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MLB mourning the loss of Ventura, Marte in separate car crashes in Dominican Republic

Major League Baseball is mourning the loss of two players: Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura and former MLB third baseman Andy Marte.

Both men were killed in separate car crashes in the Dominican Republic, the Associated Press reported.

>> Read more trending stories  

The fast-throwing, right-handed Ventura was from the Dominican Republic. He was 25. The Royals confirmed he was killed in a car accident Sunday morning. It is with a heavy and broken heart that we confirm the passing of Yordano Ventura. The club will release a statement soon. #RIPAce— Mike Swanson (@Swanee54) January 22, 2017

In his career with the Royals, Ventura started 94 games and was part of the 2015 World series-winning team.

We are devastated by the tragic news that Yordano Ventura, 25, has died in an automobile accident.— MLB (@MLB) January 22, 2017

Third baseman Andy Marte played for the Braves, the Red Sox, and later the Indians before his last MLB run with the Diamondbacks in 2014.

We are saddened to hear of the passing of former Brave Andy Marte. Our thoughts are with his family.— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) January 22, 2017

He was also killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic early Sunday morning.

He was 33 and playing in the Dominican Baseball League at the time of his death.

Sad to learn of Andy Marte's death this morning. He was a genuine person who always greeted you with a warm smile.RIP.— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) January 22, 2017

Historical marker dedicated at Ty Cobb’s Georgia home

Baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb had a historical marker dedicated in front of the Georgia home where he lived for 19 years and where four of his five children were born, the Augusta Chronicle reported Saturday.

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Cobb, one of the first five players elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, lived in the Summerville neighborhood of Augusta, Georgia from 1913 to 1932.

“The Georgia Peach” made his professional baseball debut on April 26, 1904 as a 17-year-old for the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League. The Ty Cobb Augusta Heritage Foundation erected the marker at 2425 Williams St., and Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro helped unveil the marker.

"I think it’s long overdue," Niekro told the Chronicle.

Cobb was born in Narrows, Georgia, in 1886, and grew up in Royston.

A game after his debut, Cobb was shipped to Anniston, Ala., before returning to Augusta to rejoin the Tourists in August. After starting the 1905 season in Augusta, he was promoted to the major leagues, joining the Detroit Tigers.

Cobb played 24 seasons in the major leagues and had a lifetime .366 batting average. He collected 4,189 hits and won 12 American League batting titles.

Cobb’s ties to Augusta were deep, the Chronicle reported. He married a Richmond County woman, Charlie Marion Lombard, at her family’s home in 1908. He owned a tire business in downtown Augusta and also built an apartment complex.

Cobb’s home has only had two other owners since he sold it in 1932 and moved to California, the Chronicle reported. The Sherman family bought it from him.

Current owner Beverly Ford opened the house to the couple of hundred visitors who attended Saturday’s marker ceremony, showing off the rooms that have largely unchanged since Cobb lived there.

Cynthia Cobb McGowin, daughter of Cobb’s youngest son, Jimmy, spoke at the dedication.

Niekro pulled the cover off the marker to officially dedicate it.

 "Ty Cobb never got a hit off me," said Niekro, whose major-league debut came three years after Cobb’s death in 1961 in Atlanta. "But I never struck him out, either."

Notable sports deaths in 2016

Selig, Schuerholz elected to baseball Hall of Fame

Former Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig and executive John Schuerholz were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, Major League Baseball announced.

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The two men were elected by the 16-person Today's Game Era Committee, which considered 10 candidates. Schuerholz was a unanimous decision, while Selig received 15 votes. Candidates needed 75 percent (12 votes) for election.

Selig, 82, was baseball’s ninth commissioner, serving from 1992 to 2015. During his tenure, baseball expanded by four teams, the playoffs were expanded to include wild cards, regular-season interleague games were initiated and the World Baseball Classic was created. The MLB Network also debuted under Selig’s watch, and the sport experienced large economic growth.

Selig also presided over a strike that erased a large chunk of the 1994 season and caused the cancellation of that season’s World Series. The All-Star game ended in an embarrassing 11-inning tie in 2002, and in 2003 the midseason classic was used to determine the home team for the World Series. That has since been changed; MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement reached last week removed that policy beginning in 2017.

