The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: March 21-27, 2011
MLB's Debt Wish? Our Picks for the Best & Worst From Spring Training
Testicle Spectacle: The Barry Bonds Trial Begins Joe Biden Keeps the Jays Waiting

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Debt Trap
While the NFL and NBA are headed toward almost certain work stoppages this fall, most believe baseball’s negotiations for a new labor contract with its players will be relatively easy without threat of a strike or lockout. But the financial problems currently affecting the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, combined with recent talk from big-spending teams grumbling over how small spenders are taking advantage of revenue sharing, might make negotiations difficult.

At the heart of the problem is the issue of debt. The Mets and Dodgers are operating at a debt-to-operating income ratio well above the 10:1 allowed by MLB’s bylaws—but a terrific article published this past week by Forbes dissecting the two teams’ struggles states that commissioner Bud Selig is turning his back on the problem, in part because he probably doesn’t know how else to deal with it outside of simply stripping away the franchises from Fred Wilpon in New York and Frank (and maybe Jamie) McCourt in Los Angeles. The players’ union reportedly doesn’t like the idea of the debt limit bylaws, because it could discourage teams from spending more on players; in a sense, they’re encouraging a build-up of debt that could become unsustainable.

Do you see a bubble growing? Has anyone in baseball learned from Wall Street?

Compounding the issues of the day is the release of Forbes’ annual list of MLB franchise values this past week. While the average team value is up 7% from last year (with the Yankees tops at a whopping $1.7 billion), it was revealed that five of baseball’s most noted have-not’s—Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Florida, Oakland and San Diego—apparently have a lot; all five made profits of at least $10 million last year, in part due to revenue sharing payments from big spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox and, yes, the Mets. Those latter teams would like to neuter revenue sharing, which would lessen their debt load but also cause more league-wide financial upheaval and thus limit funds for handing out gracious long-term contracts to players—another point of contention likely to be brought up by the union during negotiations.

A year or so ago we opined that MLB, if it really wanted to be deviously headstrong, would be smart to try and split the union on the subject of HGH blood testing during labor talks. But it’s more likely it’ll recommend solutions to the sport’s looming debt and revenue sharing issues, some of which makes common sense. The union may cringe and even balk at the idea of such solutions; after all, HGH testing only involves a player’s health. This is about money.

Jersey Store
On a more lightweight note, Forbes came out with a list of the best-selling major league uniforms, by player, during last year. Derek Jeter’s name appeared on the most jerseys, followed by Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, Philadelphia pitcher Roy Halladay and his teammate, Chase Utley. Pitcher Cliff Lee was fifth, though no breakdown was given as to how many of his jerseys were those of the Phillies, Texas Rangers or Seattle Mariners.

As far as total sales for all licensed products among teams were concerned, the Yankees were predictably declared the most popular—followed by the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Phillies and Chicago Cubs. The Minnesota Twins were the only “small market” team to make the top ten list, at number nine; the champion San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, did not make the top ten—though on the coattails of their splendid 2010 season, we’re sure that will change for 2011.

Barry Bonds: The Trial
The long-awaited case of the U.S. Government vs. Barry Bonds finally started this past week, whipping up many of the same emotions fans in the San Francisco Bay Area have held for or against the disputed home run king over the last five years. At issue is whether Bonds lied to the Feds when, speaking in front of a grand jury back in 2003 on the BALCO case, he claimed he did not knowingly take steroids.

The trial began with former best friend Steve Hoskins detailing his strong concern (and evidence, including an audio tape recording) that Bonds was in too deep with steroids and trainer Greg Anderson. It got more technical later in the week when an expert on testicle shrinkage described the use of an orchidometer to determine the size of, yes, you guessed it. Anderson himself was called in, said he would refuse to testify and therefore was sent to jail—again—out of contempt for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last roughly a month.

Bonds is said to have hired 13 lawyers for this case, led by Allen Ruby, a high-powered legal eagle who once battled the NFL on behalf of the Oakland Raiders and their mercurial owner, Al Davis. No one knows the legal costs for Bonds, but it’s safe to suggest that it’s well in the millions.

Is Bonds worried? It doesn’t appear so. Reporters noted that he was seen yawning and closing his eyes at time during the trial, which recalls the scene in The Untouchables when Al Capone is doing the same while the Feds are attempting to grill him for tax evasion. Perhaps Bonds has also bought out the jury as well as Anderson.

Some believe Bonds has this coming to him; others roll their eyes as to why the Federal Government is spending our hard-earned tax dollars trying to jail a guy for lying about cheating in baseball. Jose Canseco, like Bonds a former member of baseball’s steroid fraternity, called the trial “ridiculous,” adding: “They’re not going to find him guilty. If they do find him guilty, they’ll have to go after Roger Clemens and millions of other players who perjured themselves before congressional members.” Millions, Jose? All we recall is Bonds and Clemens and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa. More like a handful, pal.

