The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: October 31-November 6, 2011
Tony LaRussa Goes Out on Top The Best Free Agents the Winter Has to Offer
Frank McCourt Finally Sees the Light Albert Pujols' Monument to Himself

A Perfectly Timed Exit
We always said in our preseason reviews over the years that if the St. Louis Cardinals ever won it all—as we sometimes forecasted, though not this year—it would be a fitting time for Tony LaRussa to step down as the team’s manager while on top. Glad we got that prediction right, at least.

Just a few days after winning the World Series over Texas, the 67-year old manager called it quits, leaving behind 33 years of major league piloting and a chance—had he stayed on next season—to become the second winningest manager of all time, pushing ahead of John McGraw.

LaRussa was a loyal players’ manager who guarded and defended the guys he managed, sometimes to a fault; he never wavered in his defense of Mark McGwire’s innocence, even after the slugger admitted to steroid use. But he also went nose-to-nose with those who refused see eye-to-eye with him, including Scott Rolen and, more recently, Colby Rasmus.

But there was no denying that LaRussa was a winner. Fourteen times, he took his teams to the playoffs, starting with the “ugly” Chicago White Sox of 1983, then the powerhouse Oakland A’s of the late 1980s, and finally with the Cardinals on an almost yearly basis (St. Louis has made it into October eight of the last 12 years). His World Series triumph over Texas was his third, following those for the 1989 A’s and the 2006 Cardinals.

There’s rumor that LaRussa may totally depart baseball; news spread that the White Sox were looking to bring him back, albeit in an advisory role. Chances are, however, rhat LaRussa will sit back, return to his Bay Area home and devote more of his time with family and rescuing animals.

You Too, Dave?
With LaRussa’s departure, many would think that his loyal longtime lieutenant, pitching coach Dave Duncan, would also step away. Not so. Duncan publicly stated that he wishes to remain in St. Louis, but that would be dependent on two primary factors: The new Cardinal manager and the status of his wife, who has a malignant brain tumor. (Duncan took five weeks off this past season to focus on her health.)

“I think I know what my responsibilities are, what my position is as pitching coach,” Duncan said on WXOS in St. Louis this past week. “I think I could get along with just about any manager assuming he lets me take the responsibilities that I’m accustomed to taking.”

To Own and Sell in L.A.
MLB Central breathed a huge sigh of relief this past week when Frank McCourt finally threw in the towel and announced he would be selling the Los Angeles Dodgers. It obviously was not the embattled McCourt’s ideal choice; he had hoped to secure enough financing through various sources, including a new long-term local television deal that MLB frowned upon, to stay fiscally afloat and retain ownership of the ballclub.

But after a financially crippling divorce and mismanagement of the Dodgers, he declared bankruptcy and was headed towards a nasty showdown in court with MLB and commissioner Bud Selig which not only would have opened the Dodgers’ closet of accounting skeletons, but also those of MLB as well.

The question now becomes: Who buys the Dodgers? The nostalgic choice is former owner Peter O’Malley, who is on the record as being interested. There’s also serious noise from a group of investors fronted by former Dodger star Steve Garvey, and there’s the reported $1.2 billion offer allegedly bankrolled by interests in China.

Who's Gold, And Who's Not
The first major postseason honors were released this past week with the naming of the Gold Glove winners for the best defensive players in the majors. All six outfield awards went to first-timers: Los Angeles’ Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, Arizona’s Gerardo Parra, Baltimore’s Nick Markakis, Kansas City’s Alex Gordon and Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury. This year’s honors also further cements how down a year it was for Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who not only failed to reach 200 hits or bat over .300 for the first time, but also failed to win a Gold Glove after winning in each of his first ten years.

Two Guys Who Deserve Each Other
You knew this was going to happen sooner or later. In one corner, it’s Lenny Dykstra, former All-Star, fraudulent businessman, thief and indecent exposer; in the other corner, it’s Jose Canseco, former MVP, unapologetic steroid user, rat informant, reality show wannabe and bankrupt personality. The two were set to square off this past Saturday at a thing called Celebrity Fight Night, a shameless event that also included on its card a bout between Amy “Long Island Lolita” Fisher and Nadya “Octomom” Suleman, fought out with oversized gloves so big, it was amazing that either woman was able to stay upright.

Back to Canseco v. Dykstra: We we’re all hoping for a dual knockout that would hopefully punch some common sense into these guys, once and for all. But, alas, the bout never came off. Dykstra backed out at the last minute, despite being reportedly paid $5,000 in advance; his absence so irked his business manager, Dan Herman, he said enough to any future dealings with Dykstra. Canseco was not left alone in the ring; because the world is so full of Z-list con artists, onto the canvas to duke it out with him stepped Tareq Salahi, best remembered for crashing a White House party with his wife—who recently split from him to shack up with Journey guitarist Neil Schon.

