This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: December 2020

Goodbye Cleveland Indians (Just Not Yet)    Major Respect for the Negro Leagues
MLB Forces Contraction Upon the Minors    RIPs to Dick Allen and Phil Niekro

November 2020    Comebacker Index


Tuesday, December 1

Avoiding arbitration, the Boston Red Sox announce an $8.3 million contract for pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who won 19 games in 2019 but missed the shortened 2020 campaign after dealing heart inflammation caused by the COVID-19 virus.

The New York Mets pick up former Minnesota reliever Trevor May for two years and $15 million. The 31-year-old right-hander is a serviceable bullpen asset, with a 10-4 record and 3.19 ERA over the past three years—but the fact that someone of his ilk is drawing that kind of wage level again speaks to the trend that major league teams aren’t being afraid to shell out decent money for common players…so far.

Wednesday, December 2

The deadline for teams to tender contracts to pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players—or waive them bye-bye—is at hand with 59 players given the latter option, making them all free agents. Among them are Atlanta slugger Adam Duvall, Minnesota outfielder Eddie Rosario (who was on pace for a second-straight season of 30 homers and 100 RBIs—had the Twins played 162 games), Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber, Cincinnati reliever Archie Bradley, and Kansas City slugger Maikel Franco.

Meanwhile, some acquisitions take place. Milwaukee reliever Corey Knebel, whose standing as team closer was diminished with the arrival of Josh Hader, is dealt to the Dodgers for cash and a player to be named later. Down the freeway in Anaheim, the Angels cut a deal to bring shortstop Jose Iglesias—who hit .373 in 39 games for Baltimore in 2020—onto their roster, likely meaning that the team will not re-sign 31-year-old free agent Andrelton Simmons.

Thursday, December 3

Could the Staten Island Yankees become the 21st-Century version of the Baltimore Terrapins? That latter team took Baseball all the way to the Supreme Court in 1922 when it became the odd man out in the absorption of the short-lived Federal League—but lost the case in which baseball obtained its antitrust exemption, which continues to the current day. Now, the Staten Island team, unceremoniously kicked out of the Yankees organization as part of MLB’s bigger scheme to contract Minor League Baseball from 160 teams to 120, sue the former parent club and MLB.

Does this mean another climb up the legal ladder toward a date with the Supreme Court and another chance to rid baseball of its Holy Grail in the exemption? Staten Island may have company, not just from other teams certain to fold as a result of contraction, but from cities whose classification will be reduced—cities like Fresno, California, which was recently told by MLB to either accept demotion from Triple-A to Single-A, or not have any baseball at all. We had no idea that ‘MLB’ also stood for Major League Bullying.

Friday December 4

Jon Daniels, one of MLB’s longer tenured general managers, kicks himself upstairs at Texas Rangers headquarters and names former pitcher Chris Young as his replacement. A tough pitcher to get a hit off in his day—opponents had a lifetime .232 batting average against him—Young also found it tough staying healthy, missing parts of almost every one of his remaining 10 years following three relatively healthy campaigns to begin his career. The happy news for Young is that he’ll be trying to build a sound roster for his boyhood team, having grown up in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area rooting on the Rangers of Nolan Ryan, Julio Franco and Ruben Sierra.

MLB and its 30 ballclubs sue three insurance companies, claiming they owe them for billions in losses due to the pandemic this past season. At the risk of diving into the legal gobbledygook of the suit, one aspect of the suit clearly sticks out: The insurers state that COVID-19 has not resulted in physical loss or property damage, but MLB theorizes—and this is where it gets interesting—that there was physical damage to its facilities, as “coronavirus droplets or nuclei on solid surfaces and in the air at insured property…has caused and will continue to cause direct physical damage to physical property and ambient air at the premises.”

Hey guys—have you ever heard of disinfectant wipes?

Monday, December 7

Just a day after he had hoped to be voted into the Hall of Fame by the “Golden Years” Era Committee—had the vote not been delayed due to the pandemic—former slugger Dick Allen passes away at the age of 78. Allen’s baseball career was packed with productive numbers and chronic turmoil, much of it of his own making. On the former, he hit a lifetime .292 with 351 home runs and 1,119 RBIs, made seven All-Star teams, twice led his league in home runs and won the 1972 AL MVP for the Chicago White Sox. With the latter, his combative moments included a racially-tinged brawl with Philadelphia teammate Frank Thomas, and numerous absences due to various protests with Phillies team officials and coaches. Maybe had Allen been nicer, not gotten hurt often or racked more prestigious milestone numbers, he would have made it to Cooperstown via the general vote. But in 14 years of eligibility, the highest approval he ever got was 18.9%—well short of the 75% needed for induction. Time and a second chance are often a very good player’s best friends; yet if it does, it will come too late for Allen—who would be inducted posthumously once the Golden Years Committee reconvenes as planned a year from now.

