by request: the sandlot (david m. evans, 1993)

I’ll get the basics out of the way, because the experience of watching this movie was more interesting than the movie itself. The Sandlot is a family-friendly story about a group of almost-teenaged boys who love to play baseball. It’s not quite a coming-of-age story, since during the course of the movie, the boys only age from the beginning of summer until the end. Director Evans keeps things moving, and gets decent performances from the young actors. I can imagine if you saw this when you were 12, you’d have a soft spot in your heart for it.

Evans seems to be trying for a Stand by Me feel, but it is nowhere near as good as that film. As is appropriate for a movie that takes on the perspective of a young boy remembering a good summer, everything is a bit exaggerated. But the primary subplot, about a monstrous dog they call The Beast, goes way over the top. It’s one thing to make the pretty girl lifeguard into the most desirable girl these boys have ever known. It’s another to make The Beast into a variety of sizes, some of which are gargantuan. In the first case, the exaggeration suits the memories of the boy. In the latter case, Evans is likely trying for the same thing, but The Beast has no connection to reality, even the reality a grown man keeps in his memories of childhood.

I wanted to watch The Sandlot because it was requested, and it’s one of those movies that are always showing up on TV. But the purist in me didn’t want to watch it on a commercial station, so I kept postponing, until finally I threw in the towel and recorded it off of what I think was the Discovery Family channel. Talk about old school … I was thrown back 20+ years. First, there were the commercials. Sure, I fast-forwarded through them, but there were so many. I know, people always say that, but The Sandlot runs 101 minutes, and was placed into a 2 1/2 hour timeslot. For every two minutes of movie, there was one minute of advertising.

Then came the old Aspect Ratio trick. The Sandlot is 2.35:1, which on most TVs today means it will be letterboxed. And the credits were the right ratio. But when the actual movie began, the screen filled. Much as movies in the olden days were butchered to fit into the then-standard 4:3 ration, The Sandlot was cropped to fit today’s standard 16:9.

I can hear people saying I should mellow out, that it doesn’t matter, that this happens lots of times on TV, even today. But then I noticed what I call the Ernie Hudson Effect. Ghostbusters was shot in 2.20:1, and when it was shown in a pan-and-scan version in 4:3, the problem of framing four actors into one shot was often solved by cropping Hudson’s character, making it look like a three-shot. Well, when The Sandlot begins, the narrator is a new kid in town with no baseball skills. He’s accepted into the group mainly because he will be the ninth member, meaning they’d have enough kids to make an entire baseball team. Then the Hudson Effect strikes … there are many shots of eight boys in a line, shot from the perspective of the ninth boy, and they fit the boys into the picture by cropping one from the edge. The need for a baseball nine is what created the basis for the story … the need to cater to anti-letterbox viewers is what created a need for one fewer boy.

And yes, I know this is much ado about nothing. Maybe I’m the only person on Earth to even notice this. But there wasn’t enough going on in The Sandlot to distract me from such concerns. 6/10. For a companion, watch Stand by Me.


throw it and they'll hit it

It was June 21, 2011, a little over three years ago. The defending world champion San Francisco Giants were hosting the Minnesota Twins, and I was at the park with two friends who were visiting from the East Coast. They admitted they would be rooting for the Twins, although if I remember correctly, they promised to be mellow about it.

One thing you notice when looking at box scores from even such a short time ago as 2011 is that teams change over time. Of the eight field players in the Giants lineup for that game, only one is still with the team, Pablo Sandoval. (Jeremey Affeldt appeared in relief.) I’d forgotten that Miguel Tejada had been a Giant. Bill Hall only played 16 games with the team … this was one of them. The starting pitcher was a young guy who had started the season slow, but over his last ten starts he had posted a 2.03 ERA, although his record in that time was only 3-5. The Giants had been swept across the Bay in Oakland, but they held a half-game lead at the start of play on June 21.

