The public relations department for the Atlanta Braves definitely had to earn its pay this past week thanks to two ugly incidents involving the team. First came word that pitching coach and former New York Met reliever Roger McDowellwho famously once hurled the “magic spit” at Kramer and Newman on "Seinfeld"hurled some truly venomous words of hurt toward fans in San Francisco. He first verbally accosted three guys he referred to as “hecklers” by making homophobic statements about them. When the father of a nearby family took issue, McDowell walked near them and, after saying that kids don’t belong at a baseball game, took a bat toward the father and asked, “How much are your teeth worth?” If all of this is true, then McDowell insulted gays, children and made a pitch for dental implants all in less than a minute. McDowell did not deny the allegations and apologized; that wasn’t enough for MLB, which suspended him two weeks.
A few days later, pitcher Derek Lowe was caught racing with another vehiclewhile drunkin an Atlanta suburb and was arrested for driving under the influence and reckless driving. Lowe borrowed from the template given to McDowell and apologized for his actions, though in his case he couldn’t blame heckling fans.
Back to the Braves’ PR department: Let’s hope someone with a sick sense of humor isn’t leaving phone messages to those employees with reports that the team has brought John Rocker back to the roster.
In the Heat of the Tweet
Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen took issues with balls and strikes in the first inning of Wednesday’s game at New York (a 3-1 loss to the Yankees) and promptly got ejected by umpire Tim Tichenor. But Guillen wasn’t done once in the clubhouse, quickly turning to his Twitter account to say: “This one going to cost me a lot money this is patetic (sic).” Guillen was right in one sense: It did cost him. Major League Baseball fined him an undisclosed amount and suspended him two games for his online actions, reiterating its policy that no player or coach is allowed to engage in social media just before or during a game. Next time, Ozzie should just leave it to his equally Twitter-happy son Oney to do the complaining.
Hung Up on a Bad Connection?
Washington pitcher Livan Hernandez’s name came up in regards to Ayala Vazquez, a Puerto Rican drug dealer convicted in court this past week. Prosecutors presented evidence that Vazquez had numerous cars and establishments under Hernandez’s name, obviously suggesting a money laundering link between the two. Now that Vazquez is convicted, the Feds may focus more on Hernandez’s connectionand MLB, understandably, is interested as well. And what did Hernandez have to say: “There is nothing interesting,” he told the Washington Post. “When it’s interesting, I’ll tell you.” That in itself is interesting.
Better Goin' Than Glowin'
Many American ballplayers currently plying their trade in Japan have found it challenging trying to focus on the game in the aftermath of March’s devastating earthquake and tsunami (to say nothing of the nuclear crisis that has followed) in the northern part of the country. Brian Bannister, the former Kansas City pitcher who signed a $1.8 million contract to play for the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo, apparently doesn’t want any more of it. He left Japan while the country tried to collect itself and hasn’t returned. Don’t expect him back. Bannister made a statement this past week saying he won’t pitch for Yomiuri this season, and because of his contractual status will not be able to pitch anywhere else.
The Sunshine State's Dark Side
Florida continues to be the place where former major leaguers go to get into trouble. Perennial rap sheet artist Elijah Dukes, formerly of Tampa Bay and Washington, was arrested for driving on a suspended and expired licenselikely the same one he was cuffed for a few months back. But that was child’s play compared to the doings of Carl Everett, who played from 1993-2006 for eight different teams and had a knack for making controversial statements. This past week, he was arrested near Tampa for threatening his wife with a gun (pressed against her head) and then smashing two phones when she frantically tried to call 911. In court, Everett’s lawyer spoke: “Not to make excuses, but Mr. Everett is going through alcohol issues coming out of professional baseball. He needs counseling, without doubt, and we have a plan to get him help.” Get it to him quick.
Righting the Family Wrong
Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won in each of his first six starts this year, the first pitcher since Zack Greinke in 2009 to accomplish this. Ironically, brother Jeff Weaver is the last player to lose in each of his first six starts when he tanked out of the gate in 2007 for Seattle.
Defeating the Argument
Headline to a column by the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell: “Expanding Baseball’s Postseason Would Give Hope to Teams Like the Nationals, Orioles.” Which is exactly why two extra wild card teams shouldn’t happen.
Always Good for a Base
Reigning NL MVP Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braunan early candidate for this year’s honor with his hot startare the only two everyday players to reach base in every game so far this season. Braun’s 27-game streak is the most to start the year in Brewer history, erasing Robin Yount (23 games in 1983) from the team recordbook.
Living Your Ballpark Name
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, home of the A’s, has a new name: Overstock.com Coliseum. It’s an appropriate title, given that there’s an overstock of unused A’s tickets these days.
Wounded of the Week
The San Francisco Giants continue to feel the pain that they almost completely avoided last year en route to the world championship by losing two more players to the disabled list this past week. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, off to a hot start after losing weight over the winter, broke a bone in his hand and will be out up to six weeks; utility player Mark DeRosa, one of the few Giants to fall to significant injury last year, also hit the ouch couch with the same wrist issues that hounded him then.
Elsewhere, the Washington Nationals will be without All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (abdomen tear) for six weeks; St. Louis’ David Freese broke his hand after getting hit by a pitch on Sunday; Minnesota’ Delmon Young is out for at least 15 days with rib problems; and Philadelphia starting pitcher Joe Blanton is out for the minimal 15 days with a bum elbow.
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!
