet Union Olympic hockey game would not be a specious analogy, even if the animosity isn’t quite as severe.

I was sad to see the United States lose to Japan. But I couldn’t say I was disappointed with Japan winning the championship. The intrigue of a Japan vs. South Korea game aside, I love the way the Japanese play baseball. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played; hit for average, run when you get a chance, pull the ball to right with a man on first – pretty much just a small-ball team with an emphasis on defense and pitching. I do enjoy the current makeup of the game, but American baseball has turned into hitters swinging as hard as they can at pitches thrown as hard as possible. I understand the irony of this coming from a fan of the Cubs, a team which in recent history has relied a bit too much on strikeouts and homeruns (pop quiz – when was the last year Cubs pitching did not lead the Majors in strikeouts? 2000; and they came in fifth), but I prefer the old-school style of play. Joe Morgan commented that one of the big differences between Japanese and American pitching is the Japanese trust their off-speed pitches in hitter’s counts. As a guy who always preferred Greg Maddux to Roger Clemens, those are the kind of pitchers that I enjoy watching. It’s smart baseball, not just muscle baseball. And baseball really should be more chess than wrestling.

In short, they play the game the way Ryne Sandberg says it should be played.

Certainly the tournament made me long for exuberant discussion – if only I could have found someone to discuss it with.

By all accounts, it was a smashing success; everything that Major League Baseball had hoped it would be . . . if you look at its impact internationally. For Monday night’s championship game, over 40,000 baseball fans packed into a stadium in South Korea to watch the game on the JumboTron, and almost 55,000 showed up for the actual game in LA’s Dodger Stadium. There were some anemic crowds for some contests. Less than 10,000 people showed up for the Japan vs. Cuba semifinal game last Wednesday, but that game was played in the United States, so some tepid reaction is excusable. And just a touch over 13,000 fans showed up for one game featuring the United States in Dolphin Stadium last week, but that could rival any other baseball game played in Dolphin Stadium (one reason the Florida Marlins may leave Miami).

The goal, however, was not to breed further interest in the sport at home (though I’m sure MLB wouldn’t decline the offer), but rather to garner interest across the world in an effort to make baseball a truly global sport. And the truth is it is a global sport. Of the four major sports in the United States, football and basketball don’t share near the international intrigue of baseball and hockey, though basketball has become very popular in some Mediterranean and Eastern European countries.

The problem is, while hockey’s international appeal has a direct benefit on the sport in the United States, as the lack of pronouncability on player’s jerseys will quickly prove, baseball’s appeal has relatively little economic value for Major League Baseball outside of the United States and the Caribbean. The market for players is starting to expand into Japan and Southeast Asia, and clubs are spending more than ever evaluating talent in those areas. But that is sadly being offset by a tendency of youths coming from economically challenged backgrounds in the United States, whom traditionally looked towards baseball to gain wealth, shifting focus to basketball and football instead. MLB is trying to deal with this problem through programs such as RBI, but the sad fact is the only thing keeping baseball from once again becoming a “white” sport is the influx of major league ballplayers from Central America and the increasing number of players from Japan and Southeast Asia.

I know it sounds cold to put the situation into such nondescript socio-economic and racial terms, but the truth is the best athletes tend to come from economically challenged backgrounds, and money is spent by fans where players are being produced. This is an issue that affects both the integrity and quality of the game played, as well as the economic value of the sport. So the World Baseball Classic was established, in part, to try to expand the market globally, producing an increase in both the quality of players entering the league and the markets in which Major League Baseball can financially tap into.

After only two tournaments over four years, it’s hard to tell if this will have any real impact on either of those goals. As for me, personally, even if it is a failure in that regard it would be a measure of pride that my favorite sport is increasing its global appeal.

I love the World Baseball Classic. I love what it represents for the game. I love watching other countries and nationalities compete in the sport outside of the Olympic venue. And yes, I love seeing how the Americans stack up against players from other countries. And even though there was little representation outside of North America and Asia (The Netherlands, Italy, and South Africa were the only three of the 16 not from those two continents), I honestly believe that this is going to be instrumental in spreading the popularity of the game.

But I don’t understand why this love is so seldom shared among my US brethren. I would think millions of baseball fans would jump at the chance to watch good, quality baseball games in March. (Have you seen Spring Training games?? They’re painful!)

