The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: June 13-19, 2011
Why Baseball Still Needs to Be Divvied Up Wanna Slow Jose Reyes Down? Try Mud
Great Rookies Who Flunked the Long Term Billy Beane Reacts to Moneyball, the Movie

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All Things Being Equal: Our Picks For 2011
TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio give their predictions for the 2011 MLB regular season. Check it out now!

After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
As baseball struggles to grasp video replay, here's a suggestion on how to expand upon it and make it efficient—if not flawless. Check it out now!

Baseball Without Borders?
A lot of folks within baseball sounded off on the proposal to turn MLB into two 15-team leagues with no divisions—and for the most part, they were open to the idea. We like the first part, where the leagues our balanced out equally—but something’s bugging us about the lack of divisions.

Having everyone bunched into a 15-team league threatens to take the heart out of divisional rivalries that have blossomed over the years: St. Louis vs. Cincinnati, San Francisco vs. Colorado, Tampa Bay vs. New York, and so on. These teams will still play one another, but the importance of their rivalries, in the context of being crowned divisional champions, will be lost amid the larger mass of a 15-team league. With the divisions intact, the sense of two teams fighting it out for first place, mano-a-mano, has a more dramatic allure to it.

Baseball’s proposal also allows for commissioner Bud Selig’s wish to increase postseason participants from eight to ten, with the top five teams from each league making the playoffs. We don’t like that. The path towards an NHLization (read: diminished value) of the regular season is greedy and short-sided.

We do agree that the leagues need to be balanced out; having six teams in the NL Central and four in the AL West is unfair and as asymmetrical as the Fenway Park outfield. What we’d like to see is to bring the Houston Astros, who have no major existing rivalry in the NL, transplanted to the AL West (where it could start an in-state rivalry with divisional partner Texas) and equal each division out to five teams each. Yes, with two odd-numbered leagues there will have to be at least one interleague series in play all the time—but c’mon, so what? And as for the postseason, keep it at eight teams and avoid devaluing the regular season.

Let us know what you think.

Falling From Freshman Grace
In a somewhat surprising move this past week, the Florida Marlins demoted former Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan to the minors after he began the year hitting .230 in 65 games. The performance shows Coghlan’s continued descent since winning the top rookie honor in 2009, when he hit .321 for the Marlins.

Will Coghlan ever return to freshman form? If he doesn’t, he may be joining our list below of fellow Rookie of the Year recipients who never lived up to their first-year hype and faded out of the majors, sooner rather than later:

Harry Byrd, 1952. Byrd was 15-15 with a 3.31 for the Philadelphia A’s, but lost 20 games the next season with a 5.51 ERA that was the majors’ second worst. He was part of an 11-player trade that sent him to the New York Yankees—where he performed admirably in 1954—then was dealt to Baltimore in an even bigger trade that involved a record 17 players. From there he was a journeyman pitcher, but the journey was short, seeing his last major league action in 1957. Byrd may be the only major leaguer with a road named after him that would later be renamed in honor of another ballplayer (in this case, the Bobo Newsom Highway in Darlington, South Carolina).

Joe Black, 1952. The 28-year old ex-Negro Leaguer had a sensational debut for Brooklyn, compiling a 15-4 record, 15 saves, 2.15 ERA and, in a rare start, won Game One of that year’s World Series against the Yankees. But his ERA shot up to 5.33 in 1953 and 11.57 the following year in few appearances. Black, too, was gone by 1957 after failing to recapture anything close to his rookie magic.

Don Schwall, 1961. The right-handed starting pitcher led the Boston Red Sox with a 15-7 record and 3.22 ERA and won the AL rookie vote over teammate Carl Yazstremski, but never won over ten in any of the following six years as he was relegated to the bullpen. He was traded from the Red Sox to Pittsburgh in a 1963 trade that gave Boston Dick Stuart—who would hammer 75 homers for the Red Sox over the next two seasons.

