Went to Fan Appreciation Day yesterday. The fans seemed to appreciate Tim Lincecum and Omar Vizquel. Their win gave them a final record of 72-90, which was actually an improvement over last year's 91-loss season. They have now had losing seasons for four straight years, which hasn't happened since the mid-70s.
I began the season quoting Joe Sheehan: "The problem isn’t that this is a bad team. It’s that it’s a bad and boring team, with veterans who weren’t good enough to win when they had Bonds as a teammate, and now form a lineup that calls to mind the waning days of the Rachel Phelps Era.... This isn’t an effort at rebuilding. Frankly, I have no idea what it is, and I suspect the Giants front office doesn’t, either.... Quite frankly, I’m astounded that a professional baseball organization could be so ill-prepared for injuries that upon losing one shortstop and one third baseman, it was left with waiver bait and a guy who was overmatched in A-ball as its best options."
Obviously, the absence of Barry Bonds was the biggest difference between 2008 and all the other years since 1993. (Bonds never retired, but no one signed him. When Kevin Frandsen, who missed the entire season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, got an AB as a pinch-hitter yesterday, it gave him one more plate appearance for the season than Bonds.)
Just as obviously, the team had one player who was light years ahead of his teammates. This time it was a pitcher, Tim Lincecum, who as of this writing is a legitimate candidate for the Cy Young Award. The Giants took that award far too seriously, working Lincecum hard late in the season ... whether you think pitch counts are proven markers of abuse, or just something that has yet to be decided one way or the other, there was something stupid about pressing the best hope for the team's future just to improve his Cy Young chances.
The team's pitching is supposed to be their strong point, but I'd argue it's not that simple. Lincecum is a stud, and if he wasn't around, Matt Cain would be better recognized ... Cain, who is actually even younger than Lincecum, has never had a bad season in the majors. But after that, the rotation struggled ... Jonathan Sanchez has yet to emerge past the potential stage, and the rest are young and mediocre, or named Barry Zito. Sergio Ramos looks good out of the bullpen, and while saves have little to do with quality, Brian Wilson and his 41 saves pitched better than his 4.62 ERA might suggest. My point, though, is that while the team clearly needs offensive help, the pitching isn't as deep as people think. In other words, shut up with those Let's Trade Cain rumors.
The offense sucked, but there looks to be help down the road. How far down the road is hard to say, but it's actually a good time to be a Giants fan as far as hitting prospects go, and that's pretty unusual in the Brian Sabean era. Sabean (or whoever makes the personnel decisions on this team) has a lot to answer for, and my fame as a Sabean Basher is known. But there might be light at the end of that tunnel. If Sabean was fired tomorrow, I wouldn't shed any tears, and I really wish the team had someone, anyone, who had a clue about modern statistical player evaluation. But having said that, by the end of the season, Sabean convinced me that he deserved another year to bring this team into the post-Bonds era. Some of the problems happened on his watch, so he's not off my shitlist yet. But a good draft and a couple of appealing young players make me feel benevolent towards the man. It would have been preferable if, when the team finally entered a youth movement, they actually had some young players worth playing. But the team's future offense looks better now that it did a couple of years ago, and when you lose year after year, that's nice to see.
Probably the most important thing about the 2008 Giants, from my perspective, took place off the field, although the play on the field surely affected this. I had partial season ticket plans for most of the years between 1984 and 1999, and when the team moved to China Basin, I went for the full package. I've now spent nine years sitting in the upper deck behind home plate, dumping thousands of dollars a year into the Giants coffers. The first year, I don't think my seats were empty one time ... either I'd go or I'd find someone who wanted to buy them. After a few years, it got harder to sell my extras, but I was still going to lots of games myself, and having a fine time in the process. In 2004, the last time the Giants had a winning record, I attended 35 games ... a little less than half ... don't know how many I sold, probably somewhere between one and two dozen ... the per-game cost was going up, but I was still having a fine time.
The problem nowadays is that no one really feels like going to the game. There's no Barry to watch, the team isn't much good, and I guess I don't have as many friends as I thought :-). But it was very hard to find someone who wanted to go out to the park with me this year. The result was that I only went to 17 games, and that includes several mid-week day games where I went by myself. I sold the usual dozen ... I have a couple of people who buy some before the season ... but more than half of the time in 2008, my seats were empty. Of course, I still paid for them.
To put this in concrete terms, while I didn't keep track very closely, a conservative estimate would be that I spent in the neighborhood of $170/pair for the games I attended, if you start with the money I spent on season tickets and subtract the money I made from sales. $85 a seat, and I was in the upper deck.
Being a season ticket holder has its advantages. You always know you can go to any game you want, and, while it hasn't mattered recently, you are guaranteed post-season tickets. I've also attended the last 29 Opening Days, which is a lot easier when you have season tickets each year.
But I can't justify spending $170 per game. I could cherry-pick 17 games during the season, buy tickets on the secondary market, and average less than $170/game while sitting in much better seats. Essentially, I'm spending an extra $2000 or so per year to guarantee that I can spend a bunch more money if the team makes the post-season.
I don't know. I'm 55 years old, and for all I know, I'll go to my grave without seeing the Giants win the World Series. But I spend that money because I don't want them to finally win, and I'm watching on TV because I couldn't get tickets. Life goes on, though ... you can't always get what you want blah blah blah ...
One day sometime in the later parts of the 70s, I realized I hadn't worn a tie during the entire decade. Once I figured this out, it became a pride thing ... I wasn't going to wear a tie no matter what. I pulled it off, too ... I can honestly say that I never wore a tie, not even once, in the entire decade of the 1970s. And I didn't wear one during the early parts of the 1980s, either. But then I had a new revelation: it was becoming more work to refuse the tie than it was to just put the damn thing on. And the whole point all along was that ties weren't important. I was making them important, though, by refusing to wear them. So one day, I wore a tie, and it was a relief. I don't suppose I've worn a tie more than 20 times over the last 20 years, but I don't think about ties anymore, either, and that's the way it should be.
Every year I go to Opening Day, mostly because I love Opening Day, but also because I define myself in part as The Guy Who Always Goes to Opening Day. I never liked wearing ties, but other than that, this is kinda the same: part of my enjoyment of Opening Day is lessened because of that little thing inside me that MUST attend the opener, no matter what. I'm spending an extra $2000 a year so I can define myself as a Giants Season Ticket Holder. The question before me is whether that money creates a burden that is greater than the joy I'd get from being at a Giants playoff game.
And you know, that secondary market starts looking pretty good when I think like this. I could spent $400 on four decent-not-great Opening Day tix, spend $200 a few times a year to sit in the best seats, grab a couple of nice upper box seats at $75 for the pair at other times during the year ... I could do this, attend 17 games, and still save $1500 or so compared to season tickets in View Reserved. I could probably attend a few post-season games with the money I saved.
And I know for a fact that more people would want to go to the games with me if I had the nice seats in the lower deck.
In the end, the 2008 Giants can be summed up like this: I just spent more time talking about renewing my season tickets than I did talking about how well the team played.