Saturday, December 18, 2010

This blog is sort of inactive, but...

My new material, such as it is, can now be found at my
Ruin Your Eyes website. Occasional announcements and other stuff will show up on the companion blog.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Horror of the GAPASGNRT

Happily, we’ve come to the end of the Giants’ Annual Post-All-Star-Game Nightmare Road Trip. They probably were lucky to go 3-7, because for the most part, they stank. There was even a sort of “Uh-oh” feeling in the first radio and TV broadcasts after the break, as if the announcers were trying not to say, “Here it comes. Again.”

You might be surprised that in the Giants’ 52-year history in San Francisco, they’ve only started the second half of the season on the road 25 times. I certainly was surprised—it seemed to me as if they always started on the road, then got killed, then went into the tank forever. Perhaps that’s because between 1984 and 2001, the Giants started on the road 12 of 18 times, including four in a row at one point, and a 9-of-12 stretch.

During those 18 years, we saw a winning Giants’ Annual Post-All-Star-Game Nightmare Road Trip (GAPASGNRT—or “gap ass g’nert,” for ease of pronunciation) twice, along with two splits, so I think it’s fair to refer to their fairly miserable performance in their first road trip after the All-Star game as a tradition. In their entire history, the Giants are 248-305 in that first road trip, a .448 winning percentage. (A few of those years had two post-All-Star road trips, back when there were All-Star games each year.) It’s only slightly worse when they begin the second half on the road, at least in terms of winning percentage, but another surprise, at least to me, was that in 27 opportunities, the Giants had seven winning road trips and five splits.

I can’t say for sure, but I would imagine that many of us dread that GAPASGNRT, even if it doesn’t begin until August. You might ask, in an astounded-sounding voice, “But Gregg! What if they were playing better teams after the break than usual?” And on some occasions, that had to be true. (Probably. I’m not looking it up.) This year, though, included the Braves—hardly a bad team; the Rockies—sadly becoming an unjustifiably good team upon changing managers; and the Pirates—annually bad since Barry Bonds left them. In 2006, the Giants started off against the terrible Pirates and the terrible Nationals—and went 0-6. They went 1-8 in 1998, and followed that up with a 1-5. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter who the opposition is: they’re generally gonna gag.

What makes this all fall down is the fact that they’ve thrown in enough successful GAPASGNRTs to keep one from thinking there’s really a correlation. Also, I haven’t bothered to do this kind of research on other teams—owing to that tragic dearth of relevance that afflicts all Major League Baseball teams that are not the Giants. But perhaps every team has a poor first-post-break-road-trip record. Feel free to research it yourself—I mean, it took me 20 or 30 minutes just to get through the San Francisco Giants—teams with older roots would take longer.

Here’s what I think of just before the GAPASGNRT every year: Barry Bonds, pinch-hitting for the Pirates, hitting a game-winning grand slam against lefty Joe Price in 1988. He swings, he hits the ball, he immediately raises both hands in the air, signaling a successful field goal… horrible. And even though the Giants’ actual overall results in that first trip aren’t nearly as bad as that one game, it always feels as though they’re going to be.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hometown Hero… Complete Dingleberry… It’s a Fine Line

Boy, I sure am glad I rushed home to make sure not to miss Tim Lincecum’s first pitch in the first inning of his first All-Star Game. Well, his first pitch was fine—better than the Barak Obama’s, anyway—but not a lot of the subsequent ones were, at least in the first. Because he hates me, Ichiro Suzuki naturally led off with a two-strike single. And then Lincecum bounced a change-up off of Derek Jeter, which would have been fine if the game hadn’t started yet, but it had, so it wasn’t.

And then… mostly what I remember are two brutal plays by All-Star Albert Pujols at first base. Okay, maybe the first one wasn’t really his fault—he couldn’t stretch quite far enough to handle a horrendous throw by All-Star David Wright at third base. Had Pujols managed to cope—non-All-Star Travis Ishikawa woulda got it!—we would’ve seen a brilliant 2-5-3 double play started by All-Star Yadier Molina, who’s a hell of a lot better catcher than other Molinas who come to mind. The clanking noise that may well have destroyed your TV speakers was the result of a baseball caroming gaily off Pujols’ glove, which brought home Suzuki. Another run scored somehow—for a total, I’m relieved to say, of only two.

The National League lucked out, really, given Lincecum’s lack of command on his offspeed stuff. (It might be fair to conclude that he was a bit too pumped.) His fastball was okay, if a bit slower than the radar gun likes to tell us during Giants games, but he didn’t seem to get any movement on anything else. He did pitch a 1-2-3 second, but one of those guys was Roy Halladay, who’s supposed to get out anyway.

Meanwhile, Halliday gave up a couple of hard shots in the first, but these were right at people wearing leather gloves, as opposed to whatever Pujols was wearing.

Oh, shut up, Cards fans. (As if any of you are reading this.) Geez. Pujols is a perfectly fine and jim-dandy first baseman who just happened to (a) make a bad play, and (b) fail to make a good one. I’m just honked off because yet another Giants pitcher… well, he didn’t exactly carry a torch passed on from Atlee Hammaker and subsequently carried by Rick Reuschel, Jeff Brantley, and Rod Beck (and I must be leaving someone out), but he wasn’t great, so he won’t be winning any All-Star Game MVPs this year, unless Major League Baseball is putting on another 2009 All-Star Game, and a quick check of the schedule confirms my assertion. Also, no, I’m not really blaming Pujols for Wright’s throw, which won’t show up in the boxscore as an error—because of the force-out on the play—but it truly reeked.

See, what I’d like to do here is spread the blame around so that Lincecum doesn’t take all the heat. That’s not unfair, is it?

The good news is, Lincecum won’t lose this game. Molina singled home a run with two outs in the second, and a painfully inept throw by Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton allowed Shane Victorino—I’m gonna complain about him next—to score the tying run. Prince Fielder, batting for Lincecum, placed the first pitch about eight inches inside the left-field line for a ground-rule double, and the National League had a short-lived lead—or such was my (lamentably correct) assumption at the time, since the only league that should win a Major League Baseball All-Star Game hasn’t done so since 1996.

So anyway, Lincecum is off the hook (and for a while it looked as though he might even wind up with a win! Take that, me!), and hey, since Matt Cain won’t pitch tonight after getting whapped on his pitching arm by a line drive the other day, I might well blow off the rest of the game. (Well, Lincecum won’t get the win anyway, as the AL went and tied it up in the fifth. Jerks. The only good thing about that is that Chad Billingsley of the Dodgers was the guy on the mound. Oh, plus Pujols made two good plays, just to make whatever point the Baseball Gods are trying to make.)

Oh! I nearly forgot to complain about Victorino! Creep. First, the guy wears one of those double-ear-flap helmets that all major leaguers probably should wear but don’t because they look so stupid (albeit less so than Cardinals reliever Ryan Franklin’s Baby ZZ Top beard). That’s strike one. In Lincecum’s major league debut, Victorino’s two-run homer in the first accounted for one more run than the lad had surrendered in 31 innings at Fresno, and he always seems to do something annoying against the Giants anyway. That’s strike two. For strike three, a lesser man than I might mention Sandoval’s .964 OPS, as opposed to Victorino’s .839, but I won’t. Instead, strike three is less about Victorino’s presence on the All-Star team instead of Pablo Sandoval’s than it is about Victorino being in the starting lineup. Why? Carlos Beltran’s hurt. Fine. (Not for Beltran, but still.) Victorino was voted in as a reserve by the fans, fair and square, if annoyingly so. Fine. Brad Hawpe: better choice? I think so. Philly teammate Jayson Werth’s having a better year than Victorino, too. But Philly manager Charlie Manuel’s running the show, so you know (a) why Victorino’s a starter, and (b) Werth’s on the team but Sandoval isn’t. (Don’t worry: I won’t pretend there’s a Giants outfielder who should be there instead.) Oh, well. It’s not a big deal, and besides, Victorino—who’ll be the sole All-Star starter to play the entire game—will make me look silly when he wins it for the Nationals with an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the seventeenth, and everybody will forget about Albert Pujols.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Giants Could Win a World Series!

It could happen! Really! Know why? Because within the last several months:

  • A Giant has won a Cy Young Award

  • A Giant has pitched a no-hit, no-run game

  • I got a job

It’s as if three of the Four Horsemen have already appeared, and we’re just waiting for Famine to show up—that’d be “Famine,” as in what Giants fans in general have gone through since 1954, and what San Francisco Giants fans in particular have endured since forever.

I was roughly the same age my son is now when John Montefusco threw his no-hitter in 1976. I don’t even remember that one. The WEEKDAY() function in Excel tells me September 28 was on a Wednesday that year, so no doubt I let something trivial and foolish, such as school, stand in the way of listening to immortality. When Ed Halicki threw his the summer before, we were on an outing to see some family friends. Why we wouldn’t have been listening to the game in the car, I have no idea, but once we arrived in San Jose, I did manage to hear the last two outs. Whee. Before that, the only other two San Francisco Giants no-hitters—I’m trusting WikiPedia on this—were 1-0 games thrown by Juan Marichal in 1963 against the Astros and Gaylord Perry in 1968 against the Cardinals, and, of course, since the Giants are the Giants, Perry’s gem must forever be linked with Ray Washburn’s, whose no-hitter for the Cardinals came against those Giants the very next day. Happy birthday to me, since I turned eight the day after that and was still blissfully ignorant of the baseball-related horrors that had taken place throughout my life to that point, and would stay that way for another year and a half.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter Friday night is only the fifth ever thrown by a San Francisco Giant. For crying out loud, even the Expos had four (including one against the Giants, naturally). San Diego fans, however, are experiencing their 41st year of no-hitter-free baseball; Mets fans: 48th. This is to say that neither team has ever thrown one. And you know what? I just, just don’t care. For one thing… not the Giants. For another, sorry, but their fans need to suffer more than Giants fans for me to care. Too bad.

As every long-long-long-suffering-suffering-suffering-suffering Giants fan knows, during the 33-year period that the joy of one (or more) of their team’s pitchers tossing a no-hitter had eluded them, no fewer than eight guys heaved no-hitters against the Giants. Washburn and Warren Spahn each threw one, but that was well before the drought started, back when Giants foolishly believed that their team might throw several no-hitters (and win several World Championships). But the others… agony. Every one. Even the ones I missed. I consider myself lucky not to have been in attendance at any of these games, because, at least during the home games, I probably would’ve snapped and tried to whap people on the back of the head for rooting for a no-hitter against their team, on the grounds that it’s “historic.” Screw that. There’ve been a couple hundred of the damn things, it’s not like it’s someone’s 512th win, for crying out loud.

