New Year -- New Title? -- Part 4

by Gregg Pearlman

Sunday, January 18, 1998

You brought this on yourselves, people. You ignored my whining last time about how active you were on the newsgroups and in e-mails to me, and if anything, you were even more active this time around. So if this installment turns out to be another 100K long, let it be on your heads.

I'm teasing, of course. It goes without saying, but if there's any subject that deserves this much consideration, it's the San Francisco Giants. We here at EEEEEE! Plaza Heights Towers are just thrilled that the Giants-related e-mail and the activity on the Giants newsgroup has not abated this offseason. Oh, sure, for a while there, it looked as though lots of us were taking a well-earned rest after the hard-fought 1997 season, but as always, the Giants and baseball have given us lots to talk about besides stuff that happens between the white lines.

Those with lots to talk about include Henry, Dave S., Jonathan, David N., Jerry D., Jeff C., J.E., Billy, Tjames, Andy, Richard, Carlos, Dan, Dave F., Steven R., Greg, Billy, Albert, James, Marie, Tom A., C., Todd, Jeff P., Ben H., John S., Jerry P., Coach Larry, and Rob.

The lead sentence from Henry Schulman's article in the Sunday Chronicle/Examiner goes like this: "Giants boosters paid $100 a plate at a charity dinner Friday night so they could meet a dozen players and manager Dusty Baker and hear the team's newest pitcher say, "'Hello, my name is Orel Hershiser and I'm a reformed Dodger. I spent three years in Cleveland in detox, and I'm much better now.'"

Now, this is very cute, and legitimately funny. But was it Orel really saying this, or Henry's way of summarizing Hershiser's actual speech? I realize that the language of the sentence, if taken literally, suggests the former, but it could be similar to boiling down a long, boasting speech by Brian Sabean about the Giants' success to "I am not an idiot."

The reason I ask is that if these are the reporters words, the synopsis is genuinely funny and worthwhile, though maybe in need of clarification to the effect of "... newest pitcher say, in effect, 'Hello....'" Or something written better than that.

But if I assume Hershiser actually said it, there's something in the tone that concerns me. There's a kind of patronizing tinge to this attempt to endear himself. I'm sure he was just trying to be funny, and indeed the remark is kind of cute. But it might have been better to stick to the standard platitudes -- "The Dodgers are a wonderful organization and I'll always be grateful to them, but between those white lines, it'll be all business; beating them will be extra special," or "I'm very fortunate to have spent three years with the Indians and come close in two World Series." That sort of thing. (Although for Giants fans, "that sort of thing" is a little more palatable if you read it out loud in a high, silly voice.) At minimum, the above remark sounds to me like clubhouse-wall fodder -- something that could give the Dodgers a little more incentive, if any of them give a damn what someone has to say who was on the team before many of them were.

"They heard assistant general manager Ned Colletti tell a joke at his boss' expense," Henry says. "The punch line involved general manager Brian Sabean enduring a horrific and perverse act by a raging bull." Tragically, Henry chose to exercise good taste and not repeat the joke. "Then they heard Sabean say, 'Orel Hershiser must be wondering. He's won all these championship, and we just won the division and we're falling all over ourselves. We're so full of B.S. we can't see straight.'"

Sabes has a colorful turn of a phrase, doesn't he? I won't say here what color this sounds like to me. But strictly speaking, Hershiser's Dodgers won division titles in 1985, 1988, 1991, and 1994 (if you count that -- the Dodgers were in first place when the players walked out), with a World Championship in 1988. His Indians won their division all three years he played for them, including pennants in 1995 and 1997. During that stretch, the Giants pretty much pale by comparison, sure -- but at least won division titles in 1987, 1989, and 1997, including a pennant in 1989. That's seven for Orel, three for the Giants -- but criminy, Brian, the Giants aren't a first-year expansion club, or, worse yet, a wild-card winner that got hot at the right time, leading to the first-ever World Championship for an actual second-place team.

So the Giants are falling all over themselves? So what? Enjoy it, man. Eat, drink, and be merry.

"Some already believe [that the National League West] will be the toughest division in baseball," Henry reports. Certainly I can see it being the "toughest," in terms of competition within the division, but not the best. After describing the offseason moves by the other NL West teams, Henry says, "Not that the Giants have stood still. They've hired a new closer (Robb Nen), a catcher (Brent Mayne), a power-hitting infielder (Charlie Hayes) and a proven, if aging, starting pitcher (Hershiser)."

When Henry first posted a message to the Giants newsgroup, he said he was very interested in what fans think of the Giants' offseason moves, so I'll attempt to answer that here: Of the four Henry mentions above, the one I feel the least trepidation about is Mayne, because it's probably a wash with Berryhill, or perhaps the Giants have even improved the backup catcher situation' I feel that if we're lucky, Hayes will be Mark Lewis without the "versatility"; Hershiser seems to be pitching on borrowed time and guts, which'll only get a guy so far; and Nen, well, I like his fastball and all, but I'm concerned about the fact that his and Rod Beck's numbers are so similar -- except that Nen walks five times as many hitters.

"Despite all they've done, the Giants shouldn't be surprised if few pick them to repeat as division champs," Henry says.

Exactly. That's okay, though; I can live with the nay-sayitude (and generate plenty of it, too), and so can the Giants. If there's one thing I learned from the 1997 season, it's that I should really try harder to stay in wait-and-see mode.

"Even the Giants understand what they're up against," Henry continues. "'Probably the team to beat in this division, as they are every year, is the Dodgers,' said [Darryl] Hamilton."

This seems smart of Hamilton. This reasonably should appease the Baseball Gods, if only just a little. On the other hand, Let's hope the Baseball Gods will see what Hamilton says next as whistling in the dark, and ignore it: "The Dodgers have the pitching staff that nobody wants to face, and on paper they've got one of the best lineups.

"But what you do on paper and what you do on the field are two different things. We proved that last year."

Don't cross the Baseball Gods, Darryl.

In the second January installment I suggested that maybe Barry Bonds was overly sensitive, rather than insensitive. Dave S., a Seattle-based writer, says, "Part of the problem, and this applies to not just Bonds, is that sportswriters don't talk and write enough about baseball. If you get players talking about their jobs -- about playing baseball, about their approach to hitting, etc. -- and not about a losing streak or clubhouse chemistry or their new contract or if they like their new teammate, you'll find most players to be very approachable."

(Yeah -- but how can you dish dirt that way?)

"Instead, many writers find it easier to write about anything but the game on the field -- and then rip a guy because he strikes out in a crucial situation."

And all under the guise of "reporting" stuff that's "newsworthy," which really means "attempting to sell papers."

"Some of it is under the guise of trying to sell papers," Dave says. "A lot of it is because -- no surprise here -- there are a lot of dumb sportswriters. Or maybe I should rephrase that -- a lot of sportswriters asking dumb questions."

Well, I understand that -- but that's fair. I mean, sometimes a sportswriter asks a perfectly reasonable question that the player derides as dumb. Here's a quote from Donnie Moore in Nash and Zullo's Baseball Confidential (1988): "After I give up a home run that goes 500 fucking miles and the reporter asks, 'Was it a good pitch?' That's stupid. A batter doesn't hit a good pitch 500 fucking feet." Now, I think it's an okay question, because sometimes it was a good pitch, and the pitcher got a bad break. But players? Maybe not.

"Let me give you an example," Dave says. "I was doing a story on the Indians last August. Interviewing Matt Williams -- who by all accounts is a great guy -- I asked a really dumb question about the Indians 'struggling.' They were, of course, in first place. Now, understandably, he gets pissed off. You think a player cares if the team what the team's record is along as they're in first place? But that's the kind of broad, generalizing, dumb question they get all the time."

I think, though, that reporters have certain questions formed in their mind already, many of which they know the answers to but must get a quote anyway. I know that in similar situations, I've gone and asked the questions, feeling kind of silly for knowing that the question might not be held in high esteem.

"I then interview Jim Thome," Dave continues. "Keep in mind that ballplayers are not very trusting of reporters, especially the non-beat guys they don't know. Anyway, I great into this great discussion with Thome about hitting, his approach against different pitchers, his ability to draw walks, etc. That's kind of thing players will talk about. But you ever see a story on how Barry Bonds prepares to attack Ramon Martinez? Nope."

