Just Saying No to the Home Run Derby
The All-Star Game is approaching, which means it’s time for the game’s big boppers to hide as invites come in for the Home Run Derby. The event may be popular with fans who sell out the ballpark to watch, but it’s treated like the plague by many would-be participants. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have already turned down invitations, as has Vladimir Guerrerowho didn’t homer for a month after winning the Derby in 2007. (Hamilton went into a brief funk as well after he won it a year later.) Bobby Abreu, who won it in 2005, said this to the Orange County Register: “It takes a lot out of you. Your hands, your fingers get sore. When it happened to me, I was tired. I hit 41 (home runs in the contest). That’s not counting all the swings you take that aren’t home runs. I don’t know how many swings I took.”
When All Else Fails...
A few weeks ago we reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers had in recent years been using a Russian scientist who claimed to boost the team’s fortunes via long-distance energy waves. Now another so-called “mentalist,” the Amazing Kreskin, wants to help the woebegone Pittsburgh Pirates. What the heck, nothing else seems to be working in Pittsburgh. Kreskin, whose real name is George Joseph Kresge, has made for minor fame appearing on late night TV and predicting (often successfully) the outcome of sporting events and award shows; he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he became interested in the Pirates’ state of being after he learned about the firing (and rehiring) of a pierogi racer who vented about the team on his Facebook page.
Kreskin’s prediction for the Bad News Bucs: They’ll stretch their long-running streak of losing seasons to 20 yearsunless they hire him, from which he would immediately request the removal of general manager Neil Huntington and manager John Russell, who recently were given contract extensions through 2011. The Pirates had no comment; that we could have predicted.
Rejected, Ejected...And Elected?
Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto accrued first-half numbersa .312 average, 19 home runs and 57 RBIsthat have made him a top NL MVP candidate, but that wasn’t enough to get him selected by manager Charlie Manuel as a reserve for the NL All-Star team, leaving him “disappointed” in his own words. Perhaps taking his frustration onto the field, Votto was ejected after arguing a third strike call in his first at-bat of a 14-3 win over the Chicago Cubsending a 40-game streak in which he had reached base safely, the longest such run in the majors this season.
Votto still has a shot of making the All-Star team via the “Final Vote” as selected by the fans, an insane, runaway process that encourages mega-multiple votes in a money-driven scheme that would even shock those behind the ballet-stuffing for Cincinnati players back in 1957. The contenders for the final roster spot besides Votto are Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, San Diego closer Heath Bell, Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and Atlanta closer Billy Wagner.
The Not Ready for Prime Time Ballplayers
ESPN took its chances and put the Kansas City Royals on Sunday Night Baseball for the first time in 14 years. It'll probably be another 14 years before the Royals appear again after this: Angels 11, Royals 0.
Lost in the Count
It’s happened again: The umpire got the count wrong and nobody noticed. On Saturday at Phoenix, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Xavier Paul took a 2-2 pitch that missed for what should have been ball three in the second inning against Arizonabut he was awarded with a walk from umpire Bruce Dreckman. Nobodynot Paul, not Arizona catcher Chris Snyder, not any of the other eight Diamondback players on the field, not second-day Arizona manager Kirk Gibsonquestioned the count. Paul’s walk loaded the bases with nobody out, and the Dodgers eventually scored six runs in the inning on their way to a 14-1 routthough the Diamondbacks graciously contributed by committing a team record six errors, leading to eight unearned runs. Perhaps Dreckman was channeling the late Oakland owner Charles Finley, for whom MLB briefly put his idea of a three-ball walk to work during spring training in 1971. (Result: More walks.)
The End of Dontrelle?
Still unable to control his wildness, former 20-game winner Dontrelle Willis found himself without a major league team this past weekend when the Arizona Diamondbacks designated him for assignment. Willis, who is still only 28, began the year with Detroit and was traded to Arizona at the beginning of June. Since being dealt from Florida to the Tigers at the end of 2007 along with Miguel Cabrera as part of a blockbuster trade, Willis has bounced around between the majors and minors as his pitches have bounced around the plate; in 30 appearances over the last three seasons, he has a 3-9 record with a 6.86 ERA; in 123.1 innings during this time, he’s walked 119 batters.
One for P.R.
Edwin Rodriguez, who replaced Fredi Gonzalez as Florida manager and has been guaranteed the position for the rest of the season by Marlin management, became the first native of Puerto Rico to become a major league pilotjust in time to lead the Marlins for a three-game series against the New York Mets at Hi Bithorn Stadium in San Juan this past week. Rodriguez was wildly received by the 55,700 fans who attended the three gamestwo of which were won by the Marlins.
