The Week That Was in Baseball: March 9-15, 2009
Lightning Strikes Twice for the Dutch Players We May Have Seen the Last of
Can Colonel Sanders Fry the Billy Goat Curse?
Papelbon Closes Out Manny

They Did It Again!
It's kind of like Trinidad and Tobago beating Brazil in the World Cup—twice. A week after shocking the heavily favored, star-studded Dominican WBC team, the squad from the Netherlands—considered one of the "body bag" opponents of the tournament—mastered the Dominicans once again in an extra-inning elimination contest early this past week. The dream ended for the Dutch in the next round, losing another elimination contest against the U.S. on Sunday at Miami, but hey, it was fun while it lasted—and even though the Dutch ultimately went down, they took the Dominicans with them.

Cheap Addendum
Apparently, the Dominican WBC team, punchless on the field, saved its best hits for the postgame nightclub scene. (Sorry, Bernie Williams.)

Not One of Us
Magglio Ordonez, playing for the Venezuelan WBC team, has been getting booed by his country’s fans during tournament play. Why? Because he publicly supports Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, an affront to the affluent Venezuelans who live in America.

Finger Lickin' Weird
Can the Billy Goat curse in Chicago be exorcised by a statue of Colonel Sanders found rotting at the bottom of a Japanese river for a quarter century? Kentucky Fried Chicken (or KFC, as it now formerly known) sure thinks so. The statue was kidnapped in 1985 and deposited in the Dotonbori River in Osaka by fans celebrating the championship of the Hanshin Tigers because, it is said, the Colonel bore a striking resemblance to former major leaguer Randy Bass, who was playing for the Tigers at the time. (Randy Bass, by the way, is not to be confused with Kevin Bass, who played for the Astros at the same time and, as a non-bearded African-American, no way resembled Colonel Sanders.) So how do the Cubs get mixed up in all of this? Hanshin has not won a title since the dumping of the statue, and many of its fans believe a curse developed as a result of it. So now there’s hope in Hanshin, and KFC has taken it among itself to contact the Cubs and have publicly offered to have the statue FedEx’d to Wrigley Field where maybe it will end the Cubs’ 101-year old World Series drought. At of this writing, no word from Cub camp.

How Low Will it Go?
ESPN’s Peter Gammons claimed on his blog this past week that major league teams have been warned by Bud Selig Central to anticipate attendance drops up to 20% this season due to present economic conditions. (Precedent may already be set; attendance at spring training games is down 22% as of the end of this past week.) Gammons also singled out six teams—San Diego, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Houston and Colorado—that could head for serious financial trouble as a result. More crippling, other reports around the country are talking of a severe drop in the sales of luxury boxes, a major cash cow for major league teams.

This Week in Steroids
The press picked up a story this week in which former Roger Clemens trainer Brian McNamee claimed to have shot up the Rocket in the buttocks with steroids, both at Clemens’ apartment and in the Jacuzzi at Yankee Stadium, during the summer of 2001. The information came from a web site called sportsimproper.com, which seems to have more interest in showing pictures of scantly clad women than revealing hard news. It turns out that McNamee chose to reveal the information to the fledgling site because it’s being run by one of his friends. Back to the story: McNamee says he saved the needles, which are likely the ones the Feds have tested for Clemens' DNA as they attempt to nail the 354-game winner for lying in front of Congress.

The Hard Afterlife of a Steroid User
Nobody has quite crashed and burned in the aftermath of admitting steroids like Jay Gibbons. A one-time threat who had a number of fine years in the mid-2000s before disintegrating in 2007, Gibbons disappeared altogether when he verified what was said about him in the Mitchell Report—and was summarily released by the Baltimore Orioles. Unemployed from the majors in 2008, Gibbons received a shot at making the Florida Marlins this spring but was released this past week, despite hitting .313 with a home run and seven RBIs in six games. Marlin manager Fredi Gonzalez admitted that, in spite of Gibbons’ good play, he had no room for the 32-year old outfielder on his roster. That sounds kind of like the Monty Python skit where they bring in a guy for a job interview, drive him crazy, and then tell him that all the vacancies were filled several weeks earlier.

There Are "A's" in Oakland—But Not For Long
We recently reported that Oakland A’s owner Lou Wolff had backed out of a long-planned deal to move the team to neighboring Fremont. If the City of Oakland thinks it’s getting a long-term reprieve as a result, forget it. Wolff said this past week that he’s “fully exhausted” all options for staying in Oakland and will eventually move the team, although he’s also said he plans to stay in Northern California. If that’s so, his only two realistic alternatives are Sacramento and (more likely) San Jose.

Irony of the Week
Andruw Jones, desperately trying to resurrect his career with the Texas Rangers, hit his first home run of spring training—against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team he failed miserably for in 2008 and, in 2009, will be given more money from the Dodgers than Manny Ramirez.

