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.


reaction

Anyone who has spent any time on YouTube knows the way it can become a giant time suck. You go there to watch one video, and by the time you leave the site, you've watched ten. I've been watching a lot of "reaction videos" lately ... I know that's what they are called, there's a Wikipedia page about them. They are exactly what you think: videos of people reacting to other videos, which often/usually appear on your screen along with the person doing the reacting.

Perhaps my favorite, which I have posted here before, is a compilation of fans of The 100 watching a key scene from the show that features (SPOILER FOR SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED YEARS AGO, BUT WHATEVER) the return of a beloved character thought to be gone for good.

An ironic note: Lexa's earlier death was a perfect example of Dead Lesbian Syndrome, the worst since Tara in Buffy. Fans were outraged ... many said they would never watch again. But in the above scene, we saw that while we can never forget that stupid death, showrunner Jason Rothenberg knew his character, and knew how to send her off properly (even if it took 9 episodes to get there). The 100 has just begun its 6th season, with a 7th already in place, but for me, Lexa's return remains the most emotional scene in a series that is full of them.

My recent binge has been focused on someone who calls himself Modern Renaissance Man. He gave himself the right handle, as a look at his Patreon page demonstrates: "videos, comedy relief, ministering, counseling, advice". As I type this, he has uploaded 963 reaction videos to his YouTube channel. What I find fascinating is that he is knowledgeable about music (he is, in fact, a musician in addition to everything else he does), but he is fairly young and not necessarily familiar with the classic tunes of older times. It can be a delight seeing his response to things that he has never heard, things that us old timers have heard so many times the songs become almost meaningless. Here is the first one I watched:

There is no way for me to go back to the moment I first heard this song. The next best thing is watching someone else hear it for the first time.

One more, a favorite song of mine, and a favorite video of mine as well:

Finally, something a little different, but again, an example of something us geezers have memorized but which might be new to others:


opening day #40

[As I write this, there is a 90% chance of rain tomorrow.]

Tomorrow I will attend my 40th consecutive Giants home opener. Here is how the first 39 turned out:

4-17-80: Opening Day # 1 (Giants 7 Padres 3)
4- 9-81: Opening Day # 2 (Padres 4 Giants 1, 12 inn.)
4-13-82: Opening Day # 3 (Giants 3 Padres 2)
4- 5-83: Opening Day # 4 (Padres 16 Giants 13)
4- 3-84: Opening Day # 5 (Cubs 5 Giants 3)
4- 9-85: Opening Day # 6 (Giants 4 Padres 3)
4-15-86: Opening Day # 7 (Astros 8 Giants 3)
4- 6-87: Opening Day # 8 (Giants 4 Padres 3, 12 inn.)
4- 7-88: Opening Day # 9 (Giants 6 Padres 1)
4-10-89: Opening Day #10 (Dodgers 7 Giants 4)
4-13-90: Opening Day #11 (Padres 8 Giants 3)
4-15-91: Opening Day #12 (Dodgers 2 Giants 1)
4-14-92: Opening Day #13 (Padres 4 Giants 0)
4-12-93: Opening Day #14 (Giants 4 Marlins 3, 11 inn.)
4- 4-94: Opening Day #15 (Giants 8 Pirates 0)
4-28-95: Opening Day #16 (Giants 4 Marlins 0)
4-12-96: Opening Day #17 (Giants 4 Cubs 1)
4- 1-97: Opening Day #18 (Pirates 5 Giants 2)
4- 7-98: Opening Day #19 (Giants 5 Astros 4, 10 inn.)
4- 8-99: Opening Day #20 (Giants 12 Padres 4)
4-11-00: Opening Day #21 (Dodgers 6 Giants 5)
4- 2-01: Opening Day #22 (Giants 3 Padres 2)
4- 5-02: Opening Day #23 (Giants 3 Padres 1, 10 inn.)
4- 7-03: Opening Day #24 (Giants 7, Padres 4)
4-12-04: Opening Day #25 (Giants 7 Brewers 5)
4- 5-05: Opening Day #26 (Giants 4, Dodgers 2)
4- 6-06: Opening Day #27 (Giants 6, Braves 4)
4 -3-07: Opening Day #28 (Padres 7 Giants 0)
4- 7-08: Opening Day #29 (Padres 8, Giants 4)
4- 7-09: Opening Day #30 (Giants 10 Brewers 6)
4- 9-10: Opening Day #31 (Giants 5 Braves 4, 13 inn.)
4- 8-11: Opening Day #32 (Giants 5 Cardinals 4, 12 inn.)
4-13-12: Opening Day #33 (Giants 5 Pirates 0)
4- 5-13: Opening Day #34 (Giants 1 Cardinals 0)
4- 8-14: Opening Day #35 (Giants 7 Diamondbacks 3)
4-13-15: Opening Day #36 (Rockies 2 Giants 0)
4- 7-16: Opening Day #37 (Giants 12 Dodgers 6)
4-10-17: Opening Day #38 (Giants 4 D-Backs 1)
4 - 3-18: Opening Day #39 (Mariners 6 Giants 4)
4- 5-19: OPENING DAY #40: RAYS-GIANTS