The Jerry Reuss no-hitter in 1980—for the Dodgers!—is famous for me having listened to every agonizing out while I was supposed to be working on the receiving dock at the Emporium, where I worked. I mean, I was there—I just wasn’t working. I was steaming. Actually, what made this one famous was that when I called David Beck to commiserate, he was on a date or something—“Oh, that’s fair!” I probably thought—so his dad had to take the message: “Greg Palmer called: The Giants got a no hit.” Naturally, Dave first assumed—being young and naïve, and, let’s be honest, probably it wasn’t a date anyway—that a Giant had thrown a no-hitter. And then he learned the truth. EEEEEE!

Charlie Lea’s no-hitter against the Giants took place in May 1981, when I Dave and I were at San Diego State, so we were lucky to miss it. Mike Scott’s was in late September 1986, so I probably was working, and it was still early enough in my job that I didn’t think it’d be cool to listen to the radio. I’m especially pleased about missing that one, since it clinched the West, for which the Giants had been in contention for most of the season. I can’t speak for Dave. (If I could, I would say the following: “Gregg Pearlman is a terrific guy who certainly deserves to make good money as a writer.” But I can't. So I won't.)

Terry Mulholland’s no-hitter for the Phillies, however, was an especially bitter pill. This is one of the guys the Giants traded to Philly in 1989 for Steve Bedrosian, who, wonderful as he was in his first week as a Giant, already had worn out his welcome by August 15, 1990. I don’t remember if this is the same game where Mulholland broke Kirt Manwaring’s foot with a pitch, but it may as well have been. And in no fewer than two subsequent stints with the Giants, Mulholland never, ever made up for it. Not as far as I’m concerned, anyway. Two no-hitters—one against the Phillies, one against the Dodgers—might have done the trick. Probably the most noteworthy thing he’d done as a Giant, before the trade, was get his arm broken by a Gerald Perry line drive. Boob.

Two years and two days later… Kevin Gross. How? I’m lucky enough to remember no details beyond my severe annoyance. So unfair.

The next Kevin to throw one against the Giants was Brown of the Marlins. This I remember vividly, since I’d stayed home sick that day—being legitimately sick, not because I wanted to listen to the game. We lived on the top floor of our apartment building, and this was a day in which the temperature was at least 450 degrees and there were people on the roof, pounding away. Nonstop. Throughout the game. Until my head was pounding in sympathetic rhythm. For all I know, Kevin Brown’s a terrific guy, but I’ll never, ever forgive him for this. Creep.

I missed most of the Kevin Millwood game six years ago, thankfully, as my son had a Little League game that day, but I was no less grumpy once the no-hitter had taken place.

Now, however, even two days after the event, I and all other Giants fans still have a no-hitter to celebrate. The only blot on Sanchez’s outing was Juan Uribe’s boot of what appeared to be a fairly easy ground ball in the eighth inning, but as Bruce Bochy pointed out later, had Uribe not tried to charge the ball but fielded it cleanly, the batter probably would’ve beaten it out, which would be way worse than an error, no-hitter-wise. So Uribe’s almost forgiven. (Let’s not mention the fact that Mulholland’s no-hitter was marred by an error also, but he got a double play—and faced only 27 batters. Shmuck.)

In the 1980’s, when Dave and I worked most avidly on our tabletop baseball game, we played literally quadrillions of games together—okay, I exaggerate: it was only one quadrillion, and almost certainly closer to one than two—and we shared two no-hitters. Dave won both. But in working on The Game, he and I always had a cooperative spirit. Sure, each of us always wanted to win, but when something incredible was happening, that’s what we rooted for. The last no-hitter we played together took place 25 years ago—and to put Sanchez’s feat into some kind of perspective, the last Giants no-hitter had taken place eight years before that—and we rolled our dice, recited the results, wrote them down… but never once noted aloud that something unusual was happening. We had to pretend, just like the teammates of a major leaguer who’s got one going, that no particular no-hitter was in progress; in fact, just as if Dave himself were throwing it, I avoided talking to him except to note the results. Then when my final batter got out, we both whooped and high-fived—that’s the only acceptable circumstance in which it’s okay to root for your team not to get any hits. Between the two of us, we experienced maybe half a dozen no-hitters via The Game, but certainly not much more than that, if at all.

But even today—and probably for a long time—I am as stoked about Jonathan Sanchez’s near-perfect, no-hit, no-run game as if I myself had rolled the fateful dice.

(By the way, that last line’s supposed to be at least mildly funny, not pathetic, so you’re supposed to laugh with me.)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Not the Giants, Really

I am not a soccer fan. It wasn’t part of my home life growing up. When they had us playing it in school, I wasn’t good at it. It’s not the Giants. I only ever saw it on TV when KTEH in San Jose would show prerecorded matches from England, featuring Mario Machado at the mike. When I watched this, it was because Monty Python or something was going to be on next. I remember no teams or players, except for Cunningham—whatever his first name might be—who was noteworthy by being the only black player in these broadcasts. Ever.

And yet I’ve been reading Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, on the recommendation of a Paris-based friend, a Giants fan and soccer enthusiast. He knows soccer ain’t my bag, but that’s not what the book is about. It’s merely the medium in which the author lays bare his soul, at least in terms of his obsession with the Arsenal football club. Recently I saw the movie based on the book—the English one with Colin Firth, not the American one with Jimmy Fallon, because… well, Jimmy Fallon—and, confident that I could wade through the stuff about soccer itself, I decided to read the book.

Good film; good book. In the latter, Hornby freely admits that more or less stopped maturing at about age 14, and that Arsenal is way more important than career or relationships. He’s not happy about it, but he can’t help it. It has a certain ring of familiarity about it: I’ve managed—I think—to place the Giants at a reasonable place in my hierarchy of important things, but it sure hasn’t been easy. But Fever Pitch makes it clear that if you’re not in the mindset Hornby was, and many of us have been, you simply cannot understand it. You can sympathize when we’re sad or something, but you’ll just never get it, probably because you’re sane.

I mention this because I recommend both the book and the Colin Firth movie, but also because the book led me to some odd, not-at-all-heavy thoughts about baseball. First, my apologies for my soccer ignorance to anybody who knows more about English football than I do (in other words, almost everybody), or soccer in general, but in Hornby’s book it sounds as though Arsenal was playing for more than one championship or something, and I found this hard to follow so I looked up English football on WikiPedia just to get an idea of how it works. I guess the upshot is that there are dozens and dozens of teams, and even the lowliest, crappiest, most poverty-stricken, even the most Giantslike team in the Football Association could be the champion of the whole damn thing. And this lowly, crappy, poor team might even be semi-pro. As with college sports, teams play games against league and non-league opponents—something I’ve never understood, which could easily explain my lack of enthusiasm for college sports (and, sadly, for college, but that’s another story).

So I thought, “What if there were baseball leagues like this?” I wasn’t thinking in terms of Out Of The Park or tabletop baseball games—just a “what if?” Now, the Football Association setup is far more complicated than the hypothetical I came up with: the FA has a great many levels, each with about 20 to 24 clubs, and I decided that the “Baseball Association”—or whatever—would be a lot more manageable, at least by someone looking at it hypothetically.

Let’s just assume it’s all top-level professional, but there are multiple levels—let’s say six, though there could be several more, depending on how many teams there are in the BA. The lowest levels have major-league-level teams, not minors types; the higher levels simply have much, much better teams. Granted, since there are only 30 major league teams, you’d have to stretch your imagination to believe that—in this case—this Baseball Association could somehow field 136 major-league-caliber teams.

In this thoroughly imaginary, not-about-to-actually-be-realized BA, Level 1 would be the way the major leagues were when I started following them (blindly and enthusiastically): four divisions, six teams each. Perhaps the teams would be divided into two “leagues,” and they’d never mix in the regular season. (Does it matter?) Levels 2 through 5 would each consist of a single league of two divisions, with eight teams each, and Level 6 would consist of four leagues, each with two divisions, six teams per.

Playoffs and championship series would be pretty much as we’ve come to expect. The “twist,” though, is that between seasons, though, the two worst teams at each level (1 through 5) move to the next lower level (or are “relegated,” as FA people say); the two best teams in each level (2 through 6) move up to the next level.

This means that the leagues change virtually every year. Let’s forget about things like travel logistics: The U.K. covers about 94,000 square miles, home to roughly 60 million people. It doesn’t even take all that long to drive from tip to tail—if you had the time, it would be pretty easy to follow your team throughout the length and breadth of the land. North America, meanwhile, has an area about 10 times that of the U.K., and a population about seven and a half times the U.K.’s. (And I didn’t even have to look this stuff up on the Web! Oh, no! Came right off the top of my head, that did! Right off!) So heck, maybe North America could house more than six levels of Baseball Association teams. It’s probably pretty horrifying to contemplate.

Is this a stupid idea? Well, probably, but I’m just spitballing here. I ran it by David Beck, who thinks it looks intriguing, but that various market disparity factors would pretty much murder it. “If teams in leagues could just be there just to be there and ‘have a chance,’” he says, “what’s to [prevent] a top tier of 57 New York teams and 32 Los Angeles teams, and a whole bunch of other teams in the lower divisions with insane people jumping up and down like the guy in the ‘Tonight’s the night!’ joke, thinking they even have a rat’s nard of a chance to compete?”

This hadn’t remotely occurred to me, which probably indicates something unpleasant, but he’s right. We San Francisco fans—however many San Francisco teams their may be—would be out here freaking out, aching for our team(s) to somehow do well enough just to win the Level 4 championship and then be promoted to Level 3, at which time we’d have to go crazy hoping like hell they don’t tank the following season against better teams overall in Level 3 and then get demoted. We’d have decades involving absolutely no danger of our teams moving up or seeing any postseason action whatsoever. Then some day our desperate owners would somehow raise the money to add a few outstanding players, and the team would win championships three years in a row—thus moving from Level 4 to Level 1—at which time their great players would be old and become expensive millstones, preventing them from hiring more great players, and their not-quite-superstar players would start following money elsewhere. So we’d be lucky to see our San Francisco teams in the top tier for more than one season at a time, which means we’d be lucky to be able to agonize about somehow winning it all—and, of course, we wouldn’t, which makes this hypothetical organization exactly like real baseball in San Francisco.

