Like, It's 1999

The  1999 Giants season was a strange one.  The last season at Candlestick Park. Fans calling for Barry Bonds to be traded.  Shawn Estes' unbelievable home-road splits. A second-year expansion team, Arizona, having the temerity to win the pennant instead of behaving themselves and finishing last. Robb Nen going the entire season without a single three-up three-down ninth-inning save.

And somewhere around midseason, an enterprising new fan-based site called "sportznutz" hired us to write an irregularly-scheduled column on the travails of our favorite team. Like the medfly, this site had but a brief life, and soon it, and we, moved on. But we remember, and recently we unearthed those precious codicils of deathless prose from our voluminous archives. Herewith we share them with you, a peek into a vanished world, written as it happened.  Enjoy!

June 12, 1999

Whoa, Nellie -- Look at This!

Giant fans who are tempted to cry in their jumbo decaf lattes
this morning might want to take a look at the National League
West standings before they get too weepy.  Yes, the Jints may
have averted a humiliating sweep at the hands of the hated
Dodgers by the barest of margins--  but yesterday's 8-7
face- and series-saving win did, for the moment at least, knock
the boys in blue into the division cellar. Yep, the 'best team
money can buy' is, at present, dead last.

Meanwhile, the Giants' inability to take advantage of their
thirteen-game homestand (5-5 so far) has thankfully been matched
by division leader Arizona's similar home-field ineptitude.
The 'Snakes' finally won a game yesterday, but in the meantime the
entire division has closed up to where only 7 1/2 games separate first
from last. Colorado, which had been the hottest team in the league,
has been supplanted in that respect by those zany, back-from-the-dead
Padres, who've won nine straight games. They're only seven back--
and only a game and a half out of third.

What positives can we take out of the weekend mish-mash? Well,
for starters, Shawn Estes' gutty eight-inning performance Friday
night, in a near-hopeless cause against Giant-killer Kevin Brown.
It wasn't that Estes was overpowering; he wasn't by a long shot. It's
that he refused to cave in early or to come apart late. Despite the
loss, it was his third straight impressive start, and as a result the
club actually came closer to beating Brown than at any time since Game One
of the 1997 playoffs.

If Friday's loss was the kind a team can take heart from, Saturday's
loss was the kind that can rip a team's heart out.   The 'Stick went
from roaring delirium to stunned silence in a matter of minutes, as
Ellis Burks' majestic, soaring three-run homer was brutally upstaged
by Todd Hundley's no-doubt-about-it three-run cannon shot.   The Giants
had been blowing opportunities on both offense and defense all day, and
looked to be on the verge of another in the eighth. Burks,
fresh off the disabled list, stepped up in the direst of circumstance,
and delivered. When he connected, he skied it so high we were sure it
would die in mid-center field; instead that ball just kept going.  But it
will be a long time before John Johnstone forgets how Hundley took him
downtown in the ninth. The veteran catcher is clearly a defensive liability,
but his two-homer day underscored the fact that he hit the ball hard all
series long.

We've seen teams tank the entire season after losing a game like
that; the Giants instead came out Sunday and immediately began
pounding the ball.  Chan Ho Park threw everything but the kitchen
sink up there and none of it mattered; what few pitches made it over
the plate went sailing right back out again. J.T. Snow had the big
blow, a three-run shot in the fourth, and Burks followed with another
moon shot to deepest center.  It was 7-2 after six with Mark Gardner
plugging along, but Dusty Baker was quick to summon the bullpen
in the seventh, and for the rest of the torturous evening it appeared
that Saturday Part II was in the works. Fittingly, on a day when balls were
crushed from one end of the field to the other, it was a softly-hit but
well-placed double from Brent Mayne that plated the eventual winning run.

We've never been big fans of either the stolen base or Marvin Benard as
an everyday leadoff man, but Benard's eighth-inning adventure on
Saturday showed how the stolen base can be, in specific circumstances, a
devastating weapon.  First taking second, then stealing third, nearly
scoring on a fouled-off squeeze bunt, and finally coming in on a short
sac fly, Marvin completely rattled the Dodgers with his speed. We'd
still prefer  Bill Mueller batting leadoff and Benard used as fourth
outfielder and pinch hitter, but that was a thrilling sequence indeed.  

Everybody likes relief pitchers who crank it up there and throw strikes,
but we forget that the cost of challenging hitters is often paid out in
home runs.  As Jerry Spradlin took the mound Sunday, Mike Krukow noted
that he'd struck out 28 batters in 23 innings-- "a sure sign," quoth the
Kruke, "that he's dealin' it." Moments later Gary Sheffield launched one
into the cheap seats; Krukow, sensibly, chose not to comment.

