This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: March 24-30, 2014
Wrigley Field's Ten Most Memorable Moments The Dope on Tougher PED Rules
A Review of MLB Video Review Central Bonjour à Nouveau, Montreal

Ten to Remember at Wrigley
One of the more intriguing home openers this week in baseball will take place Friday at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the fabled ballpark that this year turns 100 years of age.

Originally built for the Chicago ChiFeds of the short-lived Federal League, and later assumed by the Cubs in 1916, Wrigley remains pretty much the same as it was since it was built, having of course been updated with enlarged seating capacity and electronics. It has been called everything from the “Peter Pan of a ballpark” to, more lately, a “dump.” Charming or decrepit, it can’t be said it’s hardly unusual with its ivied brick outfield walls and upscale knothole views on from the residential rooftops across the street.

Wrigley has the distinction of being the first National League park to draw a million fans (1927), the first ballpark to use an organ (1941) and, as everyone well knows, the last to install lights for night games in 1988.

Despite the fact that the Cubs have still yet to win a World Series since residing at Wrigley, the Friendly Confines have seen more than its fair share of baseball history. What follows are, in our opinion, the ten most memorable moments in Wrigley Field history.

10. No-Hitter as Disappointment. On September 3, 1972, the Cubs’ Milt Pappas is an out away from a perfect game and has a 0-2 count on San Diego pinch-hitter Larry Stahl. But he draws the count full and then fires a fastball that umpire Bruce Froemming—in his second of 37 years umpiring—calls just outside the strike zone for a walk. Pappas walks off the mound and barks at Froemming before settling for the no-hitter.

9. The Sandberg Game. Chicago second baseman Ryne Sandberg establishes himself as a MVP force to be reckoned with on June 23, 1984 as he demolishes the rival St. Louis Cardinals with five hits and seven RBIs. What makes the day special is how Sandberg does it; after the Cubs trail by as much as six runs, he ties the game with a homer in the ninth and ties it again in the tenth with his second blast before the Cubs finally win it in eleven innings, 12-11. It’s a seminal victory for a Cubs team that will go on to make a rare postseason appearance.

8. A Curse is Born. The Cubs enter Game Four of the 1945 World Series up two games to one over Detroit, but not among those in the sellout crowd at Wrigley that day is William Sianis, owner of a Greek restaurant who tries to bring in his billy goat. Denied, he angrily replies, “Cubs, not gonna win no more.” The Cubs would lose three of the next four games and the series to the Tigers; they have yet to return to the Fall Classic.

7. Striking Out His Age. Kerry Wood, a 20-year-old rookie who has shown nothing in his first four major league appearances for the Cubs, blindsides the visiting Houston Astros on May 6, 1998 with a performance for the ages; the Texan native fires a two-hit shutout and becomes only the second pitcher (after Roger Clemens in 1986) to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game.

6. Streakin’ to the Pennant. The Cubs clinch the 1935 NL pennant and extend their winning streak to 21—the longest pure (no ties) run in major league history—with a doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals. Bill Lee wins his 20th game of the year in the first contest, outdueling Dizzy Dean; the Cubs win their 100th on the year in the nightcap by rallying late after trailing, 3-0.

5. The Double No-Hitter. It’s never happened before or since in major league history: Two pitchers throwing no-hitters in the same game through nine innings. It takes place on May 2, 1917 in what may be the utter epitome of the Deadball Era, as the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn and Cincinnati’s Fred Toney lock horns and stifle the opposition. Forced into extra innings, it’s Vaughn who gives in when a single, a two-base error and his botching of a play at the plate gives the Reds the lead; Toney completes the no-hitter on his end and the Cubs lose, 1-0. (There won’t be another no-hitter at Wrigley until 1955.)

