The Week That Was in Baseball: October 13-19, 2008
Yes, Virginia, There is an AL Pennant in Tampa Bay Very Unfunny, TBS
Will L.A.'s Secret Free Agent 99 Get Smart? Barry Bonds, Disrespectful...and Jilted?

A Series No One Deserved to Lose...
Give credit to both the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox for their efforts in the ALCS. The praise for the Rays is obvious: A worst-to-first sensation with the league’s second lowest payroll and fifth lowest attendance, a spunky yet heavily inexperienced David overcoming not one but two Goliaths (the Red Sox and New York Yankees) in their own division. But we also hoist the Red Sox from making a startling go at the Rays after it appeared they were about to suffer through their second Boston Massacre in 30 years, initiating one of the postseason’s most amazing comebacks with eight unanswered runs in Game Five to hold off elimination after being outscored at Fenway through the first 25.1 innings of the ALCS, 29-5. A fun finish to the end for all.

...And a Series No One's Supposed to Watch
For the casual baseball fans not terribly interested in a Tampa Bay-Philadelphia World Series, go ahead and enjoy “Dancing With the Stars.”

Luck Will Only Last You So Long
With their 3-1, Game Seven defeat at St. Petersburg in the ALCS, the Red Sox saw an end to a winning streak of nine games when facing elimination from the postseason.

A Comedy of Errors
The first 20 minutes of ALCS Game Six went AWOL for television viewers who tuned in to TBS for the first pitch and instead were presented with an episode of “The Steve Harvey Show.” (Perhaps a rerun of the ‘Yada-Yada-Yada’ episode from “Seinfeld” would have been more appropriate—and certainly funnier.) The technical difficulties that TBS experienced were due to a router than failed at its headquarters in Atlanta; Plan B, a back-up router, also failed. That led to Plan C and Steve Harvey. Game Six finally hit the airwaves in the bottom of the first, with play-by-play man Chip Caray profusely apologizing for the network while saying that viewers hadn’t missed much—except for that B.J. Upton homer that put Tampa Bay ahead of Boston, 1-0.

No, Joe, No!
In the wake of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ NLCS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, there’s been a lot of second-guessing over manager Joe Torre’s strategies and lineup choices. Much of the criticism is warranted; perhaps Dodger fans are finding out why the New York Yankees were frustrated enough to show Torre the door after 2007. Remember, this is the guy who batted Alex Rodriguez eighth in the 2006 ALDS against Detroit. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and let the guys who got you to the postseason get you to the World Series.

Who's Your Ace Pilot?
Some NL Manager of the Year votes may come Torre’s way, but without Manny Ramirez’s late-season arrival, not only do the Dodgers not make the playoffs, they may not finish above .500. Given the roster and budget Lou Piniella had in Chicago, given Charlie Manuel’s gift-wrapped NL East title in Philadelphia courtesy of the collapsing New York Mets, given that Ned Yost was fired before he could finish the job of bringing Milwaukee to the postseason for the first time in 26 years, my NL Manager of the Year vote goes to St. Louis’ Tony LaRussa. After all, in our pre-season preview, I said that if LaRussa could move the Cardinals—a team with almost no starting pitching and a dubious roster that included iffy former steroid users Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus—anywhere over the .500 mark, he should win the honor. The Cardinals finished a solid 86-76; I stand by my earlier opinion. —Eric

Hello, I Must Be Going
Did Game Five of the NLCS mark the end of Manny Ramirez’s statistically staggering but fleetingly short career as a Los Angeles Dodger? Sure, Ramirez immensely enjoyed his time in La-La Land, and you would too if you were transplanted across the country from a hostile former home, hit over .400 with surging power and single-handedly pushed your team to just short of a World Series appearance. But for Ramirez, loyalty begins and ends with himself, and when the offers start coming in for the impending free agent, money will very likely trump municipalities (unless it’s Boston, which Ramirez wants no part of—and vice versa). That his agent is Scott Boras, who pried $126 million out of San Francisco for Barry Zito and $36 million (over two years) out of the Dodgers for a virtually washed-up Andruw Jones, it’s all the more likely that Los Angeles will be given no more emotional leverage than any other team. 

Fox analyst Tim McCarver is right; Ramirez will get his money. But somewhere, someplace, with Boras at the helm and the New York Yankees almost certain to be calling, Ramirez will probably get more than the two years many believe he’ll be stuck with. For whoever signs him, one thing is for certain: The most intensive part of the negotiations will not involve the money, but the incentives.

You've Talked the Talk...
When Boras sued one of his ex-clients, the Tigers’ Gary Sheffield, back in the spring for money he felt he was owed, Sheffield warned that he was going to say a lot of “ugly things” in regards to Boras when the case was settled. “It ain’t going to be pretty,” he added, “No fine is going to be big enough. No suspension is going to be long enough.” This past week, Sheffield lost the case and Boras collected $550,000; now, we’re waiting for Sheffield to deliver on his warning. You’re one homer shy of 500, Gary; is no suspension long enough?

Erroneous Hat Trick
Dan Uggla committed three errors at the All-Star Game, but that was just a glorified exhibition. (Well, it also helped give the AL home field advantage for the World Series, but we’re splitting hairs.) Misery loves company, and Uggla would have been happy to welcome Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal into the fold after Furcal was charged with three errors in one inning during the Phillies’ NLCS-clinching, 5-1 victory over the Dodgers on Wednesday. Furcal’s gaffes took place after the Phillies had taken the lead—the Dodgers, in fact, trailed from the word go after Jimmy Rollins’ leadoff homer in the first—but they also helped pad the Phillies’ lead, making it difficult for the Dodgers to mount a comeback. Manny Ramirez exited into free agency in style as noted above (his solo home run in the sixth inning provided the Dodgers with their lone tally of Game Five), but Furcal, also a free agent, will have a hard time suppressing the memories of major league GM bidders this coming offseason with that horrible show of glovework.

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

In honor of the Chicago Cubs' 100th anniversary of their last World Series title, This Great Game is counting down the 40 years between 1909 and 2007 in which the Cubs came nearest to winning another. Our Tragical History Tour of Wrigleyville continues this week with:

2. 1918 84 Wins, 45 Losses
Lost World Series to Boston Red Sox
In a season set against the turbulence of world war, the Cubs stocked up on pitching—the prime ingredient for any kind of baseball success, especially in the deadball era—as an insurance policy in case players began to be called into service. Not only were the Cubs intuitive, they were lucky; outside of losing perennial 30-game winner Pete Alexander to the military, they were relatively untouched by roster poaching related to the Great War, and as a result dominated the NL with terrific pitching led by Hippo Vaughn (22-10) and Claude Hendrix (20-7), who placed 1-2 in NL wins. After the end of a government-forced abbreviated schedule, the Cubs met their match in the World Series against a Boston Red Sox team (starring Babe Ruth, pitching ace) that threw even better and defeated Chicago in six games.

Next week: We wrap up our-season-long installments of "Wait 'til Next Century" with our choice for the closest the Chicago Cubs have ever come to winning a World Series.


Malfeasance Upon a Malcontent?
The baseball players’ union filed a grievance with MLB this past week, stating it has evidence that owners conspired in concert to keep Barry Bonds from being signed in 2008. We’re all ears as to what that evidence might be. Maybe it’s collusion if someone from the San Francisco Giants tells someone from another team, “He might give you some offense and his agent says he’ll work for scale, but he’s an aging, surly SOB who brings unwanted tension and disruption to a clubhouse and, oh—he’s got a big court date looming that could keep him out of action.” Collusion, maybe; the truth, definitely. Bonds’ agent Jeff Borris will likely testify that the tainted home run king should be rewarded for up to three years’ worth of lost wages, claiming Bonds had that much baseball life left in him because Willie Mays said so on HBO. The union has agreed with MLB that the grievance hearing will not take place until after Bonds’ trial for perjury and obstruction of justice, which is scheduled to begin on March 2, 2009.

Juiced III: The Unintentional Sequel
Jose Canseco just can’t help himself these days. The embattled whistle blower who needs money and attention the way we need oxygen made the news again, albeit not in ideal fashion, as he was charged in a San Diego courtroom with a misdemeanor for illegally carrying drugs across the border from Mexico. The drug in question is human chorionic gonadotropin, a fertility drug that is said to help replenish the body with testosterone that becomes lacking in people taking steroids. Canseco was released for now, but if found guilty he could spend up to a year in jail and pay $1,000 in fines. If the book is thrown at Canseco, perhaps a baseball variation of The Longest Yard could be his next money-grubbing venture.

Elbow Room For Pujols
After hitting .357 with 37 homers and 116 RBIs this past year, it’s almost scary to think how much better a slugger Albert Pujols could be if his elbow wasn’t bothering him. The St. Louis superstar has been dealing with a muscle tear in his right elbow since 2003 that, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is so bad that the only way to completely cure it is to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery—which would leave him absent from baseball action for as much as an entire season. (The tear, in fact, is said to be worse than the one that has sidelined Pujols’ teammate and former Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter for over a year.) It was revealed this past week that Pujols did have surgery performed on the elbow, a relatively minor procedure that will allow him to be ready to hit by Opening Day of 2009. According to the Cardinals, the operation should be enough to keep Pujols healthy through the rest of his career without fear of being told the words “Tommy John” by any doctor.

There's Always the Goodwill Store
An uncertain and admittedly scary economy like this one will tend to discourage people from making frivolous expenditures, which leads us to a New York auction of Yankee memorabilia—where not much of anything was sold, and the items that were purchased were bought for relative bargain prices. Most of the marquee items on the block—numerous World Series rings, Mickey Mantle’s convertible—sold well below expectations, and the last home run ball hit out of Yankee Stadium by Jose Molina couldn’t even generate the suggested opening bid price of $100,000. Perhaps the memorabilia has a better chance of selling if they put up a garage sale at the Steinbrenners’ Florida home.

Mob Control?
Randy Youngman of the Orange County Register suggests that MLB should automatically suspend any player that leaves the dugout during an on-field altercation, like the one that took place during the NLCS between Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino and Los Angeles’ Hiroki Kuroda. “If the pitcher and batter want to tangle,” Youngman writes, “so be it.” Well, yes and no. By barring players from entering the field, you do reduce the possibility of a mass orgy of violence on the field—although it almost never comes to that—but one reason the cavalry comes to the players’ defense is not to join in on the fighting but to protect them. Leaving them out there to go mano-a-mano, especially when the batter may become outnumbered nine-to-one, may actually increase the chance that someone will get hurt.

She's All Yours, A-Rod
Madonna announced this past week that she is divorcing her husband, film director Guy Ritchie.

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.