Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The 2008 Giants! What Fun!

This blog sprang to life late in the 2006 season. My website, EEEEEE!, mostly had been collecting dust since the 2002 World Series, and I wanted to get myself back into the habit of writing about the Giants several times a week. Those of you who have stuck with EEEEEE! (or even this blog) from the beginning know that hasn’t happened. I’m a little disappointed with myself, but I’m not rending any garments over it. Mostly I blame the Giants for being just so excrementally awful.

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.

So Important!

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.


  1. I thought I'd run a ten-game simulation between the '27 Yanks and the 2007 Giants, just to see what happened, over at What If Sports. The Yankees won the first game ... the second game crashed my browser. And that's your Giants replay.

  2. Classic post. Thanks for a good laugh on an otherwise crappy Wednesday morning.

    Not to get too technical, but while I am by no means an IT guy, I am the guy in the office most people come to with their various computer problems, so you should probably defer to my computer expertise here: Your browser probably crashed because this was the 2007 Giants, meaning that they might somehow have been in the process of winning that game. Had this simulation involved the Giants of today, you would have had nothing to worry about... indeed, they might not even have scored a run. Ever. And your browser would still be up and running in all its virile glory.