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2005 giants: there ain't no way

[This is a response to discussions going on in several places, so it might seem a bit incoherent. It's also cut-and-pasted from long comments I made on, and while I tried to update and reformat my comments, I don't know if I entirely succeeded.]

The Giants are currently 45-59. Those who still act like the Giants have a chance, just because their division stinks, need to keep that record in mind. The Giants have a better record than only two other teams in the entire National League. If they somehow managed to win the division anyway, they will have to face actual good teams in the post-season ... the Cardinals will surely be there, probably the Braves, along with whoever wins the AL. Yeah yeah, anything can happen in a short series, but the reality is, the 2005 San Francisco Giants are not going to win the World Series. The last time the Giants had a team this bad was 1996 ... you remember that team, with Tom Lampkin and Steve Scarsone and Mark Carreon and William Vanlandingham and Allen Watson and Osvaldo Fernandez ... anyone would laugh to think of that team as anything other than crummy, yet some folks still think 2005 is salvagable.

Brian Sabean should be thinking about 2006 and beyond. That he is playing for now is disturbing. Even if he gets that one guy that will help the team improve enough to win the West, the team won't be good enough to advance.

In the past, one could argue that Sabean was doing his job because the team was successful on the field. For a variety of reasons, that is not true this year. What he does now will be very important for the Giants' future. Trying to win the division this year is a very bad move.

Some people say, but look at 1951! OK, I will. On July 31, 1951, the Giants were 9 1/2 games back. On July 31, 2005, the Giants are 5 1/2 games back. If that's all you're looking at, you will think the Giants have a chance, and you'll trot out memories of 1951. But the two seasons and teams are entirely different. First, in 1951, all you had to do to get to the World Series was win the NL; in 2005, you'd have to make the post-season and then defeat two other teams that are likely better than you. The 1951 team was much better than the 2005 team, as well. On July 31, they were 56-44, compared to today's team at 45-59. This year's team is much less likely to have the kind of terrific run the '51 team pulled off. The 1951 Giants had Willie Mays and Monte Irvin, a great pitching staff headed by two pitchers with 23 wins, a catcher with a .400 OBP and 20 HR, a secondbaseman with a .401 OBP, Bobby Thomson at .293/.385/.562, and an All-Star shortstop who hit .303 with 41 doubles and 14 homers. The 2005 Giants are no match for that team, and there is no point in saying "hey, it happened in 1951" when making decisions about the 2005 Giants.

Some people say, but any team can get hot in the playoffs. For the Giants to win the World Series, they will first have to win their division despite a W-L Pct. that is currently the 4th-worst in San Francisco history. Then they'd have to do a lot more than sweep one team over a weekend ... they'd have to win THREE extended series against THREE top-notch teams. Can they do that? Well, I guess anything is possible. But name me one bad team that won the World Series since the extra round of playoffs was added. The team to win the Series with the worst record in that time is the 2000 Yankees. They had a catcher with 28 HR and 107 walks, a shortstop who hit .339, a Gold Glove centerfielder who hit 30 HR, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte winning 19 games, and an absolutely awesome bullpen. That's the worst team to win it all since the extra round of playoffs was added. The 2005 Giants are nowhere near that good. Their chances of winning it all in 2005 are miniscule. It ain't gonna happen. They need to plan for the future.

Remember the last year of the Roger Craig era, just before Barry joined the team? What an awful club ... Kirt Manwaring, Royce Clayton, Matt Williams having one of his bad years, Darren Lewis, guys like Bud Black and Trevor Wilson in the rotation, and a bullpen that included a washed-up Dave Righetti. They lost 90 games, finished in 5th place, and ended up 26 games out of first place. That team's winning percentage was .444 ... this year's is .433.

How about 1980 ... can we call it the Dave Bristol Era? Another horrible, horrible team. The pitching wasn't too bad, actually, although Bob Knepper went 9-16. But the offense? Jack Clark, Darrell Evans, and crap. Rennie Stennett joined the club ... need I say more? Willie McCovey retired ... his replacements, Mike Ivie and Rich Murray, had sub-.300 OBPs and sub-.350 SLG. Johnnie LeMaster hit .215 in 135 games. They lost 86 games and finished in 5th place, 17 games out of first. Their winning percentage was .466 ... this year's is .433.

1972? First year the team finished under .500 in San Francisco. They traded Gaylord Perry for Sam McDowell in the off-season, Willie Mays to the Mets during the season. Juan Marichal went 6-16, Willie McCovey hit .213. Dave Kingman played 59 games at third base. They finished 5th, 26 1/2 games out of first. Their winning percentage was .445 ... this year's is .433.

And yet some people think the 2005 Giants still have a chance at the World Series, because a good team won the National League in 1951?

Of course they have a chance to win the division. It's not even all that slim. The point isn't to win the division, it's to win the World Series. At some point. In my lifetime. And I'm 52, so I'm running out of time.

the embarassing giants

Bud Hudgins lays it down:

Sabean ... is mired in a bad situation of his own doing.... Holding the status quo is quite possibly the worst case scenario. Baseball's changing landscape has suddenly and throughly passed the Giants by....

