New Year -- New Title?

by Gregg Pearlman

Monday, January 5, 1998

Happy New Year, everybody. Helping kick off EEEEEE! 1998 are Billy, Peter, Henry, Jerry, Greg, Jonathan, Jim, Erik, Richard, Tom A., Ben F., Dan, William, Tim I., Joseph, David N., and Andertho.

Nobody figured on the Giants to win their division in 1997. Almost everybody picked them to finish last, in fact, except for charitable people who thought they might wind up in third. (I guessed seventeenth.) This year, the expectations will be higher. I don't know that too many people will figure on the Giants won repeat in the West -- certainly they have a long way to go before reaching the status of the Atlanta Braves, who've own first place in the 1990s (if you don't count strike-shortened 1994, when the Expos finished first).

And by "status," I mean the way the team has led sportswriters and fans all over the country to predict first-place finishes, year after year, in indelible ink. This run came after a run of seven straight years in fifth or sixth place in the National League West. So their worst-to-first achievement in 1991 was met with great enthusiasm, certainly, by Braves fans, and getting into the World Series that year was delirious-making. I have no doubt fans were pleased with the repeat performance in 1992, and their outstanding 1993 had to be a thrill -- irrespective of the fact that the Braves hadn't won a World Championship by this point. They had to wait until 1995 to do that -- and this was followed by a pennant and a division championship the next two years. But how excited were the Braves and their fans about the 1997 Eastern Division Championship?

Well, says Billy, "the Braves were happy to win the division too, [but] I can't in all reality expect the players or fans (admittedly including me) to be as excited as with the 1991 thing."

In a way, it's become like the San Francisco 49ers. I mean, in 1981, they won the division after years of being horrible (or at least just better than the Saints), so we Niners fans were stoked, especially after Dwight Clark and The Catch, and then the franchise's first Super Bowl victory.

Now, in 1998, we expect it every year, and everything else is ho-hum. As I write this, they're beating Minnesota 31-14, and if they hold that lead, they'll face either Green Bay or Tampa Bay in the NFC championship next week. If they do win today, I (and, I suspect, many 49ers fans) will think, "Okay, fine, that's one down, two to go." But you can bet that Buccaneers fans just about wet their pants over the Bucs' playoff win over the Detroit Lions last week. In other words, 49ers fans have had reason to become sort of blasé over the years; Bucs fans haven't.

Braves fans have -- Giants fans haven't.

Billy -- who, as I've pointed out many times, is a Braves fan -- says, "The season was like: Well, here we are in August, the team's not hitting, Mark Wohlers can't find the strike zone, who will John Schuerholz trade for Terry Mulholland, what if we meet the Fish in the playoffs, what if we don't even make the playoffs, etc., etc. The whole 162-game schedule was lost in worry and was basically meaningless because everyone knew that the team would get no respect unless they won the whole damn thing."

There you go. This is the life of a Niners fan in a nutshell. And hell, in some of the Niners' Super Bowl years, they still didn't win that much respect: "Oh, big deal. It's not like the Chargers/Broncos/Bengals were a powerhouse anyway."

"Look at the freakin' Indians," Billy says: "five games over .500, and everyone praises them to the skies. (Of course, if Cleveland keeps this up, in a couple years they'll get the same 'choker' stuff the Braves are getting now.)"

There you go. Just ask the Buffalo Bills.

"You'll think it's stupid, but I know that feeling of doom. If any team leads the league in Wheels Coming Off, it's the Bravos. Javy Lopez fittingly described it as 'drowning in a half-full glass of water.'"

That's a good point. And who knows why it happens? Maybe fatigue, or terrible pressure to maintain the standard of excellence. Or, hell, I'll go out on a limb and say that maybe the other team is playing better than the Braves all of a sudden. Now, that's not always true -- but it's as good a guess as any.

"Hey, we know pain," says Billy. "We just put it off longer."

I guess with us Giants fans, there's just always that sense of doom. It's more of a low, constant hum than a sharp buzz.

"At what point did you know that the Giants would be swept?" says Billy.

A lot of us would say, "As soon as we clinched the division." A lot of us would say, "Right after that first loss," or "Right after that second loss." Some would even say, "When Bonds took strike three and Mueller was thrown out for a double play." But if pressed to be honest, it would have to be "When Devon White hit the grand slam." We felt it when Alvarez started putting people on base, but we didn't really know it until the homer.

After that, the hope existed -- but, at the risk of speaking for all Giants fans everywhere, we just knew. Sometimes you just know.

"I'm betting anything that there was some moment when that feeling oozed over you and clutched your mind in its icy grasp," Billy says. "I remember when I knew the Braves would not get past the Marlins. I know the exact moment, the exact out, and it wasn't in the last game, either. Strangely, it didn't hurt as much as losing to the Yankees in 1996, because I refused to believe that was going to happen until the very last out. Preparing oneself for the crash is definitely the way to go."

Remember when lots of us in the Giants newsgroup and EEEEEE! were doing the "Oh please oh please oh please" thing in late September and during the Division Series? We Giants fans were being jocular, sure, but we were all actually thinking that. I mean, you just get to wanting some victory so bad that almost nothing else matters -- no matter how low on the real-life priority list this victory is. It's a form of prayer, really.

"A guy who posts on various newsgroups has a tagline by George Carlin that Javy Lopez should read," says Billy: "'Some see the glass as half empty. Some see the glass as half full. I see the glass as too big.' 101 wins is good, son. Let's not slit our wrists over it, or anything. Of course, let's not be satisfied with it, either."

Until 1986 I used to be able to feel as though 81 wins used to be okay with me. But as soon as the Giants got up off the mat after Roger Craig came aboard, it became terribly important to me that the team win all the time. I've talked about this before. No way to rationalize it, really.

I tend to think that fans of other teams don't suffer like we do, but I know rationally that they do -- even Dodger fans. Sure, I think Giants fans are, in most cases, more justified in their agony than other folks, but that doesn't mean that the other teams' fans don't experience that agony.

"As I watched the 49er game [on Saturday] vs. the Vikings," Richard says, "I was struck by how uninvolved and unexcited I was about it."

I had the same experience Richard did. I mean, first of all, this was a playoff, and here I was, trying to work on EEEEEE! stuff, watching the game in the reflection of a makeup mirror -- my wife's, not mine -- sitting atop my monitor, which faces the TV.

My feeling with the Niners in the postseason is a sort of dread that they'll lose, and it's a relief when they win.

"I know we have covered this concept before," Richard says, "but this year is a great time to contrast how we perceive the Giants relative to the 49ers. I am a strong 49er fan and even followed them religiously in the mid-'70s when nobody else in Fresno did, but I have gotten very blasé about their postseason exploits over the last few years (except when they play Dallas, but that's another issue). Contrast that to my raw joy and the tension I felt about the Giants this year, even in Game Three against Florida when it was becoming clear they weren't going to win the thing. Put another way, I was more excited then about a team that really didn't have a great chance to win even one series than I am now about a team that has a decent chance to win the Super Bowl.

"I'm not asking why this is (I think we all know that). The question is: which is better to follow as a fan? A team like the 49ers, which we start to take for granted? Or the Giants, whose rare successes are very sweet indeed? It's like the Braves vs. Giants thing, but for many of us, this comparison is closer to home because we root for both teams?"

It's hard to say. I mean, my heart pounds during (some) 49ers games, too, but while I'm a big Niners fan and love football, I don't (and can't) throw my passion into it the way I can and do with baseball. Nor do I know as much about football as I do about baseball. But I can feel awfully damn angry and upset after any Niner loss, especially in the postseason -- but again, hey, it's only football.

It's Not The Giants.

