Monday, February 23, 2015

KNUCKLEBALL: a dark tale for Giants fans

San Francisco writer Tom Pitts graciously sent me a review copy of his new novella, Knuckleball. It's the latest release from One Eye Press. The story is set in the Mission District and a Giants-Dodgers series at AT&T Park forms the backdrop for the action. In fact the book is organized by "Game One", "Game Two", and "Game Three" (as well as "Extra Innings" and "Post-Game") instead of by numbered chapters. If you aren't familiar with Pitts' previous work--Piggyback and Hustle, both from Snubnose Press--you should know this is neo-noir, contemporary crime fiction with a particularly gritty, street-level outlook. It's not Field of Dreams! It is however a dream by the protagonist, high school sophomore Oscar Flores, that sends him down his fateful path. Tormented by a vicious older brother, hemmed in by a neighborhood overrun with drug dealers, and frustrated by his mother's inability to get ahead despite hard work and long hours, Oscar seeks solace by following his beloved Giants. At a critical point in the first game of the series an idealistic young cop, Hugh Patterson, is viciously gunned down by an unknown assailant. As citizens and the police come to grips with the tragedy and search for the killer, Oscar makes a decision that will change his life forever.

Baseball fans know that a knuckler is hard to hit because of its unpredictability. Knuckleball, indeed, keeps you guessing with plot twists aplenty. Unlike the pitch it is fast-paced and written in a brisk, no-nonsense style that moves the story forward fluidly and with a sense of urgency. I read the book out loud to my wife Sue over the weekend and found it easy to catch the rhythm of the prose and get in tune with the dialogue. In the acknowledgments at the front of the book Pitts mentions that the Bryan Stow incident was an "impetus" for his tale. Like Oscar, we watch baseball because it isn't real life. The adventures on the field give us a play space where we can see failure and triumph, disaster and achievement, and we can live these things vicariously. Sometimes, though, real life intrudes. The tragic event in LA where Mr. Stow was brutally beaten was one of those things. That event and others like it remind us we can never entirely be free of our connections to society and our world's problems. Knuckleball lives on that edge as every character seeks escape from the humdrum and the complications of daily life but all of them are enmeshed, like all of us, in a web of relationships and responsibilities.

In good crime fiction it is not the acts of violence that matter but their consequences. On TV we get used to seeing the bad guys get caught and the story wrapped up neatly at the end of the hour. Knuckleball makes things more complicated than that. It deals with the aftermath of the killing and its impact on families, a department, and a city. Tragedies bring out the heroic in some and the venal in others and everyone in the story has something to gain from Officer Patterson's killing. Penetrating and realistic but without being cynical, Mr. Pitts manages to poke us in the eye and make us look again and think twice about life in the big, bad world. That's what all good art should do, eh? Throw in the Giants and San Francisco and you have a real winner!




Knuckleball will be released on March 24th. I'm sure you have a loved one with a birthday coming up soon--surprise them with good book.

GO GIANTS!

--M.C.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Oh, Matty Boy

Oh, Matty Boy, the fans, the fans are calling
From blog to blog, and down the City's 'hoods,
The winter's gone, and all the cacti blooming,
'Tis you, 'Tis you must go and give the goods  . . .

Yes, Matty darlin', there's a mountain of expectations on your broad shoulders. But you're a big, strong lad and I think ye can handle it. Seems like the Giants are counting on it as well. Since the Brian Trust has proven that they are smarter than me about all things baseball I'm going with them. They think Matty can still deliver the goods. So, I do as well. In fact, it's amazing to me that he could pitch at all with those "loose bodies" floating around in his elbow. I suppose lots of ballplayers have balky knees and twitchy shoulders and whatnot and yet play through them and still achieve on the field. Obviously the Cain of 2013-2014 was not the reliable workhorse, studly innings-eater, and big game star we got used to seeing in the previous several seasons. But he still has velocity:

From FanGraphs

 And his BABIP and batting average against have been mostly the same since he came into the league. He threw his fastball a lot less these last two seasons and his slider became a bigger part of his repertoire. I'm guessing the fastball was harder to throw due to the elbow issues and he could get more movement with the slider. Certainly teams were teeing off on balls that they normally would have popped up or hit routine flies, so something was amiss. Strikeouts went down, walks went up, and homers happened. We could all see that. Cain is the type that would never admit he had physical issues so I was actually relieved when he was DL'd and went for surgery. I figure if he can get the fastball back on track and get that natural break on the two-seamer working the rest will fall into place. He's still young (turns 31 in October) so it's hard for me to believe he's already in his decline phase. And he has that nice, simple delivery so I imagine mechanical "tweaks" are pretty easy with him. I'm optimistic, of course. Matt is my favorite player (duh!) so I'll admit that emotion is winning out over logic here. But for the bulk of Cain's career he has been Mr. Dependable and I think that betting on the bulk--the norm--and not outliers is the smart move here.


