The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: March 12-25, 2012
The Mets Breathe a Heavy Sigh of Finanical Relief Wes Timmons, Major Leaguer
The DUIs Get More Sobering The Return of Andy Pettitte Ed's Bushers: SOLD!

The Sun Comes Out Over the Citi
Twas a very good week for the New York Mets, about the first good one they’ve had in, it seems, an eternity. It certainly has seemed that long for Fred Wilpon, the embattled Met owner who was burdened with having to prove that hundreds of millions he owned didn’t belong to victims of good pal Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. On the eve of a trial which pitted Wilpon and co-owner Saul Katz against plaintiff Irving Picard (trustee of Madoff’s financial victims), a settlement was reached in which the Mets would pay Madoff $162 million—at least half of what Picard was seeking court.

Additionally, the Mets last week sold 12 minority stakes in the club at $20 million apiece. With that extra $240 million on hand and closure for the team in the Madoff saga, the Mets finally (and suddenly) find themselves oriented on the compass of financial standing, allowing them to move forward and plan for the future without playing the guessing game of how much debt they have to dig themselves from.

Wilpon and Katz are far from the black; the Mets are still heavily in debt. But the worst is behind them, uncertainty is eliminated and Wilpon, for one, sees a future so bright, he’s gotta wear shades. (And he was while leaving court following the settlement.)

Prevents Glare...and a Broken Face
Thank goodness for the Detroit Tigers that Miguel Cabrera was wearing his shades this past week. Many are saying that if it weren’t for his sunglasses that took the brunt of a wild hop ground ball at third base in a spring game against Philadelphia, he would have suffered more than just a minor bone fracture beneath his right eye. For the Tigers, who’ve already lost star hitter Victor Martinez for the season, significant time without the perennial MVP candidate Cabrera would have been a staggering blow. As it is, Cabrera will likely miss no more than a week.

DUIs of the Week
This past week served as yet another reminder to Major League Baseball that it needs to put as much focus on teaching the evils of alcohol as well as those of steroids and chewing tobacco. Separate DUI/hit-and-run incidents barely more than 40 miles and less than a half-day apart in Florida made news—and much of it was, to use the term ironically, sobering.

Boston reliever Bobby Jenks was pulled over by police late Thursday night after weaving erratically on the road; initially he claimed he had taken too many muscle relaxers, but it was later determined that the influence was alcoholic, not medicinal. Police also discovered that Jenks hit a parked car as he left a nightclub drunk minutes earlier.

Of bigger concern is what happened hours earlier up the road in Charlotte County. Matt Bush, the highly troubled lost prospect who’s never come close to living up to his standing as a number one draft pick (in 2004) and is making another comeback attempt with Tampa Bay, slammed into and seriously injured a motorcyclist—and kept on driving. Bush was hunted down, discovered to have a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit and was driving in a borrowed SUV on a suspended license. His lawyer is desperately trying to detour Bush straight to rehab instead of a certain jail sentence, but the weight of the crime combined with a legally plagued past (including alcoholism and assault) will make it difficult for Bush to weasel his way out of this one.

The weekly few among baseball’s players getting pulled over and nabbed for DUI may elicit a few chuckles, but when innocent people are found to be in the way and getting hurt by these guys, it’s time for commissioner Bud Selig to step to the plate and start making alcohol education a higher priority. It’s okay to have a few drinks—unless you’re a recovering alcoholic like Bush or Josh Hamilton—but just not before you go behind the wheel of a car. Don’t drink and drive, folks.

Braun Out
Reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun is staying quiet with the media regarding his failed steroid test that was overturned on a technicality, but he’s opened up more to his Milwaukee teammates. Brewer catcher Jonathan Lucroy: “There was more to the situation than Braun has said publicly, and his explanation to teammates has been convincing…if you knew what we knew, people would be like, ‘Wow’.”

So if Braun was that convincing to his teammates, why can’t he be equally so to the public at large? Well, here’s the problem. Rumor has it that two other Milwaukee players tested positive at the same time as Braun; his test became public because his name was leaked. So it looks as if Braun, understandably, is seeking to keep others from being thrown into the spotlight. To be continued?

