The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: September 3-9, 2012
Baseball's Nastiest Head Shots Vox Unpopuli in D.C. Over Stephen Strasburg
The Year's Best Minor Leaguer is... Bobby Valentine Wants to Beat Somebody Up

Become a fan of This Great Game on Facebook. We’re embracing this opportunity to invite TGG followers and those of baseball in general to share their insights, queries and good knowledge with TGG’s powers-that-be, Eric Gouldsberry and Ed Attanasio.

Our goal with this page is to bring value to all who wish to become our fans, even correspondents to our continued mission of providing an enriched and unique perspective to our comprehensive catalog of baseball history, past, present and future.

Want to sound off on current events? Have good trivia you want to share? Roaming about the country on a ballpark tour? Need advice on that baseball book you’re trying to sell? Got something of interest we could share within the main site, such as our Weekly Comebacker? Have any praise or criticisms of TGG? We want to hear from you. It’s your soapbox, too.

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.

Knocked in the Noggin
Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy looked dazed but okay after taking a line drive from Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Erick Aybar square in the side of the head this past Wednesday, but then came increasingly sobering news from the hospital: He had to undergo surgery to mend a brain contusion and skull fracture as a result of the incident, and A’s trainer Nick Paparesta called McCarthy’s situation “life-threatening.” As of upload time, however, McCarthy seemed to be stabilizing and certainly in good spirits—sending out a humorous Tweet over the weekend.

The scary moment on the field serves to remind us that the hardness of the baseball is, indeed, not to be taken for granted—and when it comes at your head at 100MPH (give or take ten), you’ve got your life on the line. If you don’t believe us, here’s a list of players infamously beaned at the plate, on the mound and even in the coach’s box, and whose careers—and lives—were never the same, if not worse.

Ray Chapman, 1920. The only on-field fatality in major league history, the highly likeable Cleveland Indian made a habit of crowding the plate—and paid the ultimate price for it on a hot July afternoon in New York when Yankee pitcher Carl Mays, equally known for his unapologetic knack for throwing inside, made a direct hit on Chapman’s head. Chapman initially got up but then collapsed; he never regained consciousness and died the next day. The tragedy ratcheted up Mays’ already hostile reputation; despite a career 208-126 record and 2.92 ERA, it’s widely believed he’s not in the Hall of Fame because of Chapman’s death.

Mickey Cochrane, 1937. More than 20 years before batting helmets became mandated throughout the majors, the Hall-of-Fame career of Cochrane came to a sudden end when his skull was fractured in three places on a pitch from the Yankees’ Bump Hadley; he was lucky that his life didn’t end with it. Cochrane lay comatose for a week and was in critical condition before re-awakening; upon his recovery, he continued to manage the Detroit Tigers through 1938 and remained in baseball’s spotlight through World War II, piloting a team of major leaguers serving in the armed forces.

Herb Score, 1957. The powerful southpaw came out of the chute as the second coming of Bob Feller in Cleveland, leading the American League in strikeouts in each of his first two years and authoring a terrific 20-9 record in the second of those seasons. After a solid start to 1957, Feller faced off against, again, those damn Yankees, and had a wicked line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald nail him in the right eye. The impact was so palpable, even McDougald ran to the mound rather than to first with a live ball in play to look after Score. Hospitalized for three weeks, Score didn’t return to action until 1958 as his eyesight struggled to improve; so did his game, as we never the same after the injury. He would only go 17-26 with a 4.32 ERA over the next five seasons before retiring at age 28.

Tony Conigliaro, 1967. The local kid from Revere, Massachusetts hit 24 home runs as a 19-year old in Boston in 1964; hit 32 more homers to lead the AL at age 20 and, in his third season in 1966, added 28. He was on pace for similar numbers during the Red Sox’ “Impossible Dream” season of 1967 when he was beaned by the California Angels’ Jack Hamilton that left an imprint of the ball’s stitches on his face and knocked him out of action for the next year and a half. It was the first of numerous rough episodes in a life that fell him for good in 1990 when he died of a heart attack at age 45.

Dickie Thon, 1984. An emerging star whose career was hitting full flower in 1983 after hitting .286 with 20 homers, 79 RBIs and 34 steals, Thon was drilled in the head by Mike Torrez just five games into the 1984 season and, although he returned to play nine more seasons, never approached the all-star level of his pre-beaning years; issues with blurred vision related to the injury contributed.

