Saturday, July 30, 2005

Memories of McCovey and Kirk Gibson

As our family was in downtown Walnut Creek today, we decided to drop into McCovey's restaurant for lunch. All of the baseball memorabilia on the walls brought back some good memories. Growing up in the 70's, my favorite ball player was Willie McCovey. It was sad to see him play for another team, but when he returned to the Giants, all was well again.

As was common back then, children emulated the batting stances of their favorite players. My favorite was McCovey's. His slow, but deliberate chop motion of the bat across the plate, with a dragging return to the shoulder was classic. So was his securing of his batting helmet on his head, quite the opposite of Mays' almost deliberate losing of his.

My other favorite players were Johnny LeMaster (after McCovey's retirement), Alfredo Griffin while with the A's, and Barry Bonds in latter days. There was a period that I didn't have a favorite, but maybe Will Clark had an edge on others.

Tonight I saw the A's on TV play the Tigers. They showed Kirk Gibson as a coach with Detroit. In his playing days with the Tigers, he was a favorite heckling object of the left field bleacher bums. We were merciless toward him. In an 80's book, Baseball Confidential, surveyed players ranked A's fans as the third worst in baseball, behind the two New York teams, with Giants fans a close fourth. Of course, with hostility toward visiting players as the criteria, this made A's fans the third best in our view. Gibson was quoted as ranking the Oakland bleacher creatures as the worst. We had a hunch that this was so. He said that we ripped not only him, but his IQ, dog, mother, you name it. He wondered what we all did for a living since we were all there every day regardless of day/night, etc. He even quoted some of the chants we yelled at him. I think he would be surprised at what a cross section of society we bleacher bums were and at our creative ability to skip out of work to attend a game.

I'll never forget when one of the bleacher bums named Kevin showed up for one game with this book in his hand. We all loved the fact we were recognized as having an affect on the game for just a $2 bleacher ticket and some fit vocal chords.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Homers and Boobs: Braves Announcers

The largest collection of boobs ever assembled in a baseball setting didn't have anything to do with female anatomy. It was in the Atlanta Braves TV broadcaster's booth, shown on superstation TBS. Remember those guys from the 80's and 90's? Complete homers with their cutesy nicknames for every Braves player and the unbelievable ignorant arrogance from the mouthpieces of a perennial last place team (in the 80's anyway) in their toilet of a stadium. Man.

The biggest Dumb and Dumber I ever witnessed from those guys was during a Braves telecast during the last few weeks of 1993. I went over to my dad's house and we were watching the game on the tube, listening to those idiots ramble. If you remember '93, it was that great pennant race between the Giants and Braves, each team winning over 100 games and being decided on the last day of the season, and the great MVP race between players on each team.

Sometimes announcers will talk about something between pitches of interest to the fans, and they will continue the subject for several innings. Well, on this day they picked the National League MVP race as their subject. They went on for about five innings. This was Bonds' first year with SF and hands down winner of the MVP. Stats gurus later figured that Bonds' performance in'93 was one of the top ten seasons for a player in all of baseball history. Yet these clowns could only discuss which one of their home town chummy chums, Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine, should win the MVP. Inning after inning of "is it Maddux, or is it Glavine?" Stats and insight, back and forth. My dad and I were incredulous. "What about Bonds, you morons!"

For about five innings, not only didn't they discuss Bonds, they didn't even mention his name. Not once. Then, finally, at the very last minute, when their discussion was almost over, they realized their error. One of them said, "Hey, we've been talking about the MVP race for all of this time and we've only mentioned the two Braves pitchers." The other said, "Yeah, you're right. No discussion of the MVP would be complete without including [Phillies player] Lenny Dykstra!"

If Playtex made a bra to hold those boobs, it would be a world record for sure.

Bird Killer!

A memorable game I attended with my friend, Mike, at the Oakland Coliseum. A wild time of heckling the Yankees' Dave Winfield, and also I took home my first home run ball.

This game, May 25, 1984, was the Yanks' first game in Oakland for the season. During an at bat of the detestable Winfield, A's pitcher Steve McCatty threw a high ball, just out of the strike zone. Winfield's plate-crowding stance usually had his head directly on top of the plate. Although the ball was thrown directly at his head, the ball was clearly over the plate. Winfield ate the dirt in his effort to evade the near strike, then charged about 10 feet toward the mound, threatening McCatty. Both benches emptied, the crowd was frenzied, but no fight occurred.

When the Yanks took the field the next inning, a fan in our left field bleacher section stood up and said, "Everybody to right field!", where Winfield was playing, with obvious intentions to mass heckle. Several dozen of us headed out there and began the loudest, most energetic heckling of a visiting player I ever took part in. We hit him with chants so obnoxious and severe that the fans in the box seats several sections away complained to security. We heckled him about his mother, his IQ, his relationship with George Steinbrenner, you name it. He engaged us in return, which was pretty funny, sometimes flipping the bird to us behind his back while waiting on the next pitch. He covered his ears in mock insanity. He laughed and smiled.

