Thursday, May 25, 2006

If He’s So Smart, Why’s He So Dumb?

Seldom does a sprinter dive toward the finish line. You know that. I know it. The Giants broadcasters know it. Why doesn’t the Giants shortstop?

I would estimate, very roughly, that Omar Vizquel loses about a hit a week due to a headfirst slide into first base, thus slowing him down. See, sliding causes friction; friction reduces speed. A fine example, besides Omar Vizquel, would be the brakes on your car or bike. If your brakes make you go faster, get help now; if they slow you down, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. In other words, friction produces a braking action.

And that’s why ballplayers slide. It’s not to make them faster, it’s to keep their momentum from sending them past the base they want to stop at. Believe me, I know this one well.

When I was in high school, the planets apparently aligned perfectly one day, thus decreeing that I would actually get into a baseball game on my Frosh-Soph team. See, I rarely got to participate, even in practice. Sure, I carried the bats and shagged fly balls in BP—and often I didn’t even get BP—but mostly my job was to do things like be a baserunner for other people’s infield drills. (And don’t even get me started about my function as scorekeeper.) Despite my presence at all the practices and games (except for the one on Opening Day 1975, when I chose to stay home and score the Giants game instead), I was out of practice. Indeed, I played so little and was so discouraged by the situation—and by my coach, who apparently was trying to teach me a lesson of some sort—that when I did play, I sometimes panicked. God knows I did that in other sports, especially basketball—“chicken with its head cut off” was how my father once aptly described my approach to the game—but once I got out of Little League and started to perform poorly, and thus played less and less, I began to feel as though all eyes were on me, waiting for the next screwup. So when my high school coach actually put me into a game, I found myself wondering why—even after I reached the point where I was playing well again, thus enabling the return of a modicum of confidence.

And when Frosh-Soph practice started, I was playing about as well as I ever had, both on offense and defense. In fact, I was hitting like crazy. Also, I’d only started playing center field the previous spring, I loved it, and I felt like a center fielder—a pretty good one.

Naturally, that was the cue for the coach to keep me off the field almost entirely. But one day late in the season, I was instructed to go out to center field in about the fourth or fifth inning of a game. (I can’t remember, but I’ll assume we were losing big at the time.) By then the confidence I’d regained was gone, as was any hope that the coach hadn’t been lying when, just before the season started, he told me I’d be playing plenty.

My day began with a high fly ball. I took a step in, went “Uh-oh” as the ball flew merrily over my head, and wound up chasing it for what seemed like hours. I’m not even sure I held the batter to four bases.

Later—and here’s the part that relates to the stuff about Vizquel and friction—I stood on first base after walking. For no reason I can think of, I was given a steal sign. So I took off. I beat the throw by plenty, but the doubts kicked in, and I wasn’t even sure I could still slide right. I’m assuming, anyway, that this is why I didn’t slide. Or perhaps it had been too long since my last on-field screwup. In any case, I stole second standing up—until my momentum carried me off the bag, whereupon I was tagged a split second before I got back. The umpire called me out. I disputed his assertion that I’d come off the bag, of course, but to no avail. Of course. Perhaps because embarrassment was foremost on my mind, it didn’t even occur to me grief from the coach about not sliding. And when he did, and asked me why I failed to slide, I just said “I dunno.”

Ask me if I stayed in the game after that. Go ahead. Ask.

My point, though, is not to tell the sad story of my baseball career. My point is that I’m living proof that you slide to slow yourself down—and, certainly, to avoid being tagged, which rarely is an issue at first base, Omar. The only way sliding is gonna speed you up is perhaps if you’re playing baseball on ice. And the only reason to slide head first is to avoid a tag.

Jeff Kent used to dive into first when he was with the Giants. (Now that he’s a Dodger, who cares if he still does it?) That used to drive me bats, but I’d think, “Aw, Kent doesn’t seem like the sharpest bulb in the elevator, so maybe I should expect something like that from him.” But Omar Vizquel? Omar “4-6-5” Vizquel?