Bonus for hardcore baseball fans: here are the starting lineups for my first Opening Day back in 1980. Three future Hall-of-Famers ... I have no idea if that's a lot or a little for any random game:

San Diego Padres, managed by Jerry Coleman:

  1. Ozzie Smith ss
  2. Dave Cash 2b
  3. Gene Richards lf
  4. Dave Winfield rf
  5. Willie Montanez 1b
  6. Gene Tenace c
  7. Jerry Mumphrey cf
  8. Aurelio Rodriguez 3b
  9. Eric Rasmussen p

San Francisco Giants, managed by Dave Bristol:

  1. Bill North cf
  2. Darrell Evans 3b
  3. Jack Clark rf
  4. Willie McCovey 1b
  5. Terry Whitfield lf
  6. Rennie Stennett 2b
  7. Milt May c
  8. Johnnie LeMaster ss
  9. Vida Blue p

five years (2019-2023)

Every five years, my sister and I choose baseball players that we think will do well over the following five seasons. We pick one player for each position, 4 starting pitchers, and one reliever. That's all of the rules ... there are no substitutes (one of my choices once died during the five-year period, but I couldn't make a change). After five years, we see who made the best picks ... there are no hard-and-fast tools for evaluation, we just eyeball what they have done, and it's usually obvious. We pair the players by position, so we compare her catcher to mine, etc. This is our fifth time doing this, going back 20 years, and my sister wins every time. Here are our choices for 2019-2023:

Chris:

C: JT Realmuto
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Jose Altuve
3B: Nolan Arenado
SS: Francisco Lindor
OF: Mike Trout, Roberto Acuna, Bryce Harper
SP: Gerrit Cole, Blake Snell, Corey Kluber, Walker Buehler
RP: Edwin Diaz

Steven:

C: Gary Sanchez
1B: Cody Bellinger
2B: Javier Baez
3B: Alex Bregman
SS: Trea Turner
OF: Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge
SP: Chris Sale, Aaron Nola, Noah Syndergaard, Jameson Taillon
RP: Josh Hader

We dug up our first draft, from 1999. Here are the players we picked 20 years ago:

Chris:

C: Mike Piazza
1B: Jim Thome
2B:Craig Biggio
3B: Chipper Jones
SS: Alex Rodriguez
OF: Ken Griffey, Ben Grieve, Shannon Stewart
SP: Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Kevin Brown
RP: Mariano Rivera

Steven:

C: Ivan Rodriguez
1B: Carlos Delgado
2B: Todd Walker
3B: Scott Rolen
SS: Derek Jeter
OF: Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, Bobby Higginson
SP: Brad Radke, Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood, Jimmy Haynes
RP: Matt Anderson


throwback stretch

There are some great tributes out there right now to Willie McCovey ... Andrew Baggarly's was one of the best: "Remembering Willie McCovey, who struck fear without a drop of malice in his heart":

There was a time when McCovey worried that he really might be forgotten, that he wouldn’t have a lasting place in baseball history. It’s safe to say that he left this world with no such worries. There is a beautiful ballpark on the edge of San Francisco Bay. And there is a cove that bears his name....

