Major League Baseball began testing minor leaguers for HGH (human growth hormone) this past week in what many consider is an initial shot across the bow of the players’ union to accept similar testing at the major league level; for now, only minor leaguers who are not members of the union are eligible for testing. Skepticism is abundant; anti-doping experts outside of baseball warn that the blood tests being given lack true reliability and can only catch those who’ve actually taken HGH no more than 48 hours in advance. Of course, major leaguers asked about the testing aren’t thrilled, either. Jerry Hairston Jr. of the San Diego Padres added a tone of conspiracy: “Once they have your blood, they have your DNA.”
Gray, Gloomy and Grouchy in the Northwest
Wasn’t it just four months ago that the Seattle Mariners looked ready to seize the AL West title after a productive winter of acquisitions and trades that got everyone’s attention? A bad season all but fell apart this past week as the Mariners committed one bonehead play after another on the field; by Friday, manager Don Wakamatsu had enough after Boston’s Mike Cameron was able to extend a double into a triple when the throw back to the infield bounced past an indifferent Chone Figgins, who didn’t bother to field it. When Wakamatsu removed Figgins from the game after the inning, Figgins took exception and the entire Mariner dugout nearly blew up with a scrum of players wrestling at one another; it was hard to know who was taking who’s sides.
In the end, the involved parties waived off the incident with the usual “emotions are part of winning baseball” speech, but between this, Milton Bradley’s usual problems and Napgate with now-retired Ken Griffey Jr., it’s a good bet the Mariners are fielding the majors’ most fractured clubhouse for the second time in three years.
Greetings From Ted Williams
TGG friend Joel Zwink, a terrific San Diego-based photographer with extensive experience working for the Padres, gave us the green light this past week to publish the above photo taken years ago of Hall-of-Famers Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn (that’s the nephew of former Padre owner John Moores standing behind them); Williams, deep in conversation with Gwynn aboutwhat elsehitting, felt distracted by Zwink’s understandable direction to keep the photo shoot going and finally gave him the finger. Read Zwink’s more detailed, humorous account here.
The Far-From-Perfect Ten
In the space of four games this past week, three Milwaukee starting pitchers each gave up at least ten runs. Manny Parra allowed ten runs in 5.1 innings at Atlanta on Sunday, July 18; two days later, Dave Bush gave up ten runs (five earned) at Pittsburgh; and the next day, it was Randy Wolf’s turn, conceding 12 runs in 5.2 innings against the Pirates. As a result, the Brewers found themselves in rotten company with the sadsack 1937 St. Louis Browns (46-108), the last team to have three pitchers allow ten runs each in as short a span; Oral Hildebrand, Chief Hogsett and Jim Walkup were each nailed for double-digit output in three straight games in early July of that year.
We'll be Ready If You Aren't
The City of San Jose can’t wait anymore. The place many believe is the odds-on favorite as the future home of the Oakland A’s announced this week that they will place a measure on the ballot this fall asking city residents whether a new ballpark near downtown should be built. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig immediately responded, calling San Jose’s decision premature and disappointing. But San Jose, if anything, has been quite patient, as have the A’s; it’s been almost a year and a half since Selig created a special committee to explore the best option for relocating the A’s, with nary a peep to emerge as yet. It’s just a guess on our part, but we’re thinking the delay has to do with tense negotiations that likely are taking place between MLB, the A’s and the San Francisco Giantsthe latter of which owns the so-called “territorial rights” to the San Jose area.
Kansas City pitcher Kyle Davies, for one, was very happy not to give up Alex Rodriguez’s 600th career home run on Saturday at New York; it was Davies who served up Rodriguez’s 500th blast back on August 8, 2007.
Triumph of the Imagination
Remember in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when Jack Nicholson rallies his fellow medicated inmates with imaginary World Series play-by-play in front of a dead television set? Detroit residents are kind of doing the same thing on the plot of land formerly known as Tiger Stadium, which was torn down last year. Read this Detroit News story about how complete strangers are starting to show up every now and then to do a little pick-up baseball in defiance of the city’s wishes.
St. Louis rookie third baseman David Freese, attempting to stay in shape while on the disabled list with a bad ankle, dropped a weight on his left foot and broke his big toe.
Cameo From the Clubhouse
Washington slugger Adam Dunn, who was not in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game at Milwaukee against the Brewers, decided to sneak out of the clubhouse in the second inning and made his way to the Brewers’ broadcast booth for a brief visit with play-by-play man Bob Uecker, who recently returned to the mike following heart surgery. Good friends of one another, the two talked on the air about fishing and not much else. Dunn’s appearance was a surprise to the Nationals, who may fine himthough he’s already stated he doesn’t care. Sounds like a trade is imminent.
