The Week That Was in Baseball: April 13-19, 2009
Plusses and Minuses of New York's Two New Ballparks So Long, Harry and the Bird
And Sheff Makes For 25 at 500
Where Does Manny Ramirez Want to Play Next?

The Battle of the New New York Ballparks
This past week marked the official opening of both the New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field in New York, replacing the Old Stadium and Shea Stadium—respectively, the third and fifth oldest ballparks in use. Comparisons are inevitable for these new venues of Gotham’s baseball rivals, and this is the best we could accrue from the facts, broadcasts and multimedia available, albeit from 3,000 miles away:

The instant response is that the New Yankee Stadium far exceeds Citi Field in terms of its uniqueness, heritage factor and downright class. Citi Field has an absolutely wonderful entrance thoroughly dedicated to Jackie Robinson; the rotunda itself is modeled after Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, home of Robinson’s Dodgers. Beyond that, Citi Field looks like just another new ballpark, with no architecturally unique vibe to discuss; the only other visible conversation piece is the Pepsi Porch behind—and above—right field, with some bleacher seats overlapping the warning track in an ode to Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. While all of the above is fun and nice, it’s not Mets-specific; Robinson never played for the Mets, and the Pepsi Porch could easily be Colorado’s.

The New Yankee Stadium, on the other hand, exudes utter grace in pinstriped spirit from the moment you first come within sight of it. Using no-brainer insight, the Yankees and the architect, veteran ballpark designers HOK Sport, embraced the look and feel of the original Yankee Stadium, not the sterilized 1976 upgrade. The entry façade retains the neo-classicism of the 1923 building; most importantly, the famous overhanging frieze, which was given an aesthetic demotion to the back of the bleachers in the 1976 renovation, has been re-embraced and not only regains its place above the third deck, but also in the clubhouse above each locker stall. (Not to be outdone, the Mets have retained their own signature feature from Shea Stadium: The Home Run Apple.) Drawing upon the Yankees’ unparalleled heritage of success, the main entrance features an open-air concourse called the Great Hall, a classy, modern shrine to Yankee greats of the past.

Retaining the exact same field dimensions as the post-renovation Old Stadium, the New Yankee Stadium boosts deeper power alleys than Citi Field. This suggests that Citi will yield higher scores, but you never would have known that this past Saturday; while the Mets were edging Milwaukee at Citi, 1-0, the Yankees took an all-time pounding by the Indians at the New Stadium, 22-4. (Although we believe that the New Stadium is at sea level, maybe we’re wrong; 17 homers were hit there in the first three games.)

The New Yankee Stadium has a beautiful museum featuring a “Ball Wall” to ultimately contain baseballs signed by every living Yankee (and some dead ones, we assume); it’s surrounded by bronze sculptures of Don Larsen and Yogi Berra—the battery for Larsen’s famous 1955 perfect game in the World Series—60 feet and six inches apart. The museum also includes Thurman Munson’s locker from the Old Stadium, reportedly untouched since his death in 1979. The Mets, meanwhile, are working on establishing their own Hall of Fame, but there’s nothing beyond the thought at this moment.

The New Yankee Stadium has a Hard Rock Café and its own steakhouse. Citi Field does not have a Hard Rock Café and its own steakhouse.

The home clubhouse at the New Yankee Stadium has a 30,000-square foot clubhouse, 5,000 square feet bigger than Citi Field.

So far, the New Yankee Stadium has more empty seats in its filthy rich sections behind home plate than Citi Field.

The manager’s office at the New Yankee Stadium has its own private locker stall. The one at Citi Field has its own private shower, though.

