The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: February 7-13, 2011
Albert Pujols, Kansas City Royal? Some of Tony Malinosky's Final Words
Taking Stock in a Share of the Milwaukee Braves Ferris Bueller's Days Off at Wrigley

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Royal Albert?
A slow panic is settling into St. Louis, where it’s becoming increasingly likely that Albert Pujols and the Cardinals will not agree to a contract extension before Pujols’ self-imposed deadline to cease discussion on the topic before the start of spring training—meaning he’ll likely become a free agent at the end of this season. If and when he does go free, Pujols will most certainly and deservedly seek to become the game’s highest paid player, commanding a $30 million per-year fee.

So who’s going to pay Pujols that kind of dough? Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch doesn’t think that Pujols’ best suitors will be the usual cash-flush suspects like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies, but instead would be—wait for it—the Kansas City Royals. (You may now spit up whatever you’re drinking.)

What’s Gordon rationale behind this seemingly irrational theory? It’s actually not so far-fetched. The Royals are no doubt a low-budget operation with a decidedly losing tradition of late, but with the exception of Billy Butler, they have no major amounts of money committed to contracted players past this year, meaning there may be enough room to pay Pujols his $30 million; also, with what is considered the majors’ best crop of up-and-coming prospects in the minors—some of whom are very close to being major-league ready—the Royals can raise a talented young roster around Pujols and not have to worry about paying any of them big money for years. And if all of this comes to fruition, the ensuing success could begin a rolling stone of positive momentum that might entice other free agents to jump on the Royal bandwagon. Finally, there’s the intangible that Pujols grew up in Kansas City and met his wife there.

Pujols will surely see taking any offer from the Royals as a calculated risk, but Gordon is right; if Pujols rejects any K.C. overture outright without doing his homework, it might be a mistake.

Dukes Nukem
Elijah Dukes was a terrific baseball talent that sank amid behavioral problems on the field—and very much off it: His rap sheet is somewhat extensive and he’s fathered five children with four different women. Tampa Bay gave him a shot for a year, then dealt him to Washington, where his numbers improved—but his baggage just became too great for the Nationals to carry. Now he’s out of baseball at age 26, and he’s ready to take others down with him.

In an interview with the Tampa Tribune, Dukes claims that he smoked marijuana before games and said he saw other players “smuggle” pot and cocaine onto the team plane. When he alerted MLB about these issues, Dukes says its response was to blackball him and keep a lid on a dirty little secret. MLB denies the allegations, and league executive Rob Manfred says that if Dukes does have information about recreational drug use in the majors, then he’s all ears. And what is Dukes doing now? He’s attempting a rap career under the handle of Fly Eli.

The Young and the Restless
About a month or so ago we gave the Texas Rangers’ Michael Young an Office Space analogy by comparing him to Milton, the shy, thick-glassed nerd who keeps being asked to relocate his cubicle to a less desirable location (he eventually ends up in the boiler room).

Young, a six-time All-Star and perennial .300 hitter who collected at least 200 hits per year over five straight seasons, can relate to Milton. Originally stationed at second base, Young was asked by the team in 2004 to move over to shortstop to make room for Alfonso Soriano. Four years later, Young was asked again to move, this time to third, to bring in untested (but promising) 20-year old shortstop Elvis Andrus. In January, the Rangers signed free agent Adrian Beltre—a third baseman. As we mentioned back then, we can only imagine which poor sap in the Rangers’ front office had to be assigned the job of informing Young that he had to move again—this time to the designated hitter spot.

Milton was too timid to complain, but Young clearly is not. He was upset after being bumped to third by Andrus, and after initially stating he was okay with this latest shift to the DH spot, that changed this past week when he finally said publicly what he’s really been thinking: “I want to be traded because I’ve been misled and manipulated and I’m sick of it.”

Young nearly got his wish earlier in the week, but a deal with the Colorado Rockies fell through. Other rumored suitors include Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Los Angeles of Anaheim and St. Louis, but as of upload time, the official line from the Rangers is that Young will be dealt only if it helps improve their ballclub. For now, Young will have to bide his time—but hopefully for him, he still has the proverbial red stapler.

Stock Options
Nearly 50 years ago, a ten-year old boy in Wisconsin named George Stalle was given an unusual Christmas gift: A certificate for one share of stock in his favorite team, the Milwaukee Braves. The team had decided to sell 10% of its stock to the public, and so Stalle’s parents considered it the perfect stocking stuffer for their son. When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, all stockholders had an opportunity to cash in at $24 a share, but Stalle never did. When he grew up, he asked the Braves about a belated transaction, but the team said that the document was legally worthless at that point.

