The Week That Was in Baseball: June 16-22, 2008
Managers Be Gone! Dance of the Switch-Hitter and Switch-Pitcher
The Boss Jr.'s DH Tantrum So Long, Bert Shepard


These Things Happen in Threes
If you were a major league manager this past week, there was a 1-in-10 chance that you would get fired. The unlucky ones who drew the short straws were Toronto’s John Gibbons, Seattle’s John McLaren and—no surprise here—the New York Mets’ Willie Randolph, who with all the burden of media-driven pressure upon his shoulders like the world upon Atlas probably felt more relieved than saddened by his middle-of-the-night axing. McLaren’s departure was part of a growing housecleaning in the Seattle front office that will likely soon spread to the player roster, and the exit of Gibbons is a reflection of the frustration the Blue Jays feel about not being able to make the next big step in an AL East where even the usual bottom-feeders—Baltimore and Tampa Bay—are now above the .500 mark.

Like Father, Like Son
New Yankee Boss Hank Steinbrenner lashed out at the National League for not having a designated hitter a day after Chien-Ming Wang—the Yankees’ best starting pitcher—was possibly lost for the remainder of the season when he tore up his right foot running the basepaths in an interleague game at Houston. “I just think it’s time the NL joined the 21st Century,” said Steinbrenner to the New York Daily News. “The AL, the minors, colleges, high schools, they all have DHs.” Perhaps if pitchers dropped like flies when playing offense, the NL would consider removing the DH, but they haven’t. Steinbrenner is venting out of frustration; the bottom line is that both leagues are different from one another and it’s a good thing that fans have a choice of which they would prefer.

The Chipper Watch
Chipper Jones is finding out that trying to maintain a .400 batting average isn’t easy. Last week he bounced a batting practice ball off his eye, and this week he aggravated a quad injury that’s been hounding him of late. After going hitless in four trips to the plate on Thursday against Texas, Jones’ average ducked below .400 for the first time since April 12. He begins the week of June 23 batting at .393.

The Passing of a Wartime Relic
World War II was a time when baseball went to extremes to put someone, anyone on the field with most major leaguers lost to active military duty. Bert Shepard, who passed away this week at the age of 87, was emblematic of the times. A minor leaguer before entering the military in 1942, Shepard flew 34 bombing missions, the last of which cost him his right leg when his P-38 was hit by enemy fire over Germany and crash-landed. Back in the States with a wooden peg for a leg, Shepard convinced the talent-starved Washington Senators to give him a shot and, for the sake of good PR if anything else, they did. On August 4, 1945, Shepard took the mound with the Senators already losing to the St. Louis Browns, 14-2, and pitched 5.1 innings of terrific ball—allowing one run on three hits, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out two; it was his only appearance in a major league unfiorm. Read here about Shepard and how baseball barely managed to survive during the final year of World War II.

Fine Time For the Slow Pokes
It ultimately may be nothing more than a little grandstanding, but Major League Baseball fined managers Cecil Cooper (Houston) and Ron Gardenhire (Minnesota) for not doing their part to move games along more quickly. The fines were announced less than a month after MLB said it would start enforcing teams, players and umpires to speed up the game. The amounts of the fines were not disclosed, but we’re betting that neither manager will experience much of a dent in their monthly billing process as a result.

Eat Your Heart Out, Micah Owings
Rumors persist that C.C. Sabathia, a free agent at the end of the year, will be dealt by the struggling Cleveland Indians before the trade deadline. If so, National League teams should take particular interest, given that Sabathia is not only a terrific pitcher, but a pretty solid hitter as well. The 27-year old ace proved it on Saturday when he drilled a 440-foot homer run against the Dodgers at Los Angeles. It was his second career homer amid 12 hits in 40 major league at-bats for a .300 average.

How Can You Tame the Tiger Thames
From June 7-17, Detroit outfielder Marcus Thames had eight hits—all of them for home runs. It’s the longest such streak since Mark McGwire had 11 straight hits for homers in 2001.

A Virtual Season of Futility
By losing to Toronto on Sunday, 8-5, the Pittsburgh Pirates dropped to 60-100 in interleague play since the format began in 1997. The Bucs are the first team to break the 100-loss barrier against competition from the other league.

