Yet Again, Below .500
Just when it seems things can’t get any worse for the Pittsburgh Pirates, it does. On Friday, the Bad News Bucs clinched their 18th consecutive losing season when it lost to the New York Mets at PNC Park, 7-2; the loss extends a streak that is already the longest in North American pro sports history. What makes this season all the more dreadful is that August 20 is the earliest the Pirates have made it to 82 losses since the streak began. Pittsburgh has suffered only one 100-loss season since their last winning campaign, but they’re currently on pace for 110 defeats, which would make it their worst showing since a disastrous 42-112 result in 1952.
Is There a Phone Book For Heaven?
If the current Pirate regime is hoping to look to its past and get advice on how to build a champion after years of constant basement dwelling, they’ll no longer be able to get it from former Pittsburgh general manager Joe L. Brown, who passed away this week at the age of 91. Although Branch Rickey built the nucleus of the Pirate team that would peak in 1960 with its memorable World Series triumph over the New York Yankees, Brownwho took over in 1956astutely filled in the remaining holes needed to make the team a winner. Brown maintained the Pirates as a force to be reckoned with throughout a tenure that would last through 1976, cycling in top fresh talent (Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, Dave Parker, among many others) that led to another World Series title in 1971; it could be said that Brown’s fingerprints were highly apparent on the 1979 champion Pirates as well.
Need a Win Streak? Play the Pirates!
Leave it to the Pirates to allow this: By taking two out of three games against Pittsburgh this weekend, the New York Mets finally won their first road series of the 2010 season against a NL opponent.
Last Zinger on the Pirates (This Week, Anyway)
According to the Associated Press, the Pirates' $34 million payrolllowest in the majorswas only $2 million higher than their payroll in 1992, their last winning season.
The Baltimore Orioles are all too happy to allow the Pirates to monopolize the headlines on losing. It’s quite likely that sometime this week, the Orioles will clinch their 13th straight losing campaign, which will leave them two shy of the AL record set by the Philadelphia-Kansas City A’s between 1953-67.
Bobby Thomson, 1923-2010
One the baseball’s great folk heroes passed away this week when Bobby Thomson, universally remembered for launching the historic Shot Heard ‘Round the World that won the 1951 NL pennant for the New York Giants over the archrival Brooklyn Dodgers, died in Georgia at the age of 86. One of just seven major leaguers born in Scotland, Thomson was a rock for the Giants from 1947-53, and his legendary shot off of the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca to help cap a furious late-season rally by the Giants was a terrific finishing touch to arguably his best year, hitting .293 with 32 homers, 101 RBIs and 73 walks. He was traded to Milwaukee in 1954 and badly injured his ankle in spring trainingopening up an everyday spot for a young 20-year old rookie by the name of Hank Aaron. Thomson, heading into his mid-30s, never recovered to peak form but hung around the majors until 1960. In 1963, he came out of retirement and played one year with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, likely making him the only man to claim he was once teammates with Aaron, Willie Mays and Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh.
Another Argument For Instant Replay
ESPN closely monitored baseball umpires for a two-week period in early July and found, after further review, that 20% of close calls during this time would have been overturned by video replay. We have our own thoughts on how to institute video review, and this study only underscores, at the very least, the need for very serious discussion on the subject at MLB Central.
Will the Bryce be Right?
A year after they made a big public splash by signing pitching phenom prospect Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals got more national media buzz this past week when they signed this year’s number one draft pick, Bryce Harper, for $9.9 millionthe highest ever given to a non-pitcher draftee. Harper is a one-of-a-kind talent; he’s only 17, having skipped his final two years of high school to play at a local junior college in Las Vegaswhere he showed he belonged (and beyond) by hitting .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs. There is essentially nothing the kid can’t do; he can hit, run and even pitch if needed. Harper has historically been a catcher, but the Nationals are planning to convert him to an outfielder. His first stop will be a rookie league in Florida, likely within the next month or two.
Seattle’s Casey Kotchman erred at first base for the first time this seasonand for the first time in 274 games, a major league record for first basemenin Saturday’s 9-5 Mariner loss at New York against the Yankees. Kotchman’s last error took place two years and three teams ago, for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2008.
