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Mariano might call it a career after this year

The big news out of the first day of Yankees spring training today in Tampa: Closer Mariano Rivera might be entering his last season. Rivera played coy with reporters at the Yankees' complex even though he has a contract for 2013 as well.

"I know now," Rivera said of his retirement date. "I just don't want to tell you. I know now. I will let you guys know when I think I should tell you."

Rivera is very close with his family in his native Panama and it has become harder and harder for the 42-year-old to be away and go through the grind of a long season, even if last year's 1.91 ERA and 44 saves belie that point. 

Read more on the Rivera story from MLB.com,  which points out that Jorge Posada said at his retirement ceremony that he thinks 2012 will be it for Rivera.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Yankees sign Ibanez for DH, pass over Damon

The Yankees made it official this morning, signing veteran Raul Ibanez to a one-year,  $1.1 million deal to largely serve as their left-handed DH. Ibanez hit .245 for the Phillies last season with 20 homers and 84 RBIs but was at .256-16-60 against right-handed pitchers with a .440 slugging percentage and .747 slugging percentage that was 162 points higher than it was against lefties.

The Yankees waited to free up some money by trading A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh and then moved on their DH slot, which will often be filled against lefties by Alex Rodriguez and even Derek Jeter. They kicked the tires on Hideki Matsui and Damon openly campaigned for the job, telling CBSSports.com that he's surprised neither the Yankees nor the Rays (his team last year) have brought him in. The Yankees apparently think Ibanez can do a little more defensively, according to ESPN.com.

Ibanez had a great year for the Phillies in 2009, when they lost the World Series to the Yankees, as he hit .272 with 34 homers and 93 RBIs. He had been a 100-RBI man the previous three years in Seattle and has 252 home runs in his career. But he turns 40 on June 2 so we'll see how much is left in his tank after his numbers took a dip last year.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

See the Habs' Gary Carter tribute

Spring training kicked into gear this weekend with everyone reporting and most teams getting down to the nitty-gritty of workouts on Monday. Allow me to morph some hockey here, however, with a look at the fitting tribute the Montreal Canadiens had Sunday night in the Bell Centre to honor the late Gary Carter, who went into the Hall of Fame with an Expos cap after his great years at Olympic Stadium.

Youppi, the Expos' old mascot who has switched allegiances to the Habs, donned his old uniform for one night with the No. 8 patch. Nice video and sweet use of the ice for the laser show.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Wakefield and his knuckler call it a career

WakeKnuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who burst on the scene in 1992 with the Bisons and then the NL East champion Pittsburgh Pirates, announced his retirement Friday afternoon at the Red Sox spring camp in Fort Myers, Fla. 

Wakefield, 45, won 200 games with the Red Sox -- third in team history behind Cy Young and Roger Clemens. His career,  of course, began with the Pirates and he helped them get within an out of the World Series in 1992. Wakefield was 10-3 in Buffalo under Marc Bombard in 1992 (right) before getting called up but his career then quickly flamed out.

By 1994, Wakefield was back in Buffalo and posted one of the worst seasons in franchise history -- 5-15 in 29 starts that saw the team go 7-22, a 5.84 ERA, 98 walks, 16 wild pitches and only 83 strikeouts in 175 2/3 innings. The team went 55-89 as it never posted more than a four-game winning streak, with Wakefield representing a new term for the word stopper.

Wakefield went to Boston the next season and turned his career around by going 16-8 and pitching for the Red Sox in the postseason against the Indians. He won 17 games in 1998 and again in 2007 as the Sox won their second World Series in four years. In the knuckleball world, Wakefield is right there with Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough, Hoyt Wilhelm and his mentors, the Niekros.

But Wakefield's knuckler lost its bite last season (7-8, 5.12) and it was arduous for him to just get to 200. He wanted to return to go for the club victory record but the Red Sox apparently declined to offer him a contract.

Click here for Wakefield's major- and minor-league stats from The Baseball Cube.

Wakefield is a pillar in the community service world in both Boston and his native Florida. His career is a fascinating study of someone making a lot out of nothing, as his career as an infielder was not getting out of Class A ball. He's not going to make the Hall of Fame but he's certainly going to always have his unique place in the history of the game.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Photo: Wakefield with the Bisons in 1992/Buffalo News files

New Herd skipper Backman to wear Carter's No. 8 in tribute to late Mets teammate

New Bisons manager Wally Backman, the longtime former Mets second baseman, wore his heart on his sleeve Thursday night -- and said he will wear it on his back next season -- in the wake of the news of the death of Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter.

Backman's No. 6 is retired in Buffalo for Ollie Carnegie so he was going to flip it and wear No. 9. Instead, he's going to don Carter's No. 8.

"It's for Gary," Backman said. "Gary was ... If I had an idol as a player I played with, Gary would definitely be one of them. Without question. In remembering Gary, I'm going to wear 8 until somebody tells me I can't wear it."

Backman told plenty of Carter stories to the couple hundred fans in the Hyatt Regency's Grand Ballroom and more to a group of reporters afterward. 

"Gary was like a big brother to me," Backman said. "I'm happy that was I able to spend a half-hour with him three weeks ago, a great conversation at his golf tournament [in Florida]. My memories will always be good about Gary."

Click below to hear Backman's interview session with reporters


Wally Backman

In other news announced at the Hot Stove Event:

---Hall of Famer and Mets legend Tom Seaver will be the keynote speaker at the Triple-A All-Star Game Luncheon July 11 at the Adam's Mark. Limited tickets are on sale ($25) at Bisons.com or by calling 846-2011. Seaver will also throw the ceremonial first pitch at the game that night.

---The team announced its full promotional schedule for the season with several tributes to the ballpark's 25th year, including a five-part commemorative coin series, an Earl of Bud bobblehead and appearance (Aug. 23) and a City Hall replica (July 18).

---The staff has been completed for Backman as Mark Brewer will be Buffalo's pitching coach in 2012 and George Greer will be the hitting coach. Brewer was in the Rookie League last year but has Triple-A experience with the Mets in New Orleans; Greer was at Kingsport of the Appalachian League in 2011 and has previous experience of 23 years as a college head coach, including 17 at Wake Forest.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

It's deadline day for Thursday's Herd Hot Stove with Wally

Today is your last chance to get in on the Bisons' winter Hot Stove, a "Back to Baseball" meet-and-greet with new manager Wally Backman. It's Thursday night from 6-8 at the Hyatt Regency grand ballroom. For $20, you get pasta and carving stations, a Bisons merchandise table and cash bar, and a chance to mingle with Backman in an relaxed atmosphere. There will also be a brief formal program.

To order tickets/RSVP for the event, call the Bisons at 846-2011 or send an email to [email protected]

The media will also have a chance to chat with Backman about the Mets' upcoming spring training. I think I gotta get his opinion on GM Sandy Alderson's new Twitter account, which already has about 19,000 followers after just seven tweets.

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)

 

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | [email protected]


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | [email protected]

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