Maybe my estimate of a hit per week is too high, but in case it’s not, we’re talking about the difference between a season batting average of, say, .290 and .333 (or, if you prefer OBP, it’d be, say, .360 instead of .400).

What makes him do it? A league-mandated condition of his joining the Giants? No other reason makes sense.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Four Left, One Right, One I Didn’t See…

So it took Barry Bonds weeks to hit his first home run of the season, during which time he wasn’t getting a whole lot of other hits, either. Since then he’s hit four more, and it’s already May 8. Certain (that is to say “cretin”) fans and members of the sports media would have you believe that this is prime evidence that he’s through. I’d say it’s prime evidence that his bat had cooled off considerably since the exhibition season (like other Giants I won’t name), but hey, I’m just one fan, and not even a sports media guy, so what do I know?

There’s no doubt that he hasn’t looked all that good at the plate. His swing has looked better lately, but mostly he’s been all upper-body, which isn’t his style at all. And now he’s up to 713, and you know what that means? It means that the boos have to be louder and the signs more vicious, by law, because he’s a no-good lyin’ cheatin’ nose-pickin’ earwig-rapin’ peckerhead. In Philadelphia, some thought-bereft radio “personality” exhorted his listeners—the amazing thing is that people like this have listeners—more or less to buy tickets for the Giants-Phillies series this past weekend, then to ankle the games en masse when Bonds strode to the plate. Boy, that’s teachin’ The Big Fella, innit?

Brian Murphy of KNBR, a sportswriter-turned-radio-personality, said today that while he doesn’t support Bonds’ apparent cheating—that is, cheating by extension of the evidence that Bonds received steroids, as well as the hearsay (not “weak” evidence—just hearsay, as in “as credible as it may be, it’s still not direct,” which, incidentally, doesn’t make the evidence “bad” or anything) that he actually used performance-enhancing drugs, according to The Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams—he does find it awfully weak to hold up Bonds as an icon of dishonesty in an era where so many others have “cheated” by using performance-enhancing drugs. In other words, if you’re gonna rip Bonds, rip ’em all.

To the extent that multiple wrongs make a right, I agree, and I want to see anybody who’s ever experienced a sudden increase in power numbers be booed and have syringes thrown at them. In fact, I don’t actually want to see that. I want to see it all stop. You’ve made your feelings known about Barry Bonds, people. Move on.

Here’s the main issue, one that I have gone on about, at length, not only in EEEEEE! and its subsidiaries but also the Giants Usenet newsgroup, The hatred, the object-throwing, the booing, the screaming, the foul-crying, the banners, the proposed boycotts, the hand-wringing, the howls for exclusion, these things aren’t about cheating, honesty, integrity, fairness, level playing fields, hallowed records, Our Young People, or anything else except “I DON’T LIKE BARRY BONDS.” Simple dimple. Why the persistent bashers won’t cop to this is beyond me.

No it isn’t. They won’t come right out and admit that they dislike Bonds for no particular reason because they know it would make them sound stupid. But you know what? At least it’d be honest: “He just rubs me the wrong way”—I could respect that. Instead, it’s the lone kernel of truth and honesty for so many of these folks—and if you want evidence, just Google “Barry Bonds” in “Groups,” and set aside several hours to read it—in a morass of pontification about those things I said above that this whole thing isn’t about. Who knows if this is true—maybe it’s in Game of Shadows, which I haven’t read but wouldn’t mind doing so if someone wanted to send it to me for free, my disposable income being roughly on par with the percentage of the Martian atmosphere that’s breathable by humans—but prime evidence, as far as I’m concerned, is the anecdote wherein some IRS guy says, “I hear Bonds is an asshole. Let’s get him!” Again, I don’t know if it’s true, but frankly, I have no doubt it is.

What’s really annoying me these days about the Bad Bonds thing is the outcry over his assault on certain records, records that are considered hallowed. Really: hallowed records of baseball achievements. Hallowed. It moggles the bind, it does. And, hell, on some emotional level I hallow them as much as anyone else, I guess, but I also recognize that they are naught but records, and records, like rules and broncos, are made to be broken.