(I guess, too, that sometimes reporters have to soften a guy up before they can ask the questions they feel they need to ask.)

"But Williams wasn't that pissed. At least he did answer the question. I think his response was, 'How fricking long have we been in first place?'"

"Me: Um, all year.

"Williams: Well, then no, I don't think we've been struggling.

[That's silly, though -- I mean, weren't the 49ers struggling in their last few weeks of the season? They certainly struggled against the Packers last Sunday.]

"Me: Matt, how come you at so many sliders out of the strike zone?

"Just kidding. But you're right, a lot of questions do have to get asked.

"The ones that bother me go like this:

"Reporter: Good game tonight.

"Lou Piniella: Yeah, we got some good pitching and some good hitting.

"Reporter: How about the home run by Griffey?

"Piniella: Yeah, that was a big hit for us.

[Bleah. But it gives Lou the chance to go on autopilot, at least.... -- GP]

"Never mind asking Piniella why he brought in Norm Charlton in with two runners on in a 3-2 ballgame when he hasn't gotten anybody out in a month."

Well, I suspect Lou would say, "Because he's my guy. We're in first place -- why mess with success?"

But that drives me nuts, too. As a Giants fan, I had ample opportunity to watch Rod Beck be overused, and when the Giants picked up Roberto Hernandez, I thought that was kind of odd, as it might make for some bad blood -- because clearly egos are more important than winning.

And late in the year, when Beck was having trouble, Dusty went to (or stuck with) Hernandez in save situations, because by then he must have figured, "Screw coddling these guys. Hernandez is throwing well; Beck's not."

Back to Bonds: Henry says, "If I had a dollar for every time I saw him blow off a little kid, I could afford to play poker with him. One time in spring training, a teenaged boy asked Bonds for his autograph. Bonds actually said, 'I've got better things to do,'' and walked away. He didn't know a reporter was standing within earshot. You be the judge."

Wow. (And bear in mind, Henry feels that his relationship with Bonds is just fine, and that he has nothing personal against the guy.)

"I'll wait until I'm one of the 500 or so most recognizable Americans to even start thinking about passing judgment on how these guys deal with it," Jonathan says.

Along these lines, I had the opportunity many years ago to meet and interview Douglas Adams, the guy who wrote the Hitchhiker's Guide books. Granted, I bet that a good percentage of those of you who are reading this haven't heard of Adams -- he's like a "Grade B-" celebrity, if that. But what he said in that interview was that he had a (kind of failed) opportunity to work with Paul McCartney at one point, and McCartney said this about fame: "You get crazed by it."

"Not that I feel sorry for Bonds; he's obviously well-compensated for his trouble," says Jonathan. "But to be constantly aware that there might be a reporter within earshot, and that he's going to report my every foible? No thanks."

Damn straight.

(Next up: "Barry Cuts The Cheese!" Sound bite at eleven.)

"The problem with this anecdote ["better things to do"] is not that it's false -- I assume not -- but that we don't know how many times he does sign, rather than blowing off the little kids," says David N. "Further, maybe he really was busy; for all we know, the manager had just told him to do something before the kid came up to him."

In such circumstances, though, he might have chosen his words way more carefully, such as, "Sorry -- I really have to go to the clubhouse" or something.

(In any case, Henry says, "Barry was casually strolling to his car in the parking lot at Scottsdale Stadium after a workout at the time." This sort of clears it up. "Barry does sign occasionally," he says. "About once every spring training he'll hold court right behind home plate for about a half hour. During the regular season every so often he'll stop and sign for the kids who hang out behind the Giants' dugout at Candlestick.")

"I mean, if I'm a seven-year old kid and I walk up to a player and ask for his autograph and he won't give it to me, yeah, I'd be hurt," David continues. "But if I'm a player and I give a seven-year old kid an autograph and then he walks over and hands it to a dealer who's going to sell it for $150, I'd be really pissed."

I find that kind of thing tremendously offensive also, but I bet the players are getting kind of blasé about it. It's like the fact that bootlegs of Beatles music is practically an industry unto itself; the remaining Beatles, from what I've heard, pretty much shrug their shoulders rather than pine about all the money they're not getting. Ringo Starr supposedly owns some bootlegs. (And I bet the others do, too.)

"Most players refuse to sign autographs at one time or another, and justifiably so," says Henry. "[As has been] mentioned, when they're out to dinner with their families, have to catch a team bus, etc... And a lot of players realize that it's better to blow everybody off rather than sign 10 autographs and leave the other 20 people standing their pissed off. But there are polite ways to say no, and rude ways to say no. Most players have learned to do it the polite way."

That's encouraging to hear, actually.

"I find myself incapable of being rude in any social setting," says Jerry D., "despite many times when I really don't want to talk to another human being. Then again, I've rarely been in a setting when I'm anything but Joe Shmo. As Jonathan said, I have no idea what its like being in the spotlight."

(Oh, I hate the spotlight, especially when it's accompanied by a suggestion that I put my hands up.)

"I know there are players who never sign only their names, but make it a point to put the recipient's name on the item," says Jeff C. "If the person indicates he or she only wants the signature, then the player won't sign it."


"While I know this may take more time, I feel that's one of the best ways to defeat the sign-and-sell. These particular players also avoid doing shows because most organizers require that players only sign their names because they want them to sign as many as they possibly can (and therefore bring in more money)."

Still, even if a guy won't sign, it can still be fun. "One time when I was a kid," says Dave S., "a couple buddies and I were hanging out over the right-field wall at the Kingdome and yelling at Reggie Jackson during BP. He was jogging in a batting helmet and I think we told him to wear a cap.

"He kept running, didn't look up, and flipped us the bird. That was better than any autograph."

Understood. In the early '80s, a friend and I went to A's games on successive weekends, once against the Yankees, once against the Indians. (Can't remember which came first.) In each case, we sat in the left-field bleachers and lots of the other folks were ripping the opposing left fielder. In the Yankees' case, it was Dave Winfield. I think I suggested that another fan should pipe down, or Winfield might hit him with his wallet.

The Indians' left fielder was Miguel Dilone, formerly in green and gold, and the fans really hammered him, to the point where he flipped them off. My contribution was, "Oh, yeah, and another thing: you look really silly in a batting helmet."

Great fun.

Of course, I was awfully young. That's my excuse.

Jerry provides "A little information gleaned on [Ralph Barbieri] and Tom Tolbert's interview with The Brain." He's talking about Brian Sabean. (And if he's the Brain, I guess Ned Colletti must be Pinky.)

"'Oswaldo' (pronunciation The Brain's) is rehabbing well," says Jerry. "He expects him to be healthy, but no vote of confidence. He says he defers to Dusty on the use of Charlie Hayes, but does say he sees Mueller as a front-liner at some point. Says it will depend on matchups and pushed [the use of Hayes] as a backup and pinch-hitter. Julian Tavarez wants to be a starter more than they want him to. Sabean says he's doing well at it, that he uses all his pitches better as a starter and they feel more comfortable with the signing of Reed, but his role is not yet determined.

"Basically, he said little. As expected and understandable."

Jonathan echoes this: "Just heard the Head Idiot on KNBR. Said lots of sensible things, nothing very newsworthy."

Poor guy. Sabean, I mean. I'm not sure whether or not Jonathan thinks Sabean is an idiot, but just ask if any of us will ever let the guy live down his "I am not an idiot" remark. Go on, just ask.

Jonathan says, "A certain KNBRite, let's call him Rude Blitherer [Yes. Let's. From this day forward. -- GP], engaged Sabean in a conversation that went about like this:

"Blitherer: Bill Mueller, platoon player or regular?

"Sabean: Well, Rude, we think that as he starts to mature, he'll be able to get through the season better, and we hope that he can become a regular player as he matures.

"Blitherer: Yeah, y'know, sometimes you think maybe he'll be able to play everyday and hit .300, and sometimes you just think he's only a platoon player.

"Sabean: Well, we still think he's somebody who could hit .300 maybe, but he has to get older so that he's able to make it through the whole season without wilting.

"End summary.

"Jeez, what does the guy have to do? He is a .300 hitter: in roughly 675 major league plate appearances, he has a lifetime batting average of .305. He has, after those 675 major league plate appearances, absolutely no appreciable platoon split: he hits about the same from both sides. And I have no idea where Sabean gets this nonsense about losing it as the season goes on."

