The Week That Was in Baseball: January 19-25, 2009
Jeff Kent Has Left the Building Post-Holiday Bargains in the Free Agent Market
Jay McGwire Wants to Talk About the Past
Canseco vs. Bonaduce: The Lame Event

We Will Miss You, Jeff
Even those who grew to hate Jeff Kent over the years must have regained a little love for him when the 40-year old gave an honest and heartfelt retirement speech this past week in Los Angeles. Almost from the very start, Kent was a bristling personality who spoke his mind when prompted—although he’d just as rather kept to himself—and occasionally alienated his teammates for his frankness. But he was a gamer who was sharp in the clutch, as evidenced by eight seasons knocking in over 100 runs. And take our word on this one: Playing in the midst of the steroid era, there was no way the raw second baseman ever took the juice, based on his candid criticism of the subject.

Now the question arises: Is Kent a future Hall-of-Famer? The prevailing wisdom says yes, with advocates evoking his standing as the all-time homer run leader at second base and his knack for bringing in the baserunners. But defensively, Kent was average at best, and his greatest years at the plate (with San Francisco, from 1997-2002) were made possible only because he had one Barry Bonds batting around him; in his non-Bonds years, Kent’s numbers are nothing to be phenomenally wowed over. Still, anyone who stands up to Bonds (as Kent memorably did in 2002) earns extra points towards Cooperstown—as does anyone who uses the words “this great game” in his retirement speech, as Kent did on Thursday.

Sean’s Gone
Also retiring is Sean Casey, the left-handed hitting first baseman who spent 12 years in the majors split among five times. Casey’s career appeared to be off to a terrific start when he hit .332 with 25 homers and 99 RBIs for Cincinnati during his first full year in 1999, numbers he wouldn't approach again until 2004 (.324, 24, 99). In both cases, he followed up with seasons of disappointing output, particularly in the power arena; reduced to a part-time role with the Boston Red Sox in 2008, he hit no homers in 199 at-bats. Casey does retire with a highly respectable career .302 average, and will be best remembered for being the player to stroke the first base hit at two first-year ballparks in the same season: Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Milwaukee’s Miller Park in 2001.

Oh, Brother
Mark McGwire’s enclosed, luxury world of exile in Orange County grew a bit smaller this week. The news broke that his older brother, Jay McGwire, is out shopping a book claiming that he introduced Mark to steroids back in the early 1990s. So why rat a brother out? Because, according to sources who broke the story (including Jay’s wife), he’s a former steroids-junkie gym rat transformed into a born-again Christian, and wants to confess his sins in the way he thinks God meant him to: By paperback. It also should be figured in that the two brothers have been estranged for some time, ever since Mark allegedly picked up Jay’s child in anger at a family function and slapped him around.

You would think the Christian thing to do is to huddle quietly with your young brother and urge him to come clean, not to go shouting your side of the story to the world. But amid the shouts, the publishing world apparently has thus far been underwhelmed; many houses are expressing signs of steroids fatigue, given the glut of recent books (including Jose Canseco’s recent sequel to Juiced) that have sold poorly. And besides, if we’re going to sit up and hear the truth about Mark McGwire’s past, we’d likely rather hear it from Mark himself.

More of This Week in Steroids
Jordan Schafer, a top 22-year old center-field prospect who the Atlanta Braves are hoping will make their fans forget about Andruw Jones (though Jones himself has all but taken care of that of late), finally went public this past week over a 50-game suspension he received last year while in the minors for using Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Because baseball has no test for HGH, the evidence on Schafer was circumstantial. And that’s where the controversy starts. Schafer says he’s never taken any HGH or other steroids, instead claiming that he was nailed because he was hanging out with the wrong crowd and knew of others taking performance-enhancement drugs—yet he refused to get into specifics. Perhaps baseball believes second-hand HGH exists or, like Buck Weaver in 1919, Schafer was guilty enough for knowing what others were doing but didn’t tell anyone—or, perhaps, he just needs to come a little more clean on this subject.

Two Guys Who Deserve One Another
You know your social life has hit rock bottom when you’re hanging with Danny Bonaduce. And so it goes for Jose Canseco, who decided to step into a boxing ring outside of Philadelphia and duke it out with the former Partridge who may be, after Canseco, America’s most shameless personality. A crowd of 1,500 apparently found it curious enough to show up and watch the two box for three one-minute rounds—though many of them had left before the end, yawning over a punchless bout which ended in a draw. After reality TV and this, how much lower can Canseco go? Well, there’s always porn.

Bill Werber, In Memoriam
We lost baseball’s oldest living ex-major leaguer this past week when Bill Werber died at the age of 100 in North Carolina. Werber was the last person left who could say he was a teammate of Babe Ruth, having played short stints with the New York Yankees in 1930 and 1933. After being sent to the Boston Red Sox, Werber immediately produced his finest package of stats in 1934, batting .321 with 200 hits (including 41 doubles, ten triples and 11 homers), 40 steals and 129 runs scored. After four less productive years, Werber found himself in Cincinnati, where he became the missing puzzle piece for the back-to-back NL titlist Reds in 1939 and 1940, displaying his best defense of his career at third base; he hit .370 in the 1940 World Series, the year the Reds won it all for the first time. Beyond Werber’s achievements in the baseball world comes this little known fact: he was the first All-American in the distinguished history of Duke University basketball.

Werber’s passing leaves Tony Malinosky, who played briefly for the 1937 Brooklyn Dodgers, as the oldest living ex-major leaguer at 99. Lonny Frey, the second oldest at 98, holds the current distinction among those alive with the earliest major league debut, having started in late 1933 for the Dodgers.

