Give Him Double Secret Probation
Volquez is the first player nailed by MLB’s drug testing program since Manny Ramirez’s bust a year ago; like Ramirez and many others caught in recent years, Volquez pleaded innocent ignorance and said he intentionally wasn’t trying to juice up, that the offending drug was a fertility substance used in trying to start a family. At least Volquez wasn’t taking the feminine stuff said to be used by Ramirez.
When MLB hooks up with the players’ union soon to begin discussions on the next collective bargaining agreement, it is sure to ask for one change by evoking the case of Edinson Volquez, the Cincinnati pitcher suspended for 50 games this past week for illegal performance enhancement. Why does Volquez, recovering from Tommy John surgery, get to serve his suspension while still on the shelf? And why is it different for pitcher Cliff Lee, who had his five-game suspension for throwing at a player in spring training voided but, had he served it, would have been forced to do so after his stint on the DL? Something doesn’t match here.
There were all sorts of speculations in the aftermath of the Chicago Cubs’ surprising move this past week to move top starter Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen. Some believe it’s a challenge to the fiery Zambrano to wise up and start thinking of the team ahead of himself; others think the Cubs are leery that Zambrano (who said last summer that he’d been contemplating retirement) doesn’t have his heart in it anymore; others opine this could be the beginning of a process that will ultimately see Zambrano traded; and a few simply think he’s been demoted because he’s just not that good anymore. Whatever the reason, the Cubs now have the priciest reliever ($18 million) in baseball.
Definitely Not Your Father's Pirates
The Milwaukee Brewers have had their way with the Pittsburgh Pirates in recent timescome to think of it, most teams have had their way with the Bad News Bucs over the last 17 yearsbut this past week’s three-game series between the two teams at PNC Park was simply ridiculous. The Brewers won all three games by a combined score of 36-1including a 20-0 drubbing on Thursday that was the Pirates’ worst loss in their 124-year history. Even though the Pirates overall this season aren’t looking that bad in the standings (they’re at 7-11), they’ve been outscored (130-62) like they’re 0-18. Ironically, the Pirates share the record for winning the most lopsided shutout in major league history, when they punished the Chicago Cubs 22-0 in 1975 (Cleveland also kicked the Yankees around by that same score in 2004).
Death of a President
The Colorado Rockies were rattled this past week by news of the death of team president Keli McGregor, who died in a Salt Lake City hotel room while on business at age 48. The 6’7”, 250-pound McGregor, who became president in 2001, was already a familiar name to Colorado sports fans before joining the Rockies’ organization in 1993; he was a star tight end for the Colorado State football team and had a brief career with in the NFL, including a stint with the Denver Broncos. Major league ballparks across the country held moments of silence in memory of the highly liked McGregor; the cause of his death is still to be determined, though foul play was immediately ruled out. He is survived by his wife and four children.
Hey, Where is Everyone?
Players are starting to get inventive with walk-off celebrations. Last year, the Milwaukee Brewers generated some controversy when their players intentionally knocked themselves down around home plate like bowling pins when burly Prince Fielder greeted them after a game-winning homer against San Francisco. This past Tuesday, Atlanta’s Nate McLouth hit a solo shot that won the game in the bottom of the tenth against Philadelphia, 4-3and when he came to home plate, there were no teammates there to greet him, and the dugout was abandoned as well. Lonely and perplexed, McLouth sauntered into the tunnel separating the dugout and clubhouse, and that’s where he found everyone, hiding and ready to pounce on him in celebration.
For a Lack of Ribbies
No one exemplified the Houston Astros’ poor start more that slugger Carlos Lee, who came into the season having averaged 109 RBIs over his last seven years but, in the Astros’ 14th game of the year on Wednesday, finally knocked in his first tally with a single against the Florida Marlins. Lee’s slump lasted 71 at-bats going back to the end of last season.
A Monopoly on Quality
Houston ace Roy Oswalt has thrown at least six innings in 26 straight starts against the Pirates, a streak that is now tied for the longest active run in the majors. The other guy? Oswalt, with 26 straight starts of six or more frames against St. Louis. The 32-year old veteran was hardly in the mood to celebrate such achievements this past weekend; after his start against Pittsburgh, Oswalt got news that his parents’ home in Mississippi was destroyed by a tornado; fortunately, none of his folks were hurt.
