Monday, November 17, 2008
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.—GPRecently, 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 ESPN.com, 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
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
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.
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.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Overall, it’s hard to be disappointed with the 2008 Giants, since you have to admit that they exceeded expectations. You certainly have to admit that they exceeded my expectations. The offense isn’t very encouraging in terms of 2009, but hey, maybe they’ll get something out of Sandoval and Schierholtz, and even Ishikawa. If Noah Lowry returns—and returns to form—the starting rotation ought to be reasonably good, and I’m pretty sure I prefer a bullpen with Romo, Valdez, and Hinshaw to one with Chulk, Walker, and Taschner. Barring some major acquisitions (or even with them), I don’t see this team being great next year by any means, but hey, if they finish above .500, I wouldn’t be surprised. I would be disappointed, of course, because yet again they won’t win me a damn ring, but we can’t have everything in life. Sometimes we can’t have anything.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Last night was the really weird one. With a runner on first and the Giants down 2-0, Bengie Molina hammered a high fly ball to right field that struck... well, it was hard to tell what it struck. If it hit the green tin roof, it was a home run; if not, then not. Initially the ball was ruled in play, so Molina—who would have a tough time beating a pregnant harbor seal around the bases—wound up on first with yet another “long single.” (Note: I do not advocate beating harbor seals. Hey, you asked!)
Bruce Bochy emerged from the Giants dugout to grump about the call, eventually asking for an instant replay review. Now, that’s something I never thought I’d see: a baseball manager requesting that an umpire’s call be reversed—or not—with the help of instant replay. And yet that’s been okay in the major leagues for the last several weeks, thanks to MLB’s eccentric decision to introduce instant replay on certain plays—eccentric, that is, because of the timing.
Why make the rule change during a season, especially right around the stretch drive? I’m very much in favor of umpire calls being right, and I like the fact that bad calls sometimes actually get reversed nowadays. And I’m fine with the use of replay when a call is disputed. Sure, let’s be reasonable: no challenges on ball-strike calls. But I don’t see how the camera can lie on fair-foul, home run-in play, or even safe-out—though let’s not have protests on every call we don’t like. In any case, I’d much rather they’d waited until next season, even if it meant sacrificing a vital Giants victory like last night’s.
As I understand it, would-be home-run calls can be challenged: that’s “home run-in play” and “fair-foul” (but only if what we’re talking about is a ball with home-run distance). Hey, fine with me, especially since the first official challenge in a Giants game went in the Giants’ favor.
And that, for those who might read this several years from now, is not the “haven’t seen before” part. As Bochy came out to argue the call, Emmanuel Burriss jogged to first base to pinch-run. Several minutes later, the umpires decided that Molina’s hit was a home run—no doubt their decision was influenced by the presence of green paint on the ball that was the same color as the tin roof. So okay, it’s a home run... but who scores the run?
Jon Miller and Dave Flemming chewed this over on the radio. Flemming was concerned that Molina wouldn’t be credited with the home run if Burriss scored the run, and Miller was sure that since the home-run call would supercede the decision for Burriss to pinch-run—meaning that Burriss’ entry into the game “never happened,” so Molina should be able to run out the home run. And both seemed concerned that Molina wouldn’t get both RBIs, since he didn’t drive himself in. I figured they were both wrong (even after I imagined the umpires deciding to nullify the home run on the grounds that it’d make it too hard to render a decision).
I thought they were wrong in part because of an incident I heard about involving the Yankees sometime in the 1980s: Lou Piniella, the DH, went out to first base between innings to warm up the infielders while Chris Chambliss, the actual first baseman, was taking his time getting out of the dugout for some reason. Then Chambliss got out to his position and took over for Piniella, only the umpires ruled that as soon as Piniella had reached Chambliss’ position, he was now officially in the game on defense. As far as I can remember, that’s the right call: If you go out to a position and do anything, such as take a ground ball or a throw from an infielder, you’re in the game at that position. That is, if you run out to, say, second base between innings, then learn immediately that no, the manager doesn’t want you out there, he wants to stick with the incumbent, then it’s not a problem, and you can return to the dugout without having been entered into the game officially. It’s not that different from a guy standing in the on-deck circle, apparently waiting to pinch-hit, and then—before an official announcement is made—returning to the dugout in favor of the already-scheduled hitter.
