The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: July 11-17, 2011
A Gold Glove Presence at the Home Run Derby Who's the Most Popular MLB Team?
Is the All-Star Game Losing Its All-Stars? Government Waste at the Roger Clemens Trial

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A Terrific Argument for Lawyer Jokes
It was supposed to be a slam dunk trial, with incriminating evidence and convincing witnesses that would have made Roger Clemens a guilty man and justified the millions of dollars spent by the U.S. Government trying to nail him for lying in front of Congress. But early in the second day of the trial this past Thursday, assistant Fed attorney Steven Durham, against the judge’s explicit pre-trial order not to use hearsay evidence from the wife of crucial witness Andy Pettitte—Clemens’ former teammate and buddy—did so anyway. For Durham, who had enough damaging evidence from Pettitte himself, it was like using a bazooka to kill a fly—resting against the wall of his own house.

The judge, Reggie Walton, didn’t even wait for Clemens’ combative lawyer Rusty Hardin to object. He ordered an immediate halt to Durham’s presentation, huddled the lawyers together—and declared a mistrial. And just like that, Clemens, who had all but walked himself into prison, was a free man, no longer the biggest idiot in the courtroom.

The Feds have to decide whether to start the case over, but it won’t be anytime soon (some estimates say this coming winter) and it may not be their choice. Hardin will likely ask Walton to dismiss any future retrial as double jeopardy—and he may get his wish.

And we wonder how the Federal Government has gone $14 trillion into debt.

Unexpected Web Gems
Never mind what the hitters where doing, the most memorable moments from the Home Run Derby in Phoenix came courtesy of ordinary people making unordinary catches—and a complete idiot who nearly became the second man in two weeks to fall to his death leaning too far over for a souvenir.

First, there was a remarkable diving catch of a medium fly ball hit by ultimate Derby winner Robinson Cano in center field by Ryan Novis, one of many kids shagging after unsuccessful Derby shots. Then there was Mike Moon, the dude who leapt into the Chase Field pool behind right-center field and caught an Adrian Gonzalez shot amid many bikini-clad ladies (all while holding onto his beer—which he didn’t spill).

But as cool as those grabs were, the attempted snag of a David Ortiz home run by Keith Carmickle was just plain dumb—and nearly tragic. For the evening to date, Carmickle had two Derby balls, a few more beers—and very little brains. In dumb desperation of completing the hat trick, Carmickle decided to stand on a table sitting behind a railing as Ortiz’s latest homer sailed toward him; the table might as well have been a plank, the top of which leveled up to the top of the railing. Carmickle zoned in on the ball, leaned forward—and found himself falling downward, with 20 feet of air and concrete below him, approximately the same circumstances that Shannon Stone faced when he fatally dove for a foul ball tossed at him by Josh Hamilton in Texas on July 7. Somehow, two men standing near Carmickle had the quick reflexes to grab onto his legs as he began falling and dragged him back up.

Rather than get slapped around by ballpark security, Bud Selig’s lieutenants or the common sense police—even permanent house arrest in Carmickle’s home in Kingman, Arizona would have done—Carmickle was instead rewarded with his 15 minutes of fame by being flown to New York City to appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and spend two nights in the city on the network’s expense. Carmickle did one right thing: He would auction off the balls he caught on eBay—with all proceeds going to the Shannon Stone Memorial Fund.

Stand by Your Plan
When Arizona’s controversial immigration law—which supposedly is verbatim as the same law in the Federal books—was nevertheless assailed as racist, Gestapo-like and other adjectives last year, there was pressure for MLB and its players to consider moving the All-Star Game from Phoenix. Yet there was little sign of the outrage outside and inside of Chase Field this past week, with only a handful of protestors quietly pleading their case to ignoring passers-by near the front gate. The anti-anti-immigration folks probably were similarly deflated by the virtual non-responses from the powers-that-be; Boston star hitter Adrian Gonzalez, the only Mexican native on either All-Star Game roster, didn’t want to talk, and both MLB and the players’ union remained equally quiet.

Bud Speaks
The All-Star Game allowed the press to peer into the World According to commissioner Bud Selig, who gave his annual state-of-the-game press conference prior to Tuesday’s game in Phoenix. Selig hinted that a badly-needed increase in video replay may be on the way; that he’s not in favor of eliminating divisions to create two bloated leagues, but he does like the idea of the slight redistricting that would balance the two leagues to 15 teams each (even though he likes interleague play as is, so there’s a contradiction in its evolutionary stages right there). And once again, Selig says he doesn’t want to “rush” the three-member committee seeking a solution for the Oakland A’s as they pursue a new ballpark—as if, after nearly three years, the committee hasn’t been rushed enough already.

Drayton Speaks (For All It's Worth)
If Selig has his way, the Houston Astros will be the sacrificial lamb of tradition and switch leagues to the AL West to balance out baseball with two 15-team leagues each consisting of three five-team divisions. But he won’t get the vote of Drayton McLane, the Astro owner who doesn’t like the idea of his team switching. McLane cited the Astros’ presence in the NL for nearly half a century and said that a move to the junior circuit would “not be good for the franchise.” McLane’s opinion may be moot by the time any realignment vote is cast; Jim Crane recently bought the Astros from McLane, and Fox Sports Arizona filed a report stating that the sale will not be approved unless the Astros agree to the switch to the AL.

