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    Giants Past and Present

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    A Dandy Day with Juan Marichal

    Left to right: Juan Marichal with my family: Betty Barker, Harry Barker-Fost, Dan Fost

    Left to right: Juan Marichal with my family: Betty Barker, Harry Barker-Fost, Dan Fost

    It barely seemed possible. MVP Books, publisher of Giants Past and Present, also published last year Juan Marichal: My Life From the Dominican Republic to the Hall of Fame. And now they had an offer: Would I like to do a book event with Juan Marichal?

    It did not take me long to agree to that. We set it for this past Friday, following the Giants’ home opener – 6 pm at the Barnes and Noble in Emeryville. And there was one more request: Could I give Juan a ride to the event?

    The stage was set for a magical afternoon. I immediately bought three tickets for the opener, in the left field upper deck. I needed to figure out how I would connect with Juan. It would have to be in an area accessible to the public, since I do not hold a media credential that would get me to his seats. As it happened, I do have a favorite place to meet people outside AT&T Park, one far less crowded than the Willie Mays statue.

    The Juan Marichal statue.

    How many living people have statues erected in their honor? I had visions of posing for pictures with 75-year-old Juan Marichal, next to the statue of 25-year-old Juan Marichal. Juan with his feet on the ground, Juan with his leg virtually vertical.

    Of course, I knew it couldn’t happen that way, and Juan confirmed it: He said he couldn’t go to the statue after the game, or the crowd would never let him get away from it.

    Somehow, I maneuvered my car to the gate next to the statue (making a dubious left turn past a sleeping traffic officer at Parking Lot A), and waited. Juan and his wife, Alma emerged, along with Gaylord Perry and his wife. I was able to escort Juan into the car, and head into what I feared was going to be a traffic nightmare. But fortunately, we made it to the Bay Bridge easily enough and were in Emeryville in short order.

    It was amazing how easy it was to talk to Juan. We asked him all kinds of questions, and he just let the stories spill out: About the 16-inning shutout he pitched against Warren Spahn, about his 54 shutouts, about his 244 complete games. About players in the steroid era, about modern five man rotations and deep bullpens and pitch counts.

    Before I knew it, we were in Emeryville. About 60 people came to the store, and Juan fielded a wide variety of questions. His answers ranged from inside baseball stories, to poignant life lessons.

    Some of the highlights:

    • On the 16-inning game: “After nine innings, my manager, Alvin Dark, told me that’s it, you’re done. I said, I am not coming out of this game. After 14 innings, he said, that’s it, now you’re done. I said, ‘Do you see that guy on that mound there?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘That guy is 42 years old. I’m 25 years old. I’m not coming out until he comes out. No one is taking that ball away from me.’ That was really dumb!’”

    Finally, after the 15th inning, Marichal said to Willie Mays, “Chico” – because Mays called everybody “Chico,” Marichal called him that as well – “I don’t know how much longer I can go!” Mays told him, “Don’t worry, Chico, I’ll win this for you.” And then, with one out in the 16th inning, Mays blasted a solo home run to win the game, 1-0.

    Marichal had thrown 227 pitches. After that game, he said, “That was the only time in my career I did not have to make my next start on three days rest. I got four days.” A few years later, he said, he pitched a 14-inning shutout, only to lose to the Mets on a Tommie Agee home run.

    • My friend Susan Hutcher asked a great question, and Marichal gave a tremendous answer. She wanted to know how a pitcher can remain calm, when all eyes are on him. Such pressure must be nerve-wracking. The answer: “Confidence,” Marichal said. And he told this story. “When Barry Bonds played for the Giants, I used to see other managers walk him when there were no outs, or walk him with the bases loaded. They’d rather let one run score than four runs. If a manager ever told me to walk someone with no outs, or with the bases loaded, I’d have given him the ball and said, ‘You do it.’ I’m out there to try to get hitters out.”

    • The Giants fans at the bookstore, myself included, had a good time hooting and jeering a Dodger fan who showed up, but Juan calmed the crowd down. “I finished my career with the Dodgers,” he said. When he joined the Dodgers, Johnny Roseboro called a press conference and told everyone to welcome him to the team. He told how he and Roseboro became lifelong friends, and Roseboro came to visit him in the Dominican Republic.

    • Marichal thinks teams baby their pitchers today because they pay them so much money. “Justin Verlander signed a contract for $180 million. They want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.” Why didn’t Marichal get hurt? He felt that throwing so many pitches made his arm stronger. In his words: “I threw a lot of rocks as a kid.”

