opening day 1987

(There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at some of those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.)

1986 was a promising year for the Giants. It was the first full year under manager Roger Craig, it was their first winning season in four years, and it was the rookie season for Forever Giants Will Clark and Robby Thompson. So it was with a feeling of optimism that we showed up for the 1987 opener at Candlestick.

The Padres' lineup included one future Hall-of-Famer, Tony Gwynn. It also included three players who were traded to San Francisco later in the season, one of the biggest Giants' trades of the time, acquiring Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, and Craig Lefferts. (They also had Tim Flannery, who later became a legendary coach for the Giants.) The starting pitchers were Eric Show and Mike Krukow. And there was one more future Hall-of-Famer: plate umpire Doug Harvey.

The Giants struggled against Show, and while Krukow mostly held off the Padres, going into the bottom of the 8th the Giants trailed, 3-0. But the Giants' bats awoke in the 8th. With one out, Mike Aldrete pinch-hit for Krukow and drew a walk. Chris Speier pinch-ran for Aldrete, and Clark singled. Chris Brown, who was later dealt to the Padres in that mid-season trade, doubled home Speier, and one out later, Candy Maldonado, appearing in his first game for the Giants, doubled home Clark and Brown to tie the game.

After which, no one scored for a while. The Giants threatened in the bottom of the 10th when Clark led off with a triple against Lefferts. Padres manager Larry Bowa ordered two intentional walks to load the bases with no one out. But Joel Youngblood hit one back to the mound, with Clark out at the plate, and Chili Davis hit into a double play.

It all came together in the bottom of the 12th. After new pitcher Craig Lefferts retired the first two batters, he gave up consecutive singles to Jeffery Leonard, Bob Melvin, and Chili Davis, sending the fans home happy with a 4-3 Giants win.

The Giants went on to win the NL West, marking their first trip to the post-season in 16 years. They won 3 of the first 5 games against the St. Louis Cardinals, but didn't score in the final two games, ending the season.

Here is Game Five of the NLCS against the Cardinals. That series was the first I had ever attended in person, and after this game, which put the Giants up 3 games to 2 as they went to St. Louis, all of us in the stands said we'd see each other at the World Series. Oops.


opening day 1983

(There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at some of those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.)

1983 was my 4th Opening Day, and it was quite eventful. The 1982 season was exciting, although it's often forgotten now. So we felt optimistic for 1983. The Giants opened at home against the Padres, with Mike Krukow (pitching in his first game as a Giant) going against Tim Lollar. Krukow came to the Giants in a trade that saw Joe Morgan sent to Philadelphia, where he went to the World Series.

There were no future Hall-of-Famers in this game, but there were some interesting names. The hated Steve Garvey was making his debut as a Padre. Future Giants legend Tim Flannery, who was only 25, got a couple of at-bats for San Diego. Krukow's debut was inauspicious ... he gave up 4 runs in an inning-and-a-third. The Giants had clawed back to a 5-3 deficit going into the top of the fifth. Jim Barr came in to pitch. Here's how the Padres' half of the fifth went:

Single, single, single, single, single, wild pitch, out, single, new pitcher, out, walk, error, double, out. When the dust had cleared, San Diego had sent 12 men to the plate and scored 8 runs to take a 13-3 lead.

The Giants got 3 of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, but the Padres weren't done ... they got those 3 runs back in the top of the sixth to make it 16-6. The Giants weren't done, either, scoring 3 in the 6th, 1 in the 7th, and 3 more in the 8th to make it 16-13. Tom O'Malley came up with two on, representing the potential tying run. But he flied out, and the end of the game was anti-climatic. The Giants went in order in the ninth, the game ending when Gary Lucas struck out Duane Kuiper.

So: 29 runs, 33 hits, 3 errors, and 5 home runs. More than 50,000 showed up and got their money's worth, even if the home team lost.


throwback thursday: opening day 1980

There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.

My first Opening Day was April 17, 1980. The Giants had stunk in 1979, and in 1980 they kicked off the season on the road by losing 6 of 7 games. I remember a few things about that afternoon. For one, I had a broken foot (which hadn't prevented me from seeing The Ramones a few days earlier). For another, our seats were not only in the nosebleeds, but way up in the nosebleeds. I had to walk up a lot of stairs before I could sit down. I could take it ... I was only 26 years old.

The visitors were the San Diego Padres, who boasted two future Hall of Famers in Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. (I find it interesting that seemingly any old box score you look at includes future Hall of Famers, even if we didn't realize it at the time. Ozzie Smith was 25, in his third season, and had yet to win one of those bazillon Gold Gloves. Winfield looked a little better ... 28 years old, 3-time All-Star, Gold Glover, led the NL in RBI in 1979.) The Giants countered with a future Hall-of-Famer of the their own in Willie McCovey, who had established his Hall credentials by 1980, having by Opening Day a total of 520 home runs.

