The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: March 14-20, 2011
This Week's Episode of "As the Mets Turn" Baseball's Least Deserving MVPs
Where Will Sendai's Baseball Team Play? Ken Griffey Jr. Returns (Sans Sleeping Bag)

Become a fan of This Great Game on Facebook. We’re embracing this opportunity to invite TGG followers and those of baseball in general to share their insights, queries and good knowledge with TGG’s powers-that-be, Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio.

Our goal with this page is to bring value to all who wish to become our fans, even correspondents to our continued mission of providing an enriched and unique perspective to our comprehensive catalog of baseball history, past, present and future.

Want to sound off on current events? Have good trivia you want to share? Roaming about the country on a ballpark tour? Need advice on that baseball book you’re trying to sell? Got something of interest we could share within the main site, such as our Weekly Comebacker? Have any praise or criticisms of TGG? We want to hear from you. It’s your soapbox, too.

Amazin'-ly Awful
Just when you think things can’t get worse for the New York Mets, they do. This past week, Irving Picard, the man who loves to hate the Mets (maybe he’s a Yankee fan) and trustee for the victims of scam king Bernie Madoff, upped his ante on the lawsuit against Fred Wilpon, claiming the Mets’ owner is now on the hook for up to a billion dollars in money owed to those swindled by Madoff. Picard is increasingly laying out the suggestion that not only did Wilpon profit from Madoff, but that he knew full well what was going on.

On the field, the Mets finally began some much-needed purging when they released, outright, second baseman Luis Castillo—even though the team owes him for the remainder of his contract; hey, if you’re facing the possibility of losing a billion dollars, what’s another $6 million? Castillo was clashing publicly with Met fans and made it apparent last season that he didn’t want to play in New York any further. He apparently got his cake and, now, gets to eat it as well.

On the coattails of Castillo’s release comes word that the Mets may also give the boot to pitcher Oliver Perez, whose three-year, $36 million contract signed two years ago looked dumb then and looks much dumber now. Perez, who is owed $12 million this year, has been an abysmal flop for the Mets, and his spring numbers thus far (8.38 ERA and eight walks over 9.2 innings) show no sign of renaissance. Even Sandy Alderson, the new Mets’ general manager, must be beginning to wonder if he had it better in the Caribbean trying to keep the Dominican kids off steroids.

Will $100 Million Become the Median?
The $100 million payroll barrier is looking more and more to be the norm in baseball. Last year, eight teams had total payrolls of nine figures; this year, that number looks to be increasing to 13, according to a list put out on Among the new members of the club is, curiously, Seattle, which lost 101 games last year but is seeing an increase in wage payouts with current contracts escalating for players such as Felix Hernandez, Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins.

The New York Yankees remain far and away the fattest wallet at $202 million, followed not too far behind by Philadelphia ($164.6 million), Boston ($161.5 million), the New York Mets ($138.3 million) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ($136 million).

At the low end of the totem pole, the San Diego Padres—with that beautiful city and that beautiful ballpark—has the majors’ lowest payroll at $44 million; next comes Kansas City ($44.3 million), the defending AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays ($50 million), Pittsburgh ($51.4 million) and Cleveland ($54.2 million).

To Play or Not to Play
Baseball most certainly is one of the last subjects on the minds of people in Japan, struggling to recover from the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in mid-March. With the season around the corner, baseball officials in Japan are wrestling with how to proceed. The Pacific League, which includes a team from the hard-hit city of Sendai, has backed up the start of the season nearly three weeks to April 12. But the Central League has delayed its opening day only four days, to March 29, leading to some criticism.

As for the Sendai-based Tohoku Ratuken Golden Eagles (who were playing an exhibition in Yokohama when the quake struck), discussions continue on the logistics of their 2011 schedule. Their home ballpark sustained mild damage, but because the rest of the city was so badly hammered, there is strong opinion that the Golden Eagles should play elsewhere this season; ironically, their temporary home is rumored to be Kobe, which suffered Japan’s previous major shaker in 1995.