Mark Fidrych, 1976. The most storied and (in a baseball sense) tragic of the one-year wonders on this list, Fidrych became a national sensation with his long, curly blonde locks and his fascination for taking to the ball, sometimes with great emotion, on the mound; it paid off with a 19-9 record and AL-leading 2.34 ERA for Detroit. But he suffered a torn rotator cuff midway through his second year and never come close to retaining his rookie glory, appearing in just 16 more games before calling it quits in 1980.

Butch Metzger, 1976. The right-handed reliever won 11 games, saved 16 and authored a 2.92 ERA for San Diego—but would only play two more years afterward, bouncing around from team to team as his performance degenerated.

Joe Charboneau, 1980. One of the game’s most memorable rookies gone bad, Charboneau hit .289 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs with Cleveland and added a jovial spirit to the Indians’ clubhouse. He hurt his back the following spring and never recovered; hitting just .210 in 48 games in 1981 and .214 only 22 more games in 1982 before dropping from the bigs for good. 

Jerome Walton, 1989. One of two exciting young outfielders (along with Dwight Smith) to help spark the Cubs to the NL East crown, Walton hit .293 with 24 steals, and enjoyed a 30-game hitting streak. But his play time both rapidly diminished. He had one brief burst of energy in 1995, hitting .290 with eight homes and ten steals in 162 at-bats for Cincinnati, but otherwise he was pure benchwarming material.

Angel Berroa, 2003. After a solid rookie showing in which he .287 with 17 homers, 73 RBIs, 92 runs scored and 21 steals for Kansas City, Berroa regressed slowly over the next three years and then vanished into relative obscurity, last seen filling roster space (and little else) for the New York Mets in 2009.

Bobby Crosby, 2004. The first-year Oakland shortstop only hit .239, but his 22 home runs and 34 doubles were enough to satisfy Rookie of the Year voters. But he would never hit more than nine homers again and, worse, couldn’t raise that batting average. Attempts to jumpstart Crosby’s career in Pittsburgh and Arizona last year failed, and he’s currently without a major league employer.

A Beane Feast?
The first trailer for Moneyball, the movie version of Michael Lewis’ bestseller covering the early years of Oakland general manager Billy Beane, was released this week. It stars Brad Pitt as Beane and features a script written by Aaron Sorkin, who just won an Oscar for penning The Social Network. And what does Beane think of the film? He’s only seen a rough cut, but says the sight of seeing someone playing himself on screen is “surreal”; as for whether he thinks Pitt has done an accurate portrayal of him, Beane responded to the Contra Costa Times: “I’ll let you know when it’s all done.”

Moving From Kazmir
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim gave up this past week on pitcher
Scott Kazmir, the once effective but terribly fragile ace whose performance has badly regressed over the last three years; the Angels knew things just weren’t going to improve anytime soon when Kazmir, on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Salt Lake, lost all five of his starts with a 17.02 ERA. Kazmir, still just 27, is eligible to be picked up by any major league team willing to take the risk, but it will be an inexpensive one; the Angels are still on the hook for paying Kazmir $12 million this year, as well as a $2.5 million buyout of his 2012 salary.

Some Like it Hot...
So it’s 105 degrees out at game time in Phoenix this past week for the Diamondbacks’ games with San Francisco, and the Chase Field roof…is still open. Is the AC bill getting too expensive for the Arizona front office?

...But Not That Hot
After Friday’s game between the D-Backs and the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field, a postgame fireworks display was cut short when some prematurely exploding fireworks set off a fire in a garage across the street from the ballpark that was quickly extinguished.

Taking Shape in Miami
Here’s a sneak peak of the Florida Marlins’ new ballpark, still being constructed but expected to be ready for next season.

It Said What?
“F**k the Goat”—T-shirts worn by several Chicago Cub players in the Wrigley Field clubhouse this past week, a reference to the fabled Billy Goat Curse said to be placed on the team during the Cubs’ 1945 World Series loss to Detroit; they have yet to return to the Fall Classic.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
How about this for irony: The week ends with the majors’ longest active hitting streak belonging to…Buster Posey. That’s right, the star San Francisco catcher, out for the year with multiple knee injuries, went on the disabled list with a 13-game hitting streak—and as of Sunday evening, no one else in the majors had a run to match. Posey is hitting .380 during his streak, which will continue once he returns to the field…in April 2012.

