So in their recently completed Division Series the Giants hit .222 as a team, with a sum total of six extra-base hits. They were thrown out stealing more times than they were successful. They scored nine runs in the entire four-game series. And yet they beat the powerful Washington Nationals three games to one. How they did it was that the Nats were even more pathetic offensively than the Giants, hitting .164 as a team. I’m not even sure if the Giants’ pitching was so great (a 1.60 team ERA ain’t bad) or that offense just disappeared for both teams—other than Bryce Harper and his three moonshot home runs.
The Giants won every game by a single run, and other than Brandon Belt’s 18th-inning blast in game 2, many of the runs they did score were gifts: bases-loaded walks, wild pitches, fielder’s choices… They won passive-aggressively! What a strange series. Which matches the Giants’ strange season: dominance in April & May, June & July swoon, and enough resurgence in August & September to squeeze into the 2nd wildcard slot.
But, hey, I’ll take it! On to the N.L. Championship Series and the St. Louis Cardinals (who dispatched the favored Dodgers in four games as well). My big trepidation, moving forward, though, is the absence of leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. You wouldn’t know it from his stats, but he is the Giants’ catalyst. Their record the last two years is directly related to his presence in the lineup: a winning team when’s he in there, and a losing one when he isn’t. And he’s out for the rest of the year after back surgery. But… enough pessimism. Bring on the Redbirds!
There are “bucket lists” and then there are bucket list items you don’t even think about because they are so far beyond the realm of possibility. One of those for me has always been getting to see my team, the San Francisco Giants, win the World Series—in person. And yet, yesterday that’s exactly what happened.
First of all, what are the odds that the one year I’m living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, both the Giants and the Detroit Tigers make the playoffs? And then each survive two rounds of postseason play to make the World Series? And then, when the Giants come to Detroit, they go up 3-games-to-0—thereby depressing ticket prices to the point that I can actually afford to buy one? Like I said, beyond the realm of possibility.
Well, along about 3 p.m. Sunday I checked StubHub and found an affordable ticket—prices had dropped from $400 for standing room to $100 for an upper deck seat. I made the purchase, jumped in a Zipcar, and sped excitedly out to Detroit and Comerica Park.
I found parking, strolled to the stadium, and took in my first-ever World Series game. (I had been to a first-round Yankees playoff games a few years back, but the stakes were not nearly as high.) The stadium was packed, the lights were bright, and hopeful Tigers fans (and a few hardy Giants rooters) were streaming in. For me it was like a dream.
Climbing up to my seats (section 211, in right field), it was freezing cold, with the wind howling and shaking the stands. But I was cozy as a cat. As opposed to my normal anxiety and resignation that the Giants would probably lose, up to that point the whole World Series had been going so well that I was in a completely different frame of mind. It was like the Giants beating the Cardinals in the NLCS, after trailing 3-games-to-1, had completely wiped the slate clean. No more sweet torture. The Giants’ pitching, timely hitting—and the obvious rust the Tigers had after waiting so long between their own league championship and the beginning of the World Series—made them the superior team. New emotions!
Now, seeing as how I was sporting my Giants cap and bright orange jacket, I came in prepared to be heckled, jeered, pushed around, and spat on. I shudder to think how I would’ve been treated back in New York—in either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field—but the Tigers fans were totally sweet, everyone just enjoying the vibe of World Series baseball and communal huddling against the cold. (I also think in many ways the fans had already accepted that they weren’t going to prevail in the end; after all, no team has ever come from back down 3-games-to-0 to win the Series.)
The rest of the evening unfolded like a dream. The Giants went up 1-0, fell behind 2-1, went up 3-2, were tied at 3-3, and won the game in 10 innings. And suddenly there I was, hugging two total strangers (fellow S.F. rooters a few seats down from me in my row), watching the Giants pile on each other near the pitcher’s mound! Shortly afterward, as I was wandering around in a happy daze, a young Tigers fan of about 17 years old actually came up to me and shook my hand in congratulations. Now that’s a boy whose parents raised him to be a good sport!
