This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: February, 2015
Get On With It: MLB's New Pace-of-game Rules Josh Hamilton's Latest Relapse
A-Rod Pens an Apology Why Some Don’t Like the Yoan Moncada Signing

The Ten Worst Promotional Ideas in Baseball History
This Great Game ListsBad promotions, bad ideas, bad results. Here’s ten concepts that didn’t quite work out as baseball had hoped.

The Ballparks: U.S. Cellular Field
U.S. Cellular FieldApproved at the stroke of midnight—give or take a minute—U.S. Cellular Field was built to be the king of ballparks but became passé within a year, a soulless venue everyone loved to hate with its vertigo-inducing upper deck and refusal to integrate with the neighborhood. Better late than never, the Chicago White Sox took a decade to catch up to the past and have righted some of the wrongs.

They Were There: Jim Parque
Jim LandisJim Parque looks back on his baseball upbringing, his contribution to a particularly nasty brawl and his appearnce in the Mitchell Report.

2014: Replay it Again, Bud
Video ReplayBaseball finally embraces extensive video replay to review close calls, but the process leaves a lot to be desired.

Impostors! Great Namesakes in Baseball History
TGG OpinionCall them clones, imitators or charlatans, these common ballplayers are often confused for others with the same name and a more accomplished career.

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Bushers Book

Sunday, February 1
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections, forecasting the 2015 MLB standings, are out. It believes the Los Angeles Dodgers will have, easily, the majors’ best record at 97-65; Boston and Tampa Bay will finish tied for first in the AL East while reigning divisional champ Baltimore will end up in last place; Kansas City will slump back to 72-90 and fourth place; the New York Mets will have a winning (82-80) record; and Texas will recover from last year’s injury-ravaged campaign with an 83-79 mark. The predictions pegs Detroit, Los Angeles of Anaheim, Washington and St. Louis as the other divisional winners and Minnesota (70-92) and Philadelphia (69-93) as having the worst records in (respectively) the American and National leagues.

Hey, Baseball Prospectus: You sure didn’t have the AL East table upside down?

New Jersey’s Bergen County states that 45 baseball memorabilia artifacts sold as part of a larger auction last year have been returned and buyers refunded as reports surface of whether the objects are legitimate. The memorabilia, which include baseballs autographed by Christy Mathewson, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig, were seized in 2008 by a pharmacy owner who was arrested for selling stolen drug samples.

Monday, February 2
Dave Bergman, a 17-year veteran who played from 1975-92 for the New York Yankees, Houston, San Francisco and Detroit, loses his battle to cancer at age 61. He is lauded for his smarts and his ability to apply the hidden ball trick tag on unsuspecting baserunners, but what leaves us astonished is that he played all those years and managed to collect only 690 career hits; we almost wonder if any position player has played more seasons in the majors with fewer total hits.

Wilson Betemit, another veteran part-timer from more current times, didn’t get in any major league action in 2014—and likely won’t in 2015, either. The 33-year old is given a 50-game suspension for using amphetamines, as meted out by the game’s minor league drug program. After spending last season in the Tampa Bay organization, Betemit is currently a free agent; if he signs, he’ll have to miss the first 50 games.

Tuesday, February 3
In an interview with ForbesMaury Brown, commissioner Rob Manfred has this to say about MLB’s assailed policy on regional broadcast territory rights: “Blackouts are actually caused, not by our desire not to cover that area, but by the inability of the rights holder to get distribution in certain parts of the television territories.” So for example: If Las Vegas viewers want six teams currently blacked out in their area to be seen, local broadcast carriers must negotiate and come to a deal with the regional networks aligned with those teams; allowing Las Vegas viewers to receive in the meantime would discourage the local carriers from showing the games and weaken the regional network’s negotiating power.

Fair point, but the viewer still loses out in the end. Baseball needs to readdress the whole culture on this.

In another interview with the Los Angeles TimesBill Shaikin, Manfred suggests that future MLB cities may lie outside the borders of the United States, either in Canada and/or Mexico.

If Montreal keeps showing off like it did last spring with a couple of well-attended exhibition games, it’s a logical frontrunner. Mexico? Let’s face it: It’s a third-world country beset by rampant (and brutal) drug-related crimes. Baseball would be wise to avoid it for now.