Smoking 'Em Out of Their Man Caves
The mild drop in attendance at MLB games thus far in 2011 only looks mild when you look at the official figures in the box score. In reality, it’s much worse. Not long ago, teams announced the number of fans actually in the ballpark; now, they only tell you how many tickets have been sold, perhaps because they’re too petrified to really say how many of those tickets are actually being used. All one has to do is glimpse any wide shot of a crowd (or lack thereof) on a high-def TV to get the clear, honest picture of just how many no-shows aren’t showing up.
Speaking of high-def, that’s likely part of the problem. Why muscle your way to the ballpark, pay $30 or more for parking, ten bucks for a beer and seven for a common hotdog when you watch the game on 55 pristine inches of high-def in the comfort of your own man cave with perishables purchased at a fraction of the price?
Some teams are starting to get that message. The Arizona Diamondbacks joined the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants by offering Wi-Fi service inside the ballpark, meaning you can now use your cell phone or (better) iPad to sit down, watch the game and be able to see replays, get stats, order food, and get real-time access to other games that perhaps you won’t get from the main scoreboard. Yes, it’s not 55 inches of visual glee, but you will get content usually absent for at the ballpark. Most important point: It’s free.
Other teams will doubtlessly join the crowd and do the same. They’ll have to. It’s a way to bring fan experience into the new century and combat the justifiable excuses to stay home.
Here Comes That Wind Again
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same placeand the same would certainly go for tornadoes, you’d thinkbut don’t tell that to Roy Oswalt. The Philadelphia pitcher was granted a leave of absence to check on his parents in Mississippi, which was not spared the immense devastation from a tornadic outbreak that terrorized the Southand discovered that his folks’ home did suffer damage, a year after their previous home was completely destroyed by another tornado.
A tight 1-1 game in Philadelphia between the Phillies and New York (eventually won in 14 innings by the Mets, 2-1), became background in the ninth inning as news of Osama Bin Laden's death spread around Citizens Bank Park. A sellout crowd quickly began a chant of "USA! USA!"
Engel Beltre likely entered the Texas League season already in a foul mood after going hitless through all of spring training for the Texas Rangers. Now toiling for the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders, he possibly took out his frustrations on fans in San Antonio after throwing a plastic wastebasket into the stands at the end of a highly disputed 7-6 loss. Beltre has been suspended 15 days for his actions.
Avoid the Aces
If the Baltimore Orioles are ever to make the leap from the dark side of their existence of the last 15 years, here’s one thing they should think of overcoming: The combined career record of the top four AL East pitchers of recent/current timesCC Sabathia (New York), Jon Lester (Boston), David Price (Tampa Bay) and Roy Halladay (Philadelphia, recently with Toronto)is 53-7 when pitching against the Orioles. Lester himself is 14-0 in 17 starts with a 2.33 ERA when facing Baltimore.
Walking the Wild Tightrope
San Francisco pitcher Jonathan Sanchez allowed four walks in the first inning at Washington on Saturdayand gave up no runs. This was made possible by a double play that produced two outs, before he walked the bases loaded prior to the third out of the inning. Sanchez walked one more batter and hit two others in the second, eventually allowing a runbut that was the only damage the Nationals got off him in five innings, and the Giants came back to win, 2-1.
Last Call in Dominica?
We may not have heard the last of Manny Ramirez. The disgraced, former major league slugger told ESPN Deportes that he might make a comeback with the Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Republic this winter. That’s news to the Cibaenas, who haven’t talked with Ramirez yetthough a team spokesman said they would be happy to see him return to play in his homeland. If Ramirez believes this is a stepping stone towards a major league comeback, he needs to be reminded that a 100-game suspension likely comes first following his second failed drug test last month.
We Know Where You Sit
A ticketing employee for the New York Yankees was asked to send an e-mail to 1,000 Yankee season ticket licensees with a newsletter attached, but he accidentally sent the wrong file: A list of 17,000 season ticket holders, their home addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and online account numbers. Fortunately, more sensitive info such as credit card numbers, social security numbers or account passwords were not included in the file. Nevertheless, recipients were not thrilledeven though the potential for online networking among Yankee fans just got a lot better.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Andre Ethier keeps it going. The Los Angeles outfielder singled in the seventh inning on Sunday to bring his hitting streak to 27 games, the longest current active streak and the longest by a Dodger since Willie Davis’ franchise record 31-game run in 1969. Ethier also set a major league mark by hitting in 26 straight games within the month of April, erasing the old mark of 22 set by Joe Torre in 1972. All the while, the ghost of Joe DiMaggio is hardly breaking a sweat; Ethier is barely halfway to his hallowed mark of 56 consecutive games with a hit.
He Said What?
“I put him in the rear view mirror.” The ever-humble Chipper Jones on Mickey Mantle, after the veteran Atlanta third baseman surpassed Mantle to take sole possession of second place on the all-time RBI list among switch-hitters during the Braves’ 7-0 win at San Diego on Wednesday.
Now Playing at TGG
Ed Attanasio’s interview with Freddy Schmidt, the oldest living ex-St. Louis Cardinal, can now be seen in the They Were There section. Freddy talks about his experiences with Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and his infamous racist foil Ben Chapman, and his two World Series ringsand why he's lost one of them.
All Things Being Equal: Our Picks For 2011
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio give their picks for the best and worst of the upcoming regular season in our annual preview of MLB. Check it out now in our Opinions section.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.