The Week That Was in Baseball: November 17-23, 2008
The MVP Postmortem Weighing Mike Mussina's Chances for Cooperstown
Are the Lords Out to Smoke a Cuban? A One-Game Playoff Series?

Untangling the MVP Pile
Even though we hoisted Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge on our shoulders as our pick for the NL MVP, we’re more than fine with the selection of Albert Pujols for the prize. Pujols clearly had the best numbers of any hitter in baseball this past season, a fact all the more remarkable given he accrued his voluminous stats on a painful elbow that required surgery following the season. We weren’t as sold on second-place vote getter Ryan Howard, who packed one heck of a wallop (48 homers and 146 RBIs) but did so at the cost of a weak .251 batting average and 199 strikeouts. Kudos, meanwhile, to the two voters who agreed with us and gave Lidge, a perfect 41-of-41 in save chances, first-place nods; though he finished eighth in overall voting, Lidge was the only other player, besides Pujols and Howard, to secure first-place votes. For Pujols, it was his second MVP award; we have a feeling it won’t be his last.

Irony Man
Two years ago, in a mirror-imaged MVP race, Howard edged Pujols—who publicly complained that he was more deserving because of his efforts to take the Cardinals into the postseason (and on to a World Series triumph). No such complaints in 2008 from Howard, whose Phillies won it all while Pujols’ Cardinals finish fourth in the NL Central (albeit at 86-76). Rather than pout, Howard made a congratulatory phone call to Pujols. Using his logic of 2006, did Pujols believe Howard should have been the winner in 2008? No. Pujols now says his comments of two years earlier were misinterpreted—and that Howard was the right choice all along.

What's a Little Competition
Pujols was in the news in an entirely different way this past week, pledging “significant” financial support behind an effort to gain St. Louis an expansion Major League Soccer team. A Dominican native and big soccer fan, Pujols is part of a group competing against six other cities in hopes of securing MLS’ 17th team in 2011.

Dustin to Glory
Boston’s Dustin Pedroia became the first second baseman to win an AL MVP since Nellie Fox took the honors for the Chicago White Sox in 1959. Only two other AL second basemen have won the MVP: Detroit’s Charlie Gehringer in 1937, and the Yankees’ Joe Gordon in 1942.

Backhanded Bias?
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News presaged that the Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton—our pick for the AL MVP, if we had a vote—would not accrue one first-place tally, but still might sneak through with the award anyway with enough second- and third-place nods while the top choice was divvied up between a host of contenders. Grant turned out to be wise to the word that Hamilton did not indeed place first on anyone’s ballot—but perhaps an ulterior motive emerged on Grant’s ballot for the local guy, Hamilton, winning the award; he was the only voter to leave Dustin Pedroia, the ultimate MVP, completely off the ballot.

You'll Never Be One of Us
Baseball’s owners, who’ve always been slow to change unless there’s a profit involved, have reportedly not been wild with the idea of Dallas Maverick owner and maverick-in-general Mark Cuban buying the Chicago Cubs. If the Lords were looking for an excuse to deny Cuban, they may have lucked out this week. Cuban was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading when it was discovered he dumped 600,000 shares of an internet stock in 2004 after receiving inside information that the stock might sink; it did, and he avoided $750,000 in losses. Perhaps in an effort to further close the door on Cuban, the Cubs made an announcement shortly after news broke of Cuban’s illicit dealings that any offer to buy the Cubs would have to be received by the current regime no later than December 1.

Will the Kids Care?
The Hall of Fame announced this week that a replacement has been found for the discontinued Hall of Fame exhibition that used to consist of two major league teams that, in the heat of the regular season, represented the razor-thin minority of those who would rather be anywhere else but Cooperstown. (MLB discontinued the game because of increased scheduling complications.) Taking over will be a legends game that will include former major leaguers, including some Hall-of-Famers, that will take place on Father’s Day. We imagine that the new participants, who likely have far more time of their hands than current-day players, will appreciate the trip to the Hall a bit more.

Those who lobbied furiously for the old Hall of Fame game to continue as was were not amused, including chief lobbyist Kristian Connolly, the face of the save-the-game movement through a web site she put up to send her message. “No longer should Cooperstown be known as the ‘Home of Baseball,’ but instead it should be known as ‘The Tomb of Baseball,’” Connolly said in a statement relayed by the Associated Press. “For 68 years, kids have been able to enjoy connecting with their modern heroes of the diamond, but now they’ll be replaced by kids who will watch old men whose playing careers they did not witness, ghosts whom they know nothing about.” But Kristian, isn’t that what going to Cooperstown is all about, for kids and adults alike to learn about the game and the ghosts for whom they should know something about?

We're Going Nine, Rain, Sleet or Shine
Bud Selig’s improvisational move during the World Series has now been formalized into rulebook language. MLB owners seconded their commissioner and adapted the rule citing that all postseason games must be played to completion, regardless of the length of any potential delay. Selig, after consulting with officials for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, pulled an audible before the World Series moved from domed St. Petersburg to rainy Philadelphia and insisted that no World Series game would have a shortened result under his watch, leading to a Series-ending Game Five that began on Monday and, after interruptions from rain, ended two days later.

Sorry, Fidel
As bad as the Washington Senators were during the 1950s, they at least laid the groundwork for a more successful 1960s (after the franchise relocated to Minnesota) with their persistent recruiting of Cuban players, headlined by Tony Oliva, Zoilo Versalles, Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos. A modern-day “Cuban Express” may be developing in Chicago, where the White Sox this past week signed 19-year old Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo, a highly valued prospect at third base who hopes to join fellow countrymen Alexi Ramirez and Jose Contreras on the Sox’ big-league roster next season. Viciedo, who reportedly will be paid $11 million to sign with the White Sox, was playing at the highest level in Cuba at age 15 and hit .337 as a 16-year old.