The exception to the “If you go out to a position and do anything” rule is when somebody—a backup catcher or other bench player who otherwise is not in the game (or has left it)—warms up the pitcher while the current catcher is busy getting into his gear. Once he’s ready, the actual catcher can return, and the bench player can go away, all with impunity. (Admittedly, this makes me wonder what happens when a player who has already left the game runs out to first base to warm up the infielders. I’ll assume that this is treated just like the catcher situation, i.e., as though no substitution has taken place. I could look it up, but that would involve effort, so screw it.) So as soon as Burriss reached first base, he became the pinch-runner.
Another reason Miller and Flemming were wrong was that unless things have changed in the 10 or 20 years since I read this in a “what if?”-type book about baseball rules, Burriss would run out the homer—which he did—and get credit for the run, while Molina would get credit for the home run and both RBIs, but not the run scored. In other words, if it had been Molina’s only plate appearance, the boxscore would show one at-bat, zero runs, one hit, two RBIs, and one home run. I think the book mentioned instances where this had happened—say, because the batter had somehow hurt himself during his trip around the bases. Not only that, but the utterly thoroughly realistic and not at all completely stupid or particularly insulting documentary movie The Babe, starring the roughly 40-year-old, 300-pound John Goodman as not only the 40-year-old, 300-pound Babe Ruth, but also as the 19-year-old, 300-pound Babe Ruth, even though the real Babe Ruth, listed at 215 at baseball-reference.com, might not even have cracked 200 pounds by age 19, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he never topped 275. Anyway, late in his career, Goodman/Ruth is shown as having hit a home run, then huffing and puffing—in that order; accept no imitations, especially those showing him puffing and huffing—to first base, then stopping as a younger, thinner guy runs out the rest of the home run. Did that ever happen to the actual Babe Ruth? I don’t remember hearing as much. But then, I also don’t recall any stories about the actual Babe hitting a popup so high that he was able to circle the bases before the ball touched the ground. (Nor do I remember stories about the Babe farting real loud to entertain a bunch of rich people, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had happened, and neither would you.)
So I took about 1,200 words to describe the first thing I’d never seen before, but take heart: 1,200 is a fraction of the actual words spoken by broadcasters all over the place. The second thing is not Billy Sadler celebrating far too exuberantly after striking out Casey Blake, and both dugouts emptying because the Dodgers got all huffy about it. We see that kind of thing all the time. No, the second thing is J.T. Snow’s appearance in tonight’s game. Well, J.T. Snow appearing in a game is not exactly a first, but it may well be the first time in major league history that someone has signed a one-day contract for the express purpose of taking the field in the top of the first inning, then leaving before the game actually starts—thus making an official appearance without actually playing. (He wore his old number, 6; I never got a look at Tim Flannery’s back, so I don’t know what number he wore. Even if it was 6, that wouldn’t be unprecedented: Just last year, several Giants wore 42 in the same game to honor Jackie Robinson.)
This happened because Snow wanted to retire as a Giant—he last played in Boston in 2006—and the Giants wanted to grant his wish. The fans got to give him a nice hand as he took the field; everybody got to laugh as Eugenio Velez, Omar Vizquel, and Rich Aurilia all threw difficult one-hops to him during warmups; Jate got a good hand as he left the field; and a good time was got by all. I thought it was a nice (albeit silly) gesture.
My eyes popped, though, upon seeing—that’s what my eyes do: they see—that Snow got a prorated contract for the major league minimum: roughly $2,100 for that one day of work. Since my work schedule is wide, wide open these days, I sent the Giants a note offering my services for $2,100 a day—for however many days as necessary—and added that I look forward to beginning negotiations. To date I have received no reply, but then, hey, there’s a lot to do at the end of the season. But I say this to my legions, my multitudes of fans: Don’t worry. I fully expect to be the first 48-year-old center fielder to make an Opening Day start for the San Francisco Giants. Wish me luck.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Essentially, Zirin makes the point that Bonds isn’t on a team right now due to collusion on the part of club owners—in other words, he’s being blackballed. Indeed, AT&T Park (and I haven’t been there lately to confirm this with my own eyes, and even if I had been, I probably woulda just sat in my seat and confirmed it via turning my head) is now devoid of anything associated with Bonds: no big ol’ banner proclaiming his home run kingitude, no portrait on the left field wall, no good team, certainly no retired number, etc.