The records of which I speak are the home run records, both for a single season and for a career. Bonds already holds the single-season record, having eclipsed the record set three years before: Bonds hit 73 in 2001, Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998. When McGwire—and Sammy Sosa—were chasing Roger Maris’ all-time record of 61 that year, that record wasn’t being very “hallowed,” now, was it? And when McGwire passed Maris, he got a huge ovation—well deserved in that 62 is a hell of a lot of dingers—and all kinds of publicity and fawning and everything else. When Bonds passed McGwire, it was acknowledged as something of an achievement, but it didn’t blow anybody away because the record had been set so recently. Also because the guy setting it was Bonds, who was already suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs.

But it probably wouldn’t have been all that much of an issue if Bonds hadn’t hit his last couple hundred home runs so quickly, because now he’s chasing the all-time career record. And that record, I would like to emphasize, is held by Hank Aaron.

“Duh!” you cry, possibly even in this context. “Everybody knows that Aaron holds the career record.” The hell they do. People still think Babe Ruth holds it. Oh, I realize that we all know rationally that Aaron broke the career record 32 years ago, and that he ended up hitting 41 more home runs than The Babe. But in our hearts, it’s Ruth who still holds both records; it’s Ruth who changed the game, made it pretty much what it is today by realizing that if you have a couple guys on base, you’ll score them a hell of a lot more quickly if you smash one out of the yard than if you bleedin’ bunt. What he did as a player is still amazing; Ruth is indeed one of the most important figures in baseball history, if not the most important, and all that other stuff is true—except the bit about him still holding those records.

But he’s the reason they’re still “hallowed.” No other reason. Sheez, Aaron got death threats when he was chasing Ruth. Granted, most if not all of them were about an African-American ballplayer breaking records held by a white one, but what if it hadn’t been Aaron? What if it had been a white player? I mean, if Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and, especially, Ted Williams hadn’t lost so much career time to injuries or military service, almost certainly one of them would have broken Ruth’s records—at least the career record. And would any of them have received death threats? Eh, probably not—even Williams—because “at least the new record holder would be white.” But with guys like Ford Frick around at the time, the new white record holders still wouldn’t have received the acknowledgment they’d deserve, and the ghost of Ruth still would have hung high over the rest of them. But you can still bet your bottom dollar that a great many folks wouldn’t have wanted to see those records broken, period, because they were held by the most lovable, charismatic, talented, simply the greatest figure in baseball history, the one for whom people laugh off the many overindulgences for which he was famous, and even the ones for which he wasn’t so famous.

Major League Baseball has stated that if and when Bonds passes Ruth—and he’s two home runs away from doing so—there will be no particular celebration. I have no problem with that—Ruth is not the record holder (except for “most home runs by a lefthanded batter,” which is still pretty awesome)—why fete someone for moving into second place? (Ask the Giants of the ’60s about that.) Many, in and out of the sports media, believe that this has to do with Bonds being African American; others are certain that it’s because of the steroid use that apparently is so painstakingly documented in Game of Shadows. Frankly, I think it’s about him being Bonds. Nothing else. I believe Major League Baseball would have made a point of honoring McGwire, or even Sosa (who would’ve gotten horrible threats for being not only dark-skinned but not even American; who needs records if you have to put up with nonsense like that? Oh, incidentally, Bonds did receive death threats in 2001).

I have tremendous respect for Ruth’s accomplishments. When we think of him, I imagine most people think “Fatty Boombalatti” (thanks in part to John Goodman), a Right Jolly Old Elf keeping promises to hospitalized kids. But however huge and out of shape the man may have gotten, he may well have had the most actual baseball talent in the history of everything ever. To put it simply, he dominated baseball for a good long time.

So his records weren’t just numbers, they were “hallowed” entities, almost. But what I wonder is, why wasn’t Maris’ 61 hallowed? Because he wasn’t Mantle, or because he wasn’t The Bambino? Is Aaron’s 755 really hallowed? It’s acknowledged as the product of talent and longevity, especially noteworthy because he’s never really been thought of as a slugger per se—that is, there was quite a bit more to his game than home runs. (Ditto Ruth, but hey.) To me it feels like Aaron’s record is way less about Aaron than about Having Passed The Babe—meaning that The Babe is still revered, but (possibly because he seemingly went about his business and “quietly” put up a brilliant career) Aaron is, by comparison, incidental.