Parallel question, and one that I've asked many times before: How long does a guy have to be a major leaguer before he becomes a proven major leaguer? It's probably a good thing Sabes wasn't the Pirates' GM in the mid-'80s, or Barry Bonds' career might never have gotten off the ground.

"Mueller's best month in 1997 was August," says Jonathan. "He was better in the second half than the first half; and in 1996, when he played in 161 combined games with 725 combined plate appearances, he was simply awesome in his August-September call up.

"Now, I'm not the biggest Bill Mueller fan in the world, but really, what does the guy have to do to get a little respect?"

Probably hit 15 home runs.

"I've said it before: I've never heard of a guy who comes up from the minors, hits .330 in 200 PAs, and is then treated as a guy who has to earn every bit of playing time the next year. [And now, perhaps, the year after that as well. -- GP]

"Mark Lewis had about 375 plate appearances last year. If the Giants give Charlie Hayes that much playing time, we're gonna finish dead last."

To phrase a coin: "EEEEEE!"

"My guess would be that because clubs look at third base as a power position, the brass is less than enthralled with Mueller's production," says J.E. "However, he primarily hit in the No. 2 and No. 7 holes [and even eighth -- GP] -- not exactly the best for RBIs."

One can only hope we won't hear this conversation:

Blitherer: So what's up with Bill Mueller? He's hitting .370. Why is he being benched in favor of Charlie Hayes?

Sabean: Well, Billy doesn't drive in runs. He has only 14, and it's June. Charlie Hayes already has 19.

Blitherer: Well, Hayes also has 200 at-bats, and Mueller has only 75. Plus, Mueller's been batting second all year behind Vince Coleman, and Hayes has been batting fourth behind Barry Bonds. Don't you think that has something to do with it?

Sabean: Well, Rude, the fact is, Billy's just not an RBI man, and Hayes is a proven oneUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRRKKKKKKKK!

That's the sound a GM makes when being garroted suddenly. (Not that I would wish this on any GM in particular, 'cause that's just mean.)

"Plus, ask any major league hitter," says J.E.: "it is much harder to platoon because you don't get to play every day."

Depends on the players involved, I think. Some just don't thrive when playing a lot.

"Hayes seems to have suffered in the platoon role, but he may have been moved into that role when he failed to produce as a full time player. After Hayes' biggest year in 1993, his production fell dramatically in '94 (even considering the shortened season). The Rockies let Hayes go probably because they had Vinny 'Mighty Mouse' Castilla waiting in the wings."

Probably -- but Hayes also was in the Mile High Club in '93, which probably goes a long way toward explaining his "surge."

"Unfortunately, Hayes is probably perceived as having more power than Mueller but Hayes' recent numbers don't really support it.

"Ever wonder why Hayes has bounced around to so many different teams?"

Me? No. What I wonder is why three teams so far have bothered to reacquire him.

"Sorry, there is no explanation for perceptions that must be perpetuated by the clubs. Remember, these are the guys who only recently required physical exams as a condition to multiyear contract offers. Mueller came through for the Giants last season, but he did have a major power outage in September. Sometimes managers and GMs forget that a team still needs players that can play well the first five months of the season."

"I can tell you that in Dusty's opinion Mueller's hitting starts to suffer when he plays a certain number of games in a row, thus the need for a platoon," says Henry.

I wonder what certain number we're talking about, though. I mean, it might just suggest the need for a day off, rather than a platoon situation. Plus, it's not as if Mueller can't hit lefties. I just have the feeling Dusty still doesn't quite trust what he sees as Mueller's inexperience.

"Check out how dumb-assed some of the people on the Dodgers newsgroup [No, I'm not gonna provide a link to it. If you wanna hang out there, find it yourself. Hmpf. -- GP] are being in regard to Paul Konerko and Roger Cedeno. As far as they're concerned, you're not a proven major leaguer until you've proved you can play in the major leagues, and no one who hasn't proven they can play in the majors should be allowed to play in the majors. In other words, only major leaguers can play in the majors. It's fun to watch them chase their tails. I bet they wanted Mike Scioscia to start in 1993."

("But how am I gonna get the experience if you won't give me the job?")

"Personally, I feel Mueller's great defensive play warrants his presence in the lion's share of games regardless of what happens to his hitting (unless he gets into a major slump, of course)," Henry says.

I pretty much agree. I just think that a lot of the Mueller issue stems from the fact that he's not going to give you lots of home runs, and thus he's a "nontraditional third baseman."

Sick thought: One day they might flip-flop Mueller and Kent defensively, just to get into a philosophical comfort zone.

"Anyway, Dusty could be dead wrong," says Jonathan. (I don't have anyone in particular in mind, but: It's still interesting to me how seldom this latter point is even considered in discussions about baseball managers and personnel use.) "All I know is that Mueller hit like gangbusters in August and September, so Dusty's theory may be a little lacking in support."

The problem here is that Jonathan might be told (by Dusty, that is, if Dusty should ever deign to talk to him) that there's "something you just can't know, as you're not between the white lines...."

"As for the fielding, I'd agree. Mueller's range factor for 1997 was 2.97, sixth among regulars at third, and well above the major league average of 2.67. Mark Lewis was at 2.31, by the way, with Hayes at 2.60."

Wow. Lewis was better than I thought.

"I don't have the league average," says Tjames, but here's [the defensive average for] everybody in the NL who qualified as a 'regular' (I might have missed somebody), with Mueller, Lewis, and Hayes thrown in:

Alfonzo  .876
Gaetti   .860
Rolen    .842
Orie     .824
Jones    .822
HAYES    .820
Castilla .802
LEWIS    .800
Spiers   .796
Caminiti .795
Zeile    .792
Bonilla  .743
Greene   .726
"For what it's worth: Matt Williams, .832"

"I guess I don't think Billy's 'great' defensively, but he can play for me anytime," says Andy.

Great? I wouldn't say that, either. But better than "solid." Sometimes slick. He seems to have fielding slumps.

"But I also don't know if Mueller doesn't fit the role of 'traditional third baseman' right now. Third base is not purely a 'power position' as many have proposed."

Well, I would agree with that. But I ain't runnin' the show.... (Not that they're necessarily right and we're wrong.)

"Being a great third baseman means combining the defensive qualities of a shortstop with the offensive qualities of a first baseman." The brains of Albert Einstein, the body of Cindy Crawford. Good luck. "Very few players can do it: Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Eddie Mathews."

And if I recall correctly, the latter two weren't all that great afield, especially Mathews. Maybe Matt Williams embodies the concept better.

"For that reason, you see fewer third baseman in the Hall of Fame than any other position. Fans seem to want a third baseman who hits a ton of homers, but they just don't exist. How many can you count right now? Williams, Ken Caminiti, Dean Palmer. And, all three of these come with serious question marks right now.

Now, if Bill Mueller turns out to be a switch hitting Jeff Cirillo, I would be thrilled. He'll give you a .290-.315 average, 9-15 homers, solid defense, doubles to the gap, and a consistent player who can bat in nearly any spot in the lineup. Personally, I think that's darn good."

Andy provides this side note: I happened to be at the first Giants game in St. Louis last summer and watched Mueller meet his family after batting practice by the dugout. It was really neat to see a major leaguer become 'Little Billy' when talking to his Grandma who had probably seen him play a thousand baseball games from the time he was seven. Cool."

I'll bet. One of my most enduring memories of Little League is the one time I can remember my grandfather coming to see me play. I was pitching. First kid hit a rocket to deep, deep center. Caught. Second kid hit a rocket to deep, deep, deep left. Caught. Third kid whiffs on three pitches. Grandpa beamed. Great time.

"Gregg, aren't grandparents the best?" Andy says. "I have a very similar memory. My grandparents lived in Florida and never got to see me play, but one summer they flew up for a week and came right from the airport to my game. It was the last inning and we were up by a run or two. I'm in the middle of my seven-year-old-windup and I hear Grandma shout, 'Buck for every strikeout!' I just about fall over with laughter, but proceed to mow down the side for a quick three bucks. It was at that moment that I knew I'd never play in the Olympics, but it sure was worth it."

Damn straight. I mean, it was nice enough having my parents there all the time when I was in Little League, especially because my dad was usually one of the coaches, but the Grandpa thing was really special.

