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Cubs’ Russell acknowledges ‘long road’ in return



Chicago Cubs infielder Addison Russell returned from suspension on Wednesday, striking out in his first at-bat to a chorus of boos and a smattering of applause in his first game in a big league uniform since Sept. 19.

He finished the night 0-for-3 with a walk in Chicago’s 3-2 walk-off win over the Miami Marlins in 11 innings.

Russell, 25, was suspended 40 games in September for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy after an investigation into allegations of emotional, verbal and physical abuse made by his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy.

Russell, who started at second base on Wednesday, served the final 28 games of his suspension at the beginning of this season and went through league-mandated counseling as well as his own therapy.

“I’ve just improved overall,” Russell said before Wednesday’s game. “Better relationships and communication with my teammates and family and friends. Just overall, I feel like I’m a better person.

“Hearing from my family and friends and also teammates that I’ve improved is a lot of assurance for me. And just continuing my therapy, as well. I know I’m making great strides. It’s a long road ahead. There is no finish line, but I’m committed to this.”

The Cubs tendered a $3.4 million contract to Russell in December on the condition he follow all league- and team-mandated guidelines for rehabilitation. The Cubs have repeatedly said they want to be part of the solution as it concerns Russell and the “plague” of domestic abuse in society.

“This does not represent the end of the road or an accomplishment in any way,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Wednesday. “But there has been progress. And not just taking Addison’s word for it. I’ve remained in touch with the people who are important to him, people who are in his orbit, including Melisa. I’ve received a lot of positive testimony about Addison’s growth to this point, his coping skills, his emotional control, his communication skills, his engagement as a father.”

Russell’s return has been a controversial topic in Chicago. He was asked if winning back the fans was a goal.

“I think that’s a huge step along the way,” he said. “The goal — I can’t tell you what the big goal is — but I can tell you that I just need to hit small goals. And then, over time, reflect and then look and see how far I’ve come, and then just keep going forward.”

Negative fan reaction is a reality that Russell is likely to have to deal with, perhaps for the rest of his career.

“If there is an additional burden on him, additional scrutiny on him or other things he has to deal with, I think that’s just part of the process,” Epstein said. “That’s not unfair.”

Russell was asked how people will know he is being sincere in his rehabilitation and overall improvement.

“I don’t think I’m a good actor,” Russell said. “I don’t think you can fake what’s true in your heart. And what’s true in my heart is to be a better person.”

Russell’s return was supposed to come next week, after another few games in Triple-A. It was moved up because Ben Zobrist was placed on the restricted list and set to take a leave of absence for personal reasons.

Meanwhile, current closer Pedro Strop was placed on the 10-day injured list with a Grade 2 strain in his left hamstring. The Cubs activated lefty Mike Montgomery from the IL to take Strop’s place on the roster.

Manager Joe Maddon said he’ll use several different arms to close while Strop heals up. But the ninth inning will be the least-watched thing on Wednesday as Russell wears a Cubs uniform for the first time since the end of his suspension for domestic abuse.

“I’m happy I have this second opportunity,” Russell said. “I’m looking forward and still improving as a person.”

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Amid virus pandemic, appreciative Pirates provide 400 pizzas to Pittsburgh-area hospital workers



The Pirates may not be in Pittsburgh yet, but their hearts are with the hospital workers who are providing care to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic So on Monday, the players arranged a delivery of 400 pizzas to the staff at Allegheny General Hospital.

The pizzas, plus helpings of pasta, were delivered by Pirates staff members. The idea came up as players tossed around ways they could help on a text thread. Two city restaurants converged to make the supply, Slice on Broadway at PNC Park, and Pizzeria Davide in Pittsburgh’s famed Strip District.

“We might not be in Pittsburgh, and we don’t have the opportunity to play in front of our fans and for all of us to be up in the city that’s kind of become a second home to us and that’s treated us so well,” Bucs pitcher Jameson Taillon told “We know local businesses are getting crushed and they’re really hurting and they’re really affected by what’s going on. Then obviously, the hospitals and the staff working on the front lines there, they’re putting in extra hours, extra work, exposing themselves.

“We thought this was a way to help. Two birds with one stone. We can help local restaurants. We can help the hospitals and the workers and show our appreciation.”

Taillon said Pittsburgh’s players will continue to look for ways to support local businesses and first responders.

“We’re trying to be creative and just help out any way we can,” Taillon said.

Hospital workers offered up their thanks in photos posted by pitchers Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams.

