This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: November 11-17, 2013
Turning on Turner Field Understanding the Defintion of "Valuable"
MLB's Replay System, Revealed Was Yasiel Puig Bullied?


The Ted is Dead
Last week, in talking about the imminent demise of the Houston Astrodome after voters pulled the plug on its future, we addressed how nothing lasts forever—and added this: “Sometime around 2040—some 25 years from now—people may start to talk about what a dump places like Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Turner Field and Rangers Ballpark at Arlington have become.”

We had no idea, at the moment, that the Atlanta Braves were less than 25 hours—not 25 years—from letting the public know what a dump Turner Field already was, in their eyes.

The startling news this past week of the Braves’ plans to move to a new ballpark in neighboring Cobb County in 2017 caught a lot of people off guard. With all but a handful of major league teams comfortably settled into new ballparks which they paid little for and wholly profit from, you’d think no one would be threatening a move in the near future. But for the Braves—whose situation is somewhat unique in that they moved into the publicly built Turner Field after being morphed from its original configuration as an oval-shaped stadium for the 1996 Summer Olympics—there were growing issues of parking, public transportation and a lack of surrounding retail/dining development that would encourage more fans to show and, let’s face it, provide a buffer zone around the ballpark for affluent suburban fans who’d rather avoid walking near or within the adjacent “slum” of a neighborhood.

The Braves might have extended the lease at Turner Field beyond 2016 had the City of Atlanta addressed these issues and coughed up some $200 million as requested. But Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed admitted that the city simply doesn’t have that kind of spare change to spend—especially after he went all in with the NFL’s Falcons to build them a new billion-dollar stadium within city limits.

Why Cobb County?
Part of the Braves’ move to the burbs north of Atlanta is proximity to its fan base; the majority of current ticket buyers live in the area. But mostly, this is about the money; numbers have varied, but at last report the county will kick in $300 million to help build the $675 million ballpark. How a county with a $320 million yearly general fund will be able to invest the bulk of that money into a single entity remains to be seen—and while there are two main freeways intersecting at the foot of the proposed ballpark site, there’s even less public transportation options than there were at Turner Field, and rush hour traffic is considered a nightmare.

The Next Big Thing
With the recent ballpark boom, luxury boxes and revenue maximization were the trends. The Braves have added a new twist: Mixed-use development. It’s not entirely a new thing, with St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and the reinvented Wrigley Field in Chicago embracing the idea of forging baseball and adjoining commerce “into the mix.” The new Braves ballpark will be part of a development that will also include entertainment, retail, dining and perhaps hotels so that fans can enjoy the ease of being able to shop, eat and watch a ballgame all within walking distance—at least, once they survive the headache of getting there.

The Braves’ move may open a Pandora’s Box that plants seeds in the owners of all MLB teams while sending chills down the spines of current MLB cities. It’s no longer about demanding a new ballpark; it’s about demanding upgrades to the current one, or else. The Braves made good on their threat; what’s to keep the Baltimore Orioles or Cleveland Indians or Colorado Rockies from going to the local City Council meeting and saying, “Hey, can you spare a couple hundred million? If you can’t, we’ve heard from this town 20 miles away offering us a steal of a deal…”

We Hardly Knew You, Ted
After the Braves publicly and officially announced their intention to move, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said that when the Braves leave Turner Field after 2016, the city will demolish it.

“Valuable” Advice
Baseball’s postseason awards were announced this past week with little drama or controversy—although some did attempt to dredge it up in the wake of the MVP announcements. Most vocal was Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, who chided members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for (again) not picking the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Mike Trout over Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the AL MVP, citing that those voting for Cabrera too closely followed the BBWAA’s “woefully outdated and dithering criteria” in determining the honor.

Passan needs to understand that the voters are not robots or dummies. (Actually, he admitted as such in his column, but slammed them anyway.) The 23 voters out of 30 who picked Cabrera thought it through and probably never bothered to check on the criteria; like umpires with their interpretations of the strike zone, the BBWAA participants have their own ideas of what makes a MVP. Most of them came up with the same reasoning to pick Cabrera as we did—that he put up tremendous offensive numbers for a team that, without him, would not have made the playoffs, and did so despite playing hurt for half the season. Trout had another phenomenal season in all aspects of his game and, had the Angels made the playoffs, he might have had more of a chance to topple Cabrera. But this is not an award to determine who’s the league’s best player, but its most valuable.

