The Don Steps Down
In This Great Game’s recent opinion piece, our Eric Gouldsberry predicts that major league owners, if they are smart, will forge zero tolerance on steroids upon the players’ union at the start of the next round of collective bargaining talks in 2011and that Don Fehr and Gene Orza, most certainly, will turn the idea down flat, possibly creating a major rift between clean players and paranoid cold warriors like Fehr and Orza who’ll never fully trust the owners.
This week, part of that scenario was neutered when Fehr, after 32 years spent in the unionthe last 25 of which he served as its executive directorannounced he would retire no later than next March.
The departure of Fehr, who turns 61 in July, doesn’t mean the roadblock to zero tolerance has been removed. Orza, whose arch-doings have been borderline violable, will remain as the union’s Number Two. Taking over for Fehr is Michael Weiner, who’s been a part of the union structure since 1988and, as a direct witness to two work stoppages and the owners’ sinister (and, once they were caught, costly) collusion of the late 1980s, is not likely to be any more inclined to embrace zero tolerance.
League vs. League
Score another year of success to the American League, which finishes interleague play this past week besting National League competition for the seventh straight yearwinning 131 games to the NL’s 111. The senior circuit had a chance to overcome a somewhat slim deficit at the start of the week, but AL teams muscled up for the weekend and pulled away.
Manny Ramirez came to Albuquerque this past week to begin his “detox” stint (thank you, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times); reporters followed, asking him the five W’s on his PED suspension. It had the potential to be the most radioactive moment in New Mexico since Trinity. An SRO crowd of 15,000 flooded the home of the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes, and mostly cheered Ramirezfor they knew this was the most exciting thing to happen in New Mexico since, well, Trinity.
Before the game, Ramirez refused to address his suspension and took the fifth on whether he took steroids, but he was more than happy to talk about the love he was spreading to the fans. “People love me everywhere I go. I’m excited to bring a lot of joy to a lot of people here.” Albuquerque’s one thing; the folks there get a rush when their city shares a byline with AP. Let’s see what the fans in places like San Diego, New York and Milwaukee think; those cities are the first three Ramirez will play when he returns to the Dodgers.
Meanwhile, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is reportedly investigating the South Florida doctor who prescribed the female fertility drug to Ramirez; MLB is said to be cooperating in that investigation.
Sandblasting on Sammy
If Sammy Sosa doesn’t make it to Cooperstown on his first 15 tries, he’s not going to find much love from the Veterans Committeethat is, if former teammate and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg is running the group. The popular former Cub sounded off on ESPN Radio 1000 in Chicago when asked about whether Sosa should be in the Hall, responding, “I don’t think so…Part of being in the Hall of Fame, they use the word integrity in describing a Hall of Famer, in the logo of the Hall of Fame, and I think there are going to be quite a few players that are not going to get in.”
A few weeks ago, the San Francisco Giants hosted a reunion of the 1989 NL pennant-winning team that lost to Oakland in the “Earthquake Series”and almost everyone from the roster showed up. This past week, the A’s held their 20-year fete for the 1989 world champions and only 12 appeared. Not surprisingly, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwireone-time Bash Brothers, current steroids poster childrendid not attend. Canseco claimed he did not get invited (though the A’s insist otherwise), and got into a heated long-distance debate afterward with Carney Lansford, who attended the reunion and claimed that had Canseco showed up, no one else would have because of the dirt he has shoved on former teammates in his books. Talk about being one big happy family.
Rays Fans, Hel-lo...
The weak gate surprised Tampa Bay team president Matt Silverman, who pained to hide his frustrationand his comments to the St. Petersburg Times suggested that perhaps the Tampa-St. Petersburg market might just not be good enough for big league baseball. “We’re not shooting for the moon. We don’t expect to be a top-five team in attendance,” Silverman said. “But when we’re near the bottom of the major leagues in attendance on a night with a special matchup, it shows how far away we are from the league average. It just doesn't feel good.” The Rays’ domed facility with fake grass may be part of the problem, and the team continues to look at sites for a new, more appealing ballpark to attract fans. But if city council meetings to discuss the project fail to generate attention, perhaps a post-vote concert by Trace Adkins would help fill the chambers.
We could excuse fans of the Tampa Bay Rays last year when they had a delayed reaction to embracing the eventual AL champions at the turnstiles; after years of falling well short of .500, it was going to take time to adapt. But adapt they did; Ray Mania took hold, the team made its impressive run through October and, in the face of tough AL East competition so far in 2009, has held its own and stayed above the .500 mark thanks to a highly entertaining offense. But when the Philadelphia Phillies came to town this past week for a rematch of last year’s World Series, the three-game series generated an attendance of 58,000. Not per game. Total. Adding insult to injury, a fair chunk of those attending rooted for the Phillies. It seemed like old times in St. Pete.
