This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: December 9-15, 2013
MLB Bowls Over the Home Plate Collision Ex-Managers' Day at Cooperstown
Is Roy Halladay HOF-Worthy? MLB's Bad Legal Week Mark Prior is Done

Forty Years Too Late for Ray Fosse
In one of its more significant rule changes since the beginning of the post-1900 modern era, baseball announced this past week its intentions to ban home plate collisions starting in 2014. The players will have the opportunity to say yay or nay to the proposal in January, but even if they disapprove MLB will have the power to unilaterally move forward with it. (Which leaves us to ask: What’s the point of getting their approval?)

Rumblings of such a rule change began to shake baseball after young San Francisco star catcher Buster Posey was run over by Florida’s Scott Cousins early in the 2011 season, breaking Posey’s leg and ending his year (and with it, the Giants’ quest to repeat as World Series champions). The argument for safety has only strengthened over the past two years as a number of other catchers have been run over and suffered concussions, which can carry severe long-term health issues and shorten—sometimes end—a career. (Ask Mike Matheny.)

The question is: Now that the runner will no longer be allowed to bowl over the catcher, will the catcher still be allowed to block the plate? Technically, the catcher never should have been allowed to; it’s written in the rulebook as a no-no. But umpires have let them play for generations, and as long as catchers got in the way, they were fair game to the runner—leading to some of the most thrilling, memorable and painful moments in baseball history. But MLB now says that any catcher who stands in the way will be subject to a fine or suspension, to say nothing of a potential career-ending injury.

One also wonders if the revised rule will also apply elsewhere on the basepaths. Will a baserunner no longer be allowed to break up a double play by sliding hard into second base? Will Albert Belle no longer be allowed to break Fernando Vina’s nose?

It’s understandable as to why baseball is taking this tact. The money in the game has gotten so big that safety for star backstops like Posey, Matt Wieters and Joe Mauer (who’s already been moved to first base in Minnesota) has become a bigger priority over the spectacle of a collision. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of grumblers in the reactionary zone; our Facebook readers replied to our posting of the rule change with cries of “pansies” and “pussies.”

Pete Rose, who perhaps delivered the game’s most famous home plate collision when he bowled over Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game, echoed the chorus of dissent when reached by the Associated Press: “You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to try to be safe at home plate?” Rose said. '’What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”

Cooperstown Skipper Spree
It was a good day to be an ex-manager this past Monday when three recently retired, long-time and successful managers—Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre—were elected into the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era committee. All three were unanimously picked by the 16 panelists, and for good reason; only Connie Mack and John McGraw have earned more managerial wins, as the three combined for 7,558 victories, 17 pennants and eight World Series trophies.

Making as much news out of the vote were those on the ballot who didn’t make it. Most notably, Marvin Miller—who took over the union in 1966, shook up the baseball establishment and therefore became, in our opinion, one of the game’s most influential folks—fell short of induction by a wider margin than the previous ballot. Neither bias (most of the panelists were players who greatly benefitted from his reign) nor remembrance (he died last year) could get Miller over the hump and into the Hall. The snub led to incredulousness from past and current union leadership. Don Fehr: “Marvin should have been elected to the Hall many years ago. It is a sad and sorry state of affairs that he has not…” Tony Clark: “Over the past 50 years, no individual has come close to matching Marvin’s impact on the sport.”

Also missing out was former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and former players who failed to make Cooperstown in the general vote, including Steve Garvey, Tommy John and Dave Parker.

Retirement Takes a Halladay
Joining the Three Amigos of managing in Cooperstown someday might be Roy Halladay, who retired this past week after a lackluster, injury-racked season with Philadelphia.

The somewhat taciturn Halladay rode an early career arc worthy of a roller coaster. In his second career start on the last day of the 1998 season, he came within one out of a no-hitter when Detroit’s Bobby Higginson drilled a home run to spoil it. Two years later, he was so bad—furnishing a 10.64 ERA that’s the worst ever by a pitching throwing 50 or more innings in a season—that he plummeted all the way down to Class A ball to work on, well, everything. After another two years, Halladay was firmly back on track and on course to being the ace of aces during the 2000s, twice winning 20 games for the Blue Jays while being a perennial league leader in complete games.

