The Week That Was in Baseball: January 12-18, 2009
The Latest Dope on the Steroid Trials The New Kids in the Hall
The Young and the Restless in Arlington
The City of Anaheim Gives In

This Week in Steroids
It’s apparently high season for Federal prosecutors attempting to put the screws to baseball’s most celebrated (and alleged) steroid users, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. On both coasts this past week, the heat was turned up by the Feds—on Clemens, who has a grand jury in Washington, D.C. looking over allegations that he committed perjury, and Barry Bonds, whose perjury trial is scheduled to begin in six weeks in California.

On the Atlantic side of the issue, the Mitchell Report’s two star witnesses—steroids dealer Kirk Radomski and Clemens’ former trainer Brian McNamee—were interviewed by the FBI in preparation for a likely grand jury show with the targets not only being Clemens, but also Houston shortstop (and Mitchell Report celebrity) Miguel Tejada.

Meanwhile out west, Bonds’ attorneys basically asked for everything the prosecution has on him to be thrown out of his upcoming trial—the blood tests, the doping calendar, key testimony from lead BALCO investigator Jeff Novitsky and the words of Bonds’ former mistress Kimberly Bell. (Judge Susan Illston will rule in February.) All of this while Yahoo’s Jonathan Littman—whose continued reporting of the Bonds legal circus has been so critical of the Feds to the point that one wonders if he’s a plant for Bonds’ lawyers—has shouted out loud that experts examined in the BALCO grand jury claimed that the Clear, one of numerous enhancement-performing drugs the Feds claimed Bonds used, is actually legal.

Welcome Back, Now Take This Cup and Pee in It
Another victim (or suspect) from the Mitchell Report, Jay Gibbons, has been signed to a minor league contract with the Florida Marlins after taking a forced leave of absence from the majors in 2008, shortly after his name became mud in the eyes of the baseball world for his admission of taking steroids. Gibbons, who will be 32 on Opening Day, was a formidable hitter for the Orioles from 2002-05, but he game suffered a rapid regression once the majors began locking down on steroid use, batting .230 with just six homers in 84 games in 2007. Gibbons was profuse with mea culpas in the aftermath of his steroid outing last year, but that wasn’t enough to gain employment within the game until now.

Young Fury
Back in December, Michael Young of the Texas Rangers was invited to lunch by manager Ron Washington and general manager Jon Daniels. The latter two were probably going to pick up the check, but they had no choice after Young stormed out when Daniels, in particular, gave an ultimatum to Young: Move from shortstop to third base for the upcoming season. Young, a five-time all-star, had once obliged the Rangers on a positional shift, moving from second to short in 2004 to accommodate the arrival of Alfonso Soriano. But after acclimating himself at short to the point that he won his first Gold Glove in 2008, Young was damned if he was going to be ordered by management to move again, to third—especially if it was to make room for a fast, highly-touted yet untried 20-year old named Elvis Andrus.

Although the blow-up over lunch occurred a month ago, the press finally got wind of the story last week when it was discovered that the Rangers were trying to trade Young, at his request. Soon after, Young reversed course and said he would accommodate the Rangers once more, for the good of the team. And now the pressure shifts to poor ol’ Elvis, who the Rangers are hoping wins the Opening Day spot at Young’s former position—even though he’s never played at a level higher than double-A and, last year, committed 32 errors in 118 games at short.

Is There a Mortgage on Those Seats?
Many of the best seats at the new Yankee Stadium are having trouble being sold; seven luxury boxes remain available, as do a quarter of the stadium’s A-list “premium” seats. In an unorthodox move, the Yankees have hired a real estate brokerage company in an attempt to reach its own audience, one ideally with lots of money. Neil Sroka, president of Douglas Elliman Worldwide Consulting—the firm the Yankees have commissioned—spun the idea of a 20-game package worth $7,000 as an opportunity; “In this economic time,” Sroka told the New York Times, “people are still looking for things to take their children or grandchildren to.” We have a better alternative for the kids with that $7,000 figure: College.

Never Mind the Design Intern—Fire the Art Director!
Yahoo’s baseball blog guru Kevin Kaduk (who goes by the Internet handle of ‘Duk) took the lead on blasting the design of the New York Mets’ inaugural patch that will go on their uniform sleeves this year to welcome in their new ballpark, Citi Field. Kaduk compared the sleeve art to the Domino’s Pizza logo, although it reminds me more of a sales tag from Mervyn’s. For a guy like me who does graphic design for a living, it is curious how the Mets are giving the patch such a generic look, in start contrast to the lively and illustrative uniform shields of other teams that commemorate every little thing, a trend that slowly began in 1907 when the Chicago White Sox advertised their world championship of the year before. Kaduk relays the opinion of some that the Mets may have gone simplistic with the look and messaging to detract from the fact that the ballpark sponsor is the troubled CitiGroup. (After all, the Houston Astros were prescient enough to break in their new ballpark in 2000 with a special logo minus the venue’s original name: Enron Field.)—Eric

Do Not Call Until Summer
Pitcher Paul Byrd, last seen in a Boston uniform after a midseason trade from Cleveland, wants to go the Roger Clemens route. No, not the steroids route (though he has gone down that road, having bought thousands of dollars worth of HGH from 2002-05), but the semi-retirement route. Although a free agent, Byrd isn’t interested in signing with a major league team—preferring to spend time this spring with his family rather than 24 other sweaty ballplayers—but he likes the idea of being picked up by a contender in midseason, much the way Clemens performed part-time in 2006-07. But Clemens is Clemens; Byrd hasn’t registered an ERA under 4.50 since he stopped ordering HGH.