One excuse I’ve heard for the bland response is that it competes with March Madness. This is undoubtedly true, and I don’t think you can reasonably expect it to achieve its full potential in the US during this time frame. But that doesn’t explain the complete lack of enthusiasm. If there was any excitement for it, then it would fare well right along side March Madness; they could even compliment each other. Bud Selig said he’d like to eliminate a lot of the off-days during the tournament, which would increase the number of games played on the weekdays (when the NCAA tournament is dormant) and also lessen the amount of time it has to compete against the NCAA tourney. That will help. Some suggest changing the timing, but to when? To November, so they can play baseball in the snow? To July so they can suspend the regular season for three weeks? March is the only logical time to play the WBC, and so fans are going to have to learn to multitask. It shouldn’t be asking a lot. You don’t ignore the Winter Olympics because of the NFL playoffs.

To be fair, there would probably be a lot more enthusiasm in the United States if the United States baseball team was more successful. The American team, while doing well overall, was hardly the dominating force one would expect them to be. And winning breeds enthusiasm. Without Lance Armstrong’s dominance, the Tour de France is just a bunch of people in stupid outfits riding bikes. And who actually thinks the US swimming team would have received constant national attention if it wasn’t for a certain Michael Phelps?

It is possible, of course, that the Japanese are just a better team. That “old-school” baseball really is a superior game and Japanese dominance reflects this. And it’s possible that we are overestimating the superiority of American ball players to other countries. Still, when considering the bad performance of the team in 2004 and the level of play against some countries in earlier rounds, it’s obvious the American team did not perform up to par.

There are a lot of excuses for the American team not playing as well as one would expect. I’m not sure I buy many of them, mostly because the Japanese team played so well. People say that there wasn’t enough time for players to prepare, and that the team couldn’t jell the way other teams could, or that commitments to their Major League teams kept players from being utilized appropriately or playing as hard as they otherwise would have. But there were several MLB players on most teams, and the rest of the Japanese team was comprised of top-tier professionals from a very successful major league program in Japan. There’s no reason why the Japanese could work around these problems but the Americans couldn’t. To me, it was obviously an issue of attitude.

I don’t want to take anything away from the players who decided to play. I know the players who participated in the WBC felt honored to do so, and seemed legitimately disheartened when they lost. Particularly, Derek Jeter obviously really took the tournament to heart, and I appreciate that. However, the overall reaction from Major League players and their teams to the WBC has been lukewarm, at best. Many of the game’s top players seemed to jump at the chance to wiggle out of the tournament. Look, if CC Sabathia doesn’t want to play, he shouldn’t have to. But practically nobody turns down a shot to play in the All-Star game (though I have seen some pretty lame injuries keep players out). Players should view this as another form of the All-Star game, except instead of representing your league, you’re representing your country.

Much of this attitude seems to stem from the ball clubs. They don’t want to take the risk that their players will be injured, or that the early training and stress will wear them out towards the end of the season. This is understandable, but baseball is notoriously a marathon sport, and there should be ways around this without meaningfully affecting your team’s play in September or October. And I don’t think that competing against a team in international play is any more hazardous to a player’s health than competing against another team in spring training. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I’d also be inclined to believe that many ballplayers probably see this as little more than a run through minor-league all-star teams, so what’s the point? We don’t need the WBC to tell us we’re the best in the world (even though we’ve yet to prove it in that venue), so why break our backs for it?

Culture is a hard thing to change, and I’m not sure I know how to do it. My first thought would be to provide monetary incentive to teams for winning games, but that would seem to fly against the spirit of the tournament, and I’m not sure you could award financial incentives large enough for ultra-competitive multi-millionaires to use it as any more of a motivating factor than winning would otherwise be.

Bud Selig said owner’s need to realize this tournament is ultimately good for baseball, and they may have to make some sacrifices for the greater good. I think these sacrifices would actually be quite small, and agree that the ball clubs should fall in line. But I think he’s missing the point. As long as the majority of Major League Baseball continues to see the WBC as a sacrifice teams need to make, they will not have the enthusiasm for the tournament it deserves.

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Was Kyle Orton the Drummer for Nirvana?

A big break from my usual posts, but this is HUGE news.

So I was on Metallica.com today to listen to “Tomorrow Never Comes” (they actually have six songs up in preparation for the release of “Death Magnetic” this Friday), and there was a picture of Dave Grohl, who was doing a radio show with the Metallicatz.  And I noticed he looks just like Kyle Orton (or rather, Kyle Orton looks just like Dave Grohl).

