Tag: Ryan Braun

Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs

Pirates closer Jason Grilli deems himself “ready” to return


Pirates closer Jason Grilli has been on the disabled list since April 21 with a strained oblique, but the right-hander deemed himself “ready” to return after throwing 24 pitches in a simulated game on Wednesday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Travis Sawchik reports.

Grilli, of course, won’t just be activated like that; he’ll have to make a handful of rehab appearances, but if he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, he could rejoin his teammates before the month of May expires.

Grilli blew two consecutive saves against the Brewers — both due to Ryan Braun homering — before the Pirates shut him down. In his absence, Mark Melancon has been handling closing duties and has done a great job, notching four of five saves with a 1.13 ERA and a 5/0 K/BB ratio in eight innings in his new role.

It’s unclear if the Pirates plan to reinsert Grilli into his previous role or wean him back into closing.

Jose Abreu and amazing home run starts

jose abreu getty

So to play off something that our own Aaron Gleeman wrote earlier here, there have been seven players in baseball history who have hit 15 home runs in their first 50 major league games. Chicago’s Jose Abreu will likely become the eighth — he has 14 home runs already in just 40 games.

The seven players so far are:

1. Wally Berger, 18
2. Wally Joyner, 17
3. Albert Pujols, 16
(tie) Mark McGwire, 16
(tie) Zeke Bonura, 16
6. Kevin Maas, 15
7. Ryan Braun, 15

It is fun to note that there are two guys named Wally on the top of the list … there have been five guys named Wally who have played in an All-Star Game; Berger and Joyner are two of them. The other three are Wally Moon, Wally Moses and Wally Westlake — all three  fantastic names. Wally Post cerainly should have been an All-Star in 1955 or 1956 but he was not. Wally Backman was a pretty good player. Wally Pipp was jobbed by history; he was a very good player who twice led the league in homers and once in triples but is remembered only as the guy Lou Gehrig replaced.

Anyway, of those seven who got off to such amazing home run starts, one is an all-time great (Albert Pujols), one was, for better or worse, the most prolific home run hitter in the game’s history (Mark McGwire) and one is a superstar who led the league in home runs in 2012 and now gets booed a lot (Ryan Braun).

The other four are  interesting.

Wally Berger was a very good player who has probably been overlooked by history. Here’s a great little piece of trivia that you can use wherever you might use great little piece of baseball trivia: Wally Berger is the only starter from the 1934 All-Star game who is NOT in the Hall of Fame. Here’s a list of those All-Stars with their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and their Wins Above Average (WAA). I have a post coming up that talks about the difference.

Babe Ruth (163 WAR, 125.8 WAA)
Lou Gehrig (112.4 WAR, 78.5 WAA)
Jimmie Foxx (96.4 WAR, 62.9 WAA)
Charlie Gehringer (80.6 WAR, 45.4 WAA)
Frankie Frisch (70.4 WAR, 39.1 WAA)
Carl Hubbell (67.8 WAR, 38.7 WAA)
Joe Cronin (66.4 WAR, 35.9 WAA)
Al Simmons (68.7 WAR, 34.8 WAA)
Bill Terry (54.2 WAR, 31.8 WAA)
Bill Dickey (55.8 WAR, 31.6 WAA)
Gabby Hartnett (53.4 WAR, 29.6 WAA)
Joe Medwick (55.5 WAR, 28.1 WAA)
**Wally Berger (42.1 WAR, 23.5 WAA)**
Travis Jackson (44.0 WAR, 22.7 WAA)
Kiki Cuyler (46.7 WAR, 21.2 WAA)
Lefty Gomez (43.1 WAR, 19.7 WAA)
Heine Manush (45.8 WAR, 15.5 WAA)
Pie Traynor (36.2 WAR, 10.2 WAA)

Point is, if you were going to leave one starter from that game out of the Hall of Fame, it probably should not have been Berger. Bill James talked about three similar contemporary center fielders: Berger, Hack Wilson and Earl Averill. He thinks Berger was the best player. The other two, though, are in the Hall of Fame.

Berger is not in the Hall of Fame because his career ended abruptly. Up to age 30, he was a career .305 hitter with a .533 slugging percentage, he had led the league in home runs and he set a rookie home run record (38) that lasted for more than a half century until it was finally broken by another guy on this list, Mark McGwire. But Berger hurt his shoulder and was traded to the Giants in 1937, it was not a good fit, he only got three at-bats in the World Series and was shipped to Cincinnati less than a year later. He never played a full season after that, and he retired at 34 and joined the Navy.

