Suzuki's reign as A's catcher over, Norris is here to play


Suzuki's reign as A's catcher over, Norris is here to play

OAKLAND -- Kurt Suzuki has been the A's everyday catcher since he took over for Jason Kendall in 2007. A roster move early Thursday morning introduced the man who's supposed to supplant Suzuki down the road and usher in the next era of A's baseball. Meet 23-year-old prospect Derek Norris.

The move to bring up Norris came earlier than anticipated for Oakland, but as manager Bob Melvin explained, "This is our best option."

Norris said he was a bit overwhelmed with all the action in the clubhouse, but Melvin doesn't think it will affect his young backstop.

"It's about accepting yourself as a big leaguer and knowing you belong," Melvin said. "I don't think there's any fear in him in coming to the big league level."

Melvin described Norris as a tough kid who handled everything they threw at him in spring training, both literally and figuratively.

He'll be tested immediately Thursday, as he was introduced to his first MLB battery mate Travis Blackley hours before receiving live pitches from him.

Norris, Blackley and pitching coach Curt Young congregated in the A's clubhouse for nearly a half hour, establishing the gameplan as the A's look for their second sweep in the last three series.

Yes, Norris is starting Thursday, but don't think this is the end of Kurt Suzuki in Oakland. He'll be back behind the dish to receive Jarrod Parker in the A's opener against the San Francisco Giants Friday.

"There both going to get plenty of action," Melvin said. "We feel like we have a good tandem." Melvin would not admit he was establishing a platoon, only that Norris is "here to play."

Unsolicited, Melvin related the plan to 2007, when Jason Kendall was traded to the Cubs (for LHP Jerry Blevins) to make room for Suzuki as the starter.

"This is about them coexisting," Melvin said. "The guy who's your catcher at the present and the guy that's potentially the catcher of your future. It's different."

Melvin said he spoke with Suzuki before making the move, and the veteran is at peace with the plan.

"We talked a lot in spring training," Suzuki said. "He's a great guy. I'm here for whatever he needs. He understands I'm not going to hold his hand, but I'm here to help him. I want to help him."

Suzuki's help will go a long way, especially defensively. Suzuki has established himself in MLB as one of the top staff handlers, evidenced by the cavalcade of young promising pitchers that made their bones in Oakland.

"Kurt's about winning, and he's about the Oakland A's winning." Melvin said. "If this makes us better, he's all for it."

Suzuki is having a down year at the plate, and Melvin cited his heavy workload and an early-season injury to his catching hand as potential reasons.

Suzuki, 28, has played in 60 of the 69 A's games this season. He's batting .215, forty points off his career mark of .255, and he is yet to hit his first home run.

Melvin acknowledged that the left hand injury Suzuki suffered earlier this season -- he was drilled in the back of the left hand by a Daniel Bard fastball and a few days later took a Jose Bautista backswing off the same spot -- may have played a part in Suzuki's down numbers.

"As long as there's not a bone sticking out, he feels he can play," Melvin said. "As durable a catcher as there is in the league."

But durability does not always translate to productivity. And the A's desperately need productivity from the catching position. A's catchers are batting .201 this season and they have not taken one ball deep yet, forcing the front office hand in fast-tracking Norris to the bigs.

As Melvin reiterated again at the end of his pregame media conference: "This is our best option."

Norris, who was lauded as an offensive catcher, can make it a pretty good option if he emulates Suzuki's 2007 campaign. Suzuki hit .249 with seven home runs in 68 games, sending the message that Kendall was expendable.

A's fans will watch intently as Norris takes his first MLB at-bats Thursday. Though no one will admit it, they'll go a long way in determining the future of his newest mentor, Kurt Suzuki.

Report: Rangers bring back Gomez on one-year deal

Report: Rangers bring back Gomez on one-year deal

OXON HILL, Md. -- Outfielder Carlos Gomez has agreed to an $11.5 million, one-year contract to remain with the Texas Rangers, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the agreement was subject to a physical and had not been announced.

Gomez, who turned 31 last weekend, figures to play center field in an outfield that includes Shin-Soo Choo in right and Nomar Mazara in left.

He was released by Houston in August, signed with Texas and hit .284 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games. An All-Star in 2013 and '14 with Milwaukee, Gomez has a .257 average and 116 home runs in 10 big league seasons.

Gomez batted just .210 with five homers in 85 games this year for the Astros.

With the agreement, Texas is not likely to keep outfielder Ian Desmond, who also became a free agent.

Arrhythmic poetry to Bill King making Hall of Fame posthumously

Arrhythmic poetry to Bill King making Hall of Fame posthumously

Bill King would have found his entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame for winning the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting a satisfying but indisputably odd thing for him to receive 11 years after his death. He would have said, and I can guarantee this, “Well, my work must have dramatically improved in the last few years.”

And Hank Greenwald, Lon Simmons, Greg Papa and all his other broadcast partners would have laughed and nodded. King knew he was good and didn’t mind being recognized for it, but he wouldn’t miss the weird touch of being hailed for it after his passing.

Nor would he have missed the amusing notion that he won the award in his ninth time as a finalist. The A’s teams whose exploits he described for a quarter-century reached the postseason nine times but won the big only once, in 1989.

But there is an arrhythmic poetry in the notion that King’s final recognition went this way rather than while he was alive. The nation caught on to him late, if at all, and while he was the voice of all things Bay Area sports for 43 years between the Warriors, Raiders and A’s, he was happily non-telegenic, and thoroughly content with living outside the troika of national broadcasting circles (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago) of the time.

He did want to be thought of as he is today by a larger audience, because he was a man with a healthy respect for his own talent and work ethic, but he knew the deal when he took it, and he took it happily. He was allowed to be himself by three separate owners (which is three over the current national average, given that broadcasters are now given a daily party line that must be adhered to), and he took full advantage. Talent gets you that kind of freedom, and obstinacy in the face of control allows you to use it fearlessly.

And now it’s been noticed, ironically enough in the sport most people thought was his third best. The NBA’s Curt Gowdy Award, given since 1990, includes many of his contemporaries (Chick Hearn, Johnny Most, Al McCoy, Joe Tait, Bill Schonely, et. al.) but not him, and the NFL’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, given since 1989, is almost exclusively reserved for network TV announcers, though some of King’s radio compatriots (Buffalo’s Van Miller and Pittsburgh’s Myron Cope) have also won.

But baseball embraced the Internet vote first, and King got consistent support from Bay Area fans who kept his name alive through a number of failed attempts when the voting was done by the public; he won under a new system in which winners are selected by a 17-person panel, which many people thought was not his best constituency.

If King were alive and still active, he would have been properly appreciative, though one should not have been surprised had he pulled a Bob Dylan with the Nobel Prize people and skipped the induction ceremony next July: “Thanks for the award, but I’ll have been in New York the week before and I'm taking that weekend off to sit on the boat. Give (Hall of Fame director) Jeff Idelson a ‘Holy Toledo!’ for me, and pass that bottle over here.”

It’s how we would want him to want it, anyway.