"It's an interesting reflection on the state of being a sports fan," says Peter. "I've been a (distant and television-dependent) fan of the 49ers since 1981 and to be aware of their gradual rise to become a dominant team was very exciting. Since the turn of the '90s, however, it's become a regular disappointment when they don't get to the Super Bowl. I remember staying up late (remember the time difference, folks [Peter's in England. -- GP]) to watch Super Bowl XXIX live and jumping around the room like a man possessed after the first touchdown. By halftime I was seriously thinking about going to bed as it was so one-sided. I didn't, but only because it was such a novelty for me to be able to see the Niners live.

"Compare that with the end of the regular season this year (we're back to baseball now). Okay, it's a different ballgame (as it were) because even a 9-1 lead could disappear in the bottom of the ninth, but ultimately because, in the case of the Giants, there was a race on and even better: it was with the Dodgers. Maybe if the 49ers had pipped the Panthers or any of the other teams on the last Sunday of the season it would have made yesterday's game seem more important. But they didn't. I sort of assume that the 49ers' season starts at the Conference Championship game anyway hence my disappointment when they fail to get that far.

"It seems that too much success is a bad thing. I was lucky enough to be able to go to today's FA Cup (soccer) match between the two best (allegedly) teams in the Premiership: Chelsea and Manchester United. Chelsea were rubbish and Manchester United were phenomenal and with about 15 minutes left were leading 5-0! Chelsea scored a late consolation goal and the Man. Utd. fans fell into a stunned silence for the first time in the game. I was thinking: 'For goodness sake, you're 5-1 up: at least treat it as a bit of a joke that Chelsea have scored -- the Chelsea fans are!' But it seemed that the fans were so used to success (four out of the last five championships and another one on the way this season) that they can't even cope with adversity as ludicrous as letting a five-goal lead slip to four! Chelsea scored a second, then a third and you could feel the tension amongst the United fans even though there were only two minutes left and anything but a Chelsea defeat was an impossibility.

"I sometimes wonder how Braves fans feel during a season when they know their team will win the division. Admittedly it's a bit different when they get to the postseason, but as I sit here in January, I can't wait to find out if the Giants will repeat last season's success. If I knew they would, I don't think I'd be so desperate for Opening Day. I'd look forward to it, but would probably be waiting for September more than April.

"Sorry for the ramble, but my favorite football (soccer) team has won nothing more than a promotion play-off game at Wembley in its history -- I'm a stranger to this success thingy, but have plenty to say about it!"

The presence of San Francisco Examiner writer Henry Schulman in the Giants group has generated a lot of interest. From what I've seen, most of us are enjoying having him around, though we're all pretty quick to challenge him.

"Schulman said Bonds was too nonchalant about his putative slump," said Billy. "Where's the nonchalance in that quote? Other than this, I agree with what everyone else already said, viz. RBIs, OPS, and whatnot. [For more on this, see the last December installment of notes. -- GP]

"However, he's already coming out with stuff like, 'I feel like Bonds won't hit the ball hard with a guy on second and two outs,' and 'I know 'cause I watch lots of games.' But I think he already has been put on notice that Usenet [specifically this newsgroup] is not your typical radio call-in crowd."

Those two things Billy mentioned have generated lots of flak, mostly on the order of "What, you mean you base your overall opinion of Barry Bonds as a player on your feelings in a given situation? Come on! And trust me, watching lots of games doesn't provide much of a statistically significant sample." More on this later.

"I'm trying to be open-minded about the guy," says Billy, "but I've worked up a real suspicion over all these media types that probably rivals Bonds' own. I'm kind of from the Ted Williams school -- they suck until they prove otherwise. It's tough to forget what that one guy wrote about Williams before his last game: 'Why are we having a day for this guy?' I admit it's unreasonable to hold this against all of them, but it's tough."

As you know if you've read a fair amount of EEEEEE!, I feel pretty much the same way, though I'm going to try harder to give more benefit of the doubt. (Favorite Williams quote: "What do you get when you pour hot water on a sportswriter? Instant shit." But you knew that.)

As I said last time, I've taken some shots at Henry in past installments, and I've come to feel a bit guilty about this because (a) it's not really personal, and (b) it's probably more, I don't know, gentlemanly to criticize what a person says than the person himself. In other words, I can take issue with a statement -- even say, "What a stupid thing to say" -- but there's no need to say, "What a boob," despite the fact that the latter is more fun. Billy, however, feels that sportswriters in general should feel guilty about what they say about Bonds. "It's practically libel. Character issues. Choker. Bad in the clubhouse. And so on. They write this stuff -- they know Bonds will read it -- and do you think they care? At least you're polite.

"If you're going to rip somebody, you have the obligation to make sure it's true. The phrase 'Rey Ordoñez sucks' is on the back cover of every copy of Baseball Prospectus 1997, but at least it's true. Not everybody is a Hall of Famer, and there's something to be said about refusing to just hype the product. (Of course, I wouldn't go up to Ordoñez and tell him he sucks. That would be pointless. But if these guys perform in public, they should be ready to be criticized in public. It's like running for office.)

Billy (justifiably) complained last time about the failure Baseball Weekly to include the Giants' season in their list of Top 10 Great 1997 Baseball Things, or whatever. I said I felt that it was just another indication of the standard anti-Giants bias. I mean, the Dodgers losing in such dramatic fashion just couldn't be good, right?

"Huh. I didn't think of that angle," Billy says. "That's disgusting, if that was the reasoning behind leaving them out. Also, I think a mention could have been made, somewhere, about a team winning 101 games, but that didn't make it either. Any other team wins 101 games and they're issuing commemorative T-shirts and beer mugs and trying to get the manager elected president. Braves win 101? Ah, who gives a damn, they didn't win a ring, did they?"

And don't forget this one: Hey, they should win 101 games anyway.

In the last installment Henry said, "Too many times this year, Barry Bonds stepped to the plate and you knew the inning was about to be over."

"Without getting into everyone else's comments on this, what place does 'feeling' have in objective thought?" says Jerry. "I had that feeling occasionally myself, but I'm not a beat writer.

"Besides, the majority of that time he was walked. In fact, I got the impression throughout the season from some writers that walks are a bad thing -- when did this rule change occur? In some articles, it even seemed the writer found taking a base somehow cowardly.

That's something I'd love to see addressed, not just in terms of Barry Bonds, but also with regard to guys like Frank Thomas and Jack Clark, both of whom have been accused of being "selfish" by taking walks, especially Clark.

"My problem is with objectivity," Jerry says. "The line between column and story seems terribly blurred. A personality profile belongs in a column [Or at least a feature story, rather than a beat piece. -- GP] whereas I'd like to see beat reports written in a colorful and stylistic way, but objectively. I want to find out what happened on the field and perhaps get some comment from the team afterwards. But it seems every beat writer wants to be a columnist; opinions abound and the adjectives run rampant. To me, this is bad journalism."

Regarding Henry's previous comments on Bonds' "nonchalance at times," Greg says, "In the case of batting, sometimes I would say it's hard to know exactly what's wrong until you start hitting again. I don't think anyone would have thought much of Barry working with his dad at the end of last year until his performance suddenly took off. Besides, the media isn't going to care for a detailed description of keeping the hands in a certain position anyway. They're gonna go for the Matt Williams angle, a divorce, something personal or emotional to explain it, or an injury. [As if Bonds had none of that to contend with. -- GP] I get the feeling there are a lot of minor injuries that go unreported because players don't want to appear as if they're making an excuse for subpar performance."

"Some of you have suggested that any 'feeling' I have while watching a game (such as the feeling that Bonds is going to make an out in situations where he used to drive in runs) is irrelevant," says Henry. "I disagree."

This is touchy-feely, but I'll always believe that feelings themselves are never irrelevant. ("Share, Gregg, share," says Greg. "Don't let anyone invalidate you...." Gimme a hug.) I'll say that the result we see on the field probably doesn't have anything to do with feelings, even though I've experienced the same thing Henry has.

"My intuition is not a sixth sense or witchcraft. [Well, we knew that. Mine does, but that's beside the point. -- GP] It comes from seeing scores of games in a year and hundreds of games over several years. Part of my job is drawing upon that experience to let the reader know when something, in my opinion, is not right. If I have a feeling that Bonds is an automatic out in certain situations in which he used to be more formidable, it's my job to say so."