4. Let There be Lights. Wrigley was originally going to install lights in the early 1940s, but World War II got in the way; the Cubs remained exclusive to daylight for nearly another 50 years, and after continuous armwrestling with local residents were finally able to go bright at night on August 8, 1988 with pregame pomp and ceremony befitting of an All-Star game. Then Mother Nature ruined it all; a heavy thunderstorm rolled through and brought a halt to the game in the fourth inning with the Cubs leading Philadelphia, 3-1. The “official” first night game was played in its entirety a day later, with the Cubs beating the New York Mets, 6-4.

3. The Homer in the Gloamin’. On September 28, 1938, Gabby Hartnett hits the greatest home run no one ever saw when he belts one deep over the Wrigley wall in evolving darkness to break a 5-5 ninth-inning tie, delivering victory and an emotional crush upon the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, who won’t recover and concedes the NL pennant to Chicago after holding a 6.5-game cushion over the Cubs just weeks earlier.

2. The Called Shot. Even more legendary than Hartnett’s homer is the one deposited at Wrigley by Babe Ruth six years earlier, which he calls by pointing to the center-field fence just before Cubs pitcher Charlie Root fires away…or did Ruth call it? Even today, debate over the topic still rages. One thing’s for sure: Ruth’s homer is an unmistakable blast considered one of the longest ever hit at Wrigley, and it ignites the New York Yankees to a 7-5 victory in Game Three of a 1932 World Series they would sweep over Chicago.

1. That Damned Sixth Game. The Cubs are three runs up and five outs away from their first World Series appearance in 58 years when everything falls apart. First, there’s the moment everyone wants to remember (or forget, if you’re a Cubs fan): First-row fan Steve Bartman gets in the way of Chicago outfielder Moises Alou and breaks up what might have been the second out of the inning. Two batters later, it’s the moment everyone conveniently never brings up: What should be the second and third outs never come as shortstop Alex Gonzalez botches a double play grounder and opens the floodgates for the visiting Florida Marlins, who notch eight runs in the inning to ultimately win the game and (in seven) the 2003 NL pennant. And the Curse lives on…

A PEDestrian Increase
If you think this week’s agreement by Major League Baseball and the players’ union to lengthen PED penalties will deter those taking them—and if the players’ guesses per an ESPN poll (below) is accurate, 10% of the big league workforce is juiced up—think again. Such PED users may have given pause to the extended suspension numbers—80 games for a first offense, 162 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third—but probably shook it off when, over the next few days, they heard these numbers: $292 million and $144 million.

Those last two figures are what Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, respectively, will receive per record-setting extensions signed this past week. Cabrera’s deal is the biggest for any player in any sport, ever; Trout’s is easily the largest for a player with only two full years of service to vouch for, and it’s backended to the point that Trout will earn over $34 million in each of his final two years of the deal, the most currently guaranteed to any one player.

We’ve said, time and time again, that the only way to completely rid baseball of steroids is zero tolerance: An effective lifetime ban on the first offense. The reward of tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars the juicers can receive if uncaught is certainly worth the risk; when the alternative is making a minimum salary of $500k or, worse, minimum-wage minor league income, the allure of PEDs is particularly attractive. That’s even more so now with the mega-extensions given to Cabrera and Trout. Granted, these are arguably baseball’s two best players, but there’s no denying that the numbers they’ll get will raise salary levels—and thus, the temptation of PEDs—for the lesser players.

But be Aware
The teeth given to the new anti-PED process has gotten a bit sharper. Avoiding detection will become a riskier business for any doper; MLB will more than double the number of urine tests, and blood tests for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) will also increase. And for the first time, MLB will unleash a gizmo called Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) that is said to be more accurate in detecting HGH in blood samples.

Here’s an interesting new wrinkle in the rules: It’s now decreed that any player who tests positive for PEDs during the year will automatically be banned from playing in the postseason should his team make it—even if his suspension has already lapsed by October. At first thought, it seems eye-opening that the union would allow that, but then one must think how upset the clean players were to see Biogenesis users Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz participating in the playoffs last season.

Bad Decision, Good Timing
Just days before the tougher PED penalties were agreed to, Tampa Bay pitcher
Alex Colome became the second major leaguer—and the second guy named Alex—to be punished this year for PED use, getting docked 50 games for using a drug usually administered to horses. Perhaps this will give him a better shot at winning the Kentucky Derby.

