The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: November 1-7, 2010
Is This the Beginning of a Giant Dynasty? The TGG All-Free Agent Team
The Passing of Sparky Anderson A Daring Look Back at Our Preseason Picks

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You're Awake, And It's Not a Dream

When the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Lakers paint the town red to celebrate their latest world championship, there’s a sense of formality to it; people go wild in the streets on cue, but they’re polished pros at the art of celebration and, sometimes, you have to wonder if the thrill has long since gone for them as their team is expected to win—and occasionally does.

By contrast, the victory parade for the San Francisco Giants, who defeated the Texas Rangers in five games for their first world title since coming west to California 52 years ago, contained genuine emotion—because, hey baby, there ain’t nothing like feeling it for the very first time.

A crowd estimated at over a million jammed the streets of San Francisco this past Wednesday on a warm, beautiful November day to give heartfelt and ecstatic praise to their Giants, who rode cable cars down Market Street and wound up in front of City Hall to be given thanks by numerous dignitaries (including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was booed in the day’s only malicious display by the massive throng of fans).

TGG’s own Ed Attanasio and TGG friend Steve Friedman were part of the parade celebration and took some terrific images of the event (a sampling of which is shown above); they can be seen on the TGG Facebook page.

The Giants on Top: Get Used to It
The future is now in San Francisco, and it looks like it might last a good long while. The Giants are the anti-1997 Florida Marlins; they’re not one and done and won’t be broken up under the weight of a heavy all-or-nothing payroll. The cast of characters that gave San Francisco its first-ever World Series title could very well become baseball’s newest dynasty.

Think about it. The entire Giant pitching staff is returning next year. All five starters and closer Brian Wilson are locked up through 2012. (They’ve been quite resilient as well; note how remarkably pain-free they’ve been over the last three years.) Because of this, free agent hitters who normally shy away from San Francisco and AT&T Park’s pitching-friendly conditions might be more tempted to sign on. After all, what’s really more important to them: Stats or a ring?

The free agent sluggers who called San Francisco home this past year are making it clear that they wish to stay, including the team’s most productive hitter, Aubrey Huff. In addition, Cody Ross is up for arbitration and Buster Posey, Andres Torres and Pablo Sandoval—they’re all owned by the Giants for the foreseeable future.

So if you fell in love with the Giants this year, settle in—because after this honeymoon, salad days may kick in for the long term.

Thanks, Now Go Away
Edgar Renteria is 2-for-3 in making-a-difference moments at the World Series. In 1997, he ended everything with a single that won the Series for Florida over Cleveland in seven games; as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, he grounded into the last out that gave Boston its first championship in 86 years; and in his final at-bat of the 2010 Fall Classic, he launched the late three-run homer that gave the Giants a definitive 3-0 lead that they would hold to win it all.

For his overall efforts (7-for-17, two homers), Renteria was named the Series MVP; his 72 games logged during the regular season are the fewest ever by a position player winning that honor. Injuries had much to do with the low amount of activity, but so was a lack of inspiration at the plate (a powerless .276 average); even with his MVP effort, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Giants declined his option for 2011 and cut him loose as a free agent—one day after being honored with the rest of the team in San Francisco.

Renteria has decided against retirement, but if he wishes to return to the Giants, he’ll have to do so for less than the $9.5 million he would have received had the team picked up his option.

For the Man Who's Seen it All
If anyone in the Giants’ clubhouse deserved to embrace the World Series trophy, it was clubhouse manager Miguel “Mike” Murphy, who’s been there every year in one capacity or another since the team moved west from New York in 1958. The 68-year Murphy was a bat boy in that first season in San Francisco, and has been there in good times and bad, from the star-studded glory days of the 1960s, to the rotten coda of the Horace Stoneham era at empty, Astroturfed Candlestick Park in the 1970s, to the revived “Humm Baby” years of the Roger Craig-led Giants in the 1980s to the steroid-tainted atmosphere of ten years ago. Much love was shared for Murph, as the players like to call him, during the celebration in the clubhouse; even Barry Bonds got on his web site to praise Murphy for his tireless work for the team. Appropriately, it was Murphy who brought the Series trophy from the media room to the clubhouse where champagne-doused Giants awaited a chance to hold it.