The Pirates just might make a tradition of this before long. Taillon also told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the club is also arranging to have coffee delivered to local firehouses.

“Obviously now is a pressing time,” he said, “but they’re always an important part of our communities. We just wanted to let our city know we’re with them through this.”

Last week, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf ordered all restaurants and bars to close their dine-in services. So, while the Pirates’ efforts will clearly help healthcare workers, these Pittsburgh eateries will benefit as well during this trying time.

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The best home runs we ever saw



This was supposed to be Opening Week, the time when MLB fans everywhere look forward to making a season’s worth of memories. Since we won’t have games to get excited about for a while, we thought it’d be fun to take a walk down memory lane by reliving some of our personal favorite baseball moments.

In the first of a weeklong series focusing on a different baseball theme each day, we asked our MLB reporters to tell us about the best home run they ever saw — with only one rule: They had to be there to witness it.

Jump to …
A Game 7 story | Wrigley gets rocking |
Schwarber hits new heights | A Giant surprise |
Brosius matches Tino | The homer that wasn’t |
Hammermania | Trout at his best |
Hendu does it | Bat Night goes batty

Jeff Passan: An unbelievable Game 7 home run story

Much of this job entails coming up with words to match the moment, and when I watched Rajai Davis hit a game-tying home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, I felt like I was failing miserably, because all I could muster, in the chaotic seconds thereafter, was: “No f—ing way.”

I just kept saying it, first at a whisper when the ball screamed toward left field, then louder when it landed over the 19-foot wall at Progressive Field, then almost sing-song, like a parrot with a cheeky owner might, when I watched Davis round the bases. All of Cleveland was enraptured, and all of Chicago was despondent, and I was simply amazed.

Rajai Davis was a 5-foot-9 outfielder who, in his 3,999 career regular-season plate appearances, had hit 55 home runs. He was facing Aroldis Chapman, the game’s most feared closer, who, though drained by an overworked October, had managed to pump a 101 mph fastball just off the outside corner three pitches earlier and a 99 mph fastball that Davis fought off two pitches earlier and a 101 mph fastball that Davis leaned in to spoil one pitch earlier.

This pitch left Chapman’s hand at 98 mph, low and inside, and Davis, choking up comically, almost 3 inches, dropped the head of his bat and with one swing erased a two-run deficit. Joe Buck’s call was perfectly simple: “Drive into left. At the wall. It’s gone. Tie game, Rajai Davis, 6-6.”

Odd though it may seem to pick a home run hit by a player from the losing team, I think the staying power of Davis’ home run even though the Cubs won the World Series validates the choice even more. It took a historic World Series victory and imbued it with even greater drama and meaning. It wasn’t Bill Mazeroski or Joe Carter. It was still something I’ll never forget.

Dan Mullen: Miggy tears the roof off of Wrigley

When we look back at the 2016 Cubs, we remember the team that made history. It’s easy to forget that while that October played out, we were all convinced that things would go horribly wrong somewhere along the way, just as they had so many times before.

I was watching the National League Championship Series opener from the left-field aux box high above when that feeling of looming doom rolled into Wrigley as a 3-1 lead against the Dodgers disappeared in a particularly ugly top of the eighth. The doom level was rising even higher when it appeared the Cubs were about to let a prime scoring opportunity get away when pinch hitter Miguel Montero fell behind 0-2 with the bases loaded and two outs.

But instead of striking out, grounding out or popping out to set in motion the latest chapter in the long book of Cubs collapses, Montero did something else entirely: He hit a baseball harder than he has ever hit a baseball in his whole life (or at least on a home run in 2016, according to Statcast data) and just about tore the damn roof off of Wrigley in the process. Or at least that’s what it felt like in that moment to me, Javy Baez — who said after the game, “I thought the roof was coming down from the fans jumping” — and 42,376 screaming Cubs fans.



In Game 1 of the 2016 NLCS, Miguel Montero lifts a grand slam to break a 3-3 tie and lead the Cubs to the win over the Dodgers.

I’ve seen home runs hit harder, and I’ve seen home runs hit farther (I grew up going to pre-humidor Coors Field). But Montero’s grand slam was the moment I truly understood that these weren’t those Cubbies and we were weeks away from witnessing history — and it doesn’t get better than that.

Jesse Rogers: Schwarber lands a knockout punch … on top of the scoreboard

The scoreboard beyond the right-field bleachers had just been installed. Otherwise this majestic blast by Chicago Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber would have ended up on the street and eventually be forgotten. But when Schwarber landed his 419-foot home run on top of the scoreboard, it instantly became a legendary blast.

