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Baseball loses a small giant

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Major League Baseball lost one of the truly great people in the game this past week with the unfortunate passing of Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto.

Rizzuto was a true Yankee in every sense of the word. What else can you call a guy that not only played with Joe DiMaggio, but also remained in the organization long enough to call Derek Jeter's first game with the club?

The Scooter helped the Yankees win seven World Series titles during his 13 years (1941 through 1956; he missed 1943-45 due to military service), including their record five straight championships from 1949 through 1953.

On a team full of stars, Rizzuto was often overlooked, but he was the AL MVP in 1950 and was the runner-up the year before. In fact, he was thought of so highly around the league, the great Ted Williams once said that if the Boston Red Sox had Rizzuto at short, it would have been them winning all those World Series titles.

As great as Rizzuto was on the field, it was behind the mic where he became a cultural icon to people living in the New York area. His trademark "Holy Cow" and his love of canolis, as well as the way he would work in birthday wishes and restaurant plugs became a staple in Yankee broadcasts for over 40 years.

Rizzuto received the ultimate honor in 1994 when he was voted by the veterans committee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Scooter did not disappoint the crowd that special day, as he gave one of the best speeches Cooperstown has ever seen. If you have some time, you should do yourself a favor and catch it on YouTube.

I know that when someone dies, people come out of the woodwork to wax poetic on how great a human being the deceased was, but in Rizzuto's case it actually felt genuine. I have never heard one person say something negative about him. Everyone who played with him loved him, everyone who worked with him loved him, and he was adored by millions of Yankee fans.

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance on Phil Rizzuto Day at Yankee Stadium back in 1985, and actually had a personal encounter with him a few years later.

Rizzuto was doing an autograph signing at a mall near me, probably around 1990 or so. I didn't feel like waiting in line just to get an autograph so I figured I would at least catch a glance of him. I figured it was the least I could do since I pretty much learned the game of baseball listening to him all those years.

Anyway, I was walking around the mall and noticed he was at a shoe store signing his name on a big backboard, so I walked in. He saw that I had a Don Mattingly T-shirt on and came right up to me and shook my hand, despite mall security instructing him not to do so since I wasn't in line. He didn't care, and let me accompany him to the area where he was heading, as we talked about the game from the night before.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner said it best the other day when he said that "heaven must have needed a shortstop". Well, it not only got a great shortstop, but a great human being.

R.I.P. Scooter, and thanks for making every single Yankee game I watched so darn entertaining.

PLAYOFF RACES HEATING UP

I usually don't get into the playoff races until at least the start of September, but that is going to change this year because we could be looking at an incredible final month-and-a-half of the season.

Of the 30 teams in the league, 18 still have a realistic shot at the postseason. I know that has been the case in recent years thanks to the wild card, but most of the teams alive still have a shot at the division.

Boston has the biggest cushion, as it sits five games up on the New York Yankees in the AL East. The Yankees, who share the lead for the wild card with Seattle, have been the hottest team in the league since the All-Star break and still have six games to be played with Boston, though. Toronto probably has no chance at the top spot, but is still within striking distance of the wild card.

The tightest race is in the AL Central, where Detroit and Cleveland are tied after splitting a two-game series this past week at Jacobs Field. Cleveland could gain some ground over the next week and a half, as Detroit plays eight games with the Yankees, while the Indians visit Tampa Bay and Kansas City with a three-game stop in Detroit in the middle of that. Minnesota still has an outside shot, and is six games back of both.

It is a two-team race in the AL West with Anaheim holding a 3 1/2-game advantage on the surprising Mariners. I have been waiting for the Mariners to fall off all season, but they seem to be in it for the long haul and still have seven games to play with the Halos.

Over in the National League all three divisions are still up for grabs.

New York has been in first for the better part of the season in the NL East, but will have to hold off the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies if they plan on making it back-to-back division titles. Atlanta was the big winner at the trade deadline, but will its moves be enough to make the postseason? The Braves are currently a game back in the wild card with the Phillies a half- game back of them.

The most intriguing division by far is the Central. Milwaukee was one of the feel-good stories in the league in the first half, but lately it seems like nobody wants to win that division. Well, that is everyone except the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who seem to slice off a game a day. From top to bottom the Cubs are probably the best team in the division, but the loss of Alfonso Soriano was a crushing blow. When it is all said and done, though, I expect Lou Piniella's squad to be left standing.

With a tremendous amount of young talent, most people felt Arizona's time was coming. Nobody thought it would come this soon. The Diamondbacks hold a three- game lead over the wild card-leading San Diego Padres and show no signs of slowing down.

ALL FIRST-ROUND PICKS SIGNED

All 30 first-round picks were signed by Wednesday's deadline set by Major League Baseball. This, of course, was the first year all picks had a specific date to be signed or they would go back into the draft pool the following year, thus eliminating the draft-and-follow process where teams would control the rights to players attending junior college until the following spring.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays and top overall pick David Price agreed on one of the richest deals ever for a first-year player, as he signed a six-year major league contract worth a guaranteed $8.5 million and possibly as much as $11.25 million. His bonus is the second-largest in draft history, behind only the $6.1 million Justin Upton got from the Diamondbacks as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

The guaranteed value of Price?s contract is the third-highest in draft annals, trailing only Mark Prior ($10.5 million, Cubs) and Mark Teixeira ($9.5 million, Rangers) from the 2001 draft.

The most outrageous deal on the day saw the Yankees giving their first-round pick Andrew Brackman, the 29th overall selection, a major league contract worth a guaranteed $4.55 million with a $3.35 million bonus. The contract could be worth up to $13 million if escalator clauses and team options are met.

Oh, by the way, an announcement is expected any day now that he needs Tommy John surgery.

Apparently, the league issued some sort of edict to try and keep signing bonuses down. I don't know, isn't that called collusion? But in the long run it did not matter, as the average first-round bonus actually climbed to $2.1 million.

WAIVER WIRE TRADES

A number of people have asked me over the past couple of weeks how waiver trades are made. I am going to do my best to explain it, so bear with me.

Any player can be put on waivers by his team, and the player does not need to be informed. Teams can place up to seven names per day on the wire, but no player is able to be placed on waivers more than twice in a season.

Other teams then have the chance to make a claim on the player during a 48- hour window. If the player is claimed, the team that placed him on waivers has the option of pulling him back (revocable waivers). The team that pulls him back, though, can't trade him for 30 days. However, if his team decides not to pull him back (irrevocable waivers), they have a few options.

For one, his team can work out a trade with the team that claimed him. Any player involved in the trade who is on a 40-man roster must go through waivers first.

Secondly, his team can just dump him and his salary on the team that claimed him, getting no player in return. If more than one team places a claim on a player, the winning claim is awarded based on worst record of the league the claiming team is in.

And finally, if no one claims him, his team is free to trade him to any team. According to reports several players are already in this category. Pat Burrell, Jose Contreras, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Piazza, Josh Towers, Steve Trachsel and Wily Mo Pena have all apparently cleared waivers and can be dealt to anyone.

Got all that?
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
Chris Ruddick


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