A trade to the Phillies in 2010 finally gave Halladay the chance to participate in the postseason after years locked down with the .500 Blue Jays; he made the most of his opportunity, throwing a no-hitter in his first playoff appearance after earlier throwing a perfect game in his 11th start for the Phillies.

Is Halladay Cooperstown-worthy? We say yes. While his 203 wins doesn’t shout Hall of Fame, he lost only 105, won two Cy Young Awards and put together a career 3.38 ERA which is fabulous considering he threw in the midst of the steroid era.

Tinker Tailor Selig Spy
Score this week as a victory for Team A-Rod—and nobody on its side even said a word, so go figure. First, MLB was exposed as being involved of the more shadier, dirty shadows of the Biogenesis circus when they were connected to stolen documents from the shuttered “anti-aging” clinic in Florida. As Deadspin put it in layman’s terms: “MLB bought Biogenesis documents from a guy who got them from a guy who stole them from a guy who stole them from Biogenesis.”

MLB also struck out court when it asked a judge to compel Alex Rodriguez’s PR guy to testify in a re-opening of Rodriguez’s appeal of his 211-game suspension, which closed a few weeks back. Of course, the court’s refusal to get involved with an appeal process is not all good news for Rodriguez, should arbitrator Fredric Horowitz side with MLB and give him the full 211-game suspension in January.

You’re on Deck, Dionne Warwick
MLB didn’t have much better luck in its other major legal battle. San Jose’s antitrust case against baseball for blocking the Oakland A’s from coming to town is still alive after a federal judge okayed the city’s request to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court. Should the Ninth agree with San Jose, it would forward the case to the Supreme Court. But even then, San Jose’s odds are still rather long; in the past 60 years, two other similar cases have landed on the high court’s lap—and both times, the judges punted to Congress. In both cases, Congress wasn’t interested.

Trade Him Now? Are You Crazy?
If there’s any one player who’s going to give credence to the baseball conspiracy theory that major leaguers play their best in the year before hitting free agency, it’s likely San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval. When he’s hot at the plate, the bruising switch-hitter is among the game’s best; when he’s not, he’s often lampooned as oblivious, overweight and injury-prone.

So here comes 2014 and Sandoval’s “walk year” as he finishes off a three-year, $17 million deal. You would believe that if Sandoval is ever to shape up and put on his best A-game, it will be this coming year. And sure enough, there was a post on social media taken of Sandoval looking quite svelte as a sign he’s chewing the fat off his body. Maybe he’s simply striking the “after” pose before the camera is put away and the gut relaxes back into its portly shape, but big money lays on the horizon, so we’ll believe the hype.

Meanwhile, there’s been multiple rumors in the Bay Area of Sandoval being traded. That makes absolutely zero sense. Sandoval is the last guy the Giants will want to deal; if he means business—and he likely will—he’ll have an enormous season and the Giants will prosper as a result of it. If San Francisco gets to the postseason, they’ll be rewarded by Sandoval’s effort and take the risk of losing him via free agency. If he’s hot and the Giants are not, they can always send him away at the trading deadline and get a good chunk of talent in exchange. And if he lets go, gets plump and stinks, then that may just be the way he’ll always be—and it will make it easier for the Giants to say “good riddance” when someone else decides to pay him more.

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It Just Wasn’t Meant to Be
Mark Prior has given up. A brilliant pitching talent whose promising career was devastated by shoulder injuries, Prior announced this past week that his latest, unsuccessful comeback attempt this year was his last and, at age 33, will hang up his glove.

The tall right-hander was one of the young guns on a Chicago Cubs team that peaked in 2003 when they came achingly close to the World Series, only to be denied a World Series trip with its infamous meltdown in Game Six against the Florida Marlins. Prior was at his best that season, going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211 innings at age 22. But major shoulder problems began soon after; his playing time descended to 118 innings in 2004, followed by 166 and 43 over the next two years; although he didn’t know it at the time, his short, unimpressive three-inning stint on August 10, 2006 at Milwaukee was, at age 25, his major league appearance.

