The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: March 26-April 1, 2012
Baseball's "Midnight Special" Season Opener Who's Ready and Not for 2012
Frank McCourt, Billionaire Ubaldo Jimenez and Troy Tulowitzki's Rockie Reunion

A Series Only the Graveyard Shift Could Love
Ssshh! Don’t tell this to anyone, but baseball’s regular season began this past week. Seriously, it’s no rumor—they really did play games that counted. Oh, commissioner Bud Selig did all he could to hide the truth. First of all, he got too really bad teams—the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s—then he had them play on the other side of the world, as far away as he could so as not to attract attention. Finally, he had them play in the middle of the night, when the only people awake are the ones you’d never believe if they tried to tell the truth.

So now we reveal it all, beating Geraldo Rivera to the punch and exposing the truth behind baseball’s Stealth Series. The Mariners and A’s—the two teams expected to battle it out for the AL West basement this season—split a pair of games in what was MLB’s fourth journey into Japan to get an early headstart on the year. In the opener, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki—trying to shake away a rare offseason in 2011—collected four hits to help the Mariners to a 3-1, 11-inning victory; the A’s evened the score the next day when they defeated the Mariners, 4-1, in a game that featured the first home run by heralded Cuban export Yoenis Cespedes.

Seriously (this time, we mean it), MLB opened in Japan to maintain international exposure as and spread alms to a country still reeling from the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear contamination of a year ago. It all’s good, except perhaps next time MLB should attempt to generate a bit more interest within the landmass from which all its teams operate.

Move Over, Cricket
When baseball does go overseas again, it may look across the other pond to Europe. MLB officials are reportedly looking at the possibility of a series either in England or in the Netherlands, where the sport has seen some growth of late—just ask the star-studded Dominican team, which lost not once but twice to the Dutch during the 2009 World Baseball Classic tourney.

The biggest problem for MLB in holding a game abroad would be finding a facility worthy enough to hold big league baseball. The largest capacity for a ballpark in the Netherlands is only 3,000, and while England boasts many large stadia, they’re all built for soccer—with fields that don’t reshape well for baseball. (Remember when the Dodgers set up temporary shop at the oval-shaped Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before Dodger Stadium was built? It would be something like that.)

A European-based game probably won’t happen until 2014 at the earliest..

From Dodger Blue to Deep Red to Rich Black
Last week, it was the New York Mets celebrating the avoidance of financial Armageddon as they settled with the trustees of scam king Bernie Madoff’s victims. But the Mets remain deep in debt. Frank McCourt, the highly embattled ex-Lord of the Dodgers, no longer has that problem.

This past week, McCourt finally let go of the treasure he had so long hoped to keep—and in the process went from fiscal blight to billionaire status. Buying the Dodgers from him was a group fronted by retired basketball legend Magic Johnson and former baseball executive Stan Kasten, backed by major financial investors who apparently had bucks—lots of them. The purchase price was a whopping $2.15 billion, easily topping the largest fee ever paid for a pro sports team (the previous high was $1.47 billion for soccer’s Manchester United in 2005). Forbes Magazine estimated last week that the Dodgers were worth $1.5 billion.

With the franchise back in solid standing (or so we believe), the Dodgers will likely soon become a player in the free agent market, something not seen at Chavez Ravine over the last three or so years. Even the parking lots belong to the new regime; McCourt let go of those, too, because when you sell for $600 million more than you expected, why should parking lots matter anymore?

Yes, We Can
Two of the game’s elder statesmen were rewarded for their hard, efficient work in spring training. The Colorado Rockies not only gave a roster spot to 49-year old pitcher Jamie Moyer—attempting a comeback after Tommy John surgery—but made him the number two man in the rotation after looking sharp this spring. Meanwhile, future Hall-of-Fame infielder Omar Vizquel, now 45, made the Toronto roster after hitting an impressive .452 in Blue Jay camp. Moyer and Vizquel are the only two active ballplayers left who began their major league careers in the 1980s.

And Don't Forget the Whitewalls!
In a strange development this past week, a Connecticut man who claimed that not only did he know Minnesota pitcher Carl Pavano in high school but had an “emotional and physical” relationship with him for three years, is being investigated for a possible extortion attempt upon Pavano to prevent him from releasing the information. Well, the rumor’s now out there; the man, Christian Bedard, is cooperating with authorities and could be arrested; and he won’t be getting what he’d hope from Pavano: A navy blue Ranger Rover with tan leather. Bedard—no relation to major league pitcher Erik Bedard—says he’s openly gay but was just kidding about the request for the SUV, and feels a “bit violated” after his house was raided by authorities. Hey, Christian: How do you think Pavano feels right now?

