The Week That Was in Baseball: April 28-May 4, 2008
The Rocket's Grand Ole Soap Opry Barry Zito: The Next Wayne Garland?
We'll Remember You on Route 120, Buzzie End of the Line for Julio Franco

Dork and Mindy
Just when we thought it was safe to concentrate on baseball again, the cold war between Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee flared up—with Clemens taking the brunt of the “pummeling” as described by his hard-nosed attorney Rusty Hardin. The week began with a report from Clemens’ favorite newspaper, the New York Daily News (which has taken over the San Francisco Chronicle as the prime source for most steroids-in-baseball reporting), of Clemens being involved in a long and intimate relationship with troubled country singer Mindy McCready that was said to begin when she was just 15. A day later, the Daily News next outted a former New York City bartender, Angela Moyer, as part of another Clemens fling—and one day after that, came word of still one more dangerous liaison involving Clemens, this one with Paulette Dean, the ex-wife of golfer John Daly.

The usual scorched-earth counterattack from Camp Clemens didn’t surface, in part because none of the women reached for the denial card. McCready tearfully responded that she could not “refute” any of the information regarding her tryst with Clemens, Moyer said little and sped off when approached for her comment, and Dean replied to her involvement by saying, “I’m really uncomfortable talking about this. I’m just going to have to say, ‘No comment’.” (Clemens released a statement on Sunday claiming that the Daily News reports contained "many false accusations and mistakes.")

All of this may not prove that Clemens took steroids, but it will be a factor if the defamation lawsuit against McNamee goes to court. And we can certainly guess that it was a bit of factor in Clemens’ master bedroom, where wife Debbie—already thrown under the bus by Roger after he publicly disclosed her past steroid use—likely gave the Rocket her own personal commentary to the Daily News reports.

Early April Showers Bring May Bullpen Activites
Barry Zito, the second highest priced pitcher in baseball, is headed to the bullpen. The San Francisco Giants have lost patience with Zito, who’s off to an 0-6 start with a 7.53 ERA after struggling with an 11-13 mark in 2007—not exactly the kind of numbers the Giants were expecting from a guy they’re paying $126 million over seven years for. Some locals are saying that Zito, who’s barred by the Giants from surfing, needs to be allowed back on the surf to get his mojo back. Others believe that he just needed to get past April, where he holds a 13-23 career record and 5.12 ERA—as opposed to 100-59 and 3.50 for the other months of the season.

Minnie Minoso is Breathing Easier
Just three months shy of his 50th birthday, Julio Franco has finally decided that enough is enough, retiring from baseball this past week after a stint with the Quintana Roo Tigers of the Mexican League. Over a career that began professionally in 1978 and with the majors in 1982 with the Philadelphia Phillies—and included overseas stints in Japan (1995, 1998) and South Korea (2000)—Franco batted .298 with 173 career homers and 2,586 hits. He’s the oldest player in history to collect both a home run and a stolen base, accomplishing both early last season with the New York Mets at the age of 48.

Looking Good—So Far
At the end of spring training we politely threw cold water over Florida baseball fans after the Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins finished the exhibition season with a combined record of 37-19—suggesting that the results wouldn’t likely be too similar for these talented but badly inexperienced teams when the games began counting for real. Well, after the first 56 games of the regular season between them, the Rays and Marlins were a collective 32-24 and are each within easy reach of first place in their respective divisions.

Viva la Bochy!
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy looks and acts about as American as an American can be, but this past week the 53-year old Giant skipper, born in Landes De Bussac in France, became the winningest foreign-born manager in major league history. Ironically, Bochy’s 1,034th win put him ahead of the former number one, Felipe Alou—the man Bochy replaced as manager of the Giants just over a year ago.

The Catcher is Caught
The Giants, whose clubhouse was allowed to run wild with steroid users and pushers some five or so years ago per the evidence in the Mitchell Report, didn’t need to hear this one. The majors’ first suspension of the year for steroid use was handed down to Giant catcher Eliezer Alfonzo, who actually hasn’t logged any appearances in San Francisco so far in 2008—he’s played all season at Triple-A Fresno thus far—but because he’s on the 40-man roster, he fell under the jurisdiction of major league drug enforcement. Alfonzo gave no excuses—not even one about being stuck in Fresno—for his positive test, apologizing to almost everyone in a statement released by the Giants. He’ll be suspended for 50 games.

What Throwing Strikes Will Do
It’s impressive enough to see Cleveland starting pitcher Cliff Lee sitting at the top of the stat parade through Sunday with a 5-0 record and 0.96 ERA, but beyond that are some even more startling numbers of his: 32 strikeouts, two walks.

On the Other Hand...
Lee’s teammate in the Indian rotation, Fausto Carmona, has struck out 13—and walked 26. (It’s not hurting Carmona much, though; he’s 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA.)

