Now, Truly an Angel
Baseball was going through a wonderful Opening Week full of fun, great games and eye-raising individual performances. Then this happens. Nick Adenhart, who threw six shutout innings Wednesday night for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, was riding in a car with three companions shortly after the game in nearby Fullerton and was struck by a drunk driver with a previous DUI and suspended license running a red light; three of the occupants, including Adenhart, died, with the fourth rushed to the hospital in critical condition (he is expected to survive). The driver of the other vehicle fled the scene but was later captured and arrested; his blood alcohol level was reportedly three times the legal limit. Chances are, he’ll never get behind the wheel again, especially now that the DA has charged him with three counts of murder. But at least he lives. Adenhart and two others are gone, forever.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the Angels postponed Thursday’s game against Oakland, then sucked it up emotionally and returned to the field Friday for a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox in a game that was marked by numerous, touching tributes to their good fallen Angel. (And how ironic that we began the week with the blogosphere chuckling at New York Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlain’s drunken rant on video after he was arrested for a DUI last October. In light of Adenhart’s death, that doesn’t seem so funny now.)
A Little Lighter in the Pocket
If the effects of the recession on baseball during this past winter weren’t telling enoughwith free agents forced into discount deals and teams keeping 2009 ticket prices at or below 2008 levelsthen the data on baseball salaries to start the 2009 season, released this past week, pretty much were. Major league wages are down 1.7% from the start of 2008, and while that’s not a plunge, it is a rarity in that only in a handful of seasons have salaries dropped since the advent of modern free agency a third of a century ago.
Despite the economic woes, 14 of MLB’s 30 teams increased payroll. Defending AL champion Tampa Bay saw the biggest increase, up $19 million to $60 million. The biggest drop, not surprisingly, belonged to the San Diego Padres, whose desperate cost-cutting led to a payroll reduction of $30 million. What is surprising to many is that the New York Yankees, despite the massive guaranteed contracts lavished on free agents CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, actually reduced payroll by some $8 million from 2008thanks largely to an exodus of high-priced players including Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and Carl Pavano.
At the cheap end of the totem pole remain the Florida Marlins, at $37 million. But that’s a big jump for the Marlins, who began last year with a payroll just over $20 million.
A Story With a Lot of Bite
We’ve locked in our predictions for the 2009 baseball campaign and you can read all about it, but so has the National Hot Dog and Sausage Councilnot on which teams will win, but which ballparks will sell the most hotdogs. According to a recent press release, some 22 million hotdogs and sausages are expected to be sold (and eaten, we assume) at major league ballparks, with Boston’s Fenway Park forecast to lead the way with 1.5 million. Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles are anticipated to place second and third, respectively.
You Sure You Want to Do This?
Besides the mass consumption of hotdogs expected at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers better brace for a rise in spectator brawls as well. That’s because they’re lowering the price of beer this season from eight bucks down to six. Dodger Stadium used to be a fan-friendly atmosphere, but brawls in the stands have increased with alarming frequency over the years. There’s many ways to entice fans to the ballpark in the midst of a deep recession, but this shouldn’t be one of them.
No one in Toronto is thinking of reducing beer sales anytime soon. The crowd of 16,700 who showed up for Tuesday’s Blue Jay-Tiger game in Toronto paid the price for the 48,000 who misbehaved the night before when alcohol sales at Rogers Centre were banned. Authorities in the Canadian province of Ontario clamped down after an overly raucous environment on Opening Day led to a nine-minute delay, when fans began throwing baseballs and trash on the turf. Alcohol sales will selectively be barred as well for an April 21 game against Texas and a Canadian Football League to be played at Rogers Centre on August 1.
Congratulations, Ya' Bum
It’s nice to know that Philadelphia Phillie fans are in midseason form. When the Phillies were given their World Series rings for 2008 before Wednesday’s 12-11 victory over the Atlanta Braves, the introduction of pitcher Adam Eatonwho’s no longer with the team after compiling a combined 14-18 record with a 6.10 ERA over two disappointing years for the Phillieswas met with boos from the sellout home crowd at Citizens Bank Park. (Eaton is now pitching for Baltimore.)
