The Superior League
In the first decade of the 20th Century, the National League struggled to claim itself as the gold standard of baseball quality as the young upstart, the American League, quickly developed a prominent toehold in the game. A hundred years later, the NL has dug itself deep into another mental state of depression with this physical evidence: Twelve straight All-Star Game losses (disregarding the infamous tie from 2002) and seven straight years losing out to the AL in overall interleague performance. On the plus side, Prince Fielder did become the first NL slugger to win a Home Run Derby in three years, but that’s like leaving Busch Stadium with the home game version of the All-Star Game.
The Americans’ 4-3 win at St. Louis on Tuesday was the shortest by time (two hours, 31 minutes) since the 1988 Mid-Summer Classic, a 2-1 AL victory at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium that lasted two hours and 26 minutes.
Standing by Their Man
St. Louis Cardinal fans, who consisted of a fair chunk of the All-Star Game crowd, were upset in the days to follow after learning that a special tribute planned by the for living legend Stan Musial was shortened by MLB to bring President Obama in to throw out the first pitch. Musial entered the Busch Stadium spotlight to roaring approval from the fans, while Obama was greeted by a surprisingly lukewarm response, never mind that he failed to win the State of Missouri in the 2008 presidential election.
Together, For the First Time?
The two starting pitchers in the All-Star GameToronto’s Roy Halladay and San Francisco’s Tim Lincecummight be teammates had a deal not gone through before the 2008 season in which the Giants considered trading the eventual NL Cy Young winner to the Blue Jays for Alex Rios. The two star hurlers may yet end up sharing the same clubhouse; the Giants are among many teams reportedly interested in trading for Halladay, who the Jays say is available for the right price.
Paying an Overdue Respect
AL All-Star Ichiro Suzuki spent part of his time in St. Louis visiting the grave of baseball legend George Sisler, the man whose long-standing record for hits in a season was broken by Suzuki in 2004.
A group of agents this past week urged the players’ union to file a collusion grievance after numerous free agents had few choices but to accept take-it-or-leave-it, bargain basement offers from major league teams. Not all agents were in agreement on this course of action, and even Michael Weiner, who is due to take over for current union chief Don Fehr in the next year, responded in roundabout fashion by stating, “The new market will be what it’s going to be.” One thing is for sure; the agents will not find a sympathetic audience from the fans, who will not cry over any slight loss in major leaguers’ wages while their own portfolios, savings and home equities have taken a much harder hit over the last nine months.
Commissioner Bud Selig, who laughed the collusion claim out the door when talking with reporters before the All-Star Game, also vented his frustration over Manny Ramirez’s time in the minors before returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers from his 50-game suspension for performance enhancement use. When the next basic agreement comes up for discussion in late 2011, Selig wants to push for any such ban on players to also include “rehab” time in minor league games. Ramirez’s warm-up in Albuquerque and Inland Empire appeared to help get him back on track for the majors; since his return to the Dodgers on July 3, he’s hitting .302 with three homers in 43 at-bats.
Can We Just Call Him Joe Smith?
Announcers for the 2006 Kansas City Royals probably remember the challenge of pronouncing a lineup that included Mark Grudzielanek (pronounced, Gress-uh-lawn-ick) and Doug Mientkiewicz (Mine-kay-vitch)not to mention having to be reminded that Angel Berroa’s first name was “Ahn-hill,” not “Ain-jell.” Toronto rookie pitcher Marc Rzepczynski, whose last name looks like something a five-year old kid would randomly punch out on a keyboard in two seconds, has Blue Jay announcers taking extra speech lessons as well. For the record, Rzepczynski’s name is pronounced, “Zep-chin-ski.”
Wounded of the Week
The other big news of pain in an otherwise painless week in the majors was that of another chronically sore shoulder owned by Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya, once again placed on the shelf. Zumaya’s shoulder hasn’t been the same since he hurt it saving his San Diego-area home from a fire after the 2007 season.
In a move meant to bolster their rotation and add insult to injury upon the rival New York Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies signed former Met Pedro Martinez to a $1 million dealand just as quickly, the fragile hurler was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. You would think three months of rest would have healed the 37-year old into better health, but there you have it. Martinez is scheduled to work his way back in, performing a few warm-up starts in the minors before getting a look at major leaguers with the Phillies.
Trivia Answer #1
Last week, we posed the question: Which major leaguer with a no-hitter to his credit has compiled the fewest career wins? The answerfor nowis Boston’s Clay Buchholz, whose no-no thrown on September 1, 2007 is one of six overall victories he’s logged. We say for now, because Buchholz’s career is still in progress, racking up career win no. six on Friday at Toronto, 4-1; George Davis, who pitched a no-hitter for the Boston Braves in 1914, and Bud Smith, who threw one for St. Louis in 2001, each totaled seven career wins in their short tours at the top.
Trivia Answer #2
We also posed this last week: Who did the Boston Red Sox’ Ernie Shore, who threw a perfect game in 1917 without starting it, replace on the mound, and why? The man Shore took over for was none other than Babe Ruth, plying his trade as a pitcher (and a pretty good one) before discovering his ultimate stride as the game’s greatest slugger. Ruth walked the first batter he facedthe Washington Senators’ Ray Morganand took his anger out on home plate umpire Brick Owens, who he punched out. With Ruth ejected, Shore came in, picked off Morgan at first, and then retired the next 26 batters who came to the plate.
He Said What?
“Thanks for everything.” Manny Acta’s full e-mail response to the Washington Post’s request for comment on word that he was fired from the Washington Nationals.
TGG Programming Notes
Because of the shortened week of regular season action due to the All-Star Game, our Best and Worst of the Week segment is taking the week off. We will return with an early edition of our weekly honors before this coming weekend, honoring and dishonoring those from the resumption of play through Thursday, July 23.
