The Week That Was in Baseball: December 15-21, 2008
Rafael Furcal's Agents of Bad Influence WBC, as in Without Baseball Celebrities
Fly for $9 on Behalf of Ted Williams Rocco Baldelli's Feeling Better

The Ol' Switch-Hitter Switcheroo
A handshake doesn’t go as far as it used to. Just ask Frank Wren, the general manger of the Atlanta Braves. This past Tuesday, Wren was certain he had a deal cemented to bring coveted free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal back to Atlanta, where he began his career. Wren even sent a signed letter of agreement to Furcal’s agents, Paul Kinzer and Arn Tellem, at their request. But shortly thereafter, Wren was blindsided by a new request: Raise the offer for Furcal, or the deal is dead. Wren and the Braves refused, and Furcal instead inked for at least three more years with the incumbent Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the aftermath, Wren and Atlanta president John Schuerholz publicly exploded, calling the agents’ tactics “despicable,” “unprofessional” and “disgusting” and promised they would never negotiate with them again. Kinzer-Tellem didn’t go into damage control mode as much as they simply ridiculed the Braves’ pouting, daring them to boycott any future negotiations with their clients. Furcal himself told reporters afterward that it was his intent to return to the Dodgers all along, and was not in on any decision to sign with the Braves because he was out-of-pocket.

In a more formal explanation, Kinzer-Tellem released a seven-point statement discussing why a letter of agreement technically does not merit a deal. But numerous general managers within the majors, all speaking anonymously, told reporters that the informal rule of thumb is that when the letter of agreement is asked for by the agent, the deal is assumed to be agreed to—and that in this case, Kinzer-Tellem broke the code of trust.

Mark July 31, 2009 on your calendars. That’s the day the Dodgers and Furcal make their first visit of the year to Atlanta—unless, of course, Furcal is back on the disabled list.

Georgia is Not on Their Minds
The Furcal madness only deepened the thoughts among the Braves’ brass that nobody loves them this offseason. Pitcher A.J. Burnett, an Arkansas native, was content enough to be second fiddle to CC Sabathia and signed with the New York Yankees—even though the Braves offered just as much money and years to become their ace. Before that, the Braves could not pull off a trade from the desperate San Diego Padres to land former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy, another good ol’ Southern boy. If it makes the Braves feel better, they were embraced by one free agent this past week: Utility man Greg Norton, who resigned with Atlanta for one year and $800,000.

Knuckling Under
Lance Niekro, part of the Niekro knuckleballer family (he’s the son of the late Joe Niekro and the nephew of Hall-of-Famer Phil Niekro), has decided to give the knuckler a chance after failing to stick in the majors as a slugging first baseman. The Braves, who as we mentioned above are looking for anyone to commit to donning an Atlanta uniform, have invited Niekro to minor league camp in February as a pitcher. Niekro has been working with Uncle Phil to master the knuckler, though a rebuilt right shoulder hasn’t been making it easy. For four years in the mid-2000s, Niekro was at best a part-timer in San Francisco, hitting .246 with 17 home runs and 79 RBIs over 195 games for the Giants. He did not play in 2008.

Fleeting Flights of Frugality
If you missed it this past Friday, we’re sorry: In celebration of being named the primary sponsor for the Boston Red Sox, JetBlue announced that for nine hours on that day, a number of seats from Boston to American League cities would be available for nine bucks each way. Why nine bucks and nine hours? That’s JetBlue’s tribute to Red Sox legend Ted Williams, who wore number nine. We’re guessing that if the Dodgers like the idea enough and pull off the same promotion in honor of resigning Manny Ramirez (number 99), we doubt air travelers would be as ecstatic.

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

TGG Programming Notes
Look for Ed Attanasio's chat with former Dodger Nate Oliver in our They Were There section in the coming weeks. Also arriving soon at this web site will be our 2008 Yearly Reader page and updates to all of the Team pages to reflect the past season.

