The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: December 27, 2010-January 2, 2011
Who's Next for the Hall of Fame? Farewell to the Man Who Gave DFW Baseball
Oney Guillen's Latest Tweet Rage Killer's Newest Foe: Cancer

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It's Hall Time
This week, the Baseball Writers Association of America will reveal the results of the 2011 general vote for the Hall of Fame and, as always, there’s much pre-ballot drama and discussion that’s taken place. Of the holdovers from last year’s vote, there is much focus on three players in particular: Roberto Alomar, who made his first appearance on the ballot last year and fell shy of the required 75% needed for enshrinement by just 2%; pitcher Bert Blyleven, the 287-game winner who keeps inching up towards the 75% figure—but with only three eligible years on the ballot left, needs to make up the remaining 13% in a hurry; and Mark McGwire, on the ballot for the fourth time—and the first since finally admitting to taking steroids during his playing days. It will be curious to see if there’s a bump for McGwire following his admission—though his comments stating that performance enhancement had no impact on his career home run total smacks of denial of a different kind, and may rub voters the wrong way.

Speaking of performance enhancement, there’s plenty first-time big names appearing on the ballot that have been connected to steroids, and they should make for a whole lot of conversation before and after the final vote is released. Among them:

Rafael Palmeiro. The man ganged up 3,000 hits and 500 home runs over a 20-year career—and in earlier years, such numbers would have been automatic for Cooperstown. But not in the steroids era. We once made the argument—and we’ll make it again—that even if Palmeiro was clean, and in spite of all those stats, what do he really do? He never won a batting title, never led the league in home runs or RBIs, never won a MVP (his highest finish was fifth), never went to a World Series (let alone win one), and appeared in only four All-Star games. Palmeiro was never really the “star” of the teams he played for, never was the guy you had to get out to start the domino effect to shut his team down.

Everything is relative, and Palmeiro produced inflated stats in an era of statistical inflation, principally in two ballparks (in Baltimore and Texas) that are power-friendly. And of course for Palmeiro, there is the 800-pound elephant in the room that is the steroids issue; his capture for testing positive in 2005, mere months after defiantly pointing his finger at Congress and insisting he never took steroids, is embarrassing at best and smoking-gun incriminating at worst. We believe the Hall should be reserved for the greats. Palmeiro, in our eyes, was very good—perhaps chemically so—but not great.

Jeff Bagwell. Possessing one of the most violent swings ever seen, Bagwell twisted, turned and powered his way to 449 career homers and a .297 average over a 15-year career played entirely in Houston. He was frequently dominant if not monstrous, most especially in the strike-shortened 1994 season when he hit .368, belted 39 homers and knocked in 116 runs in just 110 games to win the NL MVP—after going .320-20-88 playing a full season in 1993. (Put the ’94 numbers more into perspective: Had Bagwell kept pace and the strike not intervened, he would have finished the year with 55 homers and 163 RBIs.)

Steroid allegations have followed Bagwell because of that sudden breakout in 1994 and other herculean numbers that followed over the next ten years, but he’s never been linked and received no mention in the Mitchell Report, so we’re giving him the benefit of a doubt. If we had to be pinned down and vote for one guy this year, it would be Bagwell; but nobody’s pinning us down and our mantra for Hall of Fame selection is that if you have to think whether somebody should be in Cooperstown, then he shouldn’t. With Bagwell, we’re thinking.

Kevin Brown. The surly, sometimes fiery pitcher had a distinguished career: A sharp 211-144 record, two ERA titles, a no-hitter and membership on two World Series teams, one a champion (the 1997 Florida Marlins). But he also appeared in the Mitchell Report, linked to receiving steroids via express mail from Kirk Radomski. Perhaps a forgiving Veterans Committee will give him entry down the line, but he doesn’t stand a chance in the general vote.

Larry Walker. A great talent never quite fulfilled, sort of. Injuries had much to do with it—he logged 140-plus games only four times in his 17-year career—but as steroids will be the excuse against Palmeiro and Brown, voters will use Coors Field against Walker, as his three NL batting titles and 1997 NL MVP all came in the uniform of the pre-humidor Colorado Rockies. (During his tenure in Denver, Walker hit .384 at Coors—and .280 on the road.)

Juan Gonzalez. Two MVP awards, 434 career homers with five 40-plus seasons, a .295 lifetime average—and numerous links to steroids, some of which are airtight. Forget him.

John Franco. Baseball’s career leader in saves among left-handers with 424. He’ll get some votes for thick-skinned tolerance serving ten years as the closer of the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, but he wont make the final cut.

Tino Martinez. A likeable player much admired almost wherever he went, most notably with the championship Yankees of the late 1990s where he experienced his career year in 1997, clouting 44 homers with 141 RBIs. But he never batted over .300 and finished a relatively light .271 for his career, and his other lifetime figures—339 jacks and 1,925 hits—just aren’t enough in the steroids era. Here’s betting his personality helps him garner more votes than Brown, McGwire and maybe even Palmeiro.

John Olerud. A longshot to be sure, but still worth noting for being a genuinely tough out, as gifted for forging the walk (three times over 100 a season) as for knocking out the base hit, averaging .295 over a 17-year career. He also had a nose for the postseason, appearing in seven different League Championship Series and being a member of two World Series championship teams in Toronto.

