The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: April 2-8, 2012
Former All-Stars on the Unemployment Line The Longest Opening Day in Cleveland
A Look at the Marlins' New Ballpark Torii Hunter's Near-Fatal Brush With the Law

The End of the Line?
The 2012 regular season opened with some familiar star names of the past decade-plus absent from major league rosters. Are they unwanted? Are they waiting for the right place, right time to return? Do they just want to buy a ticket, grab a seat and ride those they’ve hated when they played?

If these guys are peaking with sad eyes through a door they’re no longer allowed through, don’t feel bad—and you won’t once you see the parenthetical number at the end of each player’s status below. That’s their total earnings to date playing baseball, according to

Johnny Damon. The 38-year-old outfielder played full-time for Tampa Bay last year but is currently on the outside looking in. His agent, Scott Boras, insists that he’ll find a new major league home by May 1, but the dope on Damon is that teams are weary of him due to weak knees and a perception that he’s self-interested in reaching the 3,000-hit mark. ($110,439,000)

J.D. Drew. The talented but oft-injured 14-year veteran may have broken down for the last time. The Red Sox breathed a huge sigh of relief that they were able to erase his $14 million in annual wages off the books with the expiration of his five-year contract, and apparently no one’s in a rush to grab him—especially after hitting .222 with four homers in 2011—and from all we’ve heard, he’s in no rush to return, either. ($108,091,688)

Jon Garland. After nine straight years eating up roughly 200 innings annually (often with success), the right-handed pitcher succumbed to shoulder surgery in 2011; he was given a look by Cleveland this spring but failed his physical—hardly a good sign. Garland is still only 32, so perhaps we haven’t heard the last of him. ($50,942,023)

Vladimir Guerrero. The former MVP’s 37-year-old knees are in worse shape than your average 57-year-old. After a lightweight effort in Baltimore last year, Guerrero is looking, but no one’s looking back. The Indians (again) gave him a look but ultimately said no thanks. Guerrero is now talking about playing in Japan. ($125,541,455)

Derrek Lee. After hitting .337 with seven home runs in 28 games for Pittsburgh to end the 2011 season, you’d think there would be something of a rush to net the 36-year-old slugger, but perhaps the salary request is too much. Don’t be surprised if he gets attention from a contender desperate for increased hitting later this summer. ($91,487,001)

Hideki Matsui. Many baseball fans probably think Matsui’s long retired, and that’s because he played in relative anonymity with the Oakland A’s last year. Like Guerrero, Matsui may be headed to Japan—but that’s no big deal to him; he’s from Japan. ($83,250,000)

Magglio Ordonez. The career .309 hitter with nearly 300 lifetime homers has tailed off over the last few seasons; he was reduced to a part-time role in Detroit last year and hit .255 with just five homers. He’s been unapproached and reportedly contemplating retirement—and if he does quit, he’ll go out with what may be the longest hitting streak (18 games) to end a career. ($133,470,746)

Roy Oswalt. The crafty ace right-hander has hardly been ignored during the offseason; he’s not looking for any deal, but the right one. He hasn’t found it yet, even with defending league champions St. Louis and Texas calling in. Oswalt appears to be going the Roger Clemens route, taking his time and waiting for the right opportunity to suit up somewhere at the start of summer. ($91,950,000)

Brad Penny. The 33-year-old pitcher, after an 11-11 record and ghastly 5.30 earned run average for Detroit last season, is currently throwing for Japan’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks after 30 major league teams basically said “Fukuoka” with a slightly different pronunciation. ($49,287,500)

Edgar Renteria. With prominent contributions to two World Series champions (Florida in 1997, San Francisco in 2010), Renteria has too much pride to be given minor league contract offers, as was the case this spring. Looks like we’ve seen the last of him on a ballfield. ($85,042,391)

Ivan Rodriguez. In his 21st major league season last year, I-Rod found himself warming up the Washington catcher’s spot for up-and-coming Wilson Ramos. Available in the spring, the Kansas City Royals considered him but backed off. When Humberto Quintero is a more desirable option, you know it’s time to quit. ($122,573,932)

