The Week That Was in Baseball: May 26-June 1, 2008
Manny Being Manny, For the 500th Time That's the Way to Bully the Kids, Bud
Why is Barry Bonds Grinning? Maple Bats: A Shattered Rap?


Many Manny Home Runs Later
A year after we were saturated with history-making milestones, the 2008 season finally saw its first big individual achievement on Saturday in Baltimore when Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez jumped on a seventh-inning pitch from Oriole reliever Chad Bradford and deposited it in the right-center field bleachers for his 500th career home run. Ramirez received a large chunk of cheers from the 48,000 in attendance, many of whom came to cheer on the defending champion Red Sox. Ramirez, who just turned 36 on Friday, is the 24th player to reach 500; barring injury or a sudden flameout, he’s a good bet to surpass 600, which we’ll likely be talking about next week as Ken Griffey Jr. sits all too close at 599.

Bring Larry and Moe Along as Well
Jose Canseco is fast becoming the Danny Bonaduce of the baseball world. Desperate for money and/or attention—we imagine both—the self-proclaimed steroids whistle-blower put out a call for anyone willing to get into a ring and box for $5,000. That call was answered by Vai Sikahema, a former NFL kick return specialist and a favorite name of broadcaster Al Michaels. The bout will take place on July 12 at an Atlantic City ballpark, Bernie Robbins Stadium. To anyone actually considering watching this, we suggest a more entertaining alternative: Painting a wall and watching it dry.

The Feds Pop Out
If the ongoing BALCO trials are any barometer, then Barry Bonds’ spirits must have been on the upswing after this week. A jury found track coach Trevor Graham guilty on just one of three counts in a Bay Area courtroom for lying to Federal investigators; jurors were deadlocked on the other two counts, in large part due to one juror who, according to another, had a thing against authority. Perhaps the biggest news in this trial was that defense attorneys were able to poke holes in the previously impenetrable armor of IRS agent Jeff Novitzky, the prime mover among the BALCO prosecutors. Bonds, whose own BALCO-related trial is scheduled sometime in the next year, can take some comfort that the BALCO prosecution team isn’t so invincible after all.

Wounded of the Week
There was no shortage of irony as the major league medical ward piled up with casualties this past week. Take Frank Thomas, for instance. The Big Hurt, celebrating The Big 4-0, hurt his quad in a big enough way to immediately land him on the disabled list—not exactly the way to be introduced to your fifth decade of life. Across the bay, San Diego pitcher Shawn Estes, experiencing a nice career revival (1-1, 3.33 ERA in five starts) with the Padres after two years away from the majors, stumbled on the visitor clubhouse steps of AT&T Park and fractured his thumb, sending him to the shelf. Meanwhile in Texas, pitcher Jason Jennings caved to season-ending elbow surgery for the second straight year. Such a pity for a guy so highly touted after throwing 212 innings with a 3.79 at Colorado in 2006; since then, he’s 2-14 with a 6.91 ERA. Also making this week’s list is the Rangers’ Hank Blalock (wrist), Cleveland’s slipping slugger Travis Hafner (shoulder), Boston pitching ace Daisuke Matsuzaka (rotator cuff), Tampa Bay closer Troy Percival (hamstring) Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes (his first time), Detroit DH Gary Sheffield (not his first time), San Diego pitcher Mark Prior (probably his last time, unless he tries again with his oft-injured shoulder).

Beat Your Own Up Before You Take on the World
Here’s one reason the Detroit Tigers are faring so poorly with lofty expectations in 2008: They’re 5-17 against AL Central opponents, the worst of any team in the majors against teams from its own division. The defending NL champion Colorado Rockies are the second worst, at 7-20.

And While We're Beating Up on the Tigers...
Despite the presence of a potentially potent offense that had experts drooling beforehand, the Tigers have been shutout nine times in their first 55 games. They were blanked just three times for all of 2007.

Eaton Up
Philadelphia starting pitcher Adam Eaton won for the first time in 11 starts this season when he and the Phillies defeated Colorado on Wednesday. That Eaton had to wait this long for a victory must have been especially frustrating given that only once has Eaton allowed more than four runs in a starting assignment, Eight of his previous ten starts had resulted in one-run decisions, four of which the Phillies had ultimately won—with relievers receiving credit for the victory.

I Never Met a Met I Didn't Like (Cont'd)
In our May 5-11 edition of the Comebacker, we noted that the Dodgers’ Hong-Chih Kuo pitches like Sandy Koufax against the New York Mets—and Sandy Duncan against everyone else. (For you folks under 35, Sandy Duncan was…oh, never mind.) Kuo’s tunnel vision-like mastery of the Mets continued this past weekend, throwing 6.1 scoreless innings of relief to lower his career ERA against New York to 0.35 in 26 innings with a 3-0 record. Against the rest of baseball, Kuo is 2-11 with a 5.40 ERA in 106.2 innings.