We settled into our seats. Minnesota leadoff hitter Ben Revere grounded a 1-1 pitch in the hole into left field for a single. Alexi Casilla doubled into left on an 0-2 pitch, with Revere going to third. Joe Mauer had a 1-2 count when he scratched out an infield hit, giving the Twins a 1-0 lead. Cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer went to 0-2 and then doubled home Casilla for 2-0. Delmon Young hit the first pitch up the middle for a single … 3-0. Danny Valencia actually hit the ball hard, an 0-1 pitch to deep left-center … 4-0. Luke Hughes hit an 0-1 pitch for a line drive single, scoring two more … 6-0. Tsuyoshi Nishioka doubled to deep center, putting runners at 2nd and 3rd. Finally, an out was recorded, as Twins’ pitcher Carl Pavano struck out on three pitches. But then Ben Revere, who had started it all off, doubled home two runs, at which point it was Minnesota 8, San Francisco 0. Bruce Bochy came out and called to the bullpen for Guillermo Mota. The starting pitcher had lasted only 1/3 inning, allowing 8 runs on 9 hits, only retiring the opposing pitcher. It was the worst start of his major-league career.

You know where this is going. That pitcher’s name was Madison Bumgarner.

John Shea, writing in the Chronicle, noted that “the Twins opened with eight straight hits, the first time it happened to the Giants in their 128-year history” and that Bumgarner was “the first pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1900) to surrender nine hits without getting at least two outs.”


the post-game, twitter style

Some of the posts I retweeted in the minutes after the game was over:

Tim Goodman: All day long I said "I can't take a 3-2 game." I'll take this one. #Giants fans, we are truly blessed. Savor it.

Curt Schilling: Best post season performance ever #amazing

Awful Announcing: Verducci on Bumgarner: “We’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again."

Kate Scott: WORLD SERIES CHAMPS!!! WE'RE FUCKING WORLD SERIES CHAMPS!!! AGAIN!!! AHHHHHHHHH!!! #RallyBalls #RallyBum #ChampionBlood

Tim Goodman: So, we're gonna let Panda eat whatever the fuck he wants, right?

San Francisco Giants: Congratulations to the Kansas City #Royals organization, players, coaches & fans on a spectacular season. What an incredible series it was.


it doesn't get worse than this

For all of my disagreements with Bruce Jenkins over the years, there’s no denying that he is a fine writer, with an excellent feel for the aesthetic side of sports, and a love of sports’ history. And he does not write as a partisan, nor should he. He may write for the San Francisco Chronicle, but that doesn’t oblige him to praise the local teams just because geography and his employer suggest he should.

His column today is titled, “It simply doesn’t get better than Game 7”, and in it, he expresses what seems to be a common feeling among neutrals: “Game 7 is the greatest spectacle in sports.”

Not just neutrals … Jenkins quotes players like Buster Posey (“Not a lot of people get to play in a Game 7 of the World Series. It’s a cool opportunity — for the Giants and the Royals. For fans, it doesn’t get much better”) and Hunter Pence (“This is the dream — I don’t think you could ask for anything more”). And, of course, Royals manager Ned Yost surprisingly admitted a few days ago that he secretly wanted the Series to go seven games.

What is missing from Jenkins’ column, what Buster Posey gets wrong, is that fans with a rooting interest in the Series do not think this is a good thing. OK, after tonight, one team’s fans will be ecstatic, and then, after the fact, they’ll pretend that they loved the seven-game angle. But the fans of the losing team will be able to list all number of things that are better than this.

When I watch the Giants play, I always admit from the start my desire that the game is a blowout in the Giants’ favor. I was at the “Travis Ishikawa Game”, and that will go down as one of my great sports fan memories. But that’s after the fact. When we sat down to watch the first pitch, I wanted to see an easy win for the Giants. The overriding desire of Kansas City fans last night was that their team win Game Six in order to get a Game Seven. But I am pretty sure they were delighted that the game quickly got out of hand … the majority of the game was greatly enjoyed by the Royals’ fans precisely because it wasn’t a close game, wasn’t a classic.

The players are proud to be part of the moment, as is right. They will carry that pride with them forever, win or lose. (I’m not saying they don’t want to win, only that, knowing how hard it is to get to this point, they have accomplishments that can’t be taken away from them.)

