Banks honored at emotional memorial service

Pillars from all walks of life come together at Fourth Presbyterian Church to celebrate Mr. Cub

Banks honored at emotional memorial service

CHICAGO -- Instead of mourning Ernie Banks on Saturday, his teammates, family and friends urged everyone to celebrate the life of Mr. Cub on what would have been his 84th birthday.

"We have come here to thank God for Ernie Banks," Rev. Shannon Kershner said in her welcome statements.

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Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

For Jackie's birthday, watch rare footage

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For Jackie's birthday, watch rare footage

Jackie Robinson only spent one season with Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate the Montreal Royals, but it was a memorable one. In his first game, he went 4-for-5 with two stolen bases, a home run and 4 RBIs. By his last game, he could barely make it out of the park without being mobbed by adoring fans. 

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MLB.com Columnist

Jim Duquette

5 most improved teams this winter

5 most improved teams this winter

James Shields is the only big-name free agent still out there, and even he is probably not enough to turn the tide of an entire offseason. With that in mind, here is my ranking of the five teams that improved most this winter.

1. Padres

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Jim Duquette is an analyst for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Freeman excited about road ahead for Braves

First baseman optimistic club can exceed expectations in 2015

Freeman excited about road ahead for Braves

ATLANTA -- Given the close bond that Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward have shared since entering the professional ranks together in 2007, Freeman does not like the fact that they will no longer be teammates. Nor is he overly excited about the fact that Justin Upton and Evan Gattis will no longer be around to protect him in the middle of Atlanta's lineup.

But as Freeman evaluates all the Braves gained via their massive roster reconstruction this offseason, he is excited about what the future might bring and optimistic that many expectations will be exceeded during the upcoming season.

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Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Breaking down MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects

Breaking down MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects

There's a new prospect rankings out on MLBPipeline.com. Please, go take a look at the 2015 Top 100 Prospects now. It will undoubtedly elicit opinions and critiques.

That's why the list is created, after all -- to get people talking and debating about who is and who isn't on the list. It might even start with the No. 1 guy on the list, Byron Buxton. He was a no-brainer a year ago, but after an injury-filled campaign in 2014, there are some who worry about his ability to stay healthy. MLBPipeline.com isn't concerned, and neither are the Twins.

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Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

A cut above: Best tools of Top 100 Prospects list

Buxton's speed, Bryant's power, Giolito's fastball and curve the best of the best

A cut above: Best tools of Top 100 Prospects list

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant slammed 43 home runs to lead the Minor Leagues, and he reached Triple-A in his first full professional season. Twins outfielder Byron Buxton didn't even play 43 games last season while battling injuries to both wrists and a concussion.

So why did Buxton beat out Bryant for the No. 1 spot on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list? Because while performance matters, so do tools. And no prospect has better all-around tools than Buxton.

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Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Davis discusses his suspension for the first time

Davis discusses his suspension for the first time

BALTIMORE -- Orioles first baseman Chris Davis wants people to know he didn't take Adderall for an edge at the plate. Davis, who spoke for nearly 10 minutes on Saturday at FanFest for the first time since he received a 25-game suspension on Sept. 12 for violating baseball's drug policy, called taking the drug "a moment of weakness" he deeply regrets.

"I obviously wasn't thinking about the big picture, it was a mistake that I wish I could go back and undo," said Davis, who was suspended because it was his second failed drug test. "It's something that should have been addressed in the past, but obviously I didn't take the right steps."

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Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Trenton Thunder trains adorable new bat dog

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Trenton Thunder trains adorable new bat dog

Think you can't watch Spring Training until mid-February? That's not entirely true. Even though pitchers and catchers don't report for a few more weeks, the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees' Double-A affiliate, has something to tide you over and it might just warm your winter-weary heart.

The Thunder has had a bat dog since 2002, and the position has a noble lineage. First there was Chase, then his son Derby. Now Derby's son Rookie is in training for the job. 

