The Week That Was in Baseball: March 10-16, 2008
From China, With (State-Sponsored) Love It Must be October in Tampa Bay
Billy Crystal's Walter Mitty Moment Mike Greenwell Just Said No

Sorry, Chairman Mao
In Major League Baseball’s latest attempt to mess around with the players’ biological clocks, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres were yanked from their exhibition schedules in America to help introduce—or re-introduce—the game to the People’s Republic of China, which has seen little baseball since it was banned for being too “Western” during the Culture Revolution of the 1960s. A pair of games were played out in Beijing, the first of which resulted in a 3-3 tie—leading to a chorus of boos from the crowd of 12,224 when it was announced that extra innings would not be played to resolve the deadlock. (San Diego won the second game, 6-3, on Sunday before 11,000.) A more controversial moment took place after the game, when Korean-born pitcher Chan Ho Park—attempting a comeback with the team for which he had his best years—could not give autographs for a crowd of some 40 fans of Korean descent when Chinese security guards locked arms and prevented them from reaching Park. A perturbed Park refused to board the Dodger team bus until the fans were allowed to approach; he then left when he was told that authorities would collect the items from the fans for him to autograph. They never did.

Vintage Tommy Boy
With one half of the Dodgers in China, the other half remained in Florida—under the temporary managership of none other than Tommy Lasorda. The former Dodger pilot, now 80, didn’t let his mix of Italian heritage and senility get in the way of his performance, storming out in the second inning of Tuesday’s game against the Florida Marlins to argue an out call on the Dodgers’ James Loney; Lasorda argued vehemently that a bunt Loney pushed down the first base line was foul. Lasorda was also bitter about the result, a 7-6 loss to the Marlins. “I wish we would have won the game, but we’ll get them next time,” he said after the game. Relax, Tommy. It’s spring training.

Rise of the Forgotten Ball
In stark contrast to the sea of human madness that Barry Bonds’ 756th home run ball landed into in San Francisco last August, his 762nd blast—launched on September 5 at Denver—was deposited just beyond the outfield wall into the mostly-deserted Coors Field bleachers. Though it wasn’t expected to be at the time, the home run may very well have been the last of Bonds’ career—and could possibly fetch more money than the $562,000 paid for the earlier, record-breaking ball. Jameson Sutton, who caught no. 762, has allowed an auction house to sell the ball to the highest bidder on March 31; some experts believe the ball could be sold as high as $1 million. For Sutton’s sake, here’s hoping he gets the check before Bonds finds a team to play for 2008.

Bud's Bottom Line
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has been very, very good to the bank accounts of major league franchises since he took over in 1992, so it’s not surprising that he’s done pretty well for himself of late. According to tax returns released to the general public this past week, Selig earned $14.5 million in 2006. Comparatively, when baseball’s first commish—Kenesaw Mountain Landis—took over the sport in 1920, he was salaried at $50,000, which is roughly the value of $500,000 today.

Spiked Mike, Almost
When Jose Canseco claimed he was on steroids during his MVP season of 1988, Mike Greenwell—the Boston outfielder who was the runner-up—complained that he should be declared the true MVP since he was the best among those who were clean. This past week, the 44-year old Greenwell, out of baseball since 1996, admitted that he considered taking the juice himself—but his wife, a nurse, strongly talked him out it. In just his second full major league season in 1988, Greenwell batted .325 with 22 home runs and 119 runs batted in. He never hit more than 15 in any one season afterward, though he did finish his 12-year career with a lifetime .303 average. So while Greenwell sidestepped a deal with the devil that might have made him Hall of Fame material, he at least has his conscience.

The Ichiro Watch
It took 21 at-bats, but Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki finally notched his first base hit of spring training this past Thursday against San Francisco.

The Daisuke Watch
Last week we reported that Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was in danger of missing out on the Red Sox’ regular season series opener in Japan because his wife was likely to give birth at about the same time. Well, the baby came a week early, which now means it’s likely Matsuzaka can head off to Japan and pitch in front of his homeland fans against the Oakland A’s. (Here’s guessing that Red Sox management was hard at work trying to induce Mrs. Matsuzaka.)

Next Week: This Great Game Predicts 2008
On Easter Weekend, TGG sages Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio will reveal their annual picks for the upcoming major league season. Always fun to do and entertaining to read, look for the fearless forecast in the opinion section.