"Personally, I don't have a problem with this," says Greg. "I had the same feeling last year. It may not be very scientific, but I think it's all right to report it. However, when his performance picks up, I think then there's a certain responsibility to report the other side with it. With Bonds, I think many reporters already have a predisposition to dislike him and so only the negative gets reported, while the positive is excused away."

Indeed, it is Henry's job to "say so," provided he has some basis for this, in terms of (in this case) Bonds' performance. I'm not saying that he didn't have any such basis -- again, I had the same feeling for a while, and so did most of us. I'm thinking more in terms of cases where the observer just isn't right.

This is a completely made-up example for the sake of argument (because even if I wanted to, I don't have numbers in front of me to support one position or the other), but say you'd constantly had that feeling that Glenallen Hill would come through in big situations because he always seemed to, but the statistical evidence doesn't come close to supporting it. Maybe he hit three huge ninth-inning home runs, but in thirty similar situations, he whiffed on three pitches. If all you remembered were the home runs, you might well think of Hill as a money player.

By the same token (and in a less made-up example), my impression of J.T. Snow is that if you get him up there with the bases loaded and two outs, it's called strike three, like clockwork. I feel like I'm being conservative in guessing that it happened half a dozen times this season. So as a result, I think of him as being awful in this situation -- but I don't know if I'm just keying on the strikeouts, or if my observation is correct.

"The point that beat writers should be more objective and leave the opinion stuff to columnists -- that might have been true 20 years ago, but more is expected of us now," Henry says. "We are told to analyze and offer our analysis, not just our observations."

Okay. Fair enough.

"This still disturbs me," says Jerry. "I'll readily admit I'm in the minority here, but that's not what the journalism schools of the world are teaching."

Granted, journalism school for me was more than 15 years ago, but all I kept hearing was, "As a reporter, nobody cares about your opinion." (In my defense, I'll say that they said this to the whole class, not just to me. I'm pretty sure.)

I don't think that I particularly made the point that beat writers should be more objective; I was saying that strong opinion (or, for that matter, calling a player a doodyhead for being rude) is something I'd expect more from a columnist than from a beat writer.

"And yes I realize this isn't earth-shattering stuff," Jerry says; "it's just sports, no matter how passionate we may be about it. But to me there's news and then there's opinion and never the twain shall meet. I may be making a mountain out of a molehill, but I find the mix of the two sets a dangerous precedent. And the media in general has been riding this slippery slope for far too long."

I don't really have a problem with "guiding" a reader by providing information that facilitates drawing his or her own conclusions. The problem there is that the dissemination of information is not always "fair," necessarily.

"However," Jerry continues, "if I wrote 'Clinton's comments to the Senate were banal and at times terribly inarticulate,' would my article belong on the front page or the op-ed?"

Well, probably not the front page, because that sort of thing's not news....

"But there is still a line we can't cross," says Henry. "It's one thing to say a guy's playing rotten baseball (which a beat writer can say). [Unless the guy isn't playing rotten baseball. It's the "140 RBIs/none in the clutch" thing. -- GP] It's quite another to say a guy is a rotten player and should be traded (which should be left to a columnist)."

I guess you could say that the columnist can be more of a "fan" in print than the beat writer.

Still, it does not preclude a beat writer from, for instance, using numbers to legitimately point out how awful Rick Wilkins was. I mean, you don't say, "Wilkins is terrible -- he's hitting .160 with no power," but you might let the reader draw conclusions by saying, "Wilkins is hitting .160 with two home runs in 300 at-bats, and he's only walked 15 times." Or, "... but he's walked 45 times."

"I remember working a copydesk shift a couple of years ago and was editing a year-end analysis of the Raiders' season by our beat writer. He did a great job reciting everything that went wrong with the team, and he didn't pull any punches. In areas where they played like crap, he said so. That's fine. But his last line in the story was 'Coach Mike White should be fired.' That's where he, as a beat writer, crossed the line. With the boss' blessing, we removed that line."

Now that's interesting to know.

But with a columnist, the line stays in. I'm still not crazy about that, because I'd rather see examples that, again, might lead the reader to conclude that White should be fired. But that's just me.

"I get the sense that some of you feel we in the media hold Bonds to a higher standard because of what he's done in the past and how much money he makes. Guilty as charged."

That's okay. I don't really think it's wrong to hold him to a higher standard -- I mean, doesn't that make sense? Nobody expects MVP numbers out of, say, Dante Powell next year.

"The $9 million Bonds will make this year could fetch a top-line starter and a couple of very good bench players."

But will these three players inherently be more valuable than Bonds? I mean, $9 million will also get you 37 Kim Batistes, and there are GMs who would make deals like that.

What's more worrisome than $9 million going to Bonds is the $2 or $3 million going to Darryl Hamilton.

But there's a difference between holding a player to higher standards and holding him to unfair or unreasonable standards.

For instance, Herb Caen -- not a sportswriter, admittedly -- said that for the money Bonds was making when he first came here, he'd better hit .400. Similarly, expecting that ninth-inning three-run shot because the man's making tons of money is unreasonable.

Know what else happens here? Bonds' first-inning homers are seen as incidental, even if they happen to drive in the eventual winning run.

But, says Henry, "The owners have handed him the reins and said 'This is your team. Run with it.' You are right in that Bonds doesn't have to carry the team all the time. But he should be there most of the time to give it a very strong push up the hill."

"I agree with that," says Greg. "The money does warrant a star performance. However, it seems as though sometimes Barry gets blamed for areas where he has no control over. If the Giants give up 11 runs, the media sometimes asks why Bonds didn't hit three grand slams, regardless of whether he came up with the bases loaded in front of him ever or not. Obviously I'm exaggerating, but some of the late season articles about Bonds being a choker in September and the postseason were in that vein."

All I can say to that is, sometimes Bonds can't push that team up the hill. In each year he's been a Giant, he's had at least one bad spell, including the first couple weeks of September 1993, after which he came on huge, as he did this year. Because he's somewhat larger than life, I can understand magnifying his dry spells. But let's say Bonds has an 0-for-30 spell over eight games, and the team goes 0-8. I think there'd be a tendency to (a) attribute this largely to Bonds' slump, and (b) when challenged on this (to the effect of, "Well, nobody else is hitting, either, and the pitching's in the toilet"), to say, "Bonds drives the team, and if he doesn't produce, it drags the rest of the players down."

But it doesn't have to be that way. Other players can step up.

"I didn't make myself clear when I talked about Bonds' nonchalance at times," Henry continues. "While I truly believe he wants to win as much as anybody in the clubhouse, he sometimes seems lack an urgency about finding out what's wrong when something is wrong. When you ask him about it, he kind of shrugs his shoulders as if to say, 'Hey, I've tried everything. What else can I do?' Maybe that's just his public reaction and when he goes home he spends 12 hours a night studying videotape. I don't know."

How do other players usually respond? Really -- I'm being curious, not a smartass. Are they generally pretty forthcoming in talking about the measures they've taken to try and break out? I said before that I'd heard Bonds say on the radio that he's calmer during a slump than during a hot streak, for whatever reason. First, is that something that the beat writers would buy? Second, is it something that might be interpreted as nonchalance?

"By all means, report it," says Jonathan, "but don't evaluate it. You're a reporter; it's your job to let us know stuff. That includes passing along a sense of what these guys are like in the clubhouse."

That's fair. I don't really care what players are like in the clubhouse, but I recognize that such knowledge helps us "know" the players better -- human interest, that sort of thing.

"But there's an important line between reporting on his (observable) attitudes and drawing conclusions linking those attitudes to his performance.