There were only 3 umpires ... someone missed a flight. The Giants sent Vida Blue to the mound; the Padres offered Eric Rasmussen. Rasmussen is best-known today as The Man Formerly Called Harry. He was born with the name Harold Rasmussen, and was called Harry through the 1976 season. Turned out, he hated the name Harry, and hated Harold even more. So he changed his name legally to Eric, and that's the man who started against the Giants on that Opening Day.

The Giants wasted no time making the fans happy. In the bottom of the first, two walks put runners on for the legendary McCovey, who singled home the first run of the game. Willie ended the day with 3 hits and 3 RBI ... he was the best player in the game. He was also 42 years old. He only managed 9 more RBI that season before retiring in early July.

The Giants coasted the rest of the game. Jack Clark and Milt May also had three hits, and the Padres didn't score until Vida gave up a 3-run homer to Gene Tenace in the 9th inning. Final score: Giants 7, Padres 3.

Here is the 1980 Giants Team Highlight Film, "Tradition for Today":


throwback thursday: jim bouton 1939-2019

Jim Bouton died yesterday. I wrote about his classic book, Ball Four, back in 2012. I'll re-post it here.

Ball Four, Revisited

This wasn’t the first time I revisited Jim Bouton’s book about the 1969 Seattle Pilots baseball team. He seems to come out with a new edition every decade or so, and I generally re-read it then. This time around, my birthday came up, I saw there was a Kindle version, I put it on my wish list, and my baseball-loving sister got it for me (thanks!).

Ball Four is of interest, even to a non-fan of baseball, because of its historical importance as one of the first sports books to reveal what the game was “really” like. It wasn’t the first … not sure what is, although Jim Brosnan wrote two similar books in the early 60s, The Long Season and Pennant Race, that have long been favorites of mine. Nowadays, it might seem quaint to realize there was a time (the early 70s) when the baseball establishment could be in an uproar because Bouton (and his co-writer, Leonard Shecter) talked about players cussing and taking amphetamines and getting drunk on their off-days (and sometimes their on-days). Brosnan went through the same thing, although as I recall (not having re-read his books for a few years … perhaps it’s time) his books didn’t have quite as much a feel of exposé as Bouton’s did.

But most of the interest for the non-fan comes from that historical impact. The diary aspects, with its chronicling of the drudgery of a six-month season, are great for baseball aficionados, but I don’t suppose others would care. Having said that, Ball Four ultimately works because it is a book filled with characters, and the fact that they are real people makes it even better. Apparently Joe Schultz, manager of the Pilots, was angered by his portrayal in the book. Which is sad, because Schultz comes across as a great character, someone placed in an impossible situation (managing a poor, expansion ball team that lasted only one season before moving to Milwaukee) who used an idiosyncratic use of language to cajole his team into whatever heights they might possibly reach.

That’s what is most enjoyable about revisiting Ball Four, reading once again about Bouton and Schultz and the rest. The response of the time is historically interesting, but in the end, what I like best is Joe Schultz telling the guys, “Boys, bunting is like jacking off. Once you learn how you never forget.”

For an interesting, positive contemporaneous review of the book from a perhaps surprising source, check out Robert “Dean of American Rock Critics” Christgau’s piece, “Bouton Baseball”:

Bouton is the kind of iconoclast who is so insecure in his chosen isolation that he seems to delight in making other men look foolish. To an extent, this may be salutory. Even the most skeptical fan forgets that those names in the newspapers and figures on the screen are as frail as you or me, and this oversight is compounded by the daily dope from journalists whose living depends on acquiring more dope tomorrow. But it's hard to say how essential such an illusion may be to the continued power of the game. The baseball men who complain most bitterly about this book never claim it is untrue, only unfair--because it examines baseball's errants so steadfastly--and injudicious--because it reveals what the kids are better off not knowing. Unfair it isn't: Bouton obviously loves baseball and despite his snittiness he describes his fellows with generous appreciation. But injudicious? I don't know. Theoretically, a player is judged by what he can do on the field--the game itself is the thing. But even more than other sports baseball requires not just technical esteem but an investment of emotion, and emotion is best invested in people, however faultily perceived. I don't think the glowering visage of Sal Maglie will ever fill me with awe again.


ten years ago today: my first and only no-hitter

A day early for a Throwback Thursday, but I can't change the calendar. Here is my post from July 10, 2009:

Tonight I attended my first no-hitter in 50+ years of going to baseball games.