The Might Put You in The Hunger Games For This
The outspoken Lance Berkman, currently a St. Louis Cardinal but still very much a fan of the Houston Astros (his team from 1999-2010), sounded off on commissioner Bud Selig’s insistence that Jim Crane buy the team so long as he agreed to move it to the American League for 2013. Berkman used tougher language: “I hate it. I feel like, basically, the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros.”

Neither the Cardinals nor (especially) Selig were thrilled with Berkman’s opinion and his use of the word “extorted.” It forced Berkman to take a phone call from Selig this past week which led to an apology from the Big Puma, explaining, “A lot of things sound better in your head then they read in print. It’s certainly a situation in which I was trying to express a pretty strong emotion…I’m more than happy to make amends. I don’t carry any ill will or animosity. That’s not me.”

More Moores, Less Moorad
Jeff Moorad has finally given up on the San Diego Padres. The owner-to-be became the owner-that-never-was, refused complete control of the club over the winter when MLB waffled on his bid to purchase the team outright, after other owners grew cold feet that Moorad’s financial situation wasn’t strong enough—and feared he would siphon money from the team bank account a la Frank McCourt in Los Angeles. As a result, John Moores—who wanted out three years ago—is still grudgingly the Lord of the Padres.

Wounded of the Week
This was a rough week to be a closer. Two from the marquee—Kansas City’s Joakim Soria and Cincinnati’s Ryan Madson—will miss the 2012 season after being told to undergo Tommy John surgery to reconstruct their pitching arms. Another reliever, Houston’s Sergio Escalona, will also miss the season with Tommy John; and now, the Washington Nationals are nervous that their closer, Drew Storen, could be in for a long layoff as he struggles to overcome recent elbow inflammation (his status for Opening Day is certainly in doubt).

Also hitting the Ouch Couch was Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain, who suffered a grisly ankle injury after an accident on a trampoline; it’s suspected that he, too, will miss the entire 2012 campaign. After this and David Robertson’s fall down a staircase lugging recycled materials, the Yankees may have this message for all their players: When off the field, don’t do anything.

Our roster of the wounded rounds out with a slate of players unlikely to see action on Opening Day: St. Louis ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, who’s dealing with a pesky bulging disc issue; Cardinal teammate Skip Schumaker, out with a torn rib muscle; Baltimore pitcher Zach Britton, out through April with shoulder problems; and Chipper Jones, who tore a muscle in his problematic knee just a hour before a scheduled press conference in which he was announcing that this would be his final season. The 40-year-old Jones is headed for arthroscopic surgery and won’t return until mid-April at the earliest.

Dunn or Done?
Is Adam Dunn refreshed? Spring training often brings false hope to players who rack up the numbers in exhibition play, but the statistical dope on Dunn—who suffered through one of the worst-ever campaigns by a player last season—is encouraging. The Chicago White Sox slugger is hitting .276 in 29 at-bats with four homers and 12 RBIs; half of those last two figures came in one game this past week, including a grand slam—and both came off left-handed pitching (Bruce Chen of Kansas City), which he was essentially hitless against in 2011.

Good Yu, Bad Sho
Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitching phenom who signed on with the Texas Ranger this offseason (and has so far thrown well this spring), was said to generate $258 million in revenue through endorsement advertising in January alone back in Japan. That was the good news; the bad news for Darvish was that his brother Sho was sentenced to a year in jail in February for assaulting a woman.

Now Playing at TGG
Our review of the 2011 season is now live in our Yearly Reader section. Check out the season that was now!

But Wait, There's More!
Here it is! Our annual, fearless preview of the upcoming major league season is live, with TGG’s Ed Attanasio and Eric Gouldsberry releasing their picks for who will arrive, thrive, dive and cry in 2012. Check it out and see if you agree!

