The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: July 9-15, 2012
Tony La Russa Goes Out a Winner—Again Outrageous Minor League Stats
Did Scott Boras' Ego Get the Best of Mark Appel's Future? Sacramento Makes a Pitch

The Last Waltz
Tony La Russa made a big imprint on the 2011 World Series by leading the St. Louis Cardinals to an unexpected world title—and this past week at the All-Star Game in Kansas City, the longtime skipper came out of retirement and helped influence the makeup of this year’s Fall Classic by establishing home field advantage for the National League after its 8-0 demolition of the AL, its third straight win at the Midsummer Classic.

In selecting San Francisco’s Matt Cain as the NL starting pitcher over the New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey—who had a better record and ERA—La Russa invited scorn from Met fans already ticked off over aggressive San Francisco voters who helped put three Giant position players into the starting lineup, including Pablo Sandoval at third base over the statistically more deserving David Wright. But Cain proved La Russa right, throwing two sharp innings to help set the pace while backed up by five first-inning runs, followed by three in the fourth.

Cain’s Giant All-Star teammates certainly showed that their inclusion in the lineup was justified—and the hubbub over last-minute online stuffing of the ballots wasn’t. Sandoval capped the five-run first with the All-Star Game’s first-ever bases-clearing triple, and Melky Cabrera—who secured MVP honors—added a two-run laser beam of a home run in the fourth to finish the scoring on the night.

La Russa enjoyed his last moment in the managerial spotlight as the third All-Star Game manager who took the role during retirement. (The other two: John McGraw in the very first All-Star Game in 1933, and Danny Murtaugh in 1972.) After the game, La Russa seemed more pleased that he was able to coast with an 8-0 lead and let his coaches (other NL managers such as the Mets’ Terry Collins and Milwaukee’s Ron Roenicke) do the dirty work of selecting which players to enter the game.

It Does Matter
La Russa shrugged off the importance when asked, but know this: The team with home field advantage in the World Series has won 21 times in the last 26 years—and of the last seven Game Sevens played, the home team has won them all—including La Russa’s Cardinals last year against Texas.

A Giant Influence
In the second All-Star Game played at Royals/Kauffman Stadium, the Giants’ Melky Cabrera took MVP honors. In the first game played at the facility (in 1973), the NL similarly trashed the AL, 7-1, with another Giant—Bobby Bonds—being given the MVP after he, like Cabrera, collected two hits including a home run.

The Youth Movement
The All-Star Game featured a record five rookies: Washington’s Bryce Harper, Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Mike Trout, Oakland’s Ryan Cook, Arizona’s Wade Miley and Texas’ Yu Darvish.

Ride it All on the Recent Past
Not since 1987 has either league had a winning streak in the All-Star Game snapped at one. After the National League triumphed in 13 innings in 1987, 2-0, the American League ran off six straight wins at the Midsummer Classic—followed by a three-game streak for the NL from 1994-96, followed by the AL’s long 13-game unbeaten streak (counting in the infamous 7-7 tie in 2002), and now the NL’s current three-game streak that included Tuesday’s 8-0 trashing of the Americanos.

Cano Do, Not Even Once
Besides starting AL pitcher Justin Verlander—who gave up all five first-inning runs to the NL—the only other guy to have a lousy experience during All-Star week at Kansas City was New York Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. Last year’s Home Run Derby champion in charge of selecting the participants for this year’s Derby, Cano didn’t hit a single long fly in defense of his title this year—and was booed by Kansas City fans for not naming any Royals (specifically Billy Butler) as part of the Derby team. The sour treatment went over the line when fans began taunting Cano’s family, seated among the crowd.

Commissioner Bud Selig and union leader Michael Weiner both criticized the fan treatment, yet Selig intimated that future Home Run Derbys might include a “home team” representative to appease the local masses.

Twice-Crowned King
Prince Fielder, who did win this year’s Home Run Derby, became the second player to twice win the competition; Ken Griffey Jr. was the other.

Role Reversal
Speaking to reporters during the all-star break, commissioner Bud Selig flew out a trial balloon: That he’s interested in the idea of having the designated hitter used during interleague games played at NL parks—and having pitchers hit in AL parks. The only ulterior motive for such a ploy would be to gauge foreign concepts in foreign lands, an expanded focus group to determine if fans favor the DH everywhere or if they want to abolish it. Other than that, the concept makes no sense whatsoever.

Found in Defiance of Ohio
This is your annual cattle-prod reminder to scour through your grandparents’ attic in search of memorabilia gold: A man in Defiance, Ohio, checking out what his long-deceased grandparents had hidden away, stumbled upon a box that practically hadn’t been opened in almost a century. Inside: Some 700 ‘rare’ baseball cards, highly preserved, never touched, in almost perfect shape. Among the names on the cards are Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson. They’re eventually headed for the auction block; the sum total of the loot is expected to fetch as much as $3 million.

Goin' to River City?
Sacramento has let anyone who cares to listen know that it is ready to build a major league ballpark for a new or transplanted MLB team. Eager to stay on the pro sports map with the (apparently) imminent departure of the NBA Kings, Major Kevin Johnson—a former basketball star—formally announced the plan, saying the city has the land and the money to move forward. Sure, Sacramento certainly has the land…but the money? The California State Capitol is currently one of the most economically depressed markets in the country.