In the second January installment I related a long discussion about the Pythagorean Theorem of Wins and Losses, which essentially shows the relationship between runs scored/runs allowed and wins/losses. "Thanks to the support of Carlos and Dan," Richard says, "I was able to get the game-by-game data for 1997 and have summarized it.

"To recap, in 1997 the Giants scored 785 runs and gave up 793 runs per my calculations (Rob Neyer had 784 runs scored [and so does the Giants' website -- GP], but I'm not going to try to reconcile the difference for one run). [Bitch! -- GP] Using the 1.83 factor and applying the formula, that translates to 80 wins and 82 losses. Because the Giants actually went 90-72, there is a belief that the 10-game differential was due to factors of chance or luck or whatever you want to call it.

"Now, I noted that early in 1997, the Giants were going with the likes of Osvaldo Fernandez and William VanLandingham as regulars in the rotation, and I hypothesized that they were a significant factor in causing this formula to get out of whack because they got bombed frequently in their starts. Since neither is likely to be in the rotation next year, it's possible that it wouldn't be indicative of the Giants' 1998 potential to do an analysis using 1997 results which include this 'tainted' period. I have tried to break that period out to see what, if anything, it tells us.

"Now, Fernandez fell out of the rotation for good after June 25 and Vandy after July 1. (He did have one more start later in the season, but that hardly had the impact that his regular starts did earlier in the year). From July 2 on, the data shows:

Games:                    80
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 422/405
Expected performance:     41.5-38.5
Actual results:           43-37
"Clearly the formula worked pretty well for this period, and the difference for the year extrapolates to about three games, which is clearly within the expected range of deviation. Obviously, this suggests the Giants were a competitive team, which would have been expected to win about 84 games.

"Prior to July 2, the data was:

Games:                    82
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 363/388
Expected performance:     38.5-43.5
Actual results:           47-35
"Of course, this also points out that the Giants basically won the West in the first half, and just hung on over the second," says Dave F.

"This is the most important factor," says Greg, "though to be fair, the Giants also won the division in September when they caught up to, then pulled away from the Men in Blue, though that was a much smaller contributor than in April."

"I'm not going to review the whole season like [Richard] did," says Dave, "but if memory serves me correctly, the Giants actually won the West in April. At the end of April, the Giants were 17-7. And this was done with two pitchers of purported low quality.

"VanLandingham actually started pretty well and lost his control around mid-May. From there, he went downhill fast. On May 3, his ERA was under 3.

"Fernandez started that horrible game in Montreal, but it was Jim Poole, Julian Tavarez, and Joe Roa that really got nailed. Fernandez went on the DL in mid-May, tried to come back in mid-June, then had the surgery. Don't forget what a nice end of '96 he had.

"Mark Gardner also was a big contributor to the fast start. He started out well, then cooled off in the summer. I remember really thinking we only had two decent starters by the time August rolled around."

"I think we can all agree that this is the period when the whole thing got out of balance," continues Richard. "Now let's look specifically at the starts of VanLandingham and Fernandez prior to July 2:

Games:                    27
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 107/163
Expected performance:     8.5-18.5
Actual results:           12-15
"Obviously, that means for the other starts prior to July 2:

Games:                    55
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 256/225
Expected performance:     31-24
Actual results:           35-20
"I'm not sure what this means. Clearly the VanLandingham/Fernandez starts caused part of the incongruity of results for the Giants' early season performance. However, there was also something going on in the other starts that cannot be explained by their presence in the rotation, and it seems greater than a reasonable standard deviation would allow for."

"I would say that they were the biggest factor, but many of the middle relievers got blown out," says Dave. Most clubs would be quite happy to go 12-15 when their Nos. 4 and 5 starters were on the mound."

"By the way," says Richard, "running the formula for the period after the Alvarez trade and extrapolating it over a full season resulted in a projected win total of 86.5 (their actual results in those 54 games extrapolate out to 93 wins). I expect that this might be too short a period of time to be statistically meaningful for this formula (as might also be the Fernandez/VanLandingham results above), but if you believe the Giants' 1998 roster is comparable to the 1997 late season roster, this would again argue that the team is better than an 80-82 base.

"I do believe, for what it is worth, the first half disparity is not completely due to 'luck,' but at least partially due to two pretty ineffective pitchers giving runs up by the barrel in a few select games. Assuming that the Giants won't be forced to use pitchers of that quality again (and I think the projected 1998 rotation does look better than the 1997 Opening Day rotation looks in retrospect), it is probably not unreasonable to assume 80-82 is too low an indicator of their Runs Scored/Runs Allowed potential being carried forward, if that makes any sense. However, I am certainly no statistician, and somebody else could probably do better with this than I have."

"One possible problem I can see with this conclusion is that it assumes all teams except the Giants stand pat," says Steven R. "My guess is, if you removed the worst two months of the worst two starting pitchers from every team, they would all show similar improvements. Since most teams will do what they can in the offseason to get rid of their worst players and replace them with hopefully better players, it doesn't seem quite fair to allow for this in the Giants' case without allowing for it in the other teams' case. Which, if you did allow for it, would possibly send the Giants back to the 80-82 level.

"One other thing puzzles me. The Pythagorean thingy has been shown to be accurate over the course of a couple of decades of use. Not perfectly accurate, but accurate in a statistically significant way. The various discussions among Giants fans about the team's 'luck' in 1997 suggests that many of us are being a bit provincial in our outlook: sure, that formula's fine for the other 20 years of calculations, but no one's gonna tell me the 1997 Giants were merely average! If this had happened to another team, I betcha we'd say 'better watch that Pythagorean thing!'"

"Actually, in fairness, I would probably never even think about it," says Richard.

"But since it's our Giants, and since the conclusion one is apt to draw from the team's Runs Scored/Runs Allowed totals is that the Giants weren't really all that good last year, we get upset and complain about how stats are wrong and the media hates the Giants and other stuff."

"Well, okay," says Jonathan, "but examining the outlier is a good way to learn stuff, and I think that's essentially what Richard was doing, here. (Not that you were bashing him).

"What Richard shows, basically, is that the Giants didn't do the things that normal good teams do in the first half of the season, but won nevertheless; on the other hand, in the second half, the Giants were a normal, fairly good team."

"Wallowing in the data last night, I wasn't sure what I was seeing," says Richard, but as I thought about it today, this is pretty much the conclusion I came to. I'm not sure what the heck was going on in the first half, whether the Giants were lucky or, in a few games, extremely unlucky, but what I was taken with was that they really were a pretty decent team in the second half. Remember, their pitching didn't get all that much deeper after July 1. Roa, Darwin, Terry Mulholland, Doug Creek, Pat Rapp, and Keith Foulke basically filled those two slots for much of the rest of the season, so it isn't like they upgraded all that much after VanLandingham and Fernandez fell out. Still they performed at a good (not great) level.

"Also, I kind of bashed Fernandez, and I guess I should acknowledge that his injury certainly could have detracted from his performance."

"In some ways, [the fact that "in the second half, the Giants were a normal, fairly good team"] speaks well for Brian Sabean, which we already knew, but it makes the point in a different way. A different GM might have assumed that the Giants' strong W-L in the first half meant that the best course of action was leave well enough alone; the Giants changed their catcher and right fielder, rearranged and changed the bullpen, and changed two rotation starters. Of course, it's rare to have a team play so well despite players such as Hill, Rick Wilkins, Pool, and VanLandingham doing so badly, but I've also seen teams stick with guys like that in order to not upset chemistry. Sabean, again and again, has said that talent, not chemistry, is what matters.

"Now, I'll bash Sabean for his talent judgment, but he certainly deserves credit for aggressively attacking the Giants' weaknesses despite a good won-lost record."

"Interesting analysis, obviously a lot of work," says Dave, and I heartily concur. "I would be curious as to what other clubs look like when their worst starters are out there early in the year.

"Many teams find that they must adjust their rotation throughout the year as some starters fail to meet expectations, while others exceed them. Don't forget that Rueter was considered as only a possible fifth starter as spring training opened last year."

