Forget the two games the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners played in Tokyo last week. The real launch of the 2012 Major League Baseball season occurs tonight in Miami. The game will be televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET.
The Marlins have undergone a major makeover with a new name (Miami instead of Florida Marlins), new uniforms, a new manager (Ozzie Guillen), and a new steel-and-glass, baseball-only, retractable dome stadium with fish tanks behind home plate and a mechanical home-run “structure” with spinning marlins and splashing water.
Miami hosts the St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Series champions, who lost their biggest star (Albert Pujols) to free agency and the Los Angeles Angels, and their manager of many years (Tony La Russa) to retirement.
Here are more facts to lead off the new season:
The Texas Rangers have now lost the last two World Series, and were one strike away from clinching their first-ever title last October against St. Louis. Some wonder if the team’s latest heartbreak will leave indelible self-doubts with the franchise. To help keep the club in the hunt, it signed Yu Darvish, a dominating pitcher from Japan who struck out 498 batters during the last two seasons.
The Chicago Cubs’ biggest off-season acquisition was not a player but general manager Theo Epstein, who held that position with the Red Sox when they ended their 86-year championship drought. Boston received relief pitcher Chris Carpenter in return. Even if Epstein has the Midas touch, it may be a few more years before the Cubs are in contention. The team last won the World Series in 1908.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to snap a streak of 19 straight losing seasons, the longest in American pro sports history
Two additional wild-card teams are being added to the postseason this year. The two in each league will meet in a one-game playoff to determine which team advances. Five wild cards have won the World Series, including St. Louis last year.
Last year’s National League MVP, Ryan Braun, of the Milwaukee Brewers, avoided a 50-game suspension this season when an arbitrator ruled in his favor about a disputed positive drug test. Braun impressively defended his honor in a statement delivered on the field during spring training, but the case may not be fully settled.
The big question now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have been sold for a record $2 billion is whether new ownership and public enthusiasm can restore the franchise’s old gleam. The Dodgers haven’t won the World Series since 1988 and finished third in the NL West season with a .509 winning percentage.
The movie “Moneyball” has brought a lot of attention to Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. The question now is whether he his style of assembling a team can help the A’s improve on last year’s disappointing 74-88 record.
The Houston Astros, the worst team in the majors last year, are playing their final season in the National League. Next year they will be switched to the American League to create an even 15-15 split between the two leagues and put the Astros and Rangers in the same division.
Ticket-selling trend: Seventeen of 30 teams now use “dynamic pricing,” which means that ticket prices vary by game, depending on opponent, day of the week, month of the season, etc.
Fenway Park – 100th
Dodger Stadium – 50th
Oriole Park: - 20th
Designated hitter rule – 40th season
Alex Rodriguez (Yankees), $27.5 million
Ryan Howard (Phillies), $25 million
CC Sabathia (Yankees), $24.4 million
Albert Pujols (Angels), $24 million
Cliff Lee (Phillies), $24 million
Teams with highest payrolls:
New York Yankees – $197 million
Philadelphia Phillies – $173 million
Boston Red Sox – $160 million
Teams with lowest payrolls:
Kansas City Royals – $36 million
Tampa Bay Rays – $42 million
San Diego Padres – $45 million
Top players switching teams:
Albert Pujols - St. Louis to LA Angels
Prince Fielder - Milwaukee to Detroit
Jose Reyes - NY Mets to Miami