Colome was slated to begin his season in the minors, so this is not crippling for the Rays. The question is: If MLB had discovered that he tested positive after the amended rules were announced, even if the test was done before, would he have been given 50 games or the revised 80?

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A Peak Inside the War Room
A week before the start of the regular season, members of the media were given a tour of the “War Room” or MLB’s video replay center, where every questionable call challenged by managers will be looked over by rotating umpires and technicians at their side. Judging from the pictures, the center is a dizzying mosaic of monitors big and small, an overall makeup even Lucius Fox with his massive array of NSA-like surveillance screens in The Dark Knight would have impressed.

Behind this gluttonous use of hi-tech energy lies the essence of its existence: Getting the calls right. It seems much ado about something that could be simpler—such as TGG’s method of comprehensive video review that we spelled out nearly four years ago.

The warts in MLB’s process are apparent as you read the take of Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.

Managers who are burdened with the challenges, for instance, will need to study the rules regarding how long they have to make the decision to call for a review depending on the situation, all to avoid potential abuse via delay of the process. It’s a whole new set of bylaws for which the managers, who have enough on their mental plates already, will have to review and recall. Using our method—with the review team in a booth above the field calling for the challenges—the managers can tend to their usual business, with potential controversies avoided.

Baseball is hoping that the average review falls in the area of 60-90 seconds—but that doesn’t count the time spent on the field where the manager calls for the review and the umpires walk over to grab the headset. All told, the average replay in spring training has been around two-plus minutes. Our method easily allows for a maximum stoppage of 60 seconds to avoid disrupting the flow of the game—and lengthening it as a result.

Passan writes: “Each team has its own video suite in every stadium, manned by a video coordinator or coach, to help inform the manager whether he should use his challenge.” What a waste of space, manpower and time that again burdens the team and its manager.

Passan, again: “On busy nights, umpires will watch two games at a time.” TGG believes it’s almost essential that one group of reviewers is there, at the game—one game—feeling the flow and understanding better the context of the moments in question. We previously warned of the potential for a logjam in the War Room in which too few review officials are overwhelmed by too many reviews at once.

There’s one thing we should also note about the replay rules we had previously misreported. Originally we said the manager would get as many challenges as he wanted so long as they were successful. That’s part true; if a challenge is upheld, you do lose your privilege to challenge again. But if you win the first challenge, you only get one left, period. Quotas, grrr.

The brave new world of comprehensive replay, for better or for worse, is upon us. The growing pains are inherent, of course. Nothing is perfect. But MLB’s method is far from it. We said last summer when all of this was unveiled for the first time that baseball will be wishing a year later that they hadn’t gone forward with their idea of video review. We still stand by that.

Let’s see who’s wrong by August.

Le Grand Return
Spring training broke up from its Florida and Arizona bases with teams playing their final tune-ups either at home or in neutral sites such as San Antonio…and Montreal, where the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets played the first major league games of any kind since the Expos exited to Washington at the end of 2004.

The energy stored up over a decade was palpable for the 96,000 fans who showed up at Olympic Stadium, the Expos’ maligned old home. Many attended wearing Expos flair and showed enormous enthusiasm—alas, too much for one second-deck fan in the first game who helped rouse the crowd into a wave by foolishly standing atop a railing on the first row and losing his balance, falling 40 feet down to the first level; at upload time, the unidentified man, 40 years of age, was in critical condition.

On the field, the past was not forgotten as Expos heritage was celebrated before each game. On Friday, there was a tribute for the late Gary Carter, the Hall-of-Fame catcher who proved to be one of the most popular to wear a Montreal uniform; on Saturday, the bulk of the snake-bitten 1994 Expos, the low-budget wonder who looked to be honing in on the World Series before the players’ strike cancelled it, showed up and were feted.

