Hot Button Issues
Baseball’s online campaign to let the voters decide each league’s final All-Star roster spot this past week got a little out of hand, and makes us wonder if we need to go back to one person, one vote. To wit: San Francisco’s AT&T Park became a virtual wall of graffiti imploring fans to vote for Pablo Sandoval. The mayor of Virginia Beach, VA declared Tuesday “Vote for Mark Reynolds” day in his town, urging the near half-million who live there to vote for the Arizona third baseman who grew up in the area. The Phillies’ Shane Victorino literally walked door to door with Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter to get his vote out. Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Chone Figgins said he nearly wore out the battery on his iPhone…voting continuously for himself. In Tampa Bay, the Rays flooded the concourse of Tropicana Field with laptops urging fans to vote for Carlos Pena.
To decide a couple of reserve spots for the All-Star Game, an unbelievable 68.6 million votes were castprobably from a total of 686 people, if you hear the stories of some who literally dedicated the entire week hitting the vote button non-stop on mlb.com. This runaway train processalbeit a very profitable one for MLBattracted so much attention, it almost overshadowed the primary vote of the starters before it, and will no doubt plant the seed at Bud Selig Central that, maybe, this is the way the main vote should be conducted as well.
Be careful for what you wish foror, at the very least, be reminded of the lesson from 1957, when Cincinnati fans went nuts and stuffed the ballots for their Reds, electing seven of them to the NL starting lineup. Sacrificing democracy and fairness for greed, as we saw this past week, does not make for a noble trade.
Better Late Than Never
Congrats to Tim Wakefield, Boston’s ageless knuckleballer, who made the All-Star team for the first time in his 17-year career. The 42-year old Wakefield (11-3, 4.31 ERA) is on pace for his first 20-win campaign. Only one other player, Satchel Paige, debuted in an All-Star Game at an older age (46)although Paige, who was black, would have been there sooner had baseball allowed him during his prime in the 1930s.
Of all the 2009 All-Stars, Toronto’s Roy Halladay received the biggest bonus for being selected; his contract calls for an additional $125,000 if named to the roster.
WADA You Want Now?
John Fahey, the president of WADAthe World Anti-Doping Agencysaid this past week that Major League Baseball should adopt WADA rules for punishing performance-enhancement users, which call for a two-year ban on the first offense and a lifetime ban on the second. (We had out own idea laid out in a recent opinion piece: First offense, lifetime ban.) In this day and age, telling MLB its business is not going to get you anywhereespecially when you get a response like this one from MLB vice honcho Rob Manfred: “A first-time offender misses 50 competitive events. Even with a two-year ban, no Olympic athlete misses that many competitive events.” But that’s the point, Rob; if a major leaguer missed two years’ worth of salary as opposed to that of a month and a half50 games’ worth in baseballit certainly would make players think a bit more before shooting up.
Congrats to the Cheaters
A little further down the list, Manny Ramirezyet another cheaterslammed his 536th career home run on Friday to tie Mickey Mantle for the no. 15 spot.
Self-admitted steroid abuser Alex Rodriguez injected himself into the all-time top ten list for home runs with his two long balls on Saturday at Anaheim, muscling Rafael Palmeiroanother cheatfrom of the no. 10 spot. With 570 career knocks, A-Rod needs just three to reach Harmon Killebrew for ninth on the list, and 13 to tie Mark McGwirewho’s refused to talk about his past as a possible cheatfor eighth.
The Case of the Phantom Tag
This brings us to this past Monday at the new Yankee Stadium. In the first inning, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter attempted to steal third base against Torontoand was called out by umpire Marty Foster, who, according to Jeter, told him that the throw beat him to the base and that he didn’t have to be tagged. The normally amiable Jeter went ballistic, as did Yankee manager Joe Girardiwho was ejected in the ensuing argument with Foster. A day later, fellow umpire John Hirschbeck spoke for Foster and claimed that Jeter was told that the tag was made on him. “Sometimes when tempers flare, you don’t hear everything that’s said,” Hirschbeck said in a brief conference with reporters. The erasure of Jeter hurt the Yankees, who lost on the day to the Blue Jays, 7-6.
We’ve often heard the adage; if the ball beats you to the bag, you’re outeven if the required tag of the player or base isn’t made. We specifically remember one Game of the Week telecast in the 1970s in which a shortstop took a throw at second place as part of a double play, and the runner was called outeven though the shortstop was three full feet off the bag. (NBC announcer Joe Garagiola had a field day milking that replay on air.) Of course, no umpire today publicly embraces this philosophy, and even those who keep it to themselves don’t dare practice it in play, with ten or more TV cameras watching your every call in super slo-mo.