Some fans will remember Roger Craig's ill-advised experiment with
famed plate-nibbler Mike "Big-Loss" LaCoss as the Giants' closer
early in 1989.  After several excruciating ninth-inning walk-a-thons,
including at least two with the score tied and the bases loaded, Al
Rosen went out and got Steve Bedrosian, who threw strikes.  The
Giants' current bullpen corps all throw hard and straight, but this
weekend revealed the other side of the coin, from Hundley's shot
Saturday to Sheffield's and finally Todd Hollandsworth's (off Robb Nen)
on Sunday. With the Colorado Rockies coming to town, let's hope our
late-inning crew has gotten it out of their collective system.  After
all, many of us remember Vinny Castilla, Todd Helton, and-- gag-- Neifi

David Malbuff is editor and publisher of Giants Complete Breakdown, a 
monthly statistical newsletter devoted exclusively to the San Francisco 
Giants. Among other things, he is an Internet entrepreneur and a 
lifelong Giants fan.

June 18, 1999

Third Time's a Charm... Maybe

Barry Bonds drove in the winning run in the Giants' taut,
nail-biting 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs last night. Esthetically, it
wasn't much at all; a weak little nubber that barely made it through the
infield. Marvin Benard came around to score and that was the ballgame,
but the RBI capped a strange night for Bonds, one in which he somehow
dominated the action despite looking consistently awful
at the plate.

Bonds struck out three times, including one in the  seventh that helped
kill a promising rally.  No matter what anyone says, his tender elbow
appears to still be bothering him.  But one of the measures of a truly
great player is whether he can affect, even dominate, a game in more
than one way.  In Bonds' second at-bat-- against the three-time former
Giant, back-from-the-dead Terry Mulholland-- he drew a walk. Jeff
Kent then popped an innocent little fly ball into center, and when Sammy
Sosa played it casual, Bonds alertly hustled to second. He scored the
Giants' first run as a direct result of that play. A few innings
later, with Chicago holding a 2-1 lead, Bonds' perfectly-timed leap at
the left-field fence robbed Mark Grace of a home run that might well
have been the game-winner.

And sure enough, there were fans on the Giants newsgroup this
morning ready to trade Bonds.  He hasn't been hitting since his return
from the DL, and the vultures already are circling.  Apparently there
are more than a few fans out there unwilling to admit that Bonds is a
great player, perhaps the greatest of his time. Why?

One rap leveled against Bonds has been that his teams have never won
'the big one'; and indeed, Bonds never has played in a World Series. But
in baseball, a team is put together to win over the long
haul, a full 162-game season, not necessarily a five- or seven-game
series.  By that standard, Bonds' teams have been consistent winners.
The Pirates won three straight division titles with Bonds from
1990-1992, a great accomplishment in this era of free agency; they
haven't approached that level since.  The Giants won a division crown in
1997, missed the postseason by one game in both 1993 and 1998, and are
likely to be in the hunt all this year, too.  The Pirates declined when
Bonds left; the Giants dramatically improved when he arrived.   That the
club managed to hold itself together this year during his absence is a
tribute to their spirit and determination, not evidence that Bonds is
overrated. Let's recognize him for the great player he is.

Mulholland was sharp for six innings before losing it in the seventh. It
was reminscent of his last start as a Giant-- that big September
stretch-drive win against the Dodgers the night before Brian Johnson hit
the legendary 12th-inning homer.  Though it appeared the Giants signed
him that year primarily to keep him away from other contenders, it had
to be a happier time than his previous tour of duty here. That was in
'95, after the Giants had torched their starting rotation in the
offseason and Mulholland suddenly found himself the staff 'ace' in
spring training. He endured a nightmarish year as probably the worst
starting pitcher in the major leagues, and actually 'quit' the game at
one point.  But lefthanders these days have more lives than your average

Mulholland's career has never been the same since he left a successful
situation in Philadelphia for the Yankees.  Traded from the
Giants to the Phils as part of the Steve Bedrosian deal in 1989, he
paid his old team back a year later with a no-hitter that effectively
ended the  Giants' 1990 season, and by 1994 he had quietly become one of
the best lefties in the National League.  Now he's bravely hanging in
there, a beneficiary of expansion and diluted talent.  It was almost
enough last night, but not quite.

Notes: Kirk Rueter gave the Giants seven strong innings, the team's
third 'quality start' in four games.  With the next 13 games at home and
the starters pitching well, it's time for the Giants to put a winning
streak together... One move the club needs to make is to get young
Armando Rios into the lineup somewhere every day... We've said it before
and we'll say it again: Marvin Benard is an outstanding part-timer and
pinch-hitter, but he's not an effective everyday starter. Can you say,
'Mike Felder', boys and girls? We knew you could... Shawn Estes is due to
start Saturday afternoon at the 'Stick, and that's a Good Thing.  In
four daytime starts at home, Estes is 3-0 with a 3.74 ERA, allowing 16
hits while fanning 24 in 24 innings.  In all other starts, he is 0-4,
6.45, 59H and 44K in 51 innings.

David Malbuff is editor and publisher of Giants Complete Breakdown, a 
monthly statistical newsletter devoted exclusively to the San Francisco  
Giants. Among other things, he is an Internet entrepreneur and a  
lifelong Giants fan.