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
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Go East, Ol' Wes!
The Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners kick off the 2012 regular season this week with a pair of games in Tokyo; it’s the fourth time that MLB has begun its regular season campaign in Japan. The trip east will be a special one for Oakland infielder Wes Timmons, a 33-year-old who’s played 998 career games in the minors—and none in the majors. Timmons made the roster cut because the A’s and Mariners are allowed to bring 30 players (five over the MLB standard) to Japan, so that any replacement players can be right there on call—as opposed to half a world away—should one of the regulars go down to injury.

Timmons, who holds a career .283 average in ten minor league seasons, may not play in the two-game series, but he’s more than happy for the opportunity—and will undoubtedly add his adventures in Tokyo to those from the minors, which include tales of buses breaking down, motel air conditioning conking out and, as he told Sports Illustrated this past week, a game in Mexico in which the outfield wall caught fire because some fans decided to light up the ivy on the fence.

House of the Rising Son
Perhaps one thing Timmons can do on his time off in Japan is slide down to Toyoyama and check out the Ichiro Exhibition Room, which is all things Ichiro Suzuki. Run by his parents, the museum takes up half of a four-story building which houses a recreation of his boyhood and displays awards and memorabilia from his playing days to date. Adjoining the museum is an offseason training room that Suzuki himself uses during the winter and can be seen by museum patrons through a glass door. The museum is open year-round and costs $11 per visitor; the owners kindly request that you keep your cameras behind, because no photos will be allowed.

Pettitte, Part III
The New York Yankees have prided themselves during their recent championship run (1996 to the present) on the performance of the Big Four: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. The Big Four became the Big Three when Pettitte stepped down a year ago, and then the Big Two when Posada retired this past winter. Now, it’s back to the Big Three, with Pettitte coming out of nowhere to say he’s returning to the Yankees after a one-year absence.

The 39-year-old southpaw with 240 career wins and five World Series rings was very much welcomed back to the Yankees, though he still trails Billy Martin and (perhaps) Roger Clemens in surprise Yankee comebacks. Regardless, Pettitte says he has some ramping up to do and hopes to be ready to pitch by May 1; for the Yankees, trying to shore up a somewhat shaky back end of the rotation, the more the merrier.

Auditing the Teams...
Forbes Magazine came out with its annual list of the most valuable teams within baseball, reporting that the average value of a major league franchise jumped 16% from last year and that only two teams—the beleaguered Mets and the Tampa Bay Rays, struggling to get serious recognition in their own market—saw their value decline in 2011.

Needless to say, the New York Yankees easily topped the list of the most valuable with a $1.85 billion price tag. According to Forbes, that puts the Yankees in a tie with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys for the most valuable sports entity in America—and the second richest in the world, after soccer’s Manchester United in England. Two other teams topped a billion in value: The Boston Red Sox (at an even $1 billion) and the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose tab mushroomed 75% because of the impending sale of the team from financially troubled owner Frank McCourt. Forbes estimated five other teams with no less than a 20% jump in value over the last year, led by the Seattle Mariners at 30% (why, we don’t know), and the Miami Marlins at 25% (why, we do know). The cheapest buy for people on the outside looking to get in? The Oakland A’s, valued at $321 million.

...and the Players
Forbes also ranked the top ten highest-paid ballplayers based on both salary and endorsements. Alex Rodriguez tops this list with $32 million, but teammate Derek Jeter, third on the list, racked up the most endorsements with $9 million. What was interesting is the number of players making the list who have been recently slowed by injury and/or ineffectiveness, including Joe Mauer, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryan Howard and Johan Santana.

Twit of the Week
If former Texas (and current Los Angeles of Anaheim) pitcher C.J. Wilson is hoping to maintain friendships with his former Ranger teammates, this didn’t help. Wilson responded to a comment by Texas catcher Mike Napoli, who said that he was “looking forward to hitting home runs off him,” with a comment of his own on his Twitter account—complete with Napoli’s cell phone number, sent to Wilson’s 116,000 followers. Our response is the same as most everyone else’s: Not cool, C.J.

