game seven

I was going to wait until the final game of the World Series to write this, but there's no reason for that, so here goes.

In the arts, the audience might disagree about the quality of a work ... you know, taste preferences ... and certainly, when we walk out of a theater, for instance, our mood will be affected by what we've seen. But in most cases, there is no heartbreak, unless the work has purposely elicited such a response.

It's not like that with spectator sports. The audience for a sporting event consists of two groups of fans who are supporters of one of the teams/athletes, with a third group of "neutral" fans. The three groups are looking for different things. The supporters want their representatives to win, which sets them on opposite sides from each other. The neutrals just want "a good game".

This is especially obvious during the most noteworthy, "historic" games. Giants fans remember the 1962 World Series as one of heartbreak. Just ask Charles Schulz, who loved the Giants and who ran two separate Peanuts comics about the last out of that World Series. You see, the Series ended when Hall of Famer Willie McCovey hit a line drive that was caught by the second baseman for the Yankees. Two months later, in Peanuts, Charlie Brown despairs. "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?" After another month, another strip: "Or why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball even two feet higher?" There was a work stoppage in baseball in 1981, and the Giants' radio station broadcast the radio recording of that game, only, without telling us, they edited the audio of that last play so McCovey's line drive got past the defense, giving the Giants the World Series. I remember listening to this and just about crying. (It was another 29 years before the Giants finally won the World Series in real life.)

Giants fans remember the 1962 World Series as a bad one. Yankee fans think about it with joy, if they remember it at all (they won a lot in those days). The neutral fan probably thought it was a minor World Series, known as much for the bad weather as anything else. (The next time the Giants played in a World Series, there was an earthquake.)

In the 2002 World Series, the Giants were in the driver's seat, with a 3 games to 2 lead over the Angels, and a 5-run lead in Game Six. Disaster struck (from a Giants fan perspective), the Angels came back to win the game, and then won Game Seven and the World Series. Angels fans remember that Series with joy ... it was their team's first championship. Neutral fans remember it fondly as well ... it was a classic. But that Series haunted Giants fans for at least 8 years.

The Giants finally won a few Series. In 2014, they went to Game Seven against the Royals, trying to win their third Series in five years. A legendary performance by Madison Bumgarner gave the Giants the win, with the Royals leaving the tying run on third base as the game ended. It's one of the great moments in Giants fan history, and it will always be remembered by neutral fans as one of the great Series games. But Royals fans hated that game. I know some Royals fans, and I admit, I was happy for them when their team won the World Series the next year.

Pick a sport, and the above is true. In the 1994 World Cup final, Brazil and Italy played 120 minutes without either team scoring. The great Italian player Roberto Baggio missed a crucial penalty, and Brazil were the champions. I'm sure Brazilian fans were happy with that victory, just as I'm sure Italian fans have never forgotten Baggio's miss. The neutral fan? Well, 120 minutes of scoreless soccer isn't likely to be remembered as a great match.

Spectator sports have winners and losers. A great movie or song or painting makes winners of us all. But not sports.

As I type this, the Astros lead the Dodgers, 5-0, in the final game of the 2017 World Series. Some neutral fans are saying this has been one of the greatest World Series of all time, and when tonight's game is finished, those fans will remember these games with fondness. The fans of the winning team, whoever that will be, will never forget this Series. Neither will the fans of the losing team. But they'll wish they could forget. I remember when Kirk Gibson hit that famous home run off of Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 Series. Eckersley was my favorite player, and Gibson's Dodgers were my most hated team. It was bad enough that Gibson hit the homer. But as he rounded the bases, I knew immediately that I'd be seeing that damn thing the rest of my life. It was too good of a moment, a moment that Dodger fans and neutral fans alike can still get excited about. And sure enough, whenever you see highlights of baseball's post-season, there's Kirk Gibson, rounding the bases. Makes me want to puke, every time I see it.

Sometimes, I wish I was a neutral fan. I'd be spared the heartbreak. But then I remember 2010, when the Giants finally won the World Series after being in San Francisco for 52 years, and I'm not sorry I have a rooting interest.