Dealing 21
The widow and children of Roberto Clemente are continuing to lobby baseball to forever remember the late Hall-of-Famer by doing something with his uniform number. A few years ago they asked commissioner Bud Selig to retire his number 21, the way he did with Jackie Robinson in 1997 when baseball retired his uniform number 42. But Selig rightfully rejected the thought, understanding the value Clemente brought to the game as MLB’s first Latin superstar—yet also knowing that Clemente’s emergence in no way matched the landmark significance of Robinson.

So now, here’s what the Clementes have in mind: Players can wear 21, but they have to “earn” it. Okay, but who decides? And what would be the parameters of “earning” the number? If a prospect in Wisconsin wants to wear 21 because his late father wore it and it makes him proud as a result, would that fit the criteria of the Clementes? And where would this stop? Would Jim Abbott then ask players to earn his number 25 in tribute to handicapped individuals?

The line needs to be drawn, and hopefully Selig permanently inked it in with Robinson and 42.

The Long Battle to Stay Above .500
In their 11-1 trouncing of the Washington Nationals on Friday, the Atlanta Braves joined four other NL teams (San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis) as the only teams in baseball history with 10,000 or more wins—doing so just eight losses shy of becoming the second team to lose 10,000. The Cincinnati Reds will likely be the next on the list to reach 10,000 in the win column; they’ll could get there by year’s end.

Near the End of the Tunnel?
For less than 24 hours this past weekend, the Pittsburgh Pirates—currently chained with a record 18-year string of losing seasons—held a share of first place in the NL Central after blanking Houston, 4-0. The Pirates haven’t been at the top of the standings this late in the year since 1997.

Lidge on the Ledge
If Philadelphia fans are hoping for a healthy, efficient Brad Lidge to return to the team and take back the closer role soon, here’s a line they’re not going to like: In a Thursday rehab appearance for Double-A Reading, he retired two batters—but walked one, hit two and threw three wild pitches.

Pinstriped Brothers in Arms
In Thursday’s 16-7 loss at Toronto to the Blue Jays, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada set a team record by appearing together for the 1,660th time. That breaks the previous mark co-owned by Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Florida’s Emilio Bonifacio ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 16 games, hitting a fine .403 during his run with nine walks and 12 stolen bases added in as well. The 26-year old Dominican has raised his season average from .259 to .290 during the streak.

Wounded of the Week
It was a slow week at the MLB Medical Ward as few players checked in. Among those who did pass onto the premises of pain were Philadelphia all-star third baseman Placido Polanco (back), Baltimore designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero (broken hand), Cleveland starting pitcher Mitch Talbot (lower back strain), Los Angeles of Anaheim outfielder Peter Bourjos (hamstring) and Boston reliever Bobby Jenks (back).

TGG Programming Note
Due to limited major league action stemming from the All-Star break, we are giving the Best and Worst of the Week section time off—but will return next week with this half-week’s worth of action added to the mix.

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

Opt-Out or Cop-Out?
In the 1970s, the Pro Bowl—the National Football League’s version of the All-Star Game—had become such a joke that when a succession of star quarterbacks declined the invite to play, the NFC had to settle for Mike Boryla at quarterback. (Even then, a good number of casual football fans asked: “Mike Who?”) The NFL remedied the problem with the carrot-stick solution of moving the game permanently to Hawaii, which would be a nice solution for MLB All-Stars these days—but only if they increased the break to a week and reduced salaries back to reserve clause-era numbers in order to give players the incentive to go Hawaiian.

Neither of those options will ever happen, and baseball may be starting to find itself with a growing problem of players thumbing their noses at the fans who selected them, staying home during the All-Star break to rest up. Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones did not show up to Phoenix this past week after they were selected, but they had an excuse: They’re both on the disabled list. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were not, but decided not just to pass on playing, but to not even show up for the festivities. Jeter, in particular, claimed mental and physical exhaustion as an excuse not to make the trip to Phoenix—yet rather than rest up at home, he jetted down to Miami to see fiancée Minka Kelly film a movie. Jeter didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. (Just as well; replacing him in the starting lineup was Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera—who should have been the starter, anyway.)

When baseball goes to the negotiating table this fall with the players for a new Basic Agreement, here’s a suggestion: Anyone who skips out on the All-Star Game after being selected by the fans should not get whatever bonus they’ve contracted. For Jeter, his absence would have cost $500k. Nobody would force these guys to play, but for goodness sakes, at least show up and be seen.

Some believe the reason players are more hesitant to go nowadays is that the All-Star Game isn’t just the game anymore; it’s also the Home Run Derby and all the other incessant public events tied to it that players may feel obligated to take part in. Perhaps baseball needs to back off and reduce some of the buzz, or make the break a day longer so those at the Midsummer Classic can have a chance to breathe.