"The latter is something that really none of us is qualified to do. These guys, even the worst of them, are very, very good at what they do. [No matter what anybody says, I'll always have trouble applying that to Kim Batiste. -- GP] When you get to someone like Bonds, you're off the scale. There's no way any of us are able to figure out what makes him as good as he is; in my very strong opinion, the presumption should be that their behavior is constructive, not destructive. In other words, maybe Bonds acted that way in his high school slumps, and his college slumps, and his minor league slumps, and his Pirates slumps -- and maybe, for him, that's the best way to deal with it."

Which may be supported by his assertion that he's calmer during slumps than during hot streaks.

"Letting us know that it's his method for dealing with it is good reporting; insinuating that it's a poor method or that it indicates a lack of intensity is a disservice.

"After all, look at Matt Williams, who by all reports is horribly distressed by his slumps... yet his slumps have been far deeper than Bonds', one of them lasting a whole year."

Part of the problem there, I think, is that it's taken for granted that Williams is "sensitive," so maybe the behavior is more "excused" than it would be from Bonds.

"Remember: 'slumps' aren't necessarily 'caused by' anything. What Bonds went through this year could easily have been just luck; roll a pair of dice lots of times, and sometimes you won't see too many sevens, even though the dice haven't changed."

Sometimes it's a lingering cold; sometimes concentration is impaired by external stuff -- you never know.

"It's bad reporting, in my opinion, to assume that there must be a cause for a slump."

Oh. I meant, "Not that I assume this, but sometimes it's a lingering cold...."

"Not bad reporting to mention it, once it reaches large enough proportions, but bad reporting to assume that there must be a cause. There might be, but often there isn't."

I'd be interested to know the results of some sort of player survey to the effect of, "When you go into a slump, what do you think are the reasons, if any?"

Jonathan continues: "I said that you need to distinguish between the 'feeling', which (especially if shared by fans, as this one was) is worth reporting, and the player. Bonds didn't cause the feeling with poor play. That's right. He didn't. He had a very small number of highly reported failures, which -- when combined with our very high expectations -- produced the feeling. It's sort of the same as feeling that the dice are 'hot' or 'cold'; a reporter in a casino would be obliged to report that the players had that feeling, and could certainly report that the dice have been hot or cold for the last few rolls, but would be entirely wrong to then conclude that the dice are now hot or cold.

"Not because it's not your job to draw conclusions, but because dice don't get predictably hot or cold, and because ballplayers don't suddenly change their ability overnight -- or at least, you don't start worrying about that until you have lots and lots of information, at least half a season. And Bonds didn't have a bad half-season."

Regarding the feelings about Bonds' failure to produce "enough" given his salary, Jonathan says, "If Bonds turned into an average player overnight, then, sure, he'd be highly overpaid, and it would be important to report that. The Chicago newspapers should probably let their readers know that Sammy Sosa is an average player, at best.

"But there are two things that you shouldn't do. The first is blaming the player for his demise. The only real exceptions I'd make to that would be drugs and drink, especially lots of them. [For some reason this puts me in mind of Tommy Lasorda's press conference when the Dodgers canned Darryl Strawberry. He said something like, "I love Darryl, but there's a difference between an illness and a weakness." -- GP] If the change in performance level coincides with a radical change in behavior, I think it's fair to report the change in behavior, but not to draw conclusions. For example, Gary Gaetti stopped hitting for a few years after he got religion, and I think that was fair to report. [And there's another can of worms.... -- GP] Even more so, if a guy who used to always take extra batting practice and other obvious signs of effort stopped doing those things and then stopped hitting, I think you would want to report that. But that's not the case with Bonds. First of all, I can't repeat enough that he didn't have a change in performance level; he had a normal year by his standards, so the whole discussion isn't relevant to him at all. But, second, no one ever reported any change. It's unfair to pick through his style when he's down and attribute his slump to some character trait or behavior, since he had the same character traits and behavior when he was going well, and in previous similar slumps, etc.

"So, report the demise, but don't place blame.

"The second thing I don't think you should do is to [forget] to be clear about standards. It's one thing to say that Sammy Sosa isn't worth $10 million; it's another thing to say that he stinks. He stinks for a $10 million player; ignoring the salary, however, he's fine. It's important not to get carried away. Again, this doesn't apply to Bonds, since he's been a bargain for the Giants each year he's been here."

I've mentioned this before, but I'll always remember his first game with the Giants, when he hit a sacrifice fly that turned out to be the eventual game-winner (in, I think, a 2-1 game). Someone with me said, "That's not a $43 million at-bat." I simply said, "Are you kidding? That might have won the [very bad word] ballgame."

If this had happened in 1997, it would be rather a microcosm of his season, I think.

"My problem, is not so much a columnist or beat writer attempting to communicate his feelings about a particular player or team," says Jim. "If Henry or any of the other Bay Area writers want to tell me that, based on his knowledge/experience/gut instinct, that he does not believe Barry Bonds is performing to a level that the team needs, even if that 'feeling' is not quantifiable, I'm okay with that.

"Doesn't bother me if someone wants to try to communicate his baseball 'sense.' All of us who have followed this ballclub for years and years and years have developed an idiosyncratic understanding of the beloved Giants that sometimes is separate from statistics. I can take issue of that feeling when I see fit.

"However, Barry Bonds is flat out one of the greatest baseball players of all time. And my 'sense' is that coverage of him by the Bay Area media during the four years which he has been with the ballclub has tended to rely on the 'feelings' of reporters/columnists to his detriment far more than any San Francisco athlete I can ever recall.

"When game after game, year after year, purportedly objective stories veer away from the mathematically provable (which would consistently support Bonds) to the more esoteric -- which has, almost to a reporter/columnist, cut against him -- I have got to question any assertion that there is not a strong, underlying bias that motivates the bulk of the Bay Area media when covering Barry Bonds.

"The Sacramento Bee, just over the last couple of months has, in my opinion, provided the perfect microcosm of the way in which Bonds is portrayed. From Nick Peters' decision not to protect Bonds in his mock Giants expansion list, to R.E. Graswich referring to Bonds as a 'loser' who would choke down the stretch, costing the Giants the pennant (and then moronic subsequent assertion that his prediction was 'off a week') the tenor of the coverage has been undercutting at best and downright hostile at worst, with the continuous theme being, 'Barry Bonds just doesn't care.'

"Well, he may not. He may have whatever multitude of ills, from not hustling, to not signing autographs, to not stretching before games, to whatever, but he still remains the player of his generation and the best ballplayer to wear a San Francisco uniform other than Number 24 -- and when that statistically demonstrable fact is the underpinning of the 'feelings' in so few columns by all of the Bay Area writers -- I am personally left with no doubt regarding the objectivity of the coverage."

Henry says, "I believe my feelings are valid because a) they're backed up by statistics and b) they're founded upon observations drawn from watching a statistically significant number of games over the past several years."

"They were backed up by one insignificant statistic, which has now been contradicted by a boatload of better statistics," says Erik. "You did precisely the right thing in checking whether your feelings agreed with the record of what Bonds had actually done; you just found a very misleading piece of evidence and used it out of context.

And that's a misuse of 'statistically significant.' Watching games is never statistically significant."

"Quite simply," Henry continues, "Barry Bonds did not come through with hits in as many key situations as he had in years past."

"Yes, he did," responds Erik. "And if he hadn't, it wouldn't have carried the predictive weight you said it did anyway."

"Moreover (and there are no statistics that cover this...observation is the only point of reference), Bonds did not consistently hit the ball hard in key situations (or non-key situations, for that matter)," says Henry.

"This is a flabbergasting statement, says Erik. "You would seriously have us believe that Bonds, who tied for fourth in the league in slugging, didn't consistently hit the ball hard in 1997?"

"If a sportswriter's job were simply poring over and reciting statistics, without reporting his observations, the proverbial trained monkey could do the job," says Henry.