June 24, 1999

Days of Whine and Neuroses
At what age do kids form sports loyalties these days? Do they stick
with their favorites through thick and thin, or do they ditch them
at the first sign of trouble and move on to the new flavor of the month?  
With a pair o' young'uns here in the house, we suppose we'll find out soon  
enough.  But we can tell you that if it's someone other than the Giants,  
they'll be in for some rough sledding.  We can relate to that, for  
reasons that will become clear shortly.
This comes to mind because the Hated Foe, the Archenemy, the very Los  
Angeles Dodgers themselves, have come to town for a three-game set-to  
that begins tomorrow night and concludes with a nationally-televised 
late-afternoon battle on Sunday.  Though despised
by Giant fans everywhere on general principle, the 'Dogs' are especially  
easy to loathe this year, since owner/lout Rupert Murdoch has decided to  
go the 'Huizenga route' and attempt to buy himself a championship. 
We'll pause smugly here to note that at the present time, it ain't  
exactly going according to plan. Aw, shucks.
But here we have this issue of lifelong fan loyalties. For us, the die 
was cast at age nine, shortly after we moved to the Bay Area, when
we adopted the Giants.  That was in 1965, the year Willie Mays hit 52
homers, including a league-record 17 in August, and won the MVP
Award.  It was the year of the 'Roseboro-Marichal Incident'.   The
Giants won thirteen straight games in August and took over the league
lead.  But the Dodgers won fourteen straight in September, and took
the pennant by two games.

In those days, the league carried only ten teams, and each played the
others eighteen times-- plenty of occasions for both players and fans to  
develop a healthy dislike for one another.  Even when the divisions came  
along in 1969, intra-division rivals still met 18 times a year. The  
current  farcical schedule, in which the Giants and Dodgers meet barely  
a dozen times, is not enough to sustain your average rivalry. But this  
one is anything but average.

It wasn't set in stone that we'd become a Giants fan just because we
relocated-- briefly, as it turned out-- to the area. You see, our Dad had 
been born in LA and grew up in Long Beach; he was a Dodger fan.  
We had some very interesting discussions in the house during those days.   
Very interesting indeed.   

Though we do regularly dis the Dodgers, our behavior is mild compared
with that of the average Giant fan, whose open loathing for all things 
LA often reaches a near-pathological state.  The apex of our
Dodger-hatred probably occurred in the late Seventies, when the Steve 
Garvey/Ron Cey/Bill Russell/Don Sutton Dodgers regularly ate the Giants' 
But truth be told, we've actually cheered for the Dodgers on occasion,  
mostly  in the World Series.  For instance, once that '65 pennant race  
was in the book, we-- as well as most of our friends, all Giants fans--  
immediately pulled for the Dodgers in the Series against Minnesota that  
year, which LA did win in seven. And as recently as 1988,
we were openly rooting for Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, and the rest of
'em to beat the A's.  

(Okay, we can explain that last one. Actually, there is-- or was-- one  
team we hated far more than the Dodgers, and that was the New York Mets  
of the '80s. In fact, once we started pulling for the Dodgers in that '88  
LCS, it just got hard to stop. I mean, who wouldn't root for Orel and his  
plucky band of  underdogs against those smug, self-satisfied-- well,   
that's enough digression.)

We'll spend little time on the just-concluded Milwaukee series/debacle, which sucked all the momentum out of that stirring weekend sweep of the Cubs. As we told someone on the Giants newsgroup this morning, that Brewer series was guaranteed trouble, coming as it did between the emotional Cub games and the impending Dodger showdown.  But to lose three straight to a club whose motto might be 'The Relentless Pursuit of Mediocrity' galls all the same.  This 13-game homestand is the Giants' longest of the year; it is their golden opportunity to Make A Move.  Said move will be much harder to make now.

Flash forward twenty years: new grandpa Hideo Nomo is still pitching in  
the big leagues, under contract to one of the teams in the NL Pacific  
Division-- and used only against the Giants, whom he has now beaten 47 

Speaking of pitchers who own the Giants, Kevin Brown opens the LA
series against Shawn Estes.  If you chalk that up as a guaranteed loss,  
Saturday's and Sunday's games become absolutely critical. The
Dodgers right now now are a collection of talent in search of a team; it 
would not be wise to give them the opportunity to find such this  
weekend.  And conversely, a Giant sweep might be the proverbial
back-breaker.  A minimum two out of three is in order here.

Today's off-day gives Dusty Baker a choice regarding his weekend
rotation. Chris Brock has been downright awful in his past two starts,
and Dusty might skip Brock's turn altogether, using Mark Gardner
on Saturday and Kirk Rueter Sunday evening.  However, Gardner and
Rueter both threw in excess of 125 pitches in their last starts.  For
that matter, Russ Ortiz, excused after only 67 pitches yesterday,
probably would be fresh for Sunday.  

Sunday's game is not only the ESPN Game of the Week, it's also the  
occasion of a big promotion at the 'Stick featuring the Giants of  
the 1980s.  Oddly enough, the '80s were the decade in which the Giants  
began to tip the balance against the Dodgers, who until then had been  
the dominant team in the rivalry since both clubs moved West. Will the 
presence of Jeffrey Leonard, Mike Krukow, Dave Dravecky et. al. make a 
difference? We'll find out.

