Friday, April 24, 2015

The Commish

Manfred was asked about the distinction between Rose and players tainted by allegations of steroids use, who are eligible for the Hall but have fallen short of election.

"I don't accept the analogy between steroids and gambling," Manfred said. "I see gambling as different in a sense that baseball's rules on gambling have been in place literally for decades. They've been clear. They spell out specific penalties. The reason those rules exist is that gambling is corrosive in a number of ways, including raising the specter of somebody of not doing everything they can to win. Steroids — a very, very different kind of issue."

He gets it. Glory, hallelujah, he gets it.

Commissioner Manfred has made one of the most intelligent and sensible statements about these two controversies in a long time. It's something everyone who cares about the game of baseball must consider.

He was discussing the status of Pete Rose, and the possibility of Pete participating at the upcoming All-Star Game, and inevitably the possibility of Pete's reinstatement after 25 years in the wilderness as an outcast from the game he loved and loves.

Inevitably the companion subject of PEDs came up. And Manfred hit the ball out of the park.

Let's be clear.

Ballplayers take PEDs because they believe they will stay in the lineup longer and be more productive and therefore more valuable. This is destructive to the player's health, sets a bad example for kids, and cheapens the game.

However, ballplayers who get involved with gambling and gamblers inevitably run the risk of getting involved with schemes to "fix" or "throw" games. As we know from history, this is destructive and, if not handled firmly and mercilessly, will be fatal to the game of baseball itself.

A mighty big distinction. Will the BBWAA take heed? Don't hold your breath, but what needed to be said has been said, by the man whose first responsibility is to the game itself, and nothing else. He gets it.

Early Returns

A three-game sweep of the Dodgers is always nice, of course, and when it comes on the heels of a 1-6 Homestand-from-Hell-in-the-making, it's even better. Giants starting pitchers have racked up 11 quality starts in 17 games so far, so when your record is 7-10 you know where the problem is.

We weren't too thrilled with the off-season pickups of Nori Aoki, Casey McGehee, and Justin Maxwell, but we're sure happy to say that two of those three guys, at least, are paying off big-time. There's nothing in Maxwell's tepid resume to date that would suggest he'd thrive as an every-day starting outfielder on a contending team, but he's been nailing the ball this month and really ought to start every day until he stops or until Hunter Pence returns, whichever comes first. As for Aoki, it's not that we disrespected him as a player, it's that we had the sick foreboding that before long he'd be used as the leadoff man. And we were right-- and so far, he's been right, too. As long as Aoki can hit .300, his OBP will be over .350, and that qualifies.

McGehee got a big hit in a clutch situation yesterday, leading off the ninth and setting up Brandon Crawford's monster triple that we thought would win the game. At .179, we'd say McGehee has about four weeks to pick it up and prove he should be starting ahead of Matt Duffy-- who ran for him and scored the tying run in that ninth inning.

Two weeks ago everyone was moaning about Joe Panik, who has since climbed to .295/.348, well within acceptable range. Today's moans center around Brandon Belt, who has started to hit the ball hard but who remains below the Mendoza Line. Buster Posey leads the team with 8 walks, in 60 AB, which is a number we like to see, but it was clear from watching that game yesterday that at least a few of those walks are from teams pitching around him to get to Belt. Not so good.

And then there's Angel Pagan, whose mere presence in the lineup... yada yada yada, except it's true. There he was yesterday, waiting through a pitchout before stealing second base and setting up Maxwell, whose GIDP-appearing grounder went through for the game-winner and made up for Kendrick's brilliant bases-loaded eighth-inning stab of Maxwell's shoulda-been-RBI-single. We've always said the key stat in stolen bases is the caught-stealing, because it is so destructive. Pagan has two steals, hasn't been caught, and those are the kind of numbers we like, because speed and stolen bases are all about opportunity, not quantity.

Between them, Chris Heston, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Lincecum have delivered 7 quality starts in 9 appearances, with a composite ERA of 2.61. Throw out Bumgarner's certified turkey from April 11, and it's even better. Lincecum showed he could pitch well against a team other then the Padres, Heston has already pitched well against the Rockies, whom he faces at Coors Field tonight, and Bumgarner is, well, Bumgarner. We're not at all sure Jake Peavy can help the Giants any more, Tim Hudson's been OK so far but nobody knows how long he'll hold up, and Ryan Vogelsong was excellent yesterday-- 16 days after his previous, awful, start. Oh, we got issues here, all right, but noting to panic about. And consider Yusmeiro Petit has yet to be called upon to start a game.