Wally Joyner was a legitimate phenomenon — in 1986 he was called Wally World after the theme park in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Nobody had expected that kind of power from him. He seemed more a doubles kind of guy. He had hit 12 home runs as a 22-year old in Waterbury, and he 12 home runs as a 23-year-old in Edmonton. He hit his first home run off of Mark Langston … that was in his second career game. A week later, he hit one off Milt Wilcox. He had six home runs through his first 23 games, which was mildly surprising.

But then he got hot. He hit homers on back-to-back days at Milwaukee. Afteout a week later, he homered against Milwaukee again and the next day he had his first two-homer game, hitting both off of Boston’s Al Nipper. He homered again the next day and, after a homerless day, had ANOTHER two-homer game, this time in Detroit.

Man everybody was excited about Wally Joyner. Everybody talked about what a nice guy he was, what a magical story he was. Of course, he was not really a home run hitter, and so the home run thing could not last. It did not. Joyner hit 19 home runs in his first 61 games. He hit three in the 93 games that followed.

The next year, Wally World did hit what would be a career high 34 home runs … but that next year was 1987, when baseballs flew like lightning bugs, and once things settled down Joyner settled into the kind of player everyone kind of thought he would be — a pretty good average, double-digit homers kind of guy. He played all through the Selig Power Hour Decade but only once managed even 20 homers in a season in the 1990s and he never hit 25.

Zeke Bonura played for the Chicago White Sox in the 1930s — he was a very likeable character like Wally Joyner. His actual name was Henry, but they called him Zeke because a sportswriter once commented about him, “What a physique” and “physique” was just shortened to “Zeke.” He was 6-foot, about 210 pounds and was a a football player at Loyola in New Orleans. He hit two home runs in his second game and had back-to-back two-homer games in May. In all, he hit 27 homers as a rookie which was a White Sox record for about a half century, until Ron Kittle broke it.

Any time you can mention Ron Kittle, you should.

Bonura hit 21 homers in his second year, had 138 RBIs in his third and was a very good hitter until age 30, not quite as successful but similar to Wally Berger. He was among the first major leaguers to enlist for World War II and never played in the big leagues after 1940 — his career was short but his .307/.380/.487 lifetime slash numbers are awfully good.

Finally there’s Kevin Maas — if you are a Yankees fan over a certain age, you probably feel a certain lump in your throat when you hear the name Kevin Maas. He came up in June of 1990 with almost no fanfare at all. He had been a 22nd round pick, better known for his academics (he was an engineering major at Berkeley) than his baseball. He’d hit a few home runs in a mostly uninteresting four years in the minors. He came up in the middle of the worst Yankees season since they were named the New York Yankees.

And he mashed home runs. He hit his first on the fourth of July … it was that kind of story. He banged two home runs 10 days later againt the White Sox. In Texas, he hit homers on three consecutive days and a few days later he hit three more homers in a series against Detroit. He reached 10 home runs faster than any player in baseball history.

Maas had a beautiful swing, classic, left-handed, like The Natural. If he had come up in any other year, for any other team, it would have been a cool story. But in New York, in the middle of an otherwise lost season, Maas became this phenomenon. Yankees fans — and there are so many Yankees fans all over America — pinned so many hopes on him. “I’m not going to try to be the next Babe Ruth,” Maas pleaded but the next Babe Ruth was exactly how many people saw him, how many people HAD to see him. After hitting 21 homers in 79 games as a rookie and finishing second to Sandy Alomar in the Rookie of the Year award, he hit just .220 in his one full season in the big leagues in 1991 and then faded away.

What does this suggest about Abreu. Who knows? None of the previous home run heros were 27-year-old players who had already established themselves as superstars in Cuba. Abreu has shown in his first 40 games to be a free swinger who will strike out a lot and has massive power. McGwire might be the best comp on the board. I’m predicting 40 homers, approaching 45, if he stays healthy. But I predicted Kevin Maas would be a star too.

Brewers activate Ryan Braun from the disabled list

Milwaukee Brewers v Pittsburgh Pirates

As expected Ryan Braun is off the disabled list and back on Milwaukee’s active roster after missing the past two weeks with an oblique injury.

