An Idea That Just Doesn't Float
It may have received significant attention, or it just might have been an idea that was thrown at the wall to see if it would stick. Either way, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci harped on the one wild thought that apparently has emerged from commissioner Bud Selig’s 14-member special committee that recently has taken a hard look at anything that needs fixing or improvement within the game. It’s been nicknamed “floating divisions” and it goes like this: Teams are free to move from one division to another in between seasons depending on “geography, payroll and”here’s the kicker to us“their plans to contend or not.”
You got to be kidding us.
So, as Verducci’s account goes, the Tampa Bay Rays can opt out of the vicious AL East (there you go, Stuart Sternberg: See below) and relocate to the AL Central, where they have a better shot of making the postseason. Similarly, the Cleveland Indians, currently in a rebuilding mode, can move to the AL East not so much to compete but to earn more revenue by hosting the Red Sox and Yankees a total of 19 times a year. Teams can only change to a division two time zones away, so sorry New York Met fans, the NL West is not an option.
Reaction to this proposal has been hostile to say the least. Members of the committee themselves say this is not a real possibility but simply something to consider. Our immediate thought is to wonder just how chaotic the exchange of teams from one division or league to another would logistically pan out. If you think college football’s BCS is a controversial mess, wait until this crazy game of musical chairs commences.
After All, Tampa is a "West Coast" City
Increased intra-divisional play arrived in 2001 after people complained that teams weren’t playing enough games against opponents from their own division. Now Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg wants to reverse the rule and go back to more “balanced” schedules. You might, too, if a quarter of your regular season schedule consisted of matchups against either the Red Sox or Yankees. For that reason, Sternberg also publicly lobbied this past week for more playoff participants. He also might be jumping on the anti-maple bat bandwagon after a frightening moment in a spring training game this week in which his team’s prized pitcher, David Price, was struck on the hand and bloodied by a breakaway maple bat belonging to the Red Sox’ Adrian Beltre.
Not Another Curse...
After steroid suspicions or confessions involving Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Bronson Arroyo led many to believe that the Red Sox cheated their way to their first World Series triumph in 86 years, now comes a new book that suggests that their previous championship way back whenin 1918 against the Chicago Cubswas also tarnished, because the Cubs threw the Series. Sean Deveney’s The Original Curse claims that war, recession and the continued culture of gambling within baseball actually peaked not with the 1919 Black Sox Scandal but with baseball’s other Windy City boys a year earlier. The book is the first published by Deveney, whose daytime job is writing for The Sporting News.
In the End, We're All From the Same Microbe
Torii Hunter created a small firestorm this past week when he referred to dark-skinned Latin American players as “impostors.” Hunter, an African-American, added in his comments to USA Today: “Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?” The ensuing debate, played up by the media, didn’t really get under the skin of Latin players, whether dark or light, and most everyone else shrugged. Perhaps the most ironic retort came from Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who advised: “Sometimes I think you have to be careful about what you say.” Guillen, of all people, should know.
Speaking of Guillen, the White Sox said no this past week to the fiery, opinionated skipper to start his own web site. Maybe the team feels there’s enough ammo potential coming from Guillen via his Facebook and Twitter accountsnot to mention an upcoming reality TV show to be produced by the MLB Network.
Union head Michael Weiner, making the rounds at spring training camps, is saying that he’ll balk at any blood-based test for Human Growth Hormone (HGH), preferring a urine-based test instead. What a surprise. Everyone knows that a urine test to detect HGH is ineffective, while Weiner’s argument against blood testingthat it could temporarily sap the strength of major leaguers who might get tested on game daydoesn’t wash when athletes have been known to get poked during the Olympic Games with no loss of performance. As we recently opined, perhaps the clean players are rolling their eyes in private over Weiner’s thoughtsand it won’t be long before they make their disgust public.
Willie Davis, 1940-2010
Ed and I were on the phone last week when he stumbled upon breaking online news that Willie Davis had passed away at age 69. It was palpable hearing the pain in the voice of Ed, a lifelong Dodger fan who remembered seeing Davis as a youngster fly around the bases.