 


throwback to 1980

I wrote about this 12 years ago ... thought I'd just cut-and-paste for Throwback Thursday:

25 years ago today [ed. note: now 37 years], I attended a double-header at Candlestick Park that shows the way sports works its way into our lives not only in large ways but also in small ones.

1980 was a nondescript season for the Giants. They got off to a slow start, and by June 29, they were already 11 games out and well on their way to a fifth-place finish in a six-team division. On offense, they had Jack Clark, Darrell Evans and very little else ... the pitching was a bit better, with Vida Blue and Ed Whitson having decent years (and making the All-Star team) and the bullpen pitching well.

Anyway, a bunch of us decided to take in the double-header, which was against the hated Dodgers. My then-brother-in-law Randy came with us, and my then-sister-in-law [ed. note: actually she's my niece] Julie (lotta "thens" in this story) ... Julie was attending her first-ever baseball game (I guess she was also attending her second-ever baseball game). I don't remember who else went. The only thing going on for the Giants was the impending retirement of Willie McCovey, who was closing down a Hall of Fame career, and would be leaving the game at the All-Star break, which was a little more than a week away.

McCovey wasn't in the starting lineup for the first game. That spot belonged to Rich Murray, a 22-year-old pheenom who had just come up to the majors earlier in the month. (Murray's tenure as McCovey's replacement didn't last long ... he only played 57 games in the majors, and is mostly known now as Eddie Murray's brother.) The game was to-and-fro, Bob Knepper dueling with Don Sutton, and as the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied 3-3. (It should be noted that the prospect of extra innings at a double-header wasn't quite so frightening in those days ... the game I am currently describing, for instance, only lasted 2 hours and 12 minutes.) The Dodgers brought in Bobby Castillo to relieve the tiring Sutton, and after a leadoff single by Rennie Stennett, Castillo retired the next two hitters, bringing up the pitcher's spot in the lineup.

And pinch-hitting for Bob Knepper was Willie McCovey.

There were 50,000 people at the park that day, and this was what we'd come to see: our old hero taking one last shot at our archrivals to the south. McCovey had managed only one homerun all season, the 521st of his career, but I think we can be forgiven for thinking hoping begging praying that he had #522 somewhere in that tired body.

And Castillo pitched to McCovey, and he got ahold of one. It went flying towards the right-centerfield fence, and 50,000 of us leapt into the air while Rennie Stennett circled the bases towards home. And then, since this is real life and not a made-up story, the ball fell just short of a homer, bouncing off the fence for a double that won the game for the Giants.

And I remember that game to this day.

Everything after that was anti-climactic. The Giants were shutout by Burt Hooton in the second game, and McCovey did not make an appearance. The most legendary occurrence in that second game was that Randy, who's gotta be like 6'5", fell asleep, which is hard enough with 50,000 people making noise, and even harder when you can barely fit into the seat in the first place. I've never let him forget that little nap.

The next Thursday, McCovey played his last game at Candlestick, and I played a little hooky to be there. In the third inning, with Jack Clark on third, Mac dribbled a ball past Dan Driessen at firstbase for a single and an RBI, his last at Candlestick. In the top of the 8th inning, McCovey went out to his position, and then, while everyone stood and cheered, Pheenom Murray came out to replace him. (There were 26,000 of us, not bad for a midweek day game.) Stretch McCovey was gone.

McCovey had one last shot in him, it turned out. On Sunday in Los Angeles, in his last game ever, he pinch-hit late in a tie game and lifted a sacrifice fly that gave the Giants the lead. It was his last major-league at-bat.


38

Today I will attend my 38th consecutive home Opening Day for the Giants. I went to 20 at Candlestick Park ... if I make it to the 2019 opener, I’ll have 20 at China Basin, as well.

Honestly, I don’t even know how this happened. I love baseball, but I’m not a big fan of the endless nostalgia that accompanies it ... no Field of Dreams for me. I can’t remember what inspired us to go to the 1980 opener. The Giants had a good 1978 season, but went back in the crapper in 1979. While I wouldn’t have known this at the time I bought my tickets for 1980, the team opened with six losses in seven games on the road. Something else I couldn’t know in advance: I broke my foot. And our seats were nosebleeds.