. . . for we'll be here in sunshine or in shadow,
Oh, Matty Boy, oh Matty Boy, we love you so . . .

GO GIANTS!

--M.C.


p.s. I'm sure you all saw the story about Boch being hospitalized. Let's hope he's OK and ready to rumble. Over the years I've learned that most managers have a fairly neutral impact on the game and that there are a small few who can really screw things up. Then there is that very special even smaller group that can actually make a positive difference. Bruce Bochy is one of those in the rarefied air. The Giants have had a great team with lots of talent but there's no way they win three titles without their field general. Get well, soon, man.

p.p.s. I've done a few book reviews on this site over the years. Publishers sometimes send me freebies ("advance review copies" in the jargon) with the understanding I'll post about them. Recently an author I know sent me an ARC of his novella that is set in San Francisco and has a Giants-Dodgers series as the backdrop. I've only done baseball (non-fiction) books before, this will be my first foray into fiction. I'll post something Sunday or Monday. I think you'll be intrigued.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Gowf

When we were in Scotland some years ago we had dinner with a fellow from St. Andrews who explained to me that the sport is properly called "gowf" by the descendants of its inventors. OK, I thought. Whatever makes you happy. That diphthong should rhyme with "cow", by the way. It should sound like you stubbed your toe and not like your car needs a tow. Got it? There is something weird about that "lf" sound in English words anyway, don't you think? No one says the "l" in "calf" or "half", for example. And everyone says the "l" in "shelf" and "gulf". My wife says "woof" when she means "wolf" but she is unusually pronunciation-challenged. Remember "rolfing"? Never quite knew how to say that one. Never quite knew what the hell it was, either, even though I went to Berkeley and it seemed like a really Berkeley kind of thing.

Speaking of what makes people happy, what makes me happy is Matt Cain. He and Buster Posey were a big hit at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Apparently Buster got to play in the same group as the eventual champion and Matt Cain had the best tournament by an amateur. He got the Jack Lemmon Award! Now that's a hell of cool award--Lemmon was a damn genius on the silver screen and one of my favorites. Anyway, Matty had a great tournament and I think his play on the links bodes well for his 2015 season.

I'm going to write up a special Matty post here real soon, me buckos. Suffice to say we've all missed Cain being Cain these last few seasons. Let's hope the surgery and the fine gowf game mean it's OK to red-line the optimism meters.

GO GIANTS!

--M.C.

p.s. Pitchers and catchers report Wednesday!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Random Tidbits

In the last couple of days, the Giants have picked up a couple of interesting ex-MLB Pitchers, Fernando Cabrera & Clay Rapada.  Cabrera is a tall & powerfully-built 33-year old flame-throwing Puerto Rican RHP who last appeared in the majors with Boston in 2010.  He has exceeded a K per IP over 175 big league innings.  Rapada is a tall, slightly-built super-loogy who last appeared in the bigs with Cleveland in 2013.  His splits are ridiculous (.164 BA against left-handed swingers, .345 against right-handers).  These seem like the types of guys we are able to find & turn into contributors, so go get 'em Righetti.

Also, last Friday, I apparently missed this tidbit about my man, Pagan:

'Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Friday that Angel Pagan (back) is ready to go.  "Angel is adamant in our conversations that he's ready to go," Bochy said. "He has no issues with his lower back." [He] will turn 34 in the middle of next season, but, at least for now, Pagan appears healthy.'

Not exactly video of a spirited workout, but better than we've heard before, so I am encouraged.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

You Can Tell It Goodbye!

Demolition has begun at Candlestick Park. I'm having some flashbacks. Besides lots of baseball I saw two 49ers games and one Beatles concert there.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tiger and Tim

I was checking out the following article about the decline of one of golf's greatest recent stars:

And I found myself immediately thinking of our own Tim Lincecum. Yes, I know it does not take much for me to go there, but you must admit there are some basic similarities. Young, flashy, superstars that took their sport by storm and quickly climbed to the absolute top. Then both crashed, hard and fast. During their amazing glory days they each established huge, adoring fan bases that are still to this day clinging to their memories and denying their eyes. 

With Tiger's injuries it may be easier to understand the big drop off.  However, it seems that a big key is his lack of confidence, especially with his short game.  Doesn't that sound a bit like it could be the key for Tim's lack of command? Isn't it wild that two such dominant performers may ultimately be undone by their own insecurities?

Anybody else see a connection, or am I just seeing Tim shadows everywhere?

Oh yeah, they both had pushy, controlling Sports Fathers.  Maybe that is a factor? Hmmmm....

Monday, January 26, 2015

Manfred's Mann(ifesto)

I was thinking it was about time to post about Ryan Vogelsong's signing, and what it means for Yusmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum, but Mr. Rob Manfred, the new Commissioner of Baseball, has caught my attention, and not in a positive way.

