The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: January 9-15, 2012
Bud Selig Lives Tony La Russa Returns to St. Louis (But Only For a Day)
The Yankees Awake From Hibernation Is Kendrys Morales Still Worth it to the Angels?

The Commissioner That Wouldn't Leave
At first, he was the interim commissioner when Fay Vincent was thrown out of the job in 1992. Then the “interim” tag was stripped away in 1998, and he’s been baseball’s Lord of Lords ever since. He insisted that he would retire after 2012 once a new collective bargaining agreement was safely taken care of between management and players, which has been done. But the owners just can’t seem to get enough of Bud Selig.

This past week, owners voted 29-1 to offer Selig a two-year extension and remain as commissioner until he after he turns 80—making him the oldest commish in baseball history. The one nay vote came from lame duck San Diego owner John Moores, losing patience after baseball wanted more i’s dotted and t’s crossed to finally grant approval of the Padres’ sale to Jeff Moorad.

Every commissioner to rule over baseball has had his strengths and faults. The first, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, restored the fans’ faith in the game after the Black Sox Scandal nearly killed it, and did well to keep the game’s power of balance in check as numerous teams attempted to engorge on their farm system. But he also stiff-armed any movement to desegregate the majors and allow African-Americans on the field. His successor, Happy Chandler, overruled the owners and let Jackie Robinson join the Brooklyn Dodgers. But after Chandler, a succession of commissioners saw their power base deteriorate as owners wrestled over just what the “best interests of baseball” really stood for. To them, they stood more for profits, and when Vincent dared to state otherwise, he was shoved out.

In his place, Selig took over not as a puppet of the owners but as an owner himself who spoke on behalf of the others. The game itself has sometimes suffered under Selig; his attempted ramming of a salary cap down the players’ throats led to baseball’s ugliest work stoppage in 1994-95, and he turned a blind eye to the game’s out-of-control steroid problems of the 1990s and 2000s. But financially, Selig has been a godsend to his fellow owners. Under his watch, 20 new ballparks have been built leading to significantly enhanced revenue streams; he centralized and helped initiate the MLB Network, which together are now worth billions of dollars; and, pained over the strike-related cancelation of the 1994 postseason, he has proudly negotiated three basic agreements without a work stoppage.

So the owners love Selig and want him back; it’s almost at a point where they can’t foresee anyone taking his place. The fans are less embracing of Selig’s legacy to the game, but they’ve come around to him, by and large. So enjoy him while you can, because he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Do You Know Delay to San Jose?
One of Selig’s bigger bits of unfinished business as commissioner will be smoothing out the process for the Oakland A’s to move to their desired new location in San Jose, 50 miles to the south. The A’s want San Jose and vice versa—but the San Francisco Giants, who have owned territorial rights to the South Bay after the A’s graciously gave it to them in the early 1990s, don’t want to give them back. The three-man committee that Selig appointed almost three years ago to study a new location for the A’s has all but become irrelevant; it’s clear that San Jose is the one and only destination available, and Selig volunteered this past week that the issue is finally on the “front burner” among his current priorities. Expect a final decision soon—and also anticipate that the Giants won’t go quietly without a fight.

Consider it a Mulligan
If Yoenis Cespedes, the self-promoting Cuban slugger hoping to land in the majors for big money, is to impress, he’ll need to do better than he did in his debut in the Dominican Winter League: Three-at-bats, three strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch.

Sans Immortals
The entry into the Hall of Fame of Barry Larkin, who starred for the champion 1990 Cincinnati Reds, now means that only two championship teams prior to 1993—the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers and, somewhat amazingly, the juggernaut Detroit Tigers of 1984—have no players in the Hall of Fame. That may change if former Tiger Jack Morris, who came close to securing 75% of the vote this past week, gets elected soon; he’s got two more shots before his 15 years of eligibility runs dry. (So wait—what about the 1988 Dodgers? No Orel Hershiser, no Kirk Gibson? Oh, Don Sutton briefly showed up on that roster, at the very end of his career.)

Mora to Come
Reports of Melvin Mora’s retirement apparently have proven to be premature—for those who care. The 13-year veteran who once starred for the Baltimore Orioles but has been barely hanging on over the last few years (most recently with Arizona), is debunking earlier reports out of his native Venezuela that he was quitting the game. Mora clarified that he was simply no longer going to play winter ball in Venezuela—but would like to continue playing in the majors. In 2011, Mora—who turns 40 next month—hit .228 with no homers for the Diamondbacks in 42 games before being released in June.

