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MLB rosters include 29 percent of players from outside United States

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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball started the season with its most players from Puerto Rico since 2011.

Nineteen players on Opening Day rosters were born on the island, an increase of three from last year, the commissioner’s office said Friday.

The overall percentage of players born outside the 50 states was 29 percent, down from last year’s record 29.8 percent. This year’s percentage tied 2007 for third, behind last year and 2005 (29.2 percent).

Toronto Blue Jays infielder Gift Ngoepe is the first player from South Africa on an Opening Day roster, and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas is the first from Lithuania.

The Dominican Republic led with 84, down from 93 last year. Venezuela was next with 74, followed by Puerto Rico.

The Texas Rangers (14) had the most players from outside the United States for the second straight year, followed by the Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins (13 each).

Figures include 750 active players on Opening Day rosters, 118 on disabled lists, eight on the restricted list and one on the paternity list.

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Jay Johnstone, a two-time World Series champion and popular prankster around MLB, dies at 74

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LOS ANGELES — Jay Johnstone, who won World Series championships as a versatile outfielder with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers while being baseball’s merry prankster, has died. He was 74.

He died last Saturday of complications from COVID-19 and also had suffered from dementia in recent years, according to his daughter Mary Jayne Sarah Johnstone. He died at a nursing home in Granada Hills, she said Monday.

“COVID was the one thing he couldn’t fight,” his daughter said by phone “It’s really kind of shocking.”

Besides the Yankees and Dodgers, Johnstone played for the California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Chicago Cubs during a 20-year major league career that began in 1966 and ended in 1985. He had a career batting average of .267, with 102 home runs and 531 RBIs.

In the 1981 World Series, Johnstone had a pinch-hit, two-run homer in Game 4 that rallied the Dodgers to an 8-7 win over the Yankees. That tied the series at two games apiece, and the Dodgers won the next two games to claim the title.

In his first postseason experience, he went 7 for 9 as the Phillies got swept by Cincinnati in the 1976 NL Championship Series. He played for the Yankees when they beat the Dodgers to win the 1978 crown.

With the Angels, Johnstone preserved Clyde Wright’s no-hitter against Oakland on July 3, 1970. He caught a flyball by Reggie Jackson to straightaway center field just in front of the wall in the seventh inning.

Johnstone possessed a sense of humor that he used to keep his teammates loose with pranks. He would nail their cleats to the floor or set them on fire. He cut out the crotch area of Rick Sutcliffe’s underwear.

Johnstone once replaced the celebrity photos in the office of Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda with pictures of himself, Jerry Reuss and Don Stanhouse. He locked Lasorda in his office during spring training.

Another time, Johnstone and Reuss dressed up as groundskeepers to drag the infield during a game. Lasorda imposed a fine on both players for being out of uniform, and Johnstone responded with a pinch-hit home run.

His daughter said Johnstone’s pranks didn’t end at the ballpark. She recalled rubber snakes in their pool and spiders by the bathtub. She said her friends loved being around her father because “he always made us laugh.”

“He wanted to find the humor in life no matter how serious things got,” she said. “That was his motto to everything, bring a smile to people’s faces. Everyone loved him.”

After retiring, Johnstone briefly worked as a radio color commentator for the Yankees and Phillies. During an interview with Yankee players Deion Sanders and Mel Hall, he got them to uncover a restaurant bread basket containing a snake, startling both players who jumped out of their seats.

Born John William Johnstone Jr. on Nov. 20, 1945, in Manchester, Connecticut, he moved to California and grew up in West Covina. After attending Edgewood High, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Angels in 1963 and made his major league debut at 20.

Johnstone appeared in the hit movie “The Naked Gun” as a member of the Seattle Mariners in a game against the Angels.

Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife of 52 years, Mary Jayne Johnstone, and son-in-law Ryan Dudasik.

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New York Yankees will turn to Kyle Higashioka behind plate for Game 1 of series vs. Cleveland Indians

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Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced Monday that Kyle Higashioka — not Gary Sanchez — will catch Gerrit Cole in Game 1 against the Indians on Tuesday.