Some Guys Just Own You
On Friday, Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga faced Cleveland for the first time since coming within a blown call of a perfect game on June 2and retired the first 14 Indian batters he faced. He finished the evening tossing seven shutout innings, allowing three hits while walking none. Take away his two starts against the Indians this year, and Galarraga is 2-5 with a 5.03 ERA in 15 appearances (14 of them starts) this year.
Pete Rose will be honored by the Cincinnati Reds on September 12 to celebrate his hit that broke Ty Cobb’s all-time career record25 years and a day after he banged that single off of San Diego’s Eric Show. Why the extra day? Not out of deference for 9-11, but because Rose has a prior commitment with a local casino on the 11th. The bigger victory for the Reds is that Commissioner Bud Selig has allowed them to go ahead and give Rose his moment at the ballpark, even though he’s still officially banned from baseball.
Pitching Streak Item #1
If Mike Scott’s most cherished achievement in his pitching career was starting 14 straight games allowing two or fewer runs, then he’s been having a lot of sleepless nights all year. Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez started the year with 12 straight games allowing two or fewer runs; Florida’s Josh Johnson then started his own streak and took it to 13, just one shy of Scott’s 1986 mark, before it ended; and now, young San Diego pitcher Mat Latos is closing in, with a current run of 12 straight games. In fact, Latos has allowed more than two runs only once in 19 starts dating back to April 26and that’s when he allowed three runs in five innings at hitter-friendly Philadelphia.
Pitching Streak Item #2
Oakland starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, 22, tied Nolan Ryan’s major league record by starting 20 straight games in which he allowed six or fewer hits; that run came to an end on Thursday when he allowed seven hitsin eight inningsagainst Tampa Bay. Opponents are hitting just .198 against Cahill this season, and his 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) is just a hair behind Cliff Lee’s AL-best 0.98.
Pitching Streak Item #3
Tampa Bay rookie pitcher Jeremy Hellickson became the first player since 1920 to pitch at least six innings and allow no more than three hits in each of his first three major league starts. (A bid for a fourth successive outing was foiled on Friday when he allowed three runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings at Oakland.) The Rays are keeping an extremely tight lid on the rookie right-hander; despite this solid start to his major league career, Hellickson, who’s having his pitch count closely monitored, has been sent back to the minors (Class A ball, in fact) to do bullpen duty and keep his arm fresh in advance of being part of the Rays’ expanded roster in September, for what will likely be a very important stretch run towards the postseason.
Mauer Power Returns to Minneapolis
Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, who hit a career-high 28 home runsincluding 16 at the Metrodomein 2009, finally hit his first homer in 49 games at Target Field this past Wednesday during the team’s 7-6 win over the Chicago White Sox. Otherwise, Mauer is no disappointment at the Twins’ new ballpark, hitting .325; he has seven homers hit on the road.
You Guys Can Hit, Can't You?
Last week, the Oakland A’s were no-hit for seven innings by Minnesota starting pitcher Kevin Sloweywho was removed out of concern for a fragile elbow. The next day, on a Monday night encounter with Toronto in Oakland, opposing Blue Jay pitcher Shawn Marcum took a no-hitter against the A’s into the seventhwhen leadoff batter Conor Jackson blasted his first pitch for a home run. It was the only hit of the night for the A’s against Marcum.
One More Time
Vin Scully announced this past weekend that he'll be returning to the booth to announce Los Angeles Dodger games for the 62nd straight year in 2011, reportedly the longest such tenure in pro sports history. The routine for Scully, who'll be 83 next year, will remain the same; he'll do a solo radio broadcast for all nine innings of every Dodger home game, and do only road games no further east than Colorado. Scully is uncommitted for 2012.
Wounded of the Week
There’s a saying: Once in the CIA, always in the CIA. The same could be applied to baseball’s disabled list; once you’re on it, you’re often doomed to be a part of it forever. There were numerous returnees to the shelf this past week, including Texas slugger Nelson Cruz (his third trip this year), Detroit’s Carlos Guillen (third trip), Minnesota’s Nick Punto (third trip), Los Angeles starting pitcher Vicente Padilla (second time) and Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who returned to action this week, played two games, then went back on the DL after the foot he earlier broke became too sore.