TGG Video Update
Our video page has been updated with a retrospective of Barry Bonds' final game (or so we assume) in San Francisco on September 26, 2007 as filmed by our own Steve Friedman.

Goin' Golfing?
Free agency is a double-edged sword that’s a jackpot of riches for many players and cruel to others. While many have inked up new contracts this winter—albeit, in some cases, at discount prices—other free agents, mostly aging stars whose best years have long since passed them by, are still waiting for the phone to ring; and some of those have started to resign themselves to the fact that it may never ring at all. Below is a list of players who once stood tall on the pedestal of stardom, but now face the very real prospect that their days in the majors are done.

Moises Alou. The 42-year old’s appearance for the Dominican WBC team will likely be his last in competition. Some teams have called on Alou for 2009, but he has stated that he is more likely to retire on his own terms. If so, he finishes his career with 2,134 hits, 337 home runs and a .303 average.

Ray Durham. A remarkably consistent yet injury-plagued hitter, the 37-year old second baseman received only one minor league contract offer—from the Washington Nationals. To Durham, that may have been more insulting than receiving nothing at all, so he turned it down. With no one else calling, the two-time all-star will likely call it a career.

Eric Gagne. Five years ago, Gagne was the hottest closer on the planet. A series of major injuries and a stain from the Mitchell Report later, he’s become a washed-up emblem of the Steroid Era. Milwaukee let him go this past week, and it’s questionable if he’ll get another shot. 

Esteban Loaiza. The 37-year old’s fame was more fleeting than others on this list; he won 21 games for the Chicago White Sox with an AL-high 209 strikeouts in 2003, but has never won more than 12 in any other season. After bouncing around from team to team over the last five years with a fastball that’s no longer fast, Loaiza’s outlook for future MLB employment is weak.

Pedro Martinez. We thought we saw the last of the future Hall-of-Famer in 2008 when injuries and ineffectiveness seemed to get the best of him, but a springtime audition courtesy of the Dominican WBC team has given him possible new life in the majors. Rumors abound that the Los Angeles Dodgers, Martinez’s first team, are interested in bringing him back and reuniting him with former Red Sox pal Manny Ramirez.

Ivan Rodriguez. Pudge seemed to do a quick fade in 2008, going from a crucial cog in a star-studded Detroit lineup to a backup role in New York for the Yankees. The few teams that seem to show interest in Rodriguez only want him as a backup, something I-Rod says he’s not willing to accept. If it all ends here, Rodriguez leaves the game with 2,605 hits, a .301 career average and a probable date with the Hall of Fame—so long as the steroid rumors don’t continue to dog him.

Richie Sexson. Like Rodriguez, it appears that Sexson’s career may have also finished on the Yankee bench in 2008. After seven years of averaging 35-45 homers a year with a decent average, Sexson fell off the map over the last two years, hitting just .211 with reduced power. He’s still 34, but GMs are treating him as if he’s 44.

Frank Thomas. The future Hall-of-Famer is lobbying hard to return to the majors this season, a familiar theme over the last few years; this time, there are likely to be no takers. The Big Hurt should be advised to just let it go and keep his career average over .300 (it currently stands at .301).

Jose Vidro. Back in the day in Montreal, Vidro was a dangerous (though not dominant) second baseman who always put up solid numbers in an underrated manner. That was way back then; last year, he was an ineffective designated hitter in Seattle and didn’t last the season, being released in August. No one has shown interest in the career .298 hitter, who turns 35 in August.

Wounded of the Week
The pains are racking up and time is running out for hobbled players hoping to be healthy and fit for Opening Day. Definitely out to start the season is Los Angeles of Anaheim starting pitcher Ervin Santana (strained elbow) and Tim Redding (weak throwing shoulder), the hopeful number five starter for the New York Mets. Ominous news followed Minnesota catcher and reigning AL batting champion Joe Mauer, whose back has been slow to recover since undergoing offseason surgery; in Boston camp, Julio Lugo fears he may have a torn muscle in his knee that may cost him a spot in the Opening Day lineup (and give more opportunity for fellow Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie, who some believe should be the starter anyway, to take over on a permanent basis). Finally, from Oakland’s spring clubhouse, comes the annual note that—surprise, surprise—third baseman Eric Chavez (shoulder) is ailing.

Now Playing at TGG
Our 2008 Yearly Reader page is now uploaded along with its accompanying Leaders+Numbers page dissecting the most productive hitters and pitchers of 2008, final standings and the "It Happened In..." installment highlighting the recordbreakers and events of the season that was.

Coming Soon
This Great Game’s Ed Attanasio and Eric Gouldsberry are working up their vaunted fearless forecasts for the upcoming major league season. Look for it on our opinion page on March 29.

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