What Would Kate Smith Do?
It does seem a little ironic: Having ushers rope off the aisles to the concourse and keep you in your seats to sing a song about freedom. That’s what they were doing last year at the old Yankee Stadium during the seventh-inning stretch when God Bless America was played, and when one guy decided to head to the bathroom during the song, he was denied by a police officer; when the man resistedafter all, when Mama’s calling, you gotta answerhe was ejected from the ballpark. The man, Bradford Campeau-Laurion, sued and this past week settled with New York City (which employed the police officer in question) for $10,001 plus another $12,000 in legal fees. The Yankees, for their part, have removed the chains during God Bless America at the new Stadium, allowing fans to do as they please. After all, it is a free country.
Because There's No Singles Derby
Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki (79 career home runs in eight-plus seasons) was asked by MLB to participate in the Home Run Derby before the All-Star Game. Suzuki said no thanks.
Wounded of the Week
Also given a seat on the Ouch Couch this past week was San Francisco’s Randy Johnson (whose absence opened up a spot for Jonathan Sanchez, he of the no-hitter), Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce (broken wrist), San Diego infielder David Eckstein (hamstring) and New York Yankee pitcher Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder), whose apparent long trail back toward finding his old self hit a roadblock with a second trip to the shelf.
This week was not a good time for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, entrenched in an AL West dogfight with the surprising Texas Rangers, to lose their two biggest hitters. All-Star center fielder and strong AL MVP candidate Torii Hunter (groin), along with veteran star Vladimir Guerrero (knee), were both placed on the disabled list on the same day; they are both expected to miss a month of action. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Cubs also felt the pain of a diminished roster after the 15-day losses of starting pitcher Ryan Dempster (broken toe) and catcher Geovany Soto (rib), who hurt himself swinging in batting practice.
Now Playing at TGG
Our traditional look at the best and worst of the season's first half are now on display in our Opinions section.
Trivia Question #1
San Francisco’s Jonathan Sanchez has 16 career winsone of those, of course, being the no-hitter he threw against San Diego on Friday, the majors’ first of the season. But Sanchez is far from having the least number of victories among those with no-hit experience. Which such major leaguer has the fewest career victories? Go to the This Great Game page on Facebook to give your answer and we’ll tell you if you’re right.
Once Comfortably Ahead, Now Comfortably Behind
Going into Wednesday’s action, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki had a 28-point lead in the AL batting race. At the end of that day, he was down by 32 points. What happened? Joe Mauer, that’s what happened. The Minnesota catcher, who missed the first month of the season to back injuries, finally accrued enough plate appearances to qualify for the league’s batting leadersand, at .388, put himself well ahead of Suzuki.
Send More Buck O'Neil
When Ken Burns gave us his extraordinary PBS series Baseball in 1994, he captured an atmosphere of innocence within the game that was about to become lost, thanks to a painful work stoppage that cost fans a World Series, heroes-turned-steroid villains and the owners’ unapologetic, almost greedy rush toward unlimited revenue. We’ve often wondered how an update would be treated by Burns, and we’re about to find out. A “Tenth Inning” edition of Baseball, said to cover the national pastime’s last 15 years, is scheduled to debut on PBS in the fall of 2010. We already know that the new episode will be sorely lacking two elements that blessed the earlier tome: The heartwarming opinions of Negro League legend Buck O’Neil, who passed away in 2006, and the narration of former NBC news anchor John Chancellor, who died in 1996.
A Win Without a Pitch
How does a pitcher get credit for a win without throwing a single pitch? It’s happened before on rare occasion, the latest of which took place this past Tuesday when Colorado reliever Alan Embree “earned” the victory in the Rockies’ 5-4 win over Washington at Coors Field. With two out in the top of the eighth inning of a 4-4 tie, Embree relieved Joel Peralta and, before throwing a pitch home, got the Nats’ Austin Kearnsthe runner on firstinto a pickle as he attempted to steal second, eventually applying the tag himself. When the Rockies scored in the bottom of the inning, Embree became the pitcher of record, and Huston Street closed out the ninth to give him the no-pitch win. For Embree, that was the good news for the week; the bad news came two days later, when a line drive from Atlanta’s Martin Prado broke his leg, ending his season.