But it’s a different story for fans of the two teams in question. The Giants have played in the seventh game of the World Series twice in their San Francisco tenure. They lost both times, and I don’t know any Giants fans who think back on those two Series as the greatest thing in their sporting lives. The 1962 loss to the Yankees gave Giants’ fan Charles Schulz material for Peanuts strips; more importantly, as the years went on and the Giants didn’t return to the Series, fans looked back to ‘62 with dismay. People who hadn’t even been born in 1962 knew the legend of Willie McCovey’s line drive and Bobby Richardson’s catch, not in the way an impartial observer knows of an important event, but as partisans who wish that “great spectacle” had never happened. It was Game Six that hurt the most in 2002, but Game Seven wasn’t an improvement, and when, as often happens, the 2002 Series is upheld as a “classic”, Giants’ fans just turn their heads in sorrow and shame.

As McCovey has often said, when the Giants lost in ‘62, he thought they’d get ‘em next year. At the end of his long Hall of Fame career, McCovey had never returned to the World Series. More to the point, McCovey noted that he felt for the fans. The players, even on the losing team, could know that they’d done their best, and they could tip their caps to their rivals. But fans … we can’t do anything, we just watch and hope. It’s one thing to try and fail … it’s quite another to see an important moment arise, and be unable to affect the outcome.

Neutral fans agree that it’s a good thing the Series has gone to a seventh game. But Giants fans and Royals fans can be excused for wishing their team had already won it all. Sweeping the Tigers in 2012 was the ultimate fan experience. It simply doesn’t get better than that for a fan of a winning team.

I hate that there is still baseball to be played. I wish the Giants had already enjoyed their victory parade. And that point needs to be made now, before Game Seven is played, because it speaks to a truth specific to partisan fans. I will always treasure being there for Ishikawa’s homer, as I was for many other great moments in Giants’ history. But if the Giants lose tonight, I won’t remember 2014 for that homer, any more than I think of J.T. Snow’s home run against the Mets in the 2000 playoffs, other than as a footnote to the Giants losing that series. Bruce Jenkins, and Buster Posey, and neutral fans across the globe, know that it doesn’t get any better than Game 7. But, speaking for ourselves, Giants’ fans know that the 2012 sweep was far better.

bobby richardson 1962


just around the corner

On October 24, 2002, my son and I attended Game Five of the 2002 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Anaheim Angels. We took this picture that night:

thankyou

One reason we look so happy … one reason we were so happy … is that the Giants were on their way to a 16-4 victory that gave them a 3 games to 2 advantage over the Angels. All the Giants had to do was win one of the two games in Anaheim, and they would have their first World Series championship in San Francisco.

Jason Schmidt started that game, and you’d think 16 runs would have been enough to ensure he got the win. But Schmidt couldn’t get out of the fifth inning … two doubles, two singles, a wild pitch and a walk led to 3 Anaheim runs, bringing the tying run to the plate. The immortal Chad Zerbe came in and cleaned up the mess, picking up the only post-season win of his career. Jeff Kent hit two homers, Rich Aurilia added another, Barry Bonds had three hits, two runs scored, an RBI, and the inevitable intentional walk.

They used to play a song to get the fans pumped up back then, the Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party”. If things had gone differently, I might have fond memories of that song, the way “Don’t Stop Believin’” has bored its way into my heart despite my strenuous efforts to keep it out.

I don’t think I need to continue this story. I guarantee you, Brandon Crawford knows what happened.


what i watched this week (spoiler: it was the san francisco giants)

It has been different this year, watching the Giants in the World Series, than it was in 2010 and 2012. Nothing will match the first time, so 2010 always stands alone. Fifty-two years of waiting are hard to get rid of, so 2012 was almost as surprising as the first championship. In 2014, though, it’s the other team that fills the role the Giants played in the past. The Kansas City Royals hadn’t played post-season baseball since 1985, and they are the sentimental favorite for those who like plucky underdogs (although the Royals weren’t necessarily underdogs in the Series, they, like the Giants, were underdogs to actually get to the Series). Narratives are easy to come by with a team like the 2014 Royals. They are lauded for their heart, which is always the case when a team, in any sport, seems to outperform expectations. There are simple things to say about the team that can lodge in the brains of the more casual fans … by now, everyone knows that the Royals have the Best Outfield Defense in Baseball, and that their unhittable three-headed bullpen stud machine of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland are called “HDH” (everyone remembers acronyms). That the Royals began their first post-season in 29 years by winning eight games in a row, the first three in extra-innings, led to the rather remarkable feeling that the Kansas City Royals could not be stopped.

