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Bad Santa Tries Coaching Bad News Bears

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

He's played an air-traffic controller, a psychotic murderer and even a really bad Santa. But in real life, Billy Bob Thornton plays one heck of a baseball fan. The Academy Award-winning actor, an immense Cardinals fan since his youth in rural Arkansas, carries his love for the game to each of his movies—none more so than the new remake of "Bad News Bears," which opens nationwide on July 22. Thornton naturally plays the tattooed and profane boozer who coaches a group of Little League goofballs to their championship game. Very true to the original 1976 hit, the movie adds dozens of updated one-liners—he calls his foreigner-infested squad "a damn League of Nations"—to keep today's kids laughing (and parents covering their ears). I sat down with Thornton recently to discuss "Bad News Bears," his ill-fated professional pitching tryout, and learning his nasty slider from Bob Gibson.

Majors | #2005#Column

Hoffman Heads Toward Saves Record, Hall?

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

Trevor Hoffman, who failed as a position player deep in the Reds system 15 years ago, has since gone on to become one of the best closers in baseball history. The longtime Padre saved his 400th game early this season and is churning his way toward Lee Smith's record of 478, his changeup as baffling as ever. Off the field, the 37-year-old Hoffman is far more down the middle than his pitches—he's one of the straightest shooters in the big leagues. He sat down to talk about the best role for a closer, his possible Hall of Fame speech and being the son of a British ballerina.

Majors | #2005#Column

MLB.com Emerges As Internet Powerhouse

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

In only a few years, mlb.com has gone from a somewhat haphazard league portal to one of sports' most potent websites, leading baseball fans into the era of streaming highlights, print-at-home ticketing and other 21st-century goodies. And did we mention it'll bring in more than $200 million this year, giving hope to the notion of revenue balance? This leaves Bob Bowman, CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, one of the most influential behind-the-scenes executives in sports. Yet matters aren't all rosy: MLBAM has butted heads with Fox executives, is suing a fantasy site over rights to players' names and statistics, and more. I spoke with Bowman recently about the ups and downs of an Internet powerhouse.

Majors | #2005#Column

Francoeur Explodes In Atlanta

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

Here at Baseball America, we usually speak of prospects in either the future or past tenses: A player will either be great, like Justin Upton, or once was, like Brien Taylor. Rarely do we get to speak of them in the present tense—exactly while they are fulfilling their promise, even more than anyone had hoped. But we can with Jeff Francoeur, whose astounding .353-10-30 numbers in his first 36 games for the Braves have made him one of the hottest midseason callups of all time, a fan and media favorite who is as shocked as anyone at his newfound celebrity. No one—not Francoeur, the Braves or us—knows how long this will last, but as Francoeur will tell you, it sure is a blast while it does.

Majors | #2005#Column

Larkin Learns Front Office 101

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

Most people think it's the Expos who relocated to Washington this year. But in some ways it was the Reds: from general manager Jim Bowden to his handpicked assistants, Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo and Bob Boone, the Nationals have become Reds reincarnate. The most intriguing face belongs to Larkin, who throughout his Hall of Fame caliber career was considered one of the brightest players in baseball and a strong GM prospect. But after less than one year inside the front office, exposed to the schedule and other demands of running a major league organization, is Larkin having second thoughts? I sat down with Bowden and Larkin to discuss the transition to a star's new baseball life.

Majors | #2005#Column

Will Hails Game’s Return To D.C.

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

George Will holds a unique spot on baseball's landscape. He's not just a huge Cubs fan (baseball memorabilia and autographs cover his Georgetown office walls) and prolific author ("Men at Work," his 1990 masterpiece, is the best-selling baseball book ever). As one of Washington's top insiders, Will has a keen eye for how the worlds of baseball and politics intersect, both intellectually and emotionally. To mark the end of this first season of baseball back in Washington, I sat down with Will in his D.C. office to talk about the Nationals, Congress's role in the steroid mess and his deep—very deep—Cubs-fan scars.

Majors | #2005#Column

Piazza Still Has Plenty To Offer

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

Baseball America's readers have watched Mike Piazza grow up from a forgettable 62nd-round draft pick to a top prospect to, quickly and forcefully, the greatest offensive catcher in baseball history. After so many calls for him to move positions, at 37, he still finished this season as perhaps the National League's most productive catcher. But now comes the slow fade-out: Piazza will almost certainly open next season in the American League, as a designated hitter, ending a remarkable run. I sat down with Piazza during this year's final week to talk about aging, the weirdness of New York and what his career could still hold.

Majors | #2005#Column

Daniels Hopes To Dispel Youth Stereotypes

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

Yes, at 28 he's the youngest general manager in major league history. Sure, he's the latest in a string of Ivy League-educated GMs. But as soon as the hubbub about his early-October promotion to Rangers GM dies down, Jon Daniels will be judged like all other club decision-makers: whether he can do the job. I spoke with Daniels during the Texas organization meetings about meshing with established general managers, improving the Rangers and his humble baseball roots that involed crashing in Denver basements.