But the game was fun. The visiting Padres had two future Hall of Famers in Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. The Giants had one of their own in Willie McCovey. The Giants also had a few favorites: Darrell Evans, Jack Clark, Vida Blue. Vida went the distance, and the Giants won, 7-3. Like I say, it was fun, enough so that when the 1981 opener came around, I was there again. That game went 12 innings before the Giants lost, 4-1. 1981 was the awful year when the season was split in half. There was every reason to skip the 1982 opener. Yet for some reason, I made it to my third straight.

The Giants squeaked out a 3-2 win. More important was the rest of that season, for 1982 was a thriller that went down to the final weekend before the Giants finally fell. That season may have cemented my adult attachment to the game, and ensured I’d go to a lot more Opening Days.

But even then, I wasn’t thinking of a streak. Three times in a row is barely worth noticing. Truthfully, I can’t remember just when I realized I had something going. But eventually it happened, and Opening Day became a personal holiday. It’s hard to pick out the most memorable moments in the first 37 openers I’ve seen. There was 1999, the last opener at Candlestick, with homers by Marvin Benard, Barry Bonds, and Rich Aurilia. There was the flabbergasting first opener at the new park, when a journeyman named Kevin Elster, who had sat out the previous season, hit three home runs for the fucking Dodgers to lead the Giants to a loss. (They lost all five games on their first home stand, before rebounding and making the post-season.) There was 2002, when Barry Bonds sent us all home with a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th. And 2004, when Barry hit the 660th home run of his career, tying him with Willie Mays. In 2012, Matt Cain carried a perfect game into the 6th inning, when the opposing pitcher pushed a weak grounder into the outfield. He was the only base runner Cain allowed that day.

And last year, when the Giants overcame a four-run deficit against the Dodgers on their way to a big 12-6 victory.

Who knows what to expect today for Opener #38. I’ll make one prediction: if new coach Barry Bonds shows up in uniform, he will get the biggest ovation of the pre-game introductions.


don't mess with steph

Last night, we were at a place I consider a BBQ restaurant. This is because I’m an old man, and I go there to eat. But it has a full bar, happy hour, and several big-screen TVs, so yeah, it’s not just a restaurant. We were eating as the Warriors played the Thunder, and that game was on all of the TVs. It wasn’t very late, and the place wasn’t very full ... if you’d asked me, I’d say maybe half-a-dozen people were watching the game.

Near the end of the first half, with the Warriors up by 17 points, there was a bit of a scrum. The Warriors' Steph Curry, all 190 pounds of him, was in the middle of the ruckus. The Oklahoma City fans were booing, four players were given technical fouls (two from each team), and the game began again, with five seconds on the clock. The people in the restaurant got a little excited, although not enough to interrupt my rib eating.

The reset came with a jump ball. The Warriors ended up with the ball, just a couple of seconds left. Klay Thompson passed it down court to Steph, who was pretty far from the basket, i.e. just in his range. As the buzzer went off, Steph hit the three and immediately ran off the court to the locker room, leaving the Thunder with a 20-point deficit. Don’t make him mad.

Well, when he scored and exited, the restaurant exploded. This wouldn’t have been unusual in a sports bar. It wouldn’t have been unusual in my living room. But I must say, I was startled when even the people who weren’t paying attention to the game erupted with joy. It was quite a moment.


throw me back to the ball game

I wanted Cleveland to win, because an old friend of mine who died some years ago was a lifelong fan of the team. But as I watched Game Seven, one of the greatest baseball games of all time, I knew I didn’t really care who won, as long as the game never ended.

Wright Thompson wrote a great piece about the Cubs (“In Chicago, the final wait for a Cubs win mixes joy and sorrow”). Anything Wright Thompson writes is worth your time ... everything I’ve ever read of his resonates.

When the Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco in 2010, I kept saying over and over to myself, “I never thought it would happen”. I was five years old when the team came to San Francisco, and New York didn’t count for me, so I had been waiting 52 years for a championship. That was a long time. Because of that, I understand some of what Cubs fans are feeling today. Their wait was historically longer ... twice as long as the SF Giants, plus another four years. But while the news outlets managed to find a few who had been there for 60 or 70 or 80 years, most Cubs fans had been devoted to the team for something less than 52 years. Many of them weren’t born 52 years ago. Some of them only became Cubs fans a month ago (which is perfectly fine). I felt like our 52-year wait was the equal of the misery of Cubs fans, at least for people like me who had been around for all 52 years.