"And this could again cause the G-men to plummet if Estes or Rueter falls substantially off from 1997," says Greg. "However, with no G. Hill and no Vizcaino, plus the odds of one of Powell or Cruz cracking the starting lineup, I'm cautiously optimistic that the Giants will do better in the scoring runs department. It's the allowing runs that's hard to guess. The Giants need Estes and Rueter to repeat last year's performance (career bests for both), have Hershiser at least repeat 1997's performance one year older, hope that Gardner can give at least a good first-half performance, and that a No. 5 starter can be found. The good news is that their seem to be more contingency plans this year (Tavarez, et al.), but that's not a lot to hang your pitching hat on."

"It would be a just-for-fun type thing (not fun for whoever did it)," says Dan, "but it would be interesting to see what Poole's detrimental contribution had on the Pythagorean formula. I don't remember exactly what I read, but Poole made something like 63 appearances last year (can this be right?) with an ERA of over 7.00.

"For a relief pitcher that's an awful number, especially considering the number of inherited runners he must have let score. He, and Tavarez to some extent, really took it in on the chin for team, hanging out there trying to chew up some lost cause innings, turning 7-2 games into 12-2 games.

"The poor starts of Osvaldo and VanLandingham allowed situations like this to occur, so this doesn't let them off the hook. It just shifts the numbers to the other poor slobs who had to mop up after them. This, of course, has a ripple effect on the depth and state of readiness on the entire bullpen.

"If Poole's runs were replaced by those of a typical middle reliever in the same amount of innings pitched (or batters faced), maybe the Giants look better. I don't know what this means -- maybe by pinning the disparity on the horrific performances of a couple of departed players, the 'luck' angle is diminished."

Billy did some work on this independently. "I did a little study to see how the 1997 NL teams stood up to the Pythagorean Theorem," he says. "I have the Bill James 1982 Baseball Abstract at hand, and this is where I got my info from.

"To briefly restate the concept, James used the example of a team which scores 700 runs and allows 600. Using the formula, its winning percentage would be .576, so it would win 93 games. The standard error is 4.30 games. This means that the team won't necessarily win exactly 93 games, but that most of the time it would win 89 to 97 games. He says that you can use 1.83 as the exponent and reduce the standard error from 4.30 to 4.15 games. He then says, 'Having observed this, I will for the most part forget about it.' So will I. (He also says that this 4.30 figure is the average standard error over time. In 1981, it was 3.69. Since I'm not knowledgeable enough to figure it out for 1997, I'm just gonna assume it's 4.30.)

"Okay, how did it actually turn out? Anyone can look up runs scored and allowed, so I'll just note the projected and actual wins:

    Projected  Actual
Team  Wins      Wins
ATL   105       101
CHI    73        68
CIN    68        76
COL    82        83
FLA    89        92
HOU    94        84
LA     92        88
MON    76        78
NY     88        88
PHI    63        68
PIT    77        79
SD     72        76
SF     80        90
"Well, I'm a believer.

"This data doesn't tell us why some teams were closer to their projected wins than others. I tried to figure this out, or at least get a hint. First, here are the teams in order of 'under-' and 'overachieving.' The Giants led the way with 10 more wins than projected; the Astros were the anti-Giants, falling 10 wins short of their projection. (Note: As you see, the Giants were not the only team to 'overachieve' -- and I'm not using the term in a derogatory sense -- but they were the only team to have allowed more runs than they scored and still be above .500.)

Team    Difference in Actual vs. Projected Wins
SF                         +10
CIN                         +8
CHI                         +5
PHI                         +5
SD                          +4
FLA                         +3
MON                         +2
PIT                         +2
NY                           0
COL                         -1
ATL                         -4
LA                          -4
STL                         -6
HOU                        -10
"First, let's remove the teams that finished within 4.30 games of their projected wins. That leaves us with the following.

Team    Difference in Actual vs. Projected Wins
SF                         +10
CIN                         +8
CHI                         +5
PHI                         +5
STL                         -6
HOU                        -10
"I then looked at the information I had on hand and tried to find a logical-sounding connection about why some teams were closer to the mark than others. First I looked at winning percentage in one-run games. (Note: The teams will be ranked by winning percentage in each category, but I'll leave in the numbers of actual vs. projected wins in all games, so we can see at a glance which teams were the 'over-/underachievers' in general.)

One-run games
Team  Pct  +/-
SF   .575 +10
PHI  .535  +5
CIN  .514  +8
CHI  .480  +5
HOU  .432 -10
STL  .377  -6
"All the teams that "overachieved" were above .500 in one-run games, except for the Cubs, who were at 24-26. Next, I looked at extra-inning games.

Extra-inning games
Team  Pct  +/-
SF   .786 +10
CIN  .500  +8
PHI  .455  +5
HOU  .421 -10
STL  .353  -6
CHI  .273  +5
"I also looked at interleague play, thinking perhaps some teams (in both leagues) had gained advantages due to weaker competition:"

Interleague play
Team  Pct  +/-
SF   .625 +10
CIN  .600  +8
CHI  .600  +5
STL  .533  -6
PHI  .333  +5
HOU  .267 -10
"Then I looked at home and road winning percentage, thinking perhaps some teams were getting creamed on the road or were taking unusually high advantage of their home park:

Home:  Team  Pct  +/-  Road:  Team  Pct  +/-
       SF   .593 +10          SF   .519 +10
       HOU  .568 -10          HOU  .469 -10
       CHI  .519  +5          CIN  .444  +8
       STL  .506  -6          STL  .395  -6
       CIN  .494  +8          PHI  .370  +5
       PHI  .469  +5          CHC  .321  +5
"Next, I looked at the teams' OPS in late-inning pressure situations, as (un)defined by USA Today, and also of OPS allowed in late-inning pressure situations (LIPS):

OPS in LIPS, ranked by Highest Team OPS

Team Team OPS  +/-
SF    .824    +10
PHI   .730     +5
STL   .707     -6
HOU   .694    -10
CIN   .674     +8
CHI   .666     +5

"OPS in LIPS, ranked by Lowest Opponents' OPS"

Team  Opp OPS  +/-
CIN    .606    +8
SF     .682   +10
HOU    .719   -10
PHI    .724    +5
STL    .770    -6
CHI    .864    +5
"I took a glance at the teams themselves, with Gregg's 'two good relievers' theory in mind. Firstly, the only two teams on this list that didn't suck were the Giants and Astros, and they finished 20 games apart here. Of the other four teams, only St. Louis is known for its bullpen, although the Reds' one isn't bad. But the Reds were +8 and the Cards -6. I freely admit I may be misanalyzing here; please step in and give your humble opinion on any of this.

"This is hardly an exhaustive list of categories, but it's all I could think of. The Giants are at or near the top of every list, but I would expect them to be, since they won the most games overall. The only conclusion I feel confident in drawing from these data is... well... everything went right for the Giants. Why, I don't know.

"Lastly, Bill James points out that since this formula assumes that a run scored is worth the same as a run allowed, and since the formula works, that proves that baseball is 50% offense (runs scored) and 50% defense (runs allowed). So much for 'Baseball is 75% pitching.'

"Actually, this may not be true," says Albert. "The marginal value of an extra run prevented is very slightly greater than the marginal value of an extra run scored (according to the formula.) Also, I believe that Gary Huckabay [of Baseball Prospectus] has done a study that indicates that the marginal value of an extra run prevented is greater than the marginal value of an extra run scored."

I, however, don't know, and I find this pretty mind boggling in some ways, so if you have any opinions, please feel free to share them with me.

"I still love thinking about Brian Johnson's homer... get choked up and all," says Steven R. "This is something anti-statheads don't understand: that statheads love such moments as much as any fan. I can't remember the exact words I used, and for all I know they've been edited, but what I wrote about Johnson for the Baseball Prospectus book was basically 'he ain't much and he ain't gonna be much, but I will never care because he hit that homer.'"

Some of you reading this will be able to place the exact source of the following quote, which is usually laid on those members of the baseball newsgroup who dare to post statistical information: "Please post elsewhere. You know nothing about sport." For those of you who don't know -- you don't need to; trust me.

This anti-stathead stuff is just standard bigotry, really. "Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars." With some folks, as I've said, just quote a stat -- especially one that doesn't even mention RBIs -- and you're instantly branded a Plain-Belly Sneetch. Or, worse, simply a "stathead" -- the usage of which is never along the lines of "a living god"; more like "a fascist."