David Malbuff is editor and publisher of Giants Complete Breakdown, a  
monthly statistical newsletter devoted exclusively to the San Francisco  
Giants. Among other things, he is an Internet entrepreneur and a  
lifelong Giants fan.

July 5, 1999
The Spotlight Kid
Russ Ortiz' complete-game six-hit 4-1 victory over San
Diego tonight, his tenth win of the season, is the stuff 
of which All-Star Game invitations are made. Not that
Ortiz will necessarily make the squad-- six other N.L.
pitchers sport ten or more wins-- but by any measure this 
was one fine piece of work.  Ten strikeouts and two walks:
if you use Bill James' Game Score method, it grades out
to 79, a very fine mark indeed.  The mind's eye reviews 
those numbers and sees a pitcher at the top of his game,
in complete control from start to finish.

Yet it wasn't necessarily that way. There  were three occasions, one 
in each of the typically-treacherous middle innings, which saw Ortiz 
on extremely shaky ground.  It could be argued that his teammates, 
and even his opponents, made or failed to make the critical plays 
that actually determined the outcome of the game.

In the fourth Ortiz lost control of his fastball and his breaking
pitch; at one point he threw six straight balls and prompted a 
quick, unscheduled visit to the mound from Dusty Baker. After
walking Reggie Sanders with one out and then falling behind 
John Vander Wal before allowing a base hit, Ortiz faced Dave
Magadan. Two on, his control deserting him, and Magadan, who
is in the major leagues only because he can hit, one swing
away from  tying the game.  That swing, though, produced a 
tepid roller to second which Jeff Kent shoveled to Rich Aurilia,
who relayed to first in time to get the extremely slow Magadan
for a double play to end it.   Nineteen out of twenty major leaguers
beat that relay and keep the inning alive; Ortiz found the twentieth.

In the fifth, J.T. Snow made one of the most dazzlingly beautiful
plays we've ever seen, fielding a good sacrifice bunt from Padre
pitcher Brian Boehringer and immediately firing a strike to
Aurilia at second to cut down the lead runner. The throw was so
perfect Aurilia caught it in stride and doubled Boehringer at
first-- inning over!  The play at second on a sac bunt is generally
one of the stupidest and most low-percentage fielders' choices
available, but Snow simply redefines those percentages out of
existence. Vic Power, Wes Parker, Keith Hernandez-- we saw
them all, and none of them had anything defensively on J.T. Snow. 

Then in the sixth Ortiz seemed to weaken, allowing consecutive
two-out hits, the second a rolling gapper which scored Sanders
with the Padres' first-- and, as it turned out, only-- run.  Wally 
Joyner, the tying run at the plate, turned on one and lifted it
deep to right. The crowd thought it was gone, but he'd uppercut 
it a bit too much, and it settled into Ellis Burks' glove at
the wall. Poker-faced Ortiz walked off the mound knowing he'd
dodged a big one.

For a lot of pitchers, including most of the Giants' starters,
that would have been it for the evening. We'd have seen the
Tavarez-Rodriguez-Johnstone-Nen parade the rest of the way.
But Ortiz-- and here's the difference-- toughened up over the
last three innings.  Circumstance and good defense had seen
him through six; by the ninth it was as if he didn't need anyone
else out there.  'One bad inning' is the theme song for so many
talented pitchers who don't make it; Ortiz never had that inning
last night.

Did anyone else blow a big honking sigh of relief when Charlie
Hayes went on the DL last week?  Hayes, so valuable off the
bench a year ago, has been a veritable boat-anchor this year.
His offensive numbers barely match those of the Giants' pitchers,
his defense has ranged from simply bad to truly terrible, and
he hasn't exactly been a ball o' fire in the attitude department
either.   Perhaps his poor play has been 'covering' for an injury
or injuries all along.   Certainly Ellis Burks' performance since
returning from the DL has given weight to the notion that a little
enforced idle time is not necessarily a Bad Thing.

Speaking of Giant pitchers at the plate, after Ortiz' two-hit
two-RBI stint last night the staff is hitting an aggregate .326
with eight RBI in their last nineteen games.  When was the
last time a pitching staff knocked the ball around with such

David Malbuff is editor and publisher of Giants Complete Breakdown, a  
monthly statistical newsletter devoted exclusively to the San Francisco  
Giants. Among other things, he is an Internet entrepreneur and a  
lifelong Giants fan.

July 28, 1999
Everything You Know Is Wrong

Livan Hernandez made his first start in Giants uniform today,
and while we're sure all of you wished the result had turned
out a little better, does anyone doubt this guy can pitch?
If anything, he was overthrowing the ball in the sixth when
things came unglued, and still the Cardinals only stung one
ball off him. (Then again, when you sting it with the bases
loaded, one may be all you need.)

