The Week That Was in Baseball: December 28, 2009-January 3, 2010
Who, If Anyone, Will be Voted into the Hall of Fame This Year?
The Argument For and Against Jason Bay
Mob Scene: Behind the Building of Citi Field

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The Bay Watch Begins
If Jason Bay thought there was passion among the fans and press in Boston, well say hello to New York City. The ink is still drying on his new four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets and there’s already many opinions in town over whether he’s a good thing or not. Teammates love Bay for his fearless work ethic and lack of ego. But many fans and reporters in the Big Apple are wondering why such big money was paid to a guy with a reputation for being subpar in the outfield. While it should be noted that Bay had no errors and produced a career-high 15 assists playing for Boston last year, it also begs to mention that he patrolled much smaller territory (in front of Fenway Park’s Green Monster) than he’ll have to deal with at spacious Citi Field. That ballpark’s relatively monstrous dimensions might also sap his power output (just ask David Wright, whose home run production evaporated from 30 to ten in 2009). Finally, given the Mets’ luck of late, it will be a good thing if Bay doesn’t get injured taking his physical.

Like Superstar, Like Common Player
Detroit Tiger catcher Gerald Laird appears to be learning well from Miguel Cabrera, whose lost final weekend of the regular season possibly cost the team a postseason slot. Laird and his brother, New York Yankee prospect Brandon Laird, were involved in a scrap at a lounge during an NBA game at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix that involved the wife of an unnamed NBA player, according to the police report. The melee began after the woman was “inappropriately touched.” In October, Cabrera partied with opposing Chicago White Sox players after a game, got drunk and then tussled with his wife when he returned home early the next morning.

Will It Play in San Fran?
The appearance of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers for an outdoor hockey game at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day prompted public wishes from sports executives in the San Francisco Bay Area to try a similar event with the host San Jose Sharks at AT&T Park, home of the Giants. Given that the average daily temperature in San Francisco in January is around 60 degrees, such a setting will lead to some logistical problems. We have a better thought: Try the game in July at the Giants’ old home, icy Candlestick Park. Nothing will thaw out there.

Pity Those Poor People I See Through My Tinted Luxury Car Window
Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times went to the Dominican Republic to interview former major leaguer Raul Mondesi, who’s now taking a crack at local politics—as do numerous ex-ballplayers in that country. In his description of Mondesi’s arrival at a campaign meeting, Baxter wrote: “(Mondesi) arrived nearly an hour late in a glistening white Mercedes-Benz S600, wanting to talk about alleviating poverty.” After reading that passage, two words came immediately to mind: Robin Hood.

Will the Third Time be the Charm?
Pitcher
Darren Oliver, who will turn 40 this coming October, signed on with the Texas Rangers for 2010 in what will be his third stint with the team. Oliver’s first tour of duty at Arlington, covering the first six years of his career, was solid (41-27 record); his second was a disaster (13-20 and a 6.60 ERA), but his third shows much promise after a successful transition to reliever that, over the past four years, has produced a 19-4 record and 3.21 ERA. (Besides Texas, Oliver has pitched for seven different major league clubs.) Oliver’s performance for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was so sharp, his departure underscores the redistribution of wealth in the AL West this offseason as the Angels continue to lose pivotal assets to divisional contenders.

Will the Second Time be the Charm?
Speaking of encore engagements,
Javier Vazquez will get another shot to prove his worth with the Yankees after being traded from Atlanta for center fielder Melky Cabrera. Vazquez’s first shot, in 2004, didn’t fare well; despite a 14-10 record, he struggled with a 4.91 ERA that’s the worst of his career outside of his first two seasons (1998-99). The 33-year old right-hander certainly comes to Gotham with momentum on his side; he enjoyed a renaissance campaign in 2009 with the Braves, working a 15-10 record with a stellar 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts (while walking just 44). The Braves apparently saw the need for an extra bat in Cabrera while resting their hopes on two young strong pitchers (Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson).

Married to the Mob?
The New York Post reported this past weekend that the Mets’ new ballpark, Citi Field, was partially built by contractors with ties to the mob, labor corruption or bribery. Of the $91 million in public money given to the Mets to build the facility, more than half ($51 million) went to contractors run by folks who recently ran afoul of the law for their questionable ties. If anything else, the Post article is good viewing for its composite image of Mr. Met dressed up like a machine gun-wielding gangster.

We Ought to Tell You: Our All-Decade Awards
With the end of the Oughts (read: 2000s), This Game Great has released its choices for the best, worst and most memorable of the decade that was. Check it out now.