Majors | #2005#Column

Williams Reluctantly Accepts The Spotlight

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

Flush from his team's magical World Series run, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams did what he likes best: disappear. Never one for the spotlight, Williams avoided the media frenzy, preferring instead to recede into the Chicago background and his work for 2006. But he still took a few minutes to sit down and discuss his management philosophies, the building of a champion, and the sweetness of vindication.

Majors | #2005#Column

Goin’ Deep With Jimmie Lee Solomon

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

Ever since word started filtering out over the summer, Major League Baseball's proposed changes to the lower levels of player development have been kept curiously quiet. From the shifting of the draft to the end of June to the elimination of the complex leagues, from a defined bonus structure and signing date to longer, mandatory instructional leagues, almost no executive has been willing to speak openly about the situation. Not surprisingly, the changes were among the most hotly debated topics at the recent general managers meetings in Indian Wells, Calif. On the meetings' final day, Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's top executive in charge of the situation, sat down for his first extended interview about what might become the most significant alterations to player development in decades.

Majors | #2005#Column

Valentine Embraces Life In Japan

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

For a guy living 12,000 miles away, Bobby Valentine's name has come up an awful lot this season. Mentioned for managing jobs with the Devil Rays and Dodgers, and even possibly a general manager position, Valentine not only led his Chiba Lotte Marines to their first Japan Series title since 1974, but also thrust himself back front-and-center into major league conversations. Valentine sat down to talk about his Marines, the lingering lure of the majors and just what in the world BoBeer tastes like.

Majors | #2005#Column

Classic Roster Excites Martinez

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

As the pieces of the upcoming World Baseball Classic gradually fall into place, one of the biggest appeared at the Winter Meetings: the Team USA manager will be Buck Martinez, the current ESPN analyst and former manager of the Blue Jays. The prospect of managing the greatest collection of talent in the history of baseball, with names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and more, has left the garrulous Martinez anything but speechless. I sat down with Martinez to discuss his evolving juggernaut and any plans to bribe the Rocket out of retirement.

Majors | #2006#Column

Not Even Brett Understands HOF Voting

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

The day when the Hall of Fame balloting gets announced is about phone calls: mainly, to the lucky former players who learn they'll be in Cooperstown forevermore. But this year the most notable phone call for me was the one to Hall of Famer George Brett, who after stepping off a plane in Boston wanted to know the voting results. I had the pleasure of getting his immediate and candid thoughts on Bruce Sutter's selection, his continuing vigil for Goose Gossage and Bert Blyleven, and whether his old pal John Schuerholz ever has a shot.

Majors | #2006#Column

Miller Helps Bring Baseball Back To Inner City

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

While in Los Angeles on business, I stopped by Major League Baseball's new Urban Youth Academy in Compton, an immense (and long-overdue) step in revitalizing inner-city baseball. When it officially opens on Feb. 28, after more than five years of planning, the $10 million facility will allow thousands of youngsters a chance to learn baseball from former pros and play games on big league quality fields, complete with stands and lights. All for free. Its director is Darrell Miller, the former Angels catcher and farm director, who gave me a walking tour of the still under construction complex in late January. Among the dirt and cinderblocks lies the future of urban baseball.

Majors | #2006#Column

License To Deal

Jerry Crasnick -

In "License To Deal: A Year in the Life of a Maverick Baseball Agent", longtime Baseball America columnist Jerry Crasnick chronicles the life and career of Matt Sosnick, who runs an upstart baseball agency with his partner, Paul Cobbe. (Page 3 - Getting Cory Dunlap)

Majors | #2005#Book Guide

License To Deal

Jerry Crasnick -

In "License To Deal: A Year in the Life of a Maverick Baseball Agent", longtime Baseball America columnist Jerry Crasnick chronicles the life and career of Matt Sosnick, who runs an upstart baseball agency with his partner, Paul Cobbe. (Page 2 - Draft Day)

Majors | #2005#Book Guide

License To Deal

Jerry Crasnick -

In "License To Deal: A Year in the Life of a Maverick Baseball Agent", longtime Baseball America columnist Jerry Crasnick chronicles the life and career of Matt Sosnick, who runs an upstart baseball agency with his partner, Paul Cobbe. (Page 1)

Majors | #2005#Book Guide

For Pulsipher, Down Doesn’t Mean Out

Bill Pulsipher -Premium Content

Alan Schwarz' Going Deep column is usually in question-and-answer format, but for this issue we make an exception for Bill Pulsipher—one of the spring training's biggest surprises. Here, he tells of his amazing ongoing battle with depression, one he is winning to the point that he made the Cardinals roster after not pitching in the big leagues since 2001.

Majors | #2005#Column