There's been a fair amount of weeping and wailing over
Brian Sabean's deal, which sent two Number One pitching
prospects-- Jason Grilli and Nate Bump-- to Florida in return
for Hernandez.  And if Hernandez were some well-traveled 
retread on his seventh ballclub, or if he were a high-priced
rent-a-pitcher hired for two months, we'd be leading the

But let's look at it, sports fans.  Hernandez is a mere 24 years
old, and he's already shown he can pitch big-time ball. All of
us remember the pivotal Game Two of the '97 playoff series,
and then there's his standout performance in the World Series
that year. At 24-- barely a year or two older than the prospects
Sabean paid for him-- he's a proven commodity. However
many glowing predictions we may hear about how Grilli or Bump
might do, let's remember that Hernandez has already done them.

Yes, he still has to do them now, for the Giants, not two years ago
for the Marlins.  But the question is not whether Hernandez is
Superman, it's whether he was worth the price.

And as far as minor-league pitchers go, Joe Nathan is still very
much a Giant.

Hernandez arrives at a critical time for the Giants' pitching staff.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we all thought we had these guys
pegged. But lately the players and their roles have become
less distinct, and that means further changes might be forthcoming.

Take Mark Gardner, for instance. He's supposed to be the
beloved, battle-scarred  veteran who no longer has it, and whose
posterior is about to encounter the exit door. So what happens?
He puts together a strong start the very day the team trades for the
guy who most expect to replace him.  And Chris Brock? You'd call
that a timely injury, wouldn't you-- except that Brock was in
middle of his best start in at least a month when his knee popped.

Kirk Rueter is the guy who's consistently inconsistent, leavening
his usual middling six-inning stint with the occasional meltdown on
one side and the occasional gem-- like yesterday's-- on the other.
Shawn Estes continues to pitch like Sandy Koufax in day games
at home-- and like Sandra Koufax the rest of the time.  That leaves
Russ Ortiz, the young workhorse, who despite his fine season is
still prone to fits  of overthrowing, as we saw in his last start.

The Giants' pitching strategy, simplified, boils down to this: keep
the team in the game so we can turn it over to Robb Nen in the
ninth. You may have noticed that this hasn't been working so well
of late. Whether it's injury, lack of confidence, or some unholy
combination of the two, Nen's last few appearances have been
cringe-worthy. Last Saturday's nightmarish ninth-- what was it,
two errors, or three? and a wild pitch to boot?-- seemed to leave 
a curse on the mound; enough so that when Nen came on in the
14th the next day, the question was not whether he'd lose it but
simply how.  We've noted before that the price of power pitching
is the occasional untimely solo homer-- but there's a limit beyond
which a reliever is simply not getting the job done.

We saw it with Rod Beck in 1997.  Doubtless Dusty Baker didn't
expect to be facing it again so soon, but he is.  And this time
it's John Johnstone waiting in the wings, with an ERA half the size
of Nen's.  And though Nen officially was not available last night,
having pitched four games in a row, Johnstone certainly stepped up
and seized the opportunity.

The real concern here is that Sabean, with the trading deadline only
hours away, will fell pressured to make a panic move for another
closer.  There are only so many Roberto Hernandezes out there.
This is a case where the Giants need to suck it up and play the
hand they've been dealt.  With Nathan waiting in the wings and
Livan Hernandez on the staff, the Giants' starting corps looks
solid-- and young-- for the first time in ages.  Let's hope cool heads
prevail in this situation.

David Malbuff is editor and publisher of Giants Complete Breakdown,  
monthly statistical newsletter devoted exclusively to the San Francisco  
Giants. Among other things, he is an Internet entrepreneur and a  
lifelong Giants fan.

August 23, 1999

Team of the '90s

One hundred Bay Area sportswriters and associated
media maniacs cast their votes a few weeks ago and came
up with an 11-player Giants 'Team of the Nineties' roster.
Since we weren't invited to participate, we'll use this forum
now to tear apart-- er, comment upon-- the selections made,
and perhaps even offer up some rationale for our own choices.
First, let's list the 'Giants of the Nineties' as voted by the media
panel: catcher Kirt Manwaring, first baseman Will Clark, second
baseman Jeff Kent, third baseman Matt Williams, shortstop
Royce Clayton, outfielders Barry Bonds, Darren Lewis, and
Willie McGee, starting pitchers John Burkett and Shawn Estes,
and reliever Rod Beck.
Notice that nine of those eleven, including seven of the eight
position players, were starters on that great 1993 team which won
103 games, lost the division to Atlanta by a single game, and--
no apologies here-- would surely have been the first Giants team to win  
a world championship since 1954 had Atlanta not made its awesome stretch drive.  We've followed every Giants team since 1965, and we believe that '93 club was the best of 'em all.
But nine of eleven? Does that really hold up? Let's take it
position by position.
Media choice: Kirt Manwaring
Our choice: Kirt Manwaring 
A fine defensive catcher,  Manwaring wrenched the starting
job away from Steve Decker in 1991 and held it for six years,
longer than Dick Dietz, Tom Haller, or even the beloved Bob Brenly.     
No real competition here.