I eventually made my way down to field level—kudos to Comerica management for allowing riff-raff like me down there—to get close to the on-field celebration. All the San Francisco fans who’d made it to the game—a few hundred of us—had gathered above the Giants dugout to savor the moment. I had to keep pinching myself because it was so hard to believe I was actually there in person for the celebration. It was an amazing scene, converging with all these other fans who’d traveled from far and wide. Two guys I talked to had also purchased their tickets that day, had driven six hours from upstate New York, and were preparing to drive back following the celebration. (By this time it was already long past midnight.) Another guy had also bought his ticket same-day and driven four hours from Cincinnati. He was also going back that night/early morning. Given that I had paid less than any of them for my ticket, and only had a 40-minute drive home to worry about, I felt like I was sacrificing very little for the privilege of being there.
I discovered when I lived back in San Francisco in the late 1990s that Giants fans really are a special breed. They are as devoted and dedicated as any East Coast fans, but without the caveman edge. For one thing, there are lots of rabid female fans, and they all have a good sense of humor. And Giants fans wear all sorts of ridiculous outfits: panda hats, Brian Wilson beards, orange and black Rasta wigs, you name it. And pins! Giants fans love to wear pins. All this “character” was in evidence among the assembled throngs, and it really made it feel like some beautiful Bay Area weirdness had settled down for the night in the middle of the Great Lakes.
The crowning moment was when Giants GM Brian Sabean emerged from the dugout with the distinctive silver World Series trophy, which he held up in triumph for the adoring crowd. That was truly special—a tribal chief exulting with the spoils of victory.
Finally satisfied, I left my clansmen (and clanswomen), headed back to my car, and made the drive back to Ann Arbor. It was 2 a.m., I was exhausted, and I was as happy as I could ever be.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, it changed my life as a fan forever. I had always been the underdog, the guy whose team never won. Now all of a sudden I was a winner! That moment was like a release valve for a pipe that had been clogged for 32 years. Before that, I had almost literally lived and died with each Giants’ win and loss. Since then I’ve had a much more… balanced… relationship to my fandom—the stakes just don’t seem as high. No matter what happens in the future, I’ll always have the memories of that great 2010 run.
Yet now here it is a scant two years later, and improbably—almost impossibly—the Giants are back the World Series! My mind is having trouble processing that. If the 2010 Giants were all about Fear the Beard, the 2012 team is about playing one more day for each other. They’ve had six wins in the current post-season where their backs were against the wall—win or go home. Talk about “sweet torture!” If the 2010 team was about Aubrey Huff’s rally thong, the 2012 team is about Hunter Pence’s pregame football-type hypefests. And if the 2010 team was about Brian Wilson’s beard, the 2012 team is about Brian Wilson’s even bigger beard (and his painted fingernails)! It’s about karma! And Pence’s broken bat triple-hit double. And the ultimate “player to be named later,” Marco Scutaro. (And—update post-game 1—Panda Power! And—update post-game 2—Mad Bum Power!)
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but 2012 is shaping up to be very 2010. The key difference for me as a fan—in addition to my more Zen-like approach to watching the games—is that I’m actually here in the States to witness it. Back in 2010, I was tooling around the Middle East for most of the postseason, unable to catch any of the games due to the time difference—and the general indifference to baseball in those countries. I made it back just in time for games 2-5 of the World Series, which of course was great. But getting to see this whole postseason unfold, in real time, has been a thrilling, once-of-a-kind experience.
When I left San Francisco and moved out East in 1980, it was like being forced to move away from my first love. I had devoted myself to the Giants for two years in 1978-1979, listening to most of their games on the radio (we didn’t have a TV), keeping score of many of them, keeping track of the player’s stats, collecting all their baseball cards. (Remember, I was twelve years old.)
But I stayed true to my team. Out in Brooklyn, I was relegated to seeing them twice a year—if I was lucky—when they came to New York to play the Mets. (If I tuned in the radio really well, I could sometimes catch their games on WPHT when they played the Philadelphia Phillies.) And the Giants being a West Coast team, most of their games took place long after I had gone to sleep; their box scores never even made it into the sports pages of the New York Times.(I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this was long before the Internet, or even the late-night scores published each morning in USA Today.) In New York the San Francisco Giants were completely irrelevant.
