Let Cooperstown Do the Talking From Here
The writing had been on the wall for over a year, so it came as no surprise that two future Hall-of-Famers officially called it a career this past week.
Pitcher Tom Glavine, who last pitched in the majors in 2008 and failed in a comeback attempt last season, announced he was hanging up the glove for good and would be joining the front office of the Atlanta Braves, where he played 17 of his 22 big league years. Glavine, who had an impeccable knack for painting the corners, joined the 300-win club late in 2007 while pitching for the New York Mets; that milestone, backed by five 20-win campaigns, two Cy Young Awards and a World Series MVP in 1995 will likely grant him a first-time pass into Cooperstown upon his eligibility.
There is also no doubting the chances of Frank Thomas reaching the Hall. After being overlooked for a major league job in 2009, Thomas decided his odds of hooking on this year, nearing the age of 42, weren’t getting any better. The Big Hurt was, hands down, the most dominant slugger ever to don the uniform of the Chicago White Sox, and was an unstoppable force at the plate from 1993-97five straight years in which he hit over .300, hit at least 35 home runs and collected at least 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 100 walks. A two-time AL MVP (1993-94), Thomas hit rockier times after turning 30 but still had the occasional burst of firepower, most recently in 2006 when he clubbed 39 homers and 114 RBIs in 137 games for Oakland. It’s pretty well established that Thomas, who was at his most electric during the Steroid Era, never took performance enhancement drugsin part because he didn’t need them for his intimidating, lumbering frame. Thomas finishes his career with a lifetime .301 average, 521 home runs and 1,704 RBIs; it didn’t take long for the White Sox to follow up on Thomas’ announcement with one of their own, saying they would retire Thomas’ uniform number 35 this summer.
Appreciation from Aparicio
While the White Sox retire Thomas’ number, they’ve been allowed to un-retire another. When Omar Vizquel, another future member of Cooperstown, recently signed on with the team, he asked to wear number 11just as fellow Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparicio did in his day for the White Sox. Manager Ozzie Guillen initially said no, perhaps thinking that Vizquel had taken enough of what Aparicio had previously owned; in 2008, Vizquel passed Aparicio for the most games played at shortstop, and last year Vizquel broke the record for most major league hits by a Venezuelan nativesurpassing Aparicio. A disappointed Vizquel felt he could get an override by Aparicio himself by going directly to him; Aparicio said no problem, Guillen relented and the White Sox will allow Vizquel to wear 11 for the duration of his stint in Chicagowhich, with Vizquel approaching age 43, probably won’t be long.
The Strongman Plays It Soft
There may be a cold war these days between the United States and Venezuela, but some of that South American nation’s major league natives didn’t think twice to warm up to dictator Hugo Chavez for a game of softball this past week. Francisco Rodriguez, Elvis Andrus and former major leaguer Dave Concepcion joined Chavez for a fun-filled exhibition at a military complex in Caracas, with Rodriguez allowing 11 runs in three innings (the good news for the physically beat-up Mets was that he didn’t hurt himself). The game went on at a fully lit ballpark in spite of the ongoing drama over a dam supplying 70% of Venezuela’s energy that is in severe danger of going dry.
Maybe the Bullpen Wasn't Open
Rehearsal is important. Just ask Baltimore pitcher Brad Bergesen, who walked in cold for an Oriole TV commercial in December and began throwing at full strength before the cameras without warming up. As a result, his start to spring training is delayed because of a strained right shoulder. Bergesen was the lone bright spot in the Baltimore rotation as a 23-year old rookie last year, finishing with a 7-5 record and 3.43 ERA before a comebacker off his shin on July 30 ended his season.
The Cardinal, the Rat and Mickey Mouse
St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright, moseying his way down to Cardinal camp in Florida, got stuck short of his destination when a rat got under the front lid of his SUV and chewed through the ignition wire as the Sunshine State froze over. The good news for Wainwright and his family was that all of this happened in the shadows of Disney World. Better there than Blythe.
Minnesota slugger Justin Morneau, a native of British Columbia, was one of 12,000 Canadians to carry the Olympic torch on its way to Vancouver for the start of the Winter Games.