The Giants have narratives of their own, but … and this is as remarkable to long-time Giants fans as the unstoppable nature of the Royals … people are a bit tired of the Giants’ narratives. They’ve been told a bit too often … they’ve won two World Series in recent years, been there done that, let’s go Royals. So yes, everyone loves The Panda, and the ballpark is beautiful, and hey, what’s up with Madison Bumgarner’s snotrockets? But those are old stories by now.

There is one Giant who has reached the level of a cult figure: Hunter Pence. He is one of the ugliest good baseball players you’ll ever see, and I’m not referring to his good looks. He throws funny, he runs funny, he bats funny, and, well, that pretty much covers everything he does on the field. He’s funny-looking. It turns out he throws funny because he has something called Scheuermann’s disease … it’s something you normally get as an adolescent, but Pence was first diagnosed just last year. So he throws funny because he has a funny-sounding disease, and he seems a bit like a space alien because despite the disease and the subsequent funny throwing motion, Hunter Pence actually has a pretty decent arm. I don’t think it has ever been explained why he runs funny, but ask anyone who has watched him play, and they’ll agree. Perhaps its his goofy running style that throws the other team off … Pence is actually faster than people realize, he regularly beats out throws to deny a double-play, and smartly knows when to use his speed to take an extra base. As for his batting … well, even if you ignore the way he wears his pants, his stance is definitely in the “don’t try this at home, kids” genre. Plus, he’s so antsy, he’s constantly moving as he waits for a pitch.

And I haven’t said anything about his paleo diet (which he apparently has given up on … his body fat was so low the diet wasn’t necessary, if it ever was). I haven’t mentioned the funny faces he makes when he is making a spectacular play in the field. I haven’t mentioned the inspirational clubhouse speeches he gives, or the scooter he rides to work for home games. He’s got all bases covered:

Pence’s cult status was confirmed this season, when one of the more odd baseball memes arrived. In this case, I’ll just suggest you Google “hunter pence signs” … you’ll get plenty of pictures and plenty of stories. Or, if you are on Twitter, search for #hunterpencesigns … I just checked, there have been thirteen more tweets with the hashtag since I started this sentence, so it’s still alive and kicking. It’s worth noting that Pence himself has posted a few, as well.

I’ll end the Hunter Pence section of this post by quoting from an interview he gave that a lot of my friends liked especially well. Asked how he comes up with those inspirational speeches, Pence replied:

I don’t have a great answer for that. I’ve read a ton of books. Not one in particular, but I consciously try to find the good in everything in every situation that happens. Was it Voltaire who said, “I choose to be happy because it’s good for my health”? Why not? Even through some of the toughest things that’ll ever happen to you, there’s something that makes you stronger, something you can reframe to make it good. It’s what I believe. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it makes me feel better.

 

As usual, the Series has provided us with plenty of excellent writing. Joe Sheehan’s Newsletter is always good, but he really rises to the occasion in October. Just a Bit Outside is also good, featuring a lot of Rob Neyer. Twitter is a great resource … Sheehan is there, and Royals fan Rany Jazayerli, and Keith Law and Old Hoss Radbourn, and Kate Scott provides running commentary from a Giants fan point of view.

But Rany deserves special mention. First, there’s his blog, Rany on the Royals, which sometimes is about non-Royals things (and he’s very good then, as well). Jazayerli and Sheehan were part of the original Baseball Prospectus team. Rany is a life-long Royals fan the way I am a life-long Giants fan. He was born in 1975, just as the Royals had become one of baseball’s best franchises. When I think of the Royals, I know they fell on hard times, but I still have the memory of how good they used to be, and it wouldn’t occur to me that a Royals fan, upset that it took the Royals 29 years to return to the post-season, could come close to the misery of a Giants fan who waited 52 years for a World Series championship. But Rany was very young during the Royals’ good years … for most of his life, for all of his adult life, the Royals have stunk. In other words, the truth is that Rany and his fellow Royals fans of a certain age are exactly like old Giants fans, waiting year after year for a championship. The 1985 Royals matter to Rany kind of like the 1954 New York Giants matter to me: before my time.