Until their 2010 championship, the Giants were very much under the radar. Of course there was all the hype about Barry Bonds, but for the most part that was about celebrating individual achievements (achievements that now seem very tainted). Despite it all, through those teenage years in New York, then college in Ohio, traveling and living abroad, and four years in Chicago, I kept the faith. Fate would have it that I was able to return to my team in the late 1990s, when Sari & lived in San Francisco. Those were special years, though the team didn’t fare particularly well then either. But then it was on the road again, and the last dozen years in New York again (and now a year in Ann Arbor).
Essentially, the Giants have mostly seemed like my own little secret. That’s why, even now, it’s especially weird to see the team being covered by the national media, the Times, etc.
I never in a million years expected the Giants to win the World Series last year.
The fact is, in my 32 years of avidly following the team, I never expected them to win the World Series any year. They’ve been such a mediocre team for most of those years that I am usually thrilled if they simply have a winning record. The years that the Giants actually made the playoffs always seemed like they were too good to be true — like the cliché, I was just happy to be there.
So last year’s Giants’ World Championship run was even more surreal for me because, for the majority of the playoffs, I was traveling through the Middle East, literally on the other side of the world from where their exploits were taking place. I tried my best to follow the action with iPhone and laptop updates, but that region isn’t exactly known for its interest in baseball, and the time difference kept me from monitoring the games as they happened. Sitting in my Jerusalem hotel and reading of the Giants dispatching the Phillies in the International Herald Tribune made me feel like I was in a time machine — it was exactly as it had been almost 25 years earlier when I spent a fall semester in London following a rare Giants playoff appearance (they lost that year in the National League Championship to the Cardinals).
Fortunately, I made it back to the States in time to catch the last four games of the World Series, as the Giants almost anticlimactically made short work of the fearsome Texas Rangers.
My most treasured holiday gift from this past December is a deluxe DVD set of the Giants’ path to victory (thank you, Sari!), and I’ve been gearing up for MLB 2011 by watching it. So, seeing as how today is opening day, and the beginning of the Giants defense of their title, here are some key happy memories of 2011:
It’s become a cliché but it’s still true: the 2011 Giants were a team of misfits. Brian Wilson’s dyed beard. Aubrey Huff’s lucky thong. Pat “The Bat” Burrell’s resurgence. Castoff Cody Ross and his playoff slugging heroics. Tim Lincecum’s awful August followed by his awesome September. The fact that the Giants almost blew a three-game lead with three games to go. (Remember, torture is the theme here.) Fear the Beard!
And then the World Series itself:
Game 1: Crazy opening to the Series, with aces Lincecum and Cliff Lee both off their games. Giants win 11-7 in a slugfest, including Freddy Sanchez’s three doubles.
Game 2: Matt Cain’s dominant performance — seven shutout innings, and the team’s breakout of five runs in the ninth inning. This was the Giants team that was supposed to win games 2-1 or 3-2, not 11-7 and 9-0!
Game 4: Rookie Madison Bumgarner’s poise and calm, as he mowed down the Rangers with eight shutout innings
Game 5: Lincecum’s amazing pitching performance, one run in eight innings, including ten strikeouts. Aubrey Huff, who had never had a sacrifice bunt in his entire career, laying down a perfect one to set up the key runs of the game! And let us not forget (the dear departed) Edgar Renteria’s “called shot”!
Because of the Giants, I’ve always felt like an underdog — in just about anything I’ve done. So for this whole last off-season it’s been really strange — and, I have to admit, very pleasant — to be a “winner.” (Apologies to Charlie Sheen.)
[Originally posted April 12, 2006 — updated for 2021 with final 2020 stats]
In honor of the new baseball season, I’ve asked Bill James and the good folks at Baseball-Reference.com to compile my career (so far) statistics. Unfortunately, the records are spotty. Though they date as far back as my 1982–1983 stint as a Little Leaguer playing baseball against such classic teams as 15th Street Iron Works and Aurora Phoenix Construction, there is a disturbing absence of information for almost the next twenty years!
I know! No stats from the glory days of the mid-1980s, when man_size, larrondo, thamesrhodes, pango_lafoote, and I tested the confines of Riverside Park during summer softball?! Or the three years at the helm of the Oberlin College intramural softball teams — The Dascomb Lords of Fresh (1987), Better Than You (1988), and Like a Big Dog (1989)? Or those great seasons in the early 90s as captain of The Nation magazine softball team, as we squared off against the likes of The Village Voice and Money magazine? I know: a travesty.