It kind of reminds me of something from Deep Space Nine, which had an episode some years back about The Wormhole -- the on-base teacher tells kids about all the scientific elements of its workings, its discovery, etc., while a religious leader objects to this, saying that it's a gift from The Prophets, etc. There were objections to this episode among some who felt the religious people were made out to be goofballs, but my take was that it was the science-oriented people who were more intolerant, which leads up to the main point: isn't there room for both? (I don't know; ask the Scopes Monkey Trial people.)

"You mentioned Ken Burns' Baseball, 'in which most of the speakers were writers who(m) (a) I haven't heard of, or (b) have nothing in particular to do with baseball (including [Doris Kearns] Goodwin and [George] Will),'" says Steven. "Burns' documentary wasn't perfect, of course, but I think this criticism misses the mark. Whether we've heard of someone or not shouldn't matter... I dare say some folks had never heard of Buck O'Neil until they saw him on that show. As to the second point, well, for one thing, people like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Gerald Early are baseball fans, which means they do indeed have something to do with baseball. But also, the documentary was meant to be taken as a history (which is, of course, one area where it has come under some well-taken criticism). Goodwin is an historian; Early is a cultural critic. Their perspectives can be useful."

Oh, certainly it doesn't matter whether or not I've heard of some writer; I dare say they haven't heard of me. But the (b) part is really the important part. As a longtime fan, I'd rather have heard from some better-known baseball writers, to say the least. Not that there was anything necessarily invalid in what they said, but Goodwin, Will, Stephen Jay Gould, and John Sayles seemed to get way too much air time, at least compared to more familiar baseball writers.

A spam that hit the Giants newsgroup said: "Do you have any questions (no matter which topic) you want to be answered by experts? If yes, you should check out 'WE ANSWER EVERY QUESTION' at [No, I'm not going to provide a link. -- GP] It's absolutely free."

"I don't need to go to your website to know the questions I want to have answered," says Richard. "Here are a few of them. When you have these taken care of, I will pass on the next batch"

  1. Why does the media always bash the Giants?

  2. Why does the media always bash the best player on each of my favorite teams (Jerry Rice excepted) no matter what the sport?

  3. Now that Willie Brown has mixed it up with the personnel of both the 49ers and Warriors, who is his target on the Giants going to be? [My guess: whichever of us newsgroup faithful gets hired there. -- GP]

  4. How come whenever a significant free agent becomes available, nobody ever links him to the Giants unless Scott Boras is his agent?

  5. Why does Scott Boras get to hang around baseball despite his pathological desire to destroy the game, and yet I who love the game don't get to?

  6. Ditto for Bud Selig?

  7. A thousand times more of a ditto for Jerry Reinsdorf?

  8. Why would anyone on God's Green Earth even care the slightest anymore what Jerry Reinsdorf thinks?

  9. When Bud Selig finally passes from this earth, will they name a real commissioner or will they keep an urn of his ashes in the position for continuity's sake? [This one might show up as a quote in a page-a-day calendar some day. -- GP]

  10. Will the urn be more productive than the alive-and-kicking Bud Selig? [This would be the quote for the next day. -- GP]

  11. When will the Giants sell that last charter seat?

    What if they only have one more seat license left and only couples are left interested in buying them?

  12. Would the heaters that were embedded so deeply in the concrete of Candlestick Park that they were effectively useless still work if we pulled them out?

  13. How many martinis had Horace Stoneham downed before approving the specs for that boondoggle?

  14. If an umpire pulled out a semiautomatic weapon and gunned down the entire starting lineup of a major league team, all the while screaming racial epithets and mooning the audience, would Richie Phillips oppose even a basic three-day suspension?

  15. Assuming the Giants won't win a World Series in my lifetime, how do my children's chances of seeing them win one stack up?

  16. Will they still give out Croix de Candlesticks at Pac Bell park? [I wondered this, too. What would they call it? Greg suggests "Ice Pac." -- GP]

  17. Once and for all, who is better, Kim Batiste or Ray Ordoñez?

  18. If all the New York sporting franchises, the Dodgers, the Lakers and the Bulls, suddenly fell into a black hole, would the network sports departments even know who to talk to about televising some of the other teams? [I suggest the Giants newsgroup.]

  19. If they didn't, does that mean we would see more of America's Funniest Head-on Auto Collisions during the suddenly vacant time slots? [No need. There's already an insurance commercial featuring them. -- GP]

  20. Does the fact that I don't really understand how Zone Ratings work, and yet I nod wisely whenever someone brings them up, make me a bad person? [Only if you stop nodding wisely and start nodding sagely. -- GP]

  21. How can someone as useless as J.R. Phillips think so highly of himself? [I don't know. Ask Bud Selig. -- GP]

  22. If the meek shall inherit the earth, how come the Dodgers are always favored to win the division each year? [That's "cheesemakers," not "meek." -- GP]

  23. Has Peter Gammons ever been west of the Mississippi? [Who'd want him out here? -- GP]

  24. How many 'oh pleases' are truly necessary for the Giants to actually win the pennant this year?

"Thanks for your assistance in these matters."

John Shea of the Oakland Tribune reports that Dusty Baker has signed a two-year contract extension. "Baker is climbing the salary charts," he says, "though he's not expected to reach the numbers of the league's elite managers. Baker will make approximately $500,000 in 1998, and the extension will give him a raise approaching $700,000 in 1999.

"His contract includes performance-based incentives that would significantly supplement his salary."

"I wonder what types of incentive clauses a manager gets," says Richard. "Wins? Division title? World Series victory? [Carlos' guess: number of Rolaids consumed. -- GP] I had never heard of this before."

"Fantastic news," says James. "Now we can concentrate on the next big stick for right field. Oh please! OH PLEASE!"

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have signed Rod Beck to a one-year contract, worth approximately $4 million, with a club option for 1999 (supposedly worth $5.5 million, and which kicks in automatically if he appears in 53 games in 1998).

Dammit. I was really rooting for him to go to the American League, specifically to the Indians or Orioles, so he doesn't hurt us -- at least until the World Series. ("Oh please oh please.")

Also, I find it interesting that he only got a one-year deal, meaning he could be back in our division killing us every day real soon. (I mean, it's bad enough that he's still in the league.) Of course, with that 53-game incentive, he'd have to get hurt for this to happen. Hurt or traded.

Really, though, it's mostly interesting because clearly Beck wanted a much longer-term deal, and it took so long to sign him, which tells me that most other clubs think he doesn't rate one, either.

"Baseball Weekly (which, I always hasten to add, I got free in exchange for some expiring airline miles) said that Beck was surprised that the Giants traded for Nen because they could have had him (Beck) for two years and less money than Nen will make," says Richard. However, "it wasn't clear if that meant less per year or less over the course of the contract). This is much different than what I had understood."

Same here. Sounded to me like Beck was looking for Roberto Hernandez money and, like, a four-year deal.

"He wouldn't accept the Giants offer because he wanted four years instead of three, but ends up signing for one," says Marie. "I would be surprised if he has four good years left in him."

Much as I love the guy, it seems that Rod's in serious denial about how much good mileage he really has in him," says Tom A. "Everyone knows he's lost the steam on his fastball [except Beck, who denies this emphatically -- GP], and while he has done very well at adapting to junkballdom, it has been extensively proven that junkballers, especially relievers, fizzle out much sooner [than hard throwers].

"Rodney seems to think that, because he's only 29 (which I have a hard time believing, considering how long he's been around) that he has a lot of years left. A perusal of the history books shows that, apart from a few freaks of nature, such as Lee Smith, Randy Myers, and John Franco), very few closers can stay at the top of their game for very long, even fewer that throw the splitter. Heck, even Bruce Sutter lost it pretty suddenly. Rod may be 29, but his arm's an old 39 to me."

It's long been my observation that closers don't have much of a shelf life. Also, that most of them are righthanded, but that's probably because most hitters are, too.

"My guess is, most teams were thinking [that there wasn't much left in him] when they watched him pitch last year," says Tom. "That they were interested at all is a tribute to the undeniable guts and hard work he showed. However, if I were a GM, I wouldn't bet more than a year on him. He has a finite time before he starts getting hammered unmercifully, and the over/under on that is about a year and a half.