"Nobody has said that's what a sportswriter's job is," says Erik. "Many of us have worked as sportswriters at one point or another, and the discussion of sports journalism here has been much more sophisticated than that. I'm sure you're equally aware by now that you're talking to people who are accustomed to interpreting baseball stats on a much higher level than that of trained monkeys or of, say, the Atlanta broadcasting team. (I should point out that I don't speak with personal authority about the monkeys.) The question at hand is not whether you should merely 'recit[e] statistics' in your column but whether the 'feelings' you've had about Bonds are indeed statistically supportable, as you claimed they were."

"I looked up the situational stats of the gritty, tough, clutch gamer Chuck Knoblauch," says Billy, "and found that he hit .176/.288/.250 [batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage] in USA Today's definition of late-inning pressure situations. I mean, who can even believe that? Tell that to your average sportswriter and he'd tell you that stats are meaningless because he's observed Knoblauch and everyone knows what a gamer he is. (I am not ripping Knob, by the way. I'd certainly trust him with the game on the line, at least as much as anyone. But I'll bet 99% of all fans, especially Twins fans, had no idea that he had hit that way last year.) By the way, that was only 68 at-bats."

"I think it would be easier to accept 'perception' criticism of Bonds if it weren't accompanied by so much other negative stuff in the media," says Richard. "The onslaught of Bonds bashing is so great that it makes it hard to look at any comment about him impartially any more. If Henry had said, for instance, that he had a feeling that Jeff Kent wasn't likely to come through in a clutch situation (and it wasn't in the context of this discussion), I don't think most of us would blink an eye. With Bonds, though, the criticism is so widespread, and in most cases so unfair (or at least out of touch with the reality of his performance), that it is impossible to accept this kind of thing quietly. I think at this point the media needs to reevaluate its perception of Bonds, because all the negative stuff really isn't interesting anymore. Put it this way; when you are arguing the same general position as an unimaginative dolt like R.E. Graswich [of the Sacramento Bee], it's time to try to find another angle to the story.

"If it is critical, but in an entirely new and valid way, that would be okay with me. After all, media criticism doesn't make Bonds perform any differently. It just reduces our enjoyment of the process of following the team when it seems unfair."

"I totally agree," says Billy. "The Bonds stuff has reached the level of piling-on, and that's never fun to read, even about players that you know are sucky. I mean, how many people read Rey Ordoñez threads anymore? It's all been said. And with Bonds, so much of what is said is totally unsupported by the facts, but that never stops these people."

In the last installment we discussed the value of hustling. Jerry feels that in the days before guaranteed contracts, players pretty much hustled. "So," he says, "my question becomes, 'Should every contract be for a single year?'"

That's a frightening thought in many ways, but that aside, it occurs to me that if all contracts were for single years, certain players would know that they'd end up signing next year for more money no matter what, so why bust ass? (That's more a devil's-advocate position than anything else, though.

"You hear endlessly about how a player is playing harder because they're in a contract year."

You also see guys who -- hustle aside -- sure don't play like they're in a contract year....

"I've even seen season predictions written with reference to how many players on the team are going into their final contracted year, thereby boosting their expected finish."

This makes me wonder if anybody has a sense of correlation between predicted and actual performance in these cases.

"Surely it's no coincidence," Jerry says, "that (for instance) Dana Stubblefield [of the 49ers] just had his greatest season in the final year of his contract. So what about abolishing multiyear contracts?"

Probably my main problem with this is that I really like continuity. I mean, the main reason I don't care about college sports is the lack of continuity -- they're seniors (or younger), then they're gone. It's kind of like being an Expos fan, I'd imagine.

So with no multiyear deals, I'd figure on the same thing, only worse: Everybody would be nomadic, and there'd be no real team identity. Under such circumstances, a manager can't do his job -- so what would be the point in going through a rigorous hiring process? Or eventually firing the guy?

Tom A., by the way, tells us about one of history's great nonhustlers: "I remember hearing that Zeke Bonura (a first baseman with a lifetime average over .300) used to cheerfully wave at grounders going by him if they were out of his self-perceived range of one step to either side, and not a terribly big step either."

Sure makes me wonder how the man would've stayed in the lineup; I would think his attitude would've gotten him canned a number of times. Bonura's behavior -- assuming this happened -- was simply too much. It's too obvious. Imagine that Barry Bonds, instead of claiming that he'd lost that ball in the sun and let it hit off the fence, had doffed his cap and done a "salaam" toward the batter in honor of his apparent monster home run.

"Apparently, at least by this one example, [this type of thing was tolerated], at least if you're as good a hitter as Bonura was. Then again, perhaps the story of waving at grounders has grown in the telling. I'm guessing he didn't do a full 'salaam' at the ball, but simply that he probably smiled when the ball went by or something, and it was blown up into waving. Maybe he waved a few times, but didn't make a practice of it."

Then again again, Bonura played chiefly in the '30s, when a .300 batting average for a first baseman was nothing to wet your pants over.

"He played from 1934-1940," Tom says. "Lifetime .307 batting average, .380 OBP, and .487 slugging percentage. His best year was 1937 (Chisox) when he went .345/.412/.573 with 19 home runs and 100 RBIs. His last year was at age 32: .264/.302/.407 in 182 at-bats.

"I'd say from that that he was quite a good hitter at his peak, well worth a shoddy glove. He dropped off quickly from the peak, though, and became very replaceable. He bounced around with the Senators, Giants, and Cubs from 1938-1940.

"For what it's worth, Total Baseball has him at positive Fielding Runs for his career, with a high of +12 in 1936.

"Also, I tend to think that really immobile, slow fielders were more tolerated back then, at least at catcher (Ernie Lombardi), first base (Kluszewski, Gentile, Easter, many others) and occasionally left field (Hank Sauer, Yogi Berra, Pat Seerey).

"That is, more tolerated in the 1950s, when slow sluggers ruled the roost. Wouldn't be true in the 1920s or the dead ball era."

I could almost see it before the turn of the century, when such behavior would be pretty mild compared to, I dunno, grabbing a baserunner by the belt so he couldn't advance....

"I'm reminded of the comment in Ball Four about Carl Yastrzemski loafing and getting fined $500 (August 6, 1969)," says Richard. "Bouton's comment: '... When things are going good, Yastrzemski will go all out. When things aren't going so well, he'll give a half-assed effort. But he's got so much ability that the only thing you can do is put up with him.'

I wonder how many "lesser lights" could afford to behave that way.

"'I asked a few of the Red Sox if they thought he deserved the fine and I thought they would defend him. But they said, "He deserved it all the way."'

"Maybe things back then weren't as glorious as we all want to remember. Sounds like maybe the marginal players always hustled and mostly still do, while the established stars have pretty much played at their own pace. For some, that pace was a little less consistent than others."

Oui. In theater, this is why you hear more stories about the lead actor being drunk or something than you would about chorus boys....

"I think, but I don't know, that baseball is the only sport where the fans want just-for-show hustle," says Jonathan. "For the stuff that matters -- defense, baserunning when there's reasonable doubt about outcomes -- loafing is pretty rare in baseball."

"To me, the classic example of just-for-show hustle was Pete Rose running to first on a walk," says Richard. "To me, that was negative hustle, because it was using energy better saved for another purpose. Still, I can't say I remember him goofing off as a player, so maybe this isn't a perfect analogy to whatever it is we are talking about (which, I am ashamed to admit, is becoming less clear to me by the moment)."

Al Gallagher did the same thing; maybe the reason his career plummeted so quickly was that his legs went....

Incidentally, Rose and Gallagher would probably defend the strategy of running to first on a walk by saying, "Hey, if the ball gets past the catcher, I have a better chance of getting the extra base."

Last time we discussed Dan's APBA simulation in which he ran a season for a league consisting only of competitive San Francisco Giants teams. (I know what you're thinking, but the league did too have more than two teams.) I said, "What a blast. If I could do that with Strat-O-Matic, I would."

"I have played Strat-O-Matic since 1969," says Ben F., "and my favorite team was the 1973 Giants:

"The battles I had with the Dodgers, Big Red Machine, and the 40-homer-club-Atlanta Braves were the most fun I ever had with the Strat game. Ahhhh, the good old days"

Dan says, "APBA has available a utility called Wizard, into which you enter the league-average stats, and all the teams are accordingly adjusted. Hell, it's only $30, I guess I should get it...."