Matt Bush, Meet Paul Crewe
The details surrounding Matt Bush’s hit-and-run, drunk-driving episode last week is building up into quite a case against the troubled former number one pick. When he was pulled over an hour after the incident, Bush told police officers he had “stopped and bought a few” from a store. Not exactly. According to witnesses interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times, Bush was kicked out not once but twice from a local strip club after becoming “rowdy” while “grabbing” dancers and dropping them to the floor. Bush was also said to have had a companion with him, which raises the question: Was that person in the car with him when he hit a 72-year-old motorcyclist who, this week, finally came out of a coma but is still laboring to breathe due to all the broken bones within his body? If so, local authorities want to talk with him. They’ve asked Bush, but he doesn’t know; he claims to have no remembrance of the accident.

Bush, a former shortstop attempting to make it in the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization this year as a converted pitcher, won’t be playing anytime soon—unless he goes The Longest Yard for the local prison team.

Wounded of the Week
Opening Day is just around the corner (with all due respect to the A’s and Mariners) and baseball’s emergency room is already piling up with casualties like it was midseason. Due to miss the first games of the year with disabled list stints are Tampa Bay outfielder B.J. Upton (lower back), Washington slugger Mike Morse (shoulder), Pittsburgh starting pitcher Charlie Morton (hip), Toronto starting pitcher Dustin McGowan (foot), Los Angeles starting pitcher Ted Lilly (neck) and New York Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda, whose sore shoulder is starting to worry Yankee fans over whether the team made the right move grabbing him from Seattle for up-and-coming slugger Jesus Montero this past winter.

If your name is Chris Carpenter, chances are that you’re also not healthy. Of course, you know about the Carpenter in St. Louis, the ace who’s out with a bad shoulder. But there’s the other Carpenter, the one in Boston dealt from Chicago this past winter as partial compensation for the Cubs’ pilfering of former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein; he’s out as well, having a bone spur removed.

Windfarm at the Ballpark
The greening of the major league ballparks continue—that is, beyond the grass. Earlier we reported that the Kansas City Royals had installed numerous solar panels behind the outfield walls of Kauffman Stadium, and this past week the Cleveland Indians inserted a wind turbine atop Progressive Field. It’s not the classic windmill-style apparatus you might see in bunches along a Southern California desert highway but, rather, a 3,000-pound corkscrew-style machine that can generate energy with even low wind passing through. It’s not said just how much energy will be created because of the turbine, but for the Indians—who’ve also inserted solar panels and are hawkish on recycling within the ballpark—it’s another satisfying step in the green direction.

Veeck on Deck
The Baseball Reliquary, the fun, offbeat museum located east of Pasadena in the Los Angeles Basin, opens up its latest exhibition entitled “Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick” beginning April 9. The exhibit will run through May 24 and feature photographs, artworks, artifacts and documents detailing the career of Veeck, the nonconformist owner of the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox from the 1940s through the 1980s who changed the sport around the field with outrageous promotions and then some. For more information, go the Reliquary’s web site.

He Said What?
“I think he just missed it.”—Washington pitcher Edwin Jackson, after serving up a titanic home run to Atlanta’s Jason Heyward that cleared not only the center-field wall 404 feet away from home plate but, also, a 35-foot tall batter’s backdrop behind it in the Nationals’ 6-3 exhibition win over the Braves.

Now Playing at TGG
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
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 2012
Every year, we take stock at the numbers from spring training and determine which players and teams look sharp for Opening Day—and which ones could use a few more weeks of readiness. A word of warning, however: Exhibition performance is not an indication of regular season performance, as we’ve found out time and time again over the years. Call it the Mike Morse disclaimer, named after the player who ruled spring training stats year after year but bombed when the games began to count—that is, until last year. (All statistics are as of Friday, March 30.)

Ready: The Toronto Blue Jays. The majors’ ultimate middle-class entity is acting like a member of baseball’s 1% thanks to a fantastic 22-5 record, fueled by a stellar 2.64 team earned run average.

Not Ready: The Cleveland Indians, struggling at a 6-20 clip and a 5.36 staff ERA; opponents have hit .309 against the Tribe.

Ready: The Kansas City Royals’ offense, which is hitting above .300 with four projected everyday players—Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Lorenzo Cain—all hitting above .400.

Not Ready: The Miami Marlins’ offense, hitting .234 with just 69 runs collected—less than half of what 13 other major league teams have racked up. The Fish’ .297 on-base percentage is also the majors’ worst this spring. This is not a good way to warm up for a new ballpark with accelerated expectations.

Ready: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles of Anaheim. New environment? No problem. Pujols is hitting .404 with five homers in 52 at-bats.

Not Ready: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee. A .176 batting average amid the occasional torrents of catcalls from fans convinced that he cheated his way to a MVP—and cheated his way out of a suspension.

Ready: C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles of Anaheim. The other big Angel pick-up, like Pujols, looks ready to rock with a 3-0 record and 1.33 ERA.

Not Ready: Josh Colimenter, Arizona. Five starts, a 0-4 record and an 11.81 ERA. Ouch.

Ready: Andre Ethier, Los Angeles. In need of a statistical comeback, Either is hitting a nice, even .400 with 15 of his 18 hits going for extra bases.

Not Ready: Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay. Another player in search of a more glorious past, the once-and-current Ray hasn’t found it so far with a .111 average and a single RBI in 45 at-bats.