A few years ago, former commissioner Fay Vincent interviewed former players for a book entitled, “It’s What’s Inside the Lines That Counts: Baseball Stars of the 1970s and 1980s Talk About the Game They Loved.” Vincent asked McCovey how he would like to be remembered. This is what he said:

“I just hope I left a legacy that lets people know how much I love the game. And I really mean what I said, that I would have played it for nothing. … I would have. I wanted to play that badly. I loved being a Giant. I mean, I grew up a Dodger fan because of Jackie Robinson. But there is nothing like the Giant family. That’s kind of the legacy I’d like, to be remembered as just a really nice guy.”

I think this is the second time I've cut-and-pasted this old post, which means it's making its third appearance on the blog. It's me, reminiscing about something involving McCovey that happened in 1980, when he was about to retire:

25 years ago today, I attended a double-header at Candlestick Park that shows the way sports works its way into our lives not only in large ways but also in small ones.

1980 was a nondescript season for the Giants. They got off to a slow start, and by June 29, they were already 11 games out and well on their way to a fifth-place finish in a six-team division. On offense, they had Jack Clark, Darrell Evans and very little else ... the pitching was a bit better, with Vida Blue and Ed Whitson having decent years (and making the All-Star team) and the bullpen pitching well.

Anyway, a bunch of us decided to take in the double-header, which was against the hated Dodgers.... The only thing going on for the Giants was the impending retirement of Willie McCovey, who was closing down a Hall of Fame career, and would be leaving the game at the All-Star break, which was a little more than a week away.

McCovey wasn't in the starting lineup for the first game. That spot belonged to Rich Murray, a 22-year-old pheenom who had just come up to the majors earlier in the month. (Murray's tenure as McCovey's replacement didn't last long ... he only played 57 games in the majors, and is mostly known now as Eddie Murray's brother.) The game was to-and-fro, Bob Knepper dueling with Don Sutton, and as the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied 3-3. (It should be noted that the prospect of extra innings at a double-header wasn't quite so frightening in those days ... the game I am currently describing, for instance, only lasted 2 hours and 12 minutes.) The Dodgers brought in Bobby Castillo to relieve the tiring Sutton, and after a leadoff single by Rennie Stennett, Castillo retired the next two hitters, bringing up the pitcher's spot in the lineup.

And pinch-hitting for Bob Knepper was Willie McCovey.

There were 50,000 people at the park that day, and this was what we'd come to see: our old hero taking one last shot at our archrivals to the south. McCovey had managed only one homerun all season, the 521st of his career, but I think we can be forgiven for thinking hoping begging praying that he had #522 somewhere in that tired body.

And Castillo pitched to McCovey, and he got ahold of one. It went flying towards the right-centerfield fence, and 50,000 of us leapt into the air while Rennie Stennett circled the bases towards home. And then, since this is real life and not a made-up story, the ball fell just short of a homer, bouncing off the fence for a double that won the game for the Giants.

And I remember that game to this day.

Everything after that was anti-climactic. The Giants were shutout by Burt Hooton in the second game, and McCovey did not make an appearance.... The next Thursday, McCovey played his last game at Candlestick, and I played a little hooky to be there. In the third inning, with Jack Clark on third, Mac dribbled a ball past Dan Driessen at first base for a single and an RBI, his last at Candlestick. In the top of the 8th inning, McCovey went out to his position, and then, while everyone stood and cheered, Pheenom Murray came out to replace him. (There were 26,000 of us, not bad for a midweek day game.) Stretch McCovey was gone.

McCovey had one last shot in him, it turned out. On Sunday in Los Angeles, in his last game ever, he pinch-hit late in a tie game and lifted a sacrifice fly that gave the Giants the lead. It was his last major-league at-bat.


taking throwback literally

On this date in 1988, the Giants and Dodgers played a doubleheader at Candlestick before 50,000 fans. The first game started at 5:35, so you knew it was going to be a late night ... and it was, beginning on Tuesday but not ending until the wee hours of Wednesday.