What Rany is doing for me right now is putting a human face on Royals fans. I don’t have any reason to dislike the Royals or their fans, but right at the moment, that team is standing between the Giants and a World Series title. So I don’t want to know about the trials and tribulations of the Royals fan … I’ve got my own stuff to worry about. But I can’t do that with Rany in the room. His writing is so good, his passion so infectious, that I find myself thinking sacrilegious thoughts like “well, it wouldn’t be so bad if the Giants lost, because Rany’s dream could come true.” And those are hard thoughts for me to process … I certainly never felt that way in 2010 or 2012. All of which points to the painful pleasures of following Rany Jazayerli during this World Series.

 

Here’s a quote from Grant Brisbee, one of the best Giants-based writers.

The cynicism of Giants fans isn't something that makes sense to other fans. The Giants have had an awful lot go right for them in recent years, and other people want to punch you when you complain about anything. But it's hard-baked into the collective consciousness, something that can't be scraped off with a little success. It's Charlie Brown sitting on the curb, Candy Maldonado turning a catch into a triple, Russ Ortiz getting the game ball. Don't bother explaining it. Don't bother apologizing for it. Just laugh at yourself when you're so danged wrong.

I won’t apologize. But Grant is exactly right: you can’t forget about 52 years of bad times just because of 5 years of good times. It’s like my wife said: no matter how much money her father made, he never forgot what it was like to grow up during the Depression.

 

I can’t finish without saying something about the terrible news regarding Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelo. I don’t resist the narratives that grow up around something like baseball … I am an active participant. But narratives are often after-the-fact rearrangements of events in order to create a good story. You shouldn’t do things because your hoped-for outcome would make a good story … you should do what is right, and let the story take care of itself.

Having said that, there are Giants who are playing with a narrative imprinted in their minds, unshakeable. One of them is Brandon Crawford, the shortstop who understands what Grant Brisbee was talking about. There is a famous picture around these parts of a 5-year-old Crawford in 1993, when the Giants were going to move to Florida. Crawford’s family were big Giants fans, and the proverbial picture worth a thousand words tells a story:

brandon crawford 1993

That young boy is now the shortstop for the Giants. But that’s not where the narrative ends. As the team goes to Kansas City, needing to only win one of two games to become champions, Brandon Crawford is remembering 2002, when the Giants were in the exact same position against the Angels. That one didn’t work out too well for the Giants, or their fans, who included Brandon Crawford. For Crawford, there’s a narrative he can’t get out of his mind, and he wants to change that narrative this time around.

And then there’s Juan Perez. Perez is on the roster for one reason: the Giants don’t have enough outfielders to go around, so they end up playing weak defensive left-fielders, or even non-left-fielders. Perez is there to play defense in the late innings in place of the guys who are bad at that job. Of course, he also bats on occasion, but his .170 average meant the team ended up playing Travis Ishikawa in LF, even though he’s a 1B. The point is, we fans love all our Giants, but that doesn’t mean we like to see Perez in the batter’s box. Especially against one of those three-headed studs.

By now all fans know the story. Perez was friends with Oscar Taveras. The news of Taveras’ death came during the middle of last night’s game. When Perez heard the news, he began to cry. His teammates rallied around him, sensitive to the situation, reminding him what Perez already knew: if he was called upon, Perez would have to play. Sure enough, he came in as a defensive replacement, leading to his at-bat against Wade Davis, a mismatch if ever there was one.

So, of course, Perez blasted one a foot or two from the top of the outfield wall, two runs scored, the Giants would go on to win.

