The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: January 23-29, 2012
Prince Fielder, Detroit's Latest Fat Cat Jim Crane's Houston Name Game
Oscar Love for Moneyball Why the Marlins May Soon Play Host to the Homeless

The Prince of Motown
Last week, panic grabbed a hold of Tiger headquarters in Detroit when it was revealed that designated hitter Victor Martinez—owner of a .330 average last year—would miss the entire 2012 season after tearing his ACL. A week later, all is well again, though at a cost. The Martinez injury was music to the ears of free agent Prince Fielder and his agent Scott Boras, in search of some sort of competition among bidders to drive up his asking price. And thus the Tigers called up—and a nine-year, $214 million contract later, Fielder was theirs.

If reigning Tiger star hitter Miguel Cabrera was thrilled to have Martinez hitting behind him in the lineup, he’s probably doing cartwheels over the fact that it will be Fielder abutting him in the lineup. (Just celebrate sober, Miguel; we’ve heard about you.) Fielder must be equally as happy, knowing that he’s got great protection in the lineup just as he did in Milwaukee with Ryan Braun.

The Tiger accounting department, meanwhile, will be wide-eyed to see that three Detroit players—Cabrera, Fielder and ace pitcher Justin Verlander—will each be making at least $20 million a year over the next three seasons.

Celluloid Congrats
Congratulations to Moneyball, one of nine films nominated for this year’s Academy Awards as announced this past week. The Brad Pitt vehicle, based on Michael Lewis’ book on Oakland general manager Billy Beane and his unusual approach to making the A’s a winner on a shoestring budget, is the third baseball movie ever nominated for best picture; the other two are 1942’s The Pride of the Yankees (with Gary Cooper portraying disease-stricken Lou Gehrig) and 1988’s Field of Dreams, because if you film it, they will come.

Nominations for Moneyball also went to Pitt (best actor), Johan Hill (best supporting actor), film editing, sound mixing and best original screenplay (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin). And by the way: Why nine best picture nominations? Because of new Academy rules in which any film that gets 5% of the total vote is nominated, up to ten films. So like the Hall of Fame vote, if Moneyball doesn’t win this year, is it eligible for next year’s nominees?

House the Homeless, or Else
Under the category of “karma is a bitch” comes this news item from the past week: The Miami Marlins, who all but swindled local taxpayers into paying for their new ballpark (the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating), may soon have to abide by a state law that forces Florida pro sports teams using publicly-funded facilities to house the homeless when they’re otherwise not being used. The law was actually passed way back in 1988, but enforcement has been nil. A new bill would seek reimbursement from teams that haven’t been abiding the law for the needy; such estimates range well into the millions. Even if the bill passes—Florida politico pundits say that’s not unlikely—such action would likely be challenged in the courts. But, as one blogger commented, Homeless Off-Night at the new Marlin ballpark might give the Marlins some of their biggest crowds they’ve ever seen.

Steroid Junkie
Let’s just say that career minor leaguer Dustin Richardson, a 6’6” pitcher with five games’ worth of major league experience for the Boston Red Sox, was going all out to make it back to the bigs. Baseball this week suspended Richardson for 50 games under its performance enhancement policy, but get this: He was nailed not for taking one illegal substance, but five. Richardson tested positive for Methandienone, Methenelone, Trenbolone and Letrozole (don’t ask us for definitions, but they sure sound like steroids to us); if that wasn’t enough, he also spiked on amphetamines. One word simply comes to mind: Shameless.

Richardson is currently not employed by a major league organization; he was recently let go by the Atlanta Braves after spending all of last season in Triple-A ball. The New York Times could not reach Richardson for comment, but they did reach his mother, who said: “He was so ashamed. I’m praying someone will give him another chance.” If someone does, trust us—he’ll get tested. Daily.

And Then There Were Two
One of baseball’s worst kept secrets of the last month was made officially public this past week when New York Yankee catcher Jorge Posada announced his retirement. The 40-year old Puerto Rico native, a five-time all-star, was one of three teammates—Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera being the other two—who have hung together on the Yankees since the mid-1990s, helping to win six pennants and four World Series titles; no other trio of major league teammates have ever played as long as the 17 years these three players did. (Though he first appeared in 1995, Posada didn’t become a regular roster player for two years, missing out on the Yankees’ return to baseball’s pinnacle with their 1996 Fall Classic triumph over Atlanta.)

