I always love talking Giants baseball, but it was a special treat for me Monday, when I got to do so with Michael Krasny, host of KQED-FM’s “Forum,” and fellow guests San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion, CSN Bay Area columnist (and seeming king of all Bay Area sports media), my former Chronicle colleague Ray Ratto, and, with no disrespect to the others, best of all, the voice of the Giants, Hall of Famer Jon Miller.
You can listen to the audio here.
* Jon Miller telling the story of Travis Ishikawa in tears earlier this year when he was cut by the Pirates and signed to a minor league deal by the Giants, calling his high school coach in Seattle and asking, “Should he move on? Retire? Or persevere in the face of adversity?” He persevered, and Giants Nation is forever grateful.
* Miller also sharing the story of Joe Panik, after struggling to hit Adam Wainwright‘s cutter earlier this year, studying footage of former Giant and Red Sox player Bill Mueller hitting a home run off the great Mariano Rivera‘s cutter — and then Panik hitting one of Wainwright’s cutters out of the ballpark.
* Miller said Ishikawa would likely have been NLCS MVP, but the voting was tabulated in the eighth inning of game 5, before his historic home run, and therefore Madison Bumgarner got the trophy.
* A listener gave this tidbit, which I had not heard: Apparently Brandon Crawford hid Brandon Belt‘s glove behind his back in the ninth inning of a tight game against the Cardinals, showing how loose the Giants were.
* Miller showed his amazing candor when he gave this description of Buster Posey, comparing him to the Yankees’ Derek Jeter: “He’s not a great interview. He’s not likely to say anything other than platitudes and boring comments.”
I’ll note one more thing: Krasny referred to my son Harry wearing a lucky hat, and I told the story. In 2008, an old New York Giants fan, Bob Leinweaver, gave me and Harry a hat from 1954, the last year the Giants had won the Series. Harry wore the hat faithfully, including the first two World Series wins in 2010. He took it off when we got to a friend’s house to watch Game 3, when they gave us NL championship hats. But when the Giants lost Game 3, we all agreed Harry had better wear the cap – and they never lost again!
Harry showed off the hat when we were on the evening news during the 2010 Series.
The Giants are teasing and torturing us yet again. I’m looking for a long run and another orange and black Halloween!
This morning, before the Giants put the Nationals away and headed to the NLCS, I was on ESPN radio in South Dakota, talking Giants with Jeff Thurn, a very knowledgeable host who has had me on many times in the past. You can listen to it here.
All season long, even diehard Giants fans seemed certain that this team did not have the same championship intangibles that the 2010 and 2012 squads had. I wondered: Had we forgotten how little like champs the 2010 Giants looked in the dog days of August, when the pitching staff led the league in walks, and a waiver wire pickup named Cody Ross hardly seemed like salvation? Or how dead the Giants seemed in 2012 when they lost the first two games at home to the Reds, and had to win three in Cincinnati – to say nothing of then falling behind 3-1 to St. Louis, while relying on journeyman utility infielder Marco Scutaro?
So when all hope seemed lost in 2014… when the Dodgers won 17-0…. when the Giants had to scratch to back into the second wild card…. let’s just remember the magic that happens when Bruce Bochy, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and a few other key cogs from our even numbered glory years put their October caps on and start competing in the playoffs. It’s a whole new ballgame.
I love the arrival of spring, and all the hope it brings that a new year — even-numbered! — will cleanse the pain of the last one. (I also hope a good rainfall will come along for the cleansing, to end California’s drought.) While 2013 was decidedly painful for the Giants, I see plenty of signs for a turnaround in 2014.
Pablo Sandoval is lean and motivated.
Tim Lincecum is ready to complete his reinvention as a crafty pitcher, instead of a fastball chucker.
Tim Hudson is here to help Lincecum — and he can still deal.
And those are the three and four starters, behind the horses Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford keep improving; Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro are healthy; Buster Posey and Hunter Pence anchor the meat of the order; and Michael Morse has arrived to make sure there are no weak spots. The bullpen is deep (love Sergio Romo!); the bench is capable (lurve Hector Sanchez!); Bruce Bochy is the best in the business.