First Base
Media choice: Will Clark
Our choice: Will Clark
This is a no-brainer, isn't it? Will's 1990 and 1991 seasons 
were MVP-quality, the position became an absolute black hole
after he left in '94, and the recent high-priced signing of J.T. Snow
makes a whole lot more sense when you consider it in this
context.  Amazingly, Todd Benzinger, Mark Carreon, and Mike
Felder (who never played first base) each received a vote! Were
they serving giggle juice in the press box, or what?
Second base
Media choice: Jeff Kent
Our choice: Jeff Kent
No disrespect to Robby Thompson, who gave the Giants four
fine years (including one great year) at the start of the decade,
but Kent's back-to-back 120-RBI seasons and his continuing
leadership are simply overwhelming. Besides, Robby's
a landslide choice for the Giants' Eighties team.

Third Base
Media choice: Matt Williams
Our choice: Matt Williams
Matt not only wins here, he's our choice for best major-league third  
baseman of the '90s.

Media choice: Royce Clayton
Our choice: Royce Clayton
Again, a default choice. Clayton started four straight years and 
part of a fifth; none of the others (Uribe, Vizcaino, Dunston) had
more than one. Ditto incumbent Rich Aurilia. A fine fielder who 
had the good sense to have his best offensive year in '93 along
with several teammates, Clayton was solid and dependable, if

Left Field
Media choice: Barry Bonds
Our choice: Barry Bonds
We'll have more to say about Barry when we discuss the
All-Century team.

Center Field
Media choice: Darren Lewis
Our choice: Brett Butler
Darryl Hamilton got more votes than Butler. Unbelievable. OK,
he only played one year here in the '90s, and that was 1990,
but Brett Butler is the only legitimately great player in this
otherwise undistinguished group. Lewis was terrific defensively
(though no better than Butler), and he held the position for four
seasons, far longer than any other candidate. But Lewis' career
season offensively ('93 again) would have been a disaster for
Butler, and the longer Lewis played, the worse he hit. The Giants'
inability to find a good leadoff man after Butler only reinforces 
his value. Ordinarily we'd resist naming  anyone who played only
one season, but in this case...

Right Field
Media choice: Willie McGee
Our choice: Ellis Burks

C'mon folks, Burks has done more in one year (since last July)
than McGee did here in three. People point to his batting title, his
MVP award, his playoff experience--  but all those things were
done elsewhere. Here, he was signed to replace Brett Butler
as center fielder in perhaps Al Rosen's single most 
calamitous decision. It's not that McGee was a bad ballplayer;
it's that so many think he was a great player.  He's clearly a great
guy and a good teammate, but the numbers don't lie. Right field has been  
a problem area for the Giants since 1988; Burks again is the best of a  
rather undistinguished group despite his short tenure.

Right-Handed Starter
Media choice: John Burkett
Our choice: John Burkett

No offense to Bill Swift, whose 1993 season was probably
the best by any Giant pitcher since Juan Marichal, but Burkett was
a solid, dependable starter for five straight years, many of them
lean ones. And his own '93 season was outstanding (though helped
by great offensive support).  The team has been looking for his
type of consistency ever since.

Left-Handed Starter
Media choice: Shawn Estes
Our choice: Kirk Rueter

Estes' great 1997 season won him this vote, but Rueter's two
consistent years in Giant uniform impress us more. It's an  
indication of how thin this field is that these two are the only
legitimate candidates.

Media choice: Rod Beck
Our choice: Rod Beck
Though his every appearance from 1994-1997 was cause for
fear and trembling, Beck's 1993 campaign was perhaps the most
heroic of any San Francisco pitcher: 47 saves, including three on
the final weekend as he battled a painful hip injury. And then there's
the 'Brian Johnson Game' of 1997. Big Rodney, along with Barry Bonds,  
practically defines the Giants of this decade.

So there you have it.  Not much difference, really, between our
choices and the official ones. With Butler leading off and Burks
providing extra power, though, we believe this team would beat that one 
four out of five.  So there!

David Malbuff is editor and publisher of Giants Complete Breakdown,
a monthly statistical newsletter devoted exclusively to the San  
Francisco Giants. Among other things, he is an Internet entrepreneur 
and a lifelong Giants fan.

August 31, 1999

Take Your 'Stick and Ring My 'Bell

The Giants will open their millennial season next year against the Dodgers
on April 11 at the new downtown ballpark, officially known as Pacific Bell
Park, heretofore known as The 'Bell within these prosaic confines.  The
stadium superstructure is in place, the thing is actually starting to look like
a baseball field, and, according to team owner Peter Magowan, everything
is on track, construction-wise.

(If only everything were on track, baseball-wise... but never mind, we'll deal
 with that later. Those pesky Diamondbacks-- no, later, we said, OK?) 

From the 'Stick to the 'Bell-- that has a nice ring to it, don't you think? (We 
never could get comfortable with The 'Com, anyway. And, just wondering: 
does the 3Com deal still hold if only the 49ers play there?  Will they renew
their sponsorship? Or will football fans be flocking to, say, Sybase Stadium
or Netscape Field or York Peppermint Park a year from now?) 

