The Week That Was in Baseball: December 1-7, 2008
Thank You, Greg Maddux Who's Hot and Not For the Hall of Fame
The Rays Go Amazon Can Mike Hampton Go Home Again?

Mad Dog Time Has Run Out
Maybe Greg Maddux wanted to go out before he walked his 1,000th career batter (he finished the 2008 campaign with 999). Or he was tired of the lack of support that was primarily responsible for a 14-game winless streak this past year. Or, maybe, 355 wins, four Cy Young Awards and 18 Gold Gloves over 23 seasons were enough to convince himself that he’d done well in the game of baseball. Some have been referring to Roger Clemens lately as the greatest pitcher of our generation, but we’ll take Maddux, who was more consistently effective by preferring a cunning accuracy over brute arm strength, natural ability over enhancements.

For those looking back at Maddux’s career numbers in the wake of his retirement this week, they’ll be floored to see what he was able to accomplish during the 1990s, an unparalleled period of runaway offense in the game. From 1992-98, while most other pitchers struggled to keep their ERA below 4.00 in the face of juiced-up hitting, Maddux was in another dimension, winning 146 games, losing 62 and compiling a 2.15 ERA. There were too major components to Maddux’s success: His astonishing pinpoint accuracy that greatly reduced his walk totals from 60-80 a year (during his early years in Chicago) down into the 20s, and his catlike reflexes that helped him pounce on any comebacker, which led to all those Gold Gloves; after securing his last Gold Glove honor just this past year, we argued that without his brilliant defense, Maddux might still be short of 300 wins.

Stunningly, Maddux only won 20 games twice in his career, but he was robbed of two more scores because of the 1993-94 strike; he was on pace to win well over 20 in 1993 when the strike cut him short at 16, and the late start of 1994—which reduced the season schedule to 144 games—left Maddux at 19 wins when he otherwise would have had at least three more starts to get to 20. Overall, Maddux won 19 games five times and 18 twice.

Although Maddux often appeared in the playoffs—and was part of one championship team, the 1995 Atlanta Braves—he’ll remember his October experiences with a more marked frustration, stuck with a career 11-14 postseason mark in spite of a fine 3.27 ERA. It all must have figured for Maddux that his final appearance on the mound—as a Los Angeles Dodger in Game Five of the NLCS this past season against Philadelphia—was a two-inning stint laced with two unearned runs thanks to Rafael Furcal’s three fifth-inning errors.

Maddux is due for the Hall of Fame ballot in 2014. Unless he becomes an ax murderer or gets thrown under the steroid bus, he’s a bona fide, first-year lock for Cooperstown.

But Will His New Locker Stall Have a View?
Unlike most major leaguers, Dustin Pedroia didn’t receive a contractual bonus for winning the AL MVP award, but then again, most MVP winners usually aren’t pre-arbitration players making virtual minimum major league wages. But Pedroia was ultimately rewarded for his fantastic 2008 campaign this past week by receiving a six-year contract worth $40.6 million.

Next Week: Iceland
The search for talent in virgin baseball lands is becoming more extensive. Last week, we reported that the Pittsburgh Pirates were going to take a good hard look at India; this past week, it was announced that the Tampa Bay Rays will be the first major league team to have a physical toehold in Brazil by building a baseball academy 230 miles north of Sao Paulo. Although the game has seen numerous Brazilian natives—28 to be exact (according to The Baseball Cube), including Jorge Posada and Roberto Hernandez—the country still views baseball as a minor sport set in the vast shadow of that nation’s national pastime, soccer. But the Rays are banking they’ll be at the forefront of a new frontier.

Unfair For the Common Man
The New York Mets yawned, as expected, to recent news of local city councilmember attempts to have the name of their new ballpark changed to Citi/Taxpayer Field. Team COO Jeff Wilpon publicly stated that the name Citi Field will remain as is, without argument. The lawmakers had wanted to add “Taxpayer” as a result of the recent federal bailout of Citigroup, which paid a 20-year, $400 million deal to secure naming rights to the Mets’ new facility that opens in 2009.

