even among the greats, joe morgan stood out

Sam Fels has already said a lot of what I think here: "Joe Morgan, championed by the analytics he hated, passes away at 77".

Maybe Morgan never realized that the analytics he degraded as useless would tell you he was the best second baseman of the modern era by a distance.

His death will certainly wash away his belligerence as a broadcaster, and it should. Because the actual baseball is what’s important. And Morgan is one of the best to ever do the actual baseball.

That’ll be his legacy.

I'm sure there will be plenty of fine articles ... that's just the first one I saw. Joe is remembered fondly here in the Bay Area. He moved to Oakland when he was 5. I attended Merritt College in Oakland for a semester when I returned to school in the mid-80s. Joe was one of its most illustrious alumni ... memory is probably wrong as usual, but I remember there was a big picture of Morgan on the wall of the library.

Joe Morgan was the greatest second-baseman in my lifetime. Added to his many accomplishments, Giants' fans remember him for his time with the team when he was in his late-30s. In particular, this highlight is shown at the ballpark to this day:


pandemic baseball

It might be time for a baseball post. I've barely posted about the game this season. Once the beginning was postponed, I called up memories of a few Opening Days of the past, and when the season finally began, I wrote about missing an Opening Day after going to every one since 1980. I didn't think the season should have been played, but ever the hypocrite, I watched the Giants games anyway. And it appears MLB did a decent job keeping people healthy. Some of the new rules are screwy, although I welcome a universal DH. But it doesn't really matter unless they carry the dumb rules over into next season.

But without being able to attend a game (first time since 1977, I think), and with everything goofy, I didn't pay much attention. I like what I've seen of Gabe Kapler and his team of coaches, I have faith in Farhan Zaidi, and the future looks good. But I haven't drawn much inspiration from the team.

And, since I've always been a Giants fan first and a baseball fan second, I'm barely paying attention to the playoffs. I'd like to see the A's do well for my sister Chris, although they are already on the brink of elimination. I don't care about the Astros cheating, so I'd be happy to see Dusty Baker finally win a World Series. Over the years, I've picked up some friends and family who are Dodger fans, and the Dodgers are great again this year ... I really don't want them to win it all, but I expect they will, and I'll actually be happy for those friends and family.

But really, my favorite part of this baseball season comes from a guy who was released and who then retired. Hunter Pence, Forever Giant. The day after his retirement, he showed up on a boat in McCovey Cove to root for the Giants. In 2020, it doesn't get much better than that.


negamco and me

My grandson just turned 8, and he never seems to run out of things to do or to think about. Part of this comes from his parents, both of whom know a lot of different things that they love to pass along to him. So he is already a bigger expert on all sorts of subjects than is his old grandpa. I tried to remember what I was like when I was 8, and what my parents passed along to me. And no wonder I don't know anything. We learned a love of music from our parents, and my dad introduced us to sports simply by being interested in them himself. Once in a while he'd come out on the front lawn to throw a ball around. But that's it. I mean, my mom taught us how to play the piano, but that didn't really stick. I'm not saying I had bad parents, but they were a lot different than my grandson's parents.

I was left to my own devices a lot of the time. One thing I looked forward to every year was the annual release of new rosters for the Negamco baseball game. I'm pretty sure I played this when I was 8.

Negamco baseball ad

Each year, you would get rosters with all of the players from the previous year, rated so they would perform in the game as they did in real life. While it seemed pretty complicated, once you got the hang of it, there was nothing to it. The box looked like this:

Negamco baseball box

There were classier (i.e. more expensive) games ... among other things, they used dice to determine outcomes. Negamco used a spinner:

Negamco spinner

The box, the spinner, everything was pretty cheap, so after about a week, the spinner dial would get bent and the spinner board would get warped, so you'd get 17 all the time, which kinda destroyed the notion that you were using random variation.