In my crankier moods, and they are frequent when I’m watching the Giants, I’ve berated fans for giving out standing ovations too easily. A pitcher gets pulled in the sixth inning and he hasn’t stunk up the place, people give him a standing O. I always take that to its logical conclusion: if you give someone a standing ovation for a middling performance, what do you do when greatness occurs, throw yourself off the upper deck?

Tonight, Jonathan Sánchez earned his standing ovation.

How goofy was this? After 8 innings, I texted my wife with an update. You need to understand, my wife doesn’t like baseball. She never goes with me to games, and about the only time she ever comments on the sport is when she passes by the teevee and sees someone with long hair … she inevitably says he needs a haircut. But I was on the verge of seeing something historic, and I knew that would matter to her, even though the actual event wasn’t of interest. Funny thing is, I assumed she wouldn’t even know who Jonathan Sánchez was … I’m not sure she knows who Tim Lincecum is … so I didn’t mention his name to her, but afterwards, when I sent one last text saying I’d just seen my first no-hitter, she replied by asking if the pitcher was our daughter-in-law’s favorite. Sánchez is indeed Sonia’s fave, but how my wife knew that was a mystery.

My brother was at the game with me, and he was feeling a bit down when he got to the park. As the Giants built up their big lead, it became evident that the only story left was the no-hitter, and my brother informed me that the minute Sánchez gave up a hit, he was going to leave so he could drown his sorrows at a karaoke bar. Well, I don’t suppose he’s sorry that he had to stick around for the final out.

Here’s a picture I took with the Pre as the team rushed the field after the game. There’s no zoom function, so it’s very much an upper-deck kind of photo, but it’s better than nothing and proves I was there:

sanchez no-hitter

Here is a video showing all 27 outs:

Andrew Baggarly has an excellent piece on Sánchez today at The Athletic. Not sure if it has a paywall ... I subscribe ... but if you can read it, it's worth it.

On the 10-year anniversary of his no-hitter, Jonathan Sánchez is still pitching for the love of the game in Mexico


throwback to the well a third time

I've told this story at least twice before, each time on June 6, which is the date when this singular event occurred. The first post came on June 6, 2004 ... it marked the 20th anniversary. I'll cut-and-paste with minor edits.

There were better years to be a Giants fan than 1984. Among the "stars" of that 1984 squad were the combo of Al Oliver and Scot Thompson at first base (Oliver, a newly-acquired, decent if overrated player, was 37 years old, and he hit an empty .298 with no walks and literally no homers before being traded away in August; Thompson was a career bench-warmer who was OK for the Giants in '84). There was a three-headed, hitless Hydra at second consisting of Manny Trillo, Brad Wellman and Duane Kuiper (two were past their prime, one never had a prime); outfielder Joel Youngblood at thirdbase (he made 36 errors in 117 games); and the immortal Johnnie LeMaster hitting .217 at shortstop. Jack "The Ripper" Clark got off to a terrific start at the plate, and he was in his prime, but then he got injured, only played in 57 games, and was traded before the next season began. The winningest pitcher on the team was Mike Krukow, who won 11 while losing 12 with an ERA a full run higher than the league average ... it was his worst season.

At the beginning of play on June 6, the Giants were buried in last place, with the worst record in baseball, having lost 2/3 of their games thus far. They had finished off May by losing the last four games of a road trip. Returning to Candlestick Park, they won once, then lost another five in a row, leading up to the events of June 6th. It was grey and drizzly that afternoon, and only 7635 fans showed up, one of whom was me, playing a little mini-hooky from work (I was working swing shift and would be showing up late that day). The Giants leadoff hitter was Johnnie LeMaster, for those who think Neifi Perez is the worst leadoff hitter in Giants history. The visiting Atlanta Braves, led by Dale Murphy, picked up a couple of early runs off of Giants starter Jeff Robinson, but then, miracle of miracles, the Giants loaded the bases with two singles and a walk, at which point, Bob Brenly hit a grand-slam homer to put the locals up, 4-2. (As punishment, the next time he batted, Brenly was hit by a pitch.)

This was as good as it got for Giants fans in those days. You wouldn't have had any problem figuring out that we were disgruntled, since some fans had taken to showing up to games wearing paper bags over their heads, as if to say they were too ashamed of rooting for the Giants to show their heads. And, sadly, it was as good as it got for the Giants that day, as well. As the water drizzled over our bodies (it never actually rained, so they never quit playing, but it was never anything less than wet), the Giants farted away the rest of the game. In the top of the ninth inning, Bob Watson doubled home Rafael Ramirez to tie the game, 4-4. And so the game went on and on and on ... 3 1/2 hours worth by the time it was all done, which was a lot in those days.