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."


Why Don't You Steal the Juice Boxes, Too?
Major League Baseball is at it again with over-the-top greed on the scale of Scrooge. It went after a little league in Chicago for using major league team names without its permission. The kids can wear the names so long as they wear jerseys and caps from a uniform manufacturer contracted through MLB. In this case, the kids weren’t even wearing replicated logos of the teams, just the names in generic script. Which leads us to ask: If MLB can bully the kids over use of its names, how come it isn’t bullying the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals or New York Giants, or NCAA teams such as the Auburn Tigers, LSU Tigers or even the Whitworth (Spokane, WA) Pirates? Hell, let’s take it a step farther: Why don’t the NHL’s New York Rangers send a cease and desist order to MLB, since they had their name before the Texas Rangers?

The Splintered Truth
Another growing controversy MLB is grudgingly getting sucked into is whether maple bats should continued to be allowed in baseball. The maples have increasingly become the wood of choice for major leaguers since Barry Bonds used them to hit 73 homers in 2001; now it’s said that half of the players are using them over the ash model that previously dominated. But whereas ash usually breaks in two, maple bats often explode—with pieces of dangerous, virtual shrapnel flying everywhere. Already this season, two people have been seriously injured, both in separate incidents at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium: Pittsburgh Pirate hitting coach Don Long, and a spectator, an attractive single mother of two, who suffered a concussion and two fractures of her jaw. Commissioner Bud Selig has been around long enough to feel the pain suffered by Steve Yeager, the Dodger catcher who nearly died when fragments of a broken bat were deeply embedded into his throat in 1976. Let’s hope, when he and the players’ union meet on June 24 to discuss the problem, that he doesn’t respond to the increased calls for maple bat banishment with his typical brand of tongue-twisting Seligese that speaks of much but means nothing.

Marketing Tactics Worthy of Arena Football
Not too many of us outside of the Deep South have heard of Trace Adkins, but it appears nobody in the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area have heard of the Tampa Bay Rays—at least not lately, anyway. After more wins at home before crowds struggling to reach over 15,000, the Rays brought in country star Adkins for a postgame concert following Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Chicago White Sox—and the joint was packed for one of the rare times in Tropicana Field history. Until Tampa-St. Pete baseball fans, wherever they are, get bludgeoned over the head with a two-by-four chunk of baseball fever, it doesn’t seem to matter to them that the Rays became the first team in 105 years to field the majors’ best record at Memorial Day a year after putting up the worst, or that Tampa Bay continues to surprise at the top of the Division of Death (the AL East) or that fans could have put their hard-earned money on the promising Rays in March when they were 150-1 longshots to win the World Series. Maybe the Rays should do what Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson suggests: Make Trace Adkins their first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

Bruce on the Loose
Highly-touted Cincinnati prospect Jay Bruce, called up this past week from the minors, reached base in each of his first six plate appearances—the longest such start since Ted Cox reached safely in seven trips to the plate in 1977 for Boston. The 21-year old outfielder knocked out three hits, including a double, and walked thrice before being retied on a fly ball in Wednesday’s 9-1 win over Pittsburgh. Pitchers are apparently still waiting for that FedEx priority package that holds the book on Bruce: As of Sunday, he’s batting .591 (13-for-22) with six walks and five extra base hits (including two homers).

Triple Thievery
The Cleveland Indians pulled off the majors’ first triple-steal in 21 years when all three runners on base successfully stole bases following a botched rundown attempt by the White Sox in the Indians’ 8-2 win on Tuesday. Stolen bases were credited on the play to Jamey Carroll (who was part of the initial pickle), Grady Sizemore (who stole third) and David Dellucci (stealing home).

One-Run Blues
The Atlanta Braves are 0-20 in one-run games on the road dating back to last season, the second longest streak in major league history.

Lost Incentive?
On May 14, about the time Hanley Ramirez was assured that he would sign the richest contract ($70 million, six years) in Florida Marlin history, he was batting .327 with nine homers, 23 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. Since then, Ramirez is 12-for-55 (.218) with no homers, no RBIs, no steals and 25 strikeouts.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Two perennial All-Star shortstops, Texas’ Michael Young and the New York Mets’ Jose Reyes—both off to slow starts this season—share the longest current active hitting streak in the majors at 17 games.

He Said What?
Baltimore’s Kevin Millar on Manny Ramirez, a former teammate of his in Boston: “He looks like a Brazilian Rainforest guy. You take away the hair and the baggy uniform, he’s just a guy that can hit.”

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