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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

Fire Sale Alone Won’t Help Marlins

Jim Callis -Premium Content

Owner Jeffrey Loria has been rebuffed in his bid for a publicly funded ballpark, so Florida has embarked on yet another fire sale. Can the Marlins avoid 100 losses this year? Almost assuredly not. But the biggest question is, can they rebuild via a massive exchange of veterans for prospects again?

Minors | #2006#Column

Royals’ Latest Plan Won’t Work Either

Jim Callis -Premium Content

The Royals haven't been to the playoffs since 1985, and now they're a complete laughingstock. The Royals have matched or set a franchise record for losses in five of the last seven years, upping the ante to 106 in 2005. Locals wondering how hapless the old Kansas City Athletics must have been now know first-hand.

Minors | #2006#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

Prospect Handbook Is A Labor Of Love

Will Lingo -Premium Content

This is the sixth edition of the Prospect Handbook, and in many ways it's our most ambitious undertaking. We figure assembling the top 30 prospects for an organization—from research to interviews and writing—takes about a work week. Then there's editing, adding statistics, laying out, cutting text, proofreading . . . There's a reason it's the best book of its kind: because a lot of people care passionately about what goes into it. Getting the best baseball information, using just the right word, making sure it all looks nice and is fun to read. Everyone plays a part in making sure this happens on page after page.

Minors | #2006#Column

Phils Move Could Start Scramble

Will Lingo -Premium Content

The instability surrounding the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, which we've written about several times in the past couple of years, looks like it will finally cost the club its most valuable asset after the 2006 season: the affiliation with the Phillies.

Minors | #2006#Column

Minor League Markets In Short Supply

Will Lingo -Premium Content

The name of the game for minor league owners these days is revenue, especially those who have entered the business in the last decade and have laid out millions of dollars for their franchises. That's why the trend of recent years has been to leave behind smaller cities—and even those larger cities that aren't willing to build new ballparks—for greener pastures, sweeter ballpark deals and bigger crowds. The scarcity of viable markets has become evident in the last year or two, though, raising questions about when the attendance boom might level off. It sure hasn't stopped yet, with overall minor league attendance breaking the all-time record in each of the last two years.

Minors | #2006#Column

There’s Nothing Like The Winter Meetings

Will Lingo -Premium Content

The Winter Meetings are a great event for anyone who enjoys baseball, what with most of the significant decision-makers in the game gathering in one place. Walking through the hotel lobby, you never know who you might run into. But the meetings are particularly enjoyable for us in the BA world because it's a chance for us to shine and see the industry on so many different levels.

Minors | #2005#Column

BA’s Work Heats Up During Offseason

Will Lingo -Premium Content

Among the games most people care about—those in the major and minor leagues in North America—you have game action for seven months out of the year. What in the heck do we do for those other five months? We crank out even more baseball information than we do the rest of the year.

Minors | #2005#Column

Ripken Machine Picks Up Steam

Will Lingo -Premium Content

Nothing Cal Ripken Jr. does off the baseball field will ever reach the stature of what he accomplished on the field, but his off-field endeavors have been much more than a retirement hobby. Ripken Baseball is the company Ripken put together after his retirement, and he has surrounded himself with capable people. Now Ripken Baseball is growing into a significant force in minor league and youth baseball, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Minors | #2005#Column

Indy Movement Harkens Back To Crazy Early Days

Will Lingo -Premium Content

Is it any wonder that so many minor league executives find independent baseball more fun than the affiliated minor leagues? Over the last couple of months, we've watched and waited—and waited and waited—as Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball try to figure out if they're going to make changes to their player-development and scouting system. Meanwhile in independent baseball, a couple of weeks ago everything was quietly moving ahead toward next season. Then the new United League suddenly started grabbing franchises away from the established Central League in Texas. And then the real indy story broke. Three longtime members of the Northern League, including the flagship St. Paul Saints franchise, announced they were leaving, for destinations unknown. Now that's what I call action.

Minors | #2005#Column

Minor League Stats Take Leap Forward

Will Lingo -Premium Content

We've been to the source and have seen the way stats were collected this season. And we were impressed. For those of you who haven't followed the minor league stat soap opera day by day, we had our third official statistician in three years this season. After Howe Sportsdata (now Sportsticker) had the contract for years, Minor League Baseball awarded it to the Sports Network for the 2004 season.

Minors | #2005#Column