This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: February 18-24, 2013
Miguel Cabrera Can Hit, But Can he Lead? The Yankees Officially Become Evil
It's Snowtime in the Cactus League Does Vegas Have it Right With the Odds?

Is There a Leader in the Clubhouse?
We’re guessing that reliever Octavio Dotel would have been one of those picking Mike Trout over Miguel Cabrera for last year’s American League MVP. Dotel claimed that twice during the Tigers’ postseason run, he approached the triple-crown hitter and suggested that he take on a leadership role, calling for team meetings when things got bad; Cabrera refused. “You have to step up and say something,” Dotel told Yahoo! Sports, “Miggy’s more about his game. I don’t see him as a leader.”

Feeling the pressure of a possible response—or in the aftermath of getting some from within the clubhouse—Dotel apologized to Cabrera and moved forward, realizing that there are born leaders in baseball as we’ve seen over the years with Willie Mays, Tug McGraw and Kirk Gibson, while others like Cabrera just aren’t primed for the role, preferring to let the bat do all the talking. (And while we’re on the subject of loyalty: Have you really played for 13 teams in 14 years, Octavio?)

Dotel wasn’t the only one bitching about a lack of leadership as spring camps opened and players apparently found themselves with too much time to chat. Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon also ripped into the Phillies over his first-year experiences with that ballclub, not singling out any one star player but claiming that the team as a whole failed the chemistry test. Maybe it comes down to this: If you don’t see the leadership from the outside, look from within and into the mirror. Dotel and Papelbon are both veteran enough; why delegate the responsibilities?

Evil and Loving It
In one of the stranger legal power plays levied by Major League Baseball, a case was won against a clothing company that had trademarked the phrase “Baseball’s Evil Empire.” MLB argued that the trademark belongs to the New York Yankees because, in effect, they are baseball’s evil empire. A group of presiding judges (yes, it took multiple judges to rule on this) agreed by writing, “The record shows that there is only one EVIL EMPIRE in baseball and it is the New York Yankees.” Question: So now that this is the law, does Boston Red Sox exec Larry Lucchino, who gave birth to “evil empire” back in 2002 in a spoken reference to the Yankees, get any royalties?

I’m Dreaming of a White Spring Training
wounded of the weekYou’re not looking at a shot of a minor league ballyard in Iowa as the latest snowstorm moved through this past week. It’s actually Salt Lick Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, after a freak winter system barreled through this past week and left snow over parts of the Phoenix area. The snow melted off quickly and temperatures bounced back to something close to normal for the weekend as exhibition play commenced, but for those early snowbirds trying to escape the Midwest chill for some fun and sun in the desert, all the locals have to say is this: Thanks for bringing the weather with you.

Place Your Bets
The Toronto Blue Jays, powered by the Marlins, reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and a reformed Melky Cabrera, may be generating the best odds at Vegas sportbooks in terms of the ratio (7-1 at last report), but they’re not at the top of the list for the over/under on wins according to the same folks. The Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are all attracting the highest win totals per the odds at 90 apiece; Toronto is in a sixth-place tie with the New York Yankees at 86.5. Also of note from the list: the defending champion San Francisco Giants are set at 86 wins, eternal losers Pittsburgh and Kansas City are tantalizingly close to the .500 mark at 79 each, the Baltimore Orioles (93-69 last season) are highly unappreciated at only 76, and the new version of the Mini-Me Marlins are at 64.5—ahead of only the Houston Astros, for whom Vegas forecasters see only 59.5 wins this year. (How the Astros could win half a game, we’ll never know.)

So who are our stone-cold locks? We’d go over on the Giants, Orioles, Atlanta Braves (86) and Phillies (81.5), and under on the Arizona Diamondbacks (81.5), Chicago Cubs (72) and Colorado Rockies (71.5). Just remember, these thoughts are opinion only and not the gospel; please gamble responsibly.

The Game May be a Simulation, But the Player Isn’t
After all the Miami Marlins did to ruin the 2013 season in advance by trading the bulk of their star talent during the winter, the last thing the team now needs is rotten luck. They nearly got it in the worst way this past week;
Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins’ sole, bona fide star player left, was plunked in the head by a 95-MPH fastball thrown by pitching prospect Jose Fernandez during a simulated game. Here’s the whole sordid video, which shows Stanton absorbing the hit and quietly walking away less than amused, if not a little dazed. He reported some blurred vision but was not concussed, and even waxed a little philosophical a few days later about Fernandez—saying that the incident shouldn’t “hurt his confidence.”