Adam Greenberg, 2005. Unlike most of the other players on this list, Greenberg’s major leaguer career practically ended before it got started because of a hit to the head. Called up to the Chicago Cubs midway through 2005 after three-plus years in the minors, Greenberg was conked on the very first major league pitch he saw—and felt—and did not return. He consistently struggled in the minors afterward and has logged time with independent teams over the last three years; this past week, Greenberg lobbied the Cubs to bring him back for a second chance; the Cubs declined.

Mike Coolbaugh, 2007. After 44 games of major league experience, Coolbaugh returned to the minors as a coach and, while patrolling first base during a Double-A game in San Antonio, was struck in the head by a line drive; he died later that evening. His death prompted a new rule in which base coaches in all levels of organized ball were required to wear batting helmets.

A Self-Destructive Path to Nowhere?
The first day of the rest of the Washington Nationals’ season came this past Saturday—the day after wunderkind pitcher Stephen Strasburg was officially shut down by the team for the rest of the year in order to protect his fragile elbow, which underwent Tommy John surgery two years ago, for the long run. The decision by manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo came even sooner than anticipated, with Strasburg totaling 159.1 innings and not the 180 or so initially projected.

It was almost as if the Nationals’ brass was cutting its own nose to spite its face and make its point. The team blamed the media for obsessing over the upcoming shutdown; blamed Strasburg for losing his mental edge in the past weeks, a result of sleep he said he lost from brooding over an early end to his season; and pointed to his what was his last start on Friday against Miami, allowing five runs in three innings, as a sign that he was ready to fold his cards—never mind that he came into the game having gone 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA over his previous six starts.

The final insult is that Strasburg doesn’t get a chance to pitch 2.2 more innings and qualify for the ERA title, something he had an outside shot at winning. (He also finished three strikeouts shy of 200; as of his final start, he was second in the NL in that category.)

And what does Strasburg think of all of this? Diplomatically, not much. “It’s something I’m not happy about at all,” he told the media after his shutdown. “You don’t grow up dreaming out playing in the big leagues to get shut down when the games start to matter.”

So now the Nationals go from here without their ace. The franchise is about to win their first-ever divisional title in 44 years of existence, is on pace to finish with 100 victories for the first time ever, and is considered a front-runner to take the NL pennant. Or will they, now that Strasburg is done?

Just Kidding!
The last thing beleaguered Boston manager Bobby Valentine needs is more grief, but he created his own this past week after threatening to punch out a Boston sports talk show host on air when asked if he had “checked out” for the season. Thank goodness he wasn’t in the studio to actual follow through on his threat; he was calling from the West Coast, where he also took heat for showing up late to the ballpark because he was trying to pick up his son, flying into San Francisco. (Valentine scoffed at that accusation as well, saying he had taken care of the lineup and other pregame protocol in advance.)

Perhaps under pressure from Red Sox management, Valentine later claimed he was just having fun and joking with the sports talk gang. For Red Sox Nation, the 2012 season couldn’t end any sooner.

The Rising Sun Will Rise Again
You can sleep again. Japan will be in the World Baseball Classic. Winners of the first two tournaments, Japan faced the possibility of not having any professional players available after they threatened to boycott over a lack of revenue received—about 13%, compared to 33% given to American players. After several roundtable discussions, the players are satisfied and they’ll be on the field for the 2013 WBC next spring.

Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who at age 35 has hit a career-high 25 homers after failing to reach double figures in each of his previous two seasons, bashed local reports that he was high on performance enhancement drugs as “completely baseless.” Hey, A.J.: That’s not a denial…

Eff Off
It’s quite obvious that it’s been a long season for the disappointing, last-place Miami Marlins as shown in this outtake photo of their team portrait. Of particular note, check out catcher John Buck, standing in the fourth row, third from left.

Wounded of the Week
This past Saturday proved to be a painful one for both the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards when each team lost a key player, perhaps for the rest of the year. Reliable Oriole outfielder Nick Markakis broke his thumb after being hit by a CC Sabathia pitch and will be out at least six weeks; later, in what would be the final out of the game, Yankee slugger Mark Teixeira aggravated a calf injury running down the first base line. The Yankees are publicly brooding that Teixeira may miss the remainder of the year, but a MRI early this week will determine the timetable.