The raucous atmosphere proved a solid audition in Montreal’s bid to get back into the MLB sphere. There currently is a grass-roots effort in town to generate interest and brink big league baseball back, and this two-game series justified the movement. Now it’s up to someone in baseball to give serious thought north of the border. Can you say “Rays” in French?

What the Players Think…
An ESPN poll surveying 143 current major leaguers—that’s 19% of the total workforce—revealed some interesting tidbits. Among the data: Half of the respondents want
Alex Rodriguez kicked out of the players’ union; 80% say they’re “ready” for an openly gay teammate; 44% say that the New York Yankees are the most overhyped team, while 23% believe the Oakland A’s are the most underrated; Washington’s Bryce Harper is considered the most overrated player, edging out Rodriguez and Los Angeles’ Yasiel Puig; believe that nearly 10% of all players are still using some form of illegal performance enhancement; and while the vast majority is against a salary cap, a surprisingly more-than-zero amount of 6% believe it’s a good thing.

As for which teams they think will win the World Series, 19% of the vote went to St. Louis, followed by 18% for Detroit, 15% for the Dodgers, 11% for Boston, and 7% each for Washington and (despite all the injuries) Atlanta.

…And What the Players Earn
According to figures researched by the Associated Press, the Dodgers will have baseball’s highest payroll at $235 million—ending a 16-year run by the Yankees, who check in at $203 million. Those two are followed on the list by Philadelphia—saddled with a number of bloated contracts to aging players—at $180 million, the defending world champion Boston Red Sox at $163 million and Detroit at $162 million. Bringing up the rear are the Houston Astros—whose $45 million payroll is still a huge bump up from last year’s miniscule $18 million figure—and the Miami Marlins, who will pay their players a collective total of $48 million.

Los Angeles will also field the player receiving the biggest paycheck this season, and that’s pitcher Zack Greinke, who’ll earn $24 million in salary and prorated signing bonuses according to the AP. Greinke temporarily replaces Rodriguez, who would have grossed $25 million had he not been suspended for the year.

Bushers (and TGG)—in Person!
If you’re in San Francisco and bouncing about following the Giants’ home opener on April 8, come to the historic Ferry Building and Book Passage for a book signing and chat with author-illustrator
Ed Attanasio and designer-writer Eric Gouldsberry—the two guys who just happen to also be This Great Game—starting at 6:00 p.m. The book, of course, is Bushers: Ballplayers Drawn From Left Field, but a little TGG will be spoken as well. Hope to see you all there!

Today the Yankees, Tomorrow the World
In a week with many polls like the ESPN one above also came this one from Money Magazine naming the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. Number One was the Pope. Among those following him in the top ten were German chancellor Angela Merkel, Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton, rock star Bono, the Dalai Lama and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Guess who just missed the cut for the top ten at no. 11? Derek Jeter.

The Pain You Give is Equal to the Pain You Take
A week after lashing a line drive off the face of Cincinnati closer
Aroldis Chapman, Kansas City’s Salvador Perez got beaned in a Cactus League game against San Diego. Unlike Chapman, who won’t pitch until at least May, Perez survived without major injury.

Let’s Get This Darned Thing Done
Miami Marlins president
David Samson gave a public plea to his players and coaches to speed things up at Marlins Park, throwing out an average game time target of two hours and 40 minutes—15 minutes quicker than the ballpark with the fastest average time last year, at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. After all, you don’t want to depress the Miami fans any longer than you have to.

‘Cause Every Little Thing, Gonna—(Cut)
The games aren’t the only things in need of being sped up. Boston’s
Shane Victorino said this past week that the Red Sox—and other major league teams—are being instructed to limit the time of “walkup” music that audibly escorts a player to the plate to no more than 15 seconds. This doesn’t sit well with Victorino, whose signature walkup of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds usually needs 20 seconds to relay its full effect. It does sit well with us, however; call us traditional purist lackies, but we’ll take the classic ballpark organ over the bass-shaking rock and rap cuts—as easygoing as Three Little Birds is.