But, since I joined their “league” in 2003, the nutty nutjobs of Prospect Park Sunday softball have stepped up to the plate. With an obsessiveness for stats I can only stand back and admire with awe, they record every out of every game we play during our April–November season.
So sit back and peruse my (admittedly sparse) stats, which prove beyond doubt that I was a born softballer. As the records clearly show, I couldn’t hit a curve — or a fastball, for that matter. (Though I was a pesky hitter, working out a fair number of walks and wreaking some havoc on the basepaths.) And the results some years later weren’t any better: I was cut from the Oberlin College baseball team, a Division III team with no athletic scholarships!
Anyway, my softball stats are a bit better — at least I’m over the Mendoza Line. However, I believe hitting anything less than .400 in softball is nothing to be proud about, so I’ve got plenty of work to do. (The two stat lines for the 2004 season reflect two leagues I played in, the first being P.P. Sunday Softball, and the second being the weekday Zen League, featuring real umpires. My team, the Plug Uglies, won the championship, but I found it all a little too intense — and time-consuming — and didn’t return the subsequent season.)
So the 2006 season has just begun, and assuming I don’t break any more fingers, I hope to really get my swing in the groove as the summer moves along.
NEW! UPDATED FOR 2021 [with 2020 stats]!
JOSHUA MICHAEL ROSLER NEUFELD Born: August 9, 1967 Home: Brooklyn, New York Ht.: 5’9″ Wgt.: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Left
San Francisco Giants radio play-by-play announcer Jon Miller yesterday was declared the winner of this year’s Ford C. Frick award. That means he’s going to the Hall of Fame! As a long-time baseball fan, I couldn’t be happier with his recognition. I’ve come to appreciate quite a few radio play-by-play announcers over the years, from Hank Greenwald & Lindsay Nelson, to Vin Scully, to Phil Rizzuto & Bill White, to Ed Coleman & Bob Murphy — but I like Jon Miller the best.
Miller has an uncanny ability to illustrate the action, to bring the game to life. It’s a true art, and through him I’ve really come to appreciate it. Miller’s terrific sense of humor is his chief tool (I love his banter with the other Giants announcers, especially the end of the game wrap-ups), but I also enjoy his easy, colloquial style, his appreciation of the weather, the stadium, and the fans. Not to mention his home run and double play calls.
I especially admire Miller’s sense of perspective. No matter how serious the situation, how dire things look for the Giants, he always reminds us baseball is after all a game: entertainment, a diversion. Baseball games are long (and occasionally tedious), and Miller’s anecdotes and stories of other gigs and other games enliven what could otherwise be dull radio. (Miller also does hilarious impersonations of other announcers, including a dead-on "Vin Scully".)
I think the moment I most enjoyed was the leisurely afternoon game he was calling where he spotted a guy with a radio headset sitting in the stands next to some friends of Miller’s. I’ll never forget the hilarity as Miller described the scene and got the attention of the guy, who was, of course, listening to him on the Giants flagship station KNBR! I imagine Miller might have gotten in a bit of trouble that day for "breaking the rules," but it was a treat to listen to, and really brightened my day.
Overall, Miller conveys a strong attachment to the Giants and their players, but combines that with an uncompromising honesty. He’s no "homer," unwilling to criticize the team or point out a bad play. That’s probably the highest compliment an announcer can receive, and I think Miller has struck the perfect balance. His Hall of Fame induction is well deserved.
P.S. After becoming a Giants fan as an 11-year-old kid in 1978, I left San Francisco for New York in 1980. Despite living out here in Yankees-Mets country, I stuck with my San Francisco team through thick and thin. (And most of those were pretty thin years.) As luck would have it, I moved back to San Francisco in the summer of 1997, which is where I discovered Miller and his unique announcing style. Knowing what little I do of Miller’s career, it seems our paths were somewhat similar in that we both had spent at least parts of our childhoods in the Bay Area and then returned later in life — in 1997! Though I moved back to the East Coast in 1999, it was a great pleasure sharing those three seasons of ’97–’99 with Miller and rest of the Giants’ announcing crew. Now, in New York, I am able to listen to many Giants games online, through mlb.com. I don’t get to tune it to quite as many games as I’d like, but thanks to a DSL connection and the fact that I’m self-employed and work at home, it’s turned out surprisingly well.