    • As a pitcher who claims to have hit .500 — 11 for 22 — with runners in scoring position — Marichal must hate the designated hitter, right? Wrong! “We had Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, and had to trade Orlando because we couldn’t play both of them, and he won the MVP,” Marichal said. “I would have let one of those guys hit for me.”

    • When he was called up to the Giants, Marichal had just pitched a great game in Sacramento for AAA Tacoma, and was ready to go to the AAA All-Star Game, where participants would be given a watch. “I was excited to be called up, but sad that I wouldn’t get the watch,” he said. Orlando Cepeda introduced him to his new teammates. He couldn’t believe he was shaking hands with Willie Mays. “It was my privilege to play with the greatest player of all time, Willie Mays,” he said.

    • As the event was winding down, and Juan signed the last of the books, a group of young men in green LOMA sweatshirts sidled over. It was the baseball team from Point Loma College in San Diego County. Juan graciously stood and chatted with them for 20 minutes. “Nothing is impossible,” he told them. “I came from Laguna Verde in the Dominican Republic, to Santo Domingo, to Michigan City to Springfield [Mass.] to Tacoma to San Francisco to Cooperstown. If I can do that, anyone can do that. Nothing is impossible.”

    If I can somehow find a way to write a book about the Giants, and they win two World Series, and my book goes into a third edition, and I get to spend a day with the greatest San Francisco Giants pitcher of all-time riding around in my car, telling baseball stories and selling books alongside me, then I have to agree with him: Nothing is impossible.

    New edition of Giants Past and Present coming next spring!

    Lots of great news here at “Giants Past and Present” world headquarters:

    This photo of Willie Mays (left) and Dusty Rhodes joking around after beating the Indians in Game 1 of the 1954 Series ran with Dan Fost’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 4, 2012. Mays’ catch off Vic Wertz saved it; Rhodes’ homer won it. Photo: Anonymous, ASSOCIATED PRESS / SF

    I will be updating “Giants Past and Present” to include the great stories of the 2012 World Series Champions! The third edition of the book should be out by Opening Day 2013. I will organize some public events and look forward to celebrating another Giants championship.

    If you have any ideas of photos that belong in the book, please let me know! My own favorite is the photo from this post of Marco Scutaro, joyfully drinking in the rain in the waning moments of the clinching seventh game of the NLCS.

    In addition, I contributed a few articles to the San Francisco Chronicle’s fabulous 72-page commemorative section on the champs that ran Sunday. My stories:

    How do these Giants compare to other great Giant teams of the past? They may not be as great as the Willie Mays-Willie McCovey teams of the 1960s, but with two titles in three years, they may rank even higher. Bill Kent, the leader of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, who has seen a few great Giant squads in his day, said this year’s model had the most guts.

    The Giants’ success starts on the farm. The Giants managed to win a World Series without going out and signing a bunch of high-priced free agents, a rarity in the modern era. The biggest free agent on the team was Barry Zito, who we had come to think of as the biggest bust before #rallyzito won him a new place in our hearts.

    Giant relics from 2012 World Series heading to Hall of Fame. And wouldn’t you rather see the bat Pablo Sandoval used to hit two home runs off Justin Verlander, instead of that Barry Bonds baseball that some knucklehead branded with an asterisk?

    And, not that this has anything to do with me or my book, but I had a lot of fun watching Ashkon Davaran‘s new Giants’ video, “We Are the Champions” and thought I’d share it here. (Video is embedded below.) Ashkon’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” video defined the Giants’ run through the 2010 postseason. Falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I found another pretty funny Giants’ song, “SF Giants Style,” a parody of “Gangnam Style,” the song that took over AT&T Park this fall.  It is great to be a Giants’ fan.

    Speaking of songs at the ballpark, I was excited to learn that the Fist Pump Granny is actually Giant executive Mario Alioto‘s mother!

    World Champions – again!

    It is almost as hard to believe it now as it was in 2010. Did the San Francisco Giants really win the World Series? You’d better believe it.

    If it’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated, it’s got to be true!

    If 2010 was a team of castoffs and misfits, at least it was a veteran club, and one with dominant pitching. The 2012 Giants seemed like a bunch of kids, and the arms all seemed to fade as the season lurched to a close. The word I heard the most from the Giants this year was “grind.”

    Even as the playoffs started, the Giants did not carry any air of inevitability, or invincibility. Falling behind the Reds, and then the Cardinals, the season could have ended at any moment.

    Until, suddenly – dramatically – for the second time in the post-season, the Giants got their wake-up call. It was an unlikely time. Barry Zito, who had not looked good against the Reds, got the call as the stopper in St. Louis. He gave up three hits before the Giants had one.

    And then Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval singled, and with one out, Hunter Pence hit a weak dribbler back to pitcher Lance Lynn, and the Giants got the sort of lucky break that defined this entire post-season – and, I suppose if you believe in these things, defined the Giants as a Team of Destiny. Lynn threw to second base, and there was no one there. He tried to hold up his throw, and it hit the bag. Scutaro scored. Another out, another couple of singles – one on a beautifully planned bunt by Zito – and the Giants were on their way to a 5-0 victory. They would never lose again in 2012.

    About those lucky breaks the Giants caught, whether it was Johnny Cueto leaving Game 1 of the Cincinnati series, or Angel Pagan‘s grounder hitting third base against Detroit (again with the base!), or Gregor Blanco‘s exquisite bunt, stopping incredibly inside the chalk. Include in those the sloppy defense by the opponents in every series, and then consider: the Giants made no such blunders.

    And that’s by design. The Giants are built around pitching and defense. It makes sense, when you think that pitching wins games, and defense is a big part of pitching. Manager Bruce Bochy could have played Xavier Nady or Hector Sanchez in a quest for more offense, but he knew the formula. If you keep the other team from scoring, you don’t have to score too much yourself.

    In building that type of team, General Manager Brian Sabean also built just the right lineup for AT&T Park. The best defenders are not necessarily sluggers in the Barry Bonds mold. Instead, Sabean acquired and promoted contact hitters, who can spray the ball into the gaps. Players like Melky Cabrera, Pagan, Blanco, and even Pence, Buster Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Belt and Sandoval all fit this model. With Scutaro in particular showing the virtue of taking pitches, and not striking out, the Giants were built for the modern post-season.

    The Giants had one more ingredient: Heart. It sounds like a cliche. It is said of nearly every team. (Well, maybe not the 2009 Yankees.) But consider some of the stories on these Giants – and not just overcoming the Brian Wilson injury or the Cabrera suspension. Instead: Ryan Vogelsong, wandering baseball’s wilderness for years before he came home to San Francisco and became a bona fide star. Scutaro, the very definition of a journeyman infielder, earning the nickname Blockbuster as he turned into Ty Cobb when he arrived on the Giants in July. Zito, never living up to his massive contract, but suddenly becoming a consistent winner. Tim Lincecum, losing his magic touch, but happily accepting a role as a middle reliever, and becoming unhittable once again. Posey, coming back from the most devastating (and unnecessary) injury this side of Joe Theisman to become National League MVP. And plenty of other players – Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Brandon Crawford, Pence, Sandoval – putting plenty of other struggles behind them for the sake of the team. I have to believe even having guys like Nady, Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot just in the dugout cheering (never mind scoring the winning run in the clincher, as Theriot did) had to help.

    Without these guys, there’s no parade in San Francisco on Halloween.

    Nicely done. And thank you. Every one of you.

     

    Orange October

    Kruk and Kuip know Torture when they see it. (Thanks to the Facebook group, “Giants baseball… torture.”)

    Once again, the Giants are roaring into October, and the diehards are ready for another magical run. I sure am. But I can’t help but note that things feel different this time.

    For one thing: Where is the Torture?

    And for another: What happened to our lovable band of castoffs and misfits?

    The Giants of 2010 knew how to break a curse. They took all the Torture of the past half-century-plus in San Francisco — all the second place finishes of the 1960s, McCovey’s line drive, Jose Oquendo, Candy Maldonado, Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz — and they owned it. When Duane Kuiper coined his slogan in May of that season, “Giants Baseball: It’s Torture!,” he gave the team a rallying cry that told the world, we don’t care how many times we bring it to the brink, we can win.

    No one personified Torture more than Brian Wilson. He became the face of the franchise, muscle-bound, and weird beyond words, stalking to the mound, throwing heat – and giving up the walks that would bring opponents tantalizingly close, only to slam the door on such Torture. And it all flowed from Wilson: His pal, Pat Burrell, donning the leather straps as the Machine; Burrell’s pal, Aubrey Huff, donning the satin thong that assured the postseason; and the rest of the castoffs, midseason acquisitions like Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Cody Ross, who was claimed off waivers and went on to author some improbably insane postseason heroics.

    The Giants kept their team remarkably intact in 2011, and it got them nowhere. But they did learn something important that season: the importance of Buster. When Posey went down in May, the Giants were essentially done.

    I’ve often felt that Posey could be the Giants’ Derek Jeter. Like Jeter, he provided the missing ingredient to bring his team a championship in his rookie year. He is calm, poised beyond his years, confident and capable. I don’t think anyone would argue with the Giants naming Buster their captain.

    And that’s where the big difference between 2010 and 2012 comes in. Instead of Buster quietly fitting in among the Freak, the Beard and the rest of the castoffs, he is the undisputed leader of this year’s squad. The Giants have a much more understated, workmanlike approach, exemplified for me by three young, strong, silent Southerners – Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. I think (warning: armchair psychoanalysis ahead) this may be why Tim Lincecum is struggling; the free-spirited, pot-smoking, long-haired Freak is no longer at home in his own clubhouse.

    One of the interesting things about this switch in team personality hit me in August, when Carl Steward, a fine columnist for the Bay Area Newspaper Group (aka the San Jose Oakland Contra Costa Marin Mercury Times News Journal), took note of the Giants hitting a real low point in the season. They had been swept by the Dodgers at home. They looked like they couldn’t score runs. Steward wondered if Coors Field could prove a tonic (it did), and if Posey and Cain were too quiet to fire up the team the way Huff and Burrell did two years earlier. Steward wrote:

    Good teams need strong, occasionally outspoken leaders. Leadership can’t always be by setting a good example aka Cain/Posey. Sometimes you have to get in players’ ears. Sometimes you need to throw a fit or berate one of us media types after a loss. Sometimes you have to remind teammates that it’s baseball and it’s supposed to be fun as you set off a cherry bomb in the middle of the clubhouse, or hide a four-day-old chicken neck in somebody’s locker.

    It may be Cain’s team and Posey’s team, but they’re the strong, silent, stable types. The Giants need somebody right now to throw the cherry bomb. Make somebody laugh. Make somebody ticked off. Become the human defibrillator.

    Not only did the Giants start hitting at Coors, but they got their cherry bomb two weeks later, when Melky Cabrera was suspended.

    He was cast off. The Giants were misfits no more. And never mind Torture, they overtook the Dodgers and clinched the division with 10 games to spare.

    I can’t wait to see what they do in October.

    Free Crawford!

    No one gets too excited when Brandon Crawford comes to bat. I can speak for all Giants fans and say we hold our collective breath and hope for the best for this kid. It would be so great if he could emerge as a big league hitter, but we fear he’s been thrown to the wolves too early and may not get there.

    Yet I couldn’t help but notice that he has gone through some pretty impressive stretches this season. I’ve looked at the stats, and found this:

    After dropping to a dismal .173 batting average on April 21 in New York – yes, well below his listed weight of 215 pounds – Crawford went on an impressive little run, hitting .259 in the next 17 games. Then Bruce Bochy boldly batted Brendan second in the order – where he’s likely to see better pitches – and he responded, hitting .300 over the next nine games, with an on-base percentage of .356, 7 RBI and 8 runs scored.

    You can see and sort Crawford’s game-by-game stats at the table below. (I love Baseball Reference! The column headed BOP indicates batting order position; from May 17 to May 28, Crawford hit second in all but one game. If you click on those dates, you can get a table showing the stats from those games – my source of information.)

    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
    Generated 6/7/2012.

     

    Boch said at the time he was experimenting, but that Crawford had been hitting well enough to merit a shot.

    I would have thought Crawford had passed his audition, but then Ryan Theriot came off the disabled list, and as a proven major league hitter (in years prior to this one), Bochy handed him the 2-hole. I can’t criticize that move, especially since Crawford struck out 15 times in his 45 plate appearances batting second. (Bochy also gave him two more shots at the 2-hole and he went oh-for-7.) And Theriot has proven Bochy right so far, batting .321 with a .406 OBA and zero whiffs in 32 plate appearances.

    It’s funny, because I had been wondering why Angel Pagan doesn’t bat second, and Henry Schulman today reports that Bochy has considered that idea. (Schulman mostly writes about Pablo Sandoval‘s weight, thank goodness – I had long thought of that as, if you’ll excuse me, the elephant in the room, and I’m glad to read that the Giants are addressing it.) Wouldn’t you love a lineup of Blanco-Pagan-Cabrera-Posey-Sandoval? I sure would.

    Meanwhile, since Crawford returned to his usual spot in Siberia, I mean the 8-hole, with its diet of pitches outside the strike zone, he has resumed his old ways, going 2-for-13 in the past five games.

    He may be a future number two hitter, but he’s not there yet – at least, not for a team, like the Giants, that has serious playoff plans.

     

     

    Torture, again

    My son and I in the stands at AT&T Park on May 6, 2012 - a "Torture" classic in which Giants closer Santiago Casilla coughed up a ninth inning lead to the Brewers, only to see the Giants win it in the 11th on a Hector Sanchez bases loaded single.

    Nearly two months into the 2012 season, I think we’re getting a pretty good sense of what we’ve got in this year’s Giants team. It both pains and pleases me to report that we are not yet ready to retire the label the Giants earned the past two seasons: Torture.

    Yes, Torture with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Bochy…. And Brandon…. And Bad Hitting and Bungled Baseballs. Yet another season of stellar pitching is at risk of fizzling in a .500 rathole because the offense and the defense don’t adequately support the aces on the hill. The Giants’ staff is the envy of baseball, and if you doubt that, think of it this way: What manager wouldn’t want his biggest pitching problem to be – Tim Lincecum?

    Plus, injuries keep threatening to sink the season before it even gets rolling, whether it’s Brian Wilson going down for his second Tommy John surgery, or Pablo Sandoval showing a new disadvantage to switch-hitting by breaking the same bone in his left hand that he broke in his right hand last year.

    So while so many of my fellow fans sink into that funk of watching our version of the Mudville Nine rally only to lose again, I see the potential for another glorious 2010-type season. In fact, think of how torturous 2010 really was. For starters, 2010 was the year Duane Kuiper hung his sputtering Torture moniker on the orange-and-black after an endless supply of nail-biters.

    That season’s opening day lineup included names like John Bowker, Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina. (Good guys, but do any fans miss them?) In 2010, the Giants trailed the Padres nearly all year (and the 2010 Pads were a better team than the 2012 Dodgers, in my opinion – much better pitching, fueled by a lights-out bullpen). Pablo Sandoval suffered not only a sophomore slump, but threatened to become the Kung Fu Hippo. And remember August? Just when you want your team to make a stretch run, the Giants’ pitching staff began to unravel. They led the league in walks. Lincecum went through the first prolonged struggle in his charmed career.

    And we never really came to love Edgar Renteria until his very last game in a Giants’ uniform.

    Happy endings like 2010’s enable us to forget all the struggles that comprise a baseball season. Before a game I went to last year, Giants’ coach Tim Flannery addressed a crowd of Little Leaguers, telling them that the secret to baseball success is “tricking your mind into staying positive.” In 2010, he pointed out, the world champion Giants lost 70 games.

    Maybe I’m just tricking my own mind here, but I find a lot to be positive about in 2012.

    • First, and foremost, Buster Posey is back and better than ever.
    • To our great relief as well, Buster at last has a backup, Hector Sanchez, who can really hit. It feels fine whenever Bochy wants to give Buster a rest, or a day at first base.
    • Melky Cabrera is a true major league superstar – and Pablo Sandoval is on his way there. Angel Pagan is solid, speedy, and a team leader. (I’m biased toward Angel, since I just wrote a story about him for the Giants magazine – look for it at the ballpark this summer.)
    • Melky and Angel aren’t the only great additions. Gregor Blanco is a revelation. Joaquin Arias fills the utility role nicely. Ryan Theriot is a great guy to have on the bench.
    • Bruce Bochy is getting comfortable trusting his young guys, and Brandons Belt and Crawford are starting to come around. (By-the-By, what is it with the Base-Ball Giants and the initials BB? From Bobby Bonds to Barry Bonds, from Bob Brenly and Brett Butler to Bruce Bochy and Brandon Belt, we love shooting BBs here in Baghdad by the Bay. Then again, Brian Bocock couldn’t carry the bat of old New York Giant Hall-of-Famer Beauty Bancroft.)

    I love Giants fans, but I do find it funny that they complained so long to “Free Belt,” yet they show as little patience with the miscues of youth as they used to accuse Bochy and Brian Sabean of having. You can’t have it both ways. We are spoiled by guys like Posey and Sandoval, who hit well right from the start, but instead we ought to consider the example of Melky Cabrera, who struggled and bounced around for years until he found his stroke last year in Kansas City.

    So don’t get down. If the 2010 Giants could rally from 7.5 games back on July 4 – to say nothing of forbears like the 1951 team, which was 13 back on Aug. 11 –this year’s model can certainly overcome a May deficit. It may take some more Sabean midseason magic. It may take some help in getting the Dodgers to fall to earth. It may require the folks at Dignity Health (cue Renel: formerly Catholic Healthcare West, the official health care provider of your San Francisco Giants) to restore both dignity and health to a team that needs both.

    Whatever it takes, though, remember this: With a second wild card this year, it’s easier than ever to make the playoffs. And once in the playoffs, pitching can carry you a long, long way.

    Right Timmy?

    RIP, 2011 baseball season

    The funny thing is, we thought 2010 was “Torture.”

    We could laugh about Torture when the Giants managed to win the World Series. But in 2011, we became re-acquainted with our old friend Torture when the Giants suddenly stopped winning all those walk-off, one-run ballgames. It seemed they just stopped scoring runs, period, and the challenge of stringing together three hits in a row became an insurmountable obstacle.

    And 2011 truly defined Torture, Giants-style, with a seemingly endless array of injuries. None hurt more than Buster Posey’s season-ending loss in that eminently avoidable crash at home plate back in May. But it was equally painful to see rock-solid Brian Wilson go down, and Pablo Sandoval’s fabulous comeback momentarily derailed. And of course it turned out Freddy Sanchez never did vacate his room in the Hotel Disabled, moving right back in on schedule. (Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez, those injuries I can forgive.)

    I admire the way the Giants never gave up. I like that Brian Sabean brought in Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger. (Orlando Cabrera, I was not so crazy about. I understand why Brandon Crawford couldn’t stay – you don’t want a rookie falling into a double digit batting average and thinking he will never hit big league pitching – but if you have to hire a shortstop who can’t hit, couldn’t you at least bring back Omar Vizquel?) I liked that the team stayed in the race til the final week.

    Hey, I liked that the Atlanta Braves collapsed and the Diamondbacks never showed anything too dominant, enabling that race to linger.

    But it sure has been Torture watching a postseason without the Giants, especially one in which the starting pitchers all seem highly inferior to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. I have to feel our guys would be giving any team in the playoffs a good run once again, if they’d only gotten there.

    So now I’ve tossed this year’s Sporting Greens into the hot stove, and am ready to burnish my optimism for 2012. Re-sign Beltran. Get the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – into a big league boot camp all winter. Make Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill battle it out for first base in Spring Training. Sign Coco Crisp. (Let the A’s have San Jose in exchange for some Moneyball mojo.)

    The Giants are not too far from putting together another run at the title. I cannot wait until Spring!

     

    A modest proposal

    Now batting: Brian Wilson drives a Gatorade jug deep to the end of the Giants' dugout, as clubhouse manager Mike Murphy ponders the cleanup operation to follow. (Photo by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

    Under the rules of baseball, the statisticians the winning pitcher to be the guy who is in the game when the winning run scored. I would like to suggest, in this era of SABRmetrics, when the win has already been devalued (see Hernandez, Felix), that the rule be changed.

    The clearest example of why this should be is last night’s San Francisco Giants game. Madison Bumgarner pitched a beauty against a devastating Detroit Tigers lineup — 7.3 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 earned run. But then in the eighth and ninth, Brian Wilson — and don’t get me wrong, for all the torture, I love the guy — gets two outs and surrenders 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs.

    Wilson gets the win, and goes berserk on a Gatorade cooler. What’s wrong with this picture?

    I would like to see baseball’s official scorers empowered to decide who is the winning pitcher based on merit. Lord knows Brian Wilson is not looking to pad his stats with wins thanks to all the Giants’ late inning rallies. When Bumgarner – and for that matter Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and the rest of the Giants’ aces – pitch deep into games, giving up next to nothing, they deserve a win, instead of the mediocre win-loss records that they carry around with them.

    The Cy Young voters already know this. (See also Lincecum, Tim, and Greinke, Zack.) The fans know it. The players know it. When will Bud Selig and the big league statisticians figure it out?

    (Footnote: I actually had to edit Lincecum’s Wikipedia page to show his 18-5 record in his first Cy Young season of 2008.)

    Protect the catcher!

    Brad Mangin's excellent shot of the tag that Buster Posey applied to Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies in Game 4 of the 2010 NLCS.

    I want to see a rule change. And I’m not alone.

    I want to see catchers protected from home plate collisions.

    Buster Posey may be out for the year, just because baseball says it’s all right that Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins came barreling down the third base line at top speed and, instead of sliding, dove at Posey like a linebacker in hopes of jarring the ball loose – a ball, it turns out, that Posey wasn’t even holding in the first place.

    The Giants had told Posey not to block home plate. They told him no run, no single game, was worth the damage he could do to himself, to his career. He got it right last year in the NLCS – as important a game as he’d ever played in to that point, applying a sweep-tag on Carlos Ruiz to nail the runner yet stay out of harm’s way. Indeed, even in the Marlins game, Buster Ballgame was in front of home plate, toward the mound, taking the throw and then trying to turn into Cousins to apply the tag.

    I don’t fault Cousins. He was within the rules, written or otherwise. But baseball has rules to prevent runners from creaming middle infielders in the same fashion. Hockey has rules to protect the goaltender. Football protects the quarterback. Major sports are getting more sensitive to injuries, especially concussions.

    The Giants have already lost Mike Matheny to a similar play. Joe Mauer is continually banged up in Minnesota. The tools of ignorance are hardly protection for an athlete running right at you like a freight train.

    Evan Brunell summarized the situation very well over at CBS Sports, noting that Posey’s agent and his manager have also called for a rules change:

    Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, said he was planning on calling Joe Torre, the new leader of on-field operations, in the hopes of changing the rules that allow runners to barrel into catchers.

    “You leave players way too vulnerable,” Berry said. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey's injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.

    “If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball. I’m going to call Major League Baseball and put this on the radar. Because it’s just wrong.”

    “It’s part of baseball. I understand that,” Bochy said in a news conference on Thursday according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Guys run into catchers. Being a catcher, I’ve been in a few of them. You’re in harm’s way there. I do think we need to consider changing the rules a little bit because the catcher’s so vulnerable — and there are so many who’ve gotten hurt, and just a little bit. I mean, they’ve had their careers or shortened. And here’s a guy that’s very popular in baseball. Fans want to see him play. Now, he’s out for a while. I’d like to see maybe something considered here where we can protect these guys a little bit more. They just don’t have the protection to take a guy coming in full speed, with that kind of force.”

    Bochy said he had previously spoken to Posey about not getting out in front and blocking the plate — and to an extent, Posey tried to honor that.

    “He was not completely in front of the plate. He was in a position where he could make a tag without being hit, too,” Bochy said. “He just got himself in a tough position there because [the way] his leg was situated. He was down on one knee, and ideally, you’d like to have the foot pointed that way to protect you a little bit. But, again, you’re trying to handle a throw. You don’t have time to get set up perfectly. That’s what hurt him was his leg was tucked underneath him when he got hit.”

    It should have been changed years ago, when Pete Rose wrecked Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game. But just because it’s late doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Let’s do it now. Call it the Buster Posey Rule. And protect the catcher!

    Oh, and when Buster does come back? Put him at third base. First base. Anywhere but behind the plate!

     

    Yogi and the Perfesser

    (L-R) Dan Fost, Steven Goldman, Jim Kaplan, Steve Steinberg, Marty Appel, Toni Mollett (photo by Harry Barker-Fost)

    I love New York!

    On Thursday night, more than 100 people turned out to the Museum of the City of New York to learn about the Old Perfesser, Casey Stengel, and his long and storied life in baseball. (Need I remind readers that, long before he was a fabled manager of the Yankees or Mets, Casey Stengel was a player on John McGraw’s Giants?) I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion with a group of amazing sportswriters: Marty Appel, Jim Kaplan, Steven Goldman and Steve Steinberg. The panel was completed with the great addition of Stengel’s grand-niece, Toni Mollett, who runs the Casey Stengel Baseball Center.

    Carmen and Yogi Berra (seated), Dan Fost, Toni Mollett, Dave Kaplan and Steve Steinberg (standing, L-R). Photo by Betty Barker

    Steve Steinberg, Toni Mollett and I also had the great privilege of meeting Yogi and Carmen Berra at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey the day before, along with Dave Kaplan, a sportswriter who runs the museum.

    Highlights from my two days in baseball heaven:

    * Yogi Berra clearly maintains a great deal of affection for his old manager. “Casey got Bill Dickey out of retirement to come and help,” Yogi said. “He taught me a lot of things.” (Yogi did not utter any Yogi-isms, like his purported, “Bill Dickey is learning me all his experiences.”) “I played outfield sometimes,” Yogi said. “Casey liked guys who could play two positions. At one time we had three catchers in the field – Elston (Howard), (John) Blanchard and myself. Gil McDougal was an All-Star at second, short and third.” (UPDATE 3/17/2012: See comments below; the correct spelling is McDougald.)

    * Upon hearing my connection to the San Francisco Giants, Yogi asked me to say hello to Dave Righetti. Perhaps acknowledging Stengel’s influence, Yogi recalled that, as manager of the Yankees, he turned Righetti from a starting pitcher into a closer.

    * But life wasn’t all easy under Stengel. “If we were playing a double header,” Yogi recalled, “he’d say, ‘If we’re ahead, I’ll take you out,’ but he never did. One time, I said to him, ‘Here – you catch.’”  Yogi said he once wanted a rest so badly, he began arguing with the umpire, trying to get thrown out. The ump said, “Yogi, if I’m gonna suffer, you’re gonna suffer with me.”

    * Yogi’s museum is worth a visit for any baseball fan; it will re-open next month after an extensive remodel. I had a sneak peak and it’s going to be beautiful. In one case, there’s Yogi’s jersey and mitt worn during Don Larsen’s perfect game from the 1956 World Series; the glove is bronzed. Yogi pointed out how worn the mitt was, and told me that he used to insert “falsies” inside as padding to protect his hands.

    * The panelists the next night were equally delightful. Marty Appel pointed out that “We wouldn’t be here at all if the Yankees had won the last game of the 1948 season.” Bucky Harris was managing the Yankees then, and was on the verge of a second straight pennant. Harris, however, had been hired by former GM Larry McPhail, and since McPhail was fired after a fight with owners Dan Topping and Del Webb (and replaced by George Weiss), Harris was on thin ice. As long as he won, his job was safe; when the Indians took the pennant in 1948, Harris was out, and Weiss brought in his man Stengel. Had the Yankees won that day, Harris may have stayed and ultimately won seven straight titles, and Stengel never would have had his big chance, Appel said. “Sometimes baseball comes down to one day.”

    * Another little-known factor in Stengel’s development as a Hall of Fame manager: the disarray of the 1930s’ Brooklyn Dodgers, a situation that resembled, well, the disarray of their most likely descendants: this year’s Los Angeles Dodgers (with the team’s owners fighting in divorce court) and this year’s New York Mets, mired in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Author Steven Goldman said the death of Charles Ebbetts in 1925 plunged the team into chaos (with colorful stories, such as Ebbetts’ elaborate coffin not fitting in the grave, and in the time it took to widen the hole on that frigid April morning, one of his surviving co-owners caught pneumonia and died). Unable to bring in top-notch talent, the Bums resigned themselves to losing, and figuring, “Losing would be more fun with a fun guy,” hired Stengel, a famed baseball clown, to lead them. While Stengel played it for laughs, he also began experimenting with the platooning that made him so successful at Yankee Stadium. “While that’s considered an innovation of his Yankees’ years, the R&D for it happened in Brooklyn,” Goldman said.

    * Most poignantly, Toni Mollett recalled coming to New York as a teen from Glendale, Calif., and going to Mets games to see her Uncle Casey. Stengel lived at the Essex House on Central Park South, and after the games, when the family would return, Casey would take his young niece for a walk around the block. “Come on,” he told her. “We have more work to do.” On that walk, many New Yorkers recognized the beloved and legendary manager. “They’d want autographs. They’d want a little Stengelese,” Mollett said. “Casey was such a well-loved character.” And he recognized his responsibility as an ambassador for the game, and within a few years the Mets were out-drawing his old employers, the Yankees.

    * You can help Mollett keep Stengel’s vision alive, and bring the team concept to up-and-coming baseball players, by joining the Casey Stengel Baseball Center. I am.

    * The day after the event, Marty Appel emailed fellow panelists: “I guess as the ultimate tribute to Casey, while we were sitting, the Mets were losing a doubleheader.” (And the Yankees won.)

     

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