before it was roaracle

It's a story likely to interest only sports fans from the Bay Area.

In 1962, Franklin Mieuli bought the NBA Philadelphia Warriors, moved them to the Bay Area, and renamed them the San Francisco Warriors. Most of their home games were played at the Cow Palace (which was actually in Daly City), and then later at Civic Auditorium in SF. The Oakland Coliseum Arena opened in 1966, and the Warriors played more and more of their home games there. By 1971, the Arena was their only and permanent home, and the team was renamed the Golden State Warriors. They won the NBA championship for the 1974-75 season, coached by Al Attles, who was just announced as part of the newest class of members of the Hall of Fame.

Then came the dark years ... they went 9 years without making the playoffs, and then, after a brief resurgence, had another streak of 12 years without a playoff appearance. After that streak was broken (for one year), they proceeded to miss the playoffs for five more years, making a total of one playoff appearance in 18 seasons. At that point, Steph Curry blossomed, first under coach Mark Jackson and then under Steve Kerr, the team's fortunes finally went upwards, and now, the Warriors have won three championships in the last four seasons.

Meanwhile, time passed until the name of their home became the Oracle Arena, naming rights for sports stadiums having become a major way for teams to get additional money. Warrior fans were famously loyal through the bad years, and when they were rewarded with champions, they rose to the occasion, such that the Oracle became known as the Roaracle.

Meanwhile, four years before Mieuli bought the team, baseball's New York Giants moved to San Francisco. Soon afterwards, their new home was built, called Candlestick Park. It went down as one of the worst ballparks in baseball history. The Giants played at that shithole for 40 years, never winning the World Series (they only made it to the Series twice), before moving to their new, beloved park in China Basin, where they eventually won three World Series.

The Warriors have built a new arena, called the Chase Center, to be opened for next season. It's location? San Francisco, next to the Giants ballpark, which this year was renamed to match its new sponsors: Oracle Park.

It's been a long time since it was affordable to attend Warrior games, but there was a period when my wife and I went to quite a few games. In particular, she worked for awhile at a car dealer that had complimentary Warrior tickets for salespeople to offer to prospective buyers. When those tickets went unused, the sales force could take them for themselves. When the tix were still untaken, my wife would sometimes grab them, which is why we spent some time sitting at half court in the lower bowl, enjoying the Warriors. These were not great teams ... this was during that first nine-year streak without a playoff appearance. There were remnants of the old champs ... Al Attles was still coach, Franklin Mieuli was still owner, Clifford Ray was finishing his career as the only remaining player from the championship team. Not a great team, but with some colorful characters ... there was Lloyd Free, who scored lots of points and changed his name legally to World B. Free, and the future Hall-of-Famer Bernard King, who one night, during a loss against the Dr. J-led 76ers that we attended, scored 50 points (to this day, I can close my eyes and see Bernard running down the wing).

But one player stood out above all others for my wife. She was a new fan to the game ... she's never been much for sports on TV, never really got into the day-to-day soap opera of a season, but she found she liked going to Warrior games in person and taking in the excitement of the individual game, if not the season as a whole. The Warriors had the first pick overall in the 1980 draft, and they chose a 7-foot center named Joe Barry Carroll. This coincided with my wife getting those freebie tickets, so we saw a lot of J.B., and perhaps since she was a bit of a rookie just like him, she took him on as her favorite player. His play rewarded her fandom ... he played every game his rookie season, averaging 18.9 points and 9.3 rebounds a game and being named to the first-team All-Rookie squad. His next season was only a slight drop. But Joe Barry was unpopular with the fans. The reasons were complicated ... if you're interested, look up the names Robert Parish and Kevin McHale ... but I always thought part of the problem was that he showed no emotion on his face when he played. Among his many nicknames was "Joe Barely Cares". This would piss my wife off no end ... not his play, which she liked, but the fans' reactions. I still remember one game, it was poster night, and the young fellows sitting in front of us were badmouthing J.B., and she started hitting them atop their heads using her rolled-up poster.

I bring all of this up because tonight will be the final regular-season Warrior game at the Roaracle, so there's a lot of nostalgia going on.

Here's Bernard King back in the day ... he wore #30 with the Warriors, which will be retired some day because the man who wears that number now is Stephen Curry.

And World B. Free, who had a pair of the biggest thighs we'd ever seen:


managing expectations

We attended last night's MLS season opener for the San Jose Earthquakes. Last season the team was just awful, winning only four games all year. During the off-season, their primary move was to hire the respected Argentinian coach Matías Almeyda, who has worked on three occasions with teams fallen on bad times (River Plate, Banfield, and Chivas) and took part in a turnaround. He would seem to be the perfect new manager for the Quakes, so much so that it was surprising he even came here at all.

My nephew is the most knowledgeable person in our family when it comes to soccer. He's the right age, growing up as the sport was blossoming in the States ... as a little tyke, he attended the very first Major League Soccer game ... and, unlike most people, has managed to turn a passion into a full-time job, currently with Toronto in MLS. He often suggests to me that managers aren't nearly as important as we think, that it's the players that matter (I'm simplifying here). I decided this meant the 2019 Quakes might make an interesting study of that concept. They were a bad team, and while they mix-and-matched a few players, they didn't sign any big stars outside of Almeyda. If managers lack importance, the Quakes aren't likely to be revived.

