Monday, November 1, 2010

Following the SF Giants--A Lifetime of Torture Ends

"...the Giants colors were orange and black-Duke (Snider) made a comment that we hated the Giants and those colors so much that we didn't even like Halloween."-Carl Erskine, Dodgers Pitcher ('We Would Have Played For Nothing,' p. 124)

Day after Halloween 2010, after 56 years, the Giants Are the Champions of the Baseball!!!


When I was a little kid in the Bronx, its seems like all I heard was Mantle, Maris, Ruth. This must have been when Maris was chasing Ruth's single season homerun record--but for all I knew Babe Ruth was still playing.

Later, my folks picked up a NY Giants patch with a silhouette of a batter (musta been on clearance sale) and grandma sewed it in a sweatshirt. No officially licenced and inflated MLB gear selling in da Bronx. Then I got a copy of the the pulp paperback "Bat Boy of the Giants"--about the NY Giants. I didn't know that the NY Giants moved a decade earlier. Also became aware of a great player, Willie Mays! Eventually found out their colors were orange and black--which may have been the final step into hooking me in. The bathtub that was the Polo Grounds with a 500' centerfield and 250' foul line. I never got to see it, even from a distance--the train that use to bring me to summer camp was in a trench below the Polo Grounds; we could see Yankee Stadium across the river, but not the Polo Grounds.
During the decade I was unaware that the Giants were jinxed, losing the 1962 World Series in 7 games to the Yankees, 1-0, slowed by a soggy field and a line drive barely caught, and then would finish 2nd (and miss going back to the World Series) 4 straight times.

Dad took me to a baseball game in 1968* (Bob Gibson beat Don Cardwell 5-1) and I started following baseball in 1969--the year the Mets surprised the world. Being a contrarian I didn't jump on the Mets bandwagon. And wasn't going to root for the old, slow, boring Yankees, who played in the conservative league that was slow to integrate. The SF Giants looked like they were gonna play the Mets in the playoffs, their M&M boys (as opposed to Mantle & Maris) were the great Mays, McCovey and Marichal. Alas the Giants faded at the end and didn't play the Mets in the playoffs. For the next 40 years I'd learn the ending for the Giants was NEVER good.(*Mom likes to tell how we went to the World's Fair about a dozen times in two years--couldn't we have to gone to the Polo Grounds ONCE before it was torn down. While my dad was mildly interested in baseball I found out that my grandfather who I never met was a big Giants fan.)

Two years later the Giants hit the crap out of the ball, and I'd catch them at Shea Stadium (every game seemingly ended 5-4) where at least a third of the crowd was rooting for their old team who had just moved a dozen year earlier. I could also catch them at nite on the transistor radio when they played in Philly. Otherwise I had to get the afternoon NY Post to get the Giants boxscore, or listen to the all news radio station at :15 or :45 after the hour. In 1971 Willie started the season hitting home runs in a bunch of games, the Giants took a big lead, then Mays' age caught up with him and he started to fade along with the pitching--after Marichal and Perry their pitching was "not the best." (usual Giants story, some great quality but never deep.) On the last day of the season the Giants held and captured their division .Then they WON the first game of the playoffs, which I saw on TV. I couldn't understand why Candlestick looked so sterile and was 1/2 empty. I was stoked, as up to that point all teams always swept in the playoffs--which obviously meant that the Giants would continue the trend and were a lock for the World Series. Alas, came back from school each subsequent day and found out that the Giants lost badly to the Pirates, and Mays allegedly couldn't get around on a fastball any more.
Did have a great memory of the season--pimping the all star game the network showed a bunch of great NL hitters----Aaron, Clemente... But they left Willie Mays for last, and showed him doing something I still vividly recall from a Game of the Week, a rare chance to see the Giants. In Candlestick, a Reds player hit a long drive to the top of the right-center cyclone fence. Bobby Bonds chased after that and barely missed the ball but didn't miss slamming into Willie Mays who had gotten to the same point after a longer run. Both men went sprawling and Mays looked knocked out. Bonds got up quickly and looked around the ground for the ball-he finally found Willie Mays' glove. Just a year later the Giants couldn't afford Willie any more and they gave him to the Mets. *

Moved to San Francisco and my wife and I went to summer games just dressed in a tee-shirt and sat in an almost empty, isolated (not near anything) Candlestick while we froze when the wind whipped up (which usually happened by the 3rd inning) and from the opposite direction the fog rolled over the top of the stadium (after the 6th inning and at all night games.) Unlike New York where everyone talked baseball, almost no one did here, and only a dozen games were shown on television (in NY each team showed over 100)--where the hell did we wind up? I took the bus to the desolate hill next to Candlestick Park to get some photos and a guy in my graduate class wondered if I was crazy for going alone to such a dangerous place.
McCovey back with the Giants on the astroturf at Candlestick Park