Wednesday, February 4
Carlos Delgado may not be loved in Cooperstown, but he is in Canada. After receiving just 3.8% of the vote in last month’s Hall of Fame election—knocking him off any future ballots—the star slugger with 473 career home runs has found his way into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Why Canada? The Puerto Rican-born Delgado played 12 years with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Chicago White Sox release Dayan Viciedo, who’s hit 66 homers over the last three years but also led the majors in outfield errors last year with eight. By letting him go, the White Sox are obligated to pay him only $721,000 as opposed to $4.4 million had they kept him.

At month’s end, Viciedo will sign a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Thursday, February 5
Three years after tearing an ACL during preseason workouts—costing him the 2012 season—Detroit DH Victor Martinez tears a medial meniscus in the same knee, again before the start of spring training. The timetable for recovery is guessed at a max of eight weeks, putting Martinez’s status for Opening Day in doubt.

If Miguel Cabrera’s return from ankle surgery is slow, there is a possibility that the Tigers could be minus their two best hitters on Opening Day.

Friday, February 6
Happy 120th birthday, Babe Ruth.

Happy XXnd birthday, TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry.

Saturday, February 7
At the San Francisco Giants’ FanFest in AT&T Park—where some 40,000 fans converge in one of baseball’s largest preseason rallies—manager Bruce Bochy doesn’t believe a pitch clock to speed up games is “not going to happen (in MLB). Trust me.”

Giants Fan Fest

Meanwhile, look at the crowd waiting outside AT&T Park at left. I spy a Pablo Sandoval “panda hat”—NOT.

Chipper Jones, Conspiracy Theorist? The retired Atlanta Brave, likely future Hall of Famer and active Twit apologizes for an online rant the day before in which he somehow came to the conclusion that the Sandy Hook School massacre—in which 20 people, most of them young schoolchildren—was all a hoax. Surviving family members of the victims insist that the apology doesn’t go far enough as it will simply rouse up a whole new round of aggravation from Sandy Hook “truthers.” Says Cristina Hassinger, daughter of the school principal who was shot dead, to Jones: “Come for dinner. You can meet my grandmother-less children and I’ll show you my mom’s clothes riddled with bullet holes.”

Monday, February 9
James Shields, the last of the major free agents for 2015, signs with the San Diego Padres—the team that by far has made the most offseason noise. Terms of the deal aren’t released but are said to be four years in the range of $72-76 million with a fifth-year club option; he can opt out after two years.

A virtual no-name squad last year that finished 77-85, the Padres have used the offseason to add star players in Shields, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers. They certainly can’t be ignored in the conversation of who will win the National League West.

Tuesday, February 10
Alex Rodriguez begins Mea Culpa Tour II (Tour I took place in 2009) as the 39-year-old star slugger and Biogenesis poster boy suspended for all of 2014 visits with top New York Yankee execs, who he sued along with just about everyone else before admitting that he did in fact take steroids. One of those authorized “unauthorized” sources says that the meeting lasts 90 minutes and that the Yankees accept Rodriguez’s apology, but “that doesn’t mean the team has forgotten about Rodriguez’s actions over the years.”

To reduce the size of the media circus that’s bound to overwhelm the upcoming Yankee spring camp in Tampa, Rodriguez is encouraged by the team to hold a “clear the air” press conference with the media at Yankee Stadium—not after he arrives at spring training.

A month after rewarding the 2016 All-Star Game to San Diego, MLB has decided on the 2017 Midsummer Classic as well, giving it to Miami. It is the first time that a Florida city has landed the game; it was tagged to host it in 2000 but had it stripped away when MLB became angry over Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga’s mass sell-off of his 1997 championship roster.

Does someone have something against the American League? The 2017 All-Star Game will be the third straight held at a National League ballpark—although it’s determined, in a weird attempt at a balancing act, that the AL will be the “home team” for the 2016 game in San Diego.

Wednesday, February 11
Jackie Robinson West, last year’s feel-good story and the first all-black team to win the U.S. Little League championship, has been stripped of its title after it was determined that the team used players outside of its geographic boundaries. The trophy will now go to the runner-up, Mountain Ridge Little League in Las Vegas.

Some in the media and the community protest the decision as a form of racism, but former major league pitcher Mark Mulder, who once faced Jackie Robinson West as a kid, has this to say via Twitter: “JRW little league has been cheating and doing things the wrong way since I played them as a kid. Sad that those kids are taught that's ok.”

