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Baseball 2001: Around the bases, from A to Z

Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2001

A quick trip around the bases, from A to Z:

A -- Ankiel. The most compelling story of all. Can Rick Ankiel recapture the form that made him a 21-year-old phenom, or will wildness put a sudden, sad end to his career with the Cardinals?

B -- Ballparks. Two new ones -- PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Miller Park in Milwaukee. Cincinnati is the visitor in both home openers. The Reds also changed Cinergy Field, cutting away the stands in center field and ripping out the artificial turf.

C -- Comebacks. John Smoltz returns after missing the entire season after elbow surgery. Billy Wagner and Bryce Florie are back from injuries and Tim Raines is out of retirement. But Albert Belle is gone for good because of a bad hip.

D -- Dugout. Six new managers in the majors: Bob Brenly (Arizona), Bob Boone (Cincinnati), Jim Tracy (Los Angeles), Larry Bowa (Philadelphia), Lloyd McClendon (Pittsburgh) and Buck Martinez (Toronto).

E -- Envy. Alex Rodriguez's $252 million contract was sure to cause ripples. Instead, it turned into a tidal wave, with Gary Sheffield, Frank Thomas and Barry Bonds rumbling about making more money.

F -- Free agents. Rodriguez (Texas), Manny Ramirez (Boston), Mike Mussina (Yankees), Juan Gonzalez (Cleveland), Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle (Colorado) and Kevin Appier (Mets) were among the top ones to move.

G -- Gone. Rick Aguilera, Walt Weiss and Gregg Jefferies retired and John Wetteland might be headed that way. Jim Morris is finished at 37, though his feel-good tale of returning from a decade-long layoff will soon be a Disney movie.

H -- High strikes. Umpires have been ordered to call 'em by the rulebook definition, up around the letters. But umps also plan to take away strikes a couple of inches off the plate, and pitchers could really pay the price.

I -- Induction Day. Kirby Puckett will wear a Twins hat while Dave Winfield is deciding which cap to put on his Hall of Fame plaque. Bill Mazeroski and Hilton Smith also will be inducted at Cooperstown, N.Y., on Aug. 5.

J -- June 8. The date when the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers will finally meet in interleague play. A reworked schedule puts the emphasis on intradivision games. The Braves and Mets, for example, will play 19 times.

K -- Knoblauch. His bad throws put the former Gold Glove second baseman on the bench for part of the World Series. More trouble this spring put Chuck Knoblauch out in left field for the New York Yankees.

L -- Labor. Like it or not, the threat of a lockout or strike looms again. The Basic Agreement between players and owners expires Oct. 31, and fans hope the sides can avoid the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972.

M -- Mark McGwire. Coming off a year when tendinitis in his right knee reduced him to a postseason pinch-hitter, he took a cut-rate contract to stay with the Cardinals. At 37, he has 554 home runs and has a chance to break Hank Aaron's record of 755.

N -- Numbers. Rickey Henderson could reach big ones this season. He needs 86 hits for No. 3,000, three walks to break Babe Ruth's career record (2,062) and 68 runs to top Ty Cobb's mark (2,245).

O -- Opening day. Once again, baseball starts the season in a new place. Texas and Toronto open up on April 1 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a year after the Mets and Cubs played in Tokyo.

P -- Pete Rose. Another year passed and the all-time hits leader is no closer to Cooperstown. Commissioner Bud Selig is not about to take any action that would remove Rose's permanent ban from baseball.

Q -- Quick! Baseball hopes to speed up games by cutting down on dead time. It's an idea that's been tried -- without success -- in the past. Average length of a nine-inning game last year: a record two hours, 58 minutes.

R -- Rookies. A good crop, led by Olympic hero Ben Sheets (Milwaukee) and seven-time Japanese batting champion Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle). A player to watch: C.C. Sabathia, a 6-foot-7 lefty who throws heat for Cleveland.

S -- Safeco Field. Home of the All-Star game on July 10. Would be wild to see former Mariners stars Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez return to Seattle for the festivities.

T -- Toe Nash. Discovered in the bayous of Louisiana, the raw, 18-year-old Tampa Bay prospect is said to have Mickey Mantle-like power from both sides of the plate and a 95 mph fastball. And yes, he really does exist.

U -- Umpires. Along with calling high strikes, the men in sage green plan to eject pitchers after suspected beanballs. Could that be a problem for Roger Clemens, who hit Mike Piazza in the helmet and brushed back A-Rod?

V -- Vaughn. Big Mo is expected to miss the whole season for Anaheim because of an injured left biceps. Atlanta catchers Javy Lopez and Eddie Perez, Los Angeles third baseman Adrian Beltre and Houston pitcher Shane Reynolds are hurt and out for opening day.

W -- World Series. Can anyone stop the Yankees? They're trying for their fourth straight championship, a feat accomplished only by their Bronx Bomber brethren of 1936-39 and 1949-53.

X -- X-rays. Cal Ripken's bad back will bear close watching this season. An injured rib slowed him in spring training and, at 40, his career is winding down in Baltimore.

Y -- Yankees. Last year, many wondered whether they were too old and too broken down. Now, with Mussina joining Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez, it's hard to imagine not seeing them again in October.

Z -- Zero. The future trades Toronto GM Gord Ash is likely to make with the White Sox. The Blue Jays are still steamed, believing new Chicago GM Kenny Williams knew Mike Sirotka was injured when he was dealt for David Wells.



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