In the top of the 11th inning, with two outs, the Braves got a runner on via a Giants error, bringing up pitcher Steve Bedrosian, who in his entire career hit .098 (15 singles and 3 walks in 14 years constituting his entire offensive output, while he struck out 58 times in 153 at-bats). Bedrosian singled to put runners on 1st and 2nd. In a move that will sound familiar to current Giants fans, the Giants then intentionally walked Dale Murphy, far and away the Braves' best hitter, moving everyone up a base to load 'em up, bringing up lefty Chris Chambliss (the Giants pitcher by this point being another lefty, Gary Lavelle). Lavelle proceeded to walk Chambliss as well, giving the Braves the lead ... the Giants couldn't score in the bottom of the 11th, ending the game with strikeouts by Johnnie LeMaster and Chili Davis, and just like that, the Giants had their sixth consecutive loss.

Which was too much to bear for a fan in the upper deck. I used to know his name, but I've forgotten it over the years. He was mad ... well, we were all mad, except for those of us who were just beaten down by the awfulness of everything ... a team that had never won the World Series, in the midst of their worst season ever, losing game after game in ugly fashion ... all 7000 of us who had been sitting in the drizzle all afternoon long with nothing to show for it except wet clothing, and there was this guy in the upper deck, and he'd had enough. As the Giants dragged ass back to their clubhouse, this fan, who had placed himself in the upper deck just above where the Giants's dugout was located, started yelling at the players. And he was loud, he was pissed, and he knew a lot of cuss words. There weren't very many of us left at the game, so it wasn't hard to hear this guy as he lambasted the players for their pathetic performance, spicing his commentary with f-this and f-that. He apparently felt the need to get closer to the players, so he climbed onto the railing so he could lean over better ... and by that point, I was out of the park, hoping to get on the road so I could get to work without missing too much time. For that reason, I only know what happened next from news reports.

The fan leaned over the railing ... like everything else in the park by that point, the railing was wet ... he leaned over, he slipped, he fell to the bottom deck and died from the impact, which was so hard he splintered a chair, a piece of which flew in the air and knocked an old-timer unconscious.

I've always thought the fan's last words were probably "YOU SUCK!" And while no one should die like that, and I mean no disrespect to the man or his family, nonetheless a part of me thinks that's how all SF Giants fans would like to go: at the ballpark, bitching about yet another loss. Seems appropriate, somehow.

Might as well finish with the greatest game of Bob Brenly's career:


still had it

On May 25, 1935, Babe Ruth was playing for the first time in the National League. He had turned 40 years old, and the New York Yankees let him go to the Boston Braves. The Babe played regularly for Boston, but it wasn't going well for the aging slugger, and as he took the field at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field that day, his batting average was at .153, with only 3 homers, which gave him 711 for his career.

I'm not sure there's an explanation for what happened that day. The Braves were a terrible team with a record of 8-19 (they eventually finished in last place). Ruth came up in the top of the first with one out and a man on, and hit his 712th home run off of Pirates pitcher Red Lucas. Top of the third, same situation: one out, man on, although the pitcher was now Guy Bush. Ruth hit another home run, his 713th. By the time Ruth faced Bush in the 7th inning, he had added an RBI single ... at that point, he had knocked in all five Boston runs, but they trailed, 7-5. There was no one on base this time, but The Babe wasn't done. He hit his third home run of the game, the 714th of his career. The 4-for-4 day boosted his batting average to .206. His career record 714 home runs lasted from 1935 until Henry Aaron broke it in 1974.

Landon Donovan was arguably the greatest soccer player in U.S. history. While still a teenager, he joined the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS and helped them to two league championships in four years. He then moved to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the majority of his career. When he retired, he held the all-time MLS regular season record with 145 goals.

Chris Wondolowski was something of a late bloomer. In 2010, at the age of 27, Wondo led MLS in goals scored while playing for the Earthquakes. In 2018, still with the Quakes, he scored ten goals, making it nine straight seasons with at least ten goals, a league record. At the end of that season, he had 144 career league goals, one short of Donovan's record.

At the beginning of 2019, Wondo, now 36 years old, started the team's first four matches, all of which they lost. Wondo didn't score in any of them. He found himself on the bench for the fifth game, which the Quakes won. Wondo became a late-game substitute, and was scoreless for the season, while the Quakes were getting better every week under new coach Matías "Pelado" Almeyda.

Today, Wondolowski got his first start in awhile, due to an injury to regular starter Danny Hoesen. And this followed:

Hopefully, this marks a late resurgence for Wondo, but in any event, he has been a True Earthquake.

Since I brought up Babe Ruth to start this post, I should probably add that after that three-homer game, Ruth played five more games and never had another hit.