Magowan surprised some people by predicting the Giants would play more
daytime games at the 'Bell next season than they did at the 'Stick this year.
Private funding, a heavy debt load, and demographic trends being what they
are, a lot of us assumed no weekday games at all, but that may not be the 
case. Given the realities of San Francisco summer weather, it's a heads-up 
call. Sure, the 'Bell won't be subjected to the howling gales of Candlestick Point, but no City location is immune to cold and fog on summer evenings, and the new-stadium magic might fade a lot sooner if it's accompanied by grumblings about same-old same-old weather.

Downtown day games will, however, have an impact on traffic, parking,
MUNI, and BART travel. (That's like saying Indians had an impact on General Custer.)  Thirty thousand fans hitting the streets and train stations at about four o'clock or so?  Is anybody studying this, or, dare we ask, prepared for it? 

Not that weekday evening games would be a solution, or even an
improvement.  There you'd have a situation where fans would be charging into a transportation infrastructure that's already saturated.  Gridlock versus
Son Of Gridlock.  

So it makes sense to focus on scheduling games for the fans' and players'
benefit, and by that standard day games are clearly preferable anywhere in 
San Francisco.  Long ago we swore off night games at the 'Stick for ourselves; the Croix de Candlestick was a fine idea in its conception, but few small children have the endurance or the desire to earn one.  And baseball, we believe, is and always will be about kids, not grizzled beer-soaked thirty-year veterans of the upper deck or, for that matter, luxury-box-owning corporate executives. 

The 'Stick on a weekday was one of  San Francisco's best-kept secrets for
years (and judging by some of the recent attendance figures, it still is.) All the misery and discomfort which has made the place legend vanishes the moment your eyes greet that sun-washed swath of emerald green at high noon. It's a fine place to spend an afternoon, but let's not get too misty-eyed. The 'Bell, with her convenient location and new facilities, will be several orders of magnitude finer.  

Candlestick Memories, Part XXIV: One fine afternoon, or so the story goes, a
fan in the lower boxes called out to the beer vendor, "Hey buddy, got any wine?" (This being San Francisco and all.) (And this also being prior to the Riot That Ended All Alcohol Sales.) The vendor came over. "Sure," he replied. "We got red and we got white." "Hmmm, too bad," mused the fan. "No rose?" "Well, no," responded the enterprising vendor, "but if you'll hold on for a minute, I'll mix you some."

David Malbuff is editor and publisher of Giants Complete Breakdown, a
monthly statistical newsletter devoted exclusively to the San Francisco Giants.
Among other things, he is an Internet entrepreneur and a lifelong Giants fan.

September 10, 1999
The Fearsome Foursome?

Sports columnist Glenn Dickey, writing recently in the San Francisco Chronicle, paused briefly to dismiss the Giants' 1999 pennant hopes before warming to his subject, one that's been raised by fans and media types alike: the team will enter its new era at Pacific Bell Park next year with a starting rotation that has the potential to be the best in San Francisco history.

Shawn Estes, Russ Ortiz, Livan Hernandez, and rookie Joe Nathan all are 25 years old or younger, all have strong, live arms, all have been or currently are being seasoned in a pennant race-- and all are under contract, at least for a while. We can't remember the last time the Giants had such an impressive group of young pitchers.  Throughout the Al Rosen/Roger Craig renaissance and continuing through Dusty Baker's tenure, the Giants have consistently relied on experienced veteran starters, such as Mike Krukow, Mike LaCoss, Rick Reuschel, Dave Dravecky, Don Robinson, Bud Black, Bill Swift, Mark Leiter, and Mark Gardner, while using up or trading away young starters, John Burkett being a notable exception.  Results have varied from excellent to poor, while turnover has remained high. Now things look dramatically different.    

This will be critical as the team gets underway in its new stadium. Despite all the talk about its cozy confines and balmy weather, the 'Bell is likely, as are virtually all sea-level fields, to be a pitchers' park. Just like Candlestick/3Com. That's right,  the Giants have been playing in a pitchers' park for the past 40 years. And yet, what is the one constant that defines just about every San Francisco team, from the 'Three-M' days of the '60s to this very moment?

Hitting. Offense. Scoring lots of runs. A lineup of sluggers bailing out a so-so pitching staff.  Excepting only the Joe Altobelli team of the late '70s, the Giants have always hit to win, despite the handicap of their home park. In their 1989 pennant year, the Giants were second in the league in runs scored, a remarkable achievement. (Number One were their playoff opponents, the Cubs, playing in baseball's best hitters' park before Coors Field.)

Contrast with LA, who also play in a pitchers' park and who have concentrated, for most of their 38 years there, on developing strong starting rotations. (We don't claim to know what-all they're concentrating on these days.)  Contrast the overall record of the two clubs since they came West.  Notice anything different?

"But the Dodgers have always had strong pitching!" you cry. "It's their tradition!"  Not so. Playing in Brooklyn, in a great hitters' park, they fielded a lineup of sluggers and a thin starting rotation. Sound familiar? How about those Giants of the '60s, with Marichal, Perry, and 'five guys named Harry'.  Or the '89 Giants: 'Reuschel, La Coss, and everyone else on Blue Cross'.  Or '93: 'Burkett and Swift-- and pray for the earth to shift'.