I'm not happy with this team, and I'm bitterly disappointed with Sabean's inability to adjust to the new baseball environment. As a season ticket holder, the Better Third and I spend thousands of dollars a year on the Giants, not to mention time and effort, and I expect more from the Giants. They have had no compunction at all about soaking us for every possible dollar -- and with the news that they're seriously considering raising ticket prices upwards of 40% in the near future, they're obviously oblivious to the sentiments of many fans like me who have watched with horror as this team slowly slides into mediocrity and irrelevance. We deserve better than this, but apparently ownership and management don't agree.


But when I don't post, people think I've died or something.

What I'm doing:

Grading papers (again)

Visiting with Sara, who came by today with pictures from Brazil ... she was a girl at Ipanema!

Grading papers

Watching teevee ... I'm catching up on old shows. I started watching Battlestar Galactica and now I'm also watching last season via downloads. The downloads are in high-def, and man, Edward James Olmos is just as scary in HD as I'd expected. I'm also watching Firefly, in preparation for the Serenity movie (I didn't watch the series when it was originally on).

Did I mention I was grading papers?

At some point, I'll say something about those new-to-me teevee shows. Galactica in particular is v.interesting. And I started watching Over There, and will probably get around to talking about that, too, one of these days.

I could write something about the movies I've seen lately, but they are so old, I doubt anyone cares. (Last movie watched: Dinner at Eight.)

friday random ten

Here we go:

1. Judy Collins, "Sons Of." Second week in a row that I start with one of her songs. At this point I've run out of stories to tell about her.

2. Ray Charles, "Georgia on My Mind." Listening to classics like this, you'd think Ray Charles could sing the phone book and make it sound good. But if you listened to any of the dreck he also recorded, you know that wasn't true. This sure ain't the phone book, though.

3. Pete Yorn, "Strange Condition." Not sure why, but parts of the melody remind me of Neil Young's "Powderfinger."

4. Elvis Costello & the Attractions, "You'll Never Be a Man." My fault ... my mind wanders when I listen to any Elvis Costello except for This Year's Model.

5. Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, "The Game of Love." "The purpose of a man is to love a woman, and the purpose of a woman is to love her man." Nice move from "a" to "her."

6. Aqualung, "Falling Out of Love." There seems to be a narrative growing out of these songs titles ... you'll never be a man, the game of love, falling out of love.

7. Otis Redding, "Satisfaction." The Stones covered Otis, so he covered them back. Did great, too.

8. Paul Simon, "Ace in the Hole." This would be a good paper assignment for college students. Listen to Paul Simon's catalog from the earliest days of Simon and Garfunkel through Still Crazy After All These Years. Write a paper proving that Simon's music made the film One Trick Pony inevitable. That was a film about an aging rock star struggling with his art; it was written by Simon, the music was by Simon, and the star of the movie was ... Paul Simon.

9. The Beach Boys, "Shut Down." In the early 70s, some people really believed David Bowie was Ziggy Stardust. In the early 60s, some people really believed Brian Wilson surfed and drove hot rods.

10. Regina Spektor, "Carbon Monoxide (Alt Mix)." This might be a case where I should listen closely to the lyrics. Because I love the sound of Spektor's voice without actually paying attention to what she's singing about.

As with last week, there's a surprise hidden in here that will be gone in 24 hours or so.

commodity fetishism

I've been trying to help my students wrap their minds around the concept of commodity fetishism, as it is described and analyzed in Leah Hager Cohen's book, Glass, Paper, Beans: Revelations on the Nature and Value of Ordinary Things. In the process, I've posted lots of emails and bulletin board messages on the subject. This is kinda scattered ... these weren't meant to cohere or be comprehensive ... but I want them to exist somewhere besides those emails in case I need to use them again, and so I can look at them in a new context and figure out what I've got wrong. So, more than usual, this is one of those "skip this post" posts.

First, the crucial quote from Cohen:

This tendency to regard objects as though their essence and their monetary worth were one and the same is sometimes called commodity fetishism. A commodity is a thing with a price. A fetish is a thing with a spirit. Commodity fetishism is the habit of perceiving an object's price as something intrinsic to and fixed within that object, something emanating directly and vitally from that object's core, rather than as the end result of a history of people and their labor. (11)

People and labor seem to disappear. We quit thinking of an object's price as something that reflects the labor that went into the making of the object. Instead, the price is a reflection of the object's true worth, or rather, the price IS the object. This is "strictly a human conceit" (207), but in fetishizing the object, we lose sight of the conceit and "believe" in the price. The labor that went into making the object disappears from view; the people whose labor made the object also disappear. All that is left is a price tag.

