The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: December 26, 2011-January 1, 2012
Does Anyone Warrant a Ticket to Cooperstown? Oakland Raises the White Flag
R.J. Dickey's Walk to the Clouds Goodbye, Don Mueller

Who—if Anyone—is Next For the Hall of Fame?
If you’re haven’t felt the advance buzz of the Hall of Fame’s announcement of its Class of 2012, you’re not alone. A very weak roster of first-time eligibles threatens to make this year’s vote the first since 1996 in which no new members are inducted into Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Mixing in returning applicants and those new to the list, this year’s ballot should give voters almost no reason to select anyone—unless, they feel compelled to opt for someone simply for the sake of opting someone in, to make sure the Hall doesn’t come away empty-handed. Anyone who does that should have his or her BBWAA membership revoked immediately. Voting for a player you didn’t select the year before just to fill in a void makes no sense whatsoever, and suggests quotas over the genuine right to earn. For those writers worried that the induction podium will be vacant this summer, hey—Tim McCarver got voted into the broadcasting wing, and you know he can weave two hours of storytelling with little effort.

This year, we’ve broken down the ballot into various categories of players based on their standing and their chances:

The Best of the New Batch. Of the first-timers on the ballot, former New York Yankee Bernie Williams seems to have the best shot at accruing the highest percentage of checkmarks—just not enough for enshrinement. A very good player at times, the popular Williams lacked the greatness to be truly considered for the Hall, from our view. California-Anaheim-Los Angeles of Anaheim favorite Tim Salmon is also on the list, and he, too, will gather in some votes; while a lock for any future Angel Hall of Fame, he doesn’t stand a chance for Cooperstown. Vinny Castilla? Terrific numbers in Colorado, blasé numbers elsewhere; as Larry Walker is finding out and Todd Helton will soon discover, linkage to Coors Field is almost as poisonous as linkage to steroids. Ruben Sierra? A few great years, but he bounced around too often and his defense left much to be desired.

The Returning Favorites. For many of those who came close to induction last year, this may be their lucky day. Yes, we’re talking about Barry Larkin, the talented Cincinnati shortstop who gathered in 62% of the vote in 2011 and may get a bump from those just looking to pick someone, anyone this year; we have a sneaky suspicion he’ll get in. Jack Morris? Jumping from 53% to the required 75% in one year may be too ambitious. Lee Smith? C’mon, was he really that dominant a closer? (He did get 45% of the vote last year.) Jeff Bagwell? Until voters get a complete look at that 2003 list of players testing positive for steroids, he won’t get the benefit of a doubt. Edgar Martinez? Sorry, 75% of the voters don’t believe designated hitters should be electable. Mark McGwire? No one will let him in now that he’s admitted to steroids. Rafael Palmeiro? No one will let him in because he keeps denying it.

One and Done. To Jeromy Burnitz, Brian Jordan, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland and Phil Nevin: Enjoy the vote. It will be your only one.

The Coming Tsunami. Next year’s ballot will be as exciting as this year’s is apathetic. Scheduled to be included: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and David Wells. (Our early prediction: Biggio and Schilling.)

Don Mueller, 1927-2011
This week saw the passing of Don Mueller, an integral part of the Giants’ final years in New York before their move west to California. A career .296 hitter, Mueller was at his best when he hit .333 in 1953 and followed it up a year later with a .342 mark on a major league-leading 212 hits. He is best remembered for delivering a key single—then suffering a severe ankle injury while advancing to third base two plays later—during the famous ninth-inning rally of the 1951 playoff against Brooklyn, capped by Bobby Thomson’s legendary “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” home run that won the pennant for the Giants. Mueller’s injury forced him out of the World Series, but he did appear three years later in the Giants’ victorious Fall Classic sweep of the Cleveland Indians, batting .389. A two-time all-star, Mueller was 84 years of age.

Coming Soon to TGG
The Yearly Reader section will be expanded to include our entry for the 2011 season.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.

Fire Sale!
The Oakland A’s have thrown in the towel on the 2012 season, trading away and receiving nothing but prospects starting pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, closer Andrew Bailey, reliever Craig Breslow, outfielder Ryan Sweeney while losing free agent outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. What’s left of the roster has all the makings of a team starting over from, likely, the AL West basement. And Monte Poole of the San Jose Mercury News is none too happy about it. “By trading the players who have represented Oakland in the last three All-Star games, all in a three-week span, the A’s are announcing they’re packing it in for 2012 and maybe even 2013,” Poole wrote this past week. “They’re quitting, backing away from the 2012 season so early and so emphatically that even Pete Rose, the disgraced hit king, has to scratch his head and wonder, once again, what is the definition of ‘integrity of the game.’”

Something Amiss?
So the Atlanta Braves offered Baltimore pitcher Jair Jurrjens and infielder Martin Prado, two top players both still in their 20s, for Oriole outfielder Adam Jones…and the Orioles declined? Jones is a good but not great hitter (not yet, anyway) who does wield an excellent glove in center, but he’s too good to swap for Jurrjens, an all-star pitcher last season and Prado, a career .293 hitter? By Atlanta offering the trade—and the Orioles passing on it—it makes one wonder if Jurrjens, who’s had a history of knee issues that’s kept him out parts of the past two seasons, has become unrepairable within baseball circles. Check back here in a year to see if the Orioles are kicking themselves.

High Aspirations
The New York Mets don’t want him to go, but R.A. Dickey—the team’s best pitcher of 2011—says he’s climbing up to the top of Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro anyway for charity, aware that his contract will be voided if he seriously hurts himself during the trek. Well at least somebody in that organization is aiming for the top.

Venezuelan Rage
The Texas Rangers will welcome catcher Yorvit Torrealba with open arms when the doors open to spring camp, but he certainly won’t be playing anytime soon in his native Venezuela. In the heat of an argument during a winter ball game, Torrealba gave the home plate umpire a rough shove to the head and drew a 66-game ban from the Venezuelan Winter League. Torrealba expressed his regrets through an apologetic letter released by the Rangers.

A Scribble for How Much?
Maybe we haven’t been paying too much attention to the price of autographs lately, so it stunned us to hear that the St. Louis Cardinals’ official preseason open house (called the Winter Warmup) will feature a $100 fee to get an autograph from outfielder Lance Berkman—but even that’s nothing compared to the $175 Albert Pujols was allowed to command at last year’s event before playing his final year in St. Louis. Okay, we get that sports memorabilia is a big deal, but c’mon—is a guy’s signature really worth that much.

An Imbalance of Fiscal Insanity?
Is the posting process for acquiring players from Japan out of control, as some baseball people believe? Here’s one argument in their corner: The Texas Rangers’ $51.7 million posting bid for Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish—again, that’s $51.7 million just to talk to him—is more than the payrolls of five major league teams. (If the Rangers can’t come to an agreement with Darvish and he returns to Japan, they get the money back.)

You Had Us at Texas—But Lost Us at Pittsburgh
Time Magazine opened the new year with its predictions for the 2012 sporting world, forecasting that the third time will be the charm for the Texas Rangers, Albert Pujols will disappoint more than not in Anaheim, and the NL Central crown will be bestowed upon—wait for it—the Pittsburgh Pirates.

TGG Goes to CafePress
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