A Passage for Milton
It seemed curious that Milton Bradley, who led an acerbic experience to say the least in Chicago last year, did not appear on the field during Seattle’s weekend series against the White Sox in the Windy City. The official reason was that Bradley’s calf was keeping him benched, but the timing sure seemed impeccable. So while Bradley was able to avoid any wayward Cub boobirds who dared venture to the South Side, he couldn’t escape the Chicago press for which he had a temperamental relationship with last year. Bradley confessed that he was ready to greet reporters at US Cellular Park with the words “Kiss my ass,” but before that moment he was pulled aside by perceptive teammate Mike Sweeney, who told him of Philippians 3: 13-14 from the Bible: “...one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Bradley took it to heart and cooled off for the media.
Wounded of the Week
It was painful to watch some of this past week’s entrants on the disabled list go down. Pittsburgh pitcher Chris Jakubauskas, just promoted from the minors a day before, wasn’t even an inning into his Saturday start at Houston when Lance Berkman sizzled a drive off his face, the ball ricocheting all the wall back to home plate. Given the look of the play, it’s amazing that Jakubauskas escaped with no more than a head contusion and a concussion, but the Pirates are taking no chances and putting him on the 15-day DL anyway.
Also making the shelf the hard way was Los Angeles of Anaheim catcher Bobby Wilson, who took a rough (and some say, unnecessary) hit at home plate from the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira that resulted in a concussion and ankle injury, making him the second Angel catcher (after Jeff Mathis) to go on the DL in a week.
Others checking into Hotel Hurt were Los Angeles slugger Manny Ramirez (calf), Boston outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs) and Mike Cameron (abdomen), Detroit’s Carlos Guillen (hamstring), Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis (hamstring), Colorado outfielder Brad Hawpe (quad) Philadelphia pitcher J.A. Happ (sore arm), Los Angeles pitcher Vicente Padilla (sore arm) and Washington pitcher Jason Marquis (elbow), who had to be a lock for the DL after a troubling spring and a terrible (20.52 ERA) start to the regular season.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
Wipe That Joker-Product Smile Off Your Face
Rodriguez has rubbed teams the wrong way in the past. In 2007, he infuriated the Toronto Blue Jays when, while running towards third, he imitated a teammate of Blue Jay third baseman Howie Clark, telling Clark to back off a pop fly; he did, and the ball dropped uncaught. And in Game Six of the 2004 ALCS, Rodriguez is remembered for intentionally slapping the ball out of Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove while trying to beat out a grounder down the first base line (the umpires noticed and called him out for interference). The mind games may work to Rodriguez’s advantage, but in the process he’s lowering whatever popularity he has left among major leaguers.
Alex Rodriguez is many things in baseballsome great, some not so greatand he solidified his reputation as an annoying prankster on the field this past week when he violated one of baseball’s unwritten rules, jogging back to first from third after a foul ball by trampling over the pitcher’s mound, even making contact with the rubber. Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden, on the mound at the time, took exception and initially barked at him; when Rodriguez didn’t pay attention the first time, Braden made sure he would at the end of the inning as the two engaged in a long-distance trade-off of verbal barbs.
Still Too Little, Too Late
In the same game that Rodriguez and Braden jawed off, the Yankees turned a triple play for the first time in 42 years. On both occasions, the Yankees lost4-2 at Oakland on Thursday, and 4-3 against Minnesota on June 3, 1968.
C'mon Out, Plenty of Good Seats Available!
Commissioner Bud Selig, prodded to explain at an Associated Press function why overall attendance is slightly down from this point last year (when the Great Recession was peaking and folks were afraid to spend on anything), blamed the weather. Note to Bud: Baseball’s first rainout of the year took place on Friday (in Colorado), ending what had been baseball’s longest rain-free start since 1985.