And as much as the Giants would love to distance themselves from the guy, apparently, so would the rest of Major League Baseball. Now, Zirin is hardly the first person to bring up the collusion angle—I am—but to be fair, I ought to point out that in any given year, you can pretty much count on all club owners to collectively refuse to dish out seven figures to any 43-year-old player with bad knees who can’t play defense anymore and who’d be likely to contribute maybe 20 or 25 home runs. In other words, on that basis alone, I don’t blame clubs for not signing Bonds, and I find it odd that the Players Association has Launched An Investigation into this matter—sort of a hoot in itself, as Zirin points out, given that “In 2003, [Bonds] became the first player in thirty years to not sign the Player’s [sic] Association’s group licensing agreement.” (Normally I would only “sic” someone if he or she was a complete boob and made a really stupid spelling, grammatical, or factual error, and I wanted to act all superior. I usually see it rendered as “Players Association,” though “Players’ Association” probably would be more correct. Since you asked.)
I love the San Francisco Giants, and my heart tells me they can do no wrong. My brain tells me otherwise—quite often, really. For instance, I find it awfully hypocritical of the Giants to pretend Bonds doesn’t exist, given—assuming (as I do) that Bonds is guilty guilty guilty—the tacit approval and encouragement by the front office of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Now it’s as though they’re making Bonds out to be a big fat cheater, but they were perfectly happy to turn a blind eye when he was hitting loads of home runs and walking 232 times in a season. (Understand that, as I’ve said before, I really don’t care about performance-enhancing drugs except to the extent that they could harm an athlete or, by extension, his loved ones. I do not believe that such drugs can turn a 40-homer hitter into a 70-homer hitter, and I certainly do not buy the notion that if a player hits even one tainted homer, that nullifies all his honest ones. Thus, I do not care whether Bonds used or not, and I’m grateful for having been able to watch the guy be amazing for 15 years.)
Even stinkier is Major League Baseball’s apparent stance on the matter: again, tacit approval and encouragement, on the premise that “Chicks dig the longball.” Is someone gonna tell me that the people who run the sport didn’t know players were using? Is someone gonna tell me—believably, I mean—that wasn’t okay with them?
Peter Magowan said, in a radio interview the other day, that Bud Selig is the greatest commissioner in baseball history. After spontaneously and vigorously throwing up on my shirt, I thought about just what that might mean, and it pretty much comes down to “bottom line,” which, obviously, means more mmmmmmmmmmoney—again, essentially, because of the chickitudinal preference for the longball. Home runs positively affect the bottom line... ergo performance-enhancing drugs positively affect the bottom line. Oh, and pitchers striking batters out a lot—it would be wrong of me to forget to mention Roger Clemens here. (I also don’t care whether Clemens has been using. He’s always sort of annoyed me, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t put together a Hall-of-Fame career.)
This whole thing is just one reason I roll my eyes every time some Bonds- or Clemens-basher blithers about how this player has Sullied The Virginal And Pristine Grand Old Game. Gimme a break. Major League Baseball stinks from the top down. By miles, the best things about Major League Baseball all take place on the field.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
There was! The team had Barry Bonds, for one thing. (You remember Bonds, right? He was a 40-40 man that year.) That right there spelled “hope.” And that’s the difference between the 1996 Giants and the 2008 Giants: not so much the lack of Bonds (which had to happen at some point anyway), but simply the lack of hope. It is frightening to think that they’re at the beginning of this steep descent. That is, the descent has been in progress since, at the latest, October 2003, but the downward slope was more gradual—something you could at least drive on, if you had to, without significant danger to yourselves or others. But the end of the 2007 season was basically a precipice. It’s not exactly a cliff—in a graph where the X-line represents time, a cliff would be pretty impossible—but you certainly want to stop the car and possibly erect a barrier festooned with signs saying things like “Go back!” and “If you continue, you most surely will die!”