To All the Rockie Fans Who Hate Us
In June 2005, This Great Game submitted is first opinion piece when Eric Gouldsberry decreed that the Colorado Rockies would never win a World Series. Now read what happened when Gouldsberry walked through his valley of the shadow of death—otherwise known as Denver—last October, when the Rockies were on the rampage to the Fall Classic.

In honor of the Chicago Cubs' 100th anniversary of their last World Series title, This Great Game is counting down the 40 years between 1909 and 2007 in which the Cubs came nearest to winning another. Our Tragical History Tour of Wrigleyville continues this week with:

33. 1959 74 Wins, 80 Losses
Tied for Fifth Place, 13 Games Back
For a team that wasn’t all that great—especially when you deduct Ernie Banks (.304 average, 45 homers, 143 RBIs) from the equation—the 1959 Cubs managed to stay in the thick of the pennant race all the way to the end of July, when they were 4.5 games from the top of the NL. From that apex, they lost seven straight and never recovered. Banks easily won his second straight MVP for his prodigious output, and for the second time it was for a fifth-place ballclub. The rest of the Chicago offense was one-note at best; even grizzled veterans Bobby Thomson and Al Dark could not work the magic they had concocted for the Giants and Braves in previous years. On the mound, the Cubs were buoyed by a strong bullpen anchored by Don Elston and Bill Henry, who co-led the NL in appearances with 65 and combined for 25 saves.

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David Gets Frisky with Goliath
If anything else, the Tampa Bay Rays have accomplished something this year just by getting the attention of the New York Yankees. Playing an aggressive brand of exhibition baseball that have provoked other teams—especially the Yankees, who lost catcher Francisco Cervilli to a broken wrist after being bowled over at home plate by Tampa’s Elliot Johnson—the Rays became the target of some revenge this past week when the Yankees’ Shelley Duncan, trying to reach second on a misplayed ground ball, slid hard with spikes high into Tampa second baseman Akinori Iwamura, igniting a bases-clearing entanglement between both teams. Duncan was suspended three games for instigating the payback; the Yankees’ Melky Cabrera (three games) and the Rays’ Jonny Gomes (two games) were also suspended. The suspensions will not take effect until the start of the regular season, which means that Cabrera and Duncan will not be eligible to play until April 4 for the start of a three-game home series against...Tampa Bay.

The "Designated Hebrew"
A day after the New York-Tampa Bay melee, the mood in the Yankee clubhouse was considerably lightened by the appearance of comedian Billy Crystal, who fulfilled a life-long dream a day shy of his 60th birthday by suiting up and playing for the Yankees. Leading off the game against Pittsburgh, Crystal struck out in his one and only at-bat by Pirate lefty Pete Maholm—although Crystal didn’t go down without a fight. He worked the count to 3-1 (the one strike being a grounder that bounced foul of first) before whiffing on two nasty cut fastballs by Maholm. Crystal never played defense.

Wounded of the Week
This was a particularly hard week for keeping the Tampa Bay Rays healthy—and none of it had to do with the hurt the Yankees were trying to respond in kind with. It was determined this week that pitching ace Scott Kazmir (elbow) will not be ready on Opening Day, that outfielder Rocco Baldelli’s career may be in jeopardy because of an unusual condition in which he suffers an accelerated, intense amount of fatigue from simple workouts, and that veteran pitcher Brian Anderson—facing Tommy John surgery for the third time—decided to retire instead. But the most painful revelation out of baseball’s medical ward this past week comes from Houston, where second baseman Kaz Matsui will miss two weeks to undergo a surgery to correct a skin tear—on his anus.

Excuse of the Week
In the “woe is me” department, Mike Cameron says that a “tainted” legal supplement led to a positive test for banned substances and a 25-game suspension that will start at the beginning of the 2008 regular season. The 35-year old outfielder, now with the Milwaukee Brewers, is applying for a medical exemption with MLB that would allow him to continue use of the legal supplements because it may help him overcome a possible case of post-concussion syndrome, the result of that wicked outfield collision between himself and Carlos Beltran while playing for the New York Mets in 2005.

Don't Do It! You've Got Your Whole Season Ahead of You!
Both the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals are reportedly interested in signing pitcher Jeff Weaver (15-27, 5.96 earned run average over the past two years). Prediction: Whichever team brings him onto its roster will be officially eliminated from the 2008 pennant race.

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