The scene was the 2015 NL Division Series. The hated St. Louis Cardinals were on their last legs, trailing the series two games to one. Anthony Rizzo had put the Cubs in front 5-4 with a solo home run off lefty Kevin Siegrist an inning earlier, in the sixth. Schwarber’s blast would be the final nail in the Cardinals’ coffin — against a team that had owned the division, and the Cubs, for years. Siegrist threw a fastball down the middle, which Schwarber connected on with the kind of uppercut swing that launch-angle fanatics could drool over to this day. It was glorious. Wrigley Field went bananas.



In the 2015 NLDS, Kyle Schwarber unloads on a pitch and sends it well over the wall and on top of the video board in right field.

In 79 at-bats against left-handed hitters that regular season, Siegrist had thrown just two home run balls. In less than two innings in Game 4, he had matched that total. The Cubs would leave Schwarber’s ball on top of the scoreboard, eventually encasing it in glass. It became a shrine of sorts and vaulted Schwarber into mythical status. Something he would only enhance a year later during the World Series.

Tim Keown: Wait, who just sent the Giants to the World Series?

This is a tough one. I covered Barry Bonds every day for two seasons, and I’ll never forget watching him take the air out of an entire stadium with a 450-plus-foot homer in Anaheim, California, in the 2002 World Series. I followed the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa circus for several weeks in 1998 and was in a sweltering, B.O.-infused press box in St. Louis when McGwire hit No. 62. I once sat in the bleachers at the Oakland Coliseum and watched Jim Rice hit a homer off Dave Beard that, in my recollection, landed behind me before the sound of contact reached my ears.



In Game 5 of the 2014 NLCS, Travis Ishikawa walks it off with a 3-run homer to win the National League pennant for the Giants.

But most memorable? This might be a bit esoteric, but in 2014, Travis Ishikawa hit a walk-off homer off Michael Wacha to win the National League pennant for the San Francisco Giants. Even now, more than five years later, that sentence doesn’t make any more sense than it did the day it happened.

Buster Olney: Brosius matches Tino’s Fall Classic feat

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, Tino Martinez mashed a two-run home run off Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim — the first game-tying home run in the ninth inning of a Fall Classic since 1929.

The next afternoon, I bumped into Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius outside the clubhouse, and he wore the biggest grin, confirming what I assumed, that he was still thinking about Tino’s home run. Scott said he usually did not have trouble falling asleep after games, but following Tino’s home run, he was still wide awake at 5 a.m., and so he called a friend in his home state of Oregon to relive the game and burn off some adrenaline. Before Brosius continued into the clubhouse, he said, in so many words — that’s something we’ll never see again in our lifetimes.



In Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, Tino Martinez ties the game in the ninth inning with a home run and Scott Brosius does the same in Game 5. The Yankees would go on to win both games.

About five hours later, Brosius stood in the batter’s box, in the ninth inning. Byung-Hyun Kim was on the mound. The Yankees trailed by two runs, again. Brosius swung, and as he followed through and tracked the ball soaring toward left field, he raised his arms in celebration; Brosius had tied the game with a home run. Something that hadn’t happened in a World Series game in 72 years happened in back-to-back nights in Yankee Stadium.

Matt Marrone: The home run that wasn’t … then was

I was a freshman in college when I saw the infamous Derek Jeter/Jeffrey Maier home run. Although that’s not entirely true: I didn’t actually SEE it. Yes, I was at Yankee Stadium. Yes, I was laser-focused on every pitch and every play of that 1996 American League Championship Series Game 1. But I was sitting in the right-field upper deck, along the first-base line, and the right-field corner was obscured. No matter: I had been going to Yankee Stadium practically since birth, and I didn’t need to see the whole field to know where a ball was going.

I prided myself on never being one of those fans who go bonkers for every long fly out. So as I watched the arc of the ball as it flew off Jeter’s bat, I sat back in my seat and sighed. This was a fly out to right field. The Orioles still led 4-3 and it was now two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The crowd was cheering, but, again, those had to be the fans who assume every deep fly is long gone.



Derek Jeter hits one the other way, and 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reaches over the wall to snag the ball away from Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco.