Posada was a solid supporting hitter in the lineup, seldom the star MVP candidate. Eight times he hit over 20 homers, topping out with 30 in 2003—the same year he also set a personal high with 101 runs batted in. Only once did Posada hit over .300, and that came in anomalous fashion when he spiked to .338 in 2007. For his career, he hit .273 with 1,664 hits and 275 homers—the latter figure good for eighth on the all-time Yankee list.

In 2011, Posada suffered a somewhat bitter final year in New York in which he struggled at the plate and, at one point, balked at playing when he looked at the lineup card and found himself batting ninth. But he stepped down proud to have played his entire career with the Yankees, saying that he “had the idea to play somewhere else, but it wasn’t in” him.

One More Time
Tony La Russa isn’t quite done with managing yet. Tradition says that the skipper of the reigning National League champion has the honor of leading the NL all-star team, and so La Russa—who retired after winning the World Series for St. Louis last year—has accepted an invite for this year’s All-Star Game in Kansas City. La Russa’s stint will not be a first; for the very first Mid-Summer Classic in 1933, the legendary John McGraw—who had stepped down from the New York Giants a year earlier—led the NL team.

Fallout of the Fellow Formerly Fausto
Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona—we’re sorry, we mean Roberto Heredia—has been placed on the Indians’ inactive list after his arrest last week in his native Dominican Republic on false identity charges after his true name and age (three years older than previously thought) were revealed. The Indians are concerned that Carmona/Heredia may be kept from re-entering America until his legal issues are taken care of; by being on the inactive list, he cannot be paid and he doesn’t take up a spot on the 25- or 40-man roster.

Expatriate Imports
Baseball maybe as American as apple pie, but the actual balls used in major league games are assembled…in Costa Rica, according to a Yahoo! story from this past weekend. The balls are the responsibility of Rawlings, which is based in St. Louis, but the manufacturing of all of its baseballs have been done outside the country since 1969—first in Puerto Rico, then Haiti before moving onto its current location in Costa Rica. But hey, it’s a beautiful place that’s ecologically sensitive, so if you’re looking at retirement and still seeking a few bucks on the side, the Garden of the Americas awaits.

Now Playing at TGG
Our review of the 2011 season is now live in our Yearly Reader section. Check out the season that was now!

What's in a Name, Crane?
Jim Crane, the new owner of the Houston Astros, threw out a feeler this week suggesting that the team might look into a name change. With the team already slated to move to the American League for 2013, a new identity will all but make it look like an expansion team—but given their 56-106 record from last year, they probably feel like one already.

The Astros originally were not the Astros; they began in 1962 as the Colt .45s, changing it to the current designation in 1965 with their move to the space-age Astrodome. The name seems to have stuck with the locals; a Houston Chronicle poll released this week showed that 80% of respondents would like Astros just the way it is.

Some teams have changed names in the past through relocation, because it doesn’t quite make sense to hear about the Texas Senators or the Washington Expos. But below is a chronological list of some of the more curious rebrands by teams who weren’t on the move:

The New York Yankees. When they arrived from Baltimore in 1903, the fabled franchise to be was named the Highlanders because it played at Hilltop Park, atop a hill in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. When the rickety ballpark no longer suited the team and it decided to begin paying rent down the bluff at the Polo Grounds (home of the New York Giants) in 1913, it changed the name to Yankees in part because local newspapers—tired of having to cram “Highlanders” into their headlines—had been informally calling them that anyway.

The Cleveland Indians. Originally the Blues, they became the Naps in 1905 in honor of star player Nap Lajoie, who had arrived in Cleveland several years earlier. When the fading star was released after 1914, the Naps became the Indians allegedly in honor of another player: Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play in the majors when he dressed up for the NL’s Cleveland Spiders from 1897-99. (Sockalexis died a year before the name change.) Even today, Native American groups frown on the ‘dignified’ tribute, claiming that racial stereotyping was behind it.