For the Cooperstown Closet
The Hall of Fame asked for and received numerous items from the World Series, including the bats of Edgar Renteria and Mitch Moreland (who hit the Texas Rangers’ first Series homer), caps worn by Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, and the batting helmet of Cody Ross. (It’s safe to say that the Hall declined Aubrey Huff’s good-luck red thong.) If you ever want to take the anything-but-straight-and-narrow journey to Cooperstown and see these items, good luck; most of these artifacts usually are shelved in the basement (along with much other memorabilia), only to be brought out for special exhibits or regional roadshow tours.

The Giants’ earned run average from September 1 through the end of the postseason was 2.03. Opponents hit just .187 against San Francisco during this period.

Wow II
The total number of runs (29) tallied by the Giants in the World Series equaled the total number of hits put up by the Rangers, who led the AL this season in batting average.

The Ultimate Sacrifice
The Game Five sacrifice bunt by Huff, just ahead of Renteria’s three-run blast, was the first in his ten-year career.

Mound Matters
The Giants shut out opponents four times during the postseason, tying a record held by the unstoppable 1998 New York Yankees and the 1905 New York Giants, the latter team doing it exclusively in a World Series against the Philadelphia A’s with a 0.00 ERA. The two World Series blankings for the Giants—including the 4-0 win over the Rangers in Game Four, only the second time Texas has been shutout at home this season—are the most in the Fall Classic since 1966, when Baltimore won its last three games without allowing a run to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pat the Splat, Epilogue
Not everyone had it great in the World Series for the Giants. It’s quite possible that Pat Burrell had the worst hitting performance by any player ever in the Fall Classic. He finished by going hitless in 13 at-bats—with 11 strikeouts. Burrell did walk twice and scored once. Adding another similar stinko effort two years for Philadelphia when the Phillies triumphed over Tampa Bay, and Burrell is 1-for-27 in his Series career with 16 strikeouts.

Will it Be Joe and Tim—or Jersey Shore?
Without a major eastern market represented, Fox and MLB knew that World Series ratings would suffer—and for the most part, they were right. Game Three on a Saturday night drew a 6.7 rating, the second lowest ever for a Series game; by contrast, the highest rating for a single Series contest since 1984 was 38.5 for the final game of the memorable 1986 Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. Ratings for Game Four on Sunday evening improved to 10.4, but drew fewer viewers than a Sunday night football game played simultaneously on NBC between Pittsburgh and New Orleans; the NFL felt confident, after four years of avoiding a conflict, to schedule a Sunday night game head-on against the Series—and for good reason, as it turned out.

Fox and MLB drew a collective sigh of relief when they discovered that the decisive Game Five outdrew an ESPN Monday Night Football contest between Indianapolis and Houston, 10.6 to 8.6.

Overall, the 2010 World Series tied the 2008 Fall Classic for the lowest rating ever, at 8.4.

Still Waiting...
The Giants’ triumph only makes folks in Chicago and Cleveland feel all the more isolated in their lack of experiencing a championship. The Cubs and Indians remain the two teams with the longest World Series droughts; the Indians haven’t won since 1948, and the Cubs, as everyone knows by now, have gone over a century since last winning it all in 1908. The Cubs haven’t even been to a World Series since 1945; that must have been one hell of a curse laid on the team by that guy with the billy goat.

Stats Over Status
Nary a tear was shed this past week in Giant Nation when news hit that Arizona first baseman Adam LaRoche had his 2011 option rejected by the Diamondbacks. The Giants had sought LaRoche before this year and offered a far more attractive package than Arizona, but LaRoche opted for the Diamondbacks because he knew he could put up better numbers playing half his games in a ballpark that’s far friendlier for hitters. Meanwhile, the Giants’ Plan B at first—Aubrey Huff—is celebrating a world championship after serving as the primary bat in San Francisco’s lineup.

A Satanic Message for Roy Halladay?
Someone during the Giants’ victory parade mentioned that if you say Cody Ross’ name backwards, it sounds like, “Sorry, Doc.”

Were the Yankees After Wash, Too?
Texas general manager Jon Daniels said that his first priority for the offseason was to extend the contract of manager Ron Washington, which he did accomplish. So signing Cliff Lee was second?