You can all now shower.

Protest Vote?
Sometime soon, a group of Houston sportswriters will hold their annual dinner to honor their choice for the MVP of the Astros this past season. And the winner is: Hunter Pence, who played the final half of the year with the Philadelphia Phillies after a midseason trade. “All it means,” wrote Houston Chronicle reporter Richard Justice, “is that when the annual baseball dinner is held, one of these idiots will get up and hand a plaque to a guy no longer with the team. And in that single moment, we’ll be reminded how far the Astros have fallen.”

Here He Comes Again
Just when you thought you had heard the last of Jamie Moyer, well, you hadn’t. The veteran southpaw of 24 seasons, who turns 49 this month, underwent Tommy John surgery after falling to a bum elbow midway through the 2010 campaign with the Phillies; with almost no mention of his status this season, it was assumed by many that his career was done. Well, maybe not. Moyer auditioned himself this past week in front of numerous scouts, who were impressed; it’s quite possible that he’ll get an invitation to spring training somewhere in 2012. If he makes a team, he’ll be the oldest pitcher to take the mound since Hoyt Wilhelm in 1972.

Worth His Weight in Repugnance
On Opening Day at New York in 2007, an obese and obnoxiously intoxicated man sitting in the steep upper deck of Shea Stadium was ruining the experience for everyone seated near him—and when he got so wasted that he tumbled down five rows, he all but ruined the back of one Ellen Massey, who had one of her vertebrae broken in the fall and ultimately needed two rods inserted in her back. Massey sued the Mets, saying that nearby security should have taken care of the big guy, Timothy Cassidy, before his tumble, but the Mets claimed that his fall was “spontaneous and unexpected.” This past week, the two parties settled; terms were not disclosed.

He Said What?
San Francisco closer and LSU alum Brian Wilson, who appeared in advance of Saturday’s LSU-Alabama college football battle in full LSU uniform (including an oversized helmet) on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” where he was asked to predict other college games on the day including this one between South Carolina and Arkansas: “Weird mascot game—you’ve got the ’Backs versus the ’Cocks. Never bet against the ’Cocks.”

Now Playing at TGG
In our latest installment of the They Were There section, TGG's Ed Attanasio chats with the oldest living ex-major leaguer, 100-year old Connie Marrero—currently living in his native Cuba.

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

The TGG All-Star Free Agent Team
For major league players, the season is done and the golf has begun. For their agents and their team’s general managers, the hard work is only just starting. Some 200 free agents are available to the highest bidder, with precious few All-Stars amid a majority of players who likely won’t command what they hope (and some of those will just be happy to sign, anywhere).

As we do every year, what follows is our list of the best team money can buy from the list of available players. (Second choices are in parenthetical italics.)

Catcher: Ryan Doumit (Ramon Hernandez)
This is an indication of just weak the free agent pool is at this spot: Doumit’s the best option, and the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t even want him next year (or at least, not for the $15.5 million he was due between 2012-13 had the Pirates exercised their option). Doumit comes with a decent bat, roughened defensive mentality but a history of injury. He’ll also be relatively young at 31, a decisively positive advantage over most other eligible catchers, including our second choice in the 36-year old (in 2012) Hernandez.

First Base: Albert Pujols (Prince Fielder)
If you’re hurting for a first baseman, you’re in luck…so long as you have the moolah in the bank. Pujols is obviously the cream of this year’s crop for all of baseball, and most experts believe he’ll stay in St. Louis—but he’s not intrinsically tied to Cardinal red the way Derek Jeter is with Yankee pinstripes, so don’t rule out a change in scenery. The big-booming Fielder is hardly a shabby second option, and the fact that he’s still only 27 is a major plus.

Second Base: Kelly Johnson (Aaron Hill)
Slim pickings here, with the two top candidates traded for each other this past season. They’re also both likely to be considered reclamation projects, as they remain on the downside of career seasons (Johnson in 2010, Hill in 2009).

Shortstop: Jose Reyes (Jimmy Rollins)
Reyes is the juicy option here, still young (28 next Opening Day) and at the top of his game…but a past susceptibility to the disabled list could derail what otherwise could be a certain nine-figure deal. Rollins is five years older and has likely seen his best days, but he can still make an impact.

Third Base: Aramis Ramirez (Wilson Betemit)
Ramirez declined a chance to earn $16 million next year with the Chicago Cubs in hopes that he can earn a multi-year deal worth more—but is that a hint he’s more worried about his standing in next year’s market as he turns 34? Still, he’s easily the best option here, well ahead of Betemit, the part-time veteran who’s still a better second choice than burned-out alternatives in Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora and Mark DeRosa.