But to keep you from being too depressed—there’s nothing I can do about the boredom you’re suffering: that’s your problem; write your own blog—I set up an Excel spreadsheet in exactly the configuration detailed above. I included cities that have housed top-level sports franchises, and several of these cities had two, three, or even four teams. (The stadium construction industry would be the only currently profitable venture.) I scattered them randomly into their initial levels. I didn’t do any kind of baseball thingy or sports simulation: I just used random numbers to determine standings for 20 years.

To my surprise, none of the 136 teams stayed in the top division every year, and seven stayed in Level 7. Lots of the original top-tier teams fell to Level 2 for a year or two, then played their way back up. Even more teams moved up for a bit, then fell back down. Only one team won three consecutive championships, vaulting from Level 5 to Level 2, and only one team appeared in every level—and it wasn’t the happy kind of progression. Only one top-level team spent all 20 years in that level, but 25 teams stayed in Level 6 forever—imagine being fans of those teams.

This isn’t too far from what I expected, but it assumes equal footing for every team. For this kind of arrangement to happen, you’d probably need a hard salary cap and equal revenues for each team, which, as you can imagine, wouldn’t be popular among the successful teams. I mean, what’s the point of being smart and very good at your job—which, you’d think, is what this “equal footing” thing would make necessary for success—if the dingleberry teams make the same money? Knowing as little as I do about economics in general, you’ll excuse me if it’s ignorance that leads me to state that teams would tend to consist of one superstar and 24 tweaks (which is what I expected to happen to the majors, but it never really did, although sometimes the Giants had 25 tweaks).

One thing this exercise led me to think was, how can anybody be a fan of the bottom-level teams? How can people get excited about their teams winning a Level 3 or 4 championship? Level 2 I could understand: eventually your team would have a pretty good chance to win the overall championship—I mean, getting into Level 1 is the only way a team could accomplish this, so yeah, that Level 2 championship might be a big deal.

And what about baseball cards? There’d be 3,400 players on active rosters at any given time, all theoretically “big leaguers,” so how fair would it be for players in just, say, Levels 1 through 3 to sign baseball card contracts? Pricing probably would depend largely on level also—and perhaps availability, too. What a mess.

And through it all: No Baseball Association Cups in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Kuip Pumps Seven!

Among my newsfeeds are Henry Schulman’s Giants blog and the Giants section from the Chronicle, the Mercury’s Andrew Baggarly’s Giants blog, and’s baseball page—which rarely tells me anything interesting.

Last night Tim Lincecum—who, I should emphasize, won the National League Cy Young Award in 2008—pitched eight innings of a 4-0 win over the Braves. This is what the ESPN newsfeed had to offer (and bear in mind that many of the titles predate last night’s Giants game by hours or even days:

Ooo! A lineup change for the Boston Red Sox! Somebody who was in the Brewers’ lineup, then evidently wasn’t, is back in! A pitcher who’s been canned by four teams from 2006 through spring training this year, and who hasn’t been healthy in five years, now plays for an independent minor league team! Some team’s gonna bring up a prospect! Some guys are injured! Other guys are called up! Someone hasn’t won a game in three years! A bunch of Mets are hurt! The new Tim Lincecum beats the Tigers! Whee! Is there a damn word about the Giants? I feel as though if there had been, it would’ve said “Atlanta Braves Rookie Medlen loses 4-0.” (Those items almost always give the complete city and team names, as if fans wouldn’t understand, say, just “Giants” or even “Nats.” Some potentially relevant stuff gets lost in those ellipses, because….)

Zach Greinke threw a complete game, giving up six hits and a run, walking none and striking out eight. Lincecum went eight, giving up zero runs on five hits and two walks, striking out eight. But Greinke apparently is the flavor of the month—no doubt he’s good enough. And since I didn’t use the newsfeed last year, I don’t know whether everything Lincecum did was covered, but ESPN’s history does not suggest as much.

Okay, I really don’t care that the newsfeed didn’t mention Lincecum or last night’s victory in particular. I honestly don’t. It’s just something I noticed because it’s symptomatic of the network’s general approach. I mean, even print-media sportswriters make fun of the fact that ESPN has rarely given Crap One about anything that happens outside of New York and Boston, and sometimes maybe LA. On the Giants newsgroup, we’d been complaining about this on and off for years, sometimes really dropping the hammer on ESPN. Once or twice, someone at ESPN would respond, saying something along the lines of, “Hey, I care about the Giants!” But that doesn’t really appease the faithful, who for the most part are cheesed off because aside from Giants fans, people only seem to care about the Giants enough to hate them, or at least to make fun of them for front-office foolishness or, more likely, the increasingly conspicuous failure of “San Francisco Giants: World Champions!” rings to exist.

The new MLB Network is a little better, at least—they sound almost like they know who a lot of the Giants players are, and they actually do show some highlights (which beats the snot out of ESPN’s common practice years ago—maybe they still do it; I wouldn’t know—of offering up a teaser about a Giants game during SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight, then failing to say anything about it by the end of the program). Plus, it’s probably unfair to criticize ESPN too heavily about the lack of even-handed baseball coverage, since those folks are mostly about college football and hoops anyway.

I mention the MLB Network because they said something about some team—I can’t remember who; nobody relevant—whose fans are impatient because their team hasn’t won a championship in 17 years, or 23, or 31, or whatever. Yesterday, while looking up something else, I happened upon a Reds’ fan blog that said, “It has been X number of days, X number of hours, and X number of minutes since the Cincinnati Reds’ last World Championship.” I suppose I visit the blog again so I could tell you what those X numbers are, but who cares? It’s only the Reds—it’s not like it’s important economy news, terror alert upgrades, the Giants, or major medical breakthroughs. Still, I can’t fault the misled—they’re misled. Each of us is entitled to his or her opinions, no matter how wrong and foolish they are for not being Giants fans. They can’t help it. (Well, they could, if they really wanted to be okay.)

Now, if you’re a faithful reader of this blog—well, first of all, you’re one of (and here comes a generous estimate) maybe half a dozen people, not counting me (and I don’t really read it except while I’m writing it), but second, you know very well how I feel about other teams’ fans moaning about their teams’ failures to win any World Series lately. Namely, you know I believe that only Giants fans have any real right to moan about their teams’ failures. And you know why. (Hint: 51 years and counting—and no sign of running out of numbers to count.)

Still, whaddayagonnado? I have learned—and this has been reinforced, over and over, possibly since long before any of my ancestors even came to this country—that I have no control over the Giants’ fortunes, except in situations such as the 2002 World Series. (If you read EEEEEE! afterwards, you know that the Giants’ failure was pretty much my fault. But that’s one of the many exceptions, not the rule.) It’s just that since so few of us have much control over our lives, you’d think a guy could have control over the baseball team he follows, but nooooooooo! I mean how fair is life? Shee.

This is why the Good Lord invented tabletop baseball games, which have been around since long before Major League Baseball even settled on a sacrifice-fly rule everybody could live with, and why they, and computer baseball games survive and thrive today. People want to win—or lose, but mostly win—on their own merit. And if they decide to helm their favorite Major League Baseball simulated teams, those teams can finally win, no thanks to the folks who run the real teams. Indeed, one of they main purposes of “replay”-type baseball games is to show how much better you could do than the people who ran the actual team did. And hell, if you don’t like the way things are going, you can cheat, if you really feel the need.

When David Beck and I were avidly working on our baseball game eons ago, we tended to keep the major leagues out of the picture, probably because we didn’t need any imaginary Giants frustrating us to death, too. So Dave had his NBL, and I had my various leagues. Eventually, in a gesture born out of desperation, Dave developed The NBL Superiority Overrule Roll. See, The Game had, annoyingly, more than its share of dice-rolls that, once a play was finally determined and carved in stone, still could overrule that play, turning a hit into an out and vice-versa. The NBL Superiority Overrule Roll took this to the limit: When frustration became too much to handle, Dave—and I, I must admit—would pit one of his NBL teams against a team we hated, such as… hmm… lemme think… what teams might we have hated in those days?… hey, how ’bout, oh, the Dodgers! And, under the premise that the NBL was superior in every way to the Major Leagues, every moment of Dodger success or NBL-team failure in such a simulation could be overruled and, essentially, reversed. Now, the overrules weren’t automatic. Oh, no. You’d still have to roll a 12-sided die, and depending on the result, a play might not be overruled at all. That’s how, after many NBL-vs.-Dodgers contests, the Dodgers finally scored their run. Of course, we had to do the same thing with the Giants, developing a Giants Superiority Overrule Roll. Perhaps you cannot see the attraction of laughing like a loon while Duane Kuiper jacks his seventh home run in as many innings in support of Renie Martin’s 143-0 perfecto over the Dodgers. Of course, one cannot spend too much time in such pursuits—ask those people who delight in stepping on ants—but its fun while the imaginary superiority lasts.

One of the first things I wrote for publication was a review of MicroLeague Baseball, back when I worked on a magazine that catered to 8-bit Atari computer owners. I liked MicroLeague a lot, really, and eventually I actually purchased—yes, Atari people: I actually purchased some software, rather than copying it—the disks that let you set up leagues, make trades, and compile statistics. And one of the teams I made up consisted entirely of Dodger players I heartily disliked (as opposed to just disliking them for the uniform they chose to wear), all of whom were turned into .160 hitters and 14.00-ERA pitchers (because I didn’t want to make the disparity too ridiculous). This team played frequently against what were then the current Giants, all upgraded to .750 hitters who were capable of hitting, say, 80 home runs a year, to say nothing of a bunch of 0.50-ERA pitchers.

Watching runners circle the bases á la that part in “Baseball Bugs” where hundreds of opposing baserunners are doing a conga around the bases was a hoot, but for sheer hysterical giggling, you need to see opposing outfielder after opposing outfielder chase baseballs as far as possible before running out of room. Again and again. Hee. The best part—yes, I know: if this is the best part…—was that once the Giants reached 127 runs in a game, MicroLeague would freeze. Then the challenge was to see how soon they could get to 127.

Today’s the last day to get the new version of Out Of The Park Baseball for ten bucks off the retail price, and because I’m still not working, I shan’t indulge myself—although, hey, at this writing I almost have a job: that is, it was offered, then, at least momentarily, rescinded—so I’ll end up paying full price in the future. And now it’ll let you create players based on statistics you input, which means I may just have to pit a bunch of .750-hitting 2009 Giants against a Dodgers team that tends to cough up, say, 27 runs a game.