Power to the Powerless
Home runs seem to be contagious for the Toronto Blue Jays, who easily lead the majors in longballs. Just ask Yunel Escobar, who was traded one-up from the Atlanta Braves for Alex Gonzalez during the All-Star break. Escobar had gone homerless in 75 games for the Braves, hitting just .238; in his first four games with the Jays, he smacked two homers, including the first grand slam of his four-year major league career on July 18 at Baltimore.
Will it Play in Taiwan?
MLB is considering beginning the 2011 regular season in Taiwan with a game between the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks. The two teams and their players have to approve.
Wounded of the Week
There were two other odd moments of pain this past week. Tampa Bay speedster Carl Crawford, apparently not heeding advice to wear a protective cup after Adrian Beltre was hit by a pitch in that general area last season, was at the receiving end of an errant pick-off throw that hit him where it counts. (He’s okay.) Less funny and more frightening was the moment on Saturday in Phoenix where a wicked line drive off the bat of San Francisco’s Pat Burrell jetted into the Giants’ dugout and nailed an unsuspecting Eugenio Velez in the head; he had to be carried off on a stretcher and was diagnosed with a concussionand thankfully, nothing else.
It was a rough week for some big names who had to take a seat on the Ouch Couch this past week. Making the disabled list included Detroit slugger Magglio Ordonez, who broke his ankle and is expected to be out six-to-eight weeks; New York Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte, out a month with a strained left groin; Manny Ramirez, again, with his bad calf; San Diego infielder David Eckstein, also with a bum calf; Oakland starting pitcher Ben Sheets, whose reconstructed elbow is beginning to flare up; and Kansas City outfielder David DeJesus, widely rumored to be on the trading block but, because of a thumb injury requiring surgery, isn’t going anywhere except to the DL for the remainder of the season.
Sweet Lou's Last Dance
In the wake of Piniella’s announcement, the press has run rampant with thoughts of who would replace him. The names include Tony LaRussa and Joe Girardi, both of whom are not contracted beyond this season; also, former Arizona manager (and current Cub broadcast analyst) Bob Brenly and Cub legend Ryne Sandberg, currently managing in the Cub farm system, have both expressed interest in the job.
Chicago Cub skipper Lou Piniella announced this past week that he would be stepping down at the end of this year. The 66-year old Piniella is 14th on the all-time list for managerial wins and won a World Series ring in 1990 piloting the Cincinnati “Nasty Boys” Reds to an October upset over the high-powered Oakland A’s. On the surface, Piniella’s brief reign in Chicago has looked good (three winning seasons, two divisional titles), but he was 0-6 in the postseason and, with the team lagging this year, has appeared somewhat detached from the problems that have beset the team.
Oh, and Another Thing...(Oops)
Tuesday’s San Francisco-Los Angeles game at Dodger Stadium showed that perhaps it’s time for Joe Torre, like Piniella, to retireand that his assumed replacement, Don Mattingly, may not yet be ready to take over.
With the Dodgers leading a heated contest in the bottom of the sixth inning, 5-4, Torre allowed tiring starter Clayton Kershaw to hit for himselfeven as Dodger relievers were warming up in the bullpen. It didn’t make sense until Kershaw’s first pitch of the seventh, which hit the Giants’ Aaron Rowand as an obvious retaliation for the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp getting plinked earlier by Giant starter Tim Lincecum. But it also led to the automatic ejection of Kershaw and Torre, and it allowed the game-tying run on base with nobody out. Although the Dodgers finished the inning without the Giants scoring, the thumbing of Torre proved critical in the ninth.
Dodger closer Jonathan Broxton had allowed the first two Giants to reach in the ninth and they were both in scoring position after a sacrifice bunt, but when Mattingly, the acting Dodger manager, went out to talk strategy, he finished, walked a few paces off the mound towards the dugout…and then turned back onto the mound to answer a question from one of the infielders. Giant manager Bruce Bochy immediately let the umpires know that Mattingly’s u-turn constituted a second visit to the mound, which meant the automatic removal of Broxton. The umpires agreed, Mattingly casually offered no argument, and the Dodgers had to rush in a cold and rotten (7.48 ERA) George Sherrill, who immediately gave up a two-run double to Andres Torres that gave the Giants the lead and, ultimately, a 7-5 win. Though Mattingly emerged as the goat in review, Torre shares as much if not more of the blame for his earlier, emotion-fueled bonehead move.
Using hindsight, MLB officially remarked a day later that the umpires should have allowed Broxton to pitch to Torres and then be automatically removed, but even that theory was disputed by baseball outsiders. There was universal agreement on one thing: The rule is poorly worded and open to multiple interpretations.
Ralph Houk, 1920-2010
A week after the death of George Steinbrenner, the man who managed his first Yankee team, Ralph Houk, passed away at the age of 90. Houk managed 20 years in four different stints (two with the Yankees) and never once got fired, preferring to leave on his own terms (though he was asked to move to the front office by the Yankees after the 1963 season). Not even Steinbrenner gave him his walking papers; he quit before the Boss had the chance, as the World War II veteran with numerous medals for his valor in the Battle of the Bulge had to leave the Yankees before he made good on his urge to punch out Steinbrenner. (This contradicts Buck Showalter’s statement a week ago in which he claimed to be the only Yankee manager never to be fired under Steinbrenner.)