Topping the list of first-time entrants on the DL was the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who’s been battling with a strained calf; his new teammate Lance Berkman (sprained ankle); Minnesota starting pitcher Kevin Slowey, whose bad elbow finally got the better of him; and Washington outfielder Josh Willingham, who had a terrific first half but has since struggled with knee problems that’s resulted in knee surgery. He’s out for the season.
Fuel Up, RocketYou'll Need It
It’s all or nothing now for Roger Clemens. Either he’ll emerge innocent on perjury charges and proved he was right all along and never took steroids, or he’ll go down fighting, and very hard. The 354-game winner was indicted this past week for lying to Congress; if convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. One might think that’s a stiff penalty for someone who did nothing more than hide the truth about whether he cheated playing baseball, and others in his position would likely see a watered-down punishment if nailed. But Clemens has been raging against the Federal machine from the very start, loudly and defiantly declaring his innocence, and that doesn’t bode well for his chances of a reduced penalty if found guilty.
Most active and former players who know Clemens didn’t respond to the news by slamming himremember, the fraternity of baseball players will make it tough on you if you disparage one of your own in publicbut with few exceptions, they weren’t necessarily rushing to his defense, either. Yet there did seem to be some genuine pain among players, hoping that Clemens has indeed been telling the truth all alongsort of like the kids who ran up to Joe Jackson after the Black Sox Scandal broke and begged, “Say it ain’t so.”
Others outside of baseball fear for Clemens at this stage. BALCO founder Victor Conte, himself dogged by the Feds as many of his clients were indicted for steroid use (he spent some time in prison as a result), warned that Clemens is in for terrible time, not just emotionally but physically; Conte recalls that the relentless legal pounding by the Feds left him “physically ill” at times. And country singer Mindy McCready, who confessed to an affair with Clemens years ago (Clemens has yet to fess up to that allegation as well), told the New York Daily News that Clemens is surrounded by “ten people telling (him) to do the wrong thing” and will likely suffer an intolerable fate.
The Thumbing Down of Francisco Rodriguez
For those who felt that a few hours in jail wasn’t punishment enough for New York Met closer Francisco Rodriguez after beating up the father of his girlfriend at Citi Field, you got your poetic justice: It was revealed that Rodriguez tore ligaments in his pitching thumb during the fight and will be out for the remainder of the season. The Mets’ front office, enduring yet another season of soap opera theatre from its clubhouse through a variety of issues, is refusing to pay Rodriguez for the rest of the yearand is considering voiding the remainder of his contract, which runs through the end of 2011. The players’ union, in classic kneejerk fashion, will fight the Mets on all of the above money issues.
Next Time, Just Try Jenny Craig
Florida catcher Ronny Paulino became the second major leaguer this year to be suspended for 50 games under the game’s drug enforcement program. The 29-year old Dominican native claims he was taking a dietary drug to offset a 250-pound frame, but that provided little comfort to the Marlins; team president David Sampson, in particular, was visibly angry when remarking on the suspension, fuming that Paulino should have known better and checked the list of banned substances before acquiring the drug. Paulino’s suspension will carry eight games into the 2011 season and puts a finish to his 2010 effort, in which he hit just .171 over his last 105 at-bats. The other player nabbed by drug testing this year was Cincinnati pitcher Edinson Volquez.
A report this past week from the medical world suggests that Lou Gehrig may not have died…from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or ALS). Doctors in Massachusetts are reporting that what may sometimes appear as ALS is actually the result of multiple concussions, something Gehrig had his share of during his playing days with the New York Yankees. The experts believe that numerous concussions can sometimes lead to symptoms that could be mistaken for ALS or other diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The Mets’ Bobby Parnell raised the eyebrows of those in attendance at Houston on Wednesday when several of his fastballs registered 103 MPH on the Minute Maid Park scoreboard. Ballpark radar guns are at times dubious, and most anything over 100 is taken with a grain of saltincluding a 105-MPH pitch thrown by Detroit’s Joel Zumaya at the Minneapolis Metrodome last seasonand it seems everyone has a different answer as to which 100+ readings are valid. Nevertheless, 103 is something you rarely see on a ballpark radar readout, and however fast Parnell’s pitches truly were, there was no denying that they were effective; he pitched two perfect innings and struck out three in the Mets 3-2, 14-inning victory over the Astros.