Even then, I wonder if would deign to put Giants-related headlines into my newsfeed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Random Grumping

Lincecum. Cain. Sandoval. Those are the only players on the Giants’ 25-man roster whom I insist that they keep, and as much as I like him, I’m not entirely positive about Sandoval. But what do we hear today? Brian Sabean’s after somebody who can freakin’ hit. Well, that’s good, but the other part is that supposedly he’s shopping Cain. Well, heck, it could be worse: it could be Lincecum.

Part of the problem is that the Giants don’t have much to trade, at least not at the major league level. That is, the Giants’ most tradeable assets are guys they don’t want to trade. Or at least Lincecum. Occasionally we hear rumors about Bengie Molina, but how much could the Giants really get for a catcher in his mid-thirties; a man who, by himself, is The Argument for baseball to introduce the Designated Runner; a man who really seems to have trouble corralling pitches at the letters? Really, it’s hard to fault him that much, but he’s the Giants’ cleanup hitter, and his best OPS with the team was last year’s .767; this year it’s .766. Again, I like to use the trick, which really isn’t a trick, of dividing OPS by three to get an idea of how a hitter’s doing. That is to say, Molina’s OPS/3 is .255, which is about as good an OPS as .255 is a batting average. Molina doesn’t walk, which might lead you to think he makes up for it in his Big-Money sluggitude. He doesn’t. Right now he’s slugging .484, which is his best as a Giant to date, and that’s only 400 points below Barry Bonds’ slugging percentage in 2001. Now, nobody expects him to be Bonds—that would be ridiculous—but for crying out loud, a cleanup hitter slugging .484 isn’t doing a lot of cleaning up.

Molina, however, should hardly be the whipping-boy for the Giants’ troubles. I’m not sure who should be, though, because there are plenty of candidates including (but not limited to) Randy Johnson, Jonathan Sanchez, Aaron Rowand (who led off the game by taking an 0-2 pitch at his shins for strike three—have I complained enough about the umpires lately?), Travis Ishikawa, Rich Aurilia, Edgar Renteria, Fred Lewis, Brian Wilson…. It’s disheartening, isn’t it?

Johnson, by the way, has managed to throw two or three good games as a Giant, but EEEEEE! staffer emeritus David Beck compared the situation to that of Steve Carlton. This was a reference, as you old-timers know, to the Giants suddenly picking up the future Hall-of-Famer on waivers during the 1986 season—a guy once so great that when people mentioned “Lefty,” you knew who they meant—and hanging onto him long enough for him to go 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA… before Carlton announced his retirement from baseball… a week before he signed with the White Sox. (Yeah. “Retired,” we said. “Yeah, suuuurrrre.” He pitched into 1988.)

I told Dave I’d be delighted if Randy Johnson were putting up Carltonesque numbers—and I was talking about those 1986 numbers. Only because he pitched pretty well a couple days ago, his ERA dropped 60 points to 6.26. Until then, he’d given up a home run every four innings.

One thing Carlton and Johnson do have in common is that… remember that weird Levi’s commercial in the early ’80s, the one with the blonde in the tight jeans hollering, “Travis! You’re years too late!”? Well… while you’re busy trying to rid yourself of mental images of blondes in tight jeans—and good luck to you—here’s a list of some other players the Giants were years too late in acquiring: Moises Alou, Shawon Dunston, Steve Finley, Marquis Grissom, Yamid Haad, Orel Hershiser, Randy Johnson, Kenny Lofton, Mark Portugal, Dan Quisenberry, Benito Santiago, Darryl Strawberry, and Barry Zito. I know other teams do that as well, but put those guys on the field, and you’ve got an awfully impressive team. Except Haad. Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

Friday, May 08, 2009

All Right, I Did It

As threatened, and with little better to do, I ran an Out Of the Park Baseball simulation wherein I took the reins of a team that batted its pitcher eighth all year. That is, I ran one fictional, eight-team league, in which the pitcher batted eighth for my team, the Steamers. (The game came up with that name randomly. Since “steamer” has acquired a rude and widespread connotation, and is therefore reasonably funny, I chose to run that team, which comes from a city called “Team 4.” And since there are 15 more teams in two leagues, I’ll leave it up to you to guess the other city names. No peeking.) Once I’d set up this league, I made a copy of the league folder, then finished the simulation, called Pitchers Bat Eighth (PB8).

Then I completed the Pitchers Bat Ninth (PB9) simulation with the copy of the league—identical in every detail, except that the Steamers’ pitchers always batted ninth. In neither simulation did I want to knock myself out setting up the best possible team; nor did I want to play GM (or even on-field manager) and deal with trades (or in-game strategy). So to pare my roster to 25 players, I dumped as many of the one-star players as possible—see, players are rated in many ways, including number of stars. I have no idea how good my team actually is, but OOTP gave me a “manager’s score” of 21 out of 100—astonishingly bad, but then, it’s not as though I closely scrutinized day-to-day operations. Indeed, I was very much an absent figurehead. I’ve been called worse.

In the PB8 simulation, the Steamers went 72-90, finishing third in their division. They went 81-81 in PB9 and finished second in their (obviously not very good) division. (I still got a horrendous manager’s score of 28—I defy any other absent figurehead to do better.) I know that doesn’t prove anything, but I’m guessing that if I ran another, say, 999 simulations with each version, the results would support the notion that always batting your pitcher ahead of an actual major league hitter is a bad idea. Do the results tell us that it’s stupid to occasionally make this lineup maneuver? No. I could run another simulation in which a particular pitcher always bats eighth, or in which Wednesday was always Pitcher Bats Eighth Day, but I’m not going to. If I did, though, I have no doubt that the results would still show batting the pitcher eighth to be an unwise decision, even if the difference is just one win.

Here’s how my Steamers—interestingly, the only Steamers player whose name I remember is Jim Kirk—did in the respective simulations:

PB8 Steamers 72-90, 3rd place (of 4)
League Overall
H 1380 8th 15th
R 730 7th 15th
Avg .250 8th 15th
OBP .318 7th 13th
SP .419 5th 10th
OPS .737 6th 12th

PB9 Steamers, 81-81, 2nd place (of 4)
League Overall
H 1512 5th 9th
R 818 3rd 5th
Avg .259 4th 10th
OBP .326 5th 11th
SP .441 4th 6th
OPS .767 3th 7th
First, note that the PB9 Steamers averaged about four more hits every five games, so it should not surprise you that they scored about 0.9 runs a game more than the PB8 team. Bill James’ work showed that in a practical sense, 10 runs translated, more or less, to one “win,” so it would fit that the PB9 Steamers won nine more games than the PB8’s.

The above numbers still don’t prove anything, I realize that—small sample size, only a simulation, etc.—but still, in none of these categories did the PB8 Steamers outperform their PB9 counterparts. You can be certain that much of these differences had to do with the lineup change.

In any case, I really don’t want Bruce Bochy even to consider batting his pitcher anywhere but ninth.

More Bullpen Stuff

In case you failed to read the comments on my last couple of pieces about relievers, saves, and pitching staff size (in which case: shame on you), EEEEEE! staffer (I refuse to say “former”) David Malbuff responded to (not “former” either) EEEEEE! staffer David Beck’s comment about “Why not have 14-man staffs, all relievers?” David M. says, “I’m on the other side of this one. (Yes, I still exist.) Pick your nine best pitchers and let ’em get all the innings they can handle. Carry three catchers, two guys who can hit coming off the bench, and three utility men.”

That would be fine with me, actually. By now it should be clear that I’m very tired of 12-man pitching staffs (or worse), and the lefty-righty-lefty-righty dance makes me crazy. Also, if the tendency were to leave starters in until they simply could pitch no more (or the game ended), you’d have much more of a “thinking man’s game,” for want of a better expression. Pitchers would “pace themselves,” as they used to—it would be a return to, say, 1960s-brand baseball. You’d see pitchers getting by on guts and brains more than “stuff,” and there wouldn’t be any Jake Peavy Cy Youngs, wherein the winner never sees an eighth inning all season. The only downside would be the destroyed arms, but would that happen any more than it does now?

(The other thing is, the All-Time All-Star Baseball version of Sports Illustrated Baseball had nine pitchers per team—very few of whom were actual relievers….)

Dave (B.) and I had continued the overall discussion in e-mail and, as he points out in his comment here, the idea of a staff full of relievers is something he and I had discussed over the years, probably more than once. I don’t think either of us looks at it as ideal, but sort of the extreme version of the way pitching staffs are now.

In fact, at some point, probably at least 20 years ago, I tried doing the “two or three innings at a time” thing with the baseball game Dave and I had spent years developing. I’m pretty sure I got bored, but hey. Frankly, aesthetics aside, it makes loads of sense, although probably the manager would have to come up with these intricate little mini-rotations, like Casey Stengel’s fabled (i.e., true or not, but “fabled”) complex platoon system with the Yankees lineup.

You may remember that Tony LaRussa tried something like this several years ago, only he had his guys go four innings. Imagine being a starter on that club. Talk about unrewarding.

(Quick aside about LaRussa: He’s also the brain behind batting pitchers eighth occasionally—not that it hadn’t been done before. His rationale involved more RBI opportunities for Mark McGwire. This came up recently because Joe Torre did the same thing in a game against the Giants. This didn’t work out for the Dodgers—imagine my distress—but then, he’d put his number-five starter up against Tim Lincecum, which probably is a good time to perform an experiment like that. The actual distressing part is that Bruce Bochy was quoted as saying he might try that some day. I really hope he doesn’t, because his team will score fewer runs and, I dare say, win fewer ballgames. The pitcher’s spot, over the course of the season, will come to the plate more often than the actual major league hitter in the ninth spot, and that can’t possibly be a good thing. I might well do an Out Of the Park Baseball simulation just to see.)

I’m not advocating this—just thinking aloud—but I think it’d be possible to do the everybody-pitches-two thing with fewer pitchers—say, eight to 10—because everybody would be used to pitching two or three innings a lot. You could have a rotation(ish) like:

Fri Sat Sun Mon
Lincecum Zito Medders Johnson
Johnson Cain Romo Howry
Howry Sanchez Affeldt Affeldt
Affeldt Wilson Wilson Lincecum

And so on. (You know I’m just fantasizing because Sergio Romo’s in the mix.) You could, as much as possible, alternate lefties and righties for each trip through the lineup, and change up styles and such—e.g., backing up Zito’s 85-mile-an-hour fastball and sharp curve with Lincecum’s electric fastball and effective change, then Johnson’s 92 mph fastball and 89 mph slider, then Wilson’s 100 mph fastball and Nen-like slider. Something like that.