Javier Vazquez. Like Derrek Lee, the case of Vazquez is a perplexing one because he was so good in the season’s second half, with a 1.92 ERA after June 16. But when he publicly stated that he was likely to retire after the season, perhaps the rest of baseball took him seriously. ($99,410,000)

Brandon Webb. The former Cy Young Award winner has been paid $18 million over the past three years for basically doing nothing. That’s obviously not Webb’s wish, as severe shoulder issues have sidelined him during this time. His agent attempted to showcase him this spring in an effort to generate interest, only to be met with yawns. ($31,550,000)

Miami Nice
Marlins Park opened up officially this past week after the obligatory “dry run” games involving college and high school teams and the more high-profile “bring in the Yankees” exhibition contests. The $510 million marvel looks almost out of place on the site of the former Orange Bowl, situated in one of Miami’s more financially challenged neighborhoods; it’s unapologetically and refreshingly modern, as the Marlins decided to scoff at the dying retro trend and go full speed ahead into contemporary times. (After all, when has Miami ever been considered “old-timey”?)

The ballpark seats 37,000 and, crucially, has a retractable roof that blunts the rain activity that hits the area on an almost daily basis. Aesthetically, Marlins Park is unique with its lime green outfield walls, its bulletproof backstop aquariums, its bizarre mechanized home run sculpture that looks like one of Terry Gilliam’s cartoons from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and an all-out nightclub (The Clevelander) operating behind the left-field wall, complete with bar, pool and go-go dancers wearing nothing but bikini bottoms and body paint (we kid you not; here’s the proof).

But back to the action on the field. Despite early murmurs that the ballpark would be hitter-friendly—the Marlins’ 10-8 warm-up loss to the New York Yankees constituted the most runs scored by Miami this spring, and the most they allowed—it’s become apparent that pitchers will likely enjoy the facility more thanks to its expansive outfield. The typically opinionated Lance Berkman chimed in after his St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Marlins, 4-1, in the first official game at Marlins Park: “If they don’t move the fences in after this year, I’d be surprised.”

Tailigating, Vegan Style?
Milwaukee’s heavy Catholic population (and perhaps we mean “heavy” in more ways than one) had a difficult choice to make this past Friday: Be the good Catholic and abstain from meat on Good Friday, or pig out on traditional Milwaukee meats and cheese in Miller Park’s parking lot before the Brewers’ Opening Day contest against St. Louis. Some fans were “Good,” preferring fish and bread, but others just couldn’t help themselves. One fan told the Associated Press, “It’s Miller Park, Opening Day—I think Jesus would turn the other cheek on this one.”

When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted
Police came to the Newport Beach, California home of Los Angeles of Anaheim outfielder Torii Hunter with guns drawn after a house alarm had been accidentally tripped—all while Hunter was sitting down to watch a movie. Hunter panicked when he heard people trying to force their way in and went into self-defense mode, later saying to the Los Angeles Times, “I grabbed a knife and was about to start Bruce Lee-ing on whoever was there…If I went outside with that knife, I might’ve died.” When police entered, they kept their guns drawn on Hunter until he produced ID of who he was and that it was his home, claiming not to recognize him even though they admitted they go to “a lot of (Angel) games,” according to Hunter. Good thing the “Stand Your Ground” law doesn’t apply in California.

What's in a Name?
The Detroit Tigers this week brought up Duane Below from down in the minors, nearly 100 years after signing a guy named Hugh High. In between, they briefly had Jim Middleton. You can look it up.

Wounded of the Week
The Year of the Injured Closer continues without pause. This week, two more finishers took a seat on the ouch couch—both from the AL East; Boston’s Andrew Bailey underwent surgery for an injured right thumb and will not be back until after the all-star break, while Tampa Bay closer Kyle Farnsworth will miss up to six weeks after straining his pitching elbow. The two players join Joakim Soria, Ryan Madson and Drew Storen as top-line closers who missed Opening Day and beyond.

