Monday, August 29, 2005

The Giants' (Slim) Chances

Starting today, there are five full weeks left in the season. This marks the point in the schedule where a majority of NL West ball is intra-division. Four of the five teams play each other at all times from now until October and each team plays two series against each other team. But I keep hearing from odd sources how if the Padres, D-Backs and Dodgers keep losing, and the Giants, at only 7 games out, keep (ahem!...start!) winning, the Giants could end up winning this thing. Let's analyze this for a few minutes...

Although it's still mathematically possible, it's quite improbable. One problem is that if any teams ahead of the Giants lose, other teams ahead of the Giants need to beat them. Eighty percent of the remaining NL West schedule is intra-division, with 60% being between the four "contending" teams, SD, AZ, LA and SF, and a whopping 40% between the teams ahead of the Giants. So, in reality the teams ahead of the Giants need to play combined .500 splits between them so that one team doesn't run away with it. The Giants need to catch and pass all three teams. Needless to say, in addition to winning, the Giants will need some big-time help. Consider this... if either AZ or LA play .500 ball the rest of the way, the Giants will need to go 19-14 just to stay in it. If the Padres play .500 ball, the Giants will need to go 24-9 just to tie! So just how will those teams lose enough other games to help the Giants out?

Well, of the 60% of games not played between the teams ahead of the Giants, a full third of them are against the Colorado Rockies, the worst team in the league. Combined with the need for the Giants to win (another third of their games are against the Giants), this would mean the Rockies will have to play Jeckyl & Hyde baseball. Skunk SD, AZ and LA and roll over against the Giants. The remaining third of the games are out-of division games against mostly (you could have guessed it) losing teams. Now, hold your hat, it gets worse.

In fact, with five weeks left for each of the three teams ahead of the Giants, a combined total of 15 weeks of baseball will be played by them. And out of those 15 weeks of baseball a grand total of THREE GAMES will be played (by the Padres) against ONE TEAM that is only FOUR GAMES above .500.

Of all the pennant races in history, this would be by far the biggest miracle ever if the Giants won it. Go Giants!?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Wild-Card Un-Race

Yawn. It's that time of year again when a giant glob of also-rans hovering at about five or six games above .500 vie for the almost-as-privileged spot as division winners earn. Yes, it's the wild-card race. But sitting in a lounge chair drinking pina coladas isn't considered a race. Nothing against sitting and drinking, as it has its place in life, but a "race" involves running. Is it a race when nobody is moving? I just saw the NL wild-card standings on FOX Saturday baseball, and the Brewers were shown in that list, just a few games out, but they were under .500 for the season. Oh, boy!

It's funny how the wild-card standings, which include all the teams in the league except three, start showing up in May. The Red Sox are only 1/2 game behind the Yankees on Memorial Day, but they're leading the wild-card race! Oh, boy! The standings won't show the Yankees, because by being 1/2 game better than the Sox they've played themselves out of the race, but they have as much chance of winning the wild-card. All they would need to do to get into the wild-card race would be to lose a few games.

Then there exists the confusing position of being in two races, the division race and the wild-card race. Your team is one game out in the division and one game out in the wild-card race, and the teams ahead of you in each race are playing each other. Who do you cheer for?

Just a few reasons I'm opposed to the three division plus wild-card format (and opposed to the overall NFL-ization in general) in baseball.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Loser Takes It All?

Unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL (it's routine in the NBA and NHL), Major League Baseball has never had a non-winning team in post-season play. This year might be an exception. The entire NL West is still under .500, and with each "contender" with several out-of-division series left that they could lose, and the possibility of playing .500 ball within the division, we could have a loser win the division.

Then they could go 11-8 in the post season and take home the trophy. It would be kinda funny. I'm rooting for any non-Dodger NL West team to win it all.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Minor Trip, Major Fun

Last Friday night I went with a co-worker to a minor league game in Stockton. He's been doing projects there for a while, and he's been bugging me all season to go out with him to catch a Ports game. Now, I'm not much for minor league ball, as I pay attention only to the major leagues, but this might be a fun trip. My family was out of town visiting relatives, so I took him up on it. It's only the second minor league game I've ever seen.

The Stockton Ports are the single-A California League affiliate of the Oakland A's. Stockton, as you might know, is the town known as Mudville in the classic piece of baseball literature Casey at the Bat, which first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1888.

Well, the quality of play certainly wasn't up to the big league standard. There were a few things I saw that you'd never see in the bigs. And there were many promotions and stunts between innings that you'd also never see in the bigs. Hokey, corny stuff... but it was fairly fun. There was the $2 Heiniken beer special, called "Beer Batter." The PA announced during a certain visiting player's at bat that if he struck out, Heinikens would be $2 for 10 minutes. We discovered that one by accident. Each half inning, the fans were included in stunts and contests. Trying to break the headlights of an El Camino pickup with a baseball, wins a prize. Kids racing around the bases in opposite directions. Golf chip shots from the top of the dugout into a hoop. Eating contests, three legged races, etc. One announcement went like this: "Attention please! Will the owner of a silver Toyota with license plate ABC123 please report to such and such. Your car is the dirtiest in the parking lot. You've won a free car wash compliments of Mike's Car Wash."