And so we look at a glass, or a newspaper, or coffee, and instead of seeing a logger or a factory worker or a farmer, we see $1.25. If you see a table and think "that table is $50," you aren't thinking about the logger who cut the wood or the carpenter who built the table ... you are thinking about the price of the table, you are acting as if the table "is" $50. How it was made, who it was made by, these things are irrelevant ... what matters is the price, we identify the table's value by saying it "is" $50.

Another problem arises when our entire society is caught up in the momentum of commodity fetishism. Everything ends up being defined by its price. As Cohen writes:

Almost everything can be seen in terms of exchange value; we look to a thing's price to gauge, even decipher, its meaning. We commodify things that seem inappropriately included in that sphere: advice, sex, adventure, babies, time, nature, safety. Our greatest expressions of adoration and rejoicing seem tied today to the market value of a given thing, to exalting it as a commodity (12-3).

I recently read a story about how expensive weddings have become. I'd like to think the coming together of two people in love could be seen as something other than a commodity, but when marriage is talked about in terms of the price of the ceremony ... well, I hope you see my point.

To define something, you must be able to define its opposite. The word "black" means nothing if we don't also understand "white." But the closer we come to being completely consumed by a point of view, the less likely we are to see an opposing perspective; the less we understand opposing points of view, the less we can truly define our own point of view. At which point "black" exists on its own, and any attempt to explain "white" is dismissed because it is not understood, it does not exist. This means we have a myopic view of what constitutes our world of "black," and no view at all of anything not-black.

And so, in today's world, we see everything in terms of commodity fetishism, and those terms are so prevalent that our view is myopic and we lack understanding of any alternative vision. Cohen writes:

[I]t is hard to find a starting place, to think of anything so sacred that it lies really and truly beyond the reach of commodification.... Anything we can control, even marginally, we can commodify. So of course today we've made commodities of things like trees and rocks and animals, even animal feces. We can pay for the service of having bees come and pollinate our orchards. We can pay to have someone else's horse mate with ours....

But the single greatest obstacle to our ability to see commodity fetishism as a construct we have imposed must be our legacy, as a country, of commodifying our own selves. Pounded into two and a half centuries of our history is the enslavement, and consequent ownership, of human beings ... since that practice ceased, we have found other ways to commodify human bodies and functions (210-2).

Commodity = thing with price. Fetish = thing with spirit. That spirit is the intrinsic, actual core of the object. Put the two together, commodity and fetish, and you attach a spirit to an object's price. The price of an object becomes its intrinsic, actual core.

Before this process occurred, the intrinsic core we valued was what you could call its "spirit." The juicy tastiness of an apple. The beauty of a sandy beach. The joyous abandon of a toddler. When we begin to perceive the intrinsic core as being equated with the thing's price, we value something different. Instead of the tastiness of the apple, we value the price of the apple ... instead of the beauty of the beach, we value the price of the land ... instead of the joy of the child, we value the price of his or her pre-school.

As the things we perceive as intrinsic change, as what we value changes, so then do our actions change. We no longer aspire to the eating of a juicy apple, no longer aspire to run on a sandy beach, no longer aspire to enjoying the company of a child. Those are part of our lives, of course, but the intrinsic core, the thing we mistake for "natural," is the price of the object. And so we aspire to make money, so that we can buy the apple, the land, the education.

Much disappears when price overtakes our desires. We lose track of the beauty of the apple, the beach, the child ... we make money, that's what matters. And when we look at something, we no longer care how it was created ... and you can take that in many ways, both concrete (which laborer helped put that apple on my plate) or more abstract (how do apples and beaches and children come to our world). We don't care how things are created, because we no longer think the intrinsic value comes from creation, but instead believe value is the same thing as an object's price.

And when "everything has its price," you can't leave out "human beings" when you say "everything." We are no longer just human; we are another thing with a price tag on it. Our worth isn't based on our actions or our moral sense or anything other than the price of our labor. Humans become no different from any other object. The apple is worth 50 cents, and your English teacher is worth a thousand dollars a month.

We often fetishize things without necessarily turning them into commodities. If I look at the shirt I wore when I got married in 1973, I don't see fabric cut and sewn into something I could wear, I don't see how much it cost, I see me getting married. Well, I've turned that shirt into a fetish. I see the shirt's value in what it means to me. So it's not the process of fetishizing that is the problem. The problem comes when the process only allows us to see value in an object's price. We no longer see labor, or history ... we only see the object as a commodity, a thing with a price.

prick up your ears

I just watched Prick Up Your Ears ... as usual, I'm 18 years behind everyone else ... and I'm hoping someone out there who has read Joe Orton's work and seen this movie can tell me if they feel it accurately portrayed Orton's essence. Because my never-read-Orton sense was that he was a lot more vividly in your face than in this movie, where he comes across more as a prankster than as someone who really wanted to wave his prick in people's faces. The movie doesn't wave its pricks ... it concentrates on Orton's partner Kenneth Halliwell, and he's not nearly as interesting a character, which kinda kills the movie. Gary Oldman is great, though, as is Vanessa Redgrave.