Tragically, we Giants fans—or at least this one—keep putting that car into a forward gear, crashing through the barrier, hurtling down the 89-degree slope, futilely hammering the brake pedal. Now, if this were an actual scenario, involving an actual car and an actual, paved, nearly vertical grade, there would at least be an end in sight—a horrifying, prayer-inducing, “EEEEEE!”-screaming, ultimately messy end, but an end nonetheless. As it is, though, how long will you keep plunging downward, out of control? Will the angle ever lessen? If so, will it be enough to matter? Or will the Giants suddenly throw you a curve, like they did in 1997—the kind of curve that’s hard to hit, Zeets—and become good enough to turn the slope sharply upwards, thus enabling you to collide head-on with suddenly, sharply rising pavement, but enabling you at least to expire with a mingled sense of mild relief, extreme frustration, and resigned acceptance, knowing that it’s actually getting better but you won’t be around to see it? Or is any illustration of upward movement an indication of too much hope?
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
The funny thing is, the Giants’ awfulness is what led me to start EEEEEE! in the first place. Indeed, it started out as just one area of my first yet long-gone website, Pearlmanland, which covered a few topics, including baseball. Most Pearlmanland pieces, some over 20 years old, now are part of EEEEEE! Every so often—well, not so often, really; more like “every so seldom”—I hear from someone who’s read one of my silly little Star Trek pieces, or what have you, and while I appreciate the recognition and even praise—Yes! It happens! It does too!—it’s not easy for me to get into the spirit, since those pieces are so far removed from the present day.
I no longer get e-mails about EEEEEE!, partly because my entire user account was deleted from my Web server inadvertently, and I haven’t fixed it, but mostly because... well, it’s not as though fixing it, and thus making available boatloads of weekly season notes from 1999, is likely to lead to vigorous discussion or, say, a great new job. I should fix it, but it feels as though it’d just be sitting there, not being read. Once in a while I look up some things on the site myself to answer a burning question, but it’s been a long, long time since those fantastic days when perfect strangers would walk around the San Francisco Bay Area in EEEEEE! T-shirts, carrying signs that said “Read EEEEEE! You’ll be glad you did.” (Okay, that never happened—the signs or the shirts.)
In fact, EEEEEE! sort of fell off the table in 2000. The Giants were good that year, but I’d really run out of energy, and I’ve never gotten it back. As I said in at least a few pieces on the site, my EEEEEE! routine involved collecting loads and loads of posts from alt.sports.baseball.sf-giants, e-mails, and various other sources (including newspapers), then rereading and editing them painstakingly until I had something to put on the site. Usually these pieces contained lots and lots of words. So I’d collect (and write) those posts during the week, then on Saturday night, starting an hour or two before midnight, I’d process them. By then I’d usually written at least a few paragraphs about something or other, and generally I led with that, then tacked on the newsgroup quotes. This tended to keep me up till three or four on Sunday morning. Roughly four years of that took its toll, as I had an actual full-time job at the time (though not one that demanded more than 40 of my weekly hours, usually). There were other full-time (and part-time) aspects of my life that demanded more time than I could devote to EEEEEE!, so this site, for which I had received an actual award at one point (though I don’t remember what it was for, exactly), and which had gone down well with readers, suddenly was static—the one thing a website really shouldn’t be.
So the idea of a blog appealed to me in 2006. I felt as though I could just write stuff when I felt like it, about whatever caught my attention at that moment, and I didn’t have to post any “formal” pieces. I could put up messages every 15 minutes if I wanted, complaining about some game or other; or I could back off for several days. Unfortunately, the latter appealed to me much more than the former. I’d like to blame the Giants—because of their lousy play, the buzzing stress brought about by everything that centered on Barry Bonds, the team’s ever-increasing bereftness of World Championships, etc.—but I probably shouldn’t. I mean, if I could devote so much time to writing about a wretched team in 1996, why couldn’t I do so in 2006? Or 2008? I think I just reached a point where I was tired of complaining ceaselessly about the Giants. In any case, Grant Brisbee’s McCovey Chronicles blog is terrific.
Like many of you—most, I daresay—every loss ached, especially the really important ones. The 2002 World Series, for example, took a lot out of me; even the 2003 Division Series put me in an angry funk. The losses ached way more than the stirring victories stirred. I suspect that’s true for a large percentage of sports fans, but you know what? It can really wear one out. It’s fair to say that my level of “active devotion” has waned somewhat since 2003. I mean, I still love baseball, I still love the Giants even more, and I still grit my teeth at some of their more retarded losses and player moves, but every year I find myself looking forward less and less to the upcoming season because I know—even if I’m wrong, I know—that yet again, my team will not win the World Series. And now it’s fifty years—five-oh why-EEEEEE! ay-are-ess—of Bay Area baseball in which the championship pennants all hang on the wrong side of the bay. The Giants, essentially, are the team equivalent of Charlie Brown’s favorite player, Joe Shlabotnik, about whom Chuck once said, “Other kids’ heroes hit home runs; mine gets sent to the minors.”