In subsequent years the Giants had mostly nondescript teams as they were run like a five and dime store (on the cheap) with lousy attendance and an indifferent public. They could never develop any pitchers, maybe they got sore arms pitching at the 'Stick. Some great games against the Dodgers though, in one someone hit a grand slam against reliever Dave Stewart of the hated Dodgers. In other games the fans were the attraction as we froze while earning a Croix de Candlestick for staying during an extra inning night game while a couple of blind fans screamed "Dodgers Suck" for 11 innings, with Tommy Lasorda having to make the walk to the right field clubhouse, to a chorus of catcalls and boos after a Dodger loss. But after Jack Clark was up it was time to get a HOT cup of coffee and soon he was traded for a bunch of lemmings. Lousy trades--a Giants tradition.

But inhospitable, cold, isolated Candlestick had me limit the number of local games I saw the Giants play. I still loved baseball, I went to Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, where all the stadiums, even the mistake by the lake, were better venues than Candlestick. In Milwaukee, during late fall, a fan next to me thought I wouldn't be used to the night game cold--I told him it was warmer than The 'Stick. My wife and I enjoyed catching games at Fenway, Anaheim, San Diego, Dodger Stadium, Kingdome and Shea when we traveled, even if the Giants weren't involved, and we'd lament how we suffered at The Stick in comparison.
We had lived in San Francisco for 8 years and grew tired of the dreary weather--finally moved 40 miles inland where it was 95 and sunny, not 55 and foggy, in the Summer. When we first moved the lease in our apartment in San Francisco had a few more weeks to run. One weekend we had tickets to a day game at the 'Stick and then were going to a party after, we woke up in our new home to 80 and sunny at 8am. Stupid us, didn't bring a ski jacket. We got to the Stick in Summer clothes, watched the wind kick up, as we turned to popcicles. Left half way through the game and drove to our empty vacant apartment where we just turned the heater on high and slept on the floor to thaw out.
Baby Rachie being brought up correctly.

In 1987, after Will Clark energized the team they got into the playoffs and looked like they'd beat St. Louis. But they went back there with a 3-2 lead and were beaten by the "cow towners" in the final two games--their outfielder dropping a fly ball becoming a turning point.

We went to a few local games, but not always the Giants. Early season would go to minor league games--saw Kirby Puckett and Mark McGuire (and Ken Rietz on his way down and Steve Howe in the stands) in 'A' ball. Also saw alot of the A's--more convenient to get to their stadium and warmer than the Stick, though was nonplussed about "the Bash Brothers." With little kids toddling around many afternoons spent in the backyard listening to Hank Greenwald--the best radio announcer during a bad game.
Rachie giving Jessie some baseball instruction.

Next big highlight was getting into the World Series in 1989, led by Will Clark and MVP Kevin Mitchell, but the A's always seemed a step (and steroids) ahead. And with the Bay Area being football crazy, even with both baseball teams doing great, come August and 49er training camp, Joe Montana's hangnail made more front page news than the A's and Giants. At least a great (and warm) night playoff game against the Cubs at the 'Stick that the Giants won among 60,000 fans--best game I ever went to at Candlestick. But, But, But, the A's were waiting for us, they had the two best pitchers, the Giants the next two, but "the earthquake" allowed the A's to use only their #1 & #2 and in anticlimactic fashion they kicked our butt. Will Clark in throwback NY Giants jersey--leader of the steroid free team in the 1989 World Series (Oakland Tribune-Mathew J. Lee)

By then I became interested in the Polo Grounds--the strangest baseball stadium ever, shaped like a bathtub and NY Giants history--the most successful baseball franchise at the beginning of the 20th century. Of course the "Giants Win the Pennant" miracle of 1951 is lore (no one knew of the secret calling of pitches yet, but as Jackie Robinson trapped a ball that was called a catch to preserve the win the last day of the season (per Robin Roberts) and allow the Dodgers to get into the playoffs--things even out.) In 1954 the underdog Giants swept the 111 win Indians for the championship was even more impressive though not as famous. And 4 years removed from their championship the Giants left New York--and they wouldn't win another championship in the 20th century. So while my kids became Will Clark and Matt Williams fans, they also wondered how Eddie Stanky (1951 Giants secondbaseman) could be "The Brat," as now @70 years old, grandpa's couldn't be brats.
Rachie dress for the 'Stick, with NY Giant great Rube Marquard over her shoulder and a photo of the Polo Grounds on her other side.

It was real clear that the Giants should have stayed in NY; out here they were an afterthought to football and the A's; they played in a cold crappy stadium in the middle of nowhere (they just wanted lots of parking when they moved out here) that the voting public didn't care about replacing, and there was often talk that they'd move somewhere, anywhere--like Tampa.