As is always the case, my memories are hazy, but looking through Google, I find those memories mostly supported by evidence. Those of you who remember Candlestick will understand that it was cold. Fans regularly came dressed in layers, and as I recall I wore shorts (it was July, after all) but had warmer clothes, including long pants, in my backpack. At some point during the first game, I announced that I wasn't going to put on my long pants until the Giants won. Since the Dodgers won both games that night, I never managed to get my long pants on. The temperature for the second game was 49 degrees. It didn't end until 1:21 AM ... I don't know what the temperature was by then.

The first game was a pitchers' duel between Terry Mulholland and Orel Hershiser, tied at 1-1 until Rick Dempsey hit a 2-run homer to put the Dodgers ahead. The Giants grabbed a run back in the bottom of the 8th, but it all fell apart in the top of the ninth. Craig Lefferts, pitching his second inning, started the inning giving up a home run to Jeff Hamilton, after which he put the next two batters on. Scott Garrelts came in to pitch, and gave up a 2-run triple to Steve Sax. Finally, to pile on the embarrassment, Garrelts was then called for a balk, with Sax trotting home with another run. (To understand about balks and 1988, check out "Balks: The Story of the 1988 Major League Baseball Season" by Theron Schultz.) The Dodgers ended up winning, 7-3.

The second game began at 9:10. The Dodgers scored four runs in the 4th inning, but the Giants slowly came back to tie the game, 5-5, in the bottom of the 9th, leading to extra innings. (Did I mention it was cold? That I had on short pants? That we had now moved into Wednesday?) No one scored in the 10th. In the top of the 11th, Garrelts (back for his second appearance of the night) gave up a lead-off double to Franklin Stubbs. A ground ball moved Stubbs to third base with one out, bringing Dave Anderson to the plate.

Garrelts was called for a balk. Stubbs crossed the plate. Dodgers 6, Giants 5.

After the balk, Giants manager Roger Craig and pitcher Mike Krukow, who was on the DL, were ejected. The Dodgers ended up winners by that 6-5 score. The elapsed time between the first pitch of Game One and the last pitch of Game Two was 7 hours and 46 minutes. It was cold. I had on short pants.

Accounts vary, but there were around 30 arrests and 100 fans were escorted out of the park. I've always had one memory that I assumed must be false, but according to the book 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Jon Weisman, that most amazing of all my memories was true. A fan in the lower deck, close to home plate, caught a foul ball and threw it at the home plate umpire.

A lot of stuff was thrown on the field. That foul ball was the one that looms largest in my memory ... he gave up a souvenir! ... by throwing it at the umpire! But there were more infamous items being thrown. In particular, batteries. Dodger left-fielder Kirk Gibson was a popular target ... this is when Candlestick had that empty space between the left-field fence and the bleachers, a space that was filled with joyous kids when a home run came their way, but on that night, the space allowed unruly, pissed-off, drunken fans to climb on the fence, the better to locate the target of their missiles.

Gibson was later quoted as saying, "I've got to go out there again tonight. I'm not saying anything."

The best quote, though, came from Giants president and general manager Al Rosen. Rosen won an MVP award as a player, and was remembered as a bad ass who was Jewish and was always ready to fight opposing players if they offered up anti-Semitic insults. Rosen had spent four years in the Navy during World War II, and was a part of the initial landing on Okinawa during that war. He knew what he was talking about. After the doubleheader, Rosen said, "The beach at Okinawa was safer".

Little kids never again flooded the space in left field after home runs ... the Giants filled the space with barriers for the next game, and never made the space available again. The Giants, who at the time were the defending division champions, ended up in fourth place, while the Dodgers went to the World Series, where Kirk Fucking Gibson hit one of the most memorable home runs in the history of baseball (the fucker). There was some good news ... after 1988, the Dodgers didn't make it to the World Series again for 29 years (and when they finally made it, they lost), while during the same time period the Giants won three World Series. In a new park. Candlestick itself served as the home of the San Francisco 49ers for many years. It was demolished in 2015.