I’m at a point in my sports fandom wherein, if my team doesn’t Win It All, the season is lost. That’s especially true with the Giants. Even in 2002, when they won the pennant on Kenny Lofton’s stirring base hit and David Bell’s mad dash to the plate, I was pleased... but not all that excited. Instead I began focusing immediately on the upcoming World Series, knowing that I had a minimum of four more games to get through before I could finally relax with the knowledge that my team was actually a World Champion. Of course, “minimum of four games” carries the implication of “maximum of seven games,” but I meant it in terms of a very open-ended future. That’s why it was life or death to me that my team Win It All. Which reminds me that the “death” part blasted me pretty hard, as a longtime friend, a guy I’d grown up with, died suddenly in September of that year (and was buried on September 11, of all days). He’d finally found the love of his life and had been married just over a year, and then bam! So in addition to obsessing on the World Series, I was pretty much freaking out over my friend (and in many ways I still am). I felt awfully silly being just so concerned about the Giants’ fate, knowing that my friend’s wife and family had something on their minds that was much closer to home, and much harder to push out of their minds. In other words, when I wasn’t mourning or thinking about him, I was thinking, “How can all this baseball stuff get so much of my attention when I should be thinking about his family?” So I did both. And it was stressful, to say the least.
Meanwhile, I’ve gotten in the habit of crazily and desperately exhorting my team, aching for their ultimate success, because of the increasingly firm belief that if they don’t do it now, they never will. That peaked in 2002, it’s fair to say, though I did feel it acutely in 2003. But it’s also the main reason the World Series failure knocked me on my butt: I really did honestly believe that it had to be now; otherwise it would be never. And the idea of “never” was hugely daunting and nurtured in me a kind of dread similar to that felt by people forever doomed to push boulders up hills, only to have the boulders crash back down to the bottom after getting to within inches of the top. The idea of continuing to devote so much emotional energy into this ever-futile race, knowing that I would do so whether I wanted to or not, became, at that time, the kind of horror that the prospect of encountering Lord Voldemort put into the hearts of J.K. Rowling’s magical community. It came down to this: I wasn’t sure I could go through it again and again and again... but I knew I would. I had to. I’m a Giants fan—that’s my job.
So I’ve found it increasingly difficult to enjoy being a Giants fan. Because of that, and other priorities in life, the losses still bite, but not quite as hard; the wins are pleasant, but hardly sublime, since there’ll be another game tomorrow that Our Boys could lose in spectacular, innard-wrenching fashion. What this has all made me do is try to back off somewhat from the obsessive nature of my Giants fandom. Sometimes I stop listening to or watching a game when I don’t like the way it’s going—I never used to do that. And when faced with an obligation that conflicts with the Giants’ schedule, I experience a pang, but I don’t go crazy wondering what’s happening in the game. Mainly that’s because I figure that all I’m going to find out is: they lost. This doesn’t mean I care less than I used to—just that I can no longer agonize to the extent that I have for so long. I’m guessing I’d feel differently if they were this unstoppable powerhouse that had no choice but to win at least one World Series in a row—and would again express myself in flowing detail about the team’s fortunes—but I wouldn’t know for sure.
I get sick of other teams’ fans exuding a sense of entitlement—Yankees fans can epitomize this: “Let’s bring the trophy back to the Bronx, where it belongs!” Screw that. I guess it’s jealous behavior on my part, because I’d like to feel that entitlement, and have it fulfilled; and it shows me that God got it completely right in saying “Thou shall not covet,” not because the jealous feelings and expressions themselves are necessarily wrong, but because of how awful it feels to covet. It’s way easier to rationalize it into sour grapes, but no more satisfying.