And then? There was Jeter, circling the bases. I only found out through word of mouth what really had happened — that a 12-year-old fan had reached out over Tony Tarasco’s glove and grabbed the ball — and I only saw the play later. But I never needed to see it. I knew right away the home run wasn’t legitimate. But I took it, and 2½ weeks later, I was back in the Bronx to watch Wade Boggs ride around the stadium on the back of a police horse, celebrating the first Yankees World Series title since the year I was born.

Bradford Doolittle: Hammermania hits a high point

On July 24, 1994, we decided to take in a Royals game a couple of weeks before our pending move to Chicago. They were playing the White Sox. It was 1994, the year after George Brett retired, and Kansas City was engulfed in Hammermania. That refers to rookie slugger Bob Hamelin, who had hit 19 homers, including one in each of the two games prior to this one.

The game went to the 12th when Chicago got a run off Hipolito Pichardo — there’s a name from the archives — to take the lead. The Sox brought in Roberto Hernandez, who was pretty damned good at the time. Dave Henderson and Wally Joyner stroked one-out singles, putting runners on the corners for the Hammer. First pitch: Boom! It went out to center field and the K went nuts. It turned out to be the third game of a 13-game winning streak that put the Royals in a three-way race with the Indians and White Sox in the AL Central.

It also turned out to be the high point of the Hammer’s career. Within two weeks after that game, we’d moved to Chicago, close enough to Wrigley Field to hear Harry Caray sing during the seventh-inning stretch. But we didn’t find that out for months. The 1994 strike shut down everything until the following spring. There was no baseball and no singing and no resolution in that budding division race. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that time felt like.

Alden Gonzalez: Baseball’s best player at his best

I have been fortunate enough to witness the vast majority of Mike Trout‘s 285 career home runs in person, but the grand slam he hit off Chris Sale on June 7, 2014, sticks out most. It came in the eighth inning, with Trout’s Los Angeles Angels trailing Sale’s Chicago White Sox by four runs. It came on the type of low-in-the-zone off-speed pitch that Trout has always crushed at an astounding rate. And it came after Trout had fallen behind in the count 0-2, an inherent skill that was chief among the reasons Trout was considered an elite hitter at such a young age.

Keep in mind — this was peak Sale, on the way to his third of seven consecutive top-six finishes in Cy Young voting, and Trout was still only 22 years old. Trout went into that at-bat 1-for-10 with three strikeouts and two walks in his career against Sale. He watched a fastball sail high, then passed on a changeup that drifted out of the zone. He fouled off a chest-high fastball, laid off another high and away, then turned on a changeup low and outside, right on the edge of the strike zone, lifting it toward the center-field rock pile at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. “That’s why he’s the best in the league,” Sale later said of Trout, who wasn’t even midway through his third full season by that point. “The best.”

Tim Kurkjian: Hendu stuns the Halos in ’86

Game 5, 1986 American League Championship Series, Red Sox at Angels. David Henderson off Donnie Moore (who, years later, after tremendous turmoil in his life, took his own life). The Angels were ahead by three runs entering the ninth inning. They were three outs away from going to the World Series for the first time. It also would be manager Gene Mauch’s first trip to the World Series and it would be another chapter in the cursed history of the Red Sox, who hadn’t won the World Series since 1918. Henderson came to the plate with a runner at first and two outs in the ninth, down by a run.

During the season, he had been 1-for-13 with no RBIs with two outs and runners on base in late-inning pressure situations, and he had not hit a home run all season (71 plate appearances) with two outs and runners on base. He took a hanging split from Moore and crushed it over the left-center-field fence to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead. It was Henderson’s only hit in the series.



In Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, Dave Henderson rips a ninth-inning homer to give Boston the lead in a game the Red Sox would win in 11 innings.

The Angels tied it in the bottom of the ninth, but Henderson’s sacrifice fly in the 11th inning won the game. After the game, Henderson said that the famous home run “rated right up there for me with scoring four touchdowns in a high school football game.” Then he smiled that huge smile, with that big gap between his front teeth, and walked away. The Red Sox would win Games 6 and 7 at home, sending them to the World Series, where they would lose in seven games to the Mets.

David Schoenfield: It gets no better for a kid than some Bat Night walk-off history

The Mariners of my youth were terrible. (No jokes about the Mariners of my adulthood also being terrible). That was no surprise given they were an expansion franchise, but even for an expansion franchise they were terrible. Back in those early days, the Mariners would draw big crowds three times a season: Opening Day, whenever they played the Yankees, and Bat Night (which was much more popular than Rain Jacket Night).