Kauffman Stadium 2.0
One of baseball’s more underrated ballparks showed itself off after going through a $250 million facelift when Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium opened its doors this past weekend for a series between the Royals and the New York Yankees. The 36-year old ballpark, named after Royal founder Ewing Kauffman and often goes by its shorthand slang of, simply, “The K”, has added more extravagance for those with big bucks with more luxury boxes, exclusive club areas, an outfield plaza and a Royals Hall of Fame which has the challenge of somehow praising the dour pre-George Brett era in Kansas City. Bleachers seats have been added behind the outfield wall for the first time, but the ballpark’s total capacity has actually decreased some 2,000 seats to 38,000. Finally, the K’s two signature points of interestthe fountain display and the “Royal-shaped” scoreboardhave been retained, with the scoreboard enlarged. Originally named Royals Stadium when completed in 1973, Kauffman Stadium was the only baseball-specific facility built for the majors between 1965 and 1991.
Perhaps Every Night Should be Fireworks Night
Mike Phillips of the Miami Herald wrote this observation after the Mets’ 8-4 win over the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium this past Saturday: “The news is that almost 40,000 showed up. If the Marlins were playing at their new ballpark in Little Havana, which will seat 37,000 when it opens in 2012, thousands would have been turned away.” Mike, let’s not carried away. There was a reason so many people suddenly showed up to a stadium that’s usually empty for the Marlins. No, it wasn’t just the presence of the permanent snowbirds who double as longtime Met fans. Or it wasn’t the presence of current Mets Livan Hernandez, Luis Castillo and Gary Sheffield, members of the Wayne Huizenga’s infamous 1997 World Series champion Marlins. What brought most of the crowd out was a postgame combo display of fireworks and rap, headlined by recent American Idol guest Flo Rida. It’s not an unusual tactic in Florida; the only sellouts the Tampa Bay Rays forged before the postseason had more to do with postgame concerts than baseball, even as the Rays were stunning the sports world with their sudden ascension to the top of the AL. Let’s face it: Until the Marlins’ new ballpark opens and until owner Jeffrey Loria gets serious about long-term contracts for his young, talented players, fans will almost never have to worry about walking up to the ticket window at game time and purchasing premium seats inside.
A Grammatical Error of Apostrophic Proportions?
Spellcheck may have to become required protocol for those looking to make the sport of baseball grammatically clean. A few years ago, when the Cubs unveiled a statue of Ernie Banks, it was immediately noticed that the bronze was inscribed with Banks’ famous “Let’s Play Two” mottoexcept it was spelled, “Lets’ Play Two”, with the apostrophe after, and not before, the letter ‘s’. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, in took almost four years for someone to finally call the Orioles on one of their two caps, the one that says “O‘s”with a begin apostrophe, the one with the fat part at the bottom, not an end one. The Orioles didn’t respond to the Baltimore Sun’s request to comment, and even graphic design experts shrugged their shoulders at the belated discovery, suggesting that perhaps the creative brains behind the typo may have done it on purpose to make it look more aesthetically fluid through an optical illusion of sorts.
Wounded of the Week
Understandably demoted in the headlines amid Nick Adenhart’s death this past Thursday was news of the on-field head injury to San Francisco reliever Joe Martinez that left many witnesses shaking. In the ninth inning of the Giants’ 7-1 win over Milwaukee, the Brewers’ Mike Cameron seared a line drive that ricocheted off Martinez just above his left eye; Martinez collapsed to his knees but was able to walk off the field with some help, somewhat hiding the fact that he had just sustained a concussion and three small fractures to his skull. It was just the second major league appearance for the 26-year old Martinez, who three days earlier had earned a win on Opening Day in relief of Tim Lincecum.
Among the other, more relatively mundane entries into baseball’s medical ward this past week were Kansas City outfielder Jose Guillen (hip), oblique injuries to Dodger starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and Phillie catcher Carlos Ruiz, and Arizona staff ace Brandon Webb, whose continued shoulder problems are such that an insurance company suggested they may not cover the Arizona Diamondbacks should he re-sign with the team after this season.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox started the regular season with the majors’ longest active hitting streak held over from last year, at 18 games. So what happens on Opening Day? Ellsbury goes hitless in four at-bats against Tampa Baywhile everyone else in the Boston starting lineup gets at least one hit. So the season’s first week ends with St. Louis’ Ryan Ludwick holding the longest current run of games with at least one hit, at 16.