An Early Candidate for the Bum Steer Award
Let the AL West wars begin.
Jose Hamilton, former Texas Ranger and current Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim, sounded off on the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex he called home for five years, saying that it wasn’t a “true baseball town.” Perhaps Hamilton feels the area is more or less football country—we’re guessing he didn’t get the memo that the Rangers were more popular than the Dallas Cowboys, according to a recent poll—or he’s sticking it to a fan base that booed him late last year for some of his failings at the plate and (especially) on the field. But Ranger manager Ron Washington pretty much summed up the rebuttal: “That’s Josh’s opinion. My opinion is there were 3.5 million fans that came through the turnstiles. That answers it right there.”

What Balls
Cold War-style politics reared their ugly head this past week in Taiwan when the Cuban national baseball team refused to participate in an exhibition with a professional squad from South Korea when the Cubans insisted that the baseballs they brought along and were familiar with be used throughout the game. Apparently, it is international standard for the team fielding to use the ball of their choice, given that baseballs have slight but important differences from country to country; when the Koreans heard of the Cuban demand, they balked and refused to play. After a 30-minute stalemate, the game was canceled.

Make Your Prayers Count on This One, Students
For those of you wondering what ex-Red Sox manager
Bobby Valentine is up to these days, here’s your answer: He just accepted a position as athletic director for Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. If anything else, it will be convenient for Valentine in that he’s close to Stamford, where he grew up and where he owns a bar and grill. Hopefully he won’t mess up the baseball program the way he apparently messed up the Red Sox; the team is coming off back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Hang in There, Steve
Alright, Steve Garvey haters, take a break from spitting back at this one: The man has prostate cancer. The 64-year-old perennial All-Star of the 1970s and 1980s was told of his condition a month ago and publicly revealed it this week. To combat the disease and to finance further research on it, Garvey said in an announcement that he would auction off several personal baseball items, including his 1974 MVP trophy. Garvey also noted the irony that his father also contracted prostate cancer at age 64—but lived another 19 years.

When Push Comes to Shave
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, entering the final year of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, said earlier in the week that the New York Yankees would not be an option if he moved on to another team. Why? Because the Yankees don’t allow facial hair on any of their players. “That’s old-school baseball,” said Price at spring camp, “I was born in ’85. That’s not for me. That’s not something I want to be part of.” Later in the week, Price took back his criticism, admitting, “It probably wasn’t the best thing to say.”

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekThe Yankees didn’t need this. Curtis Granderson, one of the team’s few healthy players in his prime, was struck down by a pitch from Toronto’s J.A. Happ and broke his forearm on Sunday, leading to a disabled list stay that’s expected to last into May. (How ironic that it’s the Blue Jays, who loaded up on talent to challenge the Yankees, who knocked Granderson out.)

Elsewhere, it took one round of practice for Mat Gamel to go down for the count, again. After tearing an ACL last year just a month into the regular season, the Milwaukee first baseman re-tore it during the Brewers’ first full workout session in Arizona; he will miss the entire 2013 campaign. Corey Hart would be the usual first sacker for the Brewers, but he too is out—not expected to return until late spring after January knee surgery. Barring a trade, the Brewers will have to choose a replacement from within, including 2004 Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby (who hasn’t played in the majors since 2010) and highly-touted prospect Hunter Morris, who’s never played above the Double-A level in the minors.

The Marlins ducked disaster as Giancarlo Stanton emerged okay from a beaning from one of his own teammates this past week (see above), but the team didn’t escape the week totally unharmed. In Miami’s first exhibition performance, back-up catcher Jeff Mathis broke his collarbone after taking a foul tip behind the plate; he’s expected to miss six weeks.

TGG Goes to Arizona
For the second time in three years, This Great Game correspondent Eric Gouldsberry will be tromping and stomping the Cactus League grounds, reporting and picturing the odds, ends, sights and sounds of the Phoenix area for the TGG Facebook page—this time likely concentrating on the west end of the area where new spring complexes have sprung up in places like Glendale, Surprise and Goodyear. It’ll be a short but sweet visit, so become a fan and get updates on the hour from March 12-13.

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