2009's best 'comeback' seasons

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Because everyone likes a good comeback story.

Chris Carpenter: After being sidelined for much of the past two seasons following Tommy
John surgery, Chris Carpenter has not only become a near-lock as the NL
Comeback Player of the Year, but he could be in line for his second Cy
Young, as well. Carpenter finished the regular season at 17-4 with a
league-best 2.24 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP (2nd in NL). Only teammate Adam
Wainwright had more wins while only Dan Haren had a lower WHIP. 22 of
his 26 starts were Quality Starts (or 79% of the time — tied with Zack
Greinke) — only Tim Lincecum (81%) and Felix Hernandez (85%) did it more often. Imagine what he could have done if he didn’t miss
nearly five weeks with a rib cage injury? Wow.

Aaron Hill: The Blue Jays weren’t quite sure what they were getting when Aaron
Hill showed up to Spring Training this season. After all, he was
working his way back from post-concussion symptoms that limited him to
just 55 games in 2008. However, the 27-year-old Hill blistered the ball
from the start, batting .365/.412/.567 with five homers and 20 RBI in
April. He finished with a .286/.330/.499 line, leading all major league
second basemen with 36 homers (3rd in AL) and 108 RBI (5th). Only
Alfonso Soriano (38 in 2003, 39 in 2002) hit more home runs in a
season at the position in American League history. The Jays have tons
of problems to address in the offseason, but Hill and Adam Lind aren’t among them.

Scott Podsednik:
This is the kind of comeback story you can root for. Scott
Podsednik’s future in the majors looked uncertain after he was released
by the Rockies during Spring Training on the heels of a lousy
.253/.322/.333 line in 2008. He eventually signed on with the White Sox
in mid-April, and after spending a couple weeks with Triple-A
Charlotte, the 33-year-old outfielder returned to the majors when the
team’s center field options fizzled out. It didn’t take long for him
to secure a stranglehold on the job, batting .304/.353/.412 with seven
homers (most since 2004), 48 RBI (most since 2003), 30 stolen bases
(7th in AL) and 75 runs scored in 132 games. Chone Figgins will
probably be too rich for the White Sox blood during the offseason, so
look for “Scotty Pods” to return as the club’s leadoff hitter with a just reward in hand.

Justin Verlander: It’s easy to forget that Justin Verlander’s 17 losses were
tied with Barry Zito and Aaron Harang for the most in the majors last season. It
looked like he was headed for the same fate this season when he started
at 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his first four starts. However, he has been
one of the most dominant starters in the majors over his past 30 starts, going 19-7
with a 2.92 ERA. He kept the Tigers postseason hopes afloat on Sunday,
allowing three runs over 7 2/3 innings, tying C.C. Sabathia and Adam
Wainwright for the major league lead in victories. He was a true
workhorse for the Tigers in 2009, logging a major-league high 240 innings. The
26-year-old fireballer was tops in the league with 269 strikeouts while
his 20 games of eight strikeouts or more tied him with Tim Lincecum.

Todd Helton: Todd Helton’s chronic back condition reduced him to just 83 games in
2008, batting a career-worst .264/.391/.388. After undergoing
arthroscopic surgery last September, he opened the 2009 season with
serious questions about his durability and just how the surgery would
affect his performance at the plate. While he’ll never touch the same
historic on-base totals of his prime, he came pretty close in 2009,
batting .325./416/.489 with 15 homers and 86 RBI. Incredibly, he
managed to play in 151 games this season. His .904 OPS still placed him
among the top-15 in the league. The Rockies have to feel a little bit
better about the roughly $36 million they owe him over the next two

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.