It all seemed so real when I was 8. In 2020, games are a bit more complicated. That game I had, it had very few player ratings. A batter would be rated on how many hits he got, and how many of those hits were home runs. Pitchers were ranked from 1-7. No pitchers experienced fatigue, and there was nothing like lefty-righty matchups. So the results would resemble real life a little bit, but not too close, and of course that #17 would screw things up. Now, simulation games like this are computer games, with every possible detail built into the program. Negamco is a thing of the past. (A few of the better board games are still being made, although as I understand it, many of them have moved to computers.)


ah, radio

I'm sure I've written about radio many times. I could search for relevant posts. But what I'm thinking about today is the category I assigned to Radio. Categories on this blog are there to help you find things. There's a category for Baseball and Bruce Springsteen, for Film and Film Fatales and Geezer Cinema, for Music and Pink and Sleater-Kinney. Recently, I added a category for African-American Directors ... haven't yet turned it into something "official" like my Film Fatales posts, but I tagged a lot of appropriate movies from past entries.

Well, the first time I tagged a post with "Radio" (and thus, the time I invented it as a category for the blog) wasn't as long ago as I might have thought. The post was called "Serial Radio", and it drifted from the Serial podcast to some thoughts about Old Time Radio, with examples. The date was November 13, 2014. Like I say, I know I've talked about radio before, especially FM "Underground" Radio in the 60s. I may have to go back and tag a few posts, make the Radio category relevant. Because after that first post, I wrote one Radio post a year for three years, with the last one being in 2017, when I talked about William Conrad and Gunsmoke.

The other two posts were tied to my life with radio. One came when longtime Bay Area sports announcer Lon Simmons died. Baseball fans develop close, interesting relationships with the people on the radio who describe the action for six months out of the year.

The other Radio post was the most personal of them all: "Al Collins, Grasshopper Pie, and Me". I think it's a good one, so I won't quote it here ... check out the link. Al Collins was a legend, but a good half of that post is about the grasshopper cocktail and grasshopper pies.

What would I write about radio today? The main place I listen to the radio is in the car, and guess what? There's a quarantine, and we never drive anywhere. Spotify playlists are what pass for music radio in 2020, and I will still listen to Giants games when I'm not watching them on TV.

But perhaps what I'm saying is there's a reason why I have so few radio posts. Radio just isn't as important to me any more.


opening day? not this time

For 40 consecutive years, starting back on April 17, 1980, I have attended the San Francisco Giants home opener.

I had tickets for #41 on April 3. That game never happened. COVID-19 caused the season to be postponed until less than a week ago, when the Giants met the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Today is (as I write this) the home opener for the Giants, who will host the Padres tonight. I won't be there ... the 40-year streak is over ... no fans will be there, since one of the differences of baseball post-COVID is that no fans are allowed in stadiums for the foreseeable future.

I admit it was fun watching baseball again when the Giants and Dodgers met last Thursday, and if tonight's game is played, I'll be checking it out. But the idea of a baseball season during a pandemic is a dumb one, as Major League Baseball is finding out. One team, the Miami Marlins, had to postpone games after at least 11 players and 2 coaches tested positive for the virus. This has already had an effect on other teams ... yesterday, two games were postponed for COVID/Marlins reasons, at least one is postponed today.

Some players have opted out of returning to the field this season, including Giants icon Buster Posey. Five-time all-star and former Cy Young award winner David Price also stepped back, and when the Marlins outbreak occurred, Price went to Twitter. "Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. Remember when [baseball commissioner Rob] Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed."

Thus far, in the few games that have been played, we've seen seats filled with cardboard cutouts of people (you can get in on the action in San Francisco for $99). Hunter Pence of the Giants, when announced before the opening game in LA, doffed his cap to the "fans". Star first-baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs had hand sanitizer in his back pocket, and the first time the opposing Brewers got a man on first, Rizzo offered the runner some of the sanitizer.