Outside of the pennant race, Toronto fans don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the Blue Jays’ latest rotation loss. J.A. Happ, acquired from Houston earlier this summer to refresh an injury-depleted starting corps, fractured his right foot covering first base on a ground ball and, thus, becomes the fifth Toronto starting pitcher to be forced to call it a season.

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

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week
Monday, September 3
The Nationals defeat the Chicago Cubs at Washington, 2-1, for their 82nd win of the year—ensuring their first winning record since moving from Montreal in 2005, and the first by any major league team in Washington since the 1969 Senators finished 86-76 under manager Ted Williams.

The Chicago White Sox reclaim sole possession of first place with a 4-2 home win over Minnesota while Detroit loses to the woebegone Cleveland Indians at home, 3-2. The White Sox’ win includes a little bit of unwanted history; Adam Dunn becomes the sixth player to reach 2,000 career strikeouts in the fifth inning. At age 32, Dunn is 600 K’s—or three full seasons, by his standards—away from surpassing Reggie Jackson’s all-time career mark of 2,597.

The two teams chasing the NL West title use come-from-behind extra-inning wins to maintain their distance from one another. In San Francisco, the Giants score in each of the final four innings—including the tenth on a Marco Scutaro single—to overcome a three-run lead and defeat Arizona, 9-8; later in Los Angeles, Andre Ethier belts a one-out homer in the ninth and scores the game-winner on an A.J. Ellis single two innings later to defeat San Diego, 4-3. The Giants remain 4.5 games ahead of the Dodgers with 27 to play.

Tuesday, September 4
The Baltimore Orioles have caught up with the New York Yankees. With a 12-0 thrashing of the Blue Jays in Toronto—coupled with the Yankees’ 5-2 loss at Tampa Bay—the Orioles tie the Bronx Bombers for first place in the AL East; since winning their last divisional title in 1997, the Orioles had never been closer to first place than 16.5 games on this date. Mark Reynolds contributes with his fifth home run in his past five games and four RBIs.

For the second straight day, the Giants come from behind to tie the Diamondbacks—but fail to get the job done in overtime, as Arizona rallies for two 11th-inning runs to prevail, 8-6. The Giants’ loss isn’t for a lack of trying; they set a franchise record (and tie the major league mark) by using 11 pitchers.

Wednesday, September 5
In their 9-1 thrashing of the Chicago Cubs in Washington, the Nationals belt out six home runs for the second straight night—only the third time that’s been accomplished in major league history. Two of those shots come from rookie Bryce Harper, giving him 17 on the year; only Tony Conigliaro and Mel Ott have hit more homers before turning 20 years of age. The win goes to Gio Gonzalez, who now has a major league-best 18 on the season—and the most in a year by anyone in Montreal/Washington history since Bryn Smith in 1985.

Oakland starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy is literally knocked out of the game when Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Erick Aybar drills a comeback liner off his head in the fourth inning; McCarthy walks off the field under his own power but does not return, and the A’s—who had thundered into the week with nine straight wins—lose to the Angels, 7-1, to end a three-game sweep in which they are outscored 21-5.

Thursday, September 6
The Braves defeat the Rockies in Atlanta, 1-0, with the only run scoring when a return throw from the catcher is muffed by starting Colorado pitcher Jhoulys Chacin—allowing Juan Francisco, the Atlanta runner on third, to come home in the second inning. Tim Hudson and three relievers combine to shut down the Rockies from there, keeping the Braves strong in the NL wild card race.

In the first of a pivotal four-game series in Baltimore between the Orioles and Yankees, Mark Reynolds hits two more homers—his third multi-homer game in a week, all against the Yankees—and the Orioles hit six round-trippers overall to pull away from a 6-6 tie with four runs in the eighth to tie New York for first in the AL East with a 10-6 victory. Only Hank Greenberg in 1938 had as many as three multi-homer games against the Yankees in one season.

