The Week That Was in Baseball: May 19-25, 2008
Free of Cancer, Full of Pride Does Mike Piazza Belong in Cooperstown?
A Venezuelan Toppled, and It's Not Hugo Chavez Replay It Again, Bud?


Cancer Survivors of the World Unite
It was a great week to be a cancer survivor in the majors. On Monday, the season’s first no-hitter was tossed by Boston’s Jon Lester, who less than 18 months ago was undergoing treatment for lymphoma. And Friday marked the return to the mound of Doug Davis, who missed six weeks to have a cancerous thyroid removed and threw seven triumphant innings of baseball at Atlanta, scattering a run on five hits and two walks to help Arizona breeze to an 11-1 rout of the Braves. Lester got the bulk of the media attention between the two players—Davis, after all, didn’t throw a no-hitter, and he’s not playing for the Red Sox—but out of the intensity of the media glare came this sad note from Lester, revealing that his father is currently battling against lymphoma as well.

The Old Pro at Catching Greatness
As exciting as Lester’s no-hitter on Monday against the Kansas City Royals was, what was buried in the story—but perhaps was just as newsworthy—was that the no-no was the fourth caught by Boston catcher Jason Varitek, establishing a major league record. He also was behind the plate for no-hitters by Hideo Nomo (2001), Derek Lowe (2002) and Clay Buchholz (2007).

Viva Omar!
By playing in both ends of a doubleheader at Florida on Sunday, Omar Vizquel of the San Francisco Giants set a major league record by appearing in his 2,584th game playing shortstop, setting the record long held by fellow Venezuelan Luis Aparicio. The Miami setting for the record was convenient for many of the reporters who flew in from nearby Venezuela to cover the event.

Wounded of the Week
San Diego and Colorado, two NL West teams struggling bad enough as it was without being inflicted by injury, were beat up big time this past week. The Padres lost their two top starters, Jake Peavy and Chris Young, to the disabled list along with catcher Josh Bard; the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols is to thank for the latter two players, as in one inning on Wednesday he launched a line drive off of Young’s face and then later bowled over Bard to score a run and sprain Bard’s ankle. Meanwhile in Colorado, the defending NL champion Rockies added star hitter Matt Holliday, Brian Hawpe and Clint Barmes to the shelf; along with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki—sidelined with a torn tendon—the loss of Holliday and Hawpe takes away 88 home runs and 352 RBIs’ worth of destruction, based on last year’s numbers. Also making the disabled parade is Cleveland starting pitcher Fausto Carmona (hip), the Mets’ Moises Alou (calf) and beleaguered Los Angeles Dodger Andruw Jones, who will have knee surgery and a month of recovery to forget about his rotten start (.165, two homers and seven RBIs in 43 games) in 2008.

The Baby Bull Gets a Batting Practice Pitch in Court
A year ago, Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, whose fast track to Cooperstown was slowed by marijuana issues and was working with the Giants to extol the evils of drug use, was busted north of San Francisco when he was pulled over and found to have both marijuana and cocaine in the vehicle with him. This past week a judge went light on Cepeda, who pleaded no contest to the charges; the cocaine charge was dropped and he was fined $100 for the pot. The plea deal so angered Solano County District Attorney David Paulson that he fired the prosecutor handling the case, Joe Camarata, on the day that Camarata was to resign anyway. As for Cepeda, he’ll likely pick up the $100 from tips at the Caribbean Barbeque named after him behind the AT&T Park bleachers.

Now Playing on TGG: Gus Zernial
Check out Ed Attanasio's chat with Gus Zernial, one of baseball's premier power hitters during the early 1950s, in our new installment of "They Were There."

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


The Coda on Piazza
Mike Piazza made his retirement official this past week, some seven months after baseball effectively retired him with no team offering him a contract for 2008. It’s been an intriguing career. Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 amateur draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, almost out of pity by his godfather, Tommy Lasorda; he developed into an 11-time All-Star, was rewarded as the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year, hit more homers than any catcher in history (396) and had a thing for titanic blasts, hitting one of two homers ever to completely depart Dodger Stadium and owning the longest shot in Coors Field history (496 feet). Some in the media are saying not so much whether Piazza would make the Hall of Fame, but what team he would represent.

Woah there, Nellie. In the Steroid Era, perspective is everything when considering one for the Hall, and Piazza, from our point of view, is a tough call. Yes, he scores with the power card. Beyond that? His defense was below par to say the least, leading catchers in errors four years and allowing the most steals nine times. He never won a MVP, never won a World Series. He wimped out at a critical moment in 2000 when he had his best shot at a championship, bowing to nemesis Roger Clemens and a splintered bat in Game Two of the World Series. (Ironically, all four of Piazza’s career ejections came after 2000, as if to convince everyone he had guts.) And he only made This Great Game’s list of ten top NL hitters in our Production Index twice, ranking tenth in 1993 and fourth in 1996.

People recall Gary Carter’s somewhat surprising election into Cooperstown and conclude that Piazza could run circles around him. But Carter was a far more sound defensive catcher, a gamer and team leader who hit well in the clutch and, overall, represented a more complete package. There is one thing working in Piazza’s favor when he becomes eligible for a HOF vote in 2012; it’s the same year Clemens will likely be eligible. Maybe the voters will curse Clemens and hoist Piazza in as the victimized alternative.

Faster, Ballplayers, Faster!
Major League Baseball is making yet another request to move games along at a faster pace in an effort to cut down on the average length of ballgames, currently two hours and 51 minutes. Everyone is being urged to participate, from the players (get to the batter’s box quicker), umpires (give the pitchers no more than 12 seconds to throw), managers (keep the mound conferences short) and even the audio-visual gang in the booth (quicken those between-innings “entertainment” that sometimes goes too long and keeps the folks on the field waiting). MLB tried this routine some ten years ago and eventually lost out to the emerging on-field habits of players and umpires; and of course, it made no mention of itself trying to alter the time between half-innings, which use to be a lot shorter before television came along and fed MLB with advertising money it couldn’t refuse.

The Blurred, Thin Yellow Line
Ideally, MLB would rather do without any kind of instant replay, but events of late have made it tough for them to continue its stance. Four times in the space of six days, umpires blew calls on home runs, ruling them below the yellow line—and later regretting it once strapped in front of a monitor to review the plays. Baseball’s immediate answer to this rash of wrong rulings was to institute instant replay, if asked for, on home run calls during the upcoming Arizona Fall League season.

Turning Fortunes 180 Degrees
All good, bad and indecisive things must come to an end. Last week, we talked of Brandon Webb going 9-0 in his first nine starts, Barry Zito going 0-8 in his first nine, and Shawn Chacon with a record -breaking nine straight no-decisions to start the year. This past week, each player's momentum came to a halt. Webb lost for the first time as Florida outlasted him and Arizona, 3-1; Zito finally picked up his first win in ten starts when the Giants beat the Marlins on Friday, 8-2; and Chacon finally became the pitcher of record when he left after seven innings with a lead against the Chicago Cubs—and the Houston Astros were able to hold it to the end.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Atlanta catcher Brian McCann begins the new week with the majors’ current longest hitting streak at 12 games. In fact, the 24-year old from nearby Athens, Georgia has only three hitless games in the last month, and is hitting .423 in the month of May.