What Thompson’s piece reminds me, though, is that there is one crucial unique element that the Cubs bring to the table. Ancestors.

So many of the stories Thompson tells are about dead people. Tale after tale recounts how Grandpa waited his whole life for the Cubs to win, but he died eight years ago and never saw it happen. (The Onion understands this ... they ran a piece titled “Millions of Drunk Cubs Fans Rioting in Heaven Following World Series Win”.) It’s wonderful, how many Cubs fans are taking the time to remember their ancestors who are no longer here, who missed the moment.

And ancestors is what Giants fans didn’t have in 2010. Basically, I was my own ancestor. My 52-year wait marked me as someone who was there from the beginning ... you couldn’t go back any farther than me. When the Giants finally won, I thought of my fellow, living, Giants fans who had suffered for so long.

But when the final relief of your suffering must allow for dead parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts ... well, that’s why 2010 is important for Giants fans, but 2016 is important for people who rooted for the Cubs in 1909.

So I can pretend to understand how Cubs fans feel, but ultimately I don’t think anyone but Cubs fans know what today feels like.


brexit comes to football manager

This will be a longer explanation for yesterday’s link.

I used to post about the game Football Manager about once a year, trying to explain what it was and why so many people obsessed over it. Usually, I’d excerpt a complicated discussion about, say, motivational theory or Karl Popper and positivism. Back in 2010, I linked to an article by Brian Phillips, “The Unreal Genius of Football Manager, Greatest Video Game Ever”. And every year, about this time, I’d post something brief to explain why I wasn’t around much because the latest annual edition of Football Manager had been released.

I thought I’d done this forever, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to it in recent years. I mean posting ... I still crank up the game (for instance, I played last year’s model, FM 2016, for 924 hours, which wasn’t even my record ... that was FM 2014, with 1236 hours played). FM 2017 beta came out yesterday, and I’ve already managed 11 hours. The game’s depth is endlessly complex, and I’ve been at it since the late-90s.

Each year adds new wrinkles to the game, and often, we’ll get preview videos that show some of the changes, like this year’s, dramatically titled “The Big Reveal”:

But there was a surprise for us when the beta was released yesterday. Miles Jacobson, the director of the series, wrote earlier this year, explaining FM to non-players:

We’ve been releasing games for 24 years, starting off as two brothers based in their bedroom in Shropshire through to where we are now, a 110 strong team based in the Old Street area of London. We make niche games, although the niche is pretty popular – we sell just shy of 2m games a year and were independent until roughly 10 years ago when we became part of SEGA. 30 of the 35 people who were with the studio when the takeover happened are still here now. We also have circa 100 contractors at any one time, some in the UK, and some in other parts of the world.

Jacobson joined the team early on, after brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer created the game. For their efforts, the Collyers were named Members of the Order of the British Empire ... later Jacobson became an officer of the order (or something like that ... I admit I don’t quite understand these things). Suffice to say that the Football Manager series has made a lot of money for those three, and a lot of money for England, and a lot of joy to the players. It’s “just a game”, but it regularly refutes that cliché ... take the title of a documentary from 2010, Football Manager: More Than Just a Game. Or Iain Macintosh’s 2012 book, Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession. Or look at the real teams that use the vast FM database for scouting purposes.

Well, the above quote from Jacobson was a prelude to a long piece about how Brexit might affect Football Manager. He wrote primarily about how it could change the way Sports Interactive ("SI", the company that produces the game) works, detailing some real-world possibilities.

Of course, Brexit passed ... and of course, it will take time for it to take effect, if it ever does. Meanwhile, FM 2017 is here, and we’re all busy trying out the new edition.

Except ... there was a little addition that didn’t make “The Big Reveal”. SI must have a pretty strong non-disclosure agreement for its testers, because this little addition was a complete surprise.

Brexit has been built into the latest version of Football Manager.