The NL MVP could have brought up the same argument. Actually, we were surprised that Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen received greater first-vote love from the BBWAA than Cabrera, racking up 28 of the 30 top spots. (The other two went to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina—courtesy of both St. Louis BBWAA representatives.) But the NL version of Trout was to be found in Arizona with Paul Goldschmidt, who put together more impressive hitting numbers, ran the bases well (though not as actively as McCutchen) and won a Gold Glove at first base. But again, McCutchen’s Pirates made the playoffs; Goldschmidt’s Diamondbacks did not. Advantage, McCutchen.

A Review Method Full of Challenges
MLB this past week gave the financial green light to begin comprehensive video replay next season; all that stands in its way is the approval of the player and umpire unions—there is no discordant noise coming from either of those ranks—and the ability to implement and understand the process. (Let the Obamacare website by a warning to you!)

A number of alterations have been made to MLB’s method from what they first presented back in the summer. The most critical of the tweaks comes in the quota numbers. We were originally told that managers would be allowed one challenge in the first six innings and two in the final three. Now, they’re allowed unlimited challenges until they get vetoed twice. In other words, if a manager challenges a play and the umpires overturn it in his favor, it doesn’t count against his limit—but if the umpires side with their original call, it does. The new rules also state, however, that even after a manager has exhausted his challenges, the umpires still have the authority to call for a review by themselves.

Although this is an improvement, we still have major issues with a method of video replay we feel suffers badly in comparison with our own idea. First, although the quota element is now reduced, the fact is that it still exists. Second, the burden of replay is upon the managers when it should be given to a video replay crew in a booth upstairs (like in college football). Third, in giving managers authority to make the challenges, there’s still the potential for abuse (such as calling a challenge to delay action and, say, give a pitcher warming up in the bullpen more time). Fourth, and we’re not sure about this, but it appears the umpires will still have to leave the field and huddle around a monitor to address the replay in concert with a “war room” back in New York. This is our biggest beef with the current, limited system; it simply takes too long.

Post This
MLB owners have apparently become fed up with Japan’s overprotective (but understandable) custody of its players. Currently, any native player in Japan’s top two baseball leagues must have nine years of playing experience before they can be fully eligible to play in America. A player can leave earlier, but the team can sell his rights to the highest major league bidder—receiving a posting fee in return if a MLB team comes to terms with the player. When Yu Darvish signed with Texas in 2012, the Rangers gave the ace pitcher a $56 million contract—and $52 million to his former Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, just for the right to negotiate and sign him. (Had the Rangers been unable to sign Darvish, the posting fee would have been canceled.)

Owners here aren’t happy about the exorbitant posting fees and want to reduce or even remove them. And although Japan holds the leverage, they may not have the momentum. The MLB strategy could be this: If the current agreement expires with nothing new to replace it, the posting fee system would end and MLB teams would have to wait to grab a Japanese star player after he has played the mandatory nine years in Japan. But those players may not be happy with being chained for such a long period an could put the kind of pressure upon Japan’s baseball Lords that MLB can’t. Because when Masahiro Tanaka goes 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA as he did this past year, what more is there to conquer in Japan? America beckons, but the gates are locked from the inside.

Who’s Incognito in the Dodger Clubhouse?
In the wake of pro football’s hazing/bullying scandal of the last few weeks, there was this curious
Bill Shaikin story for the Los Angeles Times in which former Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell claimed that teammate/rookie sensation Yasiel Puig was bullied in the clubhouse this past year. Howell, who is currently a free agent, gave no further details—and a day after the story broke and generated pretty strong wings in the social media jet stream, he “clarified” his statements with a MLB.com reporter by saying what he really meant to say was that Puig was bullied by fans and the media, not by teammates.

Okay, so we get the abuse from the fans; that’s to be expected. But let’s get this straight: Howell also says that one or more professional reporters used strength or power to harm or intimidate someone who is weaker, or applied an endless process of emotional abuse? That is, after all, the definition of bullying.

Howell may very well be honest, but one can’t help but smell tactical retreat. Shaikin says he wrote what he heard and is standing by his story. The Dodgers, meanwhile, would be wise to investigate this, if they haven’t already started.

This is Our F**king Music Show
MLB announced this past week a partnership with MTV to create a new show that would list Boston’s
David Ortiz and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen as executive producers. Details on what the show will actually be about are still fluid—if Johnny Knoxville is involved, God help us—but it’s scheduled to take place at the site of MLB Fan Cave in New York City.


