love throwing at the crab

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:

The Anti-Mascot

 


thursday right now

What's the opposite of Throwback Thursday?

Today I sat down to watch a soccer match on my TV. The entire process was a mini-demonstration of life in the USA in 2015.

First, there was the fact that I was able to watch the match without resorting to illegal foreign-based streaming. It was a quarter-final match in the UEFA Europa League, which is the second-level European club tournament. It lacks the prestige of its big brother, the Champions League, which is the best club competition in the world. The opponents for the match were Sevilla, a good Andalusian team that exists in the shadow of the great teams from Spain, and Zenit St. Petersburg, probably the best club team in Russia. These are fine clubs, but they lack the glamour of the more famous participants in the Champions League. In short, this is the kind of match that would never have been shown on American TV in the good old days.

Now, though, it was on ESPN Deportes. (Trivia note: the color commentator was Giovanni Savarese, who actually played four games for the San Jose Earthquakes.) At this point, we enter the zone of First World Problems. We're not talking malnutrition or disease ... we're talking about watching soccer on TV. Anyway, in our neck of the woods, Comcast offers ESPN Deportes, but only in a standard-definition version. Better than nothing, to be sure. But, just as the Europa League is forgotten compared to the big boys of the Champions League, ESPN Deportes isn't a prestige channel, at least not in the Bay Area. So there is no real SD feed ... they just take the HD feed and lop off the edges. The result is the occasional pass that goes off-screen. It's annoying, knowing the picture is being framed for an aspect ratio you can't see.

But this is 2015. Since the match is on ESPN, it is also available via WatchESPN, a web-and-smartphone app that shows lots of ESPN programming. Like, for instance, the ESPN Deportes offering of Sevilla-Zenit. And it's in HD, which means you can see those guys on the edges of the screen.

But this means I'm watching on my 6" phone screen, or on my computer.

Luckily, there's Chromecast. I open it on my phone, the open the WatchESPN app, select Sevilla-Zenit, and tell the phone to cast the match to my TV, which has a Chromecast plugin. Voila! I'm watching the match in HD on my TV with the proper screen ratio.

To summarize: a match that in the past wouldn't be televised in America is shown on an ESPN affiliate, and I watch it on my phone which sends the broadcast to my TV.

Ah, technology in 2015. There is one problem. Live sports and Twitter go hand-in-hand nowadays, but I couldn't keep track of Twitter and the match at the same time, because the trip from ESPN to phone to TV has a bit of a delay. Twitter is more immediate, meaning if a goal is scored, Twitter would tell me about it before it happened on my TV.

See? First World Problems.

Postscript: It was a fine match, with Sevilla putting together a furious second-half comeback for a 2-1 victory in the first leg of two.


opening day #36

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.

 


lon simmons

Every baseball fan understands how Giants and A's fans are feeling today. Because every team has announcers that not only become part of the team, but become our companions over the long six months of a season. 162 games a year, we hear the announcers, and they are as familiar to us as our next-door neighbor ... probably more so. So if you are a baseball fan, you have a special relationship with an announcer or two or three, and if you live long enough, some of those special people will pass away.

Lon Simmons died today at 91. He was a long-time announcer for the Giants ... he was a long-time announcer for the A's. Hell, he was a long-time announcer for the 49ers, and some of his most famous calls came with them, but you don't have the same relationship with football announcers, who are only with us once a week for fewer months than baseball.

Lon didn't just disappear when he retired. He came back and did some games for the Giants in his 80s, and if he wasn't quite as good at following the action, he always had his jokes. The Giants make a big deal of honoring their past, and Lon was always welcome at the park. He won the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters, and there is a marker commemorating this at China Basin, alongside ones for Russ Hodges and Jon Miller. Lon looked older as the years progressed, although he never looked as old as he really was. And his mind never quit working, so it was a pleasure when he'd stop into the booth for an inning or two.

The Bay Area has long been blessed with great announcers. Bill King was tops in three different sports. Hank Greenwald was a favorite of Giants' fans. The current baseball announcers are all wonderful, with the unnoticed Ken Korach, and the Giants' well-known team of Kruk and Kuip, along with Jon Miller, possibly the best of his era. Kruk and Kuip are truly loved. Yet I don't think even Bill King's biggest fans would argue with my claim that Lon Simmons was the most-beloved sports announcer in the history of Bay Area sports.

 


throwback, hit back, catch back

April 2, 2001. Fourteen years ago today. My 22nd consecutive Opening Day (#36 coming in a eleven days), and second at the new ballpark, at that point still called Pacific Bell Park. The Giants, managed by Dusty Baker, hosted the Padres, managed by Bruce Bochy.

The Padres had one future Hall-of-Famer in their lineup, Tony Gwynn, who had two hits and an RBI on the day. Their starting pitcher was veteran Woody Williams, who between San Diego and St. Louis won 15 games that season. I'll go out on a limb and guess that Williams isn't remembered much these days. However, he pitched for 15 seasons in the big leagues, won 132 games, made an All-Star team, and started Game One of the 2004 World Series. He also made an estimated $50 million dollars as a player. 

The Giants' lineup looked like this:

  1. Marvin Benard, cf
  2. Rich Aurilia, ss
  3. Barry Bonds, lf
  4. Jeff Kent, 2b
  5. J.T. Snow, 1b
  6. Russ Davis, 3b
  7. Armando Rios, rf
  8. Bobby Estalella, c
  9. Livan Hernandez, p

Livan was doing well, shutting down the Padres and picking up an RBI to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. Barry made it 2-0 with the first of his 73 homers that year. The Giants ended up winning, 3-2, with Robb Nen striking out the side in the ninth.

Here are some of the opening ceremonies from that day:

 


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