Bonds is leading the latest assault, and at this moment he’s 42 behind Aaron. It seems almost a given that he won’t reach Aaron now that he’s lost virtually an entire season to his knee injuries and that he’s nearly 42 years old. Oh, plus he’s through—remember that part? And with him about to pass Ruth, well, there’s plenty of resentment about that. I think Bonds won’t quit until he physically cannot play baseball anymore, and he’s not at that point yet. He’s in pain all the time, because of which he can barely overtake stationary objects when he runs, but things heal. I don’t expect him to reach 100 percent—hasn’t it already been years since he was at 100 percent?—but I do figure on him to end this season with Aaron in sight, so much so that to retire at that point would seem crazy. Not that Bonds never seems crazy.

I want Bonds to break Aaron’s record, mostly because he’s a Giant, and it’s already pretty cool to have a Giant be the all-time single-season leader, which you’d think wouldn’t last long. I appreciate the work he obviously puts in to just being a baseball player, and I remember the great all-around player he was, as opposed to the astounding all-around hitter he is now. And as I’ve said in EEEEEE!, I don’t care about the performance-enhancing drugs. Assuming he used, we’ll never know what direction his career would’ve taken if he hadn’t. For all we know, he could have 800 by now. The point is, sure, maybe these performance enhancers enhance performance significantly—but you still have to go out there and do it. I could start pounding these drugs into my body, and there’s no way I would hit 756, 73, or even one home run in the major leagues. First, I’d have to actually be in the major leagues, which is a separate but nonetheless significant issue. Second, well, to be perfectly honest, there’s nothing in my life that I do nearly as well as Barry Bonds hits, and I don’t know anybody who can reasonably say that they are as good at what they do as Bonds is at what he does. Just taking the drugs cannot and will not turn someone into Barry Bonds. And I appreciate what he’s done on the field, and I feel very fortunate for having been able to follow him closely for so many years.

I neither like nor dislike Barry Bonds. I don’t know him and have never met him, and that will remain true unless we both become involved in, say, a traffic accident, which I easily could do without. I just find it appalling and so deeply, profoundly stupid that this man has been made the subject of scorn and vilification of the type you’d normally reserve for, say, Osama bin Laden. The difference is that with bin Laden, at least people have a good reason to hate him.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Of Beans and Drills and Four-Six-Fives, of Cabbages and Kings

Well, that certainly was a series, wasn’t it? Neither team scored, yet somehow the Giants won two of three. But that’s not the remarkable part. The remarkable part came in Sunday’s game: the routine 4-6-3 double play that wasn’t. Instead of throwing on to first, Omar Vizquel threw to Pedro Feliz at third, catching the runner rounding the bag.

Have you seen a more creative shortstop on a daily basis? I haven’t. Maybe Ozzie Smith was—I don’t know; I didn’t watch him every day (and I didn’t like him much anyway, for my own irrational reasons, which I at least acknowledge as irrational, Bonds-bashers! But I digress)—but we Giants fans now get to watch Vizquel throw from a full-on sitting position, or hacky-sack the ball toward first, or do the Three Stooges thing where you wobble your hand in front of the baserunner’s eyes and go “Woob woob woob woob woob!”

I cannot remember ever having seen a 4-6-5 double play, and yet, stunningly, Feliz seemed to have been expecting the throw, which tells me this is a play the Giants have worked on at some point. (Well, what really amazed me was that Feliz didn’t freak or brain-lock.) So does Vizquel practice throws to first while sitting in the dirt? The closest I could imagine would be throwing stuff at the TV from one’s living-room floor, but maybe Vizquel really does practice all those absurd (yet ultimately effective) moves.