Afterwards, Perez went to Twitter. He posted twice: “That Double was 4 U Oscar! I'll remember the Good Times. God Bless U Bro. I'll miss U man. My condolences!” and “Ese doble fue para ti hermano! Te extraño con el Alma. Ve con Dios! Te Quiero. Mis condolencias a la familia Taveras”.

The bio for Perez on Twitter closes with this line: “Do what is Right Not What You Should.”


what a difference eighteen days makes

On October 3rd of this year, I could say the following things: The Giants were about to begin the NL Division Series against Washington, and it had been more than eight years since Sleater-Kinney had gone on an indefinite hiatus.

Today, the Giants begin the World Series against Kansas City, and Sleater-Kinney has ended their hiatus.

On September 26, I wrote the following about Sleater-Kinney: “And then they went on ‘hiatus’ … that was in 2006, and I just about cry every time I think of it. By that point, I was 53 years old, and this time I was sure of it, I would never love another new act the way I loved Sleater-Kinney. ‘One More Hour’ was the last song they ever played together … ‘i know it's hard for you to let it go, i know it's hard for you to say goodbye, i know you need a little more time’.”

Here is what the Giants did in 2012:

And here’s what Sleater-Kinney has been up to of late:


baseball, meet jabo

JABO is an acronym for “Just a Bit Outside”, which is the Fox Sports website for baseball. It is headed by the great Rob Neyer. For Game One of the NLCS between the Giants and Cardinals, Fox tried something different. On their normal Fox affiliates, they showed the usual telecast: a play-by-play announcer, ex-player for color commentary, a couple of on-field reporters. Basically, the game as it has been telecast for a long time. On Fox Sports 1, a channel that has drawn in various other Fox Sports channels, and which needs eyeballs for ratings, they tried something completely different.

They had five announcers, all in the studio, not at the game. Regular studio guy Kevin Burkhardt was joined by Neyer, two ex-players (Gabe Kapler and C.J. Nitkowski) who have a solid understanding of advanced analytic metrics, and current manager and former pitcher Bud Black. They sat around for the entire game, talking about baseball … most of the time, they also talked about the game in question, but sometimes they got a little sidetracked. None of them did play-by-play. The screen was split, with the game on the right and the studio folks on the left, along with various advanced stat information at the bottom of the screen. Not only was there no play-by-play, there was no crowd noise, making the whole thing sound rather antiseptic. Visually and aurally, it was far from an ideal way to watch a baseball game.

But … the five guys had a nice rapport, and every one of them had interesting things to say, often from different perspectives. It was easily the most intelligent baseball broadcast I have ever seen.

It wasn’t perfect. It was a first-time effort, so perfect wasn’t going to happen. And they could have used more of the game ambiance that we are used to. But that’s easy to adjust. And “adjust” was a key, because the producers were clearly watching their Twitter feed. People complained about various things, and some of those things were changed on the fly, so that the last couple of innings were better than the first.

An argument can be made that most in-game sports announcing is unnecessary. But if you are comparing what JABO did to Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds and whoever, it’s no contest.

My sense is a hybrid formula would work best in the future. The JABO telecast was a bit bloodless … it lacked emotion, and since I was rooting for one of the teams, I missed that aspect of the game. So, down the road, it might be nice to just combine a good play-by-play man with this kind of analyst. The Giants get this on TV with the beloved Kruk and Kuip, and I wouldn’t mess with them for a second. But as a general suggestion, pairing someone like Jon Miller with Gabe Kapler (who was the most impressive of all the JABO guys) would be great. (I’m not taking anything away from the entire stable of excellent Giants announcers, just trying to imagine the future.)

Some people have a long way to go before they’ll accept this, and many of them have good reasons. It would be nice to have the average fan getting information that actually improves their understanding of the game. But some fans are, to be blunt, too stupid to inspire any hope. That may sound harsh, but a running theme on Twitter during the game was people complaining vociferously that the JABO guys needed to shut up, that they were boring, that they were ruining the game, that this should never happen again. These complaints continued, despite the fact that the JABO telecast had regular reminders that the traditional offering was on Fox, and that people on Twitter were regularly pointing out to the morons that they didn’t have to watch what they didn’t like, they just needed to change the channel.