Wounded of the Week
Big names of this week’s hit list of disabled list entrants include Carlos Zambrano, Brad Penny, Paul Konerko, Shaun Marcum and Bartolo Colon.

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."


TGG Programming Note
The Comebacker will take the week of June 30 off, with the next post to appear on July 7. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the site and our new opinion piece rating the best, worst, most surprising and disappointing so far in the 2008 major league season.

Switch Way Will You Go?
When a switch-hitter comes to the plate, it goes without saying that he’ll bat the opposite of what orientation the pitcher is throwing—if the guy’s throwing right-handed, he’ll bat left, and vice versa. And in those few, rare instances in history when an ambidextrous pitcher—one that can throw both left- and right-handed—takes the mound, he’ll go righty on right-handed hitters and southpaw on left-handed hitters. But what happens when a switch-pitcher faces off against a switch-hitter? We found out this past week in a minor league game in New York between the Class-A Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones. With two out in the ninth and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte on the hill, up came switch-hitter Ralph Henriquez, who stepped into the box to bat right-handed. Okay, Venditte thought, I’ll pitch right-handed. Henriquez responded by moving to the left side of the plate. Venditte rebutted and readied to go southpaw. Then Henriquez moved right once more, prompting Venditte to go righty. And so on and so on and so on—for six whole minutes, before the umpire finally ordered Henriquez to pick a side and stay with it. Henriquez batted right-handed, and Venditte—pitching as a righty—struck him out on four pitches.

The Finale That Wasn't
We mentioned last week that Major League Baseball would end the annual Hall of Fame exhibition at Cooperstown with this year’s game against the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs, in part because of the traveling burden for the teams in the midst of an increasingly busy season schedule. It turns out that last year’s game will go in the books as the final such event; God apparently weighed in as well and sided with the powers-that-be on the ground, soaking Doubleday Field with thunderstorms that cancelled the game.

The Americans Still Have It (Continued)
After losing all four interleague contests on Monday, the American League regained its dominance and finished the week winning 48 games to the NL’s 36. For the year, the AL has a healthy 95-72 on its older brother in interleague action.

The Ghosts of Phillie Draft Picks Past
Interleague play gave the Philadelphia Phillies an unwelcome brush with their past during the last week. J.D. Drew first came to town with the Boston Red Sox and haunted the team that he refused to sign with after it drafted him in 1997, going 5-for-12 with two homers in three games as Phillie fans with long memories unleashed an unrelenting chorus of boos toward him. Then, on Saturday, it was Joe Saunders’ turn; the Angel pitcher, who decided to go to college rather than sign with the Phillies out of high school after he claimed to have been given a relatively paltry take-it-or-leave-it offer, pitched seven strong innings to give Los Angeles of Anaheim a 6-2 win over the Phillies.

Because They're Friendly
The Casper (Wyoming) Rockies of the Pioneer Rookie League have just changed their name to the Casper Ghosts.

More Mixed-Use Happenings at the Tropicana Dome
It was Turn Back the Clock Night in St. Petersburg on Saturday, and a rather odd one at that. Because they weren’t even around before 1998, the Tampa Bay Rays donned uniforms worn by the 1989 St. Petersburg Pelicans, the champions of the short-lived Senior Professional Baseball Association which featured ex-major leaguers such as Ron LeFlore, Steve Kemp, Elias Sosa and Joe Sambito. Not to be outdone, the visiting Houston Astros put on their ultra-garish 1970s uniforms with the bright warm horizontal spectrum taking up half of their tops. Finally, the game was followed by a concert featuring Kool and the Gang, which raised the crowd count to nearly 30,000 after 14,000 had showed up simply to watch baseball on Friday. We wonder how many of the concertgoers yawned when the Rays came back to win the Saturday affair with a two-run, ninth-inning rally.

One-Run Blues
The Atlanta Braves lost their 22nd straight one-run game on the road on Thursday when the Texas Rangers beat them 5-4 on Michael Young’s ninth-inning, walk-off RBI single. The streak breaks a major league record previously held by the 2000-01 Kansas City Royals.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Vladimir Guerrero finally appears to be waking up from a two-month long slumber, and he has a 13-game hitting streak—the longest among active major leaguers at the end of this past week—to back it up. Guerrero is batting .442 with six homers and 12 RBIs since his run began on June 8.

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