Friday, September 7
In the start of a crucial series at San Francisco in their quest to catch the Giants, the Dodgers cannot take advantage of a career-high seven walks from Giant starter Tim Lincecum and lose, 5-2, to fall 5.5 games back of first in the NL West. The mighty heart of the Dodger order—Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier—combine to go 0-for-15.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, chasing a NL wild card spot—and trying to avoid their 20th straight losing campaign—commit seven errors which lead to six unearned runs in a 12-2 drubbing at the hands of the visiting Cubs, who end a six-game winning streak and give starting pitcher Travis Wood his first win in 11 starts. The Bucs’ seven miscues are the most in a major league game since 2004 and one shy of the franchise record. “Our worst game of the season,” laments Pirate manager Clint Hurdle.

As if starting a rain-delayed game two hours and 20 minutes late is bad enough, the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals plod through another four-and-a-half hours and 13 innings before finishing up at 2:05 in the morning with a 5-4 Brewer win at Busch Stadium. The winning run comes courtesy of Ryan Braun, who belts his NL-leading 38th homer and 199th of his career; the blast also makes him the first National Leaguer to reach 100 on the year, giving him a franchise-record 100-plus for five seasons, all in succession.

Saturday, September 8
The Braves roll big at New York over the Mets, 11-3, but several impressive streaks end in the process. Starting pitcher Kris Medlen allows his first earned run in the fourth inning after not allowing one in his previous 41 frames; the run is also the first allowed by the Braves in general over the last 31 innings. Medlen has now allowed just six earned runs over his last 72 innings dating back to the end of June.

Texas slugger Josh Hamilton blasts a two-run home run at Tampa Bay in the fourth inning to set a personal season high of 40; he’s the first in the majors this season to reach the milestone. The Rangers defeat the Rays in ten innings, 4-2.

Sunday, September 9
In the finale of their four-game series at Baltimore, the Yankees take the early lead and then pull away late to clobber the Orioles, 13-3, to retake the AL East lead by a game. Curtis Granderson has three hits (including his 35th homer) and five RBIs despite not entering the game until the sixth inning.

With all the focus on the Yankees and Orioles, not to be forgotten are the Tampa Bay Rays, who end the day just two games behind New York. The Rays silence the Texas Rangers at St. Petersburg, 6-0, behind a two-hit shutout from James Shields and three homers off the bat of B.J. Upton, making him the third player in franchise history to hit three in one game.

Clayton Kershaw is a late scratch for the Dodgers at San Francisco because of an inflamed hip, but it doesn’t matter as his teammates fail to score on Barry Zito and five relievers and lose to the Giants, 4-0. The loss puts Los Angeles back to 5.5 games behind the first-place Giants.

Sugarland Daddy—and Son
Roger Clemens’ second start for the Sugarland Skeeters was just as good as the first—he allowed just one hit in 4.2 innings—and was more poignant to boot, with son Koby Clemens catching behind the plate. Earlier in the week, Clemens denied that he was trying to hitch on with the Houston Astros for a performance or two—and, in the process, delaying his Hall of Fame eligibility by five years to distance himself from other steroids-disgraced candidates this coming winter including Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa—but Clemens has never been the best at stating a convincing position. And as we said last week, the deader-than-dead Astros (44-96) could certainly use a jolt of positive life.

Where There's a Wil, There's an Award
Wil Myers was named the minor league player of the year this past week by both Baseball America and USA Today. The 21-year-old Kansas City farmhand, participating in his fourth year at the minor league level, hit .314 with 37 home runs and 109 RBIs split between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. He is the seventh player to win both awards; the others are Andruw Jones, Rick Ankiel, Josh Beckett, Jeff Francis, Jason Heyward and Jeremy Hellickson. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Back to Myers: Reports vary on whether the Royals will give him a shot with the big club to end the 2012 season.

These Things Happen in Twos
In what the Elias Sports Bureau insists is a major league first so far as its massive database can cull, Minnesota catcher Ryan Doumit was retired twice in one inning—and later collected two hits in another—during Tuesday’s 18-9 rout of the White Sox at Chicago.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Salvador Perez, the 22-year-old sophomore catcher for the Kansas City Royals, ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 14 games. Perez started the year late after a spring training injury but is proving that his .331 rookie effort in 39 games last season is no fluke.

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!

Now Playing at TGG
In Ed Attanasio's newest addition to TGG's They Were There section, Chuck Stevens talks about being the first major leaguer to get a hit off of Satchel Paige, his life and times living in Hollywood as a Pacific Coast League player, and his role in establishing the Professional Baseball Players' Association, which helps former ballplayers in need.