Course, that would change offensive strategies a lot, too, and it could be a real chess game, I guess. The logical endpoint, however, probably would be an Offensive Unit, a Defensive Unit, and a specialist pitcher for each of the other team’s batters.

Further, since this is mostly a discussion about relievers, Dave was whining—whenever you complain about a team you like, even a little, that doesn’t do well and which isn’t the Giants, it’s whining; when it’s about the Giants, it’s (a) analyzing, and (b) relevant—about the Angels blowing a 9-4 lead and losing 10-9 to the Yankees, whom Dave may dislike even more than the Dodgers, if such a thing is possible. “No bullpen is this bad,” he whined about the Angels (or I said in analysis of the Giants—as opposed to “in analysis about the Giants,” which, well, let’s not go there).

I am confident that the Angels and their wads of cash will be able to address the situation effectively. As Giants newsgroup vet Jonathan Bernstein has pointed out over the years, the thing with a bullpen is that except for your closer and one or two other guys (like the setup dude, and often not even him), you’re dealing with pretty interchangeable parts. A guy like Doug Henry—remember him?—throws hard, gets guys out nonstop, then breaks down… so you go and find John Johnstone, who’s more or less the same guy, at least until he breaks down, and then you go with… well, whoever—I mean, it didn’t work all that well for the Giants, but still.

Dave said he simply couldn’t think of any team whose bullpen was as atrocious as the Angels had been up to that point. “I cannot see how any team ever could ever have been this bad to have had so many huge leads and blown them in the last two innings,” he said. “Small leads, yes, even moderate leads, maybe.”

Without actually checking, my recollection is that the Giants were about this bad in 1996. It was different, though: they got lit up without regard to the score, really, and since they didn’t take many leads into the late innings, it wasn’t as heartbreaking, at least not in the sense Dave is talking about.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oh, No Need to Listen to Me

Not that it matters all that much, but Brian Wilson had to finish off the eighth inning in a moderate pressure situation. In the ideal world described in my last post—okay, I didn’t call it an ideal world, because in an ideal world, the San Francisco Giants would have won at least one World Series by now—Wilson would have hit the showers with his teammates’ thanks and the knowledge of a job well done.

But no. He has to stay in the game and pitch the ninth, or else he won’t get the save. By then the Giants had a six-run lead, which is not to say that the game was in the bag (because they’re the Giants), but it was probably safe enough to give, say, Merkin Valdez a pressure-free inning. The team’s best reliever had already done his thing.

Instead, two batters into the ninth, the Dodgers have scored. Now, true, nothing bad happened after that, but it’s clear that closers just don’t concentrate unless the game is seriously on the line. Robb Nen as much as admitted this, and you can see it on the face of any closer who enters a game with too big a lead. He’s thinking about babes or the latest episode of Family Guy or the fact that pizza maybe sounds like a plan after the game. But probably mostly babes.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

“Theme” My Bippy

When Matt Cain left today’s game with a 4-1 lead, broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper were aglow about how, for a change, this year’s “theme” was, “Score Runs for Cain.” The Giants had a number of opportunities to score more than four, but they went into the ninth with that three-run lead, which Brian Wilson coughed up in a heartbeat, leading to extra innings. At this point, hey, the Giants could still win, but they’ve already burned all their best relievers, having used Jeremy Affeldt, Bobby Howry, and Wilson. Who’s left? Brandon Medders, Justin Miller, and Merkin Valdez. Of these, the best appears to be Valdez (and he’d better be), but he generally can’t throw more than an inning. I’m not entirely convinced that Medders and Miller can either. So I can’t say I have a good feeling about the rest of this game.

Now, Wilson came in with that three-run lead. That’s SOP for ballclubs these days: If it’s a save situation, bring in the closer, without fail. A save situation, as you probably are aware, is one in which the reliever enters the game and meets the following conditions (according to Rule 10.19 of the official baseball rules): 1) he is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team, 2) he is not the winning pitcher, and he either (enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat or on deck; or pitches for at least three innings, no matter how big the lead is.

Most often you’ll see your closer on the mound at the beginning of what his team hopes will be their opponents’ last offensive inning. Those are the easy saves. The pitcher’s coming in with a built-in lead, and all you have to do is shut down the other team for an inning. A one-run lead, certainly, is precarious, and this is where closers to be at their most intense. The bigger the lead, though, the less they concentrate, to the point where they seem to dread coming in with a three-run lead. Heck, I don’t know, maybe Wilson was exactly as intense and focused as usual, but I betcha... not. He got battered around, finally giving up the tying runs on a two-run homer by Juston Upton of the Diamondbacks, who seems to hit only Giants pitchers particularly well.

Now, this happens to every closer at some point. He’s not always gonna shut ’em down. In fact, closers tend to succeed about 80 to 90 percent of the time, which I don’t think is so great given the advantage they have when they enter the game. Granted, not all saves are easy. Closers aren’t going to throw three innings, so you won’t see Wilson enter the game with a 16-3 lead in the seventh, so get that out of your head right now. (Like the Giants are ever gonna score 16 runs in a game this year.)

And when I say “easy,” I mean in a relative sense. Starting the ninth with a one-run lead doesn’t seem so easy if, for instance, you’re facing three straight hitters who routinely knock baseballs out of parks. That one-run lead can disappear rather quickly. Plus there are those save situations where a pitcher might enter the game with a one-run lead, no outs, and the bases loaded. One sacrifice fly later: blown save.

In essence, my standard rant about saves is that saves are a gaudy statistic. Francisco Rodriguez saved over 60 games last year, smashing the existing record. And it’s not as though that’s not impressive. But you can’t equate it to, say, a starting pitcher winning 20 games—I’m not even sure you could equate it to 15 games—because success is built into the statistic. Usually you have to really screw up if you want to blow a save.

All that said, it’s still a better-defined stat than wins for a pitcher. Wins seem far more arbitrary, and on some occasions, they can be awarded on the whim of an official scorer. Yesterday’s victory over Arizona would be a good example, because Randy Johnson came out in the fourth inning, having walked seven hitters, but the Giants won anyway. Johnson’s immediate replacement, Justin Miller, got the win, giving up a run in an inning and two-thirds. Now, had the official scorer judged that Miller had pitched either “briefly” or “ineffectively,” he could’ve given the win to any of the four subsequent pitchers. Not that he should have.

But what do you do in a game where one team had an 8-0 lead and kept scoring, while the other team scored in bunches of four or five or eight but still couldn’t catch up? Let’s say the starter left in the first, and seven relievers all got lit up? Hard to know who gets the win, really. Let’s say that last pitcher doesn’t get lit up, and puts down the opposition in order in the ninth, with a one-run lead. Well, he really should get the save, but since all his teammates had pitched either briefly, ineffectively, or both, he ends up getting the win, which probably doesn’t help him when it comes to contract negotiations.

So neither wins nor saves (albeit clearly defined) is a great statistic. The Giants have shown us over the last few years, thanks to pitchers such as Matt Herges, Tyler Walker, and Brad Hennessey, that anybody can rack up plenty of saves. A guy could save a good 40 games despite an ERA over six, but Lord, what if he leads the league in saves? He’s your closer again next year. Yeccchhh.

Current conventional wisdom has a major league manager putting his best reliever into the closer role, which means that sometimes the games he enters aren’t on the line. How wise is that? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with bringing him in with that one-run lead, but shouldn’t your best reliever pitch in situations that are more crucial than, say, a three-run lead? Bill James espoused this, and I think he has a point. For example, assuming Brian Wilson really is the Giants’ best reliever, I’d sure rather see him in the game right now, with the game tied in the bottom of the eleventh, in an effort to keep the game exactly where it is. And what if the Giants score a run in the twelfth and are poised to score more? Wouldn’t that be an opportune time for Bob Melvin to bring in Chad Qualls, the reliever most likely to douse a rally? In fact, Qualls pitched an inning earlier, with the game tied and no save to be had. In fact, that was a fine time for Qualls to pitch. But in extra innings, you’d be reasonable to expect the home team’s closer to pitch with the game still tied.

You don’t see a closer entering a game in the eighth to preserve a tie, or to keep the opposition down to a one-run lead. You sure don’t see him in the third inning, trying to get through a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation. But what if you did? Would this put a permanent rend in the fabric of baseball space-time?

Yeah, pretty much. It has a lot to do with people’s comfort in pigeonholing other people. Pitchers like to have a role, even if it’s just “You’re the guy who comes in when we’re down 10 runs.” If you’re the closer, you’re the guy who comes in in a save situation—indeed, if you pitch in a non-save situation, it’s either an extra-inning scenario or you’re just in the game to “get some work.” You aren’t going to prepare to come into the game before—at the very earliest—the eighth. You certainly won’t even consider the possibility of being brought in with the bases loaded and nobody out in the third, even if the next three scheduled hitters are a combined 0-for-60 against you and have slider bat speed at best.

This is due to the “closer mentality,” which just means the mindset that major league managers use a hundred percent of the time. I’m not sure I’d know how to do things any better—I fall into the same pattern when playing tabletop or computer baseball games—but the closer mentality has to do some harm. For some teams, it has to be far more harmful than it’s worth. Look at the 1987 Giants, when closer Scott Garrelts blew 10 saves in 22 opportunities. Maybe he just shouldn’t have been pitching in save situations. Maybe he would’ve thrived in middle relief, or as a starter, as he did later. But no. He’s the closer, so until the manager changes his mind, he’s always going to pitch in save situations. Not tie games on the road. Never to preserve a one-run deficit.

Baseball hasn’t done a great job in evaluating relief pitchers. Even blown saves and holds aren’t yet official statistics. But on a team when the best reliever pitches in a variety of situations, when managers use their relief staff based on matchups, who’s pitching well and who isn’t, etc., his baseball card might well show a good ERA, a healthy WHIP (that’s walks-plus-hits per inning pitched), and an incredible strikeout ratio, but it won’t show a lot of saves, maybe not even holds. This’ll cost a guy money.