Ernie's Springtime Memories
Legendary play-by-play man Ernie Harwell, diagnosed six months ago with an inoperable form of cancer, is still going strong enough to write this past week about his memories of spring training for the Detroit Free Press.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
Bronzetime for Buddy
The Milwaukee Brewers announced this past week that they will erect a bronze sculpture of former team owner and current baseball commissioner Bud Selig at Miller Park, joining former Milwaukee baseball player legends Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. Immortalizing the Lords is not uncommon, as we pointed out in our popular opinion piece on baseball’s sculptures a year-plus back; Gene Autry, Charles Comiskey and Ewing Kauffman all have their likenesses replicated in bronze at major league ballparks, but Selig is the first among baseball commissioners. Thank goodness the sculpture of Selig, to be unveiled on August 24, won’t be able to talk out of fear it might scare away all who approach with his mind-bending legalspeak.
Tim Lincecum avoided arbitration and signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. The right-handed ace will earn $10 million in 2009, almost double the amount of the previous high of $6.5 million for a first-year arbitration eligible pitcher (Dontrelle Willis). But before anyone thinks the bar has been grossly raised, how many pitchers will ever walk into their first arbitration hearing with two Cy Young Awards already in their pocket?
We should all be so happy to ask for an extra $300,000 a year. B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays certainly believed so, but it does seem odd that he and the team went to arbitration for what has essentially become pocket change in the majors. Upton wanted $3.3 million; the Rays asked (and got) the arbitrator to rule in their favor for $3 million.
Mining a P.R. Disaster
Also from Tampa-St. Pete this week, the Rays gave phosphate mining company Mosaic naming rights to its spring training facility in Port Charlotte, Florida. Apparently, the Rays’ front office didn’t do its homework; Mosaic is vilified within Charlotte County, which has reportedly spent $12 million in its fight to keep Mosaic from opening up new mines that might pollute local area waters. Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times: “Many Charlotte County residents reacted to the Mosaic offer the same way the Indianapolis Colts would regard an offer to rename their stadium Whodat Field.”
This Week's Slam on Scott Boras
For all the bravado he attracts, überagent Scott Boras doesn’t please all of his clients. Ask Alex Rodriguez, who fired Boras after his stunt of announcing A-Rod’s opt-out of his Yankee contract during a World Series game. Or especially ask Gary Sheffield, who sued Boras and promised to publicly air a whole lot of dirty laundry on him (which he has yet to do). Boras’ latest disgruntled subject is infielder Felipe Lopez, who this past week fired Boras out of frustration of failing to sign on with a new team. The 29-year old Lopez batted .310 with nine homers, 57 RBIs, 88 runs scored and 38 doubles in a 2009 season split between Arizona and Milwaukee.
It wasn’t all bad for Boras this week, however; Los Angeles of Anaheim first baseman Kendry Morales dumped his current agent for Boras, and it now looks like another Boras client, Johnny Damon, may get the two-year deal he wants with either Detroit or Atlanta, contrary to what we reported last week.
The New York Mets, the only team in the majors last season to hit less than 100 home runs, addressed their paucity of power this past week by announcing they would reduce the height of the center field wall at Citi Field from 16 feet to eight. Overall, five other ballparks (in St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta) yielded fewer homers in 2009, but most long balls clearing Citi Field’s fences in its first year of operation were slammed by the opposition.
Slow News Day?
Just how anxious are people to get the baseball season started? In Boston, TV stations actually used helicopters armed with cameras to follow a big rig loaded with Red Sox equipment out of Fenway Park on its journey to Florida for spring training.
A Chat With Baseball's Biggest Communist Fan
Lester Rodney, who pressed for racial integration within baseball through the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker a good ten years before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away on December 20 at the age of 98. One of the last people he gave an in-depth interview to was our own Ed Attanasio a few years back; that interview is now up in our They Were There section. Check it out now.
New and Improved at TGG
Our intro to the 2000s section of the Yearly Reader, originally written back in 2005, has been retitled and updated to provide a more complete overview of the decade. Also, the Teams section has been updated to include results from the 2009 regular season.
Coming Soon to TGG
Look soon for our Yearly Reader page covering the 2009 season.
We Ought to Tell You: Our All-Decade Awards
With the end of the Oughts (read: 2000s), This Game Great has released its choices for the best, worst and most memorable of the decade that was. Check it out now.