East vs. West
Baseball teams usually weigh the pros and cons of playing in the Cactus League vs. the Grapefruit League, but now a geographical rift may be developing just within the Cactus League itself. Even though all 15 teams training in Arizona currently reside in the Phoenix area, those based on the east side are drawing more this spring; the glistening new Salt River Fields (hosting the Colorado Rockies and hometown Diamondbacks) has much to do with it, as does the popularity of two longstanding east side-based Cactus occupants, the Chicago Cubs and champion San Francisco Giants. Chicago White Sox owner
Jerry Reinsdorff said another factor is the lack of development in the less established areas west of town around Surprise, where his team trains with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Some might think that it’s no big deal to drive from one part of Phoenix to the other to catch a game, but why would baseball tourists anchored in Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa fight up to 40 miles of traffic to cross town when you have prime spring training action right down the street?

March Madness
For the first time in three years, Opening Day will take place before the start of April, with six games on tap for March 31. The early start date has much to do with trying to keep the postseason from edging into November, as it has done each of the last few years. But in picking their poison, Major League Baseball will cast a weary eye on the weather as teams get real a mere ten days after the official end of winter. Forecasts for Cincinnati, St. Louis and the New York Yankees’ home openers on March 31 show first-pitch temperatures in the mid-40s; only in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers and Giants will get it on in the evening, will shirt-sleeve conditions not be considered risky—with temperatures expected to hover close to 70 degrees.

Wounded of the Week
Just asking: Did players back in the golden days of baseball break down during spring training like they do now? The exhibition time is supposed to be a period where players ease in and be fresh and ready for Opening Day, but the list of those hitting the disabled list going into the regular season makes you wonder if it’s September instead of April.

Among the many on the shelf for the first pitch of the season: Jake Peavy of the Chicago White Sox (shoulder), Cincinnati starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey (both with shoulder issues), two Houston second basemen (Jeff Keppinger, foot, and Clint Barmes, broken hand), Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Kendrys Morales (toe), Los Angeles starting pitcher Jon Garland (oblique), Milwaukee outfielder Corey Hart (oblique), New York Yankee outfielder Curtis Granderson (oblique), Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley (knee) and closer Brad Lidge (shoulder), San Francisco outfielder Cody Ross (calf), Texas starting pitchers Tommy Hunter (groin) and Scott Feldman (knee), and Toronto starting pitcher Brandon Morrow (arm) and reliever Octavio Dotel (hamstring). At upload time, word spread that San Diego ace Mat Latos and Seattle outfielder Franklin Guiterrez may also hit the DL after they struggled to get game-ready.

We’re no experts on this, but maybe the players had it right years ago. Don’t work out in the offseason; just take a job selling clothes in the winter.

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

Spring Trained? Who's Ready and Not for 2011
Every year just prior to Opening Day, we look back on the exhibition season and check out who was hot—and who was not. As always, we don’t discriminate against those who fatten up in the late innings off the Triple-A and Double-A guys just happy to be hanging around with the veterans. Numbers are numbers in our book.

On our list last year, we were deceived by Delwyn Young—who hit a spring-high six homers but then labored to total seven in the regular season for Pittsburgh (he’s now fighting for a job in Philadelphia)—and pitcher Todd Wellemeyer, who looked so hot for San Francisco but failed the test big time once the games counted in April (all while keeping the five spot in the rotation warm for Madison Bumgarner). But we did note the awful camp performances of Nate McLouth, Carlos Pena, Kevin Millwood and Ben Sheets in advance of their regular season efforts that similarly stunk. (Full disclosure: The statistics listed below are through March 26.)

Ready: Alex Rodriguez. A .422 average, six homers and seven doubles in 45 at-bats. Looks like there’s some (natural) juice left in him.

Not Ready: The rest of the New York Yankees, who are hitting .242 as a team minus A-Rod. No other team has a worse average this spring.

Ready: Ryan Roberts. One of the few bright spots in an otherwise awful spring for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Roberts is hitting .510; with 13 walks, his on-base percentage moves up to .609. Take that, Ted Williams.

Not Ready: Engel Beltre. Texas fans might have a seizure if they see the Rangers’ hitting stats and see 0-for-17 next to “Beltre,” but relax—it’s not the highly-touted Adrian Beltre who’s come up completely empty, but a 21-year old Dominican who’s of no relation and obviously won’t make the Opening Day roster.

Ready: Mitch Maier. The back-up Kansas City outfielder will be getting more playing time in the regular season if the Royals believe in his .548 average over 36 at-bats. Maier seems to love the springtime; over the past two years, he’s hitting .505 at camp. Eat the rest of your heart out, Ted Williams.

Not Ready: Koby Clemens. The son-of-a-you-know-who didn’t pass his first major league test, managing just two hits in 23 at-bats with eight strikeouts. He wasn’t expected to make the parent roster anyway.

Ready: Mike Morse. We listed this guy a few years back when he impressed during the spring for Seattle. Now with Washington, he’s burning up the Grapefruit League anew with eight home runs and a .361 average. If the baseball season stopped at March 31, Morse, like Meier, would already have one foot in Cooperstown.

Not Ready: Jhonny Peralta. The first-year Detroit shortstop is hitting .220 in 59 at-bats. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he has yet to knock in a single run this spring.