The Dodgers were built primarily around pitching during Davis’ tenure in Los Angeles, but he was, for the most part, the face of the team’s powerless offense. He was a reliable hitter who didn’t possess much home run strength but gave the Dodgers plenty of hits, runs and steals to go along with a sound batting average that didn’t look too shabby during an era where pitching dominated. In the 1965 World Series against Minnesota, Davis stole three bases in a game; a year later, in the midst of a deplorable Series against Baltimore in which he would go just 1-for-16, he became the only player in Fall Classic annals to commit three errors in an inningand he was playing the outfield. Davis collected 2,561 hits in 18 major league seasons, 2,091 of them for the Dodgersmore than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles. In 1969, he ran a hitting streak up to 31 games, another Los Angeles record and the longest streak baseball had seen in 20 years. After bouncing around several teams in the mid-1970s, Davis played two seasons in Japan before returning to America for a brief, final fling playing for the California Angels, collecting a double in the 1979 ALCS.
Nomar, No More
Nomar Garciaparra signed a one-day contract with the Red Sox last week and then announced his retirement, signaling to all the team he would likely prefer to enter Cooperstown as a member of. The question is, will he get there? Garciaparra’s career path is stunningly similar to that of Don Mattingly; a terrific talent over the first half of his career, more muted and injury-marred over the second half. Mattingly looks like he’s not making the Hall, and Garciaparra probably won’t, either. But he leaves a lot of great memories for fans in Boston, where he won two consecutive batting titles (in 1999 and 2000) and hit .323 overall before being dumped off to the Chicago Cubs in 2004. Stints with the Cubs, Dodgers and Oakland A’s proved inconsistent and injurious; Garciaparra ends his career with 1,747 hits, 229 home runs and a .313 average.
Wounded of the Week
Among the many mild maladies came two earthshaking tales of hurt this past week. Minnesota closer Joe Nathan, one of the staunchest at closing out games over the past five years (at least during the regular season), discovered he has a torn ligament in his throwing elbow that very possibly could threaten his entire 2010 campaignand beyond. This is not the news the Twins want to hear after absorbing so many feel-good vibes with a rising payroll accommodated by a new ballpark. Meanwhile, at Boston camp, top prospect Ryan Westmoreland was found to have a rare condition in his brain that, if left untreated, could be life threatening. He undergoes brain surgery this week.
It’s official: Everyone’s hurt. Well, alright, so we exaggeratebut not much. It seems that the line at the check-in window of MLB’s medical ward must be stretching around the block and then some, even if many of those suffering are just fighting minor aches and pains that’s forcing managers to give them prolonged rest.
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.
So Far, So Real
Hotshot pitching prospects Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman have, after one week of spring training, lived up to the tremendous billing that preceded them. Strasburg, last year’s number one pick in the draft with a fastball that has been recorded as high as 103 MPH, hit only the high 90s in two appearances for the Washington Nationals but was nevertheless terrific, throwing five shutout innings and striking out four batters. Chapman, the Cuban defector who also hurls at 100, did reach triple digits on a few pitchesyet, in throwing four shutout innings of his own with five Ks, wowed onlookers just as much with a change-up that reached 90. Both Strasburg and Chapman were initially thought to be headed to the minors to start the year, but these early, promising returns may challenge that notion.
TGG Goes Cuba
In an obvious gesture of black market goodwill, we Americans are reciprocating the fine, rare Cuban cigars that reach our shores by smuggling in…This Great Game caps. Recently, a group of members from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) paid a visit to the island nation (flying there via Mexicoremember, the U.S. and Cuba are still playing antiquated Cold War mind games). This picture came to us from Sacramento chapter board member John Moist, who shows us how the kid pictured below at right will now be spoiled forever.
A Blockbuster Deal in the Making?
ESPN turned a few heads with this rumor over the weekend: That the Phillies are interested in working out a deal to bring Albert Pujols to Philadelphiain exchange for Ryan Howard. What’s the logic behind such a move involving two perennial NL MVP candidates? The Phillies would be more likely to accept the kind of long-term deal Pujols would demand once his contract expires after 2011, while Howardwho becomes a free agent at that timewould be more affordable to the Cardinals. Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro denies that any talks have taken place.