In 1999, as the Giants played their last season at Candlestick before moving to their new park, the Chronicle interviewed some people about their memories of the old dump. One of the best was a guy named Jesse Stirling:

My most vivid Candlestick memory would have to be the twi-night double-header against the Dodgers: an evening so rowdy, it ended the phenomenon of everyone jumping out of their seats to catch home run balls hit beyond the left field fence.

In a move never to be repeated by Giants management, a doubleheader was scheduled against the Dodgers on July 26, 1988, with both games taking place after nightfall. This meant 18 solid innings of drinking for the Giants faithful. Throw in two Scott Garrelts blown saves in a span of four hours, and you have a recipe for disaster. In the middle of all this was a young lad (me) and his dad. 

I saw no less than seven fist fights around me. Every curse word imaginable was hurled at the few Dodger fans who dared to brave the cold Candlestick night. Trust me, those Dodger fans weren't making a peep by the second game. The crowd was screaming "Beat L.A." so loud, it sounded like a rock concert at college.

A drunk guy sitting two seats away from me caught a foul ball, and the crowd started chanting, "Throw it back!" The mob mentality prevailed, and with a beer in one hand, the drunk proceeded to whistle a throw toward home plate that barely missed the home plate ump.

In left field, Kirk Gibson was getting pelted with everything from batteries to empty whiskey bottles. Fans were running out of their seats, climbing the chain-linked fence, and throwing stuff at Gibson's head. This is while the game is going on!

It was out of control. They put the barricades up in left field the very next game. The drunk who threw the ball onto the field was cuffed and escorted out of the park faster than you can say, "Humm baby."

The evening even made its way to the Urban Dictionary:

battery chucker
No-Cal, (Northern California) Fan, for his perceived tendency to throw batteries at opposing players, especially those from So-Cal. Mostly Giant's Baseball Fan.
 
Here is the game played the previous night (Giants win!):


opening day #39

Today I'll attend my 39th consecutive Giants home opener. The Giants have won 25 and lost 13 so far. Several players made their major-league debuts at one of these games: Juan Bonilla, Mike Couchee, Joey Cora, Jim Steels, Jose Guillen, Joe Martinez. Seven games have gone into extra innings, with the home team winning six of them.

I was going to pick a few highlights from over the years, but as I checked out old news stories, I realized that one opener stood above all others. I'll get to it in a second, but first, some of those highlights.

April 17, 1980: Giants 7, Padres 3. The only thing I remember about my first Opening Day is that I had a broken foot, and seats in the nosebleeds.

April 11, 2000: Dodgers 6, Giants 5. Dodger fans like remembering this one, known as the Kevin Elster Game. Elster, who had been out of baseball for a year, hit 3 homers in the first-ever game at what was then called Pacific Bell Park. It still belongs on my highlight list, precisely because it was the first one at China Basin. Barry Bonds liked the new park ... he hit a run-scoring double on the first pitch he saw, then homered in his next at-bat.

More Barry Bonds Games: In 2002, Barry hit a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 10th to send fans home happy. And in 2004, this happened:

Aaron Rowand: Aaron Rowand was an unlikely hero. The center fielder, in his third season with the Giants, had been a bit of a disappointment. In 2010, the Giants played the longest opener in terms of innings played, and in the bottom of the 13th, Rowand did this:

The Giants went on to win their first World Series since coming to San Francisco. In the 2011 opener, Rowand was at it again, this time in the bottom of the 12th:

Objectively, the best performance by a Giant on any Opening Day I attended came in 2012. Matt Cain faced 28 batters and retired 27 for a one-hitter. The only hit against Cain was by the opposing pitcher, James McDonald, who had a career BA of .110 over six seasons. (Cain wasn't done. Later in the season, he threw the first perfect game in Giants history.)

But my pick for my best Opening Day? 1993.

By the end of the 1992, the Giants looked like they would be leaving town. They were sold to investors from Florida. But the sale was denied, a group of locals bought the team and kept them in San Francisco, and they started their new reign by signing Barry Bonds.

