Here's a blast from the past: an archive of articles I wrote or co-wrote for the Baseball Prospectus website from 1997-2000. Perhaps the most interesting is a piece I wrote after the first home series at the Giants' new ball park at China Basin.
The Dodgers officially clinched the NL West crown tonight. More importantly, they eliminated the Giants from the post-season.
Neal and I attended last night’s game, which went four hours and twelve innings. The Giants pulled off a win at the last moment. I don’t know why it mattered so much. The season’s result was inevitable. I just didn’t want to have to see it in front of me. So my son and I planned from the beginning to leave early if necessary, so we didn’t have to watch the Dodgers celebrate at our house.
Like I say, the Dodgers eventually did celebrate. But I wasn’t there, and that makes me happy. Or rather, it would have made me very sad if I’d be there tonight. Of course, I wouldn’t have seen it if I’d been there tonight, anyway, because I would have left by the 6th inning.
My son-in-law and grandson, both Dodger fans, will be at the park tomorrow night. It will be the first major-league game for Lex, who just turned 10. I’m glad he won’t see the Dodgers clinch ... I know that sounds mean, but I don’t intend that to be the case. I just assume Giant fans were shitty tonight towards Dodger fans, and hopefully Lex won’t suffer from that tomorrow night.
Here are two books I’ve read recently that have nothing in common.
From Jeff Guinn, there’s Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, from 2013. The classic book on Manson is Helter Skelter, I suppose. It’s been forever since I read it. My memory is that I preferred Ed Sanders’ book, The Family. I probably thought I knew all that I needed to know about Manson, but Guinn proves me wrong. His book is detailed and heavily researched. You learn about his childhood, you learn about his various stays in penal institutions, and most importantly, you find that he drew quite a bit from Dale Carnegie and from Scientology. With the former, Manson learned techniques for influencing people (he wasn’t as interested in making friends). From the latter, he learned about how cults worked (he didn’t care about the religious angle). He then set out to find people who could give him something. Guinn notes that Charlie couldn’t have found a better place to begin his big project than San Francisco in 1967. Guinn doesn’t blame hippies or alternate lifestyles ... he just points out that people were pretty tolerant of oddball behavior (and Manson had a lot of that). He begins building his family there, but the story soon moves to Los Angeles, where Manson hopes to launch a music career. Again, I thought I knew the basics of the relationship between Manson and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, but Guinn breaks it down, clarifies things. By the time the murders take place, you can believe The Family would kill for Manson (fear was a big part of their actions).
In a timely sidenote, Karina Longworth’s excellent podcast, You Must Remember This, has been focusing on “Charles Manson’s Hollywood” for several weeks. It’s a great pairing with Guinn’s book.
The second book is Molly Knight’s tome on the recent history of the Los Angeles Dodgers, The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers' Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse, which came out a few weeks ago. It was a bit odd for this lifelong Giants fan to read an entire book about the Dodgers, but as I said on Twitter, I liked the ending (the Giants win the World Series, again, while the Dodgers don’t win the World Series, again). Knight doesn’t break new ground with this book, but she doesn’t have to, because she does such a solid, thorough job. She brings a lot to the table: a Dodger fan who, as she says, “grew up in the Top Deck at Dodger Stadium”; an efficient and clear writer; a worthy journalist; an honored stat head. She’s got all the angles covered, and the book benefits from her approach. We get to know Clayton Kershaw, take a peek inside Yasiel Puig, and most importantly, learn what a shitload of money can (and can’t) do for a major league baseball franchise. I got a greater appreciation for Don Mattingly, who maneuvers precariously between rich, antsy owners and temperamental superstars. (Knight doesn’t shy away from the whole story ... more than once, she notes that Mattingly is not known as a great strategist.)
Does Knight make me want to root for the Dodgers? Give me a break. If the Dodgers played a World Series against a team managed by Satan, I’d be cheering on the devil. Perhaps that’s a sign of how good Knight’s book is. Even a hardcore Giants fan will like it.
While the title may sound like a look at one aspect of baseball from an honored manager, in fact “walks” refers to the basic act of walking. Each short chapter describes a different walk, from walking the dog, to Milwaukee and Arizona and Ohio and Central Park and Chicago, and around San Francisco, to Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The writing is conversational. No ghostwriter is listed ... Steve Kettmann writes the intro, I suppose he might have had a hand in things. It’s entirely possible Bochy wrote it all, and whatever the process, you get the feeling of a real person, “Bruce Bochy”, on the pages, and this adds to the pleasure the book brings.