We previously suggested a move for the Oakland A’s to Sacramento; it could attract fans from the state’s Central Valley (with a sizably broad market), wealthy residents in the Sierra foothills, California expatriates in Reno, Nevada and a healthy chunk of the team’s current fan base outside of Oakland, which resides roughly an hour or more from Sacramento. But Oakland owner Lou Wolff has made it doubly clear that he wants no part of Sacramento—in part because corporate sponsorship potential pales badly to that within San Jose and Silicon Valley, which remains his sole focus in regards to a new facility.

So When Does China Figure Out How to Bootleg This Stuff?
Sooner or later, it was going to happen: Digital autographs. Brian Auld, the Senior Vice President of Business Operations for the Tampa Bay Rays and his brother David Auld have created, a Seattle-based company in which you can pick a picture of a major league player, request a personalized note and autograph, and receive it from the player in both the form of a digitally written note (written on an iPad) on the image and a 30-second audio clip embedded in the final product. All of this costs a not-so-pricey $50; some 25 players are currently signed on, including many Tampa Bay players but also David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and the now-retired Pedro Martinez and Kerry Wood. The company hopes to have as many as 200 involved by season’s end. Memorabilia buffs somewhat frown on the new process, claiming the personal nature of the messages hurt their resale value—but there are people who do collect these things for the sole purpose of keeping it forever.

Back From the Dead
Two years to the day that he made his last major league appearance, Ben Sheets pitched six shutout innings—allowing just two hits—and picked up the win in the Atlanta Braves' 6-1 victory over the New York Mets on Sunday. The 33-year-old Sheets missed all of 2011 (he also was absent for all of the 2009 campaign) after Tommy John surgery on his elbow; he had pitched a handful of times in the Braves' minor league system after being signed on July 1.

Wounded of the Week
A quiet week on MLB’s medical front saw only a handful of players landing on the disabled list. The most significant loss occurred in Baltimore where Jason Hammel, having a terrific year, will be lost up to four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Also reaching for the shelf was Colorado’s Todd Helton (hip, 15 days), Detroit starting pitcher Drew Smyly (ribs, 15 days) and yet another Toronto pitcher out for the season: Reliever Luis Perez, going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Perez is the eighth pitcher currently on the Blue Jays’ disabled list.

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

TGG Programming Note
Because of the shortened week of regular season owing to the All-Star Game festivities, our Best and Worst of the Week segment and our day-by-day review is taking the week off but return for our next Comebacker.

The Best of the Rest
Under the major league radar hides some eye-opening achievements from players working their way up the minor league ladder. This past week, we decided to look at some of the amazing numbers coming out of the various minor leagues, from Class A to AAA. Whether some of these players make it to the big leagues is still a question mark, but the stats they’ve put up in half a season’s worth of time is certainly worth the talk.

Adam Eaton, Mobile (AA)/Reno (AAA). No, not the former pitcher or a relation, but a 23-year-old outfielder in the Arizona farm system who, for one, certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Justin Upton moved from Phoenix (as has been rumored) so a major league spot could open up for him. He certainly deserves the chance based on the numbers he’s put together so far; in 89 games split between Mobile and Reno, he’s already scored 106 runs, is batting .381 and has stolen 33 bases. In three years of minor league ball, Eaton has hit .355.

Ryan Wheeler, Reno (AAA). It’s likely that most of Eaton’s runs have come courtesy of teammate Wheeler, who leads all minor leaguers with 90 RBIs—more than one per game. Maybe it’s the rare air in Reno (over 4,000 feet above sea level).

Brad Eldred, Toledo (AAA). A career minor leaguer with chronic (and brief) major league experience, the 32-year-old Eldred—no relation to former pitcher Cal Eldred—leads the minors with 24 home runs for the Tigers’ top affiliate, giving him 251 jacks for his minor league career. This is Eldred’s sixth organization in six years—not including a short stint with Hiroshima of Japan’s Pacific League to start this season.

Billy Hamilton, Bakersfield (A)/Pensacola (AA). Could this be the reincarnation of Billy Hamilton, the pre-modern era speed king who four times during the 1890s stole over 100 bases in a year? The current-day Hamilton has, hands down, the most jaw-dropping numbers of any minor leaguer; in 86 games combined between Bakersfield and Pensacola, he’s already swiped an astonishing 109 bases, and his exploits are starting to capture the attention of major media outlets writing up feature articles on him. Hamilton needs just 36 more steals to tie the all-time organized baseball record of 145, set by a pre-St. Louis Vince Coleman in 1983. He’s 21 and property of the Cincinnati Reds; look for him to be on the parent team in September, likely to be used as a pinch-runner.

Tony Cingrani, Bakersfield (A)/Pensacola (AA). Running up the Reds’ pipeline alongside Hamilton (or maybe behind him—Hamilton’s a bit faster, you know), the 23-year-old southpaw has a 1.38 earned run average in 31 minor league starts dating back to his graduation from Rice University last year; so far this season, he’s 10-2 with a 1.19 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 105.2 innings.