This, from Mark Townsend on Yahoo Sports: "Manfred made it clear that examining the pace of the game is first on his list of priorities, but not far behind will be finding ways to 'inject additional offense into the game.'  Without being prompted for an example, Manfred specifically mentioned he'd be open to pursuing the elimination of defensive shifts, which he says gives the defensive team a competitive advantage."

So here we have it.  More offense, which means higher scores, more hits, more baserunners, more pitches, more home runs, more cap doffs after home runs, etc.  Yet a shorter game.  How is that going to work?

It is my belief that in the past few years, we have seen the sunset in the playing careers of a number of the game's historically great hitters, and are witnessing some of the game's great pitching performances.  Not that there haven't been great hitters and great pitchers in every era, but that the numbers on the field at once have shifted from hitters to pitchers.  Think of the great sluggers in history.  Yet can you imagine talking about seeing Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire play each other?  Or McGuire and Sosa in the same division?  You can blame PED's if you wish for the spate of great hitters, but remember, at the time, the home run race "saved baseball" by drawing fans into the game.

And now, although baseball clearly doesn't need saving, there seems to be a perceived need for more offense.  There are only so many ways to get offense.  You wind baseballs tighter (like that hasn't been done before), you handicap defense (by, like, not letting them move around on the field), you change the dimensions by making fences shorter or lowering the mound, which is really just a physical rather than an operational way of handicapping defense, or, finally, you let the batters improve.  PED's????  Corked bats?????

They lowered the mound after 1968's season in which Bob Gibson (one of my childhood heros, along with Juan Marichal) posted a 1.12 era.   Yet guys like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle didn't need a lower mound to become baseball legends.   (Maybe you can detect a bias towards pitching, not that I could ever pitch worth a damn.)  In 1969, the runs per game went up, then up in 1970.   Then down, down, up, down, up, down, up, down and then up, so that in 1980, MLB averaged 4.29 runs per game, a little higher than 1973's 4.21 (1968 was 3.42, due in part to Mr. Gibson).  In 1999 and 2000, runs per game were more than 5, but have not been 5 or less than 4 since.

But the fact of the matter is that more offense will make a game longer.  There is no way around it.  You can put pressure on batters, like making them stand in the box.  I am not convinced that this would appreciably speed up the game, although it would make batters less annoying.  I think that any increase in offense would offset any possible time savings in games.  Pitching changes after more offense?  Yeah, that will eat up any savings from harassing batters.

So, let's think for a minute about this other statement - that defensive shifts gives the defense a competitive advantage.  Why is that?  Isn't every defensive alignment designed to help the defense, from the wheel play, to charging a bunt, to shifting a center fielder?  You don't put more people on the field in a defensive shift, you merely re-arrange them.  That means that there are big holes in other areas of the field.  That doesn't sound like a competitive advantage to me, it sounds like a very big risk, and if the offense can't exploit it, well then, it is no different than a fat pitch over the middle that the batter fails to put into the seats.  Mark said it well, that offenses will (or at least should) adjust.  There is no competitive advantage in a defensive arrangement, regardless of Mr. Manfred's statement.

So I am not happy about this nonsensical manifesto of Mr. Manfred.  Since they aren't about to speed up games by eliminating tv advertising between innings, you simply are not going to speed them up AND create more offense.

I think Ryan Vogelsong's signing is a good thing.  What about a 6 man rotation for a couple of months?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lucky Fans

Siskiyou County is a great place to live. It's over six thousand square miles in size and holds fewer than fifty thousand people. That means hardly ever waiting in line, or short waits when there is a line. That was sure the case with The Trophy Tour on all three occasions. The first two were held in Mt. Shasta City Park and the latest was at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed. Most of the places on The Tour are larger cities and near metropolitan areas. We northstate fans are particularly fortunate. A gentleman by the name of Mike Rodriguez made this possible. He is the Parks Administrator for Mt. Shasta City, a Junior Giants supporter, and obviously a big fan. I'd like to say "Thanks, Mike!" on behalf of all the happy fans who live here. Here's are pictures from 2012 (top) and 2010 (below). I unfortunately did not get one this time. My bad. Next time, I suppose!

Trophy Man!

M.C., Mike R., JC      


--M.C.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Giants' Silence About Pagan is Deafening

I am getting very nervous.  It is impossible to find one single word on the Internet about the comeback status of our very important, very valuable starting Center Fielder.  One would think that there would be some reassuring words or, at the very least, some words indicating concern.  But, there has been absolutely nothing.

Back Surgery is serious business, &, given the absolute silence on his part & on the part of the organization, I don't think that it is reasonable to count on Pagan at all in 2015.  Think about Scutaro in 2014 - that was another exercise in secrecy &, ultimately, in disappointment.

Is it any wonder that we have signed Aoki & Ishikawa (don't forget Justin Maxwell).  I think that it is very clear that the Giants are preparing for a Pagan-less 2015.

I hope that I am wrong.