The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: January 2-8, 2012
It's Your Lucky Day, Barry Larkin Will the 2012 Marlins be Great Soap Opera Fare?
Albert Pujols' Angelic Extras Is Prince Fielder Running Out of Options?

The Lone Inductee
Proving that Hall of Fame voters have quotas on their mind, Barry Larkin became the only player elected into Cooperstown from a very weak ballot—and he did so with 86% of the vote, an impressive 24% jump from the year before that’s the highest since 1948. It clearly spotlights that there’s a sizeable bloc of voters who feels there’s shame in not electing anyone to the Hall—never mind the shame of selecting someone who simply doesn’t merit.

Let’s face it: Larkin was lucky. The hardly imposing 2012 ballot was the best belated Christmas gift he could ever ask for. He had little competition, especially among the first-year eligibles who barely rated in the vote; only Bernie Williams, at 9.6%, had enough votes among the first-timers to be eligible for next year’s ballot.

There’s nothing personal against Larkin here. He’s said to be a genuinely nice guy who never ruffled feathers with teammates, the front office and, most importantly as far as the Hall vote goes, the media. But in our eyes, a .295 average, 2,340 career hits and three Gold Gloves, while a proud grouping of numbers, just doesn’t have “immortal” written all over it. Yes, he was an excellent basestealer and he had a good eye at the plate (more walks than strikeouts) and did win a MVP and does have a World Series ring (from 1990). And he was never a target of suspicion playing in the midst of the steroid era. (Although, for a guy who seldom hit more than 15 home runs, we have to ask: What about those 33 he hit out of nowhere in 1996?)

But we digress. Congratulations to Barry Larkin.

No Love For the Rookies
As mentioned above, only Bernie Williams received more than 5% of the vote—ensuring his presence on next year’s ballot. We didn’t expect Williams or Tim Salmon or Ruben Sierra to be get anywhere near the 75% needed for enshrinement, but we expected they’d get the 5% to stay alive. Williams did, barely; Salmon didn’t even get 1%, and Sierra didn’t get a single vote. Ouch.

The Steroid Era Loses Again
The Hall vote continued to show no sign of forgiveness for Mark McGwire, who registered 19% of the vote in his sixth year of eligibility. And Rafael Palmeiro, he of the 3,020 hits, 569 home runs and one positive steroid test? In his second year on the ballot, he managed to get just 12.6% of the vote.

Check His BBWAA Card
Someone with a Hall-of-Fame ballot put a checkmark next to Eric Young’s name.

Pujols' Perks
The full lowdown on Albert Pujols’ ten-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim has been released. Turns out that he’s guaranteed $240 million—some $10 million less than initially reported—to lower his average annual wages to $24 million, far less than the $30 million some had been forecasting for him. Still, the total package remains second to Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million deal with the New York Yankees. Yet throw in incentive bonuses and other post-playing duties, and Pujols could earn as much as $265 million when it’s all said and done.

Pujols will not get a permanent Fast Pass across the freeway at Disneyland, but he will get a hotel suite when the Angels are on the road; four season tickets at Angel Stadium, though the location of the seats has yet to be worked out; a luxury suite for his charity foundation, plus the option to rent another luxury box for any home game.

Taking a Break
St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan, the longest tenured coach in major league history, announced he’s taking a leave of absence to spend more time with his wife while she recovers from surgery to remove a brain tumor. A former major league catcher, the 66-year old Duncan has coached 33 years, all alongside manager Tony LaRussa—who retired after the Cardinals’ championship season. No word on when—or if—Duncan will return; Derek Lilliquist will temporarily replace him.

Yo-Ho, Jo-Jo!
Pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes, who ran up a streak of 28 straight starts without a win to tie a major league record last season, has found the perfect fit: He's signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Player That Just Keeps Going, and Going...
For the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve, one thing is for sure: He won’t be complaining of rust when he shows up to the team’s spring camp. The 21-year old logged 57 games and a .276 average for Houston as a rookie last year, after beating up two levels of the minors in 87 games, hitting .389—and before taking in more action in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he hit .339 and ran his total number of plate appearances for 2011 to 898. The man must think he’s playing in his sleep.

That's a Load of Pit Bull
New Miami pitcher Mark Buehrle, a noted dog lover as we discovered last year when he publicly wished for NFL quarterback Michael Vick to get hurt for his canine criminal past, won’t be allowed to live in Miami-Dade County unless he parts with his pet pit bull, which is illegal to own within its borders. (That’s a bit strange in a state where crocodiles typically lap up onto people’s back yards.) So he’s settling north of Miami in Broward County, where his dog Slater will be welcome. Buehrle says that he wouldn’t have signed with the Marlins had the dog not been allowed anywhere within decent driving distance of the ballpark.