A Bronx Cheer From the Metroplex
As the Rangers were going down against the Giants, Texas owner Chuck Greenberg decided to take out his anger on New York Yankee fans he called “violent or apathetic” and an “embarrassment” during a Dallas morning radio show. Greenberg’s earful was followed later by that of commissioner Bud Selig’s, who called Greenberg on the carpet not so much for disparaging other fans but for creating a potential media distraction outside of the World Series. Needless to say, Yankee brass wasn’t thrilled either; Hal Steinbrenner threatened to respond “aggressively” but backed off after Greenberg phoned in to apologize.

He Said What?
“Now I can go to my grave and relax.” —Sam Baca, a 63-year old former bat boy for the Giants attending the victory parade in San Francisco this past Wednesday.

Now Playing at TGG
Check out the latest installment of They Were There, with TGG's Ed Attanasio chatting with former speed burner Maury Wills.

The TGG All-Free Agent Team For 2011
The end of play on the ballfield this past week segued to the beginning of play in the front offices and hotel lobbies as over 140 major leaguers were granted free agent status. The list of players is full of aging (read: 35 and over) veterans who would rather not be free agents, because it’s unlikely they’ll be signed (if at all) for a lower wage than before. But there are some diamonds in the rough that will have multiple teams salivating, and so below we give our annual choices for the best players available at each position, with second choices in italics.

Catcher: Victor Martinez (John Buck)
While Martinez may not be the best defensive option among backstops, there’s no doubting his hitting talent. Buck, who nailed 20 homers for the Blue Jays this season, is a dark horse pick who could make for a nice bargain.

First Base: Adam Dunn (Paul Konerko)
If you’re a major league general manager hurting for a first baseman, you’re in luck. There’s much talent to choose from, with the two selected above as well as Aubrey Huff, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Adam LaRoche and Carlos Pena. Dunn lacks a solid glove but makes up with a prodigious bat; Konerko is coming off his best year but his age (35 in 2011) might shy teams away from a long-term pact.

Second Base: Orlando Hudson (Ty Wigginton)
Compared to the list of first basemen, the quality level for free agent second basemen makes for slim pickings. The much-traveled Hudson emerges as the de facto best option; Wigginton brings more offense and can play most anywhere in the infield.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta (Orlando Cabrera)
Yes, we know about Derek Jeter, but it’s hard to fathom him signing with anyone other than the Yankees, so he’s really not a serious option for the other 29 teams. That leaves the shortstop parade fairly scant; Peralta, who turns 29 next year, could be reaching his prime and has potential to make a difference in the lineup—though at upload time, he was reportedly close to re-upping with Detroit. Cabrera is experienced and steady, but he’s also entering his late 30s.

Third Base: Adrian Beltre (Juan Uribe)
As he often and curiously seems to do, Beltre enters free agency on the heels of a terrific campaign; bidders will have to be wary of what a post-free agency Beltre delivers (and wary of the salary demands of his agent, one Scott Boras). Uribe brings a strong arm to the position and a strong bat to the plate, and there’s a feeling that he may not be willing to return to San Francisco simply out of sentimentality.

Outfield: Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Melky Cabrera (Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, Andruw Jones)
Crawford and Werth are head and shoulders over the other available outfielders, and they’ll doubtlessly attract interest from numerous teams. A viable third choice could be Cabrera, who’ll be 26 next year and offers growth potential. Damon, Ordonez and Jones represent the best of what’s left: Aging, over-the-hill veterans who may appeal more to AL teams willing to leverage their presence for occasional DH duty.

Designated Hitter: Manny Ramirez (Vladimir Guerrero)
Baggage, warts and all, Ramirez remains the primary bet for AL teams simply seeking a bat and nothing else; turning 39 next year could be the real scary part for those seeking his services. Guerrero’s late fade this past season could also give pause to GMs, but he’s bound to get a slot somewhere—so long as he leaves his glove at home. Lest we forget, Hideki Matsui and Jim Thome are available as well.

