Craig Calcaterra

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #24: Barry Bonds comes back to baseball


We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Barry Bonds has been in baseball’s wilderness for a long, long time. Most of it of his own doing, of course. After breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record in 2007 Bonds never played again. There was still every indication that he was a useful player — he posted a line of .276/.380/.565 that year — but he was unable to find a team who would sign him. Was it collusion? Possibly, though an arbitrator eventually ruled that it wasn’t. That left us with the explanation that baseball just didn’t want to deal with him and the controversy which surrounded him any longer. In addition to being a famously difficult personality in the clubhouse, Bonds was indicted and was facing a perjury and obstruction of justice trial.

For most of the next eight years, baseball’s all-time home run leader was consumed with legal matters. He was acquitted on all but one of the charges and, after a lengthy appeal process, prevailed on the remaining count. This past July the government finally and definitively dropped all efforts to make a criminal out of Barry Bonds. At long last, Bonds would be able to slip into quiet retirement, pursuing what had become his new passion: cycling up and down the mountains of the Bay Area.

Or would he?

In late November reports circulated that the Miami Marlins were interested in hiring Bonds to be their hitting coach. Bonds had been a guest instructor for the Giants during the past couple of spring trainings, but nothing about his post-playing life suggested that he’d be amenable to returning to the eight month grind of Major League Baseball. Bonds surprised everyone, however, by accepting the job. He’ll be back in uniform come February and will be back in a major league dugout on Opening Day.

There is some reason to believe that Bonds’ decision to take this job, with this club, was not well-considered and that his tenure with the Marlins may not last a very long time. But in the meantime, a man baseball fans and commentators love to hate is back in the game.

He’s not the only guy who fits that description who returned in 2015, but you’ll have to wait a good while for us to get to the other rehabilitated pariah on our countdown.


The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #25: Curt Schilling’s Year in Social Media


We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Cancer kept Curt Schilling on the sidelines in 2014. Thankfully he fought and beat it and returned to the public eye in 2015. Boy howdy, did he make up for lost time.

In January he claimed that he didn’t get as many Hall of Fame votes as he should have — as many as, say, John Smoltz got — because he is a Republican. Never mind that Smoltz is a Republican too. In March he got praise for lowering the boom on a couple of awful people who tweeted vile and borderline criminal things about his daughter, getting one of them fired and causing a police investigation to be launched with respect to the other.

That stuff, however, was just a warmup for the main event: Schilling posting a tweet that equated Muslims to Nazis. He deleted it, but not before it created an uproar and brought considerable attention to Schilling’s habit of posting controversial political memes on Facebook and Twitter. In the past Schilling’s employer, ESPN, had largely ignored this stuff, but this time they were none too pleased, issuing a statement which said “Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective.” They immediately took him off of his assignment providing commentary for the Little League World Series.

More significantly, Schilling was suspended from his primary job, providing color commentary for Sunday Night Baseball. Which, while a bad thing for Schilling, was a good thing for Jessica Mendoza. Just days before Schilling’s social media controversy erupted Mendoza, the former Olympic softball player and studio analyst for ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” became became the first female in-game analyst for an MLB game on ESPN, contributing to a Diamondbacks-Cardinals game. After receiving praise for that assignment ESPN almost immediately slotted her into Schilling’s place on Sunday Night Baseball where she remained for the rest of the season.

Mendoza has gotten glowing reviews for her work in the ESPN booth and, while Schilling is under contract with ESPN for another year, it seems likely that she will continue in that role. For his part, Schilling has been shifted to studio work and continues to post controversial things on his Facebook and Twitter pages.

One gets the sense that, after his contract expires in 2016, he’ll have a lot more time for Facebook and Twitter. Which is sort of ironic, as his Twitter handle — Gehrig38 — is a tribute to Lou Gehrig while his social media habits got him Wally Pipped from his broadcasting job.


Done deal: the Yankees acquire Aroldis Chapman from the Reds

Aroldis Chapman
Associated press

Jack Curry of YES Network reports and Ken Rosenthal and others confirm that the Yankees have acquired reliever Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds for four minor leaguers.

We weren’t expecting this.

A reason we weren’t expecting this or any move involving Chapman is that Chapman is under investigation by MLB for an alleged domestic incident in his home which involved gunshots and choking of his girlfriend. While no criminal charges were filed, the possibility of a suspension under MLB’s domestic violence policy still hangs over Chapman’s head. Indeed, this investigation put the kibosh on a trade of Chapman to the Dodgers in early December.

All of which means that either (a) the Yankees are confident that Chapman will not face suspension; or (b) they are willing to take the risk. Which is perhaps less of a risk for them than for some other teams as they already have a solid bullpen with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances at the back end. Adding Chapman, even with the risk, would make the Yankees even tougher in the late innings than they already are. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post just noted, Chapman struck out 15.74 batters per nine last year, Miller struck out 14.59 per nine and Betances struck out 14.04. That’s the top three in all of baseball and now they’re together.

So, this could be a Royals-style Death Star bullpen or, alternatively, they could flip Miller or Betances for other needs.

The off-the-field stuff notwithstanding, Chapman is one of the game’s best relievers and is certainly its hardest thrower. He turns 28 years old in February and saved 33 games with a 1.63 ERA and a 116/33 K/BB ratio in 66 1/3 innings in 2015. Across parts of six seasons, Chapman has a career 2.17 ERA. He strikes guys out like it’s going out of style and routinely tops triple digits on the gun.

Heading back to Cincinnati are minor leaguers right-handers Caleb Cotham and Rookie Davis and infielders Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda. Which is not exactly a bumper crop of top prospects, but given Chapman’s baggage it’s understandable that the price has gone down.