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.

Coming Soon to TGG
Look for our Yearly Reader update with a review of the 2008 season, and with it our supporting cast of "It Happened In...", "Leaders and Numbers" and finals standings, by the end of January.

Give Us Your Poor, Your Tired, Your All-Stars
Bananarama once sang about a cruel summer. Twenty years later, it’s unsigned star baseball players and their agents who are crooning and crying over what has become, for them, a cruel winter. It’s not about whether those still available on the market will sign; it’s a matter of who will flinch first—the teams that need the players or the players that need the cash, likely at a reduced rate. Right now, it looks to be advantage, teams.

With the exception of the New York Yankees’ shopping spree that netted megawatt salaries for CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, this has been a remarkably disappointing offseason for free agents to date. Those not afforded Yankee bucks, such as closer Francisco Rodriguez—who received half of what he hoped for in total wages from the New York Mets—have been frustrated by what some agents are starting to smell as collusion. But in the midst of, arguably, America’s darkest economic abyss since the Great Depression, it’s hard to pin the Lords down and accuse them of such a tactic. Have you ever noticed how many sponsorships MLB teams have with the auto and banking industries? You see where we’re going?

The list of those still available—with barely a monthly before the doors open to spring training—is long and eye-opening. The most glaring talent still on the market is Manny Ramirez, whose lethal bat can change the fortunes of a team—like, say, the San Francisco Giants, who have shown some interest—overnight. But Ramirez has two major hurdles to overcome in his utopian goal of a four-year, $100 million-plus deal: Because he’s 36, no one wants to give him an extended contract; and, more critically, his decision last summer to basically quit on the Boston Red Sox—a championship-caliber team—has scared off potential suitors who don’t want to entertain the thought of an encore performance. Sure, Ramirez played unbelievably well after being shipped to Los Angeles, but he had something to prove before becoming a free agent, so the incentive was there. That’s gone if he signs the new deal with Whoever, and the chances of Bad Manny re-emerging becomes more likely.

That other A-list players remain for sale on the open market is telling. Bobby Abreu was a top-ten production guy last year at age 34, yet somehow, the dope we hear on him is that he’s at the end of his line. Adam Dunn, a middle income-man’s Ryan Howard, is still searching. Orlando Hudson, currently one of the game’s best second basemen—unsigned.

Sadly, the cold pursuit of major league teams on free agents may lead to a career-ending purge of numerous future Hall-of-Famers, including Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Ivan Rodriguez. While Griffey and Martinez are likely to get one more year of passing love from somebody, Glavine is having to lobby the Atlanta Braves that he has some gas left in his arm—while Thomas and Rodriguez might be best advised to start penning some retirement speeches.

On the Edge of History
Perhaps Pedro Martinez might want to consider retirement rather than take that flyer with the Pittsburgh Pirates or any other team that is rumored to sign him for 2009. If Martinez, with a career record of 213-99, was to quit right now, he would become only the second player—and the first in modern major league history—to finish with over 200 wins and less than 100 losses. Bob Caruthers racked up a 218-99 record playing between 1884-92.

The Dominant, er, Dominican Republic
Rosters for the second World Baseball Classic were announced this past week, and amid the watered-down grouping of Americans, reigning champion Japan and a Cuban team surely to be pickpocketed by defection, we see the Dream Team of the tourney rising out of the Dominican Republic. How about this for your lineup: Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Reyes, Alfonso Soriano, Placido Polanco and Carlos Pena. (Amazingly, a couple of those guys are going to have to sit.) Does this make the Dominicans the no-brainer favorites? Not exactly. Pitching wins ballgames, and for Dominica to succeed, they’ll need good efforts on the mound from Edinson Volquez, Ervin Santana, Fausto Carmona, Johnny Cueto and—if he has anything left—Pedro Martinez. A good rotation, but not All-World.

New-Rage Rocker
The sensitivity training apparently never got through to John Rocker. The former Atlanta Brave closer, who caused a firestorm over politically inexcusable comments he made about New York residents in a 2000 Sports Illustrated article, became irate last Thursday night at a hotel opening in Atlanta when he spotted Steak Shapiro, a local sports talk announcer who’s been critical of Rocker in the past. Shapiro, by his own account, sensed Rocker’s anger and attempted to play nice, but Rocker fired back with a string of expletives, including some ethnic slurs at Shapiro, who is Jewish. Rocker was removed from the building but not arrested.

More Incentive for April
Pittsburgh first baseman Adam LaRoche avoided arbitration and signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Pirates this past week. If tradition holds true, LaRoche will earn most of his pay during the season’s second half, where he’s batted .321 with 28 homers and 94 RBIs during his last two years in Pittsburgh. Through June during that same span, LaRoche, a notoriously slow starter, has hit .226 (including a .147 mark in April) with 18 homers and 79 RBIs.

Wounded of the Week
It’s never too early to start talking about the aches and pains of the baseball season. We certainly have a believer in Troy Glaus, the St. Louis third baseman whose shoulder has been acting up through the winter. After seeing a doctor, it was ruled that Glaus will undergo arthroscopic surgery and will likely miss the first month of the season.

D-Tox for D-Bax
It was learned this past week that the Arizona Diamondbacks fired the man who played the role of the team’s mascot, D. Baxter the Bobcat, after they had discovered that back in September he had been arrested for driving 95 MPH on a Phoenix freeway with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. According to the police report, he had also admitted to smoking pot earlier in the day. Good thing he wasn’t on his way to a game.

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