The increase in the use of performance enhancing drugs also occurred during Selig’s watch.

Selig is the fifth commissioner to enter the Hall of Fame, joining Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Albert “Happy” Chandler, Ford Frick and Bowie Kuhn.

Schuerholz guided the Kansas City Royals to their first World Series title in 1985 and later won another crown in Atlanta while leading the Braves to 14 division titles and five pennants.

Today's Game Era committee considers players whose contributions to the game have been achieved since 1988. The Modern Baseball (1970-1987), Golden Days (1950-69) and Early Baseball (1871-1949) committees cover other facets of baseball history.

Other candidates considered were Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Mark McGwire, Lou Piniella and George Steinbrenner.

LeBron James wears Cubs uniform to pay off World Series bet

LeBron James didn’t like it, but a bet’s a bet. And when you lose a bet, you pay the winner.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers star made a bet with former Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade before the World Series. If the Cubs won, then James would have to wear a full Cubs uniform the next time the Cavaliers played in Chicago. 

The Cubs did indeed win the Series, earning their first championship in 108 years when they overcame a 3-1 deficit to rally past the Cleveland Indians.

So the payoff came Friday night, as James and the Cavaliers came to town to play the Chicago Bulls. James donned a Cubs jersey, pants and cap. No cleats, though.

“I’m not wearing cleats,” he had told reporters on Thursday. “No glove. Just the uniform.” 

As James walked through the arena before Friday night’s game, he was met by a gleeful Wade, who videotaped his rival. 

“My Indians gave everything they had,” James said in an earlier video posted on the Bleacher Report website. “But the Cubs came back, and, you know, they showed what true champions was all about. 

“Meanwhile, I’m pinstriped-up, walking into a nationally televised game in Chicago because of a bet I lost.” 

"It's a bet," James continued. "You have to fulfill your bet. Nothing more to it."

Cleveland’s luck against Chicago continued to sour, as the Cavaliers lost 111-105 despite James’ 27-point night. Wade helped Chicago to victory by scoring 24 points. 

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Miami Marlins had several links to Fidel Castro, Cuba

Some of the most important and impactful moments in the history of the Miami Marlins are linked to Cuba during the reign of Fidel Castro.

The news that Castro died late Friday at age 90 sent shockwaves through South Florida and brought back memories of major Marlins moments.

Exactly two months before the announcement of Castro’s death, Marlins Cuban-born pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a violent boat crash off Miami Beach at age 24 on Sept. 25. Fernandez had quickly endeared himself to South Florida’s Cuban-American community with his electrifying personality and uniquely Cuban story that so many could identify with.

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“Fernandez was an icon when it comes to talent in baseball,” said Cookie Rojas, who is a 77-year-old former MLB player born in Cuba. “He will be well remembered as a tremendous athlete. It’s a shame that he’s not back here with us, but that’s life. When you select a few players who were the best that ever came out of the island, I think he had everything in an athlete to be, if not the top, one of the top players from the island.”

Fernandez was born in Cuba, and arrived to the United States in 2008 at age 15 on his fourth attempt to leave the island controlled by Castro. When he finally made it to the United States on his fourth attempt, he saved his mother from drowning when she fell overboard.

From there, Fernandez turned into a coveted MLB prospect as a high school pitcher at Tampa-Alonso and was drafted by the Marlins in 2011.

>> Fidel Castro dies: Music, dancing, parades fill Miami streets

Fernandez made his major-league debut in 2013 and was named National League Rookie of the Year. He posted a 38-17 record to go with a 2.58 ERA and 589 strikeouts in 471 1/3 innings for his career with the Marlins.

But Fernandez said “one of my important accomplishments” was becoming a U.S. citizen in 2015.

From being stuck in a country run by an oppressive communist government to living the American dream. That was Fernandez’s story and that’s the story of many Cuban-Americans.

>> Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro dead at 90

It’s what made Fernandez’s death so hard for South Florida to accept. The area mourned the pitcher’s death for days, as Fernandez’s family held a public procession and viewing to give the community a chance to say goodbye.

“It hit everybody in the Cuban community,” Rojas said. “Not only because he had the kind of talent that he had – pitching, hitting, running, laughing and all that. But what he meant to the community, the way he went around and won so many games. He meant a hell of a lot to the Cuban people and baseball in general. He was a great kid with a laughing face all the time.”