Future Notes
Looking ahead, next year’s class of first-time Hall of Fame eligibles represents one of the weakest in recent memory, with only mildly serious candidates in Bernie Williams, Tim Salmon and Ruben Sierra; it also represents a golden opportunity for borderline holdovers (i.e., Blyleven) to take advantage of the void and gain the vote of those who see a ballot and figure, “Well, I gotta put a checkmark next to somebody.” The 2012 vote is also the calm before the storm; the Class of 2013 is certain to be the most controversial ever and define the steroids era from a historical perspective as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa appear on the ballot for the first time.

The True Ace of Arlington
Tom Vandergriff passed away this week, which we’re sure will leave many of you to scratch your heads and ask: “Who’s Tom Vandergriff?” Without Vandergriff, the Texas Rangers may not exist or may never have existed in the first place. From 1951-77, Vandergriff was the mayor of Arlington, Texas, which he transformed from a sleepy suburb between Dallas and Ft. Worth to a thriving destination for sports fans and tourists thanks to his efforts to relocate the Washington Senators to Texas in 1972. He also was instrumental in lobbying the general public to vote yes on building the Rangers Ballpark at Arlington in the early 1990s as rumors swirled that the team would move to St. Petersburg if the measure didn’t pass.

The Rangers are quite aware of their debt to Vandergriff, erecting a statue of him that currently stands in a plaza named after him behind center field. Vandergriff lived long enough to see his beloved Rangers make it to the World Series for the first time this past year; he passed away this past Thursday at the age of 84.

Twit of the Week
Oney Guillen is at least getting it now. The son of Chicago White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen used his Twitter account this past week to rip into former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, now with Boston. In doing so, Guillen figured that it’s safer to go after a former player instead of a current member of the front office—as he did earlier in 2010 when he made unflattering social media comments on general manager Ken Williams. Oney tweeted that Jenks was a “punk” and apparently brought up baggage from Jenks’ personal life, in response to Jenks’ own criticism of Ozzie following his departure to Boston.

People make Twitter accounts into their own opinion pieces, and perhaps the best advice for those on the outside is to ignore such rants, but when you’re the outspoken son of an outspoken major league manager, it’s hard to turn your back on the monitor. Those who couldn’t do so used their own sources of media (radio stations, newspapers) to take Oney to task. The only man who came to Oney’s defense? Ozzie, naturally.

What's Next, the Fenway Bowl?
We’re trying to remember a college football bowl game whose name traces its roots to baseball, but outside of the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl played at Yankee Stadium this past week, we can’t think of it. The December 30 game attracted a crowd of 38,000 who braved post-blizzard conditions to watch Syracuse outlast Kansas State, 36-34. It’s the second college game played at Yankee Stadium this season; earlier in November, Notre Dame and Army revived a tradition put on pause decades earlier when the two typically hooked up at the old Stadium.

Three other bowl games are being hosted at major league ballparks: The Best O’Brady Bowl at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field (home of the Tampa Bay Rays), the Insight Bowl at Phoenix’s Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks) and the Fight Hunger Bowl at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, home of the Giants.

It's Only Two Bucks For Every Man, Woman and Child...
Even though the City of Oakland is tens of millions in debt—leading to a reduced police force in a town with a high crime rate and curtailed library hours that will keep kids on the mean streets—it felt it wise to spend $750,000 on an environmental study for a new ballpark for the A’s. All this, despite the fact that the A’s are on record as saying they won’t stay in Oakland when their current contract with the Coliseum dries up. We guess you can never say never, but the study constitutes a costly bet for a longshot horse.

Together Again
Bud Selig and Budweiser are back to being buds again. After a disagreement over an alleged agreement for sponsorship rights struck back in the spring that threatened to turn into a lawsuit, MLB and Anheuser-Busch kissed and made up this past week, agreeing to continue their long-standing relationship. A-B had sued MLB when baseball backed out of the deal, incensed that the beer giant had struck a similar (and, apparently, much more lucrative) deal for sponsorship rights with the National Football League. Details of the deal between MLB and A-B were withheld.

Torn Agenda
The collapse of the Metrodome’s roof from an avalanche of snow and ice last month wasn’t without impact to the Minnesota Twins. Even though they no longer play there, the Twins still use the Metrodome for their wintertime FanFest event, but with the facility unavailable through the spring owing to repairs, they had to move FanFest to the National Sports Center in Blaine—a place barely big enough to accommodate the 30,000 that typically show up for the event.

Hang in There, Killer...
Hall-of-Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew is fighting for his life against something that shares his nickname, Killer: Cancer. But the 74-year old former star of the Twins, who is 11th on the all-time home run list with 573, is upbeat that he can hit one out of the park against the disease. “I have confidence in my doctors and the medical staff and I anticipate a full recovery,” said Killebrew of the folks at the Mayo Clinic facilities in Arizona, who are helping him in fight against the cancer, which is in his esophagus.

Happy New...Don't Shoot!
Baltimore reliever Alfredo Simon, the Orioles’ closer for the first (and worst) half of last season, is reported at upload time to be the main suspect in the shooting death of a man in his native Dominican Republic on New Year’s Eve. Police say Simon fled the scene following the incident, but he did contact the Orioles and claimed that another man wounded in the gunfire will “confirm” that he was not the assailant. If true, this incident continues a disturbing trend of major leaguers gone viciously wild in Dominica, following on the heals of crimes committed by former reliever Ambiorix Burgos and one-time San Francisco hot prospect Angel Villalona.

Good Couple Gone Bad
If you’re a Los Angeles Dodger fan and believe that off-field celebrity can take a player’s focus off his game, here’s some good news for you: Matt Kemp has broken up with Rihanna.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
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After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
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