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Fans from all walks of life stop by to salute Banks

Mr. Cub brings people together at church viewing

Fans from all walks of life stop by to salute Banks

CHICAGO -- For one day -- a bitterly cold, wind-whipped day on Michigan Avenue -- Fourth Presbyterian Church served as the Friendly Confines. And given that the casket at the altar contained a man who always had a smile for those he met, a man who even total strangers considered a close friend, this goodbye, this visitation service, was a fittingly public one, open to one and all.

And so Cubs fans and, yes, even some non-Cubs fans entered those doors, walked past that closed casket -- draped with a No. 14 flag and flanked by a large photo of Ernie Banks flashing that perfect smile of his -- and paid their respects to "Mr. Cub." There were celebrities and dignitaries here, sure. Team chairman Tom Ricketts, Sen. Dick Durbin, Cubs greats like Andre Dawson, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Jose Cardenal were all on hand in the early portion of the eight-hour viewing.

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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Mr. Cub gone but never forgotten

Former teammates, legion of fans among those reflecting on Banks' beloved spirit

Mr. Cub gone but never forgotten

CHICAGO -- Lions in winter, Fergie Jenkins and two of his former teammates, gray-haired Glenn Beckert and Jose Cardenal, sharp in a black leather jacket, settled into the third row of pews at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Friday afternoon.

They were not in a hurry.

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Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Which SB team had better first pitches?

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Which SB team had better first pitches?

As we approach Super Bowl XLIX, we remember the moments when a few members of the Patriots and Seahawks osmosed through the cross-sports membrane and found themselves in the world of MLB. Today: the art of the first pitch.

Though the Patriots may win when it comes to number of Super Bowl trophies, the Seahawks have them beat in terms of first pitches. Since Kam Chancellor's toss in 2012, Seattle has been racking up mound appearances.

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Biggio up close with history during HOF visit

Recently elected Hall of Famer given behind-the-scenes tour in Cooperstown

Biggio up close with history during HOF visit

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- The chance to hold a baseball bat swung by Babe Ruth was something Craig Biggio was going to enjoy as much as he could, even if it meant picking it up three times while smiling from ear to ear.

That was one of many awe-inspiring moments for Biggio, the longtime Astros second baseman who, along with his wife, Patty, was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Friday as part of his orientation in advance of his induction on July 26.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Rollie Fingers' favorite player: Justin Verlander

Rollie Fingers' favorite player: Justin Verlander

When Rollie Fingers says you need three things to succeed as a pitcher in the big leagues, he really means you need one. But either way you slice it, Justin Verlander has it.

"You need three things to pitch in the big leagues," said Fingers, who pointed to Verlander as his favorite current MLB star. "You need control, you need control and you need control. And he's got all three of 'em."

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Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

My Favorite Player

My Favorite Player

Baseball players are fans, just like the rest of us. Who do they love to watch? Former Major Leaguers weigh in, with new opinions added all the time.

Rollie Fingers
Justin Verlander
More »

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Groundskeepers fashion canvas for national pastime

Artistic touches enhance experience for fans watching at home or the ballpark

Groundskeepers fashion canvas for national pastime

DENVER -- Rockies head groundskeeper Mark Razum and his crew worked well into the night and went back to work the next morning on a special field design for star first baseman Todd Helton's final homestand in September 2013. The centerpiece was a large-scale impression of Helton's No. 17 in center field.

Helton thanked Razum in his own wisecracking way.

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Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cuban infielder Moncada clears government hurdle

U.S. Treasury letter should clear way for signing with MLB club

Cuban infielder Moncada clears government hurdle

David Hastings, the agent for Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, received a notification from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Friday night stating that his player may be generally licensed as an unblocked national, according to new guidelines for a general license amended Jan. 16, 2015.

This should seemingly clear the way for Moncada to sign with the Major League club of his choice.