The Mounties Will be a-Watchin'
Detroit star slugger Miguel Cabrera pled no contest this past week to charges stemming from the events last February in Florida when he fell off the wagon and drove numerous other vehicles off the road in a drunken episode. The deal includes no jail time, a year of probation and six months without a driver’s license; additionally, he may have to get special clearance from Canadian officials to play for the Tigers in Toronto, because the Great White North does not allow foreigners with DUI convictions into their country.

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

Be Very, Very Careful What You Wish For
The Miami Marlins have gone big time, opened their wallet and are boisterously aiming to go for broke in 2012. And while there is no guarantee that they’ll actually do well, one thing is likely assured: They’re will never be a dull moment at the new ballpark for a Marlin team that will live or die off its newly-molded toxic makeup.

In other words: If you enjoyed the 1977 New York Yankees of George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson and company, the 2012 Marlins could be your chance to relive it all over again.

Start at the top. Miami owner Jeffrey Loria and his Number Two, team president David Samson—already on Montreal’s fecal list for plundering and moving the Expos out of Canada—have made few friends and attracted few fans in South Florida since taking over the Marlins. They’ve torn apart teams, pocketed millions to the consternation of everyone in baseball, then had the gall to plead poverty when negotiating with dunderheaded locals over who would pay for a new ballpark. That latter tactic was employed before it was uncovered that the Marlins had plenty of money to burn on the new venue, which now will be paid off by Miami-Dade County citizens to the tune of at least $2.4 billion over the next 40 years. Internally, the team’s strong-armed approach to its players would have made Steinbrenner proud; last year, talented second-year player Logan Morrison was sent to the minors not because of bad play, but because he failed to attend a meet-and-greet with season ticket holders.

Next, there’s the manager’s office, where Ozzie Guillen now sits for the Marlins. Easily the most colorful, outspoken and controversial pilot going in the majors, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between Guillen, Loria and Samson plays out. Joe Girardi once managed in Florida and received acclaim from outsiders for turning Marlin bread into wine, but once he dared to criticize Loria, he was gone.

Finally, there’s the clubhouse. Veteran shortstop Hanley Ramirez, long known for occasional fits of malcontent behavior, bitched at being moved to third base to accommodate free agent signee Jose Reyes; he’s since changed his tune, but is he still boiling on the inside? And this past week, the Marlins traded for testy pitcher Carlos Zambrano from the Chicago Cubs because, hey, what’s one more hot potato in the pot?

Either way, the Marlins will be great entertainment in 2012. They’ll make noise if they win just as any other team does. If they lose, the likely implosion of egos is bound to captivate, and with active Twitter critters in Guillen and Morrison, you know you’ll hear about it.

And from afar, Reggie Jackson will shake his head at it all and comment: “I’ve been there.”

The Prince of Sighs
Prince Fielder remains the only major free agent available on the market, and his agent Scott Boras—who is routinely patient as a way of drawing more interest and teams (mystery or otherwise) for his clients—may be wondering if he’s overplayed his hand this time around. At first, there seemed to be a number of teams dutifully interested in the former Brewer boomer, but numerous reports suggest that such interest may now be on the wane. The Chicago Cubs secured a first baseman for the future this past week by trading for highly touted San Diego prospect Anthony Rizzo; the Texas Rangers, focusing on signing Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, have reportedly shied away from Fielder; and the Seattle Mariners, an oft-mentioned target, now say they may not have the money to satisfy Fielder—who likely would consider Safeco Field anathema to his numbers, anyway.

That leaves the Washington Nationals, who are looking good for the future with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, among others. The Nationals have the money and the will to sign Fielder, which is great for them—but not so great for Boras, who seems to no longer have another team to play off of and build a higher price via competitive negotiation. Maybe Boras will trot out his “mystery team” to lure a bigger price from the Nationals (some say the Baltimore Orioles could be that team), but nobody seems to be falling for that trick anymore. Maybe we’re wrong, but Fielder’s best chance to rake in the big, big money may have come and gone.

Here’s another option for Fielder: Return to Milwaukee for one year (as it’s beginning to be more loudly whispered), then re-enter the market for 2013 when he’ll be the premier first baseman available as opposed to this year, when he had to share the employment line with Albert Pujols.

A Life-Saving Raise
Snakebit by an inordinate amount of falling fans over the years—including the tragic death of Shannon Stone last summer—the Texas Rangers showed off new, taller railings to be placed everywhere around Rangers Ballpark at Arlington; the railings will be higher by as much as a foot and will slant inward to discourage fans from leaning towards a possible fall. Newer ballparks have tried to keep railings at a low height so as not to disrupt the sightlines for those seated in the first row, but when the Rangers keep witnessing the horrible flights of falling spectators, something had to give.

TGG Goes to CafePress
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