Ready: Brett Lawrie, Toronto. Hitting .545 with seven doubles and two triples among his 18 hits; he’s also stolen five bases.

Not Ready: Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh. The slump marches on for the one-time high-profile prospect: Seven hits, one walk and 20 strikeouts in 42 at-bats, while his play at third base has been shaky to say the least.

Ready: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit. Hitting .455 despite taking a hard bouncer to the cheek at third base that cost him ten days of action.

Not Ready: Bobby Abreu, Los Angeles of Anaheim. Hitting .122 with no homers, and dying to be traded from the Angels (the Indians have already said no thanks).

Ready: Luis Mendoza, Kansas City. The Mexican native with a career 7.36 ERA is 4-0 with a 0.54 mark in 16.2 innings this spring.

Not Ready: Terry Doyle, Chicago White Sox. In 36 official at-bats against him, opponents have knocked out 20 hits for a .556 average; his ERA is a catastrophic 21.60.

Ready: Dee Gordon, Los Angeles. Maury Wills reincarnated? The young shortstop is hitting .382 with three triples and ten steals.

Not Ready: Wilmer Flores, New York Mets. Johnny LeMaster reincarnated? Flores eked out a .083 average in 12 at-bats with 5 strikeouts—and committed four errors in ten chances at short.

Ready: Jordan Danks, Chicago White Sox. Hitting .333 with three doubles, a home run and six walks in 33 at-bats.

Not Ready: John Danks, Jordan’s brother. The White Sox’ rotation asset has been knocked on his asset this spring with a 0-3 record and 5.06 ERA.

Ready: Cody Ross, Boston. After an off-year in San Francisco, Ross looks revitalized for the Red Sox with a .366 average, six homers and 15 RBIs in 41 at-bats.

Not Ready: Dexter Fowler, Colorado. Everyone was raving over how Fowler looked ready to purge his subpar effort of 2011. How looks can be deceiving: He’s hitting .127 with seven hits, two walks and 17 strikeouts.

Ready: Gregor Blanco, San Francisco. A possible replacement for Ross, Blanco may sneak onto the Giants’ Opening Day roster thanks to a .358 average and 12 steals.

Not Ready: Jack Cust. The Astros were counting on the veteran slugger to prop up their anemic offense, but a mere single in 25 at-bats this spring looked even worse; he’s been cut and picked up by the Yankees.

Ready: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee. The former Cy Young Award winner looks like one again, scoring a 0.93 ERA with a spring-high 28 strikeouts—while walking just two.

Not Ready: Dontrelle Willis, Baltimore. Another former Cy recipient who continues to look far from it; he’s walked seven batters in 3.2 innings—and struck out none.

Ready: Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee. The emerging catcher is red-hot, batting .512 in 41 at-bats.

Not Ready: Brock Kjeldgaard, Milwaukee. He sounds like he’s from Norway, and if he was we would have joked, “No way, Norway” after seeing him go hitless in 15 at-bats with nine strikeouts. (In fact, he’s from Edmonton, which probably looks like Norway in the winter.)

Something for Everyone to Eat
When you head to the ballpark this year, don’t default to the hotdogs, soda and ice cream at the concession stands. The Daily Meal came up with a list of what it calls the 15 “craziest” foods to be found this year at various sports venues, most of them ballparks. Check out the list here that includes a pulled pork parfait, a 24-inch hotdog and a chicken sandwich with waffles for buns.

Rockie Reunion
It’s a shame that the Colorado Rockies and the Cleveland Indians don’t have any interleague games scheduled together this season, because a few more tickets might have been sold after Sunday’s nasty exhibition between the two teams in Arizona. Former Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez, starting for the Indians, plunked star Colorado hitter Troy Tulowitzki on the elbow; enraged, Tulowitzki yelled out at Jimenez and vice versa, and eventually both had to be separated by numerous players from both benches.

Here’s the background: Jimenez has made no secret of the fact that he’s upset he never got the big contract extension Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez received while in Colorado, leading Tulowitzki to respond via the press that Jimenez should get over it and move on. Maybe it Tulowitzki can stay healthy and Jimenez can reclaim his 96-plus-MPH fastball, then the two have a shot at facing one another this season at the All-Star Game.

You Are There
Aaron Rowand, the former Phillie and Giant trying to hang on with the Miami Marlins this season, was released by the club following a putrid performance in spring camp—all while Showtime’s “The Franchise” cameras were rolling in manager Ozzie Guillen’s office. Rowand will still get the last laugh: He’s collecting $12 million this season in what is the final year of his overblown five-year, $60 million contract given to him by the Giants.

More Big Bucks for Little Bushers
"The Art of Baseball: 15th Annual Exhibition" continues at the George Krevsky Gallery in San Francisco, featuring 76 wonderful pieces of art—including the one everyone is talking about from TGG's own Ed Attanasio; his "Bushers" collection of 48 wildly creative baseball caricatures drawn on post-it notes sold for $3,000, with additional fine art pieces selling for $750 (and a bunch of those have also sold).

The exhibition runs 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!

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.

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!