May 9, 1981, was a Saturday night, the Yankees were in town and it was Bat Night. A crowd of 51,903 packed the usually gray and depressing Kingdome to its concrete ceiling. The game before, Tom Paciorek had led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run off Rudy May, a rare Mariners victory over the evil Yankees. In this game, the Mariners jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, but Reggie Jackson would break a 3-3 tie in the eighth with a two-run homer.

We head to the bottom of the ninth with Ron Davis in relief for the Yankees (he was an All-Star that year). Jerry Narron strikes out. Pinch hitter Dan Meyer singles, and Julio Cruz follows with a base hit. Lenny Randle flies out, bringing up … Tom Paciorek. And, improbably, he does it again: He belts a three-run, walk-off home run to left field. He remains one of just 11 players to hit walk-off home runs in consecutive games. The crowd goes absolutely nuts, of course, but that doesn’t describe the noise. The Kingdome was nearly all metal bleachers back then, and all of us kids started banging our bats against the bleachers in outrageous joy. It sounded like the Kingdome was falling apart. Finally, Paciorek came back out for his curtain call.

Baseball is never better than when you’re 11 years old.

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Kiley McDaniel’s MLB farm system rankings for all 30 teams



I’ve always felt that the typical way to compile organizational farm rankings wasn’t good enough. Judging any one prospect is tough enough using all of the available data, if you can get it all.

That said, we have trades, and the order in which players were drafted, as hard evidence of teams’ opinions to anchor around.

Judging an entire farm system is much tougher. There is no hard data about the opinions that teams have about the strength of a system as a whole. And subjectively deciding that this group of 30 players is better than that group of 24 players is invariably full of bias; our brains can’t consider all 54 players independently from those two teams, much less 30 teams’ worth of prospects.

When I worked with an MLB club, then later at FanGraphs, and now at ESPN, I’ve used the Future Value system. It’s scaled to WAR (an all-inclusive number of how good any player is, measured in wins) and adjusts for proximity to the majors and risk. On the team-by-team top 10s, I spelled out the FV grades for more than 300 players, listed about a dozen more prospects for each team, and I had about another dozen or so for each team whom I could have listed: the average number of players on my list for each team was 39. (For those wondering, I have updated the FV grades for recent Tommy John surgery announcements on Tigers LHP Joey Wentz, Padres RHP Reggie Lawson and Padres RHP Andres Munoz.)

The next step was something Craig Edwards did for us at FanGraphs last year, using the last couple of decades of players to figure out how much a prospect is really worth. The idea is to take every prospect and put them into a bin based on how they were ranked as a prospect, then look at what their career was like, then do some economic adjustments and assign values to each bin, which are then applied to every prospect. The output is a number that represents what a team would bid for each prospect if he was at auction and the team was trying to value its six to seven controlled years in the big leagues before the player hit free agency. The top prospect in baseball, Rays shortstop Wander Franco, is worth $112 million, which means we expect he’ll produce $112 million of value above his salary for those six-plus seasons before he hits free agency; he might make $50 million in salary during that time.

The cutoff for what players make the list is still somewhat subjective. The concept is any player with real trade value: When you see a guy traded who isn’t good enough to be on here, it’s usually as a placeholder in a salary dump trade, whether it’s a late-round pick in the low minors, a back-half-of-the-roster type in the middle minors or an upper-minors player who is likely to be on waivers in the next 12 months. Sometimes a player emerges late and I haven’t updated his rating, most commonly at the lowest levels of the minors at the trade deadline, but updated scouting reports usually come to the surface the day of a trade.

Reducing complicated, unique people into numbers, and more specifically money, isn’t a great feeling, but it’s not done to change anybody’s career, merely to measure which team is doing the best job at cultivating young talent. There are some instances where two teams are within a couple of million dollars of each other, and in those cases the advantage is given to the team that reached that value with the fewest amount of players. I’ve also made slight adjustments where teams benefited from having bulk value of prospects that, on average, aren’t list quality. The Mariners (one spot), Giants (one spot) and Blue Jays (two spots) were the teams whose rankings were impacted in this regard. Functionally, think of the average value per player as the tiebreaker when two teams are close.

For this reason, I encourage you to look at the rankings in tiers; if one midlevel pitcher goes down with surgery and his grade is downgraded a notch or two, some systems could move down three or four slots. In total, there are 1,182 prospects and $6.53 billion of surplus value in the minor leagues by my system. A more complete picture of the young talent within an organization would include big league talent (most recently suggested by ESPN’s Karl Ravech) — that’s on the coronavirus shutdown to-do list.

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