Who is America's Team?
The Atlanta Braves self-proclaimed themselves as just that back in their division-winning heyday of the 1990s, stealing from the Dallas Cowboys of years earlier. Despite being relegated to the land of .500 in recent years, the Braves still enjoy a high level of popularity in the country, if you go by a Harris Poll that asked 2,177 people who their favorite baseball teams were. The Braves finished third in the poll, not surprisingly behind the New York Yankees (voted first for the seventh straight year) and the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers tied for fourth; rounding out the top ten were St. Louis, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco and, in something of a surprise, Seattle.
Stunningly, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheima constant winner with a solid fan base that sells out nearly every game at Angels Stadiumranked third to last, tied with the lowly Washington Nationals. Finishing dead last in the poll for the third straight year were the Toronto Blue Jays, although Harris pointed out that this was something of an anomaly given that the poll is conducted only within American borders, putting the Canadian-based Jays at a disadvantage.
Sorry, Oakland, We Forgot You Were There
The Oakland A’s, who’ve limped incognito into the AL West basement, finally received some attention from the Bay Area press this past weekand probably wished they hadn’t. Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle: “The A's have made an annoying and self-destructive virtue of being bland and faceless as well as mediocre, and in these parlous economic times, any customer who gets a reason to stop showing up is going to take it…This is zombie baseball.” And Monte Poole of the Contra Costa Times: “There is no name on Oakland’s marquee, no juice in the manager’s office, no joy on the field, no buzz in the community and, naturally, no rush to buy tickets.” There is some noise being made of a possible move to a yet-to-be-approved ballpark in San Jose, but the folks down there are likely to respond with: “Why do we need the A’s? We already have a minor league team here.”
Pairing Up For the Record Book
Albert Pujols had his eighth multi-homer game of the season this past Friday in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 6-1 win over Arizona. Pujols is within reach of the major league record of 11 multi-homer games, shared by Hank Greenberg in 1938 and Sammy Sosa in 1998.
Stop Me Before I Strike Out Again
We didn’t think the Texas Rangers would tolerate a full season out of Chris Davis the way his year was going. The team’s everyday first baseman belted 15 home runs in the season’s first half, but also hit a paltry .202 with 114 strikeoutseasily on his way to setting a major league record in that category. So for Davis, it was back to basics and back to the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City, where he’s batting around .400 with nearly double the number in slugging percentage since a demotion on July 4. Davis’ absence from the majors leaves the strikeout record in danger of being broken by Arizona’s Mark Reynolds, the man who last set it last year with 204 whiffs; he’s currently on pace for 218.
Royal Revival at the Gate
While most major league teams are dealing with declining attendance in the midst of America’s deep recession, the Kansas City Royals are enjoying a major league-best 20% jump at the gate over last year, in part due to a renovated Kauffman Stadium, a fast start (since tempered by a prolonged losing slide that has cemented the Royals well below .500) and the buzz from Zack Greinke’s magnificent start. Only six other teams (Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston, Texas, Tampa Bay and Florida) are averaging larger crowds than in 2008.
Can You Hear the Crickets, Jerry?
New York Met manager Jerry Manuel is trying put a happy face on a rough, injury-riddled year for the Mets, but one such edgy attempt backfired this past week. Commenting on a hamstring injury to Gary Sheffield following the Mets’ 11-0 shellacking at Atlanta on Friday, Manuel said: “They’re calling it cramps…surgery on Thursday.” He then broke out in laughter, which didn’t resonate with reporters, and like a stand-up comic sensing a cold crowd after a bad joke, added, “I couldn’t resist. Sorry, doctors.” According to the New York Post, Manuel all but then begged the in-house reporter for SNY, the Mets’ TV outlet, not to play the comment on air, worried that the team’s medical staff would be rubbed the wrong way by the joke. Three of the Mets’ big four offensive threatsJose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgadohave been on the disabled list for at least a month, and the team has suffered horribly as a result, scoring very little of late and dropping below the .500 mark.
He Owns the Night
Chicago Cub pitcher Rich Harden apparently has a problem with daylight. When pitching during the day, Harden is 1-5 with a 7.38 ERA. At night, he’s 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA.
We raised our eyebrows a bit back in 2007 when the Red Sox signed Julio Lugo to a four-year, $36 million contract. Apparently, the Red Sox now see eyebrow-to-eyebrow with us; they placed Lugo on waivers this past week and will likely eat the remaining $13 million of his contract, unless some other team with delusions of grandeur pick him up and assume the payments. Lugo put together a short string of fine seasons for Tampa Bay earlier this decade, but made some headlines for the wrong reasons off the field. His hitting suffered in Boston, as did his defensewhich has always been something of a liability. The Red Sox will place their faith on, and a lighter paycheck in the mail to, Lugo’s replacements at shortNick Green and Jed Lowrie.
Wild, But Unhittable
Clayton Kershaw, the young southpaw starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has compiled an astonishing 0.64 ERA over his last seven starts with a 5-0 record. What’s keeping him from being put in the same stratosphere as Tim Lincecum is this: During this span, he’s given up as many walks (21) as hits, stressing his pitch counts to the point that he hasn’t been able to last more than seven innings in any one start this year. But at age 21, he’s got time to figure it out.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera takes the sole lead with the majors’ longest active hitting streak after sharing the spotlight last week with Washington’s Josh Willingham (who’s been hitless since the All-Star break). Cabrera extended his run to 15 gamesyet is batting only .281 during this span, an unusually low number for someone collecting at least one hit a game; he’s also only knocked in four runs and scored five times.
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