Bushers Book

Protecting an Investment
The Minnesota Twins have made it clear that they want perennial All-Star catcher Joe Mauer to play first base on a full-time basis starting in 2014. The move makes sense; Mauer suffered a concussion taking a foul tip off his mask in August and the Twins, who owe him $23 million a year through 2018, would rather have him set at a position where he’ll play often with far less risk of getting hurt. Mauer has played 56 games at first base over his career, but has averaged only 127 per year in general with the Twins.

My Brand is Bigger Than Theirs
The beard is more important than pinstripes. So says free agent closer
Brian Wilson, who this past week said he would not consider signing with the New York Yankees because their strict hair policy banning long and/or facial hair would force him to shave off his iconic beard. There is precedent; Wilson earlier turned down $1 million from a razor company to have his beard shaved.

Boras to Death
Because he needs to be the center of the universe, agent
Scott Boras held court in the hotel lobby of baseball’s general managers meetings this past week and publicly bashed a number of teams for refusing to spend their bucks, likely on his own clients. He criticized the New York Mets for being “like NASA…They have big rockets, a lot of platforms and very few astronauts”; the Chicago Cubs for prioritizing the rebuilding of Wrigley Field over the rebuilding of their own team; and the Houston Astros for being like Disneyland, saying, “If the kids come, it’s a great attraction.”

Mets GM Sandy Alderson, known for his wry wit, didn’t hesitate to respond to Boras’ knock on his team: “I don’t think his intergalactic metaphor is exactly right.”

Maybe if You Changed Your Name to Manny Minoso…
Throwing himself into the pot of former star veterans looking for one last shot in the free agent market is none other than
Manny Ramirez, who has made numerous comeback attempts in the minors and overseas but hasn’t logged a single appearance at the major league level since the beginning of the 2011 season. While he got no interest from any major league teams while his agent bummed about the GM meetings this past week, there was quite a bit of it from Japanese reporters who wanted to know if their nation was an option as Ramirez’s next stop. (Answer: Yes.)

Sorry, Grandpa Jones
The Dodgers hired away
Roy Clark, Washington’s assistant general manager for the last four years. No word on what Buck Owens will do for a replacement.

YouTube Video of the Week
One of baseball’s ten most imperfect no-hitters ever thrown, as we described in our entry in the Lists section, took place on August 19, 1965 when Cincinnati pitcher
Jim Maloney threw a ten-inning no-no against the Cubs at Chicago—but not before putting a lot of runners on base via anything but a hit. Now, you can see the final three innings of that game, thanks to a wonderfully preserved video recording unearthed and spread across the blogosphere this past week. It really is almost like being there, unlike some of the third-generation copies of MLB broadcasts from way back in the day.

Updated on TGG
The Teams section has been fully updated to reflect the advancement of many active players on the Top Ten lists based on their 2013 performances, as well as changes to the lists after sensible adjustments were made to our two TGG metrics, the Productivity Index and the Efficiency Index. Check it out!


The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.


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Best and Worst of the 2013 Season

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.348 103 193 26 1 44 137 71 19 5 3

Were it not for some late-season maladies and Chris Davis’ unexpected punch in Baltimore, the reigning MVP—likely to win it again—might have nabbed his second straight triple crown, something never done before. In retrospect, Cabrera’s 2013 campaign contained more potency than even last season; he matched his career high in homers and set personal bests in batting average, RBIs and slugging percentage. Cabrera is still only 30, so he could very well maintain this stratospheric level for a number of years to come.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.302 103 182 36 3 36 125 80 19 3 15

It took barely two years, but the well-built Delaware native completed his rise to stardom as the NL’s most complete offensive force—hitting for average, power and even showing off a little speed with 15 steals. (He also ended the season with a 19-game hitting streak.) The question becomes: Will the 26-year old see his game rise even higher? Goldschmidt doesn’t hold slam-dunk odds of winning the NL MVP given he played for a .500 team, but if voters look elsewhere, trust us—he’ll get more chances down the line.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Brendan Ryan, Seattle-New York

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.197 30 63 12 0 4 22 19 4 2 4

The 31-year-old shortstop is a whiz with the glove and a fizzle with the bat. For the second straight year, Ryan could not hang over the so-called Mendoza Line (translated: .200) and offered very little power on top of that with a weak .273 slugging percentage. It didn’t matter if he was wearing the uniform of the Mariners or the Yankees (who plucked him away late in the year with the idea that he’d somehow help their playoff charge). Ryan’s a free agent for 2014; he’ll be relieved just to land anywhere.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.184 30 72 14 0 9 26 41 3 2 12