Finally, if there is one more takeaway from this LA series, it's this: the other guys' bullpens tend to "blink" a lot more than does the Giants'. This not-so-secret weapon is our best guard against a repeat of that 4-10 start that had everyone ready to jump ship a few days ago.

There are two NL wild-card spots. A .500 team at the All-Star Break is now a contending team. This one's weaknesses will be apparent by then, and recent history teaches us that mid-season, not off-season, moves tend to be the ones that turn things around for the Giants, if a turn-around there is to be.

Charlie Hustle

Has Rose suffered enough? We think so. He deserved his suspension, because gambling by players and coaches is the ultimate bad seed of professional sports.

But Rose did not participate in, nor did he condone or excuse, the fixing of games. This is where he differs from the "Black Sox" and others banned for life.

It's been over 25 years. Pete Rose is 74. He ought to be reinstated, and voted into the Hall of Fame, before he passes. Let his punishment stand as a warning to others, but let him back in.

But Joe Jackson and the others? Never in a million billion years. Throwing games-- that gets you baseball's version of the death penalty. His records, and their records, are still in the book, and they should be. But his person, and their persons, cannot ever be admitted into an institution that purports to honor the game. It's not that Hall of Famers are, were, or should be model citizens or even nice guys. It's that those who deliberately, with malice aforethought, specifically seek to undermine and destroy the very integrity of the game by their own efforts for their own monetary gain, cannot possibly honor that game by their presence, and therefore must be excluded.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Lon Simmons 1923-2015

Barely had the ink dried-- er, the digital images loaded, that is-- on our Opening Day Giants salvo, before the news came in that Lon Simmons, The Voice of San Francisco sports for many of us, had passed away yesterday at age 91, after leading a long, colorful, and beloved life.  Our best wishes go out to his family.

It was the "Golden West Radio Network" on "KSFO-560, in San Francisco," back in April of 1965, and that's where and when we heard our first major-league baseball radio broadcast. Russ Hodges, the legendary play-by-play man from New York who had come West with the team, the man who called the Bobby Thomson home run, was the lead announcer, but our childlike attention was captured by the rich, easy baritone of the man whose friendly asides and pithy comments punctuated Hodges' genial chatter. Lon Simmons, we understood right away, was a Westerner-- and as new arrivals in that beautiful, unusual land, we were drawn to all things Western and Californian. 

Lon was all that. He did the 49er games, too, and the 1965 49ers were one of the most exciting teams ever to play professional football. Lon's voice accompanied us as we cheered John Brodie shredding defenses with deep passes to Dave Parks, and as we stared in disbelief at eleven guys wearing scarlet and gold who couldn't tackle Gale Sayers if their lives depended on it. Perhaps clearest of all, we recall Lon's patient-but-quietly-exasperated tone as he covered the stumbling, bumbling 49ers of the late 1970s, the pre-Walsh days, like a doting but put-upon father shaking his head at the misadventures of his wayward children. It is a great irony that Lon, who carried the flag for so many awful Niner teams over two decades, lost his broadcasting job on the eve of the team's first Super Bowl season-- and not because of anything he did or didn't do, but simply because of a corporate decision to switch radio stations. It is a further irony that just two years earlier Lon had lost his Giants job for the same reason. In both cases it was KNBR-680 taking over for the old standby KSFO, and you youngsters who've grown up with KNBR as your sports station can't possibly remember what a shock to the system it was to hear our teams' games broadcast on a new frequency by a bunch of newcomers.

Of course, Lon's class act was followed by others-- Hank Greenwald with the Giants, Don Heinrich and Don Klein and Joe Starkey with the 49ers-- who were unique and wonderful commentators themselves. What an amazing run of quality voices and personalities we fans had to enjoy as both our teams reached unprecedented heights of achievement in the 1980s!