Now Playing at TGG
New to the They Were There section of our site is Ed Attanasio’s wonderful chat with Herman Franks, who may have had a role in helping Bobby Thomson hit his famous 1951 home run that won the New York Giants the NL pennant. Also note that our They Were There segment with Duane Pillette (discussing his remembrances of 3’7” Eddie Gaedel’s one and only major league at-bat) has been moved to the 1952 Yearly Reader page.

The New Kids in the Hall?
The list of nominees for 2009 induction into the Hall of Fame was released this week, with ten new players joining 13 others who are getting a second, third or, in the case of Jim Rice and Tommy John, a 15th and final chance to be voted in by sportswriters wielding the powerful pens that hold the key to the doors of Cooperstown. Among the newcomers to the ballot, the only shoo-in should be Rickey Henderson, the all-time leader in steals and runs. Mark McGwire remains on the ballot, and it will be curious to see if last year’s 23.6% approval rate from voters was a one-time slap on the wrist for not talking about the past or a more permanent state of opinion.

Rice, on the other hand, fell just short of the required 75% vote last year, and early common wisdom suggests that he’ll get the extra bump this year given the thin slate of likely entrants beyond Henderson. If that’s true, it’s a strange argument to make, voting in a guy who you’ve rejected in the past but are accepting now because no one else on this year’s ballot is worthy. We’ve liked Rice all along and thought he should had been voted in years ago. As for John, the other last chance on the ballot, his odds are considerably longer since he’s never accrued more than 30% of the vote in any other year. Perhaps the doctor that performed the miracle ligament-replacement surgery that bears John’s name has a better shot of getting into Cooperstown someday. 

The Last Chance
While we have to wait until January 12 for the announcement of the new inductees into Cooperstown, the Veterans Committee—a group that should really be named the Oversight Committee—will on Monday announce their picks of inductees from a list of older players whose initial eligibility for the Hall expired long ago, and are now getting a second look. The list is full of very good players, but you have to be great to get into the Hall in our opinion, which is why these guys didn’t get through the first time around.

The only player we’d give consideration for from this list is Sherry Magee, a terrific if not dominant hitter whose career numbers don’t look awesome but should be given tremendous merit given he played in the stone-cold deadball years of the National League from 1904-1919. Therefore, in a relative sense, it could be argued that Magee belongs. Hard to speak the same for others on the list, including Tony Oliva, Dick Allen, Ron Santo and Al Oliver, who voters had to think about in years past—and in our minds, if you have to think whether a guy should be in the Hall, then he shouldn’t be there. We know it sounds tough, but Cooperstown should be reserved for the true greats, not those who had two or three great years.

Wanna See A-List Teams? Pay A-List Prices
While many major league teams sensitive to the now-official recession have announced they are not raising ticket prices for 2009, others are increasing the costs for some tickets in what’s turning into something of a trend. The San Francisco Giants joined the Detroit Tigers by keeping prices at 2008 levels—except for marquee matchups with name teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers. So read those labels, fans, for a $20 upper-deck seat for the Royals might be $30 for the Yankees.

Can He Go Home Again?
After an underwhelming and injury-riddled eight years in which he was paid $121 million, Mike Hampton is going back to his roots of his success by signing a one-year deal with the Houston Astros—the team for which he had by far his best year, when he recorded a 22-4 record and 2.90 ERA in 1999. Granted, Hampton will have to orient himself to the more hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park as opposed to the dead air of the Houston Astrodome, but for $2 million, the Astros may see a bargain in Hampton given that he pitched at least six innings in each of his last nine starts for Atlanta in 2008, compiling a 3.72 ERA during that time.

No Cuban Revolution in Chicago
The Chicago Cubs received three offers from prospective buyers to purchase the franchise before a December 1 deadline. None of the applicants was named Mark Cuban.

Death and Unemployment
The Toronto Star reported that just hours after the death of Toronto Blue Jay owner Ted Rogers, the team laid off 24 front office employees.

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