The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: November 29-December 5, 2010
Gonzo's Escape From Petco Park? Ron Santo, Now Groaning From Heaven
The Week in Player Moves John Paul Stevens Vouches for the Called Shot

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Beantown for Gonzo
For AL East foes outside of Boston, news of San Diego slugger Adrian Gonzalez being dealt to the Red Sox likely led to a significant loss of sleep over the weekend. (Although at upload time, the deal had still not been finalized.) Gonzalez has put up some solid numbers since becoming an everyday Padre in 2006, but what’s really jaw-dropping about Gonzalez is how well he’s played on the road, away from voluminous Petco Park.

Let us underscore just how potent Gonzalez has been away from Petco this way: On the road from 2009-10—a combination of games that adds up to a full season—Gonzalez hit .311 with 48 home runs and 122 RBIs; on the road from 2007-08, his average was at .301 with 42 homers and 134 RBIs. By comparison, his home numbers from 2009-10 were .253-23-78 and, from 2007-08, .257-24-85.

The only thing Gonzalez, who’s still only 28 and has never played at Fenway Park, needs to understand is that he can’t phone in all-world stats at the cozy century-old facility. Numbers don’t come automatically there, as Jose Canseco, Jack Clark and other big-time sluggers who got unsuccessfully paired up with the Red Sox have found over all the years. Apply the right mind and discipline to Fenway, and Fenway will work for you.

No Encore
Lance Berkman, the long-time and thunderous Astro who signed with St. Louis this past weekend after a short and unimpressive stint with the New York Yankees, wanted to return to Houston—but Houston didn’t want him back. Berkman’s agent contacted the Astros about a reunion, but general manager Ed Wade didn’t return the love, preferring a youth movement instead. “It wasn’t a long conversation,” Berkman told the Houston Chronicle.

The move to the Cardinals will be something of a challenge for the 34-year old Berkman since he’ll have to play the outfield on a regular basis for the first time in five years (there’s someone named Albert Pujols already stationed at first base). Also, if Berkman wanted to return to the NL Central, why not at least place a Facebook friend request to the Reds in Cincinnati, where Berkman has a career .355 average with 30 homers and 86 RBIs in 73 games?

Among the other player moves this past week:

The New York Yankees and Derek Jeter ended the suspense and melodrama and agreed to a three-year deal (with a player option for a fourth year) guaranteeing him $51 million; the total sum could rise another $17 million if Jeter decides to exercise the fourth-year option and meet numerous incentives. If Jeter was looking to receive the six years and $150 million as was reported last week, he fell far short of that goal.

The Yankees also re-signed the team’s other free agent living legend, closer Mariano Rivera, to a two-year $30 million deal. It’s the highest annual salary ever given to a closer, but if anyone deserves it, it’s the 41-year old Rivera.

The Chicago White Sox plucked Adam Dunn away from Washington, and hope to bring back Paul Konerko as well. That would mean outfield duty for Dunn, who’s known for being far from flawless at the position—but he’ll love the relatively short distances to the U.S. Cellular Field fences.

The Nationals made up for the loss of Dunn by signing former Philadelphia Phillie outfielder Jayson Werth for seven years and a whopping $126 million (yes—Barry Zito money). Some wonder the sanity of Werth signing with a perennial loser, but Werth perhaps sees a rosier future in D.C. with the emergence of Stephen Strasburg (should he recover from Tommy John surgery), wunderkind Bryce Harper and the continued evolution of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Werth's deal allows him to hang around long enough to enjoy the potential fruits of those three players' labor.

On the same day the Padres lost Gonzalez, they signed starting pitcher Aaron Harang from the Reds. Known for eating up innings, Harang has regressed (18-38, 4.71 ERA over the last three years) to the point that he might be considered a reclamation project. Petco Park might be the cure.

Infielder Jose Lopez was traded from Seattle to the Colorado Rockies, who are looking for a good right-handed bat; if Lopez can return to the kind of numbers he put up from 2008-09 (.285 average, 42 homers and 185 RBIs) and have them spike upward amid a more protected lineup and mile-high environment, watch out.