In 1993 the Giants were saved from moving by new ownership, and they turned around and signed Barry Bonds--greatest free agent signing ever. With Will Clark and Matt Williams they now went on a roll to win the division (though Will had a terrible season and was subsequently dumped quickly; clear that he was on Barry's shit list)--and won 103 game; unfortunately Atlanta won 104 and jumped ahead of them on the last day of the season. Typical Giants "luck.".
Rachie at the Stick-its actually warm, it may have been last time I was there. She'd stop following the Giants when they dumped Will Clark and then when the players were locked out.

Looked forward to the next Giants season, but while Matt Williams was on an incredible home run pace, there was a lockout by the greedy owners in 1994. I said 'F it.' By this time my daughters are playing soccer and was great going to (or coaching) their games. I did not listen or go to a baseball game for 6 years, albeit when I went to Florida and took my father and father in law to a Marlins game. My dad was amazed that I had no idea who was on the field or the standings--though I did know the music played between innings. Free tickets to the final game at Candlestick were available and I turned them down. So I missed the Bonds years from 1994 forward.

In 2000, after lots of hoopla, the Giants build themselves a stadium. The franchise that screwed up moving to San Francisco, gave us Candlestick Park, hiring managers that were the owners drinking buddy, almost always the bridesmaid no matter what the playoff setup was--so I wondered what turkey they build now. I reluctantly accepted tickets to see a game at the new park and was AMAZED--small with great sight lines but concession convenient (Wrigley is small but the concessions are a clusterfuck), field uniquely designed against a great backdrop, and the Stadium shell actually blocked most of the wind from the seats. THE GIANT HAD NAILED IT--THEY WENT FROM WORST BASEBALL VENUE TO THE BEST! In comparison, the A's now in the Mt. Davis Coliseum, went from the best baseball stadium (by default) in the Bay Area to a concrete toilet bowl. Lightning almost struck twice, as the Giants were real successful on the field but the jinx continued. They got into the palyoff but got steamrolled by the Mets.

Then the 2002 team had one of the best hitters ever-Barry Bonds, and one of the best hitting second basemen ever-Jeff Kent. They got into the World Series and looked like all was wrapped up when leading 3-2. Like always the Giants had stars but were not deep (Tsuyosjhi Shinjo was the Giants designated hitter--kinda negating Bonds & Kent, the way Hal Lanier and his .228 ba negated what damage Mays & McCovey were doing in the 1960's) And of course the Giants lost after looking like they had the series won.

For the rest of the decade the Giants tried to get old players who would complement (literally) Barry Bonds, and I started cycling more and more--so after training I usually just saw the 9th inning of most Giants game when Armando Benitez would blow the save, and the slow old Giants filled with Bond's friends would lose another.

Barry Bonds even influenced the Giants after he was exiled, as his shadow cast a pale over strange free agent decisions. The Giants wanted to stick it to the A's and get a name player after Bonds was gone, so they overpaid for Barry Zito. Then they wanted a player who was gritty and hussled (the anti-Bonds) so they overpaid for Aaron Rowland. By overpaying for these players they couldn't sign prime free agent hitters.

Meanwhile, the Giants were quietly drafting incredible talent--mostly pitchers, who came up to the majors fast. Matt Cain lost many more 3-1 games then anyone ever deserved, though usually never lasted that long due to control problems. Then Tim Lincecum came on the scene and won two Cy Youngs though his win total was slight, due to the Giants usually just scoring no more than 2 runs for him.

My daughter and I saw the last Giant games in 2008 & 2009, both in San Diego (in 2008 we sat behind owner Peter McGowan, during his last game as owner.) Both seasons the Giants showed pitching promise but no hitting except for Kung Fu Panda Pablo Sandoval--after he'd get up everyone would go to the bathroom/ get a hotdog. The 2009 lineup, albeit Sandoval, was terrible--but the team was gritty. They also never saw a pitch they didn't like--everyone in the lineup swung (and except for Sandoval, usually missed) at every pitch.

2010 promised more of the same. Bengie Molina was again asked to be over his head as the cleanup hitter, Aaron Roland who never took a pitch was gonna be the leadoff hitter. Retrend Mark DeRosa and Triple AAA hitters John Bowker and Nate Schierholtz were also in the outfield. That new guy, Aubrey Huff was playing firstbase instead of fielding non hit specialist Travis Ishikowa, but Aubrey Huff was reported to be slow and couldn't play the field. Freddie Sanchez was a former batting champ but he was always injured. At least we had .330 hitting Kung Fu Panda. But no team speed and little team power. In the early months radio talk show hosts and callers kept debating whether Lincecum or Cain should go to Milwaukee for one of his corner outfielders--not whether one of the key starters should go for a hitter but which one. Another ludicrous scheme promoted by some fans and local razor talk show host was to move the right-center field fence in--which would have ruined America's best ballpark, and ironically would have negated a big advantage over Philly and Texas in October.

