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12/14/2008 Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY (December 14, 2008)"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

Former major league player and manager Dave Johnson will lead the United States in the World Baseball Classic next March. Johnson was introduced as Team USA manager at a press conference during the annual winter baseball meetings in Las Vegas last week.
Johnson played in all or part of 13 MLB seasons with Baltimore, Atlanta and Philadelphia, batting .261 with 136 homers. He was a four-time All-Star second baseman who played in five World Series. He went on to manage four teams over 14 years, including the 1986 World Champion New York Mets. Johnson led the USA to a bronze medal at last summer’s Beijing Olympics.
Team USA finished 3-3 in the first World Baseball Classic in 2006 under Buck Martinez.

New York Yankees All-Star third baseman Alex Rodriguez says he will play for the Dominican Republic in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The three-time American League MVP was born in New York in 1975 to Dominican parents, and lived three years in the Caribbean nation before his family moved to Miami, where he attended high school.
Three years ago, Rodriguez raised some hackles when he vacillated between playing for the USA or Dominican Republic in the first WBC, and even considered bypassing the event entirely. He eventually played for Team USA after some pressure from WBC organizers. The 33-year-old A-Rod is a 12-time All-Star, with career totals of 533 homers, 2,404 hits and a .306 batting average for Seattle, Texas and the Yankees.
In A-Rod’s absence, Team USA is expected to go with Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria and David Wright of the New York Mets, All-Star third basemen themselves.

Future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, former first baseman and manager Mike Hargrove and ex-Milwaukee skipper Tom Treblehorn have all been named as coaches with Italy for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. The three will serve under Italian manager Marco Mazzieri.
Piazza will serve as Italy’s hitting coach and catching instructor in the WBC. He retired last winter after 16 big league seasons with five teams, batting .308 with 427 homers and 1,335 RBIs. Hargrove was an All-Star first baseman with Texas during his playing career, and managed three teams over 16 seasons in the majors (winning five straight division titles with Cleveland). He is currently coaching a semipro team in Kansas, and will be a bench coach for Italy. Treblehorn managed the Brewers for six seasons and one campaign with the Cubs, and has a lifetime .505 record as a skipper. He coaches in San Francisco’s minor league system, and will serve as Italy’s third base coach.

Former Yankees and Cleveland second baseman Joe Gordon is the lone Veteran Committee pick for baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2009. Gordon played 11 war-interrupted years in the majors between 1938 and 1950, batting .268 with 253 homers and 975 RBIs. He was a nine-time All-Star and played in six World Series.

Following the first week of action in the Cuban National Series, the Villa Clara Naranjeros are the only undefeated team in the league with a 6-0 record. Villa Clara beat Metropolitanos, 2-1, last Sunday as Naranjeros starter Juan Yasiel Serrano pitched seven innings and allowed just one run on six hits with a half-dozen strikeouts.
Villa Clara was losing 1-0 in the eighth inning with two runners on base when pinch-hitter Yeniet Perez stroked a two-run double to center. Misael Silveiro came out of the bullpen to nail down the save for the Naranjeros.
Defending champion Santiago de Cuba got off to a rough start, winning just twice in their first seven games.

Among the four leagues sending teams to February’s Caribbean Series, the Caracas Leones have perhaps been the strongest of the 28 teams battling for their respective pennants. The Leones lead the VENEZUELAN LEAGUE with a 30-14 record (the best in winter ball), and are 4.5 games ahead of the 27-20 Lara Cardenales. Catcher Pablo Sandoval of Magallenes is having a solid season, leading the league with a .388 average and 11 homers. Caracas third baseman Jose Guzman has driven in a mind-bending 51 runs in just 44 games. David Austen of Zulia leads Venezuelan pitchers with five wins, while Caracas’ Juan Gutierrez is 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA and a shutout after nine starts.

The Ponce Leones are on top of the PUERTO RICO LEAGUE tables at 16-9, three games up on the 12-11 Arecibo Lobos. Ponce defeated Santurce, 7-5, Wednesday night as Mets prospect Michael Antonini allowed just one run over six innings for the Leones. Arecibo kept pace with a 5-0 shutout over Mayaguez. Lobos starter Bradley Mumma combined with three relievers on a one-hitter, while Nationals farmhand Jorge Padilla homered and had four RBIs. Padilla leads Puerto Rico League batters with 27 RBIs, five more than Caguas catcher Raul Casanova. Casanova leads the league with a .371 average.