Braun is rejoining to the Brewers’ lineup without going on a minor-league rehab assignment first, although even last week the former MVP seemed very confident about being healthy enough to return when eligible to come off the DL.

Braun was off to a fantastic start before the injury, hitting .318 with six homers and a .952 OPS in 22 games. Milwaukee struggled to get right field production during his absence and went 6-8 without Braun.

The Biogenesis Sudoku game

AP Anthony Bosch

So, for a while there, I was kind of into Sudoku, you know, that math puzzle game. Someone told me it is good for the mind to actively work on puzzles. I played a lot of Words With Friends for a time. I have tried at various times to get into things like crossword puzzles, though I’m terrible at those.

These days, though, I occupy my mind by playing Candy Crush and trying to figure just how the heck this Alex Rodriguez-Biogenesis fiasco went down. I’m having more luck with Candy Crush.

The Biogenesis nightmare is a magnificent thought puzzle featuring slimy people from all walks of life. If you have a notebook handy, I’ll get you started and you can play along. We’ll use this spectacular primer from Newsday as our guide.

We begin with a man named Anthony Bosch; it seems like his friends call him Tony. Though he ran Biogenesis, he’s actually a minor character in this story. Bosch grew up in Miami and from a young age seemed determined to become a character in a Carl Hiaasen novel. His father was a physician and it seems that Tony was also interested in the health field. Well, he liked calling himself Dr. Tony. Aren’t we all doctors in a way?

Dr. Tony’s interests tended to revolve more around biochemistry than family medicine. He lived on the periphery, opened and closed several similarly themed businesses designed to keep people young through the power of, you know, drugs. He would sometimes call himself an “anti-aging doctor.”

At some point, Bosch opened up a version of his business with the sciency sounding name, “Biogenesis.” and began hooking up with athletes. You may wonder how athletes got involved with a character like Bosch. Well, as rich and famous as athletes are, there really aren’t many high-end performance enhancing drug stores they can go to for their designer enhancers. They would undoubtedly feel more comfortable in sort of a Nieman Marcus Steroid Store or at Gucci Growth Hormone, but such places don’t exist … certainly not after the U.S. government and American media made clear that they might actually want to punish people for using PEDs. So, athletes were stuck having to deal with shadowy and mildly competent street hustlers like Tony Bosch if they wanted to cheat chemically.

Bosch built up a pretty healthy client list with Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun as his biggest stars.

And it’s likely nobody would have gotten caught … except somebody always gets angry over money. And that’s where our game begins.

Player 1: Porter Fischer

Official media title: “Disgruntled former Biogenesis employee” or “Whistleblower.”

The Biogenesis scandal began in January 2013, when Porter Fischer leaked boxes of files from the clinic to a Miami newspaper called ‘The Miami New Times.” Why did Fischer do this? There have been various motivations ascribed. It seems unchallenged that Fischer felt that Bosch owed him $4,000 — perhaps an unpaid loan (the most prominent story seems to be that Fischer lent Bosch $4,000 with the expectation he’d get back $4,800, which is kind of like, you know, loan sharking), perhaps an investment he wanted returned, perhaps a dispute of some kind. The reasons vary by story, but oddly that number — $4,000 — seems consistent. It is the smallest money number you will hear

Point is: Fischer leaked the files to get revenge on Bosch. Everything else that happened was just a bonus.

Fischer, in his own telling of the story, has a different motivation. He said that he knew illegal activities going on and, being a vigilant citizen, he felt it was important that he notify federal authorities.

The people who lean toward the Fischer explanation tend to be the ones who call him “whistleblower.”

Once the thorough and fascinating New Times report came out, Fischer found himself a popular guy. He would tell police that everybody wanted those files — friends, enemies, everybody. He got the most interest from investigators working with Major League Baseball AND investigators who claimed to be working with Alex Rodriguez. You know, it’s worth pausing here and considering the word “investigators.” It sounds so official but, realistically, you don’t need a license or anything else to be an “investigator.”

I bring this up because the Major League Baseball cronies, in various stories, are called “investigators.” But the Alex Rodriguez investigators, in various stories, are called “cronies.” I’m not sure there’s a difference there.

Fischer would say the MLB investigators were particularly determined and he admitted to police that they gave him $5,000 in what Fischer described as a “down payment.” I’m not sure what this was a “down payment” for but he did say that that Major League Baseball vice president and deputy general council Steven Gonzalez offered him $125,000 for the files.