The Brooklyn Robins. First they were the Superbas, then briefly the Dodgers—and then, in 1914, they became the Robins for newly-hired manager Wilbert Robinson, who piloted through 1931. Once he stepped down, the name went back to Dodgers, a reference to Brooklyn’s ‘trolley dodgers’ of times gone by.

The Boston Bees. The Braves’ disastrous 38-115 finish in 1935 forced an aging Babe Ruth to retire, owner Emil Fuchs to sell—and an attempted name change to make everyone forget about it all. The new owners tried to go with Bees, but they never used it on their jerseys and both fans and reporters kept calling them the Braves. Maybe had they striped their uniforms in bands of black and yellow and stuck antennae on their caps…

The Philadelphia Blue Jays. Stranger than the Bees’ plight was the happenings in Philadelphia in 1944 after one owner declared bankruptcy and his successor (William Cox) was quickly booted out by baseball for gambling. The Carpenter family took over and decided to officially rechristen the team the Blue Jays—but their embracement of the new name was even more halfhearted; they even kept “Phillies” on the uniform. (Perhaps they didn’t have the funds in time of war to create new uniforms.) The schizophrenic identity likely confused enough people into staying with the old default—as did the Phillies, who officially went back to calling themselves just that in 1946.

The Cincinnati Redlegs. During the Cold War, calling yourselves the Reds opened yourself up to a bit of scrutiny—and possibly a seat in front of Senator Joe McCarthy to answer as to why. So to affiliate themselves more in line with Middle America than Moscow, the Cincinnati Reds renamed themselves the Redlegs in 1953; six years later, with the mass hysteria cooling off, they went back to Reds.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels have been associated with everything in the Los Angeles Basin in their 50 years of play except for Azusa, Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga. The team nickname has always been the same; in this case, the location has been the transient issue. And it never got more controversial than in 2005 when owner Artie Moreno decided to change his franchise from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a novel attempt to connect with the big city north of Orange County. The City of Anaheim—which had insisted on its name being part of the team identity as a condition to help pay for a redo of Angel Stadium—became infuriated and sued, but Moreno successfully argued that “Anaheim” is still part of the team name. (Never mind that sports editors chafe at the long name and simply refer to the Angels in print and online as “Los Angeles Angels.”)

The Tampa Bay Rays. For the first ten years of their existence, the Rays were called the Devil Rays—but the team’s florid tropical colors and two-worded nickname seemed so minor league, and their play on the field (ten losing seasons in ten years) only gave them more of a bush league reputation. Owner Stuart Sternberg, who took over the team in 2005, re-imagined the franchise as, simply, the Rays in 2008, trashing the marine template for more traditional colors; in four years since, the Rays have not suffered a losing season, winning two AL East titles and an AL pennant. See what branding can do?

Next: The Swimsuit Competition
One week after all bids have been received to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first cut has already been made. Among those out of the running is Mark Cuban, the maverick owner of, well, basketball’s Dallas Mavericks; Cuban is now 0-for-2 in trying to butt into baseball, having come up short in his bid to purchase the Texas Rangers in 2010. Among those still said to be in the running are groups manned by former Dodger manager Joe Torre, basketball legend Magic Johnson and former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley.

Apparently among those not making the initial list submitted was a group allegedly headed by Los Angeles Marathon founder Bill Burke, backed by Chinese financial interests; and an even stranger cat named Joshua Macciello, a 36-year entrepreneur who claims he has the money and financial backing through real estate and mining. If Macciello is rich enough to buy the Dodgers, he doesn’t seem to be showing it; he lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, three kids and mother.

Now Mike Bacsik is Hoping His Phone Rings
The San Francisco Giants formally gave love to Clay Hensley, the pitcher who served up Barry Bonds’ 755th career home run (tying Hank Aaron’s all-time mark) in 2007; they gave him a one-year deal. Hensley, who was with San Diego when he faced Bonds, pitched the last two years with Florida with uneven results.

TGG Goes to CafePress
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