In the MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE, the perennial powerhouse Mazatlan Venados are in a three-way dogfight for the second-half title with first-half champ Los Mochis and Guasave. Mazatlan is 30-22, a half-game ahead of 29-22 Mochis and a full game up on the 29-23 Algodoneros. Mazatlan lost to Guasave, 6-5, Wednesday night as Algodoneros outfielder Dionys Cesar cracked a pair of homers. Mochis missed on a chance to tie for first by losing to Hermosillo, 2-1, as Chris Roberson smacked a two-run homer while Elmer Dessens tossed six scoreless innings for the Naranjeros.

And in the DOMINICAN LEAGUE, only four games separate the top five teams. The 24-17 Cibao Gigantes lead the circuit, while fifth-place Escogido is one game below .500 at 20-21. Outfielder Victor Diaz of Cibaenas is having a monster season for the Aguilas, batting .318 with a league-leading 15 homers and 42 RBIs in 40 games. Licey’s Jorge Sosa has had a great year on the mound for the defending Caribbean Series champions, going 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA over nine starts. Sosa’s 17 strikeouts in 47 innings aren’t very impressive, but his 11 bases on balls are.

The Chinese Professional Baseball League says it will move forward in 2009 with four remaining teams in the wake of this season’s gambling scandal which led to the disbanding of the dMedia T-Rex. The Chinatrust Whales also went under due to lack of funds. The four Taiwanese teams left standing are the champion Uni-President Lions, Brother Elephants, La New Bears and Sinon Bulls.
CPBL teams will play 60 games each in 2009, up from 50 games apiece this year. However, due to the loss of the T-Rex and Whales, the league as a whole will play 240 games, down from 300 in 2008.
Two teams, the Lions and Elephants, will visit Shanghai next March for a series of three exhibition games. The two teams will each play the China Baseball League’s Shanghai Golden Eagles once before facing each other in the finale.

Gambling problems apparently are not limited to Taiwanese baseball. Sixteen active players in the Korea Baseball Organization, including 13 from one team, have been accused of taking part in illegal internet gambling. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office says it suspects the 16 players to have gambled over 1 billion won (or about $678,000US) on an illegal gambling website operated by Koreans overseas.
According to the prosecutors, 13 of the players are from the Samsung Lions, two are with the Hanwha Eagles and one plays for the Lotte Giants.
The investigation is ongoing, and KBO secretary general Hal Il-sung says the league will discuss its own disciplinary measures afterward.

The Australian Baseball Federation’s 75th Claxton Shield competition got underway earlier this month with a one-week Showcase Round at Blacktown Olympic Park, home of the New South Wales Patriots. The five Claxton Shield teams played each other once in a round-robin format between December 2 and 7 in a week that also included a Celebrity Home Run Derby and the MLB Roadshow, among other events.
When the dust settled, both the Perth Heat and Victoria Aces were 4-1, New South Wales and the Queensland Rams were both 2-2, while South Australia was winless. Perth gets the nod for first place in the Showcase Round by virtue of their 6-5 win in 11 innings over Victoria on December 4. Perth centerfielder Nick Kimpton had three hits in the game, including a game-winning double in the 11th frame.
The Claxton Shield schedule runs through the league finals in early February.

The Cebu Dolphins and Dumaguete Unibikers will square off this weekend for the Baseball Philippines Series 4 championship. The best-of-3 series was set to begin Saturday at Manila’s historic Rizal Memorial Stadium.
Cebu reached the BPCS by beating Batangas in the semifinals, 2 games to 1. After being spotted a win going into the series due to their first place finish in the regular season, the Dolphins lost to the Bulls last Saturday, 9-2, before winning the rubber match 8-6 Sunday.
Taguig had an incoming one-game advantage over Dumaguete after tying Cebu for first, but the Unibikers swept the Patriots, 7-1 and 3-1, to advance to the Finals against Cebu.

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