All in all, it was pretty good fun, but I still prefer the majors.

My Baseball Resumé

[Updated 08-07-09; updates in red]

  • Attended nearly 1000 major league games in 18 ballparks (9 no longer in use).
  • Attended 8 World Series games in 4 different World Series, '88, '89, '90, '02 (was one strike away from seeing '86 Series in Anaheim.)
  • Attended every game of 1989 series, including earthquake game.
  • Attended every post-season game played in Bay Area in 1989.
  • Attended two All-Star Games - 1987 Oakland and 2007 in San Francisco
  • Have caught 10 foul balls in 4 different ballparks.
  • Have caught 8 home run balls in two different ballparks, including 3 in one game.
  • Attended 173 regular season games in 1986 in 11 ballparks.
  • Attended 165 regular season games in 1987 plus 11 spring training, 1 All Star and 3 post season for a total of 180 that year.
  • Visited Wrigley Field (day) and Old Comiskey Park (night) both in one day, on two consecutive days. (which was part of a greater trip....)
  • Did whirlwind tour: 8 games in 5 days in 5 different ballparks.
  • Witnessed two triple plays (A's hit into one, Giants hit into one)
  • Witnessed two inside-the-park gramd slams (A's gave one up, Giants gave one up)
  • Witnessed Barry Bonds' 71st home run, Steve Carlton's 4000th strikeout, Mike Schmidt's last major league game, Bob Brenly's ML record 4 errors in one inning, Reggie Jackson hitting 3 HR's in one game, all time strikeout record in a game for both teams.
  • Turned in, with friends, more All-Star ballots voting against Steve Sax (and for Ryne Sandberg) in 1982 than Sandberg's victory margin.
  • Giants season ticket holder for, yes, it's true, 25 years now!
  • Caught an A's home run in the bleachers - the game was on TV - and a friend working in the video truck tipped off the announcers as to my name, and they said my name over the TV
  • I appear in the Giants' 1986 documentary "A Tale of Two Cities" about the Giants history. I'm shown holding a sign with a "no 100" universal symbol on the last game of the '85 season when the Giants had 99 losses.

Now You're Daddy

I was playing baseball with our 3 1/2 year old the other night. He's got a nerf type bat, and I pitch an undersized soccer ball to him. He's getting pretty good at hitting it. He still gets easily frustrated when he swings and misses, so I'm constantly encouraging him in the negative. "Everybody misses, even the baseball players. When I used to play baseball, I used to miss a lot, too."

"You went to the game with the players?" he asked in a way I could tell that he was asking if I used to play.

"Yes, I used to play baseball, and I missed the ball, too."

Knowing I didn't play anymore he said, "But now you're daddy."

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Bleacher Bum: The Tenth Man

The only thing I ever wanted to do for a living was to play Major League ball. Although I've got what some would consider a successful career, it's not my first choice. I think it was late in high school that I realized that I would never make it to the bigs. Even though I signed up for the college team (Univ. Calif. Berkeley) and attended the first team meeting, my afternoon lab classes for engineering prevented me from attending practice. So, barring the development of the world's most wicked knuckle ball by my late 30's, I was toast. Stick a fork in and find some other way to scratch for some green.

At 17, with a car and my playing days over (company softball excluded), I started regularly attending major league games in both SF and Oakland. Previously, my family made maybe one annual outing. Even though I loved being at the games, I wasn't content with being merely a spectator. My first game as an "adult" included fan participation along with the group I was with. Thanks, Ken, for the spark. We sat in the bleachers for an A's game in '81 (Billy Ball!) and heckled the other team's left fielder. It was great fun. I never looked back. If I couldn't affect the game by my playing in it, I discovered that I certainly could by interacting with the game from the stands. A life-long bleacher bum attitude was born. (Just last night, 24 years later, I heckled with my friend Mike, although somewhat weakly, the Astros bullpen pitchers while warming up from my 9th row Giants season tickets.)

Within only a few short years, I was attending a minimum of 60 games per year. Cat calls were common for me from the Candlestick box seats, but it was in the bleachers in Oakland that I excelled. From September of '85 to April of '88 I missed just one home A's game. I developed an enormously loud voice and learned to pace it over 9 innings every day for years. I've only heard two people my entire life that were louder. Every left and center fielder in the AL, whether starter or pine rider, knew me personally. But there were dozens of other like-minded bleacher bums in Oakland (in CF and RF too), and I was kinda the LF ring leader.

Some ballplayers took heckling with a grain of salt and interacted with me with a smile. These guys became friends of sorts. Others were visibly, and statistically, shaken. A few feared me as some kind of serial murderer. We all kept tabs on each visiting player's stats as well as juicy shortcomings in their personal lives. If a player were 0-for-his-last-15 coming into Oakland or caught being frisky with an under-aged girl (Luis Polonia), he was reminded all about it in the first inning. Once, I did a stats study and figured that visiting outfielders in Oakland had a larger drop in production than any other group of players or any other ballpark in the bigs. The A's consistently had one of the best home field advantages in baseball. We knew we were partly to blame, and we took tremendous pride in this.

