The San Francisco Giants are doing it again: Torturing us. They go on a winning streak, they go on a losing streak. As Marty Lurie says, “That’s baseball.” Any good team is going to lose more than 60 games during the course of a season and Giants fans more than anyone should be accustomed to the crazy mood swings that can afflict a team.
I was wearing my 2012 World Champs t-shirt at the gym a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of the Giants’ latest seven-game losing streak, and a guy said, “They sure don’t look like world champs at the moment.” True, but when in the past five years have they looked like world champs in July? Do I need to point out that three times in those seasons they actually became world champs?
This guy — I call him the Grump — complained about Bruce Bochy leaving Santiago Casilla in too long in the ninth inning, when Casilla blew a game. Personally, I cut Bochy a lot of slack. I figure the guy knows how to run a bullpen and he probably has reasons for doing things that are not readily transparent to laypeople like us. Perhaps he simply trusts Casilla, or wants to give him a vote of confidence, or knows Casilla’s historic numbers against a particular batter, or simply didn’t have anyone else ready to go. The Grump had none of it. Sure, Bochy won three World Series, he said, but “he’s not infallible.”
I am willing to cut the Grump some slack as well. He was an older guy, probably conditioned through years of Giant fandom to wrenching defeats, managerial missteps, and all kinds of horrific blunders. But I feel that not only have the New Millennium Giants overcome all of the Jose Cruz Jr. debacles, but they also can fall short for at least the next decade and I’ll still feel a warm glow from 2010-2012-2014.
And hey, the Giants immediately went on a tear and are breathing down the Dodgers’ necks, and soon they’ll be at full-strength and ready for a stretch drive. Once again, we’ll be playing meaningful games in August and September and maybe even beyond that (unlike teams like that A’s who have started unloading their few desirable veterans), so how can we complain? My advice to the Grump: If you don’t like what you’re seeing in San Francisco, try talking to a Phillies’ fan for a little perspective.
I’ll add one thing: While each Giants’ championship has certain things in common (Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, the bullpen’s core four, and of course the big-brained Bochy), each has its own unique character as well—from Aubrey Huff‘s red-th0nged castoffs and misfits of 2010, to the never-say-die back-against-the-wall squad of Rev. Hunter Pence in 2012, to the get-on-Bumgarner’s back brinksmanship of 2014. Each time, the Giants magically fill whatever holes they have with just the right ingredients, and they seem to be doing it again.
In 2015, they dipped into a farm system that by all measures seemed tapped out. After years of promoting the likes of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Posey, Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and others, it didn’t seem possible to find anyone else. And yet, when Casey McGehee proved a feeble replacement for Sandoval at third base, in stepped Matt Duffy. When the starting rotation suffered through injuries to Cain and Jake Peavy, as well as shakiness from Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Hudson, in stepped Chris Heston (a no-hitter!). When the bullpen looked shaky, in stepped Hunter Strickland (no homers!) and Josh Osich (no runs whatsoever!), as well as George Kontos (no inherited runners scored!), who was acquired in a trade a couple of years back, but has developed thanks to the Giants’ wondrous ways with pitchers. (Last year, second baseman Joe Panik and backup catcher Andrew Susac arrived in the nick of time.) Somehow, the Giants have only failed to produce a decent outfielder; the last one of any note was Nate Schierholtz, shipped off for Pence. While Gregor Blanco has been outstanding in filling in for injured outfielders, he can’t play all three slots at once and it’s a steep drop to Justin Maxwell.
Before you dismiss me as Pollyanna, I know it’s a long season, I know the Dodgers (and others) are loaded, I know the Giants’ have a brutal schedule in August, and I know it’s an odd-numbered year.
I’m just glad to have something to root for, rather than something to complain about.
It’s been a marvelous offseason, basking in the glow of yet another San Francisco Giants’ World Series title. Sure, we had the stress of Pablo Sandoval‘s departure, but then Sports Illustrated named Madison Bumgarner “Sportsman of the Year,” and we were transported right back to that special place in late October.
I think the Giants have made a number of great moves. They dodged a bullet by not signing Pablo (he’ll be sorry!) or Jon Lester, saving tens of millions of dollars and mortgaging the future on very questionable stars. I like the additions of Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki, who fit the Giants’ mold of good guys, undervalued, and should play well to the ballpark — get on base, hit to the gap, knock in runs, score runs — rather than constantly searching for the next Barry Bonds. If Brandon Belt is healthy and continues to mature — neither is a tall order – then there’s a guy who can take Pablo’s slot between (or behind) Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, letting McGehee drop in the order.
I’m glad to see Jake Peavy and Sergio Romo, and maybe even Ryan Vogelsong, coming back. Despite Peavy’s playoff struggles, the Giants don’t even get to the postseason in 2014 without him. Plus: In Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy I trust.
These and other memories can be found in a couple of my own postseason efforts. The best is the Dynasty magazine the San Francisco Chronicle produced. I wrote practically all 96 pages, with great photos from the Chronicle’s prize-winning staff. It recaps the entire magical season, with special emphasis on the playoffs, World Series and parade. It’s for sale online, and I’ve seen it in Safeway, CVS and Walgreen’s.
I also appeared on Edward Brown‘s show, Sports Econ 101. I had a lot of fun talking Giants baseball with Edward, and the very knowledgeable Bay Area sports journalists Bruce Macgowan and Vernon Glenn. You can watch it here:
Warning: Edward lets the camera roll, even during what are breaks in the radio recording. During one of these breaks, he goes into a long discussion about some drama involving his daughter and a would-be boyfriend; if you want to skip that, it’s from 18:00 to 28:00.
With the World Series upon us, and panic (as opposed to Panik) taking hold among Giants Nation, it’s worth reflecting upon the mere miracle of the Giants playing in the 2014 Fall Classic.
If it was anyone other than the Giants, I would find it hard to believe. Could a team that at times seemed so flawed, so patched together with Scotch tape and twine, be going to the World Series?
I can’t say that I called it, although I, like so many other Giants fans, did put some stock in the Even Numbered Year Theory of This Decade, that sees the Giants bringing home a trophy in 2010, 2012, 2014….
But as an eternal optimist, I did often point out, through that long frustrating summer, that the summers of 2010 and 2012 didn’t always feel like destiny was smiling on the Giants. When they trailed the Padres through the summer of 2010, with Edgar Renteria at shortstop, and an outfield patched together with castoffs like Pat Burrell and Cody Ross, did we foresee a World Series trophy? When the Giants fell behind 2-0 to the Reds in 2012, and 3-1 to the Cardinals, did we think reclamation projects like Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito would lead them to glory?
So now the Giants are down two games to one to the sudden juggernaut that is the Kansas City Royals, in a matchup of wild card teams (that probably was not supposed to happen so soon in the era of the Wild Card Play-In Game). With the Royals mounting an improbable comeback to beat the A’s, and then sweeping the heavily favored (Anaheim? Los Angeles? California?) Angels and Baltimore Orioles, I asked my son Harry, “Can anyone beat the Royals?”
His answer: “Yes! Yes! Yes!“
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.
Ever since my first book came out in 2010, the Giants have been very good to me! Each World Series victory helps sell more books.
Now that the Giants are once again in the Fall Classic, I will be talking about it with the wide-ranging Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum, Monday Oct. 20 at 10 am Pacific time (1 pm Eastern). You can listen live online or, if you’re in the Bay Area, on the radio at 88.5 FM.
The audio will also stay online after the show, so you can listen any time afterwards!
I will then get right to work on a special magazine that the San Francisco Chronicle is producing about the Giants’ magical 2014 season. We plan to have it out in time for the victory parade!
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:Next Page »