"That said, I'm rooting for Rodney to get 30 saves again this year (all against the Dodgers, Braves, Marlins, Cards, Rocks, and Padres), and to blow seven or eight saves, all against the Giants."

A whimsical discussion took place regarding the relative defensive merits of Willie Mays and Kevin Mitchell -- I believe the consensus is that Mays, at age 66 and carrying a prodigious belly, could probably outrun and certainly out-field Mitch these days. But the basis for comparison was barehanded catches -- the one Mitch made in 1989 off the bat of Ozzie Smith, and the one Mays supposedly made long, long ago -- and even more amazing catch, if it happened, because Mitchell was a left fielder and Mays was a center fielder, meaning that Mays' ball was not only in fair territory, but also, almost certainly, up the gap somewhere, and no doubt farther away from home plate by the time the catch was made. But the only barehanded catch I've ever seen was Mitchell's and it's a memory I'll always treasure.

"And of course, Ron Fairly's call added to the play's memorableness, as only he could," says Richard: "'He catches it barehanded! He caught it barehanded! I haven't seen that since... I've never seen that!'"

I have that on tape somewhere -- 1989 highlight tape, in fact, if I can ever find it again. Of course, Ron didn't fail to add his dash of Fairly Incompetence, which makes it all the more endearing."

"I see you all miss Fairly," says Dave S. Well, yeah, in the sense of not having hit him despite many possible attempts.... (Dave, again, lives in Seattle and thus gets to hear Fairly butcher Ken Griffey home run calls on an almost daily basis.) "His best line from last season: Royals leading the Mariners 10-7 in the seventh inning: 'It's going to take double digits to win this game!'"

The Padres have Jerry Coleman. The Mets have Ralph Kiner. The Mariners have someone I was afraid the Giants might consider hiring back when Hank Greenwald left after 1996.

"Actually, I do miss him a little," says Richard. "There was an innocence in his bumbling that was different and occasionally memorable."

This much is true.

"I remember the time he was in the booth alone, and he cracked himself up so hard over one of his corny jokes that he couldn't talk and there was about 10 to 15 seconds of dead air time. You just don't get quality moments like that with the average broadcaster."

Or above average, either.

I remember this game very clearly. The ballgame itself was promising -- the Giants had taken an 8-4 lead over Houston, then quickly coughed it up, then watched as the Astros made it 12-8 on a grand slam by Bill Doran (and thereupon took the lead for good, thank you).

When Ron told his story -- it was one of those old chestnuts, like the horse who could hit and throw, but "If I could run, I'd be in the Kentucky Derby," something like that -- I don't thinking he was laughing at the story itself, but at a rather private thought that might have been tangentially connected but which he couldn't share (like Don Sutton had told him the story while dressed in black lace or something -- that's my guess, anyway).

The best part of all this is that while Ron was cracking up, the field mike picked up a fan yelling at him:

Ron: Hee hee hee. [Huge amount of dead air.]

Fan: Get a hold of yourself, Fairly!

Ron: Hee hee hee. [More dead air.]

Fan: You should hear yourself, Fairly!

Ron: [Dead air.] Hee hee hee. SNORT! [Dead air.] Hee hee hee!

"And 'oh, those bases on balls," Richard reminisces. (Even better: What he said was, "Oh, those base on balls.") "Not that I would necessarily want him back, mind you. Although if he did come back for maybe five or six games a year, I would definitely listen with great interest and anticipation."

And dyspepsia.

Henry offered a story about Ozzie Smith, which I'll share below. I hope Henry doesn't mind my sharing this story here, but if he does, well, it's too late now. Besides, as Richard says, "You can always pick on Ozzie Smith, in my book." I think I speak for many Giant fans when I say I strongly disliked Ozzie Smith when he was a player and I don't have any more positive feelings about him today."

My guess is that if that fight with Will Clark and Candy Maldonado in 1988 isn't the main reason for this, it's probably the focal point. Here's what I mainly remember about that fight:

"Lord knows I would never watch Smith on This Week in Baseball or just about anything else for that matter," says Richard. "It does my bruised heart good to hear something negative about him today."

Regarding Mitchell's barehanded catch, Jeff C. says, "It must be a dilemma for highlight reel tape makers -- do we put it on the Greatest Catches tape or the Baseball Bloopers tape?" Probably both, but the voice-over announcer has to point out that he's not sure which tape it should be on.

"They [should] put it on both tapes and then use it as a segue for an advertisement to buy the other tape," says Jeff.

Henry says, "Just so I can pick on another player besides Barry Bonds, here's a rip on Ozzie Smith. I was in St. Louis and covered the game when Mitchell made that catch. Afterwards, I naturally interviewed Mitchell (who caught the ball) and Ozzie (who hit the ball). It was one of the weirdest plays anybody had ever seen, and we wanted Ozzie's take on hitting into such a bizarre out. He couldn't have been [less accommodating; actually, Henry used a far more descriptive and colorful (and no doubt accurate) term, but I'd hate to disrupt whatever relationship he has with the man, so I won't reproduce it here, to my great sorrow -- GP]."

My own close encounter with Ozzie was when I went to San Diego State University in 1981 and got to interview Bobby Tolan, then a Padres coach, the day before Opening Day, as part of a class assignment. I didn't actually speak with Smith, but man... what a yutz. Certainly he was very young then -- but not a class act, that's for sure. Basically I just observed him being a complete oaf.

"When we asked him about [Mitchell's catch], he launched into a tirade about how the media make a big deal out of every little thing and we're stupid, etc.," says Henry. "Mind you, the Cardinals won that game. Had they lost, I could understand Ozzie being a little sensitive, since players really do take defeat hard. But they won."

Did anybody check his butt to see what had crawled up it?

Know what? I betcha he was fed up with the idea of someone other than him being interviewed about an amazing defensive play.

"This doesn't diminish my view of Ozzie as a player," says Henry. "I will be a Hall of Fame voter by the time he's eligible on the first ballot, and I will vote for him."

And, in my opinion, rightly so.

"But it did diminish my opinion of him as a person slightly, and I find it funny that this Mr. Personality is now in the media himself, so to speak, as host of TWIB."

Bleah. There is definitely a certain irony here. Plus, who can really say "twib" with a straight face?

Jonathan offers "Theory #3164: Giants' 1997 success caused by frequent pregame forced viewing, of weekly anthology show hosted by No. 2 Giants enemy Ozzie Smith, featuring special commentary from No. 1 Giants enemy Tommy Lasorda."

I have this mental image of Jeff Kent tied to a chair, eyelids forced open a la Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

"As I recall," says C., "during the heyday of the Giants rivalry with St. Louis (after the 1987 playoffs), Ozzie Smith was caught on more than one occasion saying something slightly stupid and massively arrogant. I seem to remember something about men's briefs, he having the colored variety and the Giants being plain old white and how this was indicative of the Giants lowly status in the world.

"Can anyone correct, amend my memory on this or add other Ozzie gems?

I don't remember this story at all, though I'd sure love to see the exact quote. I do have a vague memory, however, of a time, when he was still with the Padres, when he had gotten into major money trouble, so he either took out an ad or made a commercial offering his services as a gardener or something. I'm serious -- I only hope I'm not misremembering.

Todd remembers it, too, since he lived in San Diego at the time: "He complained about the low salary he was making and offered his services doing some other line of work. I don't remember it being gardening, though."

Jeff P. says he remembers it the same way I do (so I knew I wasn't crazy -- at least not for remembering that) and believes that Ozzie's "display" in this instance had more to do with being upset with his salary, and that it led in part to the trade to the Cardinals for Garry Templeton -- i.e., "getting two disgruntled players out of their perspective cities. (If they were happy, would they be gruntled?)"

So, you persist in asking, assuming you've been out of newspaper and radio range for the past week or so, "Why are you even talking about Ozzie Smith?" Good question, because the stuff about Mitchell's catch and the offer to do gardening came before Joe Roderick of the Contra Costa Times reported that the Giants were considering talking Smith out of retirement.

"Oh, please," says Tom A. "Say it ain't so, Joe!"

I know I echo the sentiments of almost every Giants fan in the world when I say, "Why?" I mean, Ozzie Smith and Orel Hershiser on the Giants? Why not just stab us in the eyeball with a shrimp fork?

"Shrimp fork's too sharp," says Ben H.

I was going to say "good point," and then I realized how awful that would be.