And of course Lon came back to the 49ers in the turbulent year of 1988-- a season that was a lot like those crazy 1960s campaigns, filled with highs and lows and controversies. And that one, unlike those, had a most happy ending, with Lon's signature football call: "TOUCHDOWN, FORTY-NINERS!" roaring across the airwaves as time ran out in Super Bowl XXIII.   He returned to the Giants broadcasts, too, eventually; mostly part-time, as an honored guest alongside Jon Miller, Mike Krukow, and Duane Kuiper, all of whom were clearly thrilled to share the booth with The Voice.  He called Opening Day at the inauguration of Pacific Bell Park in 2000, which had to be a personal highlight-- he had already called Opening Day 1958 at Seals Stadium, the Giants' first game in San Francisco, and Opening Day 1960 at brand-new Candlestick Park.  And of course for years in between Lon smoothly made the switch to the American League, Oakland, and the A's, working alongside yet another legend, the late Bill King. Yes, truly an amazing run of quality voices and personalities...

"TOUCHDOWN, 49ERS!"  That's the one we heard the most and remember the best. But there were others. The cool, reserved humor of Lon's usual delivery could, and did, give way to fevered, almost hysterical excitement when the occasion called for it. It was as though he instinctively knew when to turn up the juice even as we fans were doing the same thing, listening along. Here are a few we remember:

"MARSHALL... THINKS HE HAS SCORED A TOUCHDOWN! HE HAS SCORED A SAFETY!" You can get that one on YouTube. It's from a loss to the Vikings in 1964 with a bizarre highlight provided by Minnesota lineman Jim Marshall.

How about May 28, 1978, at Candlestick, Dodgers in town, Don Sutton on the mound, bases loaded, a full house, pinch-hitter Mike Ivie standing in?  At the crack, it's Lon: "HIT DEEP TO LEFT! WAY BACK, WAY BACK, WAY BACK.... A GRAND SLAM!!!"

And of course Steve Young,  against the Vikings again, November 30 1988 at the 'Stick, one of NFL Films' most popular highlight videos... "GETS AWAY!... GETS AWAY AGAIN!... TOUCHDOWN, 49ERS!"  

Finally, the inevitable home-run call, "TELL IT GOODBYE!"

Goodbye, Lon.  We'll miss you.         

The San Francisco Giants Open the 2015 Season!

Madison Bumgarner, L
"Mr October" is only 25, and who says he won't get even better?
Matt Cain, R
No question Giants' chances depend on his regaining top form
Tim Lincecum, R
Tore down and rebuilt himself over the winter; now it's showtime
Tim Hudson, R
Finished spring with encouraging start against his old team
Jake Peavy, R
Has been lit up throughout the spring and may be on short leash
Ryan Vogelsong, R 
Can't argue with team's 7-0 record in his postseason starts
Yusmeiro Petit, R
At some point he needs to take over as a starting pitcher
Jeremy Affeldt, L 
Within his role, as valuable as any Giant over last 5 years
Santiago Casilla, R
Last year's closer has the job and the tools to keep it
Sergio Romo, R 
He and his slider have been through the highs and the lows
Javier Lopez, L
Forget the Game Three loss; he's one of the not-so-secret Big Four
Jean Machi, R
It's not that he can't pitch, it's that he's so rarely needed
George Kontos, R
Stays on active roster for now as Strickland's off to Sacramento

Buster Posey, c
The Three-Ring Man is team's unquestioned on-field leader
Angel Pagan, cf
His presence in the lineup will be absolutely vital
Brandon Belt, 1b 
Let's hope a full season brings out his best game
Brandon Crawford, ss
Winning teams tend to be strong "up the middle"
Casey McGehee, 3b
On the spot as this grinder replaces colorful, controversial "Panda"
Joe Panik, 2b
We all loved last year's breakout. Now it's time to do it regularly
Nori Aoki, of
His Punch-and-Judy style may suit the 'Bell's wide-open spaces
Gregor Blanco, of
Tabbed as starting right fielder until Pence returns
Matt Duffy, if
Expect he'll be groomed to start somewhere beginning in 2016
Joaquin Arias, if
A versatile PMLV will always have value on this ballclub
Justin Maxwell, of
Great spring got him here; may split RF spot with Blanco for now
Hector Sanchez, c
Choosing him over Andrew Susac was no easy decision
Hunter Pence, rf (DL)
Everyone's anxiously awaiting his return sometime in May
Travis Ishikawa, ut (DL)
NLCS hero will likely send the extra pitcher down when he returns
Marco Scutaro, 2b (DFA)
A last shout-out to a Giant hero who may never play again