Perhaps my favorite moment came during the Oakland A's home opener. MLB has decided to change the rules ("temporarily") to keep games from going too long. If a game goes to extra innings, the batting team gets to automatically have a runner on second. It's really stupid. The A's and Angels were the first teams to meet this new rule, when they were tied 3-3 after 9 innings. Before hand, there had been a lot of discussion about possible strategies teams might use in these situations. Put a fast guy on second, play small ball to get that runner across the plate, all sorts of possibilities. Well, the Angels couldn't score in their half of the 10th (their automatic runner was promptly removed from the bases on a rundown). Things went differently for the A's. Their first batter was hit by a pitch. A wild pitch moved runners to 2nd and 3rd. Another batter was walked to load the bases. The Angels brought in a new pitcher. On the first pitch, Matt Olson hit the ball 427 feet over the fence for a game-ending, walk-off grand slam. So much for small ball.

The A's players reacted like, well, like humans (who could predict that?). They stormed the field to greet Olson as he crossed the plate. You couldn't blame them, but it was a sight you'd rather not see during a pandemic:

So tonight, the Giants will finally play the home opener that was supposed to happen in April. I don't have tickets ... at least I got my money back. I've been perhaps too paranoid during the quarantine ... I'm someone with a lot of those existing medical conditions that are warning signs (it doesn't help that I turned 67 last month), so when I went to do some blood tests last week, it marked the first time I'd gone anywhere in more than four months.

How will I pass the time on my first Opening Day at home in 41 years? It makes a certain circular sense ... the last time I went out before those blood tests was on a Tuesday in March, when we saw our last "Geezer Cinema" movie in a theater (it was Emma.). Today being Tuesday, we'll be at home, watching the 20th at-home edition of Geezer Cinema. Here's the previews for today's movie (it's my turn to pick). It has the legendary Brian Dennehy, who died last April.

Finally ... why not? Perhaps the best Opening Day moment of those 40 years, in 2002, when Barry Bonds came up in extra innings against the Padres:


by request: for love of the game (sam raimi, 1999)

Kelly Preston died, and I can't remember anything she ever did. I know she was in Jerry Maguire, but I have no recollection of her, and I don't think I've seen any of her other movies. For Love of the Game was on the DVR, and it has been on my request list for a long time, so it seemed a good time to watch it.

I can't really say Sam Raimi is one of my favorite directors. He works in a variety of genres, and I love his movies in one of them, horror. He started with the Evil Dead movies ... Evil Dead II remains my favorite. But he moved on, making a Western and an Oscar-nominated crime thriller, before directing all three Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies (which made upwards of $2 billion). Thankfully, he returned to his roots with Drag Me to Hell, which was delightful for those of us who had been waiting. Since then, he directed Oz the Great and Powerful and moved mostly into producing.

So I had no idea what I would think of For Love of the Game based on what I thought of Raimi, except that it wasn't a horror story. But it was a request, and it was a Kevin Costner baseball movie, which doesn't guarantee a good time (not a fan of Field of Dreams) but Costner brings a nice authenticity (like when he was a switch-hitter in Bull Durham).

The baseball was the best thing about For Love of the Game. It felt real, and Costner, a pitcher this time, seemed right. Vin Scully made his lines sound as if he was making them up on the spot. Yes, it was hokey ... so are most sports movies. But sports movies almost always have an emotional ending ... the big fight, the last-second touchdown ... and For Love of the Game gives us a doozy.

But ... and I guess this is a spoiler, but I had no idea going in, and besides, the movie's more than 20 years old, so get over it. No one told me For Love of the Game is a romance. And the romance is trite. Raimi goes back and forth from a baseball game and the romance, and honest, I didn't give a shit about the romance. The music was intrusive, and there were too many of what we call "The Song" moments, where the director uses popular music to overstate was is happening (I'd say the worst offenders were a Bob Seger song, and a far too on-the-mark "I Threw It All Away"). The damn thing runs for 137 minutes, a lot longer than Bull Durham, which is actually a good movie.