Starting Pitchers: Cliff Lee, Carl Pavano, Jon Garland, Jorge De La Rosa, Andy Pettitte
Lee is the only true A-lister among this group, and the only team with A-bucks to pay him may be the Yankees. For the rest, there’s Pavano, who had a strong comeback campaign in Minnesota; Garland, who’s always loaded with quality starts; the unshakeable Pettitte, who the Yankees may turn their backs on if they get Lee; and the potential bargain in De La Rosa, who held his own during his tenure at Colorado. Reclamation projects also abound with Erik Bedard, Brandon Webb and Justin Duchscherer.

Closer: Rafael Soriano (Brian Fuentes)
As with Jeter above, Mariano Rivera is not included here because it’s all but certain he’ll resign with the Yankees. A worthy competitor in this market exists with Soriano, who could command big money (and, yes, he’s a Boras client); Fuentes is not overpowering but a good choice for teams in desperate need of a closer.

Looking Back: Our 2010 Preview in Review
As always, it’s fun to look back at our preseason picks from seven months earlier, but the pain comes when we find out just how off we were. Actually, we didn’t do that badly in our predictions for the year; while we did miss on Tampa Bay, Texas, Cincinnati and Minnesota making the playoffs, Ed caught San Francisco sneaking in and I had Atlanta giving one last (albeit brief) rush for Bobby Cox. We both had St. Louis pegged for taking the NL flag, and it appeared the Cardinals were on their way until David Freese went down at third base and got replaced by a horribly ineffective Pedro Feliz. And while I should get rapped on the knuckles for defaulting to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to win the AL West, at least I didn’t go with Ed’s pick: The 100-loss Seattle Mariners.

Here’s a brief postmortem on the general picks I made, division by division (Ed was “on assignment” and could not make extensive team-by-team predictions this season):

NL East: I nailed this group down, thanks to Philadelphia’s late-season rush and an expected wild card performance by the Braves. I said to forget the New York Mets if Johan Santana didn’t get in a full season, and I was somewhat right, although the Mets’ problems far outweighed Santana’s pain. My downbeat outlook for Florida and Washington was proven correct.

NL Central: I sensed a fall for the Chicago Cubs and a rise for Cincinnati, but didn’t realize just how far along those paths they would both go. As mentioned above, St. Louis bombed late and foiled my pick for the top. Houston’s lousy start confirmed my suspicion that they indeed would stink up the basement—until some shrewd midseason roster maneuvering turned their performance surprisingly around, leaving last place for everyone else’s pick, the ever-so-awful Pittsburgh Pirates.

NL West: I tried to make peace with fans in Denver by picking Colorado to take the West, and the Rockies might have done that had they not been overwhelmed by key injuries. The Giants could catch the Rockies, I opined, if they only got hitting—and they got it in midseason, along with some of the best pitching this side of the deadball era. Los Angeles predictably wilted under the weight of the McCourt saga and I foretold Arizona’s bullpen meltdown—and despite my praise for San Diego’s late-season spurt in 2009, I didn’t translate that into a breakout campaign that nearly unseated the Giants at season’s end.

AL East: For Tampa Bay, I figured there would be no in-between; with free agency looming for several of its star players, they would either rocket sky-high or crash and burn. The Rays accomplished the former and even caught the Yankees, who I safely selected to win it all again. My biggest misread of the whole spring was afforded to Toronto, who I thought would collapse after Roy Halladay’s departure—but who anticipated the Jays would crack homer after homer, led by a guy (Jose Bautista) whose career high jumped from 16 to 54?

AL Central: Chicago was my top pick here, and had it not been for a terrible start, they might have proved me right. Minnesota’s pitching surprised and picked up the slack to finish first (I had them second), and the rest of the division lined up as imagined, with Detroit lumbering somewhat behind, followed way, way behind by a retracting Cleveland team and a hopeless Kansas City squad.

AL West: This division was, in my mind, the biggest toss-up with all the preseason roster movements, and so I played it safe and sided with the Angels. (Oops.) Perhaps I should have piggybacked on the prognostications of the Rangers, who predicted they’d win 90-plus games—and ended up with exactly 90. I did frown on all the spring hoopla surrounding Seattle, sensing a lack of offensive punch and pitching depth that did indeed doom the team (but with far more ineffectiveness than I thought). —Eric

So Long, Sparky
It took Sparky Anderson one year to realize he wasn’t going to cut it as a hitter when, in his one and only season playing in the majors, he hit .218 and set a major league record for the fewest total bases accrued by anyone with at least 500 plate appearances. Ten years later, it took one year for everyone to undoubtedly realize that Anderson was a keeper in his second calling as manager, leading the Cincinnati Reds to 102 wins and a World Series appearance.