Appropriately, the Giants' opponent for their 1993 home opener was the Florida Marlins, playing in their first season.

The Grateful Dead sang the National Anthem. Sherry Davis made her major-league debut as the PA announcer, the first full-time female stadium announcer for a major league baseball team.

Barry Bonds came up in the bottom of the 2nd for his first Candlestick at-bat as a Giant:

And in the bottom of the 11th, Darren Lewis singled home the winning run, giving the Giants a 4-3 victory.


game seven

I was going to wait until the final game of the World Series to write this, but there's no reason for that, so here goes.

In the arts, the audience might disagree about the quality of a work ... you know, taste preferences ... and certainly, when we walk out of a theater, for instance, our mood will be affected by what we've seen. But in most cases, there is no heartbreak, unless the work has purposely elicited such a response.

It's not like that with spectator sports. The audience for a sporting event consists of two groups of fans who are supporters of one of the teams/athletes, with a third group of "neutral" fans. The three groups are looking for different things. The supporters want their representatives to win, which sets them on opposite sides from each other. The neutrals just want "a good game".

This is especially obvious during the most noteworthy, "historic" games. Giants fans remember the 1962 World Series as one of heartbreak. Just ask Charles Schulz, who loved the Giants and who ran two separate Peanuts comics about the last out of that World Series. You see, the Series ended when Hall of Famer Willie McCovey hit a line drive that was caught by the second baseman for the Yankees. Two months later, in Peanuts, Charlie Brown despairs. "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?" After another month, another strip: "Or why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball even two feet higher?" There was a work stoppage in baseball in 1981, and the Giants' radio station broadcast the radio recording of that game, only, without telling us, they edited the audio of that last play so McCovey's line drive got past the defense, giving the Giants the World Series. I remember listening to this and just about crying. (It was another 29 years before the Giants finally won the World Series in real life.)

Giants fans remember the 1962 World Series as a bad one. Yankee fans think about it with joy, if they remember it at all (they won a lot in those days). The neutral fan probably thought it was a minor World Series, known as much for the bad weather as anything else. (The next time the Giants played in a World Series, there was an earthquake.)

In the 2002 World Series, the Giants were in the driver's seat, with a 3 games to 2 lead over the Angels, and a 5-run lead in Game Six. Disaster struck (from a Giants fan perspective), the Angels came back to win the game, and then won Game Seven and the World Series. Angels fans remember that Series with joy ... it was their team's first championship. Neutral fans remember it fondly as well ... it was a classic. But that Series haunted Giants fans for at least 8 years.

The Giants finally won a few Series. In 2014, they went to Game Seven against the Royals, trying to win their third Series in five years. A legendary performance by Madison Bumgarner gave the Giants the win, with the Royals leaving the tying run on third base as the game ended. It's one of the great moments in Giants fan history, and it will always be remembered by neutral fans as one of the great Series games. But Royals fans hated that game. I know some Royals fans, and I admit, I was happy for them when their team won the World Series the next year.

Pick a sport, and the above is true. In the 1994 World Cup final, Brazil and Italy played 120 minutes without either team scoring. The great Italian player Roberto Baggio missed a crucial penalty, and Brazil were the champions. I'm sure Brazilian fans were happy with that victory, just as I'm sure Italian fans have never forgotten Baggio's miss. The neutral fan? Well, 120 minutes of scoreless soccer isn't likely to be remembered as a great match.

Spectator sports have winners and losers. A great movie or song or painting makes winners of us all. But not sports.

As I type this, the Astros lead the Dodgers, 5-0, in the final game of the 2017 World Series. Some neutral fans are saying this has been one of the greatest World Series of all time, and when tonight's game is finished, those fans will remember these games with fondness. The fans of the winning team, whoever that will be, will never forget this Series. Neither will the fans of the losing team. But they'll wish they could forget. I remember when Kirk Gibson hit that famous home run off of Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 Series. Eckersley was my favorite player, and Gibson's Dodgers were my most hated team. It was bad enough that Gibson hit the homer. But as he rounded the bases, I knew immediately that I'd be seeing that damn thing the rest of my life. It was too good of a moment, a moment that Dodger fans and neutral fans alike can still get excited about. And sure enough, whenever you see highlights of baseball's post-season, there's Kirk Gibson, rounding the bases. Makes me want to puke, every time I see it.

