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marco … scutaro … marco … scutaro

When the Giants won the World Series in 2010 (it still feels weird typing that), I spent quite a bit of time writing about my history with the team. Now that they are back in the Series, I figure I should say something, but I don’t want to repeat myself.

The Giants came to San Francisco in 1958, just before I turned five years old. They were in the World Series in 1962, and weren’t eliminated until the last pitch of the seventh game. They didn’t get back to the World Series for 17 years. When they finally made it, in 1989, the Series was interrupted by a massive earthquake, and the Giants were swept in four games. They didn’t get back to the World Series for 13 more years. They led the series, 3 games to 2, and were 8 outs away from winning the Series at last in Game Six. They lost the series in 7 games.

And then, in 2010, they somehow won the World Series. Before the 2010 season, the Giants had played 52 seasons in San Francisco and had only been to 3 World Series, losing them all.

Yet now, they are in the World Series for the second time in three years. Youneverknow.

There’s no point in trying to describe the emotions of the past couple of weeks. It’s not the same as 2010. Oh, in both cases, I assumed from the start that the Giants will lose. But in 2010, the feeling was “oh no, not again”. In 2012, it’s more like “I really want them to win, but if they don’t, we’ll always have 2010”. Where this shows up is in a certain giddiness that I didn’t feel for one second in 2010. That year was a nightmare in so many ways. It was, as locals came to know it, the year of Torture. This season is summed up by Hunter Pence, who has been awful since he joined the team, but who has a gift for inspirational speeches. Even when he hits a homer, he looks awful doing it, and when he’s not hitting homers (which is most of the time with the Giants), he looks ludicrous. And yes, a part of me is frustrated. But another part of me finds Pence’s at bats funny, and the worse he does, the funnier they are. He’s a reminder of the days when the Giants sucked.

And, of course, he had a key double last night that cleared the bases, and in the box score you see 2B and 3 RBI, but it was the looniest, awfulest 3-run double in baseball history, as Pence, in the process of breaking his bat, managed to hit the ball three times, which made it squiggle kind of like a knuckleball, resulting in some poor defensive play by the Cards. That double was the 2012 Giants.

How will they do in the Series? Of course I expect them to lose, that’s part of being a Giants fan. I don’t think they’ll win any of the games Verlander pitches, which means they have to pretty much win all the rest, and that’s asking a lot. But if there’s one thing we know from the 2012 Giants, it’s that youneverknow.

One last note: I’ve got a better chance of making the Giants WS roster than does Melky Cabrera. But holy cow, that is stupid. Just to pick one player at not-so-random, Guillermo Mota has been on the post-season roster so far, and his place on the depth chart is “fourth-best right-handed relief pitcher”. That job is unnecessary. Add the irony that Cabrera is out so the Giants can play the We’re Moralists card, while Mota served a 100-game suspension this season (twice as long as Melky’s), and … well, I bet there will be at least one time in the World Series where the Giants would benefit more from having Cabrera on the roster than Mota, while there were never be a time when Mota’s presence is the reason they won a game. I don’t harbor any ill feelings towards Mota. It’s not his fault the Giants have done this to themselves.

what i watched last week

The Ladykillers (Alexander Mackendrick, 1955). One of the many highly-regarded British comedies of the 1950s, and, like most such movies, largely lost on the likes of me. The plot is clever, Alec Guinness knows enough to let his fake teeth do the acting for him, and Katie Johnson is slyly entertaining as the Tweety-Bird lady. But it is never fall-on-the-floor funny … maybe it’s just me. I always think these films are not meant to make me fall on the floor, that they are meant to be smartly amusing. Yet I often read about people who actually do find the movies that funny. The Guardian called it the fifth-greatest comedy of all time. #887 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. Remade by the Coen Brothers in 2004. 6/10.

The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937). Another highly-regarded comedy, this time of the screwball variety, and, like many such movies, a favorite of mine. Irene Dunne apparently elicits mixed reactions from viewers, but I’ve always loved her in this movie. Cary Grant is Cary Grant, the Chow Yun-Fat of his day. The Awful Truth is less screwy than something like Bringing Up Baby, but that extra bit of grounding might actually help the film. Dunne and Grant play so well off of each other that you can watch The Awful Truth multiple times without the gags getting old. The gags are good, but the actors are even better. And the final scene, which is barely screwball at all, is witty and very sexy. #365 on the TSPDT list. 9/10.

goonies never say die

It’s a big sports weekend in the Bay Area. The 49ers won on Thursday. The Giants lived to play at least one more day. Cal and Stanford played The Big Game, although the result wasn’t anything to be happy about. With so much going on, one other thing may slip by most people’s attention.