Outfield: Carlos Beltran, Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer (Coco Crisp, Jason Kubel, Kosuke Fukudome)
After Beltran—who’s lost some of his edge but still quite attractive—the collection of available outfielders isn’t going to have GMs scrambling for the phones. Willingham and Cuddyer are fantastic finds so long as they’re not asked to bat fourth or fifth for their new clubs.

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz (Hideki Matsui)
Ortiz may have had enough of Boston and appears happy to test the waters (but he has his way of changing his mind on a daily basis). Matsui has declined in value but isn’t yet down to empty, and will love the opportunity to play anywhere but Oakland after living that drab existence this past year.

Starting Pitcher: C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Yu Darvish
There are no dream choices here. Wilson has the best upside but potential suitors still have his wretched postseason work ingrained in their brains. Oswalt has a great track record but also a bad back that could scare off some bidders. Buehrle is crafty and will give you 200 innings as always, but lacks dominance—and he sounds inclined to return to the Chicago White Sox, anyway. Jackson has good stuff but is well traveled, and perhaps there’s a reason why. Darvish, the young Japanese-Iranian phenom, is the wild card—and may be wildly expensive to whoever takes a shot at him.

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon, (Heath Bell)
The last day of the season notwithstanding, it seemed Papelbon was a default target of Red Sox fans and sportswriters from Opening Day last year; he’ll likely respond in kind by heading someplace with a little more sanity. Bell loves San Diego and may very well end up back there, but a deep roster of other available closers includes Francisco Rodriguez (longing for a return to the role after doing eighth-inning duty for Milwaukee) and Francisco Cordero, who may return to Cincinnati at a slightly lower cost after being denied his option year there.

Stay in One Piece, Brother
If CC Sabathia, who this past week was able to get the New York Yankees to add an extra year and $30 million to his existing contract rather than opt out of it, has a disappointing decline in the last guaranteed year (2016) of his pact, he should watch his back. According to the new deal, Sabathia will earn an additional $25 million in 2017 if a potentially bad left shoulder doesn’t force him to spend 45 days on the disabled list, finish the year on it or make at least six relief appearances because of it. So if Sabathia starts the year at, say, 2-10, he’ll need that second opinion handy or hope that the second coming of Howard Spira doesn’t come into the clubhouse seeking him out with a crowbar.

Monument to Himself
If Albert Pujols leaves St. Louis, at least his bronze likeness will stay behind. Yes: King Albert has already been immortalized in sculptured form, but not by the Cardinals outside Busch Stadium or by the local community in front of Gateway Arch—but by himself, on the front lawn of his restaurant on the outskirts of town.

The (for now) ex-Cardinal was present to see the unveiling of a ten-foot, 1,100-pound bronze statue of himself pointing both hands into the sky this past week in front of his restaurant, Pujols 5 Westport Grill. Pujols didn’t say much about his future plans, but did refer to St. Louis as the “best town to play baseball.”

Bob Forsch, 1950-2011
Cardinal fans were shocked to learn this week of the passing of Bob Forsch, who just a week earlier was all smiles and looked to be in great shape as he threw out the first pitch before Game Seven of the World Series. Returning to his home near Tampa, Forsch died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 61.

Forsch pitched 16 years in the majors, the first 15 of them for the Cardinals; with St. Louis, his 163 wins are third on the all-time franchise list behind Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines. He was a 20-game winner (losing just seven) in 1977 and threw two no-hitters, but he seldom was considered the ace of the team and never got elected to an All-Star Game. Ironically, the only postseason honors he ever received were two Silver Slugger awards—in 1980 and 1987, for his ability to hit; in 893 lifetime at-bats, Forsch hit .213 with 12 homers, 45 doubles, eight triples and 84 RBIs. Forsch is survived by his brother Ken, who won 114 games in the bigs and also threw a no-hitter.

Matty Alou, 1938-2011
Also saying goodbye to us this past week was Matty Alou, who like Forsch was also part of an active baseball family tree with two brothers (Felipe and Jesus), two nephews (Moises Alou and Mel Rojas) and a cousin (Jose Sosa) who all played in the majors. Alou lacked the power of Felipe but more than made up for it with his ability to punch the ball about the field to punch up his batting averages, which landed him with a lifetime .307 average over 15 years.

Alou began his career with San Francisco where both his brothers were teammates—they once took up all three outfielding positions at the same time in the same game—and moved on to Pittsburgh, where he finally got the chance to play every day and hit an impressive .327 over a five-year stretch, including a batting title (.342) in 1966 and a league-leading 231 hits in 1969. He bounced around in his later years, playing for five teams over his final four seasons, continuing to slap out one single after another. Alou was 72 when he passed away from complications with diabetes.

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Fun facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
Take the TGG quiz to determine your good baseball knowledge when it comes to the game's all-time hit leaders and the 3,000-hit club. Check it out now!

The 2011 Mid-Season Report Card
Our picks for the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2011 regular season. Check it out now!