Huh. Now that sounds cool, actually.

I haven't heard much good about APBA for Windows, though I've heard from one or two people who swear by it. (As I've said, I have a Mac -- and it's old, with little horsepower; otherwise I'd pick up something like Diamond Mind, plus the necessary Windows emulation software.)

"It would have been interesting to include the 1996 team just to see if they really were that bad (staff ace: Mark Leiter... yeah, they were that bad)."

No question. I think 1985 might have been worse -- perhaps it would be worth it to run an automatic, 162-game tournament between those two. (I wonder if Mike Krukow's constant assertion in 1996 that the '85 team was much worse would be borne out.)

"I'm familiar with Strat (I have the board game)," Dan says, "but I think APBA is more fundamentally sound -- a good pitcher takes away hits, rather than a 50% chance that the pitcher has no effect on the outcome. I think the 'best sim' argument is a loftier philosophical discussion that transcends (see"

I have the feeling this makes Mac users akin to the Amish in this regard....

Evidently APBA lets you input your own players. Strat does too, but no more than 12 per team, and evidently the player cards are way "deeper" than the overall stats you'd enter for each created player: AB, R, H, RBI, etc. -- without much respect to lefty/righty splits and a whole bunch of other stuff. The purpose is to create "fringe" players with limited at-bats.

Dan says, "I have the encyclopedia CD that allows import of any team or player in history. That's how I generated the Giant clubs. Fun stuff. I've always planned to generate Eddie Gaedel's card to see what it looks like."

I'd be interested in knowing. John Paciorek, too. (For those unfamiliar with this name, the older brother of annoying White Sox broadcaster Tom Paciorek -- a reasonably talented mimic, but the kind who says, "Hello, Jimmy Stewart here," to let you know that's who he's imitating -- played a single game with the Houston Colt .45s in, I believe, 1963. He went 3-for-3 with four runs scored -- and was never heard from again. Evidently he tore up his knee, and that was it.)

"I see you've been talking asking what we'd want to see in a computer game," says Dan. "Lots, actually. I like APBA because I think it makes more sense than Strat. I got both board games 15 years ago, so I didn't start with a bias."

Played Strat once or twice as a kid, then played APBA extensively -- albeit for about a month -- while in high school. In those days, though, I was pretty much addicted to Sports Illustrated Baseball, and then David Beck, in an effort to eventually become known as an EEEEEE! Contributing Editor, introduced me to The Game (Read it if you want -- it's long.), which he and his brother had made up, and I was hooked on that. Dave and I spent years working on it, overhauling it, tweaking it, etc. What prevents us now is the complete lack of time to do so.

"Of course, I hate rolling dice," says Dan. "That's why the handful of old Avalon Hill wargames (Squad Leader, etc.) sit on my shelves in near-mint condition. That's why my interest in APBA faded until the computer games came out."

That's pretty much where I am now. Unfortunately, The Game right now seems to require about 8,000 dice rolls per play -- okay, not 8,000, but more than one. Sometimes that's kind of fun, because you can watch a play "develop," but mostly it's a pain in the ass. If Dave or I had the remotest programming talent, there'd be some computer version of The Game, even if Dave and I were the only people who knew about it.

Believe it or not, I've tried both Excel and Filemaker Pro as possible ways to put The Game on computer, just because I kind of understand them, and because they both have random number generators. But both projects were aborted early, because The Game can be awfully damn complicated at times.

"I've tried Earl Weaver (old DOS versions) and the newer Front Page Sports games, but the results were unbelievable. In Weaver, the '62 Mets after an autoplay season finished a few games behind the '75 Reds. With results like that, I say, What's the point?"

I never saw FPS, but I played Weaver on the Mac about five years ago. I enjoyed the graphics and strategy aspects, but that game was limited in many ways. I couldn't say how realistic the stats were, because again, I'm generally not looking to reproduce actual seasons.

"Additionally, the arcade nature of the newer FPS games is a big turn-off. I still don't understand the reasoning behind swinging the ENTER key, or yanking the joystick to give a pitch a late break. That's certainly not a simulation."

Agreed. I have no desire to be the player. I want to be the manager and GM. Let the little computer people be the players.

"To me, a 'game' can be anything from the old Cadaco game with the spinner, to the pinball games in the arcade, to the joystick-controlled players in the Atari and FPS games.

"A 'simulation,' on the other hand, tries to replicate player performances (or at least their characteristics), and all other variables being equal, result in somewhat expected performances. For instance, after a full season, Roger Maris in '61 should hit about 55-65 home runs, not 75."

The key word there is characteristics. This is The Game in a nutshell. It's not really stats based. For instance:

It's kind of hard to explain.

It does occur to me, though, that stuff Dave and I value in The Game might be thought of as crap by many simulation players; hard to tell, because I don't know anyone else with a similar game.

"I prefer sims," says Dan, "usually for the expressed purpose of replaying old seasons. From your comments, I see that you don't see a whole lot of purpose in that. But it's a good history lesson."

I agree with that, and I like that aspect. In a way, such a sim is like a spreadsheet in that it lets you play "what if." You might re-run the 1993 season, complete with all transactions and stuff, and 90 times out of 100, the Braves might finish a game up on the Giants. You might then make a single tweak to see what happens -- hey, let's bat Bonds third and Clark fifth this time -- and it might lead to different results. Or even, "What if we'd managed to trade prospects for Dennis Martinez?" Or, in your case, "What if I played a league consisting of most or all of the competitive San Francisco Giants teams?" In fact, I'd like to see some team savvy enough to run similar what-if simulations (provided the game software is actually good).

I might sound kind of snotty about the idea of replaying actual seasons, playing stats-based games, etc., but I don't mean to be; I definitely see value in it. I've spent lots of time doing it. I just don't find it all that much fun. I guess I just like to be able to create my own fiction.

"I think the Number One requirement for a good baseball sim is the ability to generate any team or player in history, cheaply and from existing or made-available (cheaply!) databases," says Dan. "Ideally, these should be identical to the factory formulated disks."

(I think this is absolutely imperative. I think, too, that there should be some facility for creating major league equivalencies for minor league players based on their stats. You should be able to say, "Well, so what might happen if the Giants suddenly install Dante Powell as their everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter?" and get a feel for it, based on conversion of his minor league numbers.)

"This is one area where APBA falls short. Every imported season requires some tweaking in subjective ratings. Especially when it comes to defensive ratings. Import seems to base these on errors and games played. Therefore, a Mike Piazza is usually rated way too high in Throw rating (the +/- modifier for opponents' base stealing). Defensive subs are almost always rated too low because of their short innings. For example, Mike Benjamin is given barely-above-minimum ratings that need upward adjusting."

Right. It's kind of like saying that So-and-So isn't much of a scorer because he only averages 3.4 points a game, as well as 1.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists -- but if he only averages six minutes a game, it sounds as though, in that brief time, he makes things happen. In this way, it's possible that Benjy has tremendous range, though the lack of playing time doesn't reflect this. In The Game, he'd be rated, let's say, as a ss g2 t1 z1, which means, in order, "excellent glove, good arm, good range." (The g and t ratings go from -2 to 2; z's -- well, either you have them or you don't, which might not be such a hot idea.)

"The import does a very good job with quantitatively-derived ratings. The basic hitter and pitcher cards are arguably more accurate than the factory sets. This is because for pitchers, ABPA usually grades up for certain Games Won plateaus -- intended to create realistic team performances."

Yeah, that I know. I understand the philosophy, but I'm not sure how much I buy into it. I mean, if a pitcher goes 20-7, 3.32 one year and 6-15, 3.32 the next year, I'm not sure how he's changed, ergo I'm not sure that his "grade" should change.