The San Francisco Giants brought back Pat Burrell for a year and a relatively cheap $1 million. Burrell may not play everyday, but he loves the environment and he’s home (he grew up in San Jose) and hence gave the Giants the hometown discount.

The Giants also signed veteran shortstop Miguel Tejada after losing postseason hero Juan Uribe to the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers. Tejada’s considered a reliable fill-in in advance of some hot young prospects and likely has some mileage left in him; some are questioning the three years and $21 million given to Uribe, but he is coming off one of his best years and, at age 32 next Opening Day, likely has at least a few good seasons left in him.

Javier Vazquez signed with the Florida Marlins, a move considered favorable to the journeyman pitcher in that he returns to the NL (where he had a terrific 2009 campaign playing for Atlanta) and will welcome the obscure environment of playing in Miami after his second (and again turbulent) stay with the Yankees. If it’s true he’s embracing the anonymity, we wonder if he’ll melt under the spotlight if he’s good enough to get the Marlins to the postseason.

It's Not About the Money—Or the Stats
Here’s something you never thought you’d hear: Free agent pitcher Jorge de la Rosa took less money…to re-sign with the Colorado Rockies. Usually, pitchers at the end of their contracts in Colorado—and thus at the end of their wits after getting shelled at Coors Field for the duration of the deal—can’t wait to flee to a more normal pitching environment. But such are the spoils of the humidor, which has brought hitting levels down to a more sensible level (if not sea level) since being installed to deaden the balls in the mid-2000s.

How much does de la Rosa apparently like the Mile High City? He turned down bigger deals from several other teams, including the San Diego Padres—who play at Petco Park, baseball’s most pitching-friendly ballpark. The new deal with the Rockies will pay de la Rosa $21.5 million over two years.

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Groaning From a Greater Height
The Chicago Cubs’ biggest fan has gone to Heaven. Ron Santo, the perennial All-Star third baseman for the Cubs during the 1960s who later became a popular radio voice as radio color commentator cheering and (mostly) groaning for his beloved team, passed away this past Thursday in Arizona at the age of 70. In his 15 years in the majors, Santo was one of the game’s finest and consistent hitters, always good for 25-30 homers and roughly 100 RBIs, and added to his effectiveness at the plate by occasionally leading the league in walks. Defensively, Santo had solid glovework and range at third base as reflected by winning Gold Gloves in five consecutive years (1964-68). Santo’s career was curtailed by diabetes, which ultimately resulted in the loss of both of his legs in the early 2000s and likely contributed to his death.

There’s little argument that Santo is one of the very best players not in the Hall of Fame, and chances are that someday he’ll gain entry via the Veterans Committee vote.

Gil McDougald, 1928-2010
Also leaving us this past week was former New York Yankee infielder Gil McDougald, a strong link in the Casey Stengel era of the 1950s. McDougald played ten years, all with the Yankees, and all but two of them resulting in a World Series appearance. He had a career batting average of .276 with 112 home runs, was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 1951 and was selected to five AL All-Star teams.

The most memorable moments involving McDougald were not pleasant memories for him. In the final game of the 1955 World Series, he was doubled off first base when he was sure Yogi Berra’s drive to the left field corner would not be caught by Brooklyn’s Sandy Amoros; the play proved pivotal in helping the Dodgers win their one and only championship in Brooklyn. In 1957, it was McDougald’s scorching line drive that ricocheted off the face of Cleveland’s rising star pitcher Herb Score, who would never be the same after the incident. (McDougald was so distraught over the incident, he vowed to retire if Score had to as well.) And in 1960, pinch-runner McDougald scored the tying run in the top of the ninth inning at Pittsburgh in Game Seven of the World Series, but the tie would be famously undone by Bill Mazeroski a half-frame later. It was McDougald’s last appearance as a player; he retired after the year rather than be left unprotected on the roster and made available for the expansion draft involving the Los Angeles Angels and the second version of the Washington Senators. McDougald died of prostate cancer at the age of 82.