It might be worth trying out such an approach in a tabletop game or something, but it won’t be happening in major league baseball anytime soon.

(Nor will the Giants be winning today’s game, as Connor Jackson just whapped a drive that bounced on the warning track with the bases loaded in the twelfth. Not a sniff of Merkin Valdez was to be had, either.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cellllll-a-brate Good Times, Come On!

Randy Johnson’s career numbers in Dodger Stadium were something like 17-0 with a 0.13 ERA, so it goes without saying that he’d get doused in an accelerant and lit up today. The man looks completely lost out there—well, not anymore, as he’s now leaving the game with two out in the fourth. Yet again, the Giants go after a significant player—about 10 years too late. (I’m thinking here of guys like Steve Carlton, Benito Santiago, and Steve Finley: a Hall-of-Famer and two major Giants killers, irrespective of how good they ever were against the rest of the league.)

Well, that’s okay, I guess. Who doesn’t hope their free-agent signees play well? In particular, what Giants fans aren’t rooting for Johnson to dominate, and for Edgar Renteria to annoy other teams for a change? Instead—maybe just because I’m the Giants fan I am—I envision Johnson and Renteria as a pair of $8 million millstones. Given what the team was looking at internally for second base and shortstop—i.e., Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen—how is it that the Giants wind up paying more than twice as much to a two-time Gold-Glove shortstop (but not since 2003) with an OPS+ of 84 (with Detroit last year) as the Dodgers do for Orlando Hudson, a younger player, a three-time Gold-Glove second baseman (most recently in 2007) with an OPS+ of 108 (with the Diamondbacks last year)? Hudson would have been very much an “outside the box” type of choice, and I’m wondering if Brian Sabean, et al., entertained even the tiniest thought of bringing him aboard? After all, Burriss pretty much took shortstop away from Omar Vizquel last year, so why not consider bringing in a free-agent second baseman rather than a shortstop?

Maybe I’m being unfair. No doubt lots of people would look at this and think, “Well, that’s a classic second-guess.” But that doesn’t wash if these had been my views before the aforementioned free agents had signed with anybody. For Hudson, well, I can’t claim that, but I would’ve been moderately pleased had the Giants signed him, in contradistinction to my reaction after the Giants actually did sign both Johnson and Renteria, which was along the lines of “Why?”—at its kindest. There’s no question both men have put up some terrific years (Johnson more so, obviously), but would you say either of them has an upside? I wouldn’t. Hudson’s 31, and theoretically past his prime as well (though I tend to believe that players these days have longer (and often later) primes), but he’s not close to being over the hill yet. Johnson’s hill is a distant speck in his rear-view mirror, and Renteria is more than halfway between his own hill and the barbecue pit that signifies the end of his career.

Meanwhile, the Giants just signed third baseman Dallas McPherson to a minor league contract, which suggests that they’re a little iffy about Pablo Sandoval. McPherson’s major league numbers have been fairly putrid, but he did hammer 42 home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque last year, with an OPS just a shade under a thousand. I don’t know how that would translate to AT&T Park, or if we’ll ever find out.

(And should I mention that Orlando Hudson has hit for the cycle in today’s game? This is the first cycle ever at Dodger Stadium, says Mike Krukow. No, hitting for the cycle is not an indication of overall offensive prowess, but it makes perfect sense to me on a day when Renteria and Johnson have pissed me off tremendously, and I’m wondering if Hudson even got a look from the Giants’ Brain Trust.)

More important than any of this, though, is the health of Joe Martinez, who, as you know by now, took a line smash off the forehead a few days ago. He has a concussion—and baseball takes concussions a lot more seriously these days, as they should—plus some hairline fractures. The report is that he’s doing well and could be back sooner than anticipated, but the Giants ought not rush him. The play made me think of Pete Smith, the Braves pitcher, who took a line drive to the face, courtesy of a Giants batter—I can’t remember who—about 20 years ago. I feel fortunate to have listened to this (as well as the Martinez play) on the radio—as opposed to watching it on TV, I mean. I do not enjoy watching ballplayers get hurt.

I also thought about Terry Mulholland taking a liner off the bat of Atlanta’s Gerald Perry in 1988. That one I did see, though from the upper deck. Still, you can almost feel the impact. Mulholland felt it more, though: broken arm; season over.

(Okay, then, should I mention that with the Giants down 7-1 and Dodgers on first and third with nobody out, Aaron Rowand just caught a fairly deep fly ball and then threw the ball to third? Nah. Nor should I point out further that the throw enabled the runner on first to tag and go to second, thus removing the double-play possibility. This is what I’m always talking about with Rowand, who seems to throw to the wrong base at least twice a week. Did Rowand just not make any mistakes the year he won the Gold Glove? I mean, I do not see “Defensive Wizard” in this guy.)

I shall close by passing on jolliest annual celebration wishes to EEEEEE! contributor David Beck (who got to witness the Mulholland injury with me, and who now is almost spectacularly old), knowing that he would have had to wade through all the foregoing just to be thrown a “Happy Birthday” bone.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It’s 9-5 in the Seventh, but...

Know what bothers me?
  • Bengie Molina’s astounding lack of speed and the fact that lots of pitches seem to get by him. No, I’m not all snitty because he won’t be stealing any bases.

  • Geez, Pablo Sandoval will swing at anything, won’t he?

  • Brian Wilson, Bobby Howry, Joe Martinez, and Brandon Medders, and Merkin Valdez. Jeremy Affeldt and Alex Hinshaw. That’s five righthanded relievers and two lefties. I remember specifically from first grade that five plus two equals seven. Seven relievers. A twelve-man pitching staff. Wow. It’s a different world, isn’t it? I should check the statistics over the last, say, 10 years (but won’t), but it used to be that at-bats where the hitter has the platoon advantage—i.e., batting right against a lefty, left against a righty—led to an overall batting average of about 10 points higher than at-bats where the pitcher has the platoon advantage. So I’m wondering if this has changed drastically in the last few years, because so many managers play the left-right-left-right thing that teams have to carry seven relievers. Can this really be a sound strategy? This leads to...

  • Rich Aurilia, Juan Uribe, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez, and Andres Torres. A five-player bench. Each of these guys can play more than one position, which is a good thing. It’s a bad thing, though, if you’re gonna burn Velez and Torres as pinch-runners a lot, because it seriously limits defensive versatility. And if you routinely go the Felipe Alou route of pinch-hitting for a position player with a slow guy, pinch-running for the pinch-hitter with a fast (or faster) guy, and then having to depend on J.T. Snow to score from second on a base hit to the outfield with two outs in the ninth and the Giants trailing by a run, you’re vastly screwed. (Anybody else have a craw jammed with that particular memory?)

  • What the hell is up with that beard thing on Affeldt’s chin?

Let No One Say I Didn’t Post on Opening Day

I hate when work gets in the way of the ballgame, especially on Opening Day or something of even more importance.

Perhaps I should clarify: No, I’m not working yet, but I’m trying to be, with many of today’s hours being devoted to finding a job. By the time I realized that the game would be on (assuming it wasn’t rained out, as had been feared), it was 2 o’clock, and Tim Lincecum had just finished walking Milwaukee’s Mike Cameron to lead off the second. What usually happens when I tune in late is that the Giants immediately go into tank mode: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned on the radio to hear the beginning of a home run call for the other team, for instance. Lincecum didn’t do that, though. Instead, he gave up a two-out RBI double to the pitcher. Apparently the lad has been “off” all day.

How very “me” this game has been already. I mean, I’ve had the radio on for just 10 minutes. Oh, even better: next guy up hits a run-scoring double. The Giants are still ahead, 3-2, thanks to a bases-loaded triple by Travis Ishikawa in the first. That should last! Yeah! No problem! I swear, runs scored as a result of a pitcher’s hitting prowess should count double on the pitching pitcher’s ERA. In this case, Lincecum’s would stand at 18.00, now that he finished the inning without further damage. Perhaps we should refer to these extra, phantom runs as “un-unearned.” To determine un-unearned runs (UURs), you reconstruct the inning as though the pitcher had done what he’s supposed to do, namely strike out. I haven’t worked out all the logic yet, but I’m thinking that if the pitcher reaches base on an error, all runs scoring as a result would be un-un-unearned.

Meanwhile, my almost superhumanly vast legion of fans has been wondering when I might be writing some kind of 2009 season preview, which is silly because what they should have been wondering is “if.” And well should they have been wondering. And the answer is, no time soon. I’d rather take a more general look at the team.

(And just so you know, Lincecum, with Emmanuel Burris on the move (after being hit by the first pitch of the inning) just faked a bunt, then bounced one hard off the plate and into center, putting runners on first and third. Two potential un-unearned runs are sitting there, waiting to be knocked in. Ah, there’s a sacrifice fly by Randy Winn, so that adds two UURs to Jeff Suppan’s ledger—but that’s all, because Edgar Renteria, our very expensive new shortstop, has just hit into an inning-ending double play. That’s very annoying. But hey, at least the Giants are up by two. Well, one. And guess what? Lincecum’s through after three innings, and now we’re being treated to the major league debut of Joe Martinez. What the hell is going on out there?)

Most predictions I’ve seen have the Giants finishing third in the West, usually behind the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, in that order. Though I really don’t picture the Giants finishing much higher, I don’t see a reason not to consider the division wide open. Oh, the Padres are abominable, and the Rockies were a total fluke two years ago—a fluke which no longer employs Matt Holliday—and thus returned to form last year: 14 games under .500, and yet two ahead of the Giants. Baseball Prospectus evidently thinks the Giants and Rockies will tie for third, with close to 90 losses apiece. Now, far be it from me to poke holes in that prediction—so far be it, in fact, that I’m unable to do so. I sure can’t analyze the predictions in a quantitative way. But you know what? The Dodgers led the division with 84 wins, and the Diamondbacks had only 82. Has either team really become much better during the offseason? Then again, have the Giants?

Which is the question. I, being the terminally pessimistic Giants fan I am, will immediately say “Nah!” But is that fair? Think of who’s not around anymore (or, at least, not on the Opening Day roster):
  • Guys I won’t miss (I’m pretty sure): Brian Bocock, John Bowker, Rajai Davis, Ray Durham, Geno Espineli, Brian Horowitz, Osiris Matos, Scott McClain, Pat Misch, Ryan Rohlinger, Billy Sadler, Erick Threets, Clay Timpner, and Omar Vizquel. I bet you don’t even remember some of these guys. Others, I think just aren’t needed on the team right now. Vizquel, well, we all enjoyed watching him play shortstop, and we’ve all heard about what a great presence he was on the team, but—depending on how Renteria does—I don’t envision myself wailing, “Why—O! Oh, why!—did we let Omar Vizquel go?