Seriously.  Check it:

Grohl:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle:

This is my favorite Orton pick, though he doesn’t look quite as Grohlish:
Right now I’m a bigger Dave Grohl fan than Kyle Orton.  Though if he takes on linebackers like he did Sunday night I’m open to rethinking that position.

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The Harden Trade Analysis

Haven’t blogged in a while, which is a shame because I have some big (or at least numerous) plans in the works, but things have gotten a bit hectic lately. But I saw this and I had to immediately put aside everything to write about it.

The Cubs traded for Rich Harden.

Wow.

I did not see this one coming. I was hoping we could get our hands on CC Sabathia (no more periods), as he was having a bit of a down year (a relative term, to be sure), the Indians are having a very down year, and he was in the last year of his contract, which is pretty much the Pillsbury recipe for trade-bait. After they fell out of the front-running, I probably stopped hearing the Cubs mentioned about a week or so before he was traded to the Brewers, I just figured that was that and moved on. Though I figured the Cubs would probably do something towards the end of the trade “deadline,” I thought it would be something like, say, getting a Jason Kendell or Steve Trachsel. I had no idea they would get someone this good this soon.

Harden has been besieged by injuries; injured six times in his six major league seasons, he’s already sat out a month this year. But when he’s on, he is on. So far he’s 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in the hitter-friendly American League.

The move surprises me mostly because the Oakland A’s are not exactly floundering. They are seven games above .500, only six back in the AL West, and a scant 3.5 games behind the AL Wild Card leading Boston Red Sox. Throw in the fact that the Cubs have not been one in my lifetime to trade for high-class pitchers ever, let alone in the middle of the season, and this completely blindsided me.

The Cubs did not make out like bandits. They traded four players for Harden (oh, and Chad Gaudin was thrown in, as well), at least three of whom have the potential to be very good players in the Major League level: Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher, who have all played in the Majors this year, and low A-ball Peoria Chiefs’ catcher Josh Donaldson. Eric Patterson was shaping up to be better than his brother, Corey, who showed me two years ago that Felix Pie was going to be a bust (looks like I was spot on there). I’ve always liked Sean Gallagher, and I love Matt Murton. Though I’m very sad to see him go, he’s been getting a raw deal in Chicago, and I am happy to see him traded to a team which may appreciate his talents a little more.

This trade was really made possible, at least from the Cub fan’s point of view, for four reasons.

First, the Cubs are obviously thinking short-term. Though this trade is a positive boon for the rest of the season, it could end up being a negative long-term even if he stays with the Cubs for a while. Seeing as he is probably a “loaner” and will sign with the highest bidder at the end of the season, and with Gallagher, Murton, and Patterson all solid prospects, this is obviously not going to be of any help for the 2010 Cubbies. Much has been made of the fact that mid-season trades seldom work out the way the team thinking “this year” hope they do, but this is completely different. The Cubs are not making this trade to try and find the missing link to get into the playoffs. They are already in a solid position to do so, nobody will be able to argue that Hardin is not an upgrade over Gallagher, Murton and Patterson would not be instrumental in getting there, and once the postseason starts it’s pitching, pitching, pitching. With the pending sale, the Cubs have been blatant in their attempts to win a World Series under the Tribune’s watch, future-be-damned, and this will be of tremendous help in getting them through three series victoriously, while sacrificing practically nothing to get there.

Second, the acquisition of Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson, both of whom came with huge question marks, made the Cubs’ outfield very crowded. Previously mentioned bust Pie has been sent down and probably will not return until the rosters expand, if he returns at all in 2008. But Soriano is due back shortly following the All-Star break, Fukudome has been all the Cubs (or at least I) had hoped, and the Cubs have two outfielders with major league experience in the minors: Sam Fuld and Jason Dubois. So though I would have loved to see a long Chicago career in store for Mr. Murton, he was not a needed part of the Cubs short-term plans.

Third, the unexpected play of Eric Patterson must have made him very appealing to a team needing a second baseman, and the Oakland A’s have a bunch of no-names lining up behind the pitcher. Mark Ellis is currently starting at 2B, and he owns a less-then-impressive .269 career batting average with an anemic .340 OPS, and is hitting under .250 so far this year. Eric Patterson’s numbers haven’t been fantastic, and his experiment in the outfield has been pretty much a failure, but he’s only played thirteen games with the Cubbies thus far. His minor league stats have been solid, a .300 hitter in 2007 and 2008 in AAA Iowa, and he has shown some great promise when he’s had the chance to play on the big league roster. The Cubs didn’t really have a place for him in the infield; Ryan Theriot looks like he’s going to be their shortstop for a long time, Mark DeRosa pretty much only gets a day off at second when he plays somewhere else, and there’s not a team in the league who wouldn’t like to have Mike Fontenot and Ronny Cedeno on their bench. Nobody’s going to supplant Ramirez or Lee in the next few years. So when Patterson looked lost in left field, he was an expendable but attractive part of the Cubs organization.

