The Week That Was in Baseball: November 2-8, 2009
The Yankees Take Back the Throne—Finally The Best Free Agents for 2010
The Dope on Mariano Rivera's Greatness
The Dope on Tim Lincecum's Bad Pot Luck

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Break Up the Yankees!
As the world champion New York Yankees strolled down the Champion of Heroes to celebrate their World Series title over the Philadelphia Phillies, numerous pundits and fans were crying foul over the Yankees’ mega-payroll as if the team was a permanent baseball dynasty. For us, the fact that the Yankees bookended the new century’s first decade with world titles but failed eight straight times in between—in fact, they failed to reach the Fall Classic six of those eight years—hardly speaks to any chokehold the team has on the rest of the majors.

So, to the Yankees, we offer our congrats for their 27th World Series triumph. May they wait eight years before another, just to keep the salary cap lobbyists off their back.

The Greatest?
Every year when the Yankees make the postseason—and that usually is every year—we wait to see the law of averages catch up to closer Mariano Rivera and mortalize his phenomenal career postseason ERA to something more in line with everyone else who’s ever pitched in October. Yet Rivera keeps rolling on when the pressure is greatest, and this year was no exception. In 12 appearances this postseason, the incomparable and, now, ageless Rivera (he turns 40 on November 29) registered a 0.56 ERA, lowering his career mark in the playoffs down to 0.74.

Rivera hasn’t been perfect—he’s just as much remembered for being on the losing end of Luis Gonzalez’s bloop-hit winner for Arizona in 2001, and allowing the door to open for Boston’s remarkable ALCS uprising in 2004—but those were just two faux pas over 92 playoff appearances. Say what you want about the postseason pitching heroes of yesteryear like Whitey Ford and Babe Ruth, but Rivera, who says he wants to play five more years, now has to be considered the greatest baseball player ever to take the mound in October—and a little bit of November as well.

Quick Yankee Hits
—The Yankees’ World Series triumph was their 27th; next on the list are the St. Louis Cardinals, with ten;

— snapped their third longest drought without a championship since winning their first in 1923; they also went 18 years without a World Series title from 1978-96, and 15 years from 1962-77;

—duplicated the results of their first year in the old Yankee Stadium, winning a championship in their inaugural campaign at the new Stadium.

"Hi, I Just Won the World Series—Are You Alright?"
Yankee manager Joe Girardi, on his way home from the Series-clinching Game Six celebration at Yankee Stadium, stumbled upon a car that had just crashed into a wall on a parkway in Westchester County at 2:30 in the morning and immediately went to the driver’s aid with his wife. The driver, a woman who was the lone occupant in the car, was said to have only a few cuts and didn’t recognize Girardi, but the police officer who arrived at the scene moments later did, saying that Girardi’s appearance was “totally surreal.”

Wearing His Ambitions on His Back
When he became the new Yankee manager in 2008, Girardi asked for uniform number 27, because it underscored his quest for the franchise’s 27th world championship. Now that the quest has been achieved, Girardi has publicly acknowledged that he wants to change his number in 2010 to 28. Sorry, Shelly Duncan, you’ll have to find yourself a new numeral.

Melting in the Spotlight?
Last week we mentioned what a lousy postseason Cole Hamels was having for the Phillies, and apparently Hamels acknowledged his state of mind when he told reporters a few days later, “I can’t wait for (the World Series) to be over.” This white-flag statement took back the local press, befuddled Phillie manager Charlie Manuel and allegedly angered teammate Brett Myers, who according to eyewitnesses teased Hamels at his locker a day about his quote, nearly leading to blows between the two pitchers. The Phillies scrambled to say the squabble was little more than a joke that was misunderstood by witnesses, but it was interesting to see how all the talk of Hamels starting a possible Game Seven fell silent after his odd comment.

No Wagering, Please (Epilogue)
Maybe Hamels was talking about the spread when he told reporters that he “couldn’t wait for it to be over.” It took two low-scoring games before it could get into gear, but our World Series prediction that the over would triumph was largely true, with the Yankees and Phillies combining to score more runs in each of the last four games than predicted by the sportsbooks. With two ferocious, power-hitting lineups, exhausted pitchers working on three days’ rest and two underachieving bullpens, high scoring was bound to be the rule of the day—and for the most part, it was.

