It Just Doesn't ADD Up
The attention deficit disorder (ADD) epidemic continues in baseballor so we’re led to believe. In 2009, 108 players received exemptions from doctors to use amphetamine-like drugs to combat ADD, a slight increase from 106 in 2008but a whopping four-fold increase from the 28 in 2006, the same year baseball began its ban on amphetamines. Overall, the current number of exempted players represents some 10% of the major league workforceroughly double the national rate of those afflicted with ADD. MLB players and management officials all defend the numbers as honest, but government officials and anti-doping experts are skeptical.
The Bottom Line
The average baseball salary for the 2009 season was listed at just a hair under the $3 million mark, an all-time record. The increase of 2.4% from 2008 was the smallest since 2004, but given the dark recession gripping the country, ballplayers should have been thankful for any increase. The world champion Yankees ended up with the highest per-player salary at $7.6 million; the Pittsburgh Pirates, a losing proposition for the 17th straight year, paid roughly a tenth of that figure ($790,000) to their average player. First basemen ($7.4 million) made more on average, while those reaping up the least amount of wages were relievers, who tallied under $1.8 million.
Goodbye, Mr. Chip
It can be argued that Chip Caray is a talented play-by-play man who doesn’t need to remind people that he’s a legacy (his father is the late great Skip Caray of Atlanta Braves announcing fame, and his grandfather is the one and only Harry Caray), but even the umpires likely had a better postseason than the 44-year old did during the postseason, with numerous gaffes at critical moments while on air for TBS. In the tenth inning of the Minnesota-Detroit playoff, he called the potential game-winning line drive by the Twins’ Nick Punto as a base hitbefore it was caught by the Tigers’ Ryan Raburn and turned into a double play. And in Game Three of the NLCS, Caray watched Jimmy Rollins’ game-winning hit unfold and yelled, “Here’s the throw to the plate…not in time!” Sounds great, except that there was no throw to the plate. TBS, after absorbing all the criticism, let Caray go this past weekeven though he has three years left on his contract.
The Legend Continues
Vin Scully, whose broadcast career goes back to 1950 and Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer, agreed to a record 61st season of play-by-play for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010. At 82, Scully only calls games no further east than Denver and no longer possesses the instinctive edge, as remembered with his blasé and somewhat errant call of Matt Holliday’s dropped third out in Game Two of the Dodger-Cardinal NLDS, but he’s still better than a majority of baseball announcersand a gentleman to boot.
Another Southland broadcasting legend, Dick Enberg, is returning to baseball for the first time since 1985 as he’s been hired on to do TV work for the San Diego Padres. The 75-year old Enberg began his baseball career with the California Angels in 1965 and has been more of a familiar face over the years with NFL play-by-play, first for NBC and currently for CBS.
Just What Bud Selig Needs: A Weiner
Michael Weiner, whose general appearance had Yahoo baseball blogger Kevin Kaduk whimsically describing him as “a businessman who had just spent a sweaty morning pulling fellow passengers off a wrecked train,” officially took over as the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association this past week. The 47-year old made two immediate public requests that will likely not lead to crossed swords with MLB: Expand the first-round LDS playoff to a best-of-seven and have less off days during the postseason in general. Weiner is the fifth union head since its founding in 1959.
The Pinstriped Sportsman
Derek Jeter became the first New York Yankee ever to be named Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year when he was bestowed with the magazine’s 56th such honor. SI named Jeter for his achievements on the field as well as off it, especially with his Turn 2 Foundation. Jeter is the first solo major leaguer to ne named Sportsman of the Year since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were co-winners in 1998, as were Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001; the Boston Red Sox, as a team, were given the honor in 2004 after winning their first World Series in 86 years.
Tommy Henrich, 1913-2009
It was sad day for Yankee fans of old who read that Tommy Henrich passed away at the age of 96. An outfielder freed in 1937 from the Cleveland farm system by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landiswho detested the farm conceptHenrich was quickly offered $25,000 to sign on with a powerhouse Yankee team that included Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig; he jumped at the chance and made the Yankees happy by hitting .320 with eight homers and 42 RBIs in 67 games late in the 1937 campaign. Henrich went on to hit .282 with 183 home runs over an 11-year career that might have been 14 years had World War II not intervened and striped him of a chance to play from 1943-45; he was named to five All-Star teams. Brooklyn Dodger fans, in particular, had less favorable memories of Henrich. It was Henrich who was the strikeout “victim” on Mickey Owen’s third-strike passed ball that sparked a ninth-inning rally in Game Four of the 1941 World Series and helped the Yankees eventually secure the championship; and he set the tone for the 1949 Fall Classic when he broke a scoreless tie with a ninth-inning, walk-off blast against the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe to win Game One.
Sizemore Does Matter
In yet another example of how people quite don’t get that anything you produce digitally will eventually find its way into the public domain, Cleveland Indian center fielder Grady Sizemore learned to his horror this past week that racy photos he took of himself that were intended only for the viewing pleasure of his girlfriend were spilled out onto the Internet. Sizemore asked MLB to help him clamp down on those who posted the pics, but those targeted are yawning in response. A.J. Daulerio, editor at deadspin.com, ignored MLB’s saber-rattling after posting the images. “There’s no reason (to take the photos down),” he said. “They were up other places already.”
Out in Cuba, Safe in America
Baseball players aren’t the only ones on the field trying to get the heck out of Cuba. The umpires are following their lead as well. Nelson Diaz, said to be one of Cuba’s top arbiters, snuck out with his wife and two daughters and made it safely to Miami this past week. Diaz had previously worked out of the country for World Cup and Pan American Games competition, as well as the 1999 exhibition in Baltimore between the Orioles and the Cuban national team. Diaz was to work the 2009 World Baseball Classic in the U.S., but Cuban authorities refused, worried that he’d defect then.