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Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Tommy John surgery didn't foil Smoltz's Hall bid

Braves legend the first pitcher to enter Cooperstown after procedure

Tommy John surgery didn't foil Smoltz's Hall bid

John Smoltz pitched his way into the Hall of Fame, excelling as both a starter and a reliever.

But there is more.

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Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Commissioner Rob Manfred's letter to fans

Commissioner Rob Manfred's letter to fans

Dear Fans:

On the night of August 14, 2014, I left a Baltimore hotel after being elected Commissioner of Baseball. As I began to reply to the overwhelming number of congratulatory messages coming in, it hit me that I'd just been entrusted to protect the integrity of our National Pastime and to set a course that allows this great game to continue to flourish -- now and in the years to come. Needless to say, I was deeply honored by the trust the owners placed in me.

Today is my first day as Commissioner, and I am incredibly excited to get to work. I am grateful to Commissioner Selig for his expertise and friendship. His leadership set a direction that led to historic success.  

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Cruz fondly recalls Puerto Rico's legendary title teams

Mired in 15-year Caribbean Series drought, country reveres '95, '00 champs

Cruz fondly recalls Puerto Rico's legendary title teams

The first 15 years of this millennium haven't been too kind to fans of Puerto Rican baseball, given the decline in the local winter league that halted play for the entire 2007-08 season and a Caribbean Series championship drought that dates back to '00. But there have been positive signs the last two years.

Team Puerto Rico's surprising appearance in the championship game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic was a big lift for the island. A year later, the Indios de Mayagüez, managed by Carlos Baerga, qualified for the final round of the Caribbean Series while representing Puerto Rico, falling to Naranjeros de Hermosillo (Mexico) in the deciding game. And now, as the island prepares to host the 2015 edition of the event in San Juan's Hiram Bithorn stadium starting Monday through Feb. 8, nostalgia is in the air for 1995's Puerto Rican "Dream Team," which swept the series that year with a constellation of big league stars.

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David Venn is Executive Editor of LasMayores.com, MLB.com's Spanish language site. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Puig looking for redemption vs. rival Cardinals

Outfielder's young friend won't let him forget playoff loss

Puig looking for redemption vs. rival Cardinals

LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig is really close with a particular family in Los Angeles, and that family has a 10-year-old Cardinals-loving boy who has made it his mission to exasperate the Dodgers' eccentric outfielder.

"He's driving me crazy," Puig said in Spanish. "I have to kick him out of that family. He has four blue things of mine in his room, and he tells me it's because he feels sorry for me, sorry for the Dodgers. He has everything else red -- the comforter, the sheets, the ceiling, everything. His room is red. And he says the best city in the United States is St. Louis."

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Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Chicago says farewell, thanks to beloved Mr. Cub

Chicago says farewell, thanks to beloved Mr. Cub

CHICAGO -- He came in from the suburbs, went straight to Wrigley Field. It's a trip Mike Feinstein made many times in his youth. He was in just the third grade when his mom (and parents, please don't try this at home in 2015) would give him a few bucks to take the No. 97 bus -- the Skokie bus -- to the "L" and the train to the ballpark, where, for 50 cents, he could watch his hero, Ernie Banks, play a baseball game.

But Feinstein is 66 now, and on this day there was no ballgame. There was, instead, a public visitation service for Banks about to take place a few miles south of here. That was Feinstein's next stop. And as he stood on the corner of Clark and Addison and looked at that building that housed some of the happiest moments of his youth, he saw the words on the marquee that broadcast the hard reality of life and death:

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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Duquette acknowledges Jays rumors, focused on O's

Though Toronto keeping CEO, O's VP wanted to be honest with fans

BALTIMORE -- Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette addressed season-ticket holders this morning at the club's annual FanFest convention, and he acknowledged there had been some substance to the Toronto rumors, though his "sole and singular focus" is on improving the Orioles.

"I thought it was important for Orioles fans to know that," said Duquette, who was coveted by Toronto for its CEO position.