Finally Lucky
Baltimore pitcher Jeremy Guthrie snapped a 15-start winless streak when he got credit for the Orioles’ 4-3 victory over the Angels at Anaheim on Friday. Before winning, the 29-year old right-hander had gone 0-5 with a 5.38 ERA in those 15 starts, four of which the Orioles ultimately won.

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

In honor of the Chicago Cubs' 100th anniversary of their last World Series title, This Great Game is counting down the 40 years between 1909 and 2007 in which the Cubs came nearest to winning another. Our Tragical History Tour of Wrigleyville continues this week with:

26. 1912 91 Wins, 59 Losses
Third Place, 11.5 Games Back
The Cubs’ championship muscle of just a few years earlier continued to be slowly chipped away at—with most of the damage coming from within. Jim Doyle, a pleasant rookie surprise at third base the year before, died in February after complications from appendicitis; Three Finger Brown, after six straight years of winning 20 or more games, was limited to a 5-6 mark after hurting his knee; and a feud between owner Charles Murphy and manager Frank Chance spilled into the public. After a slow start, the Cubs went on a 46-18 run in the summer—thanks to a career year for Heinie Zimmerman, the NL leader with 208 hits, 41 doubles, 14 homers and a .372 average, and rookie pitcher Larry Cheney, who matched his age with a NL-high 26 wins—before fading in September.


Programming Notes
Our Best and Worst of the Week segment is taking a break, but will return next week at its regularly scheduled time...Look next week for a new installment of “They Were There."

Death of a Genius Swindler
Buzzie Bavasi was a clear representative of the old way of doing things in baseball. From the time he took over as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951, Bavasi mastered the art of lowballing players during their yearly contract talks, even openly gloating in a 1967 Sports Illustrated article of the tricks he used—underscoring the pre-union environment of the game when management, backed by the reserve clause, wielded utter control over the players. Bavasi fumed when, in 1966, Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale—tired of his negotiating tactics—came to his office with an agent and demanded a three-year deal for $500,000 each. (They both got one-year deals over $100,000, the first Dodgers to break the six-figure plain.) The elimination of the reserve clause in 1976 and the advent of modern free agency diluted Bavasi’s power and made his tricks irrelevant, but he remained a general manager through 1984. The legacy of Bavasi, who died in San Diego this past Thursday at the age of 93, carries on throughout baseball, with son Bill Bavasi residing as the current GM for the Seattle Mariners.

Buzzie's Legacy to This Writer
In the summer of 1997, my wife and I were traveling towards Mono Lake in California on a stretch of State Highway 120 rarely used and usually closed in the winter. We came upon a two-mile stretch of dips in the road that, when you drive up and over at faster-than-posted speeds, gave you a buzzing sensation just above your butt. With my mind locked on the ancestral, coffee table version of This Great Game, I blurted out as we leapt over the top of one of the dips, “Ooh, I just had a Buzzie Bavasi!” My wife got the ‘Buzzie’ part but not ‘Bavasi,’ so I gave her a quick bio debriefing. When we returned to the road ten years later with our two young kids, I modified the phrase to “Buzzie Butt” and the kids thought it was the funniest thing they ever heard. Thanks, Buzzie. —Eric

Bowing to Pressure?
The Atlanta Braves are 0-9 in one-run games so far in 2008. Otherwise, they’re 15-6.

Completely Alone
Toronto’s Roy Halladay has already racked up four complete games this season. No other major league pitcher has more than one.

Sorry If You Bet on the Over
The Blue Jays and Red Sox combined for seven runs and a .177 batting average in a three-game series at Boston. Bet you won’t see that again anytime soon at Fenway Park.

That's Just Manny Not Being Manny
Few players can be counted on to knock in a run the way Manny Ramirez has; in 13 full major league campaigns, he’s collected at least 100 RBIs 11 times, 120 or more five times, and in 1999 brought in 165—the most by anyone since 1938. But this past week he extended a drought without a RBI to a career-high 11 games, encompassing 50 plate appearances, before singling in two runs in the first inning of Saturday’s 12-4 rout of Tampa Bay at Boston. Ramirez wasn’t exactly slumping during the dry spell, batting .286.

Wounded of the Week
The New York Yankees are struggling again out of the gate this year, and here’s two reasons it won’t get any easier for them soon: Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. The reigning AL MVP and veteran catcher, respectively, were both placed on the disabled list this past week. For A-Rod, it was his first trip to the shelf since 2000; for Posada, in was his first trip ever in 14 major league seasons. The news was no better in Denver, where second-year star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki injured his quad and will likely not return to the Rockies until the All-Star Break. The week’s other major injury news comes from Atlanta, where John Smoltz returned to the DL—leading Brave manager Bobby Cox to contemplate whether to resettle the 40-year old veteran back into the closer role, where he excelled from 2001-2004.