Cole had a 1.00 ERA in four starts this season with Higashioka behind the plate, but posted a 3.91 ERA in eight starts with Sanchez.

“He was fine,” Boone said about Sanchez’s reaction. “He knows to be ready at any point, early in the game.”

The Yankees lost six of their last eight regular-season games, which included series losses to the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins, but they still limped into the wild-card round as the fifth seed in the first 16-team expanded playoffs in MLB history, setting up the matchup with Cleveland.

Before the slump to end the year, the Yankees put together a 10-game winning streak to help secure a berth. Included in that run was a 13-2 win over Toronto on Sept. 16, in which Higashioka slugged a career-high three home runs.

Higashioka was a seventh-round draft pick by New York in 2008, and only Brett Gardner has been with the organization longer. He debuted in the majors in 2017 but has never gotten regular at-bats until he began siphoning playing time amid Sanchez’s struggles.

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A case for Ronald Acuña Jr. as the MLB Latino Face of the 2020s

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With the MLB postseason here and Hispanic Heritage Month underway, ESPN found the timing ideal to tackle one of the bigger debates among one section of baseball’s fandom: With so many superstar candidates, which one is most worthy of being labeled the current Face of Latino Baseball?

Our friends at ESPN Deportes and FiveThirtyEight devised a formula using on-field performance, social media popularity, feedback from 30 ESPN analysts and fan votes to get to the answer. The results produced a ballot that stands at four candidates: the Atlanta BravesRonald Acuña Jr., from Venezuela; Dominican players Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres; and Puerto Rico’s Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians. All are young, charismatic and popular and have enough accomplishments in their short careers to be considered for the honor.

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Check out the highlights from baseball’s biggest stars under the age of 25.

Monday through Thursday this week, we will present the case for one of the four superstars, with our winner to be revealed Friday. We start with Acuña, the Braves’ sensational outfielder.

Stats

At 22, Acuña already has three major league seasons under his belt and has put together a .281 batting average, 81 homers, 194 RBIs and 61 stolen bases. The 2018 National League Rookie of the Year also appeared in last year’s All-Star Game.

He earned a Silver Slugger award in 2019, a season in which he joined Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco and Alfonso Soriano as the only players in history to tally 40 homers and 35 stolen bases.

Acuña, from La Guaira, Venezuela, draws frequent comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr. However, arguments can be made that Acuna is already ahead of the Hall of Famer Griffey’s pace with a WAR of 11.9 — the second-highest among our four candidates. Equally impressive are his career .909 OPS and .538 slugging percentage.

Social media popularity

Acuña is the fifth-most popular Latino player on Instagram, with 549,000 followers, trailing established stars such as Javier Baez, Lindor and Carlos Correa, as well as Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

What hurts Acuña’s case: He has shared just four Instagram posts in 2020, but those have nevertheless averaged more than 90,000 interactions for each.

Web searches

Even though he has a low Instagram profile, Acuña has been one of the most searched Latino players since the beginning of the 2019 season. His average Google Trends search index for the period of Apr. 1, 2019 to Sep. 1, 2020, trails only Albert Pujols and Guerrero Jr. among all Latino players, and leads our finalists for the Latino Face of Baseball.

Experts

Acuña, who debuted in April 2018, received only three first-place votes from our panel of experts, but he appeared on 27 of the 30 ballots, the most of any player.

“Acuña is already one of the best players in the major leagues,” ESPN Deportes’ Enrique Rojas said. “He’s more or less like a Venezuelan Mike Trout. Both can hit for power, run, play defense and throw hard at the bases — a complete package of tools that belongs only to the best in the business.”

Special category: Fan vote

Between Aug. 26 and Aug. 28, you, the fans, had a hand in deciding who should be the Latino Face of Baseball through four tightly contested polls.

Acuña dominated the SC Español poll with 39.9% of the vote. He was second among voters in the other three web polls: ESPN Béisbol (29%), ESPN Deportes (26.3%), and ESPN México (21.9).



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