For Love of the Game is half a good movie. Except the baseball takes up less than half the running time, so let's say it's a third of a good movie.


out of the coma again

In 2003, I had a blog post ("Out of the Coma") about ... well, here's how it began:

There's a news story about a guy who has just awoken from a coma that began on July 13, 1984. Apparently, the guy is talking a blue streak, and he still thinks Ronald Reagan is president. This made me decide to play a game, "What If I Was In A Coma?" The idea here is that everything is still 1984 to me ... the Reagan thingie is the example of what I mean. What needs to be explained to me, to get me up to speed?

I thought to do this again. In this case, I went into a coma in July of 2003, and woke up today. What needs to be explained?

When I went into a coma, George W was president. Since then, we elected our first African-American president. After him, we elected a real-estate mogul who by that time was known in part for his reality TV show, The Apprentice.

Harvey Pekar is dead. But Betty White and Olivia de Havilland are still alive.

When I went into a coma, the Giants had lost the World Series the previous season. Among the team leaders were Barry Bonds, Ray Durham, Marquis Grissom, and Jerome Williams, all African-Americans. While I was in a coma, the Giants miraculously won three World Series. There were no African-Americans on the list of top players on those teams. When I woke up from a coma, I was informed that there was no baseball yet, because of a virus.

Ah yes, the virus. For almost a year, now, the world is living through a pandemic. Lives have changed. When/if I go outside, I'll find that I have to wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from people. Many things will be closed ... shopping is a dangerous thing to do.

The most important political movement is now Black Lives Matter, which covers a lot of ground but which focuses on police brutality against African-Americans. In June of 2020 alone there were several dozen killings by law enforcement officials, including Rayshard Brooks, an African-American murdered in a Wendy's parking lot in Atlanta.

In football, the 49ers were mostly awful for nearly a decade, but they returned to the Super Bowl behind QB Colin Kaepernick. During the 2016 season, Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem as a protest against treatment of black people and people of color. After the season, he was released by the 49ers. He has never been given a job in the NFL since.

You know that American soccer league, MLS? It had 10 teams when I went into a coma. Soon afterwards, the Earthquakes won their second MLS Cup. A couple of years after that, they moved to Houston. A couple of years after that, San Jose was awarded an expansion team. A couple of years ago, the Earthquakes opened their new, soccer-only stadium. You'll notice that MLS is still around, now with 26 teams. Oh yeah, my nephew Sean works for the Toronto team.

When I went into a coma, the #1 song in the country was "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé with Jay-Z. When I woke up, Beyoncé was the biggest music act in the country. The current #1 song is "Rockstar" by DaBaby. Prince died in 2016. While I was in a coma, Bruce Springsteen released 7 new studio albums, went on 7 world tours, had a show on Broadway that ran more than a year, and turned 70. Along the way, he won a few Grammies and a Tony. Danny Federici died in 2008, Clarence Clemons died in 2011. My beloved Sleater-Kinney released one of their greatest albums, went on a "hiatus", and came back a decade later. Before their most recent tour, Janet Weiss (sigh) quit.

Those Oscars you watched a coupla months before you went into a coma? The ones hosted by Steve Martin, where Chicago won Best Picture? The Best Picture at the most recent Oscars was Parasite, the first non-English language film to win the award.

The #1 broadcast TV series was CSI, which ran until 2015. Not sure you knew it back then, but we were entering the time of Peak TV. People "binge" series now. May I recommend the following shows to you, most of which you haven't heard of: The Wire, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock, Justified, Terriers, The Americans, Broad City, Fargo, Game of Thrones, Girls, The Leftovers, Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire, Jane the Virgin, The Comeback, The Knick, RubiconTremé, Outlander, GLOW, Vida, The 100, Agents of SHIELD, Better Things, Insecure, Atlanta.

Your family is fine, Steven. Robin is as terrific as you remember. Neal and Sonia are still a great couple, Sara married Ray and had your grandson, Félix, who is about to turn 8. Welcome back.

Oh, and it's possible to become famous via something called YouTube, which was created a couple of years after my coma began. Here's a YouTube show you should binge:

You won't recognize most of those people, but they are all big stars today. And yes, that's Scarlett Johansson, the girl from Ghost World. She is one of the biggest stars in the movie world.


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":