The results on the field for both the Yankees and Mets haven’t been resoundingly successful. At the Citi Field debut, San Diego’s Jody Gerut homered in the first at-bat—the first such occurrence at a new ballpark’s first game. The Mets lost the game, 6-5, on a late-inning balk, which is ironic given that they gave up the first run of its existence at the old Polo Grounds in 1962 on a balk. (In fact, the Mets are 0-3 in ballpark openers, losing each by a single run.) The Yankees fared worse, getting pounded 10-2 by the Indians in the New Stadium’s opener; it didn’t get much better, as underscored by the Indians’ 22-4 rout of the Yankees on Saturday. Where was Babe Ruth when you need him to get it right as he did in 1923 at the Old Stadium?

Swisher the Pitcher
Nick Swisher, rumored to be on the trading block for the New York Yankees after Mark Teixeira was signed, has been something of a savior for the Yankees to start the season. He’s one of the few players to be smacking the ball about at a pretty good clip, and he even helped give the bullpen a rest when he pitched the eighth inning of the Yankees’ 15-5 blowout loss at Tampa Bay on Monday. Swisher, the first position player to take the mound for New York since Wade Boggs in 1997, allowed one hit and a walk, but no runs—and he struck out Gabe Kapler.

Feeling 22 All Over Again
Somehow, Swisher was not called to the mound on Saturday at the New Yankee Stadium, all despite sarcastic pleas of Yankee fans while their team was being yanked all over the new joint by the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe set an all-time major league record for runs in the second inning when they piled on 14 tallies, on its way to a 22-4 drubbing of New York. The 14 runs were the most allowed by the Yankees in any inning, ever; the 22 total runs tied the mark for the most given up by the Yankees at home, matching a 22-0 horror show at the Old Stadium in 2004 provided by, ironically, those same Indians. The modern record for runs by one team in any inning remains at 17, scored by the Boston Red Sox in the seventh inning of a June 18, 1953 games against Detroit.

Now This is a Pitcher's Park
While the Indians and Yankees were crossing home plate with breakneck frequency, the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks scored a total of six runs—not even half of what the Indians scored in the second inning on Saturday—in their three-game weekend series at AT&T Park. Each game ended in a 2-0 score, with the Giants taking two of the three games.

No Longer Perfectly Awful
Last week we mentioned that Washington pitcher Daniel Cabrera had a lifetime career batting average of .000 in 16 at-bats—with 16 strikeouts. After striking out in his first two at-bats of this week, Cabrera saw the light. No, he didn’t get a hit, but he didn’t strike out; in his final two plate appearances of his Sunday start against Florida, Cabrera grounded out and walked.

Orlando Hudson hit for the cycle in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 11-1 rout of San Francisco this past Tuesday, making him the first Dodger to hit for the cycle since Wes Parker in 1970—and, in his first game played at Dodger Stadium, the first Dodger ever to do it at Chavez Ravine. Cycles were also achieved during the week by Texas’ Ian Kinsler and Minnesota’s Jason Kubel; only once before have three cycles been performed within a five-day period.

The Case of the Missing Vowel
The Washington Nationals have been a mistake-prone unit since Day One this season, and you can include the uniform stitchers among them. A few members of the team began Friday’s game against Florida with uniforms that spelled “Natinals”—without the “o”. A spellcheck ensued and, by the fourth inning, the proper uniforms were back on. Fortunately for the Natinals—er, Nationals—the crowd of 19,000 for the team’s 2-1, extra-inning loss to Florida was the smallest in Natinals—er, Nationals—Park history, so fewer people caught the glitch until the fashion faux pas made news on a natinal—er, national—level. The guessing game now becomes: Will the errant uniforms next appear on eBay or at the Hall of Fame?

You're Just a Felon Now
According to court testimony, former major league pitcher Ambiorix Burgos told a woman after beating her up in a New York City hotel room, “The police won’t do anything to me. I am a baseball player.” Oh yes they will. Burgos now has nine months to figure out how he fell from above the law, based on the sentence handed down to him following his conviction for assault. Burgos last pitched for the New York Mets in 2007, and has a career 8-10 record and 4.60 ERA.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Ryan Ludwick of the St. Louis Cardinals has the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 21 games, a run that’s carried over from the end of the 2008 season. During his streak, Ludwick is hitting a terrific .416 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs.