He tried and tried and tried again to reach the majors. After missing all of 2007 and being let go by the Cubs, San Diego gave him a shot. But he tore his shoulder in rehab early in 2008 and never saw the light of the pitching mound until 2010, when the Rangers came calling. Then in 2011, it was the New York Yankees. Then Boston in 2012. Then Cincinnati this past year. Over those four years, he appeared in 47 games and 58.2 innings, all in the minors. After his shoulder gave out on him again early this year, Prior likely came to the realization that the stairway to renaissance had simply gotten too steep.

Prior will join the front office of the Padres.

Ted's Take on The Ted
Nothing takes a hit at your ego more than when a building named after you is slated to get torn down—especially when your name is Ted Turner. The former Atlanta Braves owner, who had his name attached to the ballpark transitioned from Olympic Stadium in 1997, says he’s “shocked” by the Braves’ intentions to move away from the young venue for a new one in the northern Atlanta suburbs in 2017. “I thought maybe they’d find…a woman's soccer team or something like that (to play at Turner Field),” the 75-year-old Turner recently told the Associated Press. He has become a champion of environmental causes and would like to see Turner Field transformed into a “green” park.

Bull Durham—The Musical
You read right. The classic 1988 film about life in the minor leagues will be converted into a musical and premiere off-Broadway in Atlanta, with
Ron Shelton—who wrote and directed the film—adapting his screenplay for the stage. We can already see Kevin Costner’s “I believe” speech converted into a hit song right up there with Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.

You Won’t Need a Sign Language Interpreter For This One
The New York Yankees thought highly enough of the late South African leader
Nelson Mandela that they have decided to honor him with a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. So you know, Mandela’s bronze presence is not the first for a non-player; there are also plaques for three Popes who visited (old) Yankee Stadium and a monument honoring those who lost their lives in New York on 9-11. Shortly after his release from prison in 1990, Mandela made a visit to Yankee Stadium and proudly proclaimed, “I am a Yankee.”

Is There a Metric For Irony?
Seattle general manager
Jack Zdurienick, called out last week in a blistering Seattle Times article in which he claimed to be a self-professed advanced statistical whiz when others insisted he knew nothing about them at all, will headline the SABR Analytics Conference in March.

We’re Not Done With You, Jack
Zdurienick found himself in more controversy during this past weekend while officially introducing the Mariners’ two newest acquisitions,
Logan Morrison and Corey Hart. When reporters saw the numbers on the back of the new players’ jerseys, they asked, hey, aren’t those the numbers worn by current Mariners (and hot prospects) Nick Franklin and Tiajuan Walker? Zdurienick said not to worry, the young players okayed the switch. This was news to Walker, who tweeted: “Oh, I didn’t know I gave up my number? Hmmm…” Walker quickly scrubbed the posting, but the press got a hold of a screen capture. (As CBS SportsMike Axisa quipped, “The Internet doesn’t forget anything.”)

The uniform switches fueled rumors that Franklin and/or Walker may be on their way to Tampa Bay in a deal that would send ace David Price to Seattle. The Mariners denied it.

Depressed Dollar
The U.S. Mint has released a series of coins commemorating the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Hall of Fame that’s something of a first: It’s curved, meaning it bubbles out on one side as opposed to being flat. The coins, which appear as a baseball on one side and shows a glove on the other, can be viewed in its 3-D glory here. Good luck trying to stick one of these guys in a slot.

Wait ‘til They Come Up With the Category of “A-Rod”
The game show Jeopardy recently took a jab at the Houston Astros, which was easy; the Astros stink. But someone took “Pop Quiz” for $1,000 during a recent episode and the answer read: “He fathered baseball *
Barry Bonds,” while host Alex Trebek replaced the asterisk with the word “star” when reading it.

It’s Quieter in Arlington
Jurickson Profar doesn’t work out at second base, the Texas Rangers have an alternative solution: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. In the Rule 5 draft held this past week, Wilson—who played Class A ball from 2010-11 in the Colorado Rockies system before concentrating on football—was drafted by the Rangers. “You never know what might happen,” Texas scouting director Josh Boyd told The Sports Xchange.

He Said What?
“I’ll throw him bouquets all he wants. But I couldn’t throw him $235 million.” —New York Yankees manager
Brian Cashman on Robinson Cano, the former Yankee second baseman who signed with the Seattle Mariners.

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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