Sometimes, I wish I was a neutral fan. I'd be spared the heartbreak. But then I remember 2010, when the Giants finally won the World Series after being in San Francisco for 52 years, and I'm not sorry I have a rooting interest.

 


throwback to 1980

I wrote about this 12 years ago ... thought I'd just cut-and-paste for Throwback Thursday:

25 years ago today [ed. note: now 37 years], I attended a double-header at Candlestick Park that shows the way sports works its way into our lives not only in large ways but also in small ones.

1980 was a nondescript season for the Giants. They got off to a slow start, and by June 29, they were already 11 games out and well on their way to a fifth-place finish in a six-team division. On offense, they had Jack Clark, Darrell Evans and very little else ... the pitching was a bit better, with Vida Blue and Ed Whitson having decent years (and making the All-Star team) and the bullpen pitching well.

Anyway, a bunch of us decided to take in the double-header, which was against the hated Dodgers. My then-brother-in-law Randy came with us, and my then-sister-in-law [ed. note: actually she's my niece] Julie (lotta "thens" in this story) ... Julie was attending her first-ever baseball game (I guess she was also attending her second-ever baseball game). I don't remember who else went. The only thing going on for the Giants was the impending retirement of Willie McCovey, who was closing down a Hall of Fame career, and would be leaving the game at the All-Star break, which was a little more than a week away.

McCovey wasn't in the starting lineup for the first game. That spot belonged to Rich Murray, a 22-year-old pheenom who had just come up to the majors earlier in the month. (Murray's tenure as McCovey's replacement didn't last long ... he only played 57 games in the majors, and is mostly known now as Eddie Murray's brother.) The game was to-and-fro, Bob Knepper dueling with Don Sutton, and as the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied 3-3. (It should be noted that the prospect of extra innings at a double-header wasn't quite so frightening in those days ... the game I am currently describing, for instance, only lasted 2 hours and 12 minutes.) The Dodgers brought in Bobby Castillo to relieve the tiring Sutton, and after a leadoff single by Rennie Stennett, Castillo retired the next two hitters, bringing up the pitcher's spot in the lineup.

And pinch-hitting for Bob Knepper was Willie McCovey.

There were 50,000 people at the park that day, and this was what we'd come to see: our old hero taking one last shot at our archrivals to the south. McCovey had managed only one homerun all season, the 521st of his career, but I think we can be forgiven for thinking hoping begging praying that he had #522 somewhere in that tired body.

And Castillo pitched to McCovey, and he got ahold of one. It went flying towards the right-centerfield fence, and 50,000 of us leapt into the air while Rennie Stennett circled the bases towards home. And then, since this is real life and not a made-up story, the ball fell just short of a homer, bouncing off the fence for a double that won the game for the Giants.

And I remember that game to this day.

Everything after that was anti-climactic. The Giants were shutout by Burt Hooton in the second game, and McCovey did not make an appearance. The most legendary occurrence in that second game was that Randy, who's gotta be like 6'5", fell asleep, which is hard enough with 50,000 people making noise, and even harder when you can barely fit into the seat in the first place. I've never let him forget that little nap.

The next Thursday, McCovey played his last game at Candlestick, and I played a little hooky to be there. In the third inning, with Jack Clark on third, Mac dribbled a ball past Dan Driessen at firstbase for a single and an RBI, his last at Candlestick. In the top of the 8th inning, McCovey went out to his position, and then, while everyone stood and cheered, Pheenom Murray came out to replace him. (There were 26,000 of us, not bad for a midweek day game.) Stretch McCovey was gone.

McCovey had one last shot in him, it turned out. On Sunday in Los Angeles, in his last game ever, he pinch-hit late in a tie game and lifted a sacrifice fly that gave the Giants the lead. It was his last major-league at-bat.