The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: December 12-18, 2011
Barry Bonds' Pricey Sentence Angry Birds in St. Louis, Happy Angels in Anaheim
Is Ryan Braun Doping Out on Denial? Derek Jeter's Parting Gifts

Can I be Barry's Cellmate?
So this is what the Feds got for reportedly spending up to $50 million of your hard-earned tax dollars to go after Barry Bonds: A month of house arrest, 250 hours of community service, two years of probation and a $4,000 fine. We sure got our money’s worth out of this one.

This is not a defense of Bonds, who very obviously took steroids and said so on the grand jury back in 2003. (His pleading of ignorance on the subject—that he unknowingly was given the drugs from trainer Greg Anderson—remains utterly laughable to those who know Bonds as a highly controlling individual.) But it is an indictment of the Federal Government that basically tried to blast a bug with a bazooka. Yes, obstruction of justice under any circumstance is a potential crime, but this isn’t Watergate.

Still, Bonds has a lot to answer for. He remains defiant, refusing to make a statement before judge Susan Illston handed down her sentence this past Friday; some had hoped that he would have taken the opportunity to express contrition for his actions, but instead he zipped his lip while his lawyers pledged to overturn the conviction and keep him from having to serve his penalty. Because as you know, being holed up in a 15,000-square foot home on a two-acre chunk of Beverly Hills for a month is tough penance.

As the Black Sox cabal found out in 1920, baseball often administers the final judgment. For Bonds, the denouement will come from Hall of Fame voters a year from now, when his name pops up on the ballot for the first time; they’ll likely convict him in their own minds by leaving the box next to his name unchecked.

Is Ryan Lyin'?
It seems odd that Milwaukee slugger and National League MVP Ryan Braun would be dipping into the steroids when he once sent a public shout-out to Alex Rodriguez to fess up when accused of taking the juice. Certainly, it would lead some to pause at the validity of the positive test Braun allegedly took during the postseason that has led to his 50-game suspension, pending an arbitration hearing.

But Gary Wadler, a former chairman for the World Anti-Doping Agency and baseball’s unauthorized fact-checking expert on performance enhancement, doesn’t see a mistake in testing as likely—citing that Braun not only failed one test, but a second that was administered by baseball just to be sure. Wadler pointed out that the results yielded highly increased levels of testosterone that were proven to be synthetic. “The fact that there’s two different tests raising two separate questions creates a significant hurdle and starts to be problematic for (Braun),” he told the New York Times.

The positive on Braun shook up baseball, which was beginning to feel good about itself in regards to cleaning up the game. That it happened to a “good guy” like Braun—as opposed to a pariah-type like Manny Ramirez—made the finding all the more painful.

In the wake of all of this, many in the media are calling for Braun to be stripped of his MVP award; the Los Angeles Times did a partial sampling of voters and found that if the tally was to be retaken today, post-positive test, the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp would win. We’re going to assume that Braun will skip the BWAA dinner that honors the 2011 award winners on January 21 in New York.

Thanks For Coming, Now Here's Your Goodie Bag
Derek Jeter is making the most of his bachelor existence. The New York Post reported this past week that the New York Yankee shortstop has been on the prowl, bringing gorgeous ladies to his Manhattan pad, doing what single multi-millionaire sometimes do, then giving the girls the friendly boot—having them taken home up by a waiting car with a bag of memorabilia signed by Jeter. So that’s who’s been getting all that swag he was signing during the all-star break!

According to the story, one lady was picked up twice by Jeter, who had forgotten about the first encounter; and yes, she did receive two complimentary gift baskets.

Foul Auction
Here’s one thing the ladies may not be getting from Jeter—and this, too, is not a joke: The ball he fouled off just before collecting his 3,000th career hit back in July went on the auction block. Lelands.com put the ball up for bid, and someone apparently not afflicted by the Great Recession paid $10,000 for it. The ball Jeter sent into the stands for a home run and his 3,00oth hit sold for $250,000.

Stow Speaks
Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giant fan severely beaten outside of Dodger Stadium back on Opening Day, will give his first public interview on Monday evening for NBC’s “Rock Center.” A portion of the interview can be accessed through the show’s web site. It reveals that Stow has a ways to go towards a full recovery, but at the same time he’s come a long way.

Under the Influence of Sleep?
It seems somewhat amazing that a whole month nearly went by before it was reported that Dodger first baseman James Loney caused a four-car accident on a Los Angeles freeway and was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence; it took TMZ to dig up the information and make it public. But never mind that; what exactly was he under the influence of? A source says that Loney tested negative for both alcohol and drugs after being taken in (authorities are not saying), but his actions during the incident—passing out after the initial accident, then attempting to flee only to crash again—will take some explaining.

Yo, Johan!
Sooner or later, we’ll see Johan Santana on the mound again. It may be later. New York Met general manager Sandy Alderson recently said that he may be ready for Opening Day 2012—or maybe he won’t. Santana had surgery to repair a muscle tear in his shoulder in September 2010, and has made only one minor league appearance since then; otherwise, it’s been one setback after another for the former Cy Young Award winner, who’s owed $50 million over the next two seasons by the Mets. This latest statement from Alderson doesn't sound highly encouraging to Met fans.

Ballpark Prep
Get your tickets now for the first game at the new Miami Marlins’ ballpark, which will feature…Columbus High and Belen High. The local prep teams will take the field for the dry run of the new venue on March 5—but only 5,000 tickets will be available, with each high school given the responsibility to sell 2,500.

He Said What?
“Hey man, just remember, Bro, if you bean me I’m charging.”—Text message from Texas’ Josh Hamilton to pitcher C.J. Wilson shortly after he signed with the divisional rival Angels.