After the final game of the Phillies-Rays series, a 25-year old man named Robert Eaton asked for Phillie reliever J.C. Romero’s autograph and when Romero refused, Eaton made a reference to Romero’s 50-day steroid suspension to start the seasonigniting Romero, who grabbed the man by the neck and pushed him away. Eaton has filed a report with local police but it is unknown if charges would be filed. Romero responded to the report by telling reporters, “What did he say? That he was drunk and got into a fight? I’m not going to comment on it…Don’t want to make a story out of nothing.” We’re assuming that Eaton is not related to Adam Eaton, one of the few pitchers who underachieved last year during the Phillies’ world champion campaign and was booed by Phillie fans when given his World Series ring at the start of this season.
Swingin' and Stealin'
The Tampa Bay Rays became the first team in major league history to have hit 100 homers and steal 100 bases before the season’s halfway point.
Like Him or Not...
Alex Rodriguez vaulted his way past Reggie Jackson into 11th place on the all-time home run list, smashing his 564th career shot on Friday against the New York Mets at Citi Field. The next target on the list is Rafael Palmeiro (569), who could share a few performance enhancement stories with A-Rod.
Elias Sports Bureau Fact of the Week
The Oakland A’s have not had a starting pitcher log eight full innings in a game since Justin Duchscherer (remember him?) threw a two-hit shutout against Seattle last July 8, a stretch of 145 gamesthe longest such run in major league history.
Something Legit to Enjoy in the Cab
The New York Yankees are becoming the first MLB team to provide local coverage of their games on the Internet through a deal with their TV entity YES Network and MLB Advanced Media. The latter has been providing web coverage of all games but with blackout restrictions for home games. Subscription costs of the Yankees’ online games will cost $20 a month or $50 for the remainder of the season when coverage commences on July 8. Only those who subscribe to YES and Cablevision’s Optimum online service will be eligible to watch.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
We soon may have to change the title of this tidbit to “Ichiro Suzuki’s Latest Challenge to Joe DiMaggio.” The Seattle Hit Machine is one of two players (Oakland’s Orlando Cabrera being the other) who end this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak, at 11 games. Suzuki already has two streaks of over 20 games this season (including a 27-game run that’s the longest in Mariner history), and this latest streak has been particularly potent, hitting .460. Chances are, we’ll be talking about him here against next week.
He Said What?
Blake DeWitt, sometimes Dodger, sometimes Albuquerque Isotope, talking to a mass of media in the clubhouse before Manny Ramirez’s initial Triple-A appearance on Tuesday: “I know you didn’t come all the way to Albuquerque to talk to me.”
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
Where are the Teasers of '08 Today?
In March we put out an Opinion piece wondering how the “teasers” of 2008players who came up late in the year and looked impressivewould fare in 2009, saying that we would check on their progress at mid-season. Well here we are at the season’s halfway point, so let’s take a look at how they’re doing:
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets. The young, studious hitting prospect impressed early on, but his downside was exposed with some horrendous play in the outfield, and as the unforgiving New York media and Met fans let him know about it, it began to affect his performance at the platesliding into a 6-for-50 slump in May. Murphy’s rebounded and he’s likely in the majors to stay, but improvement with the glove is a must.
Cameron Maybin, Florida. After collecting 16 hits in 32 at-bats to end 2008, the Marlins felt they had their everyday center fielder for 2009. And everyday Maybin got, until the Marlins realized they’d made a premature decision. After batting .202 with 31 strikeouts in 84 at-bats, Maybin was sent down to Triple-A New Orleans, where he remains.
Mike Hinckley, Texas. After relieving 14 times late in 2008 without allowing an earned run for Washington, the 26-year old lefty has gone home again. Which is not a good thing, for home is Oklahoma City, Triple-A affiliate for the Texas Rangers, who traded for Hinckley after a mediocre start with the Nationals.
Micah Hoffpauir, Chicago Cubs. Playing part-time for the Cubs as expected, the 29-year old late boomer started the year strong and scuffed through June before a DH stint during interleague play revived him (three home runs over one week). If anything else, he’s providing solid offensive backbone for the Cubs.
Jason Motte, St. Louis. The hard-throwing hitter-turned-pitcher won the Cardinals’ closer spot in spring trainingand quickly lost it, crashing and burning on Opening Day with a ninth-inning meltdown against Pittsburgh. Now working middle relief, Motte (5.27 ERA) hasn’t shown the dominance he displayed in the minors, late last year in St. Louis or in spring training.
Chris Dickerson, Cincinnati. The 27-year old native of Hollywood hasn’t warranted any star treatment yet playing part time in Cincinnatiespecially after struggling out of the gatebut his numbers have been warming up with the weather, raising his average back to respectable heights.
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco. We predicted that the burly 22-year old infielder was the closest thing to the real deal on this list. We stand validated. Sandoval is among the NL’s batting leaders and is killing the ball all over the place. (On Saturday, he smashed two homers and nearly hit two others.) If he ever finds a way to discipline himself at the plate and not swing wildly out of the zone, he’ll become scaryas in Ted Williams scary.