He Said What?
“Are you going to break the Billy Goat Curse?” —Question from an elementary school student to new Chicago Cub president Theo Epstein, who answered in the affirmative after an otherwise long response in which he basically said ‘if everything went right.’

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

Dealing in Futures
The New York Yankees, unusually quiet in the winter when they’re usually at their loudest, finally made front-page news on the transaction front by thumping up their rotation with Seattle pitcher Michael Pineda and free agent Hiroki Kuroda. In acquiring Pineda, the Yankees parted ways with catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero, who shined in his late 2011 debut with a .317 average and four home runs in 61 at-bats.

So the Yankees give up a future bat, but they potentially have given ace CC Sabathia a worthy sidekick. Pineda was terrific in the first half of 2011 for Seattle, going 8-6 with a 3.03 earned run average and a strikeout per inning to earn a spot at the All-Star Game. He struggled afterward—winning just one game in ten starts with a 5.12 ERA—but he has great upside at age 23. The veteran Kuroda, who will be 37 on Opening Day, had been a rock in the Los Angeles rotation over the last four years with a 3.45 ERA, but his 41-46 record had poor run support written all over it. He won’t have that problem in the Bronx.

As for the 22-year old Montero, he becomes a desperately needed hitter in a Mariner lineup that has lots of young pop (Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp) but has been wildly untamed to a fault. For hitters, Safeco Field is less forgiving than Yankee Stadium, so we’ll see how Montero adjusts—and just how good he is.

La Russa Relives!
Tony La Russa may be retired, but that didn’t keep him from returning to St. Louis this past weekend to talk about the Cardinals’ 2011 championship season. He joined St. Louis resident Bob Costas and 2,000 enthusiastic attendees at the Peabody Opera House to discuss the season, viewing and commenting on numerous highlights from it. During the course of the evening, La Russa admitted he ordered a retaliatory hit against the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun during a game in which Albert Pujols had earlier been nailed at the plate; called “terrible” the moment in Game Five of the World Series when a communications snafu led to the wrong Cardinal reliever being sent in, followed to relief when his team was able to win the final two games afterward; and implored the audience to lay off Pujols for his recent signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, stating that the blame for his departure from St. Louis should be more directed at “the system.” And as for the 66-year old La Russa’s future in baseball? “To be determined,” he replied.

Tainted Blood
After the end of the Philadelphia Phillies’ triumphant 2008 campaign resulting in a World Series title, it was revealed that reliever J.C. Romero flunked an illegal performance enhancement test and was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2009 season. This left Romero hopping mad, because he felt he was taking a supplement deemed legal by baseball; turns out it was tainted. After Romero failed to convince MLB to overturn the punishment, he sued the manufacturers of the supplements in question. This past week, Romero—now with the St. Louis Cardinals—revealed that he reached an out-of-court settlement in December, terms for which were not revealed.

A Wasted Contract?
Remember Kendrys Morales? (Or Kendry, before he went plural last year?) He was the breakout bopper for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2009, belting 34 home runs and finishing fifth in the AL MVP vote. After an equally good start in 2010, he broke his ankle doing a celebratory jump upon home plate after hitting a game-winning home run; he hasn’t played since, undergoing several surgeries.

Morales has re-upped with the Angels for $3 million even though he still hasn’t totally recovered from his injury. But here’s the bigger question: If he gets healthy and game-ready, where will he play? He was at first base, but that’s now the domain of Albert Pujols. How about designated hitter? Now that Mark Trumbo (29 homers as a rookie in 2011) is out of a job at first, that’s where he’s likely to get ABs—as might veteran Bobby Abreu, if he can’t crack a crowded outfield that includes Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Peter Bourjos. The glut of talent is a good thing for the Angels—not so good for Morales. But at least he’ll get $3 million for showing up.

Outsmarted by the Dentist
William Strupp, the official dentist for the New York Yankees, had $40,000 worth of baseball memorabilia stolen from his office last November. Hoping he had numbskulls for thieves, Strupp placed an ad on Craigslist showing pictures of the stolen items with a reward for their return. He was in luck; one of the thieves contacted him and offered to give him half of the items back for $4,000. When they hooked up at the pre-arranged meeting place (a shopping mall in Clearwater, Florida), the robbers was started to find Strupp accompanied by local police; they’re now behind bars.

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