The other remarkable bit in Sunday’s game started with Brad Hennessey (called up to make the start in the injured Noah Lowry’s stead, with Jeremy Accardo drawing the short straw bearing the legend “Fresno”) drilling Jeff Kent in the helmet with what Mike Krukow says was a sinker. First, it’s never pretty when a ballplayer gets hit in the head. No doubt many of you remember Goose Gossage banking a 97-mph fastball off Ron Cey’s helmet in the 1981 World Series: Cey went down like he’d been shot, and I seem to remember him not moving for a long time. I also remember a Salinas Packers (or maybe Angels) game in the mid-1970’s in which infielder Darrell Darrow took a fastball to his helmet and, like, never moved again. The impact was awfully loud and seemed to involve a weird sort of cracking noise. I’m guessing Darrow was never the same again; last thing I remember about his baseball career, he was trying to make it as a pitcher. And I’m not sure I blame him.

Dodger or not, I sure hope Kent doesn’t suffer a fate similar to that of Tony Conigliaro, Paul Blair, Dickie Thon, or the other players you could name whose careers were “negatively affected” by beanings. Something tells me Kent will make a full recovery, though, despite his worryingly long doze near the plate yesterday. He’s the kind of guy about whom you’d say, “Aw, he’ll be fine—it only hit him in the head.” In fact, he’d probably say it. But did Hennessey mean to hit him? I can’t see how. This was a 2-0 game, and it looked like the pitch just got away. If it weren’t Giants vs. Dodgers, I suspect everybody’d guess the same thing.

So if it weren’t Giants vs. Dodgers, would Dodger reliever Tim Hamulak have plunked Barry Bonds on the elbow armor? Debatable, depending on whether it was deliberate to begin with. Hamulak was ejected immediately, but I was surprised. Circumstances sure made it seem deliberate, but, again, it was a stupid time to drill somebody. However, it looked like a “You hit Our Guy, we hit Your Guy” situation. Hamulak didn’t seem too bummed about being ejected, suggesting deliberation on his part, but Bonds—according to Krukow—didn’t feel that Hamulak meant it. And Hamulak, you have to hope, is not stupid enough to say otherwise. Either way, anybody who wonders about Bonds’ elbow-protective equipment need wonder no more: We saw why it’s there.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Not So Much “Wet and Wild” as “Brown and Bubbly,” and Not the Good Kind

The Giants had a terrific series against the Braves, taking three out of four in San Francisco, including a come-from-behind win courtesy of Lance Niekro’s game-tying home run and Randy Winn’s bloop single in the bottom of the ninth. It therefore should go without saying that the game I attended was the one they lost.

That would be Friday, April 7. Not only did the Giants lose, they lost ugly. Matt Cain started out looking fairly sharp and nasty, but he was through by the fourth—unfortunate, given that he stayed in quite a bit longer. The bullpen then went out there and gagged, by the end of which a 6-4 Giants lead was turned into a 14-6 Giants loss. Tyler Walker lived up to his surname, walking thousands and thousands of batters before Jack Taschner came in and did the same (though, to be fair, Taschner also hit a guy on the foot). Jeremy Accardo then poured a little more gas on the fire before putting it out by peeing on it. Or something. I mean, these guys looked genuinely awful. Awful. Awful.

The only thing worse was the weather. I had called KNBR that afternoon to see if the game would be played. They said it would, primarily because the Giants wanted to get as many butts in the seats as possible, preferably butts purchasing hotdogs and beer.

My son, who had been looking forward to the trip to the Giants’ home, whatever it’s called these days, was beside himself at the thought that the game might be canceled. See, he likes the idea of going to baseball games, eating ballpark food, getting souvenirs, and exploring all the cool stuff at the yard. He likes it a hell of a lot more than he likes actually watching baseball, however.

The train dropped us off much earlier than I had anticipated, given the weather and all, so we strolled around for a while, ultimately ending up by the archways in order to avoid the rain. There we saw many shiny puddles in the outfield, plus a mostly flooded warning track, which led me to inform my son that he could kiss goodbye the notion of seeing Barry Bonds that night. Indeed, the only glimpse we got of the man was when he grabbed a bat just before Moises Alou’s pinch-hit, two-run homer that gave the Giants the lead. Clearly he would’ve hit if the game had stayed close, but thanks to the pen, Bonds sat all night. Bleah.