  • Guys whom I’m perfectly happy not to see on the team: Eliezer Alfonzo, Jose Castillo, Vinnie Chulk, Brad Hennessey, Ivan Ochoa, Dan Ortmeier, Matt Palmer, Dave Roberts, Jack Taschner, and Tyler Walker. Oh, and J.T. Snow.

  • Guys about whom my feelings are mixed: Kevin Correia, Kevin Frandsen, Steve Holm, and Keiichi Yabu. Frandsen is easy to like, but does a team really need both him and Burris? Holm will be back before long, probably, because right now the backup catcher is Pablo Sandoval—which I wouldn’t see as a problem, except that he’s already the regular third baseman (which I’m afraid I do see as a problem, but not one that looks easy to solve; however, it does make me feel nostalgic for the days when the Giants tried to turn most of their outfielders into third basemen). Yabu, too, will be back soon—when Martinez hits a wall, probably. (It seems to be happening right this minute, now that the Brewers have taken the lead. Boobs.) Correia made the Padres’ starting rotation, which either says something unfortunate about the Padres or tells you the Giants gave up on him too soon. Rationally, the former should be the case. Because I’m the Giants fan I am, though, I fear it’s the latter. Not that I particularly want the guy back.

  • Guys I’m mildly bummed about but am not losing sleep over: Travis Denker and Noah Lowry. I’d love for Lowry to get healthy and dazzle hitters—and Giants fans—with that amazing changeup, but how would he be used? The starting rotation looks impenetrable—by other pitchers, I mean, not by opposing hitters. It’s the lefties who concern me. For instance, as much as I’d like Barry Zito to be an $18-million pitcher for the Giants, I don’t expect it. Oh, everybody in the organization’s looking for a “bounce-back year” from the guy, but I don’t know that he’s ever going to be much more than an innings-eater (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and perhaps an innings-eater who continually puts up two digits’ worth of losses but only one of wins, to say nothing of, say, a 5.68 ERA. I really don’t need to see that anymore. Meanwhile, do you expect Randy Johnson to be Randy Johnson? That’d be cool, but it sure doesn’t seem likely. I figure he has to be better than Zito, assuming he stays healthy, but is he a number-two starter anymore? And then there’s Jonathan Sanchez, who strikes out lots of people but still manages to get lit up quite often. He had a nice start last year, and it’d be nice to believe he could spend a whole season pitching well—and in good health. I don’t know what exactly will happen with Lowry, but unless he’s nearly permanently injured, it looks like he’ll have a place in the rotation at some point. Not Denker, though—because he’s an infielder. He showed some pop, grit, and moxie (all of which, I guess, are comestible substances), and I was surprised that he didn’t get a late-season call-up (though he may have been injured—I don’t remember). I was surprised also when, early in the offseason, he went to the Padres on waivers. I thought he was someone at whom to give a longer look. But hey, maybe not.

  • Guys whose absence is no surprise, since they’re really green and need time in the minors: Conor Gillaspie. That’s a pretty easy one. I assume they brought him up last September solely because it was in his contract.

  • Guys whose absence definitely hurts: Sergio Romo. I don’t think it’s any accident that he pitched well last year. The Giants were excited about adding Bobby Howry and Jeremy Affeldt to the bullpen, figuring that Romo (and probably Yabu, eventually) would help them form a formidable relief corps that also features Alex Hinshaw—but unfortunately, that hinged somewhat on Romo actually being able to pitch, which is something that’s difficult to do from the disabled list.
Oh, yay! A two-run homer by Aaron Rowand gives the Giants the lead again, 6-5. Granted, it’s the fourth, so it’s too early to get too excited, but the guy was so bad in Arizona, and I lost all confidence in him by the end of last season. I was mildly surprised—because I hadn’t heard media folk complaining about this—to hear Ralph Barbieri on KNBR point out recently that Rowand made some brutal, ill-advised throws from center field. In fact, because I seemed to be the only person complaining about this, I wondered if perhaps my perception was off the beam. Not that Barbieri thoroughly vindicates my opinion, but at least I’m not alone. (I ought to be nice and say that Rowand broke hundreds of his ribs, perhaps thousands, going after a ball early last season, and I have no doubt that his mobility was somewhat limited all season long.)

What’s nice about the Giants is that for the first time in what seems like eons, they’ve got several players you could reasonably characterize as “exciting,” without the quotation marks: Sandoval, Burriss, Fred Lewis, Lincecum, Cain, and Johnson, at least. Players like Rowand, Molina, and Winn are, or should be, Steady Eddies Who Come Up Big With The Game On The Line. And Ishikawa and Brian Wilson should be fun to watch, assuming they develop. Yeah, Wilson saved a load of games last year and made the All-Star team, but (a) you probably know how I feel about saves anyway, and (b) I don’t think he pitched nearly well enough to merit much, plaudit-wise. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s any good, because I do. He throws very hard—I like guys who throw very hard—and he seems to be developing a slider not entirely unlike Robb Nen’s. His control, though, is a concern, way more than Nen’s ever was. Ishikawa, worryingly, strikes me as sort of a J.T. Snow clone, but without as good a glove. I doubt he’ll ever put up the kind of power numbers you want from a first baseman, though I think he could be a .300 hitter (in a while). I don’t know if the statistics will back me up, but he reminds me of players like Doug Mientkiewicz or even Dave Magadan. At best, I think he’d be almost but not quite as good as Keith Hernandez. The other upside is, he’s not J.R. Phillips.

And in the meantime, Our Boys have managed to hold onto a 7-5 lead all the into the seventh.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Preeping Toward A Championship

by Cudgy Preep

Editor’s note: Once again, Cudgy Preep steps into the breech (which makes a nauseating squishy sound), donning the mantle of your humble Almost EEEEEE! correspondent—a mantle trimmed with ermine and hand-stitched using silk thread soaked in the tears of Giants fans who are still pissed off about the 2002 World Series. Preep, whose real name also isn’t Bat Fastard, often gets a lot of pleasure from making fun of my employment situation, whether I’m employed or not (that would still be “not”), is, himself, one of the many longtime award-winning Bay Area journalists who’s found himself looking for work despite not having won any actual awards. (I, at least, got a “good website!”-type award about 10 years ago, which I mention solely to rub Cudgy’s nose in it. But I digress.) In any case, Cudgy now has breech all over his best open-toed slippers, chiefly because I couldn’t think of much to say about the two latest Giants developments except “Hurrah!” and “Guh?” I’m hoping Cudgy can be even marginally more articulate.—GP

Recently, not once but twice, I’ve had the distinct lack of pleasure to hear something about our Giants that astounded me unto the point of spitting out my mouthful of microwaved sauerkraut, which I’d attempted to consume straight from the white-hot jar. The first would be Tim Lincecum winning the Cy Young Award. The second would be the Giants’ latest foray into the free-agent market.

“Hurrah!” I shrieked, spattering shavings of pickled cabbage at least seven feet in every direction, for Lincecum had become the first Giant since Mike McCormick in 1967 to win a Cy Young. Marichal? Perry? Swift? Burkett? Krukow? Reuschel? Bryant? Schmidt? Some closer? No effing way, no matter how clearly a given Giants pitcher should’ve won it in a given year.

It’s not just Lincecum winning the award that warmed my cockles. No, it was the combination of that and much of the sauerkraut falling into my lap, which warmed the damn things way more than I would’ve liked. Plus there was the fact that suddenly I felt that there might, somehow, some way, be some kind of hope. I mean, for as long as I’ve been a Giants fan, Giants DO NOT win Cy Young Awards. They DO NOT throw no-hitters. They utterly, utterly DO NOT win World Championships.

But now that one of these three mighty oaks has fallen (or is it “have”? I’m never really sure—I think you’re supposed to maintain subject-verb agreement. That said, I might instead just decide that we’re talking about a different kind of tree), I feel as though the barest whisper of hope might somehow have squeaked its way in through the steel-bolted door of Giants fandom.

Now, I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to go into the 2009 season thinking, “Yeah! This is our year! It’s gonna happen! The Giants are finally gonna get me a ring!” I’ve been conditioned over the years, as has every fan of the type who would read Gregg’s and my stuff, to know that even if there’s something to be enthusiastic about, pessimism and skepticism should always be right at hand. It’s not unlike Dave Barry’s description of his mother’s idea of a balanced meal, namely that for every food item the kids liked, there had to be one that they didn’t. I think the specific items were hamburgers and Brussels sprouts.

Until today there were 171 ballplayers hoping to be signed as free agents. These included a fair amount of big names, lots of “hey, he might fit nicely” people, and plenty of guys who, in testing the market, had better be awfully optimistic and willing to overlook their myriad flaws. And the first of these dominoes (or perhaps oak trees, or maybe beech) to fall was… lefty Jeremy Affeldt: two years with the San Francisco Giants, eight million simoleons, according to, which further insists that the Giants have wanted Affeldt for two years.

Because I’m a Giants fan, I’m guessing that those two years will have been the best of his career, as he put up a 3.51 ERA pitching for the Rockies and a 3.33 in Cincinnati. Neither of these is a mean feat. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved from 46-to-33 in 2007 to 80-to-25 last year. That ought to be a pretty good sign, no? (That’s ought to.) His splits were a little odd last year: .269/.293/.444/.738 vs. lefthanded batters, .255/.329/.391/.719 against that other kind. His ERA was quite a bit higher at home than on the road—another pretty nice sign, given that the Reds play in more of a hitter’s park than the Giants; however, AT&T Park favored the hitter last year, which was weird, especially with no Bonds around.

So at the moment I’m neither excited nor not about Affeldt, who I think has got to be a better choice out of the pen than, say, Osiris Matos or Patrick Misch. (He’s just got to!) In fact, the bullpen as a whole looks somewhat better now that we’ve seen the back of Brad Hennessey (who just signed with Baltimore), Tyler Walker, Kevin Correia, and Gino Espineli. Eric Hinshaw was the best lefty reliever this year, and Jack Taschner was… well, he was a lefthanded reliever. Either way, it looks as though there will be some rather fierce competition among the bullpen lefties next spring, with Affeldt virtually guaranteed a place.