Another iconic Marlins pitcher quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his Cuban story. Livan Hernandez defected from Cuba in 1995 and made his name known throughout Major League Baseball quickly.

>> Fidel Castro dies: Exiles recall pain with sorrow, freedom with joy

Hernandez pitched for the Marlins from 1996-99. But his most memorable season came in 1997 when the Marlins won their first World Series championship.

“[Livan] meant a lot to the audience in Miami and baseball in general,” Rojas said. “Coming out of Cuba, he was one of the first players who got out. It just shows the kind of talent there is in Cuba when it comes to the athletes playing baseball.”

As a wide-eyed 22-year-old new to the United States, Hernandez was named the National League Championship Series MVP and World Series MVP. He was the winning pitcher in Game 1 and Game 5 of the 1997 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.

>> Fidel Castro dies: Florida leaders hope Cuba knows more freedom

Hernandez’s mother, Miriam Carreras, used a six-month visa to visit the United States from Cuba to watch her son’s team play in Game 7.

One of the most memorable quotes in Marlins history came from Hernandez just minutes after winning the 1997 title. The rookie dropped to his knees and screamed “I love you, Miami!” with his thick accent as he received his World Series MVP trophy.

There’s another memorable quote in Marlins history that’s also connected to Cuba. Former Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said that he loved Castro in a Time Magazine article in 2012.

>> World reacts to death of Fidel Castro

Guillen later apologized to the Cuban-American community and all Latin Americans, but it didn’t stop South Florida from protesting in response to his quote. The Marlins suspended Guillen for five games because of the comments and he was later fired after one season with the organization.

These are just some of the moments and stories that link the Marlins to South Florida’s Cuban-American population. Most of all, it’s the community’s love for baseball.

And on the weekend of Castro’s death, we are reminded of that.

“His death will be remembered by the Cuban community in Miami like you kept us out for so many years and finally you’re gone,” Rojas said. “So maybe pretty soon we can go back.”

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card tops $1.1M at auction

The 1952 Topps baseball card of Mickey Mantle is one of the most iconic collectibles of the post-World War II era. Friday morning, it joined an exclusive club, becoming only the second baseball card to top $1 million at a public auction.

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A card graded 8.5 by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) sold for $1,135,250 (including buyer’s premium) through Heritage Auctions’ Fall Catalog sale. It is the first baseball card other than the T206 Honus Wagner card to sell for more than $1 million at a public auction, Sports Collectors Daily reported.

Several specimens of the Wagner card, known as the Holy Grail of baseball cards, have topped $1 million several times, and in October one that was graded a PSA 5 sold for $3.12 million (including buyer’s premium) via Goldin Auctions, Beckett Media reported.

The bidding for the Mantle card actually stopped at $950,000, but the buyer’s premium pushed the card’s realized price over the $1 million mark, Sports Collectors Daily reported. It is one of a dozen cards graded 8.5 or higher by PSA. Only three cards have been graded gem-mint (PSA 10) and none have come to auction, Sports Collectors Daily reported. Nine have achieved the grade of PSA 9.

According to Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, the Mantle that sold Friday morning can be traced back to a stash of 1952 Topps cards uncovered by collectibles dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen in 1986.

Another version of the 1952 Mantle — a PSA 7 version of card No. 311 — sold at the same auction for $155,300, according to the Heritage Auctions website.

Johnny Bench unveils cellphone app to fight bullying

Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench said he remembers when two boys bullied him when he was in the eighth grade more than 50 years ago. He said he wants to see every child protected, so on Thursday he launched a new cellphone app aimed at fighting bullies in schools nationwide.

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Bench, who starred for the Cincinnati Reds for 17 seasons and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, introduced his Smithfield School App in downtown Cincinnati. Bench owns a company, moblWorks, that creates custom apps for schools.

The app allows teachers and administrators to notify parents of reports of bullying, cyberbullying, threats, school closings and other alerts, The Associated Press reported.

“There is way too much bullying going on in schools these days and cyberbullying is the No. 3 cause of teen suicide in our country,” Bench said in a news release. “I have school-age kids, and I want every child protected as much as possible.”

Approximately 5,000 schools nationwide are scheduled to use the app, Bench said. The app is free for users, with schools paying a $79 monthly hosting fee.

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