mls, season 20

Twenty years ago, MLS began its history with the inaugural match at Spartan Stadium in San Jose. The home team won on a late goal by Eric Wynalda. We were there.

The Earthquakes’ season is about to begin. In two weeks, they will play their first official match at their new stadium. There have been highs and lows during San Jose’s years in MLS. There were the two MLS championships in 2001 and 2003. There were the dark days when the team moved to Houston. There was their return to MLS in 2006, with an expansion team.

Highs ... and lows. I might not have paid much attention to MLS when the Quakes were gone, but I started following the team as soon as they returned.

You know, in 1971, I moved to Indiana for a year. That fall, the Giants made the playoffs, losing to Pittsburgh in the NL Championship Series. My friends in Indiana thought I should have rooted for Pittsburgh, because I lived in the Midwest. I paid them no attention. The Giants were my team.

If I moved back to the Midwest now, I’d still root for the Earthquakes.

On the other hand, I know how it feels to break up with a loved one. Robin broke up with me in 1969, and even though we married in 1973 and are coming up on our 42nd anniversary, I still get bitter thinking about when she left me. But, as she says, you have to get over it.


katy perry

Katy Perry performed the halftime show at yesterday’s Super Bowl. From what I’ve seen online, she was fairly well-received for the grand flamboyance of the show. At the Super Bowl party I was a part of, though, the general feeling was that the halftime show wasn’t going to be worth watching. Not everyone felt that way, but I’d gauge that more than half of the folks planned to use halftime to check out the food situation and maybe grab a smoke. (Notably, once her show began, people began watching.)

Someone I know posted on Facebook that their partner had asked, “Who is Katy Perry?” I admit to reading between the lines, both at that question and at some of the subsequent comments, but my sense was that not knowing who Katy Perry is was something to be proud of. And I wondered, first, how likely it was that someone wouldn't know who Katy Perry is.

I went to everyone’s favorite research site, Wikipedia, where I found the following information about Perry, some of which I knew, some of which I was aware of in a general sense, and a lot of specifics that were new to me:

Her 2010 album Teenage Dream “became the first by a female artist to produce five number-one Billboard Hot 100 songs”.

“[I]n songs such as ‘Firework’ and ‘Roar’ she stresses themes of self-empowerment and self-esteem.”

“Perry has received many awards, including three Guinness World Records, and been included in the Forbes list of "Top-Earning Women In Music" for 2011, 2012, and 2013. … She ranked fifth on their 2014 list with $40 million. … Throughout her career, she has sold 11 million albums and 81 million singles worldwide, making her one of the best-selling artists of all time.”

“Throughout her career, Perry has won five American Music Awards, five MTV Video Music Awards, fourteen People's Choice Awards, and three Guinness World Records.In September 2012, Billboard dubbed her the ‘Woman of the Year’.From May 2010 to September 2011, she spent a record-breaking total of 69 consecutive weeks in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100…Perry was declared the Top Global Female Recording Artist of 2013 by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).She has accumulated a total of nine number-one singles on the Hot 100, her most recent being ‘Dark Horse’. According to Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Perry is the best-selling digital singles artist in the United States, with certified sales of 72 million digital singles including on-demand streaming.”

I admit that I don’t know a lot about Katy Perry. I like a couple of her songs, and enjoy the “Roar” video. I am also aware that, as is true for many/most top pop stars, there is substantial interest in Perry from culture critics. I don’t think she has reached the level of someone like Madonna, who inspired what was only half-jokingly called “Madonna Studies” as an academic discipline. But it is interesting to think about the level of Perry’s fame, and what that might say about today’s cultural milieu.

My job here isn’t to elaborate on the place of Katy Perry in the world of cultural criticism … I read some of it, I know it’s out there, but in 2015, there is always too much to read and see and experience … we are all, all of us, behind.

Nor am I here to cast aspersions on people who don’t know who Katy Perry is. As I say, it’s 2015 … no one can keep up with everything. Many of us become specialists … when it comes to female pop stars, I’m partial to Pink … I go to her concerts and buy her albums … I know a lot about Pink, and it’s not that she’s a stand-in for all the other female pop stars, but I devote the majority of my pop-star energy to her. There are also people, plenty of us, who throw our hands up and admit we just can’t follow everything. We don’t have a favorite female pop star, because we can’t know about everything. Not knowing of Katy Perry signifies nothing, other than that you have other things on your mind. The number of things I don’t know is pretty immense … I know little about opera, or ice hockey, or reality TV shows. I’m not immune to covering up my lack of knowledge with childish humor … whenever I hear opera, I start singing in ludicrously high and low voices, making fun of the very real talent of the singers because I don’t “get it”. And I definitely indulged in this kind of thinking a lot more when I was younger: if I didn’t know something, it wasn’t worth knowing. In my old age, I’ve hopefully come to realize that you can’t dismiss something until you have a modicum of understanding of that thing.