The way things ironically happen, I broke my shoulder on May Day, and my cycling season came to a crashing end. But being home with my shoulder tied up allowed me to watch full Giants games, which I hadn't done for years. While the pitching was as good as advertised, the hitting was "not the best."

In May 30th the Giants were just 40-37. But as the season progressed there was constant improvement to the roster. The 5th starter was shaky so 21 year old Madison Bumgardner was eventually brought up and he was solid. The bullpen was inconsistent so lefty specialist Javier Lopez was an incredible add on, and Ramon Ramirez also strengthened the 'pen. Matt Cain threw more and more strikes and he was consistently solid and stayed in games longer and longer.

The hitting was as piss poor as promised--so eventually super catching prospect Buster Posey was brought up. He hit from day one, but he played firstbase for most of his first month, so "slow" Aubrey Huff was put in the outfield--who proved he could both catch the ball and hustle around the bases with the best of them. Freddy Sanchez showed that when healthy he could be a line drive machine and his fielding was great. Edgar Renteria (ex World Series winning shortstop) was often injured in 2010 so Jose Uribe (another ex World Series winning shortstop) would replace him, then Uribe would get injured and Renteria would return. By the time Panda was benched both Uribe and Renteria were healthy so Uribe went to third and played it solidly.

Career minor leagurer with SPEED, Andres Torres, came out of nowhere, played more and more than Aaron Rowland. By the end of the summer Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were grabbed from the waiver wire and added power to the corner outfield positions. People saw the Giants still playing low scoring games and though their hitting was still piss poor--but what people didn't see was that the Giants started hitting more homeruns (lead the NL in away home runs), and THEY TOOK PITCHES. Instead of the opposing pitcher throwing 90 pitches after 8 innings, they threw 90 after 5, and a different Giant each day would hit a dramatic home run off a long reliever. Giants announcer Duane Kuiper named it "torture," but watching a tight/ tense 3-2 game is more enjoyable than a 9-4 game which is over in the 5th inning and runs don't mean alot game.

A major scare developed in August when two time Cy Young winner "long haired hippie freak" Tim Lincecum was getting lit up. The sports call in lines were ablazed--with suggestions ranging from how he needed to cut his hair to how his small body had fallen apart for good after three years.

Unlike the playoff teams where Willie Mays was the leader, or Willie McCovey, or Will Clark, or Barry Bonds, the 2010 Giants has no clear MVP. Near the end of the season the panic "topics" like trading one of the Giants starters was replaced as a staple on Sports Talk Call-In Shows by who is the Giants MVP--Buster Posey, whose call up turned around the Giants season, Audrey Huff who lead the team in RBI's and played whereever needed, or Andres Torres who was the sparkplug of the team. All choices were legit as a new hero emerged every night. While Lincecum was usually the pitching star, Matt Cain and Brian Wilson had lots of great outings and inconsistant Jonathan Sanchez would F up when good things were expected, and then pitch like Matthewson-Hubbell-Marichal when everyone gave up on him.

Getting into the playoffs on the last day of the season, the Giants were given little chance. But they were used to playing in close, low scoring games, their starters and bullpen great. All ingredients for playoff success--seemingly the the Giants needed was to get an early lead and hang on.

Pundits said NO CHANCE versus Atlanta Braves, and were surprised when Giants pitching shut down the Atlanta bats. Same with Philadelphia Phillies, who we heard BEFORE the series were the best balanced team in baseball; after the Giants won we heard that the Philly hitters were old. NO, ITS THE PITCHING STUPID. Then the Giants were given NO CHANCE against the Texas Rangers who destroyed the Yankees--never mind their spotty pitching. Never mind that on an all time SF Giants team-Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgardner and Brian Wilson may well find spots on the team by the time they are done. Well after 5 games--and 56 years--THE GIANTS ARE THE 2010 WORLD CHAMPIONS!! Finally, experienced in my lifetime, and the feeling of dred during the last game of the season has now disappeared forever. The pressure is off.
Aftermath Grant Petersen, Rivendell Bicycle, Giants
While 1,000,000 people in the Bay Area were happy, there were some curmudgeons. Grant of Amishdale Bicycle, whines about everything but its usually bike related. He sells heavy bikes like your grandfather used to ride and usually has something snotty to say about anything new. But now he had this to say "The Giants won, big deal. They're all gazillionnaires, even the .262 hitters on." (Peaking through the Knothole, 10/29/2010)
Just as when he predicted the disappearance of carbon fibre, and how no one needs STI shifting, Grant is wrong....again. Travis Ishikawa, .266 hitter, made $417,000. I guess Grant/ Amishdale wouldn't be making a lugged steel bike called the ishikawa and painted orange and black to commerate the Giants victory..

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I want to know if baby Rachie looked at daddy in 1986 and "Feared the Beard."
-- the doctor