According to Newsday, this man willing to leak boxes of information over a $4,000 disagreement, turned down the $125,000 from Major League Baseball because “it wasn’t enough to start a new life.”

“The people running Major League Baseball,” Fischer would tell the New Times, “are the biggest scumbags on Earth.” But that wasn’t until AFTER he got robbed.

You know what this story needs now? A friend.

* * *

Player 2: Peter Carbone

Official media title: “Long Island friend.”

Peter Carbone, it seems, knew how to make friends. He was friends with Bosch, going back to their days at “Boca Body,” a whole other anti-aging clinic that Newsday says was run from a tanning salon in Coral Gables. He was also friends with Fischer. Pete also may have been friends with Alex Rodriguez, though that part seems a bit more suspect. I call him “Pete” because I’m sure we’d be friends too.

Carbone’s role in this is somewhat baffling — everything gets so much fuzzier from here — but best I can tell Fischer claimed that Carbone offered to serve as some kind of middleman. At a different time, Fischer also claimed that Pete Carbone was the one who suggested leaking the files to get back at Bosch in the first place. What a good friend.

Again, best I can tell, Carbone’s offer was that he would take the files from Fischer and return them to Bosch in exchange for the money Bosch owed him. Why Fischer would turn down $125,000 from MLB and instead take $4,000 from the guy he hated enough to start this whole thing in the first place is only one of 17 million questions worth asking. It seems certain that Carbone may or may not have given Fischer money here.

Fischer also claimed that Carbone double-crossed him and instead sold the files to an associate of Alex Rodriguez. Or just gave him the files. There’s another Carbone friend, Oggi Velasquez, who may or may not have been …. well, let’s try not to get off-track here with friends who aren’t a direct part of the story.

Carbone, by his own admission, did give/sell those files to the A-Rod camp but at the same time he also told Major League Baseball that he had another friend who somehow had a zip drive of the files, someone who would “do a onetime deal.”

You know what this story needs? A tanning bed repairman.

* * *

Player 3: Gary L. Jones (The “L” stands for “Love”).

Official media title: “Tanning bed repairman.”

Jones’ official media title also could have been “counterfeiter” since he served two years for passing counterfeit bills. But that title isn’t nearly as much fun. Jones, it seems, did have the USB drives, and he was indeed happy to do a one-time deal. According to the Boca Raton police report, Jones sold MLB four USB drives filled with Biogenesis records for $100,000. It is unclear how Jones actually got these USB drives.

Jones would later sign a sworn affidavit claiming that MLB said it would have paid him a lot more than $100,000 if the documents had been originals. Hint hint! Jones later said he didn’t mean that; he had not read the affidavit before signing it.

This is only going to get better.

Jones, it turns out, was not only friends with Peter Carbone, he was also friends with Porter Fischer. Everybody’s friends here. It’s hard to deduce exactly what Fischer’s was doing at this point, but he seems to have realized that these boxes of files he somehow got out of the Biogenesis Clinic were kind of important. So he decided to take them out of the storage facility where he had them hidden and, instead, put them in the trunk of his rented Toyota Corolla. It is a well-known fact that one of the safest places you can hide valuable things is in the trunk of a Corolla.

Fischer was driving that Corolla to meet with investigators from the Department of Health — it seems Fischer wanted to show them the files to help them collar his old pal Tony Bosch on practicing medicine without a license — when he got a call from Gary L. Jones (the L stands for “listener”). Well, of course he did.

Here is my best effort to recap how that call went, based on Fischer’s recollections.

Fischer: Yo.

Jones: Yo.

Fischer: What’s happening?

Jones: You gotta come by?

Fischer: Kinda busy here, man.

Jones: No, seriously dude, it’s here.

Fischer: What’s there?

Jones: That new tanning spray I was telling you about.

Fischer: No way.

Jones: Seriously.

Fischer: This is the spray you’ve been developing, right?

Jones: Yeah. It’s my best work man. This stuff will seriously tan.

Fischer: I am looking awful white, man. Been indoors a lot lately. I haven’t been wanting to be seen, you know?

Jones: I know. Bosch don’t play. You owe it to yourself.

Fischer: I don’t know man. Got a pretty important meeting.

Jones: Pamper yourself, man. Nobody else will.

Fischer: All right. I’ll stop by.

