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
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|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
The scary moment on the field serves to remind us that the hardness of the baseball is, indeed, not to be taken for grantedand 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 careersand liveswere 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 plateand 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 sawand feltand 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?
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 cardsnever 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?
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
Wounded of the Week
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
A Day-by-Day Review of the Week
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’sor three full seasons, by his standardsaway 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 inningsincluding the tenth on a Marco Scutaro singleto 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
Wednesday, September 5
Thursday, September 6
Friday, September 7
The Pittsburgh Pirates, chasing a NL wild card spotand trying to avoid their 20th straight losing campaigncommit 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
Sunday, September 9
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.
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