Many (not all) soccer leagues in the world count the regular season as the championship. There are other competitions going on, but if, say, you come in first in the Premier League, you are the champs. Other leagues, including the Mexican league and our own MLS, have post-season playoffs. In the case of MLS, the best record in the regular season ensures home field advantage throughout the playoffs that will decide the champion. The league also awards the Supporters Shield to the team with the best regular-season record.

The San Jose Earthquakes were not a very good team in the early years of MLS (they were called the Clash for the first seasons). But from 2001-5, they were very good indeed. In 2001, they were league champions. In 2002, they were runners-up for the Supporters Shield. In 2003, they won the championship again. And in 2005, they won the Supporters Shield for the first time.

At which point, they moved to Houston, where they were champions in 2006 and 2007, while San Jose fans watched on TV, if at all.

The San Jose Earthquakes were reborn as a franchise for the 2008 MLS season. In the first four years of their return, they never finished higher than sixth in their conference, missed the playoffs in three of the four years, and for the most part looked like the expansion team they were.

With the MLS results of today, the San Jose Earthquakes are the 2012 MLS Supporters Shield holders.

MLS salaries are relatively low in the world market, due to league salary cap restrictions. Even the most visible MLS player, David Beckham, “only” makes $4 million a year. The highest-paid player on the Earthquakes, Chris Wondolowski, who has led the league in goals scored three years in a row, will make $300,000 this year.

Tomorrow, the Quakes will have a groundbreaking ceremony for their new stadium. They have invited fans to take part; each fan attending will have their own shovel, as the club tries to break the Guinness World Record for … well, something having to do with shovels and groundbreaking.

Ironically, now that they are holders of the 2012 Supporters Shield, they have home field for their entire playoff run. If they make it to the MLS Cup (the league’s Super Bowl), they will be the hosts.

But, as you might guess from the upcoming groundbreaking, their current stadium, Buck Shaw, wasn’t quite designed for a major sporting event. Buck Shaw Stadium on the Santa Clara University campus is the kind of cozy site where graduation ceremonies are held. It spent 30 years as the school’s American football stadium, and 42 years as their baseball stadium. When the Quakes were reborn in 2008, they adopted Buck Shaw as their home until a new stadium could be built.

Buck Shaw holds 10,525 fans. It’s cozy and charming and kinda pretty. It’s also old, lacks a lot of modern conveniences, depends on food trucks for much of its concessions, and did I mention the bathrooms suck?

This is the first year that MLS will give the MLS Cup final to the team with the best record. In years past, like with the Super Bowl, MLS Cup was held at a pre-determined location. I seriously doubt that anyone at MLS thought of what might happen under the new rule, if the dismal San Jose Earthquakes had the best record.

The Quakes are not there yet. They have to win two playoff rounds to get to the final. But if they do? MLS is not going to let their showcase event take place in a 10,525-seat stadium with little room for media. If they make it that far, we may see the Quakes at Stanford Stadium, Spartan Stadium, AT&T Park … somewhere in the Bay Area. But it won’t be Buck Shaw.

music friday: bruce springsteen, “we take care of our own”

While this is something of a repeat, it is tied to current events.

Back in January, when this single was released in advance of Bruce’s album, Wrecking Ball, I chose it for a Music Friday entry:

The repetition of the title, “We Take Care of Our Own”, hammers home the irony of the place where the flag is flown (this throws us off, because Bruce is usually the least ironic of artists). There would seem to be no way to take it other than ironically: good hearts turn to stone, there ain’t no help, the promise from sea to shining sea is gone, but “wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own.” No one is being taken care of … he can’t get much more clear than “there ain’t no help”.

Yet some folks are apparently unearthing a hopeful message from all of this, as if the mere existence of a Bruce Springsteen song in these dark times is reason to hope (I’m regularly guilty of this idea, myself). … There may be hope elsewhere on the album, and Bruce has a long tradition of finding hope in the midst of despair. But it ain’t here.