Under the heading of “be careful what you eat,” Colorado pitcher Josh Outman dined at a 24-hour restaurant and vomited so violently from it afterward that he strained his oblique and was placed on the disabled list. Stay with the catered goods, guys.

He Said What?
“Personally, suspension or not, it’s probably best I’m never in a room with Gregg Williams…” —Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams, from an official statement regarding former New Orleans Saint defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (no relation). Gregg was caught on audio imploring his players to target the head of Ken’s son Kyle, a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers recovering from a concussion, before a NFL playoff game this past January.

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

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week
The new season begins with the return of our daily diary of the past week’s action; next week’s Comebacker will also see the return of our esteemed Best and Worst of the week, honoring and dishonoring the best and worst hitters, pitchers and teams of the week-longish season to date.

Monday, April 2
Two major long-term extensions are given out by “mid-market” teams. The Cincinnati Reds lock up first baseman Joey Votto for an additional ten years and $225 million; out west, the San Francisco Giants extend pitcher Matt Cain for five years and $112.5, exactly half of what Votto is guaranteed in terms of years and total payout. Cain’s deal is the largest ever given to a right-handed pitcher.

Tuesday, April 3
In the middle of the Washington Nationals’ final exhibition game, starting pitcher John Lannan—the dean of the team’s rotation with five straight years of continuous service—is told by manager Davey Johnson that he’s been optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. An upset Lannan later sends an email to reporters saying that he’s requested a trade rather than report to the minors, but the Nationals say they intend to keep him, despite some interest from other teams.

Wednesday, April 4
In the year’s first regular season game (excepting the two games in Japan between Oakland and Seattle that nobody saw), the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals glide past the Miami Marlins, 4-1, on the strength of seven very strong innings from starter Kyle Lohse—who takes a no-hitter into the seventh inning. It’s the first official game at Marlins Park after numerous exhibitions; the retractable roof is open throughout, but no home runs are hit.

Thursday, April 5
The Toronto Blue Jays score three ninth-inning runs off Cleveland closer Chris Perez to tie the game at 4-4, then put up another three-spot in the 16th inning to defeat the Indians, 7-4, in the longest Opening Day game in major league history. Jose Bautista reaches base five times on three hits (including his first home run) and two walks; conversely, new Indian first baseman Casey Kotchman digs himself an early hole in this year’s batting race by going hitless in seven at-bats.

In his first major league appearance since September 2, 2010, Johan Santana pitches five shutout innings to help the Mets defeat the Atlanta Braves at New York, 1-0. The two-time Cy Young Award winner gives up two hits, two walks and strikes out five.

After converting all 52 of his save opportunities between the regular season and the playoffs last season, Detroit closer Jose Valverde blows a 2-0, ninth-inning lead in his first appearance of the 2012 season when the opposing Boston Red Sox rally to tie the game—but earns credit for the win when Austin Jackson’s single in the bottom half of the frame wins the game for the Tigers. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander had handed Valverde a 2-0 lead by allowing just two hits and a walk in eight shutout innings.

Battling the flu, reigning NL Cy winner Clayton Kershaw can only go three innings in his start at San Diego before being removed—but keeps the Padres scoreless while hitting a double in his only plate appearance. The Los Angeles Dodgers rally to a 5-3 win on Matt Kemp’s two-run home run and three Padre errors.

Friday, April 6
In his first game back with the Tampa Bay Rays after a year with the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Pena belts a first-inning grand slam—then hits another deep shot to the face of the wall in the ninth to bring home the winning run in the Rays’ 7-6 win over the New York Yankees at St. Petersburg. The winning rally comes off Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, who blows only his second save in 62 career opportunities against Tampa Bay.

Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn, trying desperately to put his historically bad 2011 campaign behind him, homers at Arlington to tie the major league record for most career long balls hit on Opening Day with his eighth, placing himself alongside Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson in the recordbook. Dunn’s titanic blast into the second deck isn’t enough, as the White Sox lose to the Texas Rangers, 3-2.