In EEEEEE!, over the years, I’ve mentioned what fandom has entailed for me, but I’ll go over it again here, with fewer words (I hope): When I first started really following sports in 1970, every Giants victory was cool (and ditto A’s, but not as cool), and the postseason was for showcasing other really good teams. It didn’t faze me when the Giants didn’t at least win their division, because it never occurred to me that they might. I mean, yeah, they did in 1971, and that was fabulous; but after that, for several years, it didn’t bug me that much when they lost, because I figured they’d win it again soon enough. Their run in 1982 was one of the most fun, most exciting times I can remember as a Giants fan, and even that wasn’t as disappointing as it could have been—because I hadn’t yet reached that stage of fandom I’m about to discuss.
Starting with the Roger Craig era in 1986, it became important to me—crucial—that the Giants Win It All Now. I don’t know how that happened. Maybe Craig had me believing—for which I won’t blame him (much). Apparently I didn’t enter that phase gradually, but so suddenly that I didn’t even notice it. So when Atlee, Candy, et al. lost the playoffs in 1987, well, that was horrible. It wasn’t so bad in 1989—in fact, the moment Robby Thompson threw that ball to Will Clark at first base to seal the pennant was, and still is, one of the happiest moments in my life—because the Giants were never going to beat the A’s in that World Series; I had resigned myself to that disgusting truth. But next year, oh, that was gonna be our year.
No. They had to win it in 1990, much as they had to win it in 1988. But no. They’d peaked in 1989—heck, perhaps they’d peaked in 1987—and it was only going to get worse, at least for a while. And it did. The 1990 through 1992 seasons were ugly. Then along came Barry Bonds, and suddenly there was hope. The man helped the team to 31 more wins in 1993 than the year before. Of course, other teams conspired to make them an also-ran with 103 wins; and a strike the next year took care of any postseason hopes. (Well, a strike and not being good enough.) And then poof! They were actively bad for two years. Next came eight years in which they just couldn’t get over the hump. And now they’re horrible. There’s just no hope. I don’t like feeling that way, but oh, well.
I’m still in that “must win” mode, and I think I always will be, though I’m manifesting it less desperately than in the past. I would like to get back to a state where it was enough that it was baseball, but I don’t see that happening.
Stuff About the Actual 2008 Giants
Granted, much of my negative attitude right now has to come from the team I’m trying to watch. Perhaps you’ve heard of them: the San Francisco Unwatchables. My friend Woody, a former newsgroup denizen, sums it up thus: “I hate Barry Zito. I hate Jeff Kent. And I now hate Joe Torre, and hate Anduh-ruw Jones even more than before. Know what else? I kinda hate the Giants, too.” I’ll never hate them, but they sure are hard to love right now. Let’s ignore the fact that at this moment it’s the eighth inning of what appears to want to be a 5-0 loss. Let’s ignore Joe Beimel, before even throwing a pitch, picked off Brian Bocock, the Giants’ new shortstop, whose major league debut suddenly became one of those memories we’d all like to forget. Perhaps we should try to remember that after today, the Giants will be only one game out of first place. It’s all we’ve got.
Bengie Molina is the cleanup hitter. This is the man who started last season batting seventh solely because he was too slow to bat eighth. But now he’s the new Barry Bonds. Backing him up behind the plate is Steve Holm, a longtime minor leaguer. Well, hey, it was either him, longtime minor-leaguer Eliezer Alfonzo, or longtime minor-leaguer Guillermo Rodriguez. Catching for the Dodgers is Russell Martin, and I really don’t want to say anymore about that.
Rich Aurilia got the start at first base today, and he’s actually played well—on defense, anyway. At the plate, he looks like he’ll never get another hit. This fails to make him unique. Tomorrow Dan Ortmeier will probably start at first. He homered six times in 191 at-bats last year, and despite being new to the position (having been a pretty good outfielder), suddenly the first base job was his to lose, almost. If the Giants were looking into a real first baseman during the offseason, that news was kept pretty quiet.
Ray Durham started today’s game and dropped an easy, looping line drive to give the Dodgers a run. He had a great contract year two years ago. Then he re-signed. And now... you know, it’s easier not to talk about him. Kevin Frandsen had a good chance of becoming the starting second baseman, but the most remarkable thing he did in the Cactus League was rupture his Achilles tendon. Whenever that happens, know who I think of? Bobby Tolan. He was coming into his own as the Reds’ center fielder in the early 1970s—in fact, he may well have been on the way toward superstardom—before rupturing his Achilles playing basketball and was never close to the same player again. I don’t see how the hopes can possibly be as high for Frandsen, but it’s still unfortunate that this happened. Replacing him on the roster is Eugenio Velez. (Actually, it’s Jose Castillo, but he’s been put at third base.) The Giants announcers rave about his speed, and with good reason, but he’s not much of a fielder, and I fear he won’t hit much either. So obviously second base is in fabulous shape, too.