Wounded of the Week
The week began with one future Hall-of-Famer (Derek Jeter) getting placed on the disabled list, and it ended with another (Albert Pujols) in serious danger of joining him. Jeter sprained his calf and will miss 15 days; Pujols sprained his wrist, and will miss up toi six weeks.

Also getting an unwanted seat on the ouch couch this past week are two major Boston Red Sox contributors (outfielder Carl Crawford and starting pitcher Clay Buchholz), Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau (wrist), Atlanta starting pitcher Tommy Hanson (shoulder) and closers in Houston (Brandon Lyon, biceps) and Los Angeles of Anaheim (Fernando Rodney, back).

Finally, Scott Cousins—yes, the man who infamously sent the Giants’ Buster Posey to the shelf for the year—has himself made the DL with a lower back strain for which there was no direct cause. Perhaps it was the result of all the tension sitting up in front of a computer and reading the hate e-mails.

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week:
Monday, June 13
Derek Jeter, six hits shy of 3,000, strains his calf after leaving the batter’s box on a fly ball during the New York Yankees’ 1-0 loss to Cleveland. He doesn’t even wait for the doctors to show up on the field, making a direct right turn and limping into the dugout. He’ll be placed on the disabled list the next day for the first time in eight years.

The Florida Marlins lose to Arizona, 12-9, and wrap up a 1-10 homestand that drops them below .500.

Tuesday, June 14
The Cleveland Indians are shut out at Detroit, 4-0, and relinquish first place in the AL Central for the first time since the first week of the season. Since their record peaked at 30-15, the Indians have only won five of 20 games.

In the Tigers’ win, ace Justin Verlander takes a no-hitter into the sixth inning for the third time this year; he loses it with one out in the eighth. Had he completed the no-no, it would have been his second of the season—and the third of his young career.

Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields tosses his third shutout of the year when he stops the red-hot Red Sox, 4-0, at St. Petersburg. The Red Sox had won nine games in a row—scoring at least five runs in each of those victories.

Last week, hitting coaches were dropping like flies. Today, it’s pitching coaches. Brad Arnsberg (Houston) was fired and Mark Connor (Baltimore) resigned for personal reasons. Rick Adair becomes the Orioles 13th pitching coach in 17 years.

Oakland starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, 6-0 to start the season, dropped his fifth straight decision with a 7-4 loss at home to Kansas City. What was particularly alarming about Cahill’s performance is that he walked seven—and struck out none. Not since Colorado’s Greg Reynolds in May 2008 has a starting pitcher walked that many without a strikeout.

Wednesday, June 15
Boston pitcher Josh Beckett allows just a third-inning infield single to Reid Brognac and finishes a one-hit shutout as the Red Sox win at Tampa Bay, 3-0. Beckett’s 1.86 ERA at the end of the day leads the majors.

The Pittsburgh Pirates win at Houston, 7-3, and are now over the .500 mark on the latest date of any season going back to 1999.

Thursday, June 16
The Yankees finish off a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers and are 7-2 this year against the team that defeated them in the ALCS last year. Getting the surprise start for the Yankees is Brian Gordon, who’s spent all but four games of his 15-year professional career in the minors; he gets a no-decision but allows just two runs in 5.1 innings. Gordon also wears what is believed to be the first 100% synthetic glove in major league history.

Jose Reyes of the New York Mets becomes the first major leaguer to reach 100 hits on the year in a 9-8 loss at Atlanta. He also hits his 12th triple of the year, one-third of the way to Chief Wilson’s seemingly unreachable all-time mark of 36 in 1912—some four-tenths of the way into the season.

Friday, June 17
The Baltimore Orioles collect 18 hits—including a combined 13 from Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Derrek Lee—but manage to score just four runs at Washington against the Nationals, who win their seventh straight game.

Toronto pitcher Jo-Jo Reyes, who a few weeks back had rung up a record-tying streak of 28 straight starts without a victory, wins for the third time in four starts as the Blue Jays edge the Reds at Cincinnati, 3-2.

Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson saves his best performance since being traded last year from the Chicago White Sox for…the Chicago White Sox, going the distance and scattering a run on three hits and a walk to in the Diamondbacks’ 4-1 win at Phoenix. The loser for the White Sox? Edwin Jackson, the player who went the other way to Chicago in the trade for Hudson, who’s now 15-6 with a 2.74 ERA in 26 starts since putting on an Arizona uniform.

Saturday, June 18
Johnny Damon becomes the 53rd player in major league history with 500 career doubles when he gets a two-bagger against Florida in the first inning. Damon is one of five active players with 500 or more doubles; Ivan Rodriguez tops that list at 572.

In the White Sox’ 6-2 win at Arizona, Chicago slugger Paul Konerko watches in horror when teammate Brent Lillibridge screams a line drive foul—right at Konerko’s family, seated behind the White Sox dugout. His brother deflects the ball just enough to keep it from making a direct hit on his dad’s face; he suffers a bruised hand while his dad’s chin gets banged up a slight bit. Chicago starting pitcher John Danks survives his own scary moment when a line drive off the bat of Stephen Drew hits off the back of his head and out of play on the third-base side for a ground-rule double; amazingly, Danks waives off the moment without getting hurt.

Jon Lester’s bid to become the majors’ first ten-game winner on the season is spoiled when he serves up home runs on the first two pitches he throws, allowing solo blasts to Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart in the Red Sox’ 4-2 loss to the Brewers.

Sunday, June 19
In a move that surprises the Marlins (or so they claim), Edwin Rodriguez announces that he’s quitting his post as Florida skipper before the Marlins’ game at Tampa Bay. Rodriguez was hailed as the first Puerto Rico-born manager in the majors, but his tenure in Florida lasts just 92 games with a .500 (46-46) record—and he had been 1-17 over the team’s last 18 contests. Interim manager Brandon Hyde takes over and watches the Marlins lose for the tenth straight time, 2-1 to the Rays.

Albert Pujols sprains his wrist when Kansas City’s Wilson Betemit runs down the line on a ground ball and collides with him at first base. Pujols had been 3-for-3 with a home run in the game, won by the Cardinals, 5-4. It’s later determined that he'll be out four-to-six weeks.

League vs. League
For the American League, the rout appears to be on—again—as interleague play went back into full swing this past weekend. The AL won 28 of 42 games and took the season lead on the NL by a 50-34 count as of Sunday; it appears that the junior circuit is well on its way to dominating interleague action for the eighth straight year.

A Conspiracy as Clear as Mud?
During the heated 1962 NL pennant race, the Los Angeles Dodgers accused the San Francisco Giants of over-watering the infield dirt at Candlestick Park to slow down the speedy Maury Wills—on his way to a then-record 104 steals on the year—should he ever get to base. This past week, the New York Mets accused the Atlanta Braves of pulling off the same stunt at Turner Field in an attempt to slow up red-hot speedster Jose Reyes.

A pregame thunderstorm was part of the reason for the wet infield on Tuesday, but as the tarp crew began to cover the infield, several members of the grounds crew inexplicably began watering the dirt. In the game to follow, Reyes slipped three times in the infield—once retreating back to first on a pick-off move (he barely made it back), once rounding first base after a hit, and once while playing defense at shortstop. Yet Reyes still stole two bags on the night and the Mets defeated the Braves, 4-3; that didn’t stop the Mets from formally lodging a complaint with Major League Baseball.

What Do You Want, a Home Run?
Arizona’s Kelly Johnson struck out against San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday—but was able to reach first base on the play when the pitch eluded catcher Eli Whiteside and went to the backstop. Yet after the play, Johnson turned toward home plate and motioned argumentatively that he foul-tipped the ball. So let us get this straight: Johnson wanted to return to the plate with a two-strike count rather than remain at first? Never heard that one before.

Power of the Cup
The Boston Red Sox moved their Saturday game with the Milwaukee Brewers at Fenway Park from the afternoon to the evening to accommodate the NHL Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins, who held their victory parade in Boston that afternoon.

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 rings—and why he's lost one of them.

Coming Soon to TGG
Our annual midseason report card on all 30 major league teams, as well as our picks for this year's All-Star Game.

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!

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