We Got You, Babe
Uncovering previously lost or unknown baseball footage is always a treasure, and
Tom Shieber of Baseball Researcher did just that when he discovered “outtake” footage from a newsreel of a game between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators from the 1920s. It took additional research for Shieber to determine that the game took place on June 1, 1925; although the footage isn’t sensational or terribly revealing—it mostly shows a series of swings from Babe Ruth, who’s also later shown hanging out at the foot of the dugout—it’s significant because of two events that took place that day at Yankee Stadium: One, the game marked the return of Ruth after missing the season’s first 40 games from his infamous spring training “bellyache,” and two, a young Lou Gehrig pinch hit to mark the start of his legendary streak of 2,131 consecutive games played. (That’s Gehrig, by the way, sitting in the back of the dugout in the last clip.)

The Yankees lost the game to the Senators, 5-3. Ruth was 0-for-2 with a walk before being removed late in the game; the winning pitcher for Washington was 37-year-old Walter Johnson, on his way to his 12th and final 20-win campaign.

The Height of Greed
How money-conscious is agent
Scott Boras? He even wants a cut of contracts from players he doesn’t represent. When Boras repped outfielder Carlos Beltran, he threw in a clause that called for him to receive 5% of any future contract if Beltran “prematurely terminated” him. That’s exactly what Beltran did, and Boras wanted that 5% when the All-Star signed with St. Louis in 2012 through a different agent. Beltran filed a grievance against Boras and won.

Unscathed and Unfazed
When it comes to baseball,
Vin Scully has seen it all—and you can say he’s now felt some of it as well. During Friday’s exhibition game at Dodger Stadium between the Dodgers and Angels, Scully was working the Dodgers’ TV broadcast when a 5.1 earthquake shook up the Los Angeles area. You can see the camera shaking as the quake takes place, and you can hear the crowd roar (but not panic); Scully himself seems hardly shaken, calmly describing the “tremor” he had just felt in the press box.

We Just Got into Town and, Boy, Are Our Wings Tired
According to, the Seattle Mariners will travel farther than any other major league team this year, at 51,540 miles. The Mariners perennially top this list thanks to its proximity—or lack thereof—to every other MLB town; the nearest one is Oakland, 700 miles away. Not even Los Angeles or Arizona will travel as much in the air this season even when counting in their marathon flights to and from Australia. Who travels the fewest miles, you may ask? Try the Chicago Cubs, who will add 22,969 miles to the odometer in 2014.

They Still Think You’re a Jrk in Atlanta
Nice to see that some teams’ promotion spots reference the controversies of yesteryear. Check out this ad for the Minnesota Twins in which former first baseman
Kent Hrbek uses the team mascot to teach current players how to knock opponents off the bag, as he infamously did to Atlanta’s Ron Gant in the Twins’ seven-game World Series triumph over the Braves in 1991.

They Tweeted What?
“Dice-KKK off to a quick start. He strikes out the side in the 1st inning.” —The New York Mets. Our question: Was there Kevlar protection under the pointed white cap
Daisuke Matsuzaka was apparently wearing?

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekIt’s a new season with fresh hopes—and fresh aches for those who’ll miss Opening Day and beyond. Among those entering the House of Pain is Dodgers ace
Clayton Kershaw, making his first-ever DL appearance with a bad back; Cleveland outfielder Michael Bourn (hamstring), Texas pitching ace Yu Darvish (neck) and catcher Geovany Soto (torn meniscus, out three months); Washington starting pitcher Doug Fister (back); San Francisco second baseman Marco Scutaro (back) and reliever Jeremy Affeldt (knee); Boston reliever Craig Breslow (shoulder); and top major league prospect Byron Buxton, whose wrist will keep him from starting the year with Minnesota’s Class-AA team.

Meanwhile, two more pitchers appear headed for Tommy John surgery: Arizona reliever David Hernandez and Atlanta reliever Cory Gearrin.

The Comebacker: Back into Full Gear
Our next edition of the Comebacker will go into full in-season mode with our weekly picks for our Best and Worst of the Week and our day-by-day review of major league action. All that, plus our usual notes like those above

The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.

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