The always trustworthy Matt Orel locked onto this at the time:

It didn't take long for history to repeat. Already this morning, a piece in Los Angeles Times was titled, "First take: Bruce Springsteen's patriotic 'We Take Care of Our Own'" According to this misread, the lyrics "offer an affirmation of national glory," and "the title phrase borders on jingoism." Of the chorus, "We take care of our own/Wherever this flag is flown/We take care of our own," the piece concludes, without the barest hint of irony, that it's "about community and pride."

He added, “I hear an accusation, a cry of betrayal from a former believer … the song is one of bitterness, angriness, and is a reminder of who we supposedly were.”

It’s perhaps understandable that some folks would misread this song, as many did with “Born in the U.S.A.” … but this week, a surprising new person jumped onto the Misreading Train.

Bruce Springsteen appeared with Bill Clinton at a rally for President Obama. At that rally, Bruce sang “We Take Care of Our Own”. Afterwards, I wrote an email to a group of fellow Bruce fans:

I was confused when Bruce sang "We Take Care of Our Own" today. He is rarely ironic ... too straightforward for that ... but WTCOOO is one of his most ironic songs, since he is singing about a country that no longer seems to take care of its own. …

He didn't write this song when Bush was president, he wrote it during the current administration.

So when Bruce sang it as part of a pro-Obama performance, I wondered why he seemed to be misinterpreting it, as well.

I understand Bruce endorsing Obama, and playing for him today. I just don't get his use of that particular song.

Once again, Matt Orel was on the case. “We Take Care of Our Own fired up the crowd. Several months ago I suggested that that song slammed Obama every bit as much as his opponents; while I still hold to that opinion, one would never have gotten that impression from Bruce's performance today.”

Here’s Bruce at the rally (you get a bonus, “This Land Is Your Land”):

And here he is, offering up an angrier version of the song (this video comes from TheMagikRat, who turns out the most amazing audience-shot concert videos I’ve ever seen on YouTube):

what if cain was one of us

I was having a chat with someone who works for a professional sports franchise (leaving this anonymous … don’t suppose that’s necessary, but better safe than). We were talking about how working for a team gives an additional perspective on how he sees the game. One thing he realized is that fans care much more than the players and coaches who actually perform on the field of play. He wasn’t saying the players etc. don’t care … far from it. But, as he said, they care “in the way that you want to do a good job. Good and bad days at the office are an actual thing, as opposed to so-and-so sucks.”

I think part of this comes from the fact that fans can’t do anything to affect the action. Oh, we pretend that our fervent support for the home team makes a difference. But when it comes down to needing a strikeout or a home run, a three-point shot or a last-minute field goal, it’s all on the player. And nothing is more frustrating than wanting a certain result with all the emotion you’ve got, and it’s entirely out of your hands.

A player can lose and say “I did my best.” A fan can only say, “we lost.”

I’ve long tried to avoid using “we” and “our” to talk about sports teams. “How did we do?” seemed like a silly question, when “we” didn’t do anything. But I’ve also always thought that the fan’s connection to a team is far deeper than that of the player. Take someone like Matt Cain. He was drafted by the Giants in 2002. He’s been a Giant for eleven years now. When he became a Giant in ‘02, I had been a fan of the team for 46 years. My commitment to the team has lasted far longer than Cain’s. It is strange that I avoid saying “we” and “our”. Matt Cain wants to do a good job. He wants to win for himself, for his teammates, and yes, for the fans. But we’re a distant third in that equation. Meanwhile, we want Matt Cain to do a good job for us.

When the Giants came from behind in dramatic fashion to take the series against the Reds, you heard a common cliché, that the guys on the team were playing, not for the name on the back of their jersey, but for the name on the front. Fans like to think we are part of the name on the front, but that’s a stretch. What the player means is that their individual excellence is less important than the excellence of the team. But by “team” they don’t really mean “the name on the front” … they don’t mean San Francisco. They mean “the guys in this clubhouse who work together for a common goal”.

But what fans mean when they think of “the name on the front” is “our team”. We literally root for the name on the front. If you wear a Giants jersey, you are one of us. If you then switch teams, you are no longer one of us. But the fellow Giants fan sitting next to you will always be one of us. As will you.

history, not nostalgia

Souciant Magazine is running a piece I wrote about the Corin Tucker Band, their latest album, and the concert I saw them play last week:

History, Not Nostalgia

The proverbial long-time reader of this blog will understand that while I didn’t pick the title, I wish I had been the one to come up with it. If I ever write a book, I’ve got my title.