Apple Stock, Yes; Appel Stock, Hmmm...
In the most closely watched story of the 2012 amateur draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to sign Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, the Bucs’ first-round pick and the eighth selection overall. Working under new MLB rules in which high-end draft picks are “slotted” with a preset signing bonus which could be increased by a team—but not without incurring penalties or loss of future draft picks—the Pirates offered Appel a $3.8 million package that was slightly above the slot. Appel, or more pointedly, his agent Scott Boras, declined, saying he’ll return to Stanford for one more year; he thus became the lone first-round selection to not sign.

This was not about Appel or the Pirates as much as it was about Boras. The superagent doesn’t like the new system, which suppresses the kind of runaway signing bonuses he used to love negotiating. Perhaps under a different agent, Appel would have signed—but Boras has an ego to bruise and it got pretty sore after Appel, who some projected to be selected first in the entire draft, fell to eighth and a far lower prescribed fee that allowed for little negotiating room. Now Appel has to perform one more year at the college level and hope he can move up the latter to something higher than a no. 8 pick for 2013. Given the risks associated with pitching—injury, mechanical adjustments, etc.—he’s taking a mighty big chance. Hopefully, Boras is serving in Appel’s best interests—and not his own.

One-Man Rotation For a Week
You would think the year 2012 would be the last place you’d see a major league pitcher start three straight games. Okay, so Zack Greinke’s accomplishment of that very feat is loaded with asterisks, but he still qualifies as the first major leaguer to take the mound three straight times since Red Faber did it for the Chicago White Sox in 1917.

Greinke start no. 1 came last Saturday at Houston, but he was ejected after facing just two batters and throwing four total pitches, spiking the ball in anger after a close play at first base that incurred the wrath of umpire Sam Holbrook. (Greinke claimed he was angry with himself, not Holbrook’s call.) Hardly exhausted, Greinke was sent out by the Brewers for start no. 2 the very next day, faring little better as he only lasted three innings, allowing three runs. Start no. 3 came this past Friday as Greinke, on four days’ rest, took the mound for the Brewers’ first game after the all-star break; even with the normal rest, Greinke was shaky, allowing six runs (five earned) over five innings in the Brewers 10-7 win at Miller Park over Pittsburgh.

You may ask: Just how did Red Faber do in his three starts 95 years ago? Not much better. He started both ends of a September 3 doubleheader against Detroit, lasting a total of six innings and allowing nine runs. The very next day, Faber was trotted out to start again at St. Louis against the Browns; he went the distance, but gave up six runs on 16 hits in the Chicago White Sox’ 13-6 win.

Heave of Absence
As Ed Attanasio’s wonderful TGG interviews with ex-ballplayers have shown, the older they get, the more honestly they speak. Reggie Jackson took that tact a week back when he made comments a lot of us agree on: That steroid users shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, as shouldn’t a bunch of “very good” ballplayers. Jackson named names in talking with Sports Illustrated, which was what put one of his feet in hot water; the other foot stepped in when he mentioned Alex Rodriguez, who plays for the Yankees—for whom Jackson is also employed as a special advisor.

The Yankees, perhaps (or perhaps not) through pressure from Rodriguez, told Jackson this past week to lay low and stay away from the team for a while in light of his comments. The former slugger, who already apologized, said this past week that he regretted naming names. But as we said last week, his honesty is refreshing; we wish there was more of it within baseball.

Getting What You Deserved
It’s happened again: Frustrated player, removed after a bad game, takes his anger out on a blunt (or sharp) inanimate object—and the object, as always, wins. On July 6, Cleveland reliever Rick Hagadone became the latest to attempt this foolish folly, striking an unnamed object after a rough outing against Tampa Bay and breaking his arm; he’ll be out two weeks. The Indians immediately optioned Hagadone to the minors and then placed him on the minor league disqualification list—saying that since the injury was self-inflicted, he will not be paid by the organization. Those are fighting words to the players’ union, who filed a grievance; union leader Michael Weiner justified Hagadone’s actions by saying that if a player “makes a mistake and whams his hand against the dugout or a door and does something or is injured, that’s a work-related injury. That’s part of the game.”

Why do we get the feeling that Weiner’s argument wouldn’t fly in most any other industry?

This Week's Challanger to Joe DiMaggio
Here’s a silver lining to Robinson Cano’s week. The Yankee bopper, booed at the Home Run Derby at Kansas City as mentioned above, ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 18 games. Cano is hitting .403 during his run with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

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!

Opinion: The TGG Midseason Report Card
Our annual look at the best, worst and most surprising players from each team at the midseason point is now lie in our Opinions section, check it out!.

Now Playing at TGG
Bobby Doerr , the Hall-of-Fame slugger of the Boston Red Sox from 1937-51, discusses his time at Fenway Park with the likes of Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and catcher/American spy Moe Berg in our latest installment of They Were There.

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The TGG Midseason Report Card
Our annual look
at the best, worst and most unexpected through the first 81 games of the 2012 major league season.