And best of all: I have a new Giants book coming out!
The Giants Baseball Experience: A Year-By-Year Chronicle From New York To San Francisco will be published by MVP Books and will be available April 3. I’ll set up a new Web site, and start planning events. The last time I had a new Giants book out — with Willie Mays on the cover, naturally — was 2010, and we all know what happened then!
The Giants (and I) ended the 2013 season in fine fashion and high spirits, and I don’t think either of us wants to wait too long for 2014.
In the case of the Giants, according to Mercury News beat writer Alex Pavlovic, “they went 20-14 after August 24 and finished with wins in 10 of the final 15 games.”
In my case, I attended three games in the last week of the season. In my first, the Giants lost to the Dodgers, but they kept it close, they won the next two, and we were treated to the spectacle of Brian Wilson‘s ignominious return to San Francisco. I had the extra pleasure of attending with my friend Joe Konte, who is not only the man who has organized my season ticket group since Pac Bell Park opened in 2000, but is now also the author of the fabulous new book on the Giants and Dodgers and their long enmity for one another, “The Rivalry Heard Round the World.”
With Rivalry Day approaching – wait, didn’t you know that Oct. 3 was Giants-Dodgers Rivalry Day? On this date in 1951, Bobby Thomson hit his famed home run; in 1962, the Giants again won the capper of a three-game playoff against the Dodgers, this time when Stan Williams walked Jim Davenport with the bases loaded; and in 1993, the Dodgers beat the Giants on the last day of the season in what we know as the Salomon Torres game, and the Giants lost the division championship to the Braves. And on Oct. 3, 2013 – as in, tomorrow – Joe Konte will appear at Books Inc. in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood to regale the crowd with even more tales of the rivalry. (It will help put the latest sordid episode into context as well.) I saw Joe’s event at Book Passage in Corte Madera, and he was a wonderful storyteller. (Buy his book!)
My next two games were Friday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 29. The Giants beat the Padres in both. Friday night, Hunter Pence won the Willie Mac Award as the team’s most inspirational player. Last season’s winner, Ryan Vogelsong, turned in a strong effort. I hope he makes it back next year.
Then, after the Giants rewarded Pence with a big contract – yay! – he showed what he’s capable of, turning in his first walk-off hit as a Giant as the team came from behind to beat the Padres on Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday. It was a glorious afternoon at the ballpark, highlighted by two moving displays: An ovation for Giants fan Bryan Stow, who came out to the ballpark, and an overdue ovation for Barry Zito, who shared his love of the fans. Three years ago, such mutual affection seemed impossible; fans chafed at Zito’s poor performance under his massive contract. But Zito proved himself a class act, first accepting a sideline role in the 2010 playoffs, and then rebounding with a strong 2012 season and some series-saving performances in the postseason. Redemption is sweet, and Zito, with all his struggles, seemed less like a glamorous millionaire athlete and more like one of us as he doffed his cap and touched his heart.
I can’t say enough about how optimistic I am for 2014. I love a pitching staff anchored by Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. (Do I have to say it? Bring back Tim Lincecum!) I love that Buster Posey is locked up for years – he is our Derek Jeter. I love that Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford emerged as bona fide big leaguers, and will continue to improve. I love that Pablo Sandoval showed, if only briefly, that he can lose weight and regain his stroke. I love that Sergio Romo can go a whole season as a closer. (Do I have to say it? Bring back Javier Lopez!) I love little things – the return of Angel Pagan, the emergence of Yusmeiro Petit (the next Vogelsong), the clutch hitting of Hector Sanchez, the willingness to spend big on Pence and possibly other free agents. And I love that the Giants never quit, and managed to escape the cellar and finish in third place, after all their struggles. Thank you, Bruce Bochy!
The Giants’ failure to defend their World Series championship probably means the end of the line for my incredible run as the author of Giants Past and Present. I still have some of the 2012 World Championship editions to sell (email me for a signed copy!), but there won’t be a fourth edition.