If Only the Phone Book Was This Detailed
I think it’s time we formally recognize and bow to how great a web site baseball-reference.com has become. Along with retrosheet.org, baseball-reference.com has done an excellent job searching behind every corner looking for obscure information many of us don’t even realize exists. To wit: We found out this past week that TGG friend Ken Camozzi, the grandson of Eugene Camozziwho played in minor league outfits such as the Pacific Coast International League and the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League back in the 1910s and 1920sfound a page devoted to his granddad’s lifetime numbers on baseball-reference.com. If this site keeps improving on its good knowledge, we’ll soon be hearing its theories on the origin of the universe.
If it Walks Like a National and Talks Like a National...
Spring training records usually are not taken as a barometer of how good or bad a team is likely to be in the regular seasonexcept this one: Washington Nationals, 0-10 after Sunday.
Using the Ichiro Method
High-powered, low-average boomer Troy Glaus ran up hits in eight consecutive at-bats for his new team, the Atlanta Braves, this past week. All eight hits were singles.
Blame Everyone But Me
Milton Bradley continued to reflect on his one-and-very-much-done tenure with the Chicago Cubs last year, saying that he received hate mail while in the Windy Citysome of it, he believes, from within the Cubs’ front office. The Cubs, for the most part, have had it with Bradley, again. Jim Hendry, the team’s general manager, simply said, “It’s time Milton looked himself in the mirror.”
You Can Teach, But You Can't Hide
At some point, Mark McGwire is going to need to loosen up, relax and understand that his role as St. Louis Cardinal batting coach is going to take place in an environment where, whether he likes it or not, he’s often rubbing shoulders with the media. So far, we’re not so sure he’s getting it. Last week, some reporters sidled up to him outside the batting cage before a spring training game ready to ask him some questionsbut he shooed them away, saying he was concentrating on the hitters in the cage. Maybe that would have made sense had it been his own players swinging away; instead, they were members of the Cardinals’ opponent for the day, the Red Sox.
Baker's Dozen Thousand
Doug Baker may have discovered a whole new cottage industry for former major leaguers. A utility infielder who played sparingly over seven big league years, Baker was a rookie for the 1984 world champion Detroit Tigers; he did not appear in the World Series against San Diego and made one brief appearance in that year’s ALCS against Kansas City. The 48-year old, who now lives near San Diego, received a World Series ring, which was later stolenand after getting a replacement, eventually had it returned to him. With two rings in his possession, Baker decided last week to put the original on eBayand it fetched $12,322. Perhaps other ex-ballplayers around the country have heard this and are devising ways to sell off personal baseball paraphernalia to make a buck and/or pay off some bills.
It was announced this past week that MLB finally took out its anger on the extremely poor performance of the umpires in the playoffsnot by firing the arbiters involved, but instead by sacking the three supervisors who selected them to do the postseason work. One of those supervisors is Richie Garcia, who, ironically, made one of the game’s most glaring blown calls in postseason history in 1996 when he gave the Yankees’ Derek Jeter a home run in the ALCS against Baltimore, even though it was clear that the ball was caught in front of the wall by a young kid with a glove. (Garcia was among 22 umpires who permanently lost their jobs in the old umpire union’s disastrous attempt in 1999 to quit en masse to force MLB to get off its back on certain matters.)
Still Wild After All These Years
Derrick Turnbow, our pick for the last decade’s best one-year wonder, got his first action of the spring on the mound for his new team, the Florida Marlins…and looked like the Turnbow we’ve all come to know since his one exhilarating year in 2005 for the Milwaukee Brewers. Against Tampa Bay on Saturday, he walked three of the five batters he faced and managed to throw just eight strikes among 30 total pitches. Turnbow blamed his wildness on general fatigue.
Now Playing at TGG
Ed Attanasio chats with Tom O'Doul, the cousin of the late, great Lefty O'Doul in a new installment of the They Were There section. Check it out now.
Coming Soon to TGG
Look soon for our Yearly Reader page covering the 2009 season...and our annual preview of the coming campaign.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.