Trivia Question #2
Okay, now that you know how a pitcher gets a win for not throwing a pitch, how does one throw a perfect game without actually starting it? It happened in 1917 to the Boston Red Sox’ Ernie Shore, who came on with no one out in the first and a runner on baseand proceeded to retire the next 27 Washington Senators. Question: Who did Shore replace on the mound, and why? Go to the This Great Game page on Facebook to give your answer and we’ll tell you if you’re right.
A Belated High Five for Joel
Getting good news was better late than never for Pittsburgh reliever Joel Hanrahan, who’s been in desperate need of a smile this season. Battered in the WBC for Team USA and clueless as a closer for Washington, Hanrahan earned his first victory of the year on Thursday for the Nationalswhich is strange, since he was traded to Pittsburgh nearly two weeks earlier. Hanrahan was the pitcher of record for a 10-10 game against the Astros that was suspended on May 5, and won quickly by the Nats when they resumed it before a regularly scheduled contest in Houston. It was Hanrahan’s first win of the year.
It Could Have Happened
It was noted though that had Hanrahan been traded to the Astros instead of the Pirates, entered the suspended game for Houston and gave up the Nationals’ game-winning run (instead of LaTroy Hawkins), he would have received credit for both the win and the loss in the same game.
It Doesn't Get Worse Than This
The Cincinnati Reds have played nearly 20,000 games in a history that spans a longer period than any other major league team, but never had they experienced such a one-sided thrashing as they did on Monday night when they were thrashed at Philadelphia, 22-1. Cincy starter Johnny Cueto didn’t last the first inning as the Phillies piled on ten runs to brutally set the tone. After the Phils notched six more runs over the next three innings, all was quiet on the Citizens Bank Park front until the eighth when the Reds, unwilling to further exhaust their pitching staff, brought in utility infielder Paul Janish to throwand a new round of merciless pounding commenced, with the Phillies scoring six more times to round out the scoring.
Andruw Jones hit as many home runs (three) in a two-hour span for the Texas Rangers on Wednesday at Anaheim as he did for all of 2008 with the Los Angeles Dodgerswho, by the way, are still paying him the vast majority of his 2009 wages. Jones’ three-homer performance, the second of his career, helped Texas to an 8-1 win over the Angels; he’s smacked 14 over the wall in just 173 at-bats so far this season. All this doesn’t necessarily mean that Jones is back to marquee strength; he’s batting only .175 since May 29.
Nothing to Get Nostalgic Over
Turn-back-the-clock nights are generally considered to be pleasant nostalgia for the older fans who remember way back when, but isn't it a little early to be feeling nostalgic in Tampa Bay over the Devil Rays? On Saturday, the Rays and A's suited up in uniforms of yesteryear, with the Rays bringing out the sea-faring gradated outfits that surely evoked a lot of bad vibes of very recent times at the Tropicana Dome. Sure enough, on cue, the 'Devil' Rays played as they almost always did, losing to last-place Oakland, 7-2.
Ken Griffey Jr. of the Mariners wore a single white glove in his first at-bat of Tuesday’s game against Baltimore in honor of the late Michael Jackson.
The two new ballparks in New York City may be bringing in more revenue for the Yankees and Mets, but not necessarily while filling up the seats. Since playing before a full crowd on Opening Day, the Yankees have not had one sellout at the new Yankee Stadium; across town at the Mets’ new palace, Citi Field, there have been only five sellouts so far in 2009.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
The week ends with two players sharing the lead for the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 12 gamesalthough, strangely, both players are headed in opposite directions of sorts. Washington’s Josh Willingham has been red hot during his streak, which might be at 19 games had the Marlins not pitched around him on June 30; during that span, he’s hitting .406. Miguel Cabrera, meanwhile, has practically punched out a hit a game during a 12-game run that has actually seen his season batting average go down by some ten points.
This Week's Challenger to Joe Wilhoit
Down in the minors and high in the desert, a fellow by the name of Jamie McOwen was tearing up the California League with a 45-game hitting streak, the longest in the minors in 55 years; when the run ended on Friday, the outfielder for the High Desert Mavericks fell 24 short of the all-time organized baseball mark of 69 games, held by that other Joltin’ Joe, Joe Wilhoit of Wichita in 1919. McOwen’s streak included two hits in a 33-18 loss to Lake Elisnore a few weeks back, which set a California League record for total runs in a game.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.