The older brother of Justin (also a first-year Brave) was never going to be confused for a batting champ, having hit just below .250 in each of his four years at Tampa Bay. But after a horrendous start for the Braves for which he never recovered, .230 or .240 sounds awfully good at this moment. Upton not only lacked for hits, he lacked for power (nine, down from 28 in 2012) and stolen base ability (12, down from 30+ while with the Rays). The Braves better hope he correctly screws his head back on; they owe him $60 million over the next four years.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
21-3 214.3 152 73 69 56 4 6 1 240 2.90

The 29-year-old fireballer won his first 13 starts and practically coasted through one start after another, never folding up while teammates always supported him with comfortable run support. He was so sound, he got the Game One assignment ahead of Justin Verlander for the first round of the playoffs. Scherzer is 52-19 over the last three years; after 2014, he becomes a free agent. Do the Tigers have enough money to make Scherzer their fourth $20 million-a-year player?


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
16-9 236 164 55 48 52 3 12 2 232 1.83

Unlike Scherzer, Kershaw had to fight for most of his wins—something of a continuing theme throughout his career. Case in point: On Opening Day, he shut out the Giants and broke a 0-0 tie with a home run of his own. There’s little doubt he may now be hailed as the game’s best pitcher and will likely nab his second Cy Young Award in three years; and like Scherzer, Kershaw will be a free agent after next season. We get the feeling the cash-happy Dodgers will be happy to re-up him for what he wants.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Joe Blanton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
2-14 132.2 180 96 89 34 4 9 0 108 6.04

The right-hander from Tennessee has always had a reputation for being an innings-eater—but as we often say, what good is that if he spends such frequent time on the mound getting hammered? The Angels probably should have gotten that clue given his 4.58 ERA over five seasons entering 2013; even if they did and crossed their fingers hoping for a positive rebound, they instead got a negative, thunderous thud from Blanton, who failed in every aspect of his game—as opponents hit him for average (.317) power (29 homers) and speed (17 steals in 17 attempts).


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis-Colorado

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
0-3 23.1 28 23 21 20 3 1 0 16 8.01

There was much talk earlier this year of the WBC Curse with numerous participants tourney getting hurt or just falling flat upon return to their club teams. Boggs clearly fell on the list of the latter, following up a solid 2012 campaign as the Cardinals’ set-up man to a disastrous appointment as the team’s closer to start 2013 before being demoted—first to mid-inning duty, then off the team completely. The Rockies took a chance and picked Boggs up, and he showed some return to form—but his St. Louis experience was dispiriting to say the least.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Boston Red Sox (97-65)

How do you erase recent bitter memories of Bobby Valentine, player dissension and clubhouse fried chicken and beer? Boot the manager and the player deadwood and post the AL’s best record. The Red Sox shed the underachieving angst of the last two years and started fresh under seemingly nondescript manager John Farrell and ran away with first place in the majors’ toughest division. Rebounds from David Ortiz, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury (among many others) didn't hurt.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)

When all else fails, there’s the Cardinals. It doesn’t matter if stars come or go, whether St. Louis is a big or small market—the Redbirds will always test you and get a result to please the millions of fans who show up to Busch. The Cardinals rose to the occasion yet again, despite the loss of Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte to injury and Mitchell Boggs (above) to ineptitude. In their place came one impressive rookie hurler after another, buffeted by a lineup that hit out of their minds (.330) with runners in scoring position. It’s just business as usual in Mound City.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (51-111)

Memo from the AL’s other 14 teams to the young, green, bargain-basement Astros: Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to beat you up over and over and over again. Nobody expected rookie manager Bo Porter’s outfit to surprise anyone, but you would have at least thought the team would have gelled and grown up to play some respectable ball as the season wound down; instead, the Astros lost their last 15 games to ensure the franchise’s worst-ever record—and the majors’ worst since the Tigers went 43-119 in 2003.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami Marlins (62-100)

To paraphrase Charlton Heston from the early scenes of Planet of the Apes: “You got what you wanted, Jeffrey—how does it taste?” After going for it with a new ballpark and $100 million payroll in 2012, detestable owner Jeffrey Loria went back to basics by slashing veteran talent and turning Marlins Park into a ghost town. Sensational rookie Jose Fernandez gave the Fish some saving grace, but he and the rest of a decent staff was often snakebit by an offense that scored fewer runs (511) in a non-strike season since San Diego in 1971.


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