We attended the game courtesy of a cousin I had not seen since my age was somewhere in single digits. I shall not name him, lest you track him down and make fun of him for being related to me, but he and his wife are not only a delightful couple, they’re also huge Giants fans with season tickets, of which they sometimes have spares, hence our trip to The City.

Of course, the ballpark adventure was nothing compared to the adventure my son and I undertook upon exiting the home-bound train after foolishly listening to the conductor tell us to “detrain” because of a car on the tracks. Little did we know that this was the last train of the night—well, early morning. So there we were in San Mateo at 2 a.m., walking down El Camino, hoping for a lift before we actually walked all the way home and died from the effort. But that’s another story, as is the one about the drunk on the train who apparently wanted to fight me for a seat.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It’s Already Ugly

The 2006 Giants looked a lot like the 2005 Giants on Opening Day. Naturally they chose to get hurt by my least favorite Padre, Khalil Green, and my new, second-least favorite Padre, Mike Piazza—so categorized because they habitually kill the Giants. Piazza would be a great hitter no matter what, but I’m convinced Green would be Cody Ransom if the San Francisco Giants did not exist.

Last night’s contest went much better, though, because it was rained out. In San Diego. Yes. I gather it was the first rainout there in eight years. And the Giants looked great!

Meanwhile, virtually everybody but me believes that absolutely no meaning can be attached to spring training games. Even baseball insiders say that, including A’s GM Billy Beane on a recent interview on KNBR. And while the results of the games themselves are meaningless in a practical sense, I think it’s awfully shortsighted to dismiss them out of hand. For instance, in 1997, I think it was, the Giants beat the A’s in a Bay Bridge Series contest on ninth- or extra-inning home runs by Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent. I commented on the Giants newsgroup that I thought this was a good sign. A couple of posters attempted to shout me down, on the order of “What a bozo, getting all excited about a meaningless exhibition game!” But that’s not what it was about.

See, here we were, just a day or two shy of Opening Day, with all team rosters all but set. In other words, the Giants and A’s of that night were the Giants and A’s we were going to be seeing for the foreseeable future. And I thought the Giants showed some unexpected character that night. (Well, I didn’t expect it, anyway.)

Since then, I’ve paid, well, not strict attention, but a bit more than passing attention to the exhibition results. Now, I think it is fair to say that on the whole, a team’s won-lost record in the exhibition season is worthless, but if you have, say, two teams go 16-16, with Team A winning 12 of their first 16 games and Team B winning 12 of their last 16, doesn’t that tell you something? Doesn’t that tell you, for instance, that Team A was winning at a time when the regulars were getting an at-bat or two per game, long looks were being given to guys with uniform numbers in the high 70’s, and shorter looks were being given to guys brought up from the minor league camp due to the need for warm bodies? Doesn’t it also tell you that once Team B was pretty close to being set (and thus so were the team’s opponents), certain comfort zones were reached, and that Team B—again, going 12-4 “down the stretch”—might be showing us that they’re pretty good, and that by the same token, Team A (4-12 during that period) might well have some problems? It does to me—maybe not with a hundred percent certainty, but still, meaning can be derived.

In 1997 (or whenever the aforementioned game took place), the Giants looked a lot like Team B. In 2006 they look a lot like Team A. And once the bell rang, they played a lot like Team A, in their one and only game to date. And hey, every loss in April is a game you gotta win in September, right? (Thanks to Robert S., who pointed out that I’d initially said “2007,” thus, he said, going out on a limb.)

But that’s not really what bothers me. For one thing, Armando Benitez started the season on the shelf, and apparently it’s a different physical problem from his horrendous leg thing that kept him out most of last year. For another, geez, this team’s awfully soft at first and third base, don’t you think? Lots of you will say no, and I sure hope you prove me right. I don’t anticipate that happening, though.