Hard to say after one game if the revival is taking place. MLS rules (and the reluctance of the San Jose front office to spend lots of money) mean Almeyda probably hasn't been given the kind of money he could use to rebuild the roster, although that is mere supposition on my part. Last night, the Quakes' play looked more positive, and a goal in the 11th minute gave fans some hope, but eventually, San Jose lost, 2-1. Their defense was erratic, and while the offense had plenty of possession, they rarely seemed like they were on the verge of scoring.

Almeyda has said from the beginning that recovering from a four-win season takes time, and he found some positives in the defeat. But mostly, the game reminded us just how far the team has to go. And outside of the never-give-up spirit the team showed (not something we saw too often last year), I can only say of Almeyda's influence so far that the Earthquakes will probably win more than four games in 2019. Here are some highlights, including a look at Matías, who if nothing else is the best-looking coach in the league:

And here is the view from our seats:

Avaya 2019 opener


world cup blog peeks out from under the covers

I'm gradually waking up the World Cup blog. I've posted a few things recently, including one from today that ranks the competing nations by "degree of civil liberties and political rights". Check it out to see the results:

Human Rights Soccer

Spoiler: Sweden is #1.

Another Spoiler: The opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia will be the worst match by this method.


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.


38

Today I will attend my 38th consecutive home Opening Day for the Giants. I went to 20 at Candlestick Park ... if I make it to the 2019 opener, I’ll have 20 at China Basin, as well.

Honestly, I don’t even know how this happened. I love baseball, but I’m not a big fan of the endless nostalgia that accompanies it ... no Field of Dreams for me. I can’t remember what inspired us to go to the 1980 opener. The Giants had a good 1978 season, but went back in the crapper in 1979. While I wouldn’t have known this at the time I bought my tickets for 1980, the team opened with six losses in seven games on the road. Something else I couldn’t know in advance: I broke my foot. And our seats were nosebleeds.

But the game was fun. The visiting Padres had two future Hall of Famers in Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. The Giants had one of their own in Willie McCovey. The Giants also had a few favorites: Darrell Evans, Jack Clark, Vida Blue. Vida went the distance, and the Giants won, 7-3. Like I say, it was fun, enough so that when the 1981 opener came around, I was there again. That game went 12 innings before the Giants lost, 4-1. 1981 was the awful year when the season was split in half. There was every reason to skip the 1982 opener. Yet for some reason, I made it to my third straight.

The Giants squeaked out a 3-2 win. More important was the rest of that season, for 1982 was a thriller that went down to the final weekend before the Giants finally fell. That season may have cemented my adult attachment to the game, and ensured I’d go to a lot more Opening Days.

But even then, I wasn’t thinking of a streak. Three times in a row is barely worth noticing. Truthfully, I can’t remember just when I realized I had something going. But eventually it happened, and Opening Day became a personal holiday. It’s hard to pick out the most memorable moments in the first 37 openers I’ve seen. There was 1999, the last opener at Candlestick, with homers by Marvin Benard, Barry Bonds, and Rich Aurilia. There was the flabbergasting first opener at the new park, when a journeyman named Kevin Elster, who had sat out the previous season, hit three home runs for the fucking Dodgers to lead the Giants to a loss. (They lost all five games on their first home stand, before rebounding and making the post-season.) There was 2002, when Barry Bonds sent us all home with a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th. And 2004, when Barry hit the 660th home run of his career, tying him with Willie Mays. In 2012, Matt Cain carried a perfect game into the 6th inning, when the opposing pitcher pushed a weak grounder into the outfield. He was the only base runner Cain allowed that day.

And last year, when the Giants overcame a four-run deficit against the Dodgers on their way to a big 12-6 victory.

Who knows what to expect today for Opener #38. I’ll make one prediction: if new coach Barry Bonds shows up in uniform, he will get the biggest ovation of the pre-game introductions.


don't mess with steph

Last night, we were at a place I consider a BBQ restaurant. This is because I’m an old man, and I go there to eat. But it has a full bar, happy hour, and several big-screen TVs, so yeah, it’s not just a restaurant. We were eating as the Warriors played the Thunder, and that game was on all of the TVs. It wasn’t very late, and the place wasn’t very full ... if you’d asked me, I’d say maybe half-a-dozen people were watching the game.

Near the end of the first half, with the Warriors up by 17 points, there was a bit of a scrum. The Warriors' Steph Curry, all 190 pounds of him, was in the middle of the ruckus. The Oklahoma City fans were booing, four players were given technical fouls (two from each team), and the game began again, with five seconds on the clock. The people in the restaurant got a little excited, although not enough to interrupt my rib eating.

The reset came with a jump ball. The Warriors ended up with the ball, just a couple of seconds left. Klay Thompson passed it down court to Steph, who was pretty far from the basket, i.e. just in his range. As the buzzer went off, Steph hit the three and immediately ran off the court to the locker room, leaving the Thunder with a 20-point deficit. Don’t make him mad.

Well, when he scored and exited, the restaurant exploded. This wouldn’t have been unusual in a sports bar. It wouldn’t have been unusual in my living room. But I must say, I was startled when even the people who weren’t paying attention to the game erupted with joy. It was quite a moment.