A Chat With Baseball's Biggest Communist Fan
Lester Rodney, who pressed for racial integration within baseball through the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker a good ten years before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away on December 20 at the age of 98. One of the last people he gave an in-depth interview to was our own Ed Attanasio a few years back; that interview is now up in our They Were There section. Check it out now.

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

Hall of Fame 2010: Will Anyone Get In?
This Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will release this year’s vote for who gets into Cooperstown, who doesn’t—and who has to wait yet another year. There are no shoo-ins, especially among those on the ballot for the first time. There are a lot of candidates who will easily get enough votes to remain eligible for next year, the year after that, and then the year after and so on, like current ballot vets Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven and Dave Parker.

Here’s a breakdown of those vying for Hall of Fame glory and their chances of getting in.

Roberto Alomar. A .300 career average, 2,724 career hits and sparkling defense makes him the most promising of the first-year candidates. But will he get in? We believe he’s a 50-50 bet at best. There might be a few voters who’ll deny Alomar by evoking his infamous spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996, though most voters have forgiven Alomar by now and realize that bizarre moment and aftermath was but a standalone mental glitch.

Barry Larkin. A popular shortstop who, in Cincinnati where he played his entire career, will be given the key to the city and then some—but beyond the city limits, he’ll face tougher scrutiny from nationwide voters who won’t look at his total body of work as legendary. His case will be a good test to see far love goes in the polls.

Edgar Martinez. A hitting machine with a career .312 average, solid power and a terrific knack for driving them home. But Martinez will suffer in the vote because he spent the majority of his career exclusively as a designated hitter. If he gets in, they should reopen Buzz Arlett’s file.

Fred McGriff. As steady a power hitter as they came during the last three decades, McGriff finished his 19-year career just seven home runs short of 500—and that’s a failed milestone that may cost him Cooperstown votes. Even had McGriff topped 500, he still probably wouldn’t get in for the same reason that Rafael Palmeiro (steroids notwithstanding) won’t earn a Cooperstown bust; he seldom if ever achieved a dominant, superstar-like reputation, seldom got a plethora of All-Star votes, etc.—and that’s not greatness.

Andres Galarraga, Ellis Burks. Two players who had inconsistent fits of greatness—and often had them in Denver, where big numbers come easy. They may remain eligible for a few years, but their overall chances are not good.

Kevin Appier, Pat Hentgen, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile. For this group of first-time eligibles, just getting 5% of the vote to make it to next year’s ballot will be a victory.

Andy Ashby, Dave Burba, Mike Jackson, Mark McLemore, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Fernando Vina. Please.

Among those returning on the ballot:

Andre Dawson. Will the ninth time be the charm for Dawson? He came closest among those who didn’t get in last year (67% of the vote; 75% needed) and some now feel that since Jim Rice is in, so should he. But Rice was dominant when he thrived; Dawson was usually just a gear away. Very good does not equal great.

Dave Parker. The Cobra’s eligibility is drying up; it’s this year and next, and then he’ll have to lean on the Veteran’s Committee down the line. Parker, like Rice, was dominant, but only for a short time; that he threw what should have been the prime of his career away on drugs still turns off a lot of voters.

Dale Murphy. See Parker above—just throw out the bit about the drugs, which this clean-shaved Mormon never touched.

Bert Blyleven. Only Tommy John has more wins among those eligible for the Hall of Fame who aren’t in. (And John has just one more victory than Blyleven.) The 22-year veteran piled up an abundance of numbers (many negative ones, too) but never held that aura of greatness. Blyleven’s also shamefully lobbying to get in, which in our opinion is a no-no; after all, let your career do the talking. (He’s likely selling himself for the money as much as for the prestige; having “Hall of Fame” tied to your name is said to be worth an extra $100,000 per year in public appearances, etc.)

Lee Smith. The 18-year closer may have been the all-time saves leader for a decade before Trevor Hoffman, but he blew quite a few more save opportunities than others (Hoffman, Mariano Rivera) who are the cream of this craft. Kind of hard to bring a guy into the Hall when he didn’t inspire a ton of confidence in his fans.

Jack Morris. An innings eater who three times won 20 games and pieced together one of the game’s great postseason performances with a ten-inning, Game Seven shutout in the 1991 World Series for Minnesota. That said, it’s remarkable that his ERA never went south of 3.00. (His career mark, in fact, is an okay 3.90.) That’s why he’ll probably have to wait until the Veterans Committee takes up his case.

Mark McGwire. In its simplest form, a vote for Big Mac is a vote for steroids, and a vote against him is…What McGwire, the new St. Louis hitting coach, will have to say about his past should he choose to do so could improve his odds of getting into Cooperstown, but for now he’s stuck with the 20% of voters who think he’s worthy in spite of his likely use of performance enhancement drugs.