In soccer, the World Cup is it. If you’re playing for Manchester United and the English national team comes calling for you to play a qualifier, it’s a slam-dunk decision: You go. In baseball, it’s obvious that the fledgling World Baseball Classic has a long way to go before it can command the respect of the globe’s greatest players—at least in America, anyway. Davey Johnson, the manager for the U.S.A.’s WBC team, has put together his wish list of participants, but a virtual laundry list of those players has phoned in to say thanks but no thanks: Ryan Howard, CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, Mark Teixeira, Brandon Webb, Josh Hamilton, Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett. Players from other homelands are apparently more willing to participate for their country, perhaps out of national pride and for the chance to show the yawning baseball giant known as the U.S.A. that it can be beaten. But how much pride can you muster from beating America’s virtual junior varsity team?

Goodbye, Mr. Smith and Dock
This past week saw the passing of two quality pitchers from not-so-ancient times. Dave Smith burst on the scene in 1980 for the Houston Astros in terrific fashion, compiling over 100 innings as a long reliever—something you never see these days—with a sparkling 1.93 ERA; he continued to pitch for the Astros through 1990, becoming the team’s main closer in 1985; he’s currently second on the Astros’ all-time list for saves, and first in appearances. Smith was always tough on the mound, reflected in a career 2.67 ERA. More recently, Smith was a pitching coach for San Diego, where he grew up; it’s there where he died this past week of an apparent heart attack at age 53. A laid-back beach boy with a generous spirit, Smith will have his surfer friends accede to his request to have them paddle out beyond the waves and spread his ashes over the Pacific.

Also leaving us was Dock Ellis, who will always be remembered for his claim that he threw his one no-hitter—on June 12, 1970 at San Diego—under the influence of LSD. A 12-year veteran, Ellis put together a career 138-119 record with a sharp 3.46 ERA, and came within one win of notching 20 during the 1971 season, finishing at 19-9. Ellis was noted for his outspoken nature, especially during the early years of his career which coincided with the turbulence America was experiencing. After his retirement from the game, Ellis became a fierce advocate against drug and alcohol abuse; he died in Los Angeles at the age of 63 from liver disease.

Mad About Madoff
The New York Mets can’t seem to escape the front pages of the business section. A couple of weeks ago, the team’s new ballpark sponsor, Citigroup, had to be injected with millions in taxpayer cash to stay alive, leading local politicians to suggest that Citi Field be renamed to include the word “Taxpayer.” This past week it was revealed that the Mets’ owner, Fred Wilpon, was one of many who were duped by Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Despite reports that Wilpon lost more than a few pennies in the scam, the Mets said they won’t be financially affected. However, anyone who wants two season tickets (at $500 per) right behind home plate might be able to get them now; they were owned by Madoff.

A Second Opinion, A Second Chance
Earlier this year, Tampa Bay outfielder Rocco Baldelli was told that he suffered from a mitochondrial disorder that led that to severe muscle fatigue while playing; as a result he played sparingly in 2008 out of fear he would break down from the physical stress. Baldelli now believes that the diagnosis was wrong all along; after a visit to the Cleveland Clinic in—where else—Cleveland, he’s been told that he actually suffers from a malfunctioning of his ion channels for elements such as potassium, sodium, chloride and calcium. (If you’re looking for further medical explanation from us, you’re on your own.) What it all means is that if this diagnosis is correct, Baldelli can be treated more easily and effectively for the condition, which will allow him more playing time. Of course, Baldelli’s timing of this breaking news is curious; he’s a free agent in a market full of quality outfielders.

Will Work for More Food
The Kansas City Star reported this week that Royal pitcher Kyle Davies spends his offseason doing what few major leaguers do anymore: Toiling as a day laborer. The 25-year old right-hander, who was a respectable 9-7 with a 4.06 ERA for the Royals in 2008, does mostly grunt work for his father’s construction business in Georgia. Says his dad, Davies is “the most dependable worker you can find.” For a guy who made $427,000 last year, you’d had to love it to want to do it.

Season's Greetings from This Great Game!