Baseball’s Winter Meetings—held virtually via Zoom this year—begins with one noteworthy transaction, as Cincinnati trades closer Raisel Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for pitcher Noe Ramirez and cash or player to be named later. The move is considered a payroll shaver for the Reds, who were on the hook to pay Iglesias $9,125,000 in 2021. In six years with the Reds, Iglesias was 18-32 with 106 saves and a 3.15 ERA in 274 appearances, all but 21 of them in relief.

Adam Wainwright is named the recipient of the 2020 Roberto Clemente Award, honoring the major leaguer who best exemplifies contributions to the community. The former Cardinals pitcher, currently a free agent, was involved in multiple causes throughout the world, as well as local charitable contributions in the St. Louis area. Wainwright is the sixth Cardinals player to win the award since its establishment following Clemente’s untimely death from an airplane crash, while he was delivering relief supplies to earthquake-torn Nicaragua in 1972.

Tuesday, December 8

The White Sox look to be going all in on 2021. Building on a positive 2020 result that saw the Pale Hose reach the postseason for the first time since 2008, Chicago signs former Washington outfielder Adam Eaton (.226 average, four home runs in 2020) to a one-year $7 million deal, while trading for Texas starting pitcher Lance Lynn (6-3 record, 3.32 ERA in 13 starts). Going to Texas are two players including 26-year-old pitcher Dale Dunning, who was 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA in seven rookie starts last year.

The Kansas City Royals scooped up veteran first baseman Carlos Santana for two years and $17.5 million. Santana, who will turn 35 a week into the scheduled 2021 campaign, collapsed to a dismal .199 batting average for Cleveland last season—but did make up by drawing an AL-high 47 walks.

Wednesday, December 9

MLB acts on something it had long threatened to do and reduces the number of minor affiliates by 25%, from 160 teams to 120. MLB teams apparently discussed amongst themselves, came up with the minor league teams they wanted to affiliate with in four separate classifications (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A), finalized their wish list and sent out notices to those lower-level clubs with, essentially an ultimatum to re-affiliate or else. The restructuring shows that parent clubs, by and large, will have their affiliated teams closer to home base. Minor league teams that also have better facilities were more likely to be included while, according to Baseball America, “political considerations” were also taken into account—in other words, affiliates were carefully chosen so as not to ruffle feathers of powerful Congresspersons who might get agitated enough to call MLB onto the carpet and dangle the antitrust exemption in front of it.

The 40 unlucky teams will have to figure out how to survive, if they can at all. Some will have no choice but to go independent, while those in the Appalachian League will be demoted to a shortened summer showcase for college freshman and sophomores.

Though he hasn’t regularly broadcast baseball over the past 25 years, Al Michaels is named as this year’s winner of the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. The 76-year-old Michaels, who’s still the top announcer for NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecasts, began his baseball career with the Pacific Coast League’s Hawaii team in 1968, moved on to the majors in 1971 for Cincinnati, San Francisco in 1974, and then ABC in 1976—quickly taking over as the network’s lead voice through 1995. The only two games he’s announced since then was for ESPN in 2003 and the MLB Network in 2011, in a special pairing with Bob Costas for a game in San Francisco. Michaels admits he’s lost touch with what’s happening in baseball—something quite evident when, while doing Super Bowl play-by-play a few years back, he spotted Mike Trout in the stands and referred to him as a star player for the California Angels.

Some players are remembered for a great career, a great moment, or perhaps something completely different. Phil Linz, best known as that “harmonica guy,” qualifies for the latter. The utility player of seven major league seasons (1962-68), who passes away today, came closest to being a full-time player for the 1964 Yankees—but his most memorable moment from that year came off the field. After being swept by the first-place White Sox in Chicago, the Yankees boarded a bus on a hot August day and Linz, perhaps trying to cheer up the troops, began jamming on a harmonica at the back row. Manager Yogi Berra, seated in front, was irritated by the music and angrily asked for it to stop. According to legend, Linz asked what Berra had said and Mickey Mantle, seated nearby, said, “Play it louder.” Which Linz did. Seconds later, an incensed Berra beelined to Linz and slapped the harmonica out of his hands. Linz was fined $200 by Berra, but more than made up for it when he signed an endorsement deal with a harmonica company for $5,000.