Muffed in the Clutch
The Phillies’ Ryan Howard set a World Series record by striking out 13 times—in 23 at-bats.

Can't Argue With Graphics
Former umpire
Jim Evans, who now runs an umpiring school, took issue with Fox’s use of its “FoxTrax” strike zone used in replays to see where pitches landed and if they were being called correctly. “I see some of those pitches touching the top frame of the FoxTrax box,” Evans told the New York Times, “and those pitches will get you killed if you call them strikes.” If this is true, perhaps it’s time, at long, long last, to get players and umpires reacquainted with the rulebook definition of the strike zone.

Why Get One Ace When You Can Get Two for Twice the Price?
The Phillies, who were hell-bent on trying to acquire Roy Halladay from Toronto at the trading deadline—and “settled” instead for Cliff Lee—picked up Lee’s $9 million option for 2010 this past week. But Rich Hoffman of the Philadelphia Daily News thinks the Phillies ought to go after Halladay anyway. “It just makes too much sense. Teams have time now to think it through and arrange their finances to make a deal,” Hoffman writes. “And as for the Jays, well, they cannot afford to risk losing Halladay for nothing but compensatory draft choices after his contract expires.”

Over-Gaga over Goggles
You know it’s a slow sports week when the Associated Press devotes time to a story in which fans criticize baseball teams for wearing “champagne goggles” when celebrating series-clinching victories in the clubhouse. We have two words: So what?!

All Memories Must Go
In advance of their move to Target Field next year, the Minnesota Twins are holding a garage sale of overstocked paraphernalia that the team doesn’t plan to transfer to its new office space. Among the items up for sale are bobbleheads, signed uniforms and 20,000 programs for Kirby Puckett’s memorial in 2006. The famous black tarp that shielded the folded-up football seats behind right field that helped give the Metrodome the nickname of the “Glad Bag Dome” will not be up for sale; it will likely be auctioned off later this winter.

Coming Soon to TGG
Look for Ed Attanasio's latest installment of They Were There will be posted as former major leaguer Wally Westlake takes the interviewee’s chair.

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

The City of Brotherly Hate?
No longer had the World Series wrapped that the heat was turned up on baseball’s hot stove season, with numerous players declaring their intention to test the free agent market. We’ve gone through the list of talent who will likely be looking for the sweetest deal and made our picks for the best to be offered at each position (with runners-up in parentheses).

Catcher: Bengie Molina (Yorvit Torrealba)
Making the easy assumption that Victor Martinez will have his option picked up in Boston, that leaves the best of this lot to Molina, who has experience and pop, even if he is the game’s slowest runner. Torrealba proved his mettle in sync with the Rockies’ rise to the playoffs last season, and could provide a nice lift for whoever he signs with.

First Base: Adam LaRoche (Hank Blalock)
A position full of wild card possibilities, with iffy names like Russell Branyan, Aubrey Huff and an aging Carlos Delgado. We top the list with LaRoche, who’s still relatively young, pain-free and consistently good (even if he’s consistently bad in April). Blalock might be a bargain if he can regain his early career game, before injuries slowed up his evolution.

Second Base: Placido Polanco (Felipe Lopez)
Polanco is clearly the most sound and gifted available, with a career .300 average and, still, exceptional defense. Lopez lacks Polanco’s glovework but possesses a dangerous bat.

Shortstop: Miguel Tejada (Orlando Cabrera)
Shaking off the post-steroid blues, Tejada’s star may be back on the upswing (even as he turns 35 next year) after a fine performance in Houston. Cabrera continues to be the guy you’d hate to love (only in terms of his numbers), but he proved vital for the Twins’ run to October. And if you believe that one-year wonders don’t exist, throw Marco Scutaro into the discussion after his sudden, sound performance in Toronto last year.

Third Base: Chone Figgins (Adrian Beltre)
Looking for a good-hitting speedburner with nice skills at the hot corner? Figgins is your guy. Beltre will hardly command the kind of money he forged the last time he was a free agent, but keep in mind: He’s still somewhat young (31 next April). Pedro Feliz, a terrific defensive presence with an average bat, is another prime option if the Phillies decline his option.