Finally, the Cubs starting rotation has been a mixed bag. The disappointing season of Rich Hill, who went all the way from the majors to struggling in A-ball, left an opening in the rotation they were not expecting and could ill-afford. Meanwhile, John Lieber has been solid out of the pen but was unpitchable in his only start, delegating him permanently to the bullpen this year. And Jason Marquis is Jason Marquis. However, there have been some pleasant surprises, as well. Ryan Dempster has been pitching better than anybody could have expected, and he’s headed to New York for the All-Star Game. Ted Lilly bounced back from a terrible start and, though he’s not really a surprise, has pitched well as of late. Sean Gallagher has pitched well this year, and has gotten better as the year went on. And probably most importantly, Sean Marshall has pitched very well since he’s come back from the minors to transition from reliever to starter, which ultimately allowed them to be able to send off a starting pitcher and absorb the loss.

A quick list of Cub players who did not suit up for the 2006 North Side season: Alfonso Soriano, Geovano Soto, Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Mike Fontenot, Daryl Ward, Reed Johnson, and Jim Edmonds.

Can the Cubs be for sale every year?

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Politics (mostly) Riff

A few news stories that I find interesting but not necessarily worth a full blog:

First, according to Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, the fight over seating the Michigan and Florida delegates has actually led superdelegates to support Obama. Mostly his piece is about how Clinton could use the issue to help define her role in the convention, or even the party as a whole, in a post-Hillary ticket. But he does say the effect will be limited because, at the end of the day, the people who make the decisions in the DNC don’t really feel sorry for Michigan and Florida, and view Clinton’s stance on it as somewhat hypocritical, given that she agreed the votes shouldn’t count last fall and her chair (Terry McAuliffe) held a similarly hard line against Michigan when he was running the DNC. It’s been so distasteful for some, that Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network said it was “instrumental” in securing many of Obama’s superdelegate support.

Now, the New Democrat Network is a combination of a (527) group and a PAC, and that’s always dangerous. But Simon Rosenberg was a finalist for the DNC chair in 2004 before ceding the position and putting his support behind Dean, so he obviously has some high-powered information. It’s not surprising that the superdelegates didn’t put much weight on the role of Michigan and Florida when casting their decisions. One thing that has always confused me is Clinton keeps making public arguments out of the nuances of the nominating process, when her only hope now lies in the superdelegates. She can try to sway her supporters into believing that caucuses aren’t democratic or that Florida and Michigan Democrats did nothing wrong and shouldn’t be punished, or that we should only count the votes in a certain, convoluted way, but she’s had the delegate count lost for quite some time now and her campaign has admitted for the last couple of months that she would need strong superdelegate support to win the nomination. The problem is, these superdelegates are party insiders; they know how the system works, are (assumedly) very well informed of its developments, and have gotten their prestigious jobs from this process. It’s absurd to think they’ll bite into the propaganda just because the Clinton’s ask them to.

But to hear that it not only didn’t sway support to Clinton, but actually led to support for Obama, did take me aback. Evidently, they were just as insulted by the rhetoric as I have been.

In related news, Democrat Rules Committee Member, former chairman, and Clinton supporter Donald Fowler said that Obama could pretty much let Hillary have her way, within reason, without “threatening his postion.” In other words, a very powerful Clinton superdelegate admitted that Obama’s more or less got this locked up and Florida and Michigan cannot make a meaningful impact. “If he thinks he’s threatened, he won’t do it, and I don’t blame him. But unless something unusual happens between now and then, he will be in good shape.” Not only is the writing on the wall, but Peter Parker took its picture, printed it in the Daily Bugle, and it’s now on page 537 of your son’s high school history book.

To her credit, Clinton has done her part and laid off the rhetoric lately, apparently abandoning her “kitchen sink” strategy for one which, while ultimately ineffective (of course, so was the kitchen sink), should help make her case without damaging Obama for the general election. Yesterday she went so far as to express regret for saying that he won’t be able to win over “hard working Americans, white Americans.” In an interview with ABC News, she was told that Congressman Charles Rengel from New York called the remark “the dumbest thing you could have possibly said.” Clinton’s response? “Well, he’s probably right.”