Steroids Suspect of the Week
A new book written by Randall Lane, an editor at large for The Daily Beast on the travails of Wall Street, claims that former outfielder Lenny Dykstra admitted that he was one of the very first major leaguers to use steroids, back in the late 1980s. Your first question was probably the same as ours: Why does a book on Wall Street talk about steroid use of a former ballplayer? The answer: Dykstra made the alleged admission when he and Lane hooked up a New York hotel to discuss a $250,000 payment owed by Dykstra related to a magazine he was publishing. Dykstra, a small but muscular three-rime All-Star who played from 1985-96 for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, said the intense competition just to keep his job in the majors was enough to bring him to do the juice. Dykstra’s name was dropped in baseball’s Mitchell Report; by then, he had much bigger problems in his life, such as a Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.
A Giant Frustration
Matt Cain, who’s been victimized by bad support for nearly his entire career in San Francisco, is winless in 14 lifetime starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s lost eight of those games with a 4.32 ERA.
Could it be the TGG Comebacker Jinx?
Last week we marveled at 40-year old Cincinnati reliever Arthur Rhodes, who was closing in on an all-time record for most consecutive appearances without giving up a run. One day after we posted, Rhodes got lit up for three runs (without retiring a single batter) and raised his microscopic 0.28 ERA to 1.12.
Wounded of the Week
After a few very quiet weeks at the MLB medical ward, everyone broke down. The disabled list was flooded with a group of players that collectively could make for a worthy roster to compete in the AL East (when healthy, of course). Among those hitting the shelf: Philadelphia stars Chase Utley (out eight weeks) and Placido Polanco, the Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez, Atlanta rookie slugger Jason Heyward, Chciago White Sox third baseman Mark Teahen, Cleveland outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, Toronto pitcher Shaun Marcum, David Freese and Ryan Ludwick of the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland’s perfect game pitcher Dallas Braden.
The Boston Red Sox continued to be hammered hard on the injury front, losing four more playersincluding their two top catchers, Victor Martinez and Jason Varitekto the DL, joining seven other Red Sox players.
Hard-throwing Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya, who can’t seem to get through a full season without some kind of major injury, endured the scariest moment on the field this past week when he exploded in pain after throwing a pitch and feeling his elbow practically snap in two during a game at Minnesota’s Target Field; he’s out for the year.
Then there was Baltimore outfielder Luke Scott, who injured his hamstring while easing into a home run trot after watching his deep fly clear the outfield fence at Oriole Park this past Tuesday against Oakland.
Finally, we have the strange case of Houston catcher Geoff Blum, who hurt his elbow…while taking his shirt off after Thursday’s game against San Diego. Call it a wardrobe malfunction of a different sort.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
The Pitcher's a Hit
Arizona pitching ace Dan Haren may be in the midst of one of his worst years as a major leaguerdespite a 7-6 record for the last-place Diamondbacks, his ERA is a disappointing 4.56but his hitting has been phenomenal. Through the end of June, Harena career .188 hitter entering the seasonhas 20 hits in 46 at-bats for a remarkable .435 average. The 20 hits includes seven doubles and a home run; just as impressive, he’s struck out just six times. Perhaps the everyday hitters in the Arizona lineup, who’ve been striking out at a record pace this season, can learn a thing or two from their pitcher.
Haren’s hot bat had us looking back at ten other superlative hitting campaigns accomplished by pitchers over the ages:
Jack Bentley, 1923. A tremendous slugger in the minors referred to as the “Babe Ruth of the International League,” the New York Giants purchased him in 1923, but because there was no everyday spot to place him within the loaded Giant roster, he was asked to pitchas he had done during his first taste of the majors a decade earlier with Washington. Bentley pitched well, but he showed his brilliance at the plate by hitting .427 in 89 at-bats. He eventually was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, who made him a first basemanjust as his career began a rapid decline.
Walter Johnson, 1925. Arguably the greatest pitcher of all-time was a decent hitter, always hitting in the low-to-mid-.250s; suddenly, in the midst of a late-career renaissance on the mound, the Big Train came to life with the bat, hitting .433a record for pitchers which still standsin 97 at-bats with a pair of home runs and 20 RBIs.
Red Ruffing, 1930. In the Year of the Hitter, it was only natural that some of the pitchers got to share the good life at the plate. At the top was Ruffing, a good-hitting outfielder in his youth who played the bulk of the season for the New York Yankees after being one of the last guys given away to them by the Boston Red Sox. Ruffing hit .364 with four homers and 22 RBIs for the year; in 22 major league seasons, he hit .269 with 36 homers.
Wes Ferrell, 1931. In his third full season in the majorsand the third of six in which he would rack up 20 winsFerrell set a major league mark for pitchers that remains the standard by smacking nine homers; he also is the career leader among pitchers with 37. Ferrell hit .319 and knocked in 30 runs in just 119 at-bats.