An article in today’s Times about Jack Kerouac’s fixation on fantasy baseball caught my eye. (The term “fantasy,” in this case, refers to a sort of role-playing baseball, rather than the rotisserie-type “fantasy” baseball that is so popular nowadays.) Seems most of his life Kerouac was obsessed with a baseball simulation game of his own creation, peopled with entirely made-up leagues, teams, and players. He chronicled the results of his games in various ways, including fake newspaper stories. (He also had a thing for fantasy horseracing, of all things.) Anyway, it appears that Kerouac kept this particular obsession entirely to himself, so even Beat buds like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs knew nothing of it. I find it fascinating that the celebrated author of On The Road and The Dharma Bums had this secret life… as a nerd.
When I was a kid of about eleven or twelve years old, right when I really got into Dungeons & Dragons, I also really got into baseball (specifically the San Francisco Giants, as I lived in Frisco at the time). One of the things that drew me to both pursuits was their almost religious reliance on statistics: constitution values, batting average, hit points, earned run average, armor class, slugging percentage, saving throw — this way of measuring the world made sense to me. (A shrink would probably say it was my way of imposing a sense of order on what had been a fairly rootless, chaotic life up to that point.)
This illustration of mine was published by The Washington Post in July 2007
That was the soundtrack to my Friday evening, at Shea Stadium for the second game of Yankees-Mets doubleheader. (In a rare event brought about by an earlier rain-out, the first game was played at Yankee Stadium, and the nightcap was at Shea.) The fans in our section were about 60-40 Mets-to-Yankees fans, with me sitting it out in my S.F. Giants cap. It was an entertaining place to be, though, as the Yankees fans would chant “Let’s-Go-Yankees!” and the Mets fan would instantly retort with “Yankees-Suck!” There was something poignant about this song of opposition: they were “singing” the same tune, and each side would dutifully wait for the other to finish their part.
The game started out evenly, with each group of fans getting their chance to make rude gestures and flaunt their team jerseys at the others, but the Yanks took control in the fourth inning, and ended up winning in a rout, nine-zip. Actually, it was when the game got out of the hand that the fans did too, and what seemed good-natured at first started to turn ugly. Groups of young men from each side got louder and more raucous, and security came by a couple of times to make sure things didn’t get violent.
As a fairly rabid Giants fan, I don’t have a problem with loudly rooting for your team, but there is something odd about this kind of intra-city rivalry. Unlike San Francisco and Oakland, two separate cities; or the North Side Cubs fans and South Side White Sox partisans; Yankees and Mets fans seem to split up much more raggedly once you get beyond the borders of the Bronx and Queens. For instance, in my experience, it seems like most Brooklynites favor the Mets, while those from Manhattan and Staten Island are Yankees lovers. Come to think of it, there definitely seems to be a class thing in evidence: Yankees fans proliferate in the Jersey suburbs and Westchester. It’s weird taking the train to Yankees games, with all those beefy Italian-American kids in Yankees jerseys and caps — who ever sees anyone like that in New York anymore? My assumption is they’re a bridge-and-tunnel crowd.
So maybe what was going on in our section Friday night was not so much a baseball rivalry as the first blow of a full-fledged class war?
Ex-Yankees player and broadcaster Phil Rizzuto passed away today. I listened to The Scooter during my prime baseball-fan days, as an adolescent, and he shaped my feeling for the game. I loved the way he combined a passion for baseball with a clear awareness that it was just a game, not to be taken too seriously.
He was known for his distinctive “Holy Cow!” exclamation, and I also loved how he called people “huckleberry.” During his prime as a Yankees broadcaster, he teamed up with classic straight man Bill White. They made a great duo, the wise-cracking, diminutive old Italian-American bantering with the tall, distinguished African-American.
During broadcasts, Phil would get so involved in anecdotes, stories, or noting fans’ birthdays and anniversaries, that he would forget all about the game. The resulting non-sequitors made for classic TV and radio. And if a summer thunderstorm passed by the Stadium, he would literally run out of the broadcast booth to find shelter!
Years ago, the Village Voice took a few classic Phil monologues and transcribed them into poetic form. It was pure brilliance. Eventually, Tom Peyer & Hart Seely put together a whole book of his “selected verse.” Here are some of my favorite Rizzuto “poems”: