I almost did not recognize my San Francisco Giants when they started this postseason. And I’m not referring to the complete changeover in the starting eight from 2010 – with only Buster Posey remaining. (Pablo Sandoval rode the pine in that historic postseason.)
What I was wondering, less than one month ago: Where was the Torture? The Giants clinched the West so early, the world seemed upside-down.
But through the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants have shown that even though they have so many new cast members, they all know the script: Torture.
Having fallen behind two games to none against the Reds, the Giants managed to come all the way back. They proceeded to drop three of the first four games to the Cards, and once again won three straight to take the pennant.
Memo to Bruce Bochy and the boys: Please just win this next series early!
I had great fun the other day discussing this and other weighty matters on Michael Krasny‘s excellent program Forum on KQED. (Krasny graciously said that “Giants Past and Present” is “one of the best books about the Giants.”) You can listen to the show here:
The show opened with Giants’ President Larry Baer, and you could really hear how much fun he’s having. Larry is a lifelong Giants fan in his dream job, and you can’t help but smile every time you see him. Then Michael led a spirited discussion with me, KNBR’s awesome Marty Lurie, and San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy. I sure learned a lot listening to those guys – especially when Marty told us that, however bad Pete Kozma played shorstop for the Cardinals in the NLCS, he was not as bad as the Washington Senators’ Roger Peckinpaugh in the 1925 World Series, who made eight errors! (Another highlight: Marty let me try on his 2010 World Series ring – and it is a thing of beauty!)
One thought I had that I did not get to share: As we discussed the Giants, and beautiful AT&T Park, I wanted to give props to General Manager Brian Sabean for building a team perfect for its ballpark. Instead of going out and signing home run hitters, who only get frustrated with the park’s wide open spaces, Sabean brought in gap hitters like Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco. You could put Melky Cabrera in there too (even though we don’t really like to talk about him any more), and it looks like it’ll be a good fit for the Brandons – Belt and Crawford. Need I say Buster Posey?
And maybe, if Hunter Pence hits more line drives like his famed “triple double” from game 7 of the NLCS – the ball that hit the bat three times – instead of swinging for the fences, the Giants will have the ingredients necessary to foil those big bopping Tigers.
After all, Marty Lurie viewed Pence’s lucky-breaking line drive as karmic payback for Willie McCovey’s smash that ended the 1962 World Series. No one could have hit that ball any harder, but it went straight to the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson. Pence’s ball curved away from Kozma, and the Giants were in business.
It’s good to be good. But sometimes it’s better to be lucky.
Even if it’s a little Torturous.
I had a great conversation with Damon Bruce last Friday on his show. We talked about Giants Past and Present. It was a great interview and a great treat for fathers day. Damon said, “It is a 1st class product all the way through – a well written, well crafted book.”
My friend Steve Steinberg, who has joined me in several book events, is the co-author of a fantastic tome, “1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York,” along with Lyle Spatz. The book last week was awarded the Seymour Medal for the year’s best baseball history book.
Steve organized our event at the Museum of the City of New York, and is a tireless and passionate student and promoter of baseball history. I have learned much from him, and am so proud of him for winning this well-deserved honor.
The book is a great source of colorful stories, not only about the Giants’ John McGraw, but also his Yankees’ counterpart Miller Huggins, and of course Huggins’ star Babe Ruth. And look closely at the cover – one of those other Giants depicted there is none other than Casey Stengel, who not only played big for the Giants in their World Series of the 1920s, but did a fair job managing the Yankees in the Fall Classic in the 1940s and 50s as well.
When the Giants won the World Series (yes!), the Record, the newspaper in Troy, NY, went on a crusade to bring the trophy to Troy, arguing that the Giants had their start as the Troy City Trojans in 1879.
Troy is getting its way: It’s close enough to Cooperstown so I guess the Giants capitulated, and will bring the trophy there on its national tour in the spring. But it’s a pretty thin connection.
I don’t know the sources that Troy Record writer Kevin Moran used — particularly in his pivotal assertion that John B. Day and Jim Mutrie bought the Troy franchise and moved it to New York. In the excellent book, “The Giants of the Polo Grounds” (Doubleday, 1988), author Noel Hynd lays out the history of the National League, including how after the first year, 1876, the cash-strapped New York and Philadelphia teams were booted out of the league.
In 1881, Day, a wealthy businessman, and Mutrie, a baseball enthusiast, formed an independent team, the New York Metropolitans, or Mets, and then in 1882 applied to be in the National League , along with a team from Philly. The NL pressed Worcester and Troy to resign from the league – the two last place teams; Troy drew 25 fans to its last game, and the year before had drawn TWELVE to its last game!
According to Hynd, the NL gave Day the New York franchise – and he then put the Mets in the rival American Association, and decided to start a new team for his National League venture. Hynd writes: “With the Troy club conveniently disbanded, its roster – even those players under ‘reserve’ – was free to be pillaged. Day promptly signed the best of them,” Roger Connor, Buck Ewing and Smiling Mickey Welch. Other players went elsewhere, including some to the Mets, and other players came from elsewhere.
I think it’s nice that the Giants are doing it for Troy – but it’s not quite historically accurate to say they started in Troy. They started in New York as the Gothams, winning their opener in 1883 at fields that actually had been used for polo (and which were owned by New York Herald founder and publisher James Gordon Bennett), before a crowd that included former President Ulysses Grant.
OK, time for some shameless self-promotion. The American Bookseller Association Web site reports:
With the Major League Baseball post-season now underway, we present the Indie October Baseball Bestseller List, based on sales in independent bookstores nationwide for the eight-week period ending October 10, 2010.
and Giants Past and Present is no. 19!
I know a fair amount of the credit for that success goes first to the Giants, who are keeping fans interested in all aspects of their amazing history with their phenomenal run through the post-season.
I also have to thank the folks at my publisher, MVP Books, who have been incredibly supportive, as well as my publicists — Diana Parker at Spoken Media early in the season, and more recently Susan MacTavish Best and Beth Cook at Best Public Relations.
Since that memorable Oct. 3 game, when the Giants beat the Padres and catapulted into the playoffs, I’ve done at least 10 radio interviews. Interest in the Giants is soaring around the country! Here’s all the places I’ve been talking Giants baseball:
FOX Sports New Mexico, AM1340, with Steve Borstein
ESPN Radio Hawaii, KHLO AM 850 Hilo, KKON AM 790 Kona, , with Josh Pacheco
Wednesday Oct. 6
Gainesville, Florida WRUF 850 AM with host Steve Russell
Johnson City, TN, WXSM 640 AM, WXSM with host Bobby Rader
Portland, OR, 95.5 FM “The Game,” twice in one day:
Little Rock, AR, KABZ-FM/103.7 The Buzz/Buzz Radio Network
Nashville, Tenn, WNSR 560 AM with host Jeff Thurn
Last week, I received something precious in my e-mail: A digital recording of the half-hour I had spent on the radio with Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo. You can listen to it here (look for the link to Mad Dog on that page), and I figure with the Giants ready to take on the Mets in New York – the city of the Giants’ birth and their greatest successes, and home base of one of their most avid fans – it would be appropriate to recount in greater detail that marvelous experience.
I have had some great radio experiences since my book was published, but none quite like the half hour I spent with Russo on “Mad Dog Radio” in New York in April. True to his nickname, Russo is a rabid Giants fan, with a deep knowledge that he can summon at a rapid rate.
Russo told me he became a Giants fan when he was eight years old. His father, a jeweler, took him to see the Giants play the Phillies in Philadelphia – this would have been around 1970 – and they went to the Giants’ hotel. “I got all of their autographs, except Willie Mays,” he told me. “Mays wouldn’t sign.”
Of such encounters, fandom begins, even for a kid on Long Island – even for someone who rose to become a kingpin of New York sports talk radio. Kudos to Russo for staying true to his team, in the face of all those Yankees and Mets fans! His Giants cred was sealed after the 2003 season, when he was still on WFAN on the “Mike and the Mad Dog” show; he went on a beautiful rant after that never-shoulda-happened loss to the Marlins, culminating in, “Just one lousy goddamn time!”
We had a spirited conversation, going through Giants history from John McGraw, through Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Leo Durocher, and through the 1960s, the Arctic years of the 1970s and ‘80s, and the return to glory with Will Clark and then Barry Bonds. We picked the 1962 Giants as the best team ever in San Francisco, although we also liked 1993 and 2002. He blamed Horace Stoneham for the failures in San Francisco; I agreed, but spread it a little wider.
We capped it off with a fantastic exercise, where Russo asked me to name my top 10 Giants of all time. With his help, our list: Mays, Christy Mathewson, Bonds, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Buck Ewing, Ott, Carl Hubbell, Orlando Cepeda (questionable only for the duration of his Giants’ tenure) and Terry. We think Tim Lincecum is heading there, but hasn’t played long enough to earn the spot.
We agreed that Willie Mays was the best Giant of all time. I pick him as best player of all time; Russo says that’s Babe Ruth, because he could pitch as well; and that Joe DiMaggio was a better hitter.
