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01/05/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY: Vol. 2, No. 1"

World Baseball Today is a weekly shortwave radio program aired every Sunday morning at 10:30ET on Radio Miami International. It is the only baseball program on worldwide radio, and can be heard on either 7385 kHz or via live audiostream online at The following is the script for the program. Free subscriptions to WBT are available by emailing


Major League Baseball

The final round of balloting for baseball’s Hall of Fame will be announced Tuesday by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee picked five new members last month, including former managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth, executives Barney Dreyfuss and Walter O’Malley, and commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The selection of Kuhn is somewhat dubious, since his impact on the game was arguably less than his former adversary, ex-Players’ Union chief Marvin Miller, who did not made the cut despite ushering in an era of free agency that Kuhn could only react to after fighting against it.
There are no shoo-ins this year after Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn were the only players picked by the writers last year. Perhaps the best candidate would be former Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice, who will be making his 14th appearance on the ballot. Rice was one of the most feared batters in the game in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but his prickly personality turned off a lot of the people who are doing the voting. Ex-closer Rich Gossage fell 21 votes shy of the 409 needed last year, and might make it in this time. None of the eleven first-timers on the ballot this year sets anyone’s heart a-flutter, although outfielder Tim Raines may eventually get some consideration.

Controversial ex-slugger Jose Canseco has a new book scheduled to come out in bookstores on Opening Day this season, and reports are that he will be mentioning names not listed in the Mitchell report on steroid use in the major leagues. Canseco’s book, with a working title of “Vindicated,” will be co-written by former Sports Illustrated reporter Don Yaeger and published by Penguin Books.
Canseco caused a stir with his 2005 book “Juiced,” in which he named several players as users of performance-enhancing drugs, including former teammate Mark McGwire. A Florida resident, Canseco was vilified by the baseball establishment when the book came out, but subsequent events including the Mitchell Report itself have indicated that he was being more truthful than many of the players who denied his allegations. Canseco attempted to get into the December 13 meeting which unveiled the results of the Mitchell Report, but was barred by Major League Baseball officials, who stated it was a “media event” only. According to Canseco, the Mitchell Report left out a lot of players, and that his upcoming book will fill in some of the gaps.
In his 17-year major league career, Canseco hit .266 with 462 homers and 1,407 RBI’s. A six-time All-Star game selection who also played in four World Series, he was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1986 and the league’s Most Valuable Player two years later.

After trading All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers along with pitcher Dontrelle Willis, the Florida Marlins are beginning to try filling the large holes left in their lineup by the duo’s departure. The Fish have signed 26-year-old Jose Castillo to a free agent contract.
Castillo played third base in the majors last season, but comparisons with Cabrera generally end there. The Venezuelan hit .244 with just one homer for Pittsburgh last season after cracking 14 roundtrippers for the Pirates in 2006. He is tearing up the Venezuelan League this winter with a .384 average, whacking nine homers with 41 RBI’s in 50 games. Castillo can play both second and third base. He may either take Cabrera’s place in the Florida lineup at third, or play at second with outfielder Dan Uggla moving to the hot corner.

Caribbean Baseball

Twenty-four game into the Cuban National Series schedule, one of the 16 teams in the league has built itself a bit of a cushion in its division. Defending champion Santiago de Cuba has a league-best 18-6 record, allowing them to open up a four-game lead over second-place Granma in Group D. Things are much tighter in Group B, with traditional rivals Habana and Industriales tied at the top with identical 16-8 marks. Ciego de Avila leads Group C, also with a 16-8 record, while Pinar del Rio sits on top of Cuba’s weak Group A at 12-12, which would be no better than third place in any of the other three divisions.
Carlos Tabares of Industriales leads Cuban batters with a .456 average, while Granma’s Alfredo Despaigne and Santiago de Cuba’s Alexei Bell are tied for the top of the home run list with nine apiece. Seven pitchers have four wins thus far, including Santago de Cuba’s Norge Vera, whose 1.21 ERA is second only to Holguin’s Luis Rodriguez’ 1.01. Somehow, Rodriguez has only has a 3-2 record to show for his effort.

The Obregon Yaquis came out on top of the Mexican Pacific League’s second-half standings as the regular season drew to a close last week. The Yaquis finished with an overall 39-28 record to beat out second-place Mazatlan’s 36-30 mark. Culiacan, who cruised to the first-half crown, finished tied with Los Mochis for third overall at 35-33. Yaquis first baseman Carlos Rivera’s .344 batting average nosed out Guasave’s Jose Rodriguez for the Mex Pac title by one point, while Mexicali slugger Carlos Sievers led the league with 14 homers. Obregon’s Andres Meza led the circuit with a 2.19 ERA, while Mazatlan’s Walter Silva’s nine wins were best in the Mex Pac.
The first round of the playoffs are now underway, with Navojoa facing Culiacan, Obregon taking on Los Mochis, and Mazatlan doing battle with Guasave.