We can't rewrite history, but we can't help wondering: what if the Giants had concentrated on their pitching all those years, to take advantage of their ballpark?  We realize it's not that simple; if your farm system gives you guys like Cepeda, McCovey, Bobby Bonds, the Clarks, and Williams, youi're gonna play those guys.  But the Giants haven't had four 15-game winners on their staff since 1962, and what excites us is that for the first time since then, the team has that kind of potential. These guys can bring it-- Estes was clocked at 95 in the eighth inning last week-- and they're young.

Checkin' Out Dept: Just hours before the September 1 roster expansion, the Giants traded Stan Javier to Houston for minor-league pitcher Joe Messman. The move makes sense: Javier wasn't doing much here, at 36 it was unlikely he'd be back next year, and the 'Stros were desperate for experienced outfield help.  But it's also a class move by Brian Sabean, giving Stan a chance to play in another World Series and perhaps to shine in the playoffs and swing a better deal for next season.  Over on the Giants newsgroup, little was said about Javier's performance but many people commented on his good humor, his positive attitude, his affection for fans (especially kids), and his general sportsmanlike demeanor. His dad, Julian,  was a class act on those great Cardinal teams of the '60s, and Stan appears to be cut from the same cloth. The game needs more like him.

And finally, we received the news of Jim Hunter's passing with genuine sadness. When 'Catfish' burst on to the scene as an unknown 22-year-old rookie in 1968, wearing one of Charlie Finley's gaudy green uniforms and pitching a perfect game, for heaven's sake, some dismissed it as merely further proof of the sport's decline. But Catfish had the last laugh. He was a great pitcher for over a decade, winning 20 or more games five straight years, a feat that eluded even Juan Marichal. Outstanding in five World Series, a model of consistency, and the leader of a great pitching staff, Jim Hunter deserves mention among the top right-handers of all time.

David Malbuff has been following the San Francisco Giants since the days of Ron Herbel. 

September 21, 1999

How Do You Spell Relief?

Certainly the Giants missed John Johnstone last night. The ailing reliever could only watch as teammates Alan Embree and Jerry Spradlin combined to lose a tough one in the ninth inning to the Dodgers.  While Embree has had a good season on balance and has shown poise in pressure situations, the bottom of the ninth in a tie game was clearly unfamiliar territory for Spradlin. This was Johnstone's turf before he went down with an injury. With the pennant race a fading memory, there's no reason to rush Johnstone back and risk further damage, but right now the team is unable to replace him.

While it's doubtful many Giant fans cheered when Spradlin was summoned from the bullpen, it is interesting to note that Dusty Baker did not choose to go with Robb Nen.   We might guess that Dusty was saving Nen in the event of extra innings, but the Dodgers' best hitters were batting there in the ninth; it was LA's best shot to win, as indeed they did.  Perhaps Baker was thinking of something else, something along the line of tendencies.  We haven't been big fans of the way the Giants handle their bullpen, but perhaps they're on to something late in the year.  

Different relief pitchers have different strengths, and we're not talking about arm strength, velocity, or variety.  Reviewing the Giants' relievers' stats, we see that some pitchers work better with men on base than others. To put it another way, some relievers pitch better when starting off an inning, while
others perform best when called upon in the middle of a frame with men already on base. Nen is an example of the former, and Rich Rodriguez of the latter. Nen allows more than half the runners he inherits to score.  R.R., however, pitches his best with men on base; of the 43 runners he's inherited, only 8 have scored on his watch.

Excruciating examples of each used the wrong way abound. There was Nen last month, entering in relief of Shawn Estes with one on and one out in the ninth, and wild-pitching a run home. There was Rodriguez' deer-in-the-headlights look during that 15-4 debacle in Atlanta when he started the sixth and allowed five runs without retiring a batter-- absent that little escapade, his ERA would be almost a full run lower.

The Giants' bullpen breaks down thusly: Nen, Johnstone, and Felix Rodriguez work best when starting an inning.  Embree, Rich Rodriguez, and Spradlin work best in the middle of an inning with men on base. (Tavarez bites the big one in both situations.) Sure, there are counter-examples for each, but over the course of a season this is how it works out.

If anyone had any doubt this is not Robb Nen's year, consider this: Nen has not pitched a single three-up three-down ninth inning in a save situation all season.

In fact Nen, in seventy appearances, has pitched only four three-up three-down innings of any kind in 1999.  Only one of those was a save situation-- and that was 'way back on April 27, when he retired all three batters in the bottom of the tenth as the Giants won, 3-2, over the Expos in Montreal.

Over on the Giants newsgroup, a fan noted that Nen can't seem to face three batters in an inning without letting one of them get on base. That was our impression, too, but we thought that, like most such impressions, it was exaggerated. Not so.  It's closer to a lead-pipe cinch.

David Malbuff has been following the San Francisco Giants since the days of Ron Herbel. 

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