TV ratings for the All-Star Game hit a record low this year—and they’ll keep going downward so long as the Mike Borylas of baseball keep being asked to sub in at the last minute.

Another Sign of the Steroids Era's Demise
The NL’s 5-1 win at the All-Star Game made it six straight years in which neither team has scored more than five runs.

Has D.C. Saved the NL Again?
How appropriate that, for the second straight year, the National League’s winning pitcher came from...the Nationals of Washington. This year it was reliever Tyler Clippard; last year, it was closer Matt Capps, now pitching for Minnesota. Both pitched just a third of an inning in picking up the win.

All He's Missing is the Band-Aid
Was it us, or did Fox dugout reporter Eric Karros look like the Allstate Mayhem man (right) at the All-Star Game?

You Take the Spotlight, We'll Rest
It’s funny how NL All-Star manager Bruce Bochy didn’t use any of his three San Francisco starting pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong) at the All-Star Game while using two from the rival Philadelphia Phillies (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee). Halladay was pitching on three days’ rest, Lee on two; oh, by the way, the Giants visit Philadelphia early next week.

There was a trivial connection for Halladay to be proud of by starting; he’s the first pitcher ever to start an All-Star Game for both the NL and AL.

Drinking With Keith Carmickle?
Imagine how high the blood pressure of San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer must have been after seeing closer Heath Bell—the Padres’ best player and the one who could command the best deal on the trade market, which could be soon—finish his usual sprint from the bullpen by sliding on the Chase Field grass short of the mound. Bell sprang up and was fine, but a bad ankle might have led to a debate on whether that bit of activity would have fallen under the contractual clause of hazardous non-game activity.

Ordinary Joe
People watching Fox’s national MLB telecasts have been asking all season: Why does Joe Buck sound so bored? The long-time play-by-play man alongside Tim McCarver for Fox has shown little of the spunk that has made him both beloved and be-loathed. Here’s the deal: After the Super Bowl, Buck came down with a “nerve ailment” that briefly kept him from speaking, period—and threatened his livelihood. He had to undergo speech therapy and singing lessons (yes, singing lessons) to get himself back in game-ready shape for the baseball season, and admits he’s not at 100% to this point.

Quarentine the Quad!
Chicago Cub manager Mike Quade received a 40-minute treatment by TSA officials at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport after the All-Star Game. He was not found to be a terrorist, but given the way the Cubs are playing, fans at Wrigley Field would have been happy to see Quade detained indefinitely.

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who's the Most Popular of Them All?...
This past week, the Harris Poll released its annual list of baseball’s most “popular” teams, according to 2,100 randomly selected people. (Just curious: Have any of you ever been contacted by this group?) For the ninth straight year, the New York Yankees made number one on the list, followed by the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves—both retaining their grips on second and third place, respectively, for the third straight year. But there were some odd developments in the poll that made you wonder if the plus-or-minus factor should be higher than three percent. The world champion San Francisco Giants, seventh in last year’s poll, dropped all the way to 14th—one spot behind the going-nowhere-fast Baltimore, who leapt from 20th place. So who’s the least popular team, according to Harris? The San Diego Padres, who tied with the Toronto Blue Jays—and they really shouldn’t count, because the pollsters are likely not calling people in Canada.

...And While You're at it, Who's the Most Expensive of Them All?
In another poll released this past week, Forbes listed the 50 most valuable sports franchises. The New York Yankees (at $1.7 billion) checked in as baseball’s highest-ranked team, third overall behind soccer’s Manchester United and the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. No other MLB team appears on the list until you get to number 31 and the Boston Red Sox; followed in the 38 spot by the Los Angeles Dodgers—who certainly must be in the top five among those teams with the highest amount of debt. Other MLB teams in the top 50 were the Chicago Cubs (42), New York Mets (44) and the Philadelphia Phillies (50).

Sorry, Bob Uecker
The Florida Marlins released a statement this past week saying that they’ll close off the upper deck of Sun Life Stadium, their home of 19 years, for the remainder of the year. The Marlins are last in attendance with an average paid crowd of 17,000—but the actual figure of those in the ballpark is likely less than half of that.

Curse That Blanking Record
The San Diego Padres were shut out 15 times before the All-Star break; that’s the most scoreless games suffered by one team since the all-time record was set by the expansion Padres of 1969, who were blanked 18 times on their way to a total of 23 on the year.

Now Playing at TGG
Our annual midseason report card, detailing the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2011 regular season.

Now Replaying at TGG
In light of Jeter’s historic moment, TGG has revised and updated its Fun Facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders, featuring a 22-question quiz to test your baseball knowledge on members of the 3,000-hit club as well as posers on all-time team leaders. Good luck!

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!

Fun facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
Updated!
Take the TGG quiz to determine your good baseball knowledge when it comes to the game's all-time hit leaders and the 3,000-hit club. Check it out now!

The 2011 Mid-Season Report Card
Our picks for the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2011 regular season. Check it out now!