"The import works solely from statistics and ignores situational subjectivity (as wins are somewhat situational). For players who've been on multiple teams, Import gives you the option of creating one average card or multiple cards for each team played for."

Probably a pretty good call. A problem, though, is in the '89 Matt Williams situation: .160 with two homers (I think) before his demotion, .250 with 16 after he came back -- I mean, he was two different players.

Near as I can tell, Lee Hamilton out of XETRA in San Diego is responsible for this rumor, reported in the Giants newsgroup by William: "This report has the Giants signing Andy Benes then trading him back to St. Louis for lefthanded pitcher Donovan Osborne. Osborne would give the Giants another lefty and allow an option to trade a starter for a possible a big bat behind Bonds."

This one kind of makes my head spin -- evidently Henry's, too -- he hadn't heard that one, and he's got sources we don't.

"Question," says Billy: "Why wouldn't the Giants do that?"

Question: How do you sign a player if he knows you're going to trade him? How do you do the negotiations and then stick another team with the terms? I don't understand this.

"I think Benes wants to be a Cardinal," said Jerry (before articles came out saying that he'd broken off all talks with the team). "He signed a contract which was then successfully challenged because it came after the deadline. So if this is true the Giants are doing the Cards and Benes a favor and getting paid back with a player in return."

I guess there's that, but... which team would do the negotiating?

"Well, I thought the idea was that Benes wants to sign with St. Louis, but is forbidden to do so," says Billy. "If the Giants, Cards, and Benes got together and the Giants said, 'Look, we know you want to be a Cardinal, Andy, and we're going to sign you, then trade you 10 minutes later for a good pitcher whom we need. Therefore, you get the Cardinals, the Cardinals get you, and we get Donovan Osborne for our trouble.'"

This scenario makes sense, but would there not be some suspicion of some form of collusion, though? "It doesn't look like it on the surface, because both Benes and Osborne are going to end up getting their money."

I'm using the term "collusion" in the more general sense -- I mean, two teams would in fact be colluding in some fashion. Are they doing something illegal or unethical (more than usual, I mean)? I don't know.

"It's an obvious attempt to circumvent the rules, but the Cards would pay the penalty of losing Osborne, so I don't know if a stink would be made about it. Really, who suffers here?"

Oh, probably Giants fans....

Plus, again, how would the negotiations be handled? I'm guessing not like this:

Giants: Say, Andy, how's about $20 million per year for the next 90 years?

Benes: Sounds like a plan. Where do I sign?

Giants: Right here. Hang on a sec.

[Sound F/X: Beep boop boop boop beep boop boop. Ring. Ring. Ring.]

Cardinals: Hello?

Giants: Hi. This is the Giants. We've got it done.

Cardinals: Great. Trade's made, then.

Giants: Cool. Heh heh heh.

[Sound F/X: Scratch scratch scratch (papers being signed). Boop beep beep boop boop beep beep. Ring. Ring. Ring. Connect noise (for documents being faxed to the league office).

Fax sound effects repeat.]

Cardinals: Huh? Whaddaya mean we'll end up paying him $20 million a year for 90 years?

A recent thread on the baseball newsgroup concerned the worst pitching performances of all time. Tim I. says, "A fellow named Lewis (first name unknown) [And rightly so. -- GP] went to the mound on July 12, 1890, for the woeful Buffalo Bisons of the Players' League. It was his one and only start (and appearance) of his major league career.

"The Buffalo manager, for whatever reason, decided to leave Lewis in the game for much longer than his performance deserved.

[Well, baseball was still new, see.... -- GP]

"When Lewis departed after three innings, he had given up 20 runs -- all earned, which was unusual for 19th century baseball.

[I wonder if he used to try and get dates with a line about having been a pro baseball player.... -- GP]

"In three innings, he gave up 13 hits and seven walks, striking out one (I'd like to know who that one embarrassed hitter was!). His opponents batted .591 and had an OBP of .690, which are bad even in slow-pitch beer-league softball. In the dead ball days of 1890, he still gave up three home runs in three innings.

"And yes, he got the loss."

There are a couple amazing performances mentioned in Who Was Harry Steinfeldt by Bert Randolph Sugar -- specifically by Noodles Hahn, who I think gave up 16 runs in a complete game, and something similar by Lefty O'Doul. It's a trivia book, and I think the question was along the lines of "Who threw the most appalling complete games ever?"

"Then there was Eddie Kolb," says Tim, "a 19-year-old Cincinnati tobacconist recruited by the incomparably pathetic 1899 Cleveland Spiders, to pitch in a game against the Reds in Cincy on October 15, 1899 when the entire team just wanted to forget the season ever happened. Somehow, Spiders manager Joe Quinn, having long-since written off the season anyway, let Kolb go the distance (obviously very numb to losing by that time).

"Kolb gave up 19 runs in that game (nine earned), giving up 18 hits and 5 walks (better control than usual for an all-time-bad performance) en route to a 19-3 drubbing at the hands of the host Reds. And it was a complete game, but then, this staff was so bad that I doubt any of its other pitchers could have done much better. Thanks to the unearned runs (contemporary accounts point to a dismally 'who cares' lackadaisical attitude by the Spider 'defense' [and in case you're wondering, no, Zeke Bonura was not the first baseman -- GP]), his ERA was 'only' 10.13. Hell, in 1890 Charlie Stecher had a 10.32 ERA in 10 starts and 9 complete games. You see, baseball was new back then [Told you so. -- GP], and they still were looking for people who could pitch. Obviously, the Players League 'expansion' led to pretty dismal pitchers getting a chance at the bigs.

"All that's known about Kolb after this one unfortunate game (whether MLB experience got him dates is still unknown) is that he must have been somewhat more successful in life than in baseball, as he bought a minor league team in Calgary in the 1920s and then disappeared.

"But what's really frightening is that even considering Kolb, Hahn, and O'Doul, none gave up as many runs in eight or nine innings as Lewis gave up in three."

"Well, unless you restrict this to the 20th century," says Joseph, "look up Charlie Stecher for the Association's 1890 Philadelphia Athletics: 10 games, 10 starts, 9 complete games, 0-10 record, 10.32 ERA, 68 innings, 111 hits. How can a staff be so bad that a pitcher this horrific is allowed to finish nine of his 10 starts, even in 1890 when being relieved was fairly rare?

'Note that with 10 games and nine complete games, Stecher only had 68 innings. It was common back then to call blowouts early when it started getting slightly dark, or when the visitors had a train to catch. In the 19th century, umpires were quick to find a reason to 'call the game' in a blowout. Obviously, Charlie was involved in a lot of 'em."

A lot of votes went to Manny Alexander. "In 1996," David N. reports, "Alexander, an Orioles utility infielder, was brought in to pitch in the late innings of a blowout against the Rangers. He went two-thirds of an inning, gave up four walks and one hit (a home run) for a tidy 67.50 ERA."

Sounds like the first time I pitched in Little League, except that I didn't give up any hits because nobody had to swing the bat.

Apparently one influencing factor in the decision of Pedro Martinez (not to be confused with Medro Partinez) to sign with Boston was the fact that Juan Marichal "put in a good word" for the city. This reminds me: I wonder if there's been some negative history between Marichal and the Giants. He shows up for ceremonies and old-timers' games and such, but I wonder if there are specific reasons he's never worked for the Giants after his playing career (aside from never being asked, say).

"Which is the same reason I've never worked for the Giants," says Greg.

Ditto -- not that I haven't asked.

Dan points out that Marichal worked for the A's for a long time, so it would've been kind of difficult to work for the Giants at the same time.... However, but it's been a while since, Marichal's A's tenure, and he didn't always work for the A's immediately upon retiring (I don't think).

"Scratching my head," says Tom A. "Do you mean that sometimes he worked for the A's immediately after retiring, and sometimes not?"

Sure. What the hell? We're all friends here.

"Is this one of those Star Trek: The Next Generation 'temporal discontinuity/alternate universe' things?"