Her only real argument for staying in the election seems to be that she’s “not a quitter,” and it would be wrong to leave before every state votes. This was pretty much Mike Huckabee’s argument before McCain won the nomination. As long as she continues to be more Huckabee than, let’s say, Hillary Clinton, this thing should end pretty smoothly.

Though Clinton supporters will have another “Obama’s sexist” log to throw on the fire. Evidently, Obama had to call a reporter and leave a voice mail (he’s been leaving a lot of voice mail recently) to say he’s sorry for calling her “sweetie.” This is really a non-story; I don’t know how many times a black woman has called me “honey.” I find it rather endearing. But since some of these Clinton supporters (in my belief, a very small but much too vocal minority) seem to want to find sexism in every thing about this nomination, I’m sure it will come up. Be forewarned. I guess I can’t seem to blame them too much. A person they thought was entitled to win the nomination lost, and of course that can’t be the candidate’s fault. Human nature. How can the Patriots lose the Super Bowl? Obviously they weren’t outplayed; the officials must have screwed up the timing, or something.

Finally, I would like to say something about fantasy baseball. I love fantasy sports. I’ve been in two leagues; I was the champion in my football league debut and took home the (digital) third place trophy in my baseball debut. And now I’m tearing up, absolutely shredding, my second baseball season. How good am I? Jake Peavy, one of my starting pitchers, was hit hard by the Cubs, giving up four runs in only four innings of work. Then Kerry Wood, one of my closers, gave up a run and let four people reach base in his only inning of work, which wasn’t even a save situation. And yet my lead against my poor opponent increased from 6-5 to 9-2. Last week I won 12-0 in the league’s only shutout of the year, and over the last two weeks my record was 22-2.

That, my friends, is a powerhouse.

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Cubbies Sweep and Prior Weeps

Friday I said that Daryl Ward has been practically useless off the bench. Actually, as of Friday afternoon he was literally useless, as he had not had one hit in a pinch hit appearance.

Saturday, off the bench, he had an RBI single which scored Mark DeRosa (who’s been one of my better fantasy league pickups, but that’s another blog) which tied the game, and yesterday he hit a two run double which ended up being the winning hit in the final game of a series sweep against the Diamondbacks at Wrigley.

So you know, I’m taking full credit. You’re welcome.

Of course, the other side of that story is Ward pinch hit for Felix Pie. Now, I understand the theory is Pie has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. Last year he hit .362 with a Bonds-esque .973 OPS, so that certainly seems to be the case. But if a guy can’t hit in the majors, he can’t hit in the majors. And this guy can’t hit in the majors. Meanwhile, Matt Murton is hitting .368 with a .870 OPS in Iowa, so it’s not like he has a hell of a lot to prove, either. But he can hit in the majors; he has a career .295 BA, which most people would think is pretty damn good. And even though his field work’s not as good as Pie’s, he’s not exactly Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn, either (of course, they would argue that he’s not exactly Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn, either).

Sean Gallagher had a great game in his first major league start (Zambrano was supposed to start but was held up because of an hour rain delay). He couldn’t make it past the fifth inning, but he has been a reliever for quite some time now so five innings at one go is asking a lot. Not sure I want him to stay in the starting five all year, but he certainly deserves another start or two to see what he can do, and if it seems to be just a fluke then hopefully Rich Hill will have his stuff together by then, or at least Sean Marshall will be ready to step in. And since the rotation includes Jason Marquis, it’s always good to have that one extra guy who can step in just in case.

In other news, Mark Prior is having shoulder problems again. According to the Chicago Tribune, the San Diego Padres (or as Mom would say, the South Dakota Padres) wanted him to be in a minor league rehab assignment by now. Instead, this is his second delay due to shoulder soreness, and he hasn’t even made it out of extended spring training yet. This is a familiar story. In case you don’t recall, last year he wanted to make the Cubs 25-man roster and start the season in the bigs. The Cubbies thought that wasn’t such a good idea, said he would start the season in the minors, and had him pitch in extended spring training. Of course, the Cubs were being complete jerks about the situation. He was fine, but there was nothing he could do because he was “just an employee.” “It’s up the Cubs if they want me,” he said bitterly, joking that he could be in the minor league Futures Game because he was going to pitch so well and show us all. He was shut down by the end of April, and hasn’t played in the majors or minors since.

What a loser.

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