Syracuse Before D.C.
If Bryce Harper was ready for the big leagues, he didn’t necessarily show it this spring. The 19-year old wunderkind was assigned to Triple-A Syracuse by the Washington Nationals this past week after hitting .286 in nine exhibition games in Florida. The .286 clip doesn’t sound bad, but only two of his eight hits were for extra bases (both doubles) and he didn’t knock in a run; in his final spring appearance, he struck out four times against Detroit. Still, do look for Harper to make his official major league debut later this season.

Precedent Over Suspicion
Some advance quotes from Peter Schmuck’s interview with former Baltimore Oriole Brady Anderson for Sun Magazine were released this week, including Anderson’s indirect response to those who think his 50-homer spike in 1996 was steroid-enhanced. Anderson never answered whether he ever took performance enhancement (beyond Creatine, which is legal), but he was happy to point out that other ballplayers such as Wade Boggs (in 1987) and Davey Johnson (in 1973) splurged on home runs that easily tripled their career season average, suggesting that his 50 blasts were nothing more but a innocent, hard-working anomaly. So that it’s on the record, Anderson was not mentioned once in baseball’s Mitchell Report on steroids in the game.

Check it Out—It Might be Aluminum
Bob Uecker, a common player with an uncommon, jocular personality and the long-time voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, will become the fourth individual immortalized in bronze at Miller Park—joining Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and Bud Selig. No word on whether the sculpture for the self-deprecating Uecker will be placed in the ballpark’s cheap nosebleed seats.

Mel Parnell, 1922-2012
This week saw the passing of Mel Parnell, who in ten major league seasons—all with the Boston Red Sox—built up a 123-75 record, 3.50 earned run average and two All-Star Game appearances. His win total is the highest by a Red Sox lefty, and fourth highest among all Boston pitchers.

Parnell’s shining season came in 1949 when he led the majors with 25 wins and 27 complete games; but his success of that season was tarnished by his failure to lift the Red Sox to an AL pennant in the season’s final weekend when he underperformed in two crucial appearances at New York against the Yankees, for whom the Red Sox were running neck-and-neck with in the AL standings. Otherwise, Parnell owned the Yankees; he had a career 24-6 record against New York and, in 1953, threw four of his five shutouts against the Bronx Bombers.

Run Softly and Carry a Big Stick
The Angels’ Kendrys Morales, who broke his leg when he jumped on home plate in celebration of a game-winning home run nearly two years ago, hit his first round-tripper since then in a spring training game against Cleveland on Friday. The better news for Morales was that his shot did not decide the game and, thus, he casually crossed home plate without injury on his home run trot.

Is There a Corporation Out There Named Dodger?
With the number of bidders in pursuit of the Los Angeles Dodgers curbed down to three comes news that one of them has considered putting the name of Dodger Stadium up for sale. Long-time Dodger fans may grimace at the notion, but the alternative might be that Frank McCourt keeps the franchise…

Big Bucks for Little Bushers
TGG friends and family showed up to the George Krevsky Gallery in San Francisco this past Saturday to check out the opening reception for The Art of Baseball: 15th Annual Exhibition. We were thrilled to hear the submission of Ed Attanasio's "Bushers"—a collection of 48 unique illustrations of some of the wackiest ballplayers who never played, all drawn on post-it notes—selling for a cool $3,000. It wasn't bought by rocker Chris Issak, who rapped with Ed and talked a little of this wicked, er, great game that was on display. To celebrate, we all walked over to Lefty O'Doul's (a longstanding San Francisco establishment started by, yes, career .349 hitter Lefty O'Doul) and talked up the book version of Ed's illustrations, which we're currently at work on.

Besides Ed's art, the exhibit includes 75 other fine pieces of art from 45 artists and continues through April 28. For more information, go to the exhibit web site.

TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!

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Outguessing the Mayans: TGG's 2012 Baseball Picks
Our annual, fearless preview of the 2012 major league season, with TGG’s
Ed Attanasio and Eric Gouldsberry releasing their picks for who will arrive, thrive, dive and cry. Check it out and see if you agree!