Trivia Question
As a new movie featuring a CGI Yogi Bear comes out, we ask: Who came first, Yogi Bear or Yogi Berra? Answer below at the bottom of this column.

Judge, Jury and Exaggerator
Appearing on “60 Minutes” last week, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said he believes Babe Ruth did indeed call his shot at the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. How does he know? Because he was there as a 12-year with his parents. “There’s no doubt about it,” Stevens tells interviewer Scott Polley, “that’s my ruling.” Polley makes sure: “Case closed?” Stevens: “That’s the one ruling I will not be reversed on.”

Okay, so Stevens was there and we weren’t, but we’re still sticking to our opposing side of the famous urban legend. In truth, Ruth was likely pointing to pitcher Charlie Root and reminding him that it takes three strikes to retire a batter, as the bantering was part of a tense war of words taking place between the Yankees and Cubs during a highly acrimonious World Series. Players from both sides had different versions of whether Ruth was pointing to the bleachers or not, but to us the biggest sign that Ruth never called the shot was that he seemed somewhat caught by surprise after the game when reporters asked him about it; had he truly called his monster blast to center field off Root, he would have been salivating to tell the press all about it. That’s our ruling, Judge.

Middle Age Crazy?
Most big league ballplayers in their 40s faced with Tommy John surgery usually decide that it’s not worth the effort and end their careers. Not Jamie Moyer, already the oldest player in the game at 48. The veteran southpaw wants to opt for the procedure named after a guy who was still pitching when Moyer began his career in 1986, in the hopes that someone will consider using Moyer when he’s fully healed in 2012 at the age of 49. Should he manage to do that, he’ll become the third oldest player (after Jack Quinn and Hoyt Wilhelm) to be on an everyday major league roster. (We’re excusing publicity stunt participants like Minnie Minoso and Satchel Paige, who were much older when they dressed up for major league duty, but only for a game.)

F-Rod's Biggest Save
The case against New York Met reliever Francisco Rodriguez in his beating of his girlfriend’s father at Citi Field this past summer is now closed. Rodriguez pled guilty to three misdemeanor counts as part of a deal to avoid jail time; instead, he’ll attend a year’s worth of batterer counseling and anger management classes and pay the victim, Carlos Pena (no, not that Carlos Pena), $14,000 in restitution. That’s chump change for Rodriguez, who’ll make more per day next season.

Close, But No Cigar—But Over $10k
Major League Baseball this past week released the final tally of World Series shares, and you probably heard that the San Francisco Giants received $317,000 for each player while the Texas Rangers collected $246,000 per player. What you probably didn’t hear is that additional lesser shares not only went to the other postseason teams, but to four teams—Oakland, San Diego, St. Louis and the Chicago White Sox—that finished with the best non-playoff records in 2010. Each of those teams doled out shares of roughly $10-15,000 per player.

This Week in Divorce McCourt
The future of the Los Angeles Dodgers will remain in limbo until January 18 after it was revealed this week that an impasse was reached in the ongoing dispute over which McCourt—Frank or Jamie—holds sway over the franchise. Frank, who’s current running things, agreed to a proposal to settle their divorce case, but Jamie turned it down—taking the gamble that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon, who now gets to decide on the legality of the original marital agreement by that January 18 date, will rule in favor of Jamie and void the disputed agreement. It’s likely that regardless of which way Gordon rules, Frank will retain ownership of the Dodgers; the best-case scenario for Jamie is that she’ll get more money out of the deal.

Trivia Answer
Yogi Bear was created in 1958 by cartoon studio Hanna-Barbera when Yogi Berra was 33 and still a star catcher for the New York Yankees. Astonishingly, Hanna-Barbera insists that the assumed play on words is sheer coincidence; some suspect that if the studio ever admitted it was feeding off the name of a living person, it would have to pay overdue residuals to Berra.

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