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 weeks—but 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 season—and their chances for 2009—can now be reviewed in our Opinion section.

The Show Had to Go On
The great Harry Kalas left us this past week, leaving behind a wonderful legacy in the baseball broadcasting world—and leaving an almost impossible task for his partners, Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen, to carry on with calling the Philadelphia-Washington game on Monday just a few hours after Kalas collapsed in the booth doing pre-game preparation. The 73-year old Kalas first began his major league play-by-play career with the Houston Colt .45s in 1963, then joined the Phillies in 1971 where he remained for the next 38 years. Kalas died of heart disease; he had recently undergone heart operation for a stent implantation, and some in the Phillie organization had noticed that he had slowed since. Outside of Philadelphia, Kalas is perhaps best remembered as the voice of NFL Films following the death of John “The Voice of God” Facenda in 1984.

Goodbye, Bird
In remembering Mark Fidrych, who was killed in an accident at his Massachusetts farm this past week at the age of 54, we always come back to a moment during his one great year of 1976. There he is, on the mound, talking to the ball, willing it to do what he wants. Then we see the view of Fidrych ready to throw from the center field camera, and in the same shot we also see the first few rows of Tiger Stadium behind home plate—where an excited young fan, watching Fidrych doing his magic, is literally jumping up and down, pointing to Fidrych in excitement. Fidrych does not disappoint, striking out the batter for the third out and driving the home crowd into exuberant cheers. This was the fleeting time of stardom for Fidrych, the 21-year old rookie who became a national sensation with his theatrics on the mound; that he won 19 games against nine losses in 31 appearances with a 2.34 earned run average and 24 complete games didn’t hurt. What did hurt was Fidrych, post-1976. He tore up his knee in spring training, returned in late May and, for a month, pitched as brilliantly as the year before—recording a 6-2 record with a 1.83 ERA and eight complete games in nine starts—but then he hurt his shoulder, making him ineffective and then, quickly, inactive for the rest of the season. He never recovered; from 1978-80, he made only 26 total starts, struggling to a 4-6 record and 5.67 ERA. He pitched his last game on October 1, 1980 at the age of 26.

A Yawn for Mr. Sheffield
Gary Sheffield became the 25th player—and the ninth this decade—to join the 500 home run club when he launched a pinch-hit blast this past Thursday for the New York Mets against Milwaukee at Citi Field. The surprise wasn’t so much in whether he would reach the milestone, but that he did it for someone other than the Detroit Tigers, who let him go before the start of the season despite owing him $14 million. The Mets, who are paying relative pennies for Sheffield’s services, were more than happy to collect on the achievement. But as Sheffield celebrated the moment, baseball media and other addicts of the sport were largely frowning, given Sheffield’s past acknowledgement of steroid use and his turbulent, nomadic career that has seen him play for eight different teams. Sheffield’s 132 homers for Florida (from 1993-98) are the most he’s hit for any one team—and that’s the lowest high level mark of any player over 500. There may be a question as to whether Sheffield ever makes the Hall of Fame—but the even bigger stumper is, if he does get the vote, what team would he represent.

Human After All
After successfully converting 51 consecutive save opportunities (the 2008 postseason included), Brad Lidge of the Philadelphia Phillies finally got charged with a blown save this past Saturday when he allowed four ninth-inning runs to the San Diego Padres, who beat the Phillies 8-5. Fans at Citizens Bank Park gave him a standing ovation as he was removed, perhaps the first time a closer has been granted such a reaction after blowing a save. That the silver-lined approval came from the notoriously mean-spirited Phillie fans made the moment all the more amazing.

Classify It as Progress
On April 15, a day known in baseball less for tax returns and more for honoring Jackie Robinson’s major league debut on that same day in 1947, it was disclosed that the percentage of African-Americans in the majors has risen to over the 10% mark, the highest since 1995. This is good news for those who have been critical of MLB for not doing more to promote the game to blacks in America.

