According to John Helyar’s classic book Lords of the Realm, commissioner Peter Ueberroth would preach fiscal responsibility at the owners’ meetings and asked lawyers seated nearby to stop him if they thought his lecture began to smack of collusion. This past week, current MLB strongman Bud Selig treaded similar waters, holding a conference call with general managers and urging them to consider the economic downturn before spending away on free agents. Certainly, the players’ union will be searching for (a) a transcript of the call and (b) any evidence that it may subtly hint at collusion. Better begin to warm up MLB arbitrator Syham Das in the bullpen, just in case.
Time to Pocket the Change
MLB made a rule change of sorts this past week when it eliminated coin flips from determining the site of one-game playoffs to determine a postseason entrant. Home field advantage will now be given to the team with the best head-to-head record against the team they’d be playing. So while the fairness factor goes up with the ruling, the challenge of arranging for a home date on short notice potentially becomes more daunting, because the head-to-head tally may not be established until as late as a day prior to the playoff. But since most MLB teams now have their own facilities for themselves, such a challenge is less complicated as they don’t have to logistically wrestle with a multi-purpose co-occupant such as a neighboring NFL team.
Mad Dog's Last Golden Record?
Greg Maddux may have had a forgettable year by his standardsor at least one he would try hard to forget, given several runs of bad luck including a personal-worst 14-game winless streakbut he was highly thought of in one area for 2008 as he picked up his 18th Gold Glove award of his career for defensive excellence. For anyone who thinks that Maddux’s fielding skills on the mound matter little, an education is in order. In 1996, at the height of his game, I saw him pitch at Candlestick Park against the Giants and, as well as he threw the ball on that day, what marveled me even more about Maddux was his lightning-quick ability to get a clean glove on anything hit at or near him. It could be argued that if Maddux had average defensive skills, he might still be searching for his 300th win. Eric
While Maddux is reported to be leaning toward retirement, his older brother, Mike Madduxwho last pitched in 2000 and, over a 15-year career, won 39 games, mostly as a relieverwas brought in by the Texas Rangers to be their pitching coach. The elder Maddux, who helped gel the Milwaukee Brewers’ staff over the past two years, will earn a yearly salary of $600,000 according to USA Today, an eye-opening figure for an assistant. But if he can quickly mend the Rangers’ horrendous pitching problems, he’ll have earned it.
If at First You Don't Succeed...
Barry Bonds’ lawyers askedagainthis past week that the Federal Government’s BALCO-related case against him be thrown out. The reasoning has not changed; Bonds’ lawyers are arguing that the questions given to him in his famous 2003 grand jury testimony were too “ambiguous.” Judge Susan Illston will ponder the latest attempt to have the case tossed, but likely will deny the motion. The trial is currently set to begin on March 2, 2009.
Wherever We Can Fit Them
In what is becoming something of an annual event, the Boston Red Sox announced that they’ll be slightly increasing seating capacity at Fenway Park by 350 seats to 37,750. The new seats will be perched on the upper deck along the first base line. Whether the 96-year old ballpark, situated on less acreage than any other major league facility, will reach a saturation point on seating remains to be seen, but it should be noted that one figure needs to remain constant: 39,928. That’s the legal capacity at Fenway, including players and game-day employees.
Fiscally Responsible in the Bronx
Proving that the New York Yankees do mind their money on occasion, the team declined options this past week on former steroids user Jason Giambi and injury-riddled pitcher Carl Pavano, saving the team $35 million in payroll for 2009. Early rumors have Giambi returning to where his stardom began, in Oakland.
Twenty and Out?
Sources within the Yankee organization are also saying they’d been told by Mike Mussina that he'll retire. If so, Mussinawho turns 40 in Decemberwould become the fifth pitcher in history to win at least 20 games in the final year of his career. The other four are Henry Schimdt, who won 22 for Brooklyn in his first and only year in the majors in 1903 (a native Texan, Schmidt couldn’t stand playing on the East Coast); Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte, banned for life from baseball for their involvement in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal after each won at least 20 in 1920; and Sandy Koufax, who walked away from the game out of concern for his arm’s long-term health after winning 27 in 1966.
Bigger Doesn't Always Mean Better
The Florida Marlins have made it clear that their new ballpark, set to open in 2011, will benefit the pitchers, not the hitters. Dimensions for the venue will be similar to those at their current home, Dolphin Stadium, with a deep center-field margin (420 feet) and power alleys extending 384 to left-field and 392 to right. Down the lines, the distance will be a standard 335-340 feet. We used to hypothecate that expansive playing fields aided teams by keeping their pitching staffs from getting exhausted. That theory doesn’t seem to be cutting it right now, given that San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco, all owners of "pitcher ballparks," each lost 90 or more games in 2008while the Philadelphia Phillies, who call one of baseball’s most offensive-minded ballparks (Citizens Bank Park) home, won the World Series. It just goes to show that spacious field dimensions are goodbut talent is better.
Swimming Out of Red Ink
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been savedat least from drowning in their pool. We reported a month ago that the sponsor for the team’s signature outdoor pool and party suite behind the center-field fence, Riviera Pools, had filed for bankruptcy in the first year of a five-year, $1 million sponsoring agreement. This past week, RideNow Powersports came to the rescue and anted up an undisclosed amount of money for naming rights to the pool for three years.