Thursday, December 10

Baseball’s virtual 2020 winter meetings end with a whimper instead of a bang, long since having run out of steam after a modest first day of activity. Outside of a few minor trades, probably the most noteworthy move on the day doesn’t even involve a player, as the Phillies bring on former Tigers and Red Sox front office guru Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations. While the 64-year-old Dombrowski did build success in Detroit and Boston, he departed with big bills due for both teams as expensive payrolls gradually began to outweigh the results. The Phillies already have a fairly expensive roster that’s been underperforming—only the Seattle Mariners currently have a longer postseason drought among MLB’s 30 teams than the Phillies, who were last there in 2011—so Dombrowski’s job will be to simply maximize the talent, whether old or new.

Saturday, December 12

The New York Mets continue to show that they mean business under new owner Steve Cohen—or, they just keep wanting to hog the spotlight. The team signs catcher James McCann (not to be confused with or related to former All-Star catcher Brian McCann) to a four-year, $40 million contract, while also hiring former Arizona assistant general manager Jared Porter to the GM’s role at Citi Field. On the 41-year-old Porter, he followed the Theo Epstein Trail by working as head of scouting for the Red Sox during three of their World Series-winning campaigns, and then the 2016 Cubs, who famously ended their 108-year championship drought.

Charley Pride, country music’s first African-American star performer, dies from COVID-19 complications at age 86. So while this is sad news, you may be asking: What does this have to do with baseball? Pride was a member of the Negro Leagues during the 1950s—but as that circuit began bowing to major league integration, Pride fell back on music—which turned out to be a pretty good career move. Pride did ultimately get back into baseball, becoming a part-owner of the Texas Rangers in 2010—coincidentally, the year the team won its first-ever pennant—and served on the advisory board of the Negro Leagues Museum.

Sunday, December 13

Reports state that after years of pressure—accelerated this past year with the rise of social protests and the Washington Football Team buckling under its own stress to rid itself of the name “Redskins”—the Cleveland Indians will announce that they will be changing to a new nickname. A day later, Cleveland owner Paul Dolan will confirm the report in an interview with the Associated Press—though “Indians” will remain the team name through the 2021 season, which is bound to cause a bit of lame-duck grief for both proponents and protestors of the name.

In his remarks, Dolan says: “It’s time…The name is no longer acceptable in our world.” Well, if it’s time and it’s unacceptable, why wait until 2022?

This news is bound to put increased pressure upon the Atlanta Braves to rethink their branding as well; putting an end to the awful (and embarrassing) Tomahawk Chop may not be enough to salvage the status quo. There was also earlier chatter about the Texas Rangers, named after the law enforcement group that, according to some, were pretty brutal back in the day. And where do we go from there? Do we start questioning the San Diego Padres, named after Spanish missionaries who some say were tough on California’s Native Americans? Maybe even the Pittsburgh Pirates, honoring rogue thievery on the high seas, might be too much for some to stomach. We can keep going down the rabbit hole…but that might be seen as offensive to rabbits. 

Monday, December 14

Former Tampa Bay and San Diego outfielder Hunter Renfroe signs a one-year, $3.1 million deal with Boston, while the Royals are bringing back veteran closer Greg Holland on a one-year, $2.75 million contract. While Renfroe struggled for the Rays in 2020, the 34-year-old Holland appeared to get his Mojo back—saving six games in 28 appearances with a 3-0 record and 1.91 ERA.

Tuesday, December 15

Here we go again. MLB and its owners have begun suggesting to players that both spring training and the 2021 regular season might be delayed a month as the pandemic continues to grip the nation with no end in sight—beyond the rollout of vaccines that likely won’t render America “normal” again until next summer. In response, the players’ union is sticking with the same hard line it did last spring when MLB wanted to truncate the 2020 schedule, stating that the players are ready to report on time to spring camps in Arizona and Florida, and that last year’s successful resilience to the short schedule proves that a 162-game itinerary can be played in full for 2021.