In general, Katy Perry is not highly regarded by pop critics. Rich Juzwiak’s review of her Super Bowl appearance, “Katy Perry: What Is She Good For?”, was an example of damning with faint praise:

Not that much could be expected of Perry. She is the most underwhelming person to occupy the space of Massively Popular, No-Brainer Hitmaking Pop Diva since Paula Abdul, and at least Paula Abdul could dance. There is no there there with Katy Perry. I don't know if a pop star has ever had less there, in fact. She is superlative at nothing. … If you believe the credits on her songs, she can write a catchy hook. She can carry a tune, sometimes with force. And she can show up to places and do her job without falling on her face or making some sort of career-negating blunder.

But these critics do appreciate that her enormous popularity makes Perry an important subject for examination, if nothing else. And I’m glad for their work, since, as I have noted, I don’t pay much attention to Katy Perry and am glad to have the opportunity to think about her through the eyes of more astute and knowledgeable critics.

Which takes me back to that Facebook exchange. Everything I’m saying falls apart if my “between the lines” reading is off-target, but that reading is based on past experiences. I once taught a course at UC Berkeley on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer … a common reaction was “that’s not worthy of a course at Cal” (when pressed, they would often admit that they had never actually seen the show). Something that has stuck in my mind for many years was an afternoon when I attended a WNBA game. The giveaway that day was a poster of … well, it was a long time ago and my memory is shot, but I think it was *NSYNC, although it might have been The Backstreet Boys. Anyway, most of the people I was with gave their posters away to kids who might have more interest, which was a generous move. But the gifts were punctuated with prideful statements that “I couldn’t name a single one of their songs”. I knew why they didn’t want the posters, understood that they might not know *NSYNC since they weren’t the target market for the band, but I didn’t get why their lack of knowledge was connected to feelings of pride.

And so, the Facebook post (yes, I’m off on lots of tangents). One of my favorite comments, because of its self-aware sense of humor, read “I miss when the half time shows were semi retired musicians from the 70s.” And I couldn't keep my mouth shut, so I posted the following: “Pop music may be the only place where otherwise intelligent people brag about not knowing something.”

The original poster replied, “I'm pretty sure popular TV falls in the same category. Like me, how many episodes of, say. Friends, have you ever watched?” And that got me inspired. I wrote:

The point isn't how many episodes of Friends you have seen, or whether you know who Katy Perry is. The point is that it's odd when people take pride in not knowing. I can't pass judgment on Friends because I haven't seen it. I can and do recognize it is important; I know what Friends is. I don't often connect with modern sitcoms, which is on me, not on the people who made Friends. But there is a difference between my not having seen an episode of Friends, and someone not knowing who Katy Perry is, just as there is a difference between saying Katy Perry isn't my cup of tea and saying I don't know who Katy Perry is, with a tone that suggests she isn't worth knowing. I'm not saying that everyone should like Katy Perry. I'm saying it's odd to brag about not knowing who she is. It's the pop culture equivalent of saying I don't know who Toni Morrison is, and it doesn't matter anyway.

The reply to that was, “If you're going to compare Toni Morrison to Katy Perry, I'm going to bed. Winking smile“ (Emoticon approximation.)

That was a good line, and I was asking for it, to be sure. But it wasn't just a good line, as I indicated in my reply: “That statement makes my point better than any more blathering of my own.”

And indeed, the comments ended there. But, being a blather junkie, I came to my blog to jabber some more.

Many of the people in the discussion are or were teachers, myself included. We have all had to deal with students who state (with some pride, it must be added) that they never read books. Maybe they read the occasional book, but only current best-sellers. If we assign, say, The Great Gatsby (or, more appropriately here, Beloved), we will always have students who state with confidence that there is nothing in those books that could possibly matter to them. I’ve done the same thing as a student … with a degree in American Studies, looking for a doctorate in English that focused on American Literature, I regularly complained about the requirement that I take a course in Shakespeare or the 18th-century English novel. What could I possibly learn from Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded?