But the best part was that, with the previous year's ecnounter in Toronto where he was arrested by Canadian police for accidentally killing a seagull, Canada's national bird, during warm-ups, still fresh in our minds, we had the entire right field bleachers flapping our arms up and down and chanting "Bird killer!, bird killer!, bird killer!" What a sight. "Hey, Winfield, does an American dime work in a Canadian payphone?", alluding to his one phone call in jail. "You're a murderer!" On and on.

We stayed out there the entire game and I'm sure nobody had a voice left the next morning. I also retrieved a home run hit by the Yanks' Oscar Gamble. The ball went under the bleachers, and I was first down the stairs and retrieved it with about a dozen others right behind me. (Box score)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Place to Hang Your Hat, Cubbie

The windiest game I ever attended at the 'Stick was also one of only five of the hundreds of night games warm enough to wear shorts. "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" comes to mind. It was 72 degrees at night with about a 40 mile-per hour wind. The Giants were hosting the Cubs.

With the Cubs in the field, and their pitcher on the mound, a sudden gust of wind ripped his hat off his head. Now, it didn't just fall off because of a strong breeze. This was just like the old "B" westerns when a speeding bullet tore the ten gallon hat off a cowboy. In a matter of a few seconds, the hat was yanked off his head, then it bounced through the hole between short and third, evading the infielders, and hopped several feet off the ground on each bounce, tumbling through the gap in left center like a tumbleweed across the Texas desert, finally sticking permanently to the chain-link outfield fence about three feet off the ground. There it stayed, the force of the wind handily defeating the force of gravity until it was retrieved by an outfielder. A wild cheer erupted in the crowd.

Only at Candlestick.

Memories of Candlestick

The much maligned Candlestick Park has given me so many memories over my life. Many of these memories couldn't happen at any other ballpark. Wild, crazy, only-in-San-Francisco type of things. A pitcher being blown off the mound during the All-Star game or a major earthquake during the World Series are famous events in baseball history. But most of my memories come from every day, mundane oddities quite unique to the concrete donut by the bay along with the wacky mentality of San Franciscans who attend.

The insanity is just what has helped keep my sanity. I'll write about many of these memories soon.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Those Unbelievable Dodger Fans

Well, not much has changed in La-La Land. I'm not a betting man, but if I were I might wager that every Giants/Dodgers game from LA ever played has been televised in the Bay Area since the teams moved west in 1958. I vividly remember growing up in the 70's watching all those games from Chavez Ravine. Every one of those games had something completely amazing in common. Game after game, series after series, year after year for decades. Giants TV announcers have been awe-struck. Giants fans have been bewildered. And to be a Giants fan and be there to witness it in person is the most shocking. And just what is this?

It's the uncanny ability for Dodger fans to not be there most of the time. The only fans in baseball able to show up late for a game in the 6th inning and to simultaneously leave early in the 5th inning. All those years we've been told that the games were sold out, or had at least 45,000 fans, yet at no time were more than a third of the seats filled. The Giants camera crews would always show a shot of the parking lot exits in about the 7th inning. Brake lights for miles.

The score never mattered. I've been to numerous games in LA and I've witnessed it myself. Once, I was at a game in August in the middle of a pennant race and the score was 1-0. At the end of the sixth inning a group of people in the row in front of me stood up and said to their friends, "we'll see you tomorow" and headed for the exits. About a quarter of the fans that were there left as well. Totally unbelievable. Then, each succesive inning, another high percentage of fans left, until finally the game was over.

Is it la-la-laid-back LA attitude? Do you people need to go to the beach? If you need to leave that early to beat the traffic, why even go?

"Are They the Bad Guys?"

Not only has our three year old son been learning about hitting a baseball with a bat (he throws right but bats left, and with tall ancestors, we're thinking first base) but he's learning about the great Giants/Dodgers rivalry. This weekend, as the G-men took three of four from 'Dem Bums, we watched several games on TV.

On Friday I taught him that the Giants, who he knows wears the black hats, were playing a team we wanted to beat. As I pointed out the team in the blue hats, and with no other input from me, he asked, "Are they the bad guys?" What music to the ears to a Giant fan father. I didn't need to explain. He already knows that there is a difference between good and evil. Today, as we watched, I explained again that the Giants were in gray with black hats and the Dodgers were in white with blue hats. He said, "the Dodgers are the bad guys." Then he told mommy his newly learned fact. For about an inning afterward, each camera segue prompted him to say either, "they're the good guys" if a Giant player was shown or "they're the bad guys" if a Dodger. He replied to one panorama of Dodger Stadium with, "Can you go there?" When I said we could go to Dodger Stadium someday, he said, "we better stay close together because of all the bad guys."