A brief explanation. Football Manager is a “management simulation”. Unlike video games you might be familiar with, like FIFA, in FM, you do not control the players during a game. You are the manager of a club. You sign new players, choose staff, run training, create tactics, manage games, try to win championships. And after one season, if you are lucky and don’t get fired, you get to do it for another season. And another, and another, etc. So the game starts in Fall 2016, but if you stay with the same game without starting a new one, it will eventually be 2020, or 2025, or 2030, or whatever.

Which is where Brexit will enter the gameplay. As one headline read, “Football Manager 2017 to simulate Brexit - fans of the game go crazy on Twitter”. Among the tweets quoted in the article: “Football Manager 2017 has put more research into the implications of Brexit on the UK in the game than the actual government have irl”, and “Brexit means harder FM. Wish I known that before voting.”

There you have it: the creators of a management simulation have built a Brexit simulator into the game. As Jacobson said, “As far as I know this is the first time a computer game has tried to predict the future of a country.”

Sometime after two years have passed in the game, the player will be informed about the implementation of Brexit in the FM world. (There are random factors involved, so each game will have its own implementation.) There are three scenarios:

  1. Soft Brexit - free movement of workers remains.
  2. Footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are currently given to ‘entertainers’. This means it is easier for them to obtain work permits than other people, and it will not have a huge impact on player movement from the EU.
  3. Hard Brexit: similar rules to those which currently apply to non-EU players are adopted for all non-UK players.

Also, Scotland might decide to stay with the EU.

I suspect most of us just want to manage our favorite team to a championship. The idea of the real world interfering with that is startling. But Sports Interactive have been successful precisely because of how accurately their game reflects the real world of football. Ultimately, I don’t think they could have left Brexit out.

And it was fun to have an actual surprise in this day and age.


don't throw back that ball, keep it

The baseball season is over for Giants fans, but I can still drag out a happy memory from 2002, a season that didn’t end well. It was the third year I had full season tickets, which meant I went to every home post-season game, including Game 4 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, which was played 14 years ago today, October 13, 2002. The Giants were up 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven series. The Cards’ SS was a future Giants’ post-season hero, Edgar Renteria. The starting pitchers were Andy Benes for the Cardinals, in what was to be his final game as a major-leaguer, and Livan Hernandez for the Giants.

The Cardinals jumped on Livan for two runs in the first, and Benes held off the Giants until the sixth, when two straight walks sent him to the showers. J.T. Snow doubled off of reliever Rick White to tie the game, which is how it stood until the bottom of the 8th. White was still pitching, and in fact had retired six straight after Snow’s hit. There were two outs, with the dangerous Barry Bonds at the plate. You youngsters out there might find it hard to believe, but those of us who there during the latter part of Barry’s career won’t be surprised by what followed. Bonds had been walked 198 times during the regular season. He had been walked four times in five games in the NLDS against Atlanta. The Cardinals walked him seven times in the first three games of this series, and they walked him again in the 6th inning, when he scored after Snow doubled. So here in the bottom of the 8th of a tie game, two outs, no one on base, pitcher has retired six in a row ... and St. Louis manager Tony “The Genius” LaRussa walked Bonds intentionally.

Up came Benito Santiago. Benito had three hits including a homer in Game One, and two more hits in Game Three.

This happened next:

The Giants went on to win, 4-3, and won the series the next day, setting up the ill-fated World Series against the Angels. Benito Santiago was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.


packaging

Today, I watched the U.S. women defeat New Zealand, 2-0, in their opening match of the 2016 Olympics. I watched because I like soccer, and because I root for the U.S. national teams.

While I am a sports fan, I don’t watch much of the Olympics. Nate Silver put it better than I could, when he said, “The Olympics is sports, packaged for non-sports fans, which is slightly offensive if you’re a sports fan.”

The key word is “packaged”. The sporting events themselves are fine, although I don’t have much interest in any of them besides soccer. But the packaging, which emphasizes human interest stories designed to bring in the casual fan, even the non-fan ... that’s what Nate calls “offensive”. Of course, it’s not offensive if you are one of those casual fans who enjoy the Olympics when they roll around precisely because of the human interest angle. But I won’t be paying attention.