I saw all the Giants playoffs games this year, I think, and I do not watch baseball. The last time I saw this many baseball games was probably in about 1964. I always tell people that I stopped watching baseball after Willie Mays got traded to the Mets, but I don’t quite know if that’s true. I don’t really know if that’s the main reason I stopped watching. I know I was very upset about it. My father had told me that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player of all time, and I believed anything he told me. I copied Mays’s batting stance, including the obligatory number of faux warmup swings before each pitch.
So when did outfielders start to catch with only one hand? I know that’s been going on for quite a while, but I don’t understand it. I was taught to balance the glove gently on the off hand, whenever possible. There’s no conceivable advantage to this one-handed thing, as far as I can tell, unless you’re catching the ball on the run. I also copied Mays’s underhanded style of catching a routine fly ball.
I watched the World Series on ESPN America. The color guy was Rick Sutcliffe, who was pretty good, although he did lapse into the apparently obligatory state of baseball-induced chauvinistic corniness on many occasions. (This new practice of an obligatory rendition of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch, often by someone connected to the military, is a bit nauseating.)
Sutcliffe was quite critical of Ron Washington’s managing. In the concluding Game 5, for example, he said that Washington should walk Renteria intentionally when Renteria came to the plate with two men on, and that turned out to be a very good call. He did that any number of times during the series. He didn’t like Washington’s management of his bullpen, he thought Lee should have pitched Game 4, he basically really did not understand what Washington was doing. He would also be very critical of the home plate umpires. In the penultimate World Series game, he couldn’t figure out what the strike zone was. That’s a weird thing about baseball, something I really don’t like.
ESPN America is a strange phenomenon. The only commercials they have are for other programming on ESPN America, so there are a lot of promotions for “Sports Center,” which looks like it has some quite funny bits. Then there are endless promotions for televised poker. My father was also quite a good poker player, but I have never had the slightest interest in gambling, I don’t really approve of gambling. What I find amusing is the black-and-white commercials that feature chips falling through the air in slow-motion, in freeze-frame, players manipulating chips as though they were Ricky Jay. Instead of a bunch of obsessive types who are making probability calculations, one would think that a young Robert de Niro is going to screw a young Sharon Stone on the table in these televised poker tournaments. That might be worth watching. ESPN America also had endless little nostalgia spots featuring Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, and Curt Flood (Curt Flood – we’re supposed to be nostalgic about the introduction of free agency?? – they don’t even mention the stolen bases.)
I had never heard of Vladimir Guillermo. Watching him try to play right field in Game 1 was hilarious. The bookend to that was hearing that Aubrey Huff laid down his first sacrifice bunt in a 10-year career in last night’s game, a very good bunt, too. There are certain stats which are now de rigueur that never came up before, at least I don’t remember them: number of first-pitch strikes thrown by the pitcher, number of hits, runs, and RBI’s with two outs.
Some of these players are whales: Pablo Sandoval, who I gather was a lot better last year, the catcher Molina, who was a Giant until recently, the Rangers pitcher Hunter. And Jose Uribe looks like a football player who is going to pull his hamstring at any moment. It is very difficult for me to tell why Lincecum is so difficult to hit. I think one has to have played baseball at a high level in order really to understand this. I mean, I know all the explanations that people might give, but I still don’t really understand them. I think you’d have to be standing at the plate, trying to hit the ball, in order really to get it. The part I really don’t get is how he gets hitters to swing at so many pitches that are not close to being strikes, especially when his fastball is not overpowering.
Before the playoffs started, the only Giants players whose names I knew were Uribe and Zito, who did not play. It’s amazing that they could win the Series and have so much money sunk into a player who did not play. I did not know the names of any player on any of the opposing teams prior to the playoffs. In the old days, I would now know the lifetime stats of most of the hitters on the teams I saw, but you don’t get that anymore. Now you learn what a hitter did with a 2-1 count and runners in scoring position over the course of the current season. I think this Moneyball thing has been taken to an absurd extreme.
The thing I like least about baseball is that pitching determines everything and that it seems like one has to be a professional baseball player in order really to appreciate and understand pitching, at least in some instances. It’s not difficult to understand why Sandy Koufax was hard to hit.
There were some other hilarious moments in the commentary on last night’s game. Sutcliffe was beside himself in ecstasy because a pitcher congratulated his center fielder for making a fairly routine play. He could not get over the camaraderie exhibited by Cliff Lee in the dugout in the bottom of the sixth. This all reminded me of Dick Vitale shouting, “What a great time out by [any Division 1 college coach]!” America is a strange country with two very strange sports, baseball and football.
Congrats, though, to the Giants and their fans. I just remember McCovey lining the ball straight into the glove of Bobby Richardson, that ball was just creamed, 1962. That was how the Giants lost the Series in Game 7 that year. I probably did not recover for days. It is fifty-six years since the Giants last won the Series, just a few years before I would have started playing and was introduced to the church of Willie Mays.