The epidemic of record low turnouts at newer ballparks continued this past week. The Toronto Blue Jays, which just a week earlier played in front of the smallest crowd in Skydome/Rogers Centre history, attracted an even smaller crowd this past week when 10,314 showed up to their game with the Kansas City Royals on Monday. Two days later, the Washington Nationals drew 11,191 against Colorado, the smallest “official” crowd count to show up to Nationals Park since opening in 2008. And on that same night, the New York Mets drew a Citi Field-low 25,684 for their game against the Chicago Cubs (the Cubs!). And even though the Oakland A’s didn’t set any attendance nadirs at the Coliseum this past weekwith the place constantly empty during Charlie Finley’s reign, that would be almost impossible nowdon’t you think they could do better than to attract 19,000 for the New York Yankees on Tuesday?
First Class Terror
Former manager and Fox analyst Kevin Kennedy, now an announcer for the Tampa Bay Rays, was startled out of his sleep on a Los Angeles-to-Tampa flight this past week to find himself in the middle of a frightening situation when a passenger in the first class cabin began spouting off about Satanall before threatening to open a cabin door and crash the plane. Kennedy and numerous other passengers struggled to subdue the man but eventually did, and the plane was diverted to Albuquerque. The man, Stanley Sheffield (no relation to Gary Sheffield), was jailed, and his ex-wife implied that the he’d been under duress after his mother suffered a heart attack last week and suffering from “mental problems.”
The Iron Man Irons Things Out
Last week we listed reports that Baltimore legend Cal Ripken Jr. was snubbed by Oriole owner Peter Angelos in an attempt to join the front office because Angelos didn’t want Ripken to get credit for any resurgence the team would make in the future. Angelos denied the report and Ripken, this past week, also said that Angelos never said made such statementsalthough he did confirm that he was talking with the Orioles about rejoining the organization.
Recycled in More Ways Than One
In honor of Earth Day (this past Thursday), the Houston Astros wore green caps in their 5-1 loss to Florida. The caps were made from recycled materials, but no word on whether they were recycled from St. Patrick’s Day.
A Cornucopia for Correia
The San Diego Padres have scored 35 runs in the four games that pitcher Kevin Correia has started for them this season. In the Padres’ other 14 games, they’ve scored 48.
Viva Las Texas
At the start of Elvis Weekend in Arlington, Texasin which for some reason the Rangers were honoring Elvis Presleyshortstop Elvis Andrus hit a walk-off single in the ninth inning to defeat the Detroit Tigers, 5-4.
Hey Wrigley, Are You Ready for Some Football?
Chicago’s Wrigley Field will host its first football game since the Chicago Bears left in 1970 when college football locals Northwestern and Illinois go at it on November 20. Wrigley recently hosted an outdoor NHL game and, during the 1980s, had its field go rectangular when it was home for the Chicago Sting of the North American Soccer League.
The San Francisco Giants lost on Tuesday at San Diego, 1-0, despite allowing just one hit. The last time that happened to the Giants, it was September 22, 1917, when they lost to the Pirates at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.
Getting His Swings in Early
Austin Jackson, the rookie center fielder for the Detroit Tigers, has struck out in each of his first 18 games, a major league record for a player at the start of his career. He leads the majors with 30 strikeouts overall, but otherwise he’s playing well, batting .316.
Rehab That's Out of This World
The Associated Press noted that Florida reliever Brian Sanches is on “a rehabilitation assignment with Jupiter and should be ready to return to the Marlins on Monday.” We knew major league teams were stretching their reach to faraway places such as Brazil, India and Australiabut Jupiter, wow.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
After a 3-for-23 start to his tenure as a Detroit Tiger, Johnny Damon ends this past week with a 12-game hitting streak, the longest active run in the majors. The former Yankee has kicked it into high gear during the last nine games of his streak, batting .467.
Now Playing at TGG
Ed Attanasio chats with Tom O'Doul, the cousin of the late, great Lefty O'Doul in a new installment of the They Were There section. Check it out now.
New at TGG: The 2009 Yearly Reader PageThe Salvation of Alex Rodriguez
Our Yearly Reader page covering the 2009 season is now live, including the "It Happened In..." section, final standings and the Leaders and Numbers page breaking down the best hitters and pitchers from each league.
TGG's Predictions For the 2010 Regular Season
Our annual, detailed preview of all major league teams is now live. Will the Yankees and Phillies repeat? Can the Rockies carry on the momentum? Just how much better are the Mariners? And do the Pirates, Padres, Nationals and Royals have any chance at all? Check out who we think will rise, fall, stabilize and collapse in 2010.