Russo was also a generous host, and allowed my wife and son into the small Sirius studio; that’s my son, Harry, in the photo with me and the Mad Dog. (Footnote to a near close-encounter: As we signed in at the Sirius studios on the 36th floor of the McGraw Hill building in midtown Manhattan, I could see that a few minutes earlier, author Kitty Kelley – touting her new book on Oprah Winfrey – had signed in on the same ledger.)
I survived. I wore a Giants cap and shirt to Los Angeles and lived to tell about it.
I was a panelist on Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and can’t say enough good things about the great time I had in enemy territory. My panel was titled “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and featured Michael D’Antonio, author of “Forever Blue,” about Walter O’Malley and the Dodgers’ move out of Brooklyn, and Mark Frost, author of “Game Six,” about the pivotal game of the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Novelist Bruce Bauman, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic baseball fan, moderated.
I was clearly the novelty act. Bauman was surprised a Giant book was picked for the festival, but there are Giant fans in LA. And I think all five of them came to the panel. We have to stick together. I acknowledged being surprised myself that I was included, but noted my gratitude that festival staff was wearing orange and black t-shirts to make me feel comfortable. (That may not be the reason for the color choice, but I’m sticking with my story.)
The Times also did that one better: They sent a guy named Sandoval to write a post about the panel, and he did a great job capturing the laughter in the room. (Writer Joshua is no relation to Giant Pablo, but no matter to me!)
We had a lot of fun telling stories and talking baseball. D’Antonio told how he spent a year combing through O’Malley’s personal documents – 30,000 of them – that had been stored in musty boxes, and revealed an incredible, never-before-told story that completely upended the modern myth of the Dodgers’ departure from Brooklyn. O’Malley was not the diabolical villain who engineered Brooklyn’s misery, but instead worked tirelessly to build a new ballpark in the borough, only to be thwarted at every turn by Robert Moses, the unelected autocrat who ruled New York City politics for decades.
Frost also offered up great untold stories, including about the alcoholic, inept owner of the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey, and the boozing, drug-addled, nearly forgotten hero of the sixth game, Bernie Carbo. And he told how that Series – featuring a dozen Hall of Famers – marked the end of an era, as six weeks later, free agency began and baseball changed forever. It also remains the single most watched baseball game of all time, with an audience of 76 million people – the “high water mark” for the pastime, Frost said.
We had a lively discussion of steroids and cheating, and I reiterated my belief that Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame when his time comes. When Bauman offered one last chance to pitch our books to the audience, the best I could come with was, “I think Dodger fans will love the stories of Giant heartbreak and frustration that populate my book.”
The festival itself is a marvelous celebration of the written word. I attended two other panels that inspired and encouraged, both featuring my friend, David Ulin, the book editor of the Los Angeles Times, as moderator. The first – featuring Nicholas Carr, David Shields, and Ander Monson – addressed how reading and writing will survive in an age of increasing fragmentation. Some conclusions were inspiring (the written word is constantly evolving, and there is more writing and reading now than ever) and some depressing (people are increasingly incapable of reading at any length). But by the afternoon, when Ulin engaged Dave Eggers in conversation, optimism ruled the day. Eggers was funny, witty, upbeat and inspiring on so many levels: as a writer, as a publishing business visionary, and as a pied piper of the written word, whose “826” centers in San Francisco and elsewhere teach so many young people the joy of writing.
I think it’s rather a sad statement that Eggers is such a publishing visionary, because the simplicity of his vision reveals how broken the industry is. His publishing house, McSweeney’s, looks merely to recoup its costs and make a little bit of money for its writers, and get great stories out to the public in the way that writers like to tell them. He is satisfied with little or no profits and an 8-person operation. He looks at publishing and sees that more people bought books last year than ever before. The sad part to me is that book publishers – like the newspaper publishers I know all too well – want to run a high volume, high profit business, and the disappearance of those big profits is what has the industry wringing its hands and declaring doom.
As if that wasn’t enough, the weekend was full of many other personal highlights:
- A visit to friends at the Los Angeles Times, a magnificent Art Deco building that stands as a monument to great journalism, but which sadly now has vast empty sections as the paper struggles in the new economy.
- My first game at the Big A – Anaheim Stadium – where the Angels beat the Yankees Friday night. (Yes, I wore pinstripes.)
- Two outstanding meals at some of Los Angeles’ legendary Jewish delis: pastrami at Junior’s in Westwood on Saturday night, and matzo brei at Nate n Al in Beverly Hills Sunday morning. (Thank you, David Sax, author of “Save the Deli,” for the inspiration.)