Outfield: Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, Johnny Damon (Jermaine Dye, Vladimir Guerrero)
Bay and Holliday are the biggest names to be found anywhere, with almost equal offensive (and defensive) character; expect the usual big-payroll suspects to go after them. Damon is an attractive option with his sage and drive to play at a high level (he’s got a shot at 3,000 career hits). Dye and Guerrero have seen their best days and either will be picked up by a GM who’ll likely be crossing his fingers.

Starting Pitchers: John Lackey, Erik Bedard, Jon Garland, Brad Penny, Pedro Martinez
A thin list talent-wise, with Lackey the best (to say nothing of safe) choice. Bedard has pitched well, but the trick is keeping him healthy. Garland will make a good number two or three spot for many teams looking for such a need. Based on past results, no AL teams need apply for Penny, who seems to only flourish in the senior circuit. And it’s hard to believe that the phones won’t be ringing for Martinez a second straight spring after his late-season effort for the Phillies.

Closer: Rafael Soriano (Trevor Hoffman)
We prematurely listed Soriano at this spot last year, before the Braves picked up his option. He’s still the most dangerous choice for teams seeking a closer. Hoffman was impressive at Milwaukee, but at age 42 next Opening Day, how much longer can he keep it up? Don’t forget Billy Wagner, who looked very good late in the year at Boston after a one-year shutdown.

Tsk Tsk, Timmy
Tim Lincecum always has beheld the demeanor and personality of a guy who could hang out in the urban trenches of the Pacific Northwest and quietly enjoy the freedom of friends in a kindler, gentler countercultural environment. This past week it was revealed that the San Francisco Giant ace did well to fortify that perception; he was stopped for speeding north of Portland and was found to be in possession of three grams of marijuana and a pipe from which he was smoking the pot from at that moment. The highway patrolman cited Lincecum with a misdemeanor charge for marijuana possession but let him go without arresting him; Lincecum later agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of possessing the pipe in order to have the charges against the pot usage dropped.

Alright, so Timmy got nailed with a little grass—big deal, right? Three problems: One, he was driving under the influence of the pot; second, he was doing this at 8:30 in the morning, which suggests something beyond recreational partytime usage; and third—and perhaps most arguable but important—it sends a bad message to the youngsters who look to him as a role model and may see this as an encouragement to some degree to light up—and who knows where you go from there. People have gone beyond that point and suffered badly in life as a result.

In the Line of Fire
After getting beat up in the final game of the NLCS by Philadelphia, Los Angeles starting pitcher Vicente Padilla took on abuse of a different kind when he was accidentally shot in the leg in his home country of Nicaragua this past week. The confusion in the incident lies in how it happened: Padilla’a agent said he unintentionally shot himself while hunting, while other sources say it was Padilla’s bodyguard (Padilla has a bodyguard?) who pulled the trigger while trying to clean a gun that was “malfunctioning.” Padilla’s injury is not considered to be serious.

A Trade That Required No Brains
The first trade of baseball’s offseason took place when the Tampa Bay Rays, looking to shed payroll, dealt second baseman Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh. For the Bucs, Iwamura now becomes their highest-paid player for 2010—at $4.85 million. For the Rays, the deal was made easy thanks to the emergence of Ben Zobrist, who enjoyed a breakout year in Iwamura’s injury-riddled absence with a .297 average, 27 homers, 91 RBIs and 91 walks.

This Week's Episode of Divorce McCourt
The battle between Frank and Jamie McCourt over control of the Los Angeles Dodgers continued this past week, albeit with a brief court appearance in which Mrs. Dodger asked to be reinstated as CEO of the team; the judge said no.

Idiots Will be Idiots
Four men, aged 18 to 20, were slapped on the wrist and ordered to pay the Baltimore Orioles a total of $7,600 after they pled guilty to kicking down and making off with Cal Ripken Jr.’s aluminum “8” sculpture in front of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in September. The four were arrested on the night of the theft when they were found arguing in a nearby park after toting the sculpture around town in the back of a pick-up truck. Perhaps the four were upset that the aluminum object contained no beer inside.

Now Playing at TGG
Check out Ed Attanasio's interview with former Baltimore slugger Jim Gentile in the latest TGG installment of They Were There.

Also Now Playing at TGG
TGG's year-end review of the regular season is now live, breaking down the best, worst, most surprising and most disappointing performances from each major league team.