The Week That Was in Baseball: September 29-October 5, 2008
So Good for 162 Games, So Lousy for Three Empty Seats on MLB's Horizon?
The Rise and Fall of Kosuke Fukudome Khalil Greene's $1.47 Million Punching Fit


How About Best of Seven?
Not that the major league season needs to be made longer than it already is—with World Series competition flirting with the first days of November—but one has to wonder about the fairness of a best-of-five series in the League Division Series when the following two rounds go best-of-seven. Not that this would have helped the Cubs, who would have had to win four straight against the Dodgers after losing three, but the lightning-in-a-bottle factor would be minimized for potential underlings who currently can more quickly spring an upset on a team that just finished an exhaustive 162-game season with a hard-earned top record. If the topic comes up in front of Commissioner Bud Selig and Co., hey—two more potential games means more cash in the pockets, and we all know how money makes the baseball world go ‘round for these guys. 

More Empty Seats?
Speaking of the Commish and cash, Selig sounded the alarm to team owners about raising ticket prices in the face of the country’s current economic turbulence, suggesting that teams hold the line on entry fees to the ballpark. Part of Selig’s concern may be based on this past season’s attendance figures, which finished down from the previous year for the first time since 2003.

Selig blamed the economy and, especially, high gas prices, but bad baseball at numerous ballparks could also be the culprit. Baltimore (68-93) and Texas (79-83, a major league-worst 5.37 ERA) each drew under two million fans for a full season for the first time since moving into new ballparks; San Francisco (72-90 and without Barry Bonds) drew under three million for the first time since moving into AT&T Park; San Diego (63-99) drew a Petco Park-worst 2.4 million; and Oakland (75-86) drew its lowest attendance since 1999 at 1.6 million, proving that tarping the third deck doesn’t really increase demand for tickets—especially for a no-name team like the A’s.

Perhaps the biggest worry for Selig isn’t the potential loss of the standard fans, but the potential loss of the corporate ones. Most A-list seats and luxury boxes at major league ballparks are swooped up by corporations who use the tickets to impress their clients, family and friends, to see and be seen. But as budgets tighten as recession looms (if one’s not here already), baseball perks could be among the first items stricken from the balance sheet—and that’s big money lost for MLB teams.

Lay Off the Furniture
On July 30, San Diego’s Khalil Greene struck out for the 100th time this year, and while we don’t know if that evil round number provided the boiling point for what followed, we do know this: Greene foolishly took out his frustration on a storage cabinet in the Padre clubhouse and lost—breaking his hand and missing the rest of the year. That’s not all Greene lost as a result; he may also lose the salary he pulled in while on the disabled list, if the Padres get their way. Padre CEO Sandy Alderson claimed that Greene violated the terms of his contract, and the Padres should recoup $1.47 million of his $4.5 million salary for 2008, prorated from time missed. Naturally, the players’ union has protested on Greene’s behalf and a grievance will eventually be held. The case is not without precedent; in 1982, the New York Yankees tried the same thing on pitcher Doyle Alexander, who broke his hand after punching a wall in frustration at the Seattle Kingdome; Alexander went on to win his grievance hearing. As for Greene’s worth to the club, Alderson had this to say: “I don’t think it was critical to the outcome of our season, but I guess with Khalil we might not have lost 99 games.” Okay, Sandy, maybe 97 with Khalil, or perhaps 96?

Leaving an Awful Mark at Third
Yes, Arizona slugger Mark Reynolds did hit 28 homers with 97 RBIs this past year, so congratulations to him for that. But the power card was about all the second-year slugger could brag about this past season. Of course, it was well known that he set the major league record by striking out 204 times. But that’s not all; he also suffered at the plate with a .239 batting average, and worse, playing at third base, was far and away the major league leader in errors with 35—in the process nearly becoming the first everyday player to have a fielding average under .900 since Boston’s Butch Hobson in 1978.

Thank God For the Make-Up Game
In the Chicago White Sox’ 162nd game of the season—made possible because of a necessity to play a make-up game against Detroit to help determine the AL Central champion on Monday—
Alexi Ramirez hit his fourth grand slam of the season, setting a major league record for rookies.

Odd Stat
Despite the proliferation of strikeouts in the majors, not one major league pitcher struck out more than 13 batters in any game this season.

Now Playing on TGG
Check out Ed Attanasio’s entertaining chat with one-game-wonder Stefan Wever in TGG's latest installment of the They Were There section. Also new this week, in our Opinion section, is Eric Gouldsberry's look at baseball's infatuation with bronze statues.


One Hundred Years—and Counting
It would have made for such a nice story: The Chicago Cubs, exactly a century after winning their last World Series, prevail in the Fall Classic. The script was working well until this past week; after a flamboyant regular season showing that resulted in the NL’s best record at 97-64, the Cubs were rudely swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers—the team with the worst record (84-78) among postseason participants—in the NLDS. In our series of “Wait ‘Til Next Century” installments exhibited throughout the season above, this season would have ranked somewhere around no. 15. For the second straight year, the Cub offense served as the billy goat of failure; the lineup that led the NL in runs scored just six in three games against the Dodgers, matching the six they scratched across last year in a similar three-and-out against Arizona. So it’s a hook off the stage for the Cubs, who leave the October spotlight for Manny, the Red Sox and the fabulous Rays.

Sweet and Sour Lou
These are the hard results for Lou Piniella in his first two years as manager of the Chicago Cubs: Two NL Central titles in the regular season, a 0-6 record in the postseason. Piniella has certainly proved he could win in the playoffs before (Cincinnati, 1990), but you got to wonder what the patience threshold might be for Cub management, which sank a ton of money into building a World Series contender. Piniella has a year left on his current contract.

Rising Sun, Falling Son
Cub outfielder Kosuke Fukudome started the season as, virtually, an instant legend—and went straight downhill from there. In his first major league game, the heralded Japanese import was a perfect 3-for-3 with a three-run, ninth-inning homer to send the game into extra innings, and was batting as high as .350 into early May; such early heroics rewarded him with a starting spot in the NL All-Star outfield. But with each passing month, Fukudome’s luster was gradually stripped away; he hit .236 in July, .193 in August and .178 in September, a month in which he was reduced into a part-time role. Fukudome then stumbled through the NLDS, going 1-for-10 with four strikeouts, was booed by the home fans at Wrigley Field and, on Friday, was the butt of an actual joke at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport when the public address system announced: “Paging Kosuke Fukudome, paging Kosuke Fukudome…please report to the Cincinnati Reds. You have been traded for a player to be named later.” Oh, what a descent. 

More F*kudome
A 15-year old student at Elgin High School, located west of Chicago, was asked by school officials to remove a Fukudome jersey in favor a standard gym shirt—not because the school was upset with Fukudome’s performances of late, but because they didn’t get the last name and apparently thought it was profane wordage lifted from a rap song. After receiving a crash course in Chicago baseball, the school’s principal allowed the student to put the jersey back on, later telling the Chicago Sun-Times, “As long as it’s a legitimate name, they will be allowed to wear it.”

So Close, And Yet So Far
Dale Murphy selflessly ended his career one home run shy of 400 for his career, but that was the kind of guy he was. Can’t say the same for Gary Sheffield, who finished the 2008 season stuck at 499 career shots. In all fairness to Sheffield, any return to the field in 2009 (at age 40) will likely have more to do with proving he can still play after a forgettable 2008 plagued by a bad shoulder and bad numbers (.225, 19 homers, 57 RBIs) rather than sticking around to achieve a milestone. Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski already looks set to bring Sheffield back for 2009, so his 500th blast will likely take place in a Tiger uniform.

Where Art Thou, Tiger Nation?
Not only were the Detroit Tigers a flop on the field, they were also one at the gate—on the road, that is. The Tigers drew the lowest attendance away from home, with a per-game average of 29,308. Less surprisingly, the Boston Red Sox were tops with an average roadshow gate of 38,367.

Nobody Said Life Was Fair
Without looking at the records, you would have thought Cincinnati starting pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang had fairly identical campaigns. Arroyo’s ERA was 4.77; Harang, 4.78. Opposing batters hit in the low .280s against both pitchers; Arroyo struck out 163 batters and walked 68, Arroyo struck out 153 with 50 walks. And yet, Arroyo finished the year at 15-11—while Harang was 6-17. The devil is in the details; the Reds scored five runs every time Arroyo took the mound, while Harang only received an average of 3.7 runs’ worth of support.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
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