Eyepatch Night is Coming to Lynchburg
Last week, Atlanta minor league coach Luis Salazar was struck in the face by a Brian McCann line-drive smash while standing in the dugout during a Braves’ exhibition game. Surgery was performed on him this past week but doctors could not save his left eye. The overall damage to his face was so intense, a doctor told Atlanta general manager Frank Wren that “in the big picture, this is a really good outcome.” Salazar says he will be back to piloting the Class-A Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League.

Hold That Thought
Scot Shields retired this week from baseball, and although many of you are probably thinking, “Scot Shields, big deal,” many Los Angeles of Anaheim fans do remember him as a big deal back in the late 2000s when he was one of the AL’s premier set-up relievers—leading the league in holds from 2005-08. In fact, his 156 career holds is the most in AL history—or at least since the hold became an official stat in 1999. (FYI, the major league career leader in holds is Arthur Rhodes, who has 215.) Arm and knee woes contributed to Shields’ retirement at age 35.

Yogi Berra Spill of the Week
Last week, we reported that 85-year old Yankee legend Yogi Berra was sent to the hospital after slipping in the clubhouse getting some soup. This week, he took another spill, behind the batting cage—but this time was saved by Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, who caught him before he hit the turf.

Wounded of the Week
Never has the baseball seemed to be so aggressive in spring training, finding people wherever they are—on the field, in the dugout or in the stands. (We’re still cringing at the woman who unsuspectingly got drilled in the inner thigh behind the right field fence during BP at Scottsdale Stadium during our visit there last week—and wondering if she’s finally stopped yelling out the f-bombs in painful response.)

The mound was a particularly dangerous place to be this past week, with no less than four pitchers—the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh’s Brad Lincoln, Toronto’s Brandon Morrow and Milwaukee reliever Mark DeFelice—getting hit by comebackers. All four are fine and will avoid disabled list duty.

Less fortunate are players who appeared headed to the shelf to start the regular season. Detroit’s Carlos Guillen and (yet again) Joel Zumaya will miss Opening Day; so likely will Los Angeles third baseman Casey Blake (lower back), Los Angeles of Anaheim reliever Scott Downs (broken toe) and perhaps even San Francisco closer Brian Wilson (left side), which could spell trouble for the defending champion Giants—whose terrific pitching last year was all but pain-free.

Will He Bat Eighth in Heaven?
Marty Marion, an eight-time all-star shortstop with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1940s, passed away this week at the age of 94. An outstanding defenseman, Marion had less to say with his bat; in 13 seasons, he had a career .263 batting average and 36 home runs. He may be the only player to defy our assertion that eighth-place hitters don’t win MVPs when he picked up the prestigious honor in 1944, hitting .267 with six homers, mostly hitting right in front of the pitcher. Historians often look at his numbers and his place in the lineup and conclude: Huh? So not even Marion’s teammates Stan Musial (.347 average, 51 doubles, 12 homers, 94 RBIs) and Johnny Hopp (.336-11-72) didn’t pack enough punch to impress MVP voters more?

We know that the MVP is not automatically granted to the guy with the best stats. It goes to the most valuable, a word that can be viewed many different ways. Via leadership. Via the clutch. Via the numbers. Still, Marion’s pick as most valuable in 1944 remains a head-scratcher, as do these five other players who won the MVP when others appeared to look more deserving.

Joe Gordon, 1942. The New York second baseman had a fine year—he hit .322 with 18 homers and 103 RBIs—and the Yankees did reach the World Series in part because of his efforts, but all of this while Ted Williams batted .356 with 36 longballs and 137 runs knocked in. Sounds like those Boston sportswriters who despised Williams were in a plucky mood.

Yogi Berra, 1955. The last of Berra’s three MVPs was perhaps the most puzzling; teammate Mickey Mantle had a better overall performance (.306, 37 homers, 99 RBIs) than Berra’s .272-27-108—and lest we forget the breakout performance of Detroit’s 20-year old Al Kaline (.340-27-102). But catchers usually get the advantage for their multiple skills of handling pitchers as well as the bat.