I have, however, put the finishing touches on a new Giants’ book, the Giants Experience, which will be out in the spring. It will be a big, beautiful coffee table book that will sell for $35. I’ll set up a new Web site for that! (You can get a sense of what it will be like by checking out Tyler Kepner‘s Phillies Experience.)
Thanks to the Giants, who in yet another season of Torture have reminded us how sweet those world championships really were, and to all of you, for reading and supporting me on this wonderful ride.
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.
The new edition of “Giants Past and Present” is at the publisher’s warehouse, and will be available in bookstores very soon. Dan Fost will also have copies for sale if anyone wants to buy directly from the author. It is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.com.
The new edition looks fantastic. MVP Books gave the cover a complete makeover. A banner proclaims it the “2012 Championship Edition,” while the word GIANTS is bigger and bolder than ever, in black block letters outlined in orange. Best of all, the cover features 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey, following through on his timeless swing, against a backdrop of the Polo Grounds, where so many other great Giants once performed their heroic feats. Buster would have fit right in.
Naturally, I am optimistic about the Giants’ chances this year. I know the Dodgers have spent big to acquire a lot of big time talent, but the Giants have youth, pitching and Bruce Bochy. I talked about all of this with Jeff Thurn, host of a show on ESPN Radio in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (the other SF, as I think of it), and you can listen to that 9 minute conversation here:
Lots of great news here at “Giants Past and Present” world headquarters:
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!
So why do the San Francisco Giants wear orange and black?
My former colleague from the San Francisco Chronicle, Anastasia Hendrix, posed that question last week. She was generous enough to include my answer in her story in this past Sunday’s Style section.
Alas, my answer was incomplete. I knew orange and black were always there, and became dominant in the 1940s, but I didn’t know why. It’s obvious why, say, the Princeton Tigers are orange and black, and the Baltimore Orioles; they are following Mother Nature’s lead. But the Giants? (Or the Oregon State Beavers?)
Thanks to a friend who is apparently more skilled searching the Internet than I am, a new possibility has emerged. This from WikiAnswers:
Before managing the Giants, John McGraw managed a National League version of the Baltimore Orioles (not the AL Orioles of 1901, who would become the NY Yankees in 1903). When McGraw left Baltimore, along with some of his players, he also took the orange, black and white team colors to NY for the Giants.
I want to do a little more research, before accepting that explanation. I looked at several books I have about the New York Giants, and while many talk about McGraw’s defection from Baltimore – he even brought many players with him – none mention the orange. (McGraw did try out Christy Mathewson in a game in Orange, N.J., but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.) Baseball Almanac has a great page on uniforms, and includes some information on the orange and black, noting that McGraw brought orange to the Orioles’ uniforms, and black to the Giants, but doesn’t mention the melding of the colors in either city.
Baseball Almanac does cite a definitive reference, which I will need to track down: Marc Okkonen’s book, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century (Sterling Publishing, 1991). Until then, hey, it’s Halloween – the whole country can celebrate the Giants in their orange and black!
UPDATE (Nov. 5, 2012): This weekend, I bought Okkonen’s book, and what a beautiful thing it is. It clarified one point: McGraw did not bring orange to the Giants from Baltimore. (McGraw did love to fiddle with uniform design, and he’s the guy who introduced the collarless uniforms now de rigeur in baseball.) In fact, the Giants did not use orange trim until 1933 – the year after McGraw retired. They won the World Series that year, and orange has remained on the uniform ever since.
Since the glory season of 2010, orange has returned to a prominence in Giants Nation not seen since the days of the double-knits in the 1970s.
It’s also worth noting that when the New York Mets were established in 1962, they took their colors from the National League predecessors who had left New York five years earlier – blue from the Brooklyn Dodgers, and orange from the Giants. (Yet the Mets new ballpark at Citi Field pays far more homage to the Dodgers, and virtually ignores Giants’ history. I guess the Giants got the last laugh this year, getting Angel Pagan from the Mets.)
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 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.
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.”
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