A rarely-used catcher for the Yankees in his playing days from 1947-54, Houk was studious enough to be considered the successor to Casey Stengel, and got the job after the Yankees’ memorable 1960 World Series loss to Pittsburgh; Houk chucked away Stengel’s platooning and strict five-man rotation policies and got maximum usage out of his star players, resulting in World Series triumphs during his first two years guiding the Yankees; in fact, he is the only manager to have won championships in his first two seasons on the job. After leaving the Yankees in 1973, Houk had a largely unsuccessful five-year run as the Detroit Tigers’ skipper, then led the Boston Red Sox from 1981-84 with uninspiring results.
In 1992, my father had the opportunity to golf with Houk at a North Carolina tournament in which worthy weekend hackers from around the country got paired up with former major leaguers of fame. He found Houk relaxed in retirement, preferring to discuss the pleasures of a golf course over his baseball past. Eric
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Houston pitcher Roy Oswalt, who has made it clear that he wants to be tradedand by the time you read this, he may be in a different uniformfailed on Saturday in his bid to become the all-time Astro co-leader in wins. His 143 lifetime wins, all with Houston, is one shy of Joe Niekro’s franchise mark.
When Good Pitchers Go Bad, Part I
Remember Ubaldo Jimenez? You know, the Colorado pitcher who could do no wrong early in the season, with a no-hitter in Atlanta on April 17? Since June 17when he was staggering baseball with a 13-1 record and 1.15 ERAJimenez has started six games and produced a horrific 7.64 ERA, and yet has only lost one of those games (Saturday at Philadelphia) while winning two.
When Good Pitchers Go Bad, Part I
Since starting the season with a 10-2 record and 2.71 ERA, New York Met starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey has gone winless in five starts (losing three), allowing 23 runs on 46 hits in just 19.2 innings; he’s walked 12 while striking out just nine.
It’s hard enough for a rookie to stabilize himself at the major league level, but it has to be worse if you have an unstable wife trying to make things even more difficult. Take, for instance, 21-year old Pittsburgh outfielder Jose Tabata, whose 44-year old ex-wife-to-be (yeshe’s 21, she’s 44) is now facing life in prison after a bizarre chain of events. According to prosecutors, Amalia Tabata-Pereira kidnapped a baby from migrant workers by posing as an immigration officer in March 2009, then told Tabata that he was the father of the baby. She even gained weight beforehand to convince Tabata that she was pregnant. Tabata was cleared of any involvement in the case.
Those Invisible Attendees in Their Empty Seats
The ongoing, very publicand very expensive (a reported $40 million to date)divorce battle between Dodger owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie has exposed some telltale numbers at the Dodger Stadium turnstiles, via documents released in court. Although the team recorded a franchise record attendance of 3.76 million last season, the actual number of fans who actually showed up was 3.11 millionwell short of the 3.6 million in 1982, when attendance was based not on tickets sold, but those in the ballpark. What’s more: In 1982, the Dodgers actually sold 4 million tickets, with 400,000 no-shows. Since 1993, MLB has been declaring official attendance based on tickets sold, not those actually used.
It's Not Easy Being the Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates scored nine runs at home in the first inning for the first time in 117 years on Tuesday against Milwaukee…and still almost lost. The Brewers fought back to within one run of the lead, but the Bucs held them off over the final three innings to win, 11-9.
No Longer 0-for-Ohio
The Tampa Bay Rays finally defeated the Indians at Cleveland on Saturday, ending an 18-game losing streak at Progressive Field that began in 2005 when they were still the bad ol’ Devil Rays (managed by Lou Piniella) and the Cleveland ballpark was still officially referred to as Jacobs Field. It was the longest such losing streak by one team in one city since the Pittsburgh Pirates lost 22 straight at Milwaukee’s Miller Park in a slide that ended just earlier this season.
A Different Kind of Pitch at Fenway
This past week, a soccer exhibition between Scotland’s Celtic FC and Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon was held at Boston’s Fenway Park and drew a near-sellout crowd of 32,000. Players and managers from both teams were in awe of the historic venue and it was a strange sight to see a soccer field barely fit into the baseball landscapethough remember, Fenway Park was once the home of the Boston Patriots before they moved onto Foxboro to become the New England Patriots.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
San Francisco rookie Buster Posey, who's fast emerging as a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year candidate, finishes his second straight week as owner of the majors' longest active hitting streak. Posey run of 18 games is just four shy of the Giants' rookie record, set in 1959 by the great Willie McCovey; he's batting a sensational .472 during his streak.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.