Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cast and Crew: Kurt

I have been friends with Kurt for over 20 years, and we have also been co-workers for 14, and company softball double play combo for nine (I played short, Kurt 2nd; we even pulled off a triple play together). I first met Kurt on a company softball team, as my bosses knew him from a previous company. Several years later when I was out of work, Kurt was instrumental in gaining employment for me at his architecture firm, and he later became a principal of that firm.

Kurt and I have talked so much baseball and swapped so many stories that I'm sure we could write a book between us. He bought into my season ticket plan for years at Candlestick, and when Pac Bell Park first opened, Kurt was in charge of securing season tickets for our company. The company seats were in the exact same mirror image location down the 3rd base line as mine are on the 1st base line. I've sat there numerous times as well.

Kurt is a 19th century baseball buff, card and memorabilia collector and has such a keen "nose for baseball" that baseball often finds him. Two stories are in order here. Last year during Spring Training Kurt was flying home from China on a business trip (he designs homes on golf course communities there) when a flight attendant asked if he were a baseball fan. "Uhhhh, yes I am." Well, Joe Torre is sitting in first class. Okay, this is an impossibility. Joe Torre is NOT sitting in first class on a flight from China during spring training and flight attendants on international flights just don't ask passengers at random if they're baseball fans. Except he was. The Dodgers had been in China promoting baseball for the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing and played a couple of games there. Of course, Kurt was the only person in the world that could have met Joe Torre on a flight from China. "Good luck this year, Joe" was Kurt's closing statement, until later when he realized that he, as a Giants fan, just wished the Dodger manager good luck!

Kurt's brother runs a charity that puts Kurt in occasional contact with all-time hall of fame greats. And of course, this year when I had tickets for Lincecum (who took a no-hitter into the 7th) and two days later, Cain, I didn't have tickets for the game in between when Johnathan Sanchez tossed his no-hitter, it was Kurt's daughter to whom I sold the tickets, and when she couldn't go, Kurt did.

Another story epitomizes my relationship with Kurt. I was laid off earlier this year, and when I called my former company for something, all the phone lines were disconnected. What I didn't know was that a brief power outage in their neighborhood caused the phone company to give their disconnected message, so freaked out a bit, I called Kurt on his cell phone. "Oh, hey, Steve, you'll never guess where I am! I'm in the beer line at the Metrodome at a Twins day game." Of course he is, he's Kurt. Every summer he takes a ballpark tour with some of his family.

After all these years of talking baseball, it just occurred to me that I can't remember ever going to a game with Kurt. What are the odds of that? Even though that's the case, I'm still adding Kurt to my cast and crew. Dang, Kurt, could we catch a game together sometime?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lincecum Back To Back

Tim Lincecum won his second consecutive NL Cy Young award. This year's voting was very close and a bit controversial. Only three pitchers contended, and only five got any votes. Lincecum won despite Adam Wainwright gaining more first place votes. But Wainwright finished third. Chris Carpenter finished second, yet had fewer first place votes than the others. Carpenter's downfall was that two writers didn't even vote for him, which explains the single votes for both Vazquez and Haren.

But this wasn't an inside job, either, as I heard on the radio that neither of the two Bay Area writers gave Lincecum a first place vote.

When voting is this close, and it is obvious that all the contending candidates deserve to be considered for the top spot, then there shouldn't be any sour grapes upon losing. I would be content with any of these three winning, so no injustice was done. Of course, I wanted Lincecum to win because I'm a Giants fan. I'm used to awards and records, just not parades down Market Street or pitching awards.

In conclusion, congratulations Tim Lincecum!

Monday, November 16, 2009

7th Inning Jones

One of the more lighthearted heckling targets of the mid-80's left field bleacher scene in Oakland was a backup Kansas City outfielder named Lynn Jones. (alternate stat site) Jones gained a nickname amongst the bleacher faithful, coined by John if I remember correctly, due to his completely predictable use as a late inning defensive replacement. He simply played left field every game, but only at the end of the game. So, John gave him the nickname of "Seventh Inning Jones." We heckled him and let him know every game just where he stood; he was not a star or even a starter. Jones had little choice but to accept the label and be content with our antics. He even enjoyed the attention, so we let up a bit and he became one of the fun targets of our crew.