Opening Day Notes for the Young Among Us
Baseball’s future was shown off in near-marquee style over the first days of the 2009 season. Highly-touted Atlanta outfielder Jordan Schafer, 22, homered in his first major league at-bat on April 5 at Philadelphia and continued to impress through the first week of action; the New York Mets’ Daniel Murphy, who we spotlighted in our list of hot call-ups from 2008, homered in his first game and has collected a hit in each of his first five games this season. Toronto outfielder Travis Snider, barely legal at 21 and also on our call-up list, mimicked Murphy’s start by homering in his first game of the year. Finally, 20-year old Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, carrying a bit of a burden as the guy who previously never played above the Double-A level, and whose promotion to short caused a brief firestorm in Arlington when All-Star Michael Young initially refused to move to third to accommodate him, has been sharp with the bat early on, doubling and homering through his first week of major league experience.
The Energizer Bunny Would be Envious
It sounds incredible, but Vin Scully began his 60th year of broadcasting for the Los Angeles Dodgers this past week. This season may be the last hurrah in the booth for the 81-year old Scully, who had to think hard about whether to return for 2009 and, as in recent years, won’t travel any further east than Colorado when the Dodgers are on the road. Scully’s tenure with the Dodgers began in 1950 with Brooklyn and predated rock’n’roll, Sputnik and the Interstate Highway System.
Hit 'Em From the Left, Hit 'Em From the Right
Switch-hitters Felipe Lopez and Tony Clark opened the regular season in Phoenix by each smacking home runs from both sides of the plate in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ wild 9-8 victory over the Colorado Rockies, becoming the first pair of teammates to achieve the feat in the first game of the season. The pairing was unlikely; Lopez hit six homers all year last season, while Clarkwho looked all but washed up at age 36 after last yearhad just three in 2008, two of which occurred in 36 games for the Diamondbacks before being sent on to San Diego. Lopez’s two blasts were the first by a major leaguer playing his first game for a new team since Richie Sexson sent two over the fence as a first-day Seattle Mariner on April 4, 2005; the switch-blasting homers by Lopez and Clark were also the first by teammates in one game since Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams did it on April 23, 2000 for the New York Yankees.
This is the Way to Go Home Again
Ken Griffey Jr. celebrated his return to the Seattle Mariners by homering on Opening Day for the eighth time in his careerand his first since 1999, his last season with the Mariners before moving on to Cincinnati. The eight homers tied a major league record previously held by Frank Robinson. Griffey’s first blast for 2009 helped the Mariners turn back the Twins at Minnesota, 6-1.
A Better Lid in New York
If Opening Day was any indication, the New York Mets are certainly feeling good about their offseason moves to remake what had been a wretched bullpen in 2008. J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez, both new Mets, were credited with the hold and save respectively in the Mets’ 2-1 win at Cincinnati, while in Phoenix, former Met reliever Scott Schoeneweis was charged with a blown save for Arizona in a game the Diamondbacks would ultimately win, 9-8.
Thankfully Failing to Repeat the Past
The Mets lost their first eight Opening Day games of their existence, from 1962 to their Amazin’ World Series campaign of 1969. Since then, they’re 31-9 on Opening Day.
Nobody expected Cliff Lee to equal his mesmerizing start of 2008, but not too many anticipated it would be this bad, either. It took the reigning AL Cy Young winner just five innings to allow his first seven runs of the season; in 2008, it took him 60 innings. Lee also lost for the second time in two starts this past Saturday against Toronto; last year, he didn’t suffer his second loss until July 6, in his 17th start.
Well, Which CC Will it Be?