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

Moose in the Hall?
All throughout 2008, Mike Mussina knew this would be his last campaign—which only made his 20-win season, one that had proved so frustratingly elusive throughout his career, all the more sweet. Now that rumor of his retirement has been confirmed, the talk on Mussina has switched to whether he’s Cooperstown-worthy. We often say that if you have to think whether a player should be in the Hall of Fame, then he shouldn’t be there, but Mussina becomes a tough call that throws gray on the black-and-white nature of that mindset. He never won a Cy Young Award (the closest he came was in 1999, when he finished a distant second to Pedro Martinez) and never won a World Series despite always playing on good teams (the Orioles of the 1990s and the Yankees of the 2000s). But his record was a superlative 270-153, won at least 11 games and usually a lot more for 17 straight years—a feat no other pitcher has matched—and suffered only one full losing season (he was 11-15 during his final year at Baltimore in 2000). Mussina was never known to be a dominant pitcher in the mold of Martinez or Roger Clemens, but you could never discount his ability to flat-out beat. Our inclination says, put him in the Hall. 

The Steinbrenners, Part II
George Steinbrenner made it official this week: He’s giving up control of the New York Yankees. That’s hardly shocking news given Steinbrenner’s limited public sightings this year—the health of the 78-year old Boss has been decaying over the last few years—combined with the increased verbiage coming from his son Hank, who presided over the day-to-day operations of the club. While Hank will continue to be the new face and mouth of the Yankees, George’s other son, Hal, will actually be in the shadows as the ruling force of the ballclub, making all financial-related decisions. As for The Boss, love him or hate him, you have to give him credit for this one thing: He bought a business for $9 million and turned it into a $1.3 billion juggernaut. That’s a 144-fold increase, folks.

Sharpen the Shovels
The Oakland A’s and Florida Marlins both cleared major hurdles toward building new ballparks this past week. The City of Fremont, California, the proposed future home of the A’s, gave the green light for a Draft Environmental Impact Report to be produced that, if approved, will allow the A’s to start digging at the site of 32,000-seat Cisco Field. Meanwhile, in Miami, a lawsuit attempting to force the Marlins’ proposed ballpark to be put to a public vote was struck down, allowing the Marlins to proceed with their plans. Both ballparks look to be finished in time for the 2012 season.

The Lone Wolff, Or So We Hope
Oakland owner Lou Wolff suggested an idea for shortening the season and keeping the World Series from moving into November: Reduce the first round of the playoffs from a best-of-five series to a single game. Our initial response: No. After thinking about a little bit, our response became: No. So, Wolff thinks it’s a great idea to place the hopes of the entire season on one pitcher who may have a lousy day and thus throw away everything the team has fought for over 162 games? That’s why they have elongated series of up to seven games, to allow a team to perform as it normally does through at least one pitching rotation cycle. Wolff said he hasn’t approached Commissioner Bud Selig formally on his idea because he’s afraid Selig will laugh it off. As Selig should.

You want to keep the postseason from going into November? Go back to your roots and play more doubleheaders like you used to. Of course, the Lords won’t like the idea because, in an era where sellouts at single games are common, a doubleheader would just strip away potential revenue. The players’ union won’t like it because, well, doubleheaders are just too much work. So let’s just bring all parties together and have Ernie “Let’s Play Two” Banks come over to tell it like it is: The Lords can go with the day-night double-dips to save their revenue, and the players, hey, for all the money they’re making, they should be professional enough to approach two games on one day every so often, just like the boys of lore who were paid far less had to.

If that doesn’t work, here’s another back-to-basics thought: Completely eliminate the first round of playoffs, go back to four teams instead of eight vying for the World Series and be done with it. We know, we know—the Lords will nix that in an instant, because they usually only welcome change so long as it nets them more money, not less.

More Wolff
Wolff was looking at a board being put together by A’s executives working on the upcoming amateur draft and noticed that some of the cards with player names on the board were of a different color. He asked them why. They said, because those were players represented by Scott Boras.

Citi Field, But For How Long?
What’s in a name? Plenty, if it’s worth $400 million over 20 years to a major league baseball team. The New York Mets are worried that Citigroup, which has agreed to pay that figure for naming rights to their new ballpark, may not even be around when the facility opens for business next Spring. The Mets publicly stated that nothing has changed regarding the agreement, but with Citigroup shares plummeting to almost nil—and rumors rampant that it will be merged and absorbed into another banking giant—it leaves one to wonder how long Citi Field will remain Citi Field.

Don't Ruin a Good Thing
Some of you might remember what happened to the first-place Atlanta Braves in 1982 when they decided to raze Chief Noc-A-Homa’s outfield tribal grounds; they lost 19 of 21 games, only to rebound after restoring the Chief’s land. This past week, the Tampa Bay Rays thanked Kelly Frank, the woman who played the role of team mascot Raymond for four years, by firing her. No explanation was given, but Frank’s predecessor hinted that it may have been over money. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Frank was a “rising star” in the mascot business who earned her wings at a “mascot boot camp” in New Jersey. To the Rays, we warn: Remember the lesson of Chief Noc-A-Homa.

...And Somewhere, Mario Mendoza Belives He Should Bat Clean-Up
Aaron Heilman, perhaps the poster child for the Mets’ catastrophic bullpen woes this past season, is demanding to either be moved to the rotation or traded—saying that he’s proven in the past that he’s more effective as a starting pitcher. Combine his career record as a starter (5-13 with a 5.93 ERA) with the logical argument that pitchers who perform middle relief do so only because they’re not good enough to start, it’s hard to side with Heilman on this one.

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.