After recently bringing up the subject again, Stalle—now a 58-year old music teacher living in New Jersey—was given a more welcoming reception. Memorabilia collectors, seeing the stock certificate as something of a rare artifact, believe its value to be as high as $800; the Hall of Fame also wouldn’t mind having it for its library. But Stalle has decided on what he’ll do: Donate it to the Braves, who will auction it off for charity.

Barking Mad
Disgraced but rehabilitated quarterback Michael Vick may have done his time for his murderous abuse of dogs, but count Chicago White Sox pitcher and dog lover Mark Buehrle among those who believe no amount of jail time served by Vick was enough. Buehrle sent a Twitter message to writer Scott Merkin—who was writing a story on Buehrle’s work with animal rights causes—saying of Vick, “He had a great year and a great comeback, but there were times where we watched the game and I know it’s bad to say, but there were times where we hope he gets hurt…something bad needs to happen to these guys.”

Here’s the interesting part: Buehrle is a game hunter who has stuffed bears, deer and ducks on display in his den. Not to validate any of this, but at least Vick gave the dogs a fighting chance; those other poor animals never saw it coming when Buehrle squeezed the trigger.

The Fuss Over Russ
Baseball writers couldn’t help but point out what they felt was the sport’s structure of financial insanity when Pittsburgh pitcher Russ Ohlendorf, owner of a 1-11 record last year, won his arbitration case and received a 450% salary increase to $2 million. There’s no doubt that the record stinks, but here’s something else that the arbitrator likely took into account when giving him the raise: Twenty pitchers with at least ten wins and a .500 or better record posted a higher ERA than Ohlendorf’s 4.07, more than suggesting that run support was a much bigger issue for the 28-year old Austin native than his pitching. In fact, in 13 of Ohlendorf’s 21 starts last year, the Pirates scored two runs or less. If you’re a Pirate hitter due for arbitration, chances are you’re not getting that desired raise.

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

The Passing of a Baseball Centenarian
Tony Malinosky, the oldest living ex-major leaguer, passed away at the age of 101 in Los Angeles. TGG’s Ed Attanasio interviewed Malinosky last year as part of his regular gig as sports editor for the Marina Times in San Francisco, and here’s what he wrote:

“…I dragged my feet for several months when it came to traveling south to Oxnard to interview the oldest living baseball player. He’s 100 years old and his is name Tony Malinosky. One night my wife said, ‘You better get down there and interview this guy. If he dies while you’re sitting here, it’ll mess up your book.’ (With so many retired players out there, there’s actually only one who’s 100.) She’s right, I thought. So I called Malinosky’s number and made arrangements with his caregiver, Becky, to come down that following Sunday. I drove 12 hours roundtrip to get the interview, and it was a pleasure. Malinosky played only one season for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and one of his college buddies was Richard Nixon.

Some amusing things he shared with me: 

About his late buddy Richard Nixon: We knew each other while attending Whittier College. Many years later, he insisted that I start calling him Mr. President, but I wasn’t doing that. I called him Dick and he didn’t like it, but that’s just tough, now isn’t it? 

About his old friend Tommy Lasorda: He spews out so much B.S., that guy. When he managed the Dodgers, he kept referring to the “big Dodger in the sky.” What a bunch of … He’s talking to grown men this way, not high school kids. They don’t go for that crap. They’re out there for the dough, instead of worrying about the big Dodger in the sky or the little Dodger down below! 

His salary in 1935: These players today get more money playing one inning than I made my entire career. Do you know how much the Brooklyn Dodgers paid me back then? Four hundred bucks a month, can you imagine that? We lived on White Castle hamburgers and coffee back then because we were sending our checks home. 

About his longevity: How did I do it? It’s simple. It’s called continuous breathing. I’m so tired of that question. What else do you want me to say? It’s a dumb question. All my friends from college, my baseball teammates, and my war buddies are long gone but me. So what do I do about it? I get old, what the hell can I do? Next question.”

Malinosky’s death leaves Connie Marrero, who turns 100 in August, as the oldest living ex-major leaguer. Eleven others who began their careers in the 1930s are still with us.