Here’s a brief excerpt that discusses the concert, since I didn’t write about it here (although the central idea came from something I wrote here the first time I saw the band):

The Corin Tucker Band’s strengths, though, do take away a certain edge that Tucker’s earlier band displayed. They remind me a bit of David Johansen’s first post-New York Dolls group. Johansen’s band were “better” musicians than the Dolls, but “better” was never the point of Johnny Thunders. There isn’t a feeling of danger here. While it’s easy to see why that can be a good thing, and how it fits into where Tucker is today, there is a reason why the New York Dolls are legends while David Johansen is just a talented solo artist.

by request: paranormal activity (oren peli, 2007)

This comes from Doug, who is prepping for the release of Paranormal Activity 4 by re-watching the earlier films in the series.

It’s hard to be too critical towards a movie made for $15,000 that grossed almost $200 million worldwide. And Oren Peli does more than just get a movie done on the cheap. There’s artfulness here, and his “found footage” approach is believable, as an approach. However, this doesn’t mean Peli manages to overcome some of the typical problems with the standard genre narrative he is presenting. One can appreciate his skills, and still wish Paranormal Activity was a better movie.

There’s the “don’t go in the basement” problem. Presented with a possible demon invasion, the two protagonists never try leaving the house (they accept the advice of a ghost hunter, who tells them leaving won’t help, even though he asserts on several occasions that demons are not his “specialty”, i.e. he’s talking out of his ass). It’s actually rather clever on Peli’s part: he used his own home as the only set in the movie, which saved a lot of money, then wrote a lame “explanation” from the ghost hunter so we wouldn’t question the assumption that the characters shouldn’t go somewhere else. And there’s a certain pleasure in seeing the typical horror-film routine playing out … part of the fun is yelling at the screen for the heroine to stop doing what she’s doing, just before she does it anyway. But I found it mildly irritating in this case.

As with many quirky films, Peli is congratulated as much for what he doesn’t do as for what he does. He doesn’t pile on the cheap thrills, the gore is minimal, the sexuality implied (no gratuitous naked babes), the pace unhurried. Peli deserves credit for trying something different. But the slow buildup, combined with the annoying behavior of the two main characters (granted, the guy is supposed to be annoying), means that the first half drags considerably. It’s one thing to refuse the cheap thrill, but to play everything so low-key made it hard for me to stay awake.

Peli can also be applauded for the high level of his influences. But once you make the connection between this film and, say, Rosemary’s Baby, you realize that Oren Peli is no Roman Polanski. Compare Paranormal Activity to Polanski’s first feature, Knife in the Water, also a low-budget thriller with a minimal cast, to get a feel for the difference between someone making the most of what little resources they have, and someone making a very good movie with little resources.

All of this may seem like damning with faint praise, and I don’t really want to come across that way. Paranormal Activity is indeed quite an accomplishment. It’s just not a great movie. 6/10.

music friday: san francisco

Presented without comment:

Whenever the Giants win at home, a friend of mine tweets, “Sing it, Tony!” Here is what the fans at the ball park hear at that moment:

This is from Game Three (cont.) of the 1989 World Series, returning after the earthquake interruption:

And, for those of a certain age, an extra dollop of nostalgia:

campbell’s soup can

When writer Mark Evanier needs to take a short break from his fine blog, News from Me, due to outside work, he posts a picture of a can of Campbell’s soup.

Meanwhile, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein’s blog, A plain blog about politics, has gotten a lot of attention in his field over the past couple of years, and now you can see his writing popping up all over the place (besides his blog, I often find him on Salon). Jonathan writes a lot … his blog usually gets multiple posts per day, and there are the aforementioned other places, so he’s a busy guy.

He is also a Giants fan. Today he apologized for the “slow blogging”, and mentioned that he had an eye on the Giants game.

Me, I can barely look at the TV when the Reds are batting, which gives me a moment to write this. I could be writing something about the Giants, or I could be writing something about Corin Tucker, who I will be seeing this evening. But I’m just gonna toss out a virtual Campbell’s soup can and apologize for the slow blogging.