I just hope this keeps up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

All-Star Memories

The one All-Star game I attended was the 1987 game in Oakland. I have no idea why I would have missed the 1984 game in San Francisco, other than the price of a ticket. I was a college student with no money, but I don't know why that would have kept me away. Anyway, '87 was the only year I had A's season tickets. I bought the cheapest plan in the cheapest seats to get "3rd deck or bleacher tickets" for the All Star game (bleacher tickets weren't yet offered as season ticket plans). I assumed that meant I could choose bleacher tickets. Then I traded in all my 2nd deck tickets down the line for a full season of bleacher tickets. Come All-Star ticket time, the A's offered me 3rd deck tickets. After a go around with the front office, several of us ended up with our coveted bleacher tickets.

The workout and home run derby on Monday was spectacular. The bleachers were packed full of ball hounds. I was one of them. One player threw a ball up into the bleachers (Jack Clark, I think?) and I was at the bottom of the scrum, with my face in the standing puddle of beer, soda and I don't know what else, but I got the ball. It was an actual All-Star game ball, with its red lettering, as opposed to the standard American League extras that both teams used in batting practice. It didn't have the umpire's mud on it; it was extra white, but it's an All-Star ball.

The game itself was a non-hitters duel. With the west-coast twilight starting time and the weak hitting during that era of games, I predicted a 1-0 NL victory in 25 innings. I wasn't too far off as the NL won 2-0 in 13 innings. (box score) A full twelve with no scoring at all. Man, what a game. When you're there it doesn't matter as much, it's an exhibition worth just seeing all those players together at the same time.

Can't wait for 2007 when the game comes to SBC Park (or whatever it will be named then) in San Francisco. Bonds will either be retired or a DH in the AL.

Rogers in Detroit

Should Kenny Rogers have gone to Detroit? Why not? His wrong was committed against a cameraman. If he makes good with him, then what's the big deal? Yes, he also represented his team, but they didn't act with disciplinary measures.

If he pays his debt to the cameraman for any damage he caused, then his debt is paid. For anybody who doesn't want him at the All-Star game, what debt does he still owe you? What debt did he ever owe you? Do you own him? As your slave, did his actions bring a debt to your account as his owner? If so, then maybe you should make the legitimate case that he shouldn't have showed up in Detroit.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fifteen Chickens

Fans have long posted strings of the letter "K" to reflect their ace's rising strikeout total. It shows the world just how effective their hero is. A few years ago certain Giants fans reacted to baseball's latest fad, that of intentionally walking Barry Bonds, by hanging rubber chickens from a clothes line strung on the foul territory side of the right field wall, along with the number, each time a Giant was INTBB'd. An intentional walk to the 8th place hitter to bring up the pitcher the other night increased the season team total to fifteen at the half way point in the season.

Barry used to get that many in a homestand.

Monday, July 4, 2005

Baseball's Attendance Fraud

One of my all-time favorite statistics in baseball is the attendance. It is one of two stats I never miss when I read a box score (the other is time of game). It's been that way my whole life. I also love the cumulative attendance stats: total for the 3 game series, homestand, season, average per game, home, road, day, night, weekday, weekend, MLB yearly, all-time, etc.

The one thing that irks me about this stat is that Major League Baseball doesn't give attendance stats anymore. But they do something far worse than not give attendance stats. They give the "tickets sold" stat and call it attendance. Ever since I can remember, the American league has committed this abomination, but prior to about 1993, the National League gave us the truth: the number reported was the number of paid customers that actually went through the turnstyles. I think crummy small market NL teams were hurt late in the season by high no-show rates in road game gate cuts, and squawked about it, and the league responded by using tickets sold to figure in revenue sharing. Plus the tickets sold numbers (attendance figures on steroids) looked better, uplifting baseball's image.

Baseball has a not-so-well guarded well-guarded secret that on the average, any given game has a 10%-15% no-show rate. Some games are well above this clip. I knew that when the A's outdrew the Giants by 12%, they actually had the same attendance because of the two league's different counting schemes. The lowest attended game I ever saw was an A's game vs. Texas in '86, and I personally counted the attendance at 1,603, missing maybe a few in the restroom or grabbing a hot dog. The fan in the 3rd deck got a better seat in the 2nd inning, and because there were only 33 fans in the huge bleacher section, I got to take home three home run balls as souvenirs that day. Yet the next day's box score reported an "attendance" of more than three times the actual amount.

Recently, the Giants in a downward free-fall, hosted the worst team in baseball, the Kansas City Royals. They looked like the '27 Yanks in kicking our butts. High pre-season ticket sales bolstered by an expected passing of Babe Ruth by Barry Bonds and another pennant contending team, the game I attended had about a third of the upper deck completely empty, and about half of the remaining seats actually filled, thanks to Bonds' injury and a pathetic season. No more than about 20k were there, yet the "guess the attendance" quiz revealed over 37k, just a few k shy of "another SBC Park sellout" as they love to announce. The attendance figure was met with boos from fans who knew better.

Let's put this tired fraud to bed, swallow some pride, and announce the real attendance. I'm sick of the dog and pony show. Maybe Congress could intervene!