Chuck Tanner, 1929-2011
This past week, we also lost former outfielder and manager Chuck Tanner, a congenial man who piloted 19 years with numerous teams going through occasional rough times. During his first gig, in the 1970s with the Chicago White Sox, he infuriated players who felt he was coddling irascible star slugger Dick Allen at their expense. (When Tanner finally got tough on Allen towards the end of 1974, an enraged Allen bolted from the clubhouse a month before the season ended.) Tanner then tolerated a one-year stay with Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s as that team began to unravel from the advent of free agency, for which Finley refused to participate. Traded (yes, traded) to Pittsburgh for catcher Manny Sanguillen, Tanner basked in the glow of the “We Are Family” Pirates that won the 1979 World Series, but he was also there five years later as the Bucs disintegrated through rampant drug use that tore apart the clubhouse. As an outfielder for four different teams from 1955-62, Tanner never approached anything higher than part-time status. He was 81.

The Real Iron Man of Camden Yards
Cal Ripken, Jr. may be known as the Iron Man in Baltimore, but he was no match for Ernie Tyler, a ballpark attendant who passed away this week at the age of 86. Tyler worked every game for the Orioles from the team’s very first game in 1954 through 2007, a streak of 3,819 games that came to an end in 2007 when, ironically, he traveled to Cooperstown to attend Ripken’s induction into the Hall of Fame. He continued to work all the way through last season, further cementing his values of tradition and loyalty to the organization. Tyler was married for 64 years and fathered 11 children.

Bueller? Bueller?
Someone with time on their hands wondered what game at Wrigley Field Ferris Bueller, as played by Matthew Broderick, showed up at during his day off with pal Alan Ruck and girlfriend Mia Sara (whatever happened to her?) in John Hughes' classic and very funny 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Given that the end of high school was near, it would be assumed that the hooky artists came to the Friendly Confines to take in a Cub game in April or May. But the research showed that Bueller was at two games. Footage of him at the ballpark was actually shot on September 24, 1985 during a game between the Cubs and Montreal Expos (whatever happened to them?), but another scene in which the game is on TV at a pizzeria shows clips from a game played earlier that year, on June 5.

Excusing Hollywood reality, the bigger question is: How does Ferris Bueller cut out of school, grab his friends by mid-morning, go to see one Cub game (let alone two), visit the museum, the Chicago stock exchange and the top of Sears Tower, sit down for a fancy lunch posing as the sausage king of Chicago, and crash the St. Patrick’s Day parade (during baseball season?) all in one day?

For the record, the Cubs lost both games that were evoked and spliced together for the film. And the crowd count at Wrigley the day Bueller and Company actually appeared? It was 6,947.

The Kid Who Caught Maris
Sal Durante, the man who caught Roger Maris’ record-breaking 61st home run in 1961, paid his first visit to the new Yankee Stadium this past week and recalled the memories—all of them good—of that September day when, astonishingly, only 23,000 showed up to watch history in the making. There was no desperate wrestling for the ball, no TMZ in his face, no lawsuits over ownership of the ball. Durante was barely 20 years old when Maris’ line-drive shot went right to him without stinging his hands. “I can’t explain,” he said, “didn’t feel a thing.”

Durante was quickly rushed away by Yankee security to meet up with Maris, and then upstairs to the Yankee broadcast booth where team announcer (and former shortstop) Phil Rizzuto quickly spotted Durante’s Italian visage and shouted out, “I’m glad you’re a pasiano.” Durante went on to sell the ball for $5,000 to a local restaurant—a figure almost equivalent to what he was earning with his day job—and was given to Maris, who kept it until he let the Hall of Fame take possession of it in 1973. Durante today is 69 and is still married to the same woman he attended the Maris game with, when she was his girlfriend.

Lock of the Week
The Toronto Blue Jays want to pay Jose Bautista $7.6 million this coming season. Bautista, who hit a major-league best 54 home runs with 128 RBIs last year, wants $10.5 million. The two sides go in front of an arbitrator this week; gee, you have an idea who wins this one?

Now Playing at TGG
The Yearly Reader section has been updated to include the 2010 season. Check it out now!

Coming Soon
Ed Attanasio's latest installment of the They Were There section will be expanded to include his interview with former major leaguer Freddy Schmidt, who played during the 1940s.

Baseball's Ten Most Memroable Home Runs
Our list of ten long balls that are the most deserving for their fame, importance and pure spectacle. Check it out now!

After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
As baseball struggles to grasp video replay, here's a suggestion on how to expand upon it and make it efficient—if not flawless. Check it out now!