Says Roderick, "Smith, 43, who didn't play last season, is interested in making a comeback and playing for Giants manager Dusty Baker."


"The team will contact Smith, who was seen at the recent wedding of Barry Bonds speaking with Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan, and his representative within the next few days."

"According to a source, it's not a given the Giants would allow Smith the opportunity to make a comeback, even if it would be in a subordinate role. The shortstop position, though, is the team's most unsettled, with a possible platoon of Rich Aurilia and Wilson Delgado."


"I hope this is just bad journalism," says Grant.

Same here -- except that the Chronicle -- that bastion of outstanding journalism, as you know -- reports this story as well, noting that (a) it's a longshot, but (b) Dusty's "intrigued."

a) Good.

b) Why?

"Because he thought things couldn't get any weirder?" hazards Marie.

Good point. Personally, though, if I were Dusty, I'd at least have tried the antlers and chicken costume on first before making that judgment.

"A radio station in St. Louis also reported Smith was considering resuming his career with a National League team," Roderick continues. "Smith couldn't be reached for comment. But Malcolm Briggs, a reporter for a St. Louis television station, said Smith told him he had no plans for a comeback."

"Good lord, Ozzie," says John S., in case Smith really is planning a comeback, "have a little shred of dignity and self-respect."

Good luck there, Oz.

"Besides, are we up to date on our Medicare premiums? Oh, Gregg, it helps if you put a cork on the end of the shrimp fork. That way, it does not hurt as much and causes less damage to your vision."

Hey, don't worry, I remember the "Ruprecht the Monkey-Boy" scenes from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

"I can't stop laughing," says Greg. "Can we get Candy Maldonado back too. Please?"

Which one gets the shovel? Which one gets the hoe?

"Rich Aurilia just can't catch a break on this team."

And all this time we thought it was Bill Mueller who couldn't catch a break.

Tjames, who misguidedly persists in being a Dodgers fan, simply says, "Ah HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

"Whoops. Sorry."

"Don't laugh too hard," says Grant. "I seem to recall a certain team signing Jose Vizcaino for about 8.3 bazillion dollars.

"Actually, I guess you're still entitled to laugh pretty damned hard."

In fact, Tjames, if you're eating pasta with a red sauce while you laugh, you're entitled to dribble some of the sauce onto your shirt in mirth.

"Hopefully, this is just Henry Schulman ghost-writing for the Times having a big laugh at our expense," says Greg.

"Would that it were," says Henry. "Although Joe's article isn't quite in right tone. What I heard was, Ozzie broached the idea of coming back in a conversation with Magowan, who notified the front office, which will talk to Ozzie's representatives just to see where he's at, how serious he is. They're not 'trying to talk him out of retirement.'

"I talked to one of Ozzie's people today, and she said he's probably going to talk to a lot of teams about possible playing and non-playing jobs.

"Hope that throws a little cold water on this."

It helps -- and I'm really glad Henry's let us in on this.

"Brrrrr! Thanks for the piece of mind," says Greg.

On the other hand, my guess is, stay tuned.

Of course, we probably shouldn't worry about it. Seems to me that the more we worry about a player move, the more likely it is to happen. Plus, I can't imagine a reason not to give a chance to a decent middle infielder making, like, $200K or less, rather than going after a retired, 43-year-old player for a few million, one who could, for all we know, be someone who really should spend more time with his grandchildren.

"Since it looks like the Giants are looking to beat the enemy by becoming the enemy," says Carlos, what should a Giants team made up of all-time enemies look like? I don't know what our all time enemies would be at every position, but here's a go:

P -- Orel Hershiser
C -- Mike Piazza
1B -- Steve Garvey
2B -- Davey Lopes
3B -- Jackie Robinson
SS -- Ozzie Smith
RF -- Pedro Guerrero
CF -- Duke Snider
LF -- Dusty Baker

"I think an 'all-time' team and a current team would be most appropriate. I just can't think of who the Giant Killers have been over the years."

The idea of Smith and Hershiser in orange and black is already overkill.

"Apparently what goes around comes around," says Jerry P.: "Royce Clayton to St. Louis and Ozzie to San Francisco? One of these days the Giants will try to get Chili Davis back."

Why not? We already got Charlie Hayes back.

Next thing we know, Henry Schulman writes this in the San Francisco Examiner:

"San Francisco fans just getting used to the idea of Orel Hershiser in a Giants uniform must have gagged on their lunches Wednesday when word spread that another Enemy of the People, Ozzie Smith, might come out of retirement to play for the Giants."

"I like to think we [in the Giants newsgroup] inspired this first paragraph," says Greg.

Same here. So I shall continue to think it, even if Henry convincingly dispels the notion. Even if he proves it mathematically.

He quotes Smith's agent as saying, "I think I can honestly tell you that Ozzie wants to find his way back into baseball, whether it's as a player, a manager, coaching or the front office. Until something happens, I think you're going to see Ozzie talking to a lot of teams."

Like he's been blackballed or something?

And Henry quotes Giants Assistant GM Ned Colletti as follows: "He did end his career on an up note in 1996. He didn't play last year, and he's 43 years old. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered on our part before we take this step. But we'll certainly listen to hear what he wants to do." Henry continues: "Although Smith was one of the more popular players in the game, he angered Giants fans during a couple of on-field scrapes. He was lustily booed by fans at Candlestick until his retirement."

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he also call Tony LaRussa a liar or something, and blast him for suggesting in 1996 that he hang 'em up?

Why on God's Green Earth would we want this guy?

Jeff C. directs this question to Smith: "Are you coming out of retirement because you feel you didn't receive enough gifts from the other ballclubs during your farewell tour?

"If he ends up in a Giants uniform, when the fans are booing, it won't be only at him, but also at the bonehead who signed him. I'm already warming up the vocal chords just in case."

But the terror seems to have abated: Joe Roderick reports that Smith "turned down a one-year deal that would have paid him less than $1 million."

Oh, that's realistic, Ozzie.

"The offer, according to [Smith's agent], 'was what a backup infielder would make, and Ozzie's a future Hall of Famer.'"

Even now, I'm extending my lower lip in a pout of sympathy.

"This is real bipolar for me," Ben H. says. "Yay! No Ozzie! But... but... they offered him a contract! Mind-boggling. And then the Dunston rumors... geez."

Yes, the Giants are in the market for a veteran backup infielder, and Shawon Dunston's name has been thrown into the mix.

See Jerry P.'s comment above.

"Do you know what happened to Pat Rapp?" says Coach Larry. "He seems to have disappeared over the horizon?"

At the time, I hadn't heard a word. Then, minutes, later, I discovered that the Contra Costa Times reported that "The Giants have been contacted by Chris Arnold, Pat Rapp's agent, but Sabean said it's unlikely they will try to re-sign the pitcher. 'We're just about out of business,' Sabean said of the player payroll, expected to be about $40 million."

So now we know, I guess.

Good thing our awesome starting rotation is set. Sabean really does say the darnedest things, doesn't he?

By the way, quick detour: Know something? There's practically nothing on the World Wide Web about the San Francisco Seals of the old Pacific Coast League. (Technically, this is the same Pacific Coast League as the current one, only back then, before the Giants came here, teams actually played in cities on the coast.) The only things I found of remotest relevance are a nice color picture of the interior of Seals Stadium and a few places where they're trying to sell Seals vintage jerseys and caps.

There's something wrong here. You'd thinks some San Francisco baseball historian would have an entire site devoted to the Seals, wouldn't you? I for one would love to see that.

Heard from Rob, who, it turns out, is practically a neighbor of mine. He says, "I've been to the Giants' Fantasy Camp three times and now I organize several tournaments a year, all against the Dodger fantasy campers. Found your site one day and have added it to "our home page."

So to Rob I extend my heartiest thanks, and I encourage you to give his site a look.

I'd like to do the fantasy camp thing some day -- money (or, rather, lack thereof) holds me back, but it sounds like a blast. I heard from another gentleman about a year ago who, I believe, works for the Giants in the "fantasy camp department," or whatever it's called.

I'd be interested in hearing about readers' fantasy camp experiences, if there are any, and I bet other readers would, too.

New Year -- New Title? -- Part 5

Copyright ©1998 by Gregg Pearlman

Last updated 1/19/98
Gregg Pearlman,

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