So Fischer stopped on his way to meeting with the Department of Health to see this new spray that Jones had developed. None of this is made up. This was at the Boca Tanning Club.

You know what this story needs? Another Carbone.

* * *

Player 4: Anthony Carbone

Official Media Title: The younger brother.

Anthony Carbone is the younger brother of Peter AND the owner of the aforementioned Boca Tanning Club. The Carbones seem to be tanning moguls. Carbone’s role in this is unclear, but then, everything is unclear. Fischer parked his car and went inside Anthony Carbone’s tanning club. He said he was in the tanning booth for no more than 10 minutes. I guess he just wanted a light bronze for the Department of Health meeting.

When he came out — this will shock you — his car had been broken into, everything was stolen, including the Beretta .32 pistol he kept and, oh yeah, the Biogenesis files in the trunk. There was a spot of blood on the door.

So, now the Department of Health was ticked off and repeatedly told Major League Baseball, hey, back off, we are dealing with stolen documents here, there are a few illegalities going on, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble and so on. But MLB investigators, you know, were pretty determined.

Wait, before going on, you know what this story needs? A bumbling young petty thief with a comically overwrought name.

* * *

Player 5: Reginald St. Fleur

Official Media Title: Doer of odd jobs.

Reginald St. Fleur was a 20-year-old guy who did various odd jobs for Anthony Carbone and Gary L. Jones. What does he have to do with any of this? Well, remember that blood smear on the door handle of the Corolla? Funny thing about that: The DNA matched St. Fleur’s. His trial for burglary is upcoming.

So, hmm, what do you think happened here? Boca Raton police seemed to think — crazy as it may sound — that Carbone and Jones may have been involved in this robbery. Newsday quoted an audio recording of the interview between the Boca Raton police and St. Fleur … there’s one particularly wonderful paragraph.

“I know that you don’t have an interest in this. It’s the whole Major League Baseball thing where people are stealing from each other, trying to make money, sell thing. And I don’t think you would do it without somebody asking you to do it.”

Anthony Carbone paid for St. Fleur’s attorney and, according to that attorney, “might have stepped up and given the bond.” Carbone though insists he had absolutely, positively nothing to do with the burglary. What? Him?

Here’s how he insisted to Newsday:

“I feel pretty confident that — whatever — I didn’t do anything. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty.”

Yes. Whatever happened to that.

Fischer would say that after the robbery, Major League Baseball no longer seemed interested in him. Funny how that works. The Florida Department of Health, he said, gave Bosch a citation, fined him, and stopped their investigation. According to the police report, Gary L. Jones (the L. stands for “lucky”) met again with MLB investigators about three weeks after the break-in and, amazingly, had new Biogenesis files to sell. Where did he get those from? This batch went for $25,000. Maybe.

* * *

You know what this story needs? Nothing else. Major League Baseball attorney Daniel Halem reportedly offered a theory to police that Fischer and Jones made up the whole robbery in order to get more money, which makes as much sense as anything else. Fischer told the police that it was possible that Major League Baseball arranged the robbery, which makes as much sense as anything else. The Department of Health claimed that it warned Major League Baseball not to buy those stolen files, which makes as much sense as anything else.

Major League Baseball in addition to all this also pressured Tony Bosch to play ball … which makes as much sense as anything else.

When this sham of a sham inside a sham ended, Major League Baseball agreed to have the commissioner of baseball Bud Selig and the leading candidate to for next commissioner Rob Manfred appear on 60 Minutes to talk about how they nailed Alex Rodriguez. It was an extraordinary display of corruption and payoffs and the smarmy people who show up when there’s money to be had and what happens when people get blood in their eyes. Major League Baseball was going to get Alex Rodriguez. They just were.

And why? Well, yeah, what about Alex Rodriguez, the player who started it all?

* * *

Player 6: Alex Rodriguez

Official Media Title: “A-Rod” or “Disgraced star” or “Once thought of as a Hall of Famer.”

Alex Rodriguez used various drugs without a prescription in an attempt to play baseball better.

Ryan Braun to be activated tomorrow

ryan braun getty

Ryan Braun is on the DL with a strained oblique. But good news:

Braun has been out since April 26 and has been on the disabled list since May 3. Before being shut down he hit .318 with six homers and a .952 OPS in 22 games.

Also since then: there has not been a reliable heel playing major league baseball. It’s all babyfaces, which is really, really boring.