Can Albert Pujols Get Triple Crowned?
There’s been a lot of talk this season that numerous AL players (Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton) could earn the hitter’s triple crownwhere one leads the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. But with Jose Bautista constantly adding to his league-leading home run total while hitting just .260, that notion appears to be fading fast. So that leaves us with the NL, where an even better threat has emerged: Albert Pujols. The Cardinal slugger leads the senior circuit in homers and RBIsand, at weekend’s end, is some five points behind NL batting leader Joey Votto (who himself is a possible triple crown candidate). No player has won the triple crown since Carl Yazstremski in 1967; no National Leaguer has achieved it since the Cardinals’ Joe Medwick way back in 1937.
Just Another 30 at the Office
This past week, Pujols extended to ten seasons his major league record of most consecutive years with at least 30 or more home runs to start a career; meanwhile, Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon became the first player ever to earn at least 30 saves in each of his first five seasons (although Papelbon appeared in 17 games and pitched 34 games in 2005, which apparently wasn’t enough numbers to shed his rookie status for 2006).
Over the Hump
The Padres became the first team this season to beat the Vegas oddsmakers and win more than they were expected. San Diego’s 72nd victory, a 5-1 win at Chicago on Wednesday, put them above the total of 71.5 forecast before the start of the year.
Fading Into Thin Air
Hitters for the Colorado Rockies are supposed to start devolving after they’ve left Coors Field to play for another team (Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla immediately come to mind). But the Rockies this past week waived goodbye to Brad Hawpe, who between 2006-09 was always good for 20-something homers and 80-110 RBIs to go with a .290-ish average; his play was even acknowledged to the point that he made the NL All-Star team last year. Hawpe’s numbers have greatly diminished this year, however, and although he was still putting up decent numbers at Coors Field, he was a disaster on the roadbatting .211 with just one homer and five RBIs in 40 games.
Hawpe’s decline follows that of Garrett Atkins, who in his prime at Colorado put up Hawpe-like numbers until 2009; let go by the Rockies, Atkins signed with Baltimore this season and did nothing, leading to his release in June.
Mile High and Down Low
Hawpe’s Jekyll-and-Hyde act between Coors Field and the road is synonymous with what’s happening with the Rockies in general; So far this year, they’re hitting a major league-best .298 at homeand a major league-worst .230 on the road.
Time For an Adjustment?
Detroit’s Brennan Boesch: A leading AL Rookie of the Year candidate at the All-Star break, hitting .342and a second-half bomb (.148 in 36 games) since.
It All Evens Out in the End
On August 18, 2009, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim fielded a lineup that featured nine players all hitting.300 or abovethe first time that had been witnessed so late in a major league season since the 1934 Detroit Tigers. Exactly one year later, the Angels played at Boston with no one in the starting lineup batting over .300; Torii Hunter had the highest average at .292.
San Diego area resident Ted Lew was all fired up to take his three-year old German shepherd to Petco Park this Friday for a pregame event in which dogs can be brought onto the field and paraded. But after buying his ticket, he was sent a letter from the Padres stating that he can’t be part of the event because of limited space. The San Diego Union-Tribune did some investigating and discovered that the Padres’ excuse was bogus; the real reason is that the team has a blacklist of dog breeds that can’t be allowed in the ballpark for safety reasons. What’s more frustrating (and therefore confusing for people like Lew) is that the Padres refuse to publicize the list and won’t say which breeds can and cannot be allowed inside. Lew said that his 100-pound dog is a “teddy bear” that wears Padre gear, but painfully laments, “And now he doesn’t have a game to go to.” All of this begs for a storybook ending.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 12 games. Yes, once again, the spirit of Joe DiMaggio laughs from above and blurts: “Is this really the best you guys can come up with?” The young Andrus, who turns 22 this week, has not exactly been tearing up the baseball while adding to his run; his batting average has only risen from .275 to .278.
Now Playing at TGG
From the Opinion section, our choices for the ten most memorable home runs ever hit. Check it out now.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.