Once, a rookie was so shaken by our heckling that he called time out, ran in to the 3rd base umpire, pointed out to us and complained. The ump gave him a brick of cheese to go with his whine by shrugging his shoulders as if to say, "welcome to the majors, rookie." Needless to say, the heckling got immediately worse. I've also had the pleasure to heckle one ballplayer, Phil Bradley, in five different ballparks around the majors. As a player with the M's, O's and Phils, I got his goat in Oakland, Milwaukee, Anaheim, Seattle and San Fran. Poor guy, he's the one that took it all the hardest. Also, in a just-so-happened night of drinking with George Brett, he confided that the Royals outfielders ranked the A's bleacher bums as the worst fans in the league, even worse than Yankee fans.

Last night at the Giants game Mike mentioned to me that if we yelled in today's yuppified ballpark atmosphere the same stuff we got away with in the 80's, we'd be hauled off to jail in no time. The 80's were so much fun. I just wished bleacher bums could be paid by the home team to rile the visitors. I woulda done it in a heartbeat. But it never happened, and now I'm an architect.

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Jason Schmidt: Giants Ace at Last

Last night I watched Jason Schmidt mow down the surging Houston Astros with a shutout. The Giants won even with Andy Pettite on the mound. Although he's having some problems this year, Schmidt has been amongst the best pitchers in all of baseball the last few years. He's a legitimate Ace, something the Giants haven't had since Juan Marichal.

For some reason this fact has gone exceedingly overlooked with Giants fans. In fact the Giants may have had the longest ace-less streak in the majors, about 35 years now. We tend to be so blinded by hitting that we lose sight of what the most important aspect of the game really is. We've had hitting's Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Hart, Kingman, Foster, Bonds, Clark, Clark, Mitchell, Williams, Bonds and Kent to pitching's Schmidt.

In my attempt to point this ace-less fact out to Giants fans over the last five years or so, the standard reply is, "What do you mean?" When I ask for proof to the contrary, the standard reply is, "what about Burkett and Swift?" Well, for one thing, they were two nobodys who each had one great year at the same time for a great team, then went back to being nobodies. I'm talking about an ACE, you know, Hall of Fame caliber pitching for a few years at least. Or maybe a Cy Young candidate. One-hit shutout kinda guys. You know, like Pedro Martinez. "Oh, come on. He's an exception that comes along once in a lifetime. You're dreaming, pal." Okay, how about Roger Clemens? "Same thing. Only a few teams ever get to have guys like him." Or what about Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling? There's two greats on one team. "Well, the Diamondbacks bought them with the big bucks." Okay, how about Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz? There's three on one team. Or Hudson, Mulder and Zito?

If Giants fans would look into baseball history backward from Schmidt to Marichal at all the studs other teams have had on the mound, they'd quickly realize what a fool's paradise we've been living in. Aside from the greats mentioned above I could quickly add vintage Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Dave Steib, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, Jack Morris, Bert Blyleven, Frank Tannana. Even the lowly Houston-never-even-won-a-pennant Astros have had Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, JR Richard. How about Ron Guidry, Brett Saberhagen, Matt Morris, Orel Herscheiser, Jose Rijo? Even the lowly Cubs have had Kerry Wood and Fergie Jenkins. Steve Carlton, Catfish Hunter, vintage Vida Blue. What about Jim Plamer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar? Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, and if I've forgotten anybody, please forgive me.

If we had two more at the same level as Schmidt, we'd be talkin'.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

The Darkest Night Game

In 1985, the Giants pushed the starting times for their Friday night games back to 8:05. I remember something about allowing more time to get to the park on a Friday evening commute. Whatever. What I do remember is a certain game against Pittsburgh. Mike and I went to the game. A three hour game would push an 11pm finish time.

As the warmups were complete and the Giants just about to take the field, Candlestick Park struck again, in typical Candlestick fashion. The power went out. It was dark. Of course the only man who knew how to fix the lights was at home in San Carlos, several dozen miles down the Peninsula. He had to drive all the way up and finally got the lights fixed. The game was delayed an hour. This meant a 9pm starting time. A three hour game would push the midnight mark. We had time, though. But fortunately for any loved ones who might have been worrying about us, the game was only slightly over two hours. We made it home in normal time. (Box Score)

Divisional Play

At the time of this post, the entire NL West is under .500 and the entire NL East is above .500. This means that the last place team in the East has a better record than the first place in the West. Truly amazing. For the dismal Giants and their sewer of a season, with only 4 teams in all of baseball with worse records, this normally would be a write-off. But they're only 6 1/2 games out of first. The ticket office actually has a reason to send out playoff ticket invoices to their season ticket holders... at 15 games under .500.

This says a few things about the current division and schedule format. Since there are 3 divisions in each league plus interleague play, even an unbalanced schedule results in an overwhelming majority of games being played outside the division. As bad as the NL West is this year, I don't expect the winner to be under .500 because the end of the season is heavily weighted with divisional rivalries playing each other. When one team loses, another has to win. This ought to push somebody over the .500 mark by default. But stranger things could happen.