Let’s cut through the public narrative for both sides here. The players want maximization of their money, and so the ideal scenario is playing a 162-game schedule without prorated salaries. The owners do not want to begin play as planned on April 1 if cardboard cutouts are still the only ones in the seats, because cardboard cutouts don’t buy tickets, don’t buy refreshments, and don’t walk through souvenir shops buying $160 jerseys. This clash of perspectives is not a good sign given that a new collective bargaining agreement is to be negotiated a year from now.

Super-agent Scott Boras, deprived of his traditional attention-grabbing crashing of baseball’s winter meetings (because you can’t crash a Zoom meeting) holds his own virtual chat with invited reporters and gives his opinion of the looming MLB vs. MLBPA Pandemic Wars, Round 2. Surprise, surprise: Boras sides with the players, claiming that MLB teams aren’t losing money, but “profits”—saying that “even without fans, we know that players playing baseball games makes money for MLB teams.”

First, it should be noted that Boras is not a passive observer to this debate. As mentioned above, the players want full salary through 162 games—and their money is his money, because Boras gets a cut from the check of every player he negotiated salaries for. Second, to Boras’ argument that teams are losing only profits, see if he can find an audience dittoing his opinion from the many employees who’ve been laid off from MLB teams. But third, if MLB really does say it’s losing money, it would be nice for them to open their books and prove it—something they’ve historically apt not to do.

Wednesday, December 16

In an historic nod to a troubled past, MLB announces that it will re-classify the Negro Leagues as a major league circuit, with 1920-48 covered under the promoted status. Why not before or after? Before 1920, African-Americans played within unorganized leagues or traveling outfits; after 1948, with many of the Negro Leagues’ top stars allowed into the desegregated AL and NL, it was determined that the Negro Leagues constituted a minor circuit on par with, say, the Pacific Coast League.

In our data-driven universe, one of the biggest obstacles holding back acceptance of the Negro Leagues have been the lack of statistics. Record-keeping of games was scattershot and incomplete, with too much reliance on the word of witnesses whose tales grew taller through the years. But a number of groups have made major progress in the painstaking process of discovering old scoresheets and applying them online, as best deciphered in seamheads.com’s, Negro Leagues database.

As the stats pile up, so will the numbers for players who migrated from the Negro Leagues to the AL and NL. Those include Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella and Minnie Minoso. (Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier, played only one year in the Negro Leagues—hitting .365 in 104 at-bats for the Kansas City Monarchs.)

While the addition of these numbers to the lifetime stat pages should be accepted, more debatable will be the inclusion of possible season records—not so much for any argued lack in the quality of play, but the fact that Negro League seasons were typically much shorter than the 154-game schedules used in the AL and NL. Exhibit #1 in this debate will be slugger Josh Gibson’s .441 batting average in 1943, which may now technically qualify as the highest in major league history—except that he only played 78 games, according to the available records. That’s certainly far fewer games than the 125 needed by Hugh Duffy to notch the current major league mark of .440 from 1894, or the 131 played by Nap Lajoie to record a .426 figure that’s the highest in modern (post-1900) history—or the 142 games needed by George Sisler in 1922 to hit .420, which we note because Lajoie played in a 1901 season that didn’t charge batters with strikes on foul balls. (Yes, it’s all so very complicated.) And before people get their hackles raised over the conspiracy that Gibson’s relative few number of games could be a smokescreen for racist thought, remember how people were ready to snub Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon (who’s white) had he stayed hot and batted .400 through the majors’ pandemic-truncated 2020 season of 60 games.

In more modest news on the day, the Giants sign former Cincinnati pitcher Anthony DeSclafani to a one-year deal worth $6 million. The right-hander, who turns 31 next year, was off his game in 2020, posting a 1-2 record and 7.22 ERA.

Friday, December 18

Veteran pitcher Michael Wacha, whose up-and-down career of eight years is currently on the down side, signs a one-year, $3 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. The right-hander, who looked highly promising in his early years for the St. Louis Cardinals, was 1-4 with a 6.62 ERA over eight appearances (seven starts) with the New York Mets in 2020.

Saturday, December 19

The Associated Press took out a calculator, added all the wages earned by major leaguers this past year and wrote about it in an article slapped with the attention-getting headline, “Major League Baseball Payrolls Tumble Nearly $2.5 billion in 2020.” Of course wages “tumbled” nearly $2.5 billion. That’s because MLB only played a 60-game schedule. While AP was kind enough to do all the adding up, it would have helped to do some dividing as well, for perspective’s sake. Yes, the collective check to major leaguers in 2020 was $1.75 billion—down from $4.22 billion in 2019. But when you divide the 2020 total into 60 games, you actually come out with higher wages per game, per team. So on a prorated basis, players made more in 2020—but on an aggregate basis, they made less. Spin it however you want from there.