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. Coming Soon: Ed chats with former player and manager Herman Franks.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
A Passage From India
In 1985, Sports Illustrated ran a George Plimpton story about New York Met prospect Sidd Finch, who went to a Buddhist monastery and learned to throw a 168-MPH fastballall before yelling, “April fools!” This past week, two pitchers arrived in Arizona from the Mystic East (India, to be exact), and this time it was no joke. But neither of them were throwing anywhere near 168, either. The two prospectsneither of whom had thrown a baseball until this springwere exhibited in front of major league scouts after winning a countrywide reality TV competition in which people were asked to pick up a baseball and throw it as hard as they could. Dinesh Patel, age 19, reached 90 MPH on the radar during the desert tryout. For Patel and Rinku Singh, also 19, their chances of making the majors remain dubious, yet they’ve gone big time in one respect; they’re both represented by agent Jeff Borris, who counts Barry Bonds as one of his clients.
Don't Mess With the Dean of Discipline and Decor
The New York Times had an interesting piece this past week on former major leaguer Darryl Hamilton, who works at MLB not only as an enforcer of peace by handing out fines and suspensions to players involved in unruly behavior, but also has the final say on in-stadium advertising and other signage that may hinder the ability for players and umpires to see the ball. An abundance of white space, a darling of art directors and graphic designers like me, is not allowed; only 15% of any sign or ad can contain white or light yellow. Hamilton may also put the clamps on ballpark video screens, which seem to be getting bigger and more obnoxious with each new venue that opens; one option on the table is to limit its use while the game is in play. Click here to read the entire story. Eric
Take Your Grain of Salt, It's Only Bill Lee
When it comes to being outspoken, Curt Schilling has met his match in Boston. Former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, nicknamed Spaceman for his off-the-wall views on just about anything during and after his playing days (he was a hit with his quirky commentary in Ken Burns’ Baseball), had some choice words for Schilling via the Boston Herald as he was being inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. Lee attacked Schilling’s analysis that former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez was a pariah and would have loved to have had him as a teammate, capping his thoughts by saying, “Schilling can kiss my ass.” Continuing on, Lee also felt that had his 1975 Red Sox team beat Cincinnati in that year’s famous World Series, he could have been named mayor of Bostona position from which he would have banned private vehicles, leading to no parking garages and no millions for Boston parking magnate Frank McCourtall before McCourt bought the Los Angeles Dodgers and traded for Ramirez.
How Green is My Ballpark
Washington’s Nationals Park may be home to a lousy baseball team and was not terribly embraced by fans who rarely filled it during its first year, but it’s a winner with environmentalists. Travel + Leisure recently named Nationals Park as one of the top ten green American landmarks, making it the only sports-related structure on the list. The ballpark was praised for its location near and encouragement of mass transit resources, use of biodegradable beer cups, a water filtering system that keeps unwanted refuse and chemicals from flowing into the nearby Anacostia River, and its place as the first pro sports facility to be certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which encourages “green” buildings.
Who Is Your MVP?
For those who missed it last week, below is our list of choices for baseball's individual season honors, which will be announced this coming week:
NL MVP: Brad Lidge, Philadelphia. Albert Pujols had the best numbers and the Silver Slugger will be his, but his presence didn’t help bring the St. Louis Cardinals to the postseason. Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia should earn a few votes for single-handedly elevating their respective teams, Los Angeles and Milwaukee, into the postseason with highly impressive short stints. And the MVP talk in Philadelphia is all for Ryan Howard, who packed a destructive wallop late to help put the Phillies over the top. But Lidge was perfect from start to finish, converting all 41 of his save opportunities and made for the ultimate difference between the Phillies and the New York Mets, whose bullpen was a disaster.
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton, Texas. For us, this was a virtual toss-up; Boston’s Dustin Pedroia was the everyman in the Red Sox lineup, hitting, stealing, scoringand without him, the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs. But we have to give the nod to Hamilton, and while that contradicts our case against Pujols above as the Rangers went nowhere in the pennant race, we think the whole package of his numbers, attitude and, most importantly, inspiration tips the scale in his favor. Hamilton was valuable to his team on a wholly human level, and for that we feel he should be honored.
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, New York Mets. We love Tim Lincecum, who looks likely to win anyway, and even though Brandon Webb won 22 games, he wasn’t the NL’s sharpest guy on the hill. And we’ve already given Lidge the MVP. So we go with Santana, who dominated quietly and with a vengeance towards the end, earning baseball’s best ERA (2.53), went undefeated after June and would have nailed down 20 wins had the Mets’ bullpen been anything but atrocious.
AL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Cleveland. With a 22-3 record, 2.54 ERA and just 34 walks allowed in 223 innings, there isn’t much debate here. The only viable alternative would be Los Angeles of Anaheim’s Francisco Rodriguez, who closed a record 62 games but also was given a record 69 save opportuinities.
NL Rookie of the Year: Geovany Soto, Chicago. Good arguments for this honor could be made on behalf of Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (.297, 24 HRs, 84 RBIs) and Atlanta pitcher Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68 ERA), but Soto not only put up solid numbers (.285, 23 HRs, 85 RBIs), but also showed a quickly matured mettle as most young catchers are asked to do.
AL Rookie of the Year: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay. This is one of the easier picks to be made, in spite of some upstart promise shown from candidates such as Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury, Chicago’s Alexi Ramirez and Kansas City’s Mike Aviles. Longoria’s 27 homers and 95 RBIs, in just 448 at-bats, shows that superstardom may not be far behind.
NL Manager of the Year: Tony LaRussa, St. Louis. We made this argument a few weeks back; LaRussa took a team on the brink of utter collapse and forged an 86-76 record out of it. Perhaps he should split the award with pitching coach Dave Duncan, who once again took a bunch of career drifters (Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer) and made solid throwers out of them.
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay. This is probably the slam-dunk selection of all the honors; no one comes close to the magic Maddon pulled off with a young and inexperienced Rays team.
He Said What?
Superagent Scott Boras, to a group of reporters outside of baseball’s annual meeting of general managers: “In the world of desserts, I’m only in the frosting part. I haven’t gotten to the cake yet.”