The much anticipated debut of CC Sabathia in pinstripes sent shivers down the spines of the Yankee brass when he bombed horribly at Baltimore, allowing eight runs on six hits and five walks in just four-plus innings; additionally, he threw two wild pitchesequaling his 2008 total over 253 inningsand struck out no one for the first time in a start since 2005. People in the know were immediately reminded of Sabathia’s awful start last season in Cleveland (0-3, 13.50 ERA after four games) and wondered if an ominous encore was in the cards. Those fears were allayed when Sabathia’s second start resulted in 7.2 innings of shutout baseball against Kansas City on Saturday.
The Look of a Number One, the Smell of a Number Two
With two lackluster outings to start the 2009 season, Detroit ace Justin Verlander is now 3-9 with a 7.03 ERA in his last 14 starts going back to last July.
Not the Imbalance We Expected
It may have seemed to have been a steal of a deal during the winter when the Washington Nationals sent part-time third baseman Emilio Bonifacio to Florida for starting pitcher Scott Olsen and outfielder Josh Willingham, but the Marlins certainly got the last laugh on the trade as far as the season-opening series between the two teams were concerned. Olsen was clobbered in his start against his former teammates, allowing eight runs in three innings, and the sparingly used Willingham was 0-for-3; meanwhile, Bonifacio punished his former mates with eight hits in 14 at-bats, with six runs, four steals and his first career home runan inside-the-park job that was the first in an Opening Day game since Carl Yazstremski did it for the Boston Red Sox in 1968. (Bonifacio came close to another inside-the-park shot the next day, but was held up at third with a triple.)
Two Debuts For the Price of One
Last Thursday’s Toronto-Detroit game was the 18th occurrence since 1901 in which the opposing starting pitchers each made their major league debuts. Blue Jay starter Ricky Romero lasted six innings and took the win, 6-2, over the Tigers’ Rick Porcello.
There were 42,473 spectators at Cleveland’s Progressive Field on Friday for the Indians’ 2009 home opener against Toronto. Seven hours and 12 minutes later, only an estimated 500 saw the last pitch, which ended the Blue Jays’ 13-7 win that included a rain delay of three hours and 49 minutes. Those who waited out the epic delay were entertained with a Cleveland Cavalier basketball game being shown on the ballpark’s big screen.
Not Without a Fight
Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon earned his second save on Saturday at Anaheim against the Angels, but it didn’t come easy. With a one-run Boston lead, two out in the bottom of the ninth and the bases loaded with Angels, Papelbon faced Howie Kendrickwho after falling behind in the count at 0-2 proceeded to foul off seven straight pitches before lining out to right field for the third out.
Check For Cork in Corky's Bat
Reserve catcher Corky Miller, playing his first game of 2009 for the Chicago White Sox on Saturday, had his first multi-hit performance since 2003 when he smacked out a pair of hits in the Sox’ 8-0 whitewashing of Minnesota. In the five-plus years between his two-hit games, Miller batted .097 in 154 at-batsincluding a 1-for-55 slump from 2004-06 that translates to a .018 average. No joke.
There's one current player who's likely more futile at the plate than Miller, and that's Washington's Daniel Cabrera. How bad is Cabrera? He’s struck out in all 16 of his career major league at-bats, including two this past week in his first appearance for the Nationals at Florida. At least Cabrera has a legit excuse: He's a pitcher.
Finally Nailed by the Nine Spot
Randy Johnson, now pitching for the San Francisco Giants, probably wishes he had started against Cabrera this past week. When Johnson gave up a three-run homer to Milwaukee starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo on Wednesday, it was the first time in the Big Unit’s 22-year career that he allowed a home run to an opposing pitcher. Gallardo’s blast was crucial for the Brewers, who beat Johnson and the Giants, 4-2.
So Far, No Fluke
By taking two of three games at Boston to start the season, the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays won a series over the Red Sox in Fenway Park for the first time in their last 25 tries.
All Things Being Equal: TGG's Picks for 2009
Currently posted in our Opinion section is our predictions for the 2009 regular season. Look it up and compare to what teams have done in the first few weeksbut remember, there's still 25 weeks left to go.
The Best of 2008's Call-Ups: Can They do it in 2009?
The list of players we provided in last week’s Comebacker who impressed at the end of last seasonand their chances for 2009can now be reviewed in our Opinion section.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.