Thursday, February 12
Word is out that MLB is considering changing the official definition of the strike zone to combat decreased offense and record strikeout rates. Any alteration will likely not happen until 2016 or even 2017, but it serves as a public salvo at umpires who have instinctively lowered the zone to the knees and even beyond.

The main complaint is that the low strike is too hard to swing at. Which leaves us to ask: Should it then be considered a called strike?

Alison Gordon, the first female beat reporter for a major league team (Toronto, 1979), passes away at the age of 72. As anticipated, Gordon found initial and ongoing resistance from ballplayers who felt that the clubhouse was a man’s domain, but she steadfastly focused on her job, which lasted for five years.

Friday, February 13
The St. Louis Cardinals announce that they will wear a special uniform patch this season in memory of Oscar Taveras, who was killed late last year in the Dominican Republic when he lost control of a car he was driving with his girlfriend (who also died). Some question the wisdom of the memorial patch, suggesting that had Taveras survived the crash he would have been charged with a DUI—his blood alcohol limit was five times the legal limit—as well as manslaughter of his girlfriend.

Saturday, February 14
From the links: Giants stars
Buster Posey and Matt Cain both make the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in Carmel, California. Neither will win the next day.

Monday, February 16
After 20 years in the majors, Jason Giambi announces his retirement at age 44. The 2000 AL MVP departs with 440 career homers and a .278 average; his name will be stained as well by being linked to BALCO, baseball’s first PED scandal.

Another great name from the Oakland Moneyball era of the early 2000s, Barry Zito, is returning to the A’s after a one-year absence from the game. The former Cy Young Award winner, who left the A’s to play seven years with the cross-bay Giants, will have to win a roster spot in spring training and, if he succeeds, will earn a base salary of $1 million.

Three more Yankee uniform numbers will be retired this season: Those of pitcher Andy Pettitte (46), catcher Jorge Posada (20) and outfielder Bernie Williams (51). That makes 20 retired numbers within the storied franchise. If the Yankees keep this up, they’ll be less “active” numbers available than retired ones for current players to choose from.

Tuesday, February 17
Alex Rodriguez doesn’t want to face the media—not at Yankee Stadium, not anywhere—and address questions about his latest PED usage and year-long suspension. Instead, he releases a five-paragraph apology—written in blue ink—addressed to “to the Fans.” Rodriguez accepts “the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me.” He also says it’s time to move on: “I served the longest suspension in the history of the league for PED use. The Commissioner has said the matter is over. The Players Association has said the same. The Yankees have said the next step is to play baseball.”

And so Rodriguez will just assume that everyone will now leave him alone and let him play ball, right?

Rodriguez’s steroid pusher, Anthony Bosch, receives a four-year prison sentence for his role in Biogenesis.

Wednesday, February 18
Spring training officially opens, with catchers and pitchers reporting at campsites for Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Talk about making its baseball players live, sleep and eat baseball: Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan has built dorm rooms above the seats of its baseball field. Here’s the story.

Cornerstone might have been influenced by new apartments being built to overlook a minor league field from behind the outfield wall in Lansing, 40 miles to the east. Maybe this will take on a life of its own and lead to baseball facilities that are truly mixed-use.

Thursday, February 19
Just two days into spring training, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy undergoes emergency heart surgery after feeling discomfort in the chest. The 59-year old has two stents implanted and is expected to return to work within a few days.

Texas infielder Jurickson Profar, who just a few short years ago was baseball’s top prospect, will undergo shoulder surgery and likely miss the entire 2015 season—all after sitting out the 2014 season with similar issues. This is not a good omen for a Rangers team trying to bounce back from a record number of injuries in 2014.

Friday, February 20
New rules: MLB lays down new laws in regards to speeding up the game. Batters must now always keep a foot in the batter’s box between pitches—but only after taking a pitch; managers must stay in the dugout while asking for a replay; and breaks between innings and pitching changes will be shortened so that pitchers are asked to get on with it the instant the last TV commercial comes to an end.

We’re iffy about the “foot in batter’s box” routine—it’s sure to be abused or ignored one way or another. Also, we’re not too sold on the manager having to remain in the dugout while he awaits whether to challenge a call—will that really speed things up? But we do think the shortened breaks, by themselves, could lop off as much as ten minutes per game—and TV networks, both national and regional, will be happy to know that commercial time, and thus their revenue streams, will not be impacted.