Lynn Nelson, 1937. Nelson was never a great pitcher, bouncing around for seven years with three teams, mostly as a reliever. But with the Athletics in 1937 his hitting was so goodbatting .354 with four homers and 29 RBIsthat manager Connie Mack used him on brief occasion as an outfielder. Nelson hit two of his homers while pitching, one while playing in the outfield, and one as a pinch-hitter.
Don Newcombe, 1955. It was a terrific year for Newcombe, winning 20 of 25 decisions for a Dodger team that would win their only World Series title for Brooklyn, but his hitting had a lot to do with it as wellproducing a .359 average with seven homers and 23 RBIs. Newcombe was a solid batter for much of his ten-year career, finishing with a lifetime .270 average.
Don Drysdale, 1965. Ten years after Newcombe, Drysdale was almost good enough to bat cleanup in an otherwise meek Dodger lineup. (The team did move him to the number seven spot by season’s end.) In 130 at-bats, Drysdale hit .300 with seven homersjust five short of the team lead.
Mike Hampton, 2001. The former 20-game winner may have been a bust during his brief time in Colorado, but he did his best to make up for it at the plate, hitting .291 with seven homersthe first seven of his career, which began in 1993in just 79 at-bats. It was the height of a four-year run (1999-2002) in which he hit .303.
Micah Owings, 2007. Owings pitched decently as a rookie for Arizona, but it was his hitting that took everyone by surprise, batting .333 with power (12 extra base hits including four homers among 20 hits). As Owings’ pitching game continues to struggle in Cincinnati (while his hitting game hasn’t), one wonders if there’s a future conversion to a field position on the horizon.
Felix Hernandez, 2008. The Seattle ace had just one at-bat for the season, but it was grandas in a grand slam, the first clouted by an American League pitcher since 1971, before the creation of the designated hitter. In that same game, he hurt his ankle and was placed on the disabled list, ending his chance at future at-bats during interleague playand resulting in a perfect season-ending slugging percentage of 4.000.
Life in a Major League Clubhouse
You’ve seen the pictures or perhaps even taken a tour through one of the spacious major league clubhouses at new ballparks where no expenses seemed to be spared, but how do the players themselves feel about them? The Detroit News provides a fun “day in the life” piece on how Tiger players make use of their clubhouse at Comerica Park.
Spanning the Bases
Minnesota’s Denard Span became the latest in a long list of players to share the major league record for the most triples in a game when he punched out a trio of three-baggers in the Twins’ 11-4 rout of the Detroit Tigers at Minneapolis on Tuesday. The last player to collect three triples in a game was Rafael Furcal in 2002.
Beware, the Right Fielder
This past Monday, two days after the Pirates’ Neil Walker suffered a concussion while colliding with right fielder Ryan Church, replacement Bobby Crosby bumped hard into Lastings Milledgeplaying that day at the right field spotand also suffered a concussion. Andy LaRoche has filled in at second base using a third base gloveand perhaps, for his protection, a football helmet. The Amazing Kreskin did not predict if and when LaRoche would make it three concussions.
One and Out
After a 0-9 start, Atlanta pitcher Kenshin Kawakami finally won for the first time in 15 starts this past week. So how did the Braves reward him? By demoting him to the bullpen. The move was done to make room for Jair Jurrjens, returning to the rotation after an early-season injury.
The Art of Criticism
In the current craze of erecting bronze sculptures of past baseball heroes around major league ballparks, Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch made the unorthodox suggestion this past week to take down the 47-year old statue of Stan Musial outside of Busch Stadiumnot as a diss against Musial, but the artist who molded together a piece of art he says doesn’t look very good. Burwell’s critique: “The hat looks goofy. The elegant Musial looks like a beefy longshoreman with a back too broad, legs too thick, the head too small, the hat too big. The feet, the stance and that tiny little bat that resembles a toothbrush completely all wrong and grossly out of proportion.”
All's Too Quiet in the Gaslamp Quarter
So the surprisingly consistent, all-but-no-name and very good San Diego Padres have a Friday night game at Petco Park against Houston and, even with fireworks added to the menu, attract just 30,000 people? Wake up, folksyou’ve got a terrific story in the making there.
Can MLB do us all a favor and leave the white hats used by teams over the Fourth of July weekend for the golf course?
Masters of the Third Act
The Atlanta Braves have won 15 games in their final at-bat so far this season.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Milwaukee’s Corey Hart, having a superlative year, ends this past week with the longest active hitting streak in the majors at 19 games. Hart is hitting .364 during his run, but has hit only two of his 19 home runsalready just five shy of a career bestduring this time.
If We Picked the All-Stars
Next week's Comebacker will reveal the choices of TGG's Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio for this year's All-Star teams.
Coming Soon to TGG
The latest installment of They Were There, with Ed Attanasio’s interview with former speed burner Maury Wills; and improvements to the Comebacker Index pages, which will now include captioned details of what has appeared in our weekly news and notes dating back to 2007.