We Ought to Tell You: Our All-Decade Nominations
With the end of the Oughts (read: 2000s) in sight, This Great Game this week revealed its nominees for the best and worst of the decade that was. Categories include best and worst team, hitter and pitcher; the most memorable moments, on and off the field; the best one-year wonder, and more. A PDF ballot is available for download and can be sent back to TGG by December 21 for us to tally; the winners will be announced in the December 28 edition of the Weekly Comebacker.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
Timmy & Eddy
As a rule, I don’t like to bother celebrities when I see them in public, but every once in a while I’ll run into someone and I can’t resist. I’ll always approach them very respectfully, asking them like royalty if it’s okay to spend a moment with them. Usually, it’s a 50/50 proposition.
I’ve encountered some athletes in the past who were less than a pleasure to meet. Barry Bonds was considerably less than nice, to say the least, and other people like golfer Greg Norman, sports announcer Jim Rome, Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage and of course, Willie Mays (who I tried to interview in 1999) were legendarily rude and fulfilled stereotypes about pro athletes acting boorish.
But, when I ran into double-Cy Young award winner pitcher Tim Lincecum the other day at a Starbucks in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, it was a thrill and a refreshing chance encounter with a smart, engaging individual pausing to talk to an avid fan (even though I’ve been a die-hard Dodgers for 40 years).
I approached Lincecum and told him that I was pro-420 and he instantly replied in muted tones. But what he said was off the record, so I can’t say anything more. (If you didn’t already know, he got busted for having a small amount of marijuana a few weeks back.)
While I was chatting up The Freak (one of Lincecum’s nicknames) and bombarding him with questions in rapid succession, I just got the feeling that Tim plays baseball just like he’d ride his skateboard or bicycle. Here I was, a supposed grown man drooling to talk to him and the impression he gave me was “it’s no big deal.” I even sensed a little sympathy from him for a middle-aged guy enthralled by a kid who can throw in high 90s and make all-star hitters look like little leaguers.
My overall impression is that Lincecum sees himself as basically someone who just got really good at throwing a ball, but somebody who’s not even 100% onboard with the lore and wow surrounding major league baseball. When a 51-year-old male walks up to Tim and starts treating him like the Pope, Lincecum is amused, but no longer surprised anymore. Two Cy Youngs will do that.
I asked him if he gets noticed in public more all the time, especially now after the two Cy Youngs. “It’s so random. I’ll be at places where I’d think I’d be noticed and no one knows who I am. Other times I’ll be walking down the street and people will come out of their homes to talk to me, which is strange. But, it’s all cool.”
In one word, Tim is just cool. Wearing a wrinkled t-shirt, flip flops and shorts, sending texts on his iPhone and drinking one of those caramel, whip cream covered coffee things. (I call those concoctions “dessert camouflaged as coffee.”)
I did tell The Franchise (another one of his nicknames) that he only has to win three more Cy Youngs in a row to set the record. “Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson won it four times in a row,” I said. “So that’s the benchmark, I guess.” “Cool,” Lincecum offered.
Then I decided to show off and run some other baseball factoids by him. “Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens have all also won the Cy Young back-to-back like you,” I offered. “Nice,” he said. (Later I looked it up and I was correct, although I did miss Denny McLain, who won it in 1968 and again in 1969, a co-owner with Mike Cuellar from Baltimorethe only time there have been two co-winners.)
In summary, Lincecum was so open and forthcoming that he was a breath of fresh air. I sure hope he keeps that great attitude over the years, but it might be tough if he wins a couple more Cy Young awards.
In the end, I gave Tim (we’re on a first-name basis all ready) an official This Great Game baseball hat. He didn’t don the cap when I presented it to him, probably because he didn’t want to mess up the do, but hopefully in the future I’ll see him wearing that hat out in public. He’s that type of kid. Ed
The Art of the Curse
Norman Rockwell is embraced as one of America’s great artists, but to fans of the Chicago Cubs, he might as well be Norman Bates, stabbing away at the team’s self-esteem as best remembered in a famous 1948 Saturday Evening Post painting showing a dejected Cub batboy standing in front of a dugout of equally sullen Cub players and coaches, while the fans behind tease and laugh away. This past week, the “run-through” of the paintinga “study of the final work,” as described by the Chicago Tribunewas sold at an auction for $662,500. (The actual finishing painting is in the Brooklyn Museum.) The irony of Rockwell’s painting is that the batboy who posed for it, Frank McNulty, was actually a Boston Braves fan whose job was to serve as batboy for the visiting teams; the painting was drawn up in Boston with the Cubs visiting. Some Chicagoans claim Rockwell’s art did as much to perpetuate the current “curse” of the Cubs as did the Billy Goat incident during the 1945 World Series.
Just Think of That First Down Marker as Home
New York Yankee manager Joe Girardi showed up at practice for the NFL Jets early this past week at the team’s request to teach rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez how to properly slide, feet first. This, after a series of situations where Sanchez boldly trudged forward without going into a slide that would protect him from getting hit. Apparently, Girardi’s education didn’t get through to Sanchez; a few days later on a Thursday night game at Toronto against the Buffalo Bills, Sanchez scrambled up the middle and dove for extra yardageand, in the process, banged up his right kneecap. Sanchez is still listed as probable for the Jets’ next game, December 13 at Tampa Bay.
Now Playing at TGG
Uploaded this week is Ed Attnasio’s They Were There chat featuring with former major league reliever Bob Locker, who reveals his experiences with the one-year Seattle Pilots and the great Oakland A’s teams of the early 1970s.
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.