Now Playing at TGG
The Teams section has been udpated to reflect results from the 2011 regular season.

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

From the Arch to the Big A
In case you’ve been locked in the storage room at Albert Pujols’ St. Louis restaurant over the last few weeks, you’ve no doubt heard by now that the long-time Cardinal is now an Angel, ready to ply his trade on Anaheim evenings with perhaps enough time afterward to cross the freeway and hop on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

All throughout 2011, baseball experts had asserted that Pujols’ next contract would surpass the annual wages of Alex Rodriguez and perhaps make him the first $30 million-a-year player. Until the Angels came along, Pujols wasn’t anywhere near that threshold, with the Cardinals and Miami Marlins both reportedly offering packages closer to $20 million a season over ten years, tops. In the end, Los Angeles of Anaheim gave him $254 million over the next decade—meaning Pujols will still be paid through the age of 41.

While Pujols felt the love in Anaheim—drawing 4,200 fans to his introductory appearance at Angel Stadium (did you really think they were there for C.J. Wilson?), the mood back in St. Louis predictably hit the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Nobody’s fools, Camp Pujols hired a security guard to look after the ten-foot sculpture the star hitter erected for himself outside his St. Louis restaurant—where fans, like Pujols, can have their Angel cake and eat it, too.

We expected a public lynching upon Pujols from the cruel keyboards of the St. Louis media, but instead we got this collection of journalistic sighs:

“Albert Pujols is an Angel now, and it doesn’t make him the devil. Sorry, but I don’t have it in me to rage and rant against Pujols, the Angels or the Cardinals….We should have seen this coming, and not because Pujols is a bad guy. It’s just the reality of the business. With most athletes, it’s always about the money. And that’s fine. We should have stopped taking this stuff personally a long time ago.”—Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“This entire episode feels too much like a long, dragged-out bogus courtship. Imagine (Cardinal team chairman Bill) DeWitt, using his best inside voice and whispering in a windstorm—Hey Albert…come…back’—then shrugging his shoulders with a sheepish grin and telling us ‘I guess he didn’t hear me.’”—Bryan Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“(DeWitt) barely budged once the negotiations intensified at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. He knew his franchise could roll on without Albert, as painful as that concept is to many fans. Albert was never going to play forever. And in the nearer term—four, five, six years into his next contract—he wasn’t going to play like the Albert we saw during the first ten years of his career. He is a man, not the The Machine.” —Jeff Gordon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Devil's in the Details, Among Other Places
Some post-Pujols controversy was generated when Deidre Pujols, Albert’s wife, appeared on a Christian radio station in St. Louis and defended his husband’s move, saying the “devil has overplayed his hand” in trying to foster hatred against him. (Maybe she was inclined to have Albert sign with the Angels all along.) She also claimed that the Cardinals initially offered a five-year, $130 million deal that she called insulting because, even though the annual payout would be higher than what Pujols received from the Angels, it was still barely more than half of Los Angeles of Anaheim’s total ten-year package. The Cardinals neither denied nor confirmed Deidre’s claims, saying that the negotiation process was “fluid.”

Turning His Back on Legacy
Pujols’ departure guarantees Stan Musial’s stature as The Man in St. Louis. Musial’s 475 home runs remains top on the all-time Cardinal list, just 30 ahead of Pujols—and he’s also outhit him, .331-.328.

Where I Can Find Vern's Agent?
Hard to fathom, but Vernon Wells (.218 average, 25 homers in 2011) will be making almost the same amount of money as Pujols over each of the next three years.

Welcome Mr. Santo, Wherever You Are
The year after Ron Santo passes away, and the Hall of Fame’s Veterans’ Committee finally decides to let him in. How sweet.

Santo’s case for Cooperstown has been one of the more argumentative in recent times. The less open-minded among us—those who go by the mantra that if you have to think whether a guy should be in the Hall of Fame, then he shouldn’t—never saw Santo as a no-doubt-about-it superstar worthy of the Hall without hesitation. But he did produce strong if not sensational numbers in a time (the 1960s) when they were hard to come by, and his glovework at third base was outstanding. We personally never would have given him the vote, but he’s in and we congratulate him. If only if he was alive to receive the thanks.

Also receiving recognition from the Hall was veteran TV analyst (and former catcher) Tim McCarver, selected into the broadcaster’s wing. His election guarantees one thing: In a year with a very weak ballot of candidates for the general Hall election, we’re assured of at least one good speech when McCarver steps atop the Cooperstown soapbox in July.

Supercuts Awaits
Jose Reyes, one of several new star players for the Miami Marlins primarily paid for by the citizens of Miami-Dade County, was told to clip the dreadlocks he’s been sporting in recent years per the Marlin team policy on hair. Hey, for $100 million, we’ll go bald.

A Warning From Pittsburgh
The Miami Marlins may have gotten drunk on free agents this past month, but folks in Pittsburgh are telling the giddy Fish to beware of a hangover. Pittsburgh Tribune Review writer Rob Biertempfel mentioned this past week that the Pirates pretty much did the same thing back in 2001 when PNC Park opened, doubling their payroll with expectations of sudden success. The result: 100 losses and the continuation of a long string of losing seasons that still has yet to be snapped.

There is one difference between the 2001 Pirates and the 2012 Marlins, for now: The Bucs’ payroll explosion was mostly due to resigning current players, while the Marlins have made a huge splash by bringing in Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. The $100 million question for Miami is whether fan interest, which has always been fickle for regular season baseball in Florida, will respond positively and stay that way for the long run.

TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!

Next Week on the Comebacker
We celebrate next week’s Comebacker with our annual year-end look back at some of the nuttiest nuggets we uncovered during 2011.

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