- Post-panel surprise encounters with two friends from my childhood in New Jersey. One of them came to my panel with a friend – the friend was there to see her friend, Mark Frost! The other, Carol Fitzgerald, was my babysitter; her mother, Sylvia Cicetti, had been my third grade teacher. Carol has run the site the Book Reporter for years now, and knows more about the publishing industry and the Internet than anybody I’ve ever met.
This is the weekend we’ve been waiting for. The Giants are in Los Angeles for a three-game series with the Dodgers, the first of 2010. The Dodgers are the defending division champs, but the Giants are the team in ascendancy, and I have to say, I like their chances, especially with Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito pitching games two and three, and no one on the hill for the Dodgers who looks particularly able to stop the Giants’ hot bats.
But anything can happen when these two teams meet, given the history of bad blood. I’ve got a chapter in “Giants Past and Present” devoted to the long and sometimes bloody rivalry, and I talk about it in this new video on my YouTube channel. (Please subscribe!)
I’d love to get your thoughts on some of the greatest moments in the rivalry. I personally savor Dodger-killing homers — Joe Morgan in 1982, Brian Johnson in 1997, and Barry Bonds, pirouetting at home plate the day before Johnson’s blast. How about you?
Just like the Giants themselves – who are tearing things up on the field so far this year, sweeping Houston, pitching great, hitting great, and going 3-0 into the opening homestand – “Giants Past and Present” is getting a great reception in the season’s opening week.
* I was on KQED’s “Forum” with Michael Krasny today, along with Giants President Larry Baer and San Francisco State University Prof. Eric Solomon, and we spent a delightful hour talking baseball. One of my favorite moments: When Baer told how the Giants would sell Tim Lincecum wigs this year, Solomon blurted, “Have you no shame?” I also enjoyed lobbing one of my pet issues in Baer’s lap: I want to see a Barry Bonds statue at AT&T Park. And Baer offered up an amusing story as well, after Solomon defended the Giants’ 1951 sign stealing as part of a long tradition of cheating in baseball; he said Giants’ Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry — a
notorious spitball thrower — was not only welcomed at Spring Training this year, but he was embraced by Commissioner Bud Selig, sending a subliminal message to the minor leaguers that it’s OK to doctor the ball. You can listen to the hour at KQED’s site, or if you prefer, right here:
* I was on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s Chronicle Live last night, with host Greg Papa effusively praising the book as “comprehensive.” You can see it below, or on the Comcast site. I was glad I brought my camera: I was able to get photos with Papa and with my green room compadres, the 49ers’ offensive lineman Alex Boone, and a couple of Raiderettes, Cole and Anna. I’ll skip the cheerleader jokes, but will say that the Giants could use someone Boone’s size to bat fifth.
On the one hand you have long-time fans of the team, both in the East and West Coast incarnations. You also have younger fans, who grew up on the San Francisco version. In addition, there are the history buffs, the photography buffs, the pop culture buffs, you name it. In that regard, Giants has the proverbial something for everyone in one slim package. Fost, a freelance journalist in the Bay Area, shares his love for the team with anyone who wants to listen, or, more appropriately, read.
* The California Media Workers Guild — the union of which I was a proud member when I worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, and which I now belong to the freelancers’ unit — posted a nice write-up about me and the book in its section “We Love Our Work.” Rebecca Rosen Lum’s piece, “Capturing the history of baseball Giants,” gives a good description of some of the work that went into my book:
Fost had long nurtured an idea to write a book chronicling the 125-year history of the Giants – heartbreaks, gaffes and glories. When San Francisco magazine published his story commemorating the ball club’s 50th anniversary in the City, it caught the attention of MVP Books, a publishing company with a series of ball club profiles to its credit. They needed it turned around in two months.
No problem: “I had half the work done already,” Fost said. “I had notebooks full of stuff. My whole dining room became a baseball library.”
The project presented an opportunity “to play in the toy department” for Fost, the former sports editor of his college newspaper. In his life as a metro, features and business reporter, he has covered just about everything but sports. He developed a niche as a technology and business writer at the Marin Independent Journal and later the San Francisco Chronicle.
* I’m also getting some nice reviews on Amazon.com, and the book is consistently in or near the top 10 in the categories of baseball history, baseball writing and New York history.
There’s more to come – but I’m grateful to everyone for all the ink and airtime.
John is a scholar of presidential history and even worked for Richard Nixon. Off the air, we talked about how Nixon threw out the first ball at Candlestick Park in 1960. John said that the crowd cheered Nixon and booed Pat Brown, the Democrat; two years later, the two men faced off in the California governor’s race, and Nixon was convinced he would win because he was cheered in San Francisco. Of course, Brown won, and the former vice president famously declared, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”
You can listen to the interview on KGO’s Web site.Next Page »