Josh Geer, San Diego. After holding his own late last year, the 26-year old from Dallas has found the going a little tougher so far in the Padre rotation, winning just one of 11 starts. You know you need work on your pitching when your ERA at Petco Park is above 5.00.
David Price, Tampa Bay. After looking so good last season both in the minors and (briefly) for the Rays’ playoff run, Price was surprisingly jettisoned back to the minors to start 2009probably because the Rays wanted one more year of ownership out of him before free agency. Finally making his 2009 Rays debut late in May, Price has had mixed results, as walks and the pitch count in general have curtailed his opportunity to be dominant.
Phil Coke, New York Yankees. The 26-year old southpaw reliever was rewarded with a spot in the Yankee pitching staff after a splendid September, and he’s been a busy and mostly reliable lefty, with opponents hitting less than .200 against himbut five home runs given up in 32-plus innings have stung him.
Travis Snider, Toronto. The 21-year old slugger started the year strongthree home runs in the season’s first weekbut regressed himself out of the lineup and then, by late May, off the roster. “Leaving Las Vegas” is Snider’s current motto; it’s there, home of the Blue Jays’ Triple-A team, where he’s trying to work his way back to the bigs.
Jose Mijares, Minnesota. The big 24-year old has followed up his brilliantly fleeting finish to 2008 with a sturdy relief effort in 2009, setting up for Joe Nathan and keeping his ERA solidly in the mid-2.00s.
Dusty Ryan, Detroit. We didn’t expect much respect for the 24-year old catcher despite a nice cameo last year, and only in the past few weeks has he received the call from the minors. Ryan will likely get in some action so long as Gerald Laird continues to struggle.
Taylor Teagarden, Texas. Playing back-up catcher to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the 25-year old local has not mimicked the eye-raising slugging output of last year, when he batted .319 with six homers in 47 at-bats; so far this season, Teagarden is hitting just .230 with no homers in 61 trips to the plate.
There were lights, camera…and no action on the planned film adaptation of Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ best-selling book about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Just days before shooting was to begin, Sony Pictures decided to shut the project down because, it was inferred, it was displeased with an overhauled script from director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) originally penned by acclaimed screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List). (A blogger on Yahoo said of the script spat: “In the rewrite, Jeremy Giambi slid into home. The suits went crazy!”) Sony has told Soderbergh that he can take his script and project to a different studio. Brad Pitt was slated to play Beane.
Tops in Venezuela
Omar Vizquel became the all-time hit king among Venezuelan natives this past week when he surpassed Luis Aparicio with his 2,678th career hit on Thursday at Arizona. The 42-year old Vizquel, currently performing part-time shortstop duties and (we assume) full-time mentoring for young Elvis Andrus with the Texas Rangers, is hitting .300 and has committed no errors in 59 chances; his total volume of hits should serve as a reminder to skeptical Hall of Fame voterswho think he’s all-glove, no-hitthat he’s a guy close to 3,000 hits and 400 steals.
Be-vare of Bats With Sharp Edges!
Usually, when a broken bat goes flying into the infield, it’s going someplace different than the ball. Not on Wednesday at Washington, when both the ball and the majority of Elijah Dukes’ batcomplete with jagged edgecame right toward Boston shortstop Nick Green at the same moment. For Green, the question was this: Do I get out of the way, or do I field the ball and chance getting impaled by the bat at the same time? Green chose the first option, ducking away from the bat and taking his eye off the ball, which ended up going between his legs. Dukes was given a hit as the official scorer appropriately sized up Green’s defensive degree of difficulty; but more importantly, had Green suffered a direct hit by Dukes’ jagged bat remnant, he would have inadvertently put talks of how to deal with maple bats on the fast trackshowing that MLB wont seriously tackle the problem until someone gets seriously hurt or worse on the field.
For the second time this yearand only the sixth time since 1900a major league team combined to throw six wild pitches in a nine-inning game when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim threw wild often against the Colorado Rockies in an 11-1 loss this past Monday night. Four different pitchers contributed, with starter Matt Palmer and reliever Rich Thompson each throwing wildly twice. On May 27, the Boston Red Sox ganged up to throw six errant pitches at Minnesota.
Wounded of the Week
Every year, at least one major league buffoon can’t help himself and take on an hard, inanimate object in the clubhouse with his bare hands; we say “buffoon” because there’s no way the object will ever lose. Atlanta pitcher Jeff Bennett found this out the hard way this week when, after giving up his second home run in as many appearances, decided to take his frustration out on the clubhouse doorand broke his left hand. He’s on the disabled list now.
Also checking into MLB’s medical ward this past week is yet one more New York Met star, Carlos Beltran (David Wright, you’re next), Florida closer Matt Lindstrom, Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes, Milwaukee pitcher Dave Bush, Baltimore pitcher Koji Uehara, Seattle shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, and Texas pitcher Matt Harrison (again).
Coming Soon to TGG
Look this coming week for our traditional mid-season report card on the best and worst so far of the 2009 season in our Opinions section. Also look soon for our picks for the All-Star Game.