It’s a slight book by design. You learn about one side of Bruce Bochy, and you get some nice little travelogues of neighborhoods he walks. It may just be me placing people into boxes, but it’s not the kind of book I’d expect from a baseball manager. But then, Bochy isn’t just any manager.
The last paragraph of the book encapsulates its charms. The final chapter is devoted to his “Everest”, a long walk from AT&T Park to the Golden Gate Bridge. It concludes:
That’s a walk I recommend to everyone. If you need to move along at a pretty deliberate pace and stop often to rest, so what. Take the whole day! Make an adventure out of it. Whether you’re a visitor to our city, or you’ve lived here your whole life, that’s a walk that will make you feel good. It will make you feel alive. It will make you feel more like yourself. After that, every time you see a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge or you see it in a movie or out the window of the flight taking you somewhere else, you can kind of smile and remember what it felt l like walking those last steps and being there at the foot of the bridge. I had a feeling I just wanted to walk to the Golden Gate. I thought it would be pretty cool. You know what? It was. It was very, very cool.
Last night at the ballpark, I got to see Travis Ishikawa’s first major-league at-bat of the season. He got a standing ovation, at least from me, which you might think is odd for a journeyman who had spent the first part of this season in the minors. But I was standing because of the last time I saw Ishikawa bat at the ballpark:
My wallpapers generally follow two patterns. On my desktop, I have a rotating random selection of photos from the hard drive. On my phone, I usually have the latest cute picture of my grandson.
But right now, both desktop and phone have the same photo, cropped in the case of the latter to fit the screen:
I love this picture because of the look on Carrie Brownstein’s face. There is such joy, as she throws out the first pitch at a Mariners’ game. She has brought joy to a lot of people, but I don’t think it’s always been easy for her ... we’ll find out when her memoir comes out later in the year. In the meantime, look at that face:
1984 was the first year I had season tickets to the Giants. They lost 96 games, the most since they’d moved to San Francisco. (The record lasted one season ... the 1985 Giants lost 100 games. That’s 196 games in two years. Those two seasons remain the worst in SF Giants history.)
1984 was also the year of Crazy Crab. And now Colin Hanks, a life-long Giants fan and son of Tom Hanks, has directed a documentary on The Crab for the ESPN 30 for 30 series:
I can't be inspired to write about the usual topics here, not with Baltimore. Here is a picture of today's baseball game between the visiting Chicago White Sox and the home Baltimore Orioles:
This inspires comments like "Your broadcast today from an empty Oriole Park is full of auditory delectables ..."
To a certain extent, this streak of opening days is as much bookkeeping as baseball. One year I won't make it, the streak will end, and it really won't make any difference. It's like being married for a long time (almost 42 years in our case) ... people ask how we do it, or just find it amazing that we've lasted so long. But when you get married, you intend for it to last. When I went to Opening Day in 1980, I had no idea I'd still be at it in 2015.
I don't have many memories of that first opener, although as usual, the Internet helps jog my memory. The Giants weren't very good in those days, and when the home opener arrived, they had already posted a record of 1 win and 6 losses. Their opponent was the San Diego Padres, who weren't any good, either. 51,123 people were in attendance ... Candlestick held a lot more people than where the Giants play nowadays. My main memory is that I had broken my foot, and our seats were pretty high, so I had to stumble my way to our place in the stands. The Giants won, 7-3, with most of the damage coming in the 5th inning, when they strung together six consecutive singles, plating four runs in the process. (For nostalgia buffs, the six hitters were: Darrell Evans, Jack Clark, Willie McCovey, Larry Herndon, Rennie Stennett, and Milt May.) Vida Blue carried a shutout into the 9th, before allowing a 3-run homer to Gene Tenace. Vida got the complete game, though ... things were different in 1980. As was also the norm in 1980, the attendance the next two games was 12,241 and 11,024. They never did top that Opening Day attendance in '80 ... in fact, before the season was over, they had home "crowds" of 2,164, 2,151, and 2,740. Their total attendance for the year was 1,096,115, which they surpass by the end of May in the modern era.
The one thing that we never could have predicted back in the day, of course, was that in 2015 we'd witness our third raising of the World Series Championship flag. I figured I'd die before they ever won it all ... now it's like a regular thing.
Here is a video recapping the 1980 season, narrated by Al Michaels. It includes the last great moment of Willie McCovey's career, when he came in as a pinch-hitter in his last weekend game and doubled off the wall to win it for the Giants against the Dodgers. Yes, I was there.