The colorful Anderson, whose white hair made him look much older than the 36 years of age he was while piloting that 1970 Cincinnati team—the first of five pennant winners he would manage over 26 years—passed away at the age of 76 this past week in California. Anderson is sixth on the all-time wins list among skippers and won three championships—two in Cincinnati (1975-76) and one with the dominant Detroit Tigers in 1984, making him one of just two managers (Tony LaRussa being the other) to win World Series for teams in both the NL and AL. He is also the only manager to be the all-time wins leader for two teams (the Reds and Tigers).

Anderson was first and foremost a players’ manager, and such solidarity was confirmed in 1995 when he refused to manage replacement players in spring training while the players’ strike trudged through from the year before.

The Little Engine That Will Have to Try Again
The San Diego Padres came within a game of knocking down the eventual world champion Giants—and for those who feel that the Friars will be able to build on this, think again. While the Giants are likely to remain almost entirely intact, the Padres stand to lose to free agency starting pitchers Jon Garland, Kevin Correia and Chris Young (for whom the Padres declined an $8.5 million option for 2011), catcher Yorvit Torrealba and infielders David Eckstein, Miguel Tejada and Jerry Hairston Jr. On top of all that, star slugger Adrian Gonzalez—who has already said he will definitely leave San Diego after his contract expires next year—may be traded as early as this winter in order for the Padres to get as much value as possible out of any such deal. Add it all up, and it’s quite likely that the Padres will have to restart from scratch next season and reprove themselves all over again with a partially new (and likely green) cast of characters.

Card of Divinity
Last week we mentioned the story of a nun in Baltimore who stumbled upon a 1909
Honus Wagner card—considered the holy grail of baseball cards—left for her by a deceased brother. This past week, she put the card, said to be in relatively bad shape, up for auction—and still got a high bid of $262,000. The proceeds (minus 20% for auction fees and other charges) all went to her church, the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Corked Jester
While a beat-up baseball card sold for a quarter of a million bucks, the beat-up, infamous corked bat used by Sammy Sosa in 2003 fetched no more than $14,400 in another auction, an amount less than hoped for by the bat’s seller and former teammate of Sosa, Mike Remlinger. Sosa said he was “shocked” that the bat was being auctioned and said that if Remlinger needs the money, “he should have just asked me.”

Give Him a Tip, And He Might Give You One, Too
When MLB says that there’s no gambling within baseball, they mean it—right down to people like Charlie Samuels, the long-time clubhouse manager for the New York Mets. Presented with damning evidence, Samuels was fired by the Mets for betting on baseball games as well as football and horse racing. But it gets worse: Samuels also ‘comped’ front-row Citi Field tickets to bookies connected with the Gambino crime family.

Screen Time?
The Chicago Cubs were the last major league team to install lights (in 1988), and currently are the only major professional sports team in North America without a Jumbotron-like video screen—but that may change. The team is asking its fans (via an online survey on its website) whether they would like to have a video board at Wrigley Field, and where. One area off limits for a potential new screen is the center field scoreboard; because of Wrigley’s landmark status, it cannot be taken down.

Stay West, Young Man
Election Day was very, very good for Cub fans who enjoy springtime in the desert, as voters in Mesa, Arizona approved $99 million in public financing to build a new spring training facility that will replace Hohokam Park. The Cubs had earlier tried to get financing with county financing and ticket surcharges on all Cactus League games, but both the locals and other major league teams objected to that scheme.

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

Baseball's Ten Most Memroable Home Runs
Our list of ten long balls that are the most deserving for their fame, importance and pure spectacle. Check it out now!

After Further Review: Making the Right Call on Replay
As baseball struggles to grasp video replay, here's a suggestion on how to expand upon it and make it efficient—if not flawless. Check it out now!