There’s more. Managers can retain a review challenge if they’re successful with their previous one—eliminating part of the review process quota.

So theoretically, you can have unlimited challenges—as long as you keep getting the calls overturned in your favor.

Saturday, February 21
The glove used by Yankee fan Jeffrey Meier to catch Derek Jeter’s “home run” in the 1996 ALCS has been auctioned off to the highest bidder, who pays $22,705.

The buyer wished to remain anonymous, but you can bet that if he or she is a fan of the Baltimore Orioles—who were robbed by Meier’s below-the-top-of-the-wall grab—it may be headed for a sacrificial bonfire.

Brandon Beachy, a two-time Tommy John patient who has pitched in just five games since 2012, signs a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sunday, February 22
From this day forward, Atlanta outfielder B.J. Upton says he will be referred to as Melvin Upton Jr., his actual birth name; he had gone by the earlier initials as that was the father’s nickname.

Hopefully Upton doesn’t really think this is going to improve on his .198 batting average over the last two years with the Braves. Or his health; within a week, Melvin Jr. suffers a foot injury that will keep him out for all of spring training.

Monday, February 23
Have a Cuban cigar, Boston: The Red Sox sign 19-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada, the latest “phenom” to emerge from the baseball-rich talent factory that is Cuba. The total package includes $31.5 million, and the Red Sox will additionally double that amount as a penalty for exceeding the spending limits imposed on MLB teams signing international-based players outside of the draft zone.

Tampa Bay pitcher Drew Smyly probably speaks for all players within the “draft zone,” tweeting: “It’s not right that a Cuban 19yr old gets paid 30m and the best 19yr old in the entire USA gets prob 1/6th…” Smyly’s comments underscore the need for a draft that includes all international players.

Tuesday, February 24
A California State legislator is proposing a bill to ban chewing tobacco at major league games played in the Golden State. Tobacco has already been banned from minor league games, so Rep. Tony Thurmond will likely face resistance from MLB as well as the players’ union in barring it from major league facilities.

Wednesday, February 25
Josh Hamilton, who rose to stardom after overcoming serious drug and alcohol addiction, meets with MLB in New York to face disciplinary action after it’s reported that he suffered an offseason relapse involving cocaine and alcohol.

There's great internal debate as to whether Hamilton should be suspended for any length of time; just before the start of the season, it is ruled that he will not be disciplined.

And were the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Hamilton’s current employer, wise enough to include in his five-year, $125 million contract a provision saying he would not get paid if he suffered a relapse and went into rehab?

Michael Saunders, traded to Toronto from Seattle during the offseason and projected to be the Blue Jays’ starting left fielder, steps on a sprinkler head while shagging batting practice flies and tears up his knee. At first he is feared to be out through the All-Star Break, but it’s later said that he’ll miss only five-to-six weeks following surgery.

Mickey Mantle, whose injury problems began by shredding his own knee running atop a sprinkler head, can relate.

Thursday, February 26
Johan Santana has been given another shot at a renaissance. The two-time Cy Young Award winner is given a minor league contract by Toronto in hopes of making the parent team for Opening Day. Santana has undergone two shoulder surgeries since last pitching in 2012 for the New York Mets, for whom he threw the franchise’s first-ever no-hitter.

Friday, February 27
On the other and more troubling side of the world, “Jihadi John”—the spokesperson for the radical Islamic gang ISIS—is identified as Mohammed Emwazi, and is shown sans hiding scarf in a pre-ISIS college shot wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates cap.

The Pirates call Emwazi’s wearing of their hat “sickening.”

New Minnesota manager/Hall of Famer Paul Molitor lays down the law in the Twins’ clubhouse: All personal electronics are to be turned off 30 minutes before the first pitch, and they can only be turned on after the last out.

Molitor believes that ballplayers are increasingly focused on their iLife as opposed to the upcoming game.

Saturday, February 28
Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale factures his foot during what is described as an accident at home; he will miss three weeks but is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

This comes toward the end of a week of strange injuries around baseball, including a fractured shoulder to Tampa Bay reliever Ronald Belisario suffered, it is claimed, during an attempt to get out of a swimming pool.

With relations tepidly thawing between the United States and Cuba, baseball players' union head Tony Clark suggests that spring exhibition games on the island nation involving MLB teams are possible in the near future. Only once since 1959 has a major league team played in Cuba, when the Baltimore Orioles took on an all-star team at Havana in 1999.

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