In terms of payrolls by team, the top spender was, not surprisingly, the Dodgers at $98.6 million. They were followed by the Yankees ($83.6 million), Mets ($83.4 million), Astros ($81.4 million) and Cubs ($80.6 million). On the flip side, the most frugal team by the buck was Baltimore, who paid $23.5 million to its players—followed by the woeful Pirates ($24.1 million) and the AL champion Tampa Bay Rays, at $29.4 million.

Monday, December 21

Once-and-current White Sox manager Tony La Russa receives his sentence for driving under the influence this past February in Phoenix, and it includes 20 hours of community service, a $1,400 fine and one day of home detention. The latter punishment is something we can all relate to—most of us have been under home detention since the pandemic started. La Russa tells the court that he feels “deep remorse and regret,” said he doesn’t have a drinking problem and promises he won’t imbibe and drive again. Of course, La Russa said that after his first DUI offense in 2007, when he was found asleep at the wheel at a Florida stop light. Knock on bar wood that he means it this time.

Howie Kendrick announces his retirement from baseball at age 37, after 15 profitable years for the Angels, Dodgers, (briefly) Phillies and Nationals. It’s with Washington, his home for the final three-plus years of his career, that he hit .316 in part-time play and won the hearts of Nationals fans as a full-time postseason hero; his 10th-inning, tie-breaking grand slam won the NLDS over the heavily-favored Dodgers, he smacked four doubles (including three in one game) among five hits in D.C.’s four-game NLCS sweep of St. Louis, and belted the go-ahead homer in Game Seven of the World Series against Houston to give the Nationals their first-ever world title. Overall, Kendrick hit .294 on 1,747 hits, and made one All-Star appearance in 2011.

Tuesday, December 22

Sam Fuld is named the Phillies’ new general manager as the team continues a front-office overhaul, which included the recent hiring of Dave Dombrowski as head of baseball ops. The 39-year-old Fuld was actually in the running to become Boston’s new manager and became available to the Phillies once the Red Sox brought back Alex Cora.

Wednesday, December 23

The Dodgers sign ex-Yankee reliever Tommy Kahnle to a two-year, $4.75 million contract with incentives that could raise the deal by another $500,000. The pact is essentially for one year of play; Kahnle underwent Tommy John surgery this past August after throwing just one inning of the shortened 2020 campaign, and is expected to miss all of the 2021 season—however long that may go.

Thursday, December 24

The Pirates trade their most feared slugging threat, switch-hitter Josh Bell, to Washington for two minor league pitchers. The 28-year-old Bell is expected to provide power backbone to Trea Turner and Juan Soto in the Nationals’ lineup—but he’ll need to revive himself back to 2019 form, when he smashed 37 home runs—including two into the Allegheny River beyond PNC Park’s right-field bleachers—with 113 RBIs. In 2020, Bell batted a disappointing .226 with eight homers and 22 RBIs—that’s 22 and 59 when paced out to a 162-game schedule. Meanwhile, the Pirates—a major league-worst 19-41 last season—will need to figure out how to fill Bell’s shoes in the short term.

Hitters in the AL’s Central Division should consider a late Christmas gift idea: Elbow pads. That’s because the Tigers have signed pitcher Jose Urena to a one-year, $3.25 million contract. In five years with Miami, Urena twice led the NL in hitting batters, drilled three Cubs in the first inning alone on Opening Day 2018, and is most famous (or infamous) for using Atlanta star hitter Ronald Acuna Jr. as a strike zone.

Saturday, December 26

It’s not a blockbuster on the order of Yu Darvish, but the Texas Rangers could use all the help they can get—so it’s thus noteworthy: Japanese pitcher Kohei Arihara has signed a two year, $6.2 million to play in Arlington. The 28-year-old right-hander has had a decent career with the Nippon Ham Fighters, with his best two seasons being the last two; he was 15-8 with a 2.46 ERA in 2019 before slipping to an 8-9 mark and still-fine 3.46 figure this past season.

