2007 – Week 16

The Phillies set a landmark losing record, the Cards lose Carpenter, and the umpires lose their minds. All in all, it’s been a strange week.

10,000 and counting – The week started with an historic losing feat as the Philadelphia Phillies became the first sports franchise to lose 10,000 games. The record was 125 years in the making, Phillie fans watching an average of eighty losses during each one. Over that many years, and considering the amount of games baseball teams play, it’s perhaps not too surprising that such a total could be accumulated. The real test is how many games they’ve won over the period as well. The answer: 8810. That leaves them with a .468 winning percentage. An article on MLB.com painted a rather depressing picture for the Phillies, making the point that they will need thirty-two straight 100-win seasons just to break .500. Still, if you’re not going to be great, you may as well be great at being bad. Phillies fans can rest assured, their place as the best losers in sports will be safe for a while. Indeed, three more have been added to the total over the past week.

Losing is a habit – The Phillies’ feat has made everyone else look at their losses. The Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates and Reds have all broken the 9,000 loss barrier, with Atlanta (9685 – including the franchise’s periods in Milwaukee and Boston) being the closest to joining the Phillies in the 10,000 club.

Franco fights on – As an old, storied franchise, it’s fitting that the oldest player in the Majors has returned to the Braves. Julio Franco was designated for assignment by the Mets this week and, to the surprise of no one, he found his way back on to Atlanta’s roster. Franco was with the Braves between 2001 and 2005 and he is hoping that some useful performances from the bench over the rest of this season will allow him to return in 2008 and to take the field as a fifty year old.

All quiet on the trade front – Franco’s switch between the NL East rivals was one of the few moves that took place this week, despite the looming 31 July trading deadline. Elsewhere, Cezar Izturis moved to the Pirates, the Molina era ended in Anaheim with Jose being traded to the Yankees, and the Cubs picked up Jason Kendall from the A’s. While they are not exactly headline-grabbing, blockbuster changes, both Molina and Kendall might end up playing the role of unlikely heroes down the stretch and into the play-offs.

Ichiro in the money – Three weeks ago, fans in Seattle were nervously awaiting developments as rumours swirled around Ichiro’s future with the team. When it was announced last week that the Japanese star had signed a five-year contract extension with the M’s, many celebrated the fact that he would remain tied to the organisation for several years to come. What they didn’t know at the time was quite how long Ichiro would be on the pay-roll. The Associated Press revealed this week that $25 million of his contract will be deferred (at 5.5 per cent interest) and that he will be receiving the money in instalments until at least 2032. With that amount, plus the $5 million signing bonus, taken out of the equation, Ichiro will effectively be pocketing $17 million each year for the next five years. Why he needs the Mariners to pay him an average of $35,000 a year “housing allowance” on top of that is a bit of a mystery. The M’s will also be paying for an interpreter, rather than telling him to spend some of his millions on English lessons. Rumours that David Beckham demanded an interpreter as part of his contract with the L.A. Galaxy are unconfirmed.

Moneyball comes to soccer? – Speaking of Beckham, the growing U.S. relationship with soccer was emphasised by the owners of the A’s announcing that they would be reviving the San Jose Earthquakes franchise next season in Major League Soccer. Oakland’s GM Billy Beane is a well-known soccer fanatic and rumours about this development have been circulating for over a year. Beane has stated that he’s not about to leave baseball, but he will be involved with the Earthquakes. Anyone who has read Moneyball will know that San Jose’s name is quite apt considering Beane’s legendary ability to blow a gasket every now and then.

Carpenter out – While the anticipated La Russa/Pujols post-All-Star game problems have seemingly failed to materialize, it’s been another depressing week in St Louis. After several false starts and setbacks, the Cardinals’ ace Chris Carpenter finally saw his 2007 officially come to an end when it was announced that he will undergo the all-too-familiar Tommy John surgery. Carpenter will likely be out of action for at least ten months, meaning that the Cardinals will have to cope without their number one starter for the first half of the 2008 season as well.

Wells rallies – The Cardinals’ starting pitching has really come unstuck in 2007. Carpenter and Mulder have been on the sidelines injured, while additions such as Mike Maroth have failed to perform. Kip Wells has been one of the main disappointments in St Louis (and a regular WHGB target), but Cards fans will be hoping that his most recent outing will be a positive turning-point. Just as former Cardinal Jeff Weaver did back in week twelve, Wells broke out of his slump by pitching an absolute gem. The right-hander pitched eight, scoreless innings against the Marlins, giving up just two hits in the process and earning his fourth win of a very testing season.

The Barry and Bud show – Barry Bonds came out of a slump in typical fashion by slugging two homers against the Cubs on Thursday (the Giants still lost the game, which sums up the history of the franchise over the last few seasons). Bonds is now just two shy of Aaron’s 755 mark. Much has been made about whether MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will be in attendance when Bonds sets the new record. With the Giants currently playing in Selig’s home town of Milwaukee, the Commissioner has had a ready-made excuse to be at the recent games without actually being there to see Bonds (so he says). Unfortunately for Bud, it doesn’t look like Bonds will oblige and get the deed over with. Cue the intense speculation over whether Bud will be jetting off to San Francisco after today’s game. Maybe Bud will show up and claim that he’s just there to collect his glasses after losing them at the All-Star game?!

Umpires under a spell – Finally, it’s been a strange week of umpiring mistakes and the White Sox have been in the thick of it. Grady Sizemore was credited with a catch against the South-siders on Monday despite replays clearly showing that the ball had hit the wall first before landing in his glove. Later in the week, J.D. Drew hit a home run over the Green Monster against the White Sox only for the umpires to miss it (the ball bounced back down to the field of play and the umpires ruled that it hadn’t cleared the fence). To rub salt into the wound, Terry Francona was subsequently ejected for arguing over the call (unsurprisingly he was a touch angry that the umpires had missed it). Fortunately for the umpires, in both cases the injured party went on to win the game. Funnily enough, it’s not just been the baseball umps who’ve been making some strange decisions this week, as shown by the Kevin Pietersen “he’s out, he’s not out” saga in the England-India cricket test match. Maybe the release of the latest Harry Potter book has had the officials in a magical trance?

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