Lance Niekro seems likable enough, but just not good enough. He’s not very selective up there (though I know he went to great trouble to work on that in spring training), and last year he was abysmal against righthanded pitching—i.e., in most of his at-bats. Against lefties he was pretty much what we always wanted J.T. Snow to be, but that’s not good enough unless (a) you figure on Niekers to be a platoon player, (b) his platoon partner has opposite platoon splits, and (c) you wind up with the reincarnation of 1978’s “McIvie” platoon of Willie McCovey and Mike Ivie. As it is, your backup first basemen are Mark Sweeney, Pedro Feliz, Todd Greene, and Jose Vizcaino.

Of these, Sweeney no doubt is the one who’ll get most of the swings when Niekro sits, and well he should. He’s one of those guys people call “professional hitters,” and I’d be surprised if he hurt the club. (Surprised, that is, within the boundaries of surprise, when you’re a Giants fan, at something going horribly wrong.) When it’s not Niekro or Sweeney, I think it should be Greene. (Apparently Feliz is getting a full-time shot at third this year; more on that later.) The one that bugs me is Vizcaino. I’d really have to pore over the offseason transactions column, but I have no doubt that better, cheaper players were available after the Giants signed this guy. And when the signing was reported, apparently joy reigned at the notion that he could back up at first base.

Well, first, the only reason to pick up Vizcaino at this stage is to back up Omar Vizquel, which is probably bad enough. Also, though, he’d be the backup third baseman—a step down from Feliz, which in itself isn’t easy to believe. But to consider him as a backup first baseman is jut plain painful. I used to think of Vizcaino as a “slash” hitter—lots of doubles, hard line drives, etc. Sounded great to me when the Giants acquired him. (Well, great in the context of how angry I was that the Giants traded Matt Williams in order to get him for 1997.) I actually thought The Vizzer was the key acquisition in that deal. (Quiz answer: No, it was Jeff Kent.) But as a Giant, he was pretty much a slap hitter—a love-tap hitter—and he’s scarcely changed since. I’m not sure, therefore, why we’d need him and Vizquel, but that’s a shortstop thing. Why we’d want him to back up at third, I don’t know, unless the Giants are really hot to bat their third baseman eighth. But as a first baseman, Vizcaino is the antithesis of the prototype. That’s not always a bad thing, but in this case, how can it not be? It’s not like we’re watching McCovey In His Prime most days. My real concern—and maybe this is an overreaction, maybe it’s an amazingly astute observation: you make the call, as long as you agree with me—is that the fact that Vizcaino is around to play third and first suggests that his range at the middle-infield positions has dropped significantly as he has aged. If so, what possible use is there for a player like this? Meanwhile, it’s not very long ago that the Padres picked up Geoff Blum from the White Sox. Could he really have been that much worse a deal than Vizcaino?

And with Benitez (such as he is) out, who’s the closer? Could it be anyone other than Tim Worrell, inexplicably re-signed for this season? Now, Worrell wasn’t bad in that role in 2003, but the gaudiness of the save statistic boosted his stock (as it did, no doubt, for Tyler Walker last year). He got himself a nice deal in Philly after that, then was terrible last year (for reasons that I gather were personal, ergo none of my damn business) until moving on to the Diamondbacks. Either way, I don’t trust the guy a hell of a lot. Do you? And with Scott Eyre no longer available as the setup man, no doubt Worrell was going to get a lot of time in that role. Now who’s it gonna be? Anybody encouraging? To me the best sign last year was Jack Taschner, but he seemed to get lit up this spring whenever I listened to a game, and he got knocked around on Opening Day. Should he be the guy? It’s one question too many.

Of course, the A-Number-One question mark is El Fellow Biggo, Barry Bonds. As you know by now, the first book has come out detailing what an awful human being he maybe is, and folks are going, “Boy oh boy, he’s gonna get booed everywhere he plays!” Well, gee, folks, that would certainly be new, wouldn’t it? Barry getting booed? Shee, I’m surprised it took until the other day for someone to actually throw a syringe onto the field. (The only good that can come out of that is that when Dodger fans witlessly call Giants fans “battery chuckers” because of an idiotic incident in 1982, we can lay “syringe chuckers” on Padres fans. Whee.)

But don’t interpret the previous 1,500 words as panic. There is no reason to panic. Tragically, though, there are plenty of reasons to strap oneself in for a long, long season. I sure hope I’m wrong.