You Can't Tell the Players Even With a Scorecard
Speaking of Robinson, all major league players wore number 42 on their uniforms this past Wednesday, in honor of the man wore the number for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947-56.

Time to Abolish the WBC?
Here’s the results, so far this regular season, of the three major leaguers—Daisuke Matsuzaka, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Silva—who logged the most innings during the WBC this spring: No wins, five losses and a 6.38 ERA. Our first response: Is the WBC really worth it?

Does Little League Count, Too?
In his second game back after missing the first week from an ulcer, Ichiro Suzuki became the all-time hit king among Japanese players with his 3,086th career hit on Thursday at Seattle against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Of course, his total includes 1,278 from his time playing in Japan, so if you’re going to take that into account you also should accept that Sadaharu Oh, not Barry Bonds or Hank Aaron, is your home run king with 868. Yet any guy who owns a collection of 3,000 hits by age 35 deserves praise, regardless of what level it is accomplished.

The 17th Time Was the Charm
In an epic at-bat this past Thursday in Pittsburgh, Houston reliever Chris Sampson needed 17 pitches to retire one batter—the Pirates’ Freddy Sanchez—with two out and two on in the seventh inning to help preserve the Astros’ 6-3 win over the Bucs. After a seemingly endless series of foul balls, Sanchez finally put one in play to deep right-center, where it was caught.

Match Game 300
It’s one thing to report two milestones on the same day, as has happened once before from our memory banks—when Tom Seaver recorded his 300th win and Rod Carew his 3,000th hit on August 4, 1985. But it’s another when it’s the same milestone, achieved by members of the same team in the same game on consecutive at-bats. It happened this past Monday in Detroit, where Chicago White Sox sluggers Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko each hit their 300th career home runs in back-to-back appearances at the plate in the second inning. The two solo shots set the tone for the Sox’ 10-6 clubbing of the Tigers.

I'm Scott Boras, And I Approved This Message
There’s nothing like a mercenary to keep the locals from loving you. In his first home series of the year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Manny Ramirez said that he liked the idea of finishing his career in Cleveland, where he began in 1993 and stayed through 2000. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to us if Ramirez began playing the Indian card if things started to go sour in Los Angeles, much as it did last year for him in Boston.

The Bad Brad
Hey, Cub fans, say hello to Milton Bradley. Now say goodbye to him. That pretty much was the result of the temperamental Bradley’s first appearance in a Cub uniform at Wrigley Field this past Thursday. Appearing as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning of the Cubs’ 7-4 loss to St. Louis, Bradley struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch and, within seconds, was ejected by home plate umpire Larry Vanover for vehemently arguing the call. With some added luck, the Bleacher Bums will see a lot of good out of Bradley this year, but as with Thursday, they’ll see the Dark Side of the Brad as well. Except for the two days in which he’s been suspended as a result of this latest incident, successful appeal notwithstanding.

Wounded of the Week
The floodgates opened up, big time, this past week on MLB’s medical ward as one player after another filed for disabled time. Vladimir Guerrero, who seems to be breaking down faster than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would like, is out for at least a month with a muscle tear near his chest; St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter, absent for much of the last two years with arm problems, will now miss four-to-eight weeks when he hurt his rib from, of all things, swinging at a pitch; Daisuke Matsuzaka, burned out from WBC play, is out at least 15 days for fatigue in his throwing arm; Kansas City third baseman Alex Gordon won’t return until June after beating up his hip; the Yankees’ Xavier Nady has severe enough problems with his elbow that he may miss the entire season; same scenario for Boston shortstop Jed Lawrie after injuring his left wrist; and Washington’s Cristian Guzman, after a five-hit night on Monday that raised his batting average to .515, was placed on the 15-day DL for straining his left hammy after running out of the batter’s box.

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