Saturday, April 7
Second game, second dose of overtime for the Blue Jays and Indians. This one goes 12 innings and ends up with the same result: Jays 7, Indians 4.

Jamie Moyer, 49, becomes the second oldest player to start a major league game, but takes the loss as the Houston Astros defeat him and the Colorado Rockies at Minute Maid Park, 6-3. Moyer allows two home runs—by Jordan Schafer and J.D. Martinez, neither of whom were alive when Moyer began his major league career—and extends his all-time record for most long balls allowed to 513. Satchel Paige started one game at age 58 for the Kansas City A’s in a quasi-promotional stunt in 1965.

Chicago Cub closer Carlos Marmol, who was tagged with a loss to Washington on Opening Day, blows an eighth-inning lead against the Nationals in the season’s second game and departs to a cascade of boos at Wrigley Field. The Cubs lose, 7-4.

The Detroit Tigers bluntly display why many believe they can win it all this year; Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder each hit two home runs off Boston starter Josh Beckett (who overall gives up a career-worst five) and four Tiger relievers shut down the Red Sox after Doug Fister leaves the game with an injury in the fourth inning. The Tigers rout the Red Sox at Comerica Park, 10-0.

Sunday, April 8
The Red Sox now know what the Rangers went through last October. Boston’s beleaguered bullpen blows a ninth-inning lead and a 12-10, 11th-inning lead to lose at Detroit, 13-12, wrapping up a three-game sweep for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera’s three-run homer ties the game in the ninth; Alex Avila’s two-run shot wins it two innings later.

The Yankees are shut down by Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson at St. Petersburg, 3-0, as the Rays finish off their own sweep of the Bronx Bombers. It’s the first time both the Yankees and Red Sox have begun a season 0-3 since 1966.

Bringing Up the Rear
USA Today’s annual survey of baseball’s top spenders was released this past week with some interesting results. Despite some of the wild spending of late, the number of teams with $100 million-plus budgets actually declined from 12 in 2011 to nine. But it also shows that the abyss between high and low is closing; the New York Yankees have stepped below the $200 million barrier (at $197m) while only two teams (Oakland and San Diego) are below $60 million—a big decrease from the seven teams below that mark last season. The Miami Marlins, not surprisingly, made the biggest jump, doubling their $56 million payroll of a year ago to $118 million—ranking them seventh in the majors.

Will They Call it The Natural Record-Holder?
Howard Bryant’s book The Last Hero: The Life Story of Henry Aaron has been given the green light by Hollywood—with Barry Levinson, director of the 1984 classic The Natural, given the helm. The film will focus on Aaron’s torturous existence chasing Babe Ruth’s career home run record in the early 1970s, receiving hate mail and death threats from racists and other idiots who wanted to see him fail—if not worse.

Know Your Little Havana
Ozzie Guillen apparently didn’t do his homework when he was hired to run the Miami Marlins. This past week, Guillen told Time Magazine that he “loves” and “respects” Cuban dictator Fidel Castro; those are fighting words to almost everyone who lives in Miami’s voluminous Cuban community, which would love nothing more than to see Castro and his communist government toppled. Likely under pressure from the Marlins front office, Guillen apologized for his remarks over the weekend.

Game (on TV) Today
After the ballpark naming rights and filthy rich local TV deals, what’s the next big cash cow for major league teams? How about inviting fans to your ballpark…for away games. That’s what the San Francisco Giants did on Opening Day; while the team was in Arizona taking on the Diamondbacks, the Giants showed the game on their big video screen at AT&T Park and invited the public to come on out. The “Viewing Party” attracted 5,000 who showed up for free, though the parking and concessions likely were not complementary. A profit deal, indeed.

This Week's Challanger to Joe DiMaggio
With the season so young, we give our first nod to a guy currently not even playing: Magglio Ordonez, who finished last year having hit safely in each of his last 18 games. As mentioned above in our list of major leaguers who may have played their last game, Ordonez appears set to retire, so we’re not sure if he’ll ever get a chance to expand on his current run.

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!

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!

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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!