In fact, here is a string of box scores for five consecutive Royals games in Oakland in 1985 (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5), and two more at the end of 1986 (#4 and #5) that show Jones as a late inning left field replacement.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Phillies Fans Trump Yankee Fans

In my last post I asked about the state of Yankee fans who sit in the box seats. But, now I want to ask about Yankee fans living in other cities. I know all too well growing up with the Oakland A's as an American League team, that Yankee fans show up in droves to see their team play on the road. The very few times they've played in San Francisco shows the same thing.

This year's post season saw Yankee fans show up by the thousands at the Metrodome. And in a complete embarrassment to the Southern California mentality, they appeared to constitute at least a quarter - if not a third - of the total crowd in Anaheim. This is all normal stuff. But something changed in the World Series...

Yankee fans were hardly noticed in Philly. There weren't more than a few hundred, max. Why? My guess is that Philly fans were so hot about the World Series that ticket holders valued being at the Series far more than the market value of the tickets. Philly fans were so fanatic that they shut Yankee fans out of eBay and StubHub.

In San Francisco we had a similar experience for the entire 2000 season, the inaugural season of Pac Bell Park. Giants fans were so excited about the new ballpark that the entire season sold out in February - to Giants fans - so that there were almost no fans cheering for visiting teams all year. Including Dodger fans. So, I must say congratulations to Phillies fans. You really love your team.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Whither Yankees Fans?

I noticed somthing about Yankee fans this year, and I'm pretty sure the new ballpark has something to do with it. All year long, whenever I've seen a game on TV, the box seats looked half empty. I know the overpricing played a part. But during the post season, the same thing occurred in the ALDS and ALCS. If fans aren't going to show up due to overpricing of tickets, that's one thing. But when large numbers from the box seats are leaving early when the game goes into extra inninngs, then there's a problem.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Quality Post-Season Umpiring Needed

Calls for instant replay in baseball continue. Numerous instances of bad calls in the playoffs are highlighted with greater fervor and scrutinized with greater technology. I'm not going to address instant replay here, but rather focus on the quality of umpiring.

I'm not as concerned with bang-bang calls that could go either way. If it looked like he was safe, but the super slo-mo hi-def replay showed he was out by 1/4 inch, it's just not much to gripe about. What gets me is when two players are stuck at the same base, they both come off the base by five feet, the player with the ball tags both of them out while standing still, yet the umps screw up by not calling both of them out. Six umps are watching the same play, and not one of them can see the obvious? Why not have a conference then?

A great piece of ump teamwork was on the Rollins/Howard/Matsui double play. Rollins caught a bloop pop with his glove on the ground, then stepped on second and threw to Howard. The throw was wide, and Howard came off the bag with the batter/runner beating the throw. Matsui started walking off the field, and Howard tagged him. What to do? This play was logistically complicated. The replay showed that Rollins caught the bloop, but his stepping on second (just in case the ump blew the catch call) added confusion to the play. And even in the replay, Howard really did have his foot on the bag when he caught the throw. His heel came off first, but his toes were still on the bag when the ball hit his glove, even though he was in the process of coming off the bag. The TV announcers missed this. But he eventually tagged Matsui.

Here's how complicated this all was: Did Rollins catch the popup? How did this affect his stepping on second? How did this affect the play at first? Was his throw to get Matsui doubled up or the batter out? Did Howard need to tag Matsui? Did Howard get pulled off the bag? Did Matsui walk off the field because Rollins caught the ball in the air and doubled him off first or because he didn't but stepped on second base? Both Rollins and Howard made double efforts just in case the umps missed either call. Rollins touched second in case the umps missed his catch. Howard tagged Matsui in case the umps saw the catch because the umps might call him off the bag. But, all the umps were in on a conference and made the right call. Double play. Why didn't this happen for the two runners caught off third?

Getting the call right by using all umpires, if necessary, is where baseball needs to make its first improvement. It should be done at the slightest question of a call. If an ump blows a call and all the other umps see it, there should be no hesitation in reversing it. That's the way it works in my kid's soccer league, and there's no problem. When 50,000 fans, five umps, 50 players, a TV crew and two managers see things one way and a lone ump sees things another way, there should be no shame in admitting there might be a problem and help from others is welcome.