But for $8 million over two years? Guh? I truly don’t get it, and I am convinced that only the San Francisco Giants—Brian Sabean or no Brian Sabean—would poop out that kind of dosh for a middle reliever.

As for the big names, such as C.C. Sabathia or Mark Teixeira, The Marin Independent Journal has Sabes saying, “If their interest in us is sincere, we'll continue to talk. But we're not going to let anything drag out. We won't be used to drive the price up.” The writer, Andrew Baggarly, goes on to say, “The Giants fell into that trap two winters ago in failed pursuits of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee.”

Does that give you confidence? Hey hey! There’s nothing like knowing for sure that your team is a patsy, as opposed to merely suspecting it all your life.

And finally, in one of my earlier pieces I made passing mention of the silly crush I had on some blonde actress in some English cop show. More than one reader wanted to know who I was talking about, and what show. And I’m still not going to tell you because you’ll only taunt her and send her pictures of me. I shall say merely that I would appreciate it if she left her husband and kids behind to frolic in the surf with me in, I dunno, somewhere sunny and beachy. Probably I shouldn’t mention that it’s the character I’m in love with, not the actress. If she wants my love, she’s got to be a Giants fan—a Giants fan who’s not afraid to remind me that sauerkraut, microwave ovens, and astounding Giants news just don’t mix.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Inevitable Forestalled—For the Time Being

The Tampa Bay Rays did not win the 2008 World Series. Now we won’t have to worry for 11 months about some upstart claiming a ring before the Giants. Let me be the first to say: Hurrah.

Tonight my friend Steven Rubio posted a blog article, titled “51 Years and Counting,” that echoes what I’ve been saying for years. I’d have to look through my three billion pages of EEEEEE! archives to see if I actually made Steven’s points in print, but I’ve uttering them out loud and typing them into e-mail for yonks, and I’m figuring that somewhere in the archives, the main point can be found, and it is this: as Steven says, “There are no San Francisco Giants fans with that memory [i.e., of their team winning a World Series], because their team has NEVER won it all. No fans in baseball today have a longer zero-title streak than Giants fans.” Steven, an even longer-time Giants fan than I am, may be even more fed up with the suffering than I am—which is pretty hard to fathom.

What I think gripes me most is that traditionally, those who have run the Giants—and not just during the Magowan years—find it acceptable that the San Francisco Giants have never won a World Series. Perhaps they think their fans find it acceptable, too. This here fan does not.

Oh, it’s not as though I shall issue an ultimatum (“Win a damn ring or I’ll kill this dog!”), switch my allegiance to some other team, or give up on baseball altogether, but my current mood can be summed up thus: I’m mad as hell, but I’m gonna take it evermore. That is, I don’t know how I’ll manifest my newfound failure to accept the status quo, because it’s not as though I have any control over the situation. I will, however, offer these words of advice to those who are in control of the Giants, and I’d love to believe that this is old news to them:
  • Think great. Think champion. Think different.

  • Give a crap about your fans. Win for them, not just for you.

  • If your bottom-line goals involve not winning, get some new bottom-line goals.

Anything unreasonable about that? I thought not.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hatin’ Them Rays Right Now

If you’ve spent any time talking baseball with me or reading my stuff, you know that one of my tiny little pet peeves is the fact that the San Francisco Giants have staunchly refused to win even a single World Series in the entire 50 years of their existence. Now, yes, I too am aware that they spent lots of years in New York, where they won a handful of World Championships, but that’s the New York Giants. The San Francisco Giants are still holding tight to their championship cherry.

Some fans feel a sort of proud ownership of those New York titles, and I have to admit, so do I, to an extent. What Giants fan doesn’t get chills every time they hear the recording of Russ Hodges screaming “The Giants win the pennant!” over and over? What Giants fan feels no particular way about the Giants sweeping the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in 1954? But to me, the San Francisco Giants are as far apart from the New York Giants as San Francisco is from New York. They’re different worlds. It’s one franchise, but two teams. And sadly, the difference between the two isn’t that far off from the difference between M*A*S*H and After M*A*S*H.

All right, maybe that’s harsh, and maybe that’s my annoyance talking. Well, it is, to an extent (but that’s okay because annoyance is what the concept of “EEEEEE!” is all about). It’s wrong to say that the Giants have been worthless for 50 years: They were pretty much the best National League team in the 1960s; they were mostly fairly good from 1986 through 2003, if you can believe it. But no freaking rings. Frustrating? How can it not be? Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Cepeda. Clark, Clark, Thompson, Beck, Nen, Aurilia, Kent, Williams, Schmidt, Bonds, Bonds. Krukow, Kuiper, Brenly, for that matter. Nary a ring among them—at least while they were Giants.

The one constant, at least since 1958, is the fans. For the most part, I’m talking about fans who, for example, actually know who Marichal is and his place in Giants history. (For those who don’t, well, it’s not their fault they were born too late.) I don’t know how many long-time, rabid Giants fans there are in the world, and they fill the spectrum from highly optimistic to, well, me, I guess. But those who don’t feel frustration about the Giants’ half-century of non-winnerness probably are those lucky few who don’t feel frustration about anything, and good luck to them.

Almost all of the Giants fans I know, no matter how optimistic, feel deep down that It Just Ain’t Gonna Happen. And it’s a crappy feeling. Giants fans truly have had to sing for a supper that still fails to arrive, and we’re lucky—I guess—that the kitchen didn’t close forever after 1992, when the Giants nearly moved to Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Which suddenly brings me to the team I’ve tried to avoid thinking about: the Tampa Bay Rays. I hate the Tampa Bay Rays. Well, I don’t, but they certainly will annoy the hell out of me if they win the World Series this year. I will resent them forever, or until the Giants win their own World Series, whichever comes first, and I fear that I know all too well which will come first. And my current hostility toward the Rays is exacerbated by the fact that, throughout their 10-year history as the Devil Rays, they were awful awful awful, never winning more than 70 games in a season; and now, all of a sudden, they’re juggernauts who might become the next team to win a World Series before the San Francisco Giants ever do. And because baseball isn’t baseball without annoying me along the way, I’m quite convinced that the Rays will win this year’s World Series easily.

As far as I’m concerned, even Phillies fans would have a reasonably fair gripe if the Rays beat their team, since the Phillies have gone nearly 30 years without a championship—having won their previous one 30 years before. But until the day the San Francisco Giants win their first World Championship, you will never convince me that fans of the Phillies—or any other team, including the Cubs—have a more legitimate gripe than Giants fans.

Those are pretty chilling lists. (I decided arbitrarily that the last 20 years were recent enough.) For one thing, of all the teams that have ever won a World Series, only three have not done so since 1979 (inclusive)—and, of course, only one of those teams has moved from the place where it last won a ring. That in itself is so odd: In the 48 years since the leagues first expanded, the Giants are the only non-expansion club never to win a ring after moving to a new metropolitan area. (That’s only mildly different from my usual gripe, namely that no club in its current home has gone longer than the Giants without even once having won a ring, but still, I hadn’t thought out the non-expansion thing before, so now I’m mildly more annoyed.) As far as I’m concerned, only Montreal fans have anything like as much to complain about, given 37 years of no championships… and then no team.

Also amazing, really, is that the Dodgers and A’s haven’t won it all in such a long time—which I’ve failed to lament. In fact, most of the teams in that second column had a real “story”… and yet haven’t won since: Giants (sweep heavily favored Indians; Dusty Rhodes), Pirates (“We Are Famileee,” “Pops” as MVP), Phillies (first ring in eons), Tigers (35-5 start, Roger Craig’s book), Royals (bad call, Andujar meltdown), Mets (Buckner), Dodgers (Hershiser, Gimpy Gibson, crappy team, hateful season).

I deeply wish to be wrong about this, but I see no reason for the Giants to win anytime soon, if ever. Well, you could remove the words anytime, soon, and if. Indeed they currently play in a weak division, but they’re one of the key reasons the division’s so weak. This year the Dodgers were 84-78, and the Giants, at 72-90, were only 12 games out. The Rockies started to return to form, which is fine, but the Padres were almost entirely injured all year and should’ve been better. I don’t think the Dodgers played over their heads, and what’s really disturbing is that they started playing well when they started benching (or disabling) multimillion-dollar millstones such as Juan Pierre and Andrew Jones. So barring loads of injuries next year, I don’t see them going away. Ditto Arizona, which seems to have put together a good team, and not by simply throwing money around. So unless, say, the Giants’ rotation seriously puts it together, and they pick up a bat (or two) that matters while getting rid of some deadwood, I don’t see them doing better than third place for the foreseeable future… by which time Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will have become free agents in order to go and win Cy Youngs for other teams, and the guys the Giants are really high on won’t have panned out, so they’ll be a tail-ender again. (As it happens, though, the Giants have gotten rid of some deadwood, which I suppose is encouraging.)

David Beck directs my attention to the 1973 Giants, who finished in third place at 88-74. “I’d always just had this idea,” Dave says, “that after ‘71 the Giants just sucked always. What’s awful is that this record was not only better than the Dodgers this year, but was way better than the 1973 Mets, who came within a game of winning the whole thing that year. It is just so putrifyingly Giantsesque.”

I remember that year all too well: good team that faded down the stretch. Reruns took place in’78 and ‘86. Mostly, though, 1973 was the year Bobby Bonds hit 39 home runs and stole 43 bases. I thought he had a terrific year and was most annoyed when Pete Rose won the MVP anyway.

At the time, though, I didn’t connect this to the Mets’ rather pathetic 82-79 record, probably because I was as yet unaware of the utter, utter unfairness of life and/or Major League Baseball. You should know, too, that the Mets’ top RBI man had 76, and the top slugging percentage on the team was .423; the team had an ERA of 3.26, but still somehow managed just those 82 wins. But I digress.

Dave points out the injustice of the Giants being such a good team in the 1960s, yet almost always being a bridesmaid—usually the maid of honor. “Yes, it is meaningless to go over this,” he says, “because bad things happen to all teams, and it’s a long long time ago, but you know? Sorry, the entire San Francisco Giants history has just been more horrific than any other team.”

Cubs fans, who at least have a 100-year-old ring to feel proud about, would say that they have it worse because the Cubs almost always reek, and let’s not even talk about what Kansas City A’s or Montreal Expos fans might say. But I too am sorry: we have it worse. The way many of us feel about the Giants can’t be that different from how Sisyphus felt about the boulder.