Ready: Jake Fox. The 28-year old part-time power hitter was plugged in this spring for Baltimore, belting an exhibition-high nine homers with seven doubles added; he hit .318 overall.

Not Ready: Garrett Atkins. The former all-star’s decline is complete; he couldn’t even make it with Pittsburgh, going just 4-for-31 with 11 strikeouts before receiving an outright release from the Bucs.

Ready: Welington Castillo. When he’s played, he’s been white-hot—collecting 12 hits in 18 at-bats for the Chicago Cubs. His defense behind the plate is said to be superior as well. He’s trying to beat out Koyie Hill for the back-up spot. So how is Koyie doing?

Not Ready: Koyie Hill. One hit in 28 at-bats this spring.

Ready: Chris Davis. Forever struggling at the major league level with the Rangers, Davis has blistered spring training opponents with a .364 average, five homers and 17 RBIs in 55 at-bats. It looks like his career Triple-A numbers, which makes sense because it’s probably Triple-A pitchers he’s facing.

Not Ready: Hideki Matsui. Now with Oakland, the veteran DH has struggled with a .125 average, one homer and two RBIs in 56 at-bats. And that’s in the warm, dry desert; wait ‘til he meets the power-killing marine air hanging over the Coliseum.

Ready: Roy Halladay. A 4-0 record and 0.42 ERA in 21.2 innings. This guy is always in midseason form.

Not Ready: Carlos Silva. And not employed, either, after the Cubs let him go following a dismal spring with a 10.90 ERA and a dugout fracas to his bad credit.

Ready: Justin Verlander. The Detroit ace was 3-0 with a 0.96 ERA and 23 strikeouts (against just three walks) in 28 innings.

Not Ready: Russ Ohlendorf. Pittsburgh’s projected Opening Day starter, 1-11 last year, was 0-4 with a 10.05 ERA this spring. Attention, Pirate fans: If the aspirin bottle hasn’t emptied out yet, reach again for it.

Ready: Kyle McClellan. The St. Louis Cardinals are praying that the career reliever’s camp numbers (3-0, 0.53 ERA) are no mirage and that he’ll make up for the loss of Adam Wainwright.

Not Ready: Joe Saunders. Arizona’s pitching has been bad in general this spring, but no one on the Diamondbacks has been worse than Saunders, 0-3 with a 12.51 ERA in 13.1 innings.

Ready: The Milwaukee Brewers’ offense. The strength of the Brew Crew was on full display in the Cactus League with a .333 team batting average, a .387 on-base percentage and a .507 slugging percentage—all tops in the majors.

Not Ready: The Arizona Diamondbacks. No team this spring has lost more games, made more errors, struck out more often and given up more home runs. Mark Reynolds is gone, so you can’t pin the blame on him.

The Life of a Japanese Interpreter
Why is it, ten years after coming to America, that Ichiro Suzuki still can’t speak English on his own? In fact, why is it that most (if not all) players from Japan still speak with their native tongue despite years in the States? (Players from Latin America seem to at least make the attempt to go English.) Shedding light on all of this is a recent article put out by Yahoo! Sports on how Japanese players in the majors lean on their interpreters for more than just translation. Check it out here.

Biden His Time
Vice president Joe Biden visited the New York Yankees at their spring training base at Tampa this past week, all while the day’s other visitors—the Toronto Blue Jays, present for an exhibition game to follow—we’re asked to wait outside for security purposes. (Maybe if the Jays weren’t Canadian, they would have been let in.) The delay lasted 30 minutes as the Jays’ bus literally had to circle around the parking lot while waiting for Biden’s detail, which included hordes of motorcycles, a limo and a machine gun-toting SUV. The wait might have been shorter, but just as Biden was preparing to leave, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez—apparently showing up late on the scene—asked to have a few extra minutes with the Veep.

Better Late Than Early
Florida’s sophomore power man Mike Stanton got in his first action of the spring this past Thursday—and hammered two home runs with seven RBIs in the Marlins’ 15-7 exhibition win over Boston.

He Said What?
“Miggy throws like Miss Iowa.” —Washington shortstop Ian Desmond on St. Louis pitcher and former teammate Miguel Batista, after getting plunked by Batista in the midst of a heated spring training game that led to a near-brawl and Batista’s ejection. The Miss Iowa reference recalls the comment last year by Batista, who last year was a last-minute replacement for wunderkind Stephen Strasburg before an unsuspecting sellout crowd that reacted by booing Batista, who replied: “It’s like you hear Miss Iowa and you say, ‘Miss Iowa?’”

Opening Day's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
The 2011 regular season begins with Oakland’s Mark Ellis holding onto the majors’ longest active hitting streak held over from last year; the veteran second baseman hit safely in his final 13 games of 2010.

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.

All Things Being Equal: Our Picks For 2011
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio give their picks for the best and worst of the upcoming regular season in our annual preview of MLB. Check it out now in our Opinions section.

All Things Being Equal: Our Picks For 2011
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio give their predictions for the 2011 MLB regular season. 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!