No. It's more like the Earth I/Earth II scenario from the Superman comics, and Marichal's like the WW II version of The Flash. And Perry's the blond Green Lantern who doesn't even wear much green.

"It does seem peculiar that Marichal never hooked up with the Giants," says Dan, "though I hear we now have an opening in the scouting departments Dominican Republic field office...."

Yeah, but we don't want to bring that up.

But perhaps there was some bad blood by the time Marichal hung 'em up -- I mean, I doubt he wanted to be released by the Giants.

"I know I wouldn't be," says Tom, "although I'd love to be in the position of the Giants deciding whether to release me. But that's my New Year's wish."

Make it your New Year's resolution, and we'll talk.

But I'm pretty much of the mind that hiring Marichal would be a great PR move for the Giants.

"Not if they're still ticked off about the Roseboro Incident," says Billy. "Talk about negative publicity. Robbie Alomar symptomatic of today's bad-role-model athlete? Puh-lease."

This occurred to me, but, well, I hoped no one would mention it. However, Billy certainly has a point -- although I'm not sure Marichal was any less beloved here after the incident (not that I would defend his actions in the least, even jokingly).

"In today's climate, I have a feeling it would come out and be hashed over. Particularly with the Sprewell thing so fresh in everyone's mind."

Sure -- but not a year ago....

I'll say, though, that if today the Giants wanted to hire Marichal in some capacity, this would be hashed out, and the hiring would probably be seen as a bad PR move -- despite the incident happening in, what, 1966? (And I'm not saying such hashing would be wrong.)

"Boy. I never would have thought of this," says Richard. "In my mind, the Roseboro thing is ancient history, two owners and many general managers ago."

Yeah, I feel that way -- but it still makes me wince.

"In fact, I think in the mind of many Giant fans, this is actually looked back on with some guilty nostalgia (evidence of the good old days when the Giant/Dodger rivalry was bigger than life, offset by the knowledge that it was wrong and that Marichal's suspension probably cost the Giants the pennant that year).

"So, I guess I'm saying I find it kind of hard to believe that this is why he isn't involved with the team."

I was just guessing, but I feel the same way. Still, you never know. This is wild, but it's possible that such a hire would be protested by the African-American community (or, at least, San Francisco's mayor would say something characteristically strange), and once that community got upset, possibly the Hispanic community would respond negatively too....

"Heck, before Rosen came along, the Giants had even turned their backs on Mays and McCovey."

Well, part of the Mays thing is that Willie was suspended from baseball by Bowie Kuhn for his involvement in, I believe, Bally's casinos. Mickey Mantle was also kicked out for casino involvement. In each case, these guys were just shills, glad-handing people and golfing with important clients. When Peter Uebberoth became commissioner, the first thing he did was reinstate Mays and Mantle, and the first thing Kuhn did was blast Uebberoth. I'd say that Kuhn stayed within the letter of the law, but not the spirit.

As for McCovey, I wasn't aware there were any problems, except what Richard mentions below:

"Maybe getting those two back in the fold is all they were willing or able to do (especially considering that I have read that McCovey is jealous of the attention that Mays gets)."

I gather that this is why he declines invites to old-timer's games (aside from the fact that the poor guy's knees are so bad that he can barely walk). On the other hand, I don't gather that he and Mays are actually on the outs or anything. In fact, in what I thought was one of the few terrific moments from 1996, the two of them surprised Lon Simmons during a telecast to present him with a birthday cake. (Good thing it was actually Lon's birthday, and that adequate fire safety procedures had been followed.)

It's Fan Mail Time! Yaaaaaaaaay!

Andertho (really a Tom A., but we already have a Tom A.) says, "Hello, gentlemen. [This is the part that made me wonder if he meant to send his e-mail to someone else. -- GP] I just finished two hours of perusing your web page, and it was a revelation. I am overwhelmed by a feeling of having come home.

"I'm 34 years old and a lifelong Giants' fan. I am different than most, in that I've never been to Candlestick (or even to San Francisco). I'm a New Jersey native and was raised by a devout fan of Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott, and Sal Maglie. My house was the first one built in its neighborhood, and in 1951 the workers from the surrounding houses being built nearby rushed to my home to see what the lunatic screaming noise was. My mother let them know it was simply my Dad's reaction to Bobby Thomson versus Ralph Branca."

You say "lunatic," I say "proper" -- it's a fine line....

"Despite the Giants' departure to the west, I (along with my brother John who turned me on to your web site and wrote you a letter) was destined to be a fervent Giant fan. My father saw to it. Our many family trips to Connie Mack, Veteran's Stadium, Shea Stadium, and even Three Rivers Stadium were the highlights of my summers. The most memorable moments of my childhood and teenager-hood rotate around bizarre Giant occurrences. I saw Jose Cardenal knock the Giants out of first place in the ninth inning while scoring on a sac fly in 1978 while a Philly fan shoved me from behind. My brother's car engine blew up that night on the way home. I even got Skip James' autograph that night (really). I pushed my parents' car through a toll booth on the Verranzano Narrows Bridge after it broke down en route to a double header at Shea in 1979. (We never made it to the game -- the Giants dropped both ends and I saw it on TV at my aunt's house in Weehawken). I was there the night Johnny LeMaster wore silver, glittery numbers on his uniform and Mets' announcer Steve Albert (Marv's brother) decided his nickname was 'Maynard G. Krebs.' I was even there the night Jack Clark dropped an easy fly ball in April on the first night of the first umpire's strike (1980, I think), and a 45-minute delay resulted in a bizarre compromise involving the batter winding up on second and the runner on first being out. The umpire's strike ended shortly thereafter. I was even booed by Mets' fans as I refused to interfere with Clark later on a foul ball in the right field corner near my seat. The car did not break down that night. I missed Terry Mulholland's no-hitter in the Vet (against the Giants, of course), but my brother was there. In 1989, the Giants won the pennant for the first and only time in my life. Fittingly, I was in the Army in Korea at the time and missed the whole thing. My brother sent me a picture of him and his daughter hugging the TV set.

"I remember Heity Cruz. Champ Summers. Fran Healy. Phil Nastu. Bill Bordley was the next Tom Seaver, particularly since he had to be drafted in a special draft just like Seaver. John Tamargo hit a ninth-inning home run in the [1979] home opener against the Padres and I heard it on short-wave radio over the Armed Forces Radio Network.

"As a kid, 10:30 p.m. (East Coast time) starts were a godsend -- I could pick up AM radio from half the country. I remember lying under the sheets in the dark, the windows open against the humid New Jersey night, listing to Marty Brenneman of the Reds' radio network: 'Reds down by a run, men on first and third, two outs, Foster at the plate, Rose takes a big lead off of third, Moffit into the wind, it's a LONG FLY BALL... (STATIC).' Three minutes later the signal becomes clear, only to get a car dealership commercial. Then Joe Nuxhall is interviewing George Foster. You don't need to know the score.

"Other notes:

"Yes, your website was a revelation.

"Unfortunately, I have a slightly different take on Giant fanhood. Despite my passion for the team, I feel a peculiar disconnectedness from them. I'm not from San Francisco, nor have I ever been there. I feel most close to the team when they stink. When they are good, I feel outrage at the fans who suddenly are there in the stands. I feel they are front-runners. It bothers me when I see these same people rooting for the 49ers, bitter enemies of my beloved New York football Giants. Somehow, though, this peculiar disconnectedness tends to help define and strengthen my role as a Giant fan. The irony and bitterness of it all just seems to fit.

"Like the Ancient Mariner (no, not Gaylord Perry), the albatross of Giant fandom hangs around my neck. But I love it.

"I truly and deeply understand the meaning of the name EEEEEE! I really, really do."

I can tell. Just saying "I'm 34 years old and a lifelong Giants' fan" says it all.

New Year -- New Title? -- Part 2

Copyright ©1998 by Gregg Pearlman

Last updated 1/6/98
Gregg Pearlman,

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