Omar Vizquel is on the disabled list, so the shortstop these days is Bocock. He threw out Andruw Jones from short left field on a ground ball way into the hole; defensively, he looks like the real deal. Offensively... well, I’ll put it this way: the other day, Mike Krukow was raving about him and, with delight in his voice, said that Bocock reminded him of Mike Benjamin. Even Krukow knew that this sounded awfully lefthanded as compliments go, so he quickly added that Benjamin had put together a nice career. Know how exciting that is? Me neither, except that curling is more exciting.
The aforementioned Castillo is the third baseman so far. He actually has a little pop, or at least he did in Pittsburgh. Well, he has pop compared to what I expected before I looked up his stats; he’s not an inspiring choice at all. The guy the Giants were rumored to be pursuing was Joe Crede of the White Sox, who hit .216 last season after a pretty darned good 2006. Also part of the rumor was Noah Lowry, whom I would have hated to see go in such a deal (before he got hurt, at least).
Dave Roberts, Fred Lewis, and Rajai Davis will hop from outfield position to outfield position, but mostly they’re the left fielders this year. And yet, a huge proportion of Giants fans are delighted to see the back of Barry Bonds. For crying out loud, the Giants themselves are doing all they can to disassociate themselves from the guy. In the process, they’ve also disassociated themselves from anybody you’d call a legitimate power threat. This isn’t to say they should have hung onto Bonds—frankly, I don’t know whether they should have or not—but you’d think he’d be worth replacing with someone who... well, I’m sorry, but the answer they’ve come up with? They ain’t the answer. (Roberts led off the game with a single, then got thrown out trying to steal. This team can’t steal with Martin behind the plate, and yet speed is what the Giants are pushing this year, trying to tell us that they’re True Gamers, as if to say “Well, with Bonds here, we were lazy and complacent.” Wait. Maybe they have a point.)
Aaron Rowand was the Giants’ Big Offseason Free-Agent Signing. Last year, at age 29, he hit quite a few dingers, hit over .300, and reached base a fair amount. He had what was probably a better year in Chicago in 2004, but other than those two years, he’s been pretty boring. They love his defense, but he made two absolutely idiotic throws in today’s game alone. Yeesh.
And the number-three hitter these days is Randy Winn, who’s now the right fielder. He hit .300 last year, but his OPS was only .798—if OPS doesn’t mean anything to you, divide it by three for an idea of just how impressive that is. (Heck, OPS is a discussion in itself. Somebody else discuss it, please.)
The starting pitching is what the Giants believe will carry them this year. Noah Lowry’s out, so the starters are Barry Zito, who gave up four runs in five innings today; Matt Cain, who lost 16 games last year despite a 3.65 ERA because his team chose not to score for him; and Tim Lincecum and his “no-hit stuff” (which is legit, by the way—for now). The fifth starter will come out of the group consisting of Kevin Correia, Brad Hennessey, and Jonathan Sanchez, and the best you can say about that is, at least we’re not talking about the number-one starter. (Well, Correia has put up pretty good ERAs the last two years.)
At the moment, the bullpen consists of new closer Brian Wilson, who took the job from Hennessey last year and gave the Giants a 2.28 ERA (albeit in only 23-2/3 innings) and a WHIP below one. (That’s “walks plus hits per inning pitched,” for those who don’t know.) He’s fairly impressive, and I’d love for him to be terrific—but how many save opportunities could he possibly have this year? The eighth-inning guy could well be Tyler Walker, who was very impressive in only 14-1/3 innings. Does this give you any confidence? Me, not so much. The rest of the bullpen consists of three newcomers-ish: Erick Threets and Merkin Valdez, longtime Giants prospects, and Keiichi Yabu, possibly the first Giant ever to have two consecutive I’s in his name. His only previous major league time was 58 innings with the A’s in 2006—when he was 36.
It might be fun to load this team into a baseball simulation like Diamond Mind or Out of the Park with, say, the New York Yankees of 1927 just to see if the Giants would win even one game. The sad thing is, I’m already feeling the same way about real life, against much worse competition.