Sunday, December 27

Sadly, the beast that is 2020 takes the life of yet another Hall of Famer as knuckleball extraordinaire Phil Niekro succumbs to cancer at the age of 81. For 20 years as a member of the Braves, Niekro lived to see much of the franchise’s history; from the dying days in Milwaukee when he counted Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn among his teammates, to the lean post-Aaron years at rarely-filled Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, to the team’s resurgence of the early 1980s under cable TV guru Ted Turner. Niekro made his first splash in 1967 when he posted a NL-best 1.87 ERA and won 23 games two years later—but when he struggled in 1970, he began to rely more on the knuckler, a pitch he had learned from his father.

By the late 1970s, the knuckleball allowed Niekro to be a workhorse with numbers more in line with the Deadball Era. From 1977-79, he led the National League in games started, innings pitched and complete games; in 1979, he became the last pitcher to date—and likely the last ever—to both win and lose 20 games in a season. In 1984, he finally switched jerseys and signed with the Yankees at age 45—and threw for another four years with the Yankees, Indians and briefly the Blue Jays before making one last appearance with the Braves at the end of 1987. In total, Niekro won 318 games, lost 274, and struck out 3,342 batters.

Among Niekro’s teammates were Spahn—who first pitched in 1942—and Tom Glavine, who retired in 2008. 

Niekro is the seventh Hall of Famer to pass away in 2020. Only in 1972, when seven Cooperstown occupants were lost, did as many pass within a calendar year.

The San Diego Padres trade for frustrated Tampa Bay pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell sending catcher Francisco Mejia and three prospects including highly-rated pitcher Luis Patino to the Rays. The Padres to assume Snell’s contract, which pays him $39.2 million over the next three years.

It will be curious to see if the Padres place a similar analytical leash on the 28-year old as did the Rays, who are still taking heat for removing him from a red-hot start in World Series Game Six against the Dodgers.

Gregory Polanco, for now the Pirates’ most established offensive force with Josh Bell traded, fractures his wrist while spending time in the Dominican Winter League. In a statement from the Pirates, it was not disclosed how the injury occurred, but the team is confident that Polanco, who hit a paltry .153 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs during the shortened 2020 season, will be back to 100% health when spring training is scheduled to open in February.

Monday, December 28

Another day, another ace hooked in by the Padres. Today, it’s Yu Darvish, shipped from the Cubs along with catcher Vince Caratini to San Diego in exchange for five players including pitcher Zach Davies and four prospects—none of whom rank among the top 10 in the Padres’ rich farm system. Darvish finished runner-up to Trevor Bauer in the NL Cy Young Award vote this past season, posting an 8-3 record and 2.01 ERA over 12 starts. Darvish is owed $59 million over the next three years—but the Cubs reportedly will pay a small portion of that.

The Darvish trade is not the only transaction on the day by the frisky Padres. They also sign 25-year-old infielder Ha-Seong Kim, who this past year hit .306 with 30 home runs and 109 RBIs for the Kiwoom Heroes in Korea. In six-plus years for Kiwoom, Kim collected a .294 average, 133 homers and 575 RBIs; he’s principally a shortstop and third baseman, but those spots are currently taken by, respectively, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. So who knows what the Padres will try and covert him to—or if they intend him to make him a super-utility guy.

Wednesday, December 30

Outside of the Padres, the team that’s best building up its roster for the 2021 season is…the Yomiuri Giants. Last year’s winners of Japan’s Central League, the Giants scoop up a couple of former major league sluggers in Justin Smoak and Eric Thames, both of whom are bound to give an already power-laden team more pop. Both players pretty much have the same story to tell; home run leaders for their respective teams in 2017 (Smoak with Toronto, Thames with Milwaukee), following by precipitous declines through 2020, with Smoak batting just .176 in part-time play between the Brewers and Giants (San Francisco, not Yomiuri) and Thames hitting .203 with three homers for the Nationals in 41 games. They’re both 34, and they’re both hoping to use Japan as a way to spark back to vintage form.

Thursday, December 31

The year 2020 ended on a hopeful note for women in the game of baseball, as the Red Sox announced the hiring of Bianca Smith as the first African-American woman to have a pro baseball coaching role. A softball player at Dartmouth, Smith has since taken on internship/admin roles for Texas, Cincinnati and MLB. The Red Sox plan to assign her to one of their minor-league affiliates. 

Smith’s hiring caps an historic, if still not dam-breaking, year for women in baseball. Kim Ng became the first female general manager earlier this Fall for the Marlins, and earlier this year the Giants hired Alyssa Nakken as the first female coach at the major league level.

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits  Take a look back at the daily doings of baseball with the TGG Comebacker archive.