How is this different from saying, “I don’t know who Katy Perry is, and how could she possibly matter?” There is no shame in not knowing. There is no reason why we should seek out every piece of information in the world, even if that was possible, which it is not. It is sufficient to say, “I don’t know anything about The Real Housewives of Orange County”, just as it’s fine when a student says, “I don’t know anything about Toni Morrison”. That student has an entire semester to learn about the author. They’ve only failed if they dismiss Morrison before they have read her. It’s fine if you don’t know who Katy Perry is, interesting if you do know who she is but don’t like her. And there is every reason, in this age of information glut, to admit that you don’t have time to examine Katy Perry, so you’ll be moving on to something you like. You’ve only failed if you dismiss Katy Perry before you know her.

 


throw-in thursday

Twenty-one years ago today, Germany played the USA in soccer at Stanford. We were there.

For the U.S.:

Brad Friedel, Desmond Armstrong, Alexi Lalas, Mike Lapper, Cobi Jones, Mike Sorber, Thomas Dooley, Joe-Max Moore (71 Dominic Kinnear), Jeff Agoos (60 Brian Bliss), Earnie Stewart, Hugo Pérez (46 Chad Deering).

For Germany:

Bodo Illgner, Lother Matthäus, Guido Buchwald, Jürgen Kohler (46 Matthias Sammer), Stefan Effenberg, Thomas Häßler (75 Thomas Strunz), Dieter Eilts, Andreas Brehme (46 Christian Ziege), Andreas Möller, Stefan Kuntz, Jürgen Klinsmann (63 Andreas Thom).


maybe it's just that my brain is broken

Today I watched a soccer match between AC Milan and Inter Milan. Matches between these two are called the “Derby della Madonnina” (here in the U.S. it’s just the Milan Derby). This rivalry dates back to 1908. The two teams are historically very good. What makes this rivalry especially noteworthy is that both clubs play their home matches in the same stadium, the San Siro.

AC Milan’s home jerseys look like this:

Inter Milan’s home jerseys look like this:

I’m not sure why Inter, the “away” team in this match, wore their home jerseys, although I guess they were playing at their home, the San Siro. Whatever, the players looked like those jerseys for the match, with Milan in red and Inter in blue.

As I often do, while the match went on, I had the WhoScored website up in my browser. They offer real-time stat updates. The screen for Milan-Inter looked like this:

whoscored

I hope you can see the problem. On WhoScored for this match, Milan was in blue and Inter was in red, although those colors were switched for the actual players’ jerseys as I watched my TV. What was worse, in the first half, Inter was going from left-to-right on my screen, Milan from right-to-left. I hope you can see how this was a problem, as well.

My brain couldn’t handle all of this. Even though I’ve seen these teams play many times, I kept getting confused about which team was which as I watched.

I’m sure the brain scientists can explain why this was so frustrating. Or maybe it’s just that my brain is broken.


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.”


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.


play-in, playoff, post-season, whatever

Last night’s game between Kansas City and Oakland reminded us that when a game is a great one for a neutral, it is supremely better for the fans of the winners, and an impossible downer for the fans of the losers. Following the game on Twitter, I saw both sets of fans go through the good and the bad, with the Royals’ fans ending up feeling a lot better than their Athletics’ counterparts. I was a bit torn … I know fans of both teams, but one of them is my sister, so I probably rooted for Oakland just a bit more. Still, when it was over, I could say “great game” … I doubt she will ever say that.

The Giants have won two of the last three World Series, so while they are not favorites this time around, a certain level of optimism among their fans is understandable. Me, I will never reach that point. Two out of three sounds good, but it’s more relevant to note that in the years I have rooted for the Giants, they have failed to win the championship 52 out of 54 times. That leads to a lot of pessimism.

And so, as the Giants-Pirates game began tonight, I saw mostly trouble ahead. I had faith in the Giants starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. I had faith in their best field player, Buster Posey. I had faith in relief pitcher Sergio Romo, and in truth, most of the bullpen. I honestly didn’t expect anyone in the Giants starting lineup to do anything productive, other than Posey.

Which takes us to Brandon Crawford, batting in the top of the fourth of a scoreless battle, bases loaded, no outs, a count of 1-2. I was thinking Crawford would strike out. I was actually hoping he would strike out, because I assumed if he hit the ball, it would be a double play. That’s 50+ years of Giants’ fandom thinking.

Of course, Crawford hit the first post-season grand slam by a shortstop in baseball history.

All I could do was laugh.

No one will say that tonight’s game was one for the ages. But I can tell you, it’s a lot easier watching your team win 8-0, then it is to watch your team win or lose in a 12-inning nail biter.

One other thing. This goofy "one game for all the marbles" wild card thingie … maybe I can say this because the Giants won a blowout. But from the beginning, I felt little of the normal anxiety I get when the Giants are in the post-season. If the Giants lost, well, they hardly got into the playoffs … I could shake that off. I won’t feel that way against the Nationals.