He Said What?
John Ryan of the San Jose Mercury News took note of the news that San Francisco would-be ace Barry Zito and Paris Hilton are an item by asking: “Who’s the overpaid one?”

Welcome to the Hall, Rickey and Mr. Rice
The challenge for Rickey Henderson was not whether he was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame—to the vast majority of us, there was no question of that—but, instead, whether he would ever make himself eligible. Henderson played, played and kept on playing, performing 25 seasons at the major league level for nine different teams (he switched uniforms 12 times, including four different stays with the Oakland A’s); he continued to make an effort to play after the majors gave up on him, playing as late as 2005 in the minors at the age of 46. Despite his astonishing credentials—a stratospheric 1,406 stolen bases, an all-time high 2,295 runs scored, 3,055 hits, 2,190 walks and 297 home runs—28 Hall of Fame voters found some reason not to vote him (Read the story of one them, below). Another 511 had the good sense to overlook Henderson’s tendency to be a self-important mercenary and gave him a ticket to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. Now comes the fun part, the intriguing moment this summer when Henderson steps to the microphone at the induction ceremony and becomes the odds-on favorite to be the first-ever person in Cooperstown to utter the phrase, “Bing-bing, where he at.”

For Jim Rice, the challenge was a bit different; unlike Henderson, his status as a potential Hall of Famer seemed to be a question mark, a puzzling fact to us given that we would have voted him in years before. But more than not, over a ten-year period that predated the steroid era, Rice was arguably the most frightening sight for opposing pitchers; his election into Cooperstown, in his 15th and final year of eligibility, was long overdue.

Not Saving Grace
Of all the Hall of Fame eligibles who were on the ballot for the first time—and also the last time, because they didn’t get the required 5% of the vote to make it to next year’s ballot—the one dismissal that surprised us the most was that of Mark Grace. Not that we ever expect him to be enshrined in Cooperstown, but we thought that the popular first baseman so beloved in Chicago (where he spent the majority of his career with the Cubs) with a .303 batting average over 16 years would have received more than a handful of nods from the Hall of Fame electorate. Fear not, Mark, for we’re sure they’ll reserve a spot for you at the Cubs’ Hall of Fame—that is, when they get around to building one.

Might Want to Start Talking About That Past, Big Mac
We sensed that Mark McGwire might get something close to a spike in this year’s voting, given the number of voters who came out publicly and declared in advance of the results that they’d come around on the disgraced ex-power slugger and would vote for him for the first time. Didn’t happen; McGwire’s 21.9% total was down from last year’s 23.6%.

Another Barometer of the Steroids Era
Greg Vaughn became the first player to hit 50 home runs (in 1998) and not receive a single Hall of Fame vote.

Next Year's Probables
The rookie Hall of Fame class in 2010 serves up a number of players who, at the very least, will accrue serious chunks of votes: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga and Edgar Martinez. We’re guessing that Alomar and Larkin have the best shots among the group, but whether they actually get 75% of the vote or better remains to be seen. And if you’re looking ahead to 2011, that’s when it’s Rafael Palmeiro’s time to sweat; he’ll be on the ballot for the first time.

The Dukes of Hazardous Living
For those of you who think that even the lowest-paid major leaguers have it made financially, we give you Elijah Dukes. The talented yet irascible 24-year old Washington outfielder made $400,000 last year for the Nationals, but that somehow wasn’t enough to offset all the legal expenses of his off-field troubles, including ongoing alimony issues with his ex-wife and paternity cases with two other women. The Nationals are publicly supporting Dukes, and they think highly of the man’s potential—he did show signs of a solid future by hitting .264 with 13 homers, 44 RBIs, 50 walks and 13 steals in 81 games last year—that they paid an ex-cop to hang out with Dukes during the season last year just to keep him from flaring up. Remember the good ‘ol days when even the best baseball players worked off-season jobs to supplement their major league income? Dukes probably can relate.

Settling For Second Billing
The City of Anaheim abandoned its efforts this past week to force the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to remove “Los Angeles of” off of its official team name. Anaheim had sued the Angels in 2005 for municipal exclusivity, but twice the courts have ruled in favor of the Angels, saying that as long as the name “Anaheim” appears in the moniker, no rules in the city’s agreement with the team have been broken. Anaheim believes it still has a case, but it can no longer justify the expense of continuing the fight.

They'll Find Out About Me Quickly
Relief pitcher David Aardsma was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox this week, hardly a shocking move given that the 27-year old right-hander was miserable during the final two months of the 2008 season with a 17.36 ERA in nine appearances. But while Aardsma may not be first in the hearts and minds of baseball fans, he’ll always be first in the baseball encyclopedia, where he’s currently listed ahead of everyone else in alphabetical order—right in front of the former number one, Hank Aaron.

Signed, Sealed...Delivered?
It was reported that the Atlanta Braves signed Derek Lowe to a four-year, $60-million contract this past week, but given how often they’ve been left at the altar by other free agents this offseason, they probably won’t believe it until Lowe throws on an Atlanta jersey.

Screw Mediation
By signing catcher Kelly Shoppach to a one-year, $1.95 million deal, the Cleveland Indians assured that they’ll not have to go to salary arbitration with a player for the 18th straight year.

Now Playing at TGG
Check out the latest installment of They Were There with Ed Attanasio’s interview with Nate Oliver, who witnessed first-hand the infamous 1965 fight between Juan Marichal and Johnny Roseboro. Oliver also discusses his love for Chicago Cub fans and his dissatisfaction over Ron Santo’s continued absence from the Hall of Fame.

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