The Cibao Gigantes and Licey Tigres entered 2008 locked in a duel for first place in the Dominican League, with Cibao’s 29-18 record giving them a tenuous half-game lead over 29-19 Licey heading into the current weekend. Escogido third baseman Juan Melo leads the league with a .318 batting average and Gigantes outfielder Brad Nelson’s eight homers is best in the circuit, but frankly this hasn’t been a hitter’s year in Dominica.
Pitching has been the name of the game, with all six teams turning in ERA’s of 3.51 or less this season. Cibao leads the Dominican League with a 3.04 mark. Former Seattle Mariners pitcher Julio Mateo has the best ERA among starters at 2.25 after ten starts for the Leones. Oriente Estrellas middle man Roberto Giron has made the most of his 17 relief appearances by picking up a Dominican-best five wins, while Este Azucareros starter Jose Diaz leads the league with 50 strikeouts in 55 innings.

The Oriente Caribes have created a solid 39-24 record to open up a five-game lead over the Lara Cardinales in the Venezuelan League standings. Only seven games separate second through eighth place in Venezuela, but the Caribes have been all but dominant so far this winter.
While the word “dominant” could also apply to the Caribes Jose Castillo, who just signed a contract with the Florida Marlins, it’s pretty hard to overlook Oriente catcher Eliezer Alfonzo. Although Alfonzo’s .267 average is nothing to write home about, his league-leading 15 homers and 46 RBI’s definitely are after spending most of the 2007 summer season with the Giants’ PCL affiliate in Fresno. Magallenes outfielder Richard Hidalgo is hot on Alfonzo’s heels with 13 homers in 165 at-bats.
Among pitchers in Venezuela, Lara’s Giovanni Carrara leads the league with a 2.30 ERA to go along with his 5-2 record, while Oriente’s Alexe Herrera’s eight wins is tops.

Asian Baseball

Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants recently announced a pair of player signings, including a former Central League home run champion who signed a free-agent deal. The Giants inked 33-year-old outfielder Alex Ramirez to a two-year, one billion yen contract for 2008 and 2009. A former Yakult Swallow, Ramirez led the Central League with 40 homers and 124 RBI’s in 2003. The Venezuela native set a league record with 204 hits while leading the league with 122 RBI’s in 2007, but was released by the Swallows following the season after contract talks broke down. He is the third foreigner picked up by Yomiuri this winter after the club acquired pitchers Seth Greisinger and Mark Kroon. Greisinger was 16-8 for Yakult last season, while Kroon saved a career-high 31 games for Yokohama in 2007.
Yomiuri also kept pitcher Hisanori Takahashi in the fold by signing him to a one-year deal that doubles his salary. Takahashi was named the Central League’s MVP last year after going 14-4 with a league-best ERA of 2.75 in 28 games as the 33-year-old lefty led the Giants to their first regular season title in five seasons.

Former major league All-Star pitcher Jose Lima is set to sign a contract with the Korea Baseball Organization’s Kia Tigers in 2008. The 36-year-old Lima won 21 games with the Houston Astros in 1999 and pitched in the All-Star Game that summer, but has failed to come close to that level since, subsequently pitching for Detroit, Kansas City, the LA Dodgers and New York Mets. For his major league career, Lima compiled an 89-102 record with a 5.26 ERA.
Lima is yet another addition to a Kia team seeking to rebound from a last-place finish in 2007. The Tigers have signed former Tampa Bay players Hee-seop Choi and Jae-weong Seo for the upcoming season, and will add ex-Dodger shortstop shortstop Wilson Valdez to the roster. Choi and Valdez would join Hyun-gon Lee in the heart of the Kia batting order, while Valdez would be expected to provide better defense at short than veteran Jae-joo Lee.
Lima and Seo join a pitching staff anchored in 2007 by young strikeout artist Suk-min Yoon, although Lima’s propensity for giving up home runs will be a concern for the Tigers. Kia pitchers allowed 106 long balls at home last year, second-worst in the KBO.

One of the largest communications companies in Korea will form a new pro baseball team in 2008. The KT corporation will take over a slot left by Hyundai’s decision to pull its sponsorship of the Unicorns team after 12 seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization.
The entry of KT into Korean baseball is somewhat unique in that they will form an entirely new team from scratch rather than acquire the Unicorns from Hyundai. Had they done so, KT would have been required to take out a loan to operate the existing team with 13.1 billion won, as Hyundai did in 2007. Instead, KT will only pay 6 billion won for a KBO franchise, which is only one-eighth the amount Hyundai had to pay for their new team back in 1996.
Seven of the eight KBO teams are less than thrilled with the KT arrangement, stating that the move devalues pro baseball in Korea. The only club welcoming the move is, not surprisingly, Hyundai. It has not been determined whether the new KT franchise would take the field in 2008, although that issue will be addressed at a meeting of the KBO Board of Directors early this year.

With attendance in decline, the Chinese Professional Baseball League of Taiwan may convert their split-season format into a single full-season schedule. Attendance at 300 games in 13 stadiums in 2007 totaled 612,879 for an average of 2,042 per game after the six CPBL teams drew 2,264 fans per opening in 2006.
The league is said to be considering a straight 100-game schedule for 2008 after the Makoto Cobras followed a first-half title in 2007 by finishing in the cellar for the second half.

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