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Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Yanks reportedly add veteran arm Baker on Minors deal

Yanks reportedly add veteran arm Baker on Minors deal

The Yankees signed right-hander Scott Baker to a one-year, Minor League contract on Friday, according to multiple media reports.

Baker has appeared in just 28 games in the Majors during the past three seasons, making just 11 starts, but could get a chance to prove himself as a starter in 2015. The club has not confirmed the deal.

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Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

What if Ichiro had joined the 1998 Mariners?

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What if Ichiro had joined the 1998 Mariners?

Ichiro Suzuki -- one of (if not the) greatest hitters of the last 15 years -- is officially a Marlin. The outfielder signed a one-year, $2 million deal to join Giancarlo Stanton and the Fish, where he'll likely be the odd man out in an outfield full of talent and youth.

The last 14 seasons have been an absolute treat for fans in Seattle, New York and aross baseball who have looked on in wonder as Ichiro slipped out of the batter's box a bit early and slapped 2,844 hits onto his MLB resume. Perhaps the only thing more interesting about Ichiro's game, though, is the mystery surrounding what might have been.

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Salvy ready for another wild ride with Royals

All-Star catcher played the hero in club's win over A's to open 2014 postseason

Salvy ready for another wild ride with Royals

KANSAS CITY -- It doesn't take Royals catcher Salvador Perez long to pinpoint his favorite moment from the club's magical playoff run last season.

"Everything!" Perez said, breaking out in his familiar smile.

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Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Red Sox, righty Ogando agree to one-year deal

Red Sox, righty Ogando agree to one-year deal

The Red Sox continued adding to their bullpen on Friday, agreeing with Alexi Ogando on a one-year contract reportedly worth $1.5 million.

Ogando posted a 3.12 ERA across 156 appearances (48 starts) from 2010-13 with the Rangers.

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Quinn Roberts is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Dodgers contingent honors Wounded Warriors

Current players join Lasorda, Cey and Hershiser at luncheon

Dodgers contingent honors Wounded Warriors

LOS ANGELES -- Todd Liebman served his country for 22 years, until 2007.

"And then the Army told me I couldn't play anymore," Liebman said, smiling in his wheelchair from the Bradley Room of City Hall on Friday afternoon.

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Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Biggio family begins preparations for induction weekend

Biggio family begins preparations for induction weekend

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Craig Biggio's visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Friday was more than just an opportunity to celebrate the greats of the game. Biggio and his wife, Patty, also had some business to take care of.

After touring the Hall of Fame and meeting with the media, the Biggios spent the second half of the day huddled with Hall staff to discuss the logistics of the July 24-26 induction weekend. Biggio, the longtime Astros second baseman, will be inducted alongside John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson.

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Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Statue draws Mr. Cub's legion of fans to downtown Chicago

Statue draws Mr. Cub's legion of fans to downtown Chicago

CHICAGO -- The statue is not new. It was unveiled outside Wrigley Field in 2008. Fans have had ample opportunity to see it, touch it, take photos of it. But until last week, they had nearly as much opportunity to see Ernie Banks himself, visible public figure that he was. But Banks is gone now, and only the statue remains.

So here they were on a windy winter Friday afternoon, visiting the statue in its new and temporary home at Daley Plaza, the city's main civic artery. The statue will rest here through Saturday, and it has relegated "The Picasso" -- the 50-foot, untitled sculpture that anchors the plaza -- to second-fiddle status.

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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Braves finalize one-year deal with Gomes

Braves finalize one-year deal with Gomes

ATLANTA -- The Braves officially announced the completion of their one-year deal with outfielder Jonny Gomes on Friday afternoon.

Gomes agreed to the terms of a one-year, $4 million contract (which also includes a $3 million vesting option for 2016) on Jan. 22. The Braves confirmed the completion of this deal after reviewing Gomes' physical and creating a 40-man roster spot by trading right-hander David Hale to the Rockies.

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Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.