Nellie Fox, 1959. The Chicago White Sox won the AL flag for the first time in 40 years, but with no one preeminent offensive force on their roster, somebody had to be handed the MVP. So it went to the veteran second baseman Fox, who led the team with a .306 average but with only two homers and 70 RBIs. Who likely got robbed? Kaline (.327-27-94), again.

Dick Groat, 1960. A year after Fox, Groat put up similar popgun numbers for the world champion Pittsburgh Pirates, though his .325 average did lead the NL. How did the voters not give more consideration to teammate Roberto Clemente (.314-16-94, 19 outfield assists), who finished fourth in the poll just among Pirate players?

Willie Stargell, 1979. We love Willie, and his leadership made him the father figure in Pittsburgh’s We Are Family championship clubhouse, but this was really a lifetime achievement award for a player who before had much better years and never won. His .281 average, 32 homers and 82 RBIs, nice as those numbers were, paled against other MVP contenders Keith Hernandez (who shared the honor with Stargell) and Dave Winfield.

Rip Van Griffey Jr. Awakens
Nearly a year after his unceremonial (and somewhat embarrassing) departure from baseball, Ken Griffey Jr. woke up, came to the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse and faced the press for the first time since phoning in his retirement. Present in Arizona as a “special consultant” for the Mariners, Griffey looked uncomfortable in describing his exit last year, admitting he had become a “distraction”; his hitting (.184 average with no homers in 33 games) didn’t help. Griffey also mentioned that has not since talked to Mariner manager Don Wakamatsu (fired later in 2010), for whom he clashed with; when asked why not, Griffey said, “My phone rings. That’s just the way it is.”

Mu$ic to the Bucs' Ears
The Pittsburgh Pirates are learning from the Tampa Bay Rays that if baseball alone won’t bring the fans in, add some rock to the menu. Even as the Rays have been winning over the past three years, the only sellouts at Tropicana Field always seemed to have more to do with postgame concerts than the game before it. Pirate fans would jump at the chance to fill PNC Park if the Bucs would ever start winning, so in the meantime the team hopes to increase sales with four postgame concerts this year that will include acts such as Huey Lewis and the News, .38 Special, Train and the Steve Miller Band.

Glove Stinks, Yeah-Yeah...
Remember Brooks Conrad, the Atlanta second baseman who made three critical errors in Game Three of the NLDS against San Francisco last year? He ends this past week leading the majors in errors this spring, with four.

He Got Game—With His Gun
Career outfield reserve Ryan Langerhans, currently attempting to stick with the Seattle Mariners, has a neat little fallback just in case. The career .229 hitter, who last year hit just .197 for the Mariners (but hey, didn’t they all in Seattle?), is producer and host for “Buck Commander,” now in its third season on the Outdoor Channel. This basic-cable version of “American Sportsman” has Langerhans and others headed off to hunt and fish around the country, with guests that include Chipper Jones and Adam LaRoche—sporting facial camouflage that would make Bryce Harper’s outrageous eyeblack look almost non-existent by comparison.

Ssshh! Don't Tell Anyone What They Already Know!
New York Yankee general manager Brian Cashman appeared irked over comments made by Cliff Lee when the once-and-current Philadelphia pitcher said on sports radio that he decided against signing with the Yankees because they were “getting older.” That’s news? C’mon, Brian, relax.

Now Playing at TGG
Ed Attanasio’s interview with Freddy Schmidt, the oldest living ex-St. Louis Cardinal, can now be seen in the They Were There section. Freddy talks about his experiences with Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and his infamous racist foil Ben Chapman, and his two World Series rings—and why he's lost one of them.

Coming Soon
One of our biggest traditions continues when TGG's fearless prognosticators Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio release their preseason picks for the 2011 season. Look for it on the week of March 28.

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

Baseball's Ten Most Memroable Home Runs
Our list